Wednesday, December 28, 2011


The litany worked, slowly anyway. Initially, it took four or five "jerks" to drive the laughter away, eventually only one or two. Each salvo kept it away a bit longer until it was just a soft plea from a distant hurt. She slept. She knew better, when she woke, to hope it had been a significant respite; a quick but lazy turn to the clock upheld the verdict - just barely two hours, typical. She would wrestle now, fighting to regain sleep, drifting in and out with the song, and tossing about the bed as if there was some new place, some hidden portal to a good night's sleep long lost to her. There was a byproduct of that short nap though, the remnant of a dream that would stay for the next few hours. She was sitting at a train station, emerging into her own sight as the train pulled away. She was much smaller, but not younger. Just sitting there, diminutive in stature and in her silence.
The image startled her, as did every image every night the last eight hundred nights. It was never the same dream, never the same straggler that followed her through the next series of trials. They were never gruesome or grotesque, just unexpected. She never had them long enough to analyze, their only function was to to emulsify the four or five hours ahead of her, to string together the tussle necessary to deem it an episode. Time for the latest installment, with no prayer for an epilogue anytime soon.
Sitting on the ramp of the train station with her legs dangling over carelessly, staring at nothing in particular.  This was where she woke, watching a train move slowly on past. The girl was lonely and haunting, and she couldn't stand looking into the vacant eyes so she thrust herself over and willed herself back to sleep.
It wouldn't be a half an hour or so until she stirred, right back at the train station, her body light and hollow, except for a terrible draft racing through her, a draft of dread. It was an unnamed thing, something that gutted her and left her almost in a panic - a thing that would only be driven away by returning to sleep, or getting up and joining the day.  Given that she rarely got enough sleep anyway, waking up and getting out of bed in the middle of the night really wasn't an option.  She would continue the pitiful cycle, sleeping, stirring, fretting, and praying for the night to slide past as painlessly as possible. She knew too, that her life was slipping by, and if she survived this period, she would have given him a terribly extravagant gift, she would had given him almost all of her pain.
She knew the rules, she would cycle like this for several more hours before waking and facing that last trimester of the ordeal where the devil was in charge of all the details. For now, she could count on the refractory grace of her turmoil, much like the Karsakoff victim who had no short-term memory - pain and anguish would subside for a bit, before being reconstituted by a new encounter, a new awakening.  Most nights she preferred a movie as her companion through the arduous loop, measuring the efficacy of her relief by where she was in the movie each time she woke. The song offered no such luxury with its terse and callous orbit.
She woke four or five times that night, each to a departing train and a despondent witness, perhaps symbolizing her indifferent martyrdom to an insignificant love. She didn't want the little girl to go away necessarily, she only tried to will the train back to obfuscate the petite but living indictment of her pathetic existence, for a few hours anyway. As tormentors went, this evening's phantom was manageable, but residually unsettling - it would be a bad and lonely day when she eventually rose from her bed.  Stage two almost complete, she looked with measured insolence at the alarm clock knowing the last bit of the night had arrived, the bit she feared the most.  Although awake, it would be like the dream you would become aware of midway, having the assurance you would survive it, but the knowledge that you had yet to endure it.  Endurance, the newest notion that she had now lost all romantic connotation for.....

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


The computer still had a say-so about things, at night anyway. He was no longer on the other end, but it would provide her a buttressed lullaby, a movie or a song set to repeat though the ordeal, and as she would wake and stir, she would find a familiar miscellany of notes, a comfortable, habituated bit of dialogue and ride it gently back to sleep. Wonderwall or Shutter Island, neither connected directly to him, both oddly and inexplicably were comforting to her - the only question was which. Tonight it would be Wonderwall, the Ryan Adams version, slow and steady, all she had to do was type "repeat" in the YouTube URL and it would play all night. A nice trick she had recently picked up, and she wondered how many other souls were out there in their darkness, burying their pain in some eerie echo, some lovelorn loop.She started the song, turned away from the screen, still unable to cope with the residue of his image burned permanently into the lower corner where MSN Messenger would be if she had ever activated it again after the last time they spent the night streamed together through space and inequitable affection. The tune had no specific meaning for her, a few of the lines were nice, a few not very useful to her now. Perhaps it was just a sweet song she could fantasize singing to him, something to win him back, and if not, to crush him with her pain, buried incessantly in the morose melody. These were stupid little fabrications that gave her temporary mettle, temporary peace.
She pulled the comforter up over her shoulder and slid her head softly between the two pillows that she had always planned to share. Behind her, I don't believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now buffeted her in irony, but not remorse. It was a nice song, she would transcend the lyrical dissonance and just float with it until she found the mental key that would incarcerate her memory, would prohibit their invasion of her sanity. It would be a single word or a short phrase. Something to hammer back the apparition that would come to her, impudent in its inculcation, relentless in its shape shifting synthesis. It was never the same image, never a consistent cognition. She would have to  wait with the song until it came, then find a way to battle it.
Backbeat the word is on the street that the fire in your heart is out opened this evening's door. They were somewhere, together laughing lightly at the notion of her still pining over him two and a half years later. The lilt she heard stabbed at her, far too strong this long out. But it did, and as usual, she indulged the injury until she could find its utility, or until it tore open her already hemorrhaging heart. Masochism, she thought, was not an avocation of the perverse or depraved, it was simply a symptom of survival, a prognosis of fairly fought pain. She found her psalm quickly this night, perhaps in inverse proportion to the trauma of this most recent phantom - one word, simple, "jerk."
It wasn't him or her, this was an inward indictment of her own stupidity, her own weakness, her private, pallid pity. Jerk, jerk, jerk....would be the refrain for relief - jerk, jerk, jerk...would pound them back to their privacy and pulse her pliantly to sleep
She was sinking now, feeling the effects of the drugstore sedatives sliding up her body. The sensation was initially unpalatable, as she first felt it in her legs, making them cold and lighter than the rest of her. It would accelerate though, and in a minute or two she would embrace its warmth in her torso then her head. At this point, she would almost feel good again, almost giddy. She reasserted herself fervently into the menage a trois with her goose down paramours, and smiled as she drifted smoothly off in a pleasant portmanteau of there are many things that I would like to say to you but I don't know how and jerk, jerk, jerk.....
To be continued....

