“Emily Dickinson I like. She was a rare seed with a rampant flaring core. I’m surprised no one has founded a religion in her honor. Or maybe they have. But mostly I find that poetry doesn’t suit my speed. Mostly I cannot understand what is being said. I don’t want to be teased with feathers by someone tittering in a harlequin mask hiding behind a pillar—I want to be high-fived or hugged by a blinged out mothereffer. Hug a thug!”—Bill Callahan, from an interview with The Rumpus
On This Episode of "Re-Accrediting Your School..."
Schools must go through a re-accreditation process every 1-6 years. This entails a visit from your friendly WASC committee, which thus far has meant a group of technophobic administrators who don’t know how to open e-mail attachments. I’m kidding, but also not.
WASC is visiting us next week. My boss, who is currently wearing a WASC stress-induced uniform of moccasins and legwarmers (?), has asked me to do a sweep of the school with “in-law” eyes. Meaning, pretend your in-laws are coming over and you have to hide all the weird stuff. What follows is our actual conversation.
Me: Well, there are a lot of cat-oriented things in this corner of the office. A cat stapler, cats wearing hats, etc. And a suspicious amount of muffin tins.
A: This office is like the collective insanity of four minds. It’s like if we all shared a dorm room. There’s troll dolls in here, for god’s sake!
Me: There is also a stapler that seems to be wearing an OJ Simpson-like glove. Creepy. Especially next to the old-lady cat collection.
A: Well…have you been back in the warehouse? There’s a poster of [whispers] Jim Morrison.
L: We could take a sharpie and give him a Bill Cosby sweater. Or a shirt made out of post-its.
A: There’s also…holes in the walls. Like where somebody punched them.
L: Well, it is technically the Arts and Music Annex. There’s a lot of angst in there.
“I prefer to talk about the meaning in a story rather than the theme of a story. People talk about the theme of a story as if the theme were like the string that a sack of chicken feed is tied with. They think that if they can pick out the theme, the way you pick the right thread in the chicken-feed sack, you can rip the story open and feed the chickens. But that is not the way meaning works in fiction. When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one. The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate.”—Flannery O’Connor, from “Writing Short Stories,” 1961
I was meaning to ask for some time now, what/where do you teach?
I am the English Department Chair at an “alternative” private high school that is located somewhat endearingly in a strip mall between a psychic and a vacuum repair shop. If the makers of “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” were to create a television show about a school, it would probably be about our school. We figure we have at least four seasons worth of solid material.
I teach a lot of things* relating to literature and writing. I’m currently teaching classes on
The Absurd and Existential in 20th Century Literature
AP Language and Composition
I spend a lot of time on portmanteau throwdowns, earnest yet pitiful chalkboard illustrations, making 10th graders watch things like Rashomon and Burden of Dreams (for a unit on “the indeterminacy of truth”) and write their own Modernist manifestos. In turn, I have students (many with severe learning disabilities or who have been expelled from local schools) who eagerly write me essays on things like “Meta-Narrative in The People of Paper" or comparisons between Stravinsky’s "Rite of Spring" and Michael Jackson’s "Thriller." I have been dubbed "The Essay Whisperer" by my colleagues. It’s really my only skill, I think. Undoing the fear. Or, as I like to call it, “giving the illusion of choice.” Also important: I never yell. I prefer to practice a kind of mental jujitsu. Which sometimes can just be an effective, well-timed eyebrow raise combined with an uncomfortable silence. Works like a charm.
*Note: “a lot” and “things” are two phrases I will usually strike out in an essay. What a hypocrite I am!
“Prague German is nothing but embers which can be brought to a semblance of life only when excessively lively Jewish hands rummage through them.”—
Franz Kafka, in a letter to his friend Max Brod in June of 1921.
"Prague German" is a somewhat blander version of the language found in Germany and Austria, lacking the coloring of slang, colloquialisms, and dialectical influences found in High German. Kafka was aware that his Prague German was regarded as simple and "juiceless." Around the time of creating The Metamorphosis, he railed in his diary at “the impossibility of writing German,” since it made him feel as if he “had to dance on the tightrope.”
Hello. I am currently teaching an elective class titled, “The Literature of Sport.” I am teaching this class to some fairly elite high school athletes, from soccer players to golf prodigies. Suffice it to say, I know very little about sport, though I did grow up in the same neighborhood as many of the San Francisco Giants players of the late ’80s. I was Will Clark’s papergirl! He let me feed the fish in his floor-to-ceiling aquarium built into his foyer! But I digress. Actually, my relationship with sports has been tenuous at best. I seem to have a magnet for getting hit in the head with the ball, any kind of ball. The singer of Belle and Sebastian once kicked a soccer ball into the crowd at Coachella and just guess who’s face it planted on, out of 50,000 people. To overcome this pavlovian anxiety I have immersed myself in “Friday Night Lights” (Clear eyes! Full hearts! Can’t lose!) and The Best American Sports Writing of the Century anthology. I am actually and verifiably becoming interested in sports. Here I am, nearly 30, and I’ve finally developed a taste for things like sports, yogurt, and hanging out with my parents, despite all odds. Don’t let anyone ever tell you change is impossible after 25. Anyhow, I would like to access Tumblr’s hive mind to compile some excellent sports writing essays/fiction around the following ideas:
1) Sports Writing as Narrative
2) Sports Writing as Social Commentary
3) Sports Writing as Myth, Metaphor, and Transformation
In the spirit of sharing, here are some great pieces of writing I’ve come across:
I think I really put the novel in Sacramento because I was homesick. I wanted to remember the weather and the rivers.
The heat on the rivers?
The heat. I think that’s the way the whole thing began. There’s a lot of landscape that I never would have described if I hadn’t been homesick. If I hadn’t wanted to remember. The impulse was nostalgia. It’s not an uncommon impulse among writers. I noticed it when I was reading From Here to Eternity in Honolulu just after James Jones died. I could see exactly that kind of nostalgia, that yearning for a place, overriding all narrative considerations. The incredible amount of description. When Prewitt tries to get from the part of town where he’s been wounded out to Alma’s house, every street is named. Every street is described. You could take that passage and draw a map of Honolulu. None of those descriptions have any narrative meaning. They’re just remembering. Obsessive remembering. I could see the impulse.
Do you have a motto or personal mantra or anything like that? If not, what is the word or phrase you would be most likely to embroider on a lacy little throw pillow?
Well, I do love to embroider. Growing up, my mother was full of platitudes that seem to have fundamentally shaped me in some way, sayings like “fake it ‘til you make it” and “go big or go home” (which she would scream at me from the sidelines of AYSO soccer matches). These sayings are probably partly the reason I ended up as the Department Chair of English at a private high school before I had earned a degree of any kind. A whole lotta faking it.
A few summers ago, though, it was decided by Ian and myself that I do, in fact, have my own personal mantra or motto. It came about through a fairly awkward conversation. We were sitting on the sweltering steps of of the Social Security building on 22nd and Valencia having an ambiguous breakup over an ambiguous dating situation.* I was being pretty petulant about the whole thing. Awkward silence ensued. Ian asked me what I was thinking. I said, “I’m thinking about my favorite line in a song, ever. It’s when Bill Callahan everso gently sings, fuck all y’all in ‘The Well.’ That’s what I’m thinking. Fuck all y’all, all y’all boys who never know what it is you want.” And then he was like, “Graebs, let’s go get knuckle tattoos together. They’ll read, fuck y’all, all y’all. Your motto.”
So, that’s probably what I’ll be embroidering next on a little lacy throw pillow. I’ll give it to my Mom, she’ll love it. Alternately, I really like the word palimpsest.
* (let the record reflect that we have since remained excellent friends)
Take away the bomb threat and what are we? Ordinary beads on a never-ending string. Our time is a routine twist of an improbable yarn…There must be something heroic about our time, something that lifts it above all those other times. Plague? Funny weather? Dire things are happening…
Why are we watching the news, reading the news, keeping up with the news? Only to enforce our fancy - probably a necessary lie - that these are crucial times, and we are in on them. Newly revealed, and we are in the know: crazy people, bunches of them. New diseases, shifts in power, floods! Can the news from dynastic Egypt have been any different?
I contemplate portents of calamity often. I’m a worrier: I read apocalyptic conspiracy theories furtively in the dead of night after too much caffeine, nervously. I rehearse impending doom. A colleague (our Department Chair of History) and I got into a “discourse” recently regarding the claim by an anthology I ordered that the 20th century was one of the most violent and turbulent centuries. He argued that, as a planet, we’ve become much more peaceable. I had a hard time reconciling that. What about World Wars? Vietnam? The assassinations of good people? 9/11? The elusive specters of terrorism? Spencer Pratt? But maybe Dillard is right, maybe history and time are cyclical in a way that renders us all the same as our ancestors in terms of how “crucial” things feel, really, during any given epoch. We just sort of grope blindly, looking for signs. And one can always find signs.
I came of age in the 90s, and all I seem to remember outside of my angst-filled teenage head was Bill Clinton playing the saxophone on the White House lawn, living in proximity to Silicon Valley, my parents selling their suburban house built on landfill for twice the amount they bought it for. “Boxers or briefs?” is the most poignant political question I can recall paying attention to. But perhaps that has to do with age: I’m older now, more aware of the world at large. I was shocked, actually, to hear an interview recently with one of Clinton’s former staff members recalling what an “utterly dark and lost time” it was at the White House after the Republicans took control of Congress. That Clinton seemed wholly incapable to navigate. It was sort of like finding out your parents thought about getting divorced when you were younger. No way! Everyone seemed so happy! But now I’m on the other side of the fence: I teach teenagers for a living. And I pick their teenaged brains about what it’s like to grow up in the shadow of 9/11, to come of age during what has been dubbed "The Worst Decade Ever". And even when I point out their diminished right to privacy, the portal of economic doom they will enter into after they graduate, it turns out they feel the same way I felt about the 90’s: things are pretty decent. Of course they are! Obama is a smoker, the new iphone is coming out, etc.
If crises change the way we see the world, the Great Recession of 2008-10 has to be reckoned, so far, as an anomaly. It has upended lives, set loose a storm of fears and anxieties, fueled a conservative insurrection in American politics, and shaken economic institutions on a scale not seen since the Great Depression. But in comparison with earlier economic crackups, this crisis has packed an emotional wallop but only an intellectual whimper.
It’s interesting to consider that we are so eager to whip out these measuring sticks, yet somewhat amnesiac about the perfect storms that have accumulated at certain moments in history. Doesn’t every generation believe it is living in a “crucial” time? Of course: it is the time we are living in, and its answers are rarely immediate. Everything is a portent, a cause for uneasiness. Is the world really less safe, more fractured? When I teach a poem like “The Second Coming" or "The Waste Land,” I always think, how apt! How resonant! How “of our time!” And am always jolted when I realize they were written for another era, another experience. Ordinary beads on a never-ending string, indeed.
What kind of guys are you into? Do you have a "type"? You're kind of hard to figure out.
Anonymous, I am very flattered by this question. I’m actually pretty easy to figure out, as long as you can reconcile that the twin keys to my soul are a dual appreciation of “The Real Housewives of _______” reality franchise and Cormac McCarthy’s brutal literary canon. That kind of synergy tends to scare off about 98% of men.
As far as a “type,” I think I can boil it down to the following:
D____, 17: What would Plato have thought about something like “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”? Are we all just hanging out in our caves, eating popcorn, believing it’s “reality”? Does anyone even care anymore?
R____, 16: Aristotle would’ve been like, “You gotta get your catharsis on somewhere! Don’t be tardy for that party!” Everyone feels the need to pull someone’s weave off at some point or other. That’s reality, for sure. Speaks to our essential truths, bro.