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It’s Good to be Queen August 30, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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As a teacher, I’m not queen just for a day, but for 180 days!  Welcome to my kingdom.  I know you’re dying to know how the royals live, so please come inside.  Oh, you noticed – my castle aka classroom is the only one that has no glass window in the door.  The glass was broken out years ago and replaced with a board.   But I was told that a work order to replace the glass was put in five years ago.  I’m cautiously optimistic.  

Please don’t trip over that neon orange extension cord.  Since there are only two electrical outlets in my classroom, it has to stretch from here to WAY over there (so I can use the overhead projector).  I bought the bright orange cord myself, because I’m so safety minded.  Did you know that technology is the wave of the future?  

Look! I’ve got TWO computers.  Okay, only one works, (and then only part of the time), but don’t they look great?  Last year, when the working one stopped working, I called the district.  After two weeks of phone-tag, I found out some people at the district needed to change the IP addresses of some computers.  But they didn’t know where those computers were.  So here was their best plan.  They went ahead and changed the computer addresses, figuring that when people’s computers stopped working, they’d all call and complain.  That’s how they’d know where the computers were.  I give them a C for being so clever!

What I do love are all the windows that stretch to the top of the 12-foot ceiling.  At my old school, all the windows were painted shut.  I felt like I was teaching inside a shoe box, only with no holes poked in it so we could breathe.  Look! I even have a view of the continuation high school.  (Last stop!)  

I keep the blinds shut most of the day to try and keep the classroom cool. That air-conditioner near the ceiling is just a prop.  I’ve only found one cold spot in the entire room.  If you stand on the Pp Penguin square on my class rug, you can feel a faint breeze.  It’s right next to the Qq Queen square. Coincidence?  I think not.

No, it’s not really 5:21.  That big clock at the front of my classroom doesn’t work. At least not since I was given the keys to the kingdom, two years ago. I put a big yellow frowny face over it the first year, but that slowly peeled off. But the good thing is, one of our vocabulary words in third grade is “malfunction.” That clock is a great visual.  In teacher-talk, we call that “realia!”

At least last year, the PA system finally started working.  My students were getting tired of missing assemblies and I was tired of sending a runner to another classroom to find out what was going on.  I’m thankful for this small kindness.  Isn’t that a symptom of the Stockholm Syndrome?

And, no, my whiteboard is not dirty.  I’m afraid it’s starting to go bad.  When whiteboards go bad, it’s worse than when girls go wild, and a whole lot dirtier.  I’m hoping to get another year out of it, maybe two.  It serves as a daily reminder that you get what you pay for.  Personally, I think it’s important that children learn these lessons – the earlier the better.  Besides, I’m going to start writing the really important stuff on the margins of the whiteboard, where it’s still good as new.  We teachers are a resourceful lot.

I’m glad you like my bulletin boards.  Before I put those up, there was just crumbling lath and plaster.  Dang! It’s hard trying to stick a push pin into plaster.  My husband bolted those babies into the wall for me.  When you’re married to a teacher, it helps if YOU’RE resourceful too.  Power tools are also a plus.

No, please stay, really!  I want to show you the viper’s nest of electrical cords behind my desk. Another time?  Okay, but I hope you’ll be back – with the glass for the door.  I shall remain cautiously optimistic.

Pencil Sharpening for Beavers August 28, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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Next Thursday, twenty new beavers will file into my classroom. I’m not talking about eager beavers – as in students eager to acquire Knowledge. No, these are the No. 2 kind. Lumberjacks can’t chop down old growth forests fast enough to keep pace with the rate at which these kids chew through pencils.

First year teachers are often caught unaware. They don’t realize that the pencil sharpener is a potential iceberg, and that their classroom is the Titantic. As the captain, I mean teacher, you don’t want to go down with THAT ship. So here’s a few things I’ve learned to assure smooth sailing.

First, ditch that old hand crank metal pencil sharpener. Put a puppet over it, whatever it takes, but get rid of it.  Unless you want to feel like you’re working in a sawmill 24/7.

Next, guard your electric pencil sharpener with your life (You probably paid for it out of pocket, so that’s a given). If you fail to do so, you’ll learn the hard way that there are students who like to sharpen BOTH ends of their pencil (just stick the end with the eraser in and grind right through that shiny metallic thing), or better yet, sharpen their crayons in it.

Here’s how I do it, (but I’m always looking for ways to fine tune this procedure). Students receive two sharpened pencils each month. At the beginning of the year, I encourage them to bring a pencil sharpener – as long as it’s one that catches the shavings. Then they can sharpen away to their heart’s content. I buy pencil sharpeners to put in the class Treasure Box to promote this practice. Be forewarned, though, that once these beavers have their own pencil sharpener, it becomes imperative that it must be emptied within 15 seconds after each use. Students like to unscrew the top while en route to the trash, to increase the likelihood that they’ll blanket the floor with wood shavings.

Students who don’t have pencil sharpeners, put their “dull” pencils in a bin at the end of the day. The bin is under the beaver. Yeah, I know that’s not really a beaver in the picture above, but it’s got to be related. It IS chewing on wood. Besides it gets the point across (Point – get it!). I then personally sharpen the pencils after school. I went to college so I could take care of this important stuff.

Last year I had some students who brought mechanical pencils. I thought this was potentially a good thing. Silly me! Half their day was spent “loading” the pencil, managing their stockpile of said lead, or accusing their neighbor of having stolen the coveted pencil.

Then there are those children who invariably “lose” their pencils. When I taught second grade, one year I did a surprise “pencil inventory.” Students laid out the goods on their desks. We made a graph of the results. I held up a dozen pencils sharpened with such precision, you could have performed brain surgery using them as scalpels. The children who’d “lost” their pencils salivated. I then asked how I could entrust these precious pencils to students who couldn’t even take care of the two pencils I’d already given them.  Did this make sense?