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Rules of Refraction

A short tale about a long night

Eleven pm, time to decide if there would  be sleep or not, and if so, how. Sleep aids, alcohol (requiring a hefty renunciation though), hot bath with sea salt and scented candles, an old college textbook, or maybe just a big bottle of her roommate's sedatives settling the issue once and forever. Sleep after all, was a misnomer - there was an alternative to sober consciousness ahead of her, however sleep or slumber was not the order of the evening. Most likely, they were waking up together now, and she needed to escape the moment they would turn to each other, smiling like kids finding a quarter for a tooth under their pillow, stretching just to reunite into the knot they spent hours untying through the night. She really needed to be spared this seven time zone tango tonight.
Distance was another ridiculously named mechanism of relief. Time and distraction two other twins tempting hope but betraying torment. She was rapidly encroaching that threshold where survival no longer bargained the pain, and relief actually resembled release, not recovery. Like one of those stories from the humanities course she had no talent for, she knew what was ahead of her for the next eight hours, a trilogy of trouble that would escalate to the dread of another dawn, the recursion of the reality of his loss, the jealous realization of his gain.
First, there would be the battle to find a place in the bed, the vector between the comforter (hah!), the top sheet, the two pillows, and her vexations. She would doze off, there was no doubt about that - but not before she found the ideal juxtaposition, perhaps two pillows tonight, the blanket folded three times tucked between her knees, her body turned and tilted away from the computer screen that had once been her lifeline to him. Once tucked up, she would find the evening's mantra, a few words at most uttered incessantly until she fell asleep, perpetually driving away his/their spectre like a enamored mosquito too quick to kill, too stupid to leave. The chant would send her to sleep eventually, but the reprieve would be brief, at most, only a few hours. From there, she would enter the second stage of her nocturnal nuance, four hours or so of tossing and tumbling about the bed, vainly invoking the evening's incantation, fighting for every twenty or thirty minutes of amnesiac torpor. Finally, she would face the last two hours of the morning, no longer trying to sleep, just trying to survive to devastating half-wake depression that had no remedy, no respite. Everything hurt so much more acutely right before dawn - God must have created man then she thought, as it had to be the time He would take him back as well. It was a deep, dark place that begat beginnings and endings, never meant for the living.  Sleeping sucked.
The weekends were far different though, and if she could, she would sleep straight through them - something about not having to get up and bravely face the world upon demand disrupted her three-fold troika, and she was ever so grateful for the abeyance. The three trials would be there, but not in any sort of concert or coordination, and confused, could be bamboozled blithely with any of a dozen or so distractions she could conjure easily. Trinkets that took her through the weekend - baubles and doodads designed to persevere the pain until she got back to work on Monday. Her life had been distilled to this -  rules of refraction, a debutante of deflection.
To be continued....

