Saturday, April 27, 2013

Turn Turn

April folds into May and here in Portland we get to see seasons change.  That's a fairly new one for me growing up and spending much of my life in California.  This past week we flirted with Tee shirt weather, people washed their cars, the heat remained off, and little seedlings began to fall from the enormous elm trees that line my street.
If a young man's fancy turns to love in the Spring, then an this older man's fancy turns to the possibility of another Kentucky Derby and the opening of the trout season.  OK, love too.

The fever that captures my heart and mind first is Derby fever.  I usually catch it about February and by the first Saturday in May, I'm on fire.  While there is a nice crop of 3-year-olds that will contest the Derby, I've had my eye on one particular colt for months.  If you ask, I will tell, but for now, my anticipation is building, and my horse will be in the gate barring any unforeseen circumstances.  But it is horse racing and until that bell rings about 5:05 p.m.on May 4th, I won't know for sure.
If I'm positioning myself for the Triple Crown races, I'm also doing it for some late Spring Early Summer fly fishing.  Here, in Oregon, I won't be able to get into any of the high country areas until early June.  Still, there are a couple of lakes at lower elevations that might be worthwhile.  The skiers I know are moaning over the melting snow in the Cascades, but for me it can't come fast enough.  I dread any cold spell in May that might delay the opening of a few mountain roads that all lead to either pristine rivers and streams or mountain lakes where the fish are eager for hatching Caddis and Mayflies, and their stunning reds, silvers, golds still surprise and delight this fisherman.  Their red or black spots, the blue tones and salmon underbellies of brook trout still elicit wonder and contentment.  Just to see, hold and then release my quarry is enough.  I photograph them whenever possible too.  A good picture is all the trophy I need.
So, we've turned for home and are in the stretch.  Time to crack open the Racing Form and take out my fly reel.  It's the only time of year when I look forward to cleaning out the car, inspecting all the gear, and then waiting for the first chance to hit the high country.  Turn turn turn.  To every season there is a purpose.  I'd like to turn a little profit on the Derby into a fishing trip too.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

High Drive

Last night I learned of the death of a childhood friend. Danny was bigger than most kids his age in elementary school. By middle school and then in high school, he was an excellent athlete and had established himself as the strong silent type. Girls had crushes on Danny. He was in a car club, a starter on the football team, and, as I recall, had a steady girlfriend. Earlier this week he died of lung cancer after a long battle. Danny was a retired L.A. firefighter, divorced father, who was apparently looking forward to more of his recently earned retirement. Like many of my high school friends, I lost contact with Danny. Too much water under too many bridges. Bridges like the Vietnam War, counter culture values, progressive politics, and distance. I could never live in Southern California; that was my parents dream. Had he lived and had I been so inclined, I could have attended next year's reunion. I could have seen, talked to, and rekindled some sort of lost friendship with Dan, as he came to be called. Fact is, I never knew Dan, only Danny. It occurred to me, in recalling some formative childhood experiences, that another friend Chuck, who died last year, joins Danny among the first kids I grew up with to die. Of course I'm not counting those that perished in Vietnam. There were a half dozen of those, at least. When I think of those two, Danny and Chuck, I think of the last Little League game I ever played. My team, the Yankees was playing the Localites (Local union sponsored) in the championship game. We were serious underdogs because of their power hitters. Our hope was our pitching and defense. The first batter up for the Localites hit a windblown pop fly that our shortstop chased down, twisting and turning, until the ball landed inside his glove as two other infielders and two outfielders converged barely crashing into the playmaker. Second man up hit a deep fly ball to centerfield. I, with my Willie Mays glove in tow and eyes on the game day bright white baseball, drifted back to the fence. In those days it was a wooden fence about 4-41/2 feet tall. Right in front of the tin scoreboard, I leaped and hauled in the sure to be home run. It was my crowning achievement as a center fielder, a fantasy come true. Two down. The next three hitters, Richard, Chuck and Danny all hit home runs. Needless to say, we lost the game and the championship. My memory of that day stops there. Today, in thinking of Danny and his passing, I see him stride to the plate. He looks like he could play American Legion ball, not like a 12 year old. He hits a towering drive that sails over the left fielder's head and lands about 50 feet beyond, near a chain link fence with barbed wire on top that keeps people away from the flight path of the airport nearby. I swear I thought it would have hit a low flying airplane about to land if the timing were right. Danny circles the bases like our very own Babe Ruth. Part of me dies as he touches home plate, only to be revived today. Rest in Peace Danny.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Living on the Border

