Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Finally a movie where the unlikely combination might work?

I am also pretty sure this movie is going to blow the Rush Hour and Lethal Weapon films out of the water. This movie has the over-the-top old school humor and mannerisms of Tracy Morgan, paired with the tough guy die hardness of Bruce Willis, punctuated by the slapstick humor of Sean William Scott and the uber-intelligent writing and social commentary of Kevin Smith (Mallrats, Jay and Silent Bob, etc.).

Santa's oops...

EMBED-Too Much Eggnog For Santa - Watch more free videos

Santa makes a pretty rough entrance...

Another literal video

I believe I posted the literal version of one or two Beatles songs before, but here's one that is really amazing...

New-Age Quest

The Longest Way 1.0 - one year walk/beard grow time lapse from Christoph Rehage on Vimeo.

In November 2007, Chris Rehage decided to set out and walk from Germany to China...over the mountains, through the fields and rain, with no job and little money. This video is a brief documentary of his journey from the perspective of his hair growth both on his head and face.

While the video initially may seem trite or cute, it cuts deep. The aspects to pay attention to are not the slow growth of the hair, but the ever-changing background, the confused or cheerful people in the background, the friend whom he made along the way and had to part ways with in order to continue on his journey, and finally a girl he met and fell in love with, who he could only stay and travel with for a brief amount of time before he had to continue on his journey.

The journey itself is a new-age bildungsroman in which the protagonist finds a part of him or herself that could only be found through a quest which involves leaving the confines of the familiar and entering into the unknown (often physically far away from where they have lived up until that point). We, are viewers, see Chris' heartbreak, success, pain, and can almost feel the ache of saying goodbye to his friends, and feel the whip of the wind and rain on our faces when we see his again when he finally journeys back home and his weather-beaten cheeks and eyes announce he has found himself.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Have you heard?

I think this needs to be posted for its sheer awesomeness. Not that I'm a huge fan of the song, but it has to be the catchiest tune ever.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

End of Semester Two

The end of my second semester in the Lesley University MFA is upon me and again I'm greeting it with mixed feelings.

On one hand I'm super-excited for the day to finally arrive where I can breathe a sigh of relief and again focus on the countless tasks at hand when it comes to teaching. I have a mountain of correcting to plow through prior to progress reports (the rest I can leave for winter break), and many many things to plan for and make copies of prior to both Alice in Wonderland rehearsals beginning, and preparation for the wedding kicking into high gear.

I suppose I am where I want to be in terms of planning and wedding preparation. We're mostly set when it comes to the wedding, with a few meetings left to do, and a handful of things left to pay for and figure out. And I pretty much have a solid idea of what I need to do when it comes to Romeo and Juliet and teaching the basics of grammar, spelling and countless mini-lessons in between to ensure some raised scores on the MCAS exams. But when it comes to creative writing, I'm running on empty.

I am so focused on everything literal, and my mind is full of The Odyssey, Death of a Salesman and grammatical sentence structure that when I read (and re-read) Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" all I could think to do was examine it from a literary criticism perspective. I'm beginning to suck the life out of some poetry because I'm scrutinizing it too much. And for a while, I considered this to be a horrible thing. I was, in essence, ruining the creative experience, and poetry in general for myself. I was over-analyzing it and taking all the juice out of it.

Then I had a revelation. Doesn't this backwards structure actually help me in the long-run? Haven't all great poets at one time or another in their lives really analyzed others' works and their own? Haven't they scrutinized? And isn't this vital scrutinizing what we, as poets, do in the revision process anyway?

Basically, I owe the program, and myself, an apology. I assumed that like Emily Dickinson, I should be able to write poetry and it should inherently be good, without having to read anyone else's work. In order to write a poem, shouldn't I be able to recognize the parallels in it, enhance the alliteration, and recognize when metaphors are too easily identifiable, or some element has become stale or overused?

Yes, I should. And the program has really opened my eyes to this, without explicitly telling me. In a way, the program has allowed me to recognize and learn these vital aspects of writing without making me read chapters on "why we revise" or "how to learn to recognize the faults in your own poems." In way, the program has come full circle by forcing me, through metaphor (by making me analyze my own work and the work of others), to learn what works and what doesn't work.

I look forward to my time away from the program, but when I return, I'll be able to write some poems that are critically better pieced-together, and are more coherent and smooth, while simultaneously using more interesting imagery and provocative and fresh concepts.

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods seems to be in the news a little too much these days. Not that I don't think what he did was wrong and punishable, and news of it should be spread like a virus around the world so that everyone can know of his wrongdoings, but there's speculation permeating now about what exactly his sponsors will do; and now that this speculation has taken over, the real story is now hidden, which I don't necessarily agree with.

Beginning minutes after the truth was unveiled, news agencies and bloggers have been in a mad dash to discover first which of Tiger's sponsors will drop him from their roles.

The first, unveiled today, is Gatorade. And while I think it's a necessary move and a righteous position that Gatorade is taking (though they stood by Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps...), I think the fact that they needed to cover the "we're dropping him because of his gambling, extra-marital affairs, etc.," with "we're dropping the Tiger Woods name because identifying the drink by its flavors is more marketable."

Yeah, OK.

Now that he's lost his multi-million dollar contract with Gatorade, which sponsor is next? Many speculate that it will be Nike. Nike has a roughly $100 million contract with Tiger, but many think his skills as a golfer and his image at perpetuating golf in popularity with the worldwide youth are too vast to cast away.

Personally, I believe he is paid to be a golfer. He is a role model second, but when his role model status becomes larger than his sports persona and success, perhaps it's time to reevaluate himself anyway. Perhaps he needs to do some image revitalization after all the smoke clears, and needs to rework himself from the ground up, but if any athlete really hopes to be a role model, then perhaps they need to separate themselves from an adult life in which temptations exist.

If this scandal has shown us anything, it's a reinforcement of the idea that our idols (and role models) are anything but godly and perfect--they are fallible, inconsistent, easily tempted, and do not have the best morals and realizations about their public standing vs. their private lives.

Perhaps our children should learn this lesson before it becomes too late. Man is imperfect, and there is no perfect person in the world. Everyone has faults and misdoings, even those we catapult into godlike standings and place on proverbial pedestals to be admired and scrutinized by all.

And to prove my point, this idea is often reflected in literature, but with a twist that is vitally important for both Tiger Woods and the youth of America and the world to understand.

When Odysseus, the great warrior, left his homeland he promised his wife and newborn son he would return. 20 years later, after accidentally giving away (by bragging) his position to a cyclops who killed many of his men and after angering a principal god who would ultimately kill all of his men and nearly him, he returns home. He does not tell his wife about his infidelities along the way, nor about his hubris, but he does fit the description of the epic hero: one with faults, but one who, unlike the tragic hero, is not destroyed by their flaw. Instead Odysseus grapples with it and pays for it by having to carry the burden and the pain with him forever, missing out on most of his life.

But he never gives up and never turns from a path that is mostly right. Should our idols adhere to this "mostly right," squeaky clean (except for a few patches of dirt) image? Or should they be expected to be perfect or expected to fail much worse than they do?

Odysseus is inherently good and well-liked, well-intentioned, and intelligent. He is ideally a hero, and a role model in the ancient world. He has his downfalls, as does every hero, but it is his conquering of his inner demons that allows him to conquer his exterior demons, and through his vindication, he finally achieves the title "hero." Without these temptations, then countering them and eventually casting them out, the "hero" can never be born.

This is the crossroads which every major idol and role model must face (Tiger's may be greater than many others, I know...), and Tiger must make a decision on how he wants to act and be perceived from hereon out. Like Odysseus, his monsters are interior and exterior; like Luke (Skywalker), he must experience the dark side before he can understand how to conquer it.

Wow, cheesy conclusion, huh?

First Snow Day

Today, I finally understand the concept of the "snow day" from both ends of the spectrum.

As a student, the thing I looked forward to the most was the snow day. I would awake early and squint at the bright television through the early morning darkness and my still-sleepy eyes, scanning the scrolling list of closures and delays, hoping to see CPS somewhere on the list. On mornings when it was omitted I begrudgingly packed my things up and headed to school, traversing roads that were never very icy or snowy.

But on mornings when the magic words appeared on screen it was akin to manna from heaven. The initial butterflies and thanks were always obligatory, but the excitement lasted for hours. Nowhere in my mind was the effect of the snowday--an extra day slapped onto the end of the year, light a giant glaring zit on the calendar that kept taunting me.