Thursday, December 22, 2011


He stiffened as she pressed behind him. He didn't know where to look - thankfully, her friends had slid on by and were gone, but he felt the terrible awareness that his mates were locked on to him, not in jest but in merciful relief as they had nowhere to escape to either, except into his miserable moment. He had seen a show on the nature channel once, where a pack of wolves were chasing down a deer of some sort, until their intended prey had stopped dead in her tracks, and the predators did too. They circled her, confused and irritated.  They jumped around, eventually snapping at each other, not knowing how to deal with this reversal of conduct, this violation of cosmic carnal courting. 
They would have turned on each other too, these cafe warriors,  if this volte-face two-step had lasted a few seconds longer. Behind him, she slowed momentarily and he closed his eyes. The world hadn't tumbled to a stop like this since his car accident - there he had inadvisably put his hand out of the window to stop the approaching vehicle with traumatic results; here he was even less tempted to risk life and limb. He could sense her approach, she wasn't heavy but he could feel the floor bouncing up subtly via the four legs of his chair, up and into him through the padding on his chair.  A connection he thought. He found himself leaning slightly forward at the critical moment, realizing he wasn't breathing. She was on him now, and he exhaled embarrassingly as she skewed her hips a bit to pass his chair.  Unfathomably, he sensed her reaching up behind him, and if he hadn't been circumvented by the thick table top, his hunkered down homies, and a sincere desire not to spill any more beverages, he would have bolted having reached his limit for this vixen's venture. Just a few seconds longer, one way or another.
He felt the weight of her hand on his chair, felt the vibration as it brushed over the curved copper colored metal back sending a queer pulse up his spine to his oxygen depleted brain. He really had no mechanism to process the impulses that had long since capsized his composure, leaving him cognitively incontinent. Having no basement left for his paralysis, she dug him a new one as she let one of her delicately long fingers languish dangerously across the oddly patterned cloth of his chair and the textured nuance of her nail tore directly through the tissue of his heart. He might have fainted, he wasn't sure, but when he caught himself breathing again, she was gone. He saw her as she walked through the door, hoping she would turn, but she did not. Raising his head to face his friends, he had no idea what to expect. He was recovering from his synaptic seizure, wondering how long it would be until his full faculties returned, not knowing the protocols of ignominious stroke.
Yes, his buddies were laughing now, but perhaps out of a mitigated reprieve imbued with just the slightest touch of veneration, as none of them could contemplate having stared down that terrible test and living to tell the tale. His was a bitter-sweet victory though - finally king of the latte Lotharios for a night, completely exonerated for the "spill" as it was fated to be referred to in the coming years, but empty in that she had disappeared gutting the whole experience of any karmic context, any romantically procured kismet. The evening would be deemed a wash, perhaps the most incredible parody of all the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-regains-girl movies he had ever seen, lacking of course the third act where he prevails, but the night had been novel, and his friends would never look at him the same way ever again. He had matured through the debacle, and was prepared to harden his heart to this loss, at least until the next pretty face in a frilly hijab hijacked him again in a cafe or bistro. He would be brave.

*Epilogue - She had the taxi stop a few hundred meters short of her house, not because of any untoward proposals from the driver, but just because she felt like skipping the rest of the way home, even at this post-pumpkin hour. Cinderella had left a slipper, but she had something better. For if the young man did indeed know every proprietor in every coffee house throughout the four corners of the kingdom, he certainly did not know all of their nieces!  She would call her uncle in the morning, and indifferently inquire about the unfortunate young man she had seen him talking to, the one who had caused such a commotion in the middle of his cafe. She would see him again, and she would contemplate letting him win the next skirmish. Prince Charming had at last arrived in her life, inauspiciously shorter than she might have fantasized, but far more intriguing. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011


