While I Procrastinate, or, One Little Word

My students' Short Story writing unit is kicking into full swing when we get back, and I've all but finished writing the last day of next week's plans, so a little distraction never hurt.

I learned about One Little Word from the lovely ladies over at Two Writing Teachers. Distilled, the idea is to choose just one little word instead of creating a hefty and most likely too-ambitious tome of resolutions for the new year. Well, I've been thinking hard about what my little word will be. Many changes have come in this last year. More than change, though, I've transitioned from a college student chomping at the bit to get into the field to an exhausted first-year teacher who can't find much else that matches the feeling of creating good lessons that help my students grow as readers, writers and critical citizens. I've learned that in addition to maturing professionally, I'm maturing personally in ways I hadn't expected nor foresaw. I'm seeing with greater clarity the blessings that exist in my life. My one little word, a long time coming, is:


It's not the prettiest word. Nor the most profound. But it's a place that I want--and need--to visit more often. I'm discovering how good it feels to be grateful--how it can lift me out of a gray mood or reroute my thoughts when I start feeling sorry for myself. Yes, as I change and grow and learn my way through 2009, I will try to remember to be at all times grateful for a whole host of people, factors and circumstances that contribute to my well-being and the well-being of those I love.

What will your One Little Word be? Think on it.


Even Bloggers Get the Blues

I know you are all impressed by my stunningly creative post title. Thank you, thank you. I just started the book--a 1977 copy from my mother's bookshelf and the first book in a while that she cautioned me against losing or wrecking. And I see why!

For starters, I want to say that if I were a writer, I would want to write just like Tom Robbins. Many a professor has either marveled or cringed (or both) at my ability to craft meandering sentences that, while remaining grammatically correct and while avoiding the status of run-on, could be much aided by a period, semicolon, dash (my personal favorite) or colon here or there. And while I was thoroughly not Faulknerian by any stretch of the imagination, Tom Robbins is slightly so, with a deliciously mild hippie--hear that, NOT hipster, hippie--edge.

Most impressive to me, thus far, though, is Robbins' acute and eerily applicable portrayal of economic, political and social realities of America. (No way, TPBN, you say, you? Enjoying the political and social implications of a book? Get right out of town. . .).

Here are some passages which I expect will become most cherished and dear to me:

So Sissy lived in Richmond, Virginia, in the Eisenhower Years, so called as if the passing seasons, with their eggs hatching and rivers rising, their cakes baking and stars turning, their legs dancing and hearts melting, their lamas levitating and poets doing likewise, their cheerleaders getting laid at drive-in picture shows and old men dying in rooms over furniture stores, as if they, the passing seasons, could be branded by a mere President; as if time itself could toddle out of Kansas and West Point, popularize a military jacket and seek election to Eternity on the Republican ticket.

Faulknerian, indeed. And beautifully so. This idea of not defining time and nature and the minute details that encompass human life simply by, in his words, mere external circumstances such as Presidency is of great interest to me. We get so wrapped up in the states of our political reality that selves get lost and people are forgotten--even by the candidates chosen to represent them, at times.

But plans are one thing and fate another. When they coincide, success results. Yet success mustn't be considered the absolute. It is questionable, for that matter, whether success is an adequate response to life. Success can eliminate as many options as failure.

I like this because we tend to think of those who take traditional paths to "successful lives" as those who have done the right thing, but really what they've done is behave conventionally. And I'm not proposing that there is anything wrong with a little conventionality, but by the same token there isn't so much wrong with unconventionality. I love the last sentence. It's undeniable. If you consider yourself "successful," imagine all of the ways in which you life could be different if you hadn't chosen the path you did. Maybe in some ways it could be way worse, but maybe there are sources of happiness that could have been pursued had you not made it to where you are today. Or maybe not. But the mere act of thinking about it makes true that last sentence. I know I'll remember those words the next time (yes, I admit it has happened before and will happen again) I begin to judge someone's choices or lifestyle.

And then, there's this really long passage from which I will take only a small, wonderful example of Robbins' mastery of his art:
With me, something different and deep, in bright focus and pointing the way, arrived in the practice of hitchhiking. I am the spirit and the heart of hitchhiking, I am its cortex and its medulla, I am its foundation and its culmination, I am the jewel in its lotus. And when I am really moving, stopping car after car after car, moving so freely, so clearly, so delicately that even the sex maniacs and the cops can only blink and let me pass, then I embody the rhythms of the universe, I feel what it is like to be the universe, I am in a state of grace.