Now, I’m of the opinion that It’s never too early to impart some of life’s larger lessons on children. After a brief pep talk on the importance of taking care of one’s supplies, I announced that because “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” the students who had the most pencils, would receive yet another one.

Two weeks later, every child in the class had two pencils at the ready at all times. Lesson learned. Problem solved.

If you’re not a teacher, I hope you can appreciate all of the thought that teachers put into something as seemingly mundane as sharpening a pencil. If you are a teacher, get your pencil sharpening procedure in order, so you don’t go down with THAT ship (Knock on wood!).

For all of my friends who are teachers, a new year awaits. Let’s do it!

UpdateSince I wrote this post, the electric pencil sharpener gave up the ghost.  I actually had to finagle a new hand crank one (think environmentally friendly). It’s high enough that most students need to stand on a stepping stool to reach it. I was sharpening the pencils myself after students left, and sometimes still do.  But my right arm was beginning to look like I was taking steroids.  Now, a student sharpens pencils at the end of the day. The sound of the students packing up is akin to the sound of troops moving out, so it drowns out that annoying grinding sound. Jan

Why I Blog August 24, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Blogging.
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“Enough of your BS!” is my husband’s way of telling me he’s tired of hearing updates on my blog stats.  It’s bad enough that when I turn on my computer, he announces, “That’s Jan booting up.”  When I pop open my breakfast Classic Coke (children, do as I say, not as I do), he announces, “There’s the second sound that tells me Jan is alive.”

When my friend Lesley was visiting from England, she grabbed her camera and snapped pictures of me, so as to capture, “the blogger in her natural habitat!” Every time I was having a creative surge, she or her daughter, Lucy, would circle me like naturalists, and in that oh-so-charming English accent, narrate their observations on the strange habits of the “lesser blogger.”

As you can see, I have to put up with a lot from these malcontents, who envy both my passion and keyboarding skills.  These incursions into my creative space are what I call blogus interruptus.

Before I started blogging, I often worked as a writer for hire. I was good at it and paid well.  But I can’t say I enjoyed it (other than cashing the checks). Writing screenplays is like being an architect who designs buildings that are never made, or building the best sand castle ever – just before high tide.

So, why do I blog?  I blog because words ricochet around inside my head 24/7, and blogging provides an exit wound.  Words are my best friends. They’re the friends who always want to play and never save a seat on the bus so I can’t sit there.  I like to play fast and loose with words, spinning them like gunslingers twirl six-shooters. Sometimes I shoot myself in the foot, but the more I blog, the better my aim has become. Life is funny like that.

I also blog because I’m an artist. Sometimes I work with paint, but increasingly, I like to paint pictures with words, and I like to use LOTS of color!  I’m a Fauvist sitting at a keyboard trying to get the colors just so. (It’s so true – it’s all in the rewrite!)

I blog because I know I’m not just talking to myself. I like having an audience. I like it when people comment or I find they’ve linked my blog to theirs. And when all eyes are me, I don’t want to disappoint. Writers don’t have a right to bore people. I know a thing or two, and like to share my experiences and observations. Humor is my Trojan Horse. It allows me to get inside the gate so I can be heard.

As a third-grade teacher, I have a built-in audience, and although I have way too much fun with my students, they’re not my demographic. When a student told me he wasn’t coming to school on Halloween because it’s the devil’s birthday, I blurted out, “But my birthday is in April!” He walked away with a quizzical look on his face. But you got it, didn’t you?

Finally, when I’m sitting at my keyboard and writing, I feel like all is well with the world. I think about my audience – family, friends, and all of the amazing people I never would have “bumped into” in cyberspace had it not been for my blog. This brings a smile to my face. Then, I begin to write.

The Treasure Box is for Losers August 19, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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I found the coolest stuff for my class Treasure Box at Target.  When I told my friend, Christine, who’s also a teacher, she informed me, “The Treasure Box is for losers.” Ouch! I thought this was because Christine believes students should “be good for goodness’ sake” like in the song Santa Claus is Coming to Town.  But, she put it even more bluntly, dare I say biblically – virtue is its own reward. That’s true, but…and it’s a BIG but, at least for me.

The reason for having a Treasure Box (or student store or whatever else teachers call it) is to reward those students who are “on task.” That’s teacher-talk for students who are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. We don’t have “good” students, but students who are “on task.” Unlike those students who are “off task.”  We never say they are “bad.”  Instead of saying that “B” word, we say the other “B” word – benched.

In keeping with this logic, a student’s reward for being “on task” is recess. Since I was never a particularly physically active child, the gift of recess doesn’t wet my whistle.  I would have been happy to warm a bench reading a book. Of course, since I was always good, I mean on task, I can only speculate.

This year the morning recess at my school will be shortened from 25 to 15 minutes, so it’s basically a long bathroom break. Even kids who are benched are allowed to use the bathroom, so being able to go to recess is a baby carrot on a very short stick.

As I begin my fifth year of teaching as a fully credentialed and “highly qualified” teacher, I’m rethinking some things I’ve always done. Some of my class procedures were picked up from master teachers during student teaching and others from colleagues. Teachers do what works for them, and the Treasure Box has worked for me. It’s simple, If your card on the “How’s My Day Going?” chart is on green at the end of the day, you receive a sticker. (You can stay on green by not sticking a pencil in your neighbor’s ear, reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid inside your desk, when you’re supposed to be listening, or annoying me or anything else that moves within a 20-foot radius).

