My Name was Supposed to be Elizabeth Ann

— Stories from the Roads (Not) Taken

Home from the hospital, my daughter says, Why, Mom? 

The big things, yes. Fire and flood. Hypocrisy and hate. 

But that’s not what she means today. Today, she means the mystery of unintelligible suffering. 

When she was little, I knew all, healed all. Her growing stole my magic. Her growing made me mortal.

Now she is the healer. Now she knows more than I have ever seen or will. I hold her as she weeps and tells me of the woman she could not save.

Is she your first, I ask.

She shakes her head, steadies her voice. I’ve seen other people die.

Her words are rocks too heavy to lift. 

Instead, knowing it will not–cannot–suffice,

I say, I’ll make us pancakes for dinner. 

Blueberry, her favorite.

**********

This is dedicated to my daughter, an RN and my superhero. You are my heart.

Once upon a time…

A good little girl waits patiently for her fairy godmother to return the voice her father stole then buried, unmarked, in the woods surrounding their condo.

In this version, they forget about her and she dies.

Or,

They remember her, but they sell her voice and keep the money. Then she dies and they take a cruise.

Or,

She isn’t good at all. She deserves it, all that singing. Who does she think she is? She kills herself.

Or,

No one dies. They all live happily ever after.

Fool.

Yes, you there, believing all that bunk.

Once upon a time, a waiting-for-no-one girl steals a shovel and finds her own damn voice.

The beginning.

*****

“In Which, Magic” originally appeared online in Issue 12 of The Mighty Line. Says editor-in-chief John Heggelund, “Michele Reisinger’s prose strikes like a bullet, subverting classic tropes to create a modern fairy tale in little more than 100 words.”

(second in a series on teaching media literacy in high schools)

So I’m glad you’re here today. Have a seat. Cameras on, if you don’t mind. Thanks.  

You may be wondering why I invited you here. 

Good question. I’ll get to that. 

But first I want to tell you a story:

My daughter is an RN and works night-shift at a northeast Philadelphia hospital. A few days before her first Pfizer shot, she messaged me with a disturbing report blowing up several social media sites. Apparently, the Pfizer vaccine had been linked to infertility, and women of childbearing age were being cautioned against receiving it. She’s getting married this fall and they want children someday, but she also doesn’t want to die of Covid or infect anyone else.

Understandably concerned, she asked what I thought. I told her to send me the article and we’d talk.

Some of you are nodding.

You know the article I mean? Scary, right? 

Here’s the thing. I love and respect science, but I am no scientist. 

However, I am a pretty decent researcher. So that’s what I did.

I researched.

Guess what I discovered?

The article was fake. False. Full of malarkey.

AKA, bullshit.

You don’t believe me? 

Well, guess what? That’s why you’re here.

I recently began a unit on media literacy with your kids. They’re awesome, by the way. You can tell them I said so.

Anyway, some adults assume their teenagers, as digital natives, are digital literates

Guess what? They’re not.

And neither are many of their parents.

You’re squirming now. 

Good. 

Raise your hand if you ever posted inflammatory content on Facebook or Twitter. Forwarded an email filled with lies and misattributions?

You? Of course not. Never!

Wrong again.

Adults do it all the time. 

The same adults who are parents who would never, ever allow their kids to get away with lying, with spreading rumors or gossip about Ms. X and Mr. Y–those same adults willfully, eagerly let their thumbs do the talking when the subject is 

politics, 

or religion,

or immigration,

or welfare,

or abortion,

or whatever other hot-button, I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong issue that just

PISSES US OFF.

And it’s not okay.

In fact, it’s dangerous. Terrifying, actually. 

Because too many of us can’t distinguish fact from falsehood. Too many of us are building worldviews on compromised foundations.

What do I mean? Excellent question.

Let’s think about building physical structures.

What happens when you build a house on degraded or inferior materials?

Its foundation inevitably shifts, cracks, and maybe allows a rainstorm to flood your basement. You lose everything in your basement.

Or it could fall down, and you lose your house and everything in it.

Or it could fall down when your family is inside. 

Or it could fall down like a domino on your neighbors’ houses when your family is inside and your neighbors are in their yards and…

Bottom line, building a house on an unstable foundation is NEVER a good idea.

The same idea applies to building a worldview on an unstable foundation.

I see you shaking your heads. You follow me?

Good.

So here’s what I’d like you to do.

First, review our first lesson on trust. Remember what I said: We’re building a foundation.

Second, put a pause on your posting. Unless it’s pictures of your kids, funny pet videos, or yummy recipes,  just don’t for now. 

And third,  watch your inbox for more in this series. Over the next several weeks, my seniors and I will discuss that Pfizer article, as well as bias, echo chambers, and strategies for accurately separating fact from fiction. Consider this an open invitation to join our conversation. 

See you in class!

(First in a series on teaching media literacy…)

I’ve been told I’m weird. I love teaching writing.

(Grading writing, not so much. But that’s a topic for another post.)

I particularly love teaching research writing. Forget all the formatting and college prep stuff–though that’s part of it, yes, and important–what I love about it is that knowing how to conduct and synthesize true research is a life skill.

I’m not just teaching English–I’m teaching survival skills.

Ignorance is strength, opines George Orwell’s classic Nineteen Eighty-Four, arguably more relevant now than at its 1949 publication. 

In other words, I tell my students, your ignorance is someone else’s strength. 

