3. Please describe, in 1000 words or less, your reasons for
applying to teachers' college
By Maria Meindl
The pension, of course.
All my life I have been astounded by the learning potential of children. The time I babysat my cousin was the most deeply fulfilling of my life. In short, attending a teacher-training course would represent the fulfilment of
[FIND REF] has noted the role of narrative in creating persuasive essays. Thus, I am replying to Question 3 of this application by quoting some recent entries from my journal.
December 10, 2016
“Brood All Inner View.”
Two women, one pregnant, their voices squeaky and lisping. I lean in to wipe the counter. “Everything okay here?”
I think they were actually teachers. That’s what I’d say to make you laugh.
In a way I shouldn’t be doing? In a way you shouldn’t be laughing?
If a snide remark falls unsaid in a solitary mind does it count for or against the speaker or the intended or imagined hearer and is anyone keeping score?
The scene: a meeting room in the student services building. Dramatis personae: the eight women in COMPLIT4001F Media Frames, and a woman in a brown suit named Davida Donovan, typing furiously on her laptop as we speak.
“Cast your mind back. Is there anything else?”
Absent: the sweep of black hair with its emanations of expensive hairspray, the world’s tiniest butt in workout pants, the tanning-bed-tinged clavicles hovering over a surrealistically large bust, the eyeliner perpetually running because there is a perpetual crisis going on. The dread of seeing her manicured hand go up because we’ll all be held prisoner for quite possibly an hour by her personal – oh, so very personal – “response” to the text. Absent: Mary O’Neill.
All characters stare at the table, cheeks flushed. Long pauses, as if each word were being excised with a scalpel. Confessions about how unhappy you were at home. How you and your wife have not slept together since the last baby. A hand on a knee. A late-night phone-call. A too-familiar remark.
I’m last and I tell the truth. “He was fine with me,” I say.
EMAIL DRAFT 1.
I’m touched to the heart by the difficult situation you face, not being able to feel like a real family at Christmas because I have never met Consuela’s children. I’m truly, truly sorry to interfere with your family life. However, I have made other plans.
EMAIL DRAFT 2.
Thanks for the timely invitation. Don’t worry about sending a ticket. If I set out walking right now I should be in Vancouver by Christmas. Next Christmas that is. Just start dinner without me.
Thanks Dad. I’ll miss you but Mom doesn’t have anyone. Maybe next year.
December 12, 2016
Opened with Durrell this morning. I was early. Waiting for him out front, pacing up and down in the cold, I enjoyed that stretched feeling I have in my thighs on Sundays. From the dancing. Mostly.
I have one strapless bra and pair of black lace panties that don’t actually cup the cheeks but sort of drape over them enticingly. And a black halter top with a chain for a neckline and black leggings and suede boots. This is what I wear on Saturdays and have for three years since I worked as an usher at Convocation and saw an oldish couple, the woman looking worried and leading the man, who looked even more worried, by the elbow. They were going the wrong way. I took the woman’s elbow and started leading them toward the seats when a guy who turned out to be Ian Grossman, looking more worried than both of them put together, took my arm and we made our way in a chain to a spot where the senior Grossmans could watch their only child receiving his MBA. Afterwards he found me at the back of the hall and thanked me. “They came in from Up North,” he said, looking heavenward.
His degree was paid for by the engineering firm where he works. This, combined with parents who are together – in the sense of physically adhering to each other at all times – means that Ian Grossman has very little to worry about, at least by my standards.
Pretty much every Saturday since that day, Ian folds his shirt neatly up over his wrists and I liberate my hair and we go dancing and then back to his condo overlooking the lake for a round or two of gymnastic sex that feels like an extension of the dancing. In the morning he takes me for brunch at the Westin Harbour Castle in enough time for me to put in a full day at the library with my dancing clothes lying folded in my bag. By Sunday morning I’m back to my usual boots and a work shirt hanging over the tops of my jeans and my hair wound into a bun that tames the curls and provides a secure place to stick a pencil while I’m reading.
Last night I told Ian the whole story. He nodded and looked worried. He looked worried while he was dancing – which is not unusual – and I saw his face while we were having sex which was, unusually, in the missionary position, which I really got into. He looked worried then, too. But there was a kind of heat coming out of him, out of his chest. I daresay from his heart. He sat up afterwards and said he was planning to buy a house with two apartments, one for us and one for his parents. And then he went to sleep. I lay awake worrying because I realized I don’t know what Ian does for a job, and that it may be a little weird to ask him, now.
