I Hated School by Devon Miller-Duggan

Good lord, I hated school. This thought came to me courtesy of a younger friend posting about how irritated she is about her kid’s summer “homework.” I know there are solid arguments out there for a year-round school year (maybe especially in areas where kids need school to, you know, eat), but we don’t have that, and there are even more arguments about the importance of kids having down time. Big chunks of it. Of course, so much of education in this country is based, relentlessly, on bad info, increasing corporatization, criminal underfunding, and uncountable practices that have no basis in the actual needs of actual human children. Some of that long list is why I hated school. I also hated it because no one knew I had ADD, so every teacher and both my parents just thought my inability to remember that I had homework, let alone focus on it or remember to hand it in—it was just some sort of un-nameable character flaw on my part. Also, homework was BORING.

Practically every teacher I ever had shook his/her head sadly and said some version of “You’re so bright…if you’d only apply yourself…” Aside from this phrase (still in heavy use, I suspect) turning my “gifts” into a club to beat me senseless with, it also taught me a very valuable lesson: Adults LIE. I used to feel very sad and angry about the extent to which I loathed school—kind of pathetically so–until recently.

My earliest memory of school is of the taste of Ritz crackers and tomato soup. My second earliest is of sitting in the back of the classroom (where I could sit because I was such a “good” girl—something I’m hoping to fully get over before I shuffle off this mortal coil…) so BORED I cried. Specifically bored into anguish by “Dick & Jane” readers. I do not understand the weird nostalgia for those torture devices. My third memory is of getting fewer Valentines than other kids—not sure what that was about—I hadn’t gotten weird or fat yet in first grade. I don’t remember feeling especially bad about it, just befuddled.

Even in the years when I had good/great teachers, I loathed school. It was, for me, a criminal distraction from reading and drawing and making things, and looking at fashion magazines. It was where I failed, every day, in some significant respect. I was too something—too slow with Math, too fast with words, too big, too loud, too arty, too bad at gym, too quiet, and way too mouthy for a girl, even as I was awfully busy being a good girl. Sometimes I’m amazed that I didn’t simply explode from my own paradoxes.

So now I have a Ph. D. and am a teacher. I tell my students that college is the first place I ever felt normal, so I arranged to stay. I’m not joking about that. I also try very hard not to lie to them.

All of which is to say that I think it’s probably criminal to give kids homework for the summer (except for reading lists, which I know can be troublesome, but which have some actual purpose). And it’s another example of how adults mess with kids—you have the summer off, oh, wait, except you don’t. Pick one, people. Don’t write “Excellence is our expectation.” over the door of your high school and then change principals yearly and run an inhumane swamp. Don’t tell kids that what’s in their text books is the last word, or even the most accurate word. Don’t bloody tell kids that they’ll regret never taking trigonometry (not for a nanosecond, though I am sad about not getting to take more algebra).

Don’t tell them they have to graduate from high school to go to college—there are options. Don’t tell them college will fix EVERYTHING. Don’t tell them they have to graduate from college to go to grad school. I know that last one is fact because I ignored requirements at two colleges (Why I loved college: I took stuff I cared about, from professors who cared about teaching and ignored course I knew would torture me.), never graduated and went off to graduate school without even really figuring it out. And don’t tell them that folks who haven’t earned authority deserve respect. That one can cause real problems—it’s tough enough being 14 without having to live with the fact that a third of the teachers and more than half the administrators in your school are, at best, incompetent. But I remain convinced that it’s better to grow up questioning authority than blindly respecting (isn’t that an oxymoron?) it.

Hated/feared/despised school. But I learned early what mattered to me and what didn’t. I learned not to trust adults. I learned to tell which adults were actually paying attention to me and which weren’t. I learned that the world is too often made of lies. Along the way, Ms. Galloway taught me to read T. S. Eliot and Mrs. Harker taught me to read Faulkner and Shakespeare, and Mr. Prillman taught me to stop claiming to be “lazy” in order to excuse my lack of focus, and even though I nearly flunked the science exam, he read it to the class because the answers were so off-beat—and that kind of made getting things wrong feel right.

College (especially, bless its beating heart, Mount Holyoke) taught me a zillion things, among them that it was just damn fine for a woman to use big words, and that there were people who could actually develop romantic feelings for non-traditionally brainy humans—that me being me was sufficiently functional, perfectly do-able.

Not sure exactly how summer homework connects to all that, but I have faith that it does. Because along the way, I have learned to trust that connections will emerge.

Disability Blog

This millennial disability blog was recommended to me–it’s good writing with a fresh perspective. Check it out!

From the author: I’m twenty-one years old and my name is Leah. I grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado until I was eighteen. Currently, I am living with my family and going to school to become an English high school teacher. I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis at age eight.

Thoughts on summer: “During the summer, my constant state of tired can no longer be hidden as well as I would like. In the summer, people find it weird to stay in bed instead of run around outside in the heat…which sounds like my personal hell. As much as I love things that go with summer (smoothies, lemonade, shorts, flip flops, the pool, etc) I loathe the heat purely because I can’t cool down enough with my long locks pinned to my head and my poodle hair becoming more obvious. I’d much rather snuggle my lovely pillows until the sun goes down and feel my burst of energy late in the evening.”

