30 January 2008
30 January 2008
27 January 2008
One of the postcards on Post Secret today appears to be the Union Station in Worcester, MA.
I hope you haven’t done yourself in yet, whoever you are. We’re hoping you’ll pull through this and be part of our lives for a long time to come.
Spread the word. Life gets better than this. Really
27 January 2008
I had this very odd dream last night in which I peeled great plates or panels of skin off of my body, particularly my chest and arms and thighs. These plates were the size of trenchers, and heavy enough to warrant two hands. As I took them off, their edges curled and blackened, as if exposed to a fire. I must have removed ten or fifteen of them, each time revealing more of them underneath.
I think the dream has to do with losing weight. Running with the fencing team, stretching, doing sit-ups and push-ups and the plank has definitely helped trim me down a little. Plus there’s the fencing as well. It’s tiring, especially with Clio to walk in the early morning and late evening. But I think it’s working for me. And the dream while sounding weird actually felt very comfortable, even cool. These swathes of skin wanted to come off; it was like unhooking armor and unbuckling it, rather than peeling off skin.
I am tired, though. I’m supposed to take Clio on her walk at about 5:00a, and I’ve overslept; and I really needed to record this dream. It was rather compelling.
26 January 2008
Yesterday I sat in on a colleague’s class (stood in the doorway, more like) and listened to him expound on writing. He was going on and on about sentence structure, and then he wound up praising a sentence from one student that ran something like this:
“Breaking down the gates of the city, the Assyrians showed no mercy and began killing the inhabitants as a warning to discourage other rebellions.”
It made me think about verb choice and the forcefulness of language, and I suggested an alternative, based on placing the verbs in some semblance of order-of-force.
Warning other rebels with their merciless act, the Assyrians broke down the city gates and slaughtered the inhabitants.”
All three verbs — warn, break, and slaughter — are active voice and fairly active verbs. However, the warning participle is relatively gentle. Break is a bit more harsh, and slaughter is the harshest of all. By entraining the three verbs from least-violent to most-violent, the writer leads the reader along through the action’s forcefulness. The main subject of the thought — breaking the city gates and slaughtering the inhabitants — remains the main focus of the sentence. The warning, such as it is, is confined to the participial phrase, where it belongs as the weakest element of an otherwise strong sentence. I’m not sure how to phrase this as a guideline for good writing yet, but it’s something like…
arrange elements of a sentence so that they proceed in logical order from least-strong to most-strong, or from strongest to weakest.
That’s not quite right yet, so if you think how to phrase this eloquently, please let me know.
24 January 2008
Facing the Lion by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton, is written in simple style for fifth, sixth, and seventh graders, but it’s the very adult story of how Joseph and his brothers, members of the Ariaal group of the Maasai nomads of Kenya, learn to deal with the modern world. Joseph today spends half his year teaching social studies in a school outside Washington, DC. His family still remain as nomadic herders in a district 300 miles north of Nairobi, Kenya.
The African savanna is a landscape not quite like any other in the world. Joseph writes easily of walking 18-25 miles in a day to visit friends in other villages, even as a 10-year-old boy. He writes of going out to hunt a lion, and of riding home to visit his family on vacations from school, traveling two weeks or more on the roofs of trucks from the capital to his home. He plays soccer for the highly competitive team of a school sponsored by the president of Kenya, David arap Moi, and he survives his circumcision to become a warrior.
There are not many nomads left in the world. Not in the true sense, the Joseph sense, of being cattle herders who pack up and move their villages and their herds in search of good grass and fresh water. Joseph explains his childhood, from being a boy until his circumcision at the age of fourteen, and finally his journey to the United States. He stands on a line between two cultures, belonging to both and yet apart in a real sense from both. When we call our firecircle friends “tribe” we have no idea what we’re playing at. Now I see dimly who our descendants may become. It will be an interesting ride; I wish I could see all of it.
Stars: 3.5 of five
22 January 2008
SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, always seems to wrap itself around my head this time of year. I’ve been very low, and it took a call from an old friend and colleague last night to lift my spirits substantially. He reminded me that my school’s culture makes it very difficult to accept changes that came my way yesterday.
There are some positive things. JV fencing makes me happy. We stretch as a group every day, and take a run. The time with my colleague Brian has been excellent, and I think he’ll make an excellent fencing coach in a couple of years, even more so if he does the BAFI program or better yet USFA Foil I (Yes, Pat, this means he needs to leave camp for ten days). The stretching has been good for me, especially the sit-ups and the stretch we call the “plank” and the jumping jacks. The half-mile run is also improving my capabilities. I should really start doing a yoga-style Sun Salutation, as well, as part of the exercise program.
Because of the time-commitment of JV fencing, they only get about 15 minutes of swordplay every day, which is not really enough. But it’s enough to keep them involved. The kids are interested in the sport and capable of learning a variety of things, from cutovers to good disengages. (The Varsity team does not make me so happy. I find that they’re lackluster in practice and not very focused in competition. Our program has not been full of vitality this year, but I’m hopeful for the future.)
And I’m sending out letters. Letters of a professional nature, with those lists of occupations and educational experiences. So far I’m not getting any responses, but I hope that there will be some movement on this front in the next few weeks. Anything’s possible.
