Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Trick With Perfect Squares, or: Why I Love Math

I love perfect squares. Anyone who has conversed with me on the topic will be able to tell you as much, if they paid careful attention.

To reiterate: I love perfect squares.

When I was in 6th grade, we had to memorize all of the perfect squares of integers up to 25, if memory serves (and by extension, I guess, we memorized the perfect squares of all integers between -25 and 25, inclusive, but that's kinda cheating).

We were tested on this, even.

Like most of the 6th graders in the IB program, I was terrified of bad grades and did what any GPA-fearing student would do: I memorized by rote, and wrote them down in a list, like so:

Int -- Sq
1 -- 1
2 -- 4
3 -- 9
4 -- 16
5 -- 25

and so on.

And that's when I noticed a sweet pattern. Take two consecutive integers and their respective squares:

3 -- 9
4 -- 16

The absolute value of the difference between the squares (16 - 9 = 7) is the same as the absolute value of the sum of the integers from which the squares were formed (3 + 4 = 7).

This is true for ANY two consecutive integers (and their respective squares) - if you don't believe me, give it a try on your own.

The thing that's bugged me for the last 11 years or so is why this happens... I couldn't explain it.

UNTIL NOW, that is.

If we call the smaller of the two consecutive integers M, then the larger of the two is (M + 1). To set up our equation mathematically, we end up with

(M + 1)² - M² = M + (M + 1)
(the sum of the integers equals the difference between the squares of those integers).

If my memory of high school algebra serves me right, we can use our good ol' FOIL method to expand and simplify the left hand side of the equation, like so:

(M + 1)² - M² = M + (M + 1)
(M + 1)² - M² = 2M + 1
(M² + 2M + 1) - M² = 2M + 1

2M + 1 = 2M + 1

So we end up with an identity function, basically (I think that's what this is called), when we solve algebraically.

I figured this one out while driving a few months ago, then as soon as I got home I scribbled it all down on a sheet of note-paper to make sure it made sense. Then I showed my freshmen. They were not quite as excited as I am.

I forgave them for this.

* * * * * * * *

Another way to do this is to look at it geometrically. Imagine, if you will, a square with sides of length M (where M is an integer). It might look like this:

Now, we're going to pick the right side and the bottom side, and extend each of them a distance of one (or, to put it another way, we're slapping an (M x 1) rectangle onto the right and bottom sides, each with an area of, you guessed it, M):

Doing this gives us an M² + M + M square units shape.

In order to make it a complete square, we gotta fill in that last gap, which, coincidentally, happens to be a (1 x 1) square.

So we end up with M² + 2m + 1 as the area of our slightly larger square, which happens to have sides of length (M + 1).

Which is pretty friggin' awesome.

* * * * * * * *

What I'd like to do now is figure out if this difference of squares = sum of square roots holds true for non-integers (right now, I'm mostly wondering about decimal numbers (non-irrational / repeating) and fractions... my suspicion is that it does not hold true for decimal numbers (as 1/10th squared is 1/100th, which is a tough number to get when you're adding/subtracting tenths).

But there might be other cool properties that I haven't figured out yet. One can only hope that this is the case.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

This is Getting Ridiculous

I have a Facebook account. It's true.

I also have an e-mail account.

Both accounts are used multiple times per day (not the Facebox account, as I can't access it at school, but I check it at home after school... still multiple times, but on a slightly smaller scale of multiple). I don't feel too terribly bad about this.

Not one bit.

I also use the GMail Notifier (both on my mac and on my PC), which is nice, because it pops up a notification when I get an e-mail (meaning that I don't have to keep my browser open if I want to know whether or not I'm receiving e-mails)... hence the name.

The Gmail notifier even sounds a tone when I'm typing lesson plans feverishly in my word processor (Open Office, yo!), or, more likely, blasting zombies in Left 4 Dead.

This is useful. It lets me know when I have e-mails. Even better, it pops up a little notification thingy letting me know if I have e-mails from real people, or that contain useful information (like where to go if I want cheap prescription drugs (read: penis enhancement) and/or pornography).

But it's getting out of hand. Before I started that last paragraph (the one with the word "penis" in it), my GMail notifier popped up, telling me that I had an e-mail. The e-mail, of course, was from the Facebook people, telling me that someone wrote on my wall. This is not an uncommon event.

So, I click on the little notification, which opens up my inbox. Then I open up the offending e-mail and click on the link that takes me to my Facebook page, at which point I can read the thing on my wall, and, should I feel inclined, respond to it (lately, it's mostly a series of "Your face" jokes... I might be at least partially responsible for this).

So, I get notifications... that tell me that I'm getting notifications... that someone communicated with/to me.

The next logical step, of course: set up my notifiers so that they send notification to my phone, which then forwards it to a courier service, who then prints out a hard copy and delivers it by carrier pigeon, but calls me first to tell me that the pigeons have been sent.

This is all entirely ridiculous.

Of course, I'm not about to change it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

TF2 on Ze Macintosh!

There are very few of you who will actually care about this, but I got Team Fortress 2 running on my shiny new Macbook today. Granted, it runs in 800x600, with none of the fancy effects (the medic ubercharge, for example, just applies a blue shading to the models, rather than the shiny metallic thing that goes in in DX 8 or 9, and water is just a flat blue splotch, rather than anything with translucency and/or texture), but it runs.

This whole process was substantially easier than I thought it might be.

First thing I did:
I got a Macbook. Had I not done that, I would not be writing this blog post, and you certainly would not be reading it. It has the aluminum unibody, and it also has "Pretentious Hipster" written all over it.

In invisible ink.

The second thing I did:
Downloaded "Crossfire Games" from (the trial, at least - still making up my mind on whether I want to give it an outright purchase... it's only $40, but I already *have* a PC on which I can play games). The install was painless, and it had a pre-set link to download Steam from the internet (as well as an option to install "The Orange Box" from the CD or DVD or whatever it is that it comes on... I bought it from the internet back when it came out, and as such, I have no disc).

From there, I did the usual Steam thing, and installed TF2.

Easy as pie.

Delicious, team-based combat pie.

Like I said, the graphics aren't too hot, but as stunning as TF2's art direction is (really - they did a fantastic job), I don't play it so that I can gawk at the graphics (well, I do, but that's what my PC is for).

Now, TF2 is a monster battery suck, which limits the options a bit (I'm okay with this...if I'm not somewhere with a convenient plug-in, I probably shouldn't be TF2-ing), but that too is easy enough to deal with (apparently we can plug in our laptops now... who knew?).

I'm still not fully sold on CrossOver Games, as I'm not sure if it's worth $40 to play games that I've already purchased, and which I can already play (on my desktop). The portability is nice (I spend most weekends either in Colorado Springs or in Lincoln), but I bought my laptop mostly for productivity purposes (I like to pretend that I'm a writer, and apparently I do this "teaching" thing as a profession, plus my work with the Nebraska Writers Collective), rather than for gaming purposes.

But if it can run Left 4 Dead (which, by the way, has my vote for "Game of the Year"), and if I can get Fallout 1 and 2 running on it (I bought them from, but haven't yet spent more than 10 minutes on them, which is simply a damn shame), and perhaps a good Doom client (some of my fondest memories of childhood are of running a serial cable between the mouse ports of my computer and my dad's computer, back in the days before any type of reasonable networking, and playing co-op through "Knee Deep in the Dead"... I still get the E1M1 theme stuck in my head from time to time, which is really pretty awesome), then it's like that I'll have accomplished 2 things: 1) written a really, really long sentence, and 2) set myself up to never get anything done ever again.

Now if only I can get rid of this nasty little habit I have of not being able to sleep if I don't feel that I've accomplished enough on a given day, I'll be absolutely golden.

For now, though, I'm off to rage silently against the holiday season some more. And to rock as a Heavy in "Dustbowl".

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Where to begin...

In an attempted diss, one of my freshmen said this to another: "Maybe if you weren't so busy pwning all the time, you wouldn't be so lame!"

(Cue Inigo Montoya: "That word, you keep using it. I do not think it means what you think it means.")


