Current/Recent Reading List

30 August 2007

Yeah, I'm Here

I've had something going on the last two nights, and time has not been a friend to my blogging. Things should settle down a little now, and I will give fuller reports about school week #1 this weekend. Suffice to say that it has been a fairly smooth week, periodically mottled by a few spasms of loneliness. It is not easy to start a new job, but as these things go I'm having a smooth time of it.

One tidbit: a sweet student has already brought me a gift. It is a chalkholder, which she said would help me look cooler than when I was writing with the large, pink piece of sidewalk chalk. And indeed it does.

More coming soon.

26 August 2007

These Are The Times That Try Men's Souls

I hate the first day of school, but I hate the day before the first day of school even more. It's impossible not to be nervous, and nearly impossible to sleep, minus medication which I don't take. I haven't had much last-second planning time this weekend on account of two birthday parties for one son, and a little assistant coaching for t-ball practice. Perhaps these activities have been good for me - taking my mind off things. That is, if Putt-Putt/Go Karting on a sauna-esque evening, and ball practice in Mespotamian summer conditions can ever be good.

Where to start when reporting on school happenings and new job trauma? I don't know - let's throw out a few random thoughts, and hope I survive the coming week, gradually finding the ability to put together cogent blog posts with available time (ha!):

*My room is barren and sad compared to the immaculately decorated rooms of the other English teachers. Hopefully I'll have a few years to refine things, but I've always had a disadvantageous man's touch with such things.

*No one thought I was weird for wanting to teach The Tempest to non-honors 10th graders. But for my troubles I have been put in charge of organizing a unit on potential activities, projects, etc. in case others want to incorporate it into their own curriculum.

*I'm in awe of some of these teachers - many of them gave workshops on Friday, and they have their stuff down pat. I have strong knowledge and the right demeanor (and attitude) I think, but as a teacher and classroom manager I still have a long way to go before I'm on some of their levels.

*In my five years at my former school, I didn't cumulatively hear the words damn, hell, and sh*t out of the mouths of teachers as much as I did in one week of workdays at my new school. I also heard the "f" word fly out of a science teacher's mouth twice in one conversation. Interestingly, the main perpetrators were almost all teachers/administrators nearing retirement.

*I didn't get my first lesson plan written until Friday afternoon at 3:15. Let's hear it for procrastinators.

*Our Open House night was cut short by a wicked thunderstorm that knocked the power out. So instead, we had to stay until 6:00 the following two days to give parents a chance to come by. Speaking of tempests, what kind of omen was that?

*However, no one is really checking up on us - we don't have to sign in or out (except workday mornings), or punch time cards, and it is assumed we are doing our work when and where we are supposed to do it.

*Did I mention I will never sleep well tonight? Yeah, I did. Well, what sleep I get will be harried by bizarre, frightening dreams that could keep a Jungian in business for a year (that was Jung, wasn't it?).

*I hate the first day of school. Pray for me, folks.

22 August 2007

Not My Night

Ralph Ellison lost the manuscript to the second novel he was working on in a house fire.

I just lost an entire, medium-elaborate post because I didn't read the "temporary problem, cannot save post" message before navigating elsewhere.

Close enough to the same thing, no?

Too depressed to start over now - I'll try again tomorrow if I can.

20 August 2007

Yes, I Survived...

...Day 1.

Yes, I did feel tiny and insignificant when I saw that my old faculty would have fit on 1 1/2 of the 12 full tables my new faculty needed for a mass assembly.

No, I wasn't feeling too sure of myself for most of the day.

Yes, I'm still in shock over the volumes of information fed to me as we were processed through seven separate break-out sessions to hear various asst. principals on various portions of The Complete Novels of Victor Hugo the faculty handbook.

No, I don't like the morning parking lot duty I've been given.

Yes, the day ended on a high note after I got to talk shop with some fellow English teachers, and they were friendly with me.

Yes, I love the World Lit. textbook we have - even though Shakespeare is usually bypassed in 10th grade books, this one includes The Tempest!

No, I don't have much time to fix my room, plan, etc., b/c of highly structured workday schedules (re: meetings, meetings, meetings).

Yes, I guess I'll show back up tomorrow.

19 August 2007

'07 Summer Wrap-Up, Part I (The Reading)

We are back from the beach, with minimal sunburn, and now I go into the frying pan tomorrow, so I have little time for - well - anything. But, in the fine tradition of this one year old blog (see here and here), I must review the summer what was, and putting it into some kind of context.

First to the reading. I rarely go into the summer with some kind of theme that my reading will fall under, but instead have a few books in mind, and let the reading gods guide me in whatever whimsical direction they will. And yet, a certain theme, or commonality, always seems to emerge. Last year much of my reading was Italian-flavored, especially from reading Dante and Mark Helprin's A Soldier of the Great War.

