Sunday, January 24, 2010

Newbery IX - 1930

The ninth winner of the Newbery award was Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field.

This rather charming book purports to be the autobiography of a small antebellum wooden doll, the titular Hitty, who is carved out of mountain ash-wood by a traveling peddler.

Preoccupied with her fine clothing and her dignity, Hitty goes through a variety of more or less unrelated adventures, from being taken to a crow’s nest by a mother bird, to staying a year in a barn with mice, to being worshiped as an idol by island "savages," to being used as in an Indian fakir’s snake-charming act, to serving as a portrait-painter’s prop, to touring as an antique at a doll show. With each passing year she learns a bit more about people and their various cultures and foibles, and loses bit by bit her vanity.

It’s thus broadly similar in content and plot to Kate DiCamillo’s excellent 2006 book The Miraculous Journey Of Edward Tulane, but with a less modern (obviously), less mature attitude toward love and loss. Any lessons learned about human nature in Field's book are clearly secondary to the whimsical fantasy of the sentient doll. It's certainly an enjoyable adventure story, full of twists and turns, suspense and drama (and how telling that in order for the protagonist in such a globe-trotting adventure, normally the province of boys alone, to be female, it must be a wooden doll). It's also often wryly amusing, so fun to read for an adult as well as a child.

I don't want to belittle the book for what it's not, which is the most ignorant style of review. But I think the premise offers a good chance to parody, reflect, or magnify human nature through observation and allegory, a chance that Field missed in favor of a simpler tale of the episodic ups and downs in a wooden doll's life. Perhaps this is just an aspect of the book's being dated; modern children want and deserve deeper messages in their literature, even in their fantasy.

Recommended for children: Yes, it's a fun story.

Recommended for adults: It's hardly a bad book, but I can't think why an adult would want to read it unless he was reading all the Newberys in chronological order for some reason.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Best Lyric Of All Time

Q: O wise Sage, what is the best lyric of all time?

A: The best lyric of all time is:

Now I guess I'll have to tell 'em
That I got no cerebellum
- "Teenage Lobotomy," Ramones

Friday, January 22, 2010

Don't get crushed in the iron fist

We had a faculty meeting yesterday about using observation of kids to help us teach more effectively. The presenter had a lot of good ideas and sample materials. One of her introductory exercises, a sort of attention grabber, was to have the teachers list the kids in their class, not alphabetically or by gender or any other way except as they came to our minds singly. Everyone forgot about at least one of their own students. It was an interesting and informative experiment, and offered some food for thought about who was first in our minds, and why, and who went unnoticed, and why.

One thing she suggested was to step back and simply observe altercations, as long as they were safe, and to quash that teacher's impulse to solve problems for the kids. It can be quite enlightening to see how the kids work it out when they have to, and gives the teacher a better idea of what the power structure is like in the room.

Well, so this morning the boys were flailing around with the plastic animals, making them all charge and hit each other, and I was on the verge of saying, "Quit fighting with the animals," as I have so often before, but this time I bit my tongue and watched. After assessing the chaos, I stepped in, but didn't address anyone's behavior. I just said, "Shouldn't the lion be chasing the kangaroo, instead of the other way around? He's a carnivore, while the kangaroo is an herbivore."

Well, that set off a flurry of boys examining the animals and assessing them. Is a leopard a predator? How can we tell? Isn't an elephant a predator --- if not, what are those long fangs for? Can't a rhino fight off a tiger? Yes, the boys were still having the animals fight, but now it was a richer, more controlled fight. It was a great moment. I really like it when staff development is actually useful like that.

Another thing she reminded us was that classroom management is not about control. It's futile to try to "control" children --- that may work in the immediate term, but it's not teaching and it's not efficacious. What teachers should strive to do is give students strategies to guide their own behavior. You have to understand how they act. And the best way to do that is to step back, refrain from jumping in, and just observe them. And record them.

And lo and behold, this evening I came home and read in the fantastic book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind:
"Even though you try to put people under some control, it is impossible. You cannot do it. The best way to control people is to encourage them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in its wider sense. To give your sheep or cow a wide, spacious meadow is the way to control him. So it is with people: first let them do what they want, and watch them. This is the best policy."
Man, that's Synchronicity, man.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My life is standing still but I'm still alive

Today, Prestigius was closed to students, but the teachers came in for a full work day, because it was that time again --- visits from prospective students! Of, course as I learned from this day and its follow-up, no one gives a tinker's dam what we teachers have to say on these kids' files, so it was pretty stress-free day. I saw Muffin and her little kid who is applying for Pre-K.

