I don’t need breakfast, brunch, luncheon
Or supper. Words are my sustenance –
Lean and raw. Eating them up; drinking them in;
Satisfied and satiated in their abundance.
Honestly, I don’t need a thing…
I’m sustained on a steady diet of typing.
My heart swells
as I hold you
in my arms
when I got
older, but I
cheeks, and I
I pray that you
that you will
I pray that
you will find
I pray that you
I pray that you
I pray that you
I pray that you
I pray that you
The picture is of my daughter when she was only a week old. They say, all babies have blue eyes, but my daughter had gray steely eyes — her eyes have since turned into a rich brown color, which is stunning against her blonde curls and tan skin. I will never forget all those lovely (and sometimes not so lovely) nights rocking her to sleep. I would think she was finally asleep only to look down and see her dark eyes intently staring back at me, so I would pray — just as I pray now for her and others who are dear to me.
This is the last week of class before my seniors take their finals, so I wanted to do a fun unit with them as a last hurrah! What’s more fun than asking a room full of mixed company if this is a man’s world or a woman’s world? For me, not much…but then again, I’m a little strange. The students uproariously began to formulate their opinions as I calmly asked them to think first, then write, THEN talk. 🙂
After a bit of time, the students were able to articulate their thoughts by sharing them in groups and then corporately. Then I played the Godfather of Soul for them, and asked the class to decode the message behind James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”
They made their postulations – some apt some asinine. Then we read several poems that further complicated the original question – that’s how I know I’m doing my job! It’s my diabolical design, my subversive scheme to get this next generation to THINK for themselves! (Good news, dear reader, I think it’s working for some of them!). After we read several poems and even some newspaper articles, I hit ‘em with Dorothy Parker! She slayed them – as expected. We read “The Waltz,” and the class was equally amused and horrified. One gentleman timidly asked, “is that really how ‘you guys’ feel?” My mouth curled into a smile as I released a sigh, “no, not always, but there is some truth to this piece. We all feel that there are times to say what we are thinking and times to hold it back, and that’s true for both genders.” That eased a little tension in the room, that is, until we read “A Telephone Call.” To which I told the boys: if you say you’re going to call, then CALL HER! The girls gave shouts and whistles, which was interrupted by a deep booming voice asking, “what if she says she will call and doesn’t?” I met him eye-to-eye and nodded. I turned my sharp attention to the girls and gave them the same vehement warning, which was followed by some laugher and cheering. Who says third period, senior English isn’t fun? Not I, dear reader, not I! They eventually came to the conclusion that life is not easy for either gender – both can be mysterious and confusing – especially when societal norms come into play. They also came to the conclusion that women didn’t have a voice for a long time in history or literature, but that they were there and definitely did make an impact. There’s always more to the story (like Helen and her fleet of launched ships, woman have started more than mere mythological wars). As Eavan Boland says in her complex poem “It’s a Woman’s World” (this is just an excerpt from the poem):
like most historic peoples
we are defined by
what we forget
and what we never will be:
It’s our alibi
for all time:
as far as history goes
we were never
on the scene of the crime.
Moving on: teacher brag moment: (you’ve been warned 🙂 ) After reading some of Dorothy Parker’s poetry, I had a particularly bright young man make the connection that although Parker is satirical and hilarious, there is also a great deal of grittiness and pain hidden behind her sarcasm. My eyes lit up – he hit the nail on the head! I wasn’t going to say anything to them about the papers I wrote in undergrad because that sounds braggy and frankly, it’s boring, but I just had to in this case! I had written a paper on Dorothy Parker for my American Lit class titled: Pain Masked by Humor (I think there was a subtitle, but I cannot remember it for the life of me!). Perhaps it’s not that big of deal or it’s rather obvious, but it made my teacher-heart swell a bit to have one of my students (who I’ve taught the past four years) make an astute connection without being prompted; he’s ready for college!