He pulled his eyes back from hers and dealt with the fallout of the coffee spill. His friend was furious that he wasn't contritely attending to him, so he refocused and grabbed some napkins and thrust them at him. Ignoring the medium-spiced expletives, he tried to restore order and decorum to the table. Mercifully, most of the cafe had returned to their previous pedantic pleasures, as he tried to salvage the evening. As his friends reassembled around the table, he thought they might want to go, and he really wasn't sure if he wanted to stay or not - he didn't dare look over at her, as he supposed she and her friends might still be laughing. Finally mopping up the last of the spill, they all sat back down, resolving to make the most of the rest of the evening. He would pay for the incident for a very long time he supposed, and the additional insult of humiliating himself in front of her made the evening one for his relatively long list of forgetful Friday forays.
As he slumped back in his chair, defeated even before the razzing began, he was relieved he was perfectly placed between his largest friend and her. He wouldn't have to look at her for awhile, maybe never. He contemplated leaving, but if his mate could sit there with a crotch full of coffee, he had better stay. It was a full forty minutes before the conversation drifted slowly back to football, and he was relieved that he would escape the rest of the evening with a degree of anonymity. He relaxed, relinquishing himself to his failure comfortably reengaging his comrades in an old and safe debate. There was nothing in his philosophy however to prepare him for what was coming, he never had a chance.
She was smiling broadly as she sat down, so much so that it irritated and interrupted her friends' sense of erudite illusions. She had a plan now, and she didn't care one bit for the rest of the evening or even if her friends ended up detecting her infatuation.  Her heart was light, maybe for the first time since she was small and had learned she was getting a baby brother.  Funny, he was probably some body's perpetual baby brother - that made her smile and love him more. He was cute, that was the word she had been searching for; sort of soft in a cuddly way, even that bit of something on his chin was cute. She was chuckling when she noticed her friends staring at her incredulously - she didn't care, they could spend the rest of their lifetimes stuck in their purgatory purchased with macabre mascara, blush and bitchiness.
She could see the back of his chair, still too close to the wall for her scheme. She thought she had an hour or so to employ her enterprise. Like all feminine artifice, it would be subtle, seem to be spontaneous, and it would linger like the aura of anise and ambergris. She would wait now, wait for that chair to move out and for him to recover what was left of his masculinity.
He was feeling better, perhaps resigning himself to the futility of his earlier designs, grateful for the safety net of his friends and their plausibly deniable, but very real love and concern. Laughing and chiding with a bit more verve now, he didn't notice her rise and take the backwards tack towards the entrance behind him. An hour or so before, he had squared himself up, not to look at her, but to at least catch her when they left and moved through the middle of the room to the door.  He probably wouldn't dare eye contact again, but wanted one more glimpse of her, he was owed that after the jocose java juncture that had flipped his evening of timidly tempted triumph to terribly transmuted tragedy.  Yep he was morose, would probably stay that way for a week or so until some new catastrophe supplanted this evenings frivolities. Yep, he didn't even see her coming behind her, had no idea of the of the sensations he was about to feel, or the power of a woman's guile laced deep and solidly in the simplest of gestures - yep he had no idea.
He felt her before he saw her.  He had no schema for this, she was behind him somehow and he had no where to go. She was leaving behind him, through a space a half a meter wide not meant for human egress.  As the gestalt of the moment crystallized, he realized how much trouble he was now in. The world had rolled up unceremoniously on him, and for once, being at its center had absolutely no appeal to for him.  He now was critically aware of the cavernous cafe and its expanse of revelry about to be cashed at his expense.  Horribly, ironically he realized that the events earlier in the evening had not been the epilogue but the advent of his ruin. 
Frozen, aware that his friends had picked up on the incursion, he watched stunned as her two escorts passed in front of him, cutting their eyes pityingly as she was at his back, impossibly close. He knew his friends were as lost as he, but probably grateful they were not ensnared in this silent snare. They were the men they were really at that moment, lost and frightened in the wake of woman's efficacy - little boys huddling as their mothers glared, shaking that indicting index at them. His only hope was that his injured friend was the only one going home with wet trousers at the end of the evening......

Sunday, December 11, 2011


She braced herself then squared up against the mirror over the over sized sink in the restroom.  Having no idea why she was so nervous, she placed both hands on either side of the porcelain and leaned into her own reflection, and challenged it to steady her, to bring her back to the life she left just a few hours before. She did settle a bit when she noticed her old nemesis - three stubborn hairs - creeping out of the right side of her hijab.  The mirror had utility now, and she welcomed the familiar battle. She crept forward and slowly pushed the perpetual intruders back in with her index finger.  There was no doubt that these were the same three hairs that always escaped, perhaps representing that one percent of her that objected to modesty, that wanted to hint to the world the beauty that lay beneath. She thought about cutting them then and there, but reconsidered, appreciating the dissent, manageable as it was.
He sat at the table contemplating a pose.  Having only a few minutes before she emerged from her break, he wanted to be ready, strategically poised to notice her accidentally halfway back to her table, giving her enough of a chance to meet his eyes without having to keep them for too long. All he needed was a second or two, he would know. Paying a bit more attention to the current contention about him, he knew he could remain aloof, the others were in a stoic mood, prolonging their diatribes, squaring off in alternating pairs giving him a minute or two.  He smiled as he put his right arm up on the table crossed in front of him, his chin tucked in to the left a bit, back straight, producing a cantilevered effect that made him look wiser, perhaps even taller. Eyes lowered slightly, he could detect her approach then casually, incidentally raise them and catch her out in the open, nowhere to hide.  He felt good about this.
Vanquishing her follicled foes, she stepped back from the basin and surveyed her look.  Yes, she liked being tall and thin even though she knew many men preferred shorter, larger women. She liked the way her clothes fit her, liked being able to pull her hands down the sides of her waist smoothly as she tucked in layer over layer. Her father had told her once if she didn't eat more she would have to start running around the shower just to get wet. She wasn't sure exactly what that meant, but she liked it, probably because she loved it when her father teased her.  It was his way of showing affection, and if being skinny drew that from him, she would never gain another ounce. He wasn't very tall either, like her reluctant Romeo in the other room. Was she taller than the young Ammani out there?  There had been no good point of perspective when he had left his table earlier for her to get a really good reading. Suddenly, she smiled at the thought of dancing with him once they were married, maybe to Celine Dion in their living room, her head tilted down next to his, wondering if that would bother him. Yeah, he was shorter, but she didn't mind because in her mind, he could dance, and her chin would fit his shoulder perfectly.
The thought of dancing pleased her and felt like a perfect segue to flee the creepy, infringing confines of the bathroom - perhaps it was the row of stalls jealously and formidably guarding their secrets, the multitude of mirrors in a place where maybe mirrors were never meant to be, or just the antiseptic marble misplaced in this ciphered den meters away from the lit world.  She was happy to leave, ready for the walk back, ready to face him for she knew he was waiting.  In an instant she was out, and she focused on the carpet taking her back to her table, not knowing exactly when she would look at him. Breathing and measuring her steps, it was improbable that she wouldn't notice the small bunched bit of rug joining the hall to the open cafe, but she didn't.
He saw her halfway down the small hall, disappointed that she wasn't already looking in his direction. There had to be a point he thought, when a pose turned sour, and his was turning fast. As he was about to shift in his chair, abandoning his blueprint, she tripped. 
It was like someone had hit her from behind with a chair, like in one of those awful wrestling shows - she lunged forth at once fearful and embarrassed, knowing he was looking right at her.  In the horrible half-second, she grabbed for the back of a stranger's chair and for once, thanked God for long legs as she kicked out her right leg and managed to slide it into baseboard of the opposite wall.  A shorter woman would have perished here amongst the fashionistas and hipsters, hers had only been a near cataclysm. Still, amidst this melee of misfortune, she had caught a glimpse of him impossibly.
At the instant he caught the terrible hitch in her gait, he lunged forward instinctively, knocking his caramel latte macchiato squarely into the lap of his one friend he would fear as a rival for her affection. Karma he thought, knowing how much money the fancy track suit had set the guy back. Everyone was jumping up or back unceremoniously, and a bit cowardly depending on their proximity to the syrupy spray, and all he could do was look over for her.  She had stopped, frozen in the face of the spectacle that was erupting around him. At once he heard noise, knowing a good bit of it was aimed at him, angrily.  Still, he looked at her. Their eyes locked, and he felt more foolish and inadequate than he ever had, and she was in love.
She saw him rise to her defense, ridiculously, but ever so romantically, incidental chivalry that displaced her momentary tumble with a humiliating ataxia attracting every condescending ego in the room. Yep, she loved him right then and there.
To be continued....

