Thursday, February 27, 2014

St. Cassian of Imola

Wrote up two punk kids in class today.
The first is this egregious little weasel sweat-stain of a bully named Charles, leaning back in his chair taking the piss out of a defenseless lamb named Samantha who paints and sketches and plays piano in my classroom corner and runs across the quad when the bells rings so not to be tardy when I'm standing at the door.  He kept howling, "sa-MAN-tha!  sa-MAN-tha!  You're an ugly MAN-tha!"
So I kick his chair back on all fours and little weasel sweat-stain glares at me and croaks, "Teacher, you're sa-MAN-tha!  You're an ugly wo-MAN-tha!"
So I led him by the arm outside for a quiet talk.
The second was this bony-armed pissant greaser with about eight long lashes of glistening pubescent hair on his upper lip who stood challenging me during third period exclaiming, "I want to fight you, teacher.  Let's go outside and fight."
Which we did, right next to the bones of the kid before.  This place... is going to the dogs.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Thirteen Ways of Looking at an Asian Morning

“Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving things
Was the eye of the blackbird.”  -Stevens

You'll have to forgive me, Dear Reader... but I've been thinking about modernism again.
“I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.”  -Stevens

And in moments of weakness like this, I refuse to turn to T.S. Eliot.
“The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.”  -Stevens

So Wallace Stevens it is...I've always found it so amusing that he humped life insurance.
“A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.”  -Stevens

What a soul crushing pursuit, as if writing poetry wasn't sadomasochistic enough, selling the blessed assurance of death to the living and affluent, forcing signature on the bottom line.
“I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendos,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.”  -Stevens

But how else do you bring the world up to speed.
“Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass,
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro,
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.”  -Stevens

Asia is this way... arriving with this wealth of know how like...
“O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?  -Stevens

Why rotary phones don't work and who Fats Domino was and why asbestos is dangerous and how come polyester is not a leisure material and why snake's blood doesn't cure colon cancer...
“I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.”  -Stevens

Or maybe it does...and I'm the one who should be paying attention.
“When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.”  -Stevens

These are confusing is easily swept away.
“At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.”  -Stevens

That's why I hold on to the past so tight.
“He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach,
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.”  -Stevens

While staring at an uncertain future.
“The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.”  -Stevens

Anyway, it was a very pleasant morning.  Sun and a little breeze.  Washed my hands in the outdoor sink. Stepped over a family of pine cones.  Felt the wood on the desks smooth after a solid sanding.

“It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.”  -Stevens

Made peace with the world.  Gave better than I got... and most days broke even.

Face in the Trees

Thank you.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Re-Reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace in the Age of the Internet

 When considering a list of the greatest novels ever written, my mind immediately turns toward my all-time favorite books:  Cervantes’ Don Quixote or Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels or Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. 