Amid explosions in Boston and West, Texas life skims along and somehow manages to go on. So too does the trial of Jody Arias. Even with hundreds of more important news items breaking instantly, a good portion of the country seems to be fascinated by this case and the violent death of Jody's ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander. It's hard to believe that CNN's sister station HLN devotes just about all their programing to the trial. It's got a following and ratings that most stations would be proud to own. There is something both intriguing and disturbing about that fact. If anything good comes from this obsession, perhaps it will be a better understanding of mental disorders and how dangerous and irresponsible it can be to engage in light-hearted diagnosis of people on trial for capital murder. Some weeks back I labeled Miss Arias a "good little psychopath." Flippant as that may sound, it was hardly my intention to be glib. That she is a pathological liar there can be no doubt. She freely admits to changing her story of the horrific death of her ex at least three times. The pathology is that it is extremely easy for her to lie. Probably easier than to tell the truth. Since most people tend to be trusting, the psychopathic liar easily compiles a long history of duping people. That they don't seem to feel any guilt or other emotions connected with morality only adds to the depth of the pathology. But Jody Arias is probably not a psychopath or sociopath. Most psychologists use the terms interchangeably. As the current witness for the prosecution has suggested, she displays traits consistent with Borderline Personality Disorder. BPD is a relatively new disorder and its definition and characteristics have been recently revised for the DSM V soon to be released. In case you are unfamiliar with the DSM, it is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (5th addition) used by most licensed mental health professionals.

 The latest set of descriptors includes the following: A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsively beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (5) or more of the following: 1. frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. NOTE: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5. 2. a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation 3. identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self 4. impulsively in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating). NOTE: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5. 5. recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior 6. affect instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria [unpleasant mood], irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days) 7. chronic feelings of emptiness 8. inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights) 9. transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms [i.e., the affect does not match the emotional tone, etc.] Like any mental disorder, there are degrees or gradations of the illness.

 Best to think of these characteristics as a continuum. Certainly we know folks who have some of the traits without having the full-blown disorder. Often the symptoms are subtle, on occasion they explode fully developed and highly destructive. That's where the metaphor of a border comes in. In brief, the underpinnings involve self concept, a sense of abandonment, high-risk, impulsive behavior. Add t that mix the possibility of suicidal or other forms of self-destructive behavior and you have the basic profile. Occasionally a Borderline personality will exhibit extreme emotional states not unlike Bi-polar disorder. I recall an example from a case history book where a person diagnosed with BPD complemented a therapist after only a couple of sessions, as the best, most intelligent, most caring therapist he had ever known. A week later, in a rage, the words "worst" "useless" and cold-hearted" came from his raging mouth. When someone shoots and then slashes the throat of a former lover, concocts various stories ranging from an attack by Ninjas, to "I wasn't there," I guess it doesn't much matter what what you call it.

Monday, April 15, 2013


66 years ago today Jackie Robinson did the deed. Baseball's "color line" collapsed and the stage was set for integration of most societal and cultural institutions in this country. The ball rolled. It rolled into the Supreme Court school desegregation decision of 1954, the Montgomery bus boycott, the March on Washington and every incarnation of Martin Luther King's dream vision. It's still rollong, isn't it? Like Rosa Parks, Jackie has become a cultural icon. His story is told anew in a new film called 42 and his legacy is firmly established. Robinson was soon followed by Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, Satchel Paige, and of course Willie Mays. Of those mentioned only Willie is around to see how much has changed. He sees quite a bit too. He sees players of color making more in a few seasons than he made in a lifetime. He sees African American baseball players on the wane as the Latino presence increases. He sees most African Americans even priced out of attending a ball game because an evening at the ballpark can go upwards of $100 for two. I'm hopeful that as Jackie Robinson's story gets retold this time some of the teammates who helped ease this transition will be recognized for the role they played. I saw Don Newcome, one of the first African American pitchers in the big leagues and a Dodger teammate of Robinson, on an interview sports program the other day. He spoke about the difficulty in staying at the same hotel as his teammates and then was asked about he team members who both helped and hindered Jackie's early days on the team. Newcome didn't want to name the names of the detractors. It's easy to figure out who many of those guys were because of their Southern roots. But he did single out the guys who were most supportive and often came to Robinson's defense. He recognized Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, and Duke Snyder. Funny how these were among the best on the team. Accompanying this post is a photo I received from an uncle of mine who was a newspaper reporter in New York back in the 40s and 50s. He used to scoop up the castoff photos from the sports pages and send them to his little nephew in California. Seen here is Duke Snyder being welcomed back into the dugout at Ebbets Field by his Dodger teammates. Robinson (#42) is on the far right. Most of the others mentioned here are in the photo too, as well as a young Jim Gilliam who was one of the first to benefit from Robinson opening the door. It's a long road back to professional baseball in the late 1940s. But Jackie Robinson's story is not just his story (history) it's our story.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hip Hop Gatsby