There was a smart bunch of kids visiting my room, very pleasant for the most part, and we had a lot of fun. There were eight of them (four didn't show up, which means their parents paid the $150 admissions fee for nothing, I guess) in the room with two teachers, me and Mrs. Hatfield, plus our two assistants. That's a very relaxing ratio.

At the end, we went to the circle and played the "what do they have in common" game. To introduce them to the concept, I gave them the easiest one. I named all of the girls, and they stood up one by one. "Now," I said, "Why are only these four standing up, and not the rest?"

One girl waved her hand excitedly. "Ooh! I know!" she cried. "Because you told us to!"

True dat!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

You're wearing out my joie de vie

Little H, who looks to be repeating kindergarten next year if the school has anything to say about it, threw a pen at M2's neck just before recess. She wasn't hurt. When I asked him about it, he did what he does every single time his behavior is commented on --- "Well she" or "Well he did" and blah blah blah. The kid has no sense of accountability. And yes, many five-year-olds do.

So we went out to recess but he and I had a little chat on the bench. He said that M2 wouldn't get out of his way, whatever that means --- were they in a corridor? (By the way, it's really appalling how much goes on in my room that I don't notice. I try hard to be with-it and everywhere at once, but clearly I'm missing a lot.) Well, anyway, so I tried role playing with him. "I'm M2," I said. "Ask me to get out of my way."

"Get out of my way," he mumbled in his squeaky little baby voice.

"No!" I said.

H shook his head. "She didn't say no. She just 'tood there."

After shouting, "Look, numbskull, we're not re-enacting the verbatim court record here! This is an exercise! Don't you have any notion of the abstract?" in my head, I said, "Okay, I'll just stand here." So I folded my arms and made a hmmph noise, like M2 does when she's being sassy.

There was a long pause.

I broke character. "Uh, H. What are you going to do? You asked, but M2 isn't getting out of your way. What do you say? What do you do?"

He furrowed his brow, clearly at a loss. Then he brightened. "T'row the pen the other way so it doesn't hit anyone!"

Yes. Because that will help.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I trust I'll end up sleeping cradled in my doom

Say, this is turning into a "Kids Say the Stupidest Things" blog 24/7, but that's because I'm Distracted right now. Only time for quick posts. But that will change, surely.

Anyway, remember when I said to W1, "What are we adding?" and he said (correctly but not relevantly) "Numbers?" Well, a similar thing happened today. Talking to M1, a girl who is not quite as desperately in need of a shopping spree at the Clue Store as W1 is, I stressed the importance of putting spaces between the words.

"See, here," I said helpfully, "because I told you to, you put a space after this first word, but then after I went away you didn't put any more spaces in. But spaces need to go after every word. Not just after the first word, but after every word. Now, where do the spaces go?"

Little M1 took a breath, as she does when she's not quite sure what's going on, but plunged right on: "They go on the paper."

Man, I love my job.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Where another man's life might begin, that's exactly where mine ends

I was informed today by a child that our president was "taking everyone's money away and is going to make them into hobos."

(Wait, hobos? Consarn it! All riled up on giggle juice, I'll wager! Fetch the railroad bulls and march 'em off to the hoosegow!)

Another teacher said to this boy, "I'll bet your parents watch Fox news."

He said immediately and with gusto, "Yeah! It's so boring!"

Man, I know people enjoy sacrificing reason on the altar of righteousness and greed, but do they have to tell their kids about it?


Oh, and also today a boy looked at my lunch bag and said, "That lunch box sure has a long strap."

I said, "Yes, it does."

He replied, "Let's go ahead and call it a purse."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Meme from Electronic Cerebrectomy

Where I got it

1. Name someone with the same birthday as you.

I have no idea and I don't care.

2. Where was your first kiss?

By the pool at Muffin's house, with the usual gang I hang out with 22 years later, minus a couple who have become lost to us over the years, including the girl in question: a whiplash-inducing buxom blonde with a sultry smile I remember to this day. For whatever reason, ugly scrawny nerdy me attracted the hot young ladies back then. It was doubtless my rapier wit. Here's my thoughts on the subject, from October 2006.

3. Have you ever hit someone of the opposite sex? If yes, why?

Um... not in anger. Ahem. Not that I think women are utterly sacred and untouchable when it comes to physical violence --- there are certainly a lot of loudmouthed nasty pieces of female work who probably should have been backhanded a few times in their developing years, and you can see some of them on reality TV these days --- but mostly that Shouldn't Be Done.

