Saturday, February 27, 2010

Letter To Won's Father

The following document is of course notable for its simplicity and great beauty as prose, but I find it primarily striking because it could have been written this morning by a woman in similar circumstances. As far as we've come tecnhologically since the 16th century, we're really not all that different from the author of this letter. Of course I already knew of our similarities to people dead a half-millennium ago from writers like Shakespeare and other artists of note, but this letter just brought it home.

I read it in the current issue of Archaelogy magazine:

To Won's Father
June 1, 1586

You always said, "Dear, let's live together until our hair turns gray and die on the same day. How could you pass away without me? Who should I and our little boy listen to and how should we live? How could you go ahead of me?

How did you bring your heart to me and how did I bring my heart to you? Whenever we lay down together you always told me, "Dear, do other people cherish and love each other like we do? Are they really like us?" How could you leave all that behind and go ahead of me?

I just cannot live without you. I just want to go to you. Please take me to where you are. My feelings toward you I cannot forget in this world and my sorrow knows no limit. Where would I put my heart in now and how can I live with the child missing you?

Please look at this letter and tell me in detail in my dreams. Because I want to listen to your saying in detail in my dreams I write this letter and put it in. Look closely and talk to me.

When I give birth to the child in me, who should it call father? Can anyone fathom how I feel? There is no tragedy like this under the sky.

You are just in another place, and not in such a deep grief as I am. There is no limit and end [to my sorrows] that I write roughly. Please look closely at this letter and come to me in my dreams and show yourself in detail and tell me. I believe I can see you in my dreams. Come to me secretly and show yourself. There is no limit to what I want to say and I stop here.

Another Triumph

The Carrots continue to impress. This time they head East for source material from Russian phenoms the Presnyakov Brothers. Playing Dead is a rollicking farce, a tragic slapstick comedy, a re-imagining of Hamlet via Chekov and Dostoevski. The central character is roguish loustabout Valya, living at home with mom in his 30s after failing to graduate University. His dreams are troubled by visits from his father's ghost, who hints he was done in by mom and Valya's uncle. Valya exists in post-Commie Russia where all the mores and expectations of Soviet life have come unravelled and there's a cut-throat inrush of competing systems and external cultures. Gangstas pop caps in asses in sushi bars which serve vodka. There are wars with small nations whose former populations make up big swaths of Russia's multiethnic populace. Because Valya's bored with life and scared of death, he takes a job playing the victim in crime re-enactments at the local police department in order to "get a little taste" of dying, to ease into it. Alas, poor Yorick, nyuk nyuk nyuk.

I laughed heartily and often. One scene was so audacious that watching other patrons' reactions was in itself a treat. The Carrot ensemble has proven their mettle with curious source material in the past, and again they are remarkably resourceful in staging an intricate and complexly choreographed play in their tiny space off North Ave. Some performers play multiple roles and everyone can change mood dramatically and effectively as the material requires. Not a dud in the bunch, and Playing Dead really allows the Carrots to show their incredible physicality!

The seating arrangment and stage are again set up so that spectators are practically in the action--watch for flying spittle if you're in the front row!

You will laugh, you might be disturbed, and you will confront mortality in troubling ways. And then you will laugh again. I can't recommend this show enough.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Just before waking yesterday:

Walking in a mall in Holland with Julio. Behind him materializes a gigantic beautiful blond who interrupts us. She is at least 7 feet tall, and has a stern Icelandic beauty. “I know you,” she says to me. “We used to play when we were small. I’m Becky Zimmerman” or something like that, but it is three names she uses, and the name is only a dream name, not a real person I know or knew. Perhaps she says I am a cousin. I don’t really recall her, but I say “I vaguely remember you. What’s it been, like 24, 29, or 34 years?” I’m trying to remember how old I am and it’s surprising to realize I'm in my 40s. Julio has disappeared totally. Becky and I sit and chat. Her husband is nearby but I am not introduced. In fact, she sits with me and away from him. We talk, and pull out computers in order to friend each other on FB. She points to the side of her nose near her eyes and says “it’s this area” that helped her recognize me. She has friended me, and I look at her profile and pictures of her two daughters and everyone is smiling and beautiful. I also keep thinking I should bring up our great grandmother, but never do.