Define your terms. An orphan is an individual with no parents. Generally, it’s a child who has suffered a traumatic loss, such as many children are experiencing in the city of Aleppo at this time. What you call an “Orphans’ Christmas” is nothing more nor less than a collection of middle-aged women who are so uncompromising – indeed, bitchy – that no one, including their own flesh and blood, wants to spend any time with them. And who, at the festive table, are likely to get inebriated and complain about how all the men have taken up with younger women. Glancing at their dating apps between courses.
Sure. I’ll make the turkey. Could you maybe ask Trixie to come and get me in her car if she has her snow tires? Remember last year when I tried to take the roasting pan on the subway. Thanks.
December 13, 2016
I have cut off the sleeves of my work shirt. It’s cold but I like the way Durrell’s arms look when he pushes the sideways handle-things – whatever they’re called – into place on the coffee machine. I try to make my movements decisive and efficient, like Durrell’s. And serious. I want serious coffee muscles.
Durrell brought a tray of muffins from his apartment, which is upstairs. He does the baking for the café. He said, “It’s nice to have a woman’s touch around here.” He picked up one of the muffins, miraculously not flinching from the heat, split it in half and dabbed butter in the centre. We watched the butter melt into the crack and each ate a piece of the muffin.
The place started to fill up. We worked together in serious sync. Later, we stood leaning against the counter, finishing the muffin, with our thighs touching out of sight.
“First night?” he asked, jutting his chin toward a couple at the very end.
“How do you know?”
“They didn’t know who was paying.”
Durrell shook his head. “But the newspapers.” The couple divided the sections into his and hers by unspoken agreement, settled down to read them without talking. I thought of Ian and me in our accustomed seats at our accustomed table at the Westin Harbour Castle, lost in our own thoughts. “Besides, it’s only ten a.m. If I had a new lady in my bed I’d keep her there all day.” He wet his finger and gathered up some muffin crumbs, pressed them into his mouth and let his tongue show as he drew it away.
“The question is, will they last?”
“Yes,” said Durrell.
The couple kissed. Durrell raised his eyebrows at me.
Long pause. “So,” he finally said, “will they last?”
“What makes you say that?”
“Statistics. Most don’t.”
You don’t know me on Saturday nights or Sunday mornings. You know me sitting across the desk in your office, which smells of dust and old paper. Of thought. You look at me from under your eyebrows with your head facing a little away. This position is habitual, like the way you hold your pencil by both ends when you’re lecturing, then slip it into one hand and grind the eraser against one side of your forehead. You’ve got a red spot where you’ve rubbed that eraser, possibly for fifty years. I used to want thought-callouses, too.
People don’t use pencils any more, you often remark. And people don’t get to think for a living. Now, meetings take up most of an academic’s eighty-hour week and no one can write for more than fifteen minutes at a time. A book like Media Frames might not get written these days, you’re fond of saying. Certainly, no one would write a single book and teach a single course on it and have the rest of their time to think. But for me it will be different. I’m under your protection.
“Say more,” you say.
And I’m fascinating. And we’re flying. Cassandra Lupita Jellicoe and Randall James Cawley – R.J., to me – wrapped in a shining cloud of thought.
Mary O’Neill is
Durrell is sort of my supervisor, at least while I’m training. He’s not my boss, though. And he’s definitely not my teacher.
December 16, 2016
When Dad first moved across the country I wrote him actual letters. I’d write a little bit each day and mail them once a week. I put stickers on the envelopes and enclosed drawings and photos and sparkles and leaves and petals and any light, flat thing from my life I could find. My parents weren’t – get this – technically separated. It’s just he was retraining as a spiritual advisor and she as a therapist. Teaching school had no meaning for either of them, anymore. The marriage that started in teachers’ college was part of the outmoded package.
I had a new job, too: to be happy and to stay close to him. I imagined his delighted expression when he read my letters. The image of his face had to be conjured up from our two-week visits in the summer. And soon, my visits to Vancouver involved attending my father’s commitment ceremonies with Francesca and then Anna (and soon, apparently, Consuela) and acquiring dizzying numbers of step-siblings, and I went limp inside because I knew Dad was not listening any more.