This summer brought me back home, which was appropriate considering that I am leaving behind one era of my working life, and entering a new one. Most of my reading was of southern fiction, and most of that was re-reading. At the beginning of the summer I re-read Fred Chappell's magnificent four novels about the Kirkman family of the North Carolina mountains (I Am One of You Forever, Brighten the Corner Where You Are, Farewell I'm Bound To Leave You, Look Back All the Green Valley). Loosely (sometimes very loosely) autobiographical, these novels work much the way the mountain musicians in them work - by weaving in and out of each other's music effortlessly, each performing its own virtuosic solo, and yet able to fall back into the warm harmonies and rhythms of the same song. These novels are by turns hilarious, strange, other-worldly, philosophical, devastatingly sad, metaphysical, and genuinely good-humored. Pretty swell for a poet. Then again, his poetry is pretty swell for a novelist.

Next, I returned, after a number of years, to two of the very best by the Dixie Limited himself, Faulkner. I read both Absalom, Absalom! and Go Down, Moses for the third time each, and never more enjoyably. When I was a very young man, reading Faulkner was a gateway into a world I didn't know was so vast and accomplished: the literary South, in particular that neck of the woods known as the Southern Renaissance. This was an occasion for both a sense of great pride and of belonging - and it also led to two other things: a lifelong devotion to literature, and a lifelong lack of high-paying jobs (Thanks, Faulkner - sincerely, the Wyfe).

In reading Faulkner over the summer, I was reawakened to how relevant and universal he remains, and also to his ability to simultaneously love and criticize southerners and Americans as a whole. We have plenty of criticism still around in contemporary writing, but where is that love which best validates the criticism to begin with?

Briefly, here are the other reading highlights of the summer: two classics that I had somehow missed up to this time - Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front; a handful of Flannery O'Connor's essays; Peter Taylor's wonderful short story "A Spinster's Tale"; two from my self-declared British mentor Roger Scruton, An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture and Culture Counts (more about this one soon); and Frank McCourt's melancholic, sobering, and ultimately affirming ode to his career as a teacher, Teacher Man.

Part II coming soon.

10 August 2007

Whistling Past the Graveyard

At least that is what it feels like I'm doing, going to the beach for a full week of fun and frolic while assiduously ignoring the fact that I START MY BRAND NEW FREAKING JOB a day and a half after I return. But what, me worry?

Well, the end of the week did bring lots of new school info. to digest, which is what I get for going over there early to get yearbook computers set up. For one thing, I know what I'm teaching: all 10th grade, but unfortunately no honors classes this year. Also, the a/c in my room does not yet appear to be working (I'm cold-natured, but even I would struggle with that for a full day). And best of all, because of overcrowding issues in the town, it seems there aren't enough buses available to handle the high school, two middle schools, and three elementary schools (and the county's other schools are too far away to provide much cover). So, it appears a staggered schedule between the schools will be in effect, and my school draws first blood by starting each morning at - ta da! - 7:05! Which means I will have to be there by 6:50! Which means I'll have to wake up before 6:00! There are plenty of cows hanging out about a mile from my home, so maybe I'll stop and milk them, in addition, while I'm on my way to work.

School will get out at 2:00, however, which might be nice.

I lied earlier in the week - the promised summer review post won't be ready until next weekend (hopefully). No idea if we will have internet connection at the place we are staying in North Myrtle, but if so it may come a little earlier. Then again, I may be too busy all week lapping kids at the NASCAR go-kart center.

See y'all next week!

09 August 2007

Henryk Fantazos (Wow!)

Other than the rotting-corpse stench coming off Hal Crowther's opinion piece in the back, the latest issue of Oxford American (which I'm only now getting to) looks quite promising indeed. The issue is already worth it for me because of the profile done on Henryk Fantazos, a Polish painter who settled here in North Carolina a couple of decades ago and decided to use the region as his medium. His comments about the South are wonderful- he speaks of his motive "to honor the proud individuation of all objects in view" - and place him squarely in the same camp as Faulkner and O'Connor. And these paintings? Wow! Like Flannery's stories put to canvas! Please watch the short slide show on his southern work at the bottom of this post.

Also wonderful are the comments of Jack Gilbert, who wrote the profile. I especially love this section:

But he does not paint ideas or propaganda. His works are free of defeat and guilt, of the knots and gnawings of poverty and status and family and wealth. Free also of progressive dreams and nightmares, free of any New South programs (which remind him of bureaucratic octopuses in the Poland of 1970).

In the “Face of the South” cycle, Henryk affirms such Southern legends as “fragrant overabundance,” courtesy, and friendliness.