On my FB page I only see a silly photo I’d created of me kissing myself(this is only true in dream reality; I never did it in real life, I promise. Though I did laugh at the Max on Max video on the old Conan O’Brian show)—the image was doubled then flipped and pasted together. It’s a close up of myself mashing goatees with myself. She turns away, and I worry that she thinks I’m gay and is offended. I keep trying to get to my profile, but all that comes up are silly pictures of me Photoshopped, kissing male rock stars, male movie stars, etc. I tell her “I’m trying to show you my wife,” but we part after she leaves me some old photos.

I walk off and run into Yahtzee, who has dyed his hair blond, and he is dressed flamboyantly. I don’t recall what we discuss, but it is a chance meeting and we are happy to see each other. His jacket is blue with sparkles and he is wearing tight white pants. We meet near a giant stair and fountain.

Then I am in a bar and suddenly my wife is there. There are also other male friends who are not “real” friends, only “dream” friends. I am looking at the photos my cousin gave me. One is of me at 13 after a haircut, and clipped hair is all over me and I still have too much on my head. Maybe there are a couple of us as children playing. The others are of flowers, and she’s manipulated some of these into artsy images via Photoshop.

We decide to leave the pub but the barkeep says we have to pay a tax on the photos. We explain they aren’t postcards, but then he says we have to pay a higher tax or he will keep them. He gets a stamp to stamp them and a friend goes behind the bar in order to negotiate, but he is going to let them charge us the tax just to get us out without conflict. Then several Dutch men gang up to stamp him on the head and I think we’re going to need to fight to get out of here, and I am surprised and Dutchmen being so rude. Then I wake up.

Dude, I have never so clearly dreamed my anima. I wish I’d had this dream 10 years ago! I need to puzzle out the hermaphroditic/sexually ambiguous symbolism, and I need to ponder why I can’t get the quaternity together (but all four actors appeared individually).

Day #97

So the latest "fix-all" enthusiasm in public schools is to concentrate on data to focus instruction. By "data" the experts mean that you look at every standardized test, see how each student fared on each skill, and then target those skills which the students missed for re-teaching, extra practice, tutoring, group work, etc, etc. It's beastly difficult when you have a group of 25 kids who all have mastered different skills and you have to find ways to target each one's weakness. It's not so bad when you have a majority of kids missing the mark on most skills, because you just re-teach everything, while trying to teach new stuff too (my approach, so far). Data doesn't take into account things like cultural bias, or lack of effort, or poor preparation, or illness. It reduces education to an Excel spreadsheet which measures nothing.

In my performance review one of the things I was called out for was terrible data performance on the part of my students. I challenged this assessment by actually printing out my data and showing it to the Big Cheese. Turns out she'd never actually looked at it, and she didn't expect me to have either, because her perception was that I was a terrible teacher and she was going to pull a Downing Street Memo, making the facts fit the case, rather than vice-versa. When I sat down and showed her my kids' performance on Test A and Test B, she had to remove that portion of my performance review because it was factually inaccurate.

Strange how quickly things change! Today one of the ISTs saw me before first period. "Mr. G," she said. "We had a leadership meeting about the data after the latest Benchmark test, and you were the only teacher who moved kids at all in the entire school. You had biggest gains, some of which were remarkable. The only kids who earned the school-wide incentives for performance on the Benchmark were in your classes."

Hmmmm. The Big Cheese wanted me to observe long-term teachers who "knew what they were doing." Now my data is much better than theirs, and rumor has it I might have long-term teachers coming to observe me...I frankly attribute much of the improvement between Test A and Test B to one thing: my guarantee of a $10bill to each student who passed. That ensured that kids would try, instead of just blowing off the test. Much of the problem in City schools has to do with motivation. Kids don't see the intrinsic value of education. They pass, I pay them. It sounds shallow, and it is. But it works. I don't think it has so much to do with my teaching skills--maybe, but money talks!