4. Have you ever sung in front of a large number of people? When?

Probably, because I don't have shame about that kind of thing, but don't remember any specific occasions. I have a horrible voice and no sense of pitch, key, or rhythm. People wince even when I attempt something as simple as "Happy Birthday." But I don't care. If I feel like singing, I'll belt one out, dammit!

5. What's the first thing you notice about your preferred sex?

Eyes. Big wide eyes kill me. Then mouth. Then what comes out of it.

6. What really turns you off?

Lack of empathy.

7. What is your biggest mistake?

I think I've answered this in more than one meme. Here's a good example of the kind of emo bullshit I tend to start spouting when forced to think about such things.

8. Have you ever hurt yourself on purpose?

Oh my, yes! I used to slash my arms and face with a knife. The cool kids call it "cutting" these days.

9. Say something totally random about yourself.

Here's an odd thing --- my digital camera has gone wonky and only takes pictures in the dark. At night or in a dimly lit bowling alley, the pictures are fine. But in the day, indoors with or without flash, they come out all washed with light and staticky horizontal lines and whatnot. It's not condensation on the lens, or the batteries, or anything. I've messed with the settings in an exhaustive array of combinations, with no luck. Oh, and here's the truly weird part: the video setting still works perfectly no matter what the light. Just not the photos. So obviously there's something wrong with the shutter exposing too much light or something? Oh, I don't know what I'm talking about. But you have to admit that was random.

10. Has anyone ever said you looked like a celebrity?

As mentioned here (proving there is nothing new under the e-sun), various sources of questionable repute have said I resemble Christopher Reeve, Tobey Maguire, and Tony Curtis. Usually these are older ladies saying these things, women whom one can only assume are in desperate need for cataract surgery.

11. Do you still watch kiddie movies or TV shows?

Sure. I own The Incredibles and The Jungle Book. I thought Toy Story 2 was one of the top 100 movies of all time. And it wasn't so long ago I was watching "Justice League Unlimited" on DVD. The other day, a woman said defensively to me as I was talking about the wonderful book The Phantom Tollbooth (which she'd never heard of, naturally), "I don't read children's books." I could only reply, "How sad for you."

That's it for me, as it's getting late, I have recommendations to write, and I don't have good answers for the rest of it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Many times we've shared our thoughts

Yesterday, dinner at a nice Mexican place with the usual crowd. Thirteen people including kids --- three couples, two kids each, and me.

Today, with crowd but sans kids, bowling at an obscenely "hip" and "trendy" bowling alley that blares the latest hip hop and empty bubblegum pop videos at the end of the lane, behind the pins (how is that helping?) and has a full bar and black lights that make your vodka look blue and your yellow shirt look white. I guess it sounds kinda fun when I write it down like that. Friar and Palfrey. T-Bone and Courtney. Muffin and her husband. Me.

It's nice I have friends. But not sure about the seventh wheel part.

Friday, January 15, 2010

It's sweeter than the ripple wine

The other day the Spanish teacher told the kids she'd been out because of an operation (she'd gotten her appendix out in an emergency procedure a few days before). This prompted R to share that his mother has ovarian cancer --- he knows all about it, including the fact that she can't have any more children --- which somehow led to H gleefully proclaiming, "I love to feel my mommy's boobies!"

That's where I stepped in and asked, "Kids, have you ever heard of the phrase T.M.I.?"


This morning, during the circle time, E asked if she could take her shirt off because she was hot in the room (she was wearing a spaghetti strap top underneath). "I guess," I said complainingly, "but I'm hot too, and you don't see me taking off my shirt."

She giggled. "No! 'Cause then we would see your boobies!"

Say, why do they all call them "boobies," anyway? And why do they think I have them?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Take a look now at what your boy has done

I was trying to guide W1 through a story problem today. This kid, although a decent reader and apparently bright in several ways, is sporadically clueless. Everyone else groks what's going on, even my youngest little whiner, H. But this kid, who can read the thing himself, is just lost. The problem says A has 4 blocks and B has 3 blocks. How many all together? I remind him the key words that make this an addition problem. I help him work this through the number line. I direct his drawing of four blocks of one color and, separated by a gap, three of another. And then we get to the part where he writes the number sentence, and he acts as though he just woke up, in his hermetically sealed pod, which arrived from Alpha Centauri a thousand years ago.

