Sunday, March 30, 2014

Dad: Hey Girls, it’s Track and Field Day at School… What Shall We Sing Over and Over Again a Thousand Times in a Row Without Ever Getting Tired?

Girls:  How about  Lego Movie  -Everything Is Awesome!
Dad:   No
Girls:  Carly Rae Jepsen  -Call Me Maybe
Dad:  Please No
 Girls:  Lumineers  -Ho Hey!
Dad:  Stop
Girls:   Frozen  -Let it Go!
Dad:    My head is in the oven
 Girls:  Katy Perry -Baby You’re a Firework
Dad:  Stabbing myself in the ears…
Girls:  Pitch Perfect  -You’re Going to Miss Me When I’m Gone
Dad:  I’m begging you
 Girls:  Taylor Swift  -I Knew You Were Trouble
Dad:  No, really.  I’m begging
Girls:  Beatles  -Hey Jude
Dad:  Weak Sigh…
 Girls:  Beatles  -Yellow Submarine
Dad:  Have mercy…
Girls:  Beatles  -Eleanor Rigby
Dad:   Fetal Position…
 Girls:  Frozen  -Do You Want to Build a Snowman?
Girls:  Jason Mraz  -I’m Yours
Dad:   You’re getting a spanking!
 Girls:  Aretha Franklin   -R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
Dad:  Again?
Girls:  Lenka  -The Show
Dad:   Help me…
 Girls:  Lenka  -Don’t Let Me Fall
Dad:   I’m writing you out of the will!
Girls: Bruno Mars  -Just The Way You Are
Dad:   Is this Karma?
Girls:  Bruno Mars  -Count On Me
Dad:   I’m driving off this ravine…
Girls:  Sound of Music  -Do Re Me
Dad:   Whimper…
Girls:  The Monkees  -Daydream Believer
Dad:    There goes my breakfast…
Girls:  Mary Poppins  -Chim Chiminey
Dad:   Lunch too…
Girls:  Despicable Me  -The Banana Song
Dad:  I’m just going to hide here in the car for a while.  Have fun.  Run fast.  See you in a couple of weeks.
Girls:  Okay. Dad.  Bye

Friday, March 28, 2014

Salinger Math

“If a body catch a body coming through the rye…”  -Robbie Burns 1782, as seen through the eyes of J.D. Salinger

Every couple years or so I go back to old J.D.  I’m not obsessed or anything for crying out loud.  It’s more like…a matter of mathematics.
Catcher in the Rye is about a kid who sputters and spins and keeps repeating the same mistakes over and over again.  He gets kicked out of school, he picks fights with bullies, he runs away from human contact.  He travels in circles of numbness so afraid to break out else he might fall through some crack in the world or off a cliff of no return.  It paralyzes him.
The irony is his desire to stand still, to hold himself in the field, to feel the poetry around him like Allie’s baseball mitt or Jane Gallagher who won’t move her kings off the back row or Phoebe with her red elephant pajamas fast asleep, but he can’t because he worries he’ll miss something if he does.  
His brother is dead and his kid sister is inching closer and closer to creepy adulthood and he longs to protect her from the horrible world but knows he can’t stop her from falling.  We must fall.  All of us walk a tight-wire without a net.
After introducing the world to the beautiful old soul of Holden Caulfield, J.D. Salinger disappeared and broke our hearts.  I don’t think it was a lousy thing to do.  I don’t blame him at all.
People should miss things.  If someone is always there for you, a resentment builds.  People take you for granted and start to despise you.  At least, that’s what I’ve been told happens.  I don’t know if it’s true or not.
As a teacher, I’m always available to students.  I mean, my door is forever open.  I used to write kids notes so they could skip class and just hang out and read poetry books I left for them or I’d say, "If you’re ever having a bad day just slip in the back of my classroom, you’re safe, no questions asked.  Oh and by the way here’s a book you might like."  I used to catch hell for that.
I don’t do it anymore though, all my last straws were yanked away.  Besides, kids never return the favor.  No kid ever says, “Hey Mr. So-in-So, how're they hanging?” or “Hey Mr. What’syamacallit, how’s it feel to be such a ripe old bastard?”  You know, just something to make me grin like an idiot.  I guess that’s why I write this blog too, so any old friend or acquaintance or whomever can look me up and say, at least he’s still out there, at least he’s still punching at stars, maybe he’s got a funny poem for me, maybe he can make me feel like somebody cares. 
It’s a funny math, I know, but all my life I’ve had this way of counting no one understands but me.  I’d leave my science lab homework in the backpack and read Mark Twain instead, valuing him over the other.  I know that sounds stupid, to take an "F" grade over a story in my head, or at least, people have always told me that’s stupid, but I never listened because I thought I was better for doing what mattered to me.
Or other times it would be my day off and I’d be wandering around the city taking pictures thinking, if I spread my base salary over a full month, I made two-hundred dollars today for doing nothing but snapping photos of oil rainbows in mud puddles or I’d read some insane book like Plato’s Republic or an even weirder ones like Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones or The American by Henry James and no one told me to do it, I just wanted to think about justice or being an expatriate or having a romp in the grass with a buxom lass and I felt richer because it was now mine.  I mean, it was in my head forever and no one could take it away
I don’t care if Salinger went away, locked himself in a cabin and shut out the world.  I don’t even care if he writes a sequel to Catcher and it’s published posthumously and it becomes the biggest book of the century.  I don’t care about that at all.  And I’m not going to say that all I care about is you, my dear reader, because that sounds sappy and that’s how I got all used up in the first place.  I just want to keep counting my own way, counting it backwards and coming out ahead.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Catcher in the Rye, pg 123

