Memoirs from the desk of: William Lancer

Date: Febuary 15th, 2006

All teachers have their own little pet peeves. I know some teachers who cannot abide students fiddling around with their hair and some who have an immeasurable hatred of crumbs, or whistling, or loosing their test pencils. An old colleague of mine seemed to have a personal vendetta against any and all forms of slang, jargon, or casual colloquiums to ever come into existence. Of course, everyone knows of Tetslaff and her riles toward slackers and the… less than fit.

Personally, I like to think myself as a more tolerant man. I won't wind the occasional whistle or little in-class conversation, providing it doesn't get too loud. I only have few real annoyances when it comes to my students: late homework, cheating, chewing gum, and balloons.

I don't like balloons.

I don't mean the regular, colorful, oval types you get at a carnival or fair. No, I mean the tinfoil heart shaped behemoths that always show up just before the Valentine's Day Dance. They're always made of that flashy foil that obnoxiously catches the light and reflects it in everyone's face. They never, ever, stay still, never in the same place for more than a nanosecond. They bob and bounce and wobble as their owner run along the hallways. They absently float along halfway across the room when I'm trying to explain rhyme schemes, banging against chairs and desks in their way. Or, worse still, they are tied so loosely that they escape to float and bob and bounce across the ceiling, their balloon strings dangling down. Are these ever simple, round balloons? Oh no. They're in the shapes of hearts and bunnies and teddy bears, roses, puppy dogs , and I-LOVE-YOUs.

Worst of all is that awful, abysmal balloon sound they make as they rub against the skin. I'm positive that sound is mentioned somewhere in Dante's Inferno. It must be somewhere in there.

Certainly, around February there's also the other standard gifts: chocolates in heart shaped boxes, fuzzy stuffed animals the size of Texas, various perfumes and cards, the whole kit and caboodle. The mass of red and white and pink changes a little from year to year, but not much. I also sometimes see the littler balloons, the tiny ones without helium that just sit obediently on a plastic stick, sometimes being held by some small bear or bushel of flowers. Those balloons I don't mind nearly as much, seeing as how they're immobile and thus significantly less annoying.

On that sentiment, here is something I have noticed. If there ever was a surefire way to pick out who's popular, who's in the cutest couple, a general who's who of Casper High, if the cliques and limited cafeteria seating didn't tip you off, those balloons will certainly do the job. After all, it becomes a lot less harder to appreciate your simple little card and stick balloon when there's a much grander, shinier, more expensive bouquet of balloons literally overshadowing your own and bumping you in back of the head. Not bumping hard enough to hurt, or even tickle. Just a big, shiny reminder of where your place is.

That's partly why, at the last year's staff meeting, I decided to put forth the idea of a the Secret Language of Flowers fundraiser. It wasn't exactly a secret plan of mine, or anything. The concept came up almost by accident.

We needed something to raise money to rebuild one of the hallways after one of many ghost attacks. I suggested a flower drive. "Flowers, on a whole, are a lot less distracting and take up far less room than gigantic stuffed animals and balloons. Flowers are small, sincere, humble, and still very sweet and romantic," I said. They were also easy to sell and transport, and there was a mass of unloved flowers sitting around in the greenhouse to be used.

Personally, I'm amazed my idea was the one Ishiyama ended up choosing; I was only suggesting the first thing that came to mind to raise money for the school and no one else had suggestions. I didn't actually think it would become official.

I'm even more amazed at how successful the fundraiser has been turning out to be. I really didn't think they'd take to it so fast or so well, but here we are.

It wasn't a novel idea. I know of many schools that do the same thing we do, selling flowers in February. The thing is, we do it a bit differently.

Most schools only sell roses (sometimes it's the cheaper carnations) of three different colors, the most often being yellow, red, and white ­- yellow for friendship, red for love, and white for purity. We also give out some roses, of course, but what really seems to be popular in Casper High are the lilies and the poppies.

You see, it was also part of my proposal that we also included the traditional concept of Victorian floriography. The language of flowers. And all the flowers, not just roses have a meaning to them, and there are just as many different meanings as there are flowers. Not only can they express love, but they can express all the different stages, all the various ins and outs of love. Unrequited love, innocent love, new love, love of country, and love of memory. And they don't have to just express love, either. They can express things like art, luck, justice, sadness, unity, prosperity, and… Look. Let's put it more simply: if it can be felt, there's a flower for it.