My 7th hour has been fascinated by witches these last few weeks, more or less since we finished reading The Crucible. After we finished that, we jumped tracks completely and moved into argumentative writing... for every issue, the solution, proposed by at least one or two of my 7th-hour-ers, has been to "Get rid of the witches, who cause (said issue) by ..."

Not exactly airtight logic, but it's funny enough that I can deal.

8th hour just tells me how they want the day to be done. They do not care about witches.


I've been teaching grammar to the freshmen (as it aligns with our curriculum), which, in its very literal sense, is simply a naming of the functions of words, from which a general pattern of how language works presumably emerges (these patterns already exist in the brain, as developmentally, kids use all of the major syntactic patterns by the time they're 5... but the vocabulary gets more complex, and the syntactic patterns start being nested within each other, to some degree), which in turn is supposed to make them into better writers.

I've got some issue, philosophically, with the assumptions beneath the teaching of grammar, but I have to work from within the pre-existing framework for now, as it's "the way we do things", in order to show at least a minimum competence and to then justify my departure from the established framework in years to come.

So I teach grammar.

This week, we've been doing the complements (direct object, indirect object, objective complement, and the 2 subject complements: Predicate Nominative and Predicate Adjective).

Teaching grammar is like pulling teeth, at times, in that the only way for me to do it efficiently is if I numb them first (or knock them unconscious... but I think I get in trouble for that one), so I've been pulling from the "Bag of Tricks", as it were, that teachers I've had have used.

In this case, I set up a series of powerpoint slides, each with a single sentence, and we turned it into a quasi-game show. Kids went up to the board, one by one, and it was a race-type deal, with a point for getting it right, and another for being the first (2 teams of 8 or so) to answer. The deal, then, was that their teammates had to be silent for the first 15 seconds that the question was up (after that, they could help).

Then we kept track of points.

The kids got really excited (not because of grammar, but because of the competitive nature), which turned into them getting really loud, but for once, almost all of them were paying attention, and they were listening to each other.

They learn better when they teach each other than they do when we, as teachers, try to teach them. Call it the increased feelings of self-efficacy that result from seeing a peer perform a task. Call it cooperative learning. But they question each other, they test their hypotheses, and they're more receptive to making mistakes (as it can be figured out).

Since I'm teaching things that are more or less issues of fact (rather than opinion), with the purpose being that students can take a body of knowledge, re-create it, and do something that looks like applying it, I'm more or less an arbiter of right and wrong... I try to recognize that, for a particular problem, there are several possible answers, but usually just one "best answer", but with the curriculum goals and state standards being mostly geared around the transmission of content (and the resultant assessment being whether or not students can re-produce that content), I simply don't know how to move away from being an arbiter of right and wrong and towards someone who guides self-driven learning and authentic problem solving, as there's no room for that in the curriculum.

Which means that moves like the trivia game are purely manipulative in nature, that is, they disguise the transmission of content (and the resultant "drill and kill") by turning it into something else (and tapping into the desire to be competitive).

And I'm on pretty shaky ground, ethically, for pullin' the ol' Game-Show-Switcharoo. But I'm rationalizing it with 1) "It means they're listening to each other and working cooperatively", and 2) If I'm gonna get yelled at for having a loud classroom, I'd rather it be because they're getting excited about the material at hand (even if only tangentially to the thing they're actually excited about) than about something else, and 3) As a teacher in the traditional vein (which hasn't really changed in definition, function, or methodology since, oh, 1890 or so), my job is almost purely one of convincing kids to sit down, shut up, and unscrew their skull-caps so that I can dump knowledge in, that is to say, the measurement of my value and skill is roughly akin to how well I get kids to jump through the hoops I've set out. Something like this makes me look good.

Though I'm not sure that it's actual teaching, and it still seems to be ethically shaky. But it'll have to suffice until I can find a better way to do it.

(And Margaret Spellings, when I do, I am going to take your office. You can empty out your desk, but you'd better believe that I will be sitting in your comfy chair).


I'm not writing as much as I should be. There's a poem about Kansas, a letter, and likely a few more that should be in the works, but aren't being worked on.

Plus, y'know, the diary of a first year teacher, the novel, and doing more research on democratic schooling (I've been reading Freire, but that's not nearly enough).

Drop a line and tell me how lame I am, or something. I probably miss you.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Oh Dear God, What Did I Do?

I have 800 pages of essays coming in tomorrow morning, with any luck (10 pages + 3 pg. author's notes for my juniors, 5 pages + 3 page authors' notes for freshmen plus another 5 for each group (avg. 1.8 pages/group member, ish).

Multiply that by 80 students (45 juniors, 35 freshmen).

I think we get something in the vicinity of 800.

And it all has to be graded before the end of the grading period, which happens on Friday, I think.

What was I thinking?


On the plus side, my left elbow is back to normal (the right one never left normal, baby!) - it pops a few times per day when I extend it, and last week it popped a little too loud, and all of a sudden my arm hurt whenever I came anywhere close to a full elbow extension (note: if I pushed through that, and got to where I maxed out the joint's range of motion, it was fine... until I wanted to move it again). But that's better now.

My left elbow, you see, is my clipboard-holdin' elbow. The hand with which I hold my clipboard is attached to this elbow. Then I write with my right hand. It makes sense if you think about it.


In other news, my cricket infestation has largely stopped due to the massive amounts of cold heading this way over the next several months.

In weirder news, most of the crickets that I've found for the last several weeks have only had one leg.

And there are some huge spiders. Huge!

The spiders aren't weird. They mostly just eat things (like crickets, I imagine, and possibly also my left-overs, though I've yet to see any evidence of this) and fight in my shower, which is fine except for the times when I am taking a shower.

Then it is slightly less fine. Because I am not a fan of being naked near arachnids.

Note to spiders: Wait until I am done, guys! Then you can cannibalize each other all you want. Just don't make a mess, stay quiet, and remember to flush and we will be cool.

Note to myself: Stop having everything be due at once! You are very silly!

Note to the state of Nebraska: I miss you something fierce. Come back?

Note to the state of denial: you and I are gettin' too close, lately. I think we should see other people.


Finally, obligatory piracy/copyright infringement):

(Click for full-size)

This comic sums up my current dilemma with education quite well. More to come on that later.

For now, it is time to sleep. We start standardized testing tomorrow (for the district's school improvement plan, I think). I'll need all of my energy to keep from stabbing myself with a #2 pencil.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Relationship Advice?

I was told today, by one of my freshmen: "Mr. Ek. You're 22. You need to find yourself a woman!"

I was also told today, by a different student, that "It's weird when teachers marry their students when they're, like, 20 years older. You shouldn't be allowed to do that if you're more than 5 or 10 years older than the student you're marrying."

(The latter asked me how old I was, and the former insinuated that it was because she wanted to date me. She got flustered, and said "What?! No! I was just curious." Then she talked about something I think she heard on the news, or from a previous school... I'm not entirely certain).

I don't think she realized that my oldest students are 5 years younger than me, and the vast majority are 6 years or 8 years younger than me. And most of them are much less than fond of me at the moment (10 page papers (minimum) due on Friday for my freshmen and my juniors... average point of progress right now, I think, is page 3. I expect some 11th hour heroics, and a whole lot of groaning (and thinly veiled threats) between now and then).

So it seems as though my single-tude is safe from the underlings for the time being, and I expect it will remain so into perpetuity.

Granted, I don't believe there are too many single ladies my age (or thereabouts) in town, if any, but I am not in the business of trying to "find a woman" just yet... maybe next month? We'll have to see what the Board says.



Right now, I'm trying to find a decent picture of the "velociraptor" skeleton that is archaeologized in "Jurassic Park" (the early scene in Montana, with the crazy imaging equipment), that is to say, a picture of a deinonychus or velociraptor (or similar dinosaur) in the classic back-arched death pose (roughly circular)...

I'm going to re-draw it, except with very minimalist, almost Bauhausian lines, and see if I can make it awesome and then turn it into a tattoo, possibly incorporating my e-mail signature ("Somewhere there is something incredible waiting to be discovered" -- The Imaginary Foundation), but possibly not... we shall see.

