Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Edge of Things

When Torren lifted his foot to step out of the woods, a silent wave shivered down his bones and tossed him gracelessly to the wood-floor, which was thick with scarlet leaves and the earthy scent of fungus. When he opened his eyes, his breath caught round in his throat, he realized his back cricked with a rather small pain, and he reached his long earth-singer’s fingers back to warm it. Humming a healing song, he felt the light warm the ache away.
He crouched then, elbows on his knees, and considered. Although he had seen twenty midsummers, he was young in his tribe’s reckoning, and his training had lately kept him confined to Master Althus’s hut at the edge of the leaf-hall. But it had been Master Althus himself who had sent Torren out before dawn broke the sky with a request for iron from the smithy in the village a half day’s run down the forest road.
“Your feet are faster than mine,” Althus said with a grunt. “You go.”
Sucking a nervous breath, Torren had nodded. “Should I take my bow?”
“Hells no. And announce yourself to the queen’s men? Your knife is all the protection you need out there—that and those fleet feet of yours. Borrow some clothing from Rourke. And cover your ears.”
Althus had rolled back into sleep, leaving it to Torren to rouse Rourke before dawn to beg the rough dun tunic and breeches the townsfolk wore.
Torren scratched his leg and then felt in the leaves for a stick. Holding it before him, he stood and prodded the bright light beyond the leaf-dappled edge of the forest. Nothing happened. He stepped forward until his fingertips were just at the edge of that veil separating light and dark. He froze, took a hard breath, and let just the sliver of one fingernail cross into light. The stick shattered in his hand.

Althus peered through the blue-grey smoke of his long thin pipe. “Tell me again, more slowly this time.”
Torren took a breath, sucking air and the calming mint of Althus’s pipe smoke deep into his lungs. He began with the sound and ended with the slivers of wood falling from his fingers.
Althus leaned back against the wall and pulled on his pipe, his eyes closed. Smoke drifted up and over his head, accumulating and hovering in a cloud, a fragrant cloud—moments passed and Torren felt his eyes grow heavy and he swayed in his perch. He bit the inside of his cheek, bit it hard and sat upright.
“Pain as a stimulant,” Althus murmured and the cloud evaporated. “Interesting choice, Torren.” He leaned forward, his pale blue eyes as cold as bitter ice. “You have much to learn yet.”
“Why did the forest not let me leave?” Torren asked. “Do you know?”
Althus closed his eyes. “I have many thoughts and may tell you in time. Meanwhile, I want you to do two things. First, compose a list of possibilities. What may the sound have been? What might it portend? And also, consider a better stimulant. Pain—self-inflicted as that was—will only weaken you.” He sucked on his pipe, closed his eyes, and leaned back. Torren knew he had been dismissed.
It was far more easy to roam the sun-streamed leaf halls of Manluvi├ír than to focus on the task Althus had set him. Each room was built of trees charmed to shelter the woodfolk from the elements; each room held treasures formed in ancient days, treasures whose craftsmanship had been lost as his race diminished, their magic dimmed, their ageless bodies fallen prey to the grey-fletched arrows of Queen Asyn’s men.
This queen had appeared one winter out of the deeps of the Grey Mountains just as the white-bearded human king was dying, and she had settled her gaunt, black-robed form into his vacant throne, and she had summoned a silent army of men, fierce of eye and swift of arrow, to surround her. The king had been burned with indecent haste, and a rumor--more than a rumor--had reached the Folk of a flicker of his eyelid as the flames licked hungrily at his robes. Some said his hand twitched or maybe clenched. One rumor said the new queen had tossed another brand onto the fire, her eyes glowing (maybe with fireglow or maybe--none would complete the sentence). But all agreed that when she cast that branch on the pyre, the fire had leapt up and consumed the body of the king that was.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Wise Fool