He writes, "5 + 4 = 3." I suppress the urge to kill and read through the problem with him, again. Recalling, of course, that he can read it himself. I get him to point out the numbers that the problem gives. "Where'd you get five from?!" I screech at him in my head. I trace the number line activity. "See? We start at four and add three. Three jumps on the line. So the numbers in this problem are four and three. Four blocks, and three blocks." I show him the picture that he drew. I look at him, and he nods. "So..." I prompt through gritted teeth, "what are we adding?"

"Numbers," he mumbles.

After throttling him mentally, I go over it again. Finally, he has it. he writes the equation.

I breathe a sigh of relief. Another math fact pounded unwillingly into the blunted brain of a blockhead.

Until it's time to write the answer in tally marks. And W1 puts down twenty-five of them.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My independence seems to vanish in the haze

My talented and lovely assistant, pregnant with her second child, is almost certainly not going to be back next year. This means (as long I'm coming back, but hey, who knows, right?) I will get to help interview and choose a new one. But... but... Who will order food for me and fax stupid forms so I don't have to go upstairs and uncomplainingly pour the juice while I lord it over the kids? The next person might want to grow in their new job and actually have some kind of teaching time!

If this does come to pass, I will very much miss her. She puts up with my bizarre behavior and we complement each other very well (both of us being pretty laid back and uninterested in sweating the small stuff). She's going to have a girl, and being the tomboy that she is, told me, "I hope she'll be bald for two years so I don't have to do any hair stuff." So you can see how she and I kind of fit together in this school of gorgeous, shoes-obsessed fashion plates.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I tie myself below the deck

Today I missed almost all of our after-school faculty meeting because carpool came and went, and B was still in the room. "Who's picking you up today?" I asked. "I don't know" she said in her tiny, precise little voice.

We waited a bit, I took her down to the office, hung around until some other late pick-ups had left, then we headed back to the room to contact somebody. I tried to reach her mother's cell phone --- which B helpfully recited, along with her father's --- but I couldn't get through. I said, "I'll try your father," and started dialing.

"My father is at China" said B in her tiny voice.

I broke off and looked for her home number. I reached her mother, who speaks English passably. "Hello, J," I said. "B is still here!" Her mother said, "It Tuesday. She has Yoga class in, ah, gym." I thanked her and hung up.

I looked at B, astonished. "Why didn't you tell me that?!" I thundered.

She put a finger in her mouth and grinned mischievously. "Tee hee," she giggled. She knew all the time she had an after-school activity. She just didn't want to go! She'd rather have hung around watching me make small talk and call people. Kids are such sneaks.

I caught the last ten minutes of the meeting and hit the snacks. I saw the Head, and he greeted me with an amiable, "Oh, you still work here?" I found out later that I'd also totally forgotten about a meeting of the Environmental Awareness team I'm on. Whoops!

This was made more ominous by his final announcement of the meeting, which was that teacher contracts will be postponed until returning students have all be accounted for. "It's just prudent, in this economy, to make sure the numbers are three," he said. Then, not quite so reassuringly, "I can't promise that everyone will be guaranteed a spot, or that nothing unfortunate will happen."

Hey! What? Huh? Wow!

Well, actually, I feel as secure as an insecure fellow like me can feel about this job, but it's the first time I've head anyone at Prestigious talk like that.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Here he comes with a green one once again

Today at school R wanted to use the Rubik's cube. He couldn't remember the name of it, and hemmed and hawed until finally he said, "Mr. Chance, can I play with the... uh... Mucus Block?"

Why isn't our new puzzle toy selling well? There are quintillions of combinations! Imagine the endless possibilities! So why aren't bright kids picking up a brightly-colored, challenging Mucus Block®?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Newbery XIII - 1929

Welcome to the eighth installment of what is unquestionably the Internet's finest collection of all the Newbery winners reviewed in chronological order.

The year was 1929. In October, a stock market crash marked the beginning of a global depression. Canada's high court ruled, in what most jurists regard as a moment of sheer lunacy, that women legally counted as people. And the first Academy Awards were handed out, to the interest of hardly anyone outside of Hollywood.

Meanwhile, the ALA's choice of best juvenile book was The Trumpeter Of Krakow, by Eric P. Kelly. In keeping with the Association's love for stories from far-flung lands and eras, they chose one set in Poland, 1461. The main character is one Joseph Charnetski, a fifteen-year-old, who travels with his family to Krakow after their home and fields in the Ukraine are destroyed. And yes, he becomes the trumpeter of the title. Oops, spoiler.

