Saturday, January 24, 2009

Praise Song for the Day

The first class of the semester is taken up with reviewing the syllabus, making terrifying threats about academic thought crimes, and generally establishing that this is a free and open classroom under my benevolent rule. I want my students to feel safe and comfortable expressing their ideas, both half-baked and brilliant, but I also want them to feel unsafe and uncomfortable calling each other and everything else lame, retarded, and gay. It is a delicate balance - one that seems to work best if they think I am a little scary.
The second class is all about establishing the study of literature as a much more worthwhile and accessible enterprise than they had previously thought. I ask how many of them hate poetry and see a sea of hands. Play haters are numerous as well. Resistance to short stories is minimal. That is why we start with short stories. But this time I am going to start with poetry- the inaugural poem. What better way to focus on audience, purpose, meaning, and form? First we deconstruct text-messaging as a genre. The agreement of all three sections is that its best features are brevity, informality, and the hiding of all emotions. The worst features are the brevity, informality, and hiding of emotions. Boys like it better than girls. All have horror stories of being offended or offensive by accident. Everyone agrees that it is an amazing way to keep in touch with a loved one when the plane is landing, the fridge is empty, or the others on the subway are eavesdropping.
Then they tackle the poem. Most do not recognize it, even though most watched the inauguration. But they start to pick up snatches of meaning right away. All three sections seize on the phrase "love without need to pre-empt grievance" and suggest that when combined with " darning a hole in a uniform" that this is a poem about repairing our world wide reputation. One kid says that he would like to be proud of his blue passport and not want to lie and say he is Canadian. Only one student objects to the poem, feeling that it, and the whole inauguration just harped on race too much. After all the US is one of the least racist countries in the world? What more do these people want? The rest of the class laughs merrily at this notion.
I did not really like the poem all that much when I heard it performed on television. I was more taken with the Revered Lowries prayer;
Lord in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning
we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around- and when yellow will be mellow- when the red man can get ahead man, and when the white will embrace what is right. Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.
I don't usually like poetry that rhymes. But this one stuck in my mind, so much that I was able to recite the better part of it to my class and watch with a certain amount of badly hidden glee how this just didn't please my " don't you go playing that race card' student. This semester should be interesting.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Blogging Is Like Spin Class

Today I am watching the third or fourth gigantic snow dump of this year. By year I mean school year. I don't really think of years that other way- with the January transitions. I mean, January is in the middle of the cold dark winter.Who wants to start the year then? September is nice cool sweater weather with new books and notebooks and maybe even a new outfit or two. And yes, I know there are people out there who do not go to school or teach or have children or parents who go to school or teach and they can't relate to this "school year" thing. Well I can't even begin to go there. If you don't teach or go to school then you have to work in the summer! Who would do that? Other than everybody who teaches, because they need the money?

I do not mind that people like to do their "resolutions" at this time of year. The health clubs need the new members right now. They especially need the people who join but do not actually go to the gym. These people make the local YMCA affordable to the rest of us.

I have made some resolutions of my own. One is to stop worrying about my really appalling grammar skills, and somewhat shaking spelling. I can get help. I can avail myself of the support of my many literate friends who really seem to know why you are not supposed to end a sentence with dangling stuff.

Most of my resolutions this year have to do with accepting myself and my world a little bit more graciously. So instead of saying I will lose such and such amount of weight, until I look like I did when I was a substance abusing, eating disordered, but yeah, thin, fourteen-year-old , I am going to work on liking myself enough as I am to just do more yoga, walk the dog a little farther, get off the T a little earlier, eat more fresh fruit and veggies, and just be okay with it all. Similarly, I am going to stop worrying about what will happen if anybody were to actually read my blog and find out that I just can't stop writing really long " sentences" ( I am learning in grad school that just tossing in more commas doesn't really make it a proper sentence) and that when I get angry and passionate my entire sense of syntax goes out the window . A few days ago I got so upset about the fact that NYC has the Beastie Boys and Boston has what? New Kids on the Block? that I spelled confused "right and "write". Holy stupid ranting English teacher.
It's okay. Its like the jumping around my living room instead of going to the gym today because, um, there is this blizzard. I am actually writing. I am making the slow and gentle move from writing for many many many ( yeah, I know, cut at least two of the many's - I would mark that on a student paper- but it really is many many many) years only in my journal, I am moving towards this blogging thing. And I have shared the location of my blog with at least three people who will read it . And I think those three people all would agree that I should not be a professional copyeditor. So what? If anybody ever gets froth at the mouth apopletically grieved by my grammar then they can say so and I will fix it, just like the NYT . But the point is that instead of waiting for my writing to be perfect ( like waiting until I look perfect in a leotard before going to the gym) I am going to be writing imperfectly in the hopes that I will then get more comfortable with my flabby, huffing ,out of breath, ( would really rather go back to smoking thanks) writing skills and then as I sweat it out get a little less selfconscious about people seeing my uncooordinated efforts. If I just do it, like Nike ( the archetype, not the sneaker) then I will , if nothing else, get a little more comfortable with group exercise. In that same vein I am encouraging all of my brilliant writer friends to blog too. We can do this people. Then I can determine that getting up in the morning and reading my friend's blogs is kind of like going to the 5am Spin class, only for my brain.

