Saturday, March 29, 2008

Walking home. A melancholic afternoon.

The weather said
it was supposed
to rain.
It didn't.
(I don't think,
But the clouds
pressed down
and left,
the concrete imprinted
with their heaviness.

The edges are evaporating
the ground is just warm enough
because those vapors smell
like urban spring--
the concrete washed and (almost) clean.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

[How] to be or not be...a teenager. According to Romeo and Juliet (and some fantastic 8th graders)

For the past six weeks, I have been delving into the story of the world's favorite star crossed lovers. I've mentioned before that this posed a huge challenge for me as a teacher because it took my until graduate school to really really love Shakespeare and understand his depth, brilliance and relevance. Much to my surprise, my students were ready for William and have gobbled up the play and our discussions. We are nearing the end and had a debate today about whether Juliet was courageous/bold/romantic or rash and stupid. Things got a little heated, and as I was listening, the conversation became very interesting. They didn't realize it, but they were analyzing what it is like to be a teenager and to be pressed with choices that may affect the rest of their lives. I thought I would share some of their insight and questions. After hearing what they had to say, I had no choice but to think about their points. Hopefully I can prove just how briliant 8th graders (yes, 8th graders are) and show you how valuable it is to listen to what they have to say.

Parent/Child relationships:
Juliet is open minded toward her parents' ideas in the beginning of the play, but this changes as she becomes engrossed with her relationship and secret marriage to Romeo. Then we see a Juliet who is very courageous standing up to her parents. The unfortunate part is that though she refuses to marry Paris, she isn't open with them about her love for Romeo. Enter complexity. How open should children be? What role do children/teenagers have in making decisions about their futures? How does culture play into this?

Juilet's father wants Paris to "woo" his daughter and win her heart in the beginning of the play, rather than marry her right away. He seems to understand his daughter. Then he appears to be a completely different person as he rages against her in her refusal to marry Paris after Tybalt's death. What are his true feelings toward his daughter? Was is right for him to demand this marriage of her since he thought it in her best interest? Could he have presented his request in a different manner? Would it have changed the outcome of events? How sensitive do parents and adults have to be when dealing with teenagers who are in between childhood and adulthood?

There are quite a few adults who give both Romeo and Juliet advice. Students noticed that Juliet seemed to only listen to what she wanted to hear...and both threatened suicide when they weren't hearing the answers they wanted. How do adults talk and reason with teenagers who may be blinded by passion? Even if the adults can see that the passion is because of youth, how can they be convinced that the feelings are very, very real?

Young Love:
Is is possible to love someone when only knowing them for a few days? Is love at first sight real? Can you trust the emotions that exist at the beginning of a relationship? What is love? Do Romeo and Juliet know what it is or means?

How can she believe what Romeo has to say and the promises that he is making? Isn't there a chance that he has ulterior motives?

Students argued that Juliet was being rash because she had no life experience to judge her decisions by. They debated whether she could trust herself to know what she was doing. Some students thought that she was being young and stupid (followed by, and I quote: "We're young. We're stupid.)

Students raised the question of suicide again in relation to this this violent passion understandable or just merely dangerous? Would it change if they were adults?

Is living in the moment brave or completely ridiculous?

Wrapping Up
Of course, as literature often goes, there is not an "answer" to any of these questions. We left it as food for critically examine these complex relationships and dig into these fictional moments and pull from them what we are able. Such is the reading life.

Friday, March 21, 2008

anal retentive much?

I can't decide if this is due to the fact that we are at the tail end of winter and it's just what happens to me this time of year, or the fact that I enjoy having control over the small things in life that I can actually control (my sock drawer, my kitchen...) or if this is just a result of procrastination. Nonetheless. I have added labels to all of my past blog posts.

I do feel like I learned a few things about myself and it was interesting to track the topics that came up most often (identity, fallen world). A few of the lists sounded like little poems, which made me smile (hope/poetry/rain). I'm not sure that this will be helpful to anyone but myself, but now you can search the blog by topic, which I'll try to list on the side bar in the near future.

I Heart Young Adult Lit.

This post is not designed to merely justify my recent...indulgence? love? of Stephenie Meyer's young adult Teenage/Vampire/Romance series. I fully own up to the fact that I was up until 1 am on Wednesday night reading New Moon, the second book in the series and that my alarm goes off at 5:30. But here are the reasons why this book makes me excited:

1. It keeps kids (and adults) reading. Any book that gets 13 year olds pumped about spending their time in front of print has to be good.

2. I'm getting ready to teach a philosophy unit to my 8th graders and this book is the perfect kind of text to use as support. It forces the reader to think about right and wrong and the curious gray space that sometimes appears between. ("Jacob was my best friend, but he was a monster, too? A real one? A bad one? Should I warn him, if he and his friends were murderers? If they were out slaughtering innocent hikers in cold blood? If they were truly creatures from a horror movie in every sense, would it be wrong to protect them?" page 298)

3. It engages the mind and imagination in an incredible way. ("What kind of place was this? Could a world really exist where ancient legends went wandering around the borders of tiny, insignificant towns, facing down mythical monsters? Did this mean every impossible fairy tale was grounded somewhere in absolute truth? Was there anything sane or normal at all, or was everything just magic and ghost stories?" page 294).

