I’ve read 100-page books which had 99 wasted pages of meandering bloat, and I’ve also read 1000-page epics that raced by in such a passionate flash that I wished they were ten times longer.
Three recent slices of my sweet life:
- I drove up to the library early in the evening to pick up some items that were on hold for me. On my way in, I passed a former student, there with her younger siblings. We smiled and exchanged greetings–very pleasant. As she left, I heard her praising me to the small children. I got the books and movies I’d been looking forward to, then went across the street to 7-11 to get a large Slurpee, which I’d been craving. As I drove home, the setting sun lowered the temperature just enough to make the breeze comfortable with the windows down. I thought everything was about as perfect as it could get. Then “Paradise City” came on the radio.
- My family went up to the mountain after I got home from work one afternoon, and set up in one of the picnic areas. We made quite a meal of it, running my big propane stove, the charcoal grill, and the open fire pit with some food over it. My daughter climbed onto a rock in the shade and started reading. My son taught a friend who’d come with us how to set up and take down a tent. The smallest children sat by the fire, staring. As everything cooked, I sat at the table, enjoying the bristlecone pines everywhere, and thought about how enjoyable a way this was to spend an afternoon and evening. A ranger came by and told us we were lucky–with a dry season under way, orders had just come down from the bosses that all sites on this mountain would ban all fires–even smoking–for the rest of the summer, starting at midnight. We picked the best and last day for our picnic.
- Today’s the last day of summer school. It’s been the easiest, most pleasant summer of my career; my class only has ten kids, all of them juniors and seniors, all of them truly decent people. The only problem we had to deal with all summer was a bit of boredom. On my way in this morning, I stopped at Del Taco to pick up some nachos (which I do about once a month–man, I love nachos). I also got an order of hash brown sticks for each of the students–they’ve been great, and they deserve it. I want them to know what a great summer they’ve given me. We’ll each snack while we start the day with our regular half hour of reading whatever books we bring in each day (students with no book can borrow from my set of Catcher in the Rye). Driving in to school (with the windows down), I thought about how life doesn’t get much more sweet than this. Then “Come Sail Away” came on the radio.
One of my favorite essays is Zora Neale Hurston’s 1928 personal reflection “How It Feels To Be Colored Me.”
It’s rightly honored as a classic for many reasons, but one thing about it that doesn’t get enough attention is its humor. Hurston has so much confidence and clarity that she’s empowered to laugh at aspects of life that depress others. Parts of this serious social criticism essay are really quite funny.
That clarity and confidence in her outlook on life present a powerful challenge to the prevailing attitudes today, and offer a very positive role model for all of us. But I digress; this isn’t a political post.
As literature, her writing is just superb. Consider the eleventh paragraph in the essay (the linked version is numbered). It crafts an extended metaphor that viscerally builds a sense of dizzying, pulse-pounding abandon. The style perfectly matches the topic.
But then check out the contrast between that sprawling rave of a paragraph with the short punch of paragraph twelve. The stylistic difference there highlights the difference between her reaction to music and her friend’s reaction. It’s glorious.
There are plenty of other reasons to love this essay, besides those three. Just to give one more great thing about Hurston, though, is this: if you merely remove one little letter “r” from her last name, it becomes even better ! :)
I just found this great video that narrates and illustrates Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” Joyce said of it: “He [Hemingway] has reduced the veil between literature and life, which is what every writer strives to do. Have you read ‘A Clean Well-Lighted Place’?…It is masterly. Indeed, it is one of the best short stories ever written…” I agree.
A review in 30 bullet points:
- In 2005, I read David Shipler’s then-new book The Working Poor, where he used people’s narratives to build a case that the American economy was rigged against those who were poor. The beam in his eye, though, is that nearly all of his dozens of stories read like this: “So-and-so dropped out of high school, got pregnant a few times, and keeps getting arrested for drugs and shoplifting and now she can’t even get a dignified job that pays a living wage, people, it’s a nightmare for this poor victim George Bush is evil!” (His hilarious myopia was perfectly exposed here.)
- Monique Morris uses the same storytelling strategy to make the case for systemic discrimination against black girls in American schools in Pushout, and she does it by making the exact same mistakes David Shipler made a decade ago. A typical example might look like this: “One student repeatedly cussed out the teacher in front of the class and got into fights and suddenly the random oppressors are giving her grief hey everybody this racist system is broken!“
- Of the many stories in this book, zero ever suggest that any trouble a student ever finds herself in is her own fault, not to any degree. Such a message of null responsibility seems dangerous to give to youth, and unethical for a scholar to promote.
- Morris constantly alludes to “attitude” and “loudness” among black girls (why is such stereotyping OK for her?), and ascribes these traits to a conscious rebellion against a racist system. Again, this is never defended, nor is any alternative explanation ever explored much less refuted (an inexcusable lapse for a scholar!).
