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01.26.06 6:03 p.m.

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.  

-Lao Tzu


Previously in Xenology: Xen had the wrong profession.

What have we learned?

I am awake in the early hours of a Sunday, which means my mind is too active with planning. I read somewhere that women's brains fire up the planning area while they are having sex. The theory holds that women associate sex with babies and love - possibly not in that order - and so are making sure there is air in their tires and the checkbook is balanced just in case such becomes imperative. I could make a joke about the infrequency of female orgasms at this juncture, but that would be low humor.

My brain invariably becomes an aurora of activity just after I have awoken to pee, which is sincerely a bitch for me, as I would much rather get a bit more sleep and know I cannot until I vent upon the screen.

(It is probably not wise to mention urination and venting in the same run-on sentence.)

At first, we all thought it was simple a computer glitch that caused the mechanical voice to call and cancel each of my pending substitute jobs, which totaled around fifteen separate calls that I could not ignore. The robot will only keep calling until acknowledged. My friends told me to ignore and deny that part of my brain that fomented paranoia that I had been fired from my job substituting.

The letter I received yesterday when arriving home from an extra session of tutoring confirmed that I had indeed been canned for what were supposedly "several negative reports." I had my doubts that it was several, focusing on one that occurred on Thursday where a girl tossed a book at her friend and hit her back. I yelled at the thrower that this was completely inappropriate and wrote her a disciplinary referral. She sat quietly the remaining three minutes until the bell rang. I let the injured girl go to check out her back in the bathroom. I felt I had done all I could, but I imagine someone disagreed, as I was asked to perform a hall duty instead of teaching my ninth period class. I have little doubt that the "several reports" are simply this one. I apparently did not get any credit for busting a drug deal I happened to overhear last week, which should have cushioned me just a little bit... unless I accidentally busted someone related to an administrator... No matter how well intentioned I was in reporting that I heard a drug deal, I could easily lose my job for getting the wrong student in trouble.

What is sort of funny is that I was seconds away from declining the job that I believe led to my firing, as Emily had that day off. But for the fact that I have pressing debts that require reconciling, I would have spent the whole day in and around her arms and would therefore still have gainful employment into the immediate future. This should go to show you how useless the Puritan work ethic is and has always been. Take days off, my friends, before you are forced to do so.

I am disposable, as is proved quite readily by the fact that I am disposed of. This is how most school's administration would treat teachers if they had not formed such a powerful union. Substitutes do not have a union. It is much tidier to no longer offer me jobs in the whole district (rather than just the school where it was felt I was lacking) than to contradict one angry parent. If the events at Salem taught us nothing else, it is that young teenage girls are paragons of truth and would most certainly never fabricate and exaggerate to amuse themselves or get others in trouble.

Strangely enough, the district does not consider what they did firing. They merely have taken me off their sub list and are no longer going to allow me to be hired, but I am certainly in no way fired. I am sure this is some sort of liability issue so I cannot collect unemployment from them or the like.

Tomorrow, Monday, I am going to call the personnel office and confirm my suspicions. Then I am going to call and request a meeting with that building's principal, who has always seemed amiable up until this instance and even while passing me on that ill-fated hall duty. I actually woke up from a dream where that principal had called all of the teachers for whom I ever subbed, most who criticized but some who praised me.

Emily was shocked by this news, as she had been talking my teaching skill up to me before my paranoia was so tersely confirmed. She feels my only deficit is also what makes me so good, the fact that I interact and try to help the students rather than sitting aloof behind a desk. I don't disagree that a school might understand success only in terms of a teacher in the front of the room as the students work. Intermingling with them poses a disciplinary problem, but it is one that I have always felt capable of handling. I usually know the classes for whom I must be a silent taskmaster. However, we must consider children tiny rebellious humans, no matter how distant they seem from that most days. If we walk into a room, all bluster and fierceness, they will react with anger and disorder, acting out far worse than when one takes a light touch. Discipline and loud words must be used precisely and not as a matter of course.

I am trying not to let this situation get to me, which primarily requires that I not think of the ramifications, particularly on my bank account but also my credibility in this profession. However, in seeking out new jobs (which occurred instantly after learning the news), I don't narrow my focus to the world of education. Academia is certainly my stomping grounds, but no one ever said that had to involve teaching. I am going to call my old library on Monday and see if they have any positions open. There, unless I grossly miss my mark, my reputation is golden.

I should have written this last night to give myself more of a chance of sleeping past dawn. Dan Kessler was over visiting and we were sharing pertinent stories of our lives, which often seemed to run nearly parallel and it is a shame we did not become closer sooner. For example, just prior to my discovering I no longer had subbing jobs awaiting me, he was complaining that he had been unceremoniously fired from a job for which he was working through his last two weeks before quitting. They just fired him because they could, because it was one last vulgar display of power existing only to wound him.

My mother feels that this week will bring me to a new job for which I am much better suited and which will pay me more than the pittance Wappingers saw fit to afford me. I try not to question the optimism of this, because I am perhaps not as confident as I should be. Most ever school district in the area laughs at how little I was being paid, offering twenty dollars more a day. I was not working in Wappingers simply for the money, but because they almost exclusively hire from applicants who have already been substitute teachers for their district. I very much doubt I am even near that pool any longer, and it annoys me to feel I have wasted time where I could have been fiscally solvent.