But he eschewed the progressive ideology that, from the 1950s, I witnessed and, mea culpa, took part in; it was an intellectual program for a new Reconstruction that was implicit in jokes at the faculty club, in lectures, novels, movies, and newscasts. What were we pushing? Great educational leaders, sociologists, journalists? Having made a beginning of the end of racial discrimination, what next?

A funny bunch of notions: to remove the restraints on lovemaking, now called “sex,” pregnant with meaning (why all the energy spent for an activity well able to mind its own occasions?); to undermine devotion to concepts of honor or personal integrity (antisocial they are); to do the same to love of country or region or tribe; to correct (with the confident help of a humane intelligentsia) the erratic distribution of wealth; and, less honestly than Mao, to embrace quietly the prejudice that religion is poison, especially if it makes any difference.

06 August 2007

A Happy Confluence

So here's my question: If a play like "Lear" lends itself to such diverse and contemporary approaches, why is its author so widely derided in certain progressive-minded circles as a Dead White European Male who has nothing of interest to say about the way we live now?

This from a short piece by Terry Teachout , in which he references two who belong to my personal Pantheon: Shakespeare (natch), and Roger Scruton (from whom I've been drinking deeply the last several months). The occasion? Scruton's new book, Culture Counts, which just arrived at my home a few days ago, and is set aside for beach reading next week.

Looking Ahead

We just returned from an out of town family birthday celebration over the weekend, and as Wyfe has pointed out , August is probably our busiest month on the calendar. Next week we go to the beach (prices drop after this week!), but in some ways that will be inconvenient, since I could use that week to get some of my classroom ready, prior to my start date on the 20th. I'll be over there a couple of times this week for yearbook purposes, so I will do what I can.

In the meantime, this week I will get my act together and start giving my parting thoughts about the summer break that was (including the summer reading that was), and the most interesting fall that is to come.

By the way, my seasonal terminology is skewed by the school calendar. Try telling anyone here in the Old North State that summer is approaching its end, and you'll get some strange looks. Nothin' but hot, humidity-fueled air hanging around this place.

02 August 2007

A Well-Placed Shot

Whatever the quality of my humor, the form of it that the Good Lord gave me is generally deadpan (works well with teenagers, by the way, but only after they've gotten to know you a bit - otherwise it messes with their minds). So, I appreciate a good stab of dry humor, even when I'm the butt of the joke. To wit, here is an example from today:

(The scene: check-out counter at Lowe's Home Improvement[again], with me purchasing six cans of spray paint and four large bags of pine bark mulch):

Girl Cashier: Would you like a bag, by the way?

Me: Uh... yeah, I guess so. For the paint.

Girl Cashier: Yeah... I'm not sure the mulch would fit in these bags anyway.

I had to congratulate her on that one, especially for her swiftness. Then, of course, I figured out where her car was in the parking lot and used the spray paint on it.

No hard feelings.

01 August 2007

Baseball And The Surreal

That is what being a baseball fan is like these days - surreal. The all-time homerun record is about to be broken, and yet many of us are anticipating Barry Bonds' pending achievement like we would a colon exam, because we know that a certain percentage (maybe 1/7 or 1/8?) of his homers were steroid-facilitated. Even though the guy is a jerk, I would still be excited to see this historical moment (I was too young to remember Hank Aaron breaking the mark in 1974) if his attitude was the only problem, because I might never get the chance to witness such a thing again. As it is, I change the channel every time the man comes to bat. I don't want to see it, and that is depressing. (One ray of hope: I heard a scouting-expert say that the prototype player coming through the minors these days looks more like a player from 1980 than from 2000, meaning much skinnier.)

From an early age, baseball has been in my veins. It was the first sport I ever played, the first sport I was ever consumed with, the first I collected cards for and memorized stats for. Other than Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, the highlights of Saturday summer t.v. for me were the syndicated This Week In Baseball (hosted by the great Mel Allen), and the saturday afternoon Game of the Week on NBC. My brother and I got some kind of super baseball card/memento set for Christmas one year, and included was a record album that narrated the great moments in baseball history, played snippets of some of the great calls. We listened to it over and over and over, and Bobby Thompson's homerun, DiMaggio's hit streak, Willie Mays' catch, and Hank Aaron's 715th were forever seared into our brains. When I started fifth grade, George Brett (still my favorite all-time player) was going for .400, and every morning my first question to my Dad was, "What did Brett do last night?"

So baseball is forever with me, and I can't give up my love for it. I object to those pundits who say, "Obviously baseball fans don't care about steroids. Attendance is at record highs. They just want to see home runs and drink their beer." Perhaps so (though I find this reeking of elitist holier-than-thou-ism), but there are plenty of us who love the game and don't want to leave it. We just want it cleaned up.