I don't miss much about Towson--in fact I can barely stand driving there now--but I do miss our tiny yard and its cycle of flowering plants. This is the second spring in a row I've been deprived.
What makes it worse is the current owners of our old place plowed all our perennials down, including the azaleas, and put in a parking pad.
I think when summer comes I'm going to start working on a container garden. We have one tree on this lot, and no exposed soil other than that sidewalk tree well. I need some outdoor plants, dude. Maybe flower boxes in all the windows?
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
I don't miss much about Towson--in fact I can barely stand driving there now--but I do miss our tiny yard and its cycle of flowering plants. This is the second spring in a row I've been deprived.
Monday, April 28, 2008
When I got to the school I noticed there were no kids running wild in the halls. There was no gang grafitti on the walls. There were soap dispensers in the restrooms. People were smiling. There was music coming out of the auditorium. Nobody was yelling. There was student art work--current student art work--in the display cases, and hanging on the walls.
I was interviewed by a panel of 8 women. They were no-nonsense, and didn't ask the standard "strengths and weaknesses" questions. They questioned me for 45 minutes, then offered me the job. I told them I would get back to them by the end of the week. I don't know that I want to teach 7th grade next year, even at a nicer school. But I know now I have an option if I choose to flee Booker T. "Our sixth graders are off the chain here," the principal told me at the new school. "We need someone who has handled their business at Booker T. to take charge of these kids next year."
Ha. Handled their business! The only sixth graders I saw at her school today were politely standing in line in the hall with their teacher. You can't get anyone in line at Booker T. And politeness? Ha.
I also have an interview at a charter high school on Friday. If they offer me that gig I'm definitely going to take it.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
I never knew until this morning's Sun paper that the Ouija board was a Baltimore thang. Mine must be a late model, because it says "Parker Bros, Salem Mass" at the bottom. Salem seems more fitting a source for a bit o' board-game spiritualism than B'more.
So it's Christmas at my folks' house, and the time comes at these gatherings when my brother-in-law and I start talking smack about art films, books, meditation, spirituality, 20th century classical music, Henri Bergson, etc. He's a practitioner of Taoist meditation, he does Tai Chi every morning, he has a black belt in Kung Fu, he's a surgeon, he's a classical guitarist and a classically trained cellist, he's a father, he's a collector of Japanese swords, he's a wine connoisseur. And he's a Jew, so when we were discussing Alan Watts and he said "You know, the best book I've read about consciousness and non-duality was by a Jesuit priest," my eyebrows knitted themselves together in what I'm sure was a quizzical and bemused way, because my brother-in-law laughed and said "No, I'm serious. You need to read Awareness like tomorrow."
So I ordered Anthony DeMello's book from Amazon and put it on my nightstand in The Pile. And just after I had a crisis at work, I mean like immediately after I stood in front of a class and had one of those Deep Moments where everything slowed way down and I thought "Do I really want to do this? Do I really care about these kids? Or do I merely want people to think I care about these kids?" DeMello's book was next and I inhaled it and it contained great wisdom and truth.
You should read it like tomorrow, too.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
I'd thought that re-visiting Animal Farm a couple decades past the Cold War would perhaps diminish its charms. Wrong! Instead of porkers based on Stalin and Trotsky, we've got Cheney and Rummy and Karl Rove. Orwell most feared, after all, the tyrannical processes festering within the Western democracies. I think of his dystopian visions whenever I look out the window at West B'more and see the police surveillance cameras and helicopters flying over a community of desperately poor human beings.
Had I the inclination, or the skill, I'd write a parody with Wilbur and Charlotte at Manor Farm.
Friday, April 25, 2008
The students at Booker T. hate this book. They despise it. They sleep when I read it to them. They perked up for a while when I taught them about Biblical allusions, and shame over nekkedness, and citizens taking pills to control their sexual urges. But only for a while. Baltimore City requires us to teach it, but they should reconsider, and find something the kids will enjoy more.
It's a shame they aren't engaged, because the book is actually quite good. An examination of utopian ideals gone badly wrong written for young adults. I'm hoping it appears on the Pedagogy exam tomorrow.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Heard a track from this on WTMD the other night. INSANE guitar work. Spent a few minutes looking for 2 Bob Crew, Two Bob Crew, Twobob Crew, etc. Finally went to the WTMD playlist for last night and found Toubab Krewe.
