Wednesday, December 31, 2008

my favorite Proshanto/Rachel wedding photo

Rachel gave me permission to post this picture, taken by her now sister-in-law Nayantara--it's my favorite of the wedding pictures from her recent federal courthouse wedding to Proshanto. There are some other great ones, making good use of that mirror you can see behind them in this photo, but this is the best. In the photo from left to right are Rachel's father, Proshanto's father, Proshanto, Rachel, Proshanto's mother, and Rachel's mother. I especially love Proshanto's father's expression, but really each of them have amazing expressions on their faces, and a whole photo of this many complex looks! You know it has to be a wedding.

This would be a great photo to have students write about, come to think of it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I want that OED

I finally submitted my entry to the Powell's contest. It's dorky and lengthy and extremely sincere. And I just noticed a typo, oh well:

Having thought long and hard about this, I am settling on "grimy" as my favorite word, when really, though it is a great word, it's my entry more because represents something about words that I love: the ways they are so often metaphorical in spite of themselves (Who can pick a favorite word? There are too many great ones! This is as close as I could come). I am a teacher and know a lot of slang that I can't use without having students' eyes rolled at me, but I don't think they know how much I love hearing it used. So, we know grimy means dirty, as in "covered with grime," but according to the OED, Dickens used it first in a figurative sense, to mean unpleasant or mean. My students use it to suggest something is unpleasant, and sometimes unpleasant or mean, as in "Miss, that's grimy! You're giving us homework over Christmas?" but they also use it to suggest that something is disgusting: "They're making us eat this for lunch? That's grimy. That's not food. I want to see them eat it." Like much teen slang, it has nearly endless possibilities: a bad outfit is grimy (not to mention off-brand shoes), a poem they don't like or understand is grimy, your best friend's girlfriend getting with another guy is grimy, the Other Mother in Neil Gaiman's Coraline is grimy, etc. The Urban Dictionary also lists "keep it grimey" defined as a "slang phrase meaning that someone tells the truth even it if means revealing some gruesome, vulgar, obscene or otherwise damaging information." I love living language.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes

Left the neighborhood today; sitting at Coffee House NW on W. Burnside. The cute boys working are listening enthusiastically to Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, and one is trying hard not to sing along--though several patrons keep breaking into song, perhaps unconsciously.

I didn't know this band before today--they make me think of the Langley School kids, since they're singing a couple of the same songs ("Sweet Caroline," "Desperado") and covering many of the same or similar artists (the Beach Boys, Elton John). Langley School never took on Simon & Garfunkel, and they were before Billy Joel's time, but I have a feeling they would've had just as much enthusiasm for "The Boxer" or "Uptown Girl" them as they had for Barry Manilow and the Carpenters. There were also no show tunes in the Langley kids' repertoire, at least not to my knowledge--but their versions of "Rainbow Connection" or "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" would've been just as moving as Me First and the Gimme Gimmes'. Or maybe not--there's no irony in a school choir singing "Rainbow Connection," or any show tunes and the shared appeal here is largely the unironic enthusiasm and utter joy for music made ironic by being covered, in either context: whether it's school kids singing "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft (The Recognized Anthem of World Contact Day)" or punk kids singing about "A Few of My Favorite Things."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Arne Duncan: Obama's Pick for Secretary of Education

I am finally getting around to learning some things about this guy. I googled him and started with this article on the alternet site, which not surprisingly critically examines some of the "reforms" he enacted, but also emphasizes that Duncan's own ideas about education reform were "hamstrung" by Mayor Daley and his initiatives.

Catalyst Chicago, a Chicago education site, talks more specifically about the ways in which Duncan and his team improved or tried to improve the Chicago public schools. This article, "Duncan's Track Record," reviews his initiatives and includes links to other relevant articles on the Catalyst Chicago site, which often go more in depth about the specific reforms. This was the most helpful site to me.

& Alfie Kohn went off about three potential Secretaries of Education in The Nation, before Obama made his choice. Not surprisingly, Duncan was not Kohn's pick. Understandably, he goes off about how maybe an educator should be Secretary of Education. The alternet article summarizes Duncan's experience as "Duncan, 44, was just 36 when he was appointed to replace Paul Vallas, who left Chicago to head Philadelphia's public schools. He served as Valla's deputy but had no prior credentials as an educational administrator." It does not appear that he was ever a teacher, though his official Chicago Public Schools bio does say that while he was a professional basketball player in Australia, "he also worked with children who were wards of the state." That gives me a lot of confidence, and removes any concerns I might have had about putting this guy in charge of education and No Child Left Behind. He's almost as qualified as I am!

This Wall Street Journal article helped clear up some of the political reasons for the choice, though. It's also an interesting article because of the political power it attributes to Teach for America and those pesky self-righteous know-it-all-right-out-of-undergrad TFA teachers: "Mr. Duncan is certainly no bomb thrower. His role instead will be to harness the entrepreneurial spirit of young idealists in the [Democratic] party, like DFER and the tens of thousands of young people who join Teach For America each year. This group, which continues to attract highly skilled young people, is fast creating the new Democratic elite in the education arena while challenging the education establishment."

I guess we'll see what Arne does and doesn't do.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Researching Greek choruses for the musical Rachel and I are writing, I accidentally typed Electra in as author rather than title, and this

appeared. Oops.

I'd appreciate suggestions of plays to read that include some kind of chorus. If you suggest something in translation, I'd love suggestions for translations of the title as well. Recently read all of Anne Carson's translations--the four Euripides and Sophocles' Electra--I wish she'd translate everything the Greeks ever wrote.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Form is to function as books are to reading...

From James' Gleick's op-ed in the Times a couple weeks ago: "It is significant that one says book lover and music lover and art lover but not record lover or CD lover or, conversely, text lover."

The whole piece is interesting--read it here.

(Not sure my subject title analogy works... was just talking with some fellow teachers about analogies and how useless they can be, plus how confusing on standardized tests...)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Divorced kid

The little girl, maybe fourth or fifth grade, at Stumptown at the table next to me with her dad (weekend dad), is trying to convince him to buy her a laptop. She's been eyeing mine. "That way I could take it back and forth..."


Behind an SUV (though SUV implies wealth, size for the sake of size, and this one was old, beat-up, and used hard and well) with two bumper stickers: NRA member, and OUTSOURCE BUSH.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I joined the OED word a day list, and I don't have time for any more email or internet shit, but they pick such nice words. Today, mallet, yesterday, sprightly, recently plausibility, assimilate, deboard... Go here to sign yourself up, or just to look at the daily word on their site.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Overheard by L.J.

Text message from Lauren:

Overheard little kid conversation: Cars doesn't have wings. If it does it would fly. And cars doesn't fly.


Ugh. College interview! At Stumptown?! Poor girl. She's sitting so straight in her chair, across from a woman in fleece with a clipboard.

"I like Government better than AP US History, it's more current, you can relate it to what's happening. And I just feel smarter around people, I know what they're talking about in their conversations."

I can't stop listening.

"Um, I work at Java Juice?"

"I never really liked sports, I used to horseback ride, I like more... like, alternative sports."

"I'm interested in... like, I'm not very religious myself but..." and her voice gets very soft and I miss most of what she says until "...just my family, like, my culture, that's why I want to travel..." and she stares off anxiously while the woman interviewing her takes notes.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Favorite Word?

I really want to win the 20 volume OED from Powell's, but I am not sure I can answer the question:

"What's your favorite word? And why? What, in your opinion, is the strangest, or most useful, or ridiculously specific word in all of the English language?" (sic, right? awk, at least)

There's too many good words.

Oh, Elissa, that was a dumb statement. But true.

I know I just have to pick one, and defend it. But how do you pick?

I was thinking of having my students do this, but 1) I think it's too meta for them, and 2) I don't know if ANY of them would actually want an OED. They'd be excited about how much it was worth, but... yeah. Though if I could get some of them to write about a word with the dangling carrot being any kind of prize worth $895, so be it. We'll see.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Gender and more YA fiction (The Dream-Maker's Magic)

I've mentioned the childlit listserv before--this is about another book I read thanks to that list, and a thread on the list about kid's books addressing intersex themes, which the initial question-asker, Rebecca Rabinowitz (her blog is here) defined this way: "Just so we're clear, intersex isn't about being caught between genders or not feeling like one belongs to either gender. Those feelings can of course be felt by an intersex person, sometimes, but those feelings can be felt by non-intersex people too. In any case, those feelings are not the point. Nor is intersex an identity. Intersex isn't about self-identifying or about feelings; intersex is an umbrella term for situations in which the bunch of physical details that society uses to determine a person's sex don't all fall neatly into a category of either 'male' or 'female.'"

