Thursday, April 30, 2009
Fantasy and sci-fi are the least popular genres in the hood, so I was at a loss until yesterday when I overhead a gaggle of nerds hanging out at their lockers discussing how much they loved dragon books. Lawrence, Isha and Cedric are so cute with their huge stacks of text books and their high-water pants and their suburban geek proper English with the lisp. I rushed out to my trunk and brought in a box of all 800 volumes in the Dragonbangers of Pern series, about two dozen DragonLance books, and a variety of Shannara and Ill-Earth Chronicles and Elf shit. Like shambling fiends reaching into a bag of bennies, the three of them gobbled up about 75 titles, cramming them into lockers and backpacks, fighting over the various volume 1s of the series. Cedric was quite excited with his Michael Moorcocks.
The Big Cheese announced today that we should immediately inform her about sick kids. I called the office 3rd period because I had three kids exhibiting abdonimal and respitory symptoms; the secretary said "so?", so I sent them to the nurse, who sent them back immediately, so finally I wrote the names down and hand-delivered them to the principal and all three kids were sent home immediately.
It's really hard to get adults in the building on task.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
One of the worst insults an 8th grader can hurl at another at my school is "junky." Too many of the kids have lost parents to the scourge, and many were born addicts themselves. I've seen certain kids absorb brutal teasing with a shrug but as soon as they get called "fiend" or "junky" they get all China Syndrome on somebody's ass.
Burrough's book is cold and distant and reportorial. It is beautiful and dispassionate: "Why have a junk habit?" Burroughs asks, and answers: "In order to have a junk habit." There is no reason, there is no pleasure, there is no goal, there is no escape. Junk is simply a way to kill time, and Burroughs goes through large swaths of junk time. There is a truly monstrous scene involving a kitten, written completely without emotion, and what makes it most alarming is that I think it's the only point in the book where "Bill" feels something.
Scott Russell Sanders wrote an essay about his father's alcoholism and used the image of a key turning in his brain to describe his fear of becoming a drunk himself. I often react the same way to movies and books about addiction, because my father drank himself to homelessness. I can barely get through movies like Leaving Las Vegas, for example--and Junky made me feel jangly and uncomfortable in the same ways.* Any work which can move me to disgust and psychic pain is worth high praise.
*Of course my fear of literary and cinematic addiction doesn't keep me on the wagon...
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Last period is the worst. Ash takes it upon herself to start a fight. I write her up and send her packing. Then Tomcat decides to stick a maxi pad to some dolt's afro. As I am writing her up another fight erupts. I am carrying around the maxi pad for evidence and I use it to break up the fight because even though it is clean out the package it gives boys the heebies. So I've got a backlog of write-ups now, and Tomcat is making veiled threats which I ignore: "I'm going to snitch on you if you snitch on me. Don't matter if you ain't don't nothing because all I got to do is say you done something." I tune her out and call the hall monitor who takes her away. Then I call the school police to take away the boys who fought each other. Nothing is getting done in my class. I tried teaching The Giver for two days to the eighth graders, but they were having none of it: That's $200 down the tubes I spent on copies. Back to the Bluford series.
I saw, but have yet to read, Arlen Specter's article in the NYRB about presidential over-reach. For a moment I was surprised to see Spector in those pages, but thought little of it.
Then, today's bombshell. Funny that Specter already was the most liberal senator from PA--Casey, the Democrat, is more conservative socially than Arlen. I always expected Senator Collins to switch first.
Monday, April 27, 2009
The rest of the day is fairly typical: kids haywire, fighting, pushing, not paying attention. They're all excited because the City schools are supposed to close by law if it's 90 degrees by 11am, but the CEO never follows that rule-if he did we would have closed ten times in September last year and 20 times the year before.
So we swelter and suffer together. They're not doing their work, I'm barely doing my job. It's a system.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
I'm starting to wonder about the "cold" I had last week. Hit me extremely hard and fast in the lungs, and my energy levels had never been lower. We weren't in Mexico, but were near the border, and mingled with Mexican tourists in places like Carlsbad. I had no symptoms until we got home to B'more.
