Current/Recent Reading List

27 November 2007

Sick, Sick, Sick (and Jessica Alba)

Hope that got your attention.

Not exactly the way to finish off Thanksgiving weekend - coming down with bronchitis and sinusitis, throat hurting too much to even talk, coughing up phlegm that turned increasingly darker shades (I loved sharing the latter detail in class today). It was all enough to force a vacation extension, if you will, for a day.

I know this is bizarre, but I do have to say that one of my favorite places in all the world is the little Quick-Med doc-in-the-box we have down the road. For all intents and purposes, the docs there are my real family physicians, because I've seen them far more often over the years than I have my real doctor over in Raleigh. The nurses and staff are ever so cheerful, and the rotation of doctors do the best two-minute diagnoses you'll ever see. I'm strangely comforted to be asked the same old questions and have my vitals taken in the same old way, and get the same old antibiotic and decongestant prescriptions a couple of times a year. Go figure.

The one thing I don't like is that they've recently added a television in the waiting room, so it is harder for me to concentrate on whatever book I've brought with me.

So, yesterday morning I was surely annoyed, having to deal with Regis and Kelly while waiting my turn, but then... then... ahhhh... an angel in the guise of Jessica Alba came on the set for her interview, and she was giving details about the (no doubt) delicious stuffing she makes for Thanskgiving, and all seemed right with the world, and perhaps I even heard, somewhere in the distance, a heavenly choir singing the most serene music, and...

Then the nurse called me in, right in the middle of the interview. Dammit.

20 November 2007

Please Explain to Me

...why, last week, as I was leaving the house in the morning, Wyfe's alarm clock came on playing "Feliz Navidad"? Or why, yesterday as I was putting gas in my truck on a balmy 68 degree afternoon, the gas station's ubiquitous outdoor speaker system was blaring "Let It Snow" and a folksy version of "O Come All Ye Faithful"?

Never before has "O Come All Ye Faithful", always one of my favorite Christmas hymns, inspired the wish that I had a Green Arrow-style bow and a quiver full of exploding arrows, which I could have used to take out the 31 speakers before tearing off my receipt and leaving the station in the usual hum-drum manner.

Granted, that is a bizarre wish, but justified, I believe.

Happy Thanksgiving, but not Merry Christmas. Yet.

18 November 2007

Occupational Hazards

Being a yearbook advisor has many consolations, and as long as you are conscientious, it is hard thing to screw up. Of course, there are headaches (as I've mentioned before, English teachers are not the first group you think of for natural businessmen), but in the big picture they are relatively minor.

Since, at the high school level, girls tend to be more conscientious students, and since,for some reason, it's mostly girls who seem interested in yearbook, one of my consolations is that I tend to get good core groups to work with. However, having an all-girl class can be tricky for me from time to time. One of the reasons is that conversations in the yearbook class are not bound by subject matter the way they are in normal classes. Seems anything goes, so long as it isn't completely lurid. And so, I have to be circumspect about which matters to offer "I'm-old-enough-to-be-your-father" opinions on, and which ones to pretend not to have heard at all. No matter how careful, though, there is a subject I seem to often accidentally step into which involves... er... female biological functions.

Usually it starts when I innocently ask one of the girls who looks deathly ill if they are o.k. So it began on Friday, after one girl came in class and immediately dropped her jacket and proceeded to lay out flat - incommunicado - on the cold, dirty, hard floor. Another girl, sitting at the computer near me, also let out a weary groan from time to time. Soon, in some telepathic manner, my editor has figured out and announced that four of them are , um, having the same experience on this day. As I checked yearbook pages, I heard snippets of conversations about the wonders of Midol, or about personal stories their mothers tell, etc. Can you say "sticking out like a sore thumb"?

Look, I've been married 11 years, and I helped the doctor and nurses bring my son into the world, so I'm no wallflower. But on days like Friday, I can't help but have that same icky feeling I had in fifth grade health class. And seventh grade health class. And ninth grade health class.

15 November 2007

An Older Issue Than I Expected

So what is the point (or perhaps main points) of having an education in a democratic society? What constitutes educational success? We've discussed this here before. Clearly, the party line (from all parties) leans toward the view that education exists to help us all "get ahead." Suffice to say, you'll never hear a politician or education bureaucrat speak about much of anything other than the most tangible practical skills acquired, so that we can compete in the modern international economy, etc., etc. What good does it do, however, if we are also turning out moral morons with no taste for exploring why we live, and why we ought to live in certain ways (check out some of the best and brightest in Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons sometime)?

The latest The New Criterion is a special issue marking the 20th anniversary of Allan Bloom's The Closing Of The American Mind (I've read Bloom's book just once, but am feeling the urge to return to it). I've just gotten started on the special issue, but loved this quote in the opening article, taken from a book Robert Hutchins wrote in the 1930's:

"The people [education academics] think that democracy means that every child should be permitted to acquire the educational insignia that will be helpful in making money. They do not believe in the cultivation of the intellect for its own sake."

Because, of course, there are no fixed truths available for cultivation anyway - right?

12 November 2007

This and That and The Tempest

I'm in what should be a relatively blissful time of the school year. For one, no jury duty call has materialized yet, and with only seven more days of eligibility left, the odds are in my favor (I call again tomorrow evening) At school, we have a four-day week this week, followed by a two-day Thanksgiving week, so students and teachers alike should be better rested and full of the milk of human kindness, right?

Uh, doubt it. I detect more than one serpent in the garden right now, particularly because in my experience the next six weeks or so bring with them much apathy, recalcitrance, and grumpiness. "Hey, Mister - Target's running Christmas commercials and you expect us to pay attention and do our work? Who do you think you are?"

Well, to paraphrase one of the minor, but vicious, outlaws in Lonesome Dove, "Mr. P's feelin' bloody today, ain't he?" And I am indeed. For once I believe I am well organized and already prepared for the next few weeks to come, which means stocking will be filled with lots of quizzes, tests, and essays until December 21st. Of course, I have to grade all this, but I'm undaunted, for now. When it's Thanksgiving Day and I need to grade my appointed five essays for the day and feel absolutely no motivation to do so other than the fact that there are 30 more where these came from, I'll be reminded of the folly of such big talk. And like Prospero in The Tempest, perhaps I'll take pity on the kiddies after I consider the suffering I'm orchestrating and directing upon them.

Actually, no chance of that, but I needed a segue, so work with me, please.

We began The Tempest in first period last week, and rather than try to give a ten minute lecture on the mental preparations I would like the class to make, which no doubt would have been ignored by most of them, I wrote them a letter, with the instructions to read it once in class on Friday (most did), and once more at home before we return on Tuesday. Here are a couple of excerpts:

In preparation for our study of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, there are a couple of things I would like you to think about. Remember at the beginning of the year I mentioned that all forms of art, and specifically literature, invite us to enter, through our imaginations, another world, where we start to identify with the characters there. As we do this, we begin to judge their thoughts or actions. By doing so, we are also holding up a mirror to ourselves, as we measure ourselves against them. We ask the question, “How would someone judge my thoughts and actions in a given situation?” Through this process, we are really judging ourselves (whether we realize it or not). In this way, experiencing (and struggling with!) art helps us to have a higher vision of life...

...Most of all, have fun with this play. There are many funny scenes and characters, and many interesting questions to ponder. It is one of the last plays Shakespeare wrote, and though it ends happily, it does so only after we see human beings in their worst possible light. But the key is, it does end happily, which tells us quite a bit about what Shakespeare was trying to communicate to us.

Hugs and Kisses,

Mr. P.

07 November 2007

The Clarity of All Saints' Day

Last year after my grandmother died I wrote a eulogy piece which made mention, in part, of the All Saints' Day service that had just passed.

Well, here I am returning to that service, and day, 2007 version. I don't know if this will be a regular annual post, but maybe it should be.

All Saints' Day may be my favorite day of the church calendar. Perhaps no other service offers the clarity of reality - every bit of it, or as close as we can get to it - as this one. During this year's service, though I only tangentially knew one of the departed persons whose name was read from the roll, I once again grew increasingly weepy with each bell that tolled. The familiar John Rutter "Requiem" piece that followed never fails to utterly shake me, and for a while, at least, I felt that I saw myself for just how rotten, and yet loved, I am. And then, at the end of the service, when a small Dixieland ensemble led us out with "When The Saints Go Marching In" (also, for the past few years, a staple of this particular service), I felt as alive as it is possible to be.

It never occured to me how allegorical the service is, the Christian story in microcosm. Even the presentation of "When The Saints..." fit this bill, moving from up-tempo to downcast to ecstatic. Plus, we had the added benefit of celebrating Communion on this same day. Our minister's words struck me as perfectly descriptive: (paraphrasing) "We've all just experienced a little foretaste of Heaven itself. There are no bitter feelings between us, and no burdens right now. This is how it will be."

Growing up Southern protestant, I didn't even have a concept of special days on the church calendar except for Christmas, Easter, and maybe Pentecost. But over time many Methodist churches (and others) have sought to re-align themselves (to varying degrees) with certain traditions that all Christians share in their heritage, though that are mostly associated with Catholicism in the contemporary mind. Fortunately my church has embraced much of this, but it seems strange to most non-Catholics around here. Interestingly, for the last couple of weeks my parents had been talking about the upcoming All Saints' Day service at their church (the church I grew up in) as well.

Three cheers for the old becoming new again, and for the pain and joy of All Saints' Day.

01 November 2007

Here We Go Again

Damn jury duty eligibility notices, again. You'll recall I was served with notice back in the spring, and after they told me to not come in the first two weeks, I received a dismissal for the third week of eligibility due to Easter and spring break. So, I'm off all summer with nary a thought about being summoned again. And then, just when it was good and out of my mind, I received a new notice of eligibility a couple of weeks ago. My new three weeks begins Monday, and I have to call tomorrow to find out if I really have to show up then.

And, guess when the third week of eligibility falls? Yep, Thanksgiving week - how is that going to work, if I was actually on a jury by that point?

I'm irritated. That's about it, but sometimes (especially by the end of the work week)that can be enough.