Until I met you. I went to your office every week, first to talk about my papers, and then to talk about my Master’s thesis (“Mirror, Mirror: The Selfie as Cultural Text”) and the recommendation you were going to give me for Harvard. You said I had a Harvard mind. And between meetings the world woke up with things to notice and tell you, and make you laugh and look at me with an expression of absolute fascination and encouragement as if I were the only person in the world. Is that wrong?
“You need to trust yourself,” Mom said, stroking my hair in one of my three teenaged meltdowns. And I dried my tears because I knew trusting herself had left her alone and broke.
All I know is that I haven’t just lost you, I’ve lost the world.
December 18, 2016
After work, I walked along Queen Street. I walked far. Too far. I wished the city had a wall, where you could stop and say, “That’s it: the perimeter. Everything that matters is inside.” I wished I had a wall, something to contain me. Harvard: an identity, a destination and a home, an antique wooden box lined with velvet, where my mind was supposed to live forevermore.
I was late for dinner at the Westin Harbour Castle, but it didn’t seem to matter. I asked for “Grossman” and saw Ian and – surprise, surprise! – his parents sitting all together on one side of a round table as if frozen. Waiting for me to set them into motion. As soon as I got there, Ian’s father got up and pulled out my chair and then went back to his wife as if drawn by a magnet. And I found that instead of a folded napkin in front of me, there was a red velvet box. I looked over at Ian, who nodded to it but didn’t come any closer. And I looked at Ian’s parents, who were holding hands. I opened it. No sooner did I get a glimpse of the rock inside than Ian’s mother, Sheila, said, “It’s okay. Saul and I only had the one.”
Saul and Ian both fell over each other to explain that she didn’t mean – don’t worry – but I looked over at Sheila and smiled and said, “I understand.” The waiter arrived with a bottle of champagne. “Wait a minute,” I said, “aren’t you supposed to ask me?” All the Grossmans looked at me in horror and the waiter disappeared.
“Never mind. Don’t worry.” I put on the ring. They exhaled. I heard a cork pop. The waiter reappeared and poured. Saul said, “Ian, why not sit a little closer to Cassandra?” I realized that his crossing the table like this sealed the deal for them and that no one was going to consult me at all.
Later, through the haze of champagne and – later still – brandy, it kept hitting me that I had just agreed to get married rather than have to explain etiquette to these people. I saw the future. I said, “Stop a minute!”
Ian’s parents looked horrified again.
“I think I may need two!”
Ian nodded and sighed, acknowledging a grim truth. “Plans may, occasionally, need to be revised,” he said.
That night, we said goodbye to Ian’s parents and walked up the cold, deserted corridor of Yonge street, then along Bloor to my tiny place, which he’s never seen. Up until yesterday, we’d been treating sex like it was a trampoline. Last night it was a warm, luxurious bath and I wanted nothing more than to sink, ever-so-slowly, beneath the surface.
The summer I turned fifteen, I flew back from Vancouver and the first of Dad’s commitment ceremonies and went straight up to the cottage that Mom’s friend Trixie had in Muskoka. There were Trixie’s two daughters, Trixie’s boyfriend and his three sons, and Mom and me.
Greg, the boyfriend, would make breakfast for everyone, standing there in the kitchen with a few days’ growth of beard and a bathrobe revealing grey hairs on his chest. He made scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes. He insisted that I learn to drink coffee, which I liked. Loved. Needed. The commitment ceremony had deflated me.
I imagined that Greg left. That’s how I managed. I imagined that Greg simply vacated his body, and that another creature came to inhabit it. His eyes turned dark, literally. The pupils expanded. So it was easy to think there was some kind of monster advancing on me with a hairy face and pawing hands and the bluish end of a cock protruding out of his robe.
Then Mom walked in. I cried out, “It’s okay!” but we had to go back to the city, where there were long talks with her and then with a counselor, and long, long phone calls between Mom and Trixie, then more talks with me.
I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.
I was afraid Greg would be hurt. That Mom would be hurt. That she’d lose Trixie’s friendship, that Trixie would lose Greg. None of these things happened, and I started to wish they would happen, and that made it even more important to convince everyone I was okay.