Pretty scary that the dude who escorted Obama around the New Mexico Museum of Archeology actually died the next day of this flu.
Just spoke to Cha who is in New Orleans. I told her to wear a mask at Jazzfest and on the plane home. I think she thought I was joking!
Saturday, April 25, 2009
These revelations would be shocking if everyone didn't already suspect it was true. But now that there's yet another smoking gun, with more likely to come, I don't think Holder can back out of investigating multiple Bush Administration officials with an eye toward indicting them. Obama needs to come out with a statement about his reluctance to look at "the past," but then qualify it by pointing out the "deeply disturbing" nature of revelations that officials in the Bush Administration were advised early on that what they were doing was illegal. If we don't heal this wound now, it will fester and return, just as failing to heal the wounds of Watergate allowed Rumsfeld and Cheney to metastasize through the corporate body politic for a further 3 decades, leading to a raft of trouble.
I still remember Sy Hersh discussing some of the un-released photos and videos from Abu Ghraib. He talked about sodomy of young children by US troops during interrogations. I wonder if this material will come out in the next planned document dump? If so, Obama needs to get himself out in front of a huge wave of revulsion and outrage, and prepare to put some Bushies behind bars.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Hmmm. We "gotta do work" because you read at a 5th or 6th grade level in 8th grade, and you write at a 3rd or 4th grade level, and you're going to start HIGH SCHOOL IN FOUR MONTHS. 36% of those who enter high school in B'more manage to finish with a diploma.
That's why we "gotta do work." Some of them actually respond to this schpiel.
The City wants us to teach Lois Lowry's The Giver again this year. I'm down with that--I already have some plans I used last year. But we don't have the books, and Amazon is selling them for $7 a pop, but with a 4-for-3 special I can afford to spring for a class set plus the iTunes audio book on download. We'll start by making our own utopias I suppose.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
I go on a long driving trip to commit an elaborate suicide. A surgeon is going to remove my face and feed it to people, and then gradually harvest my organs for donation. I submit to the first part of the operation and have half a face, when the surgeon gets second thoughts and decides I should wait until tomorrow before continuing with the procedure. Those who've already eaten half my face object, and I must admit it smells good, having been prepared in Japanese golden curry.
But we wait anyway over even my own objections, and decide to have dinner in the mall food court. There somebody is telling me I should talk to Dr. Phil, and then they mention that everyone whose Chi is messed up goes through this.
I'm going to ask my Tai Chi instructor if this is true, and then I wake up to the alarm.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Today he snatched a paper I was checking out of my hand from across the table where I was helping a student. Then he proceded to taunt me by pretending to give it back twice and pulling it away. I lost it in a way I haven't in years, and the next thing I knew I had WW2's hoody wrapped in my left hand and he was on his back on the table and I had my right fist clenched over his face. I must have grabbed him by the clothes and lifted him over the table toward me without thinking. Students were up and cheering and saying "Godfrey gonna beat his ass" when I realized where I was and what I was doing. I lowered my fist to his face and gave him a couple little love pats on the cheek and then helped him to his feet. And ten minutes later he was trying to steal cookies and mints again. I found this incident very disturbing.
I really have lost my pizzazz. I've got another cold and I can't yell, so teaching is out because you have to be loud to be heard. I'm also tired from this cold, which has hit me harder than the other 89 this year, so I don't give a fuck about anything except getting through the day. I'm grouchy and on edge, and feel drained when I wake up in the morning.
Topping things off was the appearance at the March of a complete lunatic from my 2nd period class at the Book earlier this year. He got "put out" over there and I hope to God they don't put his crazy ass in my already nuts 6th-grade class.
We're going to Famous Yakatori 1 with Julio and Yo! Adrienee 2nite. Perhaps a chili-infused tofu hot pot will cure what ails me?
Monday, April 20, 2009
I must have added this because of Helen Mirren, because immediately behind it was The Passion of Ayn Rand starring her as well. I'm sending that one back un-viewed, and as for The Long Good Friday, it's worthless until the last 20 minutes, when Hoskins finally ditches his Edward G. Robinson mimicry and starts acting. There's a brutal murder scene worthy of Scorcese and then Hoskins really sells the last scene; otherwise, eh.
I had a feeling I wasn't going to like this, and should have trusted my gut. Fie on't!
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Some guys approach 40 buying fancy cars and getting their jowls tucked. Me? I drive a second-hand piece of shit and I let my jowls flap in the breeze. I approach 40 by re-reading books I read when I was a teen.
Delany blew my mind when I was 16. Dhalgren totally took the top of my head off, and I read it again at 18 and again at 24. I read Nova back then but only had a vague memory of the book centered mostly on its cool cover. Reading it anew 24 years later I remembered virtually none of it, and spent much of my time trying to remember reading it, and how my bedroom looked back then.
Von Lorq is an obsessive star freighter captain, grandson of an interstellar pirate, and rival of the heir to a gigantic fortune. He decides to put his rival's family out of business by swooping into an exploding nova in order to capture a rare fuel source, cornering the market and demolishing the galactic economy. All the characters he recruits for his crew are familiar from the Tarot, and there are the lush prismatic psychedelics familiar to fans of Samuel R. I re-read this old Bantam paperback primarily to decide whether I should donate it to the free store; off it goes, along with about six other boxes of mass markets in my closet, this summer. Some other young kid needs the top of his head blown off.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Next week there are a couple days of Science Testing for the No Child Left Behind bullshit; I'm going to teach science on Monday and Tuesday--astronomy on Monday and perhaps some biology on Tuesday--just for shits and giggles. Maybe if I do lavish PowerPoints about that stuff I can get them to stay in their chairs for ten minutes--lavish PowerPoints are no longer working for Language Arts.
Tomcat has been telling all the other sixth graders she's pregnant, but didn't think she was going to keep it. Today she was proudly showing off her new birth control pills. All I can say is use condoms too, girl. Those pills won't keep you healthy.
Report cards went out today. One more term to go. The City wants us to teach Lois Lowry's "The Giver" again, but we don't have the books, and Amazon is charging $7 each for the tiny paperbacks! What a rip-off. I'm going to download it via iTunes and try and get some used copies; I'm loathe to drop $200+ on books the kids are going to hate. I already paid a couple grand in supplies and books this year.
Apparently the program which funded my second MA and teacher certification last year has been shuttered in B'more, and rumor has it they don't even have staff to ensure we do our three year teaching commitment in the City. This means I can take my certified ass out to the County if I choose, without penalty. Oh, so tempting...
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
During third period I heard crashing desks next door and then Miss J's "help!" I rushed over and broke up a fight between a short stocky and a tall lanky sixth grader. I used my Tai Chi form without thinking about it, the "whip" pose, with one hand out front and another behind, to keep the fighters apart.
BTW, I suspect that my Tai Chi instructor is relaxed by more than just Tai Chi.
Less than two months to go, and the supplies I ordered using Title I money are finally starting to arrive. I got 30 nice hardbound thesauri today. I hope I get my document reader and all my other goodies so I can play with them this year.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
I enjoyed the first half of Andrei Tarkovsky's original Solaris, but the second five hours started to drag a bit. If you're not up to the challenge of visually driven Soviet era sci-fi allegory with glacial pacing, then you can watch S. Soderbergh's update with George Clooney and a hot chick. Thankfully the script has been re-written to include voice-overs which explain what the fuck is going on, and some of the dialogue between characters is helpful in the same way ("Can't you see? I only know what you remember!" might be spoken to Clooney in the picture, but it's obviously directed at the audience). Without this Cliffnotes to exasperating art films version, I never could have figured out the moral and philosophical implications of the original film.
I'm being too catty. Solaris the remake is actually pretty good, if you liked the Robert Wise Star Trek film about Voyager becoming God.
Monday, April 13, 2009
I read Cheever's collected stories approximately 22 or 23 years ago. I liked them a lot, with their sad suburban men trapped in a variety of metaphoric prisons. One story, "The Country Husband," sticks with me particularly because I've re-read it for classes I've taken and taught. One image from that story sticks: a labrador retriever dressed in doll's clothes by a neighborhood brat, walking through yards trying to shake off its costume. This image neatly summed up the main character's predicament.
In Falconer, Cheever replaces metaphoric prisons with the real deal. Farragut is a professor and rides the horse. He beats his brother to death with a fire iron and ends up doing hard time. The book is by turns sad, tender, and hilarious, with rants worthy of Stanley Elkin or Philip Roth. I'd thought of Cheever as quieter than this book. Good stuff, a breeze to read.
When Cha and I travel we don't do a lot of planning. We get a vague idea of things we'd like to see and maybe reserve a hotel for the first night and then we hit the ground running, improvising as we go. It usually works well, and although we hit a couple rough patches it worked well in New Mexico.
If you're going or planning to go here are my thoughts:
New Mexico is big and there is too much to see, but you can see a lot in six days if you're willing to drive. Because the scenery changes every half-hour out there, driving a few hours a day is not an exhausting drag, but a pleasurable experience. I except only one area from this generalization about scenery: driving from Roswell down to Carlsbad is a drag, and so of course is the return trip. Flat plains with an occasional cow for hours. But in Carlsbad as you enter the park there are curious and crumbly mountains to liven things up. We drove through the high desert in the northwest, through the forests in the center, and high in the mountains around Taos. There are always interesting effects of light and different flora to see. And sometimes spectacular views of the Rio Grande.
1) Carlsbad Caverns: You need to see this before you die. Don't wuss out and take the elevator down, because the long foot path down from the entrance was my favorite part of the tour. It takes a long time, and it is very dark, but you really get a feeling of the Caverns as an otherworldly, mysterious place. And the swallows sing and swarm around you as you descend. We'd each had this in mind as a must-see when we arrived, but we balked at the distance when folks in Albuquerque said it was a six-hour drive. It was a six-hour drive because we went to Acoma and then headed down and across, but if we'd gone a bit east toward Sante Fe and down the drive would have been less than 4 hours.
2) Chaco Canyon: I've always wanted to see a particular pictogram near these ruins, and the ruins themselves are arguably the most spectacular and well-preserved ancient structures in North America. Some of the big houses date to the 850s, and they are constructed of stone instead of adobe. When we got to Acoma people told us it was another 3.5 hours west to Chaco, so we decided it was too far out of the way if we wanted to go to Carlsbad. I reluctantly ditched the idea of seeing the Anasazi ruins, but then we ended up going on Friday anyhow. The drive isn't that bad from Albuquerque--only 2 hours to the park turn-off, and then a sketchy dirt road which runs for 23 miles to the canyon itself. You need to take your own food and water, and if possible have a couple days. I recommend getting close the night before and staying at the Frontier Motel in Cuba, which we did--it's only an hour drive from there.
We had about six hours at Chaco and it wasn't enough. The pictogram I wanted to see, for example, is about 3 miles off the main route and can only be reached by hiking--I'm always up for a six-mile desert hike, even at 7000 ft above sea level, if there's something I want to see--but because the sky was darkening rapidly with clouds and we had a 7am flight the next morning out of Albuquerque, we stuck to the main sites and missed hikes to the remoter areas. Still, the place is otherworldly and highly recommended. There is a great park facility with an interesting museum, but the recent controversial discovery of evidence of cannibalistic rites at Chaco is glossed over. On the day we visited there was a special event scheduled: park rangers were going to lead a sky-watching tour as the sun set and the full moon rose at the canyon. Given its remoteness I can only imagine how spectacular the night sky is out there, and the ranger station has a little observatory where they take nice photos of nebulae and galaxies to hang in the atrium. (The pictogram above is believed to document the supernova which created the Crab Nebula, visible here in 1054). When the ranger told us about this I thought: leave park @ 10pm, get to Albuquerque @ 1am, flight @ 7am? Still worth seeing! But once heavy dark clouds started coming up the canyon I decided we'd end up there for days if it rained and it wasn't worth staying with heavy cloud-cover blocking the view. The ranger on duty sneered at me. "It's really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch a full moon rise here." I'm sure that's true, but simply being there is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity. Spectacular!
3) Bandelier National Monument: We had planned to chill one full day at a desert resort with hot mineral springs and massage, and had some time to kill the afternoon before. We ran up to Chamayo from Santa Fe and saw a really spectacular little church and pilgrimage site (we'd planned to go on Good Friday but heard that there were thousands of pilgrims coming on foot from as far away as Mexico City to visit the Well of the Holy Dirt at Chamayo--traffic would have been a drag). After Chamayo I suggested we go over to Bandelier for a couple hours because I'd seen a cool photo in our guidebook featuring a kiva high up on a cliff face. This was one of the greatest places I've been. You hike back a beautiful forested trail for about 1.5 miles, passing cliffside pueblo ruins and cave dwellings and pictographs, and seeing deer, lizards, squirrels, and a variety of birds. There are amazing volcanic rock formations and picturesque streams and shady coves. At the end of the trail is the money shot: a 140-ft climb up steep ladders and stairs to the kiva and sacred site in a cave at the top of the cliff. It's a wonderfully preserved spot and you can climb down into the kiva and get a feel for the spirituality of native peoples a thousand years ago. Not for the faint-of-heart or the unfit, I'm afraid. Hiking 3 miles at 6000 ft above sea level is not the same as hiking it at sea level.
4) Ojo Caliente: This is the resort we spent 24 hours in. We paid for a "couple's special" which included a night in a very nice cabin, a 50-minute massage each, and unlimited soaks in a variety of mineral hot spring pools: soda, arsenic, lithium, and iron, plus a one-hour "private hot spring" appointment with a nice view of the mountains and a fireplace. We arrived, we soaked in the pools for a couple hours, we ate lunch, we hiked along a desert trail to the site of a melted adobe pueblo where there were pottery shards everywhere in the scrub, and then returned for our massages. Typically I like a vigorous deep tissue massage, but my Native American masseuse gave me a Reiki massage. Sometimes she'd just hold her hands on me at different points for minutes at a time, chanting. I saw peculiar things! We ate dinner, got a special foot treatment, and then had our time in the private pool, where we CENSORED and CENSORED and finally CENSORED and relaxed after hundreds of miles on the road and lots of hiking. I recommend Ojo Caliente; it's a nice facility and one of the managers went to JHU.
5) Three Rivers Petroglyph Site: Not much is known about the Mogollon people who carved designs in the rocks along a snakespine series of hillettes, but that mystery only makes this site that much more interesting. You work your way back along a path of black rocks covered in white carvings (many of which have been cut out over the years by overzealous collectors) towards the ruins of an old and barely excavated pueblo and kiva. The path is rugged and there are two substantial mounds nearby which to my eye are obviously hiding something spectacular--they ain't merely hills! Another place we didn't have sufficient time to fully appreciate.
6) Acoma: Acoma is an ancient pueblo, continually inhabited for a thousand years, on top of a mesa a couple hours west of Albuquerque. You go to the visitor's center and wait for the tour, and a bus takes you up to the pueblo and a native guide tells you about the history of his people and their traditions, and about their troubles with the Spaniards and the Navajo and Apache raiders. For most of its history Acoma was only accessible via a treacherous stairway cut in the rock, but John Wayne changed that in the 50s when he built a road so he could make a half-dozen forgettable films up there. The views from the mesa are spectacular, and you can choose to ride the bus back down or climb the old stair--if you're fit enough, do the latter. It was one of the highlights of our trip!
A note on the museums:
Skip the Santa Fe Fine Arts Museum. It's a rip-off, and the collection is weak. Much better is the Georgia O'Keefe Museum, right around the corner. We also visited the Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe, which is well worth the price of admission-they had a fantastic show about Indonesian shadow puppets, which I find endlessly fascinating. The Roswell Fine Arts Museum was also rather good, and has a room with Goddard's rocket lab reconstructed inside, with some of his handiwork on display. We didn't visit the UFO museum, and unfortunately didn't have time to see any other museums, but saw some cool galleries in Taos.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Curiously I never read Clarke during my major sci-fi geek faze, between ages 13-18. I read nearly all of Heinlein and as much Asimov as I could, but before I got to Clarke I moved on from the genre.
I remember reading a story called "The Nine Million Names of God" somewhere-perhaps it was at Loyola College? "The Nine Million Names of God" demonstrates Clarke's interest in mysticism and religion, and I think there is no doubt that Clarke likely read many books about the occult or hermetic theory. I mean, 2001: A Space Odyssey (the film, at least, I never read the story or novelization)--is full of Rudolf Steiner's theory of evolution toward a Jupiter Consciousness. And Childhood's End, which I read on the plane to New Mexico and rather enjoyed, is again a story of more advanced beings manipulating humans over centuries toward a kind of evolution of consciousness.
I wrote a paper once for a French class comparing ideas in St. Exupery's Pilote de guerre with those of Fulcanelli, and the professor (who went to the Sorbonne and received his PhD from Yale) told me: "It's one thing to suggest there is a similarity of ideas between an established writer and intellectual and those of a professed alchemist who may be an urban legend...but you must do research and find proof."
But doing research or crafting a lengthy explanation is what an academic or intellectual would do; because I am simply a crank I need explain nothing. I work with hunches. Childhood's End is an esoteric novel along the lines of Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson.
And the Mogollon and Anasazi petroglyphs I saw in New Mexico? They clearly picture aliens!
I had a feeling I'd enjoy New Mexico, but had no idea it would strike me as one of the most diverse and engaging landscapes I've visited. Georgia O'Keefe wrote that "if ever you visit New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life." I concur.
We crammed a lot of stuff into six paltry days; I put 1600 miles on our little rented Mazda 3. We went from Albuquerque to Acoma to Carlsbad to Roswell to Santa Fe to Chamayo to Bandelier to Ojo Caliente to Taos to Chaco Canyon. More details later, but now I have a house to clean and Easter family obligatories to attend! Click on my Flickr badge if you want to see a few more pics.
Friday, April 03, 2009
12 glorious days with no kids, no riding or plucking, no packing, snuffing, stinging, or meat checks. No more 12-year old girls taking two days off to go to The Clinic.
2nite I have a gig with Move Like Seamus at Lucy's, and hope to see you there from 8-12. If not, maybe we'll catch up after I get back from New Mexico. We leave tomorrow early. I'm out beyotches, and I'm not taking my laptop out West, so who knows when you'll hear from me again?
Thursday, April 02, 2009
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
I'm so tired I'm getting sloppy. A kid not in any of my classes kicked in my door today and when I said "you need to go" he said "who the fuck you think you is?" and I jumped on a chair, on a table, and down chasing him and when he took off down the hall I called him a "dumb ass" in front of other adults and students. All day I was pinching, punching, and pushing kids without caution. One boy tried to give me the bum's rush at my classroom door and I rapped his knuckles with my wooden Noisemaker stick. Oooh! Ouch. Another boy tried to escape detention by following a fellow teacher out of my room at 2:35. I grabbed his hood and pulled him back and he threw a handful of pebbles at my glasses.
I had to pause for about 30 seconds before I gave him the Vulcan death grip until he fell to his knees. Thanks Mr. Tracy, 10th grade Trig/Analytical Geo teacher, for passing on this useful skill.
Soon I'll be in New Mexico: Anasazi ruins, fantastic cave systems, desert, mountains, white water, aliens, spicy food, peyote, hot springs. Hell, yeah.