Open Letter on the Teaching Profession

Last month, Washington State Representative Liz Pike wrote an open letter to teachers telling us to enjoy our summer vacation and to stop complaining about our salary and benefits. You can read her letter here.  You can read the Huffington Post article about it here.

Here is my open letter to Representative Liz Pike

Representative Pike:

I pay taxes too.  I contribute to my own salary.  That seems a little backwards, but I don’t hear teachers or other public employees complaining about that.  Most of us a pretty happy to pay our taxes that pays our salary, ensures great learning conditions for our students, and provides all of us a litany of other necessary services.
I don’t really have breaks, vacations, or summers off.  I have a contract that specifies I work 192 days a year.  I am not paid for spring break; I am not paid for summer.  In fact, I really can’t afford to have that as “time-off” either.  I attend conferences to improve my skills as an educator, I spend countless hours preparing for the next school year, I take classes to improve both my content knowledge and pedagogy.  Most of these things I do to make me a better teacher, I pay for out of my own pocket, and again, I am more than happy to do so.
Representative Pike, you are wrong about unions.  In countries that “out perform” us in international rankings, you will find there’s a common thread—active teacher unionism.  If you look at Finland, one of the top performing countries, you will see an entirely unionized professional teaching workforce.  There is no “right-to-work” (for less) law.  There are highly respected teachers that use their union to advocate for best practices such as teacher collaboration and meaningful professional development.  Don’t use data to form conclusions without exploring what that data is showing.
I am pretty comfortable with my salary and benefits package.  It certainly could improve, but it’s nothing to shake a stick at.  My heart breaks for my colleagues that are working for a salary that is significantly less than mine and still have all the same obligations that I do.  My blood boils for my brothers and sisters that are paraeducators that don’t even make a living wage and are just as important as I am in your children’s education.  I know paraeducators that each pay period OWE THE DISTRICT MONEY to cover their very basic health insurance package.  Where is your disgust at this, Representative Pike?

Representative Pike, there’s another major problem in what you have to say.  Every year, thousands of inspiring teachers are leaving the classroom.  Part of it is, yes, they can’t afford to live their lives on the salary they are given.  Another major factor is the constant barrage of unfair attacks against their profession.  Are there bad teachers out there? Certainly.  There are also bad principals, administrators, and superintendents.  In fact, there are bad legislators out there too that pass bad policies and block good ones.  In what is entirely my opinion, legislators are elected by public to improve public life.  Public education is the bedrock of that public life, and you have a duty to support it.  
Is our public education system fatally broken?  Absolutely not.  Are there problems with it?  Absolutely.  Instead of slashing away at it and leveling unfounded criticism at the system and its practitioners, why don't you engage education professionals in a dialogue on how to improve it?  You and a ridiculous amount of other people's attacks on teaching is nothing more than argle-bargle-- adding nothing to the public discourse on what is best for students in our country.  Without public education we would not be enable to ensure that every person in our country had equal access to your e-mail signature—“life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”



I do enjoy eating.  I like pretty much anything from fine cuisine to the trusty bag of Chester's Fried Cheetos.  I thought I would document what I ate today.  This seems to be the hot new trend among those hipster bloggers, so why don't I join the bandwagon!

First was breakfast.  Today I enjoyed both Cinnamon Toast Crunch and the new Peanut Butter Toast Crunch.  The Cinnamon Toast Crunch was the superior cereal both in terms of taste but also in grams of fiber (or grams of some other healthy thing.  I'm too lazy to go check the box right now).  Here is a picture:
I need to apologize.  Not only was this picture taken after I finished my breakfast, but it wasn't really even breakfast at all.  It was lunch.  You see, I had just returned from a Target shopping trip where I procured the cereal.  I actually had breakfast at Target.  It was a hot dog.  See the next picture:
Another apology, that isn't a picture of my hot dog.  Rather, it is one I found on Google.  MY hot dog had no relish on it, and far less mustard.  I also didn't drink a Coke with my lunch.  Instead I filled a cup 2/3 full of Sprint.  Then I added a bit of lemonade and topped it off by splashing just a little more Sprint in... to stir.