I put the stickers in the pockets of the chart at the end of the day, as handing them out takes too much time. (I feel like I’m running behind, the minute I set foot in the classroom.) Ten stickers earns you a trip to the Treasure Box, but for the second trip, I up the ante to 15 stickers. Last year I had such a great group of students, I increased the cost of admission to 20 stickers. I used the excuse that the rising cost of gas made it more expensive for me to drive to the 99 Cent store.

I spend maybe $60 on “treasures” each year, and also receive donations from parents and friends. Though I draw the line at 99 cents an item, I don’t have anything cheesy in my Treasure Box. Students can pick from books, workbooks, journals, maps, rubber dinosaurs, the occasional Hot Wheels car, and come Halloween, flocked tarantulas and rubber bats and rats. I even make special trips to Burmincos in Monrovia to pick out way cool rocks. (Who would have thought the price of rocks would double in the last year?)

Yeah, I offer other incentives too – special privileges, time with me (that would keep my husband on task), and the chance to sit at my messy desk. But the hot ticket item, when you’re 8 or 9 years old, is usually something aka stuff. Maybe it’s the hunter-gatherer in all of us. I went to a week-long training several years ago, where the presenter told participants that for each day we returned from lunch on time, we would receive a ticket. The ticket went toward a drawing at the end of the week, so we had a chance to win – stuff. And what were these coveted prizes? The package of cheetah print bulletin board borders, perfect for that second-grade “Camouflage” unit, had teachers salivating. There we were – professionals, myself included -checking our cellphones at lunch to make sure we wouldn’t be late. All this for the chance to win those borders, or maybe, just maybe, a $5 gift certificate for the local educational supply store. Teachers, you gotta love ’em.

My “Teacher’s Helper” does all the paperwork for the Treasure Box. They stand there with a clipboard looking very official, while those who’ve earned a trip paw through the merchandise. The Teacher’s Helper then records the date, the student’s name, and the item they chose. Sometimes I handpick items for particular students, as I know what they like or need. I’m proud to say that no item has ever been stolen. This is serious business. I only wish I could put the Teacher’s Helper in charge of ALL my paperwork, which is why I have a messy desk in the first place. I thought about eliminating the Treasure Box this year and trying out this radical concept of virtue being its own reward. But I have to admit, I’m skeptical. Besides, I’ve still got some inventory to move from last year. Yeah, I’m a loser, baby, but the Treasure Box works for me.

Close Encounter With A Narcissist – Part 3 August 15, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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Please read/reread “Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Parts 1 & 2” before reading Part 3.  These are usually featured in Top Posts in the column at the right.  If not, you can access them through Tags or Categories under Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  Scroll down through Part 3 to reach Parts 1 & 2. Note: In Part 3, I’ll refer to a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) simply as a narcissist.  Again, I’ll refer to the narcissist as “he,” as the majority of narcissists are male.

Looking back on my own close encounter with a narcissist, I can see the Red Flags were there early on. In my gut, I knew there was something “off” about my friend Joe. But I had trouble putting my finger on just what IT was. The more time I spent with him, it became painfully obvious how illogical Joe’s reasoning was – it just didn’t jibe with “human” logic. He also seemed enamored with himself and professed to having many talents. I once teased Joe that he was “self-absorbed.”  But I wasn’t teasing – merely making an observation. For the first time, the word narcissist popped into my head.

Red Flag #1 – Grandiosity

Ah, yes.  Grandiosity and its sidekick Magical Thinking. While there is an overlap with other personality disorders when it comes to Lack of Empathy, it is Grandiosity that distinguishes Narcissistic Personality Disorder from all of the other personality disorders. Grandiosity is the jewel in the crown that makes the narcissist so very special.

According to the DSM-IV, “The essential feature of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts.

“Individuals with NPD routinely overestimate their abilities and inflate their accomplishments, often appearing boastful and pretentious. They may blithely assume others attribute the same value to their efforts and may be surprised when the praise they expect and feel they deserve is not forthcoming.”

An admitted “seminar junkie,”  Joe shared with me a dizzying array of plans he had that would bring him money, recognition, or just a change in scenery. After hearing these change weekly, I began writing down all of the things Joe was going to do “some day.”  When you’re a teenager, or even in your twenties, this kind of daydreaming is normal. But not in your 40s.

Narcissists love to envision grand scenarios starring – themselves! What they lack is the follow-through to make them reality. Why do narcissists indulge in this kind of thinking?  Just thinking of all of the great things they’re “going to do” brings a smile to their face. Think of it as mental masturbation.

One day I told Joe I believed the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. Not that people can’t change, but barring some life-changing epiphany, most people are creatures of habit. Joe vehemently disagreed. You see, the narcissist’s grandiosity goes hand-in-hand with Magical Thinking. Joe was big on the book The Secret, which holds that all you have to do is think positive thoughts and good things will happen. Now, I’m all for positive thinking and I like to think karma will come round, but Magical Thinking goes above and beyond. When you’re a narcissist, though, fairy tales can come true (besides, they’re already wearing that crown).

Here’s an example of grandiosity. Joe was considering taking a freelance job on the side. He’d never done this sort of work, but narcissists are convinced they can do anything. I warned Joe he could be getting in over his head, but he took the job anyway. Three weeks later, he came to me in a panic. Not only had he screwed up the job, he was being asked to refund the money he’d been paid, since someone else would now have to fix his mess. His client had mentioned the “L” word – lawyer. It was the first time I’d seen Joe visibly shaken.

Now, on some level, Joe knew he’d screwed up, but he refused to accept any responsibility. As I listened to him talk aloud about the botched job, I watched him mentally rewrite the scenario of what happened. It wasn’t his fault – it was that stupid woman who hired him. You see, narcissists are NEVER, EVER wrong. So, if a narcissist ever tells you he was wrong about something (a very human trait), brace yourself. Most likely he’s getting ready to do something really nasty – to you.

