12.10.2014

Staten Island: You Get What You Don't Vote For


...in 2009, Staten Island had a population of 491,730 residents of which 76.9% were over eighteen years of age (according to the US census bureau)...that means there were 378,140 potential voters living in Staten Island in 2009...

...roughly 70,000 registered voters in Staten Island cast ballots in the last NYC mayoral election...if we use 70,000 as a benchmark for the number of Staten Island residents who vote in a typical local election, 5.4% of people are determining who runs the city...

...so 5.4% of people are deciding how the city is run...

...i recently came across a news clip of protesters in Berkeley shutting down part of a freeway and the BART to show solidarity with their Staten Island brethren protesting the grand jury decision to pass on an indictment of the police officer who used a choke hold on eric garner...i love a good protest...especially if it'll shut down a branch of "the system" that is "broken":


...i don't love traffic...nor do i love the common practice of the police murdering citizens...but i fail to see the connection between stopping traffic and stopping the abuse of power...

...a protest march on Washington is in the works...fantastic...but i wonder if al sharpton and the rest of the organizers wouldn't mind reminding their protesters that a grand jury decided not to indict the officer...grand jury members are selected from the general populace of registered voters...

...additionally, most cities in america hold local elections for positions like district attorney...dan donovan has won four Staten Island races...it was his "office" that failed to persuade the grand jury that the officer should stand trial...

...so to use my perfect math and wonky hypothesis on voting trends: 5.4% of Staten Island residents have voted for dan donovan four times...the other 94.6% of potential voters have been content to let that happen...in the case of eric garner--and any other people murdered by police--you get what you vote for...or, for Staten Island residents, you get what you don't vote for...

...i realize protesting gets press...i realize there are no sound bytes when we vote...it's illegal--within 100 yards of a polling place--to carry signs or wear controversial t-shirts that make grand statements about candidates or issues...but if you're willing to stand in the middle of a freeway and stop traffic because you think "the system" is letting you down, you should be willing to stand in line to vote to change that system...there's probably less of a chance of being hit by a car doing the latter...

11.04.2014

It's Election Day...So Why Am I At Work?

...so i voted in my first election when i was eight...technically, my vote didn't count (thank the gods because i simply checked all of the republican candidates' boxes the way Grandma told me to) but i was hooked on politics at that point...during every election, Grandma volunteered to run the polls...and at every election, i was there with her...

...neither one cares about you...
...both are completely fine with allowing the universe to collapse...
...i don't understand why today isn't a national holiday...i mean, we still celebrate columbus and he was a slave-owning miscreant whose own crew mutinied (three different times)...he was brought back to europe in chains...he couldn't have navigated his way out of a palace hedge maze and he thought natives were animals who should be brought back to "civilization" in cages...but, hey, close the banks...

...seriously...here's a way to get more people to the polls: HOLIDAY!

...turn this time into a four-day weekend...that way americans can vacation, shop, and overeat...and, perhaps, squeeze in a vote...

10.20.2014

An Open Letter to Any Students Taking College Composition, But Specifically My Own

Dear Writing Students,

Stop blaming your high school English teachers for your mistakes. Just because they didn't teach you how to diagram sentences doesn't mean you can fault them when you misuse a conjunction. And stop asking if you can start a sentence with "and" or "but." YES YOU CAN! (Notice I've done it once already and I haven't burst into flames.) To begin a sentence with "and" or "but" is a stylistic choice. We write sentences that begin with "and" and "but" for emphasis. Because of No Child Left Behind, your high school English teachers couldn't cover this complex nuance of the written word. But they understand it. And they've seen it in action in plenty of "books." (You know, "books"? Those funny-smelling rectangular things with words on the pages?) If sentences couldn't begin with "and," Joan Didion would be a Starving Unknown, living in the doldrums of Sacramento.
Holy-One-Sentence-Chapter, Batman!

Speaking of Didion, it's also perfectly fine to write a one or two sentence paragraph. Again, writers do this for emphasis of a point they're making.

Quit trying to fool me with your enlarged margins, extra spaces between paragraphs, and/or 14 point fonts. We've covered MLA style. Even if you missed it, you can Google it and figure it out. This isn't my first rodeo, cowboys. I can spot intentional MLA finagling from a screenshot away.

What the fuck do you mean you "don't know how to word process"? Computers have been around longer than you've been alive.  I used a typewriter in college. My life got totally complex when I got my first dot matrix printer. (I know you have no idea what I'm talking about, so Google these things.) I've figured out how to open, write, and save my documents. You should've been able to do it in utero.

Having a computer that has crashed, died, blown up and created a house fire, or otherwise failed you right as you finished your essay is no excuse for losing all of your work. Your generation invented USB drives. You're required to have one for the class. (See the syllabus.) Plug the damned thing in and save your blank document before you start to write. Then save it after you write every paragraph. BACK YOUR SHIT UP, people. Seriously, you're exhausting me.

Let me give you some sage advice: call your loved ones now. Especially your grandparents. Because I'm about to assign an essay and it's going to kill a lot of elderly people. In fact, it might also kill your pet turtle, your brother's best friend who-is-like-a-brother to you, and a member of "1 Direction." I'm not kidding. It happens all the time. I am a mass murderer. Sometimes I kill every member of my students' families, except parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and cousins. But the rest die as soon as the essay writing begins. I'm trying to save you from the shame spiral into which my past students have fallen. The grief is going to consume you and you won't be able to write your essays if you don't call/visit/coddle your grandma/turtle/friend/boy band member. So go ahead and stop reading this letter and get in touch with these loved ones. Right now.

Also, I keep a stack of sympathy cards in my office for moments like those mentioned in the previous paragraph. I send them to the affected families, so when you come to my office with a program from the funeral, be prepared to leave me with an address where I can send my deepest regrets for your recent loss.