Which brings us to dinner.  It's 9:53, and I'm just not having my evening meal.  This is late, even for my standards.  First, the picture!
Now let me tell you how I prepared this meal fit for a lonely single guy on a Saturday night!

First, I prepared the pizza.  This was quite easy as the only ingredient needed was frozen pizza!  The pizza was a steal at 4 for $10!  Then I fashioned the the cardboard plate out of a discarded cardboard packaging insert from a frozen pizza.  The meal is nicely accented by purple / grade Gatorade G2.  The blood pressure monitor is there for good measure.

So there are my culinary treats of the day.  I know my diet isn't going to help me win any races soon (unless it's a race to diabetes or a heart condition.)  I probably would be an utter failure as a food blogger.

On a serious note, my friend Alex does have a sweet food blog.  Good eats on a budget, and a well written blog.  He makes me feel like a total failure as an adult, and ladies-- he's single!  Check it out here: Adventures in the Kitchen.


Creative Writing Night!

Allison and I just completed Creative Writing Night 1.0.  We hope to make this a regular thing.  Here are the results from tonight:  a poem and several six word stories.

An Elegy from the Kitchen

Sparks dazzle; jetting across the sky of my melancholy
Reflecting in the wide sea; solemnly breaking in my heart.
Never again to see his hands or face
Which so easily lulled my racing mind to peace.

The remains burn quicker than fuses on fireworks.
They illuminate the night with color and glory
And then fade away to ash or dust
Gently falling down back to Earth.

I suppose in time we all must face that loss.
A perpetual horror of the bad times yet to come
Igniting a passion in me to rejoice
And honor our quiet dinners together

Sparks dazzle; jetting across the sky of my melancholy
They illuminate the night with color and glory
Igniting a passion in me to rejoice
Past the pain of right now, into the brilliance of what was and will be.

Six Word Stories:

Lost the ring and my promise.

Found forever in best friend’s eyes.

My sanity: cigarettes, sleep, your smile.

The pot roast ended us all.

Woke up screaming; missing my ukulele.

Hey bad ass Europeans: colonize this!

I kept my promise you slut.

His taste for sin had waned.

God got up and then left

Five bananas, two friends, many memories.


On the Importance of Cute Outfits at the Iowa State Fair

Welcome to the Iowa State Fair!
I knew I should have worn a cute outfit to the fair-- there were so many people there, I probably could have met someone to start a long term relationship with.  Oh well, practicality won out, although the black t-shirt was a bad idea.

The day started with me waking up at 7:00 and deciding I could lay in bed until my alarm went off.  The day started again at 7:45 when I was awoken by Kate calling to say they were already at the rest stop we were going to meet at for our carpool.  I told her to head on without me, and I would drive myself-- which was a good idea anyway since Allison was coming back with me.

By the time I was making it into Altoona, I was becoming particularly annoyed with how slow traffic was moving.  When I was getting off the interstate, I found out who was moving so painfully slow.  It was Sarah Palin!
Don't drive and take photos at the same time kids!
When I arrived at the fair with Allison, we headed straight to the Des Moines Register's Soapbox to listen to GOP hopefuls speak.  It was an enlightening morning.  We missed Herman Cain, but we were there in time for Rick Santorum.  He reminded Allison to check to see if she qualified for unemployment benefits.  He also taught us that the poorest person alive today is better off than the richest person 500 years ago.  He also can see into the future.  He was very concerned with the lack of media attention his campaign is getting.  I think it's because people already know his name.  If you're a fan of Dan Savage, you know why.  If not, just Google "Santorum."  His campaign was handing out miniature American flags, and I was very appreciative of that.

Next up was Ron Paul.  I'd party with that dude, maybe even vote for him. (Side note:  as a registered Republican, I do plan on supporting Ron Paul in January!)  He spoke about ending war and getting back on the gold standard.  He was a delight, and I regretted not looking cute.  Tim Pawlenty wowed the crowd by having his wife introduce him.  After giving a loving tribute to he her husband, she ceded the rest of her time husband.  He was the only candidate to ask for questions.  Things got a little too real for me when a group of construction workers from Minnesota that were standing behind me started screaming at T-Paw.  They were upset that he was promising to create jobs as President despite his track record of vetoing legislation that included major construction projects/job creation in Minnesota.  While I stand strong with my brothers and sisters in labor, I felt bad for T-Paw for a moment.  All the media that was covering his speech walked away to talk to the construction workers.  