My friend Amanda found this picture, which is very close.

Now to the design and whatnot.


In other news, this is the best thing I've seen all week.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Home for the Weekend

Fresh banana bread, and free laundry are good reasons to go home for the weekend. I am convinced of such things.

So is the ability to go to the bookstore (to the best of my knowledge, the nearest bookstore of any reasonable size in my current town-of-residence is about 100 miles away) - I picked up a collection of Poetry, a book about the teaching of reading (hopefully it'll be at least somewhat worthwhile), and "The Watchmen" by Alan Moore, which thus far is proving to be fantastic.

Papers to grade and lessons to plan, and I spend my time reading a comic book (err, "Graphic Novel").

Still, no regrets.

Also: Finally saw "The Dark Knight" last night. I think I missed the first 10 minutes or so, but it was still fantastic. I sat too close to the screen (it was an IMAX theatre), which meant that the part of the screen I was looking at was not always the part of the screen in focus, but it was still a pretty fabulous movie.

In teaching news, my Juniors' portfolios are starting off marvelously - right now they're working through their stories, getting things done. It's neat to see.

My freshmen will be starting their quarter-projects here pretty soon. Like, on Tuesday. I'm excited.

I've found that, in terms of methodology, my favorite thing to do is work with individual students, or small groups of students as they try to solve a problem with an indefinite/not-yet-defined answer. It lets me engage them fully in process, with the assumption, I guess, that if the process of figuring stuff out works the way it should (and all the steps check out), then the end-result, whatever it is, will be mostly valid.

This might be a shaky assumption, but it's held up so far in my very short teaching career.

I had an observation on Thursday (By my principal)... since I still have a job, I must be at least minimally competent, which is good news, y'know? Hopefully that means that my assumptions/beliefs about teaching (such as my unwavering faith in process) are not too far misplaced.

In other news: Guaranteeing a victory for your high school football team, on the radio, is far from classy behavior for a coach, from what I can tell. So is insisting that such a victory is somehow a cog in your vendetta against said other team.

In case you were wondering.

Now: back to Laundry, and "The Watchmen". I've got a Ray LaMontaigne album to listen to, followed by the new Ratatat album.

Life is assuredly good.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My Favorite Thing About Being Here

My favorite thing about being here is that I can see the stars at night. There is almost no artificial light in town, and I can see even the faint, far-away stars that we can't normally see, thousands and thousands of them all at once.

This alone is reason to go driving at night.

They remind me just how big the universe is, and how incredibly small I am.

And I can see for billions of miles.

I want to drink the sky, and feel galaxies sloshing in my belly, but this is impossible.

Seeing it, seeing as much of it as I can see is, I suppose, the next best thing.

This alone is reason to go driving at nights.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Prufrocking Out, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Just Re-Arrange My Reading Seminar

The amount that I'm proud of my juniors right now is a very large amount. We have been reading "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", which is a very difficult read, even on a good day. More to the point, we started it last Tuesday, and have been plowing through it since then (with a break on Monday for writing).

Certainly nothing revolutionary, but I think they get it. I really do. We've dug through, line by line, stanza by stanza. We've done research. We've read articles (psychology stuff, tangentially related).

But the moment came today, when we debated. And my juniors got it. They really got it.

Tomorrow, we are reading "TS Eliot's Lost Hip-Hop Poem" (Audio Here), and finishing up "Prufrock"... two weeks, spent on 123 lines (if you do not count the indented lines as being their own lines). It was beastly. I told my juniors that. And they believe me.

The biggest victory, though, isn't in the understanding of Prufrock. That's just a poem. The big victory is how they're digging into the process of making meaning, the process of Figuring Stuff Out. That's the important part. They're trying to explain, they're looking for confouding variables, and they're trying as hard as they can to account for everything.

So we conquered a much larger beast than just a poem. We figured out how hard we need to work to figure out every single thing we'll ever read this year, and how deep we need to think just to start approaching a text.

I'm pumped.

Speaking of beasts to tackle, I've been struggling all month with trying to figure out what to do with my reading seminar. They're such a varied group of kids (ranging from really struggling with reading to needing just a little bit of confidence), and so I can't design a whole-class instructional thing that catches all of them in a way that is helpful to everyone.

So I am re-structuring this baby into a workshop. Kids will come in, grab their folders, sit down, write, work, read, whatever, on a couple of discrete and mostly self-defined projects, which will all come together to make their 1st Quarter Portfolio. I'll introduce this baby tomorrow, and we'll see what happens. I think it will work well, and this will be a good lab experiment, as it were, to see if all of this actually works.

That's right. I'm going Nancie Atwell on their arses.

I think it'll work. I really do. If it turns out well, I'm going to have my freshmen follow suit, if only for a month.

If it does not work, then I've only wasted a month.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Was going to spend tonight grading papers...

But sleeping is more important. I haven't been getting enough of it. Here's why:

1) Went back to Lincoln this weekend, saw some friends, at delicious potato bread, and saw at least 3 praying mantises, between 2 and 6 inches long. Then left to go back to Kansas far too late (830p... it's a 5 hour drive, made longer by me taking a quick nap at a rest-stop due to falling asleep.) after getting up at 6:15 that morning to eat delicious potato bread, which was brutal due to hanging out with friends until 1:30 or 2 am the night before.

I want to get back to Lincoln at least once or twice per month, but it's 10 or 11 hours of driving, and that's hard to justify (while I'm driving) sometimes, though completely worth it, I think.

I didn't feel as sick when I was leaving Lincoln this time as I did last time... that's a good sign.

2) First day back, they had me score-keep and line-judge for a volleyball tournament. Said tournament ran until 9:30 pm. I arrived at school at 7:30 that morning, on 3 hours of sleep. But the standing around (and cheering for our team, covertly, of course) made it a lot easier to be awake.

3) Frustration with writing. I've got things. I've got them in my head. But I forgot how to dump my head out... it all gets mixed together, and I can't tell if it belongs in one poem, or 2, or 7... and none of it is good enough yet that it answers those questions for me.

Commence beating my face against the desk.

End face-beating.

4) Teaching. Yeah. That. My juniors are reading "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" right now... it's a friggin' tough poem, and it's a lot for my juniors to take in. I know this.

But it's also beautifully written, full of all sorts of places where we can probe, and most importantly, it does not have a "set" interpretation (NEW CRITICAL THEORY LOSES!... or alternatively, "Thanks, Wikipedia!")... we can't account for everything.

I'm trying to get my students to realize that we're not looking for the answers, but rather we're pursuing the questions... I told them flat out that I don't understand this poem, but I'd like to, and I want them to help me with it. They seem skeptical, but that is alright.

My freshmen are going strong, at least as much as they can right now. We're studying irony. They don't quite get it yet, but I think they will. I hope they will.

I've got a few rock-stars in both classes (read: students who try really hard), and they make the day go by so much better.

That said, I need to be spending a lot more time grading papers and lesson-planning. But I'm doing what I can to make my students do more of the work, from handing stuff out to reading aloud and doing analysis.

5) The first-year-teacher project. It's a beast, and I'm spending a lot of time with it. No regrets, certainly no regrets, but in a lot of ways, it's just one more thing. I need to be spending more time with it.

6) High expectations. I've got 'em. For myself, for those around me, especially for my students, doubly-especially for myself. (Also, sentence fragments) Working toward those is tiring, and I get home most days wanting to eat and then sleep.

On the plus side, I am doing a slightly better job of remembering to bring a lunch on a daily basis. This is most likely a good thing.

Grocery shopping happens tomorrow.

In other news: I'm going to see if I can do something awesome with my reading-seminar kids. I'm still planning it right now, but we'll see where it goes... let's just say it involves awesomeness.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dear God, What Have I Done?

The bodies are everywhere.

* * *

I'm referring to the crickets, of course. I sprayed for bugs today... the crickets were keeping me awake, and I snapped. I bought bug spray last night.

I sprayed this morning, with a grim sense of purpose. I covered all the crannies and nooks I could find. I thoroughly coated all entry-ways to my apartment.

