7 Old Albums

One of my goals while I’m 40 is to listen to 40 albums that were important to teenage me. I’ve gone back and heard seven so far.

1. U2, The Unforgettable Fire

This one’s a bit of a cheat–I’ve listened to parts of this pretty consistently over the years, but I haven’t heard the whole album, start to finish, in who knows how long. My preferred tracks probably hurt this, though: the tracks I tend to avoid–“Fire” and “Indian Summer Sky”–sounded out of place now. Besides, they’re harsher than the soft, mellow, flowing tracks that attract me to this album: a lot of late work nights this last semester were capped off by a long drive home to the trio of “Promenade,” “4th of July,” and “Bad” on earphones (but of course I still love “Pride,” so go figure).

New Verdict: B+

2. The Cure, Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me

I remember this being a long, rambling, uneven album…and this re-listening confirmed that. The surprise here was that some of the highly visible singles from my childhood–like “Hot Hot Hot!!!” and “Why Can’t I Be You?”–are just annoying now, and some of the more obscure tracks from later on towards the end of the album–such as “The Perfect Girl,” “Like Cockatoos,” and “A Thousand Hours”–are more catchy and pleasant than I remembered.

Still a deeply uneven effort. Why make the album so overstuffed with discordant filler like “The Snakepit” and “Icing Sugar,” the later of which sounds like a ripoff of their own classic “The Hanging Garden?”

New Verdict: B-

3. The Cure, Disintegration

Holy crap, this is even more of a perfect classic than I thought it was! The themes are explored so deeply that the album has more variety than I recalled, but every detail is tightly in service of the overall effect. It’s genuinely moving. No surprise that the lesser tracks now strike me as just as powerful as the well-known ones: though not a popular single or anything, there’s a reason why the track below gave the album its title! Really, a total masterpiece from the first note to the last.

New Verdict: A+

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This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

IMG_20171221_130715983On the left is a picture of the hall pass in my classroom. It is four months old. On the right is a new one. That is what the old one looked like four months ago.

How did this poor little bit of laminated plastic get so mangy? Was it dragged through a radioactive sewer full of piranhas shooting lasers?

No. It was taken by 16- and 17-year-olds to go to bathrooms in the same hallway as my class. That’s it. All that destruction and decay resulted when this pass escorted teenagers to the potty.

There’s some hair stuck to the bottom.

The next time a student complains that I don’t respect them enough as mature young adults, I’ll show them this picture.

Tomorrow is the last day of the semester. After class, I will destroy the old pass by soaking it in bleach, incinerating it in a furnace, and burying it in a lead box on Mars.

I’m curious to see how long before the new pass also looks like a ragged refugee from some dystopian novel about hall passes.

Ten Thoughts After Debating Hundreds of Anti-Mormons

A little over four years ago, I posted this video about Book of Mormon evidence online. In the last year or so, it has really taken off, and now has over 77,000 views, with over 1300 comments. Many of those comments are from me–I read and respond to almost everything. Here are some things I’ve noticed from engaging those comments:

  • Many people who comment clearly have not watched any of the video at all. They’re posting pre-conditioned talking points on the subject. Most of those people, even when explicitly invited to do so, still do not watch the video. Even when I reply to a comment with just a single, simple question, most people will never return to comment again.
  • Even when I make it clear that my only criteria for posting is that people refrain from rudeness and that they address my questions, many people still won’t. If they repeatedly abuse my hospitality and I block them, others will complain about censorship. To be fair, though, on the other hand, I’ve also had to block several Mormons who won’t stop insulting critics or “spiking the ball” about how the critics are failing to make their points, even after I insist that they be nicer. It’s weird and frustrating.
  • The saddest exchange I’ve had is with a young woman who didn’t care if the evidence was true or not. She had decided to openly rebel against God, whether He’s real or not, because religion doesn’t line up with her political preferences. I didn’t know how to respond to that–it really was shocking. I think this may well be representative of a lot of people these days. It’s nothing short of heartbreaking.
  • Dozens of people have complimented the video overall, but have scolded me for not embracing the Heartland model of Book of Mormon geography. Every time, I tell them that I don’t really care about it, but I post a link to a summary of arguments on the topic and invite them to respond. Not one ever has.
  • Dozens of others have explained the evidence for the Book of Mormon by claiming that Satan inspired it. Nothing else productive ever happens after that.
  • Some of my favorite comments are ones posted from other countries and even in other languages. I’ve used Google Translate to reply to such comments more than once, and it’s a wonderful experience.
  • This hobby has taught me that there are sections of the world where the cruelest, most superficial stereotypes about Mormons and our beliefs are alive and well. There is still a lot of work to do.
  • Many people have written claiming to be innocent investigators who have honest questions. Such people are almost always undercover critics, and they reveal their hostility before long. It’s apparently a standard anti-Mormon trick.
  • Often a commenter will be shown definitively that a claim they’ve made is wrong–not as a matter of belief, but merely as basic factual inaccuracy–and then they’ll repeat the claim again later on in another comment. That makes me feel like I’m wasting my time.
  • But many others have said that they were impressed to study the book because of the video, and that’s immensely satisfying. Dozens have said that it has strengthened their faith. That makes it all worth it! :)

Quiet Biking at Night

Last summer I bought an old van with enough space in the back for my bike, which I started taking with me to work this semester, so I could ride it across the UNLV campus on the days I teacher there. It has saved me a lot of the rushing and running I’ve had to do from parking to classroom for over a dozen years, but even better, it has allowed me to simply spend more time on my bike.