Friday, January 9, 2009

My Imaginary New Neighbors

I have the worlds best neighbors now. They live behind me. When our kids were little they used to make an ice rink in the back yard, and my kids learned to skate by pushing a stack of plastic crates around in front of them. We got dogs at the same time. We car pooled. We listened to each other's children talk in the back seat while we drove and we compared notes when they went through the terrible teens. I spent New Year's Eve with them, eating far too much, and arguing about who had the craziest relatives. The categories for the evening were " religious nuts", " real republicans" and " doctors who perform surgery on the dining room table". My grandfather had his appendix removed by his father after eating too many of the neighbors green apples ( and being so scared to confess that he lay down and was cut open? Why? Too late to ask now...) but my neighbor's dad routinely brought home body parts from autopsies and waved them around the house while sharing morsels of scientific wisdom. He won that round.
I don't ever want to move, because I love these neighbors so much. But then there is the rest of the neighborhood. There is my primary care physician who lives across the street, a very outspoken Hungarian, who has a need to give me advice on men, sex, love, and finance that sometimes borders on the terrifying. There is the lunatic widow on the corner who shouts " Your dog STOOLS on my lawn!" and once sprayed my children with her garden hose on purpose for no reason other than the vague possibility that they too might be plotting to stool on her property. My dog by the way doesn't stool anywhere, and he doesn't shit on her lawn either.
There is also a crazy lady who wears carmen miranda hats and jumps up on cars to avoid my terrible pet. You would think he was a Mastiff or something. He isn't. He loves everybody- almost. He does kind of hate crazy ladies, after a while.
I think I may be having some vague class issues with my neighborhood. I suspect that they all listen to the kind of pop radio station that plays eight songs in rotation, with the bad words bleeped out. I listen to NPR and college radio. My good neighbors and I had a huge laugh last year at the book "What White People Like" ( farmers markets, David Sedaris, marijuana, pure bred dogs, pretending to learn a foreign language, Wes Anderson movies, writer's workshops- see for more if this gives you a sneaky uncomfortable feeling) . The joke is that its not "white people" like the ones I grew up around, the second generation immigrants with plastic covers on the furniture, new cars every other year, built in sprinklers, and Catholic School from K-Grad. We are only talking about postmodern white people, the kind that like to throw the word meta around, and enjoy self-referential and self-deprecating and self-absorbed inquiries and rhetorical situations.
But here is the terrible truth, that I am sneaking up on it slowly. I think I might want to move back to the land of the Volvos with Green Peace stickers, and little free prayer flags from the Dali Lama. I think I might want to return to my people, the people of a certain kind of college town. I live in a college town now, but it is not the kind that requires recycled linen grocery sacks. I want to move back to Cambridge. Ooh, okay I said it.
Of course now I am concerned that I might have to deal with really annoying neighbors. Because Cambridge is just full of those opinionated, easilly frusterated, sighing in the check out line, fierce faced pains in the asses that look a lot too much like me.
There is still quite a lot to think about. If I stay near here I can afford a decent sized place with sunlight and appliances and closets and a view of the ocean. If I move into town I can afford a shoe box underneath the highway, with the windows set at 'garden level' and my very own hook ups in case I want to bring along a fridge or washer and dryer. Hard to say, hard to say. I think it will really be a question of getting a feel for the neighbors.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Menacing Christmas Trees

My dog has a few quirks, as dogs do. He is massively prejudiced against people who do not look like perfect cardboard cutouts of people. So a hunchback is to be suspected of wrong doing , but so also is a parent with a baby strapped to their chest. Both present themselves to my dog's somewhat simple evaluations skills as aberrant in the extreme. People should not have lumps.

He is also very very distrustful of things that lie in wait. This time of year can be difficult for him, as the streets are literally teaming with an almost impossible to imagine evil; trees that lie on their sides poised to attack. We just returned from a walk where we had to carefully walk past at least ten of these unspeakable things. None of them did actually pounce, and he neutralized them all by lifting his leg and liberally sprinkling them with dog pee, which we all know stops them, at least temporarily from being able to hurt us.

His brother shared his fear of Christmas trees, after all, who doesn't? But older brother also had a terrible fear of dwarves. It did not help that I initially failed to understand what he was seeing with his special dog vision, when my neighborhood was mysteriously filled with them. I still do not know why the town covered all the firehydrants with burlap bags. These too, mercifully can be made safe to pass with a little quick urination.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Nothing to Worry About

My younger daughter lives in India. She likes to play fun tricks on me, like sending her sister a post card that says;
" I bought a moped. Wow, is it ever hard to steer, especially going really fast! I almost got wiped out by a bus yesterday! Don't tell mom ! ( just kidding nosey, I know you already read this Mom). Just kidding? I still have not been able to get a clear answer to the question
"Does this moped exist? Or were you just trying to make me dangerously insane? "
Facebook is also a fun way to send a parent into an imaginative frenzy. My older daughter likes to post pictures of herself surrounded by large reptiles- a room full of venomous snakes ( some in jars, others just kind of playing in the corner ) or a yard full of alligators. And guess what? After the snake bites a towel three or four towels and drains all the venom out of its cute little front chompers you can hold and pet it quite safely! But don't wipe your eye with the towel. And make sure it really bit down hard on the towel and wasn't faking you out.
This morning I got a slightly upsetting phone call to tell me that my daughter has accidentally revealed to our health insurance company that she is in India indefinitely. Apparently this has magically removed all obligation on their part to pay up if she gets into major trouble. No worries Mom, because she was only in the hospital overnight. Just a tiny little bacterial infection or food poisoning or whatever causes high fever and hallucinations and dehydration- but nothing to actually worry about when an IV full of antibiotics nipped it right in the bud. The upside is that the cost of a private room in a decent hospital, with multiple doctor consults and the IVs was the equivalent of $80. Oh. And her boyfriend has a "mildly" infected foot, by which she means that the bone is poking out, "just a bit". It is silly of me to get worked up about any of this.