Amazing, right? Maybe I'm missing the point. Maybe Robbins is being funny here, and satirical and whatnot, describing hitchhiking in such an overzealous way. Well, even if he is, my highest hope is to one day feel about my own life's calling and passion something like the way Sissy feels about hitchhiking. I know I'll get there. And if we've learned anything here at O.T.L., we've learned that authorial intention means nothing, right friends?



Meditate On It

There aren't many things more beautiful than watching the snow fall through a classroom window. . . save, perhaps, for the sight of my students' faces as they watch.


Best Excuse for Poetry Friday

Leonard Cohen's heartbreakingly wonderful "Bird on a Wire"

Like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.
Like a worm on a hook,
Like a knight from some old fashioned book
I have saved all my ribbons for thee.
If I, if I have been unkind,
I hope that you can just let it go by.
If I, if I have been untrue
I hope you know it was never to you.

Like a baby, stillborn,
Like a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out for me.
But I swear by this song
And by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee.
I saw a young man leaning on his wooden crutch,
He called out to me, don't ask for so much.
And a young woman leaning in her darkened door,
She cried to me, hey, why not ask for more?

Oh like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.

Here's the incomparable Johnny Cash performing it. . .


In Solidarity

Workers at the Republic Windows & Doors Plant in Chicago were victorious in their occupation of the plant after being laid off without proper notice and without access to severance/vacation pay and health insurance owed to them by law. Bank of America and other institutions agreed to pay the $2 million they initially refused to give up. BoA was not required to do so but gave in due to the occupation, political pressure and media coverage.

This victory is a clear reminder of what can be done when people come together and demand equality. It's not unachievable. Causes are not lost. This article quotes the union v.p. saying, "See that sign up there? Without us, it would just say 'Republic,' because we make the windows and doors. This shows that you can fight--and that you have to fight." Powerful stuff. I would like to hear more from the workers too, not just the vp. It's important to note and not take for granted the presence of widespread media coverage of the workers' struggle and of the factors surrounding the violations of the company:

"Press coverage was affected as well. For once, the media not only highlighted the issues in a labor struggle, but also used its resources to investigate the employer. The Chicago Tribune
reported that Republic's main owner, Rich Gillman, was involved in the purchase of a nonunion window factory in Iowa to move to. Journalists also uncovered evidence that Bank of America refused repeated requests to extend more credit to Republic, despite its infusion of bailout money."

BoA gets $25 bil. Workers? Not a damn thing. Until they fought for it. And don't think for a second that BoA is just doing the right thing or being caring by any measure. They simply couldn't afford--image wise--to not give the measly (to them) $2 mil after everyone, all the way up to the O man, took the side of the workers.

Perhaps the workers of the Republic Windows & Doors plant will serve as a galvanizing example of what can be done to improve things in this country through working-class solidarity.

Let's all take a moment in our hectic lives to pause and think about the importance of this outcome and to be refreshed and encouraged in a time of desperation and darkness.

pics socialistworker.org


Random Acts of Music

Wind & Wuthering is one of my most favorite albums ever.


Oh No They Didn't

Urban Outfitters pulled the t-shirt above from stores last week. Check out this article, and this one too if you're interested. How is it that supporting an oppressed group's human rights could be even slightly offensive? And it's not a little bit ironic that they would be so bigoted and discriminatory and yet have the chutzpah to carry the following:

and this, which is offensive in its own right, perhaps:

and the kicker, a call to end oppression of another sort (the struggles of all people for rights are not equal, silly):

It's interesting to contemplate the impact of the political leanings corporate giants. Years ago, Michael Jordan quipped "Republicans buy sneakers, too" in defense of his lack of endorsement of an African American mayor's bid for a seat in the Senate. This dude Hayne, U.O. owner, is a major Republic/right-wing supporter. You know, I don't have as much of a problem with his political affiliation (though I do have a problem with it, to be fair) than I do with the fact that he was too cowardly to come out and say why he pulled the shirts. One buyer, as the first article points out, claimed that the shirt was pulled because of "bad press--"an excuse for which there is absolutely zero evidence. What a crappy excuse. My 8th graders are more persuasive. Way more.