Someone who most likely does not have your best interest at heart.

Someone who can–and will–manipulate your ignorance to their benefit.

Someone who thinks it’s a good idea to storm the Capitol.

*****

I start by asking them whom they can trust and why. 

Their answers follow similar patterns: 

They say they just “know.” I say, What about strangers?

They trust people who are honest. I say, You mean you always do the right thing?

They trust people who keep their secrets. I say, What about secrets involving harm to self or others? 

They say they never thought of trust like this.

Then I play devil’s advocate. 

To the one who says he trusts no one, I say You’re saying I’m untrustworthy? To the one who says everyone lies, I say You’re calling me a liar? 

They laugh. They backpedal. They lean closer to their cameras.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Now we’re going to figure out what trust looks like. We’re going to describe the actions of an abstract Someone Trustworthy. We’re going to create a definition we can all agree on.

Because here’s the thing: 

Just as it’s dangerous to trust everything you see/read/hear, so too is it dangerous to distrust everything and everyone. As one of my kids pointed out, Sometimes you have to trust in order to learn something new. 

So how can you recognize Someone Trustworthy?

Consider the following:

Honesty. Do their words and actions match

If they say one thing and do another, watch out.

Motivation. Why do they say what they say and do what they do?  

If their words and actions are primarily fueled by self-interest and/or a desire to control, watch out.

Knowledge. What credentials support their words and actions? 

If they lack the first-hand training, skill sets, and/or experience needed in a specific situation, watch out.

Patterns of behavior. Do their words and actions consistently match up over time?

If they are Someone Trustworthy on Mondays but not Saturdays, at work but not at home, watch out.

Responsibility. Do they admit to wrongdoing? Strive to FIX it, LEARN from it, and  AVOID REPEATING it? 

If they refuse to accept the fact that they can make mistakes–that WE ALL make mistakes–watch out.

Ultimately, Someone Trustworthy exhibits all of those characteristics, not perfectly, but reliably. In other words, you can trust them to be trustworthy because that’s who they are by definition. Like a cat is a cat and not a rock.

Can you tell me what I mean by that, I ask my kids.

Here’s another thing I love about being an educator:

When my students GET IT. When the lightbulb that goes off in their minds is so bright it shines on everyone else in the class and they all go, Mm-hmm and nod as if the same brilliant idea has occurred to  them all at once.

That’s exactly  what happened when one of my students–normally quiet, normally reserved–unmuted himself and said, You can tell whether someone is trustworthy by how they act when they think no one is looking. 

Mic drop.  

Wondering how any of this connects to research and Orwell? Ignorance and insurgence?

See you in class next time.

…And my feet are killing me.

First thing I did when I got home was kick them off. Second thing, exchange my big girl clothes for sweatpants, a fat, fluffy sweatshirt and socks. Fuzzy socks.

See, I’ve been teaching remotely since before Thanksgiving, meaning at home in my family room, thirteen steps and two hallways from my bedroom, and equidistant from my kitchen and bathroom. Which any teacher will tell you is an  ideal working condition. 

Easy access to the bathroom, I mean. None of the rest of this has been ideal. At all.

Other than the occasional foray for groceries or to the CVS, I haven’t had to wear shoes since mid-November. Somedays, I didn’t even wear socks with my slippers because yup, that’s how I roll.

Anyway, today I had to return to my building because today we returned to hybrid instruction. Today, I had to not only defrost my frost-covered car, I had to decide what I wanted for lunch and pack it before I’d even considered what’s for breakfast and what on earth am I going to wear. And by the way, where are my pants? My work pants, I mean. Have you seen them?

Thank goodness for coffee. Thank goodness for travel mugs. Thank goodness I screwed that lid on tight because everything else was a hot Monday.

I couldn’t find anything. My remote. My pens. My routines.

But then the bell rang and the kids arrived. Not all of them, of course, just the Monday cohort minus the ones who forgot or who were too tired or worried or confused to know where they were supposed to be and when because the remote schedule is not the same as the hybrid schedule, nor the revised hybrid schedule, which is the one we’re following now. 

I think.

But it was good to see them. Even with the masks. Even with the blue Xs on their desks and the green bottle of spritz I have to spritz on the desks and the door after they leave and before second period arrives. 

I’ve got this, I thought. 

Shoulda knocked on wood.

The alarms went off mid-second, a mechanical feminine voice that’s supposed to be calming but isn’t, not when she’s announcing a lockdown. Not when we just started back and our capitol was just attacked by wacko-crackos who, Internet rumors have it, are planning a sequel. Or fifty. So I flipped off my lights and shoved desks away from my safe corner while my seniors, four boys, shoved the table and crouched where I pointed, six-foot bubbles be damned. We’ve been trained, you see. Teachers. Students. About how to hide. How to run.  How to barricade our doors and arm ourselves with anything that could be a weapon. Books. Chairs. Staplers. Canned goods long past their expiration. 

In case… you know. 

In case.

I wasn’t the only one frightened, my colleagues shared later. All of us believed it a real lockdown, but it wasn’t. Thank goodness. It was neither an emergency nor a drill. It was an accident. A malfunction in the system that was quickly fixed, quickly forgotten. Thank goodness. The rest of my day went well, and now I’m home wondering what to make for dinner.

My point?

I was–am–a bit unsettled.

And I’m glad to be home.

Thanks for listening.

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