Thursday, December 22, 2005

not a future hobby

I'm still thinking about ice skating a lot and about how I'd like to find a pair of used skates and get better and stuff. I also, of course, have been wishing that I could dance a little like Gene Kelley, or at least know the basic steps. I realized today, however, that I do not have any desire to get into ice dancing. I just want to be clear on that point. No ice dancing.

I was thinking how cool it would be if a bunch of people got together and swept off the rivers downtown so that people could skate on them. Think how fast you could get going and how cool it would be to zip through town. They've got to be frozen, right? I mean, they're maybe six inches deep this time of year, right? And they move in geological time, they're so slow. That could work, I think.

That reminds me of the news story a couple weeks ago about the guy who flew a plane under the Columbia Street bridge. I wonder what happened with that, if anything. Skating on the rivers sounds safer than that.

I keep thinking of watching tv in Belgium in this crackpot little hotel where a little dog, a terrier, sat right on top of our table, watching us as Brian and I ate from a plate of cold cuts. The owner saw the dog, or rather I think thought that we were annoyed by him though we weren't, and yelled at him: "Sammy!!" in this odd accent and the dog jumped down. Anyway, on tv there they had race coverage from this little town where there were speed skaters flying along, yes, rivers that ran through the town. Hundreds of people lined the banks cheering them on. That could happen here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

There is fun in the Fort

Man, I had fun skating at Headwaters Park last evening. I think my favorite winter sports are the ones that let you forget how cold it is, and this is one of them, along with xc skiing and shoveling. Well, not shoveling so much. I can see myself with a broom or whatever clearing off the ice up in Michigan so that I can skate on the lake this winter, just so long as it doesn't take time away from my igloo-building project, which is of supreme importance to me.

I think another reason this skating thing is fun is that, for someone who doesn't have a lot of grace, I actually feel almost graceful out there. Fortunately, I don't get to see what I look like stiff-leggin it around the ice, slowly carving large squares in it--what's important is that I feel graceful and natural and even fast. Erin claimed that I could have walked faster, but it still felt fast to me.

What helped me rise to the occasion was the way Catherine kept making me feel like an invalid, repeating encouraging things like "just hold onto the railing" and "those skates are too serious for you--ask for a beginner pair." Nice reverse-encouragement, honey; it worked.

For real, though, it was pretty cool to skate with C. I mean, we've been together for, I dunno, sixteen years or so, and we'd never skated before. Turns out she's good at it and fun to watch and everything.

Party Throwing

Man, what is it with people who come to parties at your house and consume all of your hospitality and then just never leave until it's so late you forget why they're there in the first place? I started to have a suspicion that they were waiting for Cath and me to fall asleep in our chairs so they could pick our pockets and steal our dog. Thank god for coffee.

JK, you all! Thanks for coming and filling our house with cheer. We'll do it again.

Monday, December 19, 2005

June's rule

After spending yesterday sick, June had this announcement for me this morning:

"It's okay to watch a lot of tv when you're sick. That's the rule."

I can tell she kind of liked being sick.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Best Books

I had a pretty good reading year. When I look back, there was a lot more non-fiction being read compared to past years. These are my favorites.

Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami: Two intertwined stories, one involving a runaway boy and the other an aging mentally handicapped man who makes a living by finding lost cats because he can talk to them. Murakami is the most messed up writer I know.

Winning Chess Openings, Yasser Sairawan: I'm bad at chess and this book is way over my head but I still learned a thing or two from it. It's fun to read stuff that makes you realize how little you know about things. Chess, for example.

Hole in My Life, Jose Gantos: Autobiography of a guy who goes to jail. It's better than that . . hard to describe. Actually, it's not hard to describe; I just can't remember it that well. I remember enjoying it is all. It's a short young adult book, so it's a great quick read.

The Outskirts of Troy, Carl Dennis, poems: I love this guy's poems because they are written in common speech about little things. Some people criticize him for not being intellectual enough, but I think it's, I dunno, refreshing or something.