Sharon Shinn's The Dream-Maker's Magic was mentioned and sounded interesting, so I put it on hold at the library and read it thinking specifically about the ways that the book relates to trans/intersex identity (I think the two got conflated in the child_lit conversation, and the list expanded to include books in which a character did not present his or her gender clearly).

As I was reading it, I posted a facebook status update that said "Elissa is reading an awesome genderfuck young adult fantasy novel: The Dream-Maker's Magic, by Sharon Shinn." But in the end, I don't think it's really about genderfuck, which I might define as redefining and/or erasing gender norms.*

I'd say it's certainly a novel about gender identity and how we occupy our assigned and chosen gender roles, but really in the end it turns out to be about how the protagonist (Kellen, genetically female and girl-identified, raised by her mother as a boy, as her son) defines "girl." Born to a mother who insists she is a boy, who insists that she gave birth to a son, and forced/encouraged by her mother to "dress like a boy" and "act" like a boy, while those around her know "the truth" (I use too many quotes when talking about gender, but what else are you going to do?), we meet Kellen at nine, who has "come to appreciate the privileges that fell more to boys than to girls, and to take advantage of them when I had the opportunity." But at eleven, a new teacher in town insists that she attend school, and Kellen and her nascent gender identity run head-on into the world of school and what we learn at school. As a middle school teacher, I think that what we learn in school at Kellen's age is primarily about identity, both personal and social, in all the ways that identity can be social. As I see it, this often takes the form of learning how to pass (a.k.a. fit in, though they aren't completely synonyms), whatever that might mean to each child. Pass for cool, pass for normal, pass for more Chicana than white, pass for more white than Black, pass for mature, pass for stupid, pass for smart, pass for a slut, pass for a jock, pass for a druggie kid, pass for a good kid... Kellen doesn't pass for any of the things she might want/need to pass for, she just hangs there in between. Middle school is also about learning to punish the children who don't know how to pass. This is partly because fucking with them takes the attention off you, keeps you safe, but I think it is also because the ones who don't know how to pass, don't want to pass, don't need to pass are the ones who will fuck up/disjoint/complicate your society and your culture later on.

My favorite scene--besides the awesome scenes between Kellen and his best friend Gryffin (who I totally have a crush on)--is one in which Kellen, at thirteen, has an interesting conversation with one of his country's/culture's "Safe-Keepers," who travel the country hearing people's secrets and keeping them safe. Kellen meets the Safe-Keeper, Ayler, when Ayler comes to stay with Kellen and her mother in their home, an informal bed and breakfast. At this point Kellen is passing as a boy with anyone from outside her small town, and locals may use one pronoun or may use the other (I can't figure out if there are consistencies--I didn't examine this too closely). Kellen realizes who Ayler is:

"You're a Safe-Keeper," I said.

He nodded and swallowed. "Do you have any secrets you wish to confide?"

"No. But if I did, I could tell you and you would never repeat them to anyone, ever, and you would die and they would still be secrets."**

He considered this as he cut himself another piece of bread. "Sometimes secrets only need to be kept for a time," he said. "Sometimes my role is to protect them until they are strong enough to stand on their own."

"If I told you a secret, I would never want you to repeat it."

He nodded. "And some secrets will go with me to my grave."

"I"m a girl," I said, all in rush (sic). I was a little surprised to hear myself say the words. I had not bothered to give this information to any of our other guests, and there was no reason Ayler needed to know it.

"And is that a secret?" he asked gravely. [I love this question here, and Kellen's response.]

"Not exactly. Some people know it, some people don't. My mother wishes I was a boy." Before he could speak again, I added dryly, "That's not a secret, either."

"And what do you wish you were?" he asked.

I had never actually thought about it that way before. "I wish I was a girl who would do whatever she wanted," I said at last.

He swallowed another piece of bread. "And isn't that what you are?" [That's the best part, but Kellen's response and then Ayler's are useful too.]

I had never actually thought about that, either. "Maybe," I said, my voice uncertain. "But there are days I don't like who I have to be."

"There are days all of us don't like who we are," Ayler replied serenely. "And there are days we work to become people we like better."

Then they talk more about Ayler's job as a Safe-Keeper. I love their conversation--fantasy can be a pain in the ass (again, see footnote #**), but it can also be a way to create situations that allow for conversation about things that our culture just doesn't manage to discuss. (Kindred being maybe my all-time favorite example of this, though I have a very limited knowledge of the genre.)

The book gets less interesting as Kellen learns how to be a girl better and better, and though the book stays multidimensional and pretty great, and, thank god, never turns into a love story, there are implications of heteronormativity and living happily ever after.*** Gender norms certainly do not get erased. But a girl/boy does learn how to subvert them to her advantage, and Kellen surrounds herself with some good people who respond to her gender questions and her, uh, highly gendered life? in some great ways.

I don't have a conclusion. I like blogs for that. Thoughts are enough, conclusions are not necessarily necessary. Though it might make me lazy, and less likely to ever finish anything.

*Wikipedia says "Genderfuck refers to the self-conscious effort to 'fuck with' or play with traditional notions of gender identity, gender roles, and gender presentation. It falls under the umbrella of the transgender spectrum." For what that's worth.
**Initially I read this as the kind of back-story and world-of-the-story-development that can sometimes make fantasy very tedious, but it turns out to be more important than that, if handled somewhat awkwardly.
***It's true, but I kind of just wanted to put "implications of heteronormativity" and "living happily ever after" in the same sentence in this post because it cracks me up in a really super-nerd-o way.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Today in the suburbs on my way to work, I was behind a silver Hyundai Santa Fe (SUV) with a tiny bumper sticker just below the license plate that said, "i guess i used to be punk rock once"

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Description of Place

I am reading this novel right now that isn't really the kind of thing I'm usually into, but I can't put it down: Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow. It's set in the near future, the story of a seventeen-year-old tech geek kid who gets in trouble with the Department of Homeland Security after terrorists blow up the Bay Bridge--and the BART tunnels underneath the bay, & the thought of that made me cringe for real. You can see why I can't put it down. But anyway I am thinking about place. Writing about it, having students write about it. Reading about it, and how when it's done well, it can be one of my favorite things to read about, and done well it can nail a piece, done wrong it can damage everything around it beyond repair because you get stuck in the wrongness. I liked this one a lot. It's Doctorow's first-person narrator describing his walk home from Van Ness and Market Street in San Francisco to his home in Potrero Hill:

The walk back to Potrero Hill has an easy route and a hard route, the latter taking you over some of the steepest hills in the city, the kind of thing that you see car chases on in action movies, with cars catching air as they soar over the zenith. I always take the hard way home. It's all residential streets, and the old Victorian houses they call "painted ladies" for their gaudy, elaborate paint jobs, and front gardens with scented flowers and tall grasses. House cats stare at you from hedges, and there are hardly any homeless.

It was so quiet on those streets that it made me wish I'd taken the other route, through the Mission, which is ... raucous is probably the best word for it. Loud and vibrant. Lots of rowdy drunks and angry crackheads and unconscious junkies, and also lots of families with strollers, old ladies gossiping on stoops, lowriders with boom-cars going thumpa-thumpa-thumpa down the streets. There were hipsters and mopey emo art students and even a couple old-school punk rockers, old guys with pot bellies bulging out beneath their Dead Kennedys shirts. Also drag queens, angry gang kids, graffiti artists and bewildered gentrifiers trying not to get killed while their real estate investments matured.


On a related note, I am thinking about how teaching helps my writing, helps my reading. I am still extremely dubious about how much the MFA in creative writing helped my writing, though it did help my reading, which you could argue is the same thing as helping my writing. But as I've said before, teaching keeps complicating the ways I see the world. Which helps everything.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More good stuff on Prop 8.

From Craig and Dean's "Statement":

"Current conversations about Prop 8 hide how the same-sex marriage battle has been part of a conservative gay politics that de-prioritizes people of color, poor people, trans people, women, immigrants, prisoners and people with disabilities. Why isn't Prop 8's passage framed as evidence of the mainstream gay agenda's failure to ally with people of color on issues that are central to racial and economic justice in the US?"

Read the rest of their statement and the stuff they link to.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Cars on the road.

Today I was behind a lovely old diesel Mercedes.

It had a bumper sticker that said BIG TREES CAUSE RAIN.

Proposition 8

I wish marriage was not such a big deal, for anybody. I continue to be baffled as to why it is a political institution at all. You want to get married, then go to church and get married in the eyes of whatever god or gods matter to you. Why does that have anything to do with your legal rights? Especially why does it have anything to do with my legal rights? Plus who are we fooling with this idea that marriage is a sacred institution that must be protected? My parents got divorced when I was still a kid, and probably yours did too. If they didn't get divorced, then I hope they were/are happy and love each other well, but pardon my cynicism.

