Wednesday, September 29, 2010


In the 18 years I've been teaching, I've pretty much started off every year with an anxiety dream in which my teeth crumble in my mouth. It was belated this year; finally showed up last night. With a twist.
I was the passenger in a car that my new dentist was driving. (Side note: I have an appointment for some serious dental work on Monday. Coincidence?) So I tell him my teeth are falling out, which is true, except more teeth than I actually have are falling out & new ones just pop in & fall out & so on. He's being very dismissive of my complaints, so I start spitting my teeth at him. He goes, "Okay, Mannequin Charlie's driving!" & he turns into a mannequin that looks like the robot from The Peter Serafinowicz Show, goes limp, drives the car off the highway ramp we're on & crashes it. Now I'm in this crashed car seeing my eyes in the rearview mirror & yelling at myself, "You're dreaming! Wake up! You remember Waking Life; look at the clock!" So I look at the car clock, & to be honest I can't see any numbers there, but to be a smartass I tell myself, "It says 10:61; what's your point?" I say, "No, no, LOOK AT YOUR CLOCK" & I realize I mean the clock in my bedroom. So I open my eyes & see my bedroom clock. That's how I woke up.

Monday, September 20, 2010

My Reaction to JG & DFW

If you’ve been a John Green fan for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed his periodic invocation of David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech for Kenyon College from 2005. He recently tweeted it again. It’s been bugging me for quite some time & it’s taken me awhile to write up my thoughts on it.
I know that John Green is a Christian, & I know he doesn’t talk much about it publicly, & he lets the DFW speech speak for him on the matter. I guess my real issue is with DFW, who can no longer defend himself. I’ll admit I’m fascinated to know more about JG’s beliefs, but I totally respect his right to keep them to himself.
In case anyone reading this is unaware, I am a decided atheist. I realized I didn’t believe in God when I was 12 years old, but I absolutely didn’t have the guts not to go through with my confirmation. As awesome & wonderful as my Catholic high school education was, the religious instruction only deepened my agnosticism, which is what I called it until well into my twenties when I recognized it as what it was and is: atheism. There, I said it.
Anyway, I take issue with the DFW speech. The idea that worshipping a “higher power” will save you from the miseries of worshipping superficial things doesn’t ring true to me. One excellent (though lengthy; I cut it as much as I could) example is from (*fangirl alert*) James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in Chapter 4 when Stephen has confessed his sins and is trying to be as pure & devout as he can be.

His life seemed to have drawn near to eternity; every thought, word, and deed, every instance of consciousness could be made to revibrate radiantly in heaven; and at times his sense of such immediate repercussion was so lively that he seemed to feel his soul in devotion pressing like fingers the keyboard of a great cash register and to see the amount of his purchase start forth immediately in heaven, not as a number but as a frail column of incense or as a slender flower.
To merge his life in the common tide of other lives was harder for him than any fasting or prayer and it was his constant failure to do this to his own satisfaction which caused in his soul at last a sensation of spiritual dryness together with a growth of doubts and scruples.
When he had eluded the flood of temptation many times in this way he grew troubled and wondered whether the grace which he had refused to lose was not being filched from him little by little. The clear certitude of his own immunity grew dim and to it succeeded a vague fear that his soul had really fallen unawares. It was with difficulty that he won back his old consciousness of his state of grace by telling himself that he had prayed to God at every temptation and that the grace which he had prayed for must have been given to him inasmuch as God was obliged to give it.
Often when he had confessed his doubts and scruples--he was bidden by his confessor to name some sin of his past life before absolution was given him. He named it with humility and shame and repented of it once more. It humiliated and shamed him to think that he would never be freed from it wholly, however holily he might live or whatever virtues or perfections he might attain. A restless feeling of guilt would always be present with him: he would confess and repent and be absolved, confess and repent again and be absolved again, fruitlessly. Perhaps that first hasty confession wrung from him by the fear of hell had not been good? Perhaps, concerned only for his imminent doom, he had not had sincere sorrow for his sin? But the surest sign that his confession had been good and that he had had sincere sorrow for his sin was, he knew, the amendment of his life.
--I have amended my life, have I not? he asked himself.

Compare DFW:
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

Doesn’t sound very different from Stephen’s experience worshipping God, does it?
The bottom line about the DFW speech is that it smacks of Pascal’s wager to me. “You have nothing to lose by believing in God, & everything to lose if you don’t believe & God’s real, so take the mercenary approach.” CHOOSING to believe is not the same thing as BELIEVING and KNOWING IN YOUR HEART. I’m not a DFW fan (I have Infinite Jest but haven’t tackled it yet), but I am a John Green fan, & while it doesn’t bother me that he believes in God, it does bother me that someone so intelligent & dedicated to truth & awesomeness would champion an idea that sounds so phony to me. Maybe I’ve misinterpreted something.
Always a possibility.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Last Bike Ride of the Summer

Pics are up on my fb page (& Tony's). This is just some random crap from this weekend's ride I feel the need to remember:
- We always see plenty of people fishing, but this time lots were crabbing as well. At LSP we saw a man chasing his son around with a crab while the kid screamed. Then he tossed it back in the water.
- Just off Bayonne Park, the bike path to nowhere that Tony mentioned.
- In an especially crappy section of Jersey City, two groups of people screaming at each other outside a live poultry place. Rode through there pretty fast.
- Under an overpass in the same 'hood, a visual pun: someone left a metal fork in the road.
- Shop called "Gentlemens Apparel" boasting boxer shorts, handkerchiefs, & "kung fu collectibles." Whatever those are.
- The very different perspectives of NYC available. The area between the Williamsburg Bank building & the bridges seemed huge, but still nothing compared to the distance between Whitehall St & the Empire State. It was also hard to tell the NYC buildings from those in Jersey. I guess their proximity made them seem comparable in size!
- Little sailboats at the edge of LSP before the Waterfront Walkway begins
- Looking out across the bay & catching the SI Ferry midway through its ride.
- The insanity of Pont Liberte: the canals between the condos, the golf course, swimming pools, strip mall, the sanitized-for-your-protection feel of it all, the snobbery of the jogging dude we asked about the walkway. Then to realize we were mere blocks away from the "live poultry" neighborhood. Even the path you have to drive into the place was run-down & creepy looking.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bloomsday Post #3 (from Nicole Spodek)

My little Nicole is flying the coop - she starts Sarah Lawrence in the fall! Wish her luck and read the post that made me so very happy when I found it in my inbox this morning: a response to "unique perspectives on first-time reads of the novel" (Ulysses, duh).

I was fifteen when I first opened Ulysses. I would never have even dared touch the thing if it weren’t for a dedicated, hopeful, determined, and goddamn out-of-her-mind English teacher asking me to do so. She had devised a plan, you see. She suggested that we start a reading group in order to conquer the massive pile of pages before the end of the school year. We’d meet once a week, read aloud at our leisure, and ultimately try to finish the book while gaining some slight understanding of what was going on. We’d have to recruit people, of course, and this took perseverance.

Flyers were posted, as we declared its greatness; they must have scared those puny high schoolers away, as all of our members ended up in the group by word of mouth. Every Wednesday, after my last class, I would enter the musty library, Ulysses in hand (after it had been lugged around for six hours), waiting for the highlight of my week. One friend once asked where I went every Wednesday after school and when I told him that I was headed to my “orgy in the library,” he, naturally, followed me. He ended up staying with us for the rest of the year and became an indispensable member of our Ulysses Reading Group, or URG.

Being a member of URG was probably the only useful experience of my four years at high school. I was actually challenging myself by trying to interpret the mess of words and ideas that is Ulysses. Joyce was my toughest teacher, and reading Ulysses was the most intense assignment I had ever received. Sure, I didn’t understand 85.6 percent of what was going on, but reading in such a large group made everything worthwhile. We made sense of the chapters and understood the significance of their titles; we traced the steps of Bloom and Stephen; we interpreted the various meanings of things as silly as colors. But most of all, we had fun. I don’t think Joyce had intended us to laugh as much as we did, but we found humor littered throughout. Irish slang gave us the most acute cases of The Giggles. The phrase “sturzgeburt on the haha” was like nothing I’d ever laughed at before. We had our intense conversations too. Religion talks were rampant – we’d sometimes stay at the school until 6 p.m. just trying to get our points across. It was crazy, nonsensical, outlandish, and over-the-top. But, in the end, we accomplished what we had set out to do. We finished Ulysses before the year ended, giving us time to celebrate once Bloomsday rolled around. And so, two years after my completion of Ulysses, I feel nostalgic. I will forever cherish the memories from my URG days. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to Ulysses. Because that’s all it was: an introduction. I don’t think you’re expected to understand it until your eleventh reading.

*that "dedicated, hopeful, determined, and goddamn out-of-her-mind English teacher" was me!

Bloomsday 2010 post #2

I totally forgot to write about this, but one day back in April, Milton came up to me and said "Mrkgnao!" Even my cat quotes Joyce!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Happy Bloomsday!

@UlyssesSeen has inspired me to write something about my first ever encounter with "The Book." For me, it was the right book at the right time. I can't put it any more perfectly than that. I was finally starting to feel at home in college, and when I ran into my professor on the ferry, he told me he was teaching a class the next semester that would read it. "I only do this once in a decade, so it's like Haley's Comet: if you want to see it in your lifetime, it's gotta be now." I'm paraphrasing. Anyway, I not only took the course, I forced all my friends to take it. I lost a lot of friends that semester!
I remember there being a lot of freaky-seeming coincidences over the course of our reading it. The one that sticks with me is when we had a long, deep discussion of the significance of keys sparked by the Alexander Keyes ad Bloom is designing, and a student from an earlier class entered the room looking for his lost keys. We all laughed and freaked out; some of us actually screamed. Someone accused our prof of setting it up. The student was stunned. Then there was the time we were approximating how much money Stephen spent over the course of the day & someone out in the quad started playing Pink Floyd's "Money" loud enough for us to hear. I know there were more, but I can't remember them (jeez, it's 22 years ago now!).
A huge percentage of the book flew over my head, and a lot of it still does, all these years and 6 full reads later. I really felt the characters though, and the verbal pyrotechnics are completely amazing. Not until my fourth read through it did I begin to comprehend the book as a unified whole, rather than a series of episodes. There are more priceless moments in it than I can count.
Two years ago I assembled a group of high school students to read the book aloud every week. I've kept my notes on those crazy meetings - a gazillion in-jokes resulted - & someday I'll write something about that. Maybe next year ;)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


I woke up at 8:28am today, 28 minutes after my first period class starts. I checked the alarm multiple times to see that it was set for 6:00am (not pm), that it was on, etc. It's next to my head as I sleep. What the hell happened? The world may never know. But you can bet I'm going to hear it from my first period kids tomorrow.
I rushed out of the house after a quick tooth-brushing & throwing on the clothes I had laid out last night. Of course since I had yesterday off I hadn't bothered to shower, so you can imagine how good I smelled after a hot day at work!
I spent yesterday working on my lesson plans, which are on powerpoint. Did I save them to my flash drive to bring into work? Don't be silly!
It's after 11pm now. Maybe I should get some sleep. D'ya think?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Paddy's Day Playlist

Going to try to post a playlist again - this time, it's the St. Paddy's Day list. For some reason, this morning it played all the Undertones songs in a row, and this afternoon it did the same thing with the Pogues. Frikkin' shuffle.

Meltdown -- Ash (Shaun Of The Dead)
Someone's Looking At You -- The Boomtown Rats
Like Clockwork -- The Boomtown Rats
Rat Trap -- The Boomtown Rats
A Pair Of Brown Eyes -- The Pogues
The Sick Bed of Cúchulaínn -- The Pogues
Dark Streets of London -- The Pogues
Sally MacLennane -- The Pogues
Sunday Bloody Sunday -- Richard Cheese & Lounge Against the Machine
Dirty Old Town -- The Specials
Nobody's Hero -- Stiff Little Fingers
Tin Soldier -- Stiff Little Fingers
Bits Of Kids -- Stiff Little Fingers
Roots, Radical, Rockers And Reggae -- Stiff Little Fingers
Silver Lining -- Stiff Little Fingers
Johnny Was -- Stiff Little Fingers
Alternative Ulster -- Stiff Little Fingers
Gloria -- U2
A Sort Of Homecoming -- U2
Pride (In The Name Of Love) -- U2
Sunday Bloody Sunday -- U2
Teenage Kicks -- The Undertones
Mars Bars -- The Undertones
It's Going to Happen -- The Undertones
Towers Of London -- XTC
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Friday, February 26, 2010

Snow Day (#2)

Went out around noonish to help Paul (we only have one shovel, but I took the broom & swept off the cars). All our neighbors were out & their kids were playing in the snow, I immediately realized I was overdressed & took off my sweater & silly hat. The guy next door helped Paul dig out the driveway, and I started rolling a ball for a snowman (way more difficult & tedious than I remember, by the way). Suddenly I realize it's begun to snow again, and *boom* - the sun goes in, it's dropped at least 10 degrees, I'm shivering and my hair is full of snow. By the time we get inside and get our boots off, both cars are covered already. *Sighs* At least we had about an hour's respite from the storm.