Ben and Kate were interviewed by several media outlets, including two German news agencies!  No one wanted to interview me, probably because I didn't have a cute outfit on.

We decided to take a break from politics and went off to do other fair things.  We enjoyed platefuls of meat and delicious fried foods.
American Oreos!

We also took a gander at the butter cow, had some more stick food, saw a giant, metal cock, and stuck our heads in things.

Allison and I
Metal Cock

Seeing Sarah Palin was a major goal of mine for this trip to the ISF.  As the day drew on, we had no luck finding her.  She's a slippery maverick!  Following her twitter and the NY Times coverage did not help.  Warren and I decided to take to the sky to find her.
To the sky!
Our search yielded no results, but we did discover a place to buy Confederate flags at the fair.  They cost $10 if you are interested.  We read a report that Palin had left the fair, so we gave up our quest.  Our sights were now fixated on the other major news item of the 2011 Iowa State Fair-- butter on a stick.  We went to the information booth to ask where we could find this culinary wonder.  We were directed up the hill, through a dizzying maze of fried chicken, candy, pork, and vegetables.  When we arrived at the booth with the butter, the line was simply staggering.  After the disappointment of not seeing Sarah, I declined that line.  We sullenly marched up the hill to find corn-brats.  All of a sudden, there was an explosion of commotion.  Teen girls were screeching and squealing.  I thought that certainly Justin Beiber was around or at least a vampire sparkling in the sunlight.  No no!  It was the mama grizzly herself along with the rest of her sloth.
Mama, First Dude, and Family
I was truly taken aback.  I have no qualms in saying I love Sarah Palin.  While I find her politics disgusting and confusing, and her rhetoric to be vitriolic and misguided, I think she's one of the most fascinating political figures of the past five years.  Her rise from being the governor of a state none of us really care about to being the darling of the GOP and Tea Party is nothing short of remarkable.  She is the poster child for the role of personality in contemporary American politics.  Frankly, it's a sad state of affairs.  But her policy ideas and the Tea Party movement she helped spawn clearly are holding a dangerously more frequent and important place in our political discourse.  She is a figure progressives cannot choose to ignore or wish away.  She shook my hand and asked my name.  I happily obliged.  I bet if I were wearing a cut outfit, I would have walked away with a job offer.

I was also shocked at her size.  Her public image is clearly well managed.  According to a quick Google search, Sarah is 5'4" and 145.  Frankly, she looks like she weighs a lot less.  Unhealthily less than 145 lbs.  I would call her frail even.
Food! Stat!
According to the Huffington Post Sarah sent an e-mail to supporters about her visit to the ISF.  In it she claims she's going to try the famous butter-on-a-stick.  She also takes an opportunity to jab Michelle Obama's healthy kids campaign by saying it's better than eating peas.  Ironically, when she would return to the butter booth an hour later, she would decline the tasty treat that she wrote so passionately about in her e-mail.  I think this says a lot about how politicians carefully construct their public image and the media plays into their fancies.

We went on to explore other areas of the fair after our Sarah encounter.  Most notably, we say the 4H tractor parade.  Dozens of tractors rolled through the fairgrounds piloted by the young men of 4H and Future Farmers of America.  At the end of the parade was a purple tractor with a young woman in command.  I posed for a picture.
Keeping women at the end of the line?
Our day was coming to an end.  As we walked to the Varied Industries building, we noticed that the line for butter was significantly shorter...
Waiting in line...like a patriot!

Waiting for Butterman...like a patriot!
Posing with butter...like a patriot!
Delicious freedom...God Bless the USA
All in all, it was an informational, educational, and fun day.  Be sure to check out the Iowa State Fair if you can.  It's the only state fair that there has been a book written about that was turned into three movies and a stage musical.  Also remember to wear a cute outfit when you go.  You never know who you'll run into.
At least I have a miniature American flag


What I've Learned

This is a draft of an essay / speech I’ve been working on-- I'd appreciate feedback / ripping it apart:

Alright, so I’ve learned a lot in my 26 short years alive.  It baffles me actually how much I’ve learned, probably more so how I connect what I’ve learned—my knowledge if you will.  If all this learning has given me any discernible skill, it is my ability to see the connections, the relationships, between things.  It’s what enables me to easily go from discussing Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism one minute to Marvell’s use of figurative language in “To His Coy Mistress” the next.