I'm not saying everyone has to be Dov Charney--far from it, indeed, for dude and company come with their own set of issues--but at least give real reasons for your actions. He admits to using sex and sexual images as selling points and doesn't make any apologies. If your company is going to pull shirts that support same-sex marriage, why not just say it's because you don't support same-sex marriage? I'd rather buy from a company belonging to an honest if bigoted owner than one who hides behind his decisions and refuses to be accountable for them. Come to think of it, I don't want to buy from either. So I don't think I will. Not that my lack of patronage will send U.O. into a tailspin only to be saved by the socialism-is-only-for-the-rich government. Since we can't regulate ignorance and hatred, I suppose I will just have to regulate where my paycheck goes. . .

Too bad, too. Perhaps those shirts could have helped U.O. seem like less of a horrendously trendy mess.

This quote from the New York Magazine article is priceless:
"When a right-wing Republican is the one concocting your anti-Establishment image, you start to wonder if the entire hipster movement has been duped into becoming puppets of Hayne's billionaire income."


Oh Yeah, and I'm a Teacher

Thank goodness November is done. It's a month full of crazy weeks and plenty of days off, but this makes it a real planning challenge--and a challenge to keep a room full of kids' attention with a 5-day weekend staring them in the face.

I realized I haven't posted about what's happening in the classroom for quite a long time. I've been so frantically busy that processing teacher stuff here has become less appealing of late, while posting about non-teacher-related issues has been hard to resist. I'm theorizing that this has something to do with that whole process of incorporating my teacher identity into who I am. There are times when I need to talk about every little thing that happened throughout the course of a day, and other times when it's the last thing I want to discuss. And these don't match up with good and bad days as one might assume. Instead, it's more like there are days when I leave school (days! ha! funny. the sun's never still up) and I just want to leave that identity behind for a few hours and be my old self. Or my new self. Either way, what happens in the classroom sticks with me all the time. So at times talking (or posting) about it is sheer redundancy. And sometimes it's absolutely all I can manage to converse about, to the chagrin of plenty. . .

Watching my classroom communities strengthen has been miraculous. The feeling of togetherness and trust is amazing and absolutely lives up to everything I could have asked for. I was modeling the use of Nancie Atwell's Character Questionnaire the other day--we're working on creating interesting, multi-dimensional protagonists facing authentic problems for short stories--and I looked out into a sea of faces who were so genuinely engaged and invested in what I was saying to them and what I was teaching them that it just about took my breath away. I know it seems like a simplistic example of what is going right, but it was truly a moment for the books--an example of everything I've been working to develop with these kids for four months.

And with all that trust and togetherness comes a certain measure of comfort--sometimes a little too much comfort. There was a clear and evident descent into madness during last period on Thursday. This is an 88-minute block at the end of the day, with the same kids, every day. Needless to say, we have our moments. We were reviewing their word study for the week and I decided to include the Hebrew word, chutzpah, as I had used it in passing a couple times and none of them were familiar with it. Somehow, out of nowhere, it became let-me-tell-you-how-many-Hebrew-words-I-know-hour. Well, I try folks. I try so hard to keep a straight face. But kids are funny. They are hilarious, actually. And that's partly why I chose this profession. So try as I might to the contrary, I lose it from time to time. And I lost it. And when I've lost it, we've all lost it. They find one another pretty amusing, but there aren't many things they find more amusing than when you think something is hilarious enough to lose it in their presence--especially if that something is something they said or did. Perhaps their amusement is due to the fact that this is a rare occurrence. I think some people view emotional honesty with students as a weakness of some sort, perhaps a threat to their power. But I'm not in it for that. And when I need to laugh, I need to laugh. And when I need to be frustrated, I need to be frustrated. And the same goes for them. I believe it's not only honest but important to let kids in on how adults manage their emotions--this is, after all, part of what we're supposed to be teaching them. Remaining emotionally distant teaches them to do the same. If I feel genuine disappointment or unadulterated glee, why aren't they deserving enough to know it?

So that's a little snap shot into what's new with the kids and me. I know that I'm teaching Language Arts and I barely touch on instructional practices, etc.; I will try to be better at posting about this. It's just that all that stuff, the "skills and competencies," seem so secondary to the other dimensions of teaching that I like to discuss.

Oh, and out of the mouths of babes: "You were at the top of your class, Ms. [Me]? But I thought people at the top of their class became lawyers and doctors." Yeaahhhh. How's that for the social perception of teachers?