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Why This Academy? Why Me? Why You?

This academy has been twenty-five years in the making. I’d like to tell you a bit about my past so that you understand my logic and passion for this mission. I will try to keep it brief, but as I will be asking you to explain yourselves and open up to me, I need to do the same (if some parts are slow or boring, skip them :).
By the time I finished high school, I had attended 17 schools. My parents had a lot of problems, so they moved when they got in trouble. I left home when I was 17 and never went back. I was a terrible student, I never tried or studied. I just wanted to be left alone. I was good at sports though, and that is the only reason I stayed in school. After high school, I went to college to play American football, and I was so unprepared for the academics. I struggled my first two years, then a strange thing happened: I got less interested in sports and more interested in teaching. By the time I graduated with my BA in History Education, I no longer wanted to play or coach sports – I wanted to be a teacher!
Right after college, I joined the US Peace Corps, an agency that sends American volunteers to many countries to teach and do other projects for two years (Jordan has a Peace Corps program now!) and I went to Jamaica. I was supposed to teach Educational Psychology at a Teachers College, but it was closed when I got there. After a few weeks, the administration couldn’t find me a job so they let me go to Montego Bay to look for one. When I got there, I saw this really neat sign that said “The Jamaican Movement for the Advancement of Literacy” and I went into the office to check it out. Once inside, I met the most engaging man I had ever met, and he eventually became my first mentor. He explained the adult literacy program to me then asked me if I wanted to come back that night to see a class. I was excited and I agreed.
When I returned that night, he took me up a mountain in an old Land Rover. When we got to the peak, I saw a small shack with light coming out from between the old boards. I got out of the vehicle and walked up to the door of the building. My guide was behind me and he told me to go on in. I stepped into the small room lit with lanterns, and realized it was very, very crowded – it seemed there were Jamaicans everywhere; at desks, in the roof rafters, on the floor, everywhere. I could barely squeeze in and I went to the opposite side of the room facing the door waiting for my new friend to follow me. I was standing there at the front of the class feeling very naked. I looked out in the darkness for him and instead heard a voice say “teach them something, I will be back in two hours.” A piece of chalk came flying in and I caught it and turned to look at the class. They were all smiling patiently as I tried not to panic. I turned to the blackboard (just the front wall painted black) and began to write the only words I could think of: “run, leave, flee, depart, take off, escape.” I did settle down and had the time of my life. The two hours flew by, and I had found my calling.
I taught adult literacy there for two years, and I realized how ill-prepared I had been to teach. Even though I had a degree in teaching, I hadn’t learned the things I really needed to learn. I began to read more theory, and to try to apply it to my practice. Two years later, I went off again, this time to Yemen to work in a refugee camp teaching EFL. I would find out I was not prepared for that experience either. The difference was this time I would see people suffer and die, and I could do very little about it. I knew then that I had to have a better sense of who I was, what I was doing, and who I was serving. I knew that teaching was my life, so I had better figure it out before I failed anyone else.
We had terrible problems with hygiene and heat in the camp, and we lost many babies to disease and dehydration. I tried to teach them some basic skills like rehydration therapy, but I wasn’t very successful. We did make some improvements, but it could have been so much better if I would have known how to reach and teach the mothers in the camp. I knew what to say , but not how to say it in ways that would make them trust me. I learned then that knowledge wasn’t enough, there was more to educating people.
Since those early experiences, I have worked and taught all over the world, in places like Tanzania, Jordan, England, Oregon, West Virginia, and Ohio. And as I continued to teach, I worked hard at learning all the aspects of my craft, not just the basic information of the subjects I taught. I was also lucky to start working on different retention projects at my college in Ohio. I started to think about a lot of new things – knowing my students lives’ better, their goals, their interests, etc. And finally, I started to question my own philosophy about all these things, and I started again from scratch. All the while, I remembered how unprepared I had been before, and I wanted to create a program for other teachers so that they wouldn’t have to spend as much time learning how to be great teachers as I did (I am still not great by the way, but I am getting there).
The last piece of the puzzle for me was attending a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning seminar with Dr. Tom Angelo, a world-famous educator. We were so blessed when he came to our school and started this academy (such things are not very old in America). The experience allowed me to bring everything together so that I could articulate what I did to others. This idea of sharing my teaching was the most profound element of all – I was finally ready to “operationalize my intuition.” By this I mean I can show students “how to learn” not just what to learn. I can show them how to study instead of telling them to study harder. I can teach them how to remember things before I tell to remember things. And so on……
It has been my dream to be able to do this type of academy for a long time. I have done many of the pieces of it all over the world, but I am just now doing the full version. I chose Jordan for one of the first academy sites because of the tremendous respect I have for the teachers there. You all work very hard, are very intelligent, and you want to be better teachers in order to help your students. A perfect place! And selfishly, it is so wonderful to work in a Muslim country with Muslim teachers – most of my work here in the US is in isolation, I do not get to experience that bond of faith at work. Yes Jordan is perfect for me, where else would I go?


