Friday, December 31, 2010


2010 was a crappy year and I'm not sorry to see it go. Neuropath was a fitting novel to finish it off.

Imagine the Saw movies with Dr. Ben Carson or Vilayanur Ramachandran cast as the serial killer. Think what fun a brain surgeon could have messing with your innards! And how pseudo-philosophical an author could wax while writing an unparalleled piece of schlock. I want to punch this book in the face.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Magnus, whose destiny has been tied up with those of Dunstan Ramsey and Boy Staunton since before his birth, is playing the role of an 18th century magician in a biopick for the BBC directed by the Robertson Davies equivalent of Ingmar Bergman. There's even a Sven Nyquist character. Magnus of course has to provide "subtext" for his performance by confessing (or at least revealing) his past. Along the way he gets revenge on one of the BBC cats and perhaps we at last come to understand who killed Boy Staunton. The exploration of themes like masks, personae, deceipt, guilt, sin, revenge continues.

Though I enjoyed its final third, I had a tough time with this installment. The endless reminiscence about vaudeville glazed my eyes several times, which is why it took two weeks to read it. But overall the Deptford Trilogy is magnifique.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Once you go black...

First, read Casey's review, which is better than anything my lazy blogging ass is likely to cobble together. I agree with his post point-for-point, except for the brief mention of The Wrestler, which I've not seen yet.

The film positively reeks of Cronenberg and Polanski as Casey notes--the main character's descent into madness is very reminiscent of Polanski's Repulsion. It has Cronenberg's fascination with flesh and wounds and mutations; Polanski's oddball humor is apparent throughout. I laughed uncomfortably several times during Black Swan.

I think Aronofsky has also watched Adrian Lyne's Jacob's Ladder about a billion times. There are many visual and audio clues which I shan't discuss lest I ruin the surprise. And though the movie is indeed "psychological horror," it's also a dark fable along the lines of Pan's Labyrinth.

Black Swan was a dizzying entertainment. It's the best ballet film since The Red Shoes, and the best film of its type since Dead Ringers. The dance sequences are magical and monstrous. The performances are universally good. Barbara Hershey scared the shit out of me. I'm tempted now to re-read Conrad's "The Secret Sharer" to suss out the doppleganger theme. But in a nutshell the film is about the creative process gone terribly wrong. Artists must confront the Shadow in order to more fully express themselves. Tightly-wound, exquisite Nina loses the confrontation but her art succeeds. She could have shouted "Look ma! I'm on top of the world!" at the end.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Colin Wilson has written fine and entertaining works on the occult (Mysteries and The Occult), as well as popular compilations of crime and serial killers. I found his Jung bio for a few bucks via, and thought: what the hell? I'd just read his protege's bio, after all.

What I get primarily from Wilson's take is that Jung wrote convoluted and punishingly dense works because: A) in his thinking he had already ruptured with Freud but did not want to publicly express that fact yet, and B) he was a mystic and a philosopher of history and a literary critic and anything but a scientist, but his persona as a scientist and doctor had to be carefully shored up in his published works. These two motivations made it difficult for him to honestly and simply express his thinking.

Lord of the Underworld is rather hostile to Jung. Wilson, whose keen psychological insight is that people are robots 90% of the time and that we hand over control of ourselves to a secondary personality which goes through the motions far too often, claims that Jung's system is unnecessarily complex. But Wilson approves of play therapy, and to a degree he likes archetypes, and he thinks active imagination is just peachy.

While I don't disagree that Jung can be overly complex, I think Wilson's idea is underly so. But I admire many of his books nonetheless, including this slim volume.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Day #63

A crazy day of full solstice moon/lunar eclipse-inspired bad luck:

Got up, drove to work, arrived at work after 20 minute commute, cell phone rings: "Where's my car key?" the wife asks. It's in my coat pocket. I drive back home, takes almost 30 minutes, and then back to work again.

Eating a hard pretzel at lunch, I broke a crown. Salt crystals jammed down into the cracked fake tooth. Ouch.

A child I let play Yugio cards in my room during his recess flipped out and broke a nice comfy chair on a new table, smashing the one and gouging the other.