You know what "sophomore" means, right? I don't think anyone makes it through tenth grade without hearing it from someone much older (by at least ten months) and much wiser (doubtful, really). Wise fool. That's what it means. And after almost seven years now of spending 180 days with 150 (give or take) of them, I have to concede that "sophomore" is the perfect word for this age group.
I was certainly both wise and foolish when I was a sophomore. Heck, I still am. Maybe that's why I get along with my students so well. And something that happened the other day in class got me thinking about why I teach, why other great teachers teach, and why kids like those great teachers. (Hmm, did I just insinuate that I am one of such greats? I don't mean to toot my own horn. But I do believe my students like me. That counts for something. Greatness? Maybe. Time will tell.) (Moving on.)
By the end of the day, especially a nice sunny day, especially a nice sunny Friday, I am just as slap-happy and just as easily distracted as my students. Last Friday was just one such kaleidoscope of chaos. I had wrapped up my lecture on the Industrial Revolution a few minutes early and the students were chatting quietly. Well, to be brutally honest, they were not quiet at all. But that's really not an important item. They were in their seats, not throwing spit wads or balls of paper or textbooks or each other across the room (which they never do, mind you--just making a connection to movies you've probably seen about out of control classrooms. Which mine isn't). You know, just a lazy Friday afternoon breeze-shooting.
I think it all really got started when somebody said something about TGIF and I overheard it. I do love my Fridays and here is why: we get to wear jeans to work. And if there's one thing I love more than Fridays, it's jeans. Jeans me lovey very much. But not so much as 1) Jesus, 2) Clint, 3) my kids and chocolate--two way tie, 3 again) which is tied also with books. Or actually, books may be higher up there. I think I need to stop this ranking. (And sorry to anyone not on this list. You're there. You're all there. It's really like a 437 way tie for 3rd place. I love you all.) (4th is cilantro.) (And sports are dead last, well--right before Satan.) (Okay, I'm really stopping now.)
So I was happy about getting to wear jeans, and to demonstrate this moment of pure unadulterated bliss, I leaned back in my comfy new desk chair (thanks, dad) and flung my leg (jeans-clad, of course) into the air. That was when it happened: the moment, the quintessential moment of pure sophomoric-ness. One of my students (let's call him Bob for privacy's sake) said--and I quote: "Mrs. Genthner, you are the oldest dork I've ever seen."
The room got so quiet after that period you would not have believed you were stepping into a classroom full of teenagers. Heads swiveled. Girls gasped. Bob began to backpedal.
"Well, look: I'm not saying you're old. Cause you're not. You look like you're really young. I just meant that all the other dorks I know are, like, my age. And you're a lot older than them."
"Did he just call the teacher a dork?" someone whispered.
"Yeah, and he said she's old too," someone replied.
Bob blushed. In the interest of his sanity, I graciously accepted his apology.
"I meant it as a compliment," Bob said, but by then the class had gone back to its (ahem) not-too-loud chatter.

For almost a week now, I've been thinking about what he said. And you know what? Maybe it was a compliment, like Bob insisted. After all, I prided myself on my dork-ness in high school. If someone said I was weird, I felt gratified. After all, isn't weirdness actually uniqueness, maybe with a hint of self-confidence thrown in? Weird people aren't afraid to show who they really are. They revel in their difference. Emerson said, "Imitation is suicide," and the dork (if I'm understanding Bob correctly) is far from suicidal--because the dork doesn't imitate anyone. The dork is comfortable in his or her skin.
And that got me thinking about teachers and why students seem to like the weird ones. After all, what sort of person eagerly signs up to hang out with teens all day and try to teach them stuff? The one who loves his or her content area and gets all giggly just thinking about ways to spread that love to young people who (really) (for the most part) don't care a whole lot. That person is a dork. When I walk past classrooms in my building and see kids leaning forward eagerly in their chairs, they're leaning to soak up the strangeness of their teachers. They see their teachers (the good ones) being themselves, unafraid to stand in front of a room teeming with probable apathy and say, "You know what? You might think books and writing (or insert another less-important topic) are boring, but I'm going to show you today why they're not." And then, through a secret alchemical formula composed of...well, I wish I could tell you...sprinkled liberally with passion for the subject and unvarnished strangeness, that dorky person can get kids to listen.
They might start listening because of the strangeness of the person standing in front of them; hopefully, they keep listening because something he or she says has begun to awaken an interest. And that, my friends, is why I am proud to admit that I may well be the oldest dork you've ever met. Words of wisdom from a foolish genius. Thanks, Bob.