She was watching him more closely now. When he got up to go to the restroom, she did a quick but thorough appraisal - he was a little shorter than she thought she might like, nicely dressed but she didn't care for the sweater, and he walked sweetly as if he was afraid to disturb anyone.  She chuckled as she realized that if he was on the menu, she might have taken him as an appetizer rather than a main course. She resolved to reevaluate her appetite while he was gone though, there might be more there than a mound of tabouli and a few stuffed grape leaves. Maybe even a mixed grill!
Ok, she was hungry, she realized it.  She talked her bodyguards into splitting some bread and hummus with her while she mapped out the rest of the evening, making sure to provide for a little more coffee and some cagey and clandestine romance. She would test him she thought, catching and holding his glance from time to time, even taunting him a bit with a half-crooked smile.  She wasn't sure how strong or confident he was, but she would find out. Having never done this before, she felt a bit of nervous guilt that tasted better than the hummus. She would surgically remove him from his masculine menagerie, daring him with a tiny nod and a slight flare of her nostrils. He would have no defense for this orchestrated assault, and she wondered how he would react - would he withdraw into the safety of his clumsily clustered comrades, or would he emerge and overtake her impudence with his cool and calculated confidence. Frankly she supposed the former, but prayed for the latter, despite the fact she had no idea what she would do if he approached her.  She hadn't noticed that he had returned a few moments earlier, so lost in her plans. But he was back, and she was ready for the first exam.  One step at a time, time for her trip to the Ladies room now, time to declare her intentions.
He got peculiarly excited when he saw her shoulder dip indicating that she would push her chair back a bit with her thin hips and then rise. For a second, he was afraid she might be leaving, but he noticed she wasn't reaching for anything as she rose. Yes tall and thin, no she didn't look at him. He did a quick scan of his friends, hoping they were involved with something significant, for he knew it was about thirty feet from her table to the restroom, and if lucky, he could watch her all the way, eleven seconds of indulgence, two blinks and a forty degree sweep of his head. It would be the boldest thing he had done in a lifetime of bold but unrealized schemes - he drew his breath and vowed not to count, afraid the nuance of numbers would roll of his lips, tipping his intrigue to his friends. Yes she was rising, and he was almost dying.
She kept her head dipped as she stood slowly from her cradled cocoon. She would not look at him at all, she would not let him know this slow, sultry sachet was for him.  To tell the truth, she wasn't sure she could be sultry, having never practiced it.  And as far as a sachet went, there were no assurances there either.  It had better be figured out quickly she thought, or she might stumble and fall halfway to to the hammam. As she stepped away from her chair, she looked away from his table, smiled, and began to take small measured steps. For the first time since she was in her teens, she became very aware of her derriere, not a good thing especially when her only image of a sultry walk came from a Mata Hari movie she had seen as a little girl. This short walk might be far more treacherous than she bargained for.
Well, his surveillance scheme backfired almost immediately - the minute she began to walk away from her table, he realized for the first time how cheaply he had held the word elegant. He knew its meaning now, it was draped all over her. In an instant, he had lost his nerve and half of his mind. She walked across the room like she was meeting her lover for the tenth time in a day - slowly, surely, all his always. He knew there was no rival at the other end of the stroll, but he was jealous, jealous of a love that would never be his.  His mouth was open he figured, so he squished his lips together and rejoined the banality of the table banter and wondered if he would regain his composure before she returned.  His or not, he wanted desperately to look into her face as she came back, choosing to stare down the improbable, choosing to know if there was a semblance of hope in her eyes. He needed to know.
She wasn't sure how she made it to the wash room without falling or laughing.  All at once, walking became like smiling when you are told to smile, virtually impossible. She had felt his eyes on her too, but only his. They pressed against her, through her clothes into her skin like a lukewarm rag. What had he thought? Did he like watching her? Was he laughing or was he appreciating her?  She might never know. Pushing the door open assertively, she moved determinedly past the long row of mirrors, caring not for their inevitable inferences, hoping only to collect herself before she returned, if she returned - the idea that she would now walk back in full view of him, having to look his way was crushing.  She had no schema for this enterprise.....
To be continued