Okay, so you've got kids. Guess what? So do I. Three of them. Ohmygodwetotallyjustbonded. No.

Okay, so you've got kids who, for some reason, constantly keep you from getting your essays done. The last time you sat down to write, your toddler pushed the exact key on the keyboard that deleted all of your work. That is one fucking smart kid to have picked that one key from a whole host of keys. Call MENSA now. Let that kid pick your next Lotto numbers. And what key is it, exactly, that deletes everything? I don't seem to have it on my keyboard and I want to get one so I can use this excuse the next time my boss gives me a deadline.

Seriously?
Someone got paid to write this book?
Your car caught fire? Your meth-addicted significant other suddenly had to enter rehab? Your husband is having an affair with another married man who is also a transvestite? Wow. Sucks to be you. I don't think you'll recover. Honestly. Drop the class.

And. TMI. Boundaries, people.

When the internet at your house crashes (say huh?), don't just throw up your hands and say, "Well, I guess I can't research my essay/turn my essay in/email my essay." Get your ass to the nearest building with internet access and DO YOUR WORK. If your digital television provider suddenly stopped broadcasting right in the middle of a bowl game, your little behind would be huffing it to the nearest Buffalo Wild Wings. So I expect you to make the long journey to a place I like to call a "library"--that's where the "books" are free and so is the internet access. Take your USB drive and head out into the great unknown. Or you can just go to Starbucks.

What's that you say? You don't have the money to buy the "books" for this class and so you haven't done the reading? That's interesting. Most of what we're reading can be found by Googling. The rest can be found in the "library" on campus. And by the way, how much did those shoes/that grill/your highlights/cell phone cost? Uh huh. Drop the class.
I completely agree that Bill Gates is the devil. But even I
know this Wikipedia entry is bogus.

Wikipedia is not an acceptable source for research, nor will it ever be. If you don't quit asking, I'm going to make you go to the "library" and use an actual "book."

So you "just can't find the time" to get to my class. Perhaps what you really mean is you "just can't find the time" to be a college student. I've got a kooky idea--quit school and work full time at a minimum wage job. That way, you only have to show up, do something for about nine hours, and go home. You can totally afford an apartment and a decade-old car and gas and weed and beer on minimum wage. Be happy. Don't bother with college. Unless, of course, you eventually want healthcare. Or a marriage/family. You might be able to support one more person on minimum wage, if you cut out the weed and beer. But there is no way in hell you can support an entire brood. Do yourself a favor, sterilize yourself now. And stock up on hand sanitizer.

Accept the fact that nothing you write about will ever be profound. It won't be. Even if it is about your high school graduation.

Thanks for the poorly-written email which half-ass clarifies why you left in the middle of class. I thought I'd offended you by mentioning prepositional phrases. (As far as I know, these are not the same as what you refer to in your email as "propositional phrases.") Of course your mother's telephone call was much more important than my class. In fact, your parents are much more important than your entire college education because you will end up living with them, not me, when you violate the school's absence policy and are dropped from all of your classes. Take your parents' calls during my lectures. In fact, give them your schedule so they'll call you three times during one fifty minute class. I'm sure they don't give a rat's ass about your education.


I get these all of the time.
Sure I'm here to help you properly string words together, and maybe even inspire you to write something you'll be proud to show to someone other than your MENSA toddler. But really, essay writing is about demonstrating thought and meeting deadlines. If you spend a whopping three hours composing your essay on the eve the work is due--say between eleven and two in the morning--and then admit this to your instructor when you hand it in, not only will you forever be branded as a total fucking idiot, but you're basically saying you don't have time to think. Because you're too busy visiting with your soon-to-be-dead grandmother, probably.

Think of procrastinating this way: it's your birthday and your mom--whose calls you always take, even during my class--has forgotten to get you a gift. So she runs over to the corner convenience store and grabs a bag of pork rinds and a plastic rose that's been collecting dust since the Clinton administration (Google, cowboys). Then she hands these things to you, unwrapped, while you're sitting at the dinner table and says, "I completely forgot it was your birthday."
I'm going to post this message 
to my office door.

Let that feeling sink in. Then grade your mom on her work.

Uh huh: Mom Fail. Fail=F.

That's pretty much the exact way your writing instructor feels about your shitty, last-minute, my-life-is-so-complex-I-can't-write-in-my-own-language essay.

However, if you actually put in some effort, say six hours here or there, and really think hard about your topic, put those thoughts on paper in an attempt to communicate in the language you've been speaking incorrectly since birth, format the page using MLA style, and get it done on time, you'll learn that your efforts are not in vain. You'll earn that D in a blaze of glory.

And just because I look "young and hip" or seem "cool" don't think I won't totally nail your ass on all of the bullshit you spew my way. In fact, it's the "young and hip" and "cool" instructors you should be most afraid of because we're fresh out of graduate school and have delusions that our classrooms will be filled with intelligent people high expectations.You should also be afraid of the "older" and "cranky" instructors because they're close to retirement and have nothing to lose. They will totally flunk your ass for misspelling their names in the heading. In general, you should just be afraid. Never assume that, because you sit in a room for three hours a week, your instructor suddenly becomes your bff and actually gives a shit. We're just counting the days until you violate the attendance policy so we can drop your sorry ass and read one less shitty essay.