Anyway, I am just going to post links to a couple things I thought were interesting, both of which I found at Racialicious.* They focus on claims that blame black voters for the success of Proposition 8 in California.** In Dan Savage's fucked up rant on the subject, he says, "I do know this, though: I’m done pretending that the handful of racist gay white men out there—and they’re out there, and I think they’re scum—are a bigger problem for African Americans, gay and straight, than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans are for gay Americans, whatever their color."

Hello, false dichotomies, anyone? I love Savage Love but I do not love this idea that there are a handful of racist gay white men (all the rest are of course fighting to end bigotry on all fronts?) and a whole lot of homophobic African Americans. Not hard to guess where Savage's allegiances lie. I also think it's interesting that he doesn't say "homophobic straight African Americans," but also doesn't examine any of the reasons why black people might like queers or even be queer but still not be all "Yay gay marriage, this is the issue for ME!"

The first of the links from Racialicious, to Daily Kos, analyzes CNN's exit poll that gave birth to the statistic leading to the blame. The second, to Disgrasian, looks at some other ways the same poll could be analyzed, to lay the same blame in other places. Which is how it always works, really.

Finally, Toby posted a link to Jasmyne A. Cannick's editorial as his facebook status update today. The author talks about why gay marriage is not an issue she, as a black lesbian, is interested in fighting for, and she also discusses how what the people leading the gay marriage effort did and didn't do to gain support in their fight against Proposition 8. Makes sense to me. I think it's ridiculous and fucked up to amend the state constitution to deny someone rights, but I also think it's ridiculous and fucked up to spend this much money on a "right" that I don't see as relevant to most of us. (Hey Lisa, the "us" would be the queers, okay? And some other people too.)

Talking this over with Megan, she reminded me that it's not as easy as "marriage is dumb, why are we/they fighting for this right?" because we do live in a world where being able to get married is closely tied to having full rights as a parent, partner, and all that. I said, "I know, but I wish," and she said, "I know..." and I said, "guess I should clarify, huh?" so here. I get that for a lot of people living in our world the way it is, marriage is important. But yeah, I wish we'd work on changing that so that everyone has health care (for example), married or not, rather than buying into it by fighting for the right to get married as the primary battle.

*Okay, maybe that's not all I'm going to do. But it started that way.

**According to Wikipedia, which we know is not always a reliable source, here is a brief summary of Proposition 8 for anybody who's been under a rock: "Proposition 8 is a California State ballot proposition that would amend the state Constitution to restrict the definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman. It would overturn a recent California Supreme Court decision that had recognized same-sex marriage in California as a fundamental right. The official ballot title language for Proposition 8 is 'Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry.' The entirety of the text to be added to the constitution is: 'Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.'"

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Out of the City

On my way to work today, I was reminded that Hillsboro was a small town not too long ago, and is still almost rural. I was behind a huge Ford pick-up truck on Cornelius Pass with the following bumper stickers:




Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Work emails.

Today I got this email from a colleague at school, blank except for the subject line:

there is a very nice crockpot left in the kitchen from friday-who's is it??

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Art and Buddhism.

At the Seattle Asian Art Museum today, I was looking at this Bodhisattva that was a thousand-armed something-or-other (you can see a picture of it here--click on Bodhisattvas and it's the figure cut in half, on the right), and I said to a couple who came up while I was looking at it, "I think it really does have a thousand arms!"

The woman said, "Did you count them?"

I said, "Just that row."

She said, "You must be September or December."

I said, "July--I'm a Cancer."

She was shocked till I explained that I didn't used to be like that before I was a teacher, but it's the kind of question kids will ask: "Does it really have a thousand arms?" and then it/you/the museum/Buddhism in general will totally lose cred if it doesn't.

I love the ways I think because of teaching, the different ways I see.

Advice for Poets

Wislawa Szymborska's write-in advice column for aspiring poets, excerpted here, is terse and cranky and fabulous. I chose three of my favorites to put here, but go read them all.

To Grazyna from Starachowice: “Let’s take the wings off and try writing on foot, shall we?”

To Boleslaw L-k. of Warsaw: “Your existential pains come a trifle too easily. We’ve had enough despair and gloomy depths. ‘Deep thoughts,’ dear Thomas says (Mann, of course, who else), ‘should make us smile.’ Reading your own poem ‘Ocean,’ we found ourselves floundering in a shallow pond. You should think of your life as a remarkable adventure that’s happened to you. That is our only advice at present.”

To Michal in Nowy Targ: “Rilke warned young poets against large sweeping topics, since those are the most difficult and demand great artistic maturity. He counseled them to write about what they see around them, how they live each day, what’s been lost, what’s been found. He encouraged them to bring the things that surround us into their art, images from dreams, remembered objects. ‘If daily life seems impoverished to you,’ he wrote, ‘don’t blame life. You yourself are to blame. You’re just not enough of a poet to perceive its wealth.’ This advice may seem mundane and dim-witted to you. This is why we called to our defense one of the most esoteric poets in world literature—and just see how he praised so-called ordinary things!”

Makes me like her even more than I did already.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Harriet the Spy and Queer Subtext

Kathleen T. Horning's On Spies and Purple Socks and Such appeared in Horn Book Magazine in Jan/Feb 2005, but I just read it and it made me very happy.

I loved Harriet the Spy, and still do. The differences between how Horning read her as a child in the 60's and how I read her as a child in the 80's fascinate me. I don't think I ever realized Harriet was a cross-dresser.

Don't have more to say about that, at least right now--but I wanted to share this regardless of whether I had anything to add. It's worth reading.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Gendered Dragons

I am reading Dealing With Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede (1990), which I just picked up from the library where I'd put it on hold. I don't remember now why I put it on hold, but someone must have said something good about it on the childlit listserv at some point. Anyway I don't know what the precedent is regarding the gender of dragons in fairy tales and fantasy, but Wrede's apparently get to choose their own: "Five of them lay on or sprawled over or curled around the various rocks and columns that filled the huge cave where Cimorene [our heroine] stood. Each of the males (there were three) had two short, stubby, sharp-looking horns on either side of their heads; the female dragon had three, one on each side and one in the center of her forehead. The last dragon was apparently still too young to have made up its mind which sex it wanted to be; it didn't have any horns at all."

I wonder when one is old enough to make such a decision.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Overheard at Stumptown.

Three girls--young women--talking about some book one of them is reading that's about Riot Grrrl and stuff they're all really excited about... another of them says, "I have this Kathleen Hanna connection I'm really excited about."

That's all she said--she didn't elaborate. What does that mean?


I am writing something that might be a story or might be a few pages of garbage. But I am writing it because I am curious about it, not because I want to put it in a zine or try to publish it or do anything with it except see where it goes. I teach for my job, and I write for fun, and it is fun. I like writing again. I think I am finally maybe recovered from the MFA.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Starbucks, karaoke, romance

Before parent/teacher conferences last week, I went to a nearby Starbuck's (limited suburban options) to get coffee and sit for a moment away from kids and parents and classrooms and gradebooks. A cute boy was just leaving--his shift had ended, he was saying goodbye to his co-workers, chatting as he's heading out. Cute boy was totally setting off my gaydar. But then he says, "So yeah, I got it. And next Thursday, we're all gonna go sing karaoke, and then I'm gonna sing, to her, you know? And..." he pulls out the box, gets down on one knee, practicing, then stands back up and passes the ring over for everyone to look at.

A girl behind the counter says, "That's gonna be so amazing!"

Another girl says, "Aaaah! Howwwwww cuuuute!"

First girl says, "You know she wants to be a wedding planner."

He gets his ring back and takes off. I finish my coffee and go back to work.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Last time I went to the Belmont branch of the Multnomah County Library, I picked up my two gospel CDs that I had on hold (yeah, I have a bit of an obsession with old gospel, but also I needed "Go Down Moses" for my current unit), and I said, "Plus I think I have a movie. And I have fines? I was wondering what I have fines for!" The librarian checked my account, she said, "No, you don't have a movie, those are all your holds. And you don't have any fines." I said, politely but somewhat agitated, and thoroughly confused, "But I got an email saying I had a movie and fines!" She was patient with me. Eventually I left her alone.

Then last night I had a revelation, and sure enough, when I looked at my email again, it all became clear:

From: ""
Subject: Library Notice



The following item(s) will be held for you until your next visit to
the library or until the date shown below. All items on the hold shelf
must be claimed at each visit.
The Library Needs Your Support.
Please visit:

DFDVDHIN Hin DVD Dil chahta hai 237188202 24 OCT 2008

Outstanding balance = $3.20

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Certain Songs

I have been listening to a lot of the Hold Steady this year, especially on my commute to school and home, from Portland to Hillsboro and back, on four different highways (84 to I-5 to 405 to 26) and one of those long suburban roads past strip malls and new development.

