Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Do not stand at my grave and weep

(After Mary Elizabeth Frye's maudlin piece.)

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
Just go on home and get some sleep.
I can't hear your sobs and tears,
My rotting head no more has ears.
Wail as you will --- under your feet
Lies but a piece of rotting meat.
But even were this body whole,
There is no spirit, there is no soul.
You speak aloud, and cry, and moan,
But I've no more sentience than a stone.
Whatever now you say you feel
You should have said when I was real.
So leave me mold'ring under the loam,
Dry your tears and go on back home.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. There is no I.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My mind is set on overdrive

Last day of school had only mundane paperwork and logistical meetings. Vacation has begun.

Not that I'm not grateful, but now what?

I went out to Hangout II with Friar and Courtney. I was petulant and prickish all night, and probably as a consequence Courtney was being slightly bitchy, and Friar after a few drinks started to get smug and insulting as is his wont, and all in all it wasn't fun and I blew $60 on cabs to have a crappy night.

I know that wasn't my usually entertaining overview of my nights out, but it wasn't an entertaining night. I need the drugs to kick in again.

Hey, K and L are dating each other! I didn't even know they knew each other. I met K through the Maddening Angel (from whom she is now estranged) and L from the Friar/Hangout, two almost wholly discrete circles of my life. Small world. And their names are consecutive letters! It was meant to be.

Oh yeah --- and I do have ringworm. I may have gotten it from one of the kids (though I can't think who) or maybe an animal. So fucking nasty. It's a tenacious and disgusting little fungus and it takes two to four weeks to get rid of with daily treatment. And it may leave a permanent round mark. I have it on my neck. Yay! The universe loves me.

Monday, May 25, 2009

That was called love for the workers in song

Well, here I am again. I got used to the damn thing, and it's cheaper than therapy.

I had a pretty good final week of school. I didn't get many end-of-year gifts and nothing fancy, but I did get plenty of compliments, and that's all I expected. J's parents bought me lunch on the last day. L2's mother said she wanted me to move up to first grade so he could have me again next year. My secret favorite Q's father said he had initial concerns about a male K teacher, but "getting you was the best thing that could have happened to her."

Most of the week was taken up with visiting the first grade classrooms; having the kids write cards for the summer birthday kids; and doing easy final-week things like finishing "This year I learned..." in writing and "How many days are left in school if ten are crossed off our calendar?" type word problems in math. The very last day I told the kids that the most important thing I wanted them to remember all year was this:

Be nice to people who have less talent or power than you do.

I hope it stuck.


I hadn't been taking my Happy Pills for the last ten days, through a combination of laziness, sickness and the accompanying bizarre sleep schedule, and a vague interest in seeing what would happen. I think it was a bad idea, and I'm starting again. As Friar said: "If you had diabetes, you wouldn't want to go off your meds just to 'see what would happen,' would you? If you need them, you need them." I think he's right.

Most people, for example, would not have been totally depressed, as I was, on Sunday. Saturday, I'd spent a pleasant evening at Hangout II, joking and talking with good friends (Friar, K, L --- this guy) and a few people I didn't know, including a very attractive, drunk woman who hung on me and kept kissing me and pressing my hand between her legs. L flicked a lit cigarette into my face hard at my request. I drank a shot that seemed to be made of Tabasco, and possibly bacon. We went back to Friar's house (where I'd drunkenly and erroneously thought I'd left my car). Friar promptly passed out in his bed, so drunk girl and I hung out in his living room, blasting music until 4:00 a.m when we collapsed on his couch.

Sounds fun. Was fun. So why the depression? If you have to ask, you'll never understand. Sometimes I have a hard time distinguishing fantasy from reality. Or rather, fantasy from the probable.

I'm not sure I should blog about such personal stuff. It makes me introspective. I feel like it helps me sort my thoughts into a semblance of rationality, but you know, I think when I instead pass over the personal in silence, that helps me not be so jittery about the past. Which is probably more helpful.

Oh yeah --- and I should have done my assessments last week. Like, finished Tuesday. It's no surprise to people who read this that I'm a procrastinatin' fool. So it'll be a late night. Oh well, nothing new.