Sincerely,

Your Instructor

10.14.2014

I Need Heroin to Be More Funny...Or Just to Relax

...essayists and memoirists i greatly admire typically use humor to describe their otherwise shitty lives...my favorite humorist (is that a dig? i totally don't ever give anyone the moniker of "humorist"...especially a fucking genius...but that word worked here, so i'm going with it) is david sedaris...my love affair with him began not long after his first piece appeared on NPR...yes, i realize he's gay...and that he has a partner...and that i don't KNOW him...and so for all of these reasons i can't have an affair with him...and that i'd probably not be his type, even if i had a penis, because i'm totally boring and don't speak french...

...thanks for the reminders...

...i also greatly admire joan didion, who writes sentences that cut so close to the bone my joints ache after i finish an essay...some of her writing is so blatantly dry in its humor, i wonder sometimes if i'm the only one laughing...

...i probably am...since i'm crazy enough to think that i'm having an affair with david sedaris...

...i've often wondered if my writing is missing humor...so many of my unpublished essays are serious in tone...the ones that tend to "make it" are those where the audience is tempted to laugh at me and my own idiocy...

...i've been thinking about this A LOT...to the point where i haven't posted anything here in nearly two months...

...and i've made a decision...

...some things just aren't funny:
  • the fact that my father is in prison for rape = not funny...anyone who wants to make rape/rapists into a punchline should just be punched...
  • the fact that my maternal grandmother was xenophobic and probably bi-polar = not funny...mental illness should never be trivialized...sure, we can poke fun at our phobias, but at the end of the day serious mental conditions don't exist just so we can have a good laugh...
...other things are funny, but for some reason i'm struggling trying to compose coherent essays and/or blog posts about them:
  • the fact that i seem to be the only person in the world who mishears song lyrics = funny... seriously, i thought a line in Prince's "7" was "with your intellect and your side warfare"...you know, as in the wars we have on the side...
  • the fact that, until i was thirty five, i didn't know the location of the caribbean = funny...(my husband set me straight on this one, and couldn't fathom how i'd never just, i don't know, looked at a map...when i explained to him that i didn't need a map because my favorite ride at disneyland is "The Pirates of the Caribbean," he squinted at me as if he'd suddenly become superman and could see right into my skull with his x-ray eyes and was not surprised that i lacked a brain)...since my frame of reference for all things geographic is disney, i should defend myself...the ride begins with a short boat tour through a swamp-like area...for some reason, i always mistook that swamp for somewhere in louisiana...probably because i'd actually been to a louisiana swamp...and then there's a huge drop and the boat is delivered to a hot underground area where everyone's speaking with british accents, the soldiers are wearing british uniforms, the prostitues tempt us with their british sorcery...so we must be somewhere on the coast of britain or perhaps north africa, right?...it's not the case, actually...apparently, the british somehow managed to move their entire culture of waste and debauchery to a set of tiny islands a wee bit south of florida...who knew?
  • the fact that when i'm left alone for an extended period of time i begin to wonder if things i was told misunderstood in my childhood were actually true = funny...i have thoughts like do toilets flush in the opposite direction in australia? are all ice-cream trucks just enticing cover vehicles for child molesters? can you really choke on pixie-stick sugar? is the caribbean really just a wee bit south of florida? but i never actually google these things...i just wonder...
  • the fact that my twins and my oldest daughter tempt me on a daily basis to take up drinking, smoking (again) and/or heroin use...not that they're actually holding up the wine/packs of smokes/heroin needles, but that their general "kidness" sometimes requires me to react the way i do right before a tube of pillsbury  biscuits pops...i hold it at arm's length and try to cover my ears at the same time and eventually just drop dough everywhere and yell at my husband to handle it...i would think that shooting heroin might help calm my nerves...i could be wrong...

8.06.2014

My Natural Hair Journey

...i'm the only woman in my family with naturally curly hair...but i haven't always embraced my curls...especially since i didn't acquire them until i hit puberty sometime in middle school...instead of breasts, my menstrual cycle was accompanied by new hair growth that was thin, curly, and frizzy...

...for those of you still reading after the mention of my menstrual cycle, allow me to share a picture of what my hair looked like during the process of growing new curly hair and living with board-straight ends:
...i began my obsession with writing in middle school...
...it wasn't pretty...especially since my dirty-blonde hair reached nearly to my waist...

...Grandma devised three solutions...the first was to wet and braid my hair before i went to bed...so i'd sleep on wet braids, my pillows would get damp, and i'd wake with a migraine...once she took out all of the braids the next morning, and finger combed each section, only the last few inches of my hair would be straight for the day...thus i looked exactly like this:
...i was actually kinda cute back then...
...my mother is still convinced this method of wearing wet braids to bed is what really "turned my head curly"...personally, i think it's why i had pneumonia...twice...

...solution number two was a bit less involved for Grandma, but made for a difficult night's sleep for me...she purchased 200 small pink foam rollers, the self-locking kind, and sectioned my hair into 200 squares..then she wrapped my long wet strands around and around and around and around the sponge until it resembled a barbell...she locked it in place and repeated the process until she got through all 200 strands...then i slept like this:
...i couldn't find a picture of me sleeping with my eyes open...
...but this is pretty close...
...the next morning, Grandma freed the rollers that hadn't escaped from their lassos--there were a litter of refugees in the bed--then she used a pick to fluff it all out...she took a big clip or a scrunchie (don't judge, this was the early nineties) and tied back the front curls--which were always kinkier than the rest--so i could see...at the end of this process, i looked like this:
...those of you who own a copy of Almondale Middle School's yearbook for
my 8th grade year will recognize this as my class photograph...
...Grandma's last line of defense was to blow dry my hair...she owned a hand dryer that was older than my mother and resembled a child's toy...it worked well on her straight short helmet, but for me it simply did this:
...this is the only photo i have of my blown-out hair...i hope you get the idea...
...seven inches of hair got chopped before i began high school...that way, i only had to deal with the ten remaining straight inches and my curly roots...Grandma bought me a set of curling irons and i spent about an hour every morning curling my hair into loose waves...and wishing the entire time i had straight hair just like all of the other smooth-headed girls in my school...i used the irons, and a shellac of hairspray, to straighten a set of bangs for myself, so desperate was i to fit in with the rest of the crowd:
...here's a candid shot of me straightening my bangs for school...
 ...every magazine, movie, television show, and cassette cover glorified straight hair...shampoos and conditioners promised to tame frizz and straighten locks...i followed the directions daily--lather, wash, rinse, repeat--yet my hair seemed to get curlier and curlier...

