A few weeks back Wifely and I stayed at a (h/m)otel because our home AC motor blew up. All our creatures — Gibson the Dog, Betty the Cat, and Henry the Cat — stayed with us. I loved the clarity of the clean rooms — there wasn’t Stuff all over the place. Just us, just what we needed to MY TEETH LOOKED EXTREMELY WHITE SO THAT WAS LIKE AN AWESOME THING (Sorry! Her TV interrupted my blog!) I was saying, It was just us, it was just a little home with only what Kate and I needed to be together. DARK AS THE FRICKIN’, LIKE, CHALKBOARD (Sorry again; trying to ignore it!)
Wifely was watching one of her most cherished shows, Jersey Shore.
One of my earliest memories of TV is watching, from across the room, a friend and his brother watch it. I remember their hands descending into the popcorn dish, lifting the popcorn to their mouths, their mouths chewing, gazes never leaving the screen, not even when it changed from one show to another, because it didn’t matter to them what they were perceiving. Unlike readers, who actively collaborate with texts to create stories in their minds, these two were passive receptacles of whatever was decided by whomever to be stuffed down their eyeballs.
I’m not opposed to entertainment; I’m opposed to mindless entertainment. He better not hope I don’t find out his name, bro. (What?)
A 2010 BLS survey says on average almost everyone 15 and up in the States watched nearly three hours of TV per day every day and I assume they will do so for the rest of their lives. There’s enough time to be mindless when you’re dead. I’m from THE SHORE BITCH!!! (Okay?)
Give me a piece of my preferred mindless entertainment and you will receive a lengthy confabulation justifying its importance. One man’s treasure, yadda. Actually I think it’s the BIG LOUD BASHING NOISE of TV that bothers me, the whole disorderly, sensate chaos of the thing. How the hell is that relaxing? I must be the wrong Myers-Briggs. Somebody pull out the McLuhan and say something wiser, because right now I have to put on some headphones and go write a scholarly article on the hobbies of the Puritans.
After Marfa, Wifely and I drove to Roswell, New Mexico, hunting aliens. On the way we passed by this fairly alien thing, a modern art installation. Shortly after it was put up, vandals critiqued it by spray-painting on its wall the word DUMB:
For our first wedding anniversary(!!!), her birthday, and my student-teaching’s successful conclusion, Wifely Kate and I have taken a road trip to Marfa, Texas. It’s an incongruously posh West Texas town of about 2000 people, each better dressed and better groomed than you. Cross Stuff White People Like with Fort Worth’s aggressively vegan Spiral Diner, write it up in the New York Times, and you’d wind up with something like this town. More laid-back than Austin, and on average, more expensive, too. No Shiner on tap at a hotel courtyard, but there’s Brooklyn Lager!
We’re having a wonderful time, enough for me to let loose with this good-intentioned mockery.
Close to the nearby megalopolis of Ruidosa, Texas
The drive down took us eight, maybe nine hours, including two or three stops. To ease the journey, we created an iPod playlist to randomize 1) her songs that I can withstand (“Firework” by Katy Perry) and 2) my songs that she can withstand (“Got a Match?” by the Chick Corea Elektric Band). I named the playlist “Marfa Double Boo.” You see, I call her Boo, she calls me same; hence: Marfa Double Boo.
Dust Devil Approacheth
Dust Devil is Furious!
One thing about Marfa this summer — it’s HOT. Dust devils such as the one pictured above often arise, according to meteorologist JeffJamison, in “extreme temps >100 degrees,” where “the air is rising quickly [and] there’s enough shear above.” It’s a “tube of wind.” He goes on to say “Usually doesn’t do much damage and they do scoot along quickly.”
When we returned to Marfa from driving around Presidio (a town along the US-Mexico border), we had to pass through a US Border Patrol checkpoint. I expected some sort of drama, but really, when I rolled down the window, the authority figure just said: “Citizenship?” The responses which leapt to mind included:
I’ll take three.
What about it?
The correct answer was “American.”
Marfa Farmers Market
The food here is fantastic, nobody locks up their doors or bikes, the stars overhead are plentiful . . . and the famed Marfalights, allegedly paranormal lights that do float in the sky strangely, are, well, a little lame. Possibly they’re just ordinary lights reflected by atmospheric conditions that are abnormal due to sharp differences in temperatures and elevation. On our anniversary night, at the official Marfa lights viewing station — where we drank champagne saved from our wedding — true believers insisted to one another that the lights are indeed a paranormal phenomenon. Frankly I think the city of Marfa pays some guy to stand out there with a flashlight, but make up your own mind via the great 80′s competitor to 60 Minutes, Unsolved Mysteries:
You’re lying in bed. All at once big dog paws paddle your forearms. Heeding the PetSmart trainer, you do nothing, and so your dog scrabbles around the bed to your wife‘s side. He paddles her face and, play-acting at punishment, she says his name again and again in a high, gentle voice. “If you’re going to reprimand him,” you say, “make up your mind to reprimand him and do so without compromise. Anyway, he needs to be in his crate.” “I don’t want to ruin who he is,” she says. “I don’t want to crush his spirit.”