The family befriends a wise scholar and goes to live in the house of an alchemist and his daughter. Joseph becomes a watchman in the Church of Our Lady Mary. In the tower there, he plays on the hour the Heynal, a theme that is traditionally broken off in mid-note out of respect for a brave Polish lad who was killed by an arrow while playing it as Tartars advanced. (Click on that Wikipedia link for an interesting side note to this ancient legend, which may not be one at all.) The family is shadowed and accosted several times by a mysterious rogue, who turns out to be the dreaded Ukrainian warlord whose men originally drove them from their home and is out to steal a priceless treasure which, to Joseph's surprise, his father is guarding for the king.

This is a fine historical adventure, written in a clear but highly literate style, full of drama and suspense. Krakow is also made central to the story, as Kelly lovingly details its various buildings and streets. Nor is this a story that could be transplanted to another time, as lesser historical tales can be; alchemy plays a great role in this book, as part of the drama stems from Kreutz, the alchemist, and his attempts to find the secret of transmuting base metals to gold. It's fun to read, and the brisk pacing and suspense keep the pages turning --- a perfect young adult adventure story.

Recommended for adults: Yes.

Recommended for children: Yes.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Loaded 19

Hypotheticals: If you had to run a marathon, how many miles do you think you could last?
If I had to actually run? Probably one before I died. I could walk it, but it would take a while.

Anything Goes: What is life's greatest mystery?
Why women enjoy the company of men who treat them like dirt without seeming to offer anything to compensate for it.

No-Brainers: What is your favorite flower?
See number 47 here.

Personals: What do you generally sleep in at night?
When it's cold, a long john type shirt and flannel pants. When it's hot, I go commando, baby!

Friday, January 08, 2010

What becomes of the broken hearted?

In late December, flatulent ass Rush Limbaugh was rushed to a hospital in Hawaii following severe chest pains. Disregarding all the prayers of the righteous, God did not strike him down in agony. Apparently, they found nothing wrong with him, and now he's fine. Fine enough to spout the following fatuous crap: "Based on what happened here to me, I don't think there's one thing wrong with the American healthcare system. It is working just fine, just dandy."

Wow, really? The system worked for a famous, white, male, multi-millionaire conservative? That's amazing! It must therefore also work for black welfare moms, college students, underemployed single mothers, and minimum wage-earning heads of families! That's logic! QED, bitches, and check mate!

Seriously, why have the people not risen up as one to slay this menace to all that is good and holy?

By the way, anyone remember that around the same time, conservative apologist Kevin Madden went on the airwaves to make himself look ridiculous with this asinine claptrap: "You have to also remember the fact that the president being on vacation in Hawaii, it’s much different than being in Texas. Hawaii to many Americans seems like a foreign place."

Oopsie! It's a state, and apparently even evil lying conservative media whores go there to relax! Not, unfortunately, to die.

I saw a man driving a BMW convertible with a bumper sticker that read: "Don't spread my wealth. Spread my work ethic!" Why, yes, the driver was white, how did you guess? Perhaps it was this tidbit from the Bureau of Labor: "
More than half of black males between the ages of 16 and 19 are unemployed. And that's only counting those seeking work. Economists say legions of other young black men — nobody knows how many — have given up looking."

I really wanted to smash his car with a cinderblock and leave it to break down at night in the poorest neighborhood of the city, so all those lazy black men who just aren't working hard enough, darn it, could enjoy the wisdom of his bumper sticker.

Yep, I'm starting the New Year with a lot of Buddhist-like serenity and good karma.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Where do we go from here and what did you do with the directions?

After school we had a meeting about the writing curriculum. Ms. Ice Queen, a first grade teacher who was the leader of the group (I had been installed as co-leader), suddenly quit the group without explanation, at least to the rest of the faculty. So now I'm the main leader. I'm not the type who likes to sit around analyzing where we've been and where we're going and whether that's the way we want to go --- at least not for very long. Those are necessary things to consider, but at some point, I want action to be taken. For example, if we're examining our expectations to see if they're appropriate, consistent, and form some kind of continuum, eventually we'll need to stop examining and start pruning, streamlining, and inserting new ideas.

So, with very short notice, this afternoon I tried to pick up where Icy left off, and asked for input and volunteers to complete some tasks. But man, teachers can be such a contrary, heel-dragging bunch, especially at this school. They were questioning why we needed to do things, and whether it wouldn't be redundant with all the documentation we already have, and so on.

