Tuesday, January 31, 2006

What do you do with 12" of snow?

Well, when you also have a "Snowman in a Box" and two
children who simply MUST go outside,
you get this...

Cute! N'est-ce pas?

Eschew obfuscation in your discourse!

I attended a lecture recently by Michael Silverstein, a distinguished professor of anthropology, linguistics and psychology at the University of Chicago, at which he discussed “Culture, Conversation and Creativity”. It was simultaneously the most amusing and the most dreadfully boring event I’ve attended in a long time.

I found it incredibly entertaining to listen to someone speak about the art of conversation for an hour while actually speaking straight-faced in the kind of vernacular one usually encounters in graduate school textbooks, flavoring his fairly trancendental speech by remarking frequently on the humor of Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte and telling jokes about the candidates in the 1984 presidential election. Vatti, my mentor and I, sat in the back row and poked jabs at him the entire time. It was great!

It really reminded me, though, of the vast ineptitude in the actual teaching that goes on in both high school and higher education. I appreciate the incredible experience that people like Michael Silverstein (“that’s SilverSHTEEN!”) bring to the world, but I cannot help but wonder if part of the reason education at all levels struggles to be effective has to do with the inability of teachers to speak to people in language—all kinds of language—that they can understand. Perhaps the distinguished professor knew his audience very well, and used the delivery he did intentionally. My money says he didn’t.

I’ll take that back. I think he probably did what he felt was necessary to maintain the carefully crafted image of a superior academician. At his level of education, after all, image is everything. It’s all about looking and sounding smarter and more superior than the average, because that’s how people spar with each other in his world. They don’t use insults or throw money around. They sling obscure references to past popular culture in the most abstruse and recondite language possible.

I can do that, but I really prefer to do my verbal sparring with television and movie quotes. Did anyone get the obscure movie reference up above? Bonus points to anyone with the answer!

I'm sorry for the delay in my posts...

I have stuff coming very soon. Good things are happening. I just haven't been able to put it all on the site. Keep checking...

Monday, January 16, 2006

Orcs and cheese doodles...

Tomorrow, I begin a three week departure from my regular teaching schedule. Our school has a break between the two semesters we call Paideia. The term is from Greek, and means “from many sources”. We use it as a time for students to engage in activities, projects, research and experiences that they would never have time to do properly during the normal school year, but that are nevertheless incredibly valuable to them. It sort of makes up for the fact that our students are in school from 8:30 until 4:15 every day, and would never have time to do these things because of that.

We have many different things going on during this time, some of it taking place on campus, but much of it away from school as well. There is ballroom dancing. Students go to area elementary schools and work with young kids and help out in classrooms. A group practices making clothes in the costume department workrooms. One of my students is working at a homeless shelter, and will write a paper about her experiences (she wants to work as a counselor for indigent and migrant families). It’s not French or Math or History, but it’s good learning and the students really work hard to make the most of it.

What do I do during this time? I play Dungeons and Dragons®.

Well, let me be clear. I teach roleplaying, medieval history, story creation, plot and character development and game theory. D&D is just the archetype through which I teach them these things. We spend a lot of time talking about and exploring the universe we play in, which is modeled loosely on medieval Europe. We discuss what life was really like then, and the degree to which real life should be part of the story we build together. We playtest different ways to use the D&D rules to make the experience of gaming come alive, and the students learn to evaluate improve their own acting and storytelling skills.

We also kill lots of orcs, goblins and evil wizards, and steal their stuff while consuming copious amounts of cheese doodles and carbonated beverages.

Believe it or not, all this does carry an academic component. The students must either write a paper which discusses some aspect of the things we’ve explored or create their own universe through which they can explore questions and conflict of their own design. It’s heavy stuff, and they jump into it up to their necks. I have one of the most dedicated and interested Paideia groups every year, and they turn out some amazing products during the three weeks we work together.

This year, in addition to everything else, we’re going to explore how to put a game up on the internet and how to use technology to improve the effectiveness of the presentation of roleplaying games. I have recently started posting the game we play at home on the web, and it’s proved to be wonderful for both me as the Dungeon Master and the players. They’ve been asking me to cover this so they can continue to work with their projects after we go back to academic classes.

If only they were so devoted to math and French. Maybe I should offer cheese doodles for those classes, too…

The War for Greatland is in its second book now, and the characters are tasked with nothing less than saving the world. It’s publicly viewable, though the posted version of the game only goes back as far as chapter 2 right now. If you’re interested in following their epic journey CLICK HERE.

Who says I can't teach?!

Last week was, to say the very least, a challenging week, professionally. It is the end of the first semester of a school year which has been confounded by a whole host of problems.

I am tired.