Stunning and releasing wasn't working.

So I killed them.

I just found a bunch of them in my bathroom, belly-up, some 14 hours after the deed. Their jumping legs extended straight out, their other legs (for non-jumping purposes?) curled up. Like they were praying to whatever cricket god crickets might believe in for mercy.

What have I done? What havoc have I wrought?

Bug spray is a fairly powerful neurotoxin. It takes over the nervous system, causing insects to uncontrollably spasm before they give out completely.

For years, I caught spiders and released them outside. I shooed beetles off the tennis courts so that I wouldn't step on them while sending yet another forehand wide and to the right (or while hitting any other shots... my concerns were not solely forehand-related!).

Where did those high-minded ethics go?

Were they crushed under the inevitable pragmatism of living in a basement apartment with lots of holes conveniently sized for insects? Was it me deciding that my interests are more important than those of the exoskeletal denizens of the earth?

I've heard it said that everyone starts off idealistic, and then becomes a Republican. (After life fails to live up to ideals, et cetera).

My ideals are the only thing that keeps me going, some days. They're almost solely the engine behind my teaching, and a lot of the engine behind the work that I do around teaching (the First Year Teacher book, for example).

Put simply, the belief that I can do it better than anyone else, in a more moral and ethical fashion, with more learning happening in my classrooms than in any other.

That's a hefty ideal, one that'll surely crack (and one that exposes my ego). But I've spent a lot of time, especially since January, doing my absolute best to figure out the most morally appropriate way for me to be a teacher while upholding the dignity of my students and of our study (of English/Literature). And I'm still thinking about that.

How long before I just spray RAID on all of it? How long until I trade a profession that keeps me up at night sometimes for one that turns me into some sort of undertaker, feeling a vague sense of guilt for yet another student whose love of learning I crushed, but mostly just hunger for a sandwich, and the desire to be out of the building 10 minutes after the last bell rings?

How long before I trade hard, sometimes quixotic work for an $8 can of bug spray that achieves the same ultimate goal.

How long before I decide that the end always justifies the means?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Crickets, part 2

I don't know how they get in.

It's time for them to leave.

My sister is here. We are hunting crickets. She is flanking them, and I am providing much of the brute force.

Our aim is to stun, and then release.

We are not so good at the stunning just yet.

Fortunately, at the rate the little guys keep coming in, I'll have lots of time to practice.

Going back to Lincoln needs to happen. And soon.

(On the plus side, my freshmen are adorable, all my students are well-behaved, and we're starting to get ready to do some good work... that is a big plus side. But I am quickly losing patience with insects).

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Things I've Learned

These are things that I've learned:

1) Ramen is not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Still a bit salty for my tastes, but not bad.

2) The names of all of my students. Without cheating by looking at the attendance sheet. I'll still have to do a quick re-cap for another day or two, but I nailed 100% (except for my identical twins in period 8, who, I kid you not, live up to the "identical" part of their twin-ship).

3) That it is possible to survive the first few days without wanting to die.

4) That it is also possible to, on the first day, barely eat any breakfast, skip lunch, have a bowl of ramen for dinner, and then on the second day have a cinnamon roll, skip lunch, and forget to eat dinner, and still not be entirely hungry. I'm going to eat. Don't worry. It's just that I have to remind myself to do so.

5) That 14 year olds are really impressed when you've got their names memorized by the end of the second day.

6) I only have one student who considers herself "a writer". And a whole bunch who claim an active dislike of writing.

7) They still write when I ask them to. Without complaining.

8) That it is possible to largely skip meals and still be moderately functional.

9) That I feel less homesick when I have lots of work to do

10) That I am still looking forward to going back to Lincoln as much as I'm looking forward to anything else right now.

11) That I do not know how to respond when I am asked "What do you believe about evolution?" and "What are your religious beliefs?" within minutes of each other. I want to be honest, I believe in an open, honest classroom, and I believe that, above all else, teachers must do everything they can to encourage that openness and honesty by modelling it. But this type of question has bigger implications.

12) That sleeping is easier without crickets.

13) That I still have no idea how much material my students have covered, or how much work I'll need to do to get them to where they can do the work I want them to do. This is why we have vertical curricula based on skill-sets used toward problem-solving, people! To prevent things like this!

14) That I am going to make a delicious smoothie tomorrow morning, and also a delicious sandwich for lunch. And I will do such things with gusto.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Okay, Crickets, Prepare to Meet Your Doom!

I have a cricket in my closet. It's been chirping at about 1 chirp per second since 2 am. It's hiding behind a pipe that I assume is used for water, or heating, or whatever it is that massive pipes are used for.

I can hear it.

With my hearing-aids off. And a fan going.

Let me reiterate. I can hear the little bugger.

This means that it is rather loud.

It is probably just one of them, a male. Not a family. But if Wikipedia is any indicator, this little guy is trying to attract a female cricket so they can start a little cricket family with 2 1/2 cricket kids and a little white cricket picket fence.

I tried shouting out to him "Hey dude, I'm single, too, but you do not see me chirping about it!"

Nothing but the piercing chirp-chirp-chirp filled the air.

Then the obligatory, "If you come out, I'll put you outside where all the female crickets are, and you can chirp to your heart's content!"

Again, no change. Just chirps.

And I am not able to rub my left forewing against the edge of my right forewing (given that I do not have either), which makes it rather difficult to chirp back at him.

So far, my plan has been a careful catch and release - this cricket made the honest mistake of assuming that I am a swinging bachelor (the only swinging I do is on a swing-set... and only then until I get nauseous or fall off, which I guess usually takes quite a while), which I guess is understandable (I'm giving him leeway in judgment because he is a cricket) - but that plan might change if I can't coax him out from behind the pipe in my closet.

Of course, there's nothing else that I can do to him back there, short of purchasing bug spray.

It's an ethical dilemma. Should I punish this cricket for being a cricket? Should I attack without mercy? Become nocturnal and be the type of teacher who shows videos everyday along with multiple choice questions and then falls asleep 8 minutes into every period only to wake up very startled and disoriented (those of you who have lived with me have seen this) when students decide to do things other than sit still and fill out their multiple choice test?

He's still chirping.

I'm not even supposed to be able to hear higher frequency stuff, and I can hear this.

I'd love to catch the little guy and send him back outside. One of my windows has a broken screen, so I occasionally find massive grasshoppers clinging to the inside of it... this window also no longer shuts, apparently, so we'll have to find some fix for that before too long. That, plus some weather-stripping on my door should keep too many more from climbing in, I hope.

Thank goodness it's time to go to school, do lesson plans, etc. Teaching starts tomorrow. And I've told you about crickets.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Last day of the National Poetry Slam, first day of the hereafter

So Nationals is over. Officially. Team Charlotte (NC) won. LouderArts placed second - we were pulling for them. I was really hoping that Boston CanTab would win, but they didn't get the scores.

The whole night was fantastic.

Other highlights for today:

- Going to the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art with Stacy Fox and Chris. The architecture is ABSOLUTELY gorgeous. I had to take a bunch of moments just to sit and soak it all in.

There were a few neat pieces of art, but the real winner was the architecture; the museum is attached to the Overture Center, which is where the semi-finals and finals bouts happened.

Gorgeous. I want to go back just to take pictures of the space.

* * * * * * * * * *

We head back to Lincoln tomorrow morning. I'm hoping to leave as early as possible, as there's a 5 hour drive back to Oakley, KS waiting for me when we get back. It'll be nice to get down and start work the next the morning, but there's a lot of stuff to get done between now and then.

Things I'm excited about: getting to participate in Denver's slam community (sorry, Lincolnites - they're closer), starting work, and also working on all sorts of new projects.

In the works: A poem about dinosaurs, a re-write of "Divine Epistolary", a few essays, some research on the ways in which we teach literature (philosophical approaches, not methods), putting together aaaaallll of my curriculum, etc., and unpacking/minimizing all of my crap which currently resides in boxes.

I'm sick of boxes.

Now it's time for pizza.