I'm often leery of these AfroPop blends, because a lot of crappy music has been forged in that furnace. The kind of music that guy you know who has a mullet but is bald on top listens to. He's got his shirt open to his beer gut, and uses a crystal in lieu of deodorant. He drums on his chest when he hears music. He burns fragrant grasses in his studio apartment.
But this CD is good. Not sure if it's up to the level of Tinariwen, but have only heard it a few times.
We had a schedule change today to accomodate what are called "small learning communities." Once a week we have an extra class in the schedule, based on results of student interest surveys. Lukie is teaching "Running for President." We have five kids who are going to mount mock campaigns, with posters, commercials, speeches and debates. This is going to be a blast. One of the students asked me to be her campaign manager. My own West Wing! The candidate told me she is going to end the Iraq War by not sending no more people over there. She will use the money saved to fix education. She has my vote.
But things are winding down. I have my final observation before certification today, and despite terrible insomnia the last two nights I should ace that. I can teach The Giver in my sleep if necessary, and without sleep as well. Next Wednesday I have one more pointless two-hour teaching methods seminar, and then some final reflection paper and lesson plan assignments. Oh, and the Praxis II Pedagogy re-do this Saturday.
And that will be it. I'll be able to focus my energies on teaching and planning for teaching for the rest of the year. Homework and course obligations will vanish into the ether. I do have some interviews coming up next week. High school jobs!
And then I'll have six glorious weeks off to recuperate before next year.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
"Put your hands on me white boy? I'll T you, muthafucka. Don't put your hands on me, I knock you out."
Mr. C said "You need to step off."
This kid is about six foot tall, and wiry. I pulled out my phone intending to record everything as Mr. C started knocking on the Assitant Principal's door. We happened to be just outside her office.
The student threatened all three of us, called us "cracker ass muthafucks" and then dodged into a classroom.
If I had my way, there would be no students in the building who had threatened a teacher. They would be gone, and would have their own facility elsewhere. Tolerating this kind of behavior is what's gotten the City Schools to the point where kids feel free to attack teachers and put the video on YouTube.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
I've seen Scorcese's film version about 12 times, which colored my first reading of Kazantzakis' novel. All dialogue was spoken in my head with thick New York accents, in particular Judas' potent "You broka ma heart!"
This is, I believe, the fourth novel about Jesus I've read, and they've all been excellent. I still think King Jesus is my favorite, with Godbody a close second. But Kazantzikas accents the humanity of his Christ in special ways, and takes great risks; having Jesus the carpenter fashion crosses for the Romans while God torments him with bird talon visions, for example. A pure pleasure, even for an atheist with Buddhist tendencies.
Friday, April 18, 2008
This video popped up on my Facebook page as one of the most popular items in the College of Notre Dame network. I'm sure Pope Benedict would be pleased by the YouTube taste of students experiencing Catholic higher education!
Is this for real? It's like a Mad TV parody.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
I passed the Praxis II Content Knowledge exam with the highest score possible. They sent me a certificate of excellence, suitable for immediate recycling.
I FAILED the Praxis II Pedagogy exam, meaning I have to send the faceless, amorphous creatures hiding out at ETS another $150 so I can take it again in a week.
Suck, suck, suck.
Oh, well. I knew I failed it that day. I ran out of time on the second essay. Gotta pace myself. I'd thought I'd nailed the first essay and bombed the second, but got nearly identical scores on them both.
Suck, suck, suck.
I rarely fail exams. The only other time it happened, in fact, was during entrance tests for the NSA. I had to pass four tests in two days, and only fell under minimum standards on one: translating a French language news conference on the fly. Now I'm twice a failure. D'oh.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Just great. We haven't watched a TV series on DVD since Freaks and Geeks, and now we're completely hooked on BSG, despite the fact we have almost no free time for watching it now. (She rushed home after work to watch an episode with me before I went to class at Notre Dame and before she went to her mom's.)
We finised the miniseries in a couple evenings and are fully involved in season 1 at this time. The Mrs. was a bit reluctant when I told her what I'd Netflixed, but she likes it even more than I.
I must admit avoiding it for quite some time, despite some trustworthy sources raving about it online, because I remember the campy movie and TV series from the '70s. But BSG is excellent TV, and is a remarkable artistic response to post-9/11 Bush Administration America. I love when the President asks Edward James Olmos to use the military to quell a rebellion over water rationing, and he says "The military is supposed to defend against external enemies. The police protect the people. When the military become the police, it tends to make the people the enemy."