How do you reply to that?
Betty the Cat
All the same, I’m glad we, thanks to Kate, have our animals: 2 cats, 1 dog, 2 humans. Our shared feelings and inside jokes about them have become quite specific. For instance, we’ve decided Betty is less judgmental than Henry. She’s probably also a Democrat, whereas Henry’s Republicanism is evident from his aristocratic nature. Our reasoning about, and fine-point debate over, these insights go on endlessly. It’s very important.
Henry the Cat
Henry, the first pet, displays clear anger toward his fellow pets who suck attention away from him. So sometimes to give him special attention we take him with us when we go get frozen custard from Curly’s. (Henry doesn’t eat the desserts there; he just travels along.) Regardless of his anger, Henry always likes to sleep sweetly in a certain spot on the bed next to Kate, whereas Betty typically seeks her own private locale. Gibson? These days he stays in his crate.
My first day as a clinical teacher went very well. Except: I’m exhausted!
Right now the coordinating teacher and I are together in the same classroom throughout the day. She’s running the reins, and I’m just observing, sitting at the side. Eventually I’ll be able to lead some activities. I’ve done that before when I’ve substituted for the same groups of students across a continuous week or so, but this would be more serious, especially as it’s long-term.
The day began quite early; my alarms blasted off at about 4:30am. I showered & got ready, and Wifely Kate cooked breakfast:
iPhone pic by me, public domain for you. Food by Kate!
How awesome is that? The coffee was ready and everything. I was able to write fiction for about an hour and fifteen minutes — quickly revising (line-editing) an older, completed story so I can re-submit it; didn’t quite finish, since I’m having to fact-check some details — and then I headed to campus, the lunch Kate packed me in tow. At noon-ish I discovered she’d left a note in my lunchbox. The note talked about how proud she is of me. I got teary-eyed!
The coordinating teacher uses a Promothean ActivBoard (I’m not sure if the link points to the exact same model) in some very effective ways. For one portion of the classes, she shows multiple-choice math questions on the ‘Board, then the students record their answers using controllers — all students have one on their desks. The coordinating teacher shows the results on the ‘Board — as a bar graph; looks like something off Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? — and uses them not just to motivate the class (the students love the video game-y vibe), but also to hone in on the students’ misunderstandings of the material in order to explain it again. Good real-time assessment.
Weirdly, one of the few TV shows I really like
The ‘Board can even export the collected data, so at a later time, we can analyze the answer statistics more precisely to spot recurring troubles. Totally something out of a Tim O’Reilly project.
Since I was mostly only observing — catching up to speed on this campus’s schedule, rules, etc. — I focused on watching one student at a time. (I’ve blogged before about developing observationskills. As for characterization, can a writer quickly notice in real-life what makes another person absolutely unique?) I noticed a boy whom I think might need glasses. Squinting, tilting his head to see better, putting his face inches from his paper. There’s a school program to address vision issues, but I’m not sure how prompt it is. Watching how in need and at risk students are can be upsetting. I’ve seen it before, substituting.
This particular student is enthusiastic, often raising and waving his hand even before the teacher asks another question. His enthusiasm hasn’t been disruptive. He seems to be a bit in his own world — smiling to himself, thinking his own thoughts. Good kid.
I have to confess I’m bewildered about the relationships between my roles as a writer, teacher, newbie activist, blogger, and tweep (Twitter person). For example, working as an activist differs from volunteering for a political campaign (as I did for Bill White), from working for one in an official capacity, from blogging reportage or opinion about it, from incorporating observations of a campaign into a fiction project, etc. It’s a bit unnerving when you’re sitting there with a few people talking local politics and you’re trying to figure out which hat you’re wearing, so to speak. I have no real idea how to resolve these mini-conflicts, and there’s no one right answer.
The convention for blogs to be frequently updated conflicts with my personal preference for long-form or at least mucho-revised writing; and, when I’ve tried to blog long-form writing in the past, it’s often come off as too complex (Latinate, twisted syntax…) and hasn’t been revised well enough — a bad compromise between careful long-form writing and a quick blog post. Really, if you’re blogging long-form pieces, you’re essentially writing e-books. Since I consider myself a non-commercial writer (i.e. my goal isn’t profit; that possibility is a fringe benefit; I don’t mean that I consider myself highbrow — I try not to think in those terms), I’m not against the idea of eventually releasing more of my creativewriting (fiction and otherwise) under CreativeCommons licenses, but I sense that right now, I still need the bigger bullhorns and reputation-build of established venues (i.e. magazines, publishing houses).
Vika covers Metallica’s Orion
The increasing online success of vkgoeswild (Vika Yermolyeva) has been a bit of an eye-opener for me. I thought she was cool before she joinedforces with Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione (Hipstercultural capital snobby-stupid FTW! =p). Vika supports herself by receiving online tips and selling customized transcriptions online. Other artists and bloggers have figured out similar business models (search through Boing Boing for many examples and discussions). But for creative writing, I just don’t excel at the very short, very quickly written form, which seems to be necessary to any feasible online business model I can actually think up for right now.