I’ve also been told that, because of the No Child Left Behind Act, I will have to take time out of my life to add to my already full professional life to add to my teaching certification list ALL of the subjects I teach. I’m currently licensed to teach French, but I have also taught Spanish, math, physical education and creative writing classes in the last 3 years. Even though the State of Massachusetts allows me to simply take the subject tests in order to add these licenses to my certification, these tests require time and effort to prepare for. Frankly, I’m not inclined to jump through these hoops simply because someone in Washington believes that I must not be qualified to teach because I don’t have a piece of paper that says so.

I cannot wait to start a school that demonstrates a better way to look at teaching and learning than simply through pieces of paper. That’s not to say that I don’t think there is value to things like certifications and licenses but, at least for teaching as a profession, I cannot help but think they create more problems than they solve.

Maybe that’s just me being bitter.

I’ve had problems trying to obtain a teaching license ever since I earned by B.A. because, according to my transcripts, I have neither enough coursework in a single language to say I know anything about my subject nor enough credits in education courses to suggest I even know how to teach. I deliberately chose a degree in World Languages (not French, not Spanish, not Portuguese, not Italian, not German—all of which I know) because I wanted my time in school to be spent on ALL of them, and I chose to focus on teaching because I wanted to learn how to TEACH. It kills me that *I* would have trouble getting a license when I had more time in supervised practica as part of my B.A. than most people do for their Master’s degrees. All because the paperwork doesn’t read the way someone expects it to.

I’ll probably take the tests eventually, if for no other reason than to tell the establishment it can kiss my ass, but it is not a priority for me. I have bigger, better fish to fry.

Sunday, January 8, 2006

Here it comes...

Parent: Go to your room.

4-year old: No.

Parent: I'm sorry. What did you just say to me??!

4-year old: No. I'm not going.

And so it has begun...

I Am Blessed

I’m sitting here on the couch, chilling with my oldest daughter (codename: SiSi), and I’m basking in the wonderfulness of this moment. It has set me to thinking about how I got here, and just how wonderful a journey it has been.

When I consider the path of my life to this point, I cannot help but simultaneously shake my head in amazement at the road I have travelled and smile at my unbelievable fortune. I have seen and done in this life so much and, whether I looked at it as good or bad at the time, I have come away from all my adventures with great knowledge and experience. It has served me very well.

When I think about the now, I am no less impressed. I am allowed to live, with little interference from the universe (and a great deal of protection from same) the modest and contented existence I have chosen. I have been graced with the freedom to create a full life. Certainly, it is a life with challenges, but many are challenges of my design and I am supported in them by an entire universe of allies. I have a family that loves me, honors me and shares with me incalculable joy just by being who they are. I have friends that feed my inspiration and creativity. I have mentors who are not afraid to guide me to be my best self. These things are more valuable to me than any money I will ever make, and I am quite contented to have been tasked in this life to help people explore the essential truth that we are so much more, and so much better, with the right people around us than we are by ourselves.

I look forward with much excitement to the future, and to fulfilling the incredible promise that I have seen for me in this life. Moreover, I look forward to sharing that promise with everyone I can. If you’re reading this blog, keep reading it. This is part of the sharing.

And listen for the gong.

Friday, January 6, 2006

I can handle a lot…

…in the way of sickness and trauma. Blood is easy. Psychological distress I do all right with. Seizures, as I’ve discovered, give me no troubles. Even fecal matter is not terribly disturbing, unless it’s found in my kids’ tubby water (there’s a story about that).

I can NOT do vomit. When my kids throw up, it is all I can do not to spew myself. My wife understands this, and it is most fortunate that she has a stronger stomach for it than I do. At least one of us can take charge when the kids toss their cookies.

My children, unfortunately, are not at an age to understand this and, when they vomit, often do so in my presence.

On the floor.

In bed.

On themselves.

NEVER in the buckets provided to lessen the mess. It makes my whole body weak.

My kids got the flu vaccine yesterday and, apparently, had a reaction to it. They threw up all night last night. It was a rough night for everyone, even for those of us who were not feeling queasy beforehand. My heart goes out to my children. I’m sorry they are not feeling well. This one is ALL on Wifeness to handle.

Call me when they bust their lips.

Tuesday, January 3, 2006


My father, in an attempt to stimulate debate on a controversial topic (he has loved to engage me in this way for a very long time), asked me what I knew about pornography. Particularly, he wanted to discuss the underlying psychology behind why it is so popular. I told him that I would put my thoughts down in my blog to give him an excuse to get online (I’ve been trying to get him to do THAT for a long time, also).

Before I do this for him, let me say that I don’t have any interest in using this forum solely to express my political beliefs. I think that, over time, this blog will come to be about experiences, not opinions. My opinions and beliefs are my own, and I guard carefully against their inappropriate distribution. I have found that throwing my beliefs out headlong gets in the way of considered discourse and understanding.

First, however, some information about the topic. I took a little time to come up with some basic statistics. I like statistics. Coming up with them on porn is challenging, though, because they get outdated quickly. This industry is growing BY THE DAY, apparently. Here’s what I found by searching different reputable sources through Google…

- Pornography is a $57.0 BILLION industry worldwide, with $12.0B coming from the U.S. Worldwide, adult videos generate about $20.0 BILLION of that total. (Who the hell is watching all these movies? That’s a LOT of movies, don’t you think?).