- The girls’ stories are always treated as objectively factual, with nary a shred of skepticism from the author evident. Not to say that the girls are prevaricating–though why wouldn’t they try to look good for a sympathetic interviewer?–but who’s to say that their perceptions of their experiences are perfect? Why is no space ever given for others involved to explain any shortcomings in the girls’ memories? Or is only one side of the story valid? Only one view is privileged here? (Has Morris never seen Rashomon?)
- A more accurate–and more honest–assessment of the girls in this book would include a more well-rounded picture of their lives. Do they have two parents at home? Did the adults in the family finish high school? Do their families work and obey the law? If the answers to the above are “no” for most of the girls portrayed in this book, that would seem significant–why hide it? If the answers are yes, that would strengthen Morris’s case, so why not advertise it? Her silence on the subject seems telling. (Or are the “no” answers also the result of racist oppression, in a conveniently permanent self-fulfilling loop of begging the question?)
- Though Morris often throws out statistics like “X% of all suspended students are Black girls,” she never says how much of the total black female student population that percentage represents. A more useful number would be something like “X% of all black girls in America have been suspended.” A large number there would be indicative of a problem, but as it is, she’s looking at a very narrow area of the whole picture. Such obfuscated reporting is disingenuous.
- The fact is, the vast majority of black girls are never suspended, never in trouble, and never drop out. The vast majority of black girls in America (and I say this after having taught school at several sites around a large and ethnically diverse city for 16 years) do not match the simplified description of them given by Morris. She derides “caricatures of Black femininity,” but constantly indulges in them herself.
- Her failure to note all of this, much less deal with it, leads me to wonder why she focuses on such a tiny portion of the population; a minority of a minority, really. I suppose it’s because that’s the only way she can make her case for systemic discrimination.
- Morris never examines, much less proves, her belief that there even is systemic discrimination. Perhaps she feels this book wasn’t the place for it. Perhaps it’s just received wisdom for her, a commonplace article of faith. At any rate, in light of the above point, there’s an enormous flaw in her theory that she needs to deal with: if there is, in fact, systemic discrimination against black girls in America’s schools, then it must be counted as a spectacular failure, for the vast majority of black girls escape the clutches of its machinations completely unscathed. This would seem to be true for all the other trendy brands of proposed “systemic discrimination” out there, also.
- The author herself is a black woman. I’m curious what her experiences with this “racist” educational system were. Was she ever suspended? Was she ever in confrontational arguments with teachers? Was she “pushed out” by hostile school personnel? Or was she encouraged by the scores of teachers who live to advocate for minorities? Was she given extra attention and opportunities because she was black and female? And did she herself come from an intact, two-parent, law-abiding family? I wonder what the answers to these questions would say about her thesis.
- I see from her bio in the book’s jacket that she has an advanced college degree and is married with two children. Looks like she could be a great mentor to these girls. I hope she shared with them how she became who she is today.
I just read a scary social criticism essay that discussed, among many other things, the self-destruction of feminism, and included this great bit:
But when that ends, and reality comes crashing down, it’s sad how quickly they scramble to validate the feminist lives they’ve led by simply telling themselves more lies. 40 is the new 20! Test-tube babies! MILF’s and Cougars! When, frankly, it just means nobody’s visiting you in a nursing home in the end.
And when I read that, I remembered Jack. That’s not his real name; I forgot his real name.
My dad died last July, and in the two months leading up to it, he made the rounds of a few hospital rooms and convalescent homes. In one, his bed was in a room with Jack, their areas separated by a curtain. Whenever I went to visit Dad, Jack would invariably interject himself into the visit, speaking up through the curtain, or even wheeling himself around it if he could get into his wheelchair.
He wasn’t a bad guy, but his desperate loneliness made him aggressive. Sometimes my dad would yell at him for horning in on his time with his family. He openly longed for attention. I tried to talk to him for a bit on each visit, though he clearly wanted more.
Once, when he’d asked if I had kids, he seemed joyously surprised at the total. I asked the same of him, and he scowled.
“No, never wanted them. Never liked them.”
The irony was sickening. Here was an old man who had chosen not to have any descendants, and now he was desperately lonely as he died.
As birth rates continue to drop, as our civilizational death spiral swings on, this scenario will become more common. In fact, it will explode exponentially. Soon, our nursing homes will be a bursting industry filled will dying invalids who never wanted to make a family, and who may bemoan their loneliness and dependence on strangers.
Contrast this with my wife’s grandfather, who had an army of three generations ready to care for him after a stroke.
If you’re a young person looking for a stable career, look into elder care. The 21st century will give you fantastic job security.
I dipped back into Greek drama recently and read The Libation Bearers of Aeschylus. It was rather dry: such drama tends to dwell on a single event or feeling, milking it deeply, with maybe one action around which the entire dialogue revolves.