Most of the best characters are chicks, and lovely ones at that. Highly recommended.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
I had a formal observation today, meaning that my supervising teacher from Notre Dame observed me in front of class and took notes. This was my fourth of five such observations, and they are important in the teacher certification process. I was going over the lesson in my head as I walked from my car to Booker T. this morning when one of Baltimore's Finest stopped me.
"Hey buddy, you work here?" he asked, pointing at the building.
"Can I get you to sign some paperwork? I delivered 8 students just a few minutes ago and need a teacher's signature."
"What did they do?" I asked, noting that I knew none of the students I was signing paperwork for.
"They were just late. We're keeping track of every student who shows up here late every day now. We got so many stabbings and cuttings associated with the kids in this building that the mayor wants to know who's late to school every day."
I thought back to all the mornings at previous jobs when I didn't feel like going to work, and all the times I felt tired or not up to the task or disengaged with my job. Then I thought about what the cop had just told me and how routine this sort of thing has become. I used to complain about bookstore staff and patrons, and college kids. And sitting in a cubicle writing curriculum used to cause unbearable stress. Ha.
We had a lockdown for a half-hour yesterday--no big deal, I figured, just a dime a dozen lock-down unlike the one last Thursday for the chaotic fight and teacher beat-down. Boy was I wrong. Apparently yesterday's lockdown was due to a shooting, and some adults involved had come to the school to tell students who knew about it to keep their mouths shut. We had another lock-down today. Perhaps tomorrow I'll find out what that one was for.
Anyone want to volunteer? You can work in my classroom. I had a student who typically knows better punch diminiutive E. Muffin in the back of the head this morning. The punch was so hard it sounded like a bag of meat dropping on cement. Muffin, crying, picked up a full trashcan and hurled it at his assailant. Sickening, sickening, toxic environment. I'm drinking again tonight.
The observation went well. My supervisor came in, shook my hand, and asked jokingly if I had been beaten recently by students. Good one! Har-dee har-har.
As we left Mr. H was asking if anyone knew who the kid in a green and yellow shirt was. We knew, and told him. "He just punched a child in the nose downstairs and there is blood everywhere." Mr. H saw an AP and mentioned the kid's name. "He is standing on banana peels with me," she said and Mr. H told her what had just happened. This AP always forgets to file paperwork and kids who should be suspended or expelled end up staying in the building.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Sunday, April 13, 2008
City schools with three or more expulsions for assaults on staff, through last week:
Dickey Hill Elementary/Middle
W.E.B. Du Bois High
Frederick Douglass High
Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship
William H. Lemmel Middle
Dr. Samuel L. Banks High
Combined, West Baltimore Middle and West Baltimore Potomac Community
Booker T. Washington Middle
Friday, April 11, 2008
Wills' latest, Two Speeches on Race, compares Lincoln's Cooper Union address with Obama's recent remarks, and I found it quite illuminating. Wills compares the two ambitious Illinois politicians and their strategies and obstacles, and suggests that Rev. Wright is to Obama what John Brown was to Lincoln. Excellent stuff.
Apparently another Balto. City teacher was beaten during this brawl. Seems to be a trend of late.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
There's nothing like being stuck in a room with a dozen teens who have to pee for hours, with no idea what's going on in the building, and occasional announcements from administrators saying "NO STUDENTS SHOULD BE ALLOWED OUT OF ROOMS FOR ANY REASONS. THIS IS AN EMERGENCY. KEEP THE CORRIDORS CLEAR."
I put on 92-Q and we jammed for a while talking smack and hanging out. It was chill.
I still don't know what happened. There were rumors about a gang fight, or a teacher beat-down. Guess I'll find out tomorrow.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Then there were only the usual riots, fights,and kids in the hall. Half of my first class is getting suspended for cutting class today. This will make life a bit easier for the remainder of the week.
My last period started with a young man punching a young woman in her breast. I nearly lost my mind when she crumpled to the floor. I got right up in his face and said "If I ever see you do something like that again.." and he said "You next if you don't watch out" and I said "Do you see me backing off? Go ahead and hit me" and it kind of petered out from there, thankfully, because I was near to losing my job and putting a child in the hospital. Fortunately the young woman was only out of breath and not seriously hurt. For a few seconds I wanted him to hit me, because if he hits me I am legally allowed to defend myself. Can't let anger win, must control emotions, gotta keep a level head.