This probably won’t be the last post about my seniors. I grow so attached to my students; it’s always hard to say goodbye. Today, as we watched music videos and compared the originals to their covers – we discussed how perspective can completely alter the meaning of a song. We watched a video that may or may not have had minor disturbing images – which I can neither confirm nor deny, but I will say this: one of my students yelled out: “what happens in English class, stays in English class!” HAHA! I love it – our very own set of rules a-la-Fight Club – or the Vegas mantra – we actually likened it to Marlow’s experience in Heart of Darkness – what happens on the Congo, stays on the Congo. Anyway you slice it, it made my day. And, yes, I know, I’m a huge English nerd.
Until next time,
For your reading pleasure:
I suppose we all have them, don’t we?
Those little parts of ourselves we save
for the lake house. I will never forget
the time I heard about my sweet
old granny’s bad habits. It came
out like this: Well, you know grandma,
she only plays cards at the lake house.
Grandma plays cards?! She told me
she didn’t even own a deck! Well, you know,
she only plays cards when she’s drinking
whiskey. WHAT?! Grandma drinks whiskey?!
She said she was drier than a Nazarene wedding!
Next you’re going to tell me she smokes a
stogie when she “plays cards and drinks her whiskey
at the lake house.” Yeah, how did you know?
A couple of my classes are finishing a Shakespearean unit, so I asked my students what their favorite part of the unit was and most of them said one of two things: hurling insults and tableaux vivant. Now, hurling insults is exactly what it sounds like…we carefully craft a Shakespearean insult (using his amazingly vast vocabulary) and then we hurl them…mostly at the white board…I’m not a proponent of bullying (then again, who really is? bullies? I digress). I’m such a dorky teacher sometimes: I remind the students that this is a safe place and that we are merely hurling the insults within the personas of the Montagues and the Capulets…and that the insults should stay within “Verona’s walls.” They look at me so innocently then obediently nod — such dear little lambs. (Confession: I’m so taken with Shakespearean insults that I have a calendar that gives me a new Shakespearean insult everyday…I usually share them with my classes, and we have a good laugh…some are a little too inappropriate…those I keep to myself…Oh Shakespeare, you saucy bard!). The other activity the students usually enjoy is tableaux vivant — living pictures. I got this idea from the Folger’s Shakespeare Set-Free curriculum guide (superb stuff!). I have somewhat tweaked their lessons for this year in particular. The students are assigned a scene to produce by creating snap shots of the the action as they say a line. Many times the students try to memorize the lines as they hold their pose (for that I give them extra credit 🙂 ). Traditional tableaux vivant has separate speakers and posers, but I’ve combined them to make it more interesting for the students.
My main goal this year when teaching Romeo and Juliet to my freshman English class was to show them that this is not just some mushy love story about two hotblooded minors. It is beyond that: R and J is a story of the tragic fruition of unchecked hatred and anger. So, I bought some foam swords…for all the fighting! There are some epic fight scenes in this play (BTW my class is all boys except for three girls — four if you count me). Funny story, last week one of my male students during their tableaux vivant rehearsal time kept bopping his partner on the arm with his foam sword, so I took the sword away. As he handed me the sword, I asked him, “why must you hit him with the sword; can’t you just hold it still?” As I grasp that floppy foam sword, something came over me, like the spirit of a warrior, and I felt compelled to bop my student on the arm with the sword…I smiled to myself as I quickly walked back to my desk and thought “Oh, that’s why…the sword demands a fight!” Now, I only distribute the swords during the performances. Here are some pictures of our fight scene from yesterday’s tableaux vivant: baseball and softball had games, so some my students were dressed in their game uniforms.
Thanks for reading!
Today, I am grading essays, and I mean ESSAYS!!!!! AP season is upon us, so my students are fervently writing and reading and studying before their big day. Last Friday, I gave a mock AP exam that counts as part of their final grade; this academic exercise also allows them to practice the long haul of taking a 3 hour exam while providing feedback about their personal strengths and weaknesses. Now I have the joy of grading their tests…and this is why I am NOT applying to become an AP reader any time soon. While it would be amazing to connect with colleagues from around the States and get an inside look at the scoring process, I just couldn’t take all that grading/scoring! If you are an AP reader and want to help me see the brighter side of it, please do so because I’m sure it would help make me a better teacher if I did do it, but at this point in my life and career, it’s not for me. Like my students say, “I can’t even.”