The Principal was up in and around my room three times today, watching what I was doing, seeing how I worked with the kids, seeing perhaps that her perception was wrong all along. Because data is the main bug-in-the-bonnet of headquarters bigwigs, she might suddenly not be so pleased to have ticked me off before the staff transfer fair in April. Her job rests on measurable increases in performance on standardized tests, and the teacher who has the data performance she needs was the teacher she trashed. All the teachers she gave great reviews had nowhere near my improvement numbers. She will come to regret it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Day #96

Tired. Three straight 12-hour plus days at school. Looks like the snow storm tonight is going to miss us to the north, so no shortened days, alas.

Finished up Crisis Intervention Training this evening. Learned how to get out of choke holds, bites, grips, and how to restrain youths to avoid injury to self and others. Glad to learn what I've been doing for three years now. Wish I'd known this stuff when Lexus pulled that knife in my room at the Book, or when a girl poked sharp scissors at another's face in my room last year at the March, or one of the five times a student threw a heavy metal and ceramic chair across my room, etc, etc.

The training shouldn't be optional, it should be mandatory, and you have it before you set foot in a City class room. Middle school on up!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Day #95

Today HR reps from headquarters came to the school to tell everyone what their options were since the school is being zero-based (although they didn't call it zero-based, they termed it in glorious Orwellian speak "Expanding Great Options." So "your school is getting closed and re-opened under new management, you all are being shit-canned and forced to re-apply for your jobs" becomes "wow, what a wonderful opportunity for you to change careers and work at BK or KFC!").

I take it in stride. I got peeved by the piss-poor uninvolved school manager who trashed me in a review full of hearsay and insinuation--I admit it. But the school getting shut down and re-opening needs to happen. What bugs me is the fact that the teachers take the blame for this failing school, which is built right in the middle of a run-down, bombed-out neighborhood on a fucking former cemetery. The school fails because 5 parents show up on conference day. The school fails because students who attack faculty are back in school the next day. The school fails because we are forced to teach to tests which don't measure education, they measure regurgitation. The school fails because the principal was fired last year and never replaced, and an unqualified nincompoop protege of that rightly shit-canned lunatic was allowed to step in and run the school all year in an "acting" capacity. One can't help but think the plan was to make sure the school failed this year.

But it's the teachers' fault--whatever. I went to the meeting actually viewing it as "expanded great options," meaning I can get the fuck out of dodge and go to a school where I can shine instead of languishing in some rat-hole. But then I sat at the meeting where many long-term staff with heavy investment in the community and school were obviously devestated at the prospect of getting transferred God knows where. They looked battered, defeated, panicked. It really pissed me off. They asked questions of the HR people whose response was a gazillion variations of "allow me to answer your question by not answering your question." Then I thought about my sixth graders and how hard I worked to forge relationships, and how I won't have the opportunity to choose to stay and work with them again next year, because only "up to" 50% of the staff will be asked to stay--after re-interviewing and going through the screening process decided upon by a third-party vendor hired by the City which is a totally unknown quantity at this point.

So I left the meeting and went to my conflict and crisis intervention training. Tomorrow night we learn grappling and restraint techniques; I wished I'd had them tonight.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Day 94

Today was pretty chill until last period. We recently moved some kids around between classes to try and group certain behavior problems and academic problems in a way that will allow us to prepare for the annual standardized test, but without exactly "tracking" kids into homogenous groups. Not easy! We've ended up with a couple small chill classes and a high-achievement class which is too big and where the behavior is off the chain. This is my last period class now, and I had to drop the hammer on them, and I wasn't in the mood. Mostly they just talk and pass notes: not as bad as some classes I've had, with the stabbings and chair-throwing and whatnot, but in a single-step-down-from-GT class I expect a certain level of cooperation. If I don't get it, you get my displeasure. Which they got.

Now my throat hurts from yelling, but I got to chill out after school (and a long detention) because of crisis intervention training, where I learned some useful skills. Two more nights of that!

Got some good news: I have (so far) 10 passes on the latest Benchmark test, up from 8on the 2nd, and two of those are advanced scores, of which I had zero last time. Two of my kids scored so high that they are moving to GT, and I will miss them. I still have two kids who have been sick who are almost sure to ace the test as well, so I may almost double my proficients for the second cycle in a row. Even more exciting is the fact that I have many kids who moved dramatically in percentage from the 30s to the 50s. These kids are now "near-passes" with a shot at getting over the hump on the MSA test in March. And the principal said I have terrible data results! Nobody else is moving kids like I am...there are 2 advanced kids in the entire sixth grade: mine. There are 13 proficients, and ten of those are mine. I own 90% of the near-passes, many of whom were scoring in single-digits on the exams when I got them.

Tomorrow is a new day. Hopefully there will be no insomnia tonight.


Hadn't had insomnia for three months, and then Friday couldn't sleep a wink, and then last night fell asleep at 10pm only to wake at 11:45 and up all night after that. Great! Because of after-school meetings and trainings I have three straight 12-hour days at work today through Wednesday. Oh, and Tai Chi class after work tonight.

My ass is dragging going into this week. Fuck it, I'm still going in gang-busters this morning. The small taste of spring we got this weekend felt wonderful. I'm ready.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Just when I was craving Bergman, Netflix delivered The Serpent's Egg. Ingmar made a film in English? With a Hollywood budget, and Dino DeLaurentis producing? Well, I just had to see that.

This is the worst Bergman film I've seen, and the least interesting. The setting is Berlin, 1933. Abel Rosenberg is an American trapeze artist who performs with his brother. When his brother commits suicide, Abel is cast adrift during the Great Depression. He speaks no German, he's unemployed, and he's Jewish. Fascist thugs and Bolsheviks foment unrest and revolt, and a serial killer is injecting people with poisons. Abel seeks out his brother's ex-wife and together they scrap out a meager existence. Abel finds out that he and his sister-in-law are not only cogs in a broken capitalist machine, but they are subjects in a grotesque series of psychological experiments.

Now any Bergman film is bound to have something to recommend: cinematography, powerful performances, razor-sharp dialogue...Unfortunately The Serpent's Egg has none of these. There are wonderful complex sets, and hordes of appropriately attired extras, and there are some quaint recreations of the club scene in waning Weimar Germany. But the plot doesn't really cohere, and the central character is played by of all people David Carradine. His performance is so inept that it drains any potential points of interest out of the film. He is so laughably bad it's distracting, and watching him interact with Liv Ullmann made me speculate: was this not the worst possible pairing? What American actor could one less reasonably expect in a Bergman film? Sly Stallone? Gary Coleman? So any thematic material, or scenes of psychological complexity, were ruined by his risable gesturings.

Strangely, I stuck it out to the end--it wasn't really worth it. But I felt I owed it to the maestro nonetheless.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Back at Xmas John and Leesha were staying over for the holidays, and John mentioned that he was in the running to do a video for the long-lost Hendrix track "Valleys of Neptune." "Of course I'm only an outside shot to get it," he said with typical modesty. He showed me some impressive mock-ups, and talked about how his already crazy schedule would get crazier if he got this gig.

Well, he got it, and he nailed it. Check this shit out!


A recommendation from Silenus, and a great one. Fortress of Solitude is a gigantic novel about race, urban blight, gentrification, pop culture, prison, comic books, public school, stereotypes, sexual awakening, soul music, punk rock, art rock, and drugs. I suppose you could call it magical realism, because entwined in its otherwise gritty and realistic plot line you'll find a magic ring right out of Tolkien. But you'll also find kids tagging subway cars, references to (and an appearance by Stan Brakhage), the Prisonaires, the Hugo Award, the Gormenghast trilogy--I mean, yeah I could go on. Some of these young gun novelists like to show off the depth and breadth of their interests by cramming everything in: Lethem does it effortlessly.

I have to spend some time puzzling out my thoughts about this novel, because so much of it strikes right at the heart of what I do professionally now, and what I deal with in my new neighborhood. There's a lot here about white liberal guilt, and about urban hopelessness, that needs serious consideration. I'll read it again some day, and will recommend it to you.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day #91

A bit chaotic today. The kids have been cooped up inside their homes for two weeks, and they are emerging from hibernation and acting out. Nothing too serious in my classes, but a lot of 7th and 8th graders are running gonzo in the halls and disrupting our test-time.

Of course, chaos in the hallway is my fault, as I learned during my performance evaluation...

But whatever. About a fifth of my kids have finished the Benchmark test, and out of the 12 scored so far I have 3 proficient and 2 advanced scores. This bodes well for my data, given I'd only had 8 total proficients on the last Benchmark and no advanced (there were only 11 proficients in the entire sixth grade on the last language arts exam). I have 47 more tests to score...