I also went to this one party last Friday night. It was part of Horace Phair VII, the seventh annual Columbus day party at Laurel, Seamus and Megan's house; Friday night is when the sing-along takes place, apparently (this being my first time attending). Laurel updated the songbook, Seamus and Jody (Laurel's dad) accompanied on guitar, and the assembled group sang...

These songs were included in the songbook:
-"Ana Ng," "Turn Around," and "Women and Men" by They Might Be Giants [We didn't get to "Ana Ng," but the other two were sung enthusiastically. It was the second time in a week that some of us had sung "Women and Men," since Laurel and Megan had the idea to bring "Flood" on our apple-picking adventure the week before. Always amazing to remember all/most of the words to a song you haven't heard in probably ten years]
-"Will the Circle Be Unbroken" (traditional)
-"A Pair of Brown Eyes," and "Dirty Old Town" by the Pogues [I think we only sang "Dirty Old Town," but we did sing it raucously]
-"The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton," and "No Children," by the Mountain Goats [our take on "The Best Ever..." was inspiring, somehow--at least Seamus was inspiring and inspired, and I was just excited that this song was in the song book]
-"Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad," and "Pretty Boy Floyd," by Woody Guthrie, and "Hobo's Lullaby," by Goebel Reeves, also performed by Woody Guthrie (with alternate lyrics included by Thos. Pynchon) [we only sang "Hobo's Lullaby," but it makes sense that Woody would've been well-represented here]
-"Nebraska," by Bruce Springsteen [one of the first we sang, and way more disturbing a song than I'd registered before--maybe it was the act of singing it.]
-"The Mariner's Revenge Song," and "Sons and Daughters," by the Decemberists [These were the big hits of the night, with "The Mariner's Revenge Song" an event like going to see Led Zeppelin and just waiting for "Stairway to Heaven" all night. "Sons and Daughters" sounded good, though Laurel wanted more. Laurel, we'll practice a round for next time, okay?]
-"The Heart of Saturday Night," and "Innocent When You Dream," by Tom Waits
-"Papa Was a Rodeo," and "Reno," by the Magnetic Fields
-"Mandelbrot Set," by Jonathan Coulton
-"Man in the Moon," by R.E.M.
-"Folsom Prison Blues," by Johnny Cash, and "Ring of Fire" by June Carter [though we sang it vaguely more like Johnny than like June]
-"Blister in the Sun," by the Violent Femmes [another song I knew all the words to, a million years later]
-"Burning Airlines," by Brian Eno
-"Just What I Needed," by the Cars [as we were winding down]
-"Christmas in Washington" by Steve Earle
-"Get Me Away From Here I'm Dying," by Belle and Sebastian
-"Flowers on the Wall," by the Statler Brothers,
-"In the Aeroplane Over the Sea," by Neutral Milk Hotel
-"Jolene," by Dolly Parton
-"There is a Light that Never Goes Out," by the Smiths
-"Time to Get a Gun," by Fred Eaglesmith
[these two appeared on facing pages, with a box on the "Time to Get a Gun" page labeled CHORUS: and reading:
And if a double-decker bus
crashes into us
To die by your side
Is such a heavenly way to die
And if a ten-ton truck
kills the both of us
To die by your side
Well, the pleasure
the privilege is mine

Laurel and her dad RULED on "Get a Gun," but then The Smiths singers were a smaller group--people had petered out by then, somewhat--but me, Rick, and Tim didn't let it die, and we kept going sans songbook with part of "Hand in Glove," part of "Panic," and almost all of "Golden Lights"--though Brenden, you should have been there! I had many of the beach crew in mind that night, plus my sister.]

These were also in there, but didn't get sung:
-"Paranoid" by Black Sabbath
-"Snazzy Portland," by the Bad Mintons
-"Strumpet" by Lois
-"Perfect Day," by Lou Reed
-"Dog End of a Day Gone By," by Love and Rockets
-"The Philosopher Song," by Monty Python
-"Tell Me Why," by Neil Young
-"Rory" by the Vaselines
-"Death is not the End" by Bob Dylan [note in songbook: "as played by Nick Cave]
-"I Have Seen the Land Beyond," by Beck
-"Take the Skinheads Bowling," uncredited.

On the last page was a list of songs that did not get included but apparently should have been:
Every day is like sunday
L & M
Birdhouse in your soul
I wanna be sedated
Sloop John B
The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
A Calling-on Song
Narrow Your Eyes

One of the Hold Steady songs I really like is called "Certain Songs":

I guess you're old enough to know.
Kids out on the east coast.
Roughly twenty years old.
Got coaxed out by a certain perfect ratio.
Of warm beer to the summer smoke.
And the meat loaf to the billy joel.
Certain songs they get so scratched into our souls.

She goes low on the seats when she gets high in her car.
She looks shallow but she's neck deep in the steamy dreams of the guys along the harbor bars.
She's pulling out her shirttails and jacking up her socks.
Stern and stoned and confident, coming up towards the jukebox.
Born into the only songs that everybody finally sings along.
B-1 is for the good girls.
It's only the good die young.
C-9 is for the making eyes.
It's paradise by the dashboard light.
D4 is for the lovers.
B12 is for the speeders.
And the hard drugs are for the bartenders and the kitchen workers and the bartender's friends.
And they're playing it again.
Ellen Foley gives us hope.
Certain songs they get scratched into our souls.

I guess you're old enough to know.
Kids out on the west coast are taking off their clothes.
Screwing in the surf and going out to shows.
They get high and ride around in GTOs.
I guess you're old enough to know.

- - -

Some of the songs that got sung the other night are some of my certain songs. That's all I have to say about that right now--took me forever to list out the songbook songs, with my limited annotations.

- - -

The photo, by the way, is Seamus playing guitar (maybe "The Best Ever Death Metal Band..."?), and Laurel is sitting on the floor to his right.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Guy in line at Stumptown on Division, thick glasses, wool pants shortish (capri length) for biking, longish blondish hair, full beard, holding a bag of potatoes, waiting for his coffee.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Discovering Music

Sometimes I play music while my students are freewriting, either as a prompt to help them imagine a scene or in the background as a sort of reward. Two of my eighth grade girls, V. and M., asked if they could bring in music if it was appropriate language and "if it wasn't, you know, like lots of guitars and drums and noise and stuff." I said sure, why didn't they make a mix and I'd listen to it.

Except now I can't stop listening to it. V. and M. were two of my three students to write "what I did this summer" essays about going to the Vans '08 Warped tour. The mix extremely reflects the tour lineup, not surprisingly.

Here is their track listing:

"Darlin'" - Between the Trees
"Jaime All Over" - Mayday Parade
"The Forward" - Between the Trees
"Lullaby" - Dear Juliet
"I Must Be Dreaming" - The Maine
"Dear Maria, Count Me In" - All Time Low
"Anthem of Our Dying Day" - Story of the Year
"Your Life and Mine" - Just Surrender
"Shake It" - Metro Station
"Secret Valentine" - We the Kings
"Never Let This Go" - Paramore (sic)
"Three Cheers for Five Years" - Mayday Parade
"I'll Run" - The Cab

My two favorites are "Your Life and Mine" by Just Surrender:

and "Shake It," by Metro Station--& the "Shake It" video has a ton of random awesome dancing plus kind of a terrific random premise. It's also fascinating how much the lyrics are about sex, while the video isn't at all. Hmm, target audience?

I am loving teaching eighth grade this year--remembering how much that age is about figuring out who you are, apart from your family, and developing your identity based on clothing, music, your friends, and the stuff you like: books, sports, church, whatever it is. I am also constantly cringing from the never-ending reminders of how rough it is to be that age, in all kinds of ways.

In eighth grade, I was listening to Eazy-E because of my crush on Jamie Lockhart. I have a student who is really into Eazy-E (it's written all over his notebook and sometimes on his arms), but I think in his case it's dad's influence. I also knew all the top 40 hits every week--like, I could predict the top 10 and be very close to correct. Me and Casey Kasem were tight. That was the year of Bobby Brown, Poison, Milli Vanilli, Paula Abdul ("Straight Up"), and Madonna was in her "Like a Prayer" phase; I still completely worshipped her at that point. (Fourth grade until the beginning of high school, "Like a Virgin" through "Like a Prayer," it was all about Madonna.) Also, "Eternal Flame" was that year. Seminal stuff.