...eventually, i got enough trims so i didn't have to camouflage my straight ends anymore...the curls completely took over...and i got bombarded by comments from my family about being the only person with curly hair--the freak, the standout...i was given hairbrushes, hair dryers, flat irons, and serums to straighten it all out...that way i'd look like i belonged in the same house...
...my sisters in the far back, mother on the left, and grandma on the right...

...eventually, perms were en vogue...and for second i was envied...Grandma bought me Mane n Tail conditioner...something called a diffusing sock was given to me as a stocking stuffer one christmas...my long curly hair was not the thorn in my side it had been...

...a week later, madonna straightened her hair...

...so my only two hairstyles became a ponytail, with straight-ironed bangs or a half-up, half-down blown-out catastrophe...i spent about a quarter of my life wishing i could simply wear a wig over the disaster that was my natural hair...

*    *    *

...i sprouted white hairs when i was seventeen, mostly because perms fell out of fashion and i began to, again, long for straight hair...along with damaging it with brushing and heat-drying, i started to cover my white with dye...by my twenties, my curls were very damaged, so i underwent a big chop...i had a stylist cut it down to an inch all over...it was the first time in my life i didn't have to do a thing to my hair in order to leave the house:
...me at my sister's wedding...
...just looking at this picture makes me long for my short-short hair...
...and everywhere i went, people thought i was a lesbian...i'm not sure why having short curly hair made me a lesbian, but there you have it...

...after the big chop i promised myself i would never torture my hair again...i was going to embrace my curly hair even if learning how to care for it caused me to pull it all out in exasperation...i bought books on caring for curly hair...i learned about pattern and texture...that i actually have 3 patterns of curls on my head, thus i can't treat all areas in the same way...

...i let my curls grow and stopped trying to straighten them...

...and i began shopping for haircare products in the tiny "ethnic" hair section of my local store...i did this because it's what all of the books and articles i'd read told me to do, not because i suddenly felt a kinship with african-american women...i consider myself post-racial and the fact that these products were put into a separate but equal aisle burned my ass...especially since i'd lived through high school with bad hair...had these "ethnic" bottles been included in the rows of Pantene and Aussie, i may have had a better date to junior prom...

...the stares that ensued when i shopped for "ethnic" products were so laced with blatant racism that i didn't know how to respond...why was i buying "ethnic" products, the narrowed eyes of the checker asked me...in the aisle, the african-american women sporting glorious afros tisked when i grabbed bottles and began to read the "Directions for use"...and my straight-haired family members joked that i was "black"...
...my noble pose...rising above...
 ...when i began shopping for head wraps, shower caps, deep conditioning treatments, silk pillow cases, and curl-friendly hair dye at my local beauty supply store, i got the patronizing sort of racism...the kind that said, "oh aren't you cute? you think you're one of us"...when i went online and searched for protective styles for sleeping with curly hair, the first hundred thousand videos were all made by "ethnic" women...when a co-worker of mine began a natural hair club, i was the only white woman in the room, and when i began to talk about curl patterns and texture the young members all gaped at me, shocked i could speak the curly girl language...

...i'm floored by the angry comments i've recently seen on natural hair posts and blogs...was i so busy trying to look like a white girl with straight hair that i completely missed the movement to turn curly hair into an "us versus them" argument? i'm not an uneducated yokel...i minored in US History at University...specifically US Southern history from 1700-the civil rights movement...i understand that "black is beautiful" is not a universally accepted mantra, that black women (and men) have been unjustly brainwashed into believing their hair is "nappy" or "shameful" or "ethnic" and thus "inferior"...i was infuriated when the "You Can Touch My Hair" exhibition went down at Union Square--it reminded me of the accounts of white slave owners pawing over slaves on the auction block...but COME ON...it's curly hair...if we're going to make this an "us versus them" issue let's make it an "US versus THEM" issue and get to the root cause of why we've been shamed out of our natural hair: those straight-haired skinny bitches we hated in high school...

...i think back to the nights when i slept sitting up...the dozens of wet braids...the years i spent camouflaging my natural look, not just by the failed attempts at curling the straight ends, but by wearing it in a ponytail or french braid or horrific blow-out because i didn't know what to do with it, and my culture and family told me straight was the only way to go...i wanted so badly to look like everyone else that i didn't even know what i looked like...the women who've been able to share that exact feeling with me are my "ethnic" friends...so when i read articles about the need for "black only" spaces, i cringe...the need and desire for these spaces, under the context of not having to "perform" for those outside of one's race, seems to be taking a giant leap backward...it reminds me of that small "ethnic" section in my local store, the managers who place those products in separate but equal space...
...me, front, with a couple of my "ethnic" girlfriends...
...notice how i still can't seem to get it right, yet their natural styles are perfect...
...i'm no hair guru...i've been embracing my curls for fifteen years and i just learned last week to dry it with a t-shirt so it won't frizz...i still haven't mastered wearing a head wrap the way my stylish and sophisticated "ethnic" friends do (i need more pashminas, apparently)...i don't wrap my hair at night the way my Victorian ancestors used to (though i want to, so please help: if you can, come over and wrap it for me, because every time i try it falls out)...

