Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Difference Between and Writer and a Teacher

When I woke up this morning and viewed my news feed I was elated to see that Lesley University is again ranked as the #6 Low-Residency MFA program in the country. Boom.

What makes it so special? Well, among the current MFA students, alumni, and prospective applicants, the majority listed the program's flexibility and support system as their top reasons; second to these aspects was the interdisciplinary requirement of the program, i.e. being able to write in a different genre than your focus, bridging off and taking a class at any college you want in any subject that may intrigue you, beginning a lit. journal, etc. (I did magazine writing, a blog, curriculum development, etc.)

After scanning the reviews of the higher ranked MFA programs and reading some of the scathing (and even scandalous [read: professors trying to seduce students at the residencies]) reviews of the other MFA programs, I again find myself proud and to be a current student and soon-to-be alumnus of Lesley's MFA program. The faculty who have mentored me might have published a book every other year and they might not be at the top of the who's who list of poets and writers, but they're great teachers, and that's what so many of these programs lack.

Which brings me to the point for this post. How important is it for a great poet or writer to be a great teacher? (Or vice versa for that matter) Some raters said that they would rather learn through gleaning wisdom, mimicking, and enduring the sometimes aggressive nature of workshopping from the brilliant minds of writers who are constantly publishing. Others, like myself, found more value (figuratively and literally), pertinence and meaningful learning from good teachers, as opposed to great writers.

Those who can't, teach. Remember that? I sure do.

It was one of my greatest fears when I became a teacher. It had been my dream from an early age to be a writer, but I realized early on that that road was a lonely, poor one. I still wanted to be immersed in literature, but I didn't want to waste and pine for something greater, whether it be money, happiness or self-worth (though I don't think I could quite rationalize it in those terms at that age...)

Then I had a talk with a great teacher my freshmen year of high school. He suggested I think more seriously about becoming an English teacher. "Why not?" I remember him saying. "It's rewarding in so many ways, and you never have to give up writing in your free time."

Those words resounded like rain on a tin roof when I was looking into MFA programs. My inner monologue echoed with doubts and that annoying "you can't be both!" Would I still be an effective teacher if I was so focused on writing? Would I be a great writer if I was so focused on teaching? Then, at the end of one of my first days teaching, I found myself at a crossroads. Do I take "The Road Less Traveled" I remember thinking, and then snickering.

Then it struck me. Like understanding in a car crash.

It was a metaphor forged by my sub-conscience; the analogy that threaded uncertainty into twine then rope strong enough to support my doubts. Frost's "The Road Not Taken" is usually taught in high school as a decision and individualistic poem--do you want to be the one who takes the path everyone else does, or will you set off on your own? Will you be the one to make a difference, change a life, etc.? It was always one of my favorite poems, until I really looked at it in college.

Wait, he isn't saying that the path has made all the difference because he's done great things...he's actually saying he wishes he had gone the other way. See that one word there, that "Sigh," that's the ticket! He's actually talking about regret; he's suggested that we all take chances, but realize that after taking those chances we can sometimes be regretful.

Why are so many kids misinterpreting it? Simple. They have teachers who aren't writers themselves. Not every teacher can extrapolate the nuance of a poem the way a writer who has studied those poems can. I know more about poetry from writing and studying it outside of high school and college than I learned from within the classroom (save certain classes).

What kids need is a teacher who understands writing, who can speak more in depth and passionately about a poem than what's written in the teacher's guide. They need someone who's taken the risks of a writer and has succeeded and faltered.

There is no single path that we must take. There is only the path we take. Will I sigh one day? Doubtful. There's so much value and gratification in teaching that isn't recognized until one is actually in the classroom.

(Getting metaphorical now...) As a teacher, one can never look back and "sigh." One can only hope to improve the path for others; to leave behind tools to clear the jungle.

To my students: you will find yourself in that jungle one day--mountains, rocks, trees, and small paths. The way is tangled and uncertain. I will bring a machete.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Got Heeeem

I must admit that I am a huge fan of Brian Wilson. This guy is not only a lights out closer, but he totally has one of the best and rarest senses of humors in all of sports, especially baseball. Most players seem to be one-dimensional or monetarily fixated; not Wilson, he's entertainment personified and even championed Showtime into following his team, The San Francisco Giants, for this entire season. The Franchise has already premiered, and I must say that it was pretty riveting; the only disappointment: not enough Wilson! He could totally have been in The Hangover, or hosted SNL, or been the posterboy for either the Chuck Norris or The Most Interesting Man in the World craze.

And he just appeared at the ESPY awards wearing a full body spandex tuxedo complete with orange bow tie, mohawk and, of course, the most righteous beard in baseball.

Got heeeeem.

Harry Potter Finale

The wife, our friends, Chris and Alyscia, and I went to see the final installment of the Harry Potter epic last night and to sum it up in a word: magic.

All punning aside, the movie seemed far more mature than the others and definitely had a direction. At no point did I feel like the exposition was taking the momentum away, which I had felt with some of the earlier movies. There was darkness, depression, yet it was filled with so much hope. Love blossomed and allegiances blossomed, and the world changed drastically, but it never felt like the end was near.