I'm a bit worried about the two advanced scores, however: both are very bright students, but their scores were OFF THE CHARTS good, as in 51 out of 53 and 50 out of 53. And two of the wrong answers were shared on both papers. No, they couldn't have copied off each other because they are in different classes, but I'm wondering if somebody got hold of an answer sheet. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but wow those scores are slamming!

We will wrap up the test tomorrow and I'll know exactly how much my data improved (or not), and I'll also know how much cash I owe my kids: I told them that each student who passed would get a ten-spot. Last time I only paid five!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I've ignored my Netflix queue for far too long. I'm starting to get films I don't recall adding to the list!

When Lair of the White Worm first came out, I heard horrible things about it, and never saw it despite being a big fan of Altered States. I dunno, it is bad, but in a good, cheesy, John Waters/early Peter Jackson kind of way. I laughed a lot, and I'm pretty sure Ken Russell intended it that way. The effects are out of a 70's Dr. Who episode, and the acting is hilarious (though Hugh Grant--whose face is now on the cover of the DVD, replacing Amanda Donohoe's because he's actually a star--turns in what I think is his third best performance, after Maurice and Remains of the Day). There's T and A, there's weird vampiristic snake priestesses sporting ivory strap-ons, there's hallucinated scenes of Roman soldiers raping nuns. You know, the typical Ken Russell schtick. As an off-and-on afficionado of cornball horror, I enjoyed it, and would recommend it to those with a similar bent.

Day 90

Schools opened for the first time in a week and a half today. We were two hours late, and will open two hours late for the rest of the week. The justification for this is simple: many roads in Baltimore still have one lane or less cleared, meaning traffic is a nightmare. On top of this, most City kids walk to school, and the sidewalks aren't clear, meaning the kids have to walk in the street much of the time, which means two lanes of traffic and walking kids must fight for space in the same open lane. On icy roads!

So at least rush hour is mostly done and the sun is up after a two-hour delay. The children sliding around in the road are easier to see at 9:00am than at 7:00am, and presumably fewer kids will be run over at that time.

Attendance was pretty sparse--I had about 65% of my kids in class today. We are working on the standardized No Child's Behind Left Untested crap, Phase III. I'm sure the 10-day layoff will be great for their scores! Oh, well. This test will help me figure out what to re-teach before the big annual standardized test in March.

The powers that be have decided to give me a co-teacher for one class, given that they think I'm failing at my job. The co-teacher will work with me first period, during my best-behaved, most academically successful class. Pointless! Why not during 2nd period, or last period, when the kids are off the chain goofballs? Whatever. I might as well just phone it in every day.

It was fun to see the kids after such a long break. They were all stunned and excited and eager to tell their stories about the snow.

Monday, February 15, 2010


We follow a team of ordinance removal experts as they move around Iraq defusing IEDs. Tense, tense, tense. Proof positive that being a Baltimore City school teacher isn't so bad. Ralph Fiennes has the shortest cameo ever.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Back to School

So, we've got Monday off for President's Day, and then it's back to work. One thing this surprise week off taught me is that I really hate my job. Too bad I'm not cut out for anything else!

Of course there's an Alberta Clipper on the way...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


It's fortunate that Netflix sent Jeanne Dielman before our double-whammy Snowblivion event. Without being trapped in the house for days and sick, I might have lost patience and missed out on one of the most peculiar and interesting films I've seen in some time.

Now I have a lot of endurance for tedious foreign films: I've sat through some glacially paced Tarkovski films, I've made it through L'Aventurra, but compared to Jeanne Dielman, those are sitcoms. Jeanne Dielman, at nearly 3.5 hours in length, moves in geological time.

We watch Belgian widow Jeanne as she moves through her daily routines: lighting the heater, preparing coffee, making lunch, going to market, preparing dinner, serving her son, assisting with his homework, washing the dishes, dusting, cleaning. We watch all of this in intimate and nearly exhausting detail. The only part of the day during which we don't observe Jeanne is the most surprising: she services a John in her flat while her son is at school each afternoon.

