Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I See You

I love this little illustration of a classroom through a teacher's eyes (eyeglasses). This drawing accompanied a NY Times article on educational issues a few weeks ago, but it seems appropriate for so many related things. On first glance, many of the kids look bored or sleepy. To be sure they are. Sleep depravation continues to explain much that the pundits and critics and bashers of the current condition of schools and schooling often miss or dismiss altogether. But kids, especially in a classroom arranged like the one pictured, get fidgety, they yawn, they daydream, they take their time. Some of the kids are reading, some appear unconscious, and some are thinking. By most standards, this is a normal size class. These kids don't look hostile; they don't look angry or "at risk" in too many ways.
What's fascinating to me is not what you see, but what you can't see. Even if all the kids were sitting in neat rows perfectly engaged, it would still be an illusion. You can't see their lives after school, their families, their wishes, fears, hopes, anxieties and dreams.
The picture presents the appearance of a "public school" and a diverse student population as well. As such, it just might be an endangered species. I know a number of public school teachers who send their own kids to private schools and a few other folks, not credentialed teachers who are considering home schooling. In a democracy, this certainly gives me pause. While I worry about these trends I know that I may not be around to see how they will all play out. But what I do see is a definite movement away from the public school and all it's challenges and shortcomings. Those that can, move. They go to other schools, other communities, other methods. The public school implodes. The very people who are most committed to being the change, being the support system, being the backbone, take off. And what remains?
What remains is the reality of democracy in America today. What remains are those who do not have the luxury of going anywhere. But know this: there are many teachers that remain too. Many professionals who know that if this country is to come anywhere near its promise, anywhere near its perfectability, it must maintain strong public schools at all cost.
With the encroachment of "virtual culture" this will not be easy to do. If we fail, we all fail.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sail Away

June has been kind to me, but I'm crawling out of my skin, anxious to get up into the mountains and check out a few small lakes and streams I know. With rain and snow late into the spring, there is no reason to panic. Still, I get itchy. Back to the bounty of June: two articles published and promise of one more. Some readings and open mic performances, and possibly more. Winning a little memoir writing competition has been a nice boost and now, with warm weather and the promise of some travel, all's well.

This morning while browsing around in my local Goodwill, a wonderful bit of synchronicity occurred. Katie wanted to go to the big Goodwill in search of blue work shirts, so we drove down there. I'm always aware of who shops in Goodwill and why, but these days it's most everyone. Definitely a diverse experience for Portland. This morning more blacks and Latinos than white folks, (again, rare for Portland) but who's counting? So here I am walking up and down the rows, dealing with that unmistakable musty smell, looking at books, sports equipment, sweaters, shirts, and a song playing in the background gets my attention. It's Randy Newman's "Sail Away." I love this song but it's important to note that it's Randy Newman at his satirical best. The song is about the slave trade and sung through a paternalistic, condescending voice telling how great it's gonna be in America.
"Aint no lions tigers or Mamba snakes,
Just the sweet watermelon and buckwheat cakes,
You'll be as happy as a monkey in a monkey tree,
We're all gonna be an American."

What an interesting contrast as I looked through the contents of the store and faces around me. I wonder what forces are at play in the universe to make this juxtaposition possible. But I don't wonder too much. Just enjoy.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Just Do

Today I bought a couple of tickets to an upcoming concert. Finally. Something so simple seemed to bring great relief. Here's why: I made the decision to go without waiting for a handful of friends who expressed interest but have been unable to act.
It's the Carolina Chocolate Drops outdoor concert at the Oregon Zoo. Great venue, perfect time of the year. July in Portland can be ideal. I just couldn't wait for anyone who was still "thinking" about going to decide. Things don't happen when people think too much. That's what I'm coming to believe.
Oh, I know it's not such a big deal, but there is a bigger picture here. Doing is important. Thinking about doing is often ineffective. It's my new mantra.
I've lost a few fly fishing buddies too. Nobody died, not yet. But one friend has been seriously ill, another unwilling to travel to Portland, another a new father, (he's in his 30s) and another is a gamble because he's never fly fished before and believe me, that's work. I'm still contemplating going away for a few days alone, but that's always dicey, and never as fun. But the time to do has come. Even a simple act like making a decision to go somewhere or do something that you really enjoy, that your need to preserve your sanity, that brings you pleasure...can be crippling.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

On The Radio

Last night some of my writer and poet friends and I did a radio performance of our "show" called Love Outlives Us. The performance was originally done at Three Friends Coffeehouse in SE Portland last February.
Doing live radio, especially at a listener sponsored station like KBOO, is always an adventure. After some initial guitar amp problems, we settled into two side by side studios and using headsets began the 50 min. program on time. Having to pass around one pair of earphones between three of us was less than desirable, but harkened back to something out of the early days of radio. Seems like all the nervousness and anxiety vanished because we were having fun juggling the headset, moving about the small studio, trying not to rustle our pages, cough, or get caught saying something unwanted into a live mic.
It looks like we'll get a good recording of all our efforts.
Hard to tell how many people listen to a small station on 10 p.m. on a Monday night. But since there are sister stations in Hood River and Corvallis, Oregon, we may have reached a few hundred or a few thousand people. Three listeners called during the show, but our engineer, Patrick, was never able to respond to their calls because he was so busy keeping the right mic live, and adjusting volume and recording levels.
I truly hope radio becomes immune to all the technology changes going on in this culture right now. Somehow, even with advances in recording and sound quality, and availability, the core structure and utility remain the same.
I wonder how many people stuck working in bars, cafes, and other businesses listen to a station like KBOO? I'm sure there are students in residence halls and apartments that listen to radio on a Monday night.
No way to know, but I do know that they got a most original and entertaining dose of spoken word.

Monday, June 7, 2010


Once again the state of Louisiana faces cultural extinction. We can be frustrated and angry at the response time, but with Katrina, Mother Nature still had the last word. This time it's different. Just as the gulf and it's ecology will never be the same, so to will BP never be the same.
As one creole fisherman said the other day, "the gulf the canary, and if you don't like what you see here then take heed, it's coming near you next."
The oil spill may have made a sludgy mess of the gulf waters, but in another way it has sent out a ripple clear and powerful as a Cajun fiddle.
Here's what we can expect now: Lots of critiques of the Obama administration. Even when he's angry, it's hard to see that the President is angry. So what's appropriate here for a head of state? We don't doubt that he is intelligent, that his emotions don't get in the way like they do for most politicians, but perhaps it's time to get righteously pissed.
What impact do Obama's corporate ties have on his ability to lead here? That ripple is certainly exposed now and should lead to some potentially uncomfortable findings in the next year.
Heads will roll somewhere, federal agencies, local politicians, Oil companies, oil engineers, and finally at the gas pumps.
There is also a particularly troubling conundrum that's surfaced along with the tar balls. Have you heard the calls from Louisiana residents who fear losing the oil rigs. Aside from tourism, which is certain to take a major hit for the next couple of years, oil drilling rigs make up the balance of the industry in the state. It is so. That's the real challenge here. What next? That just cannot be any more. That's a recipe for repeated disaster. Maybe the biggest ripple of them all will be the political will to bring back industries and occupations that don't strip the culture from our most vulnerable landscapes and our most vulnerable people.