I do not fancy the spurt of interviewing which now must happen, though things are not as bleak as all of that. I am still employed my Dutchess County BOCES, taking care of those students who, though attitude or disability, are merely not appropriate for normal schooling. Similarly, a district in Poughkeepsie expressed interest in me, only backing off when I pointed out that I was a sub for Wappingers. Additionally, Newburgh is always looking for subs. I will call them this week and hopefully will be back in the saddle by next week. Though I only allow it in the periphery, I really do not have the luxury of not working full time.

This has been an awful week for work. My refrigerator was briefly held shut using only magnets and rejection letters from places I had applied. Denied as a teacher, denied as a freelance journalist, denied from being a Google advertiser.

I have hope, but you may call it superstition. Last night, walking the dog and lolling this predicament around my head, I saw the most brilliant shooting star blazing across the black velvet of the night sky. I wished upon it and took it as an omen that things are not as bad as they could be. Emily and I seem to be having more than our share of bad luck of late, but things can get better. And they damn well better or I am becoming Evil!Xen and sucking the world into a hellmouth. Or running for governorship of Minnesota. Whichever is easier.

When my mother learned the news that I was most definitely fired, she offered to take me to a salon to have my haircut and to buy me lunch. Lunch was Wendy's, but the haircut, I am devastated to admit, actually looks pretty good on me. I have bangs, which is something of a new experience for me. The last time I had a professional haircut was something in the neighborhood of two decades ago (and I am positive I was given a bowl cut then). I gave myself excuses for the cutting, mostly that my hair was starting to look thin because I always had my hair back in a ponytail in order to look professional. The baldness gene flees from my family, so I knew it wasn't that. The fact remains, however, that I will soon have to be interviewed and humans seem too ignorant to understand that one can have long hair and still be a consummate professional. Or, rather, long hair does not preclude one being a consummate professional. Even Melissa the Tattooed Lady told me to get a haircut in order to conform to the expectations of future employers. I hate that reasoning, though I saw it at the heart of most of the insistences that I cut it. I say bollocks to a concept of professionalism that requires men to be closely shorn.
Not the best "before" picture.

I worried beforehand that I would have a meltdown. The last time I had short hair - and I most certainly do not mark my current hair style as "short" - I did it in sixth grade because there was a girl I like who had made it clear that she would only kiss short haired boys. She neglected to inform me that she was a Jehovah's Witness and would be saving kissing for marriage, but I felt that I had sold myself out for a pretty face anyway.

I do not feel that I have sold myself out now. My hair looks good, even when I wake up much too early on a Sunday to write. It took some getting used to that my hair looked this way - leaving the salon, I told my mother that I would not touch the back of my head for fear of reality setting in - but I am still most certainly me. My primary identification has long ceased to be "someone with long hair". It was a noticeable feature, but I didn't give it much thought and increasingly found it off-putting when it was the factor on which I was assessed. There are so many better reasons to discriminate against me.

I feel that cutting off my hair forced away some of the history that went along with its growth, which you might imagine I would regard negatively. Yet I can do without that history weighing me down. I sacrifice what I am for what I will become as a continual process. To do otherwise is stagnation and stagnation is moments before dead (rather a lofty change itself). A change may have been long overdue.

That being said, I am growing my hair long again.


I called the woman who signed the letter to have me taken off the sub list. This was actually the third time I called her since I returned home from my subbing job that day (only one district removed me, not all). It seemed she did not want to return my call for some reason. I was cordial and upbeat, which baffled her. When I asked for the specific complaints that led to my dismissal, she seemed to cower.

"Y-you want to know why you dismissed specifically?"

"Yes. I do. Please. I am going to keep being a teacher after all."

The incidences boiled down to one girl claiming I made unspecified "inappropriate" comments to her - I told her that her assignment was not "gay," and that she was required to do it despite its orientation - and alleging that I made her uncomfortable by tapping her on the shoulder. This girl was not the thrower of the book, by the way, but the girl at whom a biology textbook was flung. I had been nicer to her than I should have been, allowing her and a friend to go to the bathroom, and she had fabricated lies about me in order to get her friend out of trouble.

I was not told about these incidences prior to being dismissed, nor was I allowed to contradict them. The unquestioned testimony of a twelve-year-old was taken as gospel and was sufficient that a series of adults who should have far better judgment signed off on my dismissal. The ridiculousness of this was lost of this bureaucracy. I was, after all, an expendable commodity and therefore not entitled to defense.

I can't even be much more than annoyed at the perfidious whelps that led to my being dismissed. In a sane and rational world, the principal would have asked me what happened and, hearing my version of events, contrasted it with the undoubtedly scattered story invented by two girls who were not yet a year divorced from being in elementary school. It is the adults that I blame, which is one of the main reasons I chose not to schedule a meeting with that principal. In ordering me dismissed on the word of a girl whose friend I wrote up, he said all he needed to about me. In order to maintain internal consistency, he cannot apologize or sympathize with me. All of the extra duties I gladly did for that school have to be ignored, all the kind words in passing. He needs to keep his job and that involves doing what will get him the least flack from parents.

Soon in Xenology: Job prospects hopefully.

last watched: American Beauty
reading: Flowers for Algernon
listening: Tender Buttons

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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