I wanted to say, "Look, jerks, you're right, okay? You know and I know all this is just window dressing, to make us keep our minds on our work, and so the administration can say we revamp the curriculum frequently. We're not meant to move mountains here. So how about just shutting up and writing out the extremely brief page I'm asking for so we can go the hell home." Of course I didn't. Eventually, a couple of people said they'd write the drafts, and I said I'd write the mission statement of writing philosophy, and we called it a day. I'd like to say that I adjourned the meeting, but actually people just started standing up and walking away. I have no power, and garner no respect.


After the meeting I picked up some Asian take out food for five and brought it to R's house. His mother has ovarian and carcinoid cancer and may not recover, though she's in treatment. I guess that puts my spine herpes, vertebrae misalignment, heart troubles and neck fungus in a relative light; they're not (as yet) fatal --- though Ganesh on the great greasy Ganges, this zona itches like a mofo. Arrrrgh! Scratchscratchscratch ointment medicine arggh


Hey, how come at work I can be patient as Job and Buddha, charming and funny with the kids all day, and then at that one single moment when I've reached my limit, at the fifteenth useless petty transgression, and I call out to a troublesome boy in a clearly fed-up tone --- that's the very moment an admin walks by?

Because there is no why. That's why.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

I went to the doctor and the doctor said Friend, this should be the middle but it could be the end

Hey, guess what's not fun? Having little crappy things wrong with your health.

First there was the disgusting ringworm, a condition that has recurred (in much milder form) off and on since May. I'm still getting over a bout of bronchitis I contracted in early December. Then there was the neck pain thing which sent me to a chiropractor. I sleep on a memory foam pillow now with neck support, because my neck vertebrae bend out the wrong way.

And now I have the goddamn shingles, or as I like to call it, spinal herpes. (Shingles is some kind of residual chicken pox virus that lives in your spine and decides to give you a nasty rash thirty years later, apparently.) Let me tell you what that's like: weirdly tingly, slightly painful, uncomfortably itchy, extremely unappealing visually. Also: may indicate increased risk of cancer! Isn't the panoply of nature's creation a wonderful thing?

I'm currently taking a shedload of medication, including digitalis for tachycardia, prescription cough drops, Vicodin (which I don't need, but might later?), and two drugs to combat the zona breakout. I have ceased taking Prozac and some other drug meant to lower my blood pressure, which is fine right now on its own. Man, I don't even like taking any medication.

This is perhaps the consequences of seeing the doctor approximately zero times from the age of 23 to 32 or so. I can feel the cold grasp of Grandfather Death already.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Laugh along even though they're laughing at you

So there are a number of brief, on-the-spot games I play with the kids between instruction or projects. We play a variety of hangman, a sort of game like Mastermind except with words, four-in-a-row team tic tac toe, equation solving tic tac toe, and so on.

One of these games is What Do They Have in Common; in this game I ask several kids to stand up, and the class takes turns trying to guess what characteristic belongs to that group, and only that group. The simplest example of this would be: all the girls stand up. A slightly harder example is: asking the kids in striped shirts to stand up. A very hard example might be: have the kids whose names begin with vowels stand up.

In general, kindergarten kids are not very good at this game. The first day I introduced the game, after the more obvious boys/girls and hair color examples didn't go exactly smoothly, I had my assistant and I stand up and all the kids sit. They had a very hard time coming to conclusion that what we had in common and they didn't was "adulthood" or "are teachers" or anything of that kind.

The kids will excitedly and erroneously proclaim the current round's characteristic to be the same as the previous, even when it is clearly not ("no, not all the girls are standing up this time, so that can't be it..."). They will attempt to conflate it with patterns ("there's a girl, and a boy with shoelaces, then a girl, and boy without shoelaces"), which is pretty much the opposite of the idea. They are also largely incapable of figuring out abstract common themes, such as "everyone standing has a double letter in their name." And, finally, when asked to come up with their own characteristics to form a group, usually miss one person who fits the condition, or put in an extraneous one ("A2 is standing up, but he isn't wearing any buttons!").

In short, it's great fun. They're getting better at it. And to be fair, it's a pretty hard game. Today I could not figure out a couple of the characteristics that the kids thought of themselves (everyone with collars, with brown eyes). On the other hand, one of the kids standing up in the former game was not actually wearing a collar. So that made it a bit tougher.

So but anyhow this morning I had the three kids whose names end in Y stand up. There were a couple of desultory guesses, then A3 raised her hand eagerly. "What do you think these three classmates have in common?" I asked her.

"They're all very slow in finishing their work!" she said gleefully.

