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.