Friday, August 8, 2008

National Poetry Slam, Semi-finals report

Anis Mojgani is the best sperm ever.

* * * * * * * *

So we had our semi-finals bout today, against Boston CanTab, Oakland, San Francisco, and Denver Merc. It was in an ABSOLUTELY gorgeous theater, the Overture Center in Madison.

Talk about Gorgeous. It was built in the 30's, absolutely opulent, with modernist sensibilities. I had to take a few minutes before the bout started just to take in the detailing. The acoustics were great, the theater was fantastic, and it made everything sound better, look better and feel better.

Not that our bout needed it, of course.

Boston's first piece rocked our faces off. Absolutely rocked it. So did their second piece, a poem by Brian Ellis that had both extended metaphors and Abigail Adams. We sent up "Diction" (by Oracle Jones), dom'd up and about ready to explode in the first round. Oakland sent up a fellow who was reading a gorgeous piece off of paper... that hurt him, but the poem was still awesome.

We sent up "Fire Marshall" second. At the urging of Ross and JM, I prepped the piece for the ASL Slam (Friday Morning), and we liked it enough like that (there's some neat rhythmic stuff going on) we decided to keep it for semis.

So there I was, second round, prepping a piece that I'd spent a total of 4 hours rehearsing and practicing. It was nuts, and I thought I'd pass out.

But it went over well.

(Aside: one of the best parts of the night: Sean Conlon, Anis Mojgani, JW Baz, and Brian Ellis all telling me how much they liked "Fire Marshall"... these guys are real writers. Anis even called me over (via John Mark) and told me the specific line that he liked the most. Oh goodness.)

Third round, JM and I went up for the new "Magyarazni (Hungarian)" piece. We practiced some tight choreography, and I could hear the crowd clapping at some of those moments. We didn't pull the score we wanted, but on the other hand, it got a 10, so that was awesome.

Going into the fourth round, we needed a 28.0 to beat Denver and a 29.0 to beat Boston CanTab (we were the last poem in the bout; poems are scored out of 30). Ryan sent up "Vivisection Valentine", a duet with JM and Ross that's gotten mixed reviews. The scores tanked, and we ended up in third place (about 2 points behind Denver, 3 behind Boston - bouts are scored out of 120), but it was amazing. The judges were rewarding good writing and risk-taking, and frankly, that piece wasn't as strong as some of the stuff that Boston had sent up. That said, I heard from Ross how Brian Ellis was impressed by how we sent it up, knowing that it probably wouldn't score what we needed.

I don't at all feel bad that we lost. We made the semi-finals, produced a big showing, and did some really original, artistic stuff with a lot of literary merit. The "Magyarazni" poem remains one of my favourites, and we got to hear some awesome stuff.

In other news:

The group piece finals were pretty entertaining. There were a lot of pieces that were much more flash than substance, but the choreography and scripting were INCREDIBLY tight throughout. One of the highlights was Chicago (Green Mill)'s piece told from the perspective of a testicle dead-set on producing the winning sperm.

This is when Anis Mojgani ran across the stage, while about 20 other people ran around the audience wiggling "I'm a sperm, I'm a sperm!"

Highlight: Robbie Q mistaking the interpreter for an egg and repeatedly nudging the guy with his head.

(Aside: the interpreters were fantastic, and really nice people, to boot).

NYC-Urbana took the group-piece title, with two extremely slick pieces. I normally dislike when poets start singing during their pieces, especially to start them, but Urbana did it and made me like it with an open letter to Al Sharpton.

In other news, it's 1:36 am, and I haven't eaten since breakfast. I'm going to go find some pizza. I'm sure I'm forgetting more than a few of the highlights of today, but it's been a very, very good day.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Madison, Day "I no longer know how to use numbers"

We had our second bout last night, against Honolulu, Durham (NC) and Milwaukee; came in second to a very loud and energetic Honolulu team... they got up on the stage and simply owned it. Most of the pieces we heard last night were very much of the "I'm loud and I have an agenda", which was a bit sad as I tend to go for the much more literary stuff a lot more... but seeing Honolulu's very tight performance was awesome, and both Durham and Milwaukee had some really nice moments in their poems.

As a result of this bout, our total score is a 3 (220.3 cumulative score) [a 1 for first place in a bout, a 2 for second place, etc), which puts us in 3rd place overall among teams who have completed both bouts, and virtually guarantees a spot in the semi-finals.

This is pretty exciting.

In other news, I read "My Drifting Ship" by Shannon Leigh (she's a slam poet from Austin/Atlanta (both communities claim her) who died in a cave-diving accident a month or two back). The book is poems by and about her, and all of its proceeds go to her family to help them pay for medical expenses.

My reaction is a simple: Wow. She's talented. She's talented in the same way that someone who is one of the best that ever was and will be is talented. I've read "Underwater" twenty or thirty times and it still surprises me.

While reading Shannon Leigh's book, I ate a delicious omelette from Marigold's Kitchen. We had pancakes there the day before, and an omelette yesterday. It was awesome.

Other highlights:

-Seeing Beth just nail "Blue Shirt".
-Rocking the audience with "Redwood Spines"
-Seeing a bit of the haiku deathmatch... I wasn't feeling too great (back spasms), so I skipped out after the first round, but it was enjoyable.

We're only practicing, going to workshops, and seeing bouts today. I think I'm going to go see Hampshire College v. Denver Merc (there's a LouderArts v. Chicago Mental Graffiti bout going on at the same time, but I like Hampshire and Denver's stuff).

I plan on spending at least a little bit of today wandering around downtown Madison. This city is so beautiful. I wish I could spend summers here.

More to come when we figure out what we're doing for semi-finals and when/where/against whom.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Madison, Day 1, pt. 2

It's just a bit after 1:20 am on Wednesday as I write this. We've just finished a really long friggin' day... by which I mean possibly one of the best days I've ever had.

Here are reasons:

1) We won our first bout (against Sacramento, Mesa (AZ), and Columbus Black Pearl (OH)) by a pretty decent margin. Highlights include an Indy by Will Evans that gave me chills, and Ross nailing the highest score in the bout with "Test".

Big Poppa E ran the bout (he gave me a book of haiku), and just nailed everything. He's awesome. And reminds me of Kevin Spacey. I'm not sure why.

2) Immediately after our bout, we watched NYC-LouderArts, White Plains, Hampshire College and Flagstaff (AZ)); LouderArts is amazing... just downright amazing. Hampshire College came out swinging and did not disappoint me in the least.

White Plains sent up Anne-Marie (who, I swear, has to be old enough to be my mother); she read a highly charged (read: sexual metaphors throughout) piece about poetry-writing... after the poem was over, Roger BonAir-Agard turned to JohnMark and I and said "I love America. I LOVE America".

Then Rachel McKibbens made us all cry. And no one was ashamed of this.

Other highlights: another fellow from White Plains reading a love poem to a Victoria's Secret mannequin... full of puns. There was very much a moment where he said that he was the cure for Mannequin Depression.

I was pleased.

Very pleased.

3) Eating pizza with the Denver Merc kids. Kenny Arkind and I had the same beverage. It was delightful.

At this point, if I take in any more words, my brain will explode and I will never be able to speak again. It's time to fall asleep.

Madison, Day 1

We rolled into Madison, WI at about 6 pm yesterday (for the National Poetry Slam). Here's what's happened between then and now:

  1. Ate noodles with the Denver Merc team, and was pointed at by Amy Everheart and Ken Arkind. These things are both firsts for me.
  2. Shared a table at the Nitty Gritty with a bunch of poets. Saw Alvin Lau dancing. Met Wonder Dave (from the Twin Cities), Clute (from Arizona) and Liza and Lee from Albuquerque.
  3. Nearly got lost in downtown Madison.
  4. Ate the most delicious pancakes in the world this morning, met even more poets.
This is awesome, folks; I'm meeting people I've only seen YouTube videos of (or heard of), and Madison is an absolutely gorgeous city (if I could marry its architecture, I'd so do it).

And there's a sign language slam!

We've got our first bout tonight. I have no idea what's going on, but it's fun.