“There were about a million girls sitting and standing around waiting for their dates to show up.  Girls with their legs crossed, girls with their legs not crossed, girls with terrific legs, girls with lousy legs, girls that looked like swell girls, girls that looked like they’d be bitches if you knew them.  It was really nice sightseeing, if you know what I mean.  In a way, it was sort of depressing too… Most of them would probably marry dopey guys.  Guys that always talk about how many miles they get to a gallon in their goddam cars.  Guys that get sore and childish as hell if you beat them at golf, or even just some stupid game like ping-pong.  Guys that are very mean.  Guys that never read books.  Guys that are very boring- But I have to be careful about that.  I mean about calling certain guys bores.  I don’t understand boring guys.”  -Holden Caulfield

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

That Ain't No Kimchi Man, This a Dead Rat!

Came into class today and I could just smell it... something reeking... Paul smelled it too... "That ain't no kimchi, man."  He said.  "This a dead rat!"
Mike Rowe be damned!  When we lifted the ceiling trap door, all this huge rat poop fell out.
Then we lifted the carpet stage and found hundreds of them...
But where's the rat?  Good Question!
Rachel and Dante got into the act... So you want to be a teacher, huh?  Get a broom!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Hester Prynne and the Island of Wild Things Out on Highway 61

“A pure hand needs no glove to cover it.”  -Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter  (Pictured above, Hester Prynne walking by my window)

Everyone, at some point in their life, must come to the realization once that the entire universe is their own personal inside joke with God.
“Oh, please don’t go.  We’ll eat you up, we love you so!”  -Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are  (Pictured above, literary journal entry from quietest kid in the room)

That there are things around us...always around us...little gifts of insight and humor merely for our own amusement.  
God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son.’
Abe says, ‘Man, you must be putting’ me on.’
God say, ‘No.’ Abe say, ‘What?’
God say, ‘You can do what you want, Abe, but the next time you see me comin’ you better run.’
Well Abe says, ‘Where do you want this killin’ done?’
God says, ‘Out on Highway 61.’  -Bob Dylan

Sometime later, God tested Abraham.  He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.  –Genesis 22  (Pictured above, Xian's Bible homework of Abraham's sacrifice.  The little black boy is Isaac.  The creepy yellow headed creature below him a sheep.  Isn't that awesome?)

We merely need to say...yes, I am here for this reason.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Creepy Unsolicited Shoulder Rubs in the Office

 My reactions to the last round of Paul's Bitstrips...Jude Law called, he wants his hairline back.
Oh...and my Mom thinks you're a Muslim Terrorist.  I told her .."No...he's just from South Carolina."