Red Flag #2 – Lack of Empathy

Empathy is what makes us human. We can put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and share their joy or feel their pain. But a narcissist has only one one pair of shoes – and they fit PERFECTLY. Human emotions confound narcissists and make them uncomfortable. They don’t know the right thing to say. They’ve watched humans, so they know what they’re supposed to say, but it doesn’t come naturally. This explains their often odd and insensitive comments (The Inappropriate Effect). Any talk of feelings is just so – icky!  Joe was quick to point out he hated “girlie girls” or anyone who was “touchy feely.” He dismissed anything tinged with emotion as “drama.” What was funny was although Joe said he hated drama, it was his own bad behavior that sparked all of the drama in his life.

Joe often said he was “too nice.” He could talk a good game, lamenting the injustices in the world, as if he genuinely cared. But it was just that – talk.

I once listened to Joe make a comment to a young woman. They’d worked together and supposedly were friends. The comment was about her body and had a sexual undertone. It left her visibly distressed. Now, any normal person, seeing her reaction would have immediately apologized for hurting her feelings. But what did “I’m too nice” Joe do? He sat across the table from her for the next hour and never opened his mouth. Later, I asked why he would say such an insensitive thing. He shrugged and admitted it was a cheap shot, but added, smiling, “It was so easy – that’s what made it so much fun.” It was creepy.

When I talked to the woman several days later, SHE apologized to me!  “I’m sorry I got so upset,” she said. “I know the way Joe is, so I shouldn’t have let it bother me so much.” Can you see how a narcissist gets away with such behavior? People make excuses for him!  “That’s just the way he is,” they say, while mentally adding another tally mark after the word @sshole.

Asking a narcissist to “have a heart” has just the opposite effect. Reasoning with them also falls on deaf ears. A narcissist doesn’t want to change because there’s nothing wrong with him. YOU are the one with the problem, remember?

Red Flag #3 –  Confusing Communication

Communication (or should I say lack of genuine communication) with a narcissist is a crazy-making experience. Humans communicate to share information, ideas, and feelings. Not so the narcissist who uses words to confuse and paralyze his victim. Narcissists don’t like to play their nasty games on a level playing field. Their cryptic comments are designed to keep their victim constantly confused and wondering, “What did THAT mean?” This tactic gives the narcissist the home team advantage.

Any attempt to discuss feelings with a narcissist is doomed to leave the victim not knowing left from right. Joe had a short list of pronouncements that could derail any conversation: “Can’t you take a joke?”  “But no one got hurt!”  “Why do you bother talking about that?  It’s in the past!” (yesterday constituted ‘the past’) “If you’d just behave!”  “I’m really busy, so is this life or death?” or his ultimate putdown, “You’re such a drama queen!”

If you know a narcissist, you already know the kind of comments I’m talking about. They’re the equivalent to a teenager’s dismissive, “Whatever!” or the “Talk to the Hand” gesture.

When cornered, a narcissist is like the cartoon character who, when in danger, magically produces a pencil, quickly draws a door, and makes a hasty exit. When I read Stalking the Soul by Marie-France Hirigoyen, a French psychiatrist whose specialty is victimology, it was her chapter on Communication and the narcissist that hit a nerve. The verbal roller coaster, with all its twists and turns, came to a screeching halt and I decided then it was time to get off the ride. It was no longer exciting – it was making me sick.

Cerebral and Somatic – Sex as in “Table for One, Please”

Narcissists get their admiration, or Narcissistic Supply (NS), in one of two forms. Cerebral narcissists gain NS through their intellect, that is, by being “an authority.” Somatic narcissists may be equally intelligent, but they satisfy their need for NS through sexual conquests.

Both kinds of narcissist prefer autoerotic sex – masturbation – to sex with a flesh-and-blood woman. That’s because a real woman expects you to talk to her, or even worse, cuddle, after the main event. Remember, the narcissist can’t establish a genuine emotional bond with another human, so he finds these feelings unnatural and awkward. Faking it is hard work, and he’d just as soon get up and watch TV or check his email. You served your purpose and now he’s done with you. It’s like he had to blow his nose – and the Kleenex? Well, that would be you. He’ll toss it/you aside until he needs to blow his nose again. Romantic, huh?

Cerebral narcissists can put on a show during the idealization phase, but quickly lose all interest in sex. They’re essentially asexual. They derive pleasure from frustrating their partner by withholding sex. This gives them a feeling of power. Besides, to them, not only is sex down and dirty – it’s just so common. They’re way too special to engage in such a common pursuit. So they can do without.

Despite Joe’s love of sexual innuendo, I realized when it came to women, he was like my dogs when it comes to cats. My dogs love the chase, but if the cat stops running, they just stand there, looking rather embarrassed about what to do next. After a short impasse, they wander off to look for another cat that will run from them. Remember, it’s the chase that the narcissist loves.

A somatic narcissist, on the other hand, is like the town dog always making his rounds. But it’s not just his infidelity, and the accompanying lies, that are so disturbing. It’s his irrational rationale. “You made me do it” so “It’s not my fault.” (I apologize to all dogs for comparing them to a narcissist. Dogs are infinitely more caring and human than any narcissist could ever hope to be.)

The Myth of Curing the Narcissist

Remember the blanket analogy from Part 1?  A person doesn’t HAVE a personality disorder, they ARE the personality disorder. Narcissism in interwoven into every fiber of that blanket. Unravel the blanket and you unravel their personality.

If you’re a woman, you’re most likely a nurturer and think that with enough patience and love, someone or something can be helped. It’s that “I’ll nurse this fallen baby bird back to health using a medicine dropper!” thing. Sound familiar?

Even after I figured out that Joe had NPD, I was convinced if I could just reconnect with that inner child that was hiding deep inside, he’d feel safe to come out and show me his real face. Olly, olly, oxen free! Some call this logic “Peeling an Onion.” The rescuer thinks, “If I can just peel away the layers of hurt, I can get to the core of the problem, and I can help him heal.” But what’s at the core of an onion?  Ah ha! That’s a trick question, because an onion has no core.  Not to mention that peeling an onion makes YOU cry, while the onion feels nothing.

Know this. That wounded child’s True Self might as well be preserved in amber. It’s fossilized and will never ever develop. Besides, a narcissist doesn’t want to be fixed because he’s convinced he’s fine just the way he is. It’s YOU who has the problem, remember?

So, least you forget, write this on a post-it note and put it up on the refrigerator:  NO NARCISSIST HAS EVER BEEN CURED!  (I’ve since written more about this.  See Can a Narcissist be Cured?)

Discarded and Scarred – Life After the Narcissist

I was only involved with Joe for four months and we were just “friends.” (Friends is in quotations because narcissists don’t have any real friends). Joe had proven himself to be a first class @sshole on so many occasions. He showed absolutely no interest in me as a person – only in what I could do for him. He’d solicited advice, ignored it, then punished me for offering it. So why couldn’t I just “move on?”  I knew WHAT he was. I knew there was NO CURE. But still…

First, it was hard to forget how much I enjoyed Joe’s company during the Idealization phase. He’d bound up to me like an eager puppy wagging its tail. It was hard to believe this was an act, or just the giddiness that went with honing in on a new source of NS. It seemed so real – to me.

But, the most painful part was the feeling of betrayal – of being duped. It’s hard to admit that you were just a “thing” with an expiration date, especially to a person you genuinely cared about. You want to think that when all is said and done, at the end of the day you were special. But you are special, and that’s why the narcissist targeted you.

I was angry with Joe, but I was angriest with myself. I’m a confident person with strong boundaries, so how could I have let this happen?  This was all a game for Joe. But then he had an advantage because he’d played this game many times before. He knew the rules. Hell, I didn’t even know it was a game!

A word of warning: A narcissist will never give his victim the validation they so desperately seek or closure. This final act of control and cruelty leaves his victim hanging and twisting in the wind. This brings a smile to the narcissist’s face.

I’ve since forgiven myself. As a caring person, I only did what came naturally. I saw someone who was lonely and seemed to be in pain, and I reached out to help them. But Joe didn’t want or need my help, because he’s perfect just the way he is. So, you see, I’m the one with the problem. But it’s a problem I can live with. It’s called being human. And that, my friends, is what I learned from MY close encounter with a narcissist.


It was Joe’s self-involvement that led me to Google “narcissism.” Who would have known there were so many others online looking for answers?

Sam Vaknin’s book Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited was a revelation. How could anyone not know Sam?  A narcissist, he’s everywhere on the internet. I’m just glad a life crisis forced him to venture out into the light of day long enough to write this seminal book. Although I jokingly refer to Sam as the Head Vampire, he has shed such light into the darkness that is NPD. I’m only sorry I forwarded my highlighted version to Joe, who will never read it (I imagine he uses it to prop up one very short leg of a table.)

Marie-France Hirigoyen’s book, Stalking the Soul, was a godsend. I ordered a used copy from Amazon.

I first found on-line support through Careplace’s NPD community. Several of the online friends I met there are now my real-life friends, and I kiss the ground for my good fortune.

The members of MSN Groups Narcissistic Personality Disorder Forum constantly amaze me with their wisdom, insight, and yes, humor. It’s inspiring to see how people can gain strength from each other’s experiences, cry, learn, laugh, and move forward. Special thanks to Femfree, the forum manager, for posting the link to my blog.

Finally, thanks to all those near and dear to me. You know who your are. Your patience and support has made me realize how incredibly rich I am.

Looking to the Future

I always thought that as soon as I finished writing Close Encounter with a Narcissist I’d be DONE! But I’m a teacher, remember?  And there’s still so much work to be done to educate the public about this devastating disorder. So, I WILL be writing future posts on NPD. If you’d like to check in from time to time, please bookmark my site.  Peace.

Posts since written – You’ll find them in Categories or Tags under Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Can a Narcissist be Cured?
The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #1, 2, and 3.

You’ll find these in Categories under Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Dog People vs. Cat People August 14, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Pets.
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I’m not a cat person. It doesn’t help that I’m horribly allergic to cats, and the one time I actually petted the cat of a guy I was interested in, my eyes ballooned out and were swollen shut for two days. The fur didn’t fly, but the relationship did – out the window.

I grew up with dogs and that’s that. Dogs listen. They scare away burglars and sometimes the mailman. They provide cheap entertainment as they’re basically the village idiot dressed in a fur coat. You leave for ten minutes and when you return, they’re so excited to see you you’d think you’d been gone ten years.

Gary Larson did a great comic for The Farside with the caption “If dogs and cats wore hats.” The cats are sitting in a tree wearing fedoras and look like drugged-out jazz musicians, while the dogs stand panting down below wearing backwards baseball hats. Nailed it.

In the movie The War of the Roses, Danny DeVito, who plays the warring couple’s attorney, summed it all up at the end when he noted this was a Cautionary Tale about what happens when dog people marry cat people.

I’ve always maintained that having a dog is great practice for being a parent. You can’t go out for a relaxing evening without wondering what your dog is up to. It’s past their dinnertime. They’re obviously starving and eating the couch. It’s past the time for their walk. They’re obviously unloading on the living room carpet. These are the thoughts that not only spoil an evening out, but make you feel those first grown-up stirrings of responsibility. I believe people with low-maintenance cats are destined to raise latch-key children. But I could be wrong.

I housesat a friend’s cat once and actually donned oven mitts so I could pet Pookie. I tell you this so you know I’m not all bad.

I found the picture of the cat above on Flickr and thought it was so much fun I just had to use it. Since I’m not a cat person, I figured I might someday include it in a post entitled, “Things I’ll Never Write About.” But since most of my friends DO have cats, I’ve decided to make nice. My friend Cathy has written two great stories about cats (she makes them sound almost dog-like in their purrfection!), which you can read by clicking on the following links:  Malcolm, Old Friend and The Brothers Angora.

Coke for Breakfast August 12, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Food, Health.
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When my computer starts up in the morning, my husband likes to say, “That’s Jan booting up.” When I snap open the can of Coke that’s part of my not-so-balanced breakfast, he adds, “There’s the second sound that tells me she’s alive!” It’s pathetic, I know, but I’m a creature of habit. Besides, I’m a third generation Coca-Cola drinker.

I never knew my dad’s mom, as she died when he was a teenager. But he inherited her sterling silver coffee urn and liked to tell how she kept it filled with Coca-Cola. I thought this might have been because back then, it WAS the real thing. But Wikipedia set me straight. Although the formula for Coca-Cola was originally intended as a patent medicine (and did once contain an estimated 9 mg. of cocaine per glass), the “real thing” was removed in 1903. So my grandmother wasn’t a junkie – not unless that’s what YOU call someone who enjoys a Coke for breakfast. (For additional “Cokelore,” click here.)

The other story that was oft repeated about my grandmother was what happened when her daughter, after an argument, announced she was leaving home. My grandmother said, if that were the case, her daughter would leave the same way she arrived. She then proceeded to strip her naked and shove her out the front door. I think I would have had a lot more in common with my grandmother than just our love of Coca-Cola.

My mother liked to drink Coke. But once she switched to diet, I had no choice but to disown her. There’s only so much one can take and I don’t do diet. Really, my highly evolved taste buds can taste the difference.

When I was growing up, you could order a cherry Coke at the soda fountain and watch them squirt in the cherry syrup. It’s not the same in a can, so I don’t do Cherry Coke either. My friend, Kristina, likes to tease me that I’m old school as I’m the only one at school who keeps a Coca-Cola Classic in the fridge. At least I don’t have to worry about anyone else drinking it.

I actually drank Dr. Pepper for years. But after I was pregnant, I developed a craving for Coke. We were living in New York City when New Coke was introduced on April 23, 1985. This was a red letter date, as all dates pertaining to Coca-Cola are “red letter” dates. My taste buds knew instantly that New Coke was just a sad-ass version of Pepsi. What I loved about Coca-Cola was its battery acid tang.

Disgusted, I switched back to Dr. Pepper and cultivated a friendship with a woman whose husband managed the Gramercy Park Hotel, because the hotel had a stockpile of “old” Coke. It was like Prohibition, only the stakes were higher. When the New Coke fiasco ended (a little less than three months later on July 10th), old Coke was re-christened Coca-Cola Classic. Ah! It was back to my daily 14 ounces of sugar, caramel syrup, and caffeine – which I personally think deserves its own category on the food pyramid.

Yeah, I’ve heard all the stories about how, if you put a metal spoon in a glass of Coke overnight, it will be eaten away by the morning. But, I have an iron-clad stomach and am of the opinion that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. So I take take my Coke like I take my vitamins – once a day.

Pie to Die For August 9, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Recipes.
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I’ve already specified that when I die, I want my pie crust recipe read aloud at my memorial service. This will assure a standing room crowd, and if that’s what it takes, hey, I can live with that. But I can’t live without pie.

It was my love of pie that got me into trouble in the first place. My mother had baked a cherry pie for my paternal grandfather who was visiting from California with wife #3. While they were at the racetrack (my mother would die if I didn’t mention that she has never placed a bet in her entire life and it was the only time she ever went to the racetrack), I came along and saw the pie cooling on the stove. I ate a big piece. My mother called home and mentioned something about the pie. Hey, I didn’t know it was “for company.”

Panicked, I found my mom’s yellowed recipe for cherry pie. I’d seen her make it a zillion times so how hard could it be? I made the crust from scratch and even stirred the red food coloring into the can of cherries to give them that radioactive red glow, just like I’d seen my mother do. Then I ate what was left of the original pie to hide the evidence. No one was the wiser. On that day, a pie fiend was born. If you give a man a fish, he can eat for a day, but if you teach a man to make pie…you get the idea.

In college, I stopped by to see my friend Cathy and found her chopping some exotic vegetable (or was it a fruit?) that she’d harvested from her garden. She called it rhubarb. I was still under the impression that all fruit came from cans so this was a revelation. I ate my first piece of rhubarb pie and it was love at first bite. I jilted cherry for my new favorite, strawberry-rhubarb, which I believe is proof there is heaven on earth.

I upped my game after my mom sent me a church cookbook titled “My Cup Runneth Over.” It included a sprinkling of scripture and admonitions to add a half jar of marshmallow cream here and a can of mushroom soup there. Somewhere mixed in with all those recipes that called for Jell-o and canned pineapple slices, I found what was to become MY pie crust recipe. Hallelujah!

Over the years, I’ve branched out a bit. I can now make a wicked pecan pie and a variation that involves three kinds of nuts. One year, for Christmas, my husband bought me a Mexican lime tree and I learned to make a Key Lime pie with a kick, even though it has a lowly graham cracker crust. I once happened upon my son Ian standing in the garage just as he was finishing off the last bite of an entire Key Lime pie. Obviously, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree and when it does, it’s into a waiting crust.