I think the girls who made me the mix are much cooler than I was--in fact, I'm sure of it, even though when I told V. she was cool she said, "I am so not cool! Cool? We're not cool!" and she was not politely denying it, she was baffled at how I could think that. It wasn't just because Ms. Nelson called her cool--she could've taken it from me if it were true. She's just very sure it's not true, and she's not only comfortable in her uncoolness, she relies on it to let her be the goofy kid she is. Cool is a lot of work in eighth grade. (I'm guessing it's always a lot of work, not that I'd know.)

If you were V. and M. in 1989, eighth graders, but relatively self-assured and comfortable doing your own thing, what would you be listening to? I didn't discover Nine Inch Nails till ninth grade, though Pretty Hate Machine came out in 1989. Pixies Doolittle, Nirvana Bleach, and Ministry The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste also all came out in 1989, but I wasn't quite there yet. I don't remember anyone that cool in junior high, though I might've been oblivious and just not registering them as cool. All three of my Vans '08 Warped tourgoer students also have older sisters and/or cousins involved, exposing them to such things. This is why my little sister saw They Might Be Giants at First Avenue the summer before seventh grade (and My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, she has just reminded me!), and Liz Phair, also at First Avenue, in eighth grade.

Oh, music. Self-identity. And growing up.

I continue to love my job.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Plums, poems, what a kid should read

Post-poetry night, Laurel forwarded me this and it made me very happy for lots of reasons. Oh, William Carlos Willams. Oh, the solace of plums. And finally, oh, what kids should read, vs. what they get. Or maybe not get--it's not about understanding, it's about appreciating. At least a lot of the time. Not as often when one is an eighth grade teacher--I can't just let my kids appreciate as much as I'd like to, I have to make sure they comprehend fully, which means that I don't leave them room, really, to like it, unless they understand it. Which means that my students who tend not to understand so quickly very rarely reach the point of enjoying stuff we read. Also, not everyone understands about appreciating vs. getting, and the pleasure of just appreciating, without trying really hard to get it. You have to be able to approach something in a certain way to manage that. You have to be able to just latch on to the words, or one image, or some idea that you make for yourself out of the words. Kids who can do that are lucky. Also somehow I think that kids who get books taken away from them are lucky. Too many kids never get to think of reading as forbidden, dangerous, rebellious. If more kids did, maybe more kids would be interested in reading.

Really the whole idea of appreciating vs. getting applies to all art experiences, but literature isn't treated as art in school; it's a means to an end, especially in our current joyless era of No Child Left Behind. This isn't always true, but I think it often is, especially for struggling readers. I am revising and adding onto this post, which isn't very bloggish of me. But I am still thinking about it all. I am always thinking about it, really.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

More about boa constrictors who swallow elephants.

I am still reading Tales from the Arabian Nights, so I was consulting my Penguin Dictionary of Symbols this morning, wondering about the number 300, and happened upon the entry about tattooing. This part cracked me up:

"...tattooing belongs among symbols of identification and is interfused with all their magic and mystic potency. Identification always carries a double meaning: it tends to invest the individual concerned with the properties and strength of the creature or thing to which that person is assimilated and, at the same time, to immunize the latter against its potential power to cause harm. This is why tattoos depict dangerous creatures such as serpents or scorpions, or animals which are symbols of fertility, such as bulls, or of power, such as lions, and so on. Identification also carries the sense of surrender or even of consecration to whatever the tattoo symbolically depicts. It then becomes a badge of fealty."

So my tattoo, of the boa constrictor who swallowed the elephant, protects me against a lot, one might think. A very dangerous creature, a symbol of childhood and imagination and fearlessness--and my own badge of fealty, surrender, consecration to these things. I suppose I am invested in the properties and strengths of the boa constrictor who swallowed an elephant, as well as invested in the properties and strength of the narrator of The Little Prince who drew the boa constrictor who swallowed an elephant (though I wouldn't have thought to put it that way). Also, of course, the tattoo is a constant reminder to me of these things, as I'd written about here.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

At the Alberta Co-op

Laurel heard a dad say to his eight-year-old son, "Careful Guillaume, remember the time you got your leg stuck in the spiral staircase at the yurt."

Seventh grade skater boys (and one skater girl)

During advisory time, I take the kids to the skate park across the street from the school (how cool is that?). But of course this being Portland, and now that the rains have started*, we are spending a lot of days--even dry days with wet pavement from morning rain--watching skater videos in Rachel's classroom.

So we are watching these guys skating up banisters and across stretches of pavement and through parking lots over loading docks...

Seventh Grader Number One: How do they find so much cool places?
Seventh Grader Number Two: They actually go out.

(This story might kind of have a moral: It will always be harder to be in middle school than to be an adult. I think my job puts the rest of my life in perspective--even if something sucks, I at least have so much more agency than I ever did back in the day.)

*to quote Aubrey

Friday, October 3, 2008

At Albina Press on Hawthorne

"No, Sabbath! It all comes back to Sabbath!"

The Unexpected Question

Yesterday during class, while my eighth grade students were writing their responses to the songs we listened to about the Vietnam war, Ashley raised her hand and called me over. "Ms. Nelson, this isn't about this, but--can we cross dress for Halloween?"

"Uh, I don't know why not."

"My sister had been a guy for three years."

"For Halloween?"

"Yeah. And everyone always falls for it."

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Another Thing Someone Else Saw

From Rachel Sakry:

I had an "I love Portland" moment today that I thought you might appreciate: I was at the farmers' market downtown during my lunch break, and there was a busker playing saxophone. So, he starts playing the Darth Vader theme from Star Wars, and out of nowhere this other guy rides by on a unicycle playing the main theme from Star Wars on bagpipes.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

...a delightful task to any boy or girl...

I'm reading* the 1909 selection of The Arabian Nights; Their Best-Known Tales edited by Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora A. Smith, with illustrations by Maxfield Parrish (reprinted by Atheneum Books).

Ms. Wiggin's Preface cracked me up, especially this:

"It would be a delightful task to any boy or girl to begin at the beginning and read the first English version of these famous stories, made from the collection of M. Galland, Professor of Arabic in the Royal College of Paris. The fact that they had passed from Arabic into French and from French into English did not prevent their instantaneous popularity. This was in 1704 or thereabouts, and the world was not so busy as it is nowadays, or young men would not have gathered in the middle of the night under M. Galland's window and cried: 'O vous, qui savez de si jolis contes, et qui les racontez si bien, racontez nous en un!'"

Obviously, this was a hundred years ago, and the world was not so... something as it is nowadays. I haven't taught a boy or girl yet who would find it a delightful task to begin at the beginning, though I did give Deanna a copy of Arabian Nights today since she's obsessed with mythology.

*re-reading? I know all these stories, but who knows where from.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Footnotes and other awesome things

Incidentally, this is my fourth blog post in a row about kids and reading. Incidentally, maybe not coincidentally (although I thought I knew what each of those words meant, but then in looking them up and trying to figure out specifics, I got confused. Oh, vocabulary. It's good for me to be reminded of how confusing dictionaries can be, even when you're a grown-up and like them and know how to use them and even mostly know what the words mean that you are looking up!).

I just finished Sharon Creech's fabulous Heartbeat, another of her great mid-grade novels written as a series of poems. In Heartbeat, the poems are by our heroine, twelve-year-old Annie. This one made me super happy:


In school we are learning footnotes.1

It made me laugh to hear them called

I pictured little notes on my feet
and could not stop giggling
as Mr. Welling tried to explain
why we needed to do footnotes2
and the exact, correct format

and we had to practice everything exactly right
with the commas and the colons
in the right place

He was very

And I liked getting everything
in the right place
and knowing there was a plan
for how to do it right

but then I could not get the footnotes
out of my mind
and started putting them everywhere--
on spelling tests
and on math homework--

and just about everywhere
where I wanted to add a little explanation
(which you do not normally have a chance to do
on tests or homework)

but I am not sure all of my teachers
appreciate the footnotes3

and now I am dreaming
in footnotes

which is a peculiar thing.

I dreamed of running past the barn
and in my head I saw a footnote
which said
Faded red barn
and when I passed the church
I saw a footnote
Old stone church
and on like that
footnotes for every little thing

and when I stopped at the red bench
and looked at the soles of my feet
all the little notes were printed there
in charcoal pencil

and somehow it pleased me
that the notes were there
imprinted on my feet--


1. Like this.
2. To show where we found information, or sometimes to explain something further.
3. One teacher wrote "Very amusing," but another put two angry red question marks by each footnote.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Donna has been saying this for the past year at least, and she was the first one I heard saying oh em gee instead of just writing it as an abbreviation. But yesterday I was reading a student's essay to the class at her request, and when I got to the dialogue and read "OMG" as "oh my God!" I was corrected: "No no no! O M G!" so I read it over the right way.