...a rare color photo of my great-grandmother wearing her night cap...
 ...when i get a cut, i still have my stylist wash it and give me a blow out so i can pretend to be one of the beautiful people for a few days...i ask my "ethnic" girlfriends for hair tips and advice, and we joke openly about the fact that i have more in common, follically, with them than anyone in my own family...

...my six-year-old daughter has board-straight hair...she often asks me to straighten my curls...i patiently tell her that mommy's hair is curly, not straight, and she sighs and says, "i don't like your curly hair"

...when i ask her why she says, "because we don't look alike"

...i take the opportunity to turn her distressed comment into a teaching moment...we have a chat about embracing our differences, not stepping to the same drum beat, and what a sad world we would live in if we all had straight hair and looked alike...because she's six, we've had this conversation more than once...it typically takes a few reminders for these life lessons to sink in...

...what's truly distressing to me is the large number of women, "ethnic" and not, who've never had this conversation...or think it's a conversation that is beneath them...

7.09.2014

The Gross

...even though it's like pouring warm water on a frostbitten foot, i continue to listen to "Fresh Air" whose host i've taken to referring to as The Gross...i think i'm biased against her, in part, because of her shoddy interview with barry hannah, where it's clear barry is humoring her...but something that also bothers me is her corny laugh...she sounds like the long-lost sister to beavis or butthead...

...there's a resemblance here, right? i can't be the only idiot who thinks so...
...you'd think that after years of interviewing celebrities, politicians, and other important people, she'd grow out of that schoolgirl giggling and just do a damned good interview...is it too much to ask that she be barbara walters?

...still, i listen...and i cringe...and every so often i'll write down a phrase, word, or sentence uttered by The Gross that actually makes me embarrassed...so much so i feel an overwhelming need to crawl under my desk, and begin moaning and rocking until the  prickles of her voice on those words is eradicated from my brain...i wish there was a way to open the top of my skull and bleach some of these away...

...i thought purging them might help to keep them from spinning in my brain during the wee hours of the morning when i can't sleep...

"So, when you come out of rehab, and you're, like, off drugs..." say huh? what does it mean, exactly, to be "like, off drugs"?

"So I'm having a lot of trouble wrapping my mind around the concept of parallel universes..." thank you for this keen, insightful, and interview-worthy comment...

"What about throwing up blood? Did you consult a magician for that too?" this is from her notorious interview with Gene Simmons...really, that whole interview made me cringe, but for some reason when she said this phrase i lost it...i thought, no, The Gross, he consulted a doctor who said, "Sure, Gene, puke blood"...

"I think, like, the human voice is an amazing instrument. Like the more you understand it, the more amazing it becomes." (an interview with Tom Waits)...was this some sort of backhand insult about Waits' voice?...this is a woman who TALKS for a LIVING, and this was her profound wisdom about voices...

"How much sadism is, like, enough?"

"Yes, your manhood is kind of, like, italicized."

 "Well, I'm going to say it and I hope it gives you pleasure."

...these phrases came from three different interviews, if you can believe it...

...The Gross has a series of words she tends to rush through, slur, or almost lick onto the microphone so as to distort her voice and make the listener wonder, What the hell did she just say?...words like "sex" and "meth dealer" and "bra" and "yearning"...when she says these things, my brain summons a giddy schoolboy who has stolen the mic from the principal during an assembly, is running around the auditorium pursued by wild-eyed teachers, and is muttering into the too-close foam ball of said microphone all of the curse words he can before getting caught...i'll never be able to hear someone say "hard drive" again without thinking of The Gross and suddenly feeling like i need a sterilizing shower...

...perhaps my masochistic relationship with The Gross has to do with her use of "like" during her interviews...it's a word that, like, used to, like, make it's way into, like, every conversation i had when i was, like, a
teenager in california...it reminds me of talking to my sisters--who live far away from me and i hardly ever see--because when we, like, talk on the phone, we, like, totally throw back to, like, the eighties...though her show is taped in philly, her overuse of "like" reminds me of those wayward years when i could talk to someone and wasn't expected to follow the rules of standard american english grammar...

6.27.2014

I Want Boehner's Job

...i'm going to start working the way our representatives work and see what happens...

1. Congress never shows up to work the way normal Americans do. In fact, they take off for the entire month of August. Nearly a full week of every other month is devoted to "constituent work." Right. Boo-hoo, they put in 60 hour work weeks. I once had a colleague who added up all of the time he devoted to each task he completed each day. He found out he was working 29 hours a day.
  • I'm going to start listing my student contact hours as "in my office" or "virtual teaching" and then, I don't know, go to the mall or a U-2 concert.

2. Under the Bush reign, Congress failed to pay for two wars, though our Constitution clearly states that taxes have to be levied to do so. Taxes were cut, thus increasing the national debt.
  • I'm going to tell my students that every assignment they complete must be turned in electronically. Then I'm going to tell them if they use any electronic devices, they'll fail the course.

3.  Congress gives itself pay increases and benefits packages. What might Jefferson have given himself? More slaves. More land. More velvet knickers.
  • I'd like to start voting for my own accommodations at work--an office with a window, zero deductible health care, a salary large enough to support my family on one paycheck.

4. Our representatives can work until they die. Meanwhile, the president has to solve all of the problems they've created in four (maybe eight) years. All other elderly Americans get pushed out of the workplace and become Wal-Mart greeters. John Boehner becoming a Wal-Mart greeter would be one more reason to avoid Wal-Mart.
  • I'm going to stop using all forms of technology in my classrooms. I'll refuse to use e-mail. I'll start making ditto copies. I'll demand a typewriter to replace my computer. My students will be forced into the library where they'll actually hold books in their hands--this is the only way to read! I'm too old to learn new things, and these whippersnappers aren't taking over on my watch.