The campus is an elementary school. I’ve substituted a fair number of times in the middle and high school grades, as well as in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. I love kids and I love teaching. It requires patience, empathy, honesty, effective communication, a strict but fair approach, courage, an understanding of how people (young folk are people, too) need structure, a knack for facilitating group activity, good documentation skills, the ability to coordinate with coworkers…
So I’m confident in my abilities and experience. The anxiety comes from other causes. I’m not at all the best when it comes to crossing t’s and dotting i’s when time is of the essence, and that’s a necessary part of most work. I still don’t have many of the nitty-gritty details figured out (where do I park?), but I’ve always been able to improvise as a substitute. “Bring it on!” is my basic attitude, but everyone, including me, gets scared.
Wifely Kate has been so supportive and generous with her help. This weekend we did a lot of prep stuff, such as buying me more button-down dress shirts, cutting my hair (I still have a big ol’ shock of cowlick-y hair, which seems to be undefeatable). Marrying her has been the best thing that ever happened to me. And not just because she’s cooking breakfast and packing my lunch in the early, early morning as I get my creative writing in before driving to campus.
Schoolteaching is also scary because of possible political and work-world implications of online activity, online personal opinions. Working — at least as a substitute — has made me an official public servant. And there’s a lot of controversy over schoolteaching — for example, the Texastextbookcontroversy. What if something I tweet — such as this in favor of journalist Glenn Greenwald – bothers a parent or a supervisor? Oh well! I don’t really know how to handle that other than how I handle personal interaction in general, which is to try to be honest, fair, and diplomatic. I’m not one to stay quiet and keep my head down.
I’m ready. Again: Bring it on.
I need to make public something else soon, too, but I’ll leave that as a cliffhanger due to time constraints: I gotta get some sleep!
Looking through a Martha Stewart book, Kate got the idea to suspend baskets, cutting boards, and other cookware from the kitchen ceiling to save space and make the items more visible and accessible. We kept forgetting which pieces we had, and sometimes if we knew, we couldn’t find them. Thus: bring in the dexterous Tyler to construct a gear-storing station, better known as a kitchen rack.
Tyler the Handyman
The actual platform — the piece parallel to the ceiling — is a chainlink fence’s gate. At each of the four corners, Tyler used chains (he adjusted the lengths for leveling) to connect the gate to circle screws he’d driven into the ceiling. Some of the cookware rests atop the gate, and baskets hang from the gate by hooks or cut-off coat hanger tips that serve as hooks.
Kate the Cook
The task was no more complex than it looks, it cost only about $50-$60, but it did take a fair amount of time. However, not as much time as the indefatigable Martha spent in prison.
A frittata, for those of you who don’t know, is, apparently, a hand grenade.
FRITTATA ON YOUR FLOOR
Wikipedia says a frittata is “an egg-based dish similar to an omelette or quiche, either simple or enriched with additional ingredients such as meats, cheeses, vegetables or pasta. It may be flavored with herbs.” But, nope. It’s a bomb!
WELL, NO, NOT REALLY
Recipe for Fritatta Bomb
Procure a pie plate [sic].
Spray pie plate with PAM, or perhaps gasoline.
Within the pie plate, sautee garlic, onion, and peppers — as in pepper spray.
Put in additional food: celery, carrots, brussels sprouts, egg — maybe rat poison, too.
Take to detonation location, set on (portable) stove, cook.
Saturday mornings Wifely Kate and I go to the Cowtown Farmers Market (Twitter) for much of our week’s groceries. Kate looks at tomatoes and squash, and I eat free samples and look at Kate.
Beautiful Day, Beautiful Girl
The food at this market is grown locally; the vendors, who’re actually informed, can tell you about what you’re purchasing, how they grew it, what goes well with what, and so forth. Like many in the Fort Worth of my background, I grew up on Brinker Inc. & SpaghettiOs & Kraft. But! Even here, there’s arugula and okra and all sorts of real food. Pro tip: food is often an acquired taste; try alien food (asparagus?) several times, across several days, and you’ll grow to like it. Everyone admits beer is an acquired taste, right?
A Good Sign
Cowtown Farmers Market is on the Weatherford traffic circle: 3821 Southwest Blvd, Fort Worth TX 76116. Wednesday and Sunday, 8am to noon.
They sell fair trade organic coffee & tea. Kate told Rupert I prefer bold coffee, whereas she prefers more mild stuff, so he suggested their Black & Tan blend, designed to please all palates. After a good smell of the package, we bought it — I’ll let you know how it turns out, okay?
The antique store was great, I love visiting little towns with Kate, antique-ing is a wonderful way to experience history and culture and motif-laden objects, but c’mon, this lamp is ridiculous. It was $10 on the SALE! table, and I wonder why.
This lamp has been the (ostensible) subject of some fights recently, so we’re trying to figure out what to do with it. Feel free to leave your own aesthetic evaluation in the comments. She says if enough people are anti-lamp, she’ll consider getting rid of it!