Tuesday, November 5, 2013


As a kid I had a problem with giant baseballs and hands that felt blown up like catcher’s mitts. I had a recurring dream in which giant baseballs rolled and bounced in slow, inexorable motion at me. These were two- and three-story tall white baseballs with red laces coming for me as I tried to fall asleep. My hands felt impossibly large and clumsy hanging at the end of my arms. Everything moved in stops and fast starts as though a film was being eaten by a projector. A silent movie in which the room spun in stop-start motion as boulder baseballs came at me.

Often I cried out for my mother. She was sure it was all due to me playing catcher in Little League and being afraid of the ball, but I never had a problem catching. I had been hit by balls and clocked in the hand and the helmet with bats, but no real harm was done. I was good back there behind the plate. I felt good. So what was with the giant baseballs?

I’ve had the feeling return this year, baseballs and all. I remembered now that while it upset me I was also drawn to the feeling. I never called Mom right away. Often I closed my eyes again to go back into that herky-jerky world. I was frightened but fascinated too. The feeling didn't overwhelm me so much as the confusion about it did. Now I recognize the feeling as a kind of vertigo, the world coming unhinged in pieces. Now, as then, it’s fascinating and frightening all at the same time.

Today I went with my wife to meet with our daughters' teachers, wonderful people doing hard work in the most difficult times. Their superintendent is an awful woman who brooks no dissent and punishes those who speak out. She mandates strict adherence to scripts for teaching because she has little respect for teachers. Yet these teachers do their best to work through her mandates, the crushing poverty of the Syracuse City School District, and the goddamn Common Core nonsense. Each of them spoke with love and kindness about our daughters, their friends, and the job that they do.

The evening left my head spinning. Sitting in bed typing, I close my eyes and see giant baseballs moving in slow motion as the world violently shifts.

I spent an hour and a half this afternoon, as I do every weekday, at the school where I am tasked with teaching two math classes. It is an awful place and I leave each day relieved to have escaped but singing the Wilco's “Hate it Here.”

At that school, I do fair work but am not invested in it. I’m not a math teacher. Those aren't my students and that isn't my school. I am just assigned to work there on top of my regular load. I don't have plan time and am rated ineffective by my administration. I hate it there. It is bad work in a bad school run by administrators who are bad at getting the best work from teachers.

It’s no wonder I’m dizzy and feeling as though I’m about to be crushed.

When I was a kid calling my mother, she often confessed that there was nothing she could do. That sent me into a kind of despair. I lay in bed wondering, going back into the dizzying dream behind closed eyes, too young to understand that it was under my control. I’m forty-five now and still trying to understand what is within my power, how to hold tight to the world with one hand while reaching out with the other to catch the ball before it crushes me.

Maybe I just need to open my eyes, shrug off the vertigo and panic, reach both hands to the keyboard, and write on.