Also, I may have ringworm. Awesome!

Monday, May 18, 2009


The last week, a very busy work schedule, some ill-advised late nights, and a bout of nasty throat flu all conspired to put blog posts on the back burner. Come to think of it they were never on the front burner. Let's say they got taken off the back burner and put into a Tupperware tub and set in the refrigerator to keep for maybe later.

It was just about time for a break anyway. I may start posting again once the old batteries are recharged. After all, I have Newbery winners to review.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Newbery V

The 1926 Newbery Medal winner was Shen Of the Sea: Chinese Stories For Children, by Arthur Bowie Chrisman. It is a collection of humorous folk tales from China, written in a light, mostly tongue-in-cheek style that seems to mimic the inflections and honorifics of the Chinese language.

The title story describes a monarch who tricks and captures the shen, or demons, of the sea, who wish to flood his domain. Other entries are explanation tales, reminiscent of the Just-So stories: how chopsticks came to be (the king invented them after being attacked by his irascible queen with the silverware) how fine porecelain came to be (it was a collection of mud pies fired hard by dragon breath), or how tea came to be (a witch enchanted Chah's herbs so they'd help him stay awake, after he saved her from a black dragon, or oo long; cha is Chinese for tea). A couple are love stories between men and spirits, and a few are like the European folk tales of silly people who do things literally, but in the end their silliness is their salvation.

It's fun reading, but there's nothing spectacular about the prose, nor particularly memorable about the tales, so I do hope this wasn't actually the finest children's book of its year. As with the previous year's winner, Tales From Silver Lands, perhaps the committee thought multiculturalism trumped non-spectacular writing.

Recommended for children: sure.

Recommended for adults: not really, unless they're Sinophiles.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

I'm so old...

...My high school class recently celebrated its twentieth reunion.

...I have fond memories of the game Adventure, which I played and mastered when I was 13 years old. I remember every experience the article describes: being robbed by the bat, being zoomed through the game by the bat while in a dragon, visiting the Easter Egg room, everything. For all the realism and detail and epic backstories of massive multi-player games today, this simple, doofy-looking game where a box grabs an arrow to kill a seahorse remains tops in my mind.

...I had a Texas Instruments computer that used the computer language BASIC (10 Print "HI THERE" 20 Goto 10) and recorded such coded text programs on audio cassette tape.

...I remember arcades in every mall, the only way the common feller could play video games. They cost a quarter, no more. Arcades barely exist any more.

...I was nine, ten, and eleven when Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was developed, and it changed how I played games with my friends. In short, my geekiness was complete.

...I had a word processor in college --- not a PC, but a real word processor, basically an electric typewriter. It stored a whopping one line of text in its memory before printing. I got extremely adept at extemporaneous eloquence in my research papers.

...For most of my childhood, if you wanted to watch a movie, you had to see it in a theater. Cable became widely available when I was eleven or so, but again, you had to watch what HBO chose to air (usually the same blockbuster movies over and over). Then VHS and Betamax slowly took hold, and despite TV stations and movie studios' bemoaning that it would be death of the industry (they can fast-forward over the commercials! And why will anyone ever go to the theater again?), it became possible to watch a wide variety of things pretty much on demand (by which I mean you had to drive to the rental store first). True "on demand" viewing is just now becoming a literal reality --- which is very cool.

...When I was a kid, after the last late-night talk show, the national anthem would play and then you'd get a test pattern. Dead TV air. Doesn't exist any more.

...My home had rotary phones (museum relics today!) until quite late into middle school. My mother got a wireless phone eventually, and it was the size of a brick and had an antenna like a steel pipe.

...I remember answering machines that recorded with cassettes. Yeah, if someone was out, you didn't talk to them. You left a message on their answering machine, if they had one. If you got lost driving, you didn't twitter your friends, call the location, or upload Google street view to your iPhone. You stopped and asked for directions.