Loose connection being, I was just reading the first post on the YA for Obama blog, by Judy Blume, and loved the second comment, by L.K. Madigan: "Thank you so much, Judy! (OMG, I just called Judy Blume 'Judy'!!!)"

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Uncle Tom's Cabin of the Horse

Googling "Black Beauty" for some small detail for something I'm writing, I came across this and laughed really hard: "Sewell’s intention in writing the book was to promote the humane treatment of horses. Called the 'Uncle Tom’s Cabin of the Horse,' Black Beauty is credited with having the greatest effect on the treatment of animals of any publication in history. The book resulted in legislation protecting horses and a changed public attitude about animal pain and the traditional and fashionable practices that caused suffering for horses."



This week my students read Cynthia Rylant's story "Checkouts," and their starting activity when they came into class was to make a list of at least ten words to describe the kind of person you might get a crush on. My examples were "smart" and "cute."

They argued that this was too private and personal; I repeatedly pointed out how I had written hugely right under the directions YOU WILL NOT HAVE TO SHARE THESE, and asked what they thought the story we were reading today might be about. My brilliant students guessed: two kids with a crush on each other! When I asked who wanted to share, more kids shared than I'd expected. I also did a lot of peeking over shoulders--these kinds of writing activities might be my #1 best way to get to know my kids and what's going on with them.

"Boy," "girl," and "good abs" appeared frequently on their lists, and the first two especially were words that led to students modifying their own lists whenever anyone shared them out. If you didn't put "boy" or "girl" on your list--well you know what that means!!! "Sexy" also made lots of appearances, including eleven times on Jordan's list alone (Jordan the boy, not Jordan the girl). "Asian" (from an Asian student) and "close to family" caught my eye. One girl wrote, among other things, "Kanye West." My two favorite responses were “will call every day," on a boy's list, one of my younger-seeming eighth graders, still interested in Pokemon, and “not a late night texter"--since of course that could get your phone taken away, not to mention your parents in your business.

We had a great conversation about the story's title, too, and they wrote some tragic and romantic and hilarious alternate endings. I am proud of myself for putting the lesson together--the story is in our textbook, but it's not a story I personally really love. I'm a good enough teacher now that I was able to remind myself that lots of times the kids really connect with stories that aren't my favorites, which makes sense since I'm 32 and they're 13. So teach the story that will grab them, Ms. Nelson, even if you aren't so into it, instead of the one that's your favorite (though it was a good week all around for a story about crushes). Anyway, we're saving "Raymond's Run" for next week.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Walking Tour of Tilburg

I went on Khris Soden's Portland Tour of Tilburg with Rachel yesterday and loved it. Soden is an excellent tour guide, thorough and precise. But the best part, as with any public performance project I've ever been part of, was the passers-by and their responses. (And I do think that going on a guided tour of Tilburg through Portland, with a guide waving a small flag of the Netherlands and talking loudly about a king's summer estate as the group stands staring at a parking garage consulting their pamphlets, most certainly counts as participating in a public performance project.) My favorite: in Pioneer Square, Soden explains to the tour that Tilburg shuts down on Sundays, so be sure to complete your shopping on another day; Sundays are best for sitting at a cafe and reading the paper, that sort of thing. As the tour moves on to our next destination, an elderly man towing an oxygen tank with tubes in his nose says loudly to me and Rachel, "The shops are open on Sundays, he's full of BS."

Go here to experience a virtual Portland Tour of Tilburg, or here to learn more about Khris Soden and this project.

Something else seen...

I don't know what to say about her. Miraculous, of course. But besides that?

More Things Seen

This bunny flyer was posted in the cafe at Powell's downtown. Simple and perfect. I tore off a bunny for Donna, of course, who appreciated it enormously, of course.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Carrying around embarrassing things...

Walking over to Peet's Coffee after school, I found a brand new, still shrink-wrapped Monopoly set, LORD OF THE RINGS edition, in someone's free box. The game was enormous--too big to fit in my backpack, and I didn't have an extra bag with me like I usually do these days. So I set off trekking through southeast Portland with the Lord of the Rings edition of Monopoly tucked under my arm. Got to Peet's, gave the Lord of the Rings edition of Monopoly its own chair, and eventually decided to go to Powell's across the street. First I sheepishly asked the guy working at Peet's if I could have a bag for my Lord of the Rings edition of Monopoly that I'd found on the street, explaining unnecessarily that carrying it around was making me feel like a big dork. He smiled somewhat sympathetically, but I wasn't sure if he was smiling with me or at me, so of course I explained: "I teach eighth grade! If you're an eighth grade teacher, you cannot walk by a free shrink-wrapped board game on the street."

"Sure," he said. "I teach eighth grade too."

"Shut up," I said, and he gave me a nice big paper shopping bag.


Today: guy on unicycle pedaling along holding his cup of coffee.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Things Other People Saw

Text from Lauren, NYC:
Man strolling down 2nd ave with a mustache, pippi longstocking braids and a SPEEDO and nothing else.

Text from Megan, driving cross country:
Missouri! Giant catsup bottle!

Message from Rachel, Boston:
Hey Elissa, I'm at the DMV getting my license transferred over, and guess what? There's a fire drill! So we're like all standing in the street, like me and... wow, hundreds of other people and we're waiting for... waiting to get back in so that we can wait for another two hours to get whatever we need to get done done. Luckily I'm still like fifty away so even if I wander off and come back it will be fine. Anyway. I just thought that was kind of interesting, I'm not actually that annoyed by it but I've never had this happen anywhere except in a school. So maybe the building really is on fire! Except no one else except the people in the DMV seem to care, like the Dunkin' Donuts people aren't evacuating. But anyway, who knows. I will talk to you later... bye!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Different kinds of punk kids, plus Vera Katz.

Saturday afternoon: Large group of old-school-style* punk-ass kids--tight black jeans, mohawks, black leather jackets--in the parking lot of the 7-11, piling into a beige minivan, circa 1992 (the minivan, but also the whole scene, really). Oh, high school kids, venturing into the big city, dressed up for the occasion.

August 4, text to Megan as I'm sitting by the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade, not too far from the creepy statue of former Mayor Katz: "Fuckin punk kids & their semi-public sex means I can't sit by the river? Fuck them. Also it looks really rocky. (I sound old and square.)"

*not to be confused with old-school, which is something different, I think

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Brief Notes on Portland.

Overheard on the bus: "Troutdale, where's Troutdale? Troutdale is, like, all-zone."

Walked over to the Triple Nickel yesterday to play Batman pinball, and there were four credits on the machine!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Yard sale!

Sign in yard, amidst boxes of stuff, somewhere between Belmont and Hawthorne in the 30's: Knock on the front door to pay for items--proceeds go to my college so DON'T STEAL!

& I wonder if the kid playing in the dirt in the front yard (maybe nine years old, on his belly near the drain spout next to the house) is the "my."

Is that a...

hat like the Sandinistas wore?*

snake who ate a hat? Oh, right, snake who ate an elephant. Right! Do you know what book that's from? Oh, right! Thanks!


Thursday, August 7, 2008

The ugliest plates.

I bought these at a Portland estate sale for $1 each. The woman whose estate it is/was is not dead; she just moved out of her house and her family was getting rid of a lot of her stuff. I was looking for plates to use as saucers under plants, but these aren't for that. I don't know what they're for. Donna thinks I should put them up in my bathroom. I think they're too scary. But I love them somehow. I love how they are immortalizing these anonymous homely Victorian women... I love the colors of old porcelain, the gold and the green... I love that they are portraits, and that they were probably given away free with purchase.

Each plate says at the bottom: HAMPTON'S FAVORITE TOILET CREAM FOR SALE AT ALL DRUGGISTS Prepared by J.B. HAMPTON, COLBY, KANSAS. I tried to find out something about them, about J.B. Hampton, and/or about Hampton's Favorite Toilet Cream, to no avail. Anyone inspired to research them, please let me know if you learn anything.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Why Careful Sentence Construction is Important

Here's an example from today's Times that I might use with college students, but will not be using with my eighth graders this fall. The article, "H.I.V. Study Says Rate 40% Higher Than Estimate" discusses the disparity between the Centers For Disease Study and Prevention's recent claim that H.I.V. infection in the U.S. has diminished to about 40,000 people per year, and their newly released study showing that 56,300 people were infected with H.I.V. in 2006.

Dr. Julie Geberding, the disease centers' director, describes the study's findings as "unacceptable," and among other things, says, “We are not effectively reaching men who have sex with men and African-Americans to lower their risk."