17 January 2008
My father recommended Robertson Davies’ fourth novel, Fifth Business, to me more than two years ago, and exacted terrible oaths from me that I would return the books when I was done with them. I am heartily glad I did not simply return them unread, and I am kicking myself that I did not read this book earlier. I may have to buy him another copy of his own. This may have just become my favorite novel ever, after just one reading. It needs another perusal— not right away, but once the terrible, joyous thrill of having read a book that set my mind and heart afire in this way has cooled. I cannot help but feel it will burn again.
Part of my pleasure lay in the great uncertainty I felt at knowing what genre of novel I was reading. Carl Hiaassen writes about real estate, corruption and environment in Florida. You know that; that’s why you pick up one of his books. Dick Francis novels have horses on the cover, which provides a helpful clue; so do the drops of blood. This had a snow-covered village landscape, which was not promising. Plus, the author was Canadian. It could have been literally about anything.
And yet. And yet. One of the British hostages in Beirut during the days of the Reagan administration reported that he told his captors that he was bored and wanted to read, and would they bring him a book. They brought him a bunch of books, mostly trash, and he had to pick out one published by Penguin Books, and show it to his suspicious and militant guards. “You see this penguin?” he said. “Bring me books with this picture on it. Please.”
Robertson Davies’s book has a penguin on it. I should not have been surprised.
The book opens with the narrator’s writing to the headmaster of a school. I am familiar with this particular modality of writing, having done so much of it myself. However, I am certainly not in the habit of addressing my boss in such luridly disrespectful tones. How much more deliciously exciting to discover that the main character, the narrator, is not a punk student determined to prove how all the adults around him are phonies, but a retired teacher of more than forty years’ experience, the last few under this same head of school!
Recalling the events of the last seventy years, the teacher draws the head’s attention to a recent article in the alumni magazine announcing our narrator’s retirement. He is furious at how little he has been understood, how little his colleagues and students have grasped his essential place in history — not simply as an educator of boys who grow into important men, nor as an occasional scribbler of the role of myth in history, but as a genuine historical force, one who helped raise up mighty men and brought them low.
From here, the novel proceeds with spare but lucid epistolary prose — Dunstable Ramsay, our teacher, explains how he has moved and shook the world in spare detail, only explaining the necessary information, imparting the vital conversations, with specific detail of who has done what. By turns, Dunstable veers from the mythically holy library of his hometown, where he initiates a boy into the secrets of magic, to the glittering circle of a great man ensorcelled by a dangerously confused prince, to the killing fields of Flanders in World War I. The Great Mother appears to him, first as a .. a.. but to say it would spoil it… but … and then … and finally as a… but to say too much is to tread on the feet of the next reader. My mind kept asking, is this fantasy? Is this science fiction? Is it simply a pretentious novel? Is it a thriller? What is this thing I am reading? Autobiography? Memoir? I kept reading.
I have read a lot of books. Usually the last twenty pages or so of the average sci-fi or fantasy novel is a wrap-up, or a terrible cliff-hanger. Until the last five pages of the book I had no idea what was happening, even though I understood everything that had happened. I was a historian in possession of facts and dates, but no comprehension of how they fit together. Things that had bothered me in the first pages became suddenly clear and lucid as glass — nay, as diamond — and glittering truths burned at my fingerprints as I held the book. How could I have been so blind? Why did these chance comments seem so offhand before, and now burn brightly in my memory? How was I so deceived as to the nature of things?
I dare say I wasn’t a good teacher today. I was simply enthralled that I had been so duped, so utterly and charmingly bamboozled by a man who could teach Obi-Wan, Mentor and Merlin a lesson or two and that a teacher — a man acknowledged by all to be at the point farthest from the bright center of the universe — should so masterfully bring the whole grand endeavor to its lusty, lurid, ugly, joyously just and beautifully wrathful conclusion.
I am in awe.
And I have just learned, there are at least three more books in the same series.
Stars: Six. Out of five.
15 January 2008
Because we never really know each other as well as we think, in response to this post I’d like you to ask a question. Anything about which you are curious, anything you feel you ought to know about me. Silly, serious, personal, fannish. Ask away. Then copy this to your own journal, and see what people don’t know about you.
I reserve the right to answer in personal email.
15 January 2008
During yesterday’s snow day, I had to keep Clio on a short leash. Every time I let her off leash to go romp in the snow, she either nipped at someone’s hand, or knocked someone down, or destroyed something. She knocked down a colleague’s tiny daughter 30 sec. after going off-leash the first time, and then wound up nipping three people’s hands the second time. The third time, she found a big inner-tube sled, and punctured it in five or six places in a minute. I finally decided it just wasn’t safe to other people to let her be off-leash at all. When I let her off-leash late last night, when no one was around, she found a plastic bag with my neighbor’s children’s diapers, and proceeded to destroy that to get at the poop inside. And inside, when off-leash, she found one of ‘s black slippers, and chewed it to pieces in about 10 minutes. She really doesn’t spend enough time out of her crate, or in company with other dogs or people, and so she has no idea how to behave.
And yes, she’s still peeing. Just now, after getting back from a difficult walk through snow and ice, she came upstairs and sat for me, so that I could pet her for a bit. And she unleashed, while actively sitting, a stream of pee large enough that it would take 2 CD cases to cover the mess. This is not a small amount of submissive urination. This is big amounts of uncontrolled pee. Not really sure what to do about it, though. I don’t really want to get rid of her, but at the same time I feel like this is a bigger physical problem than I know how to handle.