- There are, as near as I can determine, some 4.2 million pornographic websites (this represents around 12% of the total number of sites on the Internet today).

- Daily, Internet search engines receive over 68 million pornographic search requests (about 25% of all Internet searches).

- The average age at which an American child is exposed to pornography via the Internet is 11 years.

- The largest consumer of Internet pornography is the 12-17 age group.

- By gender, viewers of online pornography represent approximately 72% men and 28% women.

- Only slightly more men than women (20% vs. 13%) admit to accessing pornography on the job.

- Women are far more likely than men to act out behaviors in real life.

- This might seem irrelevant at first, but women favor chat rooms and online services like AOL Instant Messenger twice as much as men.

What does all this mean?

Someone (my father, I think) said that pornography is one of the biggest industries in the world that no one admits to knowing anything about. Based on this information, that would seem to be the case. With $12 BILLION changing hands in this country alone (by the way, that’s a total that exceeds by nearly double the revenue from the 4 major network television companies ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX), a lot of us must know something about it. But what’s the interest?

I would argue, based on my experience and discussions with the kids I teach, that much of the draw for teenagers is simply curiosity. Porn is pervasive online now, and with Internet access so widely available, it is easy to see for themselves what all the fuss is about. That they might keep coming back to look at it is, I would suggest, a function of hormones and the convenience of a means to help them self-regulate them.

The question that I would raise is whether the same is true for adults and, if so, why? Now, I’m not going to delve into this here but, in very general terms, I would offer the thought that it is the same, at least for men, and that the reasons have much to do with the way men and women view the world. Those last two statistics might even offer some explanation. They would seem to suggest that women are much more social creatures that men, that they prefer to talk about things and (again, generally speaking—I’m trying to be politically correct here!) are more interactive with the world.

There it is, Dad.

Sunday, January 1, 2006

Fatty's Diner, A New Years Tradition Since 1998

In terms of customers, it was a light year for Fatty's, the fictional eatery of Wayfarer House, but that didn't stop us from going all out like we do every year. The menu this year included French Toast, Biscuits and Sausage Gravy, Grits, Eggs, Bacon, Homefries, Bagels with Cream Cheese, Cereal, Oatmeal and a vast array of hot and cold beverages. What a way to start the year! Those of you who stayed home missed a great morning of delicious food and wonderful fellowship, and are encouraged to add the event to your calendars next year.

Fatty's, for those of you who haven't had the pleasure, is the brainchild of Uncle Bubba. It has always been Uncle Bubba's dream to run a restaurant that served only food that tastes wonderful, regardless of the fat or caloric content. Wayfarer House is proud to support his endeavor, and has hosted Fatty's each year since its inception. Every year the menu is different, but it is always comprehensive and inevitably includes the kind of food that would make Jenny Craig run screaming to the nearest health club. It is only open for one meal a year--New Year's Day Brunch, and Uncle Bubba is its head chef. Family, friends and guests who show up for Wayfarer House's annual New Year's Eve party and stay overnight get the added bonus of an early seat at Fatty's, where they can linger over the best of the smorgasbord in their pajamas. Others arrive throughout the morning, sampling offerings as they are prepared hot off the grill and enjoying the energy of a house filled with love and the smells of hearth and home.

This year, sadly, Uncle Bubba was unable to see his tradition off the ground this year. He was in New York, and couldn't get here to open Fatty's so I acted as his replacement, with Wifeness and others acting as co-chefs. Thank yous go out to everyone who helped make it a continued success! The spirit of Fatty's is one of togetherness and it's a great compliment to our New Year's celebration. If you haven't been here, you owe it to yourself to come next year.

The Beginning of an Experiment...

I'm not entirely sure why everyone thinks I should put stuff down in a blog, but so many people have asked me lately to make one that I've decided to try it just to see what happens. I can appreciate the value of the format and I'm intrigued by the possibilities of blogging, but I can make no promises about how well I'll keep up with it. I've never been especially good at journaling and, with life as full as it is destined to be in the coming year, it may simply not be possible for me to give it the energy and attention it deserves. I've decided that my initial commitment will be to give an honest effort to it through March. If I can continue with it after that (and if I'm inclined to do so), I'll keep it going. If not, I'll still be able to consider it a worthy investment of time.

One of the ways bloggers stay motivated is by getting comments on their entries from readers. If I pointed you to this blog, it's because I value your wisdom, humor and experience, and I want to be inspired by it as I write here. Please feel free to offer your feedback and ideas, positive and negative. Those of you who truly know me are already aware that I am unafraid of criticism, and that I work very hard to use it to make me a better person. That being said, I'm all about the love, too! And the support! I'll need lots of that. And praise is good! Oh, hell! Just shower me with goodness!

I hope it proves an interesting read.