...The Internet did not exist until my second year of college, or thereabouts. It was a primitive system of electronic bulletin boards where idiots argued with other idiots about religion and politics and culture. There was no IMDb to settle movie bets, no Wikipedia to vandalize. If you wanted to look up a fact, you had to get a book from the library (or make it up, but without fooling anyone else with your lies). If you wanted the lyrics to a song, and they weren't printed in the cassette or album sleve, you had to listen repeatedly and type fast. I'm a member of the last generation to understand fully just how massively influential the Internet has been, a total paradigm shift in culture; the youth don't know what it was like, and the older don't know what it's like now.

...I saw Star Wars in its first theater run. (There was no other way to see it!)

...I was eleven when Michael Jackson caused a small stir with his then-risqué song "Billie Jean" came out. I was thirteen when Madonna shocked the prudes with "Like a Virgin." Oh, how innocent we all were then! Rap was just barely beginning to make itself felt among the whiteys.

...I was seventeen years old when REM's Green came out, in 1988. I was 23 when Green Day's first major label album, Dookie, came out. I associate them with college life and post-college stagnation, respectively.

...I remember Carter's election, the Iran hostage crisis, the Challenger explosion, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Reagan getting shot, and other things that a college student today regards as the history of a generation ago. I even have vague memories of long lines at gas stations (the 1973-74 oil embargo) and Nixon's resignation (I was three).

I'm old.

I know this kind of post is old hat and boring, especially for the younger people, but trust me --- when you get to be my age, you'll see the appeal of looking back. Which is not to say that I ever want to stop looking forward, too. Bring on the 3-D video phones, teleportation, bionic arms, AI robot servants in every home, and Google brain implants! In fact, where are they? They're late.

Friday, May 08, 2009

I heard telephones, opera house, favorite melodies

After work, I went over to D's rather palatial house for the second of my auction obligations. G was there as well for a sleepover. G was excited and talky, while D reverted back to his quieter, shy self, perhaps unsettled by his teacher's presence in his home. I brought them both books and cookies. I read the books, talked to D's mother for a bit and then left. It was fun.

Then, I went with the Friar to some sort of Fried Food Festival where Auric's band was playing. We got there late and mostly just hung around the backstage area, under the suspicious eye of Quickdraw McGraw the grizzled old security guy, until Drummer's Wife came by and fetched Auric (set over, utterly soaked with sweat) to give us the OK to come in. We talked for a bit from the side of the stage (as thousands of people waiting for the next artists to take the stage watched us), then made our way to the dressing room. Friar and I would make terrible bodyguards, it turns out, as Auric was accosted by four different over-enthused fans on the short walk over. We did, however, play the rude bad guys who had to pull him away as he smiled and posed for pictures.

Then we all went to Hangout II, where we met up with the incredibly inebriated Mr. Hangout, Tall, the slightly annoying barfly AL, and a few other acquaintances not close to me. (At the end of the night, as we walked to the car, Auric said to us, "I think AL has some kind of radar that lets him know which bar I'm in whenever I'm in town so he can show up five minutes after me and never leave my side.")

There was a David Bowie cover band playing. They were all right. Good musicians technically, but I didn't care for the vocals. Their name was rather bland. I think we can all agree that a very good name for a Bowie cover band is The Rock'n'Roll Suicides.

Speaking of naming things, we also had a long discussion about the gayest name ever for a gay bar. Many rather graphic suggestions were thrown out, but most rejected as being open to hetero scat or sodomy. For example, Cock 'n' the Ass (with colorful neon logo of a rooster and a donkey, natch) could conceivably be a bar at which you can find women into anal sex. ("Hey, where are all the ladies tonight?!") I think in the end we went with "The Horny Homo."

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Out of the mouths of babes

I still think fondly of some of the kids at the old Job at La Poubelle School, especially the toddler CF (this kid, of the original Kids Say... post).

I liked CF a lot. He didn't like candy or any kind of sweet food like ice cream. But he would enthusiastically chomp down on these huge honking pickles his mom would pack him for lunch. I was surprised the first time I saw that, and said to him, "Is that really a pickle? I didn't know kids your age liked pickles." CF stopped crunching for a second and said, "Pickle good." I got a big kick out of that.