Not much background is provided. We know her husband has been dead for five years. We know her only other relatives have moved to Canada. We see that she has no friends, and only the most superficial relations, all based in commerce (at the market, the cafe, the tailor's, with a woman for whom she babysits briefly, and with her johns). Even her relationship with her son is formulaic, and nearly ceremonial in its cool distance.

After seeing Jeanne's routines through two days and into a third, small things go haywire. She drops a brush. She forgets a button on her bathrobe. The alarm fails to go off. She overcooks the potatoes. All of this adds up to a very subtle feeling of dread, because by this point of the film we know Jeanne to be fastidious and efficient in the extreme. I found the film's payoff creepy and totally unexpected. Jeanne Dielman is a much quieter, more artsy version of Polanski's Repulsion.

As I said earlier, without the blizzards and the illness, I might have given up on the film far too soon. It is a fracking chore to sit through. My wife only saw a third of it and she was bored to tears. But it is a curious cinematic experience, to say the least, and rewards a patient and careful observer.

Enough is too much!

Current conditions outside are pretty bleak. We had a break in the snow last night, filled with freezing drizzle and sleet, so only about four inches of fresh snow fell in the first half of the storm. Now it's snowing gang-busters outside,with 10-20 more inches expected today. Ridiculous. I really feel for the road crews, who are busting their asses and being maligned for doing the best they can. I mean, we are not Buffalo or Ann Arbor or Boston. This shit doesn't happen down here more than every few years. For it to happen three times in a season is a sign of the End Times.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


And so, with snow days piling up, I was able to complete the Library of America's Zuckerman Bound collection last evening by reading straight through the short novel "The Prague Orgy." I just read a memoir by Tony Judt in the NYRB about young West European radicals in the late 60s who protested Viet Nam and who heaved cobblestones in Paris and yet were totally unaware of the true revolutions happening in Prague and Budapest. Judt notes: "It was the student rebels of Central Europe who went on to undermine, discredit, and overthrow not just a couple of dilapidated Communist regimes, but the very Communist idea itself. Had we cared a little more about the fate of ideas we tossed around so glibly, we might have paid greater attention to the actions and opinions of those who had been brought up in their shadow." I think Roth was of the same opinion (albeit before the crumbling of the Iron Curtain), and sent his alter-ego to Czechoslovakia as a result.

In "The Prague Orgy" Nathan Zuckerman travels behind the Iron Curtain to retrieve the short stories of a friends' father. While in Prague he is trailed by secret police, he is bugged, he is persued by a celebrity actress, he witnesses a grand orgy in an old manse, and he sees what becomes of artists and writers under totalitarian regimes: they sweep floors, they bake bread, they get interrogated and moved further down the social ladder by apparatchiks fearful of their influence. And they fuck a lot, and write in secret, and nobody reads them, but they don't have nervous breakdowns, and they don't get bogged down hopelessly by celebrity.

I think I've only 3 left in the Zuckerman books: The Human Stain, The Counterlife, and Exit Ghost.

Monday, February 08, 2010


Fairly typical Quentin Tarantino--occasionally entertaining, but mostly annoying. This is an hommage to really bad WW2 caper films I loved as a kid, like Where Eagles Dare and Kelly's Heroes (I'm pretty sure the music of the former was referenced in a key scene in Inglorious Basterds, but since Where Eagles Dare is unwatchable to anyone over the age of 12, I won't essay to verify this).

Yes, both Where Eagles Dare and Kelly's Heroes were Clint Eastwood vehicles, and there are other references to Clint Eastwood scattered throughout. The opening scene is right out of Unforgiven, and the music is of course spaghetti western Morricone. Despite the distractions of pointless pastiche, the opening is effective, until the requisite Tarantino dialogue about rodents turns it totally absurd. Every time he does this it pulls me out of his films and makes me think "here we go with the not-so-clever 'clever' dialogue." Ugh. So right away, I was thinking it was a mistake to get the movie.

It was. I didn't enjoy the alternate history. I didn't enjoy Brad Pitt's 'performance,' (though many of the other actors were excellent in several languages). I didn't even enjoy the cartoonish violence, which is often the best part of Tarantino's flicks. So, whatever. I'm too bored with it to even pan Inglorious Basterds. Where's Werner Klemperer when you need him? Or Schulz?