All of that learning, that acquisition of information, facts, and trivia, has taught me one thing above all else. None of that matters—it’s the minutia of our lives.  What’s truly important, what matters most of all, is how we treat others.  Now, I’m not going to try to start from scratch or reinvent the wheel here.  Vonnegut has said what I intend to say already in a voice so meaningful and real that I would be remiss in not stealing it directly from him:  "Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."

So that’s it.  I’ve gotten to my point before I’ve barely started.  I guess you can tune out now, return to your youtubeing, facebooking, or skim what else I have to say.  Or you can indulge me, it’s your choice.

I didn’t always feel this way.  As a kid, I didn’t understand what being kind meant.  It was something I wouldn’t really until I was, well, an adult.  It’s a lesson I regretfully learned too late.  I was an angry child.  I had a terrible, excitable, temper.  I knew what I wanted, and if I didn’t get it, I would make my voice heard in a destructive fashion. 

When I was six, I was responsible for sending my cousin to the hospital one Christmas.  Anne’s two year’s older than me, and generally we got along great.  But that winter, an unseasonably cold one in Dallas, Texas, things went awry.  Anne got on my nerves.  She sinned before me in a way that no one had ever done—she wouldn’t let me on the computer.  For what seemed like hours, she dominated the cool, sleek, entertainment box without even a thought of sharing that time, or that technology, with me.  After an eternity of pleading, crying, and generally being a brat, I couldn’t take her insolence any longer.  I walked over to the table in the playroom and grabbed a small, child-sized chair.  With the fury of a small child scorned, I militantly marched over to Anne in front of the computer, and smashed the legs of the chair against her young, delicate skull.  I don’t remember much of what happened after that.  I doubt if Anne does either, but it has left a mark on me to this day.

In middle school and high school, I was no better.  While the physicality of my aggression wasn’t there any more, the pure nastiness of my being was.  On the surface, I was a nice, easy going, good kid.  Fun to be around, causing little to no trouble.  But behind the scenes I was a bully.  I gossiped about people I hated (people who I was secretly jealous of at the time.)  I coerced my friends into following my lead.  I treated people like toys—items I could take down from their sometimes dusty shelves and play with when it was convenient for me.  My methods ranged from the subtle use of diminutive nicknames to flat out crassness in my public commentary about others.  Once, I even left two good friends stranded outside in the middle of winter 20 miles from our homes.  For the most part, I don’t remember the details. 

I constantly think back on these times-- the moments of which I’m most ashamed.  It’s then when I become paralyzed.  I stop functioning, choke up, and get lost in the broken memories of the past.  Even in writing this, I froze.  For ten minutes I stared at the screen without a coherent word to say.  I know I’ve caused people pain, suffering, sorrowing, but to an extent I will never know.  I’m sorry.

So, it took some time, but thankfully I learned to be kind.  Actually, it’s a lot easier than being mean.  But I’ll admit something to you: I’m still not perfect at it, and frankly probably not even very good at it.  I slip up; I say something biting about or towards someone.  I don’t help others when I know I am able to.  To some extent, I can still be fairly self-centered.  I try though—make an effort.  My thoughts are dominated largely by how I treat other people.

And here’s what I’ve really learned: when you’re kind to others, there is so much possibility in the world.  You will meet so many people.  People who you will want to get to know in every way imaginable.  Treating others well is the best way to make and maintain friendships—not only the best way, the only way.  These friendships can last for a very long time.  It is with these people that you will have your greatest adventures, most sincere conversations, and best movie nights.

