Why yes, [personal profile] mistersmearcase (still such an excellent LJ name, as good as [profile] oblomova and [profile] wouldprefernot2 and [personal profile] springheel_jack) I am totally copying you, plagiarizing, what you will. Think of it as a) sincere flattery, and b) your entry was kiiiind of like a meme, so it's not outright theft?

Anyway, I was going to write about Christmas anyway. I'm a third generation atheist (and my nieces are fourth generation atheists; I think that's so cool) but I guess -- I mean, duh, I know -- nominally that earlier than three generations back (and in my father's father's case, just two generations back) my forebears were indeed Christians -- and in a few branches, Catholics. But I don't care. They can't have Xmas. Xmas and all its semi pagan holly and mistletoe and yule logs and Christmas trees AND FUCKING COLORED LIGHTS are mine, damn it, and anyone who delights in them.

More embarrassingly though (because I am not embarrassed at all about my love for the shiny, glittery, glaring, neon, and over-the-top colorful brightness of Xmas lights and Xmas ornaments) is the fact that I like Christmas music. Lots and lots of Christmas music, including all the heavily religious classics, and the sentimental syrupy Christian claptrap (like, even "Away in a Manger" and "The Little Drummer Boy").

I have an iPod playlist of 365 Xmas songs, and that's even after pruning it this year of all the versions I'd had on it of 1) Jingle Bells, which I hate; 2) Santa Claus is Coming to Town (ditto); 3) "Frosty the Snowman" (which I LOATHE); and 4) "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" (ditto)... I also pruned some of the weird novelty songs Mark gave me, back in the day, like James Brown's Christmas oeuvre, some Pakistani multi-culti Xmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa song, and that annoying Beach Boys one about toys. But that still leaves me with more than ten versions of "Little Drummer Boy". Also, a vast number of Sufjan Stevens Xmas songs, because he has two albums, with something like SEVENTY SONGS. I buy one new Christmas album each year, the way I used to get new ornaments every year, but now I can't get any more because I am at maximum tree coverage, given how many lights I think a tree needs. This year, though, I ended up with three albums -- Maddy Pryor's "A Tapestry of Carols", a Johnny Cash album my friend [profile] john_b_cannon recommended from his (third) far flung Xmas in Saudi Arabia, and the Mary Chapin Carpenter Xmas album. I think my favorite in the last several years is the Christmas album Annie Lennox put out. So, yeah, I love Xmas music. I have lots of friends who HATE it, very, very much, so I play it at home, and sometimes I inflict it on my students, but they like about any soundtrack, really, so that's okay.

Otherwise in Xmas news, about five minutes before midnight tonight, I finished wrapping my presents for this year. Very few of them were locally purchased. Almost all of them involved me giving money to that evil behemoth, Amazon. Four came from Palestine via Germany -- four kaffiyehs made in a factory on the West Bank, with different patterns (two were the Ur traditional black-and-white, and red-and-white) named after different towns, like Hebron and Ramallah. Here, I'll list presents (I am pretty sure my sister would never dream of reading LJ anymore).

*for my dad: a hardback of the most recent entry in a British mystery series he likes a lot, whose author he has hung out with in Brighton

*for my stepmother (by request): a velour tracksuit -- and my mom got her one, too. She was pining for at least one velour tracksuit. I want photos.

*for my uncle: a trial subscription to The Economist... he's hard to get anything for. A Starbucks and a Panera card would probably have been better, but I like to imagine him reading that magazine before he starts wheeling and dealing in online trading... which is, for him, basically gambling, I think. He's a retired accountant.

*for my cousins and aunt in Milwaukee: See's Candy

All of the above were sent on their way Midwestward by the internet, whether via Amazon or not

*for my brother-in-law: the black-and-white kaffiyeh

*for my sister: the red-and-white kaffiyeh

*for Ruby, my 15 year old niece: a weekly planner (which turned out to be half the size I was expecting, so THAT sucked); a desk calendar that's kitschy and retro; two large sketchbooks; two pairs of earbuds and a travel case; a khaki-and-olive kaffiyeh; smelly candles and candle holders and a lighter

*for Rosie, my twelve year old niece who will turn thirteen on Christmas day, a wall calendar of vintage cats; a denim and chambray blue kaffiyeh; smelly candles and candle holders and a lighter; two large sketchbooks; two pairs of earbuds and a travel case... and as her separate birthday gift... first, a small present wrapped in Bollywood paper (which is a taste I successfully inculcated in her) of a set of five hella cute guitar picks... and then a fucking acoustic guitar. Dunno how good the quality is, but my mom is going to show her some stuff and then we'll look at YouTube videos, and if she likes it enough, my mom and I will split the cost of actual lessons.

*for my mom: a wall calendar of vintage animal posters; no kaffiyeh, but if she wants one (by the way, thanks, [personal profile] springheel_jack, you gave me the idea) I'll manage it... also, an audiobook of Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver, the first volume of the Baroque Cycle, and a subscription to Entertainment Weekly, which she generally "borrows" from me, though I end up reading about two pages of each issue. I figured I ought to cut out the middleman.

To be honest, I like getting, wrapping, and giving presents much more than I like getting them.

I want to put some photos in here, but it's a pain in the ass; I have to get them off my phone first, and then hosted by Photobucket, before I can put them in the entry. Maybe I'll do that tomorrow. Now that I am DONE WRAPPING everything... except Rosie's guitar picks, which are supposed to arrive tomorrow.
maeve66: (aqua tea icon)
I did not write that last entry thinking there was an LJ revival going on, and who are you new people? Really?

Okay, I'll plunge.

I am a second generation socialist and a third generation atheist (who nonetheless fucking LOVES Christmas; I can't help it, I was trained that way by my mother and grandmother). My nieces are fourth generation atheists and so far, third generation socialists, which is awesome. I have not reproduced. I made a list a few weeks ago of all the very close to fairly close friends of mine in my general age range who have not reproduced. It was an extensive list. Do I select for them? Dunno. It's not that I am opposed to reproduction or anything -- I adore my nieces endlessly -- just that it's interesting to me that I've never really had that whole biological clock thing and apparently a lot of people I've known since high school or college (or more recently) also have not.

I am a public school teacher -- middle school, English/Language Arts and Social Studies, taught in my district as a "Core" which means two periods with the same set of students, repeat twice more. This is astonishingly (astonishing to me) my nineteenth year teaching. There are many things I love about teaching, but to be honest, I largely decided to do it for the following reasons:

1. I was All-But-Dissertation in American Social and Labor History, dipped my toe into the academic job market waters and thought, oh, fuck this. Public schools are more democratic (small d), are, with public libraries, one of the only ways in which the US has ever aspired to social democracy, are unionized (remember, this was almost twenty years ago, when charters were just beginning, and Scott Walker's Wisconsin was unknown... though there were even then plenty of right-to-work states where a teacher's union didn't mean much).

2. I could get a decent-paying job immediately in most inner-city school districts, without a credential. I was done with living on $7,000 to $13,000 a year, and student loans. I chose Oakland because my sister had moved out here with her then boyfriend while I was in grad school in Missouri. I knew she'd make a family out here, and I wanted to be close to her.

3. I actually love doing all the work assignments I give students. I like projects. I love drawing. I love reading, and writing, to a nearly obsessive degree. I love history. I make models of everything we end up doing (and I also keep the best student models, which leads to improvement pretty much every year as students see these... truly, they don't ever try to copy; they work to surpass).

4. I can memorize a shit ton of names REALLY FAST. I usually know students' names within the first week of school every year (though that's no guarantee I will remember all of them six years later). I usually have about 95 to 100 students a year. (I can get names so quickly that, when I have to lose my prep period in order to cover for another teacher when there is no substitute teacher, I can often pinpoint specific kids immediately during that period, which they react to as if I have arcane powers).

5. I love creating curriculum. I would be great at that as a job, but these days "Teachers on Special Assignment" don't create curriculum, they police other teachers and try to ensure that they are toeing whatever the district line is this year. I would be terrible at that job and would never, ever want to do it.

Okay, that's teaching, more or less. Most years I enjoy the hell out of most of my students. Some of the ones I had way back in the beginning in West Oakland are FB friended to me, and I am glad to still be in touch with them. However, I don't let students friend me until they're out of high school.

What else? I love books. I read, and I also re-read a lot, constantly. I like Goodreads for tracking my reading, though I don't review everything I read, at all. Including re-reading, I basically get through at least 365 books a year. More like 420 or so. Now, granted, I read a lot of genre fiction (historical mysteries, historical fiction, sci fi, fantasy) and YA fiction, not just Marx and Trotsky and Luxemburg and history and biographies and memoirs.

I also love writing, though I think I have slowed down on that. I mean, look at this practically moribund LJ of mine. I've kept some form of journal non-stop since I was 9 years old, and I have all of the volumes except one I lost when I was in college.

Given a choice between dogs and cats, I will pick a cat every time. I've had three as an adult: a deeply loved long-haired white cat (the people at the animal shelter in Columbia, Missouri lied to me and said she was a medium coat, maybe even a short hair, when I got her as a kitten; I had no experience of long-haired cats) I named Rilke. She was intelligent and fierce and loyal to me (a way of saying she pretty much hated everyone else except my mother and grandmother). She lived to 18, and only died a few years ago. I also had a black long-haired cat (that one's on me; I just wasn't paying attention when this needy tiny kitten hooked her claws into me at an adopt-a-pet kiosk outside of Safeway my second year in Oakland.) She was Maya. She was friendly to all. She also was missing one of her fangs, so she drooled one hundred percent of the time. She made it about thirteen or fourteen years. Now I have a young orange marmalade (with color-suppressor gene) cat named Devlin, who is delightful and cuddly and fairly smart -- she has funny tricks like trying to catch cat treats with her paws and washing her face with both paws at once. She has never hissed once in her life after I chose her from a litter of feral rescue kittens that friends were fostering. She has never gotten touchy about belly rubs, ever. She has only barfed about twice in four years. For a while I was documenting her bad habits -- climbing screens, drinking in the sink, pulling ornaments off of trees, chewing flower petals... but they're not really that annoying, now that she's too heavy for the screens. I love my cat.

Hm. Go look at my interests. They're pretty much all still true. They also serve as an introduction. Bollywood! Bertolt Brecht! Inessa Armand! Alexandra Kollontai! Brighton! Prismacolor pencils! (I'm actually not sure these are all in that list, but they could -- or should -- be).
maeve66: (Nagini)
Okay, that's a stupid title. But whatever. I haven't posted in yonks (= donkeys' years, Brit colloquialism from my early 20s), in ages, in literally months or more than a year, I am not even sure. I could look, but I won't.

My last gift from Winter Break was from my poor father, who gave me (I guess) the illness he caught from a friend while visiting out here for two weeks. My father, my stepmother, my aunt, and my two cousins were all here over Xmas, all staying at my sister's (my dad and stepmother were at my mom's mother-in-law-apartment, where he can smoke his pipe, addict that he is. He can't smoke at my apartment because my landlord made it a non-smoking building a couple of years ago). Anyway, R. had them all*, and was prostrate with exhaustion (I exaggerate, but not by much -- my father and my aunt [ex-wife of my mom's brother who died this Spring... there, I HAVE written less than a year ago, because I wrote about our Wisconsin/Chicago trip this Summer, for his memorial...] and cousins are not hella close, and my father very much wants the familial spotlight to himself.) I love him, but he's immensely emotionally insecure. Which bugs my sister, who hates to have to balance a bazillion emotional needs. I did my best to take up some of the slack with him and my stepmother, but ended vacation with severely swollen lymph nodes on the last weekend, and then a vile flu which I even gave up and went to Kaiser about... this whole past week. It's finally, FINALLY fucking departing, I believe. I don't even want to talk about what missing a week of work will mean. I guess I'll find out Monday.