9 weeks to go, or something like that.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
WH: In Abu Ghraib, at least some of the photos are purely staged. But some of them are not. When they take the photos, let’s say from the second floor, and you see the soldiers and you see the prisoners somewhat down in the corridor. In many of these occasions I’m fairly convinced that nobody down there was aware that there was somebody taking photos. Or do I say that wrongly?
EM: No, no, no, not at all.
WH: But, of course, some of them are real and they are staged—let’s say, the infamous pyramid, the human pyramid. In my opinion, it’s a great exercise in stage art—a very vile, inhuman stage art.
WH: It’s like a modern form of drama, of theater, the theater of bodies to tie them up into a human pyramid of taking the last remaining dignity from them. And in this kind of staging, it’s not a random tossing of bodies on top of each other. The staging of it makes it so horrifying.
They go on to discuss their plan to dig up Ed Gein's mother's grave 35 years ago. Oh, boy.
I just watched
and liked it fine.
From a fave Herzog flick:
Monday, April 07, 2008
When I am there I see a giant carving of the Big Dipper on a rock face. Along the handle of the Dipper is a serpent carving, or some kind of giant dinosaur. I point this out to a local because no one had noticed it before. Then I swim over to where the underwater ruins are, but it is suddenly darkest night and I am afraid to swim down, despite a tour guide's protestations that it is completely safe.
Then I am back in Amsterdam with Julio and Yahtzee. The entire city is bombed out and ruined as if following a major earthquake, but it is still nicer than Baltimore.
Sunday, April 06, 2008
Stephen Dixon cranks them out almost annually, and I read them as soon as I find out about them. This one, ironically, is about writer's block, and Dixon must be using his imagination full-bore in creating suffering blocked writer Meyer Ostrower. Nobody who's published more than 500 stories and 27 books can know a thing about writer's block.
But with Dixon the story is always about the writer's imagination and re-imaginings and revisions as daily events progress. I think of Henry James using the Governess in The Turn of the Screw or the narrator of The Sacred Fount to demonstrate the paranoid, restless consciousness of a writer confronting observed reality; Dixon does the same thing, but with more immediacy, and much more light-hearted fun. There's none of James's late-phase obscurities or endless appositives (though Dixon does loathe paragraphs, and simply writes on and on in one breakless batch until the end of each chapter).
Meyer gets stuck, thinks having a roll in the hay with his wife might liven things up, then imagines how he should approach her, and how she might react, and this goes on with changes and revisions and various possibilities for several funny pages. The rest of the book has him trying out different scenarios to get his writing going again. Meyer is a lot like books by Stanley Elkin.
And again, and I've said this better before, I think if you've not read Stephen Dixon, you're missing out. Get the short story omnibus and open it at random and then you'll be hooked like me for life.
The cherry trees are blooming in the Park. They've not peaked yet, but are close. I figure two weeks from now it'll all be over. One good rain storm will knock the petals down and suddenly it will 90 degrees every day.
Spring Cleaning today. We tore the house apart. I made a dust bunny the size of a ten-pin bowling ball while sweeping in the master bedroom. The whole house is done except for the TV room, but now I'm out of steam. The TV room can wait until tomorrow. So can the laundry. And the back yard.
Last night Cha wanted to go to sleep at 9pm. On a Saturday. So we went upstairs and I was thinking "I'll lie there and read for a while until she's asleep, and then I'll watch the second half of the UNC Kansas game, or maybe I'll do more reading." I woke up at 10:30pm and turned off the light. We slept until after 9.
I think we're getting old after all.
Friday, April 04, 2008
Nat Turner said "Mr. G be driving that little blue car with license plate *****" and he recited my tag number from memory. Miss P. the special educator said "Nat are you threatening to do something to Mr. G's car?" and Nat laughed. "Nah. I watch out for him, that's all. He's my main man over there--I mean, no homo or nuthin', but we tight."
The kids crack me UP.
This was a tough week. I am going to blow off some steam tonight.