Sometimes you’ll meet the strangest people.  Folks who will baffle, upset, and even frighten you.  You may find, however, that these are the people you most want to be around.  That you understand them more than you ever dreamed you could.  Frankly, you’ll probably understand them more than even they think, or are willing to admit, you do.  These loners and sages, these losers and lunatics can and often times will become your best friends.  They will be the very people you can’t imagine your life without.  But you have to start by being kind.

This is not to say there won’t be times when it’s hard.  People will abuse your kindness, mistreat you, and even trample your essence.  But fear not, there will be others who will repay you 10 fold.  Like that friend that you tell a secret too.  Something you might even be ashamed of.  A secret that if was told to you, you would certainly pull away from that person.  Then magic will happen,s he’ll still be your friend the next day.  In fact, your friendship will be stronger and clearer than ever before.  Then you will know the importance of kindness—the people it brings into your life.

Success will come to you in a variety of formats—both real and illusory.  I’m not going to tell you that having a nice house, a good job, and tons of money isn’t real success.  People who tell you that are lying to you.  I mean, who doesn’t want that, right?  But success can be, and should, be measured in other ways.  I would implore you to evaluate your own personal success by how you treat others.  You’ll find that it’s pretty easy once you get started.

Let me leave you with one last secret.  I beg your indulgence.  Please recall I do recognize that I’m still a selfish individual.  So here it is:  I have a burning desire to be famous.  At least, I want to be remembered.  I don’t want this celebrity to come through what I know, my job, or any other traditional sort of fame.  I just want to be known for having been kind.  Excessively kind.  In fact, and maybe you should make note of this for after my death; I would cherish an epitaph that simply said, “God damn it, he was kind.”


Music: The Shape of My Heart

My music collection is an embarrassment.  I'm fully willing to admit that, and it's actually frightening to do so.  First, I have music on my iPod no 25 year old male should admit to having.  Music here falls into two categories- show tunes and pop.  Show tunes have always fulfilled me on many levels- mostly I appreciate having an overarching narrative, and as much as you aren't willing to admit it, you know it would be pretty sweet if you were able to express every emotion through a jazzy song and dance routine and had a personal pit orchestra that followed you everywhere you went.  Show tunes are also functional for me, especially Disney songs.  On long van rides with high school students, the commonality we can almost always find is Disney.
The pop is another story.  I have no clue why I ever put Brittany Spears on my iPod.  I don't even know how she got on my music hard drive.  My best guess is it appeared at some point when I was preparing an activity for psychology on her outrageousness.  She's  probably the most egregious example of music I shouldn't own.  I'll defend my other pop choices to the death.  Lady Gaga is a brilliant performer.  While I find her songs to be formulaic (read: all exactly the same,) I can't imagine getting enough of being Beautiful, Dirty Rich anytime soon.  And sometimes I do wake up in the morning feelin' like P-Diddy-- clearly Ke$ha is the only person who can relate to my emotional baggage.
But none of that is really significant.  I enjoy the eclecticism of my collection.  Gershwin, the Glee soundtracks, and the Postal Service all live comfortably next to each other in my library sorted by album.  What is truly ridiculously embarrassing is the amount of music I have that I have never listened to or fully appreciated.  I have an insane amount of Led Zeppelin but couldn't recognize a single song.  The same is true of Wilco, Radiohead, and about 50 other bands and artists I carry with me everywhere. 
Sharing my iPod with other people is terrifying for me.  It's not that I'm worried about people judging my tastes (because I know they well, it's human nature, and I don't care,) but I become on alert.  I think to myself, "shit, what if they ask me about the Beta Band, and all I can ejaculate from my mouth is some half-asses remark about Dry the Rain."  Call me a fool, reject, or even poser, but there's a brilliantly fantastic reason for my ignorance.  Most of the music I own was shared with me by various friends.  I simply haven't had the time to get around to listening to everything.
Music is a communal experience.  Even in its more solitary forms, sitting alone in a room with nothing but a guitar to guide you or sitting high up on a hill at midnight tuning out the silence that would otherwise suffocate you, both the creation of and listening of song is nothing more than artistic communication.  It binds us in ways that can be surprising, confusing, and rewarding.  It becomes, in a way, part of our collective unconscious.  There are songs we all know, either through popularity or inclusion in our cultural canon of music.  We even can shout out lyrics that don't exist in songs.  I guarantee you that no one ever sat you down and said, "Okay Allison, they're going to play Sweet Caroline next.  You need to sing bah-bah-bah after he sings her name and then shout out 'so good!' three times because the good times really are thrice as good."  Rather, you probably heard it a couple times (actually, probably just once) and figured out what to do.
Music is personal.  It easily gets tied to emotion.  Music is universal- everyone has music they prefer.  It seems that we connect with music more than any other form of artistic expression.  The following information is easy for me to reveal to you-- it causes no anxiety:
  •                 My favorite artist is René Magritte.
  •                 My favorite poem is To His Coy Mistress.
  •                My favorite Shakespearean lines are "Eyes, look your last! / Arms, take your last             embrace! and, lips, O you / The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss / A dateless bargain to engrossing death!"  Romeo's nearly last lines
  •                 My favorite speech in Shakespeare is Hamlet's "What a piece of work is man" speech