For now, I'm going to spend some time with the Kansas reading and writing standards until orientation.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Getting my Architectural Jonesing In" or "Why My Wrists Hurt a Lot"

My first semester of college, I was an architecture major. I quickly figured out that it wasn't for me (deficit of talent + inability to go sleepless more than 2 days without hallucinating), and since then, I haven't done any work even remotely resembling the visual arts, save for photoshopping the occasional picture.

While doing some reading a few days ago, I came across Google SketchUp, an earlier version of which I used in one of my VisLit projects. Google took the $495 piece of software (I only used the time-limited free trial) and released it, in its entirety, for free.

Too good to be true. But it was/is.

The toolset is much cleaner, and it's a lot easier to use than I remember SketchUp being.

I spent some time dinking around before trying to figure out how to make the windows of an office building I remember seeing in Colorado Springs (windows pictured to the right).

And of course I had to keep going.

SketchUp offers a way to build Components, which is essentially a grouped set of objects that can be replicated elsewhere, with the added feature of all copies of the original component will update themselves automatically as the original is edited (which saves the trouble of having to re-copy/paste everything).


I turned the little boxy office rooms into components, and stacked them on top of each other. Of course, this meant I needed a staircase.

I added a bunch of windows so that there'd be a lot of light (nothing's worse than a dark staircase), and also some curved bits to break up the orthagonal thing I had going on (you can see them on the left side of the staircase, even with the top stair on a flight (just below the landing).

I didn't see any stairs that I liked in the component library (which, by the way, is a nifty little feature), which meant I had to build my own. If I were to go back and re-build them, I'd do some work with making sure the stairs were of even height. I know how to bi-sect a given face/edge, but it'd be neat to be able to divide it up into different areas... that's something I still need to learn.

Going with the windows thing, I decided to play a bit more with the curvilinear theme (though at a fraction of a fraction of a percentage of what Frank Gehry does), and added a big, swooping walkway that sits suspended off the ground, and whose entrance and exists are the landings for the main staircase. The offset means I've got an awkward bit of space underneath it, but I'll find something awesome there (I'm thinking of raising the whole building up off the ground, then making that the entryway).

The curved hallway was the hardest thing to do. I wanted big windows, but I had a hard time figuring out how to make them. I'll probably have to go back and re-draw all the curved walls with polygons, at least until I figure out a more elegant solution (I'm sure that one exists, but brute force is all I know). So there's only one "window" there, and even then, it's mostly a rectangular hole in the wall.

But the whole thing is made of numbers, so I can't exactly complain.

And I'm having more than a bit of fun with it. I don't forsee any pragmatic use for this just yet (this may be an option for a project for my students at some point... except related to literature... and graded...), though I'll probably use it to sketch out the buildings and such for my novel (it's so much faster for me than pen/paper... a testament to my horrendous motor skills and shaky hands), so as to visualize everything in a perfect/awesome fashion. Or a substitute for all the time I've been spending on slam poetry (as my career as a poet is rapidly coming to a hiatus).

For now, though, it's a means of getting my architectural jonesing in again. It's been a long 3 1/2 years without it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Last Slam in Lincoln, plus a new poem

Here are the news for slam-poetry:

1) I am now in the "Vagina" poem instead of John Mark. Oracle J and I are working some really awesome choreography; my job is to channel the internal 13-year-old who doesn't shut up with the puns, except lewd.

I was totally that 13-year-old with the puns, but I didn't know enough innuendo to be too terribly lewd.

Plus it means I don't need to stay still for a poem for once.

2) John Mark and I re-wrote "Magyarazni" (the Hungarian Poem) completely. It's now about finding places that are home. It's also probably a lot better, though I'd imagine that John Mark might still desire to strangle me just a little bit. Though I can't say I blame him, especially given how much work I was making him do at 1 am.

3) Slammed the last time ever in Lincoln, at least on an individual basis. I can't say that it's entirely sunken in just yet. Bob Nelson, from Arizona was there, and he did a rockin' feature - nothing too loud or crazy, just a good guy reading some good poetry. I read "Magnifying Glass" and it seems as though I was in 2nd place (behind good ol' Chris Book) going into the second round, before I brought out Redwood Spines (an automatic DQ 'cause it's co-written, rather than entirely original), and then proceeded to forget major portions... it'd have been much easier if JM was there so I didn't have to remember his lines. I should have run an Italian or something, but one of the judges gave me Avogadro's number as a score, which totally made my night. Chris Book ended up winning with the ADHD poem, and pulled a much tighter performance of it than I remember him doing before. Which is awesome.

After that, Bob, Ryan, and company went to IHOP (Ryan made me go with, under penalty of death), and we talked about non-profit organizations. Bob has some awesome things to say, and we all learned a lot. I'd capitalize "lot", but even that would not convey the magnitude of things learned... sometimes typography is remarkably underwhelming.

So it was a good night.

Here's the poem I was going to read in the 2nd round before I decided to go with something louder and bigger:


We knew the war was over when
daisies started growing out of the tanks.
They took root in the iron and steel,
leeched the oil and gasoline from the engines
and forced their roots into the seams and joints,
through the rivets and welds
and tore the tanks apart.

The daisies grew fast,
the roots forced their way into the tanks
and into the mouths of the soldiers inside,
frothy, verdant suffocation.

We knew the war was over when the artillery shells
stopped exploding, their dull muted thuds
absorbed by the rainforest that grew around them,
and the cannons were pulled into the ground
and devoured by a carpet of creeper vines.

The creeper vines snaked along the causeway
covering our roads and enveloping our houses
in thick leafy fecundity, forcing open the walls
and cracking the foundations, dissolving the mortar
and bringing our buildings in on themselves

We knew the war was over when
the rifles disintegrated in our hands
covered by bullet-stained moss.
when our pockets were full of only brass casings
and grenade pins.

We didn't see the wall of water come
after the dams crumbled, the way it swept away
the bridges and jeeps, the way it carried away
the bodies and the rubble, the way it knocked
us to the ground and left us gasping for air
amidst the puddles and pools.

We knew the war was over when the wheat fields and
orchards grew back, sopping up the water and
turning the air sticky moist with the aftertaste of death done.

We went to the fields hungry, scared and tired,
eating the fruit as it grew and filling our distended bellies
until our ribs were no longer visible.

We harvested wheat as juice ran down our chins.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Lincoln Slam Team Feature Performance

So, one of the perks of this summer is that I get to be on Lincoln's Slam Poetry team. This is awesome. We've been spending the summer prepping for the National Poetry Slam (Aug 3-9 in Madison, WI), which this year apparently is emphasizing group pieces (poems with more than one person on the stage).

To that end, we've been working almost solely on group poems all summer. And last night, we finally got to test them out in front of a live audience. Granted, this entailed some feverish memorizing, and more than a bit of the ol' elevated blood pressure and hand-wringing from Ryan (the team coach and manager), but it was awesome to finally get to perform these poems somewhere other than Ryan's living room.

To that end, here's the performance (divided up into 3 parts for your viewing pleasure):

Part 1: "Test", "Unicorn", "Dear Student"

Part 2: "Vagina", "Gravity", "Magyarazni (The Hungarian Poem)"

Part 3: "Cannibal Love Poem", "Blue Shirt", "Dig Slow, Make Bones From Poems (The ASL Poem)"

The performances are still a bit rough (some of these were memorized that morning), but we've got 9 poems in the can, which leaves us to spend the rest of the summer tuning and perfecting, and it's a great feeling to know that we've got this much done already.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Poem: "Dear Magnifying Glass"

Dear Magnifying Glass,
It's been a while since we last talked
and I feel like I owe you an update:

There've been a lot of changes since the last time you saw me,
but that isn't to say that everything's different.
Some things are the way they were before.

For example, If you were to look under my bed you'd find that
I've still got a pair of size twelve shoes tucked beneath the frame.
You remember the joke my parents used to tell,
how they thought my shoe size and my age would
stay the same forever. You laughed every time, but that joke
stopped working when I turned thirteen and my feet stayed size 12.
My parents will still tell it if you give them the chance.