One of the things that greatly confused me, however, was why the teachers seemed ambivalent to snow days. Some seemed gung ho on the idea and welcomed them with open arms and new shovels, while others stammered and swore when they knew an impending snow day was upon us.

As a professional teacher finally, I understand how these otherwise no-brainer emotions can become conflicted. On one hand I am welcoming this day as a respite from the insanity that sometimes plagues my freshmen CP classes, as a day to catch back up on sleep and correcting, and as one wintry day that I don't have to brave the treacherous roads. Yet on the other I am cursing this day because two of the classes I would have had today are in danger of not finishing what we need to before winter break. I can, however, speed up two of the remaining class periods to accommodate for missing the third, but if we were to have had a snowday tomorrow, as opposed to today, the rotating schedule would have plagued me with a 50/50 shot at not finishing what I need to before winter break.

Perhaps this is why many of my teachers cursed the snow days, or that they had to give up a day at the end of their summer to return, or (if they are senior teachers) that the seniors, who are let out in early June, never have to make up these days, thus putting senior teachers to the task of trying to make up an entire day.

Looking at the list of closed school districts in the area, though, I am happy that mine was one of the closures today. Every school in our conference is also closed, making it easier to schedule events (mainly sports), elections, and so forth.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Family Guy again making brilliant social commentary....

While the point of the latest Family Guy episode was to comment on society valuing the life of a human more than the life of an animal (and paired with the fact that it was seen from another dog's point of view, though more a human than a dog, it was brilliantly executed), the aspect I was really amazed at was the commentary of trends in current literature.

They paired this valuing with the hiring of a Hispanic housekeeper who barely speaks English and is treated as a second-class human (to parallel with the animal vs. human argument). Then they went so far as to have Brian, the dog in question, become the star and studied author of a "special literature group." While he believes the group is a gathering of intellectuals discussing his book, in actuality the group is a bunch of mentally disabled citizens who enjoy books of ease, straightforwardness, and simplicity--the antithesis to what Brian believed he had actually written.

Now without delving too deeply into the political incorrectness that Family Guy so often wallows in, the fact that Brian is an unappreciated author whose work is misinterpreted and misread speaks a great deal about our current society.

The biggest-selling books of this year belong to the Twilight saga and books written by Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. Hardly books that I would call challenging or deep reading--but provocative. A human falling in love with both a vampire and a werewolf is certainly literature that distracts from the recession and the two ongoing wars. And books that challenge the status quo and offer hard-nosed attacks on liberalism (being interpreted as socialism) are popular because they offer a back-to-basics, simplistic point of view which appeals to many who think the world is becoming too convoluted and intricate, with too much technology and too many taxes and bills.

Their material isn't thought-provoking, isn't filled with examples of literary terminology or dynamic characters, nor does it has a lasting effect once the book closes. Instead they rely on shock, sexual tension and gossip to propel up the charts and captivate an audience that is majority interested in such things. Very few readers these days really want to challenge themselves with a book when they set up to choose one--is this a result of painstaking analysis in English class, or by overexposure to standardized testing which zaps the fun out of reading? Is it the result of a society that focuses on gossip and bluntness? Or is it that reading as a form of entertainment has sagged so far that twittering (160 characters or fewer) is more popular than reading-for-fun?

Whatever the reason(s), our society is obsessed with entertainment and when they turn to books, they choose those that are simple, blunt, and shocking. We choose fewer and fewer deep, challenging or inventive novels. While Harry Potter was a mini-breath of fresh air, and Dan Brown's half-truthful reporting which overloads his books with fact and simplistic action is a middle-of-the-road I'll settle for, I refuse to allow my students to obsess over books like Twilight and to become enamored with a world that shuns books and difficult material because reading is interpreted as 'work.'

Family Guy does a fantastic job of echoing this sentiment because only the mentally handicapped would enjoy a difficult read, while book clubs like the one Brian actually believed he was coming to speak to are fewer and fewer. Where they do exist, they are only a very small minority that struggles to hold their niche in a world obsessed with literature that is anything but intelligent.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


I read an interesting article on the other day about "the recovery." Of course everyone knows I speak of the flow stemming from the current recession-ebb, one which we as a world as in definite need of. But the point of the article wasn't echoing the current sentiments prevailing on the news and internet, it was speculating that "the recovery" is essentially something mental, rather than something monetary or something physical.

The authors, rather respected and decorated economists and great thinkers (including Nobel Prize in Economics winners) postulated that a recession recovery really begins once the majority of the population mentally decides that the recession needs to begin winding down and a recovery needs to begin. This unspoken emotion begins to manifest as an increasing consumer sentiment reading, then an increase in spending, and eventually the society as a whole begins to consume more (after all, we need to identify ourselves as a consumer national after we made the pivotal and decisive shift to a consumer society from a manufacturing society back in the 1950s) and once production and attitude begins to increase and improve, then jobs begin to come back.

The posed hypothesis is that we control the 'business cycles' through our attitudes and sentiments. It argues the 1920s were a period of radical optimism and merriment, stemming from the end of WWI, but by the end of the 1920s, and coupled by it not ushered in by the sudden crash of the stock market, there was a 'looming, terrible permeating pessimism,' one which was ready to annihilate the past decade of growth. It says that if a mental shift occurs, which is beginning to take place now, then a recovery is imminent.

It does make plenty of sense, though it is not recognized as an official term or identified as an actual phenomena. One can begin to sense a subtle shift occurring, however, so perhaps it is true. Driving through the surrounding towns and cities here in MA, I can see several new businesses opening. I see the local train stations more packed with cars belonging to workers heading into Boston to work. I am also seeing more non-essential businesses thriving: flower shoppes, karate centers, copy centers, small breakfast restaurants, and even a few local manufacturing businesses. Through CT and RI, when I have traveled back to visit my parents, I am also seeing this occur, though at a smaller scale and much slower.

Is this occurring because we as a population have decided we've had enough of it and we cannot be restrained by the term any longer? Have we preempted the official 'end' to the recession by determining through our sentiments and attitudes that it should end? Are our minds capable of such monumental accomplishments?

Alice in Wonderland

After auditions concluded for Alice in Wonderland, feelings of trepidation and excitement came over me. I felt a little bit like I had just tumbled down the rabbit hole. On one hand rests the promise and anticipation surrounding the production of a play, but on the other rests the enormous responsibility and amount of work which lies ahead, especially for a production like this. While I am positive these fantastic and talented students can rise to the challenge and impress all, it will require hard work, determination and lots of support from the entire NHS community.

Alice is a unique play in the sense that the production can be interpreted in different ways and steered in several directions. It can be psychedelic, childish and cute, serious, frightening, or absurd, to name a few. Next week, during our first few official meetings since parts were decided, we as a drama club need to decide how we envision Alice. While the particular script we plan to use includes one Queen and King and doesn’t include the magical pills, the shrinking and growing, and Alice floating away through an ocean of tears, it leaves plenty of space to expand characters and scenes. The script is at once hilarious and intelligent, and is aimed at an adolescent to adult audience. Each character will be significant to the success of the play, and every student in the club, from the Hatter and Hare to the Tech Crew, is vital.

Ultimately, there is no main character in Alice in Wonderland. The challenge, rather, is to shape every character into a central and important character. The audience should be as excited to meet the Caterpillar as they are to meet Tweedledee and Tweedledum or Alice. Our goal is for each character to become a favorite for at least one audience member.

In the coming weeks a partnership will begin between the English department and the Fine and Applied Arts department to begin designing and decorating sets and props. Once the play begins to take shape both literally and figuratively I will post updates and (hopefully) pictures from rehearsals as teasers to get the NHS community excited.

Tentative dates for the play are March 19th, 20th and 21st, 2010. I expect this play to be one of the best and most exciting productions ever to occur at NHS.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ridiculous similes that speak alarmingly true to life

In the most recent episode of Family Guy, Brian (yes, the dog) told a ditzy text-messaging girl that he wrote a book. She stared blankly into her phone then looked up briefly to ask what a book is. He said it was like a long magazine. Seeing she was still confused, he told her "it's like the internet made out of a tree."

As funny and ridiculous as this is, it speaks alarmingly true to the current state of literacy in our country. Most of my students, if they do enjoy to read, have only read Twilight or the SparkNotes versions of books they have been assigned over the past few years in school.