You select from the menu at the bar, you get a gram. Back home this would be the Bingo Bag Dame Fortuna rarely grants you. As a result, you and your pal are launched quickly to the Kuiper Belt. Your legs are about fifteen feet long, your cranium is pumice. It gets quiet, and everybody is staring at you. "Everyone is staring at us," you say, and your pal says "I know." "Do you think they heard us?" you ask. You get really quiet and think about the impossibility of ever standing up again. Then you decide to try and get to the head. Inevitably in a building in Amsterdam the head is up- or downstairs, and the stairs are twisting and steep and about two inches deep. These stairs would be challenging on any given day, but with fifteen-feet legs you best have your wits about you. Of course you have no wits about you at all. Going up or down you pass pasty-faced Yanks from Missouri or Idaho petrified with fear and clinging to a loose rail. Your feet are lower than your head and you imagine the implications of this based on Relativity--your head is older than your feet, and substantially so after all these years walking around upright. You decide to buy an inversion apparatus as soon as you get home so your feet can begin to catch up.
After a six month expedition you make it back to the table and your pal says "That was quick." You warn him about the steps as he takes his turn at finding the loo. For some reason you reload and relaunch. That was smart. Suddenly you think L'il Wayne is the greatest music ever. We're talking beyond any availalble superlatives. "When I get home I'm iTuning all the L'il Wayne I can find." You're nodding your head to the beat, but then you think "Was I nodding my head? Wait. Everyone is watching me nod my head. They think I look ridiculous. I'm such a tourist. I'd love to live here, but never could. I'd be here every day. I'd come here for my lunch break at work. I'd never be able to function well enough living here to work at all. Maybe I could work here, in this coffee shop." On the wall is a Green Tara, a Shiva, a mural of Bob Marley--all the Hindu deities. Buddhist, you mean. And Rasta. Oh, man you don't know what you mean. Holy fucking shit. Your eyes are dry. Your pal returns. "Why didn't you warn me about the steps?" he asks. Jesus. You both relaunch, and then decide to walk. Easier said then done. The door is at the end of a tunnel of smoking laughing flesh. It's like that scene in Roman Polanski's Repulsion when Catherine Deneuve is struggling down her apartment hall and hands are reaching from the walls. Finally the door, which you pull, push, pull, push, and then pull before it finally does what you wanted all along. Outside it is daytime, and there are children and dogs and cops and tourists and birds and old leaning houses and canals and bikes and cars and trams to navigate and you are baked. You want some pomme frites in a bad way. Lots of mayo.
You read in an in-flight mag once that Euro travel guru Rick Steves is a big stoner. You wonder why he barely mentions coffee shops in his PBS travel shows about the Netherlands. The article said he goes to India to get baked all the time. You walk to the park near the Rijksmuseum. Lovely. You can read its planners' intent like a text.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
The kids are ultimate defeatists. They look at a problem and say "I can't do this, this is stupid." But as soon as I would sit next to them and ask a couple questions, they could easily explain all the steps to me, and come up with the correct answer. Unfortunately during the MSA nobody is going to sit on their shoulders directing them to think about the next step. "You're smarter than you think you are," I kept saying, trying to encourage them. "At least try before you give up."
Lukie's birthday is tomorrow. The Booker T. staff are congregating for karaoke at Kelly's tomorrow night. Look out.
I'm feeling lazy of late. Nearing the end of this accelerated Master's/teacher certification process, I find myself settling in to limp across the finish line instead of sucking up to finish strong. I'm pooped.
In a month classes are done, homework is done, and I can concentrate fully on teaching duties. I've started acting like the coursework is over already, however; I've got my nose in four novels at once, I'm watching Netflixed discs, I'm going through hundreds of vacation photos, and I'm reading blogs again.
I've also taken to turning off the alarm clock when it goes off in the AM, and settling back in for an extra half-hour snooze. What a treat that is. Gotta stay on track.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
I wanted to relax and watch a nice foreign film this evening. Now I'm a jangling nervous case, and doubt I'll sleep for a week. Wages of Fear follows two truck loads of nitroglycerin on a treacherous journey through jungle terrain. Good stuff.
Yet another reason to love Yves Montand.
Lukie sits on my right shoulder, the bad angel. "I think you need to get loud on their asses right about now. Go ahead. Get that fire back, the fire in the belly." I can feel a scowl forming on my face. Mysteriously, just as I'm about to erupt, the kids get quiet. I give them a half-assed warning lecture at the end of class. They disregard it, and I know I'm going to have to be The Man again soon, or they will continue walking all over me.