Thursday, August 21, 2008

In The Deepest Jungles of Room 198

My room at the school is an open space with musical instruments inherited from two defunct elementary schools on display. The children march in assuming this will be a music class, and are not dissuaded from the notion even after their first theatre class with me.

Today in the teachers' lounge I learned that everybody knows what I am doing in my classes because the 4th and 5th graders are still walking around like aliens from another planet, greeting one another; and many of the younger kids are relating their adventures in the jungle.

The jungle exercise emerged spontaneously when kindergarteners were presented to me and there wasn't much we could talk about. Figuring we could learn by doing, I got them listing animals one finds in a jungle, and then told them to pick an animal. I then announced that we would create a jungle here in the classroom, and led them in a 15-20 minute improvised day in the jungle.

Each child showed me the animal they had chosen to portray. Lions gallumphed, tigers crept, tarantulas skittered, alligators swam, snakes slithered, and we even had some owls flying. Our jungle might be on the same island as Jurassic Park, because we had a couple of tyrannosauruses. Rhinoceroses paraded regally about and cheetas snuck around nimbly, finding shelters under tables that now served as bushes, saplings, or rocks.

The instructor steps gingerly through the jungle, fearful of stepping on an animal or being lost in quicksand, narrating the course of the day to the beat of a drum. The animals slowly emerge from sleep and begin to prowl the jungle looking for food and drink. A monsoon appears and forces them to shelter, then passes quickly. Then the instructor finds an umbrella and manifests the hunter in the jungle, come to bag some big game, and again the animals seek shelter, finding hiding places everywhere. I am tempted to check the ceiling panels for signs of escape. The hunter passes and the jungle takes in a movie. If you've never seen jungle animals in the movie theatre, well, you need to come by sometime. I have seen such things. I also saw the creatures of the jungle have a dance party, mix and mingle, before getting tired and returning to sleep.

Some groups enjoy these explorations very much, some groups are less interested. One group of third graders was determined to treat the class like the recess, knowing that on the other end of the class period they had birthday cake waiting for them in home room. Lots of smart alecky remarks, switching their names around, pretending to be mute, and such. What can you do? Go with it. It's another jungle, so straighten that pith helmet and step carefully, but move forward.

Lining up the fearsome creatures to return to homeroom and the party that awaited them, I asked the front of the line for their classroom number. (I was, recall, meeting them all for the first time.) A child said, "114!" and there were many grins and nods.

Well, being an experienced jungle explorer, I knew that 114 was nowhere near the third grade classrooms. In fact, 114 would be in another part of the building altogether. I looked them over and said, with a bland expression, "Okeydoke! Off we go, follow me please." And I took them to 114.

Room 114 was a closet. To be exact, according to the sign: "Mechanical Closet. No storage."

I read the sign aloud and looked at my students. They looked straight ahead, as they are supposed to in the hallways. No doubt, they were thinking about the birthday cake they were not eating. "You told me your home room was 114," I said in utter bewilderment, as the jungle muttered.

Last laugh: mine.

I then led them to their homeroom and bid them a smiling farewell. Until next week.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

By The Old Mississippi Reiver...

The Reivers

Faulkner is one of those novelists who has such an intimidating reputation, many readers never get around to giving him a try, and don't know where to begin. In my high school english class, Mr. Fields introduced us to him through Sanctuary. Some readers plunge right into his more famous, dark, impenetrable novels and never find their way out.

In Faulkner's last novel, I think we find a good introduction. Published a month before his death in 1962, it took a Pulitzer the following year, and yet it is not one of his better known works. The prose has his complexity and richness, but the mood is nostalgic and wistful, a coming-of-age novel written by an old man at the end of a long, distinguished body of work.

The basic plot is farcical. Two young men 'borrow' an automobile, back when automobiles were rare, and take a jaunt to Memphis, Tennessee. ("Reivers" is an archaic term for thieves.) It turns out they have a stowaway, and there is even more trouble in store for them when the car gets traded for a racing horse, and the game is on to win a horse race with an unlikely horse and get the car back.

Yet the novel also achieves a vivid landscape of the rural south and a cast of wonderful, complex characters. The relationships between black- and white-skinned characters here is also remarkable.

It is a thoroughly enjoyable read and might be the best introduction Faulkner's style.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I'm Going To Announce My Running Mate ANY SECOND NOW

Must be a slow news cycle. Every news outlet I look at has these headlines proclaiming that Senators Obama and McCain, two candidates for President, are going to announce their running mates sometime soon.

Well, yes. Their party conventions are coming up, they've probably decided or have a strong inclination by now, and we might hear this week or over the weekend. I'm content to wait.

In fact, I'm not even waiting. It's not keeping me up at night. McCain and Obama are both disappointing enough. How is a VP candidate going to make either of them more exciting?