Never have they ventured to the library and ransacked the thousands- to- millions of books waiting for their imaginations. Most of them would be content to read nothing at all and write nothing at all. Most don't see the point to it, especially since they are convinced (and this is a quote the majority of two of my classes agreed with) that "newspapers don't matter nowadays. We can just watch TV. We don't have to read anymore."

Have we really become so technologically independent and dependent that we're foregoing reading and newspapers have become obsolete? If so, have reporting, researching, investigation and discovery also become outdated and obsolete? Many would argue so, especially in my grades.

Hopefully this can be reversed somehow. Perhaps our technology is already growing beyond our bounds. We know that many stores are foregoing any other type of advertising and focusing solely on the internet as the media outlet to grab the most potential customers, but newspapers are updating news online, but most do not charge a subscription fee to view their news.

Are they just gypping themselves? Are they on a downward spiral into bankruptcy and eventually antiquity?

The implications for this particularly pertain to me, though. As an English teacher, had I been teaching in the 1980s I might have made the argument for any student who wanted to be a newspaper reporter, that they need to pay particular attention to class and much excel at writing, editing and researching. Nowadays, my students wonder aloud when they will ever need to know researching skills, and why newspapers are still around, and why we don't allow them to use their computers and/or phones in the classroom?

Should we allow computers and phones in the classroom as tools to enhance the classroom? What about augment the traditional classroom in favor of one solely based on the internet and in technology? Should magazines, the internet, and other resources be focused upon instead of novels and textbooks?

If our students refuse to pick up a book because it 1) takes too long to read 2) is boring 3) doesn't make sense, have we failed as teachers or have we moved the base point somewhere to the sides? Do teachers need to change the way we teach because the culture has changed, or should we fight it and try to save reading and literacy in a culture which seems to care less about intelligence and expression and more about entertainment and indifference?

If I read a book and no one is around to see me read it, was it ever read?

Saturday, October 17, 2009


I suppose this post will be my attempt at a TV show review, but simultaneously it's a commentary on some very interesting aspects of humanity and the ever-changing world we live in.

FlashForward is a new ABC show about a strange phenomena in which the entire world's population blacked out for 137 seconds. The goose bump-inducing part of this is that almost everyone, during this time, has a vision of the future exactly six months from the date of the blackout.

The show is based off a 1999 novel of the same name, and addresses one of the most enduring and controversial topics--collective unconsciousness. The entire planet has the same blackout, the same visions, on the same date, and has the same, normally unstimulated, portion of their brains stimulated by the events (the Hippocampus area). What are the implications of this? Perhaps it's an argument in favor of the great philosophers who hypothesized a collective unconscious was part of our inherent intelligences, and that the collective energies, imaginations and thoughts of the human population are capable of much greater and enduring things together than what we achieve singularly.

While the phenomena is incredible, the effects are different for each of the characters. There are both good and bad futures for the main characters in the show, particularly between two doctors. One is the wife of the protagonist who sees a vision of her marriage ending in the near future, while the other doctor she is speaking to realizes suicide is not the answer to his problems, and all his life changes for the better.

One portion of the show shows doctors on a discussion panel on a TV show discussing how patient who were undergoing brain surgery or cat-scans at the time of the blackout had the Hippocampus area of their brains stimulated, a normally unstimulated portion of their brains. This suggests that everyone was 'awake' during this, but in deep thought or meditation, seeing 'memories' of events that WILL happen. Sure, that might look like I'm taking a figurative vacation from traditional grammar, but I promise I'm's how they described it.

One character later suggest that, perhaps since this has happened, we are all like prophets, united by a single event, and he asks when in the history of the world something like this has ever happened before?

In the minds of some of the world's greatest philosophers, we are all our own prophets. We are, in essence, our own gods, able to predict and create our own futures....or alter them.

The show seems pretty straightforward--finding out what caused this phenomena, but they've thrown some monkey wrenches into the mix: a person known only as "Suspect Zero," a person at a baseball game who did not blackout, but walks out of the stadium while everyone is passed out. (Conspiracy!) An old Nazi who claims he knows why everyone blacked out and has all the answers. The FBI has also decided to set up a website for everyone on earth to share their experiences. Their hopes are that by cross-referencing the memories and events that everyone saw during the blackout, that they can discover corroborated stories and certain events that will happen--warnings that they can use to change the future.

There's also some sort of recurring symbol of a kangaroo bouncing down the street....I'm confused right now about it, but I'm sure I'll praise it later on.

Not only am I excited to watch this show in the coming weeks because John Cho (Harold, who went to White Castle) and Seth MacFarland (AKA the creator of Family Guy!!!) are primary characters, but also because the acting in the show isn't terrible or reminiscent of shows like this, where a viewer on the couch huffs in disapproval at the predictable trite dialogue and overreactions.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I guess you could say this serendipity has also contributed to my felicity...har har har

K.'s recent obsession with the former television show Felicity has become quite a daunting pill to swallow lately. We subscribed to Netflix but so far we have only received episode after episode and season after season of Felicity, with no end in sight. Granted she has enjoyed the show immensely and we have definitely already gotten our moneys worth out of it (each season is $29.95 on Amazon), but I found it strange and fortuitous that a show I had never heard of, starring an actress whose name I barely recognized (Keri Russel), could be so popular with my wife-to-be; while she refers to the shows I loved like Home Improvement, Seinfeld, Cheers, Frasier, etc. as 'shows my parents liked!'--they were the ones I rushed home to watch.

Am I an old man trapped in a 20-somethings body, or do I just enjoy a quality and comical sitcom from non-cable stations? (Just a note so you don't think I really am old: I also loved Boy Meets World, Step by Step and Family Matters, but she also enjoyed them.)

But to bring this story full circle, it's important to mention that I have been excited for quite some time about a movie called "Leaves of Grass," which I have known was in the making for quite some time, but has never had a release date or any set actors. Originally it was supposed to be kind of poetic, with hints of Walt Whitman, but it was more or less supposed to be about a strange murder and the circumstances surrounding it, and was supposed to delve into the strange underbelly of academia while identifying with the 'you can't go home and have it be the same' theme of movies like Garden State. Sounds great, right?

Well I finally found out some specifics about the film finally and guess what? It stars Ed Norton as the protagonist, a college professor at Brown who is summoned home when his twin is found dead. (He also plays the twin in flashbacks.) Sounds pretty neat.

But then I discover that the romantic interest in the movie is played by Keri Russel (AKA Felicity!) It's a bit serendipitous that a movie I was so interested in seeing and reading about, when I knew nothing about it and it was only a sudden thought in the puffs of movie lore, now stars the same actress who is the protagonist in the show Kim is currently obsessed with.

A bit strange, but at least I'm a Keri Russel expert now. Felicity, from what I've watched, isn't a really horrible show either. some parts of it are pretty entertaining, and a few of the characters are pretty dynamic.

Sadly, the film doesn't contain many references to Walt Whitman, besides Keri Russel's character reciting Whitman's lines to Ed Norton in an effort to cheer him up; but nonetheless I am excited and encouraged in knowing that some kid, somewhere, upon hearing the title of the film will say, "wait, why did they title it that?" and will at least type it into Google and stumble upon the wonder that is Walt Whitman.

A link to a review of the film and a description of it is here:

Monday, October 12, 2009

Seamus Heaney's Digging

Seamus Heaney's Digging

Bob Hicok 2

Bob Hicok reading Weebles Wobble But They Don't Fall Down

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The first of many songs to follow...

This is the video to the first song I have chosen as a definite for my Alice in Wonderland soundtrack, the production I will be heading at the high school this winter/spring. With a tentative late March performance opener, it promises to rival Tim Burton's in-your-face over-the-top multi-million dollar budget blockbuster movie with more computer-generated effects and animation than you can shake a mad hat at.

Band of Horses--The has a surrealistic and nostalgic feel to it, especially in the haunting guitar reverb and the melodic echo in the lyrics. It's perfect to play after Alice has fallen down the rabbit hole and is searching for a way out.

Movies I Am Super Excited About Seeing!

Note, all of literary merit...

A Christmas Carol

Where The Wild Things Are

Alice In Wonderland

The Perils of Laundry In An Apartment Complex

Laundry was once an enigmatic thing for me. When I was young, I would put my dirty clothes in the hamper and mom or dad would extract them, bring them downstairs and a few hours later they would reappear on my bed, folded neatly and smelling like summer rain or springtime breeze (smells that until I could read the labels on the dryer sheets eluded me). Let me rephrase one part of that....when I would 'throw' my 'smelly, mud-stained, sometimes frayed or ripped' clothes into the hamper, causing it to 'overflow.'