When my sons were growing up, Taylor liked a banana cream pie for his birthday and Ian held out for a frozen mud pie. No cake for us, thank you. Pie is in our DNA.

When we moved to Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula outside Seattle, I was ecstatic when I realized the vacant lot next door was overgrown with blackberry bushes. I gave Taylor and Ian a small red tin pail with instructions to pick enough berries for a pie. How was I to know that blackberry bushes have thorns? When they returned they were covered with scratches and welts, but even worse, they hadn’t collected enough blackberries to make a pie.

I told them to follow me and I’d show them how it was done. The vacant lot hadn’t been graded and the bushes and grass hid this fact. When I leaned over to reach a plump blackberry, I felt my foot slowly sliding down into what seemed to be a bottomless pit. It kept going and going. It was the only time in my life I’ve ever done the splits. And there I sat, unable to get up but unwilling to set down the tin pail holding the precious berries. The boys ran to get their dad who, trying not to laugh, extricated me from this indelicate pose. I then drove to the supermarket and paid $4 for a small box of blackberries and considered it a steal.

So, I make pie to die for, but not literally. Since I haven’t set the date for my memorial service and you probably already have something planned, I thought I’d share MY pie crust recipe with you along with instructions on how to make one incredible strawberry/rhubarb pie. I’ll even throw in the calories for free! Enjoy!

Perfect Pie Crust

Note;  Makes about 4 single crusts/that’s 2 pies if you don’t eat any dough! ( I have cut this recipe in half and given my dogs half the egg to make their coats shiny.)

Ingredients:  3 cups flour, 3/4 tsp. salt, 1 1/2 cups Crisco, 1 egg (beaten), 5 T. COLD water (put ice cubes in a bowl of water), 1 T. vinegar (I prefer apple cider vinegar.

Sift four and salt; cut in Crisco with a fork until fine.  Make a “well” in flour mixture; add rest of ingredients. Stir until well blended.  Form dough into balls.  Roll it out between sheets of floured wax paper.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

Ingredients:  2 cups of strawberries, halved, 2 cups of rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (2-3 stalks), 1/3 cup white sugar, 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, 1/4 cup flour, 1 T. grated/chopped orange rind,

1-2 Tbs. butter, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. nutmeg

In a large bowl, put all ingredients in first paragraph and stir gently until blended.  Turn the fruit into the pie shell.  Dot with the butter then add a lattice top.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Bake the pie at 450 degrees for 10 minutes .  Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 35-40 minutes or until golden brown.

Best served warm with vanilla ice cream.  This pie tastes just as good the next day.

Photo credit:  Pie in the Sky by Kentee on flickr.

The “S” Word August 7, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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You obviously have a dirty mind.  I’m a teacher so don’t even get me started. Teachers don’t even THINK of using bad language.  We’re role models 24/7 so that might explain why so many teachers burn out before they hit the five-year mark.  I’d like to hear you say, “Darn it!” when you slam your finger in a door.  Say it for five years and with feeling, darn it!

When people swear, it’s because they have a poor vocabulary and can’t think of a more appropriate word to use.  If you buy that line, then have I got a real estate deal for you.

It’s bad enough that some of my students have a chronic case of potty mouth.  “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” I ask, feigning disbelief. Then there are the students who tattle on someone because they said the dreaded “S” word.  

When I was a newbie, I naively asked, “Does the “S” word rhyme with ‘it’?” The kid stood there and I could tell he was going through the entire alphabet in his head – bit, cit, dit, fit…  After what seemed like an eternity, he said, “No, it rhymes with ‘upid,'”  Oh yeah, THAT “S” word.  I thought he meant…. But then I obviously have a dirty mind.

I don’t swear like a sailor, but being in a classroom and being a Role Model presents challenges.  Sometimes THOSE words just slip out. But, I’ve found ways to minimize the damage (for the sake of students and my career).  So if one of THOSE words slips out, here’s how to turn that lemon into lemonade. Drink up.

“Shit….arsky!”  – If the kids look at you oddly, explain that you religiously watch Starsky and Hutch in reruns and sometimes they’re collectively referred to as “Shitarsky.”  All they’ll remember is that you do something “religiously.” Whew!  

A variation on the above is “Holy…moley, guacamole!”  This is my trademarked expression, so use this at your own risk.

“Hell…o operator!”  – I got this one from some incredibly INSERT “S” WORD HERE cheer that cheerleaders did at my high school.

“Jeez…Louise!” – Kids don’t even ask about this one as it naturally rolls off the tongue.  I had a little boy who blurted out “Jesus!” twice last year and I just took to raising my hands and shouting, “Hallelujah!” and moved on.

“Damn…atian, as in 101!” – Any reference to the movie 101 Dalmatians is a slam-dunk.  If you immediately begin humming Cruella de Vil, your students will most likely burst into song.  

“Crap…ola, Crayola!” – Tell kids to immediately get out their crayons as you’re going to do an impromptu art project.  They’ll be so excited about doing art, they’ll come to think of that as the brand of crayons they’re using. 

I can think of no substitute for the “F” word, but you could try F&*k…i-delic and tell students it’s similar to Funkadelic, which is a style of music.  If you smile and start dancing “funky-style” you might get away with this, but why risk it?  Don’t be INSERT “S” WORD HERE!