Cue: Assistant and I convulsing with laughter, amid faux-horrified protests at the idea.

Monday, January 04, 2010

To lamely try to justify for what it is, a lack of drive

Let's see, what have I been up to, then? Not much. Earlier this year, A4's mother stirred up a little maelstrom in a mailbag when she met with me, the Head, the Vice Head, and Ms. Counselor because of the "bullying" she claimed A4 was getting at the hands of other children in my class. She said he was coming home with bruises and was being savagely beaten for no reason. When extended observation by everyone and his brother revealed that nothing of the sort was happening and this was communicated to her, A4's mother told Ms. Counselor that she believed her child's story over any adult's. The Head told me later that I won the prize for having the kookiest parent in the school this year. Then just as suddenly as it began it was over, as A4's mother decided everything was groovy again.

I wrote six recommendations last week for kids whose parents wanted them to go bigger better even more respected private schools (well, and one that wanted to go to a cheaper school). The Vice Head gave us her perennial advice ("don't gush") and I toned everything down a bit, being the corporate sellout that I am.

As I've whined about before, more than once, I've been dragooned into Doing Stuff beyond what I feel is the acceptable call of duty. Now I'm apparently leading some kind of writing curriculum review team. Must I? Curse this effortless eloquence!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Newbery VII

When we last looked in on the venerable Newberys, the winner was the lovable, racist Smoky the Cowhorse.

In 1928, the Newbery Committee in all its wisdom chose as the best children's book of the year Gay-Neck: The Story Of a Pigeon, by Indian-born author Dhan Gopal Mukerji. This would prove to future generations of children to be a problematic choice for two reasons. One, it is called Gay-Neck, and that's just not something you can live down anymore. Two, it is the story of a pigeon.

The plot begins in the early 1900s, with a young Indian boy who raises carrier pigeons. The titular Gay-Neck, named for his colorful neck plumage, is the finest, able to outfly eagles and hawks. When WWI breaks out, Gay-Neck is used as a messenger pigeon under the boy’s friend, Ghond the hunter. The bird finds he must dodge the screaming mechanical eagles (planes) and barking dogs (machine guns) that try to destroy him.

During the course of the war, both the pigeon and Ghond are wounded, and both develop a form of traumatic disorder. So they travel to the lamaseries in the Himalayas to meditate and overcome their fear. The story is told mostly from the boy’s point of view, but occasionally Gay-Neck narrates when the bird is alone, and Ghond is also given his view, during the most harrowing battle. It is a story of a pigeon, in a strict sense, but the plot is really only the steed that the message rides, so to speak.

Mukerji's main concern is promoting Buddhist concerns of peace, courage, and wisdom. Prayers and meditations on overcoming fear are not only included, they're the main lesson of the story – "No beast of prey can kill his victim without frightening him first," and "each being that lives is a reservoir of infinite courage." I like that second one, by the way. Trying saying it to yourself. Go on. I'll wait.

Rarely does a children’s book manage to tread such deep waters without looking ridiculous, but Mukerji manages to imbue his little tale with an enormous amount of inspiration and wisdom.

Recommended for children: Well... oh dear. It's a good book, and kids love animal stories. But, see, it's called "Gay-Neck."

Recommeded for adults:

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Looking back through time you know it's clear that I've been blind

Ha ha! Won't it be funny, after yesterday's long melodramatic emo post, I suddenly stop blogging again?

Well, one more day, perhaps.

So this morning I went to the chiropractor. Second visit of the week, and of my life. I woke up a couple weeks back with some neck pain that never went away, so now this. I know some people think of chiropractors as nothing short of miracle workers and some think they're dangerous quacks. I've always been a bit leery, myself, but these guys seem very capable and calm and assured. I won't say I'm utterly healed, but over the last few days the pain has lessened and mobility has increased. Hell, the deep muscle massage and heated vibrating chairs by themselves are practically worth the price of admission, anyway. I'm not so much a fan of having my bones crack audibly while some guy pushes my body parts in different directions, but I understand that my neck is in a funny shape, and this seems to help.

And remember how inaction breeds despair and all that? Say yes more; nay, even create opportunities to say yes to? Well, it's been less than twenty-four hours since I wrote that and I already turned down an invitation to dinner... but it was just Friar and his kids and Muffin and her kids, and I just ate with them on New Year's Eve, and anyhow the Green Margarita is a truly disgusting restaurant. Greasy orange cheese and all that, the worst excesses of Tex-Mex and none of the health benefits.