OK, now that we're back on a truthful track, let's return to our story. As a teenager, I sometimes did laundry; by 'did' I mean put the clothes in either the washer or dryer (the mysterious, noisy contraptions which dominated our basement), and mom or dad would put in the necessary cleaning ingredients before presto, I would be summoned to extract them and fold them.

Folding was not a difficult job, nor was putting them away or even changing them over from the washer to the dryer. Even in college it was easy to do laundry. Most of the time I would transport it home where my parents would do it, but on the occasions (toward junior and senior year) when I would do my own laundry, all I had to do was throw everything into a washer or dryer and all the settings were already arranged. It was foolproof: place everything inside and it would wash it with cold water, at a low speed, thereby ensuring that delicates or bright colors that tend to run were even safe. Fill up the compartment with enough detergent and you're on your way. Throw everything in this dryer, insert a dollar and hit 'dry.' It will be done when the clothes are dry, no matter how long. But it wasn't until I moved into the apartment complex here with K. that I got my first (bitter) taste of laundry in the real world.

It's a lot like a to-do list. If you don't constantly tend to it, it piles up. But the main difference between laundry and a to-do list is that once you have forgotten about it for a week or more, it begins to stink up the apartment. Then it comes time to really rush to get it downstairs and to do it in a timely fashion. But it's not just the t-shirts, jeans and 'college clothes' that I'm putting in the dryer downstairs, it's all my work clothes--neat, dressy pants that I once feared because I equated them with boring hours of church or family functions when I would have to be polite, well-behaved and display my best manners. I'm also now doing clothes for a female as well.

This opens up a whole new world of laundry. 'Delicates' are a favored setting for females, as well as something called 'permanent press,' and there are many pieces of clothing, both K.'s and mine, that require a slow or low tumble dry cycle; and there are some that cannot even go in a dryer and must be hung up and...duhn duhn duhn...IRONED!

Ironing is another hatred of mine. As the work clothes stack up in chaotic fashion, the evil iron must be summoned to thwart their takeover of the furniture in the second bedroom. Each side of a pant leg and the annoying tight and tiny collars of K.'s work shirts often make my ears steam (much like the iron...see what I did there? Parallelism...) with frustration and boredom. And ironing comes after laundry.

Back to the laundry. When we moved in here, there were 6 dryers and 5 washing machines, each requiring a one dollar deposit to clean your clothes to a satisfactory condition. Presently there are 4 working dryers and 3 working washing machines. Of the dryers, one of them requires at least 2 dollars to complete the same dry cycle as the others (I affectionately call it the 'special' dryer as it only dries the clothes to a 'damp' dryness after 1 hour), while two of the washing machines must have read an article about inflation and have decided to require 2 dollars now to wash clothes.

Needless to say there is always a battle to get the $1 dryer before someone else does. The apartment complex has nearly 40 apartments in it, and anywhere from 75-90% of them are filled at any given time, making it a dash downstairs whenever an opportune moment arrives, hoping and praying to get that washing machine, else I must double my payment to achieve the same result.

Today, for the first time in more than a month, I got the $1 dryer. The woman that walked in after me, right as I was pressing START had a look of envy and contempt on her face. I swear I heard her mutter 'dammit!' as I walked down the hall and she realized I had beaten her to the machine by only a few seconds.

The settings are confusing and varied, the times and prices are many, and the result is not always to our liking, but laundry is always an adventure here in the apartment complex. Whether it's racing downstairs to beat someone else to the cheaper or working machines, or it's praying no one takes out my clothes and leaves them in a heap on the floor if I'm even 30 seconds late running downstairs once they're finished, it's never boring doing laundry (as I once thought it to be).

Obama's Nobel Peace Prize

I can usually challenge myself to summarize my feelings into a single word when I post about something, especially something as important as this...but this time I am at a loss for a single word to describe my emotions, so I'll rely on a several words to convey my feelings this time: conflicted, ecstatic, disappointed, and preemptive.

The Nobel Peace Prize has gone to some amazingly intelligent individuals and pairs over the decades it has been in existence, but I can't recall it ever going to a president BEFORE that president really took office. Though it was just awarded, nearly 9 months into President Obama's tenure, the nominations were due in early February, not more than 3-4 weeks into Obama's term.

This is my first qualm with granting him the prize--under what basis? His promises? The "hope" that he inspires? The nomination, and therefore the entire award, is predicated on the belief that the policies and stances toward other countries and situations will change throughout his term(s) in office; but in the 9 months since he has taken office, everything he has promised is so far just inching into existence. He's balancing more than any president in recent memory: two wars, a severe recession (though it was thwarted from a depression because of his administration's quick action), a skyrocketing deficit, the need to raise taxes, the highest unemployment and welfare since their establishments, illegal immigration, nuclear weapon diplomacy, health care overhaul, racism, etc. etc.

Did he receive the award because the committee knew and could see that he was dealing with all these issues? Because he is America's first black president and essentially signals a changing of the guard when it comes to diplomacy, policy initiatives, and interconnectedness with the rest of the world? Does he properly represent the burgeoning liberal and progressive population of America? Or did he receive it because he isn't Bush? (Granted he has done a lot, he has changed a lot, and he is changing the world and bettering it for the next generation.)

I think the committee pre-emptively awarded him the prize. It would have been better received and seen if they had granted it to him next year, citing a combination of this year's promises of hope and inspiration, along with the progress he made on eliminating the recession, creating jobs, and initiating solid progress on all the relevant issues he must contend with. I could definitely get behind awarding it to him next year, but this year...I'm conflicted.

On one hand I am ecstatic and excited that he has been awarded it...I feel like it's one of the greatest gestures that could have been made toward the United States is showing that the rest of the world approves of our selection of Obama as president and that they will work with us to erase the fissures that were created since Bush took office. Remember, though Obama won the election by roughly 10% here, in countries like South Africa, Australia, France and Turkey, the percentage of the population that voted for him in mock elections/polls was closer to 75-80%. That's incredible.

Perhaps the United States just contains such a disparity in our populations when it comes to politics: the crazy conservatives and the radical liberals; the pro-religion fanatics or the nihilistic, anarchy-obsessed atheists; the uber-tolerant moderates; and everything in between and around.

I will be glad only if and when all of his promises come true. He inspires and commands more hope and change than can fit inside one man; Obama is bigger than his body. He represents so much more than he is. He is his own symbol, his own metaphor. Perhaps the award is symbolic of things to come, but it surely is a strange choice seeing as how he was nominated having not yet done much, and was awarded the prize only 9 months into his promised change.

The worst thing I can think of to happen is that this prize ends up becoming his downfall. Will the awarded prize create such inflated expectations (even moreso than already exist) that there is no possible way he can live up to them or achieve them? I think we may see this come true, as scary/depressing as it is to consider. There is too much on his plate right now, and with all of this hype, it seems that the world's expectations are already too high for him to meet them.

Let's hope he lives up to this award, and that it doesn't become the crux of his presidency.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Beautiful Thing

I have two very amazing things to blog about here. First is that I have been selected, well, more or less self-selected, to spearhead the NHS English Department blog, also located here on blogger. Once I have the web address solidified and reserved and we begin to get some updates on there and it isn't just a bunch of unrecognizable templates, I'll post a link to it here.

In regards to this blog, I am shocked that I have been able to essentially slip through every major hurdle that has so far impeded all my colleagues in attempting to do the same thing. A colleague in a separate department has one for her classes, but it's hosted in a different location. She's recently been encouraged to switch it to blogger because it's more user-friendly and has fewer adds and distractions on it. I agree, 100%.

Both the technology admins and the school and district admins have given the OK. My faculty mentor and the entire department seem excited about it, and ready, whole-heartedly, to post, contribute and utilize this resource to better the department, the school and the district. Not only does it act as terrific marketing for the school and for us, but it showcases our students' amazing work, which brings me to my next topic for discussion: my theater class.

When I was first informed about it after the interview process, I was told that it would be relatively small and intimate, with more seniors and juniors than freshmen. In fact, I was told, in not so many words, that freshmen would essentially not be in the class unless they had either a recommendation, were in the honors section of it, or were selected based on previous interest or talent. Plus they really shouldn't have an opportunity in their schedules for it given that they need to take both physical education and a foreign language during their freshmen year.

