Current/Recent Reading List

29 December 2007

I've Had All the Family I Can Stand...

...I can't stands no more! Well, not really, as we had a very nice, and relatively (get it?) stress-free Christmas/grandparent gatherings of doom/travel across the state week. But, even after the best of hostings and visitings, one is happy to be home and unencumbered. For some reason I feel like I wrote almost the exact same thing last Christmas, but I'm too lazy to check right now.

Anyway, a few back-in-town nuggets for you:

1. Our church's Christmas Eve candlelight service was majestic. Right now our church does the big holy day services about as well as they can be done, I think. There is just the right mix between the theatrical and the contemplative, between the joyous and the sober, and between the personal and the communal. And the music, again, was outstanding, including the Handel. I love Bach's oratorios, but not knowing German, there is no way to fully, fully appreciate them. If you are an English-only speaker, I don't see how you can resist picking Handel's "Messiah" as the oratorio. Can we make sure to keep sprinkling "Messiah" throughout Advent, as we did this year, please?

2. Speaking of music, our minister's wife is a sublime soloist - don't know enough to judge whether or not she could have done opera (maybe she did), but if not she has to be darn near that caliber. I have never before seen (and heard, obviously) someone nail the ending of "O, Holy Night" - you know, the high notes no normal person can approach - so well, and yet so effortlessly. It just seemed so easy for her, with no strain at all. She could just as well have been filing her nails while finishing that one off, or so it seemed.

3. I just finished eating a plate of plain rice and green beans, and I feel like never eating anything richer than that for several weeks. I am sick, sick, sick of big meals and heavy food. And all those great holiday Food Network specials from last week? Don't make me gag.

But come to think of it, there are some yummy chocolate-covered peanut butter balls in the kitchen right now...

4. Wyfe thinks we are the only family without three children whose car trips devolve into three-way, every- man-for-himself wrestling matches (driver, perhaps dangerously, included). I doubt it, but perhaps not every family tops the fight off with a Ric Flair "Whoooooo!", as we sometimes do.

5. Both arms, and my lower back, are sore as a consequence of our first three days with a Nintendo Wii. The main culprit? Wii Sports baseball, which I've had to avoid the last two days until I heal up. Next time I think I'll ice down in the trainer's room after the game.

6. Tonight I will finish Helprin's remarkable Winter's Tale, and will report on it either tomorrow or Monday (I almost promise).

20 December 2007


Let me just say that the beginning of the Christmas vacation break from school never ceases to bring joy and merriment - practically, it feels just like it did when I was a kid, with a little less pure giddiness. But only a little less.

I've known for a while that the past few days were going to be a tough gauntlet to run, and I wasn't counting on catching yet another cold virus, or my son catching yet another fever/tummy virus just to throw in the mix. Last Saturday we all drove three hours to South Carolina for the Wyfe's extended family gathering, then drove back Sunday. On Monday I had to stay at school until 6:30 in order to help with the presentation of graduation projects. On Tuesday and Wednesday nights my son and I drove thirty minutes into, and out of, Raleigh because Wyfe was helping narrate a short nativity play at church (and because I thought I had another church obligation which had been canceled, unbeknownst to me), and on top of this have been all the usual school duties. You know, yelling, fretting, losing planning periods, meeting yearbook reps., cramming in reading assignments, piling up things to sift through and grade - all the fun stuff.

So, I am mighty pleased to be officially off the clock for a couple of days. I have just taken a long nap, blown my $30.00 iTunes gift card, and brought my Mark Helprin novel into the den with me. I'll take it.

Give me a day or two for some school-related ruminations to bubble up. Right now I'm blissfully decompressing.

14 December 2007

Suuurprize, Suuurprize (My 38th)!

(With apologies to Gomer Pyle)

So yesterday my yearbook girls told me I "needed to find somewhere to go for 10 minutes." When I pressed them on it, they said, "It's a girl thing. We can't talk about it with you in here."

"What possible girl things could you talk about that I haven't already heard this semester?"

"Trust us. It's bad. Really bad."

So, I wandered off to eat lunch in the lounge, and it took me about two minutes to figure out they were planning some kind of birthday surprise, since tomorrow (or today, if you are reading this on Saturday) marks my 38th.

