In the Moment

Another beautiful sunset with the FOC.

The perfect antidote to a difficult couple of weeks. Love my life when I work part of the day, finish my second book of the week, and let go of the bad and the bitter.



Five years ago, Oregon adopted the Common Core in an ongoing effort to improve education. I narrowed the multitude of goals and aspirational expectations down to three key skill sets. Over the last two years, I’ve become more and more aware of other things my students are missing: determination, willingness to learn from mistakes, willingness to fail, ability to be on time or show up regularly and these are all skills that people need to acquire and keep jobs. I keep looking for ways I can use the stories I teach to talk about perseverance and determination, about consent in all areas of life, about reliability and relatibility.

Teaching my students about coded language through poetry, fairy tales, and stories from the 1800’s is a life skill that will help them parse what is and isn’t said by the people around them. Recently, it bit me. Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is supposed to be a rollicking adventure and exploration of what could live in the deeps. The reality of the book is a little different. There are just so many descriptions of fish that it feels like David Weber describing a weapon in any of his many novels. Reading it out loud, I got to the point where I’d say “the next two paragraphs describe more fish.” That’s slightly terrible, but it’s honest. Good readers jump over the boring bits sometimes and keeping students engaged means being real with them.

I told them that if the recent movie attempt at Moby Dick was true to the book every seven minutes there would be a one minute PSA on whaling. Then, my students took what they’d learned about reading on multiple levels, what they learned about coded language, and explained to me how 20,0000 Leagues Under The Sea is really a romance novel. They felt bad for Ned Land as Aronnax’s attention drifted to Nemo. They pointed out how hard Nemo tried at first. I can’t unknow that. And for all that it’s hilariously annoying, they took what they had learned, interacted with the text, and found something new. That’s what this is all about.

Thinking Things Again

Untitled Actress from Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn
Submission calls for an actress mid-to-late 20s. All ethnicities acceptable. Except Asian-American. Caucasian preferable. Must read teen on-screen. Thin but not gaunt. Lean. Quirky but not unattractive. No brown eyes. Not taller than 5’5”. Weight no more than 109. Actress should have great smile. Straight teeth a must. Must be flexible. Small bust a plus. Can do own stunts. Will waive rights to image, likeness, publicity, and final cut. Role calls for nudity.

Role calls for simulated sexual intercourse. Role calls for role play with lead male. No stand-in avail. Role pays scale.

Character is shy yet codependent, searching for love in all the wrong men. Character confides in others at her own risk. Character is fatigued and hollow, suffers from self-doubt, a sense of worthlessness. Character learns the hard way to believe in herself. No brown eyes. Character finally finds happiness when she meets Brad, a successful older businessman, 5’5”.

Log line: A woman fights to save her soul. Think a young Carole Lombard meets a younger Anna Nicole. Requires an actress that will leave an audience speechless, who’s found her creative voice.

Not a speaking role.

Like actresses, a few stand-out teachers get acknowledgement for excellence or atrociousness; however, we are replaceable in the eyes of most. We don’t do anything real. We choose careers that force us to a different social contract that most professionals. Young women (and young men) who choose acting have to look good: they spend hours at the gym, carefully monitor their food, and deal with all the people who look over their shoulders telling them how to live their lives better. Teachers may not spend hours at the gym, but we read, we learn, we plan, we assess, we adjust, we deal with all the bullshit from people who think our jobs aren’t worth their time. I get awfully sick of “those who can’t do teach”.

Let’s be real. In order to teach writing effectively I spent ten years working with the Oregon Writing Project. I write in my online journal, my notebooks, and occasionally my blog so that I can go through the same experiences as my students even if it’s on a different front. I can tell them how I get through writer’s block or why word vomit is such an important step in the writing process. I can tell them why I read my work out loud when I’m proofreading. I may not be Stephen King or a community college professor with several small press books, but I am still a writer. I am definitely a teacher. And while I could go out and do other things, this is what I love.

I just wish more people would listen. I’m sure the average actor or actress wish the same.

Thinking Things

Masks by Ezra Pound (1909)

These tales of old disguisings, are they not

Strange myths of souls that found themselves among

Unwonted folk that spake an hostile tongue,

Some soul from all the rest who’d not forgot

The star-span acres of a former lot

Where boundless mid the clouds his course he swung,

Or carnate with his elder brothers sung

Ere ballad-makers lisped of Camelot?
Old singers half-forgetful of their tunes,

Old painters color-blind come back once more,

Old poets skill-less in the wind-heart runes,

Old wizards lacking in their wonder-lore:
All they that with strange sadness in their eyes

Ponder in silence o’er earth’s queynt devyse?

I’m not sure what I love more about this poem: the archaic language meant to tease those who had change, the discussion of stories, or why we think story tellers are so strange. Pound’s rhythm is so steady and his rhyme scheme is soft enough that the reader has to really consider pronunciation to keep that rhythm and rhyme. As time passes we get lost in our memories, we rewrite our lives to make them fit our dreams better, and we lose something of ourselves in that process. Every poem is a code that can evoke fairy tales or romantic love or longing for the ideal. Not many people are familiar with this poem, but every time I read it I find myself thinking about it for the rest of the day.

I suppose this resonates with me right now, because spring represents so much change in my world. We are wrapping up the school year, trying to make sure kids have the skills they need, bemoan the skills we can’t teach them, and start thinking about what we can do better next year. Seniors are getting ready to launch and they usually aren’t ready. The last few years attendance has lost its importance in the whole scheme of education, so some students think that they don’t have to show up at work either. A culture of quitting before being proven incapable has grown up while we were boning up on NCLB, ESEA, CC, and whatever is now.

But I keep looking back. I’ve come so far. I’m getting older. I’ve forgotten important things and learned old lessons anew. I’ve looked inside and outside for inspiration, for how to do better, for how to be better and it all just makes me want to take a nap or lose myself in a novel which is not how a responsible adult behaves.