No one (or very few) are going to make judgments about my absurd taste in art, my slightly dirty preference in poetry, that my I enjoy one of Shakespeare least impressive plays, or that I deeply sympathize with Hamlet.  Here's something that I can ensure that folks will judge me for:
                I own the soundtrack to the audaciously terribly Olivia Newton John film, Xanadu.
I also listen to is titular song regularly.  Not daily, but certainly weekly.  If you aren't judging me, unfriending me on Facebook, or questioning why you're even reading this blog with this revelation, I might be likewise compelled to question your judgment.  It's not that I think this is a great, good, or even mediocre, song-- it's that it's wrapped up in memories for me-- extremely positive memories.
Music connects us to each other, and we shouldn't fear that.  We shouldn't fear judgment, exclusion, or or any other negative verb.  It surprised me, at first, that when I would take a student's iPod, they would become more uneasy over the prospect of me looking at their music than they would if I had taken their cell phone and looked at a text.  Similarly, when I taught social psychology, it would always work out that I was finishing the section on love right around Valentine's Day.  Instead of a quiz, I gave the kids what proved to be a more difficult assignment for them-- bring in your favorite love song to share with the class.
 For some, it was easy-- they just grabbed their iPod, or loaded a music video on YouTube, of some ridiculous song with the word love in the title.  For most, the nervousness was palpable.  They offered up songs that they connected with their family, with ex-boyfriends, with their crushes, with their faith.  Each one revealing to the whole class another side of themselves- a more honest side- a side with something to fear.
Music has the ability to build a sense of community.  For instance, family holidays can overwhelm the most fortitudinous of us.  After a chaotic day, my sister and I decided we needed to go out.  Fortunately, a local establishment was prepared to offer us reprieve on that Thanksgiving night.  It had been a long day, and we looked forward to relaxing with a few mutual friends.  Aside from the four of us, there were about ten other weary souls at that particular dive that night.  Just before 2:00, tempers became short and bottles were broken-- along with the levity of the evening.  A fight erupted between four extremely belligerent middle-aged men.
By this time, there was only one bartender left at the bar, a younger guy lacking in strength-- both physically and vocally-- to do anything about the situation.  Despite his efforts, the fight continued to escalate.  He called the police, but they wouldn't be able to get there for 15 minutes.  My sister and I gave each other a knowing look, rolled our eyes, and scooted over to get the bartender's attention.  Frustrated and annoyed, he walked over to us and inquired, "what do you want?  Last call was 15 minutes ago and there's kinda a problem here."  My sister and I just smiled and said, "play Sweet Caroline."  Confused, the bartend walked over to the computer that controlled the music.  In a matter of seconds, the fight broke up and a tremendous shout of "good song" redirected the energy of the night back in a positive direction.  After the "bah-bah-bahs" and the "so goods" were over, everyone went on their way.  By the time the police arrived, my sister, our friends, and I were sitting on the curb enjoying one last chat together before we parted ways.

