Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It's Called Gratitude

I've been very busy with thesis work-that, and reading David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas-so I haven't been blogging, but I just read on NPR that there were more births in 2007 than in any year in our nation's history-even more than the Baby Boom generation. This fact gives me pause for several reasons. 1) I think, hooray! Wyatt will have a ton of playmates. 2) People are doing a better job at taking care of the planet, but the question is- how much better? We, as in Carrie and I, use disposable diapers. I am aware that this may be bad for the environment, but I secretly feel that some folks don't have anything else in their lives to worry about... this probably makes me a callus ass. But here's an example of what I'm talking about ... one of my friends was trying to tell me that the little faux-bubbles in Bath and Body Works hand soap travel down the drain through the sewer and into the ocean to choke little fishies. I had to put my hand up to stop- leave a message at the snap. I guess I can only worry about so much during the day. And on the diaper issue, all I can think of is the Saturday Night Live skit for chewable Pampers. I know people who think this would be a good idea. 3) We stopped at a fast food chain for dinner tonight after Wyatt's nine month pictures. It tasted really good because it's been literally years since I've been to one, but I couldn't help but feel a twinge of guilt in my gut (maybe it was the slice of cheesecake) as I dumped plastic forks, straws, Styrofoam cups, sandwich bubbles, napkins, etc into the trash. I wanted to ask them if they recycle. This particular establishment is reputable for its charitable programs to help married couples stay married and help maintain some sort of stability for foster kids. I was wondering if all that energy going to help people could be negated by landfills full of their trash.

Why am I having these kind of thoughts? When I was younger I couldn't have given a damn-in fact, I used to LITTER! (that's right, just toss that bag of fast food refuge out the window) that is until an older friend gave me a hot reaming for it and I realized he was right. I haven't littered since. I'd like to think I'm relatively considerate of the environment- I insist on fuel efficiency, I recycle, I use those fluorescent, incandescent light bulbs. I guess maybe I'm wondering what kind of world Wyatt will grow up in with all those people. Kids are really into the green push too. I have students who started a Recycling initiative at our school; I'm thinking of a really bright young man that wants to study environmental engineering, others that volunteer to support politicians whom advocate for the environment. I think there's definitely hope. Kids today are more inclined to think green.

Just today I overheard a Junior talking about Darfur. Some of my kids are reading books like Not on Our Watch on their own. It was a student whom educated me about child soldiering. This girl has been to Africa, and is going over again to help reform child soldiers. So many others want to teach...

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not always a stellar human being, but I certainly feel privileged to teach such conscientious youth. I don't know where I (or our world) would be without them. It gives me hope to think Wyatt will live in a better world. With any luck he'll help to make it that way.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Heel or Ball?

I'm reading Joan Silber's Ideas of Heaven for Imad's 20th Century Fiction class right now, and boy is it good. It's easy to write about children's books and sound smart, but national book award finalists... The one smart thing I have to say is that some people's prose is leisurely, like it walks on its heels. This book definitely gets up on the balls. When I ran track in high school we started every practice with a warm up mile, ran as a team. After I started to place in events, I tried taking some tips from the fastest kid on our squad- he said he ran the entire warm up on the balls of his feet. Just thinking about it now seems like another lifetime, but if you're going to write a "ring of stories," a ring resembling a track, you could do worse than to get the prose up on the balls of its feet.

I think of other books that do this-Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones comes shooting out of the blocks and then it hunkers back on its heels for a long distance jaunt through the lives of the characters affected by Susie Salmon's murder. I think the secret to writing this way is to know exactly what it is you're writing and writing it-the heck with suspense. It's weird how doing away with suspense can be even more gripping than stringing the reader along, but sometimes mazes get boring. It's really hard to go through a maze on the balls of your feet. You'll, no doubt, end up crashing into something.

Maybe it's because Ideas of Heaven is an assigned text that I am enjoying the quick pace. I tend to read assigned books quickly (probably the wrong way to do it), searching for something that grabs me on a human level as opposed to a craft level. Normally I like laid back in prose and in life-it's why I take baths instead of showers if I have the time, and it's why, most of the time, I walk on my heels. I can do laid back if it's an audiobook- something that I'm going to have to spend a month with while driving in to school- something parceled out in hour segments. I did Gone With the Wind this way and it took about three and a half months. I just finished Jodie Picoult's Nineteen Minutes this way-with that book I think I would have been tempted to put it down if it had been in my hands, but having the audio there pacing right along despite my shouts of "Are you serious!" and "Come on!" (what normal people probably holler at the referee while watching sports on TV). I enjoyed the story-it was better than the alternative-radio talk, or songs I have already digested into nothingness-but it didn't impress me on a sentence level.

The only audio book that engaged me enough to pop out of the car stereo and bring inside to finish was Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing. That story has suspense and beautiful sentences; it's not told in a breakneck fashion, and the chapters are rather long if I remember, but it hit all the right buttons. Kid + wolf = interest.

I suppose I could ask you out there, oh imaginary audience, what you prefer in terms of the speed with which a story is told, or whether, if the story is good, it even matters.