His mom dressed him in button-down shirts and sharp dress shoes, and so he looked like a little man, with a mischievous grin and his little snub nose. He would often enter the toddler room with a sudden rush, sliding to a stop with arms outspread, sort of like Kramer on "Seinfeld" but with more élan and less kinetic slapstick. Then he'd give his big smile and bellow, "Hello, girls!" (A real junior ladies' man it seemed, but occasionally he'd change it to, "Hello, boys!" He wasn't picky.)

Anyway, one day I was changing his diaper (I've changed more diapers in my time than most young mothers), and he reached down, fingered his penis, and said to me, "What dis?"

I said, playing it straight and clinical, "Well, CF, that's your penis."

He considered that just a second, his eyes flashing, then said reverentially, "Penis good!"

Man, he really knew what was what. I just wish I could see how these kids turn out as adolescents and adults.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Vocabulaire: un imprimé

un imprimé - a booklet, a printed form
On dit à tous les candidats: pour procurer un emploi, il faut que vous remplissiez cet imprimé.
I'm filling out a lot of imprimés myself now for work.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Amusing and bemusing conversations

With three-year-old B, brother of A2, who visits my class nearly every morning:

Me: "Hello, B. What's going on today?"

B: "Sunday."

Me: "No, it's not Sunday. It's Tuesday."

B: "Ha ha! That sounds like the number two!"

Me: "Well, it is the second day of the school week. But what I meant was not what day is it, but what is happening today?"

B: "Windy."

Me: "Windy?"

B: "Windy all day."

Me: "Perhaps so, B. But, more specifically, what people mean when they say 'what's going on?' is what's happening with you in particular."

B: [Pause, then holding up pinky, ring, and middle fingers] "Three."

Me: "Three, eh?"

B: "Three all day."

Me: "Well, it was nice talking to you. Sorry you can't stay."


With my mother and aunt:

Me: "I was over reading a book at a kid's house the other day."

Aunt: "Is that a typical event, or a one-off?"

Mother: [Completely flabbergasted] "One off? What does that mean? One off what?"

Aunt: "It's an expression meaning one time."

Mother: "Why not say that, then? Why not say 'Are you doing that just the once?' What is this off business? You're not Jazzy Jeff and the French Prince! What are you talking that rap slang?"

Aunt: [Laughing too hard to talk]

Me: "Yes, Aunt, why are you talking ebonics?"

Mother: [Totally baffled] "Bonics? What are bonics? What are you talking about now?"

Me: "That's the language the French Prince speaks."

Monday, May 04, 2009

No one ever tells me so what am I to know

Today I went over to Z's house. I brought a cookie and two books that I gave to her. Her parents paid $100 at this year's auction for this exciting privilege. I stayed for about 40 minutes. Z seemed happy enough, but I hope her parents thought it was worth it. I'm not really the kind to play up the cutesy factor for the kindergarteners, unlike some of my other team members. For example, there's a Prestigius robe we can wear so it looks like we're all "ready for bed" when we come to read the story and have cookies and milk and all that. I thought, nah, fuck the robe. Like I say, I hope Z's parents didn't wonder "was that it?" after I left. I would have.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sunday Warbooks: Tales Of the South Pacific

A review of Tales Of the South Pacific, by James Michener.

A collection of tales not so much of war itself but of the ordinary men who waged war, and how the war (and the South Pacific) changed them. This book, written in 1947, won the Pulitzer Prize, and deservedly so. It's utterly readable and timeless. Indeed, Michener's narrator evokes prescient shades of Catch-22's 1961 absurdist hero Yossarian in the opening piece. Unable to express what he did in the war, he tells a gruff, glory-loving major about what island life was like:
"Why, hell!" the major snorted. "Seems all he did was sit on his ass and wait!"

"That's exactly it!" I cried, happy to find at least someone who knew what I was talking about.
Easily more than the sum of its parts, this collection of stories is an eye-opening account of life in wartime: not the horrors of war (though there's a bit of that), but the waiting, the selfless heroism, the bottled-up passion, the thankless endless toil, the vast logistics of a campaign, the suddenness of death and loss and love.