Now, I do think there is bad music.  I like some bad music.  Frankly, the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus structure annoys me.  I also get over that quickly.  I also think there're bad books out there too.  Dan Brown is a terrible writer-- almost unbearably so, but fuck if Angels and Demons wasn't fun to read.  Just because something is bad, doesn't prevent it from being enjoyable.  Nor does it really say anything about the people who enjoy it.  (Except Twilight.  That purity porn filth needs to be incinerated.)
Today I use music in my classroom all the time.  More so this year than in past years, I've been working on community building in class.  Pandora has been one of the best tools I have in helping me do this.  While students are working, either individually or in groups, I open up Pandora to my "Classroom" station (which was really pissing me off today-- too downbeat and depressing, it's usually pretty peppy.)  When the work becomes boring, and we need a break from the monotony of reading graphs and coloring maps, we have a dance break, or we rock out together to Journey.  While I know it's anything but the greatest instructional method, it certain brings us closer- it gives us an experience to tie us together.  It alleviates stress and conflict.
I don't mean to suggest that music is going to solve the world’s problems; although, I can't help but smile thinking about Neil Diamond being played before the call to prayer somewhere in the Middle East with Christians, Jews, and Muslims coming together, arms around each other, bah-bah-bahing.


Madness is the deja-la of death and Life's Banalities

After a weekend full of ups and downs, I decided to do something I frankly should have started doing 10ish years ago— actually read Foucault. I’ve read bits and pieces here and there, and I’ve certainly read plenty about Foucault but never any full works. With some guidance from Kate, I jumped into Madness and Civilization tonight.

I suppose I should start with my predispositions. I think reading Foucault, and frankly any theoretical text, is fucking hard. I enjoy it and theory certainly informs my reading of most any text. Also, after teaching psychology and sociology for a couple years, I have some strong beliefs on mental illness and social structures.

My first thought after reading the first chapter is that I really should get my masters in history. Foucault’s discussion of madness through the Middle Ages appeals to me on several levels. His discussion of the literature of the time appeals to me, and as an added bonus, furthers my own understanding of New Historicism (which I should probably understand since I’m lecturing on it in a couple of days and haven’t been able to adequately distinguish it from pre-critical historicism) Snaps for stabbing Formalists in their backs.

So far, it’s not as difficult as I expected it to be. Sure, I’ve made ample use of both a dictionary and wikipedia, but MandC is much more readable than I had imagined it. I’m really enjoying it. Maybe it’s just nice to mentally engage in history and criticism again.

Mostly, it’s been fun thinking about madness, conceptually. Foucault’s discussion on how fools/the insane/the mad lived in physical, spiritual, and political liminal* spaces got me thinking already on the nature of hospitals. The protected barrier between the ill and the outside world is still there. The transition from how society viewed and treated the afflicted of the Black Death to the afflicted of madness made sense to me.

Ok, so that’s about all I have to say on this. I suck at writing without a prompt.

*I love that Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize liminal as a word. I love this word. I picked it up in college and use it more often than I probably should. I refuse to add it to the MSW dictionary—liminal will itself continue to function in a liminal space between being a word and not being one on my computer.

Life’s Banalities:

-I bought some clothes today. 14 new pairs of socks and a hoodie. I’ve made some executive wardrobe decisions. New socks are sweet. I love how they feel. Generally, I hate wearing anything on my feet, but new socks are the exception to that rule. I also now own 10 hoodies—two of which were purchased in the last week. I don’t think you can have too many hoodies. My favorite hoodies are the ones with both pockets and a full-length zipper. They’re deliciously functional. Some of my friends have a different outfit for each day of the school year—my goal: a different hoodie for each day.

-I’m finally coming to a stage of disequilibrium I should have come to awhile ago. I’ve politically defined myself as a Marxist for a good 9 years now. Simultaneously, I will acknowledge that I’m a shameless consumerist. Well, I guess you could say I’m developing shame. Being a technophile doesn’t help. I’m realizing I need to do something about this contradiction. I have made some progress- my TV viewing has dramatically shifted from a couple hours a day, to a few hours a week. That’s a step, right? Sadly, I think I’m probably headed in the direction of political reorientation. Maybe I’ll revisit my 6 month stint as an anarcha-feminist from high school. Emma’s pretty sexy.

-I miss Coffee Club. Aside from my week in New Orleans advocating for public education and teachers, it was probably the highlight of my summer. I need to go to Brewed Awakenings more. I’m more productive there anyways.