King Lear Feelin' It in the Batting Cages / Bring on the Spring!

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!  Rage!  Blow!  You cataracts and hurricanes, spout!  Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks.”  -King Lear, Feelin’ It!

Yes, Yes, I was screaming alongside the mad king at the batting cages the other day after the last “unofficial” day of winter froze our bits to dust.  Bring on the spring warmth, the humid tinges of stifling heat, the budding days of screaming flowers and with it the season of drenching rain.  We're ready.
Daughters got into the act as well.  We’ve got to shed some layers huh… this is the tropics for crying out loud.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bloom's Taxonomy Tats, Frozen Classrooms, and Basic Educational Guerrilla Warfare... Yeah, it must be a Wednesday!

Bloom's Taxonomy... This Wheel Should Be Tattooed on Every Teacher's Chest!  Why have my coworkers never heard of it?

The conversation in the staff room lately has been about two things:  What's up with the frozen classroom here on the Equator and ...our crappy curriculum?  Or more likely, why we don’t have a curriculum that isn't full of said crapola?  Guys have ideas…oh yes, guys have ideas…but it hasn’t come together.  I’m a clog in the wheel.  I know that.  But nothing anyone has suggested has any teeth, and I can't let the issue rest.
So Paul and I call a staff meeting and put together a presentation... we say, reading… what is reading?  Reading is what you make a kid demonstrate back to you that he understands form a text.  He identifies, defines, locates, predicts, infers, relates, examples, concludes, compares, and paradigms.  It’s a set of skills based on critical thinking over a 4 to 6 year period… these skills have a progression toward a higher-order of thinking…you assess this formatively through standards that are ongoing.  You know ... Critical Thinking... You dig?
Everyone in the meeting scratches their head.
Hartenstein Bundles and Braces for Nuclear Fall-Out and Curriculum Guerrilla Warfare

Then we say, writing… what is writing?  Writing means composition and composition is the essay.   Essays are specific measured explanations of certain skills called "Benchmarks" that are assessed summatively over the same 4 to 6 year period where kids define, postulate, compare / contrast, cause / effect, list, sequence, quote, disprove, research, and persuade... all gradually increasing in depth and difficulty as the mind develops into either “Exceeds” or “Pass” or “Not Yet Pass.”  
You know…?  The Essay... Benchmarks?  Really?
Now there is even more head scratching... we bundle up in the frozen cement classroom and stare at one another until the administrators say they will get back to us, which they do a week later saying:
"It is our conclusion the English Department must teach more vocabulary."
I said, “Yeah, we sure do!”

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Super Mario Mural and the Harpooners of the Pequod

(Decay over the last year of the Super  Mario duct tape mural outside Gongzheng Temple in Taichung, Taiwan)

Speaking of White Whales, I spent a fortnight in February re-discovering Herman Melville.  Typee…Omoo…Mardi…His books on the South Seas are like Eskimo roll call at a Nintendo convention.. Mario & Luigi anyone?  Then the grand one itself, Moby Dick… to re-read Moby Dick is like being trapped at a catholic family reunion in an inescapable ring of hell.  All that guilt and shame and bad casserole binge eating… all the latent bunk grunting in the dark at the… Inn of the Blowhole?  Yes, strange bedfellows indeed, the deeper in you get, the harder it is to pull out.   Grumpy Ahab.  Stern faced Quaker Starbuck.  And wide-eyed Ishmael (Hey, the kid liked his sperm whales…)  what can I say, like characters on a hunt for a leviathan ghost, attempting to read the 1,500 page narrative tome is a descent into madness itself.  
Of course, the best characters in Moby Dick are the harpooners.  Queequeg, the face tattooed son of an island king with his enormous harpoon and tiny pagan god Yojo…Deggu, the giant negro savage, and Tashtego, the warrior-hunter, who falls into the bed of sperm (told you it was latent…)
These were rough men who needed to be driven, flogged, beaten, and dragged kicking and screaming aboard the Pequod to the ends of the Earth.  Naturally, this got me thinking…
These men have always existed.  In fact, they exist today just of a different pay scale.  For the men of the Pequod were ignorant brutes, harsh and unyielding.  They wanted to see the world.  They gathered their Bibles and harpoons and demon gods and set sail upon a steady wind toward fortune and adventure.  If I had lived 150 years ago, I would have been one of them.  How else would I have sailed these seven seas?
Ironically, they are the same men I have met on my travels today…men that throw on a white collared shirt and flash a marginal diploma… just enough to gain employment at a school or an office, just enough to stand with a book in their hand and look the part… but they are the same savage rough men…save the tidy clippings, moving from rowing oars to office water coolers…but they are the same.
Men who must be driven…who must be taught lessons… who must be told what to do… shown… forced to follow and obey.  Re-reading Melville after all these years, I have come to understand this now in ways I couldn’t have possibly understood twenty years ago.  How weak men are, base, trivial, lazy… begging for someone to lead them toward a madness masked as salvation.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Can You Spot the Four-Leaf Clover?