Three weeks ago, after the final student switched into my class, I now have 24 in the class. 19 are freshmen. 12 of them admitted either through discussion or in written responses that they have no interest in theater and don't want to be there. What a strange predicament I had.

After battling with them repeatedly to quell the excessive chatter that burdens the class from achieving great things, I did feel defeated for a while. I felt like the class would never reach the potential I knew they were capable of. So many of the students care nothing for theater and only want the class to be over. I personally think that's a horrible attitude to have and I repeatedly tell them that they need to make the best of the situation and try to learn as much as possible, enjoy the learning process; or, if none of this is possible, to at least be quiet and let those that do love theater learn to their potential without being distracted.

The response I got was pleasant and predictable at first. They listened, were attentive and quiet for the first day, then they shifted back to their old ways. Now I feel like a broken record when I tell them every few days and give a mini-lecture on how to pay attention, take notes, and be quiet during class, but it seems to work for a few classes until I'm forced to do it again. I'm content to do this though, only because today's class completely rejuvenated me when it comes to theater class.

We're reading Long Days Journey Into Night, definitely not a light text by any means. It also only has five parts, three of them male, and we're reading it in a class comprised almost entirely of giggly girls. That posed a double-whammy to my hopes of success with the play. But, I said to myself, once they get into the play, I'll capture some of their imaginations.

And today, I was proved correct. I have to say that I have at least 5-10 students in the class, a few of them ones that I never expected to react this way, absolutely enamored, angered, impassioned and frustrated with the characters in the play. They actually enjoy and understand the characterization, minutia and nuances of the characters, and are commenting about their emotions regarding the characters' inabilities to really speak to one another, to be fair, and to be truthful. They are discussing with one another about how great or horrible a character is, are literary voicing their frustrations and shocks at what these characters say, and they are...READING!

All the characters are multi-dimensional, intricate, and untruthful, each of them having convoluted interactions and histories that entangle with one another into a downward spiral that eventually leads into a heart-wrenching ending that will leave them drained and exhausted. Slowly my class is learning that dramatic literature has the most complicated and dynamic characters. None are static, every detail is essential and metaphorical, and the tons of subtext stuffed between every line is more crucial to grasp than the physical action that takes place.

Once my theater class understood that and began to understand how complicated these characters are, and how painful the play is already (we're only on page 36), they have jumped on board the 'love it' ship, as I affectionately call it.

Class today was beautiful. Of course there was chatter, but there was learning. There was prediction, critical thinking, meta cognitive thought, and note taking occurring, without me leading it at all. They were questioning why a character would act a certain way, why they act a certain way towards one another, and how the family is dysfunctional and/or disintegrating. I have 5-10 students BEGGING to take a script home over the long weekend to find out what sort of addiction Mary has, to discover what will happy to Jamie and Edmund, and if the family will heal itself.

This is the reason why teachers teach. When students recognize that literature is amazing, and begin learning and discovering on their own, and when they beg to learn and understand what's happening, and then teach themselves and one another simultaneously, it's a beautiful thing.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Youth Is Wasted On The Young

Here's something that really got me fired up:

And while a lot of people will agree that cursive is going the way of the abacus, it truly is an absolute tragedy if it does. Not only will our children and our students not know the traditional cursive forms that even our forefathers were fluent in, but we will officially be giving in to the overwhelming pressure for text-speak or abbreviations, or even laziness to take precedence in the classroom. That's not OK with me.

While correcting tests last week, I ran into a handful of "aka," "idk," "b4," and "&." While the ampersand doesn't necessarily enrage me, the others do. I still consider & to be a shortcut, but it is perfectly acceptable in note-taking because it's part of the ever-changing contemporary shorthand, which colleges around the world urge their students to investigate and utilize. Each time I saw these on my tests, I wondered what these kids were thinking? Do they think that the world will quickly change into something informal, instantaneous, and insouciant, where spelling goes by the wayside of innovative ideas or video games? I know the majority of these kids have never read a book outside of school, but that they have probably texted (and in the past week mind you) a book-length amount of text messages. [Many also try to be sly and text during my class. This is the last week in which I won't be doling out immediate, non-negotiable detentions for such insubordination.]

Do my students really live in a world where this is considered kosher? It is the responsibility of my generation to alter their opinions of this, to re-instill the lost and forgotten values and rules? I hate to say it, but this generation is the most nihilistic so far. No topics are taboo, and no age is too young for any topic anymore, it seems--at least when it comes to the students. While parents try to protect their children more and more from the evils of the world, their children are exposed to them earlier and earlier, and while these things exist in their worlds, in their parents' worlds, they are still innocent and naive.

I admit, I was also naive to this. But when my freshmen decided that "foreshadowing" was "foreplay," and "hyperbole" was "gross diarrhea of the mouth, right?" I immediately realized that the filters and levels of respect that were once so important and essential in our culture, are slowly dissolving in today's youth. I hope that the younger teachers and tomorrow's parents realize that each subsequent generation is becoming more inoculated against both the evils and the beneficial and benevolent parameters of the world. Each subsequent generation is breaking or bending the rules more and more, and with each push, more and more of the rules are falling by the wayside. In addition, there is a level of entitlement and rewarding unlike anything that our ancestors could imagine. Now, there is no first place trophy. Everyone gets a trophy, even if they don't do anything. Now, every students has the right to challenge the way I grade, the way I teach, and the way that they are expected to learn. Their rights are stacking up while mine are disintegrating. Their feeling of deserving this and that is growing exponentially year by year. Rules are simply things to be challenged. Communication isn't important unless it's in a chat room or via text message.

As one of my students put it, "but when we graduate college, we won't have to know grammar; plus we have spell check." There's much to pull from this about how much they believe the world will soon cater to them, and how much the world will change by the time they reach my age.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Awesome Choreography

Here's a prime example of what the determination of college students can create. 170 or so Communication students at the University of Quebec-Montreal shot a one-take video to the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling." While the lip-syncing and dancing could use a bit of improvement, the choreography, video recording (not at all shaky even when going up and down stairs!), and ingenuity far outshines what a lot of our other college freshmen are up to these days...

I'll also be posting a link to the other story about MIT students in Cambridge who sent up the balloon into the upper atmosphere.

Monday, September 7, 2009

To Advise or Not To Advise

To my surprise, at Northbridge it is neither required nor requested that each teacher take on students for advising and/or write recommendations for these students. Instead, students can come to us for extra help or advising on what course they should take after ours; and they can ask us individually to write them letters of recommendation.

After hearing many of the stories from K. and from reading a lot of the descriptions and summaries on school districts' websites throughout the past year, I was under the impression that I would be required, much like a college professor, to make myself available to students for advising and/or would be required to assist certain students in deciding on their college choices or what path they should pursue post high school.

Yet somehow I have found myself in the position of an adviser already.

Several drama students--y'know, the kids whose passions are acting, improvisation, art, and escaping the athletic obsessions of a sports-minded town. I feel like I could have been counted among their league when I was in school, though I treated writing, sports, and music equally in my life. But their passion was unmistakable and their desire to get me moving and deciding on what play to produce has sort of inspired me to do just that.

Maybe it was the suggestion of Alice In Wonderland, having performed that myself while in high school, or the thought of reconnecting with my dramatic roots, or maybe it was just the feeling of appreciation and acceptance I would feel from and among the Northbridge community that is really driving my desire to become the drama adviser. Whatever it was, it looks like Alice In Wonderland is heading down an unstoppable track already--and I'm only beginning day four tomorrow!

It's a rampant question in interviews: what else are you willing to do besides teach? With school comprising only a certain percentage of students' lives, they are impressionable and full of free time outside of school, so why not try to attract them with after school clubs and activities? To advise or not to advise, I suppose that's the contract year question. I said I definitely would, and still believe I would even if it meant a large commitment of hours and time otherwise relegated to my Master's work.

I have an informal meeting scheduled with the aforementioned three students tomorrow after school to discuss what we are going to do moving forward. I need to speak to the administration, of course, regarding all the possible conflicts I could run into. But this could be an extremely exciting endeavor, especially for my first year. And since I just overloaded my sentence with alliteration, I'll call it a blog night.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Delusions of Grandeur

So I have assumed for a while that all my students would be thrilled to have me as their teacher--I'm energetic, fun, a relatively moderate grader (but then again isn't that a 'political' term?), easygoing, and I certainly make a fool out of myself nearly everyday. But that's no match for the emotional vicissitudes of freshmen nor those too preoccupied with being the stereotypical disinterested and stoic teenagers.