Oh to be an English teacher this Fall.  Anyone fortunate to have a few high school junior classes is in for a real treat.  That's because next month the much awaited release of the latest film incarnation of The Great Gatsby is coming to a theater near you.  Not that we need another film version.  But this much anticipated version should appeal to high school readers because of the people associated with the project.  We've got Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby; how's that for starters?  Toby McGuire has a leading role and the music features the ubiquitous Jay-Z and Beyonce.  Rad!
Hope I'm fortunate enough to have a Language Arts teacher to supervise come September.  Gatsby, viewed by many an the venerable old chestnut of American literature is quite a remarkable novel.  That it stands the test of time well should be abundantly clear with the success of the new film.  I'm assuming, of course that the film will be successful.  The earlier version with Robert Redford, Mia Farrow,  and Bruce Dern was an awful pretty film that didn't quite make it as a box office success.  This 2013 film, slated for release on May 7, just might haul in the wealth that it's predecessor never did.  It just might be the music.  I'll be fascinated to see how contemporary music illuminates the complexities of the text in place of the music of the era.  Not having seen the film yet, I can't imagine the sound track without any "Jazz Age" tunes.  Hopefully it will be a mix.  One of the many trailers on the web right now features a little taste of Beyonce singing about the famous green light on the end of Gatsby's dock.  I hope the multitudes who will be mouthing those lyrics will have a clue about what it all means.
Something else occurred to me too.  I'm interested in how the film will portray race.  F. Scott Fitzgerald's ideas and social comment are all in the text.  And, it's complicated and definitely part of the "what is seen and what is not seen" theme her pursues throughout the novel.  After many readings and discussions of this remarkable novel with both students and colleagues, I've come to see just how clever an author writing in 1926 can be.  Even if the film, with all this hoopla, is a flop it's still all good.  More people will pick up the novel.  Let's just hope that the latest copies will keep the same wonderful cover of the original.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Real Story

I'm always skeptical of the way certain terms are used in education circles. Two of the biggest offenders, in my view are the words "performance" and "achievement." The former makes me think of training seals and the latter is such a buzz word that it has become almost meaningless. And then there is a phrase like "No child left behind." As we seem to have discovered, it's not so much about leaving behind, it's about where you are headed. Of course no educator with a soul would advocate leaving any child anywhere if it meant no learning, no progress, dare I say no achievement. But sometimes it's not the child that's being left, it's all of us. With the privatization attempts at public education now going on, the data driven drill and kill test culture, and the exploitation and co-opting of everything from engaging curriculum to teacher's unions, it appears that the institution of the democratic public school is the one being left. Even the term rigorous, which is suddenly a favorite when describing curriculum has become misused. As one educator I know has profoundly pointed out, we must not forget that the same rigor in rigorous is present in rigor mortis. Thinking about the past and what can easily and unfortunately be considered the "good old days," I remembered how, as a first year teacher, I was always excited to bring primary source documents into my classroom. While some teachers seemed tied to seriously deficient textbooks, I relished using everything from photographs, music, poetry, letters, diary entries and journal pages, and of course, artifacts of all kinds. The text, limited as it always is, can also serve as a resource.  Sometimes it can serve as a primary source. Enlightened teachers have always used a textbook sparingly. These days, with all the pressures to follow everything from scripted programs to materials designed to raise test scores, the nuts and bolts of history often gets left behind. Even with the worlds that computer technology opens up, the "approved" textbook becomes the focus of a course designed to cram measurable bits of information into the minds of the uninformed. Here's the irony, some of the best resources that can be utilized today come from the previous century. I've been looking at a few school district approved textbooks from the late 19th and early 20th century. One in particular, entitled The Story of Our Country, has quite a story to tell. This text, now 117 years old, glowingly shows us what happens when only one narrative voice is used. To say this classroom text intended for the 1896 classroom is biased an understatement of the worst order. In describing the Battle of the Little Bighorn-you remember, Custer's Last Stand- the text describes the victorious Indians in the aftermath and actually says that they, "returned to their tents to smoke their filthy pipes." Really. It says exactly that. Oh the possible class discussions that could follow. Hopefully they will. To be continued.