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Things were coming together for him, at least the way he had wanted them to.  Funny, he thought, as he went down his list of goals, the satisfaction of achieving each waned more rapidly lately. He had been working at a large bank, lost in a corner compiling numbers and perpetually fighting off the tedium.  It amused him to think that although he was surrounded by enormous amounts of money in some form or other, he made so little - surely this place could spare more. It was pure boredom that drove him out of fixed fiduciary functions into the wide open world. When he left the bank for the newspaper, he thought he had broken away into paradise.  Paradise turned out to be ok, but the luster wore off the dream quickly. The dream was still fine, and he loved his work, but something was missing, something a bit incomplete about the whole thing. He knew this pursuit of fulfillment of his wouldn't be a serial affair however, the newspaper would be enough professionally, his deeper need for satisfaction would have to be fed elsewhere.
He had worked hard making his way to the paper, writing short pieces as a part-time contributor for a few years. He had charmed and old English teacher to help him proof them, and he had even begun to develop his photography skills in the process. By the time he was ready to step up and apply for a full-time position, he was handling his own articles and his own pictures. With Coehlo-like confidence, he vowed to work on his own book as he learned his trade at the paper. Most likely, he did not understand or appreciate fully that he had found his niche' so early on in his life, it just all seemed so natural. He loved Jordan, the little bits and bobs of it, the people, the history, the fact that the people knew the history. He thanked God he was a Muslim in a Muslim country where the lessons of the Koran and of its people were not lost in a Western fugue -  he would make a living telling and showing the small, simple stories that held together the nation, held together the elegant ancestry of a thousand generations of Jordanians.
It was increasingly difficult to keep his production up - stories, photos, friends all took a toll on his calendar.  He wasn't getting rich either, but he could see a future. It all shouldn't be so tiring he thought, he should be more enthused than he was.  The paper was treating him well, and he many friends and mentors there. He had no problems finding stories, and he was developing an eye for things, his pictures were improving (though he stubbornly ignored the advice of an old friend, extolling him to explore the "thirds rule"). He feared he had entered his profession quickly, and had landed in a comfortable looking place that would swallow him for an eternity, well at least for a long, long time. Maybe it wasn't so much the place, as it was that he was in it alone.  Family and friends were no longer filling out the edges for him, it was time to find a partner, a woman who would take up the frustrations and vagaries of his day.  Someone he could share his wishes and aspirations with, someone who would make him not care if he achieved any of them.
Getting ready to go out that night, he decided not to don a sport look, choosing instead to attempt to create a more sophisticated version of himself - a collar perhaps, slacks that weren't born looking old and used, and a sweater that might have been too much for his masculinity a few years earlier.  And it wouldn't be just Armani and artifice (not that he had any Armani) - he would comport himself like a man confident of his future, ready to accept and sanction any felicitations from suitable companions.  When he walked into that cafe later, men would look then defer, and women would blush then confer - he would own the place, not just because he knew the owner, the waiters, their cousins and uncles, but because he was the man.  He laughed softly to himself when it occurred to him that wool sweaters and mid-priced aftershave provided no such guarantees.
As his confidence slid back down a bit from his vision of the victorious conquest of the cafe aborted, he contemplated taking his camera that night. Not to capitalize on any serendipitous moments, but to use it as a tool to talk to a woman.  He had no idea how a successful exchange would transpire, but a camera couldn't hurt.  It was heavy enough he thought to still his shaking hands, and perhaps the notion of being interviewed by a reporter might be enough to get him through the door so to speak, at least long enough for her to start to appreciate his other not so immediately appreciable qualities.  He wasn't sure either what those were, just more of the equation that had to be worked out.  Still, the camera couldn't hurt.
He turned his attention to his hair.  To this point, he had held himself hostage to a gel-concocted cowlick of sorts, sweeping up off his forehead stopping just short of a horn. It just wouldn't do tonight though, he needed something more mature, something that exuded a manly mettle but not a haughty hubris.  Perhaps he would wash it again, then just toss it a bit and leave it like that, like he really didn't care.  That was it - tonight he would work as hard as he could to appear as if he cared about nothing, and nothing would start at the top of his head.  He was very pleased with this strategy of non-strategy - maybe he didn't need the camera after all.
To be continued....