That's the other reason why I suggested the idea. Because there's more variety in flowers, there's more variety of meanings, which means they can appeal to a wider variety of students. That means everyone, not just lovers, are involved in the fundraiser and no one has to feel left out. ("And," Ishiyama pointed out, "More students means more money for the school." We're going to have that hallway in no time. )

Of course, there's always another side to the coin. There is always the chance that this little suggestion of mine could backfire on me. Flowers don't only mean nice, sweet things­ they're also sometimes used to express hate or insult, or falsehood.

I worry sometimes that some poor, unpopular girl will discover a spray of foxgloves and orange lilies in her locker. I worry that she will spend the rest of the day in that whirly, giddy, walking-on-air sort of mood, pining for the mysterious stranger that left her such a thoughtful gift, and wondering who her admirer could possibly be. I worry that later she will then actually look up the meaning of the flowers, only to realize to her dismay that the foxgloves actually stand for insincerity, and the orange lilies for hatred.

A hypothetical situation, of course. We don't sell foxgloves or the orange lilies for just the reason. But it could still happen.

I've expressed this concern to the staff several times, both before and after the fundraiser came into actuality. My colleagues don't think it's really anything worrying about. They've told me that if certain uncouth incidents involving the flowers popped up every now and then, there wasn't much they could do about it, as kids will do mean, kid things flowers or no flowers. Which I suppose is true enough. Point to them.

But they also seem to doubt that such a situation will turn up in the first place. They doubt that anyone would actually go through the trouble of looking up cruel flower meanings and then actually seeking out said flowers just to crush someone. Some have even gone to far as to state that kids, especially not popular kids, aren't really clever enough to figure all of that out, or aren't steadfast enough to put so much effort into such a scheme.

Now, I don't mean to sound as if I'm badmouthing any of the staff, but clearly they don't know their students very well. I know for an absolute fact that just because a student puts hardly any effort into his book report, it hardly means that they won't put effort into anything else.

I may indeed be worrying over nothing. Even so, just knowing that there's a chance a disaster like that might happen, happen because of my bright idea, it worries me.

It worries me a lot.

In any case, nothing has backfired yet. Nothing except a few brief protests from Miss Manson here and again. She accused the school of supporting chauvinism, sending student back to the Victorian age, and of murdering innocent flowers. Even that died down after a couple of days. I can't help but wonder if the black poppy (courage)tucked behind her ear or the bit of milkvetch she carried had anything to do with it.

That milkvetch, by the way, proves my point on students' efforts. We don't sell milkvetch (we only sell flowers, not herbs)and I know it does not grow in our greenhouse. Not only that, but milkvetch is hardly the first thing that comes to one's mind when it comes to flower language. It's a very unusual choice of plant. Not a very common use of meaning either: "your presence softens my pain". Very odd. Very odd, indeed.

But I'm digressing, here.

In spite of any nasty runoff the Language of Flowers drive may end up sparking, I can say I really am glad it's been so successful.

I'm a little ashamed to admit that I've always secretly hoped that somehow my teachings of Byron and Blake would spur something fantastic. That maybe, during a reading of Tristan and Isolde would spark a new and sudden passion for literature and education. Students standing atop their desks, ala Dead Poets Society. "O captain, my captain!" and all that.

It's more than a bit farfetched, I know. It's ridiculous and idealistic, but let a guy have his wishes, will you?

Even if I'll never get people hopping on desks, I still take joy in the fact that I actually managed to start a nice little Casper tradition. Something different, fun, and sweet to look back on fifteen years from now. I want their years at Casper High to be as pleasantly memorable as mine. Hopefully, the flowers will help in doing so.

In spite of the god-awful foil balloons Valentines Day comes with, I really do enjoy the holiday. I know a lot of other people my age tend to get a little bitter and cynical this time of year; divorced or single folks, mostly. They let their past loves and sour memories collect on their shoulders and weigh them down. I can't say I blame them. I can understand why a holiday emphasizing love would bring down the lovelorn and for them, I do feel sorry.

As for myself, I've never had a problem with it. Even if you yourself are not a lover, it doesn't mean I still can't appreciate what it stands for, and remember with some fondness what it was like to be young and in love. (t really is a young person's holiday, after all.)

I'm more than glad to chaperone the dance and stay late to sweep up the confetti, flower petals, and glitter afterward. And then I go home, I grade papers, maybe read a little Wordsworth, and go to bed.

Knowing my students are happy makes me happy, corny as that sounds. That knowledge is all I need to have a happy Valentine's Day.

(Not that I'd be above accepting a gift or two.

Hint, hint, ladies.)