The Crossing, Cormac McCarthy: McCarthy has to be one of my favorite authors. I don't even care what he's writing about as long as he's the one doing it. I will probably always prefer his southern books like Suttree and The Orchard Keeper to the westerns, but these are growing on me. I also read No Country for Old Men this year, but didn't enjoy it as much.

The Cheese Monkeys, Chipp Kidd: This not a well written book at all, but I enjoyed it because I have always wanted to be an artist and this book let me see what it's like to be an art student at an art school. Funny novel about that scene.

Box of Matches, Nicholson Baker: A guy wakes up each morning at, I think, 5AM and lights a fire from a box of matches and writes about whatever comes into his head while the match is burning. When he runs out of matches, the book is over. It makes you want to wake up each morning, at, I think, 5AM and light a match in the darkness and write about whatever comes into your head. It makes you want to be more aware of the thoughts that wander through your head on their way to some other place.

The Sound on the Page, Ben Yagoda: Great survey of style and writing and how to read and boring crap like that.

The Age of Wire and String, Ben Marcus: Claims to be a book of stories, but is much closer to prose poetry. Each story is maybe a paragraph in length and I can read each one ten times and get something different out of it every time. Marcus just had a muddled Harper's piece attacking Jonathan Franzen that doesn't even seem to have generated much controversy. I think people were wondering "who is this guy to think we care what he thinnks about the state of contemporary fiction?"

The End of the Affair, Graham Greene: Not my favorite by him, but there is something about the clarity of his prose that knocks me out every time. It's a middle style, but it's better than that, too.

Breakfast at Tiffany's, Truman Capote: The last book I read for my book club before it exploded under the pressure of, well, all I know is it had something to do with toilet paper, but I'm not too clear on that. Anyway, this book feels a little dated probably because the Holly Golightly character has been ripped off so often since this was published. I enjoyed his feel for how to show us people, even if he takes a condescending view of those people at the same time.

Late Additions: I hope to finish these two books during winter break, which starts today. I can already tell they both deserve to be on my list of favorites.

The Ongoing Moment, Geoff Dyer: This guy cracks me up, the idea of someone who doesn't own a camera writing a book about his theory and history of photography. It's pretty smart, though.

On Beauty, Zadie Smith: She is just too much. Her books are so funny and smart and, I guess, raw, in a way. This is the first book to be read by my new, secret, splinter-group book club.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Best Movies, 2005

It's hard to see movies when to see a movie you have to use one of the two to three days a month that you get someone to babysit your kids and there are other things you like to do on those nights like go see friends or to parties or just sit in a restaurant until you are the last one there.

But I did manage to get out for a few this past year, and rented a few, too, though not a lot. Of everything I saw, these were my favorites:

Shaun of the Dead. I haven't seen many of the horror movie spoofs we make here, but this British zombie spoof is hilarious. Two losers so drunk or out of it that they don't even notice when all of their neighbors have turned into zombies and are walking the streets.

The Aquatic Life with Steve Zissou. Not Wes Anderson's best, but it has its little charms, like all of his do. Not charming was sitting in the theater near a couple of people who wanted everyone to know that they were the biggest Wes Anderson fans in the world and they tried to show it to us by laughing loudly almost every line of dialogue. They wanted us to know that their senses of humor were so refined that they saw jokes where the rest of us mortals only saw people talking. We should be ashamed to call ourselves fans of Wes, their laughs said. How annoying.

Mary Poppins. June got into this movie so I ended up watching it no fewer than 3,000 times this year, and I love it more every time I see it. The dad sings in just my register, so I can sing along pretty well, too.

Me and You and Everyone We Know. Just one of those odd movies about strange people that makes you laugh at the odd funny things they do in their little, odd lives. Actually kind of moving or whatever, though. I really enjoyed this.