Link here: http://painfulstepforward.blogspot.com/?m=1


Gary Lawless is curating an important site–

He says: Here is another poem for my “sharing the poetry of Maine’s unheard voices” series:
It’s quiet in Darfur. It’s not  the silence of peace, but it’s the silence of death.
My homes that once carried histories of generations are now burned ashes on the
ground waiting for the wind to blow them to their final destination.
My mothers that were once Leaders of their communities are now used as war
My sisters that once had chances to be future leaders are now afraid to see the sun.
So I speak for them.
I speak for the thousand mothers who have been speaking forever but there is no-one
to listen.
I speak for the thousand girls who want to speak but don’t have a voice.
I speak for the thousand children of Darfur because they can only speak in silence.
I speak so they can be heard.
Because I feel their pain.
When I was a little girl I used to cry
but only in silence
never showing my parents my tears
not even my siblings, or peers
because they told us if you showed people your tears, it meant you were afraid
it meant you were weak, it meant you were powerless
Yes I was young, but I knew I wasn’t weak, and I knew I wasn’t powerless
I had and still have a weapon
A Voice
A voice that once it’s heard, demands attention
A voice that doesn’t only speak, but repeats
So I will speak so they can be heard.
Ekhlas Ahmed
Ekhlas Ahmed came to Portland from Darfur at the age of 12. She attended Casco Bay High School, and the University of Southern Maine. She now teaches at Casco Bay High School while working on a master’s degree. This poem is from a longer series of poems about her journey.


El Seed: Perception


From the artist El Seed:
“In my new project ‘Perception’ I am questioning the level of judgment and misconception society can unconsciously have upon a community based on their differences. 
In the neighborhood of Manshiyat Nasr in Cairo, the Coptic community of Zaraeeb collects the trash of the city for decades and developed the most efficient and highly profitable recycling system on a global level. Still, the place is perceived as dirty, marginalized and segregated. 
To bring light on this community, with my team and the help of the local community, I created an anamorphic piece that covers almost 50 buildings only visible from a certain point of the Moqattam Mountain. The piece of art uses the words of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic Bishop from the 3rd century, that said: ‘Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first.’
‘إن أراد أحد أن يبصر نور الشمس، فإن عليه أن يمسح عينيه’”

Secret Art & Poetry Trail

Maternal Mitochondria, collaborative duo of me and Isabel Winson-Sagan, is excited to share the news that our geochache trail is up!

Walk the path to find them all! 6 tiny sculptures with marbled messages. And a 7th, at the end, where you can sign the log.

Here is a bit of the hidden poem:

it’s dangerous
to hide all of your spirit
outside of yourself

and yet this land
compels all of those
who walk it.

Instructions are up at

For those of you who don’t geocache–just find your way to Santa Fe Skies RV Park at the start of Route 14, exiting from I-25.
Park near the office. A very short walk into the park leads you to the dog walking path on your right. Start there! It is less than a half hour easy walk round trip.

Geocaches never involve digging–each container is hung, but hidden.

And you don’t have to dress up, although I did:

My Dead Grandmother Advises You To Use Birth Control

You can see it in any old cemetery—the family plots full of children who died at birth or in infancy and the women who died much younger than their husbands, sometimes a row of them. The current societal debate on birth control seems peculiarly unaware of what women’s lives were like until the mid-20th century…basically, what my grandmothers’ lives were like.
MOTHERS! DON’T LEAVE YOUR CHILDREN ORPHANED! reads the handbill advertising birth control from Margaret Sanger’s clinic. Women dying of illegal abortions—and women dying from child bearing—were most likely the married mothers of big families, often upwards of ten children. For these women, their lives were haunted by a choice: attempt to refuse sex with their husbands or shorten their life expectancy by having a baby every year or so. Immigrant women in the slums of Manhattan’s lower east side gave birth on the kitchen floor, on newspaper, often tended by their eldest daughter, who might be a pre-adolescent girl.
There is a family story about this I have long wanted to tell. My maternal grandmother, Sadie, a Russian Jew, had a friend and neighbor who was Irish Catholic. This women had more than a dozen children. Her doctor told her one more would kill her. Her husband was willing to use birth control (it would have been condoms at that time), but she wasn’t sure.
Sadie drew herself up to her full height of 4 feet 11 inches and proclaimed: “God is telling you, through me, to use birth control. Save your life and take care of your children.” Apparently my grandmother trumped the Pope, because her neighbor lived to see her own grandchildren. Forget that my grandmother was a complete atheist—she was a good friend.
My maternal grandfather’s mother died giving birth to him. I always wondered about that—how did it happen. Until an inherited condition almost killed me in childbirth, a defect in the placenta causing it to stay in the uterus and cause violent bleeding. A D and C saved me, but I suddenly thought of my ancestress bleeding to death, but not before she passed this problem on through her DNA and eventually to me.
My reproductive history has been mercifully low-key—one pregnancy, one child. My mother, like her own, was a strong advocate of family planning and passed this on to me. I had a scary flirtation with pre-eclampsia during my pregnancy, and I was only 34. So I obviously wasn’t built for childbearing too late in life and was grateful I didn’t have to face the possibility.
Our grandmothers often had to weigh sexual intimacy in marriage against the threat of bodily destruction and death. This wasn’t good for relationships—and it wasn’t good for them. Without reproductive rights women’s lives aren’t just worse in every way. Without these rights, we may not be able to live at all.

A Video as beautiful as…anything

I was complaining recently that I don’t really like video art. “I’ve never seen a video that moved me as much as a painting,” I said. All that was about to change when I stepped into Vancouver’s museum of anthropology. I was already overwhelmed by the enormous First Nation carvings of the Pacific Northwest, and seemingly miles of artifacts. Then there was an exciting show that used words and calligraphy, from contemporary artists across Asia. I walked into “What A Loving and Beautiful World” and started crying and couldn’t stop. It was like seeing a traditional Japanese screen come to life, but it was much more than that.

When you touch a character, the world it embodies—from thunder to butterflies—comes to life.

Snow falling on ocean waves proved the most exquisite of all.

See some of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6vDk27jgwU