I made a joke about the water fountain at the opening of my first class the other day. In Massachusetts (and Rhode Island and elsewhere nearby), water fountains are referred to as 'bubblers.' Here I am making it seem like I'm on another planet or in the middle of nowhere, but no, we're smack dab in 5th most densely populated area in the US. Anyway, a student asked to visit the bubbler. Knowing full well what they meant, I took the creative approach and acted 1) excited that someone had brought a bubble-generator to school the first day, 2) faked a more-than-healthy amount of confusion about the transformation of a water fountain to a bubbler, 3) and compared the water fountain to a bubbly quidnunc or overly excited freshmen would-be cheerleader.

I also made a joke when showing them where the fire exits were or what our procedure is in my classroom during a fire drill or a lockdown. In the event of a fire, do this...In the event of a water landing, you could probably exit through the windows, but please do not use your desks as flotation devices as they will not float.

Overall, I'll say (and I'm an English teacher breaking this into percentages...) 75% of the kids 'get' me, and appreciate that I'm trying to enliven their experiences in freshmen English and that I'm trying to embarrass myself in an effort to alleviate their anxieties about high school, my class, and speaking up in class. But a fair amount either think I'm crazy or are too stuck in their desires to challenge me, test my boundaries, etc. I hope to win the majority over and have a perfect year, but of course these are grandiose dreams. In all truth, that would be naive to assume and I'd obviously be having delusions of grandeur. No classroom can be perfect and no school year can be perfect. There will always be those that choose not to 'accept' what I expect of them, etc. etc. etc...

Here's hoping the year is excellent. Again, it's only two days in...I expect on Tuesday I'll be able to give another terrific blog.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Amazing Alice in Wonderland Remix

Less Than One Week

Counting down the days until I begin officially teaching for the fall, and boy, am I amped up for it.

I've finalized the majority of my activities and short stories that I want to use for my three freshmen English courses, and I've compiled almost 50 improvisational exercises, ice-breakers, and acting activities for my theatre course. All that remains is to find out exactly what condition my Writer's Workshop students are in and I can begin figuring out lessons for them. I've heard differing views on what these students will need the most work on, ranging from simple grammar and spelling to sixth grade English concepts and terminology. Others say they need help forming sentences and completing essays and my main priorities should be to get them better at writing in general, finding their errors and self-correcting them, and then move onto stories and readings with them. Being a first-year teacher, not knowing what to expect from this class, yet trying to plan out everything for this class, is becoming the most confusing and taxing aspect of the pre-planning for the school year. I think once we actually get this class' metaphorical hot air balloon off the ground, I'll be able to see where we need to point it, but right now I'm lost somewhere in the woods waiting to see what sort of supplies they're going to come with.

Other than that I've just completed three poems that I like very much. While they might not be of the highest quality, I sure will have a lot of time to complete and revise a lot of my work in the coming months. The environment in my classroom seems to be very conducive to create work and I bet that I'll find myself revising and writing after school some days--feeling inspired and energized from teaching and familiarizing myself with the wonders of literature. I felt that way while I was student teaching, but unlike during that time, I won't have a job I have to run to directly after school. That provides me with an additional 12-15 hours per week that I didn't have when I was student teaching. Seems promising and exciting.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Les Paul, Frank McCourt, Michael Vick, etc.

Sad to hear yesterday that Les Paul died, though I must admit I thought that he had died already--sometime when I was in high school. Well, I guess not.

What we all know about Les Paul was that he was a virtuoso on the guitar, and was the equivalent of Einstein to the guitar. He invented, reinvented, redesigned, and shattered all the concepts of what a guitar should be: what it should look like, how it could be played, what colors and designs could be utilized, how to augment the sounds the guitars produced, and how to mass market these guitars to the public. The Gibson LesPaul is still one of the most popular guitars in history and revolutionized 70s rock n' roll. Without him, Led Zeppelin might have sunk like a lead zeppelin.

K. and I got a new computer a few days ago and I have been scrambling around trying to get everything installed on it, and have been trying, though futilely at this point, to successfully set up the wireless network on all the computers. First, I went through the process of reinstalling the wireless device on each computer, then I had to deal with the computers not recognizing the wireless, then the wireless itself looking for a cord (hence being the antithesis of wireless...), and then one computer (the one I'm typing on, obviously) recognizing the wireless network and another not. Needless to say, I need to work on all of this more tonight. Hopefully Tyler can walk me through some of the more intricate ins and outs of troubleshooting so I don't dropkick all these devices out the window.

Also sad to hear of the passing of Frank McCourt a week or two ago. I've been away from the blog for so long that I'm missing news stories by the weeks now. I remember the first time I read Angela's Ashes in high school and how it affected me. I remember arresting description, a whole world that transformed Ireland from a picturesque emerald isle into a place that's not so one-dimensional, but one that's challenging, poverty stricken, and intense. I'd love to teach the book in the years coming. Perhaps I will try to read it during the first few months of teaching this year; since McCourt was a great high school English teacher, I could probably glean a few things from him through Ashes and Teacher Man.

BTW, just finished watching Bear Grylls wrangle a wild reindeer in Siberia. He trapped it against a tree and tied its head to the trunk, then struck it between the ears to kill it. It seemed a bit too manufactured, but overall very enthralling. He's still one of the toughest and craziest guys on television.

Now onto Michael Vick. I've already blogged on how I feel about Vick, but upon hearing he was being reinstated by the NFL, I felt that he could only repay this extreme debt he now has to Tony Dungy and the NFL (who I still don't believe should ever have done him favors) by donating his $1.3 million salary for next year to PETA or another animal protector's association. Wouldn't that make a great gesture? Proof that he has changed as a man and has altered his opinions as he swore to the committees? Wouldn't it make him look better in the eyes of all the people who still aren't satisfied with a measly 18-month prison sentence?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

DVR Addiction

For months K. bugged me to get DVR for our television. The most common complaint was that her favorite shows aired at either 9 or 10 pm EST, causing her to lose precious hours of sleep each week.

So while I was at the Lesley residency, we made an appointment to have DVR installed. Instantly I became addicted to it, of course, and this has only worsened since.

As of yesterday, the DVR was 52% full, with all of the programming being mine, and the majority of it being either History channel specials or movies that I have never seen but suspected I should see.

Take Contact for instance. Why have I never seen this movie? I couldn't tell you, but with the assistance of DVR I watched it in less than 45 minutes--skipping over the trite parts, commercials, etc. And what an amazing movie it is too--visually stunning in parts and amazingly suggestive and exploratory. Jarhead, too, I thought was an incredibly moving film. Having read the memoir, I thought the movie sorely lacked in the hilarity and cleverness presented by the deadpan and dry underlying humor of the book, but I did feel like the movie was much more suspenseful than the book. I thought several of the scenes were extremely moving too. It is amazing to think that there can be such carnage and such ennui simultaneously. A "jarhead" really does need to have an "all or nothing" mentality to survive.

I wonder if other people have these same DVR addictions. I know a few friends who experience DVR anxiety when it either becomes too full and their DVR begins deleting programming, or when they don't have enough time to watch their scheduled programming. I think I'm beginning to feel this way about the DVR, but it is also proving to be a great catalyst.

While emptying the DVR of programming yesterday and today, I've managed to cut out nearly 55 hours of programming in only a few measly hours and I've managed to get material for at least 6-10 new poems and have written three (drafts) during this time.

Tomorrow K. and I are off for a surprise 'party' for a friend of ours, which I will blog more about during an appropriate time as they might be a regular reader here and I don't want to give anything away. I also may be taking a pilot test tomorrow morning for the MTELs (see previous post about the MTEL tests...), which is basically a quick test that I take and then rate on a questionnaire. It should take around 1 1/2 hours to take and rate the test and the 'reward' for doing it is a $30 gift certificate to Barnes & Noble--well worth it in my opinion.

Blogging again soon.

Start of Summer

So far this summer has been spent doing two activities: playing four square and reading/writing poetry.