Despite his lower blood sugar levels, he was warming up to the football banter that was slowly unfolding at his table.  This was a tradition after all, and it wasn't his friends fault that he was losing  interest in the cordiality of the convention. It was old territory, but the revue was mandatory, as were the somewhat worn objections: Bayern Munich (his team) had won more German league titles than any other team, and had won the UEFA Championship four times, at least one more title than the best of the teams of his compatriots.  He would point out (for the hundredth time) that they had won their league title consistently throughout the past century, winning five in the last decade alone.  He considered these data as supreme and incontestable, and had long since stopped listening to any protestations. The only question tonight was whether or not they would boil the debate down to its sinews and drag in thirty years worth of players.  He didn't have the energy to support Franz Beckenbauer vs Bobby Charlton as he should, determined to ply his second trade of the evening - somehow talking to the woman a dozen feet away that had captured his imagination and who had exposed the hole in his soul.
He liked her posture, odd he thought to like a posture, but he did. She was taller than he imagined he would prefer, and probably thinner. As he tumbled down a list of her attributes, he noticed there was no compromise, no talking himself into any uncomfortable features or quirky facets - she would be perfect as his eyes poured over her, smoothing, assuaging, purifying. He had watched an old man spreading plaster on a wall once, his hands softly pulling a trowel down not filling in the imperfections, but asserting his love into the texture of the space. He knew it would be like this each time he looked at her, in any light, in any place he would reconstruct her this way with his eyes, his longing, his love. There would be no fade either, nothing of hers would ever lose this newness, each time he looked at her would be like this, there would be no fade.
It occurred to him that she might break his heart, somewhere in the midst of his second frufy coffee and an argument about the best goal-keeper in the modern era. He wasn't afraid of this possibility, as he had been sufficiently (in his mind anyway) inoculated with enough love and loss cliches by his favorite author, Paulo Coehlo. Deep down though, he supposed surviving her loss before he even met her would be more than he might cope with, literary under girding aside. He had already weathered a few heartaches, but the things he felt now for this woman whispered their admonitions, pleading portents of pain should he fail her, them.
Pain was a relatively new concept for him. The few failures in relationships had been difficult and he was lonely now, wondering at once whether he should even consider pursing this current interest. He suspected that the consequences of his previous dalliances would be minor compared to losing her.  This was all new territory for him - a new threat to his recent resolution to be more assertive; now instead of worrying about initial rejection, he worried that she would be receptive, and that he would then lose her.  It was all a bit overwhelming for a two minute silent soliloquy.
He wondered what Paulo would do at this moment. Was Paulo ever a "ladies man?"  Would he stroll over and talk to the woman not feeling his friends' eyes on his back, or the forbidding force field projected by her zealous guardians?  What would he say if he actually made it to the table unscathed?  Would Paulo acknowledge the other two, even include them in a conversation?  Or would he focus entirely on the object of his desire? Would she be responsive?  Would she see his immediate charm, be overwhelmed by the language of his love?  He frowned a bit, realizing for the first time that he had something less than a positive thought about his would-be mentor - he was now jealous of Paulo Coehlo. 
He felt like he was in his own philosophy class.  Sliding between realities and fantasies, losing the distinction between either.  He had never been folded into and against himself like this.  He was sure his friends were noticing his distractions, they probably figured he was tired.  He was working a new job after all, one that was very demanding and required odd hours at work.  Maybe that was it, he was fatigued and that explained all of this metaphysical musing.  There - he had just gone thirty five seconds without thinking about her.  He wondered if he could do it again, but doubted it.  Looking at her again, he caught her looking back for the first time, and he didn't know what to do other than to hold her eyes with his. When she broke contact, he almost looked away but did not.  Her eyes returned to his with a renewed resolve, and he knew for the first time that his imagination could now take substance.  He was a bit light headed, not exactly sure  if he was in love, or if he had ingested too much caffeine - it didn't much matter at this point, the night would be like no other.
To be continued....