The first thing which has given me any pleasure in 2016 is a Bollywood movie which I discovered tonight by Googling and Wikipedia-ing around... in fact, I think finally I just looked up Yash Raj releases, tbh. I haven't even finished it, but I am writing about it now, in the beginning of the film. Why? I guess because I haven't seen a Bollywood film I've loved for so very, very long. Dhoom 3 was such a relentless disappointment, especially with Aamir Khan starring and being pompous as fuck (with another of his hella ridiculous attempts to portray someone vaguely Aspergers? Actually, that's slightly unfair, as Shah Rukh Khan has as much blame as Aamir to shoulder, in that regard... but at least SRK's versions are so fucking over the top that you almost don't care (I'm looking at you, My Name is Khan) and with a Chicago setting. They filmed, in fact, right in front of the building one of my above-mentioned cousins lived in, at the time. The film also deeply disappointed my younger niece, whom I have successfully recruited to Bollywood addiction, unlike her older sister, who now only politely tolerates Bollywood, much like she sort of politely tolerates cats (astounding! How could anyone in my family not love cats?). R-the-younger's favorite movie in the world is Dhoom 2, and she loves Aishwarya Rai... (I have to remember to tell her that Aish has a couple of films due out relatively soon; she'll be overjoyed). So this bleaker D3 was a miserable flop for her.

So, to the film I am ENJOYING. It's called Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, and it stars someone I'd never seen until an earlier movie tonight (also quite cute, called Shuddh Desi Romance) -- Sushant Singh Rajput**, and other actors I've never heard of. The rising tide churns big names over so quickly -- actors I like a lot, like Priyanka Chopra and Rani Mukherjee and even Shahid Kapoor are less seen, and names I've never heard of are at the top. The movie is a period mystery thriller, and oh, my god, the production values are so insanely better than the aspirants to that category from the 1980s, 1990s, and even 2000s. It's apparently based on a comic book character, a disappointed academic in Calcutta during WWII who becomes a detective and has adventures. Great background. Lush filming. WWII facing east towards the Japanese and Chinese, from the viewpoint of nationalist Indians. I hope this movie bears out my absolutely caught fascination. I'll report, maybe, later. Thank fuck I am finally even feeling up to watching movies. It was a wretched week.

*Well, I had my mother staying with me, on my living room futon with the Xmas tree. That way, my dad and stepmother could be at her place, etc. It's actually really nice having my mom stay with me, even for two weeks. We would get on each other's nerves after that point, no doubt -- I know that, as we lived together right before I moved out to Cali, and it was fucking hard for us not to grate on each other then. Now she's older, and I am a real adult with a full-time job, so she has less to be resentful about. God, I can't stop dangling my prepositions. I always consider writing those sentences correctly, and then think it out in my head and decide it sounds contrived.

**Oh, these (at least apparently) Indian elite names of actors... it's like in England, where people like Christopher Eccleston complain rightly that Eton boys and Sloane girls get all the acting jobs... Kunal Kapoor (not Shashi's son, who has the same name but is a generation older and unrelated) has made the identical complaint... I recall reading about his pretty ordinary father, possibly a Punjabi carpenter, though I might be remembering that wrong, not long after seeing him in Rang de Basanti, still my favorite Bollywood movie ever. ANYWAY, my point was that Kunal Kapoor was in solidarity with Christopher Eccleston's class-based complaint... but now Kapoor has married into the premier Bollywood acting clan, the Bachchans.
... and there's not much time left in which to write one. Ten more free days, then meetings and classroom work begin, and on August 24th, students are back and the 2015-2016 school year begins. For some reason I always have difficulty figuring out exactly how long I've been teaching, maybe because we do the years in that half-and-half way... I began in October of 1998, after the school year had already started, at Lowell Middle School in West Oakland, which no longer exists. There are two schools sharing that site now, a KIPP school ("Knowledge is Power Program" Charter school, with extended school days, extended school years, and extended school/work hours for teachers... not with extended pay, or union representation, mostly) and the West Oakland Middle School... what is their fucking PROBLEM, with that name? James Russell Lowell was a dumb enough name... OBVIOUSLY if you're naming a school in West Oakland, an overwhelmingly African-American (and historically significant black nationalist) neighborhood, after an American poet, Langston Hughes is the poet to choose (there, I'm a poet and I didn't know it). And, equally obviously, the school mascot should be a Black Panther. I mean, DUH.

ANYWAY, I began in October 1998... which means this is my

2004-2005 (left Lowell; left Oakland Unified School District)
2010-2011(left first middle school in new district for second middle school in new district)

eighteenth year of teaching. I don't think I come off as a hoary veteran teacher, secure in my skills and satisfied with my teaching. At least, that's the best spin I can put on the fact that whenever I meet new teachers (at Professional Development trainings, e.g.) they seem extremely surprised that I have been teaching this long. I could, of course, put a very negative spin on that reaction, too. I struggle a lot with impostor syndrome, for damn sure. And this upcoming year is an evaluation year, hallelujah! Oh, glory, glory, glory. Not. We have a (still) new principal, whose first year was sort of her (in her own words) watchful waiting year. Now she feels like she's made the transition from high school to our particular middle school and is ready to put her own ideas into place. I am terrified of being evaluated by her, because a) after my experiences with two (women) principals in specific, I have fucking hella PTSD around classroom observations, and b) she is one of those people whose faces you cannot read AT ALL. She is immensely awkward and I do not get her. On the other hand, she is very intelligent and I do not think she is an evil administrator who lives to carry out district mandates.

Okay. I am trying not to borrow trouble here. This year, I am going to try to pull together a teacher inquiry project and ask for alternative assessment, even though everyone agrees that it is much harder and has very difficult hoop-jumping involved. I still feel like I will hate it less than being observed in my classroom... which, by the way, does not mean that I will not be observed teaching: we all are, frequently, on random walkthroughs which are supposed to produce non-formal written reactions. The principal was in my classroom loads of times last year, but I only got one such non-formal written review. It was depressing, in that she observed kids off task at the back of the class.

Anyway, beginning to organize a teacher inquiry is part of what I need to do over the next week to ten days. I know I want it to be about kids' reading, which is a powerful mystery to me, and which happens to coincide with the PD I went to this summer, the Reading Apprenticeship program. I also want to work in technology in the classroom and how that can affect student reading and writing (since, after last year's Project LEAN-In, I have a full set of chromebooks and a charging cart dedicated to my class alone)... and the practice of Socratic Seminars. It's going to take some doing to craft a concise set of questions and imagine what kinds of data I can collect. I know I want to start with some baseline writing and reading samples and with a self-survey about reading unfamiliar texts, and a reading interest survey.

Other things I have done here in the waning days of summer, and then things that I still want to get done:


1. Cleaned out both of the big closets in my apartment and threw out seven (at least) huge black garbage bags of junk, as well as giving away eight grocery bags worth of clothes and stuff.

2. Got rid of a bookshelf and two-thirds of the books on it, as well as a total of six other bags of excess books which I have purged. No Marx, Engels, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Mandel, Freire, or Kollontai was harmed in this purge. On the other hand, lots of mystery series I now own as ebooks have made their way to a new home in thrift shops.

3. Cleaned and wiped and dusted bookshelves.

4. Cleared and reorganized a strange piece of furniture next to my desk which seems to be made of dark-stained plywood. It came with the apartment, which I got basically furnished, through subletting from a friend of my sister's who moved to NYC and then Spain, seventeen going on eighteen years ago. I've changed out a lot of the furniture over the years (to cheap IKEA stuff, basically) but there are still a lot of the original things, some beautiful pieces of art she painted herself, like my coffee table and a hinged piano bench I use for tools, and some just weird like this drawer/shelf combo. But it's ORGANIZED now, with a section for Hindi study, for art supplies, for envelopes and folders (and, apparently, my cat, who I just disturbed there at the back of the bottom shelf. I had no idea that was one of Devlin's hiding places).


1. Plan teacher inquiry, as stated above

2. Reorganize bulletin board above desk

3. Upload photos from phone and from camera... I am somewhat OCD, so that involves captioning or titling every single photo... I cannot bear them not to have titles

4. Scan more of the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of old photos I got this summer

5. Do All Of The Laundry, ugh, probably at a laundromat because I hate going up and down the stairs to the basement, and we only have one washer and one dryer.

6. Clear and reorganize the living room bookshelves, though I already weeded the books.

The sad thing about this is that although *I* know that all of this work has taken place, it doesn't necessarily show up clearly to someone visiting my apartment. Frustrating.

Devlin has abandoned her super sekrit hiding place and is now relaxing between my arms again, as I type.

A Meme!!!

Feb. 5th, 2015 10:21 pm
From [personal profile] mistersmearcase and [personal profile] villagecharm

Nine things you do every day
1. drink some variety of orange-cut pekoe black tea... English or Irish breakfast tea. With half-and-half.
2. feed, pet, get covered in orange cat hair by my cat Devlin
3. ignore making the bed
4. mess around on the internet -- FB, the Guardian, Wikipedia, Goodreads, YouTube, Ancestry.com
5. doodle
6. wear my glasses from opening my eyes to turning off the light at bedtime
7. read
8. write
9. either teach or think about lessons I want to teach

Eight things that annoy you
1. edubabble spouted by administrators at any level
2. ads -- which since I don't have a functioning TV are these days mostly internet ads and particularly, Facebook ads
3. a new teacher at my site who is creepy and has asinine politics with kneejerk ignorant self-deluding racism* who has for some reason chosen to KEEP TALKING TO ME
4. my own inertia, sometimes
5. laundry, cleaning, dishes
6. the lack of off street parking in my area
7. my utterly terrible, tiny, awful kitchen
8. when books in series are not all available as ebooks, but just some random selection of them

Seven fears/phobias (not sure I have seven... also, hella depressing topic)
1. bad health; specifically the complications that progress with diabetes
2. trying to keep up with fast-moving crowds, e.g. demonstrations, these days
3. dementia, which an uncle has... though his seems to be vascular dementia
4. cockroaches and most chitinous beetles, UGH
5. ants
6. unemployment
7. an impoverished old age

Six songs that you’re addicted to
1. "Beeswing" as performed by either Richard Thompson or Christy Moore
2. "Landslide" as performed by pretty much anyone
3. "Roobaroo" from one of my favorite Bollywood movies Rang de Basanti
4. "Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba
5. "50 Thousand Deep" by Blue Scholars
6. Right now, "Highwayman" but not the Phil Ochs (or god forbid the Loreena McKennitt) version adding music to the Alfred Noyes poem, but instead an original song and collaboration between Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson. I do love the Phil Ochs song, though.

Five things you can’t live without
1. my family
2. friends, whether in person or via the internets
3. books
4. tea
5. my cat

Four memories you won’t forget

1. being present and witnessing my older niece's entire birth, and cutting her umbilical cord
2. finding out I had won a French prize my Senior year of high school which meant I would be flying to Paris and taking classes at the Alliance Française and living at a nun-run hostel on the Île St. Louis (and then escaping the classes to go to a revolutionary youth peace camp in Germany with revolutionary marxist youth from all over Europe)
3. meeting a young(er than me, by a good 12 years) Air Force linguist at a bar and deciding to go out with him, despite the many and highly obvious reasons this was fairly ridiculous.
4. coming back from Spring Break to teaching, my fifth year of teaching (2003) and being greeted by the principal, the vice-principal, and four teachers in a row with queries about my arrest at an anti-war sit-in in Richmond, at the Chevron HQ, a photo of which I had not known had featured on the front page of the Oakland Tribune

Three words you can’t go a day without
1. "Turn to page..."
2. "Hey, baby" -- to Devlin, my cat.
3. "ludicrous" possibly not DAILY, but fairly frequently, at school -- it used to make my Oakland students howl, in the early 'aughts. Because, Ludakris

Two things you wish you could do
1. go swimming at the Richmond Natatorium (salt water pool!) more regularly
2. recommit to learning Hindi... and/or FIND A DAMN CLASS in the language. That doesn't cost $5,000

One person you trust:

I trust a lot of people. It's hard to reduce this one to one person. I trust everyone in my family. Hmm. Of non-family people, I trust [profile] amarama


*I am trying to think of an example of this. It was obvious the first time he buttonholed me in my classroom after school, condescending to me because he has a masters in some insanely stupid field of history... oh yeah, the history of the Olympics, and then talking confidingly to me about "these kids, you know, they come from broken homes and drugs and just can't handle higher levels of thought; they're ignorant of any kind of current events and have no capacity to analyze what's going on, and they don't care" -- after which I shot down every fucking word he said and talked about students I'd taught in West Oakland and their extremely on point political understanding. He's kind of been trying to backpedal and I guess curry favor with me since, and I wish he'd stop and just hate me and avoid me.


Feb. 5th, 2015 09:46 pm
What is it about the apartment upstairs? Am I doomed to having to overhear people's private couples fights for my whole life? Ugh. I don't know if it's better or worse that this one doesn't sound like it's alcohol-fueled, as the old ones inevitably were. I should probably have vaguebooked this, sigh.

There, instead, I've posted in LJ, because there's another layer of almost-no-one-who-reads-this-knows-my-address-or-neighbors.

By the way, 2015 sucks so far:

1. My mom fell right before Xmas, which I may have posted about. She is recovering slowly, with a walker. She has a torn shoulder tendon (we think) which is inoperable and possibly won't ever fully be repaired, and a fractured hip, which the ER Xray did not reveal.

2. I fell, myself, a couple of weeks later, twisting my knee, and hobbled around on a cane for ages. Sucked.

3. I missed jury duty by accident last week and emailed the court in a panic, expecting to get a new date ages away. Instead, I got one the next Monday, which was bad timing in terms of school stuff. The original date would have been bad, and maybe worse, because I was scheduled to be administering a computerized test.

4. At least I didn't get picked for a jury, though the other teacher FROM MY SAME SCHOOL who was there on the same day did.

5. The next morning (this past Tuesday) I went downstairs to find my car booted for accumulated tickets, which are like an extra payment on top of my (admittedly insanely cheap) rent BECAUSE THERE IS NO FUCKING PARKING IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD, and plus right after I fell, I got quite a few tickets. The price of releasing the boot pretty much eviscerated the backpay settlement we got for our belatedly settled contract. And also I had to wait for a cop to come remove it because the stupid code didn't work and was therefore two hours late to work.

6. Tonight my battery died and I had to wait for Triple A, and then I had to buy a new car battery.

I am really glad we have a three day weekend. I need it. Although I should probably spend quite a lot of it cleaning my apartment and doing laundry.


Random better things:

• my cat Devlin is still and always awesome;

•I make very, very good computer slide shows (that is, PowerPoints*), these days using Google Slides;

•I got to riff on Nat Turner and primary source political cartoons today -- as part of my one-a-day Black History Month slideshow of people none of my students have heard of before... the original list of people is pretty much unchanged from when I started this back in February of 2012;

•also a Slides presentation on the importance of agricultural changes and "new rice" in the Song dynasty, that was weirdly fun;

•I have rediscovered the joys of gin and tonics, which I used to occasionally drink in company with my grandmother -- they were her favorite cocktail. I'm using Bombay Sapphire gin, which I've always been intrigued by for the Indian allusion and the blue bottle. I think my grandma's favorite was Tanqueray.

*I know these are outdated, Google Slides or whatever, and that even Prezis are past their sell-by date, but I still haven't mastered Prezis, and I am sure when I do that I will be into them ages and ages past their popularity. And honestly, a Slides presentation is still more effective to introduce readings or mini-lectures than NOT having visuals.
God, I am bad. I write every few months. This used to be an important part of my life, writing in LJ. It's frustrating to me. It's not only LiveJournal, either -- I am not writing as frequently in my own journal(s) either (the (s) means that I have a regular paper journal, which I am back to writing in ... volume LXVII, and also an electronic one, on my computer, which I do month-by-month, but have not been writing in much at all).

Right now it is Winter Break, hallelujah. My atheist family celebrates Xmas, with gifts exchanged and Christmas trees and colored lights and Xmas carols. My maternal grandmother LOVED all of Christmas, and my dad believes I carry on her tradition, though my sister is not far behind, really. That grandmother -- the only one of my grandparents I ever knew... she died in June of 2002. This December 22nd, she would have been 100 years old, which is impressive. She's still very real in my mind. She was interesting. Not always very nice. Not very clichédly grandmother-like. She didn't pat cheeks or hug people. She was pretty fucked up emotionally, and had good reason for that -- her older brother, her husband, and one of her two sons all killed themselves.

I never knew any of them -- that is, I must have met her son, my uncle Peter, but I was only two when he shot himself, so it's not like I remember him. I wish I'd known him; he sounded very cool. When he died in his early 20s, he was a grad student in French history, studying with a marxist professor at the University of Wisconsin, Harvey Goldberg. Goldberg was a political historian, old school. I have a digitized audio collection of some of his lectures -- French politics of the 20th century, of the French SP and the Resistance and the genesis of Mai '68, which he lectured about as it was happening. I actually went and saw him lecture in Madison when I was fifteen or so, not at that point even knowing he'd been my uncle's advisor. It was thrilling to hear someone talk to a crowded hall of hundreds and hundreds of students about the failure of the European Left to ally to fight Hitler's rise, with accusations and counter-accusations of "social fascism".

My father met Peter before he met Peter's sister, my mom. They became friends through Civil Rights activism and antiwar activism, and Peter joined the Young Socialist Alliance before my mom did. Peter seems to have been one of those students who never got less than an A, and cared very much about that. My grandmother thought he was perfect, and I imagine there was a lot of pressure around that. He was a good musician. He played the guitar with my mom and they sang and played in the folk movement at cafes in Madison. He played the recorder, too, and was learning the lute. He also acted a bit -- he was the invalid in Molière's The Imaginary Invalid, which led me to read a bunch of Molière in high school, in French. I've only seen about three photos of him as an adult.

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My poor grandmother. He was suicide number three. He'd been depressed on and off, but no one was expecting that. My dad was the one who found him, still breathing, and called the ambulance. My dad was also the one who had to decide to turn off the respirator later that night: my grandmother couldn't deal, and told him to. Just recently -- this past summer, I think -- we were talking about this in Lake Geneva when my mother and I were visiting my dad and Mary, my stepmother. My dad helped my mom remember what her emotional reaction was, back then. My mom is not good at experiencing her emotions. Neither am I, though I think I am more aware of when I am failing to let myself experience them... at least sometimes. Anyway, my dad said (and my mom immediately agreed, viscerally, that this was so) that she had been angry, deeply, deeply angry at Peter.

After that, my grandmother ... I don't know. I think she was close to an emotional autarky. The only people she truly expressed close affection for were her sisters and my mother, her oldest child, and only daughter. She was not affectionate with her youngest child, my uncle Jim, who was still only a teenager, and who had already experienced his father's suicide about eight years earlier. She was closed off and couldn't talk about Peter at all. I didn't even know who he was when I was little. There was a painting of him by her brother-in-law, a painting of a little blond boy with a dark brown background. And one day when I was about three I asked her who the little boy was. She was babysitting me, which she did a lot. She didn't say a word. She just carried me to the bathroom, sat down on the closed toilet seat with me over her lap and spanked me, hard, without ever saying a word. I was so freaked out I never even told my parents about it until years and years later.

She somehow built herself a very independent life in Madison, once we moved to Evanston, Illinois. She biked and walked a lot. She swam and sunbathed. She grew tomatoes on the upstairs back porch of her apartment on Paterson Street. She went to plays. She went to movies. She liked to eat lunch out, on State Street. She took classes in all kinds of things at one of Madison's community colleges or at the Senior Center. She shopped at the Mifflin Street Co-op. Once a year she traveled with her sister Betty, who was an editor at Scholastic Books, in New York City. They went to the Soviet Union, to Germany, to Austria, to Ireland, to England, to Sweden, to Denmark, Mexico... my mom can't remember the other places. I don't remember her going to France or Italy, strangely enough. For years, she voted for the Socialist Workers Party candidate because of Peter, my dad, and mom. Finally she gave it up, I think for Mondale versus Reagan.

She was always miles healthier than anyone else in my family, in terms of habits and diet. She ate yogurt and fruit and one piece of toast every morning for breakfast, and made her own yogurt. She walked miles and had a trail bike. She never smoked, though she drank a lot of cocktails in the 1950s, and liked a beer or two in the evenings. But she had a totally surprising heart attack in her early 70s, while she was visiting us, and made her pretty complete recovery there, living with us in a little front porch off the living room, in our second floor flat. She went home to Madison, more of a health fanatic than ever, and then developed diabetes -- which Betty had, too. And then came the ills of age -- she broke a bone in a fall when she was running to catch a bus, and the recovery was very, very slow. Then she fell in her apartment, and spent a long agonizing hour crawling across the floor to the phone to dial 911. In the hospital they told us she had congestive heart failure, and that was the end of her independence. I stayed with her a while, because I was in grad school and could get the time off. But by Christmas of 1992, she had to move in with my mom in Rogers' Park. She so hated being dependent. Diabetes made her eyesight bad, and she couldn't see well enough to do the embroidery she had used to do, or well enough to follow the endless awful 1980s TV detective shows she would watch on the degenerated A&E channel. It woudl be up really loud, too -- oh, I hated hearing it when I was staying at my mom's. She would shuffle around the apartment muttering to herself about how she should have died, how she wished she'd never had to leave Madison, etc. Every once in a while I would have a loud fight with her, and it would be better for a while. I mean, a dumb fight, about her taking her five million pills, or using her glucometer, or anything, really. It would clear the air, honestly. One thing about the clear periods was that I would ask her about her youth, and she would try to remember things to tell me about.

She was born in Kansas City, Kansas, to a lawyer father and a "Clubwoman" mother -- my grandmother repeated that with pride, and made it clear that her mother was very proud about that, about meeting with other middle class women in KCK. The only detail my grandmother could remember about those duties was that my great-grandmother apparently was on the KCK Film Censors Board, and took my grandmother along with her to vet some Charlie Chaplin films before they were shown publicly. My grandmother had some stories she repeated a lot about her mother -- that her mother did not like children (except for babies too small to talk back), and that she had married my great-grandfather partly because he'd told her (in good faith) that he'd had mumps or something as a child and the doctor had told him he was sterile, as a result. My great-grandmother viewed this as a definite bonus. And then she had six children anyway. Horton, Kay, Betty, Jane (my grandmother), Susan -- who died in a hit-and-run at age 2 -- and Bill.

My grandmother and all her surviving siblings (that is, Kay, Betty, and Bill) all revered their father so much that every single one of them named a son after him, James. So there were four cousins named Jim. I can't get a very clear idea of why he was so amazing, this great-grandfather, but for sure they all loved him a lot. None of them named anyone after their mother, Mary. Pictures of Mary Dobbins show her as a coquettish 1890s woman with a pompadour and tiny waist, to a tired-looking mother with her hair falling out of that pompadour, to an older, sterner looking grey-haired woman in one of those flowered sack-like 1930s dresses.

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She was the daughter of Irish immigrants, Catholics who came in the 1850s to Kansas City. Ellen Quirk Dobbins and Michael Dobbins, who worked on the Railroad, and then was a constable in Kansas City, pretty renowned as a local drunk.

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My grandmother said her mother was ashamed of the drunkenness and the Catholicism and abandoned her background as completely as she could. In the photo above, she is the little girl with the pissed off expression, standing, in the top row. She stayed close to a couple of her younger sisters, and to her widowed mother, but there is a broad sea of Catholic Dobbins women who married and reproduced and I only know them through Ancestry.com. Man, I wish my grandmother was alive to look at Ancestry.com with me, and explain connections and tell more stories. I think she would be interested. That's where I started about her. She was interesting, and interested. Her sister Kay wrote my mom some letters about family history in the 1980s, and in the critical way that siblings have, remembered a family story about Jane, that when she was little Jane (my grandmother) complained of "having nothing to do" or being bored. And Kay said she could never imagine being bored, because if nothing else, there was always a book to read. That sounds like such bullshit to me -- my grandmother read all the time. Mostly genre fiction, and especially English cozies like Robert Barnard's books. I cannot ever remember my grandmother being bored or boring. I'm sure Kay wasn't either -- my great-aunt married an artist and a drunk (there are lots of those on every branch of my family tree), divorced him, and moved to Marin to be a public librarian. She retired to Berkeley and began a relationship with a somewhat crazy old sensualist guy named Gil, with Einstein white hair, who exhorted me, at age 13, to read Edward Bellamy's Looking Backwards and discuss it with him in correspondence. None of them were boring. All of them were progressive, and atheist. All of them seem quite clear -- to the extent that I knew them -- in my mind, even now.
Day 40: Where is going to be the best place to live in 2050?

Yeah, I think [personal profile] toastykitten got it entirely right when she said somewhere high above sea level (future sea level) but with okay water resources. I'm not sure where that is. Ursula K. LeGuin (whom I adore) wrote a dystopia/utopia novel that deals (in part -- the rest of it mostly speculates about gender and militarism... it's got a lot of commonalities with Starhawk's The Fifth Sacred Element) with future environment in California -- Always Coming Home. I think she thinks the Oakland hills will be dry but okay for small decentralized settlements.

Day 41: What is your attitude toward, or involvement with, your television?

Around the time of the second Gulf War, 2003, I just stopped watching. I watched a lot of coverage of the first week or so and then I couldn't take it any more, and without thinking about it, I just put a moratorium on watching any TV at all. A few years later, I thought about my decision and wondered whether it was just snotty anti-pop culture elitism or whatever, but really, I don't think it is. I like some shows -- and I watch them belatedly via Netflix or Amazon. But I don't miss televised news programs, or commercials, or sitcoms with laughtracks. God, I don't miss them. The only thing I occasionally am bummed about is if I have to miss seeing a Packers game. But I don't care that much about any other team, or any other sport, so really, I'm not missing much. Thank fuck for Netflix and Apple TV (or Roku box or whatever) and Amazon instant watch, though.

Day 42: Where do you think you'll be in 20 years?

Probably RIGHT HERE IN THIS APARTMENT, because I'll never be able to afford anywhere else. I may be retired, amazing thought, if I have defended my health better than I have been doing lately. I don't know, though. Retiring apparently depends on health insurance between 60 and 65, and I don't know what Obamacare or the future will have to say about that.

Day 43: What should they have taught you at school?

You know, I feel like I learned what I needed to learn in school, and that I learned how to learn what else I wanted to. I mean, some of that was accomplished at home, with my family, and via reading outside of school. But one skill I hella needed and am grateful for is typing. It was a boring class and I only got a C, but damn am I glad I can type. I had no idea my sister hadn't taken typing in high school!

Day 44: What's your favorite tea?

Black tea, by itself, not in a mixture? Assam tea. Mmmm, smoky, nutty, tea-y. Indian. Delicious. The right loose leaf tea to make into masala chai.

Mixture? What's called English or sometimes Irish breakfast tea, which is Orange-Pekoe something something.

Brand? I like PG Tips, sometimes Tetley's, if I can't get PG Tips, and for a while I was drinking Trader Joe's Irish Breakfast Tea...

Day 45: Is commerical radio still relevant? If no, why not? If yes, what do you listen to?

Yeah... sorry [profile] slantedeyes65, but I don't see the relevance of commercial radio anymore, except for news and traffic and music when the first two aren't on. I cannot stand talk radio, and I don't listen to any radio any more, except for radio broadcasts of sports (e.g. Packers games) once in a while. I love playing my own music, when I have a choice of almost 8,000 songs on iTunes. I am grateful to have an MP3 jack in my car for longer drives, so I can use my iPod to play music or audiobooks.

Day 46: The Beatles or The Stones?

I know I should write longer on these topics, but I can't. I like them both. I am not passionate about either of them. And I am going to write this exact same sentence a little further below. Why make a choice?

Day 47: What's your favorite unusual snack?

This is more an hors d'oeuvre: cut up radishes into "rosettes" (which my mother always used to do; I thought it was so cool); get pitted kalamata olives; cut feta cheese up into small cubes -- put it all on a tray. Mmmmm. Three good strong tastes and textures together -- and a strong visual appeal, too.

Day 48: Dylan or Springsteen?

See Day 46, above. I like both Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen... they seem to me to represent different eras, though, so comparing them doesn't feel as reasonable as setting the Beatles against the Stones.

Day 49: Describe one (or more than one) favorite toy from childhood.

I have written about the Sunshine Family dolls before, so I won't again. My other main toys were also dolls, though. When I think of what toys we had, mostly it's hard to remember what was MINE and what was my sister's, except for a few things. Our playskool sets were ours, separately. I had the Playskool School and the A-frame; she had the Playskool Farm... I don't know if she had the non-A-frame house. She might have. I loved that school set, which came with chalk and erasers and a school bell you could ring and desks and a teacher with a grey bun of molded plastic hair and a slide and some other recess equipment -- a swingset? A merry go round? When I first encountered it, in the aisle of a department store, near Christmastime, one evening when I was four, I sat down in the store and opened the box and started playing with it. My mom was furious when she found me, and I pitched a memorable (to her; I don't remember these) tantrum. Then I received it for Christmas that year and was overjoyed. That was age 4 or 5. The next year, I think, or when I was six or seven, my grandmother made my sister and I each a Raggedy Ann doll, and outfits to match. God we loved those dolls. They had aprons and pantaloons and a heart sewn in red thread on their chest, and loopy red yarn hair and red-and-white striped legs. They were the most loved of all of the handmade dolls my grandmother made us, and she made a lot. I already had one from her that I'd loved for years, but these Raggedy Ann dolls were just amazing. They were big -- my sister's was as tall as she was, when she got it. And it was cool to have a dress that matched the doll... now I don't remember if we had aprons, too. Somehow that seems unlikely. And it's not like the dresses lasted very long: we outgrew those fast. But I didn't outgrow that doll for years and years. They were stuffed with old panty hose, and the muslin they were made of wasn't really that strong, so eventually both dolls had injuries with stockings dribbling out of them like intestines. Eww, I know. But loved. Those dolls were loved into oblivion. Mine... she started out with a white muslin face, and a friend got mad at me and stomped her into a mud puddle. That was the end of white muslin. She was ever after mud-colored, but it made no difference to me. I wish I had a photo of her. There might be a blurry one I could scan. If I find it, I will.
maeve66: (me in sixth grade)
Day 30: What nonfiction that you have read recently would you review/recommend?

I don't read a ton of nonfiction -- I used to; I used to read lots of marxist theory and commentary... Marx, Engels, a little Lenin though his prose is boring as shit, Luxemburg, Mandel, Norman Geras, Michael Löwy, etc. But now I tend to read biographies and memoirs and occasional pop sociology like Barbara Ehrenreich, as far as nonfiction. The last few things I read were biographies -- Steve Jobs (which I would only recommend if you want to stoke your fires further about what an asshole he was), Melissa Gilbert (kind of funny, but much less so and much less political than I was hoping for. She didn't get it ghost-written, that's for sure. It would have been better written), and... I think there was someone else... but I am coming up blank. I re-read Will in the World not too long ago. I highly recommend THAT, if you like Shakespeare. It's like a social history of a possible life he could have had, with interesting use of primary sources, and with the use of the plays themselves as primary sources. I really liked it.

Day 31: Why is the idea of "class" so nebulous in the United States -- as opposed to, say, Britain.

American exceptionalism, marxist style. Ugh. This is the worst inheritance of the American ethos. From DeTocqueville on, analysts have noted that Americans believe their own Big Lie, that anyone can rise in status if they work hard enough, and that individualism is not only good, but the best way to be. I think the best analysis of this I've ever read is Mike Davis' Prisoners of the American Dream. I highly recommend that too. And for the British end of the question, E. P. Thompson's brilliant Making of the English Working Class.

Day 32: Who is a teacher you recall fondly -- from middle school? (also, other blog topics, from high school, from college, from grad school)

For middle school, I guess it has to be Ms. Noznick. Pauline Noznick. I'm Facebook friended to her now (she writes a lot about this year's snowy Chicago winter, and posts pictures from the Botanical Gardens). All of which makes it seem like I must have been her teacher's pet and so on. Not so. I drove her fucking crazy and annoyed the shit out of her, and she pissed me off. For some reason she told us about how her great-grandfather (or grandfather?) had fought with the Czarist Whites in the 1920s Russian Civil War. That infuriated me, for a start. I mean, there's no reason for her to talk about this in 1978 except that I must have said something about the Russian Revolution (which it is certainly likely I would have done.) And we used to tussle all the time in class -- she was my Homeroom teacher and my Social Studies teacher, for 7th and 8th grade.

In 7th grade we did European history -- or at least, we did the French Revolution, as I recall, so maybe the great political ideas? Because 8th grade was American History, for sure. But I know we did topical units, like the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, Socialism, Fascism, and Totalitarianism (together! In one unit: Marx, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union!) There was this guy who worked for our school district, or was a consultant or something, who would dress up as various historical figures and visit schools and do a spiel in the theater or auditorium. I know he did a Civil War soldier and something else. And he did a Russian Commissar. He came to Nichols to present as a Russian Commissar, and did a speech in a heavy fake Russian accent on the topic "Freedom FROM versus Freedom TO". In 1978 or 1977, as the Cold War raged on. And I sat in the audience, getting angrier and angrier, with Ms. Noznick needling her laser stare down the row at me, warning me to sit tight. But I couldn't. As soon as he asked for questions, I shot up out of my seat and started denouncing his prejudices and bullshit. My whole row was laughing at the entertainment I provided with my politics. Ms. Noznick was mortified. Another time, I corrected her pronunciation of "bourgeois" in class. Her response was those little white patches that can appear, bracketing your nose, and a clipped "... I am the ADULT and YOU are the child..."

At least she taught about this stuff, though. I can't imagine anyone teaching anything like "The Five Main Points in Marxist Theory" now. I mean, they were simplistic and intended to be damning, like "Point #3 -- Violence is the way, THE ONLY WAY, to create social change." Or "Point #5: Economics is the force that moves history." I wrote essays on both of those, and it was thrilling to get to do so -- to write polemics at age 12. I appreciate her for that, and for being a rigorous teacher. She obviously recalled me fondly for my brain if nothing else, but she was also very pleased to find out I'd become a middle school Social Studies (and Language Arts, ugh) teacher.

Day 33: What's your current favorite sci-fi/sitcom/any genre TV show and why? What's so appealing about it?

I just finished watching Caprica with [profile] johnbcannon. That was enjoyable, as a prequel to Battlestar Galactica. I never got into Buffy, but I very, very much liked Firefly and the movie, Serenity. I was sad Firefly was cancelled. I even enjoyed Star Trek: Enterprise, but I guess I'd enjoy anything in that imaginary universe... Oh! ANY GENRE! I just read the sci-fi part and stopped there... I don't watch current TV on TV, because I don't have any cable. But on Netflix... I really liked the first season of Orange is the New Black -- it, like, gets an A+ on the Bechdel Test. Amazing ensemble acting with mostly women. It is so not exploitative of women-in-prison genres, but also somehow manages not to be a gross white-lady-capitalizes-on-her-prison-experience vehicle, even though it easily could be that. The other women are whole people. And I've never gotten to see so many different women of color with different aspects. One way the show manages this is by giving us parts of flashbacks for EVERYONE's back story. I haven't quite finished re-watching the first season, with my mother, and I should, soon, before the second season starts.

Day 34: What technology that exists now could you not really imagine as a child?

Hm. I don't think I had the slightest inkling of personal computers and the changes they would wreak. I couldn't have imagined email and not handwriting letters. I guess I could have imagined phones with images and small handheld portable phones -- they showed things like that on sci-fi TV shows. I don't know, though. I don't think I was much of a futurist as a kid. I didn't try to imagine what would exist in the future, except for flying cars and space travel.

Day 35: Pro baseball, or pro football?

Pro football -- and even then, really only a few teams interest me, and mostly the Green Bay Packers. But baseball... I just find it yawningly boring. People get very lyrical about baseball, but I cannot.

Day 36: What are the books from your childhood that stay with you?

This is a HUGE topic, depending on how you take it. It would be shorter if I thought of it in terms of picture books, not young adult fiction. I'll try to compromise. Picture books: I Have a Turtle, which was one of those cheap cardboard-backed books you could get in check-out lines. Something like that. It wasn't a Golden Book, though. Smaller format. I learned to read from that. I loved a quiet picture book called The Big Red Barn. And the Frances books -- with Frances the badger? By Russell and Lillian Hoban. I liked those. I loved anything written and/or illustrated by Robert McCloskey, from Make Way for Ducklings to Blueberries for Sal and One Morning in Maine... I always felt a kinship to those books when my family would hit the road for our August car vacation which usually ended up on the East Coast, with Boston and Maine places we went almost every summer. Good Night Moon was an entrancing, calming, soporific book, as it has been for generations at this point. I admired but was not a fan of Harold and the Purple Crayon and Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. My great-aunt was an editor at Scholastic, and she sent us a LOT of books, when we were little. She sent a great collection of poems, many by Robert Louis Stevenson, and I remember liking them. Oh, yeah, and The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, which I had to look up just now -- I had no idea it was written in 1939. That story was awesome.

Day 37: How do you feel about aging?

Gah. My stepmother always answers this question the same way: "It's better than the alternative." Ha. Yeah. Well, that's true. It is not much fun, though, and seeing what lies ahead of me as I hang out with my mother? Not fun at all. A lack of dexterity, losing control of my hands and small motor skills? UGH. Poor(er) vision and possible diabetic retinopathy, e.g. BLINDNESS? God, even worse. Aphasia? Boo. Worse than that, there's obviously a genetic predilection in at least part of my mother's family for dementia. Fuck me. I don't like aging.

Day 38: Do you think it's possible to maintain your privacy in this networked age?

I can't get worked up about this. Maybe I should, but it just seems like the NSA could, if it wanted to, get whatever info it wanted. Maybe I also don't really feel all that private? I mean, I guess I'd rather not have my employer know various things about me. But, if you know my name and Google it, you will see a pretty comprehensive record of my adult life, and I can't really care.

Day 39: Why cats?

BECAUSE. Cats are fantastic. I don't get people who say cats are aloof. I've never had a cat that was aloof... towards ME. Towards other people, maybe. Cats are the right size to have in your house. Cats are warm and soothing and a tactile pleasure to touch. Cats don't slobber. Cats don't need to go on walks -- they are perfectly happy to flip a switch in their brain and race around your apartment like a crazed whirlwind. Cats instinctively come sit on or by you if you are feeling sick or blue. Cats (my cats anyway) are basically quiet except for interrogatory meows in a variety of pleasing registers. Cats offer a positive role model for the pleasures of laziness. Cats have interesting personalities and you can see at least some rudimentary thought processes if you stare in their eyes.

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Day 24: Are there any minoritarian takes on what has happened in history (I am avoiding the phrase "conspiracy theories") that engage your curiosity for one reason or another?

No. Well, that was easy! Ha. I really don't give a shit about conspiracy theories and I think they're 100% bullshit.

Day 25: What is this War on Obesity all about?

This isn't so easy. I think there is a lot going on here, from simple capitalism (the weight-loss industry is ENORMOUS and enormously profitable, from corporate behemoths like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig to fly-by-night internet commandos who tell you about "one weird rule for flattening your tummy!" to food industry titans who produce Splenda (hi, Northwestern... or maybe your researchers invented that earlier one, in the blue packet?) to Olestra to blah blah blah) to the inevitable results of cars and decline in walking, to the unknown results of pesticides and toxins in our environment -- as far as people generally getting fatter, and as far as capitalism succeeding at making money off of that. Then you add the United States' insanely libertarian counterintuitive notions of privatized healthcare, and punishing and excluding people who in actuarial terms will cut into insurance profits. Culturally, the contemporary social policing of acceptable bodies (particularly women's "acceptable" bodies) collides with these factors and with the moralizing examples of anti-smoking campaigns, anti-drugs campaigns, the "War on Drugs" rhetoric, and stigmas around class and consumption, you get Michelle Obama's "War on Obesity". It's incredibly oppressive and horrible. The idea that someone's workplace could punish them for their weight, for example, is horrifying. And it's happening. The cultural and political opposition to this -- fat studies, fat rights, Health at Every Size (HAES), the harm reduction model -- all of those are helpful, but it's an area where the viciousness and prejudice is widespread and often ignored, even by progressive or left wing culture, such as that is. All very difficult, and I live it every fucking day.

Day 26: If you could time travel and be a time-anthropologist for a while, without sticking out like a sore thumb (you have the language and clothes and appropriate money and a reasonable back story) when and where would you go? (I might repeat this question more than once; I can think of several time periods to write about)

This deserves a longer answer. Dunno if it will get that right now. I'd love to see what the insides of the suffragist movement and other early 20th C. reform movements were like, for example -- to live at Hull House for a while, and see what Chicago in 1910 was like, immigrants, and women, and progressive reform, and cranky Anarchist celebrity widow Lucy Parsons, and visiting speaker Emma Goldman, and women trade unionists -- oh, man the Triangle Fire, though in New York City and a year later -- and American socialists and the IWW and my own Southern biracial union, the Brotherhood of Timber Workers, which struck and was destroyed by lumber operators in 1910... Yeah. Say, June 1910 to June 1911 in the United States, able to travel around. That would be FASCINATING. I could meet people from my (unwritten but fully researched) dissertation!

Day 27: Why do you think people delude themselves that getting rid of anonymity makes the world a nicer place?

I guess they think that anonymity online allows people to be meaner assholes. But it seems to me that even having your identity linked online doesn't necessarily make people nicer (witness Facebook posts, where MOSTLY people use their own names) even among friends.

Day 28: Who is a historical figure you find interesting, and why? (Again, this is repeatable multiple times)

My classic answer would be Rosa Luxemburg, who has fascinated me since I was a (revolutionary) child. I read a volume of her letters to Leo Jogisches, her mostly long distance lover, in college at the University of Sussex, and its kittenish, vulnerable, emotionally dependent tone (contrasted to her public contempt for socialist "women's" politics) satori'd me straight into feminism, which I had not at all understood the need for, before that. But there are other historical figures I would love to know more about (or, in the case of the earlier posited historical time-traveling anthropology, to meet and possibly get to know). Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr (Hull House, lifelong companions); Eleanor Marx; Mary Wollstonecraft; Aphra Benn; Charlotte Perkins Gilman; Victoria Woodhull; Isabella Beecher Hooker; and oh, why not -- Lucy Maud Montgomery and Frances Hodgson Burnett and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Yeah, the whole Beecher clan (Catharine included, but Lyman and Henry definitely EXCLUDED) utterly fascinate me. Charlotte Perkins Gilman (The Yellow Wallpaper; Herland) is part of that clan, too...

Day 29: What fiction that you have read recently would you review/recommend?

Let's see. Of re-reads, I would always recommend Margaret Frazer's Sister Frevisse mysteries, set in the 1430s in a Benedictine priory. They're much more serious and better researched than the Brother Cadfael mysteries, although I like those for what they are, as well. Also Frazer's Player Joliffe series. Of books new to me, my niece (and John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars) both recommended to me, one directly and one via an internet list -- a trilogy by Veronica Roth with the titles Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant. I have finished the first two books -- sort of a mash-up of ideas from The Hunger Games and Lois Lowry's The Giver series, but set in an a post-apocalyptic ramshackle downtown Chicago, on the shores of the brown, mostly dead, Marsh Michigan. So I guess the apocalypse was at least partly climate-related? The Bean is mentioned. Also the Hub (former Sears Tower), the Merchandise ("Merciless") Mart, the Hancock building, and the stone buildings across Michigan Avenue from Millenium Park. Very odd. They're interesting, very action-oriented for this generation of action junkies, somewhat thought-provoking as to how a person defines their basic characteristics or aptitudes. Not very deep. Enjoyable. What else? Another YAF book -- it's not incredibly new, but I hadn't read it before, though I'd seen the cover and title and thought, "Oh, I should read that." It's really good -- Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye, who is a Palestinian-American poet and songwriter and author. Older than I thought. The novel is about a Palestinian-American girl whose father moves them from St. Louis to just outside Jerusalem. Its detail of the country and the conflict is deep and also poetic.
maeve66: (Read Motherfucking Books All Damn Day)
I think the image above sort of sums up 2013 for me -- I made it my goal to read 365 books this year, via Goodreads (whose purchase by Amazon has not so far much changed it, as far as I can tell). I read (as of today, the last day of 2013) 440. I would like to have made it an even hundred over, but I cannot read twenty-five books today.

Anyway, I will deal with All the Topics, IN THIS ONE POST. That wasn't the point of the meme, at all, but having topics I promised to write about is starting to make me feel guilty, and guilt is a feeling I loathe.

Portal Fantasy: I had to ask what this was, but since [personal profile] sabotabby kindly told me, I get it. I read the Narnia books at about the normal age for them, and I guess either they or the Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland were the first portal fantasies I encountered. Hm. It's interesting. I would think that my reaction would be positive, but in fact, when I think about reading these, except for the Wizard of Oz, I had problems. I did not like Alice in Wonderland. It was too trippy, I think, and I couldn't get much of a sense of the main character, Alice. I've never been comfortable with that story. And Narnia just pissed me off as soon as I figured out what Aslan stood for. I remember viscerally the rage I felt while reading the stone table sacrificial (crucifixion) scene, at how blatantly the reader's emotions were being manipulated for religious purposes. Why was The Wizard of Oz different for me? Huh. I appreciated the American fairy-taleness of it? It's very rooted in Americana -- all of the books of the series are. I think the one I like best is actually the one where Dorothy gets swept overboard while she and her uncle and aunt are on their way to Australia, and Dorothy ends up in a hen coop, with a talking hen whom she names Billina (actually, the hen may have been named that by some earlier child owner... there was a whole discussion about the confusing gender implications of sexing chicks and of names) -- the moment when the hen begins to talk is when Dorothy realizes she's in that other world again, though not precisely in Oz. It's a shipwreck fantasy AND a portal fantasy, and I like those both. I went to Goodreads and found a list of portal fantasies to see other examples, and it included the Harry Potter books, which I wasn't sure about, because the two worlds seem to overlap somewhat. But I like those books -- not as much as I like Diana Wynne Jones' various series, but well enough. I guess my verdict is: portal fantasies -- yes, good. Time portal fantasies -- where a character somehow falls through time to real history -- possibly better.

YAF > regular F: That is, the advantages of young adult fiction over regular fiction, or adult fiction. You know, I am not sure, except that it's easier, and more enjoyable. There is usually less to wrestle with in terms of ambivalent characters and wretchedness. It tends to be reassuring in the way that mysteries are reassuring -- most things will come out well, plots will tie up neatly. It can be formulaic (also reassuring) but not as formulaic as romances. Except for a subset of YAF that deals with tragedy (including John Green, who does this well) it tends not to confront the reader with aging or mortality. When contrasted with literary fiction, it is not as preeningly self-aware of the use of language, though some YAF writers enjoy playing with language. I'm not a fan of the YAF novels-in-poem form (Karen Hesse), but they exist. YAF, which really only goes back to the 19th century, is a good primary source document of its times, and is interesting in that sense -- I mean, YAF as a primary source is obviously also propagandistic; it can't help but be, but that itself is interesting. I know that [personal profile] toastykitten and I have thought about that aspect before with regard to the Anne of Green Gables books -- her Anne book set during WW I is overstuffed with pro-war propaganda. She even has a very thinly disguised version of "In Flanders Fields" written by one of her characters instead of John McCrae, also a Canadian. ANYWAY, whatever the advantages are, I really like young adult fiction, full stop.

Favorite YAF novels and/or Funniest Things Kids Say or Do: Hmmm. The former question is too huge. I wrote a month's worth on my favorite novels and authors a few years ago. But a random handful of authors: Laurence Yep, especially his Golden Mountain chronicles, which go from the 1840s in China to the present in the USA. Really, really good. Carolyn Mackler -- contemporary young women. Michelle Magorian -- writes exclusively about WWII and its aftermath (early 1950s) on the home front in Britain. Ellen Klages -- only has two YAF books out, but they're both great; about the Los Alamos project and its aftermath, from the perspective of two middle-school age girls whose parents worked on the atomic bomb. Karen Cushman -- mostly great girl-centric historical fiction set in the Middle Ages, but also a good Cold War book about McCarthyism called The Loud Silence of Francine Green. Trudy Krisher -- a few historical YAF books, one very good on the Civil Rights era -- Spite Fences and one contemporary Southern, Kinship, and one set during McCarthyism that I haven't read yet, but which looks really good called Fallout. Gah, obviously I could write about this stuff for a long, long, long time and not get bored of it.

As for the what kids say stuff... I don't know. Middle School students -- especially 7th graders -- aren't founts of hilarity. They're all so concerned with their social standing vis-à-vis each other. Ugh. 6th graders are a little better as far as saying things unselfconsciously. One of my fairly interesting sixth graders asked me in a sort of probing way something about believing in god. Most of my students ask that only if they get a horrified sense that I might not -- it's a locale with a LOT of Christian families and some Mormons, too, though there is a leavening of Buddhists from Southeast Asia. This kid was clearly testing for some atheist solidarity, which has happened a few times over the years, and which I always enjoy, though quietly. It's not worth it to make atheist waves in my district. Okay, so that's not a funny thing a kid said. I can't think of any right now. Kids are enjoyable, though. This year (see: Year of Books) seems to be one where more of my students react positively to reading. There are a fair number of kids doing Scholastic Book orders, and kids participate in some of the internet-reading-tracking schemes I've got going, and they read the comments I put on their Weekly Reading Logs, and then come show me the books they're reading, many with the hope that I will read them too. Which I well may. One girl is very adamant that I read the results of Chris Colfer's newest career, some series of portal fantasies, the first of which is called (I think) The Land of Stories. Dude is a Renaissance Man.

1980s Central America Solidarity movement: Which of these things is not like the others? [profile] johnbcannon, I cannot write about that right now in one entry with all the other things here! I will try to write about it, because it's an interesting topic. Next year.

Oakland -- cool and cheap: You know, when I moved to Oakland, in October of 1998, I did NOT feel at home. This is not really my preferred coast, if I am choosing between coasts. But this was where I knew my sister would be reproducing, and I wanted to be involved in that as an auntie. It took me at least three years to grow some roots here in the Bay Area, and it was a slow, difficult process. Now I do love Oakland -- it is urban in a way I like; it has different neighborhoods with their own personalities, it has beautiful perspectives from the hills, and it is funky and real. It is also a manageable size, and it is not too into itself (unlike San Francisco). I used to be able to say it had good rents, but that is not true any more, except when compared to San Francisco.

The first things I discovered that I really liked, on my own, that are Oakland/East Bay, and are cool and also practical (aka cheap or free): San Pablo Avenue. I have a car (though I didn't for the first five years, and the 72 L bus goes up San Pab) and driving up San Pablo is still a lot of fun. My students used to tell me that it was the main drag for prostitution, around MacArthur and thereabouts, but that whole area has been pretty gentrified... 40th and San Pablo is the beginning of Emeryville and a lot of consumer products and Mall stuff. Probably not very cool, but sometimes necessary. Driving north on San Pablo (at least I think it's North; I still get very, very confused about directions here) you go through a cute couple of blocks that have tchotchke stores (I think the Sino-Antiques shop where I got my Little Red Book Mao Girl is gone, though, sigh) and Good Vibrations, always an enjoyable stop. And some cafes. A few more blocks and you're at University, which is the main Indian store area of Berkeley. Good restaurants and sari shops and Indian groceries. One of the main purveyors of Bollywood music and DVDs has sadly just closed and reopened as a 7-11, ugh. The Freight & Salvage folk music venue used to be just off San Pablo a few blocks south of University, but it has moved to downtown Berkeley, ugh.

Still in that general area, one of the coolest (and free) things in the East Bay is the Albany Bulb, which is a jutting mini-peninsula just north of Golden Gate Fields (a gorgeous horsetrack, well worth visiting on its own -- there are dollar Sundays). This vacant land was where all the detritus from the last major earthquake was dumped -- all the collapsed freeway parts and rebar and cement. And nature and anarchists reclaimed it and made it into a fennel-covered art park. It's eerily beautiful and the smell of fennel in season is great and there are wildflowers everywhere and sculpture parks and so on. There are several paths, but you can feel like you might get lost, too. I wonder if there is an online guide? Well, it has its own Wikipedia entry.

You've already discovered the Paramount Theater and you live right by Lake Merritt, so I don't need to say anything about those. I like the homely and dilapidated elegance of the Grand Lake Theater (and also its opinionated marquee) a great deal. I haven't been to the new version of the Parkway pub-cinema, but its predecessor was a good place to watch third run movies and drink beer while sitting on couches. The branch libraries each have ambiances of their own: Rockridge's is hella new and pretty, and is on College Avenue, a chi-chi shopping district with a cafe specializing in hot chocolate -- Bittersweet. And a good independent bookstore right next door, Diesel Books. The 51 bus route goes up Broadway to College to University, though I think now you have to change at the Rockridge BART.

I will keep thinking about this topic, because Oakland and the East Bay ARE pretty great. The Oakland Museum is quite good -- I didn't used to think so, but it's been redone.

Okay -- now I can end 2013 without feeling like I have shirked a self-imposed responsibility.
maeve66: (Devlin kitten)
I do! I do have particular thoughts about the Great Lakes, and specific ones among them; thank you for that question, [personal profile] springheel_jack.

The Lakes, in ranked order (ranked in order of their relevance to me, that is) Lake Michigan; Lake Erie, Lake Superior... I guess Lake Ontario and Lake Huron, though I never think about those two.

After moving to Evanston at age 8, I grew up by Lake Michigan. Our apartment was about eight blocks from the Lake, and Evanston has several good public beaches. My sister and I went swimming there a lot. Growing up in Madison, I was used to smaller, warmer lakes (Lake Monona, which we lived half a block from, and Lake Mendota, whose shore was one boundary of the University of Wisconsin... I used to love the Mendota Terrace, which is behind the Student Union and Rathskeller. It has these gorgeous, ridiculous and iconic chairs which have not changed since I was a little kid and probably for decades before then. I mean, I'm sure they've replaced them. But I have no idea who still makes them, now.) Okay, that aside dealt with -- I liked this new, huge, much colder lake. I especially liked it in the Spring, before the beaches were officially open, and huge storms would create GIANT waves, waves you could surf on, I swear. Most years, my sister and I would (stupidly, dangerously, illegally) go swimming when those waves came, weeks before the beaches opened. The other stupid thing I did with regard to Lake Michigan was, one December night during high school, to -- fueled by dumb emotions around a boy, story way way TL;DR -- plunge into the lake at night, in my clothes. Somehow I did not get pneumonia. I love being on boats -- or, the poor man's cruise, on car ferries. I want to take a car ferry across Lake Michigan. It's not really a long enough trip, but it would be better than the piddly short boat (and ferry) rides you can take out here on the Bay.

Lake Erie -- Lake Erie is lovely. Toledo, on its southern shore, is lovely. Their minor league baseball team, the Mudhens, are great. And there are all these awesome islands you can take ferries to, some of which had naval battles fought around them during the War of 1812! And there are vineyards! Ohio vineyards! With wine from regular grapes as well as catawba grape juice. I think the particular island we visited (one of those car vacations I took with my father and stepmother, as an adult -- I did at least two of those, and they were fantastic) was Put-in-Bay. I also very much enjoyed the labor history and American folk songs based around the Erie Canal.

Lake Superior -- also a song reference. I haven't actually ever been on Lake Superior or even seen it, except maybe in passing during The Divorce Vacation TM. But during an earlier family vacation, we camped at a place above Lake Erie, Golden Hills State Park, in New York. We weren't very far from a cliff edge, and it was very windy, and my dad not only told at least one ghost story (I think "The Golden Arm"?) but told us the story of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which has never left me. We had that Gordon Lightfoot album, and I already knew the song. But hearing the story on a cliff over one of the Great Lakes on a windy night? FRIGHTENING and AMAZING.

I love the Great Lakes. Someone out here in the Bay Area told me that they were creeped out by lakes (versus oceans, I guess). That is so weird to me. I mean, nothing against oceans; I love oceans and seas too. I love water in general. I far prefer to live near a large open body of it, one way or another.
maeve66: (Read Motherfucking Books All Damn Day)
I haven't written in more than a month, and this isn't the easiest topic. What does a good life look like in a time when there's little access to meaningful work and family relationships are flexible?

I guess in brief, what a good life today would be like is inherent in the question -- access to meaningful work, and the creation of family, one way or another. I think that this sounds like a question that [personal profile] springheel_jack might have made up. It's very focused and perceptive, about exactly what people have a strong desire for, and more difficulty now than ever obtaining. Families fracture or move great distances apart geographically. Wages are far beyond stagnant and low and interesting, fulfilling jobs hard to find or qualify for or both. Leisure seems like the opiate of the masses more than religion does, although I guess both work and neither supplants the other, necessarily.

I feel lucky, in that I am close to my small family, even those who are two time-zones away -- but also somewhat worried in that I have not created my own small nuclearesque family via partner and/or children. There's a certain amount of tradition in my family of older independent widowed or single women, so let's hope I embody that tradition. My mother's mother lived alone as a widow for most of her 50s on; her sister Kay divorced a drunken artist and made her own way from the 1950s until her death in the 1990s, and seemed perfectly fulfilled. Both of them reproduced, though. Hm. Let's see... my mother's father's sister... she was a quirkyalone if ever there was one, but also pretty unhappy and possibly nuts. Lived as an adult with her parents after her long-term lesbian partnership ended, however it did. I wish I knew that story. My father's father's sister: a nun. My father's father's cousin/aunt (some relationship: I can't do those second cousin-y things) a spinster schoolteacher in Milwaukee from about 1886 until the 1930s! Ancestry.com is instructive in these patterns. Apart from genetic connections, these days, there is also a stronger idea of created family after the 1960s. I like the idea of that, but it still feels less sure or stable (even if that sureness and stability can be illusory in a family of blood).

As for jobs, I am lucky there, too -- I chose to be a teacher because I felt like there was more political and union scope in public school teaching than in professoring, and the chance of getting a job was infinitely higher. And it does feel useful to teach middle school (as I am sure it would to teach elementary, as my sister and brother-in-law do, or high school, as I often feel I would like to). All jobs are stressful and difficult at one point or another, but in teaching, for me, there are many compensations. I like to make curriculum and invent projects and find new ways to get information across or teach skills to analyze and organize information. I like to learn more history and more background on what I teach, whether it's literature, young adult fiction, grammar, or various eras and cultures in history. I like to do the projects and assignments I give students, ostensibly as "models" but also because I just like to make an illuminated manuscript letter featuring events surrounding Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1175, or to do an illustrated Timeline of Muhammad's Life, or to draw maps, or birds' eye views of manors and medieval villages, or color in Islamic designs or Japanese Hiroshige prints I've recreated as line drawings. For me, all those things are fulfilling, even when the local teachers union I now belong to is much more boring than Oakland, and mostly exists to funnel phone banking for Democratic candidates, propositions, or certain local school board challengers. Ugh. It still feels more democratic, lowercase D, to work in public education as it is under assault than it seemed like it would be to work at the college level.
1. What can you see from where you're sitting?

God, my desk is a mess. I can see: a bag of cat treats, my iPad, ready to take and read on in bed, two bottles of nail polish, one bright red and one top coat, a weekly pill box that I have to refill tomorrow, an unsteady pile of Young Adult fiction, new books from Scholastic which I want to read before I add to my classroom collection, another pile of YAF which is my own, including two old favorites (The Perilous Gard and The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope) and a two-part series, new (to me) by K. M. Peyton called Small Gains and Greater Gains which are about, if descriptions are to be believed, English class conflict in the early 19th century, and transportation to Australia. Can't beat that. I can also see one of my computer speakers, a phrenology head, a plastic rocking chair with the dark-haired Sunshine Family female doll, a can of Aranciata Rossa soda, an NEA Today magazine, a tin bank shaped like a red telephone box (which doesn't have much money in it right now because I raided it to go to the races at Golden Gate Fields yesterday, where I lost most of my bets, but strangely won one on a grey horse named "Best Girl Ever" which I bet on because a) grey, and b) sounds like that terrible One Direction song which entrances my students.

2. Reading anything good/bad/dull lately?

I am at 374 books of my 365 year-long goal. They are mostly YAF, historical mysteries, and randomish memoirs -- Steve Jobs, Wil Wheaton, Melissa Gilbert are the most recent. Right now, having finished a sort of pedestrian medieval effort by a former history teacher, Mel Starr -- his series has six books so far, focused on a surgeon and bailiff near Oxford in the late 14th century, thus, plague times -- I am going back to quick rereads of Ellis Peters' genial Benedictine warrior/herbalist monk.

3. First thing you can remember

I have trouble with this. I feel like my first memories are all attached to photographs, and are thus suspect. One of the few that isn't is me burying the bathroom furniture set from my dollhouse in the snow near our apartment in Madison, Wisconsin... experimenting to see if... what? More would grow in the Spring? I don't know. I do know that was the last I saw of the little porcelain fixtures, which was a shame because they were super cool.

4. What's for supper?

I did not do supper well today because I did not do breakfast or lunch well (at all) so I was hella hungry after our dreadful staff meeting on restorative practices. So dinner was fast food on the way home.

5. What are you wearing?

a shirt to sleep in in a few minutes -- or to go to bed in, since I'll probably read for a while. I was so tired after work that I slept for several hours when I got home. This has been a frequent occurrence this year. I like the students; I'm actually enjoying what I teach; but I am dead fucking tired EVERY DAY.
maeve66: (1969)
Wow, an old-fashioned meme, apparently from somewhere called VillageCharm, via Microbie:

Most Enjoyable Current Work Assignment:
Start Date:
5 Favorites:
Recently read book:
Recently screened movie:
Local restaurant:
Place you’ve ever visited:
Secret talent:
In another life, I might have had a career as a (blank) and I have had a job as a (blank).

Name: I love my name; it's from a John Steinbeck novel and few other women have it -- bizarrely, my last Assistant Principal had the same first name as me, and I really liked her. She got a job as a high school principal and is gone, sigh.
Most enjoyable current work assignment: showing Dorothea Lange and other WPA photographers' portraits of farmworkers, and then more recent pictures, and then the UFW organizing campaign and Cesar Chavez, as a powerpoint (yeah, I'm behind the times) to my sixth grade students, while they wrote their reactions to the pictures and then discussed them at their tables; then we read an excerpt from "The Circuit" by Francisco Jimenez, and had a whip-round discussion where everyone gave a comment or asked a question -- and my 8th grade Teaching Assistant was so interested he wanted to take part in the discussion and also wanted to find the book, which, reading between the lines is most likely because his parents or other relatives were farmworkers. I love that kid. For some reason he annoyed all his teachers last year except me.
Start Date: November 18th, 2003
5 Favorites: English breakfast tea -- loose leaf assam; books -- electronic! Ha, too many to name, but I currently have 1046 on my iPad; music -- electronic, also! Ditto, too much to choose from -- 7823 on iTunes; animals -- cats; dolls -- Sunshine Family dolls from the 1970s. I know, that last was pretty random.
Recently read book: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacsson -- christ, what an asshole.
Recently screened movie: Man, hard to recall. There haven't been many great movies of late... I liked the last Bollywood movie I saw in a theater, Yeh Jawaani Hai Diwaani.
Quote: "50,000 deep, and it sound like thunder when our feet pound streets" -- from Blue Scholars, song of the same title, about Seattle and the anti WTO movement -- I am still a sucker for a mass demonstration, when it's really mass and not just rote habit by nearly professional activists.
Local restaurant: Hmmmm... Saul's Deli, in North Berkeley on Shattuck... very good deli food including good chopped liver, and matzo brei, and matzo ball soup and kreplach and and and...
Place I've ever visited: Um, Britain, France, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Portugal... but so long ago, now! And all over Canada and 48 of the 50 states (not Hawaii nor Florida, yet). I'd like to go to Ireland, India, Mexico... back to Britain and France.
Secret talent: Catching things I've dropped before they hit the ground.
In another life I might have had a career as an archaeologist and I have had a job as a translator and interpreter of French.
maeve66: (aqua tea icon)
I am typing this in Dreamwidth, which tells me my paid account is lapsing in a week or so. I am not sure why I have paid for DW. I do not think I will continue to do so. I will have fewer icons. So what. I can change them to what I want in LJ. I guess I will continue to post here, just so I have a back-up if the untrustworthy Russian carcass of LJ goes under at last.

I think I am friended to, like, five people in DW, and I think all but one of those five are from LJ anyway. It hasn't -- as many others have noted -- worked as a network.

So. I haven't written in weeks. Wow, not since early August. Well, the early school year is often like that; it takes weeks to get settled into it and stop being deeply exhausted. This year has been even more exhausting, because at the beginning of the second week (I think -- it could have been at the end of the first week) my principal dropped by my classroom during my prep period and dropped my jaw by asking if I would please teach a 6th grade English/Language Arts & Social Studies Core class in addition to my two 7th grade ELA/SS Core classes, dropping the two ELA-Support classes I had.

This was going to be a career first, in that I would have been teaching the same thing for a THIRD YEAR IN A ROW. That had never happened. And now, it still has never happened. You can't really say no to your principal on something like that, even if it is phrased as a request. I mean, maybe you could, if you were a year or so from retirement and had unassailable tenure and didn't give a shit about your colleagues. The reason I was being asked was a) one of our sixth grade ELA/SS teachers had emigrated to Australia over the summer. This wasn't news -- we gave her a huge good bye party last June, and it had been in the works for literally years. But the district refused to replace her, predicting that our incoming 6th grade class would be smaller this year. Well, it was smaller. But not smaller enough. The other three 6th grade ELA/SS teachers all had classes that had 45 or more students in them. Our contractual limit is 34 students per class (which is still WAY TOO FUCKING BIG) and the district treats that limit like it is both the ceiling and also the floor. In other words, they try to cram exactly 34 kids into each class, and don't like classes in the 20s.

When my principal first 'asked' me, he said he'd keep my class at 20 students, and would try to compensate me for the vast additional amount of planning and grading by getting me out of after school supervisions... mine have been the school concerts (specifically, recording them on a digital videocamera) and I like them, though they keep me at school twice a year until almost 10 PM. Within a week, he had to admit that the class would be 28, at a minimum (and will probably go up to 34, like all of my other classes... where the Support classes had been nice and small; one was 21 and the other was 14, which was LOVELY -- oh, man, that class was so nice this year! I had kids reading silently in complete absorption and fascination, and working together well in grammar and vocabulary work, and listening intently to read alouds ... sigh. 14 kids is a great class size). And then a few days later he added to the joy by changing my schedule so that I lost my 4th period prep which a) was right next to lunch, thus giving me a long lunch, in effect, and b) got me out of horrible Home Room, which is a pointless ten minutes of announcements and rah rah school spirit nonsense, AND the Pledge of Allegiance. UGHHHHHH.

Contractually, if your teaching assignment is changed once the school year starts, you get two days off with paid subs to plan. So I took them last week. I will meet the new 6th grade classes tomorrow, and try to comfort them for their changed schedules and the fact that they've lost the teachers they've bonded with and the routines they've gotten used to. And now I will be trying to plan for four entirely different subjects and keep up with two entirely different teaching teams and their meetings, all year long. At least I know what I am doing tomorrow; I got that lesson planning done, except for writing a welcoming and explanatory letter for their parents. I have to do that this evening, and then get there early tomorrow to make copies.

One thing I am trying to do more this year is to integrate more technology (I'm eons behind Miss Tabby here, but that's okay). I've been having different seventh grade students volunteer to log in to their Schoolloop accounts to demonstrate how to use that school-home interface program our district bought several years ago... man, maybe almost ten years ago at this point. It has built-in email features, an electronic gradebook where kids can see what assignments are due, have been assigned, are graded, etc. It has lots of room for attachments (including, this year, video) so I put up a lot of models of completed assignments, as well as very detailed instructions, and recurring assignment forms that can be printed out, etc... I also take a photo of my daily Agenda that is handwritten on the whiteboard, and post that on Schoolloop, so kids who are absent or forgot to write down the homework can see it.

I use Goodreads myself -- I made a goal of reading 365 books this year, sort of as a joke, and have so far read 336, 20% ahead of my goal -- and was trying to figure out how I could get kids involved in that, but another teacher found a more kid-focused site which also has the benefit of being a teacher-controlled closed community with parental links/controls. This is important at the middle school level, sigh. So BiblioNasium allows you to create classes and individual memberships for your students, and make bookshelves with recommendations, and search for books by Reading Lexile* levels, etc. I want to have kids finish reading a book, reporting weekly on their Reading Logs, and then come up in front of the class, log in to BiblioNasium, and personally add that book to our classroom library shelves. I'm hoping that will get them starting to talk about books and write about them and compete a bit with one another.

I finally, finally have my classroom set up so I can show my students sites and YouTube and what have you from the internet via my LCD projector. Thank fuck. That's been overdue. More slideshows via PowerPoint (yeah, I know, but with good art images, they're not bad) and perhaps some Prezis, and ... well, I'd like a good platform for making a class website, for free, which I can moderate and not have outside visitors, but I don't really know what to look for, for that. Something easy, not something that is going to kill me to learn it. Suggestions?

*Lexile levels... they're a brute measure of how difficult a text's vocabulary is. The measurement system has severe problems in my mind ... you can look up books which have established lexile levels, and the results can be mind boggling**... but it IS true that trying to read a text where you do not know AT LEAST 95% of the words is a recipe for frustration and lack of comprehension. Students need to know their lexile level and try to read at or just above their lexile range to improve.

**An example: Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Lexile Level = 770 Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. Lexile Level = 950 No, I did not make that up. You can look it up.
maeve66: (1969)
What would your life be like now without the internet?

That icon is me before the internet. Way before the internet. It's a good question. I don't think my students can even imagine it. I can remember it, as an adult, even. I didn't really even think about the internet much until graduate school, in 1990. So I was already twenty-four years old.

What would it be like now... if it suddenly disappeared? Or if it had never come into being? They seems like different questions.

Well, I'd probably own a set of encyclopedias. We always had at least one when I was growing up, because my mom was a reference librarian, and as the library got new ones and sold the out-of-date ones (the REALLY, REALLY out-of-date ones, not last year's model... I imagine they were only replaced every decade or so) she would scoop a set up.

I would still be designing a month for Slingshot, which I've given up in protest because I feel like even anarchists should be able to whomp up an app version which could be disseminated electronically, for fuck's sake. I don't USE the paper version; I can't give up my iCal. But I'd love to be able to DECORATE my iCal... Sigh.

I would be a more frequent user of the library for sure.

I'd probably subscribe to: the NYT, the Nation, National Geographic, Archaeology magazine, Against the Current, Entertainment Weekly, Real Simple (embarrassing as that is), and the Onion.

If there's no internet, there's no email, right? I would still be writing letters, then. I had a far-flung and deep-rooted correspondence before email. I wrote a lot of long, long letters, and got a lot more actual mail than I do now.

I would struggle more with recording assignments and calculating grades.

I would spend a lot of money photocopying images and making transparencies of them for class.

Student cheating would be old school: some other student would have written the cheating paper or it would be directly from an encyclopedia and obviously so. Not that their new school cheating is ever hard to see -- they're not really sharp enough to disguise what they steal, so googling one phrase usually gets the original in one second. Weird.

I would have seen a lot less porn, for sure.

Memes would be ... slower? I am not even sure how stuff like that even functioned before the internet. I mean, there was gossip, and that spread hella fast. People told each other about books, or you saw a display at the library or bookstore. People ... told jokes, I guess. Or told stories. But the jokes were often not funny. Only a crazy cat lady would have an entire set of 35 images of funny cats. They would be local cats, not cats from Japan.

I would not be writing this unless I had a local column, and I wouldn't have a newspaper column unless I was a twelve year old making up a handmade newspaper.
maeve66: (journaling)
What skill would you like to pick up or improve in the next few years?

Wait -- first, I am in Lake Geneva, for my pretty much annual visit. I have been being extraordinarily more lazy than usual, even, partly due to the sweltering heat and humidity -- though it was just grey and cool when I got here, so that wasn't my excuse then.

It is green and lush and beautiful here, as I always find it. I want to do silly tourist things like take a trip on the Walworth II, the mail boat, with my father and stepmother, and go to a fish fry on Friday night, and take a ride on the last electric train in the state, in East Troy (and incidentally go to an AWESOME fake old ice cream shoppe in East Troy, which scooped up all these pharmacies-going-out-of-business fixtures and set them up wonderfully... the décor, which includes Red Scare admonitions, is equalled by the very excellent ice cream creations, like the chocolate peanut butter shake, mmm.)

My father drove me past the "old Quinn farm" where his great-grandfather, Micheal Quinn [sic], who was born in 1825 and emigrated to the US in 1853, married a widow and obtained an excellent farm. The woman -- Polly Enos Quinn -- had twelve kids, all of whom made it to adulthood, five from her first husband and seven with Micheal Quinn. And her great-great grandfather fought in both the American Revolution (Captain Abel Dinsmore) and Shay's Rebellion. Yeah, being in LG is a lot about history and genealogy for me. I am helping my dad with the photographs and some small amount of research assistance for the (self-published) collection he is going to put out of his local history columns from the Lake Geneva Regional News. They're cute, except for their terrible titles.

Here, the 1873 Geneva Township Plat, a detail showing the two Quinn Farms, one bought by William and Rose Quinn, and one, as I say, married into by Micheal Quinn, formerly belonging to Polly Enos Quinn.

1873 Geneva Township Plat photo imageserver.jpeg

Anyway, I have to leave to go check whether the door the body shop found for my poor, battered Mazda Protegé is the right kind... I stupidly, STUPIDLY, scraped it along a tree... a small tree, even... in Columbia, MO, reversing down a dreadful driveway. Everything in the door is functional, except a slightly dragging electric window... and the repair estimate is $872, UGH. If this door doesn't fit, I think I might cancel the bodywork. I mean, fuck it. I can suck up the ugliness and endless embarrassment, right?

And after that, I have to go pick up my mother at the Kenosha Metra station; she's coming up to stay for tonight and Thursday night, and then I'll drive her over to see my uncle in Milwaukee. It is such a pleasure for me that my mom and dad get along.

Oh. What skill? I would like to ACTUALLY MAKE SOME PROGRESS LEARNING HINDI. I have made some, in fact, though a lot of it is just things I've spent time learning in the past settling into my brain. I'd like to devote some time in the rest of this summer (and those weeks are dwindling, sigh) to working on it, though, and then NOT JUST PUT IT AWAY once school starts. I'm working my way through Rupert Snell's Beginning Hindi book right now, much more carefully, and it's helpful. Partly the quality and size of the print is so terrible (small! blurry!) that I am just rewriting absolutely everything that is in Devanagari, and leaving out the transliterations. That's better for me, though I am still slow at sounding it out, god.
maeve66: (aqua tea icon)
I guess I do not have a ton to say. I hurt my right hand ring finger yesterday evening -- pulled a tendon or something -- and that ate up most of my Sunday, swear to god. No ice, so used frozen food. Elevation is a pain in the ass. Resting is resting. There was no compression. Oh, but getting the ring off of said ring finger took a long, agonizing time, involving frozen Trader Joe's tamales and olive oil. And pain. The tendon feels better now, but I don't want to do anything strenuous with my right hand. Yes, I am right-handed.

There are four days of this school year left. All of those days are minimum-days, meaning the kids leave at 12:25 and then I have a bazillion meetings each day until 3:30. I have already done a lot of the room-packing-up, with kids' help. And they are all finishing up with their last bits of final projects and so on. In the English/Language Arts class, we read the script of a Twilight Zone episode, "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" and then I cast most of the class and we did a play reading of it, which was fun in both classes. Tomorrow we will watch the Twilight Zone episode, and probably a couple of other eps, like the one where William Shatner goes crazy on a plane.

In Social Studies we will watch Armand Assante in The Odyssey which is not the worst adaptation ever.* I took my ELA students (who are almost entirely also my Social Studies students) through the plot and some of the Robert Fitzgerald translation of the poetry of The Odyssey, earlier in the year, so I figure that should be a good year closer.

*Actually, I don't know of any other adaptations, even by the '60s cult idol guy who did all the claymation or whatever those monster movies FX were... what's his name? Did Sinbad the Sailor, and the Argonauts and what have you? Yes, Ray Harryhausen, that's him. These special effects -- for the TV miniseries from 1997 -- aren't awful. But shouldn't Odysseus have red hair? Wasn't that one of his defining features? Whatever, that's what I've got for them.
maeve66: (question mark)
Day 15: If you could go back and correct one big mistake, would you, or are you content with where it's led you? Are the good times generally worth the bad?

Hm. Big mistakes.

1) Turning in my grad school application late, and subsequently being told by the Chair of the History Department at the University of Missouri-Columbia that if I'd had it in on time, *I* would have been the recipient of that year's Huggins Fellowship, with an enormous yearly stipend attached, instead of the actual recipient. Psych!

2) Not pushing to finish my dissertation, even if I would 95% likely still have become a teacher in public schools and not an academic. I would still have liked to complete the project. And no, before you ask me, I couldn't complete it now, during the summer(s). It would require at least a year on sabbatical with no need to earn money. So I can do it when I retire.

3) Going out with the asshole I was going out with when I started the LJ, now almost ten years ago. That mistake I wish I could go back and correct. I have not continued to associate with many toxic people in my life, but man, that was one. A YEAR wasted on that. The few funny anecdotes I got from it, I could do without easily. And there's nothing else in my life that would have been negatively affected by not making that mistake. I would still be doing what I am doing now, though possibly in better mental and emotional shape.

That's about it. I feel like that's not a huge number of serious mistakes -- am I forgetting or sublimating some?



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