This is fake news. It's a big headline letting you know there's no news on this topic yet. And even when the word comes, it isn't altogether significant anyway. (Unless McCain picks a Klansman or something farfetched like that.)

Sorry to be a buzzkill. By the way, I'm going to have another cup of coffee any minute now. Check back for videos.

Also, check back tonight or tomorrow for more Gabriel media! Pics and vids to make you smile! Gabriel smiles! Gabriel takes his first self-defence class!

And Gabriel addresses rumors he is on Obama's shortlist for VP!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bathroom Duty

Is this the job they give the new teachers?

I spend a couple of hours a day manning a "behavior station," providing instruction on appropriate conduct in certain common areas of the school. The behavior station to which I have been assigned is the boys' room. Teachers actually line up their classes in front of me, so that I can invite the boys to follow me into the bathroom.

Putting aside all the jokes about making the new guy do bathroom duty, it's an invaluable task, as any man who has had to use a public men's bathroom knows. Even at a prestigious legal firm where I once temped as the Assistant Lackey to the Third Underling, the bathrooms - utilized by prominent attorneys and a former Governor - were a catastrophe of paper towels and bad aim.

Certain things have to be addressed early - and repeatedly.

At times, while having the boys show me how they make a good line and wait patiently, the boys have taken an interest in my attire. My work uniform consists of a vest, pocket watch, and bow tie. They see the silver chain and want to know what I've got, so I show them my watch. It has met with widespread approval by the elementary school boys - and so has the bow tie, something most of them haven't seen before.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Orientalism and The Dharma

Used to know western Buddhist monks who swore that the only way to practice Buddhism, or at any rate the superior way to learn about Buddhism, was in Korea from people with Asian faces. The orientalism of American Buddhists still makes me giggle. It's about as valid as arguing, "My training as a hairdresser is better because I learned it from a gay hairdresser!"

Yesterday I met one of two other Buddhists in Deming. It was in the used bookstore, and we both have fliers in the window there. He gives private instruction in Buddhist practice, I invite people to come sit with me on the front porch. Very nice fellow who was interested in my dharmagree (where I studied Buddhism and where), and made sure to let me know he spent time in Sri Lanka with Asian monks.

Because, you know, the real dharma comes to us in broken english from Asian men with mysterious smiles. For the same reason that you get the best haircuts from gay men. That's just how things work.

Silly. Of course, we all know at our clearest moments that the dharma does not have Indian, American, Korean, or any of that other stuff. It doesn't have monk or layperson. It's just us, greeting one another. And he did give me a warm welcome to town, for which I was grateful.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Chickpeas In The News...

Also known as garbanzo beans, but whether you call them garbanzos or chickpeas, they are sure good. (Ceci beans are not quite the same thing, but they are very close.)

It's an important source of protein in Bangladesh, yet the price has gone up 40% and the poor can't afford it.

Fortunately, British reality-TV producers can still afford it. They use it for food fights rather than nutrition, but what of it?

If YOU can afford chickpeas, it just might help you keep your hair.

But really, if I'm going to be so silly and waste your time with an item like this, the least I can do is link to some recipes, eh wot? Try these or this basic hummus recipe or this if you prefer an Italian touch. Chickpeas are so rich in protein and other nutrition, you can actually make a meatless meal with them and yet feel full and satisfied. But if you like a bit of animal in your dinner anyway, they go nicely with lamb.

That's enough, now. Get back to your day!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bow Ties In The News...

Every once in a while, we've got to check in with the latest in men's fashion and the standing of the bow tie.

In Kent, doctors have been forbidden from wearing neckties for hygienic purposes - unless they wear bow ties.

Australia's incoming Attorney General knows what kind of tie to wear. A picture of him is here. Also in Australia, a fashion show in which great care was taken to make the bow tie look cold and frightening.

Moving back stateside, there was recently a sales-tax holiday in Georgia, but only for certain items. Bow ties were on the list this year as tax-exempt.

In Florida, a rabbi explains how he got started wearing bow ties.

The outgoing president of the University of South Carolina has looked debonair in good times and bad.

Gnarls Barkley, represent!! (Doesn't look like he tied that himself, though.)

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Are You Raising Him Buddhist Or Christian Or What?

There will be a Buddhist ceremony and a Christian ceremony this month.

The first will be a 100-Day Ceremony at Providence Zen Center in Rhode Island. Some of my oldest and dearest friends will be on hand to chant the name of Kwan Seum Bosal, the bodhisattva embodying compassion; and then Zen Master Dae Kwang will press a little water on Gabriel's forehead three times in the name of great love, great compassion, and the great bodhisattva way.

The following weekend, there will be a dedication ceremony at the Living Word Family Church in Deming, New Mexico. The pastor (who also happens to be the Mayor of Deming) will charge the congregation, and us parents, to be solid examples and resources for Gabriel, and he will put his hands on the child and pray for him. (No baptism - that happens when he's older, if he chooses.)