Why did it take me until I was 38 years old to read this book? The omission of this work from the typical academic canon is utterly incomprehensible to me; it’s everything that the more boring and less complete in scope All Quiet On the Western Front is said to be, and more.

Michener is far more than a captivating storyteller, collector of colorful characters, painter of vivid natural imagery, and chronicler of the orchestrations of world warfare. Each of the "tales" comprising his carefully-constructed epic narrative is thematically and stylistically related to the other smaller narratives and at the same time artistically whole in itself. While he does have poetic phrases at his command, what he can say without saying it --- a subtly omitted word or a hint --- is breathtaking.

Michener impresses with his vast understanding of the scope of a military operation, as in the chapter “Alligator” (the codename for a fictitious invasion) --- the planning, the estimated casualties, the number of hospital beds needed, the men needed to build landing strips and docks and housing, the men needed simply to replace pencils and paper for plans, and on and on --- and then he finishes with a few brief, poignant lines of a man who wrote to a plain woman ("who would never be married in a hundred years anyway") a proposal:
"You was very sweet to me and I want to tell you if I…"

But he didn't. Some don't.
But, Michener says, that last letter plus the one from the chaplain was almost as good as being married.

That talent of Michener’s, the ability to juggle the big picture with the little human details, the forgotten grunts, the KIA and the faceless laborers, just blows me away. With every paragraph he weaves a new story of heroism, or efficiency, or defiance, or laziness, or lust, or bravery, or shame, and every character is all too human and believable. It makes the climax of the book, the landing at the island of Kuralei, all the more moving, as his narrator surveys the littered beaches and mourns the dead.

This book is quite simply a brilliant masterpiece that should be read by every student of American history; it may be fiction, but it shows more plainly why this was known as the "Greatest Generation," without hagiography or needless embellishment. They did what they were asked to do, and worked and complained and loved and died, and they weren't saints or the ultimate soldiers. They were Americans, is all.


Sunday warbooks scoreboard:

Greco-Persian wars: 2
WWI: 2
Vietnam: 2
Iraq wars: 2
Afghanistan war: 1
General warfare: 2

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Loaded XVIII

Hypotheticals: If you created a new flavor of ice cream, what would it be?
I'm pretty sure all the possible variations of ice cream have already been invented. How about I just stir crushed Heath bars in some mint Häagen-Dazs and call it a day.

Anything Goes: What celebrity makes you glad you are not a celebrity?
Lindsay Lohan.

No-Brainers: Besides a cat or dog, what animal would you want as a house pet?
I've had ferrets before and love them, though they are stinky and tend to be destructive. If had a vast acreage and my choice, I'd have some baboons as guard animals. Who wouldn't want to walk a baboon on a leash?

Personals: Which of the following do you feel yields the greatest benefits - extraordinary wealth, strong friendships, true love, or a loyal, loving family?
True love. Sadly.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Say yes to a real life ambition

The first graders in Ms. N's class are doing a unit on Australia. I do a pretty decent Australian accent (as long as the Australian is a drunk and very excited Steve Irwin), so Ms. N invited me to her class to read a book on koalas and talk to the kids about the local fauna, all in character. I thought it went all right, though as with everything in my life the event suffered from poor to no planning. For example, Ms. N asked me, as if I were a real visitor the kids didn't know, my name. I stared in blank panic for a couple of seconds before blurting, "Uh... Cassowary Brisbane?" Smooth!

Ms. N was looking even lovelier than usual, if that's possible, in a short-sleeved pink dress. She has said to me, jokingly, on a few occasions since our conference in Arizona that she's "going through withdrawal" from not hanging around me and feels "deprived" without me making jokes constantly. This cannot mean anything more significant than she enjoyed my company as a coworker, and it would be very bad for my health to become fruitlessly enamored of yet another gorgeous woman who happens to like talking to me occasionally.

In reality, women like her just don't settle for guys with my... features. She's a literate, funny, Ivy League-educated goddess, while I am a witty curmudgeon who looks like a hobbit with Down syndrome. (In the past, people have said I resemble Tobey Maguire, but now that I think about it, he looks like a hobbit with Down syndrome too.) It's ridiculous of me to even be writing about this. In fact, I have to go.