Trying to get more out of it, I looked up performances of it online, and found this one. It’s actually pretty interesting–I like how they strive for some authenticity.
Mr. President, the murder of three police officers in Baton Rouge is clearly related to and inspired by the racist rhetoric that many have used recently to advance a cause called “Black Lives Matter.”
You have helped create that climate of violent hate towards the police, most recently and especially by your disgraceful hijacking of the memorial for five fallen officers in Dallas so you could lecture people about slavery and race. As president, “the buck stops here.” When atrocities are committed for an ideology that you actively espouse, you must share in the blame.
Accordingly, it would not be appropriate for you to attend the upcoming memorial for the slain officers in Baton Rouge. America does not need you to again disrespect the brave people being honored, just so you can take American to school about your own pet prejudices.
Please, Mr. President, do not attend the memorial for the murdered police officers in Baton Rouge. Instead, spend that time in some private soul searching about the innocent heroes who have been killed because of your poor leadership.
(Please see also, Heather MacDonald’s “The Fire Spreads“)
This essay is correct. The primary philosophy behind our policy decisions should be preserving the principles that make us who we are as Americans. First, though, we need to understand those principles, and love them enough to defend them.
…The West refuses to take even the most rudimentary steps to protect itself against a known, sworn enemy. Why?
Lots of reasons: ennui, cultural Marxism, the mutation of the Left into a suicide cult that wants to take the rest of us with it. A loss of faith in organized religion (some of it brought on by the faiths themselves, or rather the imperfect men who represent and administer them). The transformation of government schools into babysitting services for subsections of the populace with severe cultural learning disabilities, no matter the skin color of the pupil. The marginalization of the very notion of excellence. And a political class that is little more than a collection of criminals, throne-sniffers, pantywaists and bum-kissers, all dedicated to their own enrichment.
…The antidote to this is a return to our cultural roots, including the pre-Christian principles of Aristotle (passed down via St. Thomas Aquinas, among others) and the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Those roots are neither race- nor faith-specific and in fact the genius of Western civilization is that its principles — not “conservative” principles but civilizational principles — have proven so successful that they resulted in the United States of America, the very embodiment of those ideas.
Which is, of course, why Islam and its ally of convenience, the Left, hate America so. We and our cultural heritage are the refutation of every satanic principle they hold so vengefully dear.
Here’s a link to a little manifesto of mine just published by the good folks over at the excellent Junior Ganymede blog. In short, I argue that Latter-day Saints in the U.S. need to stop our tendency to go into white-collar careers and, instead, focus on professions in the humanities, because we need that to build a strong subculture, in order to stop the current mainstream culture from destroying our families.
I’m not a big video game guy, but I really love Bookworm Adventures. It’s a cartoony, Scarbble-esque game where you combat literary-themed enemies (Cyclops, Dracula, etc.) by making words out of random letters. The better the word, the more powerful the attack.
A few nights ago I played a bit with some of my kids gathered around me, and we made quite a team. Fun fr the whole family!
There’s plenty of humor in the game, and there’s even a sequel that’s heavy on science fiction.
Totally worth it, especially if you live around here, where the library has it for free!
I don’t really like much “warm-fuzzy” teacher stuff (which makes it hard for my mom to shop my birthday), but I love this episode of The Twilight Zone. I don’t think most casual viewers realize just how sentimental that show often got. This episode is basically It’s a Wonderful Life, for teachers. Especially as an English teacher, I love the idea that what we do actually matters.
First is the best copy I could find on YouTube, which still isn’t great, though I’m sure you can find it on Netflix and Hulu–it’s the last episode of season 3. Below that is a very cool all-female-student remake a school did. Enjoy.
Confession: I’ve never really been impressed by the dancing of Fred Astaire. Gene Kelly, however, is the man. Something about his style is carelessly confident, but suggests complete control. I’ve never seen dancing that strikes me as so fundamentally masculine.
Consider this scene from An American in Paris, just an average movie, really (if you disagree, imagine the film without Kelly in it–pretty bland, eh?). This isn’t even his best work–merely goofing off for children, really–but see how he has mastered the movement of his body? Every muscle easily obeys his every command. Such a variety of fluid motion reminds me more of Jackie Chan than Fred Astaire.
A friend of mine who works in the IT industry told me about this experience he had about a decade ago.
A guy in the cubicle next to his asked him to come over and look at his screen. My friend did and saw that his coworker had a pornographic image on display. He quickly turned away and said something like, “Thanks but no thanks.”
The coworker teased and scolded him a bit about being a prude and said, “C’mon, don’t pretend you don’t like it.”
And this is where the story gets memorable for me. My friend said, “I’m not pretending I don’t like it. I’m sure I would like it. That’s why I have to force myself to avoid it.”
I think that’s a great lesson for all of us.