Oh Dr. Geberding. That's not quite what you meant.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


Last night I spent some time looking at Dean Spade and Tyrone Boucher's new website, In their words: "Enough is a space for conversations about how a commitment to wealth redistribution plays out in our lives: how we decide what to have, what to keep, what to give away; how we work together to build sustainable grassroots movements; how we challenge capitalism in daily, revolutionary ways." Browsing around, I read Kriti Sharma's essay "More Than Enough: Precarious Lives, 'Mere' Survival, and Abundant Joy", and while there is a lot of great stuff in there, I laughed out loud at her revelations about being an "exceptional" and "special" student growing up:

"How strange it is to be 'exceptional'. This goes without saying—'exceptional' is one of the very meanings of the word 'strange'. I mean strangely unnerving, disconcerting. I loved being 'special', even though I knew it divided me from others, even though it fueled competition and fanned destructive jealousies, even though it made my confidence brittle and thin—a teacup on a roller-coaster, sometimes high, sometimes low, always on the verge of breaking. Though I attended mixed-race, mixed-class Canadian public schools my entire life, my closest friends were other solidly professional middle-class overachievers who also had strong attachments to being 'special'—that is, to gaining the approval and support of authority figures, excelling in mainstream institutional academics, and 'being leaders' in clubs, student governments, and community groups. I was in high school before I finally figured out that I was not alone—that, ironically, I was part of a class of people who felt exceptional!"

Earlier in the essay, she says, "I was the first kid to read in my kindergarten class. It was then that I was labeled 'gifted'. And, in fact, I was gifted, in the sense that my grandmother gave me the gift of her time and energy to read to me every day. I was gifted to have books, time, attention, and education. If I was gifted, the gifts came from somewhere and from somebody, but the psychologists who tested me and asked me questions behind closed doors didn’t seem interested in where the gifts came from, only in whether or not I had them. I passed all of their tests, I guess, because I was accelerated a grade."

I had never thought about "gifted" in those terms: who is the gift from, where is the gift from? Though I have thought a lot about the questions she raises, having also been a "special," "gifted," "accelerated" child, and having taught all sorts of "special" children, though this will be my first year teaching middle-class children, of the kind I was--the special children I've been teaching have been working-class and poverty-class, immigrant children and children of color, and "special" in the same way Kriti and I were (chosen for gifted programs through an application process and standardized testing) as well as "special" in all those other ways kids can be (yeah, "special ed", also "English Language Learners," in addition to my "regular" students--but you know many of those "regular" kids were just as special as any of the other ones--I'm gonna say it: really, what kid isn't?).

Today I read a lot of the background about the site, explained here with links to the original material on Dean's livejournal. So much of it is interesting and feels really relevant, as I sit here in my own apartment in Portland (at 32, I've never lived alone before), with my brand new car parked out front (never had one of those before either). The car will take me to my job as a teacher, in a suburban public school that is a mile from the nearest public transportation. I'm also making a financial and quality-of-life decision to work part-time, so I can start writing again, which I haven't been doing since I started teaching full-time while going to school nights to finish my Master's in Ed.

I don't know how anybody has time to read all (or even much of what) there is to read online, but I plan to spend some more time looking over before school starts, thinking more about the ways my life, my world, and my choices fit into their analyses and questions. Nice work, Dean and Tyrone. Thanks.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Kindness of Strangers

Found another typewriter, on a street corner with a bunch of stuff that didn't make the cut in someone's last move. It's a lovely little Remington Portable, and the pamphlet that came with it isn't dated, but does say, "The first Remington Portable--brought out in 1921--revolutionized the world's writing habits. But the new one--recently launched--with many new features--is the last word in beauty, speed and ease of operation. Here it is, ready to serve you. . . ." Based on the machines featured on Richard Polt's site, I'm guessing it's from the early 30's.

But I found it on a corner near 28th and Ash, and I live near 45th and Hawthorne. This wouldn't have been a problem--it is portable, after all! and one of the smallest most truly portable old typewriters I've seen--except that the handle on the case is missing, and I was already running late to get home and meet Laurel. A woman walked by as I was looking at the typewriter, trying to fit the case together. She commented on it, and I said I wanted to carry it home--she said, "You should!" and I said, "Except I live at 45th and Hawthorne!" She said, "You shouldn't!" but then about halfway down the block, she came back and said, "I live on the next block, I'm walking home from work--I can run you home in my van."

And she did, leaving her dog whining in the doorway.

I don't need any more reasons to love Portland right now. I guess I should stockpile them for winter rain.

Brooklyn to Portland, continued.

I'm still reading Grace Paley's Collected Stories (not wanting them to end), and something in her story "Friends" unexpectedly hit me hard. It's a story about three women saying goodbye to a dying friend, and the narrator describes her first meeting with one of the women this way:

I remember Ann's eyes and the hat she wore the day we first looked at each other. Our babies had just stepped howling out of the sandbox on their new walking legs. We picked them up. Over their sandy heads we smiled. I think a bond was sealed then, at least as useful as the vow we'd all sworn with husbands to whom we're no longer married. Hindsight, usually looked down upon, is probably as valuable as foresight, since it does include a few facts.

- - -

This was the part that hit me hard, though, in a way of thinking about the kids I'll teach this year and the kids I won't be teaching. Thinking about what I'll do as a teacher in suburban Portland and about what I did--or tried to do--as a teacher in Brooklyn. What will be the same, what different, and how it is all related. Also thinking about parents and community and working with/around bureaucracy, and the ways we can make things work or maybe not help things fall apart:

. . . Selena pressed her lips together, ordered her eyes into cold distance.

I know that face. Once, years, ago, when the children were children, it had been placed modestly in front of J. Hoffner, the principal of the elementary school.

He'd said, No! Without training you cannot tutor these kids. There are real problems. You have to know how to teach.

Our P.T.A. had decided to offer some one-to-one tutorial help for the Spanish kids, who were stuck in crowded classrooms with exhausted teachers among little middle-class achievers. He had said, in a written communication to show seriousness and then in personal confrontation to prove seriousness, that he could not allow it. And the Board of Ed. itself had said no. (All this no-ness was to lead to some terrible events in the schools and neighborhoods of our poor yes-requiring city.) But most of the women in our P.T.A. were independent--by necessity and disposition. We were, in fact, the soft-speaking tough souls of anarchy.

I had Fridays off that year. At about 11 a.m. I'd bypass the principal's office and run up to the fourth floor. I'd take Robert Figueroa to the end of the hall, and we'd work away at storytelling for about twenty minutes. Then we would write the beautiful letters of the alphabet invented by smart foreigners long ago to fool time and distance.

That day, Selena and her stubborn face remained in the office for at least two hours. Finally, Mr. Hoffner, besieged, said that because she was a nurse, she would be allowed to help out by taking the littlest children to the modern difficult toilet. Some of them, he said, had just come from the barbarous hills beyond Maricao. Selena said O.K., she'd do that. In the toilet she taught the little girls which way to wipe, as she had taught her own little girl a couple of years earlier. At three o'clock she brought them home for cookies and milk. The children of that year ate cookies in her kitchen until the end of the sixth grade.

Now, what did we learn in that year of my Friday afternoons off? The following: Though the world cannot be changed by talking to one child at a time, it may at least be known.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


At Ikea today, a little girl, maybe six, was singing softly to herself: "Never-ending stoooore!"

Monday, July 28, 2008


Two text messages received:

From Claudia: Been watching the most wonderful scene on the subway of a man and his 7 year old daughter, one or both of whom is deaf, playing some elaborate game involving grabbing each other's hands.

From Emilyn: This little boy just walked past with his mom and all I heard was "everybody shakes his weiners."

& two sent:

To Emilyn: 3 boys and a dog playing croquet in laurelhurst park.

To Megan: Grandma w 2 braids & skull print messenger bag buying 4 tiny travel size containers of hand sterilizer on sale 1 cent each at staples.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cross Country

Simply in the interest of documentation, here are the text messages Tammi and I sent Mike as we entered each new state, along with a few photos I took with my phone. A rental truck is big, but the cab isn't so big, so Mike didn't get to come along, instead just experiencing our trip vicariously through text messages. We mostly sent the texts as we crossed the border, immediately after Tammi tried to take a picture of the state sign. (I don't think any of them turned out.)

July 12, 1:11 pm
Just entered Pennsylvania!

[Text from Miriam, July 12, 2:53 pm: Not too late to turn around!]

July 12, 7:30 pm
West Virginia!

Our truck in the parking lot of the little strip mall where we stopped for dinner in West Virginia.

July 12, 8:14 pm

July 13, 12:49 pm
In Indiana!