Part of the difference is that I'm finally growing into my feet,
I'm starting to figure out the breadth of my shoulders
and the span of my reach. I'm almost a human being now.
My spine is still wrapped with piano wire that keeps me
rigid upright, but it's slowly loosening.

Iambic chest pump beating
per-fect myself
per-fection I must become
per-fect I must make myself

but it doesn't beat loud like it used to
and I have you to thank, Magnifying Glass,
for showing me how to look for my redeeming features
and now the list of my personal failings I keep hidden
beneath my mattress is a lot shorter than it used to be.

I've become more honest, too, than you might remember
And I don't hate myself as much.

Along with my good, you taught me to look for God,
Magnifying Glass, and I built my vertebrae like the
Tower of Babel every night, I wanted nothing more than
to see the face of God, and yeah, I read my Bible, I knew
no one survives something like that but it was all I could do
to escape the crushing weight of my own inadequacies
written all around the inside of my skull.

I don't pray anymore for death.
I barely pray at all, but when I do, it's for peace.

There's an opera-house in your eyes, Magnifying Glass,
but I haven't heard divine since the last time I heard you sing.
It's not that I've stopped listening; my ears are still open.
I just don't try as hard to hear what I can't.

I spend my time instead unwrapping the piano wire around
my spine that keeps me rigid upright. I'm learning flexibility.
And I don't stack my vertebrae like the Tower of Babel anymore,
I don't measure myself by how close I am to reaching heaven.

I'd rather measuring myself along the curve of your spine, but
Magnifying Glass, we speak different languages now,
so what's the use?

I've got a 4 AM bottle of whiskey that says “I still love you”
but I'm not much into liquid courage these days
I'd prefer the real thing,
Iambic heart-pump beating soft

Friday, July 4, 2008

Things I Am Extremely Excited About, July 4th Edition

1) We are doing a poem next Thursday in Hungarian. And another in Sign Language. This is more awesome than I dare to quantify.

2) Federbot v. Nadal @ Wimbledon. Here's hoping for another 5-setter.

3) My "Chronicles of a First Year Teacher" project is starting to shape up nicely... now to keep pushing people so that they're all on-board.

4) On a similar note, my educational "Wiki" site is also shaping up nicely. To do: Build my grading policies (and run them by my administrators), figure out how to integrate my calendars and whatnot onto the site, and most importantly, rough out a plan for the first quarter/semester/year.

5) We are doing a poem in Hungarian and another in Sign Language on Thursday!

6) "Redwood Spines" (see old draft below) is 10x funnier, and also at least twice as ribald.

7) I'll get to see Shira Erlichman perform in about a month. If the chance to see Shira Erlichman does not sound exciting, you sincerely need to re-examine your priorities.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Love Poem for the Fire Marshall

Fire Marshall,
I have seen you sitting alone
Fire Marshall alone with your moustache
and your two way radio always ready
Fire Marshall always ready with your radio
you make the calls the lights light up
you make the calls you send the trucks
you extinguish the fires

and it is safe Fire Marshall safe in your
office with the lights and the radio
you make the rules and regulations
you make the calls and there are no fires

but you sleep alone, Fire Marshall
Alone you wake up in cold sweat scared
Fire Marshall scared that the lights will light up
and no one will send the trucks
and the radio will be silent Fire Marshall silent
at night you sleep alone

I sleep alone, too, Fire Marshall
and every morning when my alarm goes off
I read love poems and mark them with red pen
so I can pretend that someone was there
I make my bed before I leave just in case
it needs to look respectable

Every morning when your alarm goes off
you trim your moustache Fire Marshall
you trim it to precision and you
button up your shirts in case you gotta
look like somebody over your two-way radio

"God is in the details" we tell ourselves
Men like you and me, Fire Marshall,
we think in Algorithms and we worship the big Rule #1:
"Fall into place and you'll get your food"
Men like you and me, Fire Marshall, we pride ourselves
on being gears tickin' to the clockwork of the cosmos
so we get our daily bread.

But you still sleep cold sweats alone
with your radio Fire Marshall
Jumpin' at the lights and making the rules
and I still read love poems at 4:30 am
so I can pretend I didn't wake up by myself.

I'm tired, Fire Marshall, I'm tired of the big rule,
I don't think God works in algorithms
and the teeth of my gears are worn down
which makes it harder and harder to
keep spinning in circles

I'd kill, Fire Marshall, I'd kill to have a
moustache like yours but I can't grow one yet
and the more I hear about earthquakes in China
and burmese cyclones and starvation in Africa
the more I'm convinced that the universe is smaller than we think
and that maybe there isn't a place for everyone anymore
and maybe when all of our gear teeth wear away
we're just spinning nowhere and
maybe there aren't enough places for us all to fall into

So melt me down, Fire Marshall,
hold me over the fire ignore your lights for a minute
and re-cast me into a sphere
push me down a mountain or
fling me from your trucks and
let me roll because those rules and algorithms
make for bread but they don't make for life

my gear teeth are ground down Fire Marshall
and so are yours
stop trimming your damn moustache
leave your two way radio and your lights

let's go find new gear teeth so you can sleep
through the night and I can stop reading poetry
and neither of us will be alone

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Poem: Redwood Spines

You ask me, dear student, why I'm making you read aloud
why just writing isn't enough.
You tell me you're tired angry frustrated narcoleptic
downright pissy with a middle-finger sized chip on your
shoulder so why can't I leave you the hell alone.

Listen up, because this is bigger than the now

Look at the paper on the desk in front of you
look at the stack of papers on my desk
A tree had to die for them to exist
and you know where that tree went?
your spine, you've got a mighty redwood tall and glorious
for a backbone you just don't know it quite yet
My job is to help you find it.

It's okay if it hurts for a while. New spines usually do.

Secret #1: You're gonna need that spine for what I'm
about to ask of you.

That tree we killed left a column of air unsupported,
and that column's job is to hold up the stratosphere
keep it from sinking in
We've already got a hole in the ozone layer
don't need the atmosphere to drop down
and smother us anymore than it already has

You gotta be strong enough to keep the stratosphere up
It's the only way your ideas can take flight

Secret #2: There's an atom bomb in your voice-box
and the timer's ticking it's been ticking since the day
I met you, dear student.

Let it explode.

You've got your redwood spine it'll keep you upright
now let that voice box explode I'm talkin' about volume
I'm talkin' mushroom clouds so thick they block out the sun
I'm talkin' 9.7 on the Richter scale measured halfway around the world
I'm talkin' tsunamis as tall as the redwoods
but you're taller your roots run deep your spine is strong

You are an earth-shaker mountain-maker so powerful
that when you destroy something you make it more beautiful

And when I photocopy every page you've written a thousand million times
and build a life-sized paper-mache working replica of the universe
I want you to open your mouth and
smash it into a million pieces light so bright
I go blind 'cause looking at the crater you leave
is like looking at the face of god,

and then you shove a stick of dynamite in each of my ears
and push the plunger, telling me "In case you didn't hear,
this is what it's supposed to sound like."

It's okay if I go deaf. I already know sign language.

Secret #3: Your words are powerful, like redwood spine powerful
like mountain-moving powerful

I want each page to be like a bottle-rocket library
all fired at my eardrums as soon as you whisper
'cause we don't write five-paragraph essays here
we write 5-part controlled demolitions

And after you've whispered, I want you to stand up
tall and straight with your redwood spine, and from your
atom-bomb voicebox I want you to dare me, just dare me
to knock that middle-finger sized chip off your shoulder

and when I do, dear student,
I want your words to grab me by the throat
and sucker punch me in the kidneys
again and again and again and again
until you've shared with me your ideas in full
and I understand: glorious, violent comprehension

Finding your redwood spines and atom-bomb voice-boxes is worth it.