This morning before first bell I pretended to avert my eyes or look busy as yearbook kids kept surreptitiously sneaking in the room and heading toward the back - particularly towards the refrigerator. And once third period started, I dutifully went to my computer and turned my back to them - noticing that a couple of them conpicuously darted their bodies back and forth in an effort to run some sort of interference in front of the food assemblage. No, not at all obvious, kids, that you are all WAY quieter than usual. Then, finally, they broke out into song ("Happy Birthday", if you can believe it) and I was able to do my best PoMo/Faux/Ironic "Oh, I'm so surprised!" routine.

Well, what a bunch of sweethearts. And, it was a great spread. I didn't eat much yesterday due to a bad allergy-cough attack, so today I felt at liberty to gobble down two portions of lasagna, some pasta salad, two pieces of cake, a brownie, a cupcake, and a cookie. So there.

Remarkable, really, that they would have remembered my birthday like they did. I mean, I'd only been dropping heavy hints for, oh, 11 days or so.

12 December 2007

Three Positives

Since I've depressed reader Kathy with the last post, and since this has been a really good week thus far, it seems incumbent upon me to find some positives to report. And really, some have fallen in my lap the last two days.

At my old school, I was always enthusiastic about having a yearbook class because I dreamed of the wonderful crew of kids I was bound to have in there. In reality, there were always a small percentage of wonderful kids, and a large percentage of lazy, melodramatic big mouths who weren't the worst kids in the world, but didn't deserve to be in the class. Mostly this was a function of scheduling issues and a small pool to choose from.

But now, the staff I have is exactly what you would expect: great kids (not angels, mind you, but close) who have earned their ways in, and basically will do anything asked of them without attitude. So, there is Positive #1.

Now, in this class (as well as in my first period English class) is one of the best kids I've ever taught, a hard working, cheerful, All-American girl type if there ever was one - I would adopt her in a minute. For the last eight months, she has been dating a guy she really likes, but yesterday he rather unceremoniously told her some things that made her realize she needed to break up with him. This all happened between 2nd and 3rd periods, so she let her friends know about it after yearbook class started. She got a little weepy for a few minutes, and was certainly depressed, but already she had a calmnss and spirit about her that I've rarely seen out of high school girls in such situations. She had, believe it or not, a sense of perspective about the whole thing, and it wasn't long until she was laughing with those trying to make her feel better. The best I had to offer her was the only piece of chocolate in my desk, but I think that helped as well. Today, she seemed fine - still talking it out a little, but taking things like a champ. So, there is Positive #2.

Of course, in that class of 14 girls, I've had to hear a lot of "Sorry Mr. P's" following all the "men are scum" comments the last two days. I've just kind of camped out at my computer in the corner.

And finally, there was this today, from a conversation among five of the girls in there (ranging from senior to sophomore): talk of a New Year's Day party with everyone in agreement to keep it as mum as possible, because all the kids who drink will try to crash it and ruin everything.

WHAT!!!??? Party talk among in-crowd kids, with the idea being to EXCLUDE those who would bring alcohol? Somebody pinch me. That's definitely Positive #3.

09 December 2007

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Our sophomores are supposed to do a mini-research project which helps prepare them for ever-larger research projects as they move up the ladder, until they ultimately get to their big bad senior projects (which are now required in this state for graduation). So (unsurprisingly), all the sophomore English teachers, including moi, are rushing to sneak this project in before the semester is over.

On Friday, I started canvassing my classes on what topics each person was interested in, approving/disapproving the topics and/or giving guidance. Many of them had wonderful ideas which even excited me. One little group of suspected stoners all wanted to do something about Woodstock, or The Who, or some such nonsense. And then there were the black kids.

I know, I know - this gets me into certain territories that dare not speak their names in polite society, but here I go anyway. In my first period class, I have three black boys, and three black girls. Of the boys, one is really an exceptional student, one is middle of the road, and one is, unfortunately, and athlete stereotype who is barely surviving the class. I haven't yet spoken with the first two of these, but the latter kid only knows he wants to do his project on something involving gangs - surprise, surprise. What really intrigued me were the choices of the three girls, all of whom are really bright and the kind of students colleges would be dying to offer scholarships to (one is a little more exceptional than the other two, and might really go far). Well, guess what they want to do research on? Yep - gangs! gangs! gangs! Or, in one case, Biggie Smalls! or maybe Tupac!