5. Let me get this straight--they banged a gavel, announced they were in session, and left the chamber? No one in sight. Just so the president couldn't do his job. This is the equivalent of reserving a tennis court, failing to show up to play, and suing the Parks and Rec department when they let someone play on the reserved court.
  • I'm coming to work Monday and putting a note on my office door that I'm inside. Then I'll go home.

6. The popularity of our constituents drops below 10%, yet over 90% of incumbents are reelected. Hum.
  • I have an advisee who has taken the same class twice. And failed twice. By doing the same thing--plagiarizing a paper. But instead of reporting him to the Dean, I'll just allow him to enroll in the class again. Because he says he's gonna change.

7. Many representatives are blatantly sexist and racist. From the comments on rape, to insinuations about "inner city" populations, they don't care who they offend. They're not afraid to share their individual prejudices with the world. And the world isn't afraid to think those sexist and racist comments represent the whole of America.
  • The next time a pregnant African-American student enters my classroom, I'm going to say, "Who's the baby daddy this time? All of the instructors here are saying it's some dude with three other illegitimate kids." Let's see how that goes over.


5.27.2014

Miss (Lazy) Piggy

The fifth chapter reading from my Blendkit2014 class discusses “hallmarks of quality” in online and blended courses.

Basically, there’s no One Size Fits Most quality control model for blended classes because standards vary from course to course, semester to semester, student to student. Essentially, if some grand set of standards were created, by the following semester they would be obsolete for various reasons, among them the evolution of the technology used to facilitate learning.

What the chapter argues most strongly for is communication between faculty members about best practices.  The chapter notes course instructors should “solicit peer review of specific resources, activities, or assessment strategies” in order to improve. Communicating with my colleagues about what works and what falls short is something I started doing when I began to teach over a decade ago. I did it because I felt inferior. Because I hadn't spent nearly a decade student teaching before I got my first tenure-track position. Because I didn't spend nine years on a PhD. I student taught for one year. And I didn't have to take the ubiquitous "This is How You Need to Teach" graduate course in order to teach. How I got so lucky, I have no idea. But this bit of luck left me feeling like I was swinging for the fences without knowing exactly where The Green Monster was located.

So I’m all for sharing. What I hate is when we share, and I change, but everyone else goes right on doing the same ole thing.

Case in point: Miss Piggy—a former colleague who, though she was thin as a rail, looked so much like the Muppet that I couldn’t stand to make eye contact with her, lest I inquire about her lopsided relationship with Kermit.

Miss Piggy’s favorite pastime was to complain about an ethnography project she assigned to her freshmen writing students. She made the information about the assignment—lecture, PowerPoints, examples, links—available for students through the online platform used by the College. Yet every semester she would give that high-pitched "hurm" and complain her students “just didn’t get it.”

After three years of her bitching and moaning—which inevitably found me cornered in a stairwell while she gesticulated and huffed—I  finally asked if she wanted me to review the directions for the assignment and help her identify any shortcomings.
She gave me that famous Miss Piggy scowl. And said, “Why do students need directions?”

No joke.

I modified my question and framed it ineloquently while using the phrase “guidelines by which to complete the research and writing.”

The scowl remained, this time coupled with the downward nose-bend. “If I tell them what to do, I’ll be doing the work for them,” she finally said.


It was hard to take Miss Piggy seriously.

Especially when she was out of touch with quality control in her pedagogy.  She deemed even the mention of explaining an outcome, goal, or expectation beneath her.

Miss Piggy is not alone. There are hundreds of instructors on University, College, and CC campuses that feel like students should “just know.” They should “just know” how to navigate an online platform. They should “just know” good writing from bad. They should “just know” that the liver is not an organ in the neck.

I wonder where all of this “just knowing” should come from.

Chapter Five asserts “it is the lived experiences of the students and teachers, their actual interactions, in which teaching and learning are made manifest.” If this is the case—and I believe it is—Miss Piggy and her fellow players need to, as Grandma would say, “Git down offa their high horses.” The students, though they may be incapable of whipping up an ethnography of their own extended family, are sometimes the best teachers a professional educator can have (and so says the chapter). They adapt to technology more quickly than those of us who remember our first typewriters with near-sexual fondness. They were born into a world of .com, and are capable of using tools older instructors find frustrating. Instead of seeing them as peons who benefit only from expostulations from the mouth of a Muppet pig, perhaps they should be seen as potential equals who need a little guidance. Otherwise, when we forget to open a drop box or close a unit prematurely, we might find them looking at us and saying, “You’re the one implementing the technology, so shouldn’t you know how to do this?”



People—professionals and novices—learn through experience. We internalize what we’ve learned and we change things (hopefully for the better). If those things fail, we try something else. We don’t continue to use a failed model and expect a different result each time. That’s insanity.

But to admit that what we’re doing is failing, or falling short of “good” teaching, is perhaps difficult for Miss Piggy and the other Muppets, perhaps because they’ve reached a point in their teaching careers that to admit failure is to admit they really hate what they do. And that admission is scary because then the students may not be—gasp!—as stupid as Miss Piggy wants us to believe.

Miss Piggy's ethnography assignment made me panic over ponder the quality of education her freshmen were getting in comparison to my own students. She had spent years on her dissertation, had been a student teacher for longer than I was in graduate school, and used the word "pedagogy" before I even knew I had one. Clearly, she was better/smarter than I was when it came to handling students. Chapter Five says comparison is a natural instinct, that “there is likely always to be some degree of comparison since it seems that there is always someone concerned with whether this course is ‘good enough’.” Though this phrase seems to imply there is little validity in panic comparing and making judgments of quality, I know bullshit when I see it.