I can...and I left it for ya!  Happy Shamrock Day Everybody!

Monday, March 17, 2014

New Mailing Address

 Just a quick update about the big move!  Called it quits on the old Post Office Box #695 today.  Kind of sad...kind of happy!  But a lot of mail has come in and out of there over the years.  Thanks to so many of you, especially family, who have written.
Any letters sent over the last month will probably be returned.  Sorry!!  I'll post the new address when I know it.  Thanks again!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Classroom is Your White Whale

“From hell’s heart I stab at thee!”  -Ahab, Moby Dick

What an incredible find!  The ancient dusty and moldy curtain tie holder mounted on the wooden window of my little mountain classroom… is the White Whale Moby Dick.
 “What I’ve dared, I’ve willed; and what I’ve willed, I’ll do!  They think me mad… I am madness maddened!”  -Ahab, Moby Dick

The classroom will always be this magical place that exists outside of time and reality...students must be pushed, poked, brought to a point of uncomfort, to a point of risk, a precipice brink... only then can they show you what they are made of...only then does it mean anything...
So when I saw the White Whale, it's great tale broken... I laughed and laughed and laughed some more… these little moments slay me.  As if the universe is saying the struggle is worth it, that even though you are utterly alone in wild pursuits, that you are on the right path… Or is it the opposite… that you have fallen into singular madness that will lead to your ruin.  Wicked laughter… Ahab laughter… Onward!

P.S. -Yes, they glow in the dark!  But of course!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Laurence Darrell After World War I

“I only wanted to suggest to you that self-sacrifice is a passion so overwhelming that beside it even lust and hunger are trifling.”  -W.Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge

No offense to Edward Cullen, that bloodsucker holds little significance with me… just don’t be upset when I offer you better books to read.  Sometimes a person must go through something profound to later become who they were always destined to be…Perhaps, that’s what places like India, which haven’t changed for thousands of years, are for…our transformation.  Thank you, Larry Darrell.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Professor’s Game