I've been eating no land-based meat, except on Saturdays, for about three months now. I don't really feel any different, but I'm confident that my blood pressure and arteries are thanking me.


In Buddhist metta practice, traditionally one trains oneself to cultivate loving goodwill to everyone by starting first with oneself, moving on to a friend or loved one, then a person whom one feels neutral toward, then someone one has bad feelings for, and so on in widening concentric circles until one feels love for the universe. So, basically, inward to outward. I assume that this is meant to be from easiest to hardest --- after all, it's easier to feel love for your good friend than for your rarely-seen next door neighbor, and easier to love that neighbor than the creep who spreads rumors about you at the office.

But what about those of us who stumble at the starting block? Love me first? The whole damn point of trying to make myself serene is that I'm not happy with myself in the first place. I think I'd better start with thinking good thoughts about Friar and his family, and save myself for about third in line.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Better can't make your life better

Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.

Okay. So. Yeah.

This is going to be one of those lengthy, meandering, almost-but-not-quite getting to a point posts, so watch out, Future Self. Prepare to smirk.

Yeah, I went back to blogging after taking the summer off, then instantly dropped it again. And although that hasn't exactly left a gaping void in my life that begs to be filled, it's something that ought to be remedied.

Why? Well, certainly in large part the only answer to that seems to be Yes, why? But there's something to it.

When you're depressive like I am, certain things Matter. Actually, no. It's not so much that they --- those things --- matter as that they indicate or represent something that matters. People often make these obsessive little pledges to themselves, especially on New Year's Day, which by no coincidence whatever this is. And whether it's, for example, trying do 20 minutes of elliptical three times a week or logging the mileage and gas costs of your new car or opening bills the day you get them or not drinking soda or blogging about your life every day, it's usually some kind of a connection to the world. Even in the case of avoidance, like quitting smoking or eating meat or what have you, the idea is to replace that bad habit with a better one --- viz., one that builds a better relationship between you and your environment.

You know, I used to be more eloquent. Or maybe things just sound better in my head.

Well but and so what I'm trying to get at is that these obsessive little pledges are, if not meaningful in themselves, indicative of meaning. When a depressive like me drops these habits made with the best of intentions to keep up good connections --- well, sometimes it's because those things were time-consuming and silly and served their brief purpose (like, who needs to log their new car's mileage on a regular basis?). But sometimes the letting go of these ostensibly insignificant things is a symptom. A symptom of an unhealthy disassociation.

To normal gregarious social butterflies, the following may seem an absurd statement, but for some people there really is a slope from quitting blogging (goodbye, introspection) to dropping healthy eating habits (I'm not talking about my eating on the Internet anymore, so who cares?) to cutting out all social activity and retreating almost entirely into the life of a recluse (why should I go out? My mind and body are mush). This is not imaginary. This is not a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is self-destruction through indifference and it is real.

All of which is a very loquacious way of saying that I'd better blog daily again, dammit. It's constructive. Doing is better than not doing. Gnōthi seauton and all that.


Right, so that was awkward! Quick, change the subject! What are your New Year's resolutions, Chance?

Actually, Chance, I never make any New Year's resolutions. Whenever I've been inspired to better myself, I've always been the type that tends more toward "Do it now!" instead of "Wait until some arbitrary moment infused with artificial importance!" However, I hope that I'll live a good story this year. And I would like to think about some of the things I need in my life. Maybe three of them.

One thing I need back in my life -- and this will sound the absurdest of all, but I'll plow on --- is Zen. I need my Zen back. Like most liberal arts college students, I studied Zen a bit and because enamored with some of its teachings. I think my Zen got leaked out of me after my ex-wife cheated on me while studying to be a Buddhist priest. Yes, really. Anyway, I think somewhere I lost a certain serenity, and I need it back. Not only was it better for my mental health, I think it made me a more appealing soul. No one likes an uptight snark addict. Nam myoho renge kyo, people. Let's get metta-physical.

But I must also face facts and admit that while I've lived an aleatory sort of existence, the fatalistic life has not necessarily been good to me. Inaction breeds despair. Why have I had so many shitty relationships? Because they chose me, and I shrugged and accepted it. I didn't actively choose them --- or, perhaps more accurately, I lacked the will to deny them. I am far too old and sedentary and unpopular to let things happen anymore. I need not just to say yes more, but to go and find those opportunities to say yes to. That can mean something as little as answering the phone more often.

Finally, you know what I need more of in my life? Relationships that aren't doomed.