It's okay if I piss blood for a week - this is bigger than the now.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Poem: Come in From the Rain

I'm at the coffee shop grading papers
when you sit down next to me
"just for a minute while you wait for someone", you say
with a smile and I can see by your clothes that it's raining outside
raining cats and dogs
and as you brush a strand of hair out of your eyes
I get lost in them, eyes black like outer space
and I can see the stars so many stars infinite stars in infinite space
and other worlds and the sun
and I can see all the possibilities
and I can see you and I become "us"
and all I want is to be a satellite
orbiting the moons of your irises
watchin' the comets of the raindrops
down your cheek go by
and I want you to leave with me now
and it's then that I realize that I'm staring
and its creepy
and I need to stop

but my dream engine is running,
a-put-a-put-a-pitta-pitta and those dreams
come out in little puffs of technicolour exhaust
and tonight, baby, I'm dreaming in colour

And every time I look at you
wet cuffs and hair that keeps
dripping down into your eyes
I feel electric, girl-who-walks-through-the-rain
and my dream engine is revving
and my dreams are comin' out
in big technicolour clouds so thick
we could just hop on and let them carry us

to somewhere where it rains every goddamn glorious day
and we'd walk without umbrellas through
the rain without caring about lightning
'cause darling, things couldn't get any more electric
Hell, we could go to the moon on clouds this thick

And you're outta this world
I'm sorry for the shitty metaphors, but I hear
they're a part of falling in love, babe,
and I'll never stop makin' 'em for you
I'll be a fountain of metaphors for you

I don't know you yet, girl-who-walks-through-the-rain
but I will, darlin', I will, and when I do,
my metaphors will be florid and sanguine

sanguine becase 'cause I feel that electricity
deep in my blood
arcing from blood cell to blood cell and
turning my heart into a great big tesla coil
shooting bolts of pure electricity
straight outta my chest and into
each and every single one of you
because today, I love each and every single one of you

The problem though, girl-who-walks-through-the-rain,
is that you're getting up and leaving
with the gentleman at the door
who greets you with a wet hug and an even wetter kiss
and you're skipping back out into the rain
and out of my life
stars receding and I'm standing here punch drunk star-struck

And now it's just me and that wet spot
on the chair next to me and my dream engine
is still running, a-put-a-put-a-pitta-pitta
and darlin', all that electricity left with you

But my dream engine is still going
and I'm gonna ride it to the top of the
highest mountain I can find.
Where the sky is huge and black
and stars are infinite and I can see the satellites going by
even if that satellite isn't me

And if you ever decide to come back in out of the rain
you'll find me up there.
I'm not a mountaintop guru. I don't have any wisdom
All I have to offer is me and my dream engine.
I'll be the one waving a metal pole around
every dry and stormy afternoon
tryin' to recapture just a bit of that electricity
Tryin' to feel you again.

Poem: In the Mother Teresa Hallway

In the Mother Teresa Hall
I see 2nd hour Mathilda bumps into 6th hour Paul
She is not looking where she is going
she is texting surreptitiously
doesn't she know that this hallway
is practically a church and
therefore not the place
for this type of thing
doesn't she know
that she should watch
where she is going
doesn't she know that
even though we're in a public school this
is the Mother Teresa Hallways
and therefore an almost-sacred place?

I know that Paul has a pass he's on his way
to the library but he gets distracted
by Mother Teresa every time
stands in veneration
feels like he should say his rosaries
or a Hail Mary
or the Apostle's Creed
but right now he's standing in
adoration adulation veneration
of Mathilda and feels like he should say something

Hail Mary full of grace hi I'm paul
we have math together with Mrs. White
and would you like to grab some dinner tonight
with me or maybe lunch tomorrow or we could even
sneak into the teachers' lounge right now while Ms. Roberts
takes her nap
Hail Mary Full of Life please say yes
please smile please know that I'm alive
please know that I exist

please don't walk away.

But when it comes out, Paul sounds like "Oops. Sorry."

And Mathilda doesn't know that she's supposed to stop
supposed to say hi
supposed to put the phone away
until Paul gives her his number
she keeps walking
she doesn't know that she should join him
in adoration veneration

and I can see Paul's words sitting
right behind his apology lurking waiting hoping to be freed

I'm a teacher, see, and I've got eyes on the front of my head
and the back of my head and on my left and right cheeks
but all the hindsight in the world ain't gonna help
with what's right in front of me

I know english and literature
I can deconstruct anything
I can high-five with the best of 'em and
I can grammarize like a fiend

but nothing I can do will help 6th-hour Paul
Who is right in front of me
while 3rd hour Mathilda just walks away
I could take her phone, she's not supposed to have it in school
but that won't solve anything

I can teach Paul stories about love, and about the heart's longing
I can give him Cyrano de Bergerac and Shakespeare and Austen
and Hemingway
but they're not advice manuals, they're equipment for living
and I'm the idiot manning the story-rental-shack.

Paul will probably eat lunch in my room today
like he does most days.
and when he talks, I'm going to see if I can listen to what
he's trying to say, not just what he says out loud
And Hail Mary full of hope, I hope it helps.

Poem: Gravity (2)

I'm at the family reunion, it's the middle of the afternoon
And five year old cousin Harley-Named-For-A-Motorcycle
is in the sandbox again, digging a hole to China, according to my great-aunt.

My uncle wipes the sweat off his forehead.
“She hasn't been the same since her brother got run over,”
Midwestern understatement dripping off his words
My great-aunt nods, that nod reserved only for funerals of children
and birthday parties of people you don't know

and I leave before she can ask me how I've been doing since my mother died.
In the midwest, people only talk about things they know,
and the only things these relatives have in common are death and the weather
We covered June through August during lunch time
before the apologetic July sun got too high
beating down sayin' I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry
but you need me to live please forgive me I'm sorry

I crouch down next to Harley so that we're almost the same height
and I can pretend that we're equals for just a moment,
but she's waist-deep in the middle of the sandy pit she's been working on since lunch-time.
tiny grains all around cascading back in,
almost but not quite filling in the space around her

“What are you digging for?” I ask her.
“Gravity,” she says, “I'm digging for gravity."

And cousin-Harley-Named-For-A-Motorcycle doesn't stop
She keeps going until she hits the dark rich hard clay
that makes her plastic shovel bend but not break
and she doesn't press any further
'cause the shovel's the only path she has to finding
the force that keeps us down
the force that keeps the earth and the moon and us
from getting flung out into the vast nothingness
the force that kept her brother pinned beneath that station wagon
so that he couldn't ever float away
and now becomes the same dirt
that she digs through

But see, the whole world is a cemetery
and we're walking on the graves
and it's beautiful because
every tree, every blade of grass is a tombstone that reads
“Here lives something that lived” and every time we walk barefoot
we walk on top of that dark rich history, the kind that gets underneath your
fingernails and coats the soles of your feet, except I stopped believing in souls
about the same time I realized I never really believed in God

But if God exists he's down there in the white hot core
where all the history melts and blends together until you can't tell it apart
sad and angry and so dense that we can't escape its pull without rockets
and he forces his way up in volcanic divine intervention
full of Sulfur and iron and life and love
and every eruption is like a little piece of the sun
I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry but I can't bear to not see you I'm sorry
Please don't run away I'm not trying to hurt you I just want to see you
please don't leave me alone

And I find myself in the only hardware store in Spearfish, South Dakota
in the checkout line with a shovel in hand
'cause it isn't right for Harley to have to dig by herself
I'd buy her a backhoe but this is something we have to do by hand

and I plunge my shovel into the dark rich hard clay
and I break the firmament
and I have blisters on my hand blisters hot like the sun is hot
but I'm not sorry not sorry in the least and I won't apologize
for me or for Cousin Harley for not being able to resist the pull

they say that no one survives looking at the face of god
but I intend to find god, if he's there, and I'll find gravity, too
it apologizing I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry please don't leave me
all I want to do is forgive it and teach it what I'm learning
every day it's okay to be you it's okay to be me
it's just the way we are and I want it to say
I want to see you and I'm not sorry anymore can we talk for a bit
and we float up and I talk with the sun and it flings me off and out
into the vast infinite nothingness smiling the whole way
and I don't need a shovel anymore
because I've found gravity and so has Harley and it doesn't hide anymore
smiling and apologizing, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I never meant to hurt you

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