Anyway, that is not the main point of this post; I wanted to share a poem I came across while grading my bazillion essays: John Updike’s “Marching Through a Novel.” This piece resonated with me as writer who just last night stared at my computer screen instead of writing the next chapter in my horrible novel. As I sipped my wine, I closed my eyes and tried to think of who my characters really are. I finally gave up, poured myself another glass, and joined my husband on the couch to watch an episode of Vikings (it was a good one!!!). My poor characters are still trapped somewhere in my mind, and perhaps, per Updike, I need to crack the whip and get a little more forceful with these faceless names.
Marching Through a Novel
by John Updike
Each morning my characters
greet me with misty faces
willing, though chilled, to muster
for another day’s progress
through the dazzling quicksand,
the marsh of blank paper.
With instant obedience
they change clothes and mannerisms,
drop a speech impediment,
develop a motive backwards
to suit the deed that’s done.
They extend skeletal arms
for the handcuffs of contrivance,
slog through docilely
maneuvers of coincidence,
look toward me hopefully,
their general and quartermaster,
for a clearer face, a bigger heart.
I do what I can for them,
but it is not enough.
Forward is my order,
though their bandages unravel
and some have no backbones
and some turn traitor
like heads with two faces
and some fall forgotten
in the trenchwork of loose threads,
poor puffs of cartoon flak.
Forward. Believe me, I love them
though I march them to finish them off.
Little tiny blocks
Waiting ominously on the floor.
Snap into place
And now you have created something:
A kicky beach condo
Complete with a dock and boat.
You itty bitty little brick of possibilities,
How did my soft, susceptible foot find you there?
Electric, solar, grain
Whatever the cars can use
Recycle, reduce, reuse
In order to save the earth
Now there’s a novel plan
But what’s it all worth?
Save the Planet
One can at a time
What?! Trade in our Hummer?
Now that is a crime!
“Thank God It’s Friday.” Remember Friday night TV shows in the 90s? Those were the glory days. As a kid, I would relish the time I got to spend in front of the boob tube watching new episodes of my all-time favorite TGIF flagship, Full House. Somewhere in the two hour block I watched Perfect Strangers with the lovable, zany duo: Balki Barokomous and cousin Larry (said in Balki’s Mytopian or, rather, his dead-on Mediterranean accent. Yes, that is sarcasm you are tasting…salty isn’t it?). Still, who didn’t love Balki? He was a crack up! And who could forget that culturally sensitive and in no way stereotypical show Family Matters with my favorite annoying “did I do that?” neighbor, Steve Urkel?! Those jokes just never ever ever ever ever ever ever EVER get old. I loved how the writers insisted on putting his catchphrases in every episode…now that’s brilliant writing. Take notes, guys, that is what the people want: to be pounded over the head with a stock character (whoa, sorry, my inner English teacher just surfaced. A stock character has something to do with stereotypes and archetypes and some other fancy “type” words…go ahead wikipedia it. No judgement). Anyway the whole Erkle loves Laura Winslow thing…couldn’t get enough of it, I’m telling you! Then, somewhere later in the two hour block was the culturally relevant, forward thinking, and in no way just a 90s version of the Brady Bunch, the show my parents didn’t want me to watch because there were some “bedroom scenes” with that silverfox of a dad complete with silver chest hair…(I now get why they wanted me to avert my eyes) and that super-hot Thighmaster mama…wait for it…the show Step by Step. Remember the cousin? Didn’t he live in a van in the driveway? All I can remember is that opening song with the happy, blended family enjoying the thrills and spills of Six Flags Magic Mountain with the edited-in wave sequence that covered the actual parking lot. It just looked so real as it nearly crashed into Colossus (that big white wooden roller coaster that is so fun to ride backwards).
Do you remember the TGIF glory days? What was your favorite TGIF show? (I promise I won’t laugh even if you say Dinosaurs; that little baby yelling “not the mama” is damn funny).
Here’s a highlight video of some of the late greats: