Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Adventures in Education

Welcome to H. County High School - my new place of employment. Most recently famous for... ok, to be honest I don't live there and it seems a lot like my hometown; a small, tobacco-based town that hasn't quite figured out how to move on now that the industry's on its way out. Originally, my job there was supposed to be a librarian aide position, part time at 3 days a week. In the interview, however, I managed to talk my way into a two-day-a-week writing coach position. And that's been interesting; in fact, the whole experience has.

Favorite Quote so far: "People like to watch other people get hurt." From an essay by one of my students. He liked bullriding, so I handed him a bullriding essay prompt in which the government (don't laugh) had decided to ban bullriding because of the number of injuries. He obviously disagreed with the hypothetical decision, but one of the reasons he felt that it shouldn't be banned was the above. Afterward, we had a great time discussing japanese game shows.

Favorite Stupid Human Trick: Having a teacher finally inform me that I was trying to pull a student she didn't have that period, hearing her yell "WHO WANTS TO GO TO WRITING TUTORING?" to the entire class, and listening their responses over the phone.

Most happy educational moment: A student said "Well, how come nobody ever told me to do that before? That's easy!" I think I could have died happily, right then.

Least happy educational moment: Today. Overhead an instructor (a good teacher, too) saying to a roomful of students "when you're writing an on-demand, you do NOT have to believe what you are saying." I knew what she meant (for the purposes of the test) and I knew what she was trying to do (make it easier for them to get through on-demand writing pieces), but it still hurt to hear for me. I learned that writing game in high school, but it disappoints me that writing has become so secondary in education that we give the kids prompts they Don't care about, and then tell them to make something up in order to have some decent ideas.

Least favorite moment: Finding out that tutoring at a local school would not pay me $75 per session, but a stingy $30 instead because I'm not a certified teacher. *sigh*

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Must... have... adorable... furball!

I can't stop thinking about cats! For the longest time, I took their presence in my life for granted - we always had at least 2 or 3 running around our property, along with a dog or two. Then i went to college and lived in the dorms; not terribly cat-friendly. Although now that I remember, a buddy of mine did keep a couple of stray kittens in her room for awhile; the only thing was she wasn't too good about keeping up with the litterbox so we didn't really visit her room all that often - bleagh!

The last place I lived in came with its own cat - the oh-so-beloved Mischief. Into everything but always ready to play, she'd been my loyal companion all year. It was really hard to leave her, even for Ben (sorry love! :) ). Now, however, after months of wheedling, talking it over, and letting him think about it, I think we're alllllllmost ready to get a ridiculously cute and scratchy ball of life all for our own.

I've been debating whether to go with animal shelter options or look on craigslist for pets that come free and with all their own stuff. On the one hand, pulling a kitty from a shelter is a good thing - invest in a hardworking community organization, get a pet without having to do all the spay/neuter/worming routines that I was so used to before, and feel good about myself. However, getting a cat from a home that just can't support it anymore (you know, have to move, dog hates it - all the usual reasons) has the added bonus of often being free and coming with all its own playthings. Also, i could even argue that i'm keeping a cat out of a shelter. But I'm still up in the air; I suppose it will all depend on whether or not any of the above cats fit the personality criteria Ben and I are looking for (For Ben, the more willing to play, the better).

Any opinions? Also, anyone remember that Calvin and Hobbes comic strip where Calvin tries to surprise Hobbes? Hobbes is lying on his back having a snooze, then Calvin comes flying in on top of him. In the next panel, you see Calvin walking away, battered and bruised, saying "I always forget that five of his six ends are pointy when he lies like that." Couldn't find the image for it, sorry, but it's one of my favorite kitty quotes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I have no idea what to do with this blog. I'm like a bad mom. Should I rethink getting a cat?

Friday, February 6, 2009

I Hate Poetry! Or Do I?

I was at a book club last night and one of the members said something that intrigued me. He said he didn't like short stories because everyone thought they were capable of writing one and as a result there were a lot of really really crappy ones floating around out there. He said that with novels he felt like the time investment involved prevented the truly horrific writers from completing a book and getting published. Now I've encountered plenty of books that were clearly written under the influence of some amazing hallucinogen and published with the author's eyes firmly closed to all defects in writing, plot, and style, but aside from that, I thought he made an interesting point on a broader scale. When you reduce writing to a kind of playdough-molding activity, where people just play with words and sentences and ideas, you're inevitably going to get some really bad eggs (I feel like I can say this with impunity since I fall into the same trap).

And I feel like this is more true (I definitely almost wrote truer - who am I to set myself up as a critic anyway?) in the world of poetry than anywhere else. I've sat in on my fair share of poetry and writing classes, and most of it is just friggin' awful. I mean, did you hear that inauguration poem? Don't get me wrong. I can enjoy modern poetry, and I feel that free verse in poetry isn't necessarily a bad thing. But it has to be poetry; by my definition, that means it needs a certain feel for literary technique, rhyme, and sound. It needs to sound good when read out loud, and it needs to be read by someone who doesn't pause after every 3rd word for no apparent reason. As I'm looking at it now, I can enjoy it Elizabeth Alexander's poem on the page, but her reading made me want to strangle something. (Not her. Maybe a stuffed animal. I'm secretly nonviolent.)

Where did we go wrong? When did poetry stop being something that the masses or rather, the reading masses, wanted to pick up, buy in stores, memorize, carry around with them on their persons and in their hearts? When did forms become something to be shunned, and disciplined art something to avoid? If I ever create a poem with a rhyme scheme, I show it to my dad, shuffle it away, and never show it to another living soul, because that's "outdatded" and "funny-sounding". Strange that I still don't hear that about Frost's poetry. I'm not saying there aren't awful poems out there with a fixed form. I'm just saying that somewhere along the line free verse - or Something Else - has caused poetry to become so horrifically boring or so fantastically obscure that no one wants to hear it and poetry simply "doesn't sell." And don't feed me bull about being all great art being misunderstood - if no one will buy your work there's a possibility that it's a lack of skill on your part and not the system's fault.

A lack of discipline, that's what i'm trying to get at in my bumbling, roundabout way. I fear that the advent of free verse ended with destroying the conception that a good poem should be built with literary tools and people began trying to knock houses together with nothing more than sheer determination and a blunt rock.

And that's clearly not what good free verse is about! You can see the work in William Carlos Williams, and yet that poem is so simple and easily understood. But someone needs to lay down the whats and whys. Perhaps someone with more skill than myself could write a semi-definitive stylebook at least explaining what good free verse could include, so we could all stop fumbling around in the dark like blind men describing an elephant. I want to see a more definitive free verse than this:

"Free verse is a term describing various styles of poetry that are written without using strict meter or rhyme, but still recognizable as poetry by virtue of complex patterns of one sort or another that readers will perceive to be part of a coherent whole.[1]

Free Verse poetry does not have a strict pattern of rhyming. It does not have regular meter, rhyme, fixed line length, or a specific stanza pattern." - Wikepedia (yes, History Husband. I used it as a reference point)

"still recognizable as poetry by virtue of complex patterns of one sort or another"???? Doesn't that just sound like a euphemism for something that should be more clear? Shouldn't there be a way that a higher power can step in (as in the old days) and say, "This poem is foul, and here is why in plain, angry English!" Instead, in classes we sidestep bad language with "I really like your controlled voice" and a lack of rhythm with "great use of free verse!" I enjoyed the Robert Frost quote I found on Wikipedia; he remarked that free verse was like "playing tennis without a net".

I guess when it comes down to it I'm just a damn lowbrow. I want art to be enjoyed, intelligently enjoyed, by more than 20 people who have advanced degrees and can laugh at obscure independent publisher jokes. And often, modern poetry simply doesn't connect - doesn't even try to connect - with the people who should be reading it for enjoyment. And I guess in the end I'm not even sure if it's the fact that everyone thinks they can write poetry or some more obscure reason beyond my ability to comprehend. But I know that art requires some discipline, and if you're not willing to learn some to write poetry, you should probably stick to your diary. Or your blog. ;)