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.