4. We have spent a bit of time studying the theme of "ancient grudges" while reading Romeo and Juliet in class and this book parallels the play. This is so thought provoking for my students (and for me) as they see real connections and deepen their thinking. The quote that opens the story is from Friar Lawrence: "These violent delights have violent ends/And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,/Which as they kiss, consume." Act 2 Scene 4. Sigh. So complex. Love it.

... And I have to mention that the guy playing the main character, Edward, in the movie version is Robert Pattinson--who also played Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter. (And, one of the villains is one of the ones I love to hate from the OC: Cam Gigandet, Volcheck!) So, adults, jump on the bandwagon of teenagers and read this series before the movie comes out.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Best Pairs on Television (Also titled "My brain isn't working so well this week")

My weekends lately have been spent watching a ridiculous amount of television, hence a post about it instead of a book. I blame the weather and also stress. But I have come to a new conclusion...I have a new favorite couple on tv that beats out past favorites, which include:

Ross and Rachel

Felicity and Ben (not. Noel.)

Seth and Summer

Carrie and Aidan (so they broke up, whatever)

the frustrating tale of Jack and Kate

Tobias and Lindsay...there's actually no picture of the two of them alone that I can find. ha.

But I have to say that my favorite new pair on television is Brennan and Booth from "Bones." They are completely opposite and yet completely compatible and they are not officially together. But I think that their relationship is made up of some of the most creative writing I've seen on TV. And this is how I've been wasting my time while it's too cold to be outside. I highly recommend...and if I can handle the gore of their cases, so can you.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hey Jack Kerouac.

"Everything I had ever secretly held against my brother was coming out: how ugly I was and what filth I was discovering in the depths of my own impure psychologies." So says Sal Paradise toward the end of his travels in Jack Kerouac's "On the Road." I've been excited to finally read this classic, and I'm surprised I haven't read it before; Kerouac having been a major influence on my poetry. It's interesting to hear this come out of Sal's mouth...the reader expects this traveler to have formulated some deep, bohemian theories about life in the novel, but not this.

I have started wondering to what degree this comes in some form in every journey. I remember being much younger and thinking that I really could do everything right; relationship-wise, that is: I will be a nice person to everyone. I will think good thoughts about everyone. I will make all the right decisions. Obviously, you get the naivete. And these are things that I strive to do...but they can only be perfected if one becomes a hermit and interacts with no one, and in that case I don't think it really counts.

The older I get, the more aware I become of my shortcomings. And shortcomings is putting it too lightly...the filth that is in the depths of me. And instead of getting super personal on a blog, I think I'll talk in general for a minute. The idea that people are sinful and selfish creatures is so real to me. The idea that we will never get it all right is finally beginning to settle in my bones. The idea that I need a Savior not just on a lifetime basis, but a minute by minute basis is the most utterly real aspect of my life right now. I have never wanted to embrace non-order or perhaps non-beauty is a better way to put it. Growing up and even today I struggle with wanting everything to be right and good. But. This, for now until the Earth is restored, is not reality. And this is what I want to embrace and admit, even though I'm not "on the road," but rather just in my life.

Not everything is picturesque at first glance, but I think there may be a bit of beauty in the mundane, in the raw, in the un-manicured urban.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Nolita. A Walk. With a Song Playing.

This city I love
and also hate
where I can buy frogs in a bucket
on Mott Street.
Or stare down Elizabeth
straight to the Empire
graceful at night
Or drink a glass of Malbec
next to exposed brick
across from a good friend.
This city I love
and also hate
became home
somewhere between the Hudson River
and tears at Communion
and riding the D over the East
unable to read.
Just listening
as I travel.
Through this city.
on a crumpled receipt.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Solitude Part Two

I promised more thoughts as I finished A Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem. Part of me wishes I didn't, because I wasn't completely engaged or moved by the second half. I will be brief by remembering what I tell my students about writing: unless you care about what you're writing about, it won't be very good. That being said, here are the basic conclusion I've come to after reading without elaboration or explanation:

1. Solitude to recharge is healthy and good.

2. Solitude that is used to disengage from not only the world, but also friends and close relationships is dangerous, lonely and bad.

3. Dylan Ebdus is not one of my favorite characters.

4. Gentrification is complicated.

5. Music makes life better.

If anything thought provoking or interesting passes through my mind about this book, I will surely update this post. As for now, I have until the 16th to read Kerouac's "On the Road" and see the exhibition at the New York City Public Library. I have actually known him as a poet first, which is backwards for most people. His intentional craft and process in his writing completely intrigues me. More on that later.