Also, never underestimate the power of the English language to confuse. When students tell me they “lost” their homework,” I’m in the habit of saying, “Bummer.” I say it like a surfer dude and then have them write their name under “Benched” on the board.  One year the mother of a Spanish-speaking student confessed that her daughter thought I was saying a bad word until a neighbor assured them it had nothing to do with your backside.  Ouch!   I apologized for the misunderstanding.  Now I explain what “bummer” means, but it would help if those Webster people put it in the dictionary.

If you follow these simple tips, you too can kiss your mother with that mouth – guilt-free.

I’m Sewing Mayhem August 5, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Hobbies.
Tags: , ,

There’s evidence everywhere. Needles are strewn about the house, even embedded in the carpet, so it’s not like I can hide my addiction. Tweaked on caffeine and a creative high, I was up half the night. Yeah, I’m sewing again. When I told my husband I was thinking of making something, he said without a second’s hesitation, “And that would be a mess?”

I first learned to sew in 7th grade Home Ec (home ick to slackers). I’d already learned how to make floury white sauce, and how you can sprinkle sugar on half a grapefruit, pop it in the broiler, and garnish it with a maraschino cherry to create a healthy breakfast. But, back to sewing.

Our first project was a beach bag with a drawstring. Did it. Next up was a simple shift with darts and a zipper. I became so frustrated trying to sew the 18-inch-long zipper into the back of the dress (baby blue cotton duck), that I decided to just blow off this whole zipper thing. I’d pull the stupid shift over my head and wriggle into it!  But my mother, who was a talented seamstress, would have none of that. I’m sure she quoted entire passages from The Little Engine That Could to motivate me, or just to induce guilt. I put the damn zipper in. Never mind that I never ever wore that shift.  If you look up ugly in the dictionary, you can see a picture of it.

I worked at fabric stores in high school and on summer vacations in college. With that employee discount, I was able to develop a full-blown habit. Soon Simplicity didn’t do it for me and I graduated to Vogue. I was churning out long-sleeved tailored shirts by the dozen. I enjoyed the high of saying, “I made it myself.”

At one fabric store, employees got to sew samples for display and have all the materials paid for.  I made a plaid blazer (100 percent cotton brushed flannel), which required that I match the plaid on nine seams so the garment would look oh so professional. When I was done, even the plaid on the sleeves aligned with the plaid on the body of the jacket. Never mind that to achieve this amazing effect, I’d sewn the sleeves in so that you couldn’t raise your arms. Despite my best intentions, I’d created a Tartan straightjacket. But it looked great!

Growing up, my sewing was a late-night affair in our basement in Omaha. I’d stoke up on iced tea and pull a late nighter. Long before people had a personal pin number, my dad could personally tell you the number of pins the vacuum cleaner repairman had removed from the vacuum hose.  He would ban sewing. I’d lay low for a week then start up again.

When I got married, I made my own wedding dress (crushed ivory satin) for a whopping $12. I got the last piece of fabric on the bolt at a wholesale shop in downtown LA. When I was almost done, I trimmed the long sleeves to put the lacy cuffs on, miscalculated, and realized I’d cut them too short. I had a total meltdown, which my husband witnessed. I pulled an all-nighter and figured out how to add a piece of lace and an extra strip of fabric to salvage the dress. So it’s not like my husband didn’t know what he was getting into.

Years later, I marveled at all of the work I’d put into making my wedding dress – before I dropped it off at the Salvation Army. I’m not particularly sentimental and it’s not like I was going to wear it again.

When we lived in New York City, there was no room to spread out and sew, so I took up knitting.  I made two sweaters for my first son. I was so afraid the sleeves would be too short that I made them too long. The sweaters would have been perfect had my son been a gorilla. (What’s with me and sleeves?)

For a while, I took to making baby quilts because they were so cute and small. Did I mention they were small? But when I made a really special one for someone and they didn’t offer to thank me by giving me their first born, I decided people just don’t appreciate real art.

I don’t sew much anymore, but I was at Joanne’s and linen was on sale. Patterns were also on sale for only $2 and that’s a far cry from the $25 that the designer patterns fetch. I fell off the wagon. So now I’m living in my sewing netherworld and cranking.

I cut out two rectangles to make the first skirt and put in an elastic waist. When I tried the skirt on, it looked like I was wearing drapes. I spent the next hour ripping out all my handiwork. I don’t believe in seam rippers because I never can find any of mine. I removed the last stitches with a dental tool designed to clean out plaque.

I then spent two hours copying the pattern from a Made in China skirt I’d bought for $7.99 at Ross. It’s a gored skirt with a zipper. I’d never made a skirt like this before. It was touch and go, but when I pulled it over my head (zipper still to be added), it looked fabulous! Never mind that I spent an entire night and day creating this masterpiece and time IS money. I made it myself!

I read that with rising petroleum costs, all those cheap clothes from China will eventually become a thing of the past. I’m prepared to go local and sew my own clothes and to selflessly teach others this lost art. Those interested should drop by after midnight, as that’s when I do my best work. Be careful, though, to step over all the needles and pins.

Quotation Rotation #6 August 3, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Quotation Rotation.
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“FOO” – MSN NPD Forum

FOO is an acronym for Family of Origin. I first encountered it on MSN’s Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) Forum.  As a teacher, I thought I had the corner on acronyms, but there was an entire list I needed to learn just to decipher posts by members.  Let’s face it.  A lot of the baggage we carry through life was packed during our formative years.  Example of usage:  “I think the reason I was attracted to this abusive sh*% of a man is because of FOO issues (as in my father was also an abusive sh*%!)

FOO is not to be confused with The Foo Fighters, an offshoot of the band Nirvana with Dave Grohl as the front man.  It is possible though, if your family get-togethers include biting sarcasm, drunken tirades, or knockdown brawls, that your family could indeed be FOO Fighters.

August Mao August 2, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Monthly Mao.
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