Netflix recommended this because of my interest in Miyazaki. Cha and I got about 30 minutes in before we swore at the Blu-Ray player and packaged it back up in its red envelope. The dialogue is artless, the voice-over is painfully wooden, the characterization is random and insipid, and much (not all, to be fair) of the animation is at the level of the original Speed Racer cartoon. Perfect Blue certainly not perfect: fuck this movie.

Snow Day #4

I'm a bit aggravated to be off for the 4th snow day this year. I mean, a couple snow days are fine, but these days will be added to the end of the school year, and I doubt we're done yet, given that the City is still paralyzed, and there's another 6-12 inches coming tomorrow night. After they add the first five snow days to the end of the school year, headquarters will start erasing them from our Spring Break week in March. I'd much rather work now and play later!

But last night I started to wheeze and cough and ache all over, and this morning I expectorated a chartreuse glob which looked radioactive and had bloody streaks throughout. My lovely wife, who was herself a classroom teacher for a decade, says: 'that happens to teachers at the beginnings of their careers. You constantly have minor colds and sore throats, but if you get a day off for snow, your body says "OK, now I can rest and be really sick."' Fuck that. I want to rest and be well! I probably over-did the snow-shoveling the past couple days, given I had a minor cold heading into this weekend.

True, I've had minor colds and one serious flu over the past two years, but I haven't had my annual sinus infection from hell in three years. I think it's a result of the frustration and stress I felt after last week's performance review. Stress is deadly shit!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Here We Go

I love this graphic because of its use of the word "paralyzing." 4-6 inches paralyzes Baltimore, after all. 2-4 sends people rushing off to local groceries and Wal-Marts to stock up, like if they don't buy a loaf and a gallon of 2% they gonna be getting all Donner Party on each other. Nobody in Baltimore has ever been stuck in the house for more than a couple days, even following each of the Storms of the Century at the end of the '90s, and yet folks continue to freak out and to hoard TP and milk and bread before a snow.

18-24 inches is liable to shut this City down for a couple days. When we got a bit more than 20 the Saturday before Xmas, schools were closed the following Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I don't want any more school days, because they get added to the end of the year in June, or shaved off our Spring Break. I'd rather suffer through school now and enjoy free time later.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


Nathan Zuckerman is in a funk. He's developed mysterious, shooting pains in his neck, back, and shoulders. Despite his fame and fortune he is unable to find a specialist who can diagnose, let alone treat, his malady. He can't write, he can't socialize, so he lies on the floor in his apartment and kvetches. And carries out affairs with women who drop by to do errands for him.

In order to alleviate his pain, Nathan starts eating Percodan like candy and swilling vodka. This leads quickly to a mania which makes him believe he can go to med school at age 40 and start a new career. He flies to Chicago in order to apply to schools and has a breakdown. Along the way, he adopts the name of his worst critic and pretends to be a pornographer.

Again, Roth effortlessly inhabits Zuckerman, and of course one wonders how much is autobiographical in his work, but Roth is wholly aware of this concern and he plays with it to full effect. Despite great passages of breathless hilarity and clever invention, this is a very dark and sad book about the collapse of a great genius into total despair. And again, I just think Roth is Da Shit, which explains why I read two back-to-back.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

a new day

So the Big Cheese rambled up to my room today for the first time in months. Because of the two-hour delay we had about 40% occupancy, but the kids who came were fired up to goof off. Fortunately I had just gotten my kids under control after a loud outburst when she strolled in and mosied on up to the front of the class. Old school educator as she is, she spotted four kids chewing gum and had them "empty they mouths," and reminded me that I should do the same. I always tell the kids "If I don't see or hear it, I don't care if you chew gum." It keeps them busy and awake!

She came to the front of the room and requested a meeting. In her hands were the two detailed emails I'd sent her the previous sleepless evening, with the attached data charts showing that I had doubled the number of proficient kids from Test A to Test B on the NCLB crapola. Tomorrow is Test C and I hope my numbers go up again!

But anyway, we met, and she called my concerns "valid," and she said she was re-writing my review based on "new information" and some "corrections of misunderstandings" of previous conversations she had with the ISTs and the AP following a leadership team meeting.