July 13, 7:07 pm
In Illinois!

July 14, 12:11 pm
In Wisconsin yeah!

July 14, 7:18 pm

[It doesn't really start to look like this until you're close to the Dakotas--I decided on this trip that the forests and hills in Minnesota and Wisconsin, also western Oregon, are my favorite landscape in this country. My own personal favorite.]

July 15, 2:27 pm
South Dakota!

[The Badlands are so cool.]

July 16, 12:39 pm

July 16, 4:23 pm
Yeah we are in Montana.

July 16, 8:44 pm
good night--talk tomorrow--still driving through endless Montana

July 16, 9:47 pm
Continental divide! El 6393 feet!

July 17, 10:41 am

July 17, 11:54 am

July 17, 3:36 pm
We are in Oregon!

July 17, 6:27 pm

Thursday, July 24, 2008


In Portland. Overwhelmed and happy. As a sort of update, so that I will feel as though I can start being more random again, here is a simultaneously expanded and abridged version of the email I wrote Sam this morning (except I mostly fixed my capitalization and punctuation [if not the inconsistent tenses or the clauses within clauses within clauses] because it was driving me crazy as a blog entry, though it was fine as an email). I have a ton to say about my and Tammi's drive cross country, but we'll see if and when that happens. Moving forward.

So I got to Portland, and here is (was) my itinerary:

Thursday the 17th: Arrive.
Friday the 18th: Unload the truck, buy a car. Six words, about three weeks worth of work. But I just wanted the damn car shopping over with, plus I wanted to have it so I could do what I needed to do in it...
Saturday the 19th: Since about 2/3 of what was in the sixteen foot truck was Megan's (because I didn't have a lot of furniture in Brooklyn and what I did have was lousy, plus my new Portland apartment is probably twice the size of the old Brooklyn apartment), Tammi and I go garage saling (saleing? sale-ing?) and to Ikea, get a lovely old green armchair, a wooden rocking chair that the previous owner is anxious about parting with ("It's been in my family forever, it was my grandmother's, but I just don't have room for it--I want it to have a good home!" and half-jokingly, I say, "What are you suggesting, lady? I'm not a good home for your rocking chair?"), and a dark brown couch--a brand new couch, my first new couch ever, especially lovely after someone at a garage sale was telling me and Tammi a story about mouse droppings in a used couch she bought... also Saturday, my sister comes down from Seattle, and Tammi goes back to New York.
Sunday the 20th: Moved slightly slower. But not very much. Unpacked a ton, made like three trips to Fred Meyer's ("Freddy's"--the local Target, with the nearest one four blocks from my house), returned the rental truck and my sister was excited about driving my car (a tiny little BRAND NEW [also the first new car I've ever owned] Toyota Yaris, a good blue color, named Bobbie, I think).
Monday the 21st: Em left, I unpacked still more... got a library card... turned thirty-two.

Yesterday, Wednesday, I went to my new school (my classroom is HUGE which is not surprising, I guess, since space is not at such a premium in the Portland suburbs--it has great windows too, which we know has its pros and cons) and talked for a long time to the assistant principal who was really helpful--she'd been sort of the dean to the seventh grade last year, so really knows the kids I'll have as eighth graders this year--was telling me what kind of behavior problems to expect, that they're almost all really good kids but last year they were sort of immature as a class, acting young and needing more guidance and direction than a lot of seventh grade classes do--she's smart and I like her. Plus it's an established, stable school. With two media labs and a cart of computers that travel!!! And every teacher has a computer in their classroom, plus some classrooms have additional computers for kids! There's an awesome huge library with a full time librarian! We're not working for the NYC public schools anymore. I panicked because there aren't really classroom libraries, but I realized that in a school with an actual library, maybe--just maybe--I won't have to spend as much of my own money on books! AND--I'm part time, teaching four periods instead of five, and the AP said she thinks my schedule will have me teaching periods 2,3,4,5, and I can come late if I want, and/or leave early!!! Which I probably shouldn't do, but hey. & I'll have an advisory, but advisory is attached to the 2nd period class (how smart is that) so it's not like I'll have to be there early then have my 1st period prep. Of course this could change but--!!!

So, yeah. Been walking around a ton, though I haven't spent enough time in parks yet--only one, with my friend Donna and her mom (though Laurel and I did hang out in her back yard, under her magnolia tree, and I have been sitting on my porch a lot). I also haven't cooked anything yet, though my gas is now turned on and I did a huge Trader Joe's shop so I have just about all the staples, such as olive, canola, and sesame oil; rice, apple cider, and balsamic vinegar... brought it all home in my car... weird. Plus I've been to a friend's co-op (not members only) and my sister and I went to a great little neighborhood farm market Sunday, out at 92nd and Foster. So even though I haven't cooked yet I've been eating at home, those random summer snacks and meals: a lot of peapods and cherries, yogurt and granola, tomato basil goat cheese sandwiches. Plus Laurel and Seamus have fed me twice. I'll be feeding them soon.

Yesterday I started trying to write in the mornings, establish a routine and redefine myself as a writer before the school year starts and I am a Teacher again. This is my second day of it, and I'm already breaking my own rules by emailing during my writing time, but yeah. Trying to settle everything in, you know? And this is part of it.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

More about books, packing, and moving.

When you have to look closely at everything you own and decide how much you need to own it, maybe you realize a thing or two about yourself. And you might think some about how you appear to others. For example, what would someone think they knew about me if they opened this box of books, all important enough to me that I not only own them, but I am keeping them and shipping them across the country?

The Hiding Places of God --John Cornwell
Drawings and Observations --Louise Bourgeois
Women Mystics in Medieval Europe --Emilie Zum Brunn and Georgette Epiney-Burgard
The Words of My Perfect Teacher --Patrul Rinpoche
The Poems of Dylan Thomas
Feeling as a Foreign Language; The Good Strangeness of Poetry --Alice Fulton
The Book of Margery Kempe (by Margery Kempe)
Margery Kempe (novel by Robert Gluck)
Matisse on Art
Julien Levy; Portrait of an Art Gallery --Ingrid Schaffner and Lisa Jacobs
Alone of All Her Sex; The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary --Marina Warner
Lives of the Saints --Richard P. McBrien
McSweeney's Comics Issue
Yes Yes Y'All; The Experience Music Project Oral History of Hip-Hop's First Decade --Jim Fricke and Charlie Ahearn
Fatima --Severo Rossi and Aventino de Oliveira (Consolata Fathers)
I Read It, But I Don't Get It; Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers --Cris Tovani
When Kids Can't Read; What Teachers Can Do --Kylene Beers

On opening that box, if you imagined the person who owned those books, and if you wrote a description of him or her, including perhaps things like does he or she live alone, if not who does he or she live with--if you, say, created a facebook profile for this person, how much would it look like my own facebook profile? (Assuming the person who owns these books would have a facebook profile...)

Political Views:
Religious Views:


Relationship Status:
Interested In: [Men/Women]
Looking For: [Friendship, Dating, A Relationship, Networking]

Favorite Music:
Favorite TV Shows:
Favorite Movies:
Favorite Books:
Favorite Quotes:
About Me:




Saturday, June 28, 2008

Zhang Huan

At some point Zhang Huan turned into one of my favorite artists. Even though I don't like a lot of his work, it is always completely fascinating, and the stuff I do like, I love hugely and want everyone to see. His work is funny and unique and complex and closely tied to culture and history, in complicated and strange ways, sometimes so literal that it's bizarre.

He's one of those artists I can't talk about, so I just want people to look at his stuff. I've tried to explain my love of Giacometti's work, and it sounds similarly stupid. I'm a fan of words, but I'm also a fan of the visceral experience, and I think reading is a visceral experience at its best when it is of itself and not a description of something else. I'm sure this is not always true, but until I read something about Zhang Huan's art that proves me wrong, it holds, at least for his work, at least in my own head. He does say the following about "Memory Doors," a series of carvings in huge discarded wooden doors, overlaid and blending into fragments of photographs dating from the Cultural Revolution. But this statement is more about process than an attempt to describe the work. (Shown: Memory Door Series (Shadow) 2007)

"First I decide which part of the photograph I want to keep in tact [sic, maybe] and which part to remove to create two different spaces that function between reality and fiction and it is the job of the viewer to decide which is reality and which is fiction. I create this juxtaposition of the real and false. Both are false but two false can make a true."

His show at PaceWildenstein right now is fabulous, and includes "Canal Building," "Memory Doors," and "Giant No. 3," discussed here by him on his website. His site and the PaceWildenstein site also have images of these and others, but if you can go to see them in person, they will make more sense--let them startle you. The show is up through July 25, in two separate venues.