I began a job last week as a counselor at the B&G Club daycamp and now spend my mornings and afternoons playing soccer, supervising kids in the pool, playing with gimp and brainstorming ideas for poems. I spend my evenings and weekends reading and writing as much poetry as possible, trying to use what remains of my energy and channel it into profound ideas and radical leaps and surprises in my writing. My success rate for this is so far debatable, at best.

I have come up with a handful of great ideas during the camp day and have dutifully found the first piece of scrap paper I could find to scribble them down to ensure I'd never forget them. I've read two or three books of poetry so far since the residency, and am in the process of reading the book for my 'group' annotation, which will be an annotation that I complete along with the other students also studying with my faculty mentor. The goal of this group annotation is to see what each of us might have missed, to get a better idea of what we each look for and "see" when we read a poem (and therefore what we might write when we feel inspired, and what we'll take away), and as impetus to get all of us into a continued discussion about the book and about our work during the semester.

I'm also reading (here and there though) a bunch of short stories and longer works in anticipation of teaching in the fall. I was also given the great news when I went to see my classroom two weeks ago, that my suggested book for summer reading Rats Saw God has been given the green light as a possible summer reading book for students and I have at least six students signed up for it right now! That's impressive, especially since they probably saw my name and said "who the heck is that?!", but trusted the book cover and description enough to go out on a limb and decide to read it.

When I was in high school I think I considered Rats Saw God to be the next Catcher in the Rye. It was so radically transformative that I think it made me reconsider friendships, appreciate others more, and realize there was a vast world beyond the small town where I grew up. I think before that book I considered I would live and die in that town, would probably marry someone from nearby or from even in the town and would see little of the world. For some reason that desire to strike out and explore, to try new things, to go to college (!), and to really experience life never really brewed within me. I felt lethargic and apathetic to a lot of stuff and never considered I'd be very good at anything--probably because I felt like I was already locked into a schedule and lifestyle that I would never be able to shake away. I think the book ignited something that had laid dormant for a while, and since then I've rediscovered more and more books that continue to excite and thrill me. Now I read, write and create at a breathless pace (compared to what I did years ago), and I consider myself to be a teacher and writer and I'd like to say a lot of the inspiration for 'living' came from the books I read, which really opened up my mind to the promise and impulse of creativity.

I hope this year goes very well. As a new teacher I of course have a ton of ideas about what I'd like to teach, some unique lessons I'd like to incorporate, and some radical assignments I'd like to implement--such as a blog, a webpage, a video for YouTube, some poster board projects, etc. Here's hoping it all turns out amazing and that the students are generally responsive. I think I have skin thick enough to know that many students will be apathetic to the work, many will be uninspired even though others may thrive in the environment, and there are some students that I have that, no matter how diligently I try, will never be receptive to my ideas and will never consider me one of their favorite teachers. My hope though, is that they do learn something in my class and take away perhaps some new vocabulary, ways to extrapolate themes from texts, methods for writing and creating, and a better eye and ear for grammatically correct sentences.

There's nothing more important in this world than education and inspiration.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Fourth of July

Since today is our nation's birthday, I suppose it's an important date for me to begin my next blog post.

Today marks the anniversary of the day that our founding fathers decided, hey, let's have an annual celebration to celebrate July 2. Of course, they decided this on July 3, so they planned it for the next evening. The official date was July 2, but not we accept July 4 as the official day of our Independence. In reality, it took much longer and did not occur on a single day, but if we were to pare it down to a single day: July 2 would be the most historically accurate.

Both former President John Adams and former President Thomas Jefferson (bitter rivals as well as the best of friends during their lives) died on the same fourth of July--quite a creepy fact.

I'll be spending it at K.'s sister's place with many family and friends, and will be eating (hopefully!) copious amounts of excellent food. I'll also be delaying finishing reading my poetry books, revising, and writing, as I should be every free moment for the next 6 months.

Hope everyone has a great holiday.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

End of the residency

I took a strong liking to the end of the residency, but not because I was sick of it, I was just too exhausted to continue going for even another day or two--it really did end at the perfect time.

Now I'm not exhausted with poetry or overwhelmed with the work and the daunting task of writing, creating and reading that is stacking higher and higher everyday, I was more exhausted from the commuting and the immediate life-shift that happened to me when I arrived there. No more was I "Jeff the sad unemployed freelance writer and future teacher," I was "Jeff the optimistic and rearin'-to-go prospective poet."

I tried to give as much astute insight as I could there, and felt for a while that my comments were some of the most valuable and most crucial for the success of my peers' work, but there were a lot of BIG things that I missed. Needless to say, I felt less than intelligent after some of these comments and recommendations, and I came away feeling that my own work needed, well, a lot of work.

While the comments that I got last semester I largely disagreed with (from all that I've read in magazines/journals, in poetry books, and in what I have received as criticism from my other readers), I have to admit the level of criticism rose this current semester and became a lot more intricate.

I will write more, and in more detail, perhaps tonight, but for now, it's off to the shower and to camp, which has become a fabulous summertime experience. The pace is fast (it keeps the kids entertained a lot better than the other camp that I previously worked at), and the weather has been so-so (it's currently raining and 73 today.)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Michael Jackson

I suppose it's almost compulsory that I blog about the passing of Michael Jackson. But what is there to say about someone who has died who the writer has never known. Certainly there are epic elegies to those who the writer has never or could never know (especially when those deaths span centuries or even millennia), but how does one write about an entertainer? A musician who was marred by scandal, private dealings that may or may not be suitable for all ages to read, jealousy, secrecy, bankruptcy, and physical "abnormalities" that caused his life to become a circus akin to the theme park he owned.

It's a tough job to write something about someone whose heyday arguably began three years before I was born and ended when I was two. It's also difficult to forget all the controversies: the children who have accused him over the years, the dangling baby over the balcony, the plastic surgeries, the dismaying changes in voice, appearance, attitude and presence in the everyday world.

To write about Michael Jackson is to acknowledge all his life was inundated with, but then to sift out what was ultimately the most distracting aspects, and arrive at a solid, appreciative image of a man who had the creativity, dancing and singing skills unparalleled by most performers in their lifetimes. It is to recognize that greatness is often accompanied by a fall. There cannot be one without the other. And only through acknowledgment of this inextricable relationship can one arrive at an appreciation and commemoration of someone like Jackson, who, although dead, is still living today as I write this and will never be forgotten.

I don't believe there will be Jackson sightings as there are still Elvis sightings, but there will be impersonations, and biographers galore; those concerned with glorifying, demystifying or deconstructing a man whose life was lived in front of the camera, the microphone and on the stage. There are words to be said in poetry, in elegy, and in memory. There are words for every moment of Jackson's life, but not enough space here. For a man who lived a life that was bigger than himself, he did the best he could to not be swept away--as everyone eventually is when placed in that situation. Michael Jackson does not leave a void in music; on the contrary, he filled one with the music he created and the life that he lived. Appreciate what he gave us and do not concern yourselves with what sensationalities plagued him.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Seeing Everything in Poetry

When I first rode the T last Friday, coming from South Station into Cambridge for the first time since mid-January, I was struck with a sense of remembrance for the extreme promise and excitement I felt when living and learning within this mecca of intelligence, artistry and literature.

True, Cambridge is one of the main literary centers of the world, and Boston-Cambridge-MetroWest is one of the most literate and well-read areas of the world, but just coming off the T into this world is like entering a totally new world. It's shape is different--Victorians juxtaposed with crowded streets, MIT and Harvard students ambling from building to building, runners and dog walkers stuffing the sidewalks, and casual tourists snapping photos of everything they deem noteworthy or photo-worthy.

My problem though is seeing everything in poetry. The scream of the T as it slides from track to track between stops is poetic. As is the homeless man who holds a sign in the opposite direction, but his half-full can in mine (intentional on both counts). Everything seems to breathe life into me--into my poetry. I'm feeling unbridled and too jittery (and not just from the coffee) to sit still in seminars. I want to be in a writing circle right now.

If we were forced into a room to write for 12 hours--given some food and beverages here and there--it could be one of the most successful half-days of my life. Poetry is nearly tangible here. Metaphor is palpable (also a metaphor).

And in living this life, I'm left wondering how much of this I can take before I stop paying attention to what's happening around me and start focusing again solely on my work? Will my concentration continue unabated (not as it did last year when I was laid off immediately after the residency and had my world upended violently) for a full year (as I plan to defer my next semester because of full-time teaching)?

All I can do is hope this feeling stays with me and I continue to see everything in terms of poetry. My mind seems sharper and more intelligent while I'm here. I feel like less is impossible.