Translation: I lied my ass off on your review, you didn't fold as expected and you called me on it, and now I am eating my words.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Day #87

We had our performance evaluations today, two weeks behind the required date according to our contract. I was deemed by the Big Cheese wholly inadequate on all four areas of professional standards, and was put on Performance Improvement Needed status. Needless to say, I found this quite surprising, given that I've had many jobs in my life and I've never had a review less than above expectations, and rarely under far above expectations.

I smelled a rat immediately because I know the Big Cheese is having a change of heart, and that she might return next year after all instead of retiring. Since she has to winnow 50% of the staff due to the fact we were zero-based, she might be firing broadsides now about who she wants on her team next year. That's fine, but this is not how you communicate that information. I asked questions about my review, a lot of them, and all of them premised on the fact that I haven't seen her face in my room since November 9th, at which time I had a formal observation which went very well. How, I wondered aloud, could she deem me so totally unsatisfactory when she's never in my room, and rarely on my floor?

At first she told me that the ISTs and AP had told her my lesson plans weren't up to snuff, and that my classroom management was horrible. I said "That's funny, they always tell me how well I'm doing with very difficult children."

"They do?" she said. "Well, I'll have to meet with them again," she said, pulling my review back across the desk.

Then she said inspectors from the City had me on their radar as a "problematic" teacher who asked simple questions and had bad management skills. I asked for their names and contact information because I have never had anyone from the City headquarters in my room for more than 2 seconds, and I wanted specifics. Not available, apparently! She pulled my review back further, and dropped it in her lap.

Then she told me she often sees "chaos" in the hallways near my room, which proved that I had no management skills. "Chaos" in the hallways is a problem with the administration in a school, and not the teacher in the classroom, I responded. I asked for dates, incidents, and specifics again--they were not forthcoming. She told me my students were "always" running the halls, but again had no names, no dates, no section numbers. I said "With all due respect, you don't know what sections I teach, do you?" She couldn't name them. "How, then, can you assert that my students are always in the halls?" She couldn't, and decided suddenly that she was going to re-write my review after another observation. Hmmmm. Well, she poked the wrong tiger in the wrong cage. I have years of experience with HR paperwork and procedures, and you don't make allegations about my professionalism without documentation. I'm going on offense and documenting everything she said and taking it up the food chain.

Now I don't want to paint too rosy a picture: I DO struggle with classroom management (who the fuck doesn't in Baltimore City?), and I'm not very good at scaffolding, differentiating, and a whole host of things teachers are supposed to do these days. I am learning my job, only two years in, and I'm learning it every day. I DO need to improve, but if u gwanna say I am unprofessional and incompetent you best bring yo a-game, beyotch.

Monday, February 01, 2010


If you've slogged through Aion or Psychological Types or any of Jung's other large tomes, you'll likely be re-reading chunks of that material here. Mostly the book is patched together from the Collected Works. Editor Segal doesn't simply cobble together bits and pieces of prose concerning Gnosticism and Gnostic symbols and ideas, however; he crafted a long introduction which takes pains to point out what Jung got wrong about Gnosticism (either through misinterpretation or lack of access to later scrolls), and he spends some time building context for Jung's interest in Gnostic symbols and medieval alchemy as symbols of unconscious structures and processes.

The title The Gnostic Jung is a bit problematic, given that much of the book--some of its best parts, in fact--features Jung arguing ferociously against critics who called him a Gnostic. Jung explains over and over: (allow me to paraphrase) "I'm an empiricist, and have no ideology. These symbols exist in the unconscious, and I document them when I find them." In other words, the fact that Jung found Gnostic symbols useful in explaining the process of individuation, he argued, certainly didn't mean he was a Gnostic. The collection would benefit from a more accurate title: Jung and Gnosticism, or Jung on Gnosticism. Or, to be po-mo and hip: The (ag?)Gnostic Jung.

Also included in the collection are Jung's peculiar and Philip K. Dickesque "The Seven Sermons to the Dead," which was privately and anonymously published by C.G., much to his later chagrin.

I was pleased to see Jung's Red Book and some of his paintings and sketches and notes at the Rubin Museum in New York. Perhaps it's why I dreamed of a giant menacing spider-beetle the other night?