One of my favorite things about the fall semester is the atmosphere on that beautiful campus on any November night–most everyone else has already gone home by the time my evening classes get out, and the trip back out to my car was always very quiet, cool, and pleasant. Now, getting to do that on a bike, it’s even better.

One night last month, I did that ride while listening to the soft, luminous Lou Reed track, “Revien Cherie.” Bikes rides have rarely been sweeter.

Speaking of, I spent one afternoon in October riding my bike home across town from my day job, listening to the live stream of Celtic music from Thistle Radio. That was also an enjoyable time, and a little memory worth having.

Life is really good.

C.H. Spurgeon, Rachel Peden, Katrina Kenison, and Me

bassThis is the story of an invisible community, where one voice at a time leads us to connect with others, in a chain back in time.

It starts with Katrina Kenison, who edited the annual Best American Short Stories series in the 90’s and early 2000’s. I love the essays she’d write as a foreword to each volume–usually loving little slices of the literate life, crisp and juicy together. For example, consider the paragraph from her essay in the 2001 volume, below. Isn’t it perfect?

Actually, her very best such essay was the one that started off the 2004 volume. I’ve used that essay a number of times with students, as a model of style and form–it seamlessly weaves a meditation on books with an illustrative anecdote, written in a way that creates comfort while it also demands engagement and action. I don’t have a copy handy just now, so I can’t provide a quote, nor is it anywhere online that I can find, but this book–along with all the volumes she edited–is worth tracking down just for her essays alone.

(She’s written other books, but I wish she’d compile one just collecting all these essays. What a treat that would be!)

 

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In the 2004 edition essay, however, Kenison mentions several older books that she’d found in a used book shop that was about to close. She tosses off titles with brief reveries about the contents–tiny taglines meant to offer whisps of joy found between those covers–and I’ve long wanted to find some of them myself.

This year I finally did. One in particular stood out to me, Rachel Peden’s Speak to the Earth. As I recall, Kenison called Peden “a naturalist of the first order.” Sounded good to me.

No library in southern Nevada had a copy, so I used the interlibrary loan program available at the university where I work part time to borrow a copy from whomever had one to share. Continue reading

The Declaration of Independence Rhetoric Unit

One of my favorite units of the year is one I just finished–where I use the Declaration of Independence to teach about rhetoric, along with reading, writing, and speaking skills.

I start with the text, asking why exactly this document was written and for whom. Nobody ever knows. Then we read it looking for answers (attachment 1 below). I point out aspects of persuasion in it, then we go back to the big questions. That’s about half a day, on a block schedule. The other half day I use to go over this rhetorical analysis worksheet that I like with them (attachment 2). I really want them to understand this as an argument–we look for ethos, pathos, and logos in the declaration, for example (use this video if those concepts are new to students).

Putting this color-coded version on the projector to immediately review also reinforces the most salient points.

Another day we look at the handout that compares drafts (attachment 3), and we talk about the writing and revision process–what changes were made and why, and if they’re better or not. We relate this to their own work. I also tell them about the anti-slavery paragraph that the southern colonies made Jefferson take out–none of them have heard that before, so I put it on the projector and read it to them. Fun! That’s just a small part of a day.

I also make sure to point out that it’s the FINAL draft of the declaration that has the treasure map on the back. That always elicits a few giggles from the group.

A third day is to give them the speech outline (attachment 4), so they can see how the four parts work together and practice using these tools for something useful and realistic.

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Gulliver’s Travels

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Google images result for the title…most of these are the famous scene from chapter ONE.

I read this last summer, and while it starts out strongly enough, it gets much better as it goes on–the satire gets far darker and more biting. Maybe that’s why the single part everyone seems to know and like–Gulliver being tied down by the tiny Lilliputians–is from chapter one. Nobody ever talks about the better parts later on.

The second half of the book really ramps ups the social commentary to Voltaire levels of savagery. Consider these observations of a university, from part III:

I saw another at work to calcine Ice into Gunpowder; who likewise shewed me a Treatise he had written concerning the Malleability of Fire, which he intended to publish.

There was a most ingenious Architect who had contrived a new Method for building Houses, by beginning at the Roof, and working downwards to the Foundation; which he justified to me by the like Practice of those two prudent Insects, the Bee and the Spider.

There was a Man born blind, who had several Apprentices in his own Condition: Their Employment was to mix Colours for Painters, which their Master taught them to distinguish by feeling and smelling. It was indeed my Misfortune to find them at that Time not very perfect in their Lessons; and the Professor himself happened to be generally mistaken: This Artist is much encouraged and esteemed by the whole Fraternity.

In another Apartment I was highly pleased with a Projector, who had found a Device of plowing the Ground with Hogs, to save the Charges of Plows, Cattle, and Labour. The Method in this: In an Acre of Ground you bury at six Inches Distance, and eight deep, a Quantity of Acorns, Dates, Chestnuts, and other Maste or Vegetables whereof these Animals are fondest; then you drive six Hundred or more of them into the Field, where in a few Days they will root up the whole Ground in search of their Food, and make it fit for sowing, at the same time manuring it with their Dung. It is true, upon Experiment they found the Charge and Trouble very great, and they had little or no Crop. However, it is not doubted that this Invention may be capable of great Improvement.

And this rather wry bit where