Monday, December 31, 2012

The Drive Home, Through Newtown, Through Sandy Hook

Somewhere near Albany, the snow seemed to be melting and the winds began picking up. At a rest stop, people were complaining about the 36 degree temperature, but it was a good ten degrees warmer than Syracuse, so it felt warm. There was snow, but it wasn't as massive as CNY - just enough to make the ride beautiful.

I was apprehensive taking exit 10 off of 84 where I would drive past Sandy Hook Elementary School and the town of Newtown. I didn't want to be intrusive, but I needed to catch 20 down to the Merritt to Stratford. As I exited, the sun peaked through the white clouds and I said a few prayers. For many, Sandy Hook, Connecticut is a location on a map they learned about from the news. For others, it is where we, our colleagues, and our friends live.

It's been two weeks. On my way up to Syracuse, I missed the exit to 20 and found an alternative route. I believe this was my subconscious way of leaving my normal route to rest. I still cannot imagine the grief of the community or how the holidays, from this day on, will be a reminder of a tragic, tragic event.

Newtown was very quiet. The diner was packed as normal and a few wreaths were hung here and there. Traffic was light and stores were open with customers. Here and there, a few spray painted sheets read, "Pray for Newtown." Churches were quiet and few people were out. I made my way quietly, only to notice the pristine white that covered everything. Their parks were perfect and a few Canadian Geese walked along a pond. One hill hosted an angel for each person who lost their life on December 14th and this pierced my heart. This will be a spiritual space for many and  the town, quaint and calm, will never be the same again.

Trina Paulus, author of Hope for the Flowers, and the Connecticut Writing Project have collaborated. We have almost met our goal of providing 600 copies of her book to children, families, churches, counselors, and youth agencies in the area. Supporting this effort can be done through visiting the CWP-Fairfield website and donations will purchase the book and help  to host a butterfly release this spring.

I texted my niece in Syracuse to tell her she will compete against Newtown High School when she travels to Rhode Island for a WGI Regional - they're in the same class. I think it would be wonderful for the Northstars to bond and to do something extremely special for the students in their guard. The world is enormous, but at times like these it seems so, so small.

This is my last post for Connecticut Crandall - 2012. It is not the way I anticipated finishing the year. I know, however, that all my future writing will be inspired by the proximity of this event.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

And the home visit comes to a close....

My friends in Connecticut asked me if it was snowing in Syracuse. I had to laugh. I've been here a week and I can count on one hand the two days it didn't snow during this break. Christmas  is always nicer when it's white, even though I do remember skateboarding in shorts on during my childhood. The rugged plow life is more like it - I prefer the cold, wintry, miserable Syracuse that has become infamous across the nation.

I'm also stoked to have new boots now to match the lifestyle of Syracuse. I hope I get to use them when I return to plow out my driveway tomorrow, too. I know lil' Roseanne ( the Ford Focus) won't get up my driveway in Stratford unless it is plowed. Nikki calls the shoes "butters," which I sort of like. I shall call them that, too. I scraped them already, thought, and they were flawed within the first 15 minutes of owning them. Mom says, "They're boots. Get over it."

Ah, but it is time to head back to work and the routine of academia - there is always much more to be done. The hiatus of cookies, cakes, and Clay Jam has come to an end (and I anxiously await the January guilt to work off everything I ate these last few weeks even if I was a bit smarter this year and tried not to eat much before I drove home).

I enjoyed the relaxation, knowing my mother is feeling better, Nikki's one liners, Casey's whisky-fest, and having WIRELESS everywhere I go - it took my family a while but everyone is now caught up to the 21st century.  I used my IPad more, too, even if I still feel more comfortable on the laptop.

And so, Syracuse, it looks like a departure until March. I think you are in for much, much more snow, but only time will tell.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

I guess they met at Starbucks

The video is from Best In Show (2000) and the spoof of characters created to depict the eccentricity around dog lovers. I'm not quite sure I get it, but my niece will be performing to this (with a wonderful piano tune) during the 2013 Winterguard Season. As plans have it, I will be able to make it to Rhode Island where she will compete in a northeast regional.

I got a preview this week and the potential is there for the Northstars to continue this growing legacy.
I am guessing that they are going for whimsical and funny, although that is not the way it has been portrayed thus far. Now that I made the connection to the Christopher Guest spoof, I am thinking there's a lot of potential to add whimsical flare to the "script".

We shall see. Only time will tell.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Cynderballs! Today is your Day!

It begins with my mom's birthday. It moves into Christmas. It ends with Cynderballs and her special December celebration!

Today is the 28th and my big sister, the Queen of the Universe, turns another year older. Here, she's pictured doing her best impersonation of the Cabbage Patch doll Mike bought her for Christmas (which I image she already returned this week).

On the 28th of December each year the Crandall, Isgar and Barnwell people get together one last time to determine that, yes, they pretty much have had it with each other and need some space for a while. The close proximity over several events, coupled with decades of family history, creates anticipation of the new year where not as much time is spent together.

Actually, the love is real and it is especially felt on Cynde's special day. Today, she'll be getting her hair done. I'll be picking up her daughter at 3 p.m.. And she will select festivities for the evening that will not involve whisky, ginger all and cherry juice for Casey. I'm also baking my famous cake just for her and watching the U of L/University of Kentucky basketball game at 4.

We love you Cynde! We think you're the best oldest sister in the world! Here's to you!

With any luck, we'll get more photos like this tonight!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

I am admitting my addiction...

Clay Jam, 2012.

I downloaded the APP Clay Jam earlier this year, but never played it. Tapping in to my inner OCD, I began playing last weekend when I got home. I admit it, I've not been able to think about anything other than completing all the levels and solving the game. I sat for hours (I mean ridiculous hours) to move a little forward every day.

I am honored and happy to say that yesterday at around 4:30 p.m., I defeated the last monster and was awarded with a clay-day parade. I thought this was pertinent for my holiday home-visit to Clay, New York.

Of course, today there's much snow that has fallen and I should have saved my play time for now, but that is not how OCD works. I needed the game resolved immediately and that is why I spent the last week paving a way for my little marble to collect blotches of monster dough.

When I was younger, it wasn't me who played, but Casey. I coached. Things have changed and I now have deleted the application - it's gone. I no longer have the distraction and I am thankful.

No more games in 2013, okay?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

And the memories were created, XMAS 2012

I promised my brother-in-law, Dave, that I wouldn't post anything on Christmas Eve night about my sister's reaction to the orangey-peach sweatshirt I got her from Kohl's. "That," he advised, "is not something for the world to read. I mean, I have to live with her."

And he had to drive with her all the way from Cicero to Manlius, waiting on pins and needles that at any second the topic would return, "Why the F@#$ would anyone buy me a F#$#ing orange sweatshirt?" This was the mantra for the evening, so readily repeated that Sean also began asking it of anyone who would listen.

Bailey's Cream. Southern Comfort. Ginger Ale. Cherry juice.
K dot C dot. And how dare a brother drive an orange sweatshirt from Connecticut all the way to CNY? Doesn't anyone pay attention to how she dresses? Her color patterns? Her style? Doesn't anyone think about what would look good on her?

We all learned one thing that night. Wrapping paper and GIFT BAGS did not look good on her either. As she tried to build her chest so she could pound on it yelling, "I am woman hear me roar," we all lost the purpose of the rant. We sat quiet hoping that she wouldn't direct her frustration on us next.

I mean the sweatshirt was her size. It looked warm. I was thinking about cold, Syracuse nights and the winters when Dave is plowing the streets. A fleece of sorts.

But it was orange. I should have known better. I can do better paying attention to details and thinking ahead to colors that might be better suited: grays, browns, blacks, etc. I mean orange.

This one goes down in the record books.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas, 2012

Keeping it subdued.

Enjoy the family, the presents, the time off and the cheer.

Love, Bryan

Monday, December 24, 2012

First snowman in a good 15 years!

Yesterday was Barnwell Sunday with Abu and Lossine. We grabbed the snow gear and decorated the front yard with Frosty so that Santa would be welcome tonight. Inside, Dave and Casey baked cookies to prepare forthe visit, as well. Things are looking good in Manlius and think the ol' bearded one should have no problem bringing packages to this home.

We also started another tradition last night: Heids Hotdogs and Lights on the Lake. Wait. A tradition means it will be customary to repeat. This is highly unlikely, although Pop make it more enjoyable with wisecracks here and there ("I heard SU has a new section this year - I'm sure the Bernie Fine display will be something to gawk at.")

And, for the first time in 21 years, I'm spending the night away from my parents. I'm testing out a sleepover in Manlius simply to see what it's like. I'm wondering if I will have french toast awaiting me when I wake up. We shall see.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Who remembers this?

I do.

Happy Sunday before the eve everyone. I hope you find time to accomplish your last minute objectives. Me? Well, I'm taking one stride at a time.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

i-Pooped, but glad to be home

The winds and rain of Connecticut gave way to the snowflakes and grayness of upstate New York. The warmth, however, came from notification that the publishers of Hoper for the Flowers are committing to donating 120 copies to CWP to distribute in southern Connecticut. This make me feel happier about a difficult semester of hurricanes, winter storms, and a tragedy that should have never happened.

I have a few more papers to grade, but I'm also ready to say that the semester has ended. In fact, I brought the I-pad home with me that I've only taken out of the box once since it was bought for me from this summer's ISI teachers. I've yet to write them a thank you note (but I will...I will).

In my last bout of procrastination, I have figured it all out. I have all my accounts hooked up and it is now easy for me to pick it up and do what I do. Before, it was just a wee pit awkward and I didn't have time to play. Summer turned into the pace of the Fall, and Wola, now it is December 22nd.

And basketball is on.

And I should have opportunities to snow blow.

And there's so many people to see.

Yes, I'm i-Pooped, but also i_Pumped at everything that lies ahead.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Hope for the Flowers and Hope for 2013

Today, I depart for upstate New York on a day where the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world and the Weather Channel warns of the same. I'm optimistic, however, that this won't be. I am  excited to be with my family once again this holiday. I post before I hit the roads, however, in order to reflect on the past week.

When I was a teenager, a teacher at CNS read to seniors the book Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus. The story resonated with me because it reminded me of my Grannie Annie and the way she viewed life. Years later, when various tragedies hit students where I taught, I bought copies of the book as inspiration and for guidance. It is an allegory for difficult times. The story resonates with young people, teenagers, and adults.

Yesterday, while grading papers, I couldn't get my mind off the fact that on my way back to Syracuse, I will drive through Newtown, Connecticut. My mind has been on their community, especially their teachers and students. My administrative assistant and I went through our records and learned that there are several teacher consultants who have participated in the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield who live and/or teach in Newton. On a whim, I looked up the title of this book and wrote a note inquiring about how to buy copies for these teachers so they could have it on hand while teaching (I think every teacher should have a copy of this book and although it cannot undo the sad event of last week, it may be useful in helping teachers and student to cope).

 I didn't expect Trina Paulus, the author, to call me. I'm thrilled to say that through her network, the CWP-Fairfield network, and their website,  her book, Hope for the Flowerswill be available to teachers, students, counselors, families, and psychologists. It is a small gift with a potential for tremendous impact. Her board and friends have set up a PayPal account on the website and for every $10 raised, another book will be distributed. The goal is to distribute 100 books and we are almost halfway there. Donations also support Trina's butterfly release program to send fluttering magic into the world as a reminder that there is always hope.

"I love / to believe / in hope," as Brendan Kennally, an Irish poet, once wrote.  Believing in hope is, sometimes, all we have.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Grading, but seeing the light

There are so many rhythms and routines to learn in life, but the one I'm now getting used to is end-of-the-semester grading, especially days before Christmas. The assignments came in and, alas, a number needs to be assigned to the hard work of students. This is never as easy as it seems.

I see the summative part of the semester as a tremendous opportunity to offer written feedback and advice to teachers and students so they recognize what they've achieved and where they might go next. I could throw a number onto the work like 99.9% of my instructors did, but that was never helpful to me. I never understood what the letter indicated. Instead, I learned from the few who carefully wrote back to me and gave me insight on my progress and where I might want to concentrate next.

The result?

Grading in the morning, grading in the afternoon, grading in the evening, grading late and night, and grading in my sleep. It is the curse of semester-shaped systems. I don't remember it being as rough last year, but I think we had more buffer days before the holidays. This year, it is right up against the wire.

Zzzzt. I'm fried.

Tomorrow, I must work through to the bottom of the pile. I must.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Shout out to my favorite voice

and it's not because he strikes me as a Brown School kid, either. It's just because his quirky look, his amazing throw-back voice, and his story to get to the stage where he is has made me lift my head from the keyboard on Monday nights (normally, I listen to NBC, but seldom do I look up). He's quirky enough to catch my attention.

and because it is grading season and I'm on a marathon to get everything read so I can enter grades and focus on the holidays.

and because distractions are somewhat nice this time of year.

and because he's Cee-Lo's guy (and that's a Brown School character, too).

and because I want him to be contracted to make a holiday album singing about white Christmas (and I want it to snow).

and because I'm procrastinating.

and because I'm for the underdog and the black horse in most everything I do.

and because he doesn't look the part of everything Hollywood these days.

and because the winner is going to be revealed any second now,

and it won't be Nicholas David because he will get third.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Overheard at St. Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse, NY

Today is Tuesday. Yesterday was Monday - a classic Crandall, Isgar, Barnwell triage for the medical profession of Syracuse. Sadly, no one could wait for me to come home so I could partake in the festivities. Seems mom wants to get her birthday celebration and the Xmas hoopla started before I'm able to leave Connecticut to return home.

Do know I post this note today with love and concern. I feel somewhat hopeless where I am, but I am thinking of you all. For those who have no clue what any of this means, don't stress over it. It's performance art and they're auditioning for Saturday Night Live.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The magic of small feet, hope to defeat the sadness.

I learned yesterday that a student I had last year gave birth to a new son on December 12th. I kidded her that she should name him "Twelve" as he was born on 12/12/12. Actually, her announcement and photos put a smile on my face. Life continues, life provides its precious moments, and life will always be a challenge. I know this student has wanted a child for some time and that the road has not been easy. The gift arrived two days before tragedy in Connecticut, and I see this as promise. We have to believe in good. Children deserve the best we can offer them.

And because I'm believing in good, I am hoping the best for my mother (note: these are definitely not her feet). She's struggling with a nasty cough, a bad hip, and breathing difficulties. I feel fortunate that my sisters and dad are with her, coaching her towards better health. I am also believing in good for my niece. She's having procedures tomorrow that couldn't wait until I was home to be with her. She knew how much I was looking forward to it.

As days move forward, I'm finding it harder and harder to rationalize local events and what our best responses should be. I know the  comfort comes from focusing on hope. And that is what I'm doing.

Little feet arrive. They crawl. They learn to walk. They begin to run. And some will step up to lead. With the announcement of every new child, a promise of hope is born. May he or she do a better job of making this world a more wonderful place to live tomorrow. May they find solutions that we've yet to discover.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Spatial Check - Aerial Mind Game

Yesterday's Courier Journal had an aerial of downtown Louisville on its front page.

The photograph threw me into nostalgia because this Kentucky space and location were central to 15 years of my life. In one shot, there was the background of New Albany, Indiana, where I worked in a group home with seven adult men with disabilities. I spent most of my evenings and weekends in that area so I could afford graduate school. There was, of course, the Brown School up against I-65, where I lived with 600 students and my teaching friends for many long, long days (and the streets we often walked with the outdoor classroom). For over ten years, that is where my truck parked and my responsibilities resided.

Then there was the small pocket of homes where I moved across from Louisville (taking the last train to Clarksville) to live near Alice and Charlie. The 2nd Street Bridge was my gateway to and from work and my daily heartbeat - the pulse - was established in this one scene. The 2nd Street Bridge was also the arch to the Irish Rover. To the right of the photo is where Sue and Dave lived (and Nancy's bagels were baked). It was also the hub of Friday nights for a beer with my best friends there.

I think it is strange to see an aerial photograph like this because when on the ground, it is easy to forget how insane space and time actually are. I was but a piece of dust in this larger landscape - the bigger mechanism of downtown, city life makes my daily schedule seem ant-like. The photo could be taken from an even higher angle and I would feel even smaller. Such a photo makes me think that the life I was able to live in a larger universe was miraculous and fortunate indeed.

And now, in Connecticut, I'm sure there's additional landscapes to capture my routines. In Syracuse, too, I might map out my reality from the streets and buildings I most inhabited.

My point. A bird's eye view puts it all into perspective.

Life's but a walking shadow...a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Thoughts for Newtown and the United States

Yesterday, I sat around my house drinking coffee and grading. The news was on and I was catching up on world events - a quiet, gentle Friday. Around my third cup, I realized it was opening day for The Hobbit and I thought, "What if I took a nice break from the world, saw The Hobbit, and then went for al walk along the sound?" I left for the mall around 10:45 a.m. and caught an 11:15 film.
The news had yet to break about Sandy Hook Elementary, a school 19 miles north of where I live. The text messages started coming while I was in the dark theater, and it was surreal to view the latest Peter Jackson movie - all hyped with graphic bravado - while receiving more and more news of this real-world tragedy.

My mood was bubbly when I arrived. Every nerd, dork, and geek called in sick so they could see the opening of the movie and it was standing room only (all males, mostly bearded, and - dare I admit - rather pathetic). It looked like a Big Bang Theory convention and I was a bit self conscious that I was one of the audience members. I should face the fact that I was.

Early in the movie, before the texts started to come, I thought, "Man. Jackson really commercialized Tolkien's story." His plan is to drag it out for three movies (read $$$). I couldn't help but think that instead of a film, I was watching a video game. The cinematography was nauseating (3D upon High Def) and the violence extreme. It was definitely made to appeal to a generation of online gamers, shooters, and digital dreamers. I was a bit bothered by it, actually. Over the top glorification of death and battle, in my opinion...without any comment on the insanity of such warring.

The texts made the movie experience even more uncomfortable. I worried for teachers and students at the school, especially those who have participated in Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield events. As I left, I listened to the radio and instantly thought that it was sick that this event occurred right before Christmas. I am thinking of Principal Dawn Hochsprung and the guardian angel she will continue to be for the school.

The crime was unnecessary and evil.

I could make a connection to Tolkien's writing and wisdom, but my interpretation is subdued compared to the Hollywood hype of sensationalizing violence as I viewed yesterday. When I was a kid, I read and saw the cartoon version of The Hobbit, and loved it with an imagination that kept violence at bay. The 2012 version, however, heightened the sensation of killing as if videogaming murder and destruction is fun, joyful and triumphant. I think not. Tokien didn't live to see the cinematic hype of his work. His books brought messages of alliance and history. Peter Jackson's film, this time, seemed to cater to an excessive world of corporate greed. It's sad that we are at this place in American history.

I'm also troubled by random acts of violence that occur in the U.S. on a daily basis (especially so close to my home). As others are asking, I too wonder, "When will the insanity stop? When do we begin to take responsibility, both locally and globally, with such violence?"

Gandalf...Many of us would like your wisdom right about now. Not Peter Jackson's Gandalf, but the one in my head that was first created when I met you as a child. We need wizardry to bring meaning to this occurrence.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Getting my end-of-the-semester silly on

This is what becomes of me by Friday.

I'm taking a semester of grant writing, teaching, directing, coordinating, presenting, traveling, reading and writing and winding it up in a momentary break of procrastination. I often wonder what people without photo booth do when they want to relieve stress. This is meditation, Bryan style.

I did make it to the gym, organized my office before the volumes of projects arrive needing to be graded, and successfully participated in meetings. Even so, I took a couple of seconds to put stickers on my eyes to remind myself of the playful world I've always loved and cherished - evidence for the court, I suppose. The humor keeps me sane and I guess I should be faulted for that. This is what Connecticut does to you a week and a half away from holiday break. I'm stoked I still have it in me at this time of year.

It's Thursday. The world did not end.

But my teaching did for another semester and my exhaustion is evidence of that. Now it is time for grading and planning for next semester.

My last classes ended symbolically. Not only did we have Sandy this semester and a freak snow storm, but today the electricity went off on campus right as I was beginning my final class with undergraduates. 45 minutes later it came back on, but it messed up technology for my later class. I couldn't get the school's projectors to work. Not the end of the world, but...

Wasn't it supposed to be? Or is that December 21st. I keep hearing conflicting stories. I was sort of hoping it would be yesterday so I could sleep in today. Looks like I lose again. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The traditional acrostic on the last night of class...

I'm such an ass.

For as long as I've taught, I've written acrostics for my students. Here, drawing from the post written for Donna Alvermann, I post the first stanza of "Semi-Composed in December" - a poem written for composers in EN 411 at Fairfield University.

I cherish such distractions.

S he acted “as if” a writer,
e ntertaining her words “as if” a fighter, for the
m adness of the world and its
i nterconnectedness (“as if” it’s suppose to be sane).

C ause, she explained, it’s a part of performance -
o ur miraculous chance to be alive for a
m oment, “as if” this is what we’re meant to do …
p laying “teacher,” “lover,” “student,” “dreamer,”
o n the stages where curtains are meant to open and close.
s he wrote short fiction, “as if” creative, when
e veryone else performed research, and
d anced into the unknown.

i am growing within the improv, less
n auseated as i once was by all my questions and more,

D elirious when truths unravel like jewelweed seeds galore.
e ventually, i’ll act “as if” it’s supposed to make sense,
c ircumstance, mischance, that perchance
e verything evolves exactly as it should.
m odus omnibus in rebus[1], the advice,
b ut excessiveness has been my spice in life,
e volving “as if” i communicate, remaining
r andom as I am.

[1] moderation in all things

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A few words I picked up last week...

...while in and out of schools.

I miss kids. Adults are so (well) trained. BORING. Predictable. Conformed. Static.

In one afternoon of classes at an urban high school, I learned from kids who were talking with one another underneath the radar of their teachers. I picked up on a few new terms that I haven't heard before.  I feel like Henry Higgins, at times, with how I get excited about word play and variation. No, I'm not degrading like his character was -linguist snob - I am simply fascinated by the power of youth to usurp language in clever ways.

It's sad that they rarely share such brilliance with their teachers.

Here's a few of my favorites from last week:

Throwing subs - talking about people on Facebook in code. It's basically gossip, but when you write about someone on your Facebook page you throw subs with fictitious names.

Mind the biz wiz - an adaptation of Mind your business.

Dizza - it's "duh" in 2012. Dizza. You didn't know that?

Did ya dirty. Said to me when I cracked a joke about learning in school. It was complimentary.

He got crickets. Said between girls when the teacher was trying to be funny
and failed miserably. No one laughed but the teacher. Girls said, "He got crickets."

I seriously think every teacher should be able to observe classrooms like I do.
Kids are amazing. There's so much life and originality. Unfortunately, teachers missout on this because they're so busy teaching what they think kids need.

I continue to learn more from kids than I ever learned in a formalized class.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Amazing rat race...

the American way of life.

One of my undergraduates wrote a reflection about being pressured by his parents to make a decision about his future. He's a senior and after a $200,000 education, his parents want him to make a decision for his life. His older sisters are professionally successful and they want him to follow in their steps. Yet, he just wants to hike, be outside, and to read.

I am thinking about this on Monday morning because, in my Sunday ritual (thanks Lois), I now watch The Amazing Race before I go to bed. Actually, I listen to it and last night I resented it. Nice marketing CBS. All across the U.S. employees watch their CBS programing to be taken away by travel and adventure, making one last grasp for spicing up their lives before returning to the inane workweek once again.

The young man wrote he wanted a purpose to his life and I had to admit to him that I'm many degrees down and still don't have the answer. You've got to make money. You've got to support your livelihood. We have many opportunities in the U.S. to achieve, but in the end, does any of the labor matter? Is it all for nought?

When I was in his position, I thought about what work would make the biggest difference in the world. I narrowed it down to farming (to feed), medicine (to cure), and teaching (to support the next generation). I obviously chose teaching, but every Sunday night I think I should have chosen globetrotting or adventurer....something that was detached from routines, making money, habits, and "building a life." I would love to be completely emancipated from obligations and mandates.

Ah, such is the Sunday evening angsts. But it's Monday. Time to work again (as if I had much of a break over the weekend).

Sunday, December 9, 2012

About twice a year...

I'm able to (sort of) nap.

Yesterday was one of those days. I was up at 7, prepared for a meeting, ran the meeting, came home, cleaned some, graded some, and then realized I wasn't going to make it. It was 3:30 and I needed to close my eyes. Although I didn't fall asleep, I did (as my Grandma Vera would say) rest my eyes. It was that mind-numbing space of sort of being a sleep, but not really. My body simply went numb for an hour and I didn't stir until guilt kicked in (if you read yesterday's post, I hinted that such a mindless afternoon might have arrived).

I started thinking about The Smiths Asleep and how, unlike most adolescents and adults, I've always had a very difficult time napping. Actually, I have a hard time sleeping. Still, I absolutely love those moments when I simply give in to passive stillness. I need more of it and wish it was more a part of my everyday.

Sixty minutes in I started to realize I needed to get to the gym, had to get groceries, wanted to change the laundry, expected myself to finish grading a set of papers, and required preparation for watching the SU game. So, I got myself up. I did, though, enjoy the mini-nap I somewhat allowed myself to take.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Exhausted. It's Saturday.

I have one more meeting today and then I can lounge around in sweatpants until Monday morning. It may be the turkey from last night, but I woke up today feeling as if the Jet Lag from Vegas and the Jet Lag from San Diego finally caught up. I feel somewhat delirious.

So, at noon today I can head home and be dumb (which means I can work on items for the next week). I am in need of some serious mindlessness.

I know I will probably operate in the opposite direction, but a man can wish, right?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Connecticut Creamed Potatoes

In the off chance anyone every types "Connecticut Creamed Potatoes" I will be proud that they find my site. Why? Tonight is my first holiday party of the season and I am bringing creamed potatoes in honor of my grandmother's recipe and the adaptations I've made over the years. They remain one of my favorite things to eat.

I thought of potatoes for Friday's post, however, because my brain is feeling rather lumpy and cheesy, too. It must be Friday and, if my memory serves me correct, I've been doing 14 hour days, 7 days a week for quite a long time now. Um, hmmmm....since I left the classroom in 2007 to earn my doctorate.

Either way, this is not a complain post. It's an optimistic one looking forward to an evening of $10 gift exchanged, good cheer, new friends, and the wonderful, tacky, holiday sweater vest t-shirt that was bought for me specifically for this party.
There's a long day ahead before the evening begins, but I'm working hard so I can get to the taters. Yum. I found the chives last night. I'm ready to cook later this afternoon. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

RIP, Dave Brubeck. You've brought me rhythm.

I have not been schooled in music. I am a man of words. With this said, I learned of Brubeck's genius while teaching in Kentucky and contemplating Pleasantville. Since then, I've downloaded his music onto my ipod and, when the shuffle brings me to Brubeck, I recognize it as a great, great day. The music makes me think, walk smarter, and find myself within the strut of living.

I imagine it is a good day for the afterlife as angels and spirits congregate to congratulate this musician for his accomplishments and additions to the American landscape. Tonight, the heavens will do a toast in his honor and then ask him to play. Up above, the many will reflect on their time on earth and think fondly of the montage that enters their memories to the melodies they hear him play.

I reflect on his passing with utmost admiration. One life time....such significance.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Arts-Based Thinking From Three Years Ago

I am approaching, in 9 days, the one-year anniversary to my academic defense at Syracuse University. Yesterday, while filing items, I came across this doodle that was created in a workshop for planning ahead towards success while at Syracuse University. We were suppose to write, but I, of course, went to poetics, drawing, and a metaphor. I am the man at the bottom of the mountain, hiking to reach the top to the "doorway to the unknown". At the base are all my teaching experiences: in Japan, Denmark, Kentucky, my learning experiences from many locations, and the items I knew I had to do to propose a study. This was in 2009.

The water keeps on flowing 
and my soul keeps on growing.
I keep questioning
so I might continue knowing as I do.

One year later, I collected data.

Another year later, I defended.

Coming across this mountain yesterday made me pause and reflect for a second. I think I was overwhelmed while in the process (and am now overwhelmed by the unknown of reaching the tip).

I wrote to my mentors yesterday to say that I'm currently skiing down the other side. The defense. The graduation. And now the change in career.

It is an interesting metaphor --- to climb, because the truth is, one climb only predates another one.
It is my new space in time to build another mountain. What next? For what purposes? And to what result? That's the goal for 2013.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Draft for Donna Alvermann - As If I'm a Researcher

The following was written on the plane leaving San Diego. Donna Alvermann, an SU graduate and role model for most in adolescent literacy and its research, did a paper on trying on a new identity as a flash-fiction writer (as if she could be someone beyond the research identity she's created during her career). We had a few moments to bond during the trip and this was what came out of me when I flew home.

A Flash of Non-Fiction (of sorts)
 (LRA Conference, 2012, San Diego)

They never called on me in a class for writers (designed for collegiate publication) because I took notes in poetic verse and responded to prompts like a lyricist.

“There’s rhythm to academic prose,” I was told, “and the reviewers are not fond of syncopating the scholarly tradition.”

I wrote, however, as I do (to ease mental constipation in the contemplation of being alive and to survive within the explanation of the universe’s complex simplicities and simple complexities without inhibition, but with the ambition I inherited from the pond). Ribbit. Ribbit.

“I can’t help but write creatively. It’s genetic.”

            So, in margins, I doodled cartoon photographs of myself - a quirky doctoral student - but included a parenthetical citation.

            “In these courses,” I was told, “the primary goal is to fine tune your professional vitae and to submit your research for publication.”
            Eeks. Humiliation. This mind always entrenched in the magical fabrication of fiction and its creation, all my whacky imagination, and the miraculous revelation that I have always found hope while playing with words (intellectual brain turds meant to be scattered upon the page).

            “Think like an academic,” was the advice.

“What the heck is that supposed to mean?” I thought ... at first.

I am a conflicted character in need of a denouncement.

At first I thought, “What the heck am I supposed to be? An academic?”

The advice. “Think. Think. Think.”

            Ugh. Contemplation. A mind schooled along the stones of Ruth’s Ordinary Words that made Last Calls with Skinner’s Louisville workshops and learned poetry of Affrilachia, quite frankly, with Walker as I finger-tapped on the keyboard piano.

            And then she presented at a conference. I was a chair (but, to be honest, I’ve always identified as a couch) and it was a paper on the performative nature of writing – I can play the academic upon the stage (tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow) but first must submit my research for others to read.


            As we drove home that night she thanked me. It was at LaQuinta. It was late at night. Dark. After an evening of orange hugs and comfortable tapas. I had a car. She needed a ride. San Diego. We got lost for a while (but this is what writers, researchers, human beings do).

We found ourselves, together, while looking for solutions in the darkness.

            The next day I read her paper and with brilliant lightness she wrote, “more important than the genre of one’s writing is the process of self-reflecting that comes with discovering the “as-if” writer in each of us” (Alvermann, 2012). So, the next day I wrote this, narratively, in a flash of my own reflexivity while flying above the earth.

I can’t help but write genetically. I’m creative.

            And it’s as if I’m a scholar, too.

Referenced Work

Alvermann, D. (2012). "As If" a Writer of Flash Fiction: A New Literacy for an Old(er) Professor". Paper presented at the Literacy Research Association, San Diego.

Crandall, B. R. (2012). "A Responsibility to Speak Out”: Perspectives on Writing From Black African-Born Males With Limited and Disrupted Formal Education. (Dissertation), Syracuse University.  

Stone, R. (2000). Ordinary Words. Ashfield, Massachusetts: Paris Press

Gorham, S. & Skinner, J. (1997). Last Call: Poems of Alcoholism, Addiction, and Deliverance.
            Louisville, Kentucky: Sarabande Books

Walker, F. (2000). Affrilachia. Lexington, Kentucky: Old Cove Press

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Thinking about 1939 and an MGM Cartoon

A teacher from the Invitational Summer Institute, Ellyne Plotnick (incredible jazz singer), posted this on her Facebook page yesterday. It's almost nine minutes long and I watched it because she wrote, "This is  a message we all should be thinking about."

I know Christmas is truly about Christianity, but I have always celebrated the holiday as a time for reflecting on goodness, life, giving, and looking for the joy in others. It hasn't had a religious meaning for me other than the spirituality I get from being with my family, our traditions, and the pure love that is has for the next generation: Nikki, Dylan, Sean, and Jacob. They bring meaning to our lives.

As I watched the cartoon, I was most struck by the date - 1939. MGM must have known that the U.S. was about to embark into six years of war with Japan and Germany. After the film was made, Pearl Harbor, Normandy, Hiroshima, and the Holocaust were revealed. The landscape of the earth changed forever. This makes the film more spooky.

Yesterday, I read about Ralph Nader's new book describing how Obama's drone war is killing innocent people around the world. It is 21st century warfare where the leader and his military goes undetected for the violence it creates. When discussing wars with students, I usually resort to the mantra, "Well, the world has never known a time without conflict. It seems almost natural."

The metaphor of squirrels is somewhat "nuts" however, especially when going to an Owl for advice. I kept thinking, "Well, if humans are the problem of the earth then meat-eating birds might be a close second." That owl was licking his lips at all the tasty food that was under his beak after the humans became extinct. Mice, chipmunks, and song sparrows. That's dinner for him.

It was eerie for me, too, that the rodents continued forth with a Western world, religious mantra as if Peace can only be a concept of our own ideologies. Every Buddhist, Jewish, Taoist, Hindu, Druid, Animist, Sikh, and Muslim individual I have ever met bounded their faith in peaceful ideologies. I'm not sure if others have made the connection, but the religion that celebrates our December holiday with the greatest force has played a tremendous role in crimes against humanity.

My thoughts are rather simple. We should focus on Good (minus one O that is God). Believing that we, them, us, they, and everything can be good might help our nations heal. But that is preaching and not my style for this lifetime. Instead, I hope to live a good life and that means being kind, friendly, supportive, optimistic, and cautious of others. That's been my plan for a long, long time now. I am no dumb enough to think I have the power to change what other people do. That is the mission of big government and their weaponry.

73 years ago this cartoon was made and I am thinking about this as I look at my nativity set, my Christmas lights, and the angel upon my cactus. I'm not religious, but love what the season represents. It would be nice if the representation was within us all: all religions, all faiths, and all people. Claiming one as superior is a big part of the problem.