And what I saw was one lazy Miss Piggy.

5.15.2014

And Then They Made Me Their Chief


Here’s a tid-bit from Chapter 4 of the Blendkit course I’m taking at UCF:

Traditionally, in a lecture format, the instructor provides motivation (scheduled class time) and content in pre-planned units according to the course’s relation to the program of study. As information has become more public and distributed, the role of instructor as organizer and dispenser of information has shifted. Learners can readily access online lectures, articles, podcasts, and other resources to augment the information provided by the instructor.


This passage made me think of the hunter-gatherer dichotomy. Here are all of my students, running across the open plains of information, flinging their spears and shooting arrows at the mastodons of knowledge. And when they bring back the carcasses, it’s my job, as their chief, to help them parse, digest, and assimilate that knowledge. To make sure that what they’re doing with it will benefit the tribe.

So.

I want a headdress. And a sweat lodge in my classroom. 

I also want an App for my class.

As in, “Are you taking English 1101 this semester? There’s an
App for that.”

The Blendkit2014 chapter suggests
Online materials are central to a blended course’s success, and the students’ work online must be relevant to the in-class activities. I want to take this one step further. I want my class to be relevant to their lives, thus making the class central to their success as hunters.


And hunters need Apps.

And I’m not talking about all of the Apps that would just “help” them in college in general.

Blackboard has an App similar to what I want, but my College hasn’t subscribed to it. So, as a good chief would, I'm doing the equivalent of a rain dance, asking the mother goddess to send me an App to strengthen my tribe.

I want my hunters to be able to whip out their Smart devices—at the beauty salon, at their kids’ t-ball games, while they are running through the prairies of information—and dazzle the other hunters with their accuracy at spearing a mastodon. When someone says, “Hey, what’s that App?” I want my students to say, “It’s my English class. I just read ‘Shooting an Elephant.’”

5.14.2014

Ice Moustache



This week’s BlendKit chapter covered how to assess student learning. Ah assessment. How I love that word. My introduction to classroom assessment happened not long after I was hired at The School That Shall Not Be Named, and my Chair handed me a CD Rom with the label “Ass. Docs.” 

Yep. Thankfully, it was not a CD of strange MLA porn.

I’ve learned a few things since then. Mostly that when someone hands you a CD Rom with the label “Ass. Docs.” you should expect him/her not to be around much longer. And he wasn’t.

Then came his esteemed successor—Shriveled Spider—who had our division juke stats for assessment. Ass Docs indeed.

At my new institution, assessment is taken a bit more seriously. They have standardized tests in place that gauge student learning. Plug the assessment into your course, viola!

Still, these assessments are typically multiple choice exams (MCEs). So I stopped and pondered when I came across the following passage in my chapter reading this week:

“Despite the importance of real life application of knowledge and skills, perhaps the most common type of assessment is still the traditional multiple choice exam.  Placing such tests (or non-graded self-assessment versions) online is one of the most popular approaches to blended assessment of learning.”

Why is this the case? If educators—and assumingly administrators who used to be educators—realize the MCE runs a distant second to assessing students’ application of knowledge and skills why not chuck it and create/implement assessments that completely apply to what students will be doing in “real life”?

I loathe multiple choice tests—in college I was diagnosed with test anxiety and had to implement rituals strategies for completing MCEs. It was a rare occasion when I didn’t have a complete panic attack during one.  So I try not to have any MCEs in my classes.  However, in a writing course I just designed and built in our online platform (to be used by all faculty at my College) I had to implement two MCEs. One is to assess SLOs for SACS (so, really there’s no way around that one—the data has to be solid, unchanging, and not left up to interpretation). The other is to test for grammar—which to me is ridiculous. Grammar is not learned through rote instruction, it’s learned through trial and error. Then, we forget break the rules. Like misplaced modifiers. I’m reading a NYT Bestseller right now and on page 24, right there in broad daylight, living without shame, is an incredibly bad misplaced modifier. The author, the agent, the editor, the publisher—they all missed it/didn’t care it was there. So why, oh why, should I test my students on misplaced modifiers? Who cares if they write, “I saw a sculpture next to the man with a moustache made of ice.” I know the moustache wasn’t made of ice. We’re not on Pluto. Ice moustaches don’t exist. I’m just impressed they can spell moustache.

So why did I include the test? Simple. I’m lazy. There are ten assessments in the class—the two MCEs and eight writing assignments. Those eight assignments involve several steps and workshops before the final draft is submitted—drop boxes, peer edits, classroom presentation. I will spend most of my semester grading the writing assignments using a detailed rubric, giving grammar instruction through trial and error, and writing end notes that say things like, “If you can’t quit using the second person pronoun, you will fail the course.” I need a wee break, even if it comes in the form as a self-grading MCE.

And I’m not ashamed to admit it.

So I was very happy when the chapter reading directed me to the web-page by Bobby Hoffman and Denise Lowe. I am going to keep this little page in my back pocket as I create new, more effective MCEs.

And I’m also going to go polish my ice moustache.

And then I’m going to take my Ass Docs for a little walk.

5.08.2014

It's Fun to Stay at the YWCA


Dear Michele Bachmann,

I need you to turn in your vagina. Immediately.

This is not up for debate. You cannot, as you did on the House floor, defend yourself as being “pro-women.”

Especially when you ranted about your plan to vote No on HR 863: “A no vote on the current legislation, which I advocate for," you said, “is a vote to stand up for the pro-life movement, a vote to stand up for traditional marriage, and a vote to stand up for the traditional family.”

