Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Summa Apologia

I have a few writing projects going right now.  Well.  A lot, really.  Getting started has never been a problem for me, but finishing is always the toughest part.  I've always intended to finish an analysis of Gone With the Wind I wrote for Dr. Dukes for my final MFA class.  It was a Buddhist read of the story.  I have since started an analysis of The Road.  I've collected most of the source quotes, but can't find the motivation.  Where does one send critical analysis, anyway, and who cares what I think of a book more people have read than... well most other books?

I have a few new short pieces in the works... same problem.  One's about the Second Coming of Christ, one's about a guy that can't stop vomiting.  Can't find a way out of either, but I like them too much to quit.

I still haven't given up on my novel either.  I'm redrafting the whole thing in the first person.  Finished with the first few chapters.  But now, I have to go back and re-do the second chapter because I got an idea that won't go away.  Winter is affording me some extra time.  For one, we've been off school for a few days, but between blowing snow, pulling Wyatt on the sled, grading, reading Middlesex (which has been the first book to hold my attention in a long time), I don't have a ton of time to devote to my writing.  With the new baby on the way, I don't see my schedule opening up any time soon.  How do I prioritize my writing life?

Some good news is that I have a piece of flash fiction appearing here.  Maybe the answer is flash fiction.  Who knows?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Times They Are A Changin'

This is my buddy's 1978 camper van.  He sold it a few years back when he found out he was having a child.  They still drive a van, but it's a *sigh* mini-van.  I can't blame the guy for selling it, it just makes me sad.  We had a lot of great times in that bus.  I remember actually camping in it (this is way before any of us actually had children).  We were such idiots that the only provision we brought was a case of beer.  And our wives didn't even care!  They thought it was kind of funny.  Camping with our children is an impossibility these days: they're too young, I think.  Our wives are pregnant again, so they wouldn't be up for it in the first place (can't say I blame them), and we'd have to haul a trailer full of provisions for the wee ones.  Things just ain't like they used to be, man. 

I remember when the starter was on the fritz, and we had to push it down the road, and then drop in the clutch to get it running.  There was a real sense of teamwork; a few of us pushing while the driver cheered us on from his captain's seat.  Every car should require that kind of teamwork to get going.  Maybe it's just a case of winter-bah-humbugs, but everything seems extraordinarily bleak.  Oh, hell.  I probably just need a decent cup of coffee.

Really though, I remember sitting there and listening to music like Buckethead and having a blast.  Nowadays I couldn't even pick up a Buckethead album without worrying that the sentinels of good taste might be peering over my shoulder and shaking their heads with disapproval.  In fact, I think I know what I need, plus a cup of coffee.  I need to make an obnoxious mix CD full of music that the "wrong kind of white people" might like.

Here's how it goes in no particular order:

"Twist" Korn
"Jowls" Buckethead
"Thrust!" White Zombie
"Bounce" System of a Down
"Bruises" Skindread
"Wollt Ihr Das Bett In Flammen Sehen" Rammstein
"Automatic" Powerman 5000
"Mouth for War" Pantera
"Blue Monday" Orgy
"Dr. Feelgood" Motley Crue
"Eye of the Beholder" Metallica
"Snake Eyes and Sissies" Marilyn Manson
Anything off Riddlebox by ICP
"Healing to Suffer Again" Hatebreed
"Decay of Grandeur" Gwar

I like the idea of a mix like this, full of music that I used to think was really neat-o.  I guess other people might call music like this a guilty pleasure.  Maybe I should have, but I never felt guilty popping in that ICP album I got off a kid I used to work with...  at the go-kart track.  Yeah, I used to listen to ICP and work on go-karts.  You got a problem with that?  

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Six Word Memiors

This has been a lesson in brevity. It, of course, begins with Hemingway. “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” The challenge is: can you tell a story in six words? This appeals to teenagers, folks. I’m not going to get all preachy about the YouTube Generation, partly because I find that sermon tiresome and mean-spirited, and that’s not what I’m about, y’all. As my dad would say, “Homey don’t play that.”

The appeal is obvious: six words. No more, no less. It is a clearly defined genre. The rules are black and white, so to speak. Yet there is an ill defined element. Can you say something, anything, worthwhile in six words? My students proved it’s possible. Try it with yours.

My resources include SMITH magazine (SMITHTeens especially).  As well as an NPR project. Also The Best American Non-Required Reading 2007, pp. 12-14.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Have you ever sat down to write something and felt like an overwhelmed dry well?  It's like the torrent of input is still brimming over, the soil is saturated and no end to the rain.  Maybe I'm receiving a vision of tomorrow's weather.  Maybe I'm over burdened with information about how to treat storm water runoff after digging out a twenty seven foot length of black corrugated drainpipe and replacing it with polyvinyl chloride drain and sewer pipe.  Maybe it was waking up to a song that was stuck in my head all day and I can't remember the lyrics. 

Okay, it's been a day and I remember the song.  It was Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car."  What a great song, but really, no one should be asked to handle a trip like that at 5:40 am.  The guitar riff was in my head all day.  Unfortunately the tune in my head has changed to Kings of Leon "Use Somebody," which isn't a very good song, I'm sorry to say, and I can't trade it back.  

I guess for now I'm just happy I could figure out the name of the song.  Maybe I'll have time to actually pick up my guitar soon.  Stranger things have happened. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

The tension of opposites... a line from Tuesdays With Morrie that has me thinking a lot.  Reflecting upon some recent lessons, I can see that I've been using the concept to talk to the kids about poetry.  For example comparing Anne Bradstreet's "To My Dear and Loving Husband" to Jean Toomer's "Her Lips are Copper Wire."  The theme is Love.  "To My Dear and Loving Husband" is a sentimental poem and "Her Lips are Copper Wire" is a sensory poem.  I admire the latter for its relatively unique metaphor, and I kind of despise the former for its Hallmark qualities.  Regardless, the lesson really got to the heart of what I want to say about poetry without my stammering for the words, or repeating "The Red Wheelbarrow" a hundred times hoping they will understand.

We deepened our study of these themes with modern music.  "Real Love" is the Beatles song we used, which is a jewel, but what a sentimental mess.  I juxtaposed it with Pearl Jam's rendition of "Last Kiss," which is a sentimental mess, but also an actual mess: "something warm rolin' through my eyes."

Here are some of the other "opposite" poems we discussed:

Follow links for supplemental You Tube goodness (The Builders link is especially strange):

Advice: "Mother to Son" & "The Road Less Traveled" & "Let it Be"
Work: "The Builders" & "I Hear America Singing" & "Wichita Lineman"
Death: "Thanatopsis" & (I had them choose their own) & "Last Kiss"
Freedom: "To the Honorable William Earl of Dartmouth" & "I Too" & "Blowing in the Wind"
Nature: "The Snow Storm" & "Birches" & "The Horizon Has Been Defeated"

Highlights: Skarl karaoke singing "Blowing in the Wind" when he realized the you tube link scrolled lyrics but no words.  Some clapped, some stared in horror.  Ah, these are the best days of our lives.

This week we're reading Anne Sextons' "Riding the Elevator into the Sky" and drawing creative interpretations.

Soon we'll be onto riddle poetry. Until then, folks.  Keep it fresh.  And it doesn't hurt to sing, either.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Thoreau for Toddlers

It's been awhile since Wyatt was a tiny tot, strapped to my back as we hiked the woods around Walden Pond. I'm sure it's going to be one of those non-memories for him captured in never enough pictures; a trip we can, as parents, throw in his face when he becomes a teenager, listening to loud music and acting in ways that imply we didn't love him enough. "But what about the time we took you to Walden Pond, dear?" And then we'll have to pull out the pictures because he won't remember.  When he reads Walden and expresses an interest in the ideas as well as the place, maybe even suggests we take a family trip, we'll smugly remind him that he was already there. "Don't you remember?"

What I remember of that day was the unseasonable warmth, the verde stone quality of the water....and the bugs. Millions of flying ants had hatched on that day and hung thick in the air.  We literally parted them like a living curtain as we hiked.

Among other strange phenomenon were the fraternity brothers (oddly skinny and awkward) hiking the trail in the opposite direction.  Greek letters across their chest, one of them on his cell phone: "...yeah, this guy just lived out here and shit..."  Also, the guy working in the gift shop was a brooding thirty-something in a Steeler's jersey. I remember thinking that even God is likely a Steeler's fan. After some conversation we found out the giftshop clerk was a Thoreau impersonator (imagine Thoreau after a bad romance with the Industrial music scene), and a native of Highland Square. Yes. Akron. It felt somehow scandalous that I came all this way just rub elbows with my evil twin.

We bought a few things, among them this book.

The book is still a little too long for Wyatt, but I've read it at him a few times; at first he was content to look at the nice illustrations of Thoreau in motley looking ponderous stroking his patchwork beard amid a city full of smokestacks and bustling individuals. By the time Henry begins building his own little house, Wyatt is out of my lap running his cars over the furniture. I tell myself that one day soon enough he will react with indignation at Mayor Fogg's scheme to build a toothpick factory next to Walden Pond. For now I'm pretty sure he doesn't even know what a toothpick is, much less have an opinion on them.  Until then, I'll continue to read the books he insists upon: a horrible Thomas the Tank Engine that I'm planning to hide in the closet, the How does a Dinosaur...? series, and, when I'm feeling poetical, Lewis Carroll's nonsense.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Teacher on Teacher Salary

I hate to add fuel to the fire, and I really should be making better use of my time (like writing the next great American novel, or maybe just weed-eating the ditch) but is the current debate over teacher pay really that widespread? As a public school teacher I feel I'm living in a pedantic little bubble and that these issues are magnified for someone like me. But I'm starting to wonder if it's really as hot as it feels. When anything wells from the throats of the masses I have to wonder... of what current, national issue is this a symptom, and for this particular issue, does the hullabaloo over teacher pay have to do with the current debate over healthcare reform? Are public employees being more intensely scrutinized because the masses are amping up for when doctors are either state or federal boys and girls? Regardless, and I'm roughly quoting from an article from NPR, "most people feel the way in which we compensate educators is broken." Well, park our fractured schools right next to our broken healthcare system, right?

I've never understood the terror at nationalizing healthcare, and I guess I don't understand merit pay either, which is the subject of this NPR blurb. Merit pay is a system of teacher compensation in which salary is linked to student test performance. While we're at it, let's do the same thing with doctors: if a patient dies on the exam tale or, say, keels over from hypertension, we should pin the blame on his or her doctor. Nevermind the fact that the patient had a pre-existing condition due to diet, work-related stress, personal stress, a faulty spiritual philosophy, or whatever combination of obvious and/or subtle reasons for the deterioration of his or her health. I know it's starting to sound like I have poor teacher efficacy, but let's be honest- I see my students for just a little under four hours a week, and that's not even one on one time- it's time during which they're vying for my attention with ten, fifteen, twenty, sometimes closer to thirty other teenagers. Now, this isn't to say I don't think what I do makes a difference. I know it does. Just the other day I got a letter, yes, a letter, sent through the mail with postage, a heading, a date, a signature, all of that, from a former student. She elucidated upon her success (she is a junior at Baldwin-Wallace) and she pointed out that I positively affected her. This is a feel-good story, and indeed, her letter made me feel great. It put a new sparkle on the day and caused me to lift my head just a little higher. Gave me the extra fuel necessary to try and engage teenagers. I've never felt that I am not fairly and justly compensated for what I do, but I don't think paying me more is going to make me any better. Nor do I think linking my pay to student performance is going to change anything, as the Vandebilt study found. Let the Jets pay Braylon Edwards double and I'm sure he'll drop just as many passes as he did in Cleveland. This is going to sound ridiculously pious, but there is only one thing that can make education work. It's love, folks, and as those shaggy headed Brits declared, money can't buy it. Besides, Edwards is just inept. And yes, I think there is such an animal as the inept public educator, but what can we do with these folks? The statistics for an educator are not nearly as clear cut as those of a football player. People always ask me if I have good students this year. And this is before September is out. I want to reply, "I don't know... let's give them fifty years or so and we'll see." Sometimes, I imagine, a teacher's influence isn't felt for years, and sometimes a bad teacher can teach you even more about life -the stuff that really matters-than a good one. So how do you gauge teacher performance? How do you separate a good one from a bad one? Using what criteria?

There is , however, a group of educators that I feel is grossly under compensated for their combined intelligence, passion, wisdom and generosity, and that is college professors. I'm not necessarily talking about the tenured folks, because I honestly don't know what kind of salary or benefits they earn, but I'm talking about the garden variety associate professor or adjunct. These are, on a whole, highly qualified professionals who are paid peanuts for a job (the educating of undergraduates) that, as I see it, is largely thankless. It's not until you get into your particular college, or even graduate program that you bake you professors cookies or send them greeting cards. No, I imagine the life of an undergraduate adjunct professor is pretty bleak. I say this because I know some adjuncts, but also because my own undergraduate experience hasn't yet disappeared into old age. I'm thirty one and today found a gray hair in my beard, but I can still remember my Sociology 101 class, and College Algebra. I imagine teaching those classes was like teaching high school, which isn't a bad gig at all, but then again, I am well compensated for what I do. Any public school teacher who tells you otherwise is probably going to spend eternity pushing boulders uphill. I live comfortably off of my salary, and I can provide affordable health benefits for my family. I couldn't do it as an adjunct. Hell, Tri-C thinks so much of their adjuncts they make them pay just to park on college ground. I think adjuncts are such an amorphous group, however, that no leadership has arisen to help them demand adequate compensation. At the same time, most universities are home to the most outspoken defenders of social rights that this country has ever seen. Why haven't they encouraged the adjuncts to rise up and cast off their chains? Do these witches and wizards of higher education see adjunct life as a necessary rite of passage into the world of full-blown professorhood? Who knows. Maybe higher educational administrators are just the kind of blood-sucking fascists that kind-hearted tenured professors could never hope to unseat.

There are a lot of different ways to feel about the scrutiny directed at public school teachers. One way to look at it is that people are jealous of our profession. Another way to look at it is that people want the biggest bang for their buck. I can't fault anyone for either being jealous (I happen to think my job is very rewarding and that I am well paid, too), nor can I fault them for wanting to make sure teachers earn their pay. We're all familiar with the Carl Monday types of investigations: cue black and white footage of a public employee sleeping in his van during the workday. Chances are you're not going to find this kind of shirking in a public school. Unsupervised teenagers tend to be really, really noisy. And unfortunately I can't buy into a state test that reflects a teacher's level of effort... not a test that happens on one day out of the whole year, and is subject to so many factors besides teacher effort. I could get behind a year-long portfolio option. Let those who do not think teachers earn their pay sit down with one and have the curriculum explained, lesson by lesson, as it evolves throughout the year. Believe me, I know teachers: they like to talk. By the end of the first couple hours, that once angry taxpayer will be ready to agree to vote in a new levy just to get the teacher to shut up about "all the cool things we do." And besides, as a former collegue of mine once said, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." As a neophyte, I thought this betrayed poor teacher efficacy, and my philosophy was "just hold his head under until he opens his mouth." I still kind of feel this way about teaching, but at the end of the nine weeks, or semester, the students who get the most out of their education are the ones that put in the most effort. I admit, a teacher has to be held accountable for engaging his or her students, but the decision to be "on" or "off" is ultimately up to the student. The probably apocraphal story of a student approaching Picasso goes something like this: Student: "Master, teach me everything I need to know to become a great painter," to which Picasso replied, "I can't help you. You have to do all the work yourself," and shut the door in his face. I wonder what the average Joe Sixpack would say about a teacher like that? Henry David Thoureau felt that education should not be a mass process. Personally I don't anything should be a mass process, but as the population of the US skyrockets-for every two and a half million that die every year, just over four million are born-to just over three hundred million, a mass process it shall be. Time came out with a statistic in 2009 that over 40% of the four million annual US birth are to unwed mothers. And to quote Kurt Vonnegut, "I suppose they will all want dignity." In my mind there can be no dignity without an education. And currently our educational system is free and public. Folks, it's absolute madness to attempt to educate everyone and expect to have no problems. But I wouldn't trade our system for any other in the world. It is one of the things that makes me proud to be an American. I normally, to paraphrase John Gardner, feel like I have to go down into my basement in order to wave my flag, but not on this one. Free public education is a beautiful dream, and one worth striving for. I'm sure the way we fund schools has problems. I'm sure there are "bad teachers" out there, just like there are bad doctors, and bad lawyers, and bad grocery baggers. But for crying out loud, can't we dispense with all the finger-pointing and admit that it takes a village? Education isn't going to get any cheaper, either, I'm afraid. As each generation become more and more reliant on technology, the costs are just going to keep going up. Sure I'll be upset when Wyatt's school wants me to buy him a Kindle so he can read The Old Man and the Sea when I have a ten cent paperback of the stinking thing in my glove compartment, but the challenges of educating the "You Tube Generation" is whole different issue for another day. I already feel this rant has bloated up into "Mary Worth" status when I wanted to keep it "Far Side."

Friday, September 10, 2010


After sharing the poem "Mistress Stella Speaks" from Tyehimba Jess' Leadbelly, and talking about the importance of biographical information (most students thought the poem was about a prostitute!) we experimented with writing a personification poem of our own. here are the directions, which I can't help but feel need tweaked. Nevertheless, some interesting stuff came out.

Follow these directions:
Choose an object (one of your possessions) to write about, write the name of the object at the top of a piece of paper.

Line 1: say something to your object
Line 2: the object responds
Line 3: Mention a color
Line 4: use a verb and a body part
Line 5: Mention a piece of clothing, ends with an exclamation point!
Line 6: Use a Simile
Line 7: 3-word alliteration.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Weak One

A new school year is well underway, and how many times have you spent precious time absorbing the buzz on a book, picked it up only to find nothing there for you? I can't say what makes good reading for me these days, and I'm equally puzzled when it comes to picking novels to teach to my students. I have tried to digest many books lately that I can only seem to pick at. Ulysses is one of them, but I don't feel bad about it: everyone has trouble with that one, right? I even went as far as to seek council, which is for me, on-line. I found websites and projects that are very helpful, but in their own way, discouraging. I can't help but to listen to the little voice in my head pointing out how all of these people have devoted significant portions of their lives to this book, so why should I? What could I possibly find there? Ludicrous, right? So, I forgive myself for procrastinating on the mega-books in my life, but I started reading The Passage on my kindle and, four or five chapters in, just don't care about it anymore. This is a book that's supposed to hold wide appeal: vampires, viruses, what more could I ask for? The writing is very good. The story should be interesting. So why can't I get into it?

Here are some other books I've started in the last year or so and have yet to finish: Tree of Smoke, Suttree, Maiden Voyage, Under the Dome, Hunger, Journey to the End of the Night, Death on the Installment Plan, Silas Marner... and these are just to name a few. Sometimes I wonder if I've acquired literary ADD. IN the tradition of such disorders, I next wonder who or what I should blame: all that flash fiction? cable television? My teachers? My family?

Maybe I'm just being a lazy slob? I'm capable of finishing a book. Those I've enjoyed the most over the past few years have been: Islands in the Stream, Peter Camanzind, Narcissus and Goldmund, The Man Who Owned Vermont, Lisey's Story, Duma Key, Cloud Atlas, Goodbye Columbus, and others.

I'm re-reading Slaughterhouse Five right now. The first time, I have to admit, I was like "what's all the hype about?" Then again, I was a pimple-studded virgin that liked hard science fiction and played dungeons and dragons. Now it makes total sense that the aliens in the book are just kind of an excuse to tell a fractured narrative. Awesome from a writer's perspective, lame crap from a pimple-studded virgin's. That being said, I can't imagine teaching that book with much success. I just don't know. I enjoyed teaching The Road last year. I have given thought to teaching The Crossing by McCarthy as well. What kind of books do young adults need to read? Please don't say Silas Marner. Please?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Day Two

Usually the immersion from day one is still wearing off: probably what goldfish feel like when they get dumped out of those little plastic bags and into the tank...

I've heard a theory stressing that some teachers fall into the "entertainer" group. In other words, they feel the need to make sure everyone in class is laughing and their lessons could double as stand-up comedy routines. I've heard the rule "don't smile until Christmas," and inevitably, these folks are making jokes or telling ridiculous stories on the first day.

Some good natured goof-ups:

To an 8th period class: "So, I'm married and we have a dog. The dog's a cute little fluff-ball. Since we're the last class of the day it's up to you guys to make sure I go home happy. Otherwise I might put the boot to my pooch."

To a low level group of language learners, ages 16-18: "Reading is awesome. When it's good you see all kinds of funky stuff. Like drugs. Only, cheaper."

Band director: "Whatever you do, make sure those instruments are cleaned regularly. You don't want to end up with a rusty trombone."

To Freshmen: "So if you have to use the bathroom, I recommend holding it. I hear there are no doors on the stalls, and this whole wing files in there during tornado drills."

The last one will keep them from asking to use the bathroom, the first one may keep your eighth period in line, the second one might involve the inside of your Principal's office, and the one about the trombone, well. Even the best of us have been known to blow it big-time.

Monday, August 16, 2010

What do you do on the first day?

I always struggle thinking up interesting activities for back to school, day one. I used to be kind of a slavedriver and make my students write an essay; no, not "What I Did This Summer," but more like a getting-to-know-you kind of thing. I wrote one to introduce myself. Kind of corny, I know. Harry Wong stresses that if you want students to take your class seriously and work hard, you should make them work on the first day and save the boring rules, etc. for another time. No "fun" stuff either. One year I just got tired of making them do something "serious" and had students get into groups of two and three to brainstorm a list of story titles. The only requirement was make sure it's a title that would attract interest. Then, they actually wrote the story as a group. When I first experienced this activity the teacher, Sheila Schwartz, had us write the story directly onto origami paper. If we decided the story stunk at the end, we could fold it into a swan or a hat or something. Brilliant stuff. Every writer should toy with the idea of stocking their printer with origami paper.

What do you do on day one? What's the tone you shoot for, and how do you get it?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Catcher in the Rye Photo Story

When you are blessed with students who are not afraid or distrustful of their imaginations, this activity can be fun. Arrange four images and ask students to put them in chronological order. Stories appear. You can have them tell the stories out loud in groups or individually on paper depending on how much time you need to fill. Here are some more images I use from Catcher in the Rye.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Angela's Ashes Web-Activity

Here's an activity for Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes. I dearly love this book... and I don't really know why. I think it's because I am always wholly transported into its world. I saw Frank McCourt speak a few times. Once at an English teacher's conference and once at a writer's conference. I think he shone on both occasions, but I have to say he was much more in his element speaking to the teachers. He struck me as a kind of whirling dervish and I'm sure that's how he must have struck his students in the classroom. And that's how his narrative works. For lack of a better expression, "it sucks you in."

I can't say I really know how to teach the book, though. This web-quest may well be the most creative tool I've devised... and that isn't saying much. I use Prestwick House's student response journal, which works just fine. I just don't think I've ever hit gold teaching this book. It may have to do with the fact that I always teach it as part of a literature circle. Maybe I should teach it to the entire class? I can't escape the idea that every discussion will come down to just how miserable Frank's childhood was. I guess that's okay. Heck, it's on the first page. He basically says, "I've got all you bitches beat."

Angela's Ashes Web Activity (Links checked and updated as of 3/5/17)

All answers must be written in complete sentences. Answer the questions completely.

See attached blank map of Ireland. Using Link 1 draw in the Limerick, Northern Ireland, River Shannon, Dublin, and Lough Neagh

Link 2
Answer the following questions about the Irish flag
1. In the Irish flag, what color is placed nearest the flagpole? ________________________
2. What color represents the native people of Ireland? ________________________
3. What color represents the British who settled in Northern Ireland in the 1700's? ____________________________
4. What does the color in the middle of the flag represent? __________________________
5. When was this flag first used? _____________________________

Link 3
Visit the Limerick of Angela’s Ashes and tour the streets Frank grew up on. Look at the pictures found on the links to: Roden Street, First Jobs, City Center. As a whole, how would you describe the area? Use adjectives in your creative description)

Link 4
What is the IRA? What is the Old IRA?

What was the Easter Rising of 1919?

Was it a success or not? Why was it important?

Links 5 & 6
Frank’s father is always singing Kevin Barry and Roddy McCorley songs.

Who was Kevin Barry? Give two sentences. Listen to the song.

Links 7 & 8

Who was Roddy McCorley? Give two sentences. Listen to the song.

Why do you think Malachy sings about these two?

Link 9
Pictures make events seem more real. Look at some of the war propaganda and photographs from the era of the Old IRA and the struggle with the British.

Link 10
The Black and Tans were an important aspect of Post-War Ireland. What function did they serve?

Malachy also tells Frank Cuchulain stories. Watch the clip at Link 11 and tell how Setanta became Cuchulain.

Link 12
Malachy hangs a portrait of Pope Leo XIII and claiming he was a great friend to the working man. Read about the principle of subsidiarity as outlined by Pope Leo XIII.

Summarize the pricipal of subsidiarity in a sentence or two. Do you think it was a good idea. Why or why not?

Link 13
Frank is named after St Francis of Assisi. St. Francis was the patron saint of what? Do you think this fits Frank’s personality? Why or why not? Give specific evidence.

Web Activity Links

Angela’s Ashes Web-Quest

Link 1 Joyce Map

Link 2 Irish Flag

Link 3 Tour of Limerick

Link 4 IRA

Link 5 Kevin Barry

Link 6 Music

Link 7 Roddy McCorley

Link 8 Music

Link 9 Photos and Propaganda

Link 10 Black and Tans

Link 11 CuCuhulain
How Setanta became Cuchulain

Link 12 Catholic Social Teaching
Link 13 St. Francis

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Project Proposal: The Road

One of your main objectives in reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road is to gather quotes that will help you come to some form of conclusion regarding the following issues and/or themes of the book:

1. Record the usage of religious language by the characters and/or narrators. You should be using these quotes to come to some conclusion regarding the presence of religion in this post-apocolyptic world as well as the characters' attitude toward religion.

2. What does McCarthy have to say about civilization? What about nature? How is organism working alongside mechanism? When are the two at odds? Further, how can we apply the Apollonian and Dionysian conflict to this aspect of the novel?

3. Using what you know of Conrad’s use of light and dark imagery in Heart of Darkness, study the use of fire and/or light in McCarthy. What does fire or light represent in The Road? How is this similar or different from Conrad’s use of light?

4. POV. Who is speaking as the narrator, and when? What seems to be their outlook on the cataclysm? How is their perspective influenced by dreams? Reality? When does the narrative switch between characters? Why does McCarthy switch narrators?

Quote Journals will be due each Friday and will be graded for completion

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Some Journaling Ideas for Catcher in the Rye

Here's some ideas for the novel. These work well as bellwork.

18 Years Old

1. “Our society encourages children to grow up too quickly.” Give some specific examples why you agree or disagree with this statement.

2. The State of Ohio recognizes you as a legal adult on your 18th birthday. Do you think this is a valid measurement of adulthood? Why or why not.


1. What makes you feel depressed? What do you do about it?

2. Agree or disagree: people can overcome their own problems. Why or why not?

Boy/Girl Friend

1. Define your concept of an “ideal” girlfriend or boyfriend?*
(Ideal- sounds like “idea,” is an idea or concept in absolute perfection)

Agree or Disagree—Establishing a mature relationship with the opposite sex is difficult.

Nothing Gold Can Stay
By Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower,
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief.
So dawn goes down today.
Nothing gold can stay.

1. In one sentence, as simply as possible, tell what you think this poem is about.

2. How does this poem relate to The Catcher in the Rye?


Holden explains what he likes about Phoebe in Chapter 10.
For this journal, you will explain what you like about the friend or relative you feel closest to.


It seems that Holden’s relationship with Mr. Spencer is one balanced by an equal amount of pity and respect. What qualities must an adult possess in order to gain your respect? Give an example of someone you know who possesses these qualities.


We know Holden does not like movies because he tells us, however, he never mentions television.

1. If you were to hand Holden a copy of this week’s TV Guide, which shows do you think he would express interest in? Why?

2. What modern television shows do you think Holden would never watch, even if you paid him? Why?


1. A) Girls, would you date Holden? Why or why not?
B) Guys, would you befriend Holden? Why or why not?

Like Stuff

Make a list of things Holden doesn’t like at this point in your reading. Holden usually comes out and says what he doesn’t like, so there’s no need to “read between the lines.” For example, he says, “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies. Don’t even mention them to me,” on page 2.

1. Oftentimes in the novel, Holden uses the word “Phony” to describe the things he doesn’t like. What do you think he means by “Phony.”

2. Make a list of things YOU think are phony in our society. Try to have a reason for listing what you do.


1.If Holden were alive today, would he walk around with iPod earbuds in his ears? Why or Why not?

2.Regardless of how you answer #1, what kind of music would Holden NEVER listen to, even if you paid him? Why?


1. If Holden went to this school, what kind of label might he have? Why do you think this?

2. In which class might he succeed? Why do you think this?


“The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of a mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.”

Examples of people who have died nobly?
Examples of people who have lived humbly?
What’s the difference?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Something about eating babies

I gave my students the option to choose one of seven different novels for senior English this year and I'm starting to wonder if I bit off more than I can chew. I think this group is independent enough not to need constant direct instruction-just today I was going to teach the pardoner's tale and gave up because a) I had already related the neat-o plot orally earlier in the year and b) they already know dramatic irony from Sophocles... so, instead I asked them to read something at random from the textbook and be prepared to tell the class about it... "pick something short." I'm so glad I did! They showed me so many cool pieces I'd overlooked, like Wole Soyinka's "Telephone Conversation" a prose-poem of sorts that rocks my socks. He wrote a book while wrongly imprisoned in Nigeria. It's called The Man Died: Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka. I hope to track down a copy soon. We also read some weird thing called "Two Sheep" by Janet Frame and this other thing by Harold Pinter. It was an authentic string of moments. So... I'm hoping I don't have to do too much hand holding during this novel unit. I might have trouble keeping all the books straight. I know I could teach Siddhartha and Angela's Ashes blindfolded... probably blindfolded while sitting in the lotus position. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone might be a little challenging because we're doing a book called The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter in addition... and I've been talking trash about being a Potter expert, so I better know my stuff there. As for The Road, 1984, and Crime and Punishment-they're new. I've never taught them. I read The Road in one sitting two years ago on a plane to Hawaii, so I'll have to re-read that one, obviously. One of my male students said, "We'll just watch the movie," to which I replied, "Good. If you can get through it without curling into the fetal position and sucking your thumb go for it... and it's less intense than the book in many ways. They don't eat a baby in the movie. The movie will "e-road" you from the inside out." Another male student said "If they eat a baby I'm not reading it." I give him a lot of credit. I'm ashamed to admit if I were in high school the promise of a baby-eating scene would have driven me to the page. That and I only read Crime and Punishment (at first) because of the axe murder. But hey, I've come a long way since high school... I have a baby now, and I don't think I'd eat him for anything in the world.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Writing Exercise: Conflict

Can't remember if I've posted this idea yet or not.

Choose a superhero with whom you are familiar. Consider their character. Do they strive to create order and enforce rules? Or, do they enjoy reveling in chaos and give into their primal urges? Better yet, are they a mix of the two? Do you have them in mind? Great.

Now put them in a scene that requires them to act in a way opposite of their nature. Emphasize your character's inner conflict. Show how inner conflict can lead to external conflict.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Reading Workshop 20

Choose at least one of the following questions to answer about your chosen book.

If your book were an Olympic sport, what would it be, and why?

If your book were a celebrity, who would it be and why?

If your book were an element on the periodic table, what would it be and why?

If your book were a monster, what would it be, and why?

If your book had the choice to fly or be invisible, which would it choose and why?

If your book was a color, what would it be and why?

If your book had the choice to use nails or screws, which would it choose and why?

If your book could turn into a bat, would it hide in a cave or bite someone on the neck? Why?

Monday, March 1, 2010

...that's definitely not going to pass code...

I've been spending some time lately learning the ins-and-outs of electrical wiring. I am tempted to go into detail here about the project but that would be a little too much like reliving a nightmare so I'll skip it. Speaking of nightmares, I read a scary story called "The Bees" by Dan Chaon last night before bed. There's a house fire in the story and I couldn't stop thinking about my electrical work before bed. Finally I had to get up and go touch the wires and the junction box to make sure they were cold before I could sleep. Jeez-oww!

I've been working on little stuff here and there, my own writing that is. I'm rewriting the novel, the one about the chef, in the first person. It's been a lot more fun now that I kind of know the story and I don't have to worry about keeping a straight face the whole time. I just finished re-revising chapter one just the other day. I feel pretty good about it I guess. I think the first couple pages are still going to be confusing, but I've been working on it. I think the relationship stuff regarding the main character and his roommate are much more realistic, and I think his "career dissatisfaction" is more evident, and (I hope) more funny. I hope there are a lot more funny parts, actually. I don't know, we'll see. I have an idea for at least one new character once the story moves to the school. It may very well take me another couple of years to finish the second draft. In the meantime I'm listening to the voices in my head. And working on story about a guy that can't stop vomiting.

Well, kids, that's about it. In the meantime I'm looking for something else to read that made me feel the way The Wild Things by Dave Eggers made me feel, and that is, like a kid again. Maybe I'll read Hendrik van Loon's The Story of Mankind?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Notes of a High School English Teacher: Hunter S. Thompson

There’s a certain breed of high school student that inevitably finds Hunter S. Thompson at the top of their reading list. At its worst, this means maybe an older sibling showed them the movie of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and they’ve sought out the novel to carry around as a badge of weirdness. At its best, and maybe with some guidance, they read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (all of it, dammit, not just the trippy stuff), but didn’t stop there. Maybe they continue on to The Rum Diary, a nice piece of memoir-style journalism from his early days, or The Great Shark Hunt, a collection of New Journalism essays that give definition to the much-applied “Gonzo.” One of his short stories really stuck with me about a coyote trying to survive in an American suburb. By the end of the story, the coyote is matted, covered in eggs and ketchup and probably syrup, shot with an arrow maybe, limping brokenly, an ashtray in its jaws...something... I don’t remember exactly... unsure what the story was called... I think I read it in an anthology. Regardless, that essay always stuck with me. I think there is surely merit in Thompson’s writing. Just as there is merit in the writing of those with a 75 IQ. JESUS CHRIST! EVERYTHING HAS MERIT, IT'S JUST WHETHER OR NOT WE’RE BRAVE ENOUGH TO TALK ABOUT IT!

What I’m struggling with is how to approach the student carrying around Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It's like trying to approach a caged opossum. The crazy eyes. What do I say to them? If they truly read the book, what do I recommend they read next? Or even if they didn’t... THEN WHAT?

There are many possible scenarios. I could seek help by reporting my suspicions to the crisis councilor. I could talk to the student myself, “So tell me why you like Hunter S. Thompson?” Could I recommend Denis Johnson? He seems to be a darling of the literary community, and, I suppose, for good reason. Would recommending Jesus’ Son be a good decision?

I used to have a book called Drugs Explained on my shelf. There was a big pot leaf on the cover, and there was always one student who pulled it down... perhaps for that reason alone. The book is more of a manual on the effects of drugs. I recently stuck the book in my teacher locker next to a copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.



Marijuana is the opium of the poor, or so says Hemingway. It's one toy the ruling class doesn't want the working class to play with. I'm personally concerned with the research linking exposure to THC with schizophrenia. A dear friend of mine developed schizophrenia in his early 20's and I believe exposure to THC played a part. I, personally, think drugs are harmful. What kind of pisses me is that, in some people's minds, being a creative writer automatically links you with drug abuse. The idea that drug abuse and creativity are somehow linked is such a pain-in-the-ass. For instance a creative thinker might say something remotely outside the circle of the norm while interacting with "normal people," and all the sudden they're the ones saying, "Wow, that's so just, like, out there. Did you smoke something before dinner?"

Maybe morons are so afraid of original thought that they have to somehow link it to a criminal practice. Maybe, somehow, morons can see how books like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas criticize what they stand for: an American Dream that encourages gratuitous levels of avarice and consumption, and they seek to discount the storytellers. Maybe morons just think you have to be high on drugs to criticize one of the founding principals of the greatest nation in all the world.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Serial Publications of JD Salinger

I read The Catcher in the Rye for the first time when I was an undergraduate student at Akron. At the time, I was working at a paint and wallpaper store. Aster Paint was located in Firestone Park before the owner, Dave Johnson, moved the store to a larger location in Portage Lakes. I got the job from the recommendation of a friend of mine who now also teaches high school English. Aster was a fun place to work. Dave was probably the nicest boss I will ever have the privilege of working for. When we weren't unloading stock, waiting on customers or custom matching paint or stain, Dave let us do whatever we wanted. Down-time took many forms. One popular game was Aster-Ball in which we would literally play baseball with a version of a baseball made from tape. The store was set up in a square, so we just had to switch our perspective to make it a diamond. The wall above the wallpaper book shelves was the home-run area, and the only foul territory was behind the service desk. Dave would often join in the fun himself: "We work hard, and we play hard."

Aster-Ball usually happened on the weekend, when many of us were scheduled to work at the same time. During the week only one or two of us might be on staff, so in lieu of Aster-Ball, I would often read. After Aster closed, I got a job at Ace Hardware. I remember asking the general manager if we could read during down-time. I don't think anyone had ever asked him that. He looked at me and frowned. "I suppose if you're reading MSDS sheets or literature on products." Dave Johnson he was not.

I read Catcher in one day. I read about half of it in between customers at Aster, and finished it when I got home from work. I remember laughing at just about everything Holden had to say and Dave wanted to know what was so funny. Dave was a great salesman and he loved jokes. I tried to explain what was so funny, but of course it sounded stupid, so I committed the crime for which literary snobs have been guilty for centuries: I recommended he read the book himself.

I read the book again within the week. I was in a creative writing class at Akron with Bob Pope and I was happy to find that everyone had read the book and knew exactly what I was talking about when I said it was one of my favorite books. Another student named Chris claimed it was the book that got him back into reading as a high school student. Another guy named Ed claimed he read it every winter break. I quickly discovered that Catcher fans worshiped the book and everyone had a story. I talked about Catcher in the Rye in a job interview to teach English at a vocational school. I remember saying that I wanted to meet young Holden Caulfields and help them figure out how to use their towering goodwill before it tears them to pieces. I got the job and have taught the book nearly every year since. Student reactions have been favorable. Last year during our literacy initiative a poll was taken: name your favorite book. Catcher scored number two on the list just behind the Stephanie Myer books. I can't take all the credit, but out of nine English teachers, only two of us teach the book. Those are some odds! It has been common for students to lend the book to their parents when they're done with it, which has made for some interesting parent teacher conferences. In eight years I've only ever spoken with one parent who "didn't like the book." She didn't give much of a reason and I asked her if she read the whole book. She claimed she had but didn't build much of an argument against the book, just that she "didn't like it." Maybe it had something to do with language. OR, I have found that between the sexes women have a harder time identifying with Holden. Those who object to him think he's whiny, cynical and a downer. In one journal I ask female students if they'd date Holden. Most of them say they would not. I can't blame them, really.

Like any author, fans eventually run out of reading material and are forced to reread old material or turn to a different writer while they wait for the new book. For Salinger fans waiting for the new book was apt to be a long wait indeed. Among his other books, I read the memoir put out by his daughter, but at the time I was thinking a lot about the short story and couldn't get enough of Nine Stories. Especially "Just Before the War with the Eskimos," which I was teaching in school as a kind of reader's theatre. We'd highlight the speaking parts and let it rip. I loved Salinger's short stories, but was disappointed there were only nine. Somehow I got wind of his uncollected serial publications. It wasn't long before I had compiled the list and started searching in the basement of Bierce library among the periodicals. It was slow going. Some of the pages were missing, one was graffitied, and for every two stories I was able to find, I was missing one. And I had to pay for the copies, so it wasn't long before I lost my enthusiasm and the project was reduced to a handful of copied pages (mostly off centered) crinkled at the bottom of my book bag.

My father is probably one of the most obsessive collectors I have ever met. I caught the germ to some degree (I have almost all of the Amazing Spider man comics), but I believe my sister is far sicker than me. Couple this fact with her being a National Merit Scholar and PhD student at OSU (their library is bigger), and after mentioning in passing that I was collecting Salinger's uncollected serial publications but couldn't get them all, the next Christmas I was presented a neatly organized binder filled with plastic sleeves containing Xeroxed copies of the stories: one copied on heavy, yellow paper, and one copied on white paper (in case I need to make more), and a table of contents in beautiful script font. The stories are listed in the chronological order they appeared in print, and it is probably the most thoughtful gift I have ever received. I have included the information in the table of contents:

"The Young Folks" Story, March-April 1940
"Go See Eddie" The Kansas Review, December 1940
"The Hang of It" Collier's, July 12, 1941
"The Heart of a Broken Story" Esquire, September 1941
"Personal Notes on an Infantryman," Collier's December 12, 1942
"The Various Brothers" Saturday Evening Post, July 17, 1943
"Both Parties Concerned" Saturday Evening Post, February 26, 1944
"Soft Boiled Sergeant" Saturday Evening Post, April 15, 1944
"Last Day of the Last Furlough" Saturday Evening Post, July 15, 1944
"Once a Week Won't Kill You" Story, November-December 1944
"A Boy in France" Saturday Evening Post, March 31, 1945
"Elaine" Story, March-April 1945
"This Sandwich has no Mayonnaise" Esquire, October 1945
"The Stranger" Collier's, December 1, 1945
"I'm Crazy" Collier's, December 22, 1945
"Slight Rebellion off Madison" The New Yorker, December 22, 1946
"A Young Girl in 1941 with No Waist at All" Mademoiselle, May 25, 1947
"The Inverted Forest" Cosmopolitan, December 1947
"A Girl I Knew" Good Housekeeping, February 1948
"Blue Melody" Cosmopolitan, September 1948
"Hapworth 16, 1924" The New Yorker, June 19, 1965

I experienced sadness tinged with excitement when I heard the news that Salinger died at the age of 91. I always thought his writing captured the voice that so many of us (myself included) might lock away in a dark room because we're afraid it might betray something personal and therefore terribly fragile, and that's how I see his characters, full of petty jealousies, naive cynicism, intellectual immaturity, a dangerous sentimentalism, and, above all, the desperate need to be understood. Thank you, Jerome David Salinger, for your courage.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"You'd better pay your dues with whatever talent you got... otherwise the world sends in its debt collectors. And those fellas aren't interested in takin a bite out of your wallet. Them fellas take a bite right out of your ever-lasting soul!"
-Gordon J. Fuller, PhD

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence. - Buddha

Did you ever wonder if it's a coincidence that the concept of samsara is a circle, and the Earth is a circle?

Was Buddhism thousands of years ahead of Magellan's voyage without even knowing it?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What's in the briefcase, sir? A bomb, or a literary journal... or, Lord help us, both?

I had a student (a poetic, mohawk-ed one, I might add) say, "The only way people take notice in this country is if you blow something up." I might have stored the comment in the de-atomizer of my brain until its virulent energy dissipated. However, this student is interesting, and the comment struck a chord. I've decided to detoxify his words through this blog post... if I can. The literary equivalent of rolling a nematode up on a matchstick. Before it lays eggs.

The question that prompted the comment had to do with whether or not poetry is still an effective means of protest in today's society. I suppose it's debatable whether or not poetry has ever been an effective means of protest... but then of course I've been teaching them that it is by showing them Ginsberg and Snyder and the oldies like Oliver Wendel Homes, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Bob Dylan, etc. I've realized I'm far more faithful to my ideals at the front of a classroom. I'm stronger. Quacking into this thing, or late at night when I'm alone with my thoughts... that's when the voices come out and really do their thing. I mean, right now I'm thinking... my God, maybe this student is right! Maybe we've allowed terror to degrade our society and we've empowered violence with our orange threat levels and airport security checks...

At this point, the spokesperson for my parent's generation (who looks like Lewis Black) comes out on stage in my imagination and laughs derisively... in my face. "You pussies have it easy compared to what my generation had to go through! Ever hear an air raid alarm? It makes your @$$hole pucker up! Ever been asked to hide under your desk in case a nuclear bomb hits the school? You guys are afraid of toothpaste, or that some person will build a bomb into their shoes, or (God forbid!) stick one up their @$$. You're afraid to write detentions because some pissed off kid will come in and shoot up the place. That's what you should have done with mohawk. Teach him to raise his hand if he has something to say. What ever happened to the nuke! What ever happened to a worthy f*%#@ing adversary?! And, after all, isn't war itself one big protest movement? Furthermore, what human rights or cultural freedoms were ever earned through poetry? Aren't poets the equivalent of big top performers willing to sell their very souls for a drip of praise? They're not social revolutionaries. Writers are overeducated window lickers!"

Luckily, Lewis stayed in the basement of my mind tinkering with his model trains when the money was on the table. I reacted with poise. My fingers did not twitch for a cigarette ( I haven't smoked in months), nor did I fold under the pressure and crap out a redirection. I squared my shoulders and hit that baby. Over the fence, I think.

"In one hundred years, society will forget the names of the extremists, and more than likely, we’ll forget their causes. The initial shock of an exploding airplane is more powerful than a poem or a story, but the effects aren’t likely to last as long, or penetrate as deeply into our minds and hearts. Language has the power to change the world for the better. Bombs and guns and terror do not."

I wasn't even sure if I believed the words coming out of my mouth. But now I know. I believe this with my whole heart. Even now, while Lewis is chain-smoking Chesterfields and asking me, "Well, what about MLK, and Christ and Gandhi, and Phil Hartman?!"

Be quiet, Lewis. Go watch the Home Shopping Network. Let me have this one. It sounded good.

Heck, it even sounded patriotic.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Found Poem

I discovered today that the principal at my school is resigning and, moments after, feeling strangely excited, sad and nostalgic, read this list left on our network printer. I thought it was a poem, maybe a sonnet, because of the block type. However I soon discovered it was a list of vocabulary words. Besides, there are only 12 lines, and they don't rhyme. But, I read it like a poem anyway and decided I liked it very much. I think I might call it "The Public School." I hope you enjoy it.