Dig! Disgusting documentary about the disgusting, drug-addled lives of a band known as "The Brian Jonestown Massacre." You finish the movie feeling like you went on tour with them for a year.

The Edukators. Nice, warm movie about three liberal activists in Germany who break into the homes of wealthy industrialists and rearrange their furniture. They kidnap one almost by accident and have to look hard at how much they want to sacrifice in the name of the values they profess.

Capote. I saw this and was convinced that what's his name would be a shoe-in for best actor, but then he wasn't even nominated for a Golden Globe. Maybe I don't know squat about what makes a good acting performance.

Bad Education. Almodovar just gets so much more intense and beautiful with every movie, I think. I enjoyed this as much as I did Talk to Her, I think.

Singin' in the Rain. What an amazing movie. I still don't know who's better, Gene Kelley or Fred, but there are few musicals that approach this one.

My Fair Lady. Surprisingly few great songs in this one, and what little choreography there is is lame, but this is one of the funniest musicals I've ever seen. Richard Harris is hysterical.

Gosh, that's not a lot of movies for an entire year, or is it? I probably saw twice that many, so half of what I saw made it to this list. I'm good enough at knowing what I like that I am good at not going to movies that I'll end up hating.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Why I'm difficult

While driving around tonight, I had this insight into why I like some of the bands I do. That is, the difficult, noisy bands like Animal Collective and Fiery Furnaces and whatever. What got me wondering is this new Animal Collective album I got the other day--"Here Comes the Indian." At first, it was almost unlistenable. I know some people think their newer stuff is unlistenable, but this was an older one by them and it is, really, just pure noise--it makes their new stuff sound like, I dunno, U2 or something.

Anyway, I got it and decided that I had to figure out how to like it. I played it in my car constantly, just hating it, just telling myself what awful sounds they were making, but also telling myself that if I tried hard enough, I would learn to like it.

The funny thing is, is that it worked. It's probably my second favorite record by them now. I've decided that maybe it's an ego trip for me or something--that if I can figure out how to like a band that nobody else I know likes, then it's almost like they're my own personal band--they're makin' music for me alone. That bothers me a little to think of it that way because I don't like the thought that vanity affects my aesthetic taste. Or maybe that's the most natural thing in the world. People define themselves by the music they like all the time, and it's common for people to feel like we "own" a certain band; why else would we get upset when one "sells out" and becomes popular?

Maybe that's part of why I like Animal Collective, anyway. The other part is that I like music that surprises you every time you listen to it. Most records that I get into the first time I hear them end up boring me after another 5-10 listens. The "difficult" music tends to be stuff that is imaginative and new and that's where you can find surprise, when it's something you have to use your imagination to dig into it.

Speaking of songs, June is now asking me to sing Christmas songs to her when I rock her before bed, and it's amazing how few of them I know all the way through. Jingle Bells I think was the only one I could recall tonight. I had to go from that to "Doe a Deer" to "Down in the Valley." Quite a mix that makes.

June was at school today being observed by the child devo classes. I spied on her a little--it was all I could do not to go scoop her up, but I knew that that would mess up their observations. It was pretty nice to be able to walk down the hall and see your kid. Too bad there isn't a day care there. I guess we'd need more pregnant students before that happens, and I shouldnt' wish for that.

I'm blogging about vlogging

So, here I am in class blogging about this vlog we just watched in class . . . I dunno, what does it say about the media that one blogger can call a kid "the youngest blogger in the world" and they pick it up and run with it like it is the gospel truth? Are they that desperate for internet puff pieces? Distractions from the Iraq war? Seriously. It just shows you what an inordinate amount of influence one person with a computer can have on the internet these days--it's both scary and stupid at the same time.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Albums of the Year

The year's not over, but I still feel like it's time for my annual wrap up of my favorite new records. They aren't all new for 2005, but they are all new to me, at least. Here is my top 10, from least to most favorite:

11. Ratatat
10. Royksopp: Melody AM
9. LCD Soundsystem
8. Sufjan Stevens: Illinoise!
7. Stephen Malkmus: Face the Truth
6. Silver Jews: Tanglewood Numbers
5. Ryan Adams: Jacksonville City Nights
4. Animal Collective: Here Comes the Indian
3. Ryan Adams: Cold Roses
2. Will Oldham and Matt Sweeney: Superwolf
1. Animal Collective: Feels

In the long run, Superwolf might outpace Feels for me, but I can only go by what I like the most at this time, and that's my list.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


It occurred to me tonight that I currently have five journals going in one form or another right now. I have this blog, my reading blog, my teaching blog, the journal I keep on my pc at home, and my classroom journal. That doesn't even count my photo journal and half-arsed gardening journal I started this summer. Dang.

It used to be that I liked to keep track of how many pages I wrote each year in my journal, but that's not really possible any more unless I cut and past all my blog stuff into my home journal. What a pain that would be.

Anyways, this begins the last week before winter break. It's going to go quickly, I know, and break should be pretty nice. I wish my xc skis weren't up in Michigan, b/c I'd take them out to Fox Island or Metea. I'll be up there soon enough.

I've got a nice new writing assignment for the sophomores I'm going to give them tomorrow. It should be a nice grade boost if they put some effort into it. I'll cross my fingers for them.

I read a pretty cool article on video blogging in the Sunday New York Times today and checked out a few. I was jealous of their skills w/ the cam corder and the internet, but overall, most of them seemed a little too amateurish to maintain my interest for very long. I can read a blog faster than I can watch a vlog, skipping through the boring bits. That's probably why I prefer them.

One of the ok ones is by a guy named Michael Verdi.

Friday, December 09, 2005


So I'm at the library yesterday, paying down my fines, when this guy comes up next to me at the counter trying to do the same thing. He looks normal enough, but he's a little timid. The librarian asks him if he has his library card and he says no. They ask him if he has any other ID and he says no but then says, "well, I have my prison I.D." The librarian says that would work so I look over after he's put it down and it looks just like my school I.D. except it says "Department of Corrections" on it, and, this is the best part, in black permanent marker someone has sloppily written "Released 12-8-05." I laughed on the inside at that. I mean, what escaped prisoner couldn't write that on there? I got this funny idea that he'd broken out of prison just so that he could make it to the library to pay down his fines, and then he was going to break back in. It was the eigth of December, after all. How touching that the first place he went on his release day was the library.

Because I like talking to strangers, I almost tried to make a joke with him: "Hey, if you lose that I.D. while you're in prison, do they kick you out?" But I didn't.

Snow Day

These days, it takes a perfect storm to make a superintendent want to cancel school, and that's just what we had yesterday. It started late afternoon, came on strong, and didn't let up until the a.m. It's so friggin' beautiful out now. The Buddha statue in our yard looks like he has a white shawl around his shoulders and a white hat; he's got the same faint smile on his face that he always carries, no matter the weather.

I was rooting for a snow day, myself. I could tell the kids in my classes were ready for one, too--some of them were so low on energy that it felt like less like a Thursday and more like Saturday school at times. That was partly my fault, too, maybe. It's difficult to find a balance in your lesson plan that can keep peoples' attention for 45 minutes or so. I think about that a lot. It's impossible, really, but that's why teaching is fun--it's fun to think of new ways to approach books and writin'.

I got home yesterday and it was already snowing pretty hard and my weird neighbors were of course out shoveling. Never mind that the snow was forecasted to keep falling for another eight hours--one of them, either Victoria or Veronica, I can never remember which--kept shoveling the same 20 square feet of driveway for over an hour. She'd shovel it, the snow would cover it, and she'd start over. I wonder if she wondered why she couldn't ever get it clear. I wonder if she was cold in her omnipresent house dress.