Perhaps you need a brief lesson in the importance of American women: 

  • Those darn WACs helped the Allies win The Good War. You know, the war that fought against that pro-traditionalist known as Adolf Hitler?  
  • Tipsy Jamestown Women brewed beer and butchered animals to keep settlers drunk and fed. Yet, oddly, that pesky 18th Amendment? Yeah. A little known group called The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (who referred to themselves as “moral guardians” charged with protecting their families from the evils incited by liquor). 
  • Um, the 19th Amendment. Yep. Guess why you get to vote?

Or why you get to do anything besides clean your home and have your husband’s children.

When you said the new National Women’s History Museum on the Mall would “enshrine the radical feminist movement” you targeted Margaret Sanger, who founded the American Birth Control League (which later became Planned Parenthood). Labeling her as an “abortion trailblazer” really limits the scope of her impact, don’t you think? I mean, you’re completely ignoring the fact that Sanger’s revolutionary ideas were influenced by the limited life lead by her mother—a woman who birthed nearly a dozen children and had to raise them virtually on her own because her husband was a “loveable but impractical political activist.”

(I know you can relate to him.)

You’re ignoring generalizing the history that the NWHM will provide.

No vagina for you.

Sincerely,

Every Woman With Half a Brain

5.06.2014

Plagiarism: The New Gateway Drug

Today I was trapped in a professional development seminar disguised as an informal discussion about millennial students. Many of the other faculty members in the room were around my same age--Gen-Xers. The presenter claimed to be Gen-X, too. But when he let fly his birth year, I experienced an "Oh no" moment. Never would I consider someone born just five years after my own mother a member of my generation. I think he may have been misinformed.

As were many of my colleagues. The woman sitting immediately behind and to the right of me became indignant when the presenter said, "This is a cut-and-paste generation. They don't see anything wrong with having information on the internet at their fingertips and copying it into an assignment and turning it in for a grade." The indignant woman scoffed and said, "I just don't understand what's wrong with plagiarizing in a class that's not part of their major."

"Oh no" moment numero dos.

I calmly turned around (read: my face immediately began to burn and I whipped my head around so fast I nearly gave myself whiplash) and said, "I just read an article about what we're really doing in the classroom. What we're really doing when we're teaching about plagiarism is teaching about integrity." (Okay, it's a blog post, not an article. Sue me.)

As I said this, my voice rose. I tried very hard to stay in my seat and not rip the face off of Little Miss Plagiarism.

Some of the other people in the room tried to come to my aid and began to make statements about plagiarism, probably because I was the only General Education person in the room--and the only English instructor--and my annoyance with Little Miss Plagiarism was pretty apparent.

To everyone but Little Miss Plagiarism who said, "But it's just words. Who cares about taking someone else's words?"

"It's intellectual property," I snapped. I could've gotten up on my I'm-A-Writer high horse and turned her comment into an attack on me personally, but by then I was so angry and fuming I couldn't even think about myself. "It's about teaching them not to steal. To be good people."

"Words don't harm people," Little Miss Plagiarism continued. "What does it hurt to take someone else's words?"

"Tell Snowdon that," I said. Granted, not my finest analogy. I probably should've said, "The pen is mightier than the sword," or pointed to The Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Female Citizen or The Declaration of Independence or The Fugitive Slave Law (or any law for that matter). But by then I was willing myself not to clobber this woman.

And I suddenly found myself having "Oh no" moment number 3: She probably plagiarized her way through undergrad (maybe even grad school, too), and was voicing a "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" opinion without mentioning her goosey behavior.

I couldn't even look at Little Miss Plagiarism anymore. I was sitting with my arms crossed staring at the large screen at the front of the room where the presenter's slideshow was stalled on the big red print "'Cut and paste' mentality."

The discussion swirled around me, forming a toxic bullshit cloud that I was sure was going to float out of the room, across campus, and into the President's office so he could then say, "Thank goodness they all agree that plagiarism is a practice our students should avoid," before going on with his more important tasks. Because what seemed to be going on was lip service. I hoped my colleagues actually believed what they were saying about the necessity to keep our students from plagiarizing and not simply disagreeing to save face, but I didn't think they were. Somehow, I was sure I was the only person in the room that actually cared about language. About integrity. About thinking.

Because that's what plagiarism does--it removes the necessity of thought. It keeps the plagiarizer from flexing his/her mental muscles and turns them into an intellectual weakling. Millennials are going to end up as the generation that explains why they think what they think by saying, "Wikepedia told me."

Especially with teachers and mentors like Little Miss Plagiarism, who seem to think that intellectual darkness is fine and dandy. If I'd had my wits about me, instead of my temper, I might've hyperbolized and mentioned something about The Dark Ages.

As it was, when I finally regained enough composure to enter the discussion again, I said, "Students plagiarize once and get away with it, so then they do it again and again."

A minute later, someone else said the exact same thing. Which lead me to "Oh no" moment number 4: No one was listening to me. Which lead me to "Oh no" number 5: I was right about lip service.

The presenter interjected with an analogy: "You wouldn't steal someone's car, would you? So why would you steal their words?"

I looked down at my lap. I couldn't believe I was in a room with people who had to reduce the explanation of plagiarism to grand theft auto.

So fell my idea of the intellectual utopia. Which, if I'm being honest with myself, is an idea that began to crumble long before Little Miss Plagiarism made her comment. And it has nothing to do with millennial students. And everything to do with the fact that I seem to continually work around people who don't seem to want to be teaching. They struggle and moan and complain. And never change. They think that teaching is supposed to be easy, something they can throw together while they watch 60 Minutes.

I don't get it.

Little Miss Plagiarism finally said, "So plagiarism is a gateway drug to other bad behavior."

Yes, Little Miss Plagiarism, that's exactly what it is. Now go buy LoJack. And find another profession.