Friday, November 6, 2009

In Which I Flaunt My Craftiness

For awhile, I tried maintaining two blogs. I know, it was a silly endeavor. I don't even do a very good job keeping up with this one, but I got swept up by the idea of breaking into the crafting world through my etsy shop. (Psst: Have you been there? Oh, all sorts of things to love. To buy. To make ME happy and wealthy.) (Bwahahaha.)
And that other blog didn't work out so well, now did it? No. Obviously not. I just want to read, really. That's all. But so far, I haven't made a whole lot of money doing that. Not sure why. Get back to me on that one.
So anyway, I've decided to merge my two blogs into ONE AMAZING WEALTH OF CRAFTY, WELL-WRITTEN PLEASURE. Just for you, my loyal readers. And to make this merge extra special, I am now going to show you pictures of the costume I made Jared for Halloween. And while I'm talking about it, I think I'll reveal something shocking.
It's a rocky relationship, me and Halloween. I don't really love the holiday. I don't like scary things like skeletons and witches and goblins. (Of course excepting any vampires who are also hot. Which, apparently, seems to be intrinsically related to the blood lust.) Also, I think trick-or-treating is, in all honesty, a bit impolite. Think about it: we're giving our children permission--no, we're encouraging them--to dress in strange clothing and walk up to total strangers in hopes of amassing vast hoards of candy. Strangers. The ones we tell our kids NOT to take candy from. Is this weird to anyone else?
Also, I don't like Halloween because I have sewn myself into a tight box of pride. I CANNOT let myself buy a costume. Can't do it. I can sew, darn it, so my children need to wear costumes I have made. And of course, I let Jared choose what he wants to be. Jonah and Lauren are at the age now where they're on their own. No guilty qualms at all about that. They have a big storage container full of costumes from previous years and have been blessed with creative genes from both parents; they can fend for themselves. But Jared, he's three. He still gets to show off his mama's talent.
So first he wanted to be a dinosaur. A T-Rex, to be exact. But then his idea changed. And changed. And changed again. Next he wanted to be a domino, then a pop tart, then a box of cereal (I think he was hungry). I was pushing for cowboy because I think he would really look cute in cowboy boots. (OK: honesty time. Really, I want cowboy boots for myself. Red ones. I should just get them and stop pining.) (I said PINING, by the way, not WHINING.)
Then he proposed being a lizard. A lizard just like Fyreborne had been. And finally, full of charitable thoughts for our recently deceased pet, I assented. Of course, it helped that he made this decision while we were at the fabric store looking at fabric that would make a perfect lizard costume (AND said fabric was also 50% off). So I got the fabric and began planning away.
I was able to reuse his pattern from last year (He was a camel. Honestly, where does this kid get his ideas?) and just had to add some extra frills and spikes to make him the perfect bearded dragon costume.
So here it is:



Of course, he wouldn't put down his Reese's Pieces long enough for me to get a nice shot of the body, and I didn't think to back up and get the whole front of the costume. But you can see the frills around the neck and the contrasting lizard-y fabrics I used for the body and the accents. And please: don't look too closely at the zipper. I am entirely too picky about many things, but sewing in zippers is not on that lengthy list.


Here's a view of the back. I know what you're thinking and you're right: His tail does look more like a stegosaurus tail, as I realized AFTER taking a close look at the temporarily-named Squirt (our new bearded dragon) and discovering he/she (Jonah's not sure yet) has spikes on the sides of his/her tail, not the top. But anyway, the spikes also go from Jared's wrists to his ankles and he has more spikes on his back.
If I put him back in his costume and take some better pictures someday, I'll post them. It was pretty cute, not going to lie. Maybe my best costume yet.