In our home these two traditions will exist side by side in friendship and mutual respect. There is Christian prayer and Bible study here; there is also daily bowing, chanting from Buddhist sutras, and zazen - the seated meditation of Buddhist tradition. Outside our home, as long as we are in Deming, there will be social pressure towards Christian beliefs, but that is a phenomenon out of our control.

Deming is an overwhelmingly Christian town. Walk around our neighborhood and count the churches packed into a small area. Go into the local shops and you are likely to see citations of scripture on the bulletin board. It is part of everyday conversation to speak of God and His actions. Even at my school meetings this week, as we teachers get ready to start a school year, there was open talk about God's intercessions in people's lives, and a group prayer before our luncheon in the cafeteria of the high school. In Deming, "faith" means Christian faith, and it is socially reinforced in most places, private and public. It is socially reinforced to a degree that residents might not notice unless one belongs to a different religion, or to none.

Sarah will take him to church and give him good instruction on Christian teaching. Buddhist temples are more scarce around here, but I'll see to his cultural education in that respect. He'll see me practicing and he'll ask questions. I'll take him to Buddhist temples and educate him. I trust that he'll make up his own mind about things. He is already showing signs of a strong will.

It's an unapologetically Christian-Buddhist household, a place of conversation and love and awareness. If we pray and sit and practice sincerely and consistently through his childhood, that will be the best education we can give him on the two faiths and how they interrelate.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Settling In

The blog has quieted a down a bit as its author has begun a few days of training for his new job and the family settles in to life in a much smaller city. Our night life has consisted of soothing our wrathful baby or watching the mid-summer lightning rake the skies.

Teaching college? That was a dawdle. Being part of a public school district and wrapping my mind around the varied requirements, now that is bewildering. An instructional leader went through the documentation of a single lesson plan and I got that woozy feeling behind my eyes, similar to when I'm hearing a lecture on madhyamika Buddhism. I'm not sure which is more difficult to understand, tell you the truth.

This morning, in just a few minutes actually, I will drive north on Gold Street past the railroad tracks into another part of town and find my school. There are numerous things I need to do that I wish were out of the way already, but there you are.

Sangha-wise, I put a note in the window of the Readers Alcove (the neighborhood book shop)inviting folks to come join me on our porch for Zen sitting. On Saturdays, I've been visiting the Silver City Zen Center and have been touched by their warm welcome.

There are some stories and images I have to share, but first there are a few things to square away and -- oh! Gabriel's crying again. Pardon me...

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Squad Car Next Door

Officer Josh lives next door to us, with his wife and son. They are a sweet family. I really loved the Superman license plate on the front of his squad car. Recently, it was removed and I miss it.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Auto Mechanics Have A Known Liberal Bias

...and I am beginning to suspect the laws of physics as well.

A candidate for President (sssssh - it was the black one with the muslim-sounding name) pointed out that elementary auto maintenance, cutting back on the speeding, getting the oil changed and keeping those tires inflated to the right pressure, cuts down fuel consumption. If everyone in the nation were doing that on a regular basis, the difference in oil consumption would be, according to a fuel expert that ABC News spoke with, 800,000 barrels per day.

800,000 barrels a day. Not a bad thing - on top of encouraging people to take responsibility for their part of the consumption, and save themselves some money on top of it. Sounds like a message true conservatives would welcome.

Yet the attack machine is on that candidate like grease on an oil filter, pretending he said something he didn't and making fun of him. That uppity, swarthy, fist-bumping liberal terrorist. Oh, you say Republican governors have been saying the same thing in their home states, like California and Florida? Oh. Well. Hey, the GOP is a versatile political party. We can say sensible things and deny the same statement at our next campaign event. We can do this because the Democrats won't call us on it. If they called us on it, we would criticize them, and they are apparently very afraid of that. So we win.

H.L. Mencken would have loved this campaign. As he wrote in 1926: "I enjoy democracy immensely. It is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing. Does it exalt dunderheads, cowards, trimmers, frauds, cads? Then the pain of seeing them go up is balanced and obliterated by the joy of seeing them come down. Is it inordinately wasteful, extravagant, dishonest? Then so is every other form of government: all alike are enemies to laborious and virtuous men. Is rascality at the very heart of it? Well, we have borne that rascality since 1776, and continue to survive. In the long run, it may turn out that rascality is necessary to human government, and even to civilization itself - that civilization, at bottom, is nothing but a colossal swindle. I do not know: I report only that when the suckers are running well the spectacle is infinitely exhilarating. But I am, it may be, a somewhat malicious man: my sympathies, when it comes to suckers, tend to be coy. What I can't make out is how any man can believe in democracy who feels for and with them, and is pained when they are debauched and made a show of. How can any man be a democrat who is sincerely a democrat?"

I wonder who worked on HIS car.

Reading Homer To My Son