Click, click, click. I could actually hear my mind ticking over as I memorized verb charts and periodic tables, dates and names, could feel the marks clicking up, up, up: 80, 85, 90 and beyond, and myself clicking into place in my new role as The Best. When the counselor pronounced us “finishing” (they all have special training in the use of present participles), she said I might be needing support again. That I should call someone right away if I was ever having a dream or a flashback. That it might be happening at a turning point in my life.
December 22, 2016
Durrell and I closed last night. I had my ring in my back pocket. Well, diamonds are supposed to be hard, I thought, every time I sat down and felt the outline of the rock on my ass. And every time Durrell handed me a treat that he’d baked or instructed me on pulling down the espresso machine handle (even though it’s the easiest part) by standing behind me, pressed against my back, and putting a hand over my hand, I was angry at Mary O’Neill. For spoiling things.
Durrell invited me to go upstairs after we closed and listen to some music. I hesitated and he kissed me. And it was Mary I felt angry at when I pulled away from the delicious kiss and said, “I’m engaged.”
Dream: I’m telling R.J. a story. It feels so good to be there again. In his office. With him. But then his eyes go dark, and I know his body has been inhabited by a monster, and that he’s going to leap across the desk and kill me.
I woke up gasping. Not okay. Not okay. Not okay.
And in the morning R.J. called. I poured out everything about the café, the teachers. I left out the store-room, the rock. The meeting with Davida, of course. But it was okay. We rode through the air on my words. Oh, it felt good!
What can be wrong with something that feels this good?
“Lupita, I think you know why I’m calling.”
“Granted, it was something I should never have done, but it was her idea. Totally her idea. I mean, to the point where she – I should really be laying charges of my own. I had scratches. I should have taken pictures. And now, it’s like she wants to dig further, wants to dig a track right through my life with those nails of hers. All to compensate for her mediocrity.
“I’m sorry, Lupita. Sorry to bring you into all this. You’ve got so much potential. And already, look at you, scrubbing counters at 6 o’clock every morning. There’s no chance for young people these days. You’ll be there forever and it will all go to waste. If I can only get back – I can help. I know people. The fact is, if you can vouch for me, speak to the fact that I never, NEVER …”
“I have to go.”
“You need to know what’s at stake here. I have two children, a house, my wife has chronic fatigue. I have a book coming out next year.”
“I have to go.”
“Tell me more about what you’re up to. I had forgotten how you can make me laugh.”
I miss you I miss you I miss you.
“I’m late for work.”
EMAIL DRAFT 1.
I had a bad dream about you.
EMAIL DRAFT 2.
My mother always told me to trust my instincts.
EMAIL DRAFT 3.
There is no Draft 3.
I don’t need to explain anything to R.J. I’m not talking to him, in my mind or anywhere else, any more.
My plans have been revised. You and the orphans are on your own. I’m going out for Chinese with my fiancé and his folks. Please find recipe for turkey attached.
December 23, 2016
It’s late. I get up sweating from another dream and sit on the arm of Ian’s couch, looking out over the lake. It’s a cloudy night. There’s no real darkness any more but the sky, unbroken by city lights, looks like a woolly grey mass billowing toward me. The lights of Rochester glow dimly on the horizon like a sun that will never rise. I look at my rock and decide that with all the terrible mistakes I have made and am about to make, the lives I am about to ruin, most of all my own, I might as well add teachers’ college to the list.
To become a good teacher, and remain one, is the most challenging pursuit one can imagine, yet no profession is more important. A bad teacher – even a mediocre one – can deflate a student’s spirit and undermine her trust in herself. A good teacher, on the other hand, gives her students the world.
Maria Meindl is the author of Outside the Box from McGill-Queen’s University Press, winner of the Alison Prentice award for women’s history. Her essays, poetry and fiction have appeared in journals including The Literary Review of Canada, Descant, Musicworks, and Queen Street Quarterly, as well as in the anthologies The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood, and At the End of Life: True Stories about How We Die. She has made two series for CBC Radio’s Ideas: Parent Care and Remembering Polio. Maria is the founder of Draft, a reading series featuring works-in-progress by established and emerging writers. She teaches movement classes in Toronto.