It's a treat to be able to be here and to have the opportunity to write for not only a hobby, but potentially a career, as being a great reader and writer can only make a trained teacher a better teacher.

I learn more each moment I am here and feel guilty for taking a five minute break right now to blog. Yes, I feel compelled and/or obligated to report on my status, but I feel the same way about returning to my notebook of five recently begun poems, and trying to hammer another few before I focus for an hour on them tonight on the train.

This residency is cathartic, uplifting, invigorating and fulfilling. It's the type of environment I wish I could be surrounded in everyday--is this how I'll feel teaching? How literature and/or writing teachers feel? If being surrounded by learning, writing and literature can feel this fulfilling and 'perfect,' I hope I can only be as lucky as to experience it everyday for the remainder of my life.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Running progress

Went for my latest run on Wednesday, June, 17, and I have to say I can feel my lungs getting stronger. My legs weren't in the least bit uncomfortable, tight or sore both afterward or the next day. I feel like I'm making a lot of progress and should be able to do a 5k or 10k at some point in the near future.

This run was shorter than the last--a quick 2-mile run that I did in 18 minutes (give or take a minute.) That puts my mile average, with the hills included both heading out and coming back) at 9 minutes--certainly not a great achievement for a runner overall, but a great achievement for me, as I have been able to maintain this without stopping and have shaved at least four minutes total off my time from when I was running this last year.

My goal is to be able to do this run in 15 minutes flat. I think 7 1/2 minutes is a great average for a mile, running both uphill and slightly downhill. I'd like to be able to do it sooner than later, of course. Hopefully this summer while being outdoors and exercising a lot more than I was both last summer and all of last year, that I'll be able to shed my winter weight and recent running slump.

I remember the days of high school when I did the mile in gym class in under 6 1/2 minutes and was commended by the gym teacher for improving my time greatly--and I didn't feel winded at all after finishing. In fact, math class was still a cinch afterward.

More Disney photos

Here are some addition Disney photos to really make me overly-nostalgic for the "Happiest Place on Earth."

The dedication at the entrance of Walt Disney World.

The entrance to Fronteirland station!

The entrance to the best and most soothing ride in the world, Splash Mountain. :) (obligatory emoticon.)

Pirates of the Caribbean entrance!

The entrance to Liberty Square, with tea and other accoutrement to really transport you to 1776 and beyond--a time when America was arguably more forward-thinking.

The entrance to Adventureland.

The sign pointing the way down to Jungle Cruise.

The amazing and (still) futuristic and enduring entrance to Tomorrowland. Though it might not be as futuristic and up-to-date as it was when the park first opened, it surely does still retain that 'what will come about tomorrow' feeling; and, of course, it still promotes space travel as the pinnacle of futuristic and desirable achievement, though the world seems disinterested in it as a whole. (Until an asteroid is mentioned, or a black hole or the like...then EVERYONE jumps on the bandwagon.)

The entrance to Peter Pan in October (note the 30 minute wait time during peak hours...and how no people managed to interrupt the shot...hmmm...).

Some images from elsewhere in Disney...

The sign for the Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios! (No longer MGM.)

Anandapur in the Animal Kingdom--setting you off to know you are entering a totally different land. This park is very up-and-coming and the latest village presenting Expedition Everest is truly an accomplishment for any theme park and it will quickly become a fan favorite. It really is like an entirely different world that can transport and captivate.


I have, for the past few days, been blogging sparsely (at best) and have been totally non-existent in cyberspace. The reasoning behind this is preparation for my latest 10 days in Cambridge, MA, as part of my second semester of studies in the Lesley University MFA in Creative Writing (poetry, English, Journalism) low-residency program.

Since the entirety of the semester is based off of distance-learning, the format works perfectly for me. As a teacher, having the opportunity to write during the early mornings/evenings and on the weekends is a great plus, as opposed to the alternative of attending classes either full-time during the summer or going part-time over a 5- or 6-year period and struggling to finish up a Master's program in time.

Last semester I was able to create around 50 pages of poems--an amazing feat of proliferation and creativity--and this semester I hope to be able to achieve more. Since January, my personal life has been on a roller-coaster. I was engaged, attended my first residency, and was laid off from my job all within 3 weeks. Paired with the plummeting and uncertain economy and free world, my personal life tumbled into a free-fall that I still feel hesitant in saying I have recovered from. The following is a brief (yeah, right) synopsis and explanation of how the past semester (writing-wise, academically, personally, future-wise, and depression-wise) went for me.

Since struggling and searching 16-18 hours per day to find a job, realign my personal life, devise a financial savings plan, search for a part-time and summer job, become certified to teach in MA and RI, and write enough to keep myself in the MFA program (and to produce something better than trite or sentimental teenage verse), I have found a semi-stable foundation and feel much more confident heading into this next semester than I did heading into the first.

For starters, I know what to expect this time going in. Immediately after the January residency, I was prepared to write, revise and read my heart out and take all the time in the world with a stable backing behind me. The very next day I was laid off and (idiomatically) thrown onto the street. Physically I felt drained and hopeless. My psyche was bruised and twisted into an imbroglio that was devastating and painful. I dropped at least 15 pounds, found myself depressed and dazed, and believed the world was probably coming to an end.

I found myself researching and learning more about stock market and economic trends than I was studying and reading poetry. I found the poems of Robert Lowell dull and uninteresting, and the banter of Rick Santelli of CNBC to be intriguing and provocative. Left disillusioned and frightened, I headed blind into a world that looked neither promising nor bright.

The winter days dragged on. Snow piled into a cascade of sadness and uncertainty that was impossible to shovel away (through K. and others tried their hardest). The lack of light seemed to be my inner monologue. I spoke in macabre vowels. I breathed an apocalyptic fog. It took more than 5 weeks for the first secondary teaching job to appear, and even longer to devise a plan to become certified, find a job (close by) and secure myself a financial future. Writing appeared in a helter-skelter fashion. Then in spurts, then began to finally materialize into something malleable and palatable. I was no longer thinking in terms of trite songs and dull repetitions. I wrote at times like a house aflame, while during other times I was more arid than a March 6, 2009, stock portfolio (see: lingering financial and economic influences on my psyche).

The stock market turned around and at this writing is 2,300 points higher than it was during the depths of its downturn and during the depths of my own depression. Hopefully the job market as a whole turns around quickly and comprehensively--offering all Americans a chance to breathe again and look at the world as a sunny place with promises of hope as opposed to a careening wheel becoming more and more shriveled with each passing day; tossing off the jobless at every turn and ruining the prospective lives of more generations.

I have secured a teaching job for next year and feel both humbled and lucky to have found one--both so quickly (3 months after becoming unemployed and about 1 1/2 months after teaching jobs began to be posted) and with such benefits to it. I may have the opportunity to teach 1) creative writing (!!), 2) drama (!!), and 3) journalism (!!)--all of which are my fortes.

If the MA economy is able to turn around by the end of 2010 and return to something normal and/or promising, I hope to be able to keep this job past the 2010-2011 school year. It seems likely that I will retain the position for the aforementioned school year, but for the 2011-2012 school year (when all federal funding will be non-existent) and districts and the state of MA again cutback on all aide to towns and local governments, the position may be cut along with hundreds (maybe thousands) of others across the state as virtually every town would be forced to raise taxes more than a nominal amount to bridge the difference gap between the prospective tax revenue and budget and what would be needed to retain every service and job from the previous year. (The level funded fiscal 2010 makes me feel more confident in 2010-2011 than I previously did as well.)

Regardless, this upcoming school year promises to be filled with enjoyment, excitement, preparation and guidance. I know positively that I will cherish every day I am teaching high school English. It is a life-long dream come true. The classes could not be better, the school is immaculate, the schedule is highly desirable, and from what I have observed of the students, they seem eager to learn, intelligent, diligent, and receptive.

As for the MFA program, I feel I have a very solid and structured writing schedule for this upcoming year (moreso than this past semester even before I became unemployed). I feel I'll learn a lot this semester as well and will be able to revise, finalize (?), and write a lot more and a lot more often. Instead of two or three days a week creatively writing, I might be able to get five or more in!

Here's to hoping the economy turns around as soon as possible to provide the necessary foundation for everyone to live again without the worry that at any moment their lives will implode on a whim of the unpredictable and uncontrollable stock and housing markets.