-I need to start my MA. I really want to be a student again. I can't decide what to get it in though. I like Iowa's Social Studies education program, but I even then I'd have to make choices. Possibilities include in no particular order: Counseling, Educational Leadership, Educational Technology, Social Studies Education, Literature, History, Sociology, American Studies, Communication Studies, and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Sociology is probably out now-- I love it, but I don't know how promising a career I can make out of symbolic-interactionism.


Guys Don't Bake and Women Don't Drive

This Hardee’s commercial both fascinates me and bothers me.  Obviously, the message is, “Hey! NASCAR loving men!  Don’t bake biscuits.  You’re betraying your gender if you do so, and other NASCAR loving men will ostracize you if you choose to bake them (delicious) biscuits instead of watching the big race.”  I noticed several things about this particular commercial:

  1. These dudes really are really turned off by either men baking or biscuits.  They look like they’re about to jump their culinary comrade and destroy his soul over these biscuits.  Maybe he should have made them cupcakes or a nice crème brule.
  2. The guy baking really doesn’t seem to be all that into NASCAR to begin with.  He clearly missed the key moment that caused intense testosterone-inspired displays such as: jumping over a chair, screaming, high-five-ing, and hiding your face in the palms of your hands in shame.  He gets major points for not being a true NASCAR fan.  He’s the most likeable character in this slice of life.
  3. The voice-over man is confusing.  He is either saying “Guys…don’t bake” or “Guys, don’t bake.”  I’m fairly confident it’s the former.  I know guys who bake—I’m sure you do too.  The second statement might just be a friendly reminder to guys that they shouldn’t bake because Hardee’s is there to bake for them.  I don’t know about you, but I would be much more inclined to attend to a viewing of a NASCAR game (race? Match? Tournament?) if there were freshly baked biscuits.  It’s the love that counts.

Let’s not beat around the bush anymore.  What the fuck, Hardee’s?  The message here is simple-- “buy your biscuit products at Hardee’s.  By all means don’t bake them.  If you do, your friends will think you’re queer.”  This is bullshit Hardee’s.  Baking does not a homosexual make.  Furthermore, statistics released by Gallup on May 25, 2010 show that not only is acceptance of homosexuality in the US on the rise (it crossed the 50% threshold for the first time this year) but also MEN are more accepting of homosexuals than women are.  Your commercial just doesn’t make sense—argumentatively, socially, or statistically.  I mean, who really watches NASCAR with that much enthusiasm?

Masculinity, anymore, is hard to define, and regardless of how a man performs it, he can, and probably will, be looked down upon.  Those men who choose to occupy the space of the traditional male gender roles can face opposition from others who see their ways as antiquated, oppressive, or even barbaric.  Those whose gender performance is non-traditional are shunned from a society that values strength, virility, and occasionally callousness in their men.  When it comes to gender roles, for both men and women, it seems to always be a losing situation.  The truth of it is, you will never be loved, liked, or even tolerated by everyone.  It just really sucks when others make those decisions based on the arbitrary constructions of gender.  Thanks, Hardee’s.



One of the pleasures of teaching freshmen is that they will turn you on to all sorts of weird music. If it weren't for them, I would not have discovered my love for Ke$ha. Occasionally they actually show me something truly remarkable / decent. Case in point:

How can you not be happy while watching / listening to this?


I have lists

If I were to ever give up teaching, which I don't plan on doing any time soon, here's what I'd like be:

1. Flight attendant
2. Concert pianist
3. Storm chaser
4. Ghost hunter
5. Theologian
6. Epic poem reciter / rhapsode
7. Valdmir Putin
8. Dirty hippie
9. Theatre technician
10. Travel agent
11. Theoretical physicist
12. Tarot card reader
13. Film/theatre critic
14. Organized labor leader
15. Zookeeper, preferably penguins
16. Ororo Munroe/Storm (of X-men fame)
17. Librarian
18. Accountant / Bookkeeper
19. Card dealer
20. Puppeteer, preferably Muppets
21. Meteorologist
22. French student revolutionary
23. bell hooks
24. Karl Marx
25. Talk show host

Which of these do you think I should do?