So I’m running up and down the court.  Score 44 to 46.  Two twenty-minute halves.  We’re down two but have the ball with a minute to go.  ‘Little Mouse,’ a bespeckled Victorian Era professor, dribbles lazily at the three point line, more like slapping the leather that sounds like a puppy lapping up water.  I hear it beating as I jab left and sprint up right past the baseline, curl around the top as he whips me a pass.  I catch.  Pivot.  Square up and check the clock.
I’m twenty feet out.  Clock ticking down.  In front of me is a five man zone.  I know it like the face of an old friend.    Clogging the lane.  Collapsing.  Cutting off my angle.  No matter.  I’ve scored the last eight points.  Three minutes ago we were down eleven.  Then I started shooting.  No matter what, I’m shooting now.   That’s when I hear it.  ‘Peg Leg.’  The Walking Turnover.  Hobbles across the key and claps repeatedly in my face, “Hey maaa-aaan!” He slurs in broken slang, “Pass…da…rock!”  
The professor’s game took me by surprise.  Every Friday night up in the old university gym that looks more like a converted barn.  High brick walls.  Steel bars across the windows.  Fake wood floor laid over cement.  The first time I entered the building and saw the hoops, actually realized I was going to be playing competitive basketball here, I felt like flying.  That is, until I saw the teams.
I had been invited by the Chair of the Agricultural Department, a bulky behemoth hayseed in straw hat chewing on a grass blade who partnered with a couple of young tenured giants from Engineering.  All three could stand on tippy-toes and grab the net with their teeth, easy.  They told me, every Friday night, university professors play Inter-department games.   Psychology vs. Business.  Law vs. Medicine.  They said the English Department was looking for players.  Their team was… “Unique,” he explained.  I was ecstatic.  Finally… my people!  Able minded pedantics.  Appreciators of the fine arts.  What could our team name be:  The Jonathon SwiftsThe ‘Nothin’ but Net’-haniel Hawthornes?  My hopes were quickly crushed like a slam dunk to the face.
The English Department team was made up of the motliest crew of mumblers and bumblers you’ve ever seen.  There was 'Grease Lightning' an Aboriginal pygmy who planned to play barefoot and his apparent domestic partner, a shy poetess named 'Bunny' who screamed in bloody terror the first time I showed her a ball.  Our Starting Five looked as promising. 
There was 'Chalk Stick,' our center, a Classics teacher who was so old and brittle when he moved (that’s describing it generously) crusty clouds of dust hung wafting in the air.  Then our power forward, the aforementioned “Little Mouse” and my personal favorite, small forward,  'Cyclopes,' a comparative mythology specialist with an actual glass eye… I know.  I know… I didn’t believe it either until he yelled FREEZE in the lay-up line and saw it rolling under my feet.  But to top it all off, the most incredible specimen, was our shooting guard, 'Peg Leg,' the Modern Lit teacher. 
Yes, he had a wooden leg, tucked neatly into a size seven Chuck Taylor high top, the victim of an unfortunate monkey mauling as a boy.  He’d grown up idolizing Martial Arts and Blaxploitation movies from the 70’s and would say things like, “Slip… me… skin… Brotha!” and “Hey… Jive… Turkey.”  But what made it worse (could if possibly get any worse?) was that 'Peg Leg' was a total chucker… I mean, a real Black Hole.  Instead of discussing Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams or having him introduce my to Asia's greatest writers to me, he spent every moment together explaining how I could get him a shot.  He demanded the ball on every possession.  Clapping in my face… shouting at me from across the key… every time, hands out, demanding in a slow broken drawl…”Hey maaa-aaaan!  Pass…da…rock!” 
I’ve never seen a player have such a diverse ability to give the ball away to the other team.  He passed it to them, handed it to them, seemed to will the ball mid-air into their grasp… and of course, he dribbled it off his wooden leg.  But each time he’d come back for more, “Hey maaa-aaan!”  So on that final possession, after clawing and fighting our way back, I decided to give him one last chance.  The final shot.  I held the ball and waited as precious seconds ticked away.  Down to twenty…then fifteen…then ten.  Then in one quick move I drop-stepped hard to the right and dribbled left, collapsing the defense upon me.   Suddenly turning, with less than five seconds on the clock, I shuffled the pass back to ‘Peg Leg’ who caught the ball in one perfect motion, his shooting hands ready, he lifted his arms and let the ball sail upwards toward the goal...
 The block sounded like a car crash.  One of the Engineering teachers swatted the ball so hard it took out two rows of wooden bleachers and still had enough force to bounce back on the other side of the court.  He made sure and chased the ball down leading to a celebratory dunk at the other end.  I stood and watched and sighed, then helped ‘Peg Leg’ up.  “That guy…is …jive, man.”  He slurred, rubbing his jaw.
I nodded. 
As I was leaving, the Agriculture Chair was laughing mercilessly with his team, telling me to come back anytime, my team needed me. That got quite a laugh.  Then he got serious, asking why I passed on the final shot, “You had the hot hand.  We couldn’t stop you.”
I smiled, “A guy with a wooden leg needs a break sometimes, you know?”
He laughed nervously and patted my back, “I don’t get it.”
“Exactly,” I said, “See you next week.”