In the final installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Return of the King, I remember feeling (both when reading and viewing) that all hope was coming to an end, Gandolf had died, Frodo surely was going to perish, the ring was growing evil though the forces of good were trying to take it to be destroyed, and the sheer number of men vs. orcs, goblins, etc. was worrisome. There seemed little hope, which I suppose is what made it so heart-wrenching and sad. Harry Potter wasn't anywhere near as sad.

Though we've grown up with a lot of the characters in these books and almost feel like we have a connection to them, the method in which the movie went about showing or, at times, detailing instead of showing, these characters' deaths was very glossed over and quick. It focused more on the living than the dead, which reflects what Dumbledore says about never pitying the dead, but to instead pity the living. I suppose the entire book being jammed into such a small chunk of time defeats any ability to truly illustrate the verve of the entire story, all the subplots, and all the exposition, but it did a great job in keeping the important scenes intact, even if it didn't show all of them.

The emotion and the acting, however, was the best of any Potter film so far. Not only has Harry turned into a hero, but Ron is no longer the blathering fool one would expect to make a trite or comic comment; instead Ron and Hermione become heroes in their own right, discover and embrace their love for one another, and display some true acting prowess as they develop and hone their characters to near perfection.

The visuals were also amazing, and while not trying to give anything away, the journey into Gringotts, as well as the battle of Hogwarts itself was stunning. The flashbacks that so often mire movies were also very carefully orchestrated with a sort of half-pastel half-sepia with a touch of sulfuric look to them, which I felt was more accurately reflective of what a dream or memory sequence might resemble.

More than once the audience erupted into applause, and more than once or twice I heard or saw people crying, even those who I knew had not read the books...

Which brings me to the inevitable given the time frame for its release and the latest news out of the bookworld (i.e. Borders' death)--how can a book, a story, or a movie of this magnitude, with this kind of draw and following dictate that books are dead? Well, simply it can't.

Books must live on, much like Harry's world. The industry itself is paralyzed, hurt, injured and, at times, on fire (read: 451) but there is a large population that is still drawn to the epic stories and unforgettable characters, to the struggle of good vs. evil that seems all too real in today's world.

What the world needs, and what the book industry could have used decades ago to increase readerships instead of dwindle them, are authors and books that focus on what is important and affective, not what is effective. We don't need stories like Twilight and teenie "thrillers" that live totally in the drama-filled lives of how many purses should I buy, should I date this boy, etc. or ones that focus on the trite aspects of life, but of those that teach a lesson through demonstration and personal integrity. Harry and the rest of the Potter characters display the characteristics which build strong individuals: loyalty, perseverance, steadfastness, growth, humility, heroism and sacrifice.

We need to instill these in today's youth before Borders becomes the canary in the coal mine for the entire book industry.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Heat Wave!

Feeling like one. Call it.


While I feel I could go on ad infinitum in reference to Casey Anthony's "innocence," I think I'll leave it be said that someone will get her.

I love rap humor disguised in Sesame Street...

World Cup

Yes, I was extremely excited to watch The World Cup last summer and yes, I was equally as excited to watch the Women's World Cup this summer, but the short-lived fanaticism here in the US was disappointing both times. One would assume that with the football season and its contracts seeming more like a WWE script, that there would be at least a small shift toward sports like rugby and soccer in which the players realize that playing and entertaining are the important aspects of the career. But no. The majority of the German crowd was in the US' corner for their matches, but American attendance was paltry. I've blogged before about this nation's disconnect from the remainder of the world in terms of sports, but soccer is the biggest conundrum. Why do we push children to play soccer until age 13 and then drop it completely off the face of the planet?

There was a recent news article citing multiple school districts that were considering soccer to be the sport that could be eliminated from their budgets with the least amount of opposition. Why? Because few people see the importance in soccer when football is much "manlier" for boys to play. The greatest bane to their plan? Title 9, which asserts that there should be an equal number of sports for girls and boys...Bane? Obstacle? Seriously?

Though I suppose in a country in which more people watched the Super Bowl than the Presidential inauguration, the initial first 24 hour coverage of the Japanese tsunami, ANY space shuttle liftoff, or any other sporting event, etc. etc. etc. I shouldn't be surprised.

The US women put on a tremendous show, were inspirational and played excellent team soccer; though they made a few mistakes which ultimately cost them the game, namely the disorganization in front of the goal which led to Japan's easy tying goal, they made huge progress from the team that barely qualified.

Best part of watching this year, see below:

Don You Go Rounin Roun to Re Ro

What really happened to Stonehenge...

Why, no matter how hard I try, I can't hate Peyton Manning

Quite a Long Time

It's been more than a year since the last blog, but I feel it's time to resurrect at least one of my blogs, so I'll hop back to this one, grasping some semblance of the achievements I once blogged about, and try to build a display case (read: this reestablished blog) for them.

Quite a lot of developments have happened since this blog was put on hiatus, which will all be no doubt recompiled here from the various other blogs which will be deleted. The new focus of this blog will be unfocused; it will reflect me day to day in writing, personal life, hobbies, interests and the random panoply of wackiness the internet has to offer. My promise to myself and my readers is to no longer write on five separate blogs with five separate directions that all seem to meld together and then overwhelm me into oblivion and/or obscurity. Besides, who makes money off their blogs anyway?