Seventh Five of 2008


In this last couple days, this set of five unexpectedly filled up with comix -- and not highbrow stuff either; DC, Marvel and daily strips. But you know what? I enjoyed it all. And a heckuvalot more than the crap Colette book I read, I'll tell you that much.

035) The Complete Peanuts 1965 - 1966 by Charles M. Schulz, finished April 29
    It's hard to express exactly how much I love these books. This one had the beginning of Snoopy's writing career (he began as a success!!!), the first appearance of Peppermint Patty, and the horrifying burning down of Snoopy's house (he lost his Van Gogh!). Schulz deserves all the accolades. Peanuts is better than Krazy Kat or Calvin & Hobbes. It's simply the best strip that ever there was. Time to buy the next box set! month and a half

034 Nextwave: Agents Of H.A.T.E Volume 1: This Is What They Want by Warren Ellis et Stuart Immonen et al, finished April 29
    I don't really know what possessed me to check this book out from the library. Nothing about it looked good. But sometimes just being on the New shelf is enough. I'm glad I did. It was a riot. Here's some clips: nextwave, hate, etc nextwave, hate, etc nextwave, hate, etc nextwave, hate, etc nextwave, hate, etc afternoon to evening


033) Batman: Hush, Vol. 2 by Jeph Loeb et al, finished April 29
    So volume one was underwhelming. Volume two was more intriguing but not that impressive till I was slapped with the biggest twist I can remember in a superhero comic. I don't read a lot of superhero comics -- especially now that I don't have a Master Fob around to lend me any -- but they're a genre with potential occasionally tapped. I can't say this was great literature, but it was definitely entertaining. I'm glad I had enough background knowledge to appreciate it as I did(can you identify all three Robins?), and I'm glad I'm not fifteen anymore. Jim Lee's women are really hard to manage when your blood is 25% testosterone. (Although the sexiest Harley is still the animated one. And the funny thing is, her anatomy might even be possible.) Anyway, I wish I had more to say about such a heralded title. The cover design is terrific. The story is enjoyable. The twists were surprising. It avoided most of my complaints about flagship titles. I'm glad a student lent it to me. That's about it. one day of testing

032) Batman: Hush, Vol. 1 by Jeph Loeb et al, finished April 28
    Jury's out till I finish the second volume. Though my biggest impressions so far are these: Catwoman is hot; that flying dog is the most ridiculous thing ever. a bart ride

031) Chéri by Colette, finished April 17
    The first few pages of this book were confusing. A man and woman getting out of bed in the morning and arguing over pearls. Seemingly. I was perplexed until I figured out that Chéri, the title character, was a man. I guess, in retrospect, the lack of a terminal e should have made that plain, but highschool French was a long time ago. Also, I thought the title character would be the woman on the cover: Chéri by Colette Anyway, I hated the book. The two main characters have no virtues other than their physical beauty and they live completely immoral lives. There was not a character in the book I could care about. That said, I should say that the last five pages of the book almost redeemed the 135 that preceded it. Almost. But still, I hated this book. It is not of good report, not from me. A "small masterpiece" the cover claims. Perhaps. It does show the wages of sin fairly accurately I would say. four days


You have couscous in your nose!


Things we never thought we'ld say before we were parents.


What It Means to Manage Souls


What It Means to Manage Souls

some thoughts on sculpting environment and education

Many new theories of education minimize the importance of the educator. Much of public policy regarding education is more interested in reelecting legislators than in supporting teachers and students. Most research in memory and learning suggests that setting up our classroom as they are in both space and time (I’m not being existential—I mean the concept of meeting daily for a few months then starting over with new curriculum) are not primed for longterm retention (and, frankly, based on how well I remember my high school French, I don’t doubt it).

Honesty requires asking hard questions then, questions like: does my chosen career have any value? am I helping my students progress faster than I am steering them in slowing directions? do the efforts I make a difference by showing up and talking at them each day? do my yes answers to those questions prove that I am allowing myself to be deceived by the biases of my grandparents’ expectations?

Honesty, in other words, requires that I either prove that being a teacher is a noble calling, or I stop being party to a broken system.

Or, more likely, honesty constrains me to notice when life has once again thrown me a false dichotomy.

I am willing to accept that the educational system still has room to improve, but imperfection does not imply failure. To turn suddenly to metaphor, this would suggest in parallel that students are worthless because they do not already know and practice what I am paid to teach them.

Progression is an eternal principle and that applies not just to the souls of students but to their teachers and the systems designed to serve them. And, as a teacher, I am given plenty of leverage in my own little sphere to create whatever “system” seems best likely to educate the future adults in my classroom.

A grasp of the basics like discipline and pedagogy are necessary, but ultimately, progression relies on the soul-to-soul connection that is the mainstay of every heartwarming teacher/student film ever made. Neither knowledge nor understanding comes from the ether, and as nice as it is to turn to books or the Internet, ultimately, knowledge is passed human-to-human. Even truly original knowledge, like when August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof saw his first amoeba in 1755, was built on knowledge he gained from others about lenses and paintbrushes.

Ants are a popular thing to point to when we want to talk about forms of intelligence different from our big human brains, but, actually, we’re rather antlike ourselves. Our hivemind may be less instinctual, but we too have a complex society built by working together and building on each other’s achievements. Teachers facilitate this growth. We teach our human larvae how to be adults, citizens, humans, contributors.

But, of course, we are not ants and we do have big human brains. So progression is ultimately a personal choice. As a teacher, I can do my best to point and suggest, to guide and to mould, but in the end, students are agents unto themselves and choose their own paths and their final destination is not destiny, but decision.

Which brings us back to paragraphs one and two and the alleged uselessness of the teacher. Well, I choose not to fret about that. I will do what I can do and accept the fact that in the end, I am merely an influence—not a dictator of future, but a tinkerer of the present. And, perhaps, an offerer of vision and an opener of paths previously unseen.

I may not be able to insist certain paths be taken, but I can show where those paths are and demonstrate the skills necessary to follow that path.

And ultimately, this is the teacher’s task: while I may “reign” the present, I do so only to suggest and hint of and offer a more glorious future, both for the individual student and the future society that student may create. And then I stand aside, let them move onwards, and turn my face to the new youth looking for paths yet hidden.

this was written as part
of my California teaching
credential requirements
and is a) strikingly
Mormon, b) typical of
my school work, c) likely
to annoy George Orwell,
and d) difficult to read
and then determine what is
an accurate reflection of
my thinking, what is
hyperbole, and what just
might be utter nonsense


And thank you for Jesus and Harry Potter
(a svithe)


The Big O is going through a particularly religious phase right now, which is fun to watch. (Note: "Harry Potter" is just his accent; he's actually saying "Heavenly Father".)

Sometimes it's hard to know what Jesus meant when he said be like the kids. Kids, after all, are selfish, liars, mean, unkind and tactless.

But they also love. And isn't love what Jesus is all about?

last week's svithe


Taboos, the breaking of


Yesterday I think I broke a (some) taboo (taboos?). Now, this is something I've done before (here for instance). However, I usually break taboos rather flamboyantly (the previous example suffices) and I think my sin yesterday was my matter-of-factness. What a curious sin to find I have committed.

Anyway. Just an observation. I have nothing else to say.


May Swenson

May Swenson.

I don't think I'd ever heard of May Swenson before today. Born into a Swedish-speaking household to devout Mormon parents in Logan, Utah, she grew up to be one of the most respected poets of her generation. Robert Hass is a big fan, for instance.

Anyway, I ran across her as I was putting a project together for my students and I started reading her poems and I really wanted to include her because she's great but I kept looking and looking and eventually I axed her because, ah, I, um, huh. How do I put this delicately? Because -- because all her poems are about sex. Let's just out with it.

I can't think of any other skilled poet who manages to be so . . . sexual without losing grip on the poetics and slipping into what could easily be dismissed as pornography. Generally, once the genitals get hold of a pen, artistry slips away. Either things are opaquely sexual or they're silly-explicit.

I'm guessing that May Swenson, lesbian (1919 - 1989), probably wasn't a terribly active Mormon through her working years, but I've been meaning to write about sex in the Mormon arts for some time now -- largely in response to a 1987 article in Dialogue by Levi Peterson, "In Defense of Mormon Erotica", which I finally found online today -- it was an interesting read, although I read it a couple months ago and no longer remember what I wanted to say about it.

But I do think that, for instance, it is good to have Song of Solomon in the Bible; romantic and erotic love are a vital part of mortality (without it, poof! no us!) and all good things are fair game for the arts.

What that means specifically for me I haven't decided yet. But in the meantime, here's May Swenson with one of her controversial heterosexual-imagery nature poems. Read at your own risk.

    Little Lion Face

    Little lion face
    I stopped to pick
    among the mass of thick
    succulent blooms, the twice

    streaked flanges of your silk
    sunwheel relaxed in wide
    dilation, I brought inside,
    placed in a vase.Milk

    of your shaggy stem
    sticky on my fingers, and
    your barbs hooked to my hand,
    sudden stings from them

    were sweet.Now I'm bold
    to touch your swollen neck,
    put careful lips to slick
    petals, snuff up gold

    pollen in your navel cup.
    Still fresh before night
    I leave you, dawn's appetite
    to renew our glide and suck.

    An hour ahead of sun
    I come to find you.You're
    twisted shut as a burr,
    neck drooped unconscious,

    an inert, limp bundle,
    a furled cocoon, your
    sun-streaked aureole
    eclipsed and dun.

    Strange feral flower asleep
    with flame-ruff wilted,
    all magic halted,
    a drink I pour, steep

    in the glass for your
    undulant stem to suck.
    Oh, lift your young neck,
    open and expand to your

    lover, hot light.
    Gold corona, widen to sky.
    I hold you lion in my eye
    sunup until night.




Last week our always excellent Sunday School teacher once again did not shy away from the tough questions. This time, to quote her prechurch email, "How much do you think that how someone uses their money tells you about that person's character/values/morality/righteousness?" The text was Jacob 1-4, the most salient part being 2:17-19---
    Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.

    But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.

    And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.
It ends up I'm not alone in feeling that that final verse gets used as, her word, carte blanche, by Mormons anxious to increase their wealth. And I hate that perception. Or interpretation, rather.

Which isn't to excuse myself.

As for me, I have an extremely neurotic relationship with money. I'm terrified of it. I fear being financially comfortable less that mean I am not giving enough away. And the thought of actually being wealthy can give me the cold sweats. It's easier for a rich man . . . .

The funny thing is, although I reject the notion of high-hog living as excused by Jacob I also recognize that were we doing everything we were meant to do (financially), we would still have "sufficient" and even "according to [our] wants."

The facts that we live in a money-driven world and that God wants us to be comfortable and that God wants us to care for the widows and orphans and leprous and poor, are all compatible, no matter how not-so they may occasionally seem.

I don't have a conclusion here. I don't know what the answers for me are and I certainly don't know what they are for you. But if you're looking to be familiar with all and free with your substance, here I am.


last week's svithe


Can Code Pink take the heat?


With grace, I mean.

For those of you lucky enough to be able to avoid the news out of Berkeley, Code Pink set up permanent shop outside the local Marine recruitment center and pretty much used the sort of techniques generally associated with the most militant anti-abortion groups. Intimidation, threats, defacement---that sort of thing.

Anyway, today I happened to drive past their offices in Albany (just a couple miles from the Marine recruitment place) and there were forty or so burly ex-Marines, most in leather jackets and full beards, hanging around outside their gate. The Code Pink building had a sign reading Sorry we missed you! by the door.

The Marines were milling about peacefully, belying the need for the dozen cops loitering about. No doubt the camera crews were disappointed.

Now, I've no doubt Code Pink eagerly aligns themselves with Voltaire, but will their public response to this match that intellectual stance?

One of the great problems with outspoken activists is their unwillingness to allow the opposing viewpoint any validity.

It often surprises people how pro-ACLU I am, but of course I am! Yes, the ACLU generally is representing some pretty, um, "individual" issues, but they fill a truly vital need in America: the need to have each viewpoint treated with validity and respect by those with public power.

So even though I think Code Pink's methods are often reprehensible, their message deserves an airing. I'm not a big fan of war myself. But if they don't respect the pro-Marine faction's right to disagree with them by using a toned-down version of their own methods, then they are the worst sort of hypocrite, beating down the First Amendment in the name of the First Amendment.

I wish I could say I believe that won't happen, but I've grown a little cynical. Too often have I heard the prayer, Let no one abuse my right to free speech, Lord, but send someone to shut the other guy up.

So I was delighted to see the leather-clad Marines. I hope is brings dialogue. I'm sick of trying to see who can shout loudest.


In related news, I had my students write about fighting in their journals Thursday and one student told me this: We run to see a fight because we know the people who are fighting and we know what the issues are and we want to know who's right. I asked, do you mean the winner of the fight has the correct opinion? Well yeah, of course. That's why they win. We voted and a dozen or so students agreed with this notion: You win the fight, everyone will agree with your opinion. If you hadn't been correct, after all, you wouldn't have won.


Are you listening, Midwest?


When I heard this morning on NPR that Illinois had been hit by a trembler, I had to smile. I'm glad no one was hurt et cetera, but all those Midwesterners who madly prefer tornadoes over earthquakes forget that one of the most dangerous faults in the country is right in their backyard.

Recession Cone emailed me about this earlier today and linked to a fabulous USGS image I had never seen before. It's available on a couple Wikipedia articles (I'll get to those in a minute), but first, check it out:

Sucks to be you, Midwest.

I hadn't known about this. Seems the type of earth over thar is not quite as . . . stable . . . as over here on the far coast.

Which brings us to the New Madrid Earthquake. For those of you whose remembrance of the early 1800s is a little shaky, that was the quake that rearranged state boundaries.

Now, granted, the Hayward quake is likely to come long before the Reelfoot knocks down buildings again, but make no mistake: when Reelfoot slips, it'll be taking things down all over Missouri and Arkansas and Tennessee and Illinois.

Like RC said, "I'll take constant threat and preparation over infrequent but total devastation, thank you very much."*

Give me a California quake any day.


Levi and Ammon, an untitled tale

Jeremiah Lamenting, with two unknown friends.

Fob is currently compiling an anthology of Bible-themed stories to be released later this year. As I have already written a number of pieces for the anthology, I had thought not to have written more, but I have not as yet perished and I have some time before the deadline, wherefore, I think I'll write a few more things, contrary to that which I had supposed, for I had supposed not to have written any more, but I write a few more things, that perhaps they may be of worth unto ya'll.

I reached this decision last night as I was driving in my car and listening to Regina Spektor when she sang the perfect epigraph for a story yet unimagined:

    And history books forgot about us
    And the bible didn't mention us, not even once

Perfect. This is a story I haven't rewritten yet: A Bible story that was never written in the first place.

Enter Levi and Ammon. Levi grew up scrawny and picked on, the kids making fun of his name because he's not a Levite. Ammon was made fun of for his name as well (named after an enemy nation???) but was too big and tough to be picked on much. Somehow the two became friends, nothing seeming in common besides name trouble.

Growing up in Jerusalem however, they found a new reason to stick together. Separately they hear and believe the wild prophet Jeremiah and become among his most devoted followers.

The story opens with Baruch coming to them, telling them that Jeremiah has been dungeoned and Baruch is joining him to rewrite the destroyed prophecies and Levi and Ammon need to keep an eye on the widows and make sure the small flock of faithful are kept together.

I'm planning on making Levi the point-of-view character and I don't want the story to go very long. So far I like the situation and the characters, but I don't know what the arc is.

I bring this up because Katya is going to be putting Melyngoch's contribution to the Fob Bible up on Mel's blog (she's missionarying in Sweden now and wouldn't be doing it herself) and I thought why not some cross-promotion?

But also I am doing it because I'm curious if writing a story very publicly would offer any advantages. I've learned that most close friends and family are loathe to read a writer's work (not purposefully, but quite reluctant all the same -- ask any writer friend about his friends) and I've hardly following enough to expect unknown fans to comment, so the experiment may prove a waste of time.

Still, I'm curious to see what happens and I'll at least begin the experiment. Let me know what you think.


6th 5 o'2008


030) Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett, finished April 13
    I love Terry Pratchett and the eighteen months or so I've gone without reading a Terry Pratchett novel is probably the longest Pratchett drought I've had since reading my first book of his the summer of 2002. The impetus to read this one was twofold: Lady Steed was removing most of the Pratchett books from the front room and this one's title was an obvious reference to Macbeth which I was about to start reading (see below). (Also, it's one of only three that we own that I hadn't yet read.)

    In fact, the two books even share the same opening line of dialogue. Using Google Books, I've copied these first lines from each book (though not from the editions I read) for your comparative pleasure (haha):

    Wyrd Sisters

    Not quite the same.

    If you don't know Pratchett, you don't know the whirlwind it is to read him. He's not just a master joke teller, but he's one of the plain best writers I know. Wyrd Sisters is one of the earlier Discworld novels and the only two earlier ones I've read I consider among his weakest works. By Wyrd however, he's fully arrived. This book gives him the opportunity to spit out references to everything from Charlie Chaplin to Samuel Beckett and nothing is safe.

    (The Oxford Times calls him "Simply the best humorous writer of the twentieth century" which is certainly arguable -- the main competition being Douglas Adams and P.G. Wodehouse.)

    The book seems to be based on Macbeth and the play-within-a-play tries to be based on Macbeth, but in the end, I think both are closer to Hamlet.

    Anyway, you should read a Discworld novel. Depending on the person, my recommendation for first read is usually either Thief of Time, The Truth or Monstrous Regiment, but I don't think you'ld go wrong with Wyrd Sisters. Ours is about to go in a box, but if you want to take it around the block, we'll pull it back out for you.

    a week

029) Animal Farm by George Orwell, finished April 8
    I know. Again. And I don't even really like this book -- I certainly don't like reading it. By the end of the month I will have read it three more times. But I'm not going to count those. Twice in four months is plenty counting enough.

    about ten days

028) Macbeth by William Shakespeare, finished April 7
    I don't know the last time I read Shakespeare just because I wanted to read Shakespeare and for no other reason--possibly even ten years. I find this remarkable. Certainly not what me at 18 would have expected. Poor me at 18--always getting disappointed by me at later ages.

    Anyway, I don't think I've read Macbeth since high school. I read way more Shakespeare in college than the average high school student--likely even more than the average English major--yet somehow I haven't touched Macbeth in like...14 years? A long time anyway.

    And I totally fell for Malcolm's I-am-a-bad-guy speech. I didn't even get what it was about--I had to consult the notes then go back and reread it. (At which point it was obvious and I felt stupid. This feeling must be why I haven't read for fun any tragedies I'm not already familiar with. Titus Andronicus for example. Or Coriolanus.)

    Anyway, I don't like Macbeth all that much. I just don't think it has as much to say as, say, Hamlet. Or Romeo and Juliet. It's sort of a one-note opera.

    (Although I still think the current Broadway version with Patrick Stewart would be an awesome way to spend an evening.

    Now: not being Hamlet does not make a thing bad.

    Else all the world would be bad.

    let's say ten hours

027) On the Road to Heaven by Coke Newell, finished April 4
    I need to preface remarks by saying I liked this book very much and I recommend it to anyone. I need to say that because it might seem like many of my comments are denigratory, but remember: I liked this book. I laughed. I cried. The former literally. The latter darn near. A few more tear molecules and I would have spilled over.

    My biggest problem with the book is a problem I got over (eventually) (mostly) and that is it's style. The book is widely rumored to read like Kerouac, but, never having read Kerouac, I can't say. There's not doubt the book was highly influenced by the man -- the title even plays on one of his titles -- and is a phrase lifted straight from another Jack book. Plus: lots of Kerouac epigrams. So the Kerouac thing I'm guessing is a yes.

    And it's not very . . . literary. I finally figured out what it was when I hit the final page: the style is conversational. Only, not conversational in the sense Coke and I are chatting. No, it's more like he's a master storyteller and we're in matching recliners and he's spinning his old-man yarns of long ago. And you want him to go on and on and never stop until he says "But that's another story altogether" and you have to admit he's right and then you stand and stretch and clap him on the back and thank him for having you over and assure him you can see yourself out, no problem, thanks again.

    And that's okay.

    Anyway, if you haven't been paying attention or have had your attention riveted to things like the Democratic Primaries or the Wall Street Journal, you probably don't know, but On the Road to Heaven swept the Mormon awards this year, novel of the year from both the AML and the Whitneys (here's a nice breakdown on the difference and whether on not this fact even matters). I don't know if it deserved it as I haven't read much of the competition, but I would like to make a plea to Mormon bookstores to carry this book. Yes, it has breasts and pot and stuff, but anyone who thinks this book is not beautiful and holy and totally 13th is out of their mind. Or, more likely, can't read.

    So, would you like a plot summary? Here you go.

    This book, which, although masquerading as fiction is almost 100% Coke's real story, takes our young Colorado hippie from long hair and pot and mountaintop vigils and Kerouac and Black Elk and Thoreau and even Ram Dass to the Book of Mormon of all things and, woh, a mission to Columbia complete with tapeworms and earthquakes.

    See? Plot summaries are lame.

    But the book's not.

    about a week and a half

026) The Great American Citizenship Quiz: Can You Pass Your Own Country's Citizenship Test? by Solomon M. Skolnick, finished March 23
    This book uses questions off the test given to those becoming naturalized citizens of the United States as a launch into bite-sized portions of history and political theory. A fun book with occasional unknown nuggets. I for instance did not know the British occupied New York City for two years after the surrender at Yorktown. How did that work? I don't know.

    I also found a typo on page 98. Do I get a prize?

    (Also worth noting, even though I only skimmed the appendices: The Constitution is such a beautiful document in its brevity and perfection. Really gets me right here, like a four-inch needle of patriotism straight to the heart.)

    an hour and a half maybe