 Books that attempt to capture that massive depth of human history, perspective, frailty, struggle, triumph, strife and death.  But the deeper I delve into the work of authors, I often realize it’s not just one writer’s book, but quite often two that astound.  Bookends, as it were, separated by years of artistic struggle and insight. 
 Therefore, masterpieces like Harper Lee’s To Kill and Mockingbird or William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, or Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, or Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being, books that rocked me, struck me dumb, altered my DNA, I omit from my list of greatest novels because...
 It's just one book.  
In this age, when copious amounts of information are available at my fingertips, it’s not enough to just read one single book and judge merit, one has the benefit to experience the breadth of an author’s life work through interviews, critic’s reviews, interactive displays, maps, charts, unpublished rough drafts, personal letters, etc.   I just want more.  So, this being said, here’s my list of greatest novels (combined) every written.  Take a look, email me what you think:
 1.  Homer’s The IliadThe Odyssey
2.  William Shakespeare’s  Five Tragedies:  Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and King Lear (Richard III history for fun)
3.  James Joyce’s  Ulysses  & Finnegans Wake
4.  Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace  &  Anna Karenina
5.   Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged  &  The Fountainhead
6.  Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brother’s  Karamazov   &   The Idiot (or Crime and Punishment)
7.  J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit  &  Lord of the Rings Trilogy
8.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s  One-Hundred Years of Solitude  &  Love in the Time of Cholera 
9.  George Orwells’ 1984  &  Animal Farm
10.  Mark Twain’s  Huckleberry Finn  &  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
 It’s been quite an intellectual pursuit the last six months as I’ve been going back and re-reading classics from my youth.  Books I read years ago in my most formative years and applying to them a yardstick of time, to see if the books have changed, or if I have changed, if my understanding has broadened or differed, to discover something about art and life and myself.  Basically, I’ve been retracing my own literary past to see if I can truly fall in love with the same thing, a second time around.
 So, I re-read Herodotus and Plato and Aristotle and Boethius, Proust and Mann, Austen and Nabokov, Faulkner and Huxley, Woolf and Fitzgerald, but nothing prepared me for re-reading Tolstoy, and particularly War and Peace.
 When I first read Tolstoy, much like the bumbling character Bezukhov, I was a young lad laying prostrate on my college library second floor.  There was no internet, so finding anything about the Napoleonic wars meant filling out library request transfer forms or to scroll microfilm in the basement.  Truly…unsexy.
 Like most readers, my mind was ready for the internet long before it arrived.  I read War and Peace and daydreamed…what’s the average amount of snowfall in Borodino?  Have Russians always wrestled bears?  What does a Cossack look like?  How tall were Napoleon’s parents?  How can I learn the Kazatsky?  What music was played at Natasha’s and Andrew’s first waltz?  But there was no answer.
 But on this latest reading, I was able to discover so many things:  Battle plans for Austerlitz.  Rifle styles of infantry men.  Napoleon’s letters to Josephine.  Prussian maps.  Architecture plans for old Moscow.  Kutuzov’s portraits.  It was unbelievable.  There’s even video of Tolstoy himself cutting wood.  Tolstoy, on You Tube!  He looks like an adorable lawn gnome.
 I’ve often thought, that my most decadent pleasure is to read a book and then watch the movie.  I don’t even care if the movie is good or true to the story, I just love seeing it visually.  But now with the internet, historical fiction explodes with possibilities.
Speaking of movies, many of these classics need film updates for sure.  Recently I viewed Joe Wright’s amazing visionary Anna Karenina and was stunned.  The book is so moving and sad and the film only adds to the experience.  When Vronksy’s horse breaks its back and Anna leaps to her feet screaming, “Alexi!”
I had to turn the movie off.  Like so much hyperventilating from a wild book one must dog-ear and close, I was so overwhelmed I had to go outside for a walk and cool down.  I only wish there was a modern film adaptation of War and Peace.  I’m past the point of keeping that book only in my mind.  I want more.  More.  

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Heaven for Climate, Hell for Company

When I see students looking into the eyes of old photos hanging on my class window I whisper to them… “Staring contests are an act of bravery.  You’re challenging the other not to miss one wink.”  -Hartenstein
“Re-examine all that you have been told… dismiss that which insults your soul.”  -Whitman
“Age is an issue of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”  -Twain

“Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.”  -Twain
“Like the surf biting the shore, again and again…”  Sexton
“Never get out of bed before noon.”  -Bukowski
“My life as a dog.”  -Thomas
“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artist.  Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”  -Steinbeck
“All the stories I wrote were true, because I believed in what I saw.”  -Kerouac 
“Humor is laughing at what you haven’t got when you ought to have it.”  -Hughes
“Kiss me, and you will see how important I am.”  -Plath
“The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her, if she is pretty, and to some one else, if she is plain.”  -Wilde
“Men are governed by lines of intellect- women by curves of emotion.”  -Joyce
“Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.”  -Poe

Friday, February 21, 2014

Angelou, Alone

 "Lying, thinking last night, how to find my soul a home..."  -Angelou, Alone

I can't stop.
 "Where water is not thirsty, and bread loaf is not stone.  I came up with one thing, and I don't believe I'm wrong."  -Angelou, Alone

The world just breaks my heart.
"That nobody, but nobody, can make it out here alone..."  -Angelou, Alone 

Singing.  Laughing.  Sobbing.  Warts, Farts, and All.  I'm still sweet on this place.
"There are some millionaires with money they can't use..."  -Angelou, Alone 

Problem is, most days, she doesn't like me much.
 "Their wives run around like banshees, their children sing the blues..."  -Angelou, Alone

Nips my heels, bites my butt, yells at me from the porch to get off her lawn.
 "They've got expensive doctors, to cure their hearts of stone..."  -Angelou, Alone

I'd gladly oblige.  But what's the alternative?
 "But nobody, no nobody, can make it out here alone."  -Angelou, Alone

Some parallel existence of the unknown, some onion layered mirror folded in and upon itself void of time and space, some doomed plate of linguini we're destined to hurl against a wall over and over for eternity?
 "Now if you listen closely, I'll tell you what I know.  Storm clouds are gathering, the wind is gonna blow..."  -Angelou, Alone

Nobody knows.  So what'cha gonna do?
"The race of man is suffering, and I can hear the moan..."  -Angelou, Alone

Me...?  Today I put on my zebra striped spandex leggings and mesh see through singlet top, donned a Hello Kitty biker helmet with pink studded jacket... and joined the parade.