I had this bad dream last night about the MySpace page I've been putting together, and I woke up realizing that it's a bad idea. Here's my line of thought: (1) I am a teacher; (2) and parents and people don't expect me to mess with their kids' personal lives too much; (3) most kids' myspace pages are pretty personal places where they can be who they are without worrying about their parents butting in; (4) if I had a myspace page, it would have links to other peoples' myspace pages, both students and my other friends; (5) there will fer sure be stuff on those pages that most parents don't want, in a perfect world, their kids to see or read, etc. (6) this isn't a perfect world; (7) but parents expect teachers to pretend that it is, or at least not expose them to the world's flaws; (8) for example, I should not use the word **** or **** or even **** in class; (9) some people might think that, by linking to pages where kids talk about stuff that would get them in trouble in the real world, I would, in effect, be condoning or facilitating that kind of "behavior"; (10) that would make them mad at me; (11) I don't want that.

Sure, I know that in reality no kid would learn anything they don't already know by following links from my page, but it's more about the appearance of things that parents care about, and that's what I to concern myself with, unfortunately.

Fortunately, I still have this blog.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Joseph: Going

Well, my friend Joseph is leaving town. That's sad for me, but he'll be around for a few months yet, the end of the school year. He's one of the neatest personal friends I've made in the last year here.

It would be nice if he'd stay around. Chicago, though, and a girl there. I guess that's why it's important to marry your best friend: they can't move away on you that way.

S'funny, but I always knew he was going; I just thought it would be to the peace corps. It feels like more of a loss this way for some reason.

This weekend

Got cold this weekend. Snowed, too. It's beautiful out.

On Friday, I told June we'd go to the library to get movies and she said "let's get FOUR movies!!" and so that's what we did, all musicals. Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Annie, and 42nd Street, a b&w choice that she picked on her own. Funny.

So far, she's loving Maria the most, in SoM. My Fair Lady knocked me out, mainly Rex Harrison's performance and the one scene at Ascot where Eliza keeps saying "How do you do?" I kept repeating that line all weekend. Overall, the movie feels a little too long to me, though. The story drags some, and not all the musical numbers are that hummable, except for "I could have danced all night." Plus, some of the storylines feel a little bit underdeveloped. Isn't that strange? That a 2hr 40m movie would have underdeveloped story lines? I think Eliza is a little underdeveloped, too, for that matter. We see her moxy or whatever at the beginning, but after that, for much of the film, she's simply Professor Higgins's automoton.

I love that June loves musicals. They're so wholesome, I guess. They have no villains like the Disney movies do, so I don't have to fast forward through the scary parts.

I picked up J and B today and told J we were going to the newly opened library branch near our house and she starts asking if I brought "books I don't want anymore" to give to the library so that we can get some more out. I didn't know she knew about that. She's always amazing me these days. She's also spending more time with books alone, which is nice to see. She turns the pages and, well, I don't know what. It's her inner life developing.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Musical day

What is it about The Sound of Music? Twice today I have been put in tears by it, that same scene where the Captain first hears his children singing inside the house and his head turns to the house and he says kind of to himself "the children?" Then he listens to them sing with a mixture of emotions running through his face: pride, regret, the memory of his late wife, and then resolve and he steps out singing. The looks on the chidlren's faces makes it feel real, like a true moment of revelation for them. Such a beautiful scene. I got up with June this am at 7 because she crawled into our winter dark bed to snuggle and started saying "when do we wake up?" We went downstairs and I continued introducing her to one of my favorite musicals.

We picked up four at the library last night: TSOM, 42nd Street, My Fair Lady, and Annie. I hadn't seen Annie for ages, but the first 30 seconds of it told me that it was unwatchable and I walked away. I don't think June dug that one either. She picked 42nd Street out herself and actually seemed to like it though it's in black and white.

My Fair Lady is a pleasant surprise. Quite funny. "How do you do?"