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.