I shot down (no pun intended) most of these ideas, only allowing one which was at least formulated into a legitimate research question. What they kept saying in response was, "But this is about RE-A-LITY, Mr. P!"

I didn't have time to debate with them, but if I had, I might have wondered aloud about at what point RE-A-LITY keeps being RE-A-LITY because it is a self-fulfilling prohecy: keep telling yourselves you are all gangsters, or surrounded by gangsters, and maybe you will eventually think you should be gangsters. Here are three intelligent girls with potentially bright futures, yet they watch the same media romanticizing of gang life as the real gang-bangers do. And I could hear in their voices a sense of pleasure in describing the awful RE-A-LITY of gang life that infests so many black communities. Sure, they would deplore it if forced to, I suppose. But that would deprive them, a little, of something they have come to keep a little too close to their hearts. Yes, of course it's real, but it is reality tinged with mythos at this point, and an endless loop of rap/hip-hop lyrics, videos, websites, and magazines both feed and are fed by the romance of the myth.

Now, there is a small percentage of white kids who get swept up in the romance of it all as well, and we all know some of the unsavory names that are given to such folk. But exceptions aside, in describing my reaction to my students, I'm describing racial divides between us. But the racial divides of the 21st century, are, from my perspective, spawning from different sources than from the old days. There may be relationships between the divides of the past and the present, but something new, and nasty is at work these days, and it is affecting us all. I would put it this way: as more and more black youths fulfill the self-fulfilling prophecy of RE-A-LITY, more whites find it easier to write blacks off as "never going to get it."

That is not fair, because there is a prosperous black middle class. But the black middle class isn't being romanticized on music video channels, or showing up on the nightly news.

05 December 2007

Life Not Imitating Art

So, we finished our romp through The Tempest yesterday, with lots of fanfare from Mr. P. about bridging the Unseen and the Seen worlds through self recognition, forgiveness, mercy, love, etc.

While this was going on, another tempest has been gathering within the class itself. The class includes the only sophomore who was elected to the homecoming court, and she fits so many, many stereotypes, from the overuse of make-up, to the "my need to socialize trumps your need to teach me" attitude, to the paranoia about others "hating on" her, to the soulful singing style well-honed for talent portions of pageants. In addition, the boy she was dating at the beginning of the year is in the class, but he broke up with her early on because "she was crazy!"

Up until now, Miss Priss (who can be sweet, and smart, when she so chooses) has had a couple of stalwart buddies in the class, but something has happened. Last week she was gone four days in a row with a "stomach bug", and while she was away the stalwart buddies, I noticed, were no longer stalwart-seeming when I asked if they had heard from her. And sure enough, this week, she is being roundly shunned by her buddies. We are working on a final Tempest project, and while they all sat on one side of the room, she was conspicuously alone on the other side.

I'm sure whatever she did, she deserves what she's getting. But, ahem, what about that mercy and forgiveness stuff, ladies?

One could point out that, in the play, there is no repentance without pain being inflicted first, so I guess I shouldn't hold my breath over a reconciliation for a while. Or, I could just give in to Wyfe's notion that teenagers are fundamentally pure evil.

02 December 2007

A Void

After spending much of last week sick, and then not sleeping well because of the speed-in-disguise decongestant I was prescribed, I've been spending the weekend in various states of napping, errand-running, helping get out Christmas ornaments,and lackluster grading/test making. Motivation has been low, as you might expect, for all but the napping. Really, I've got nothing much for you blog-wise, either.

Well, o.k.,some quick reading blurbs: I continue to make my way through the delightful Song of the Line (I'm a slow reader of poetry), and have picked up Mark Helprin once again, this time with Winter's Tale, which some consider his best. So far, it is quite promising, what with the murderous gang leader who's obsessed with pure, vibrant colors and the thief protagonist whose rejected-immigrant parents set him adrift as an infant in New York harbor on a stolen model sailing vessel. Both books have something immediately apparent in common: an interest, indeed a joyful preoccupation with, eccentrics. Explains a lot about me, I'm sure.