All the report cards I wrote into templates got fucked up when people I emailed them to opened them. Something about me having Vista and them having XP, or perhaps the printer--who knows? All I know is I reprinted and reformatted my fucking report cards a half-dozen times today, and had to drive back to school after I was almost home because of this issue, which resulted in yet another in a sequence of more-than-twelve-hour days. SO TIRED.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

No More Kings

Day #64

We had our Culminating Event Friday. At an expeditionary learning school we throw open the doors and parents, relatives, local residents and a variety of dignitaries and big wigs tour around looking at what the students learned. There are snazzy displays of artwork in the halls and the rooms become galleries and there are dance, drum, and choral performances. Even though I busted my ass this week getting everything ready I still felt renewed and happy afterward. This is what the charter school experience is all about.

I wish I could post video here of the amazing performances--if you are my Facebook friend you'll be able to see some short vids over there. The 5th graders did a live version of Schoolhouse Rock's "No More Kings" which was amazing.

And one of my favorite 6th grade kids--a true brainiac--announced that after months of auditions and call-backs he has been chosen to take the role of Symba in the Lion King ON FREAKING BROADWAY. I will miss him, but what an amazing opportunity! I've already had a student in The Wire, now I'll have one on stage. Pretty awesome. We'll have to finally break down and get tickets to the show.

Now I'm broken and weary. The wife and I are both sick with the latest hacking nasty cold. I think I'm going to skip the staff holiday party this eve to recuperate for one last week of school in 2010.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day #62

To all those who say teachers work bankers' hours: I worked 30 hours the last two days. I will be working a long day tomorrow as well, and I will have to work another Saturday just to get my work done this week. And many teachers at my school are working more hours than I.

In other words: up yours!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Day #60

Today was pretty chill. We finished up our final products for the Pigtown expedition (each student wrote an informational paragraph about one topic covered this trimester). These products were typed up in the computer lab and we're going to glue them to cardstock and display them on a "learning map"-a giant billboard type thang which we will display at our culminating event Friday.

Of course a learning map is a bit bland without some ummpph, so I had the kids make decorations today. I had to figure out a way to get them to make pigs out of construction paper without going bonkers, so I came up with a three size circle design for a pig, and pre-printed pink paper with cut-outs including the body, head, snout, legs, and tail. The kids had to cut out and paste the pieces together, and they had some freedom to design their own faces and ears and whatnot. I think Thursday we'll glue together B&O railroad trains.

The purpose of our culminating event is to teach parents and community residents what we learned this fall. The 7th grade boys might find it challenging to come up with things they learned!

The kids also have to do student-led conferences at report card time. Their parents come in and the kids have a portfolio of work which they've spent weeks reflecting on in Crew time. The kids present their learning to their parents. Any work which is missing they have to explain. This should be interesting.

Because of all this new methodology, I feel like a first-year teacher. But I also feel like a first-year teacher because I'm getting support and guidance which I never got at the Book or the March. I was just thrown into the lake of fire, like the worm which dyeth not.

Friday, December 10, 2010

B'more Seasonal

Sometimes I get grumpy about living in Baltimore. I'll see a particularly fat rat dodge out from under my car at 6:30 am as I open the driver's side door. Or I'll get stuck in traffic caused by road work for the purpose of retooling downtown for the Grand Prix and a 3-mile commute will turn into a 45 minute haul. Or I'll find a handful of glass vials in my flower pots, glinting amongst the geraniums, petunias, and daisies.

But then something really cool happens,like a friend out of the blue offering tickets to Stoop Storytellers at Center Stage, and instead of sitting at home and fretting about work I go out, have a nice snack with my wife at a crazy Korean food/coffeehouse joint before a great dessert at Marie Louise bistro. Along the way we passed the Washington Monument all glittery with high-efficiency multi-colored lights amplifying the gaping hole in the antique wrought iron fence left by a drunk who smashed his van up a couple months back. We also saw the destruction at Charles and Madison, where Donna's, My Thai, Indigma, and a bunch of offices were burned out a few days ago. I suppose Thai Rish and The Helmand got damaged too because neither was open.

But the show at Center Stage was very entertaining. And because we live in Smalltimore we ran into a bunch of people we know. A teacher from my school was there and I found out today that the first story-teller was in fact her future mother-in-law, and the son the woman mentioned in the story as being present was in fact her hubby-to-be. The stories were jovial, the music was top-notch, and the skits were not painful--quite the contrary! There was even a diplomat who danced and sang in Nepalese.

Tonight we were invited to a swank soiree at a ritzy law firm by a friend who works in the office. Nice shin-dig! I think the barristers had me pegged as an interloper. I was a bit less fashionable than the average guest. I felt a bit like Leonard Bast from Howard's End. But I ate like a king nevertheless!

Glad I got out a couple nights this week, because I'm working at school tomorrow, likely all day. I need some time in my room with no students to prepare for the end-of-trimester crunch. Next week is going to be a bit brutal, I fear. But time off at the end of the year offers a glimmer of respite. The apocalypse happens NEXT December, after all!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Day #58

Hydrangea a trip. She a slender little wisp, medicated like so many for anxiety/ADHD/hyperactivity etc. One of my favorite kids for her energy and her spirit and the crazy things she says, but only WHEN SHE'S MEDICATED. Off her meds she's off her rocker and very unpleasant and irrational, one of the most devious and evil instigators I've known in City schools.

Today a sixth grade boy mouthed off to me and I picked him up over my head and carried him to his chair and sat him down. Then several boys wanted to be picked up over my head. "This isn't a carnival ride," I said. But after school some boys came over and one by one I picked them up. One I spun around a bit.

Hydrangea ran over immediately. "Now me! Now me!" I told her gently that I can't pick up girls. "That ain't fair. I never been spun around before. I wish you would pick me up and put me in the ceiling forever so I could watch people doing their work and make fun of them."

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Day #57

Shaun of the Dead is in my Crew in the mornings and he's also in my 7th grade boys Humanities class. He's an unusual child. He's not the biggest kid in his grade by far, but the other boys fear him. I'm not sure if it's due to his intensity, his mercilessness, or because he runs with people in the Game out on the streets. I'll probably find out at some point this year.

Shaun likes to be #1. When we play games in Crew like Silent Ball he refuses to sit down after getting out, and will argue and argue about it. The whole point of Crew and these games is character building--Shaun doesn't get it. When my Crew plays hoops against other boys Shaun dribbles sloppily down the court and takes a terrible shot every time. He ignores his team-mates and nobody will defend him because they fear him and he still throws up a clunky brick every time, all the while talking about how "nice" he is. One kid on the other team who actually has skills--who passes the ball and has moves and can make shots--was scoring so handily against Shaun that Shaun swung an elbow into his jaw and bloodied his mouth. "That's how I roll," Shaun said as I led him out of the gym to the office. "Ain't no way he nicer than me."

I had to type up letters listing tardies and absences for kids over certain benchmark levels. Their parents have to sign the letter and return it so we have on file that we notified them of attendance problems. Shaun has been late 18 times in 58 days, so I typed up a letter for his mom. Shaun rolled in at 8:50 this morning and I gave him the letter and he freaked out. "No way I been late all them times! You trying to get me in trouble. My mom is gonna cuss you out. I ain't taking that home," and then he started crying like a baby. I've seen him do this before--just burst into tears. "Shaun," I said. "You just came in 15 minutes late. Every time you aren't here by 8:35 I mark you tardy."

"You must take attendance at 8:32 every day!"

"No, I never take attendance before 8:50."

"You trying to get me in trouble!"

At the end of Humanities class he was still complaining about it. The kid is just nuts. But I was nuts in 7th grade too.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Book #46

There are hints throughout Davies' novel Fifth Business that he's into analytical psychology, and Jung in particular: the symbolism of the stone, the anima, the shadow, the magus, the puer aeternus, and the recurring synchronicities of the plot made that pretty obvious. And yet Fifth Business is not a Jungian novel the way its sequel The Manticore is. This is literally a Jungian novel.

Boy Staunton dies spectacularly at the end of Fifth Business--it's not really a spoiler, since this information is given away on the cover of the book, and early in the novel. In this volume Boy's son Davey has grown into a successful barrister, but also a repressed and celibate alcoholic. Desperate for he knows not what, and in crisis following his dad's death, Davey takes refuge in a Jungian anaylist's office in Switzerland. Like the first novel, The Manticore is a sort of confessional; in the first we had Dunstan Ramsey's long confession to his boss, and here we get Davey's analysand journals, with bits of dialogue from his analysis.

Although there is the occasional whiff of Joe Campbell's Jung Lite near the end of the book, it is an excellent voyage through many of the Swiss Shaman's ideas. The cast of characters spring from a Tarot deck, the plot is pure night journey a la Dante, and there are clever symbols for the Persona and other autonomous un-integrated chunks of the Self.

If none of this interests you, you'll likely find The Manticore more boring than church. But if you like dreams and symbols and the archaeology of the Self, you should read Davies' book. I'm eager for the third and final installment, which I'll begin this evening.

I'm desperately trying to reach that 50th book before the end of the year...

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Day #55

I can't do this Humanities stuff! It's too befuddling. Language Arts is hard enough to teach middle-schoolers without having to teach it via Social Studies. And Social Studies still derails me on a near daily basis. For example: I'm teaching chronological organization as a text structure and I'm using a paragraph about Confucius and Mencius. I've jumbled up all the sentences and the kids have to use the dates and other clues in the paragraph in order to re-organize it correctly. Before they start I tell them that "BC" dates go backwards, and then I have to stop everything and teach why, which takes 20 minutes of unexpected class time, but I think it's important. And then I end up talking about BCE and CE as opposed to BC and AD and why and whatever and then we're in some theological discussion because kids think Jesus was the first human on earth and they're keen to argue that and the Moslems in the room take exception and a couple Christians argue with the others that Adam was the first man, dummy, and then there's a fight.

The second paragraph we work on--this one a main idea and supporting details thang--is about Egyptian myth and religion. Osiris weighed your heart after death, and if it's too heavy it got eaten by a fabulous monster. Whatever, the kids get all freaked out and ask if it's real and then I have to go into how it's only real in the sense that it was an Egyptian religious or mythical belief thousands of years ago. And then we're all talking about death and what happens after death and the lesson is gone.

But these are the kinds of days I like best--the meandering sort of learning I enjoyed leading when I taught college kids. When I taught college kids, however, I was not required to follow, nor was I held accountable to, a curriculum!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Day #53

Had a tiring day, but it went pretty smoothly. The kids played a bit 1st period; because they are my angelic class I was hard on them and their behavior put me in a bad mood. I used that energy though to clamp down on the 2nd period knuckleheads. They were productive and respectful because I read them the riot act for their behavior in the hallway before class.

The 7th grade boys last period were sweet and considerate because half of them were absent. They don't come to school when it rains! But then a mouse appeared, ran across the floor, and they all jumped up to stomp it B'more style. I caught the aftermath on film, but without parental approval I of course can't post it. Poor mouse.

After school we had an intervention meeting for Husserl, a troubled young sixth grader who's been in foster care for ages and whose foster mother keeps intervening to prevent adoptions by good families because she thinks she might want to adopt Husserl and then after the adoption family moves on she decides not to. What a mess. Husserl is typically sweet but troublesome, but in recent weeks she's become a holy terror, aggressive and angry and power hungry. Because she's not getting the attention she needs from her foster mom she's going to get it by blowing up at school and causing chaos and cussing out her teachers. We had "mom," social worker, counselor, AP, teachers at a meeting today after school, and Husserl refused to come in the room. She'd written me a note before hand about how appreciative she was of my advice and support, so I went out to try and talk her into the meeting. I sat on the floor with her and felt I was getting somewhere before "mom" came out and then Husserl shut down and refused to do anything.

I think she's going to get taken out of our school. Heart-breaking, but she has needs we can't meet. I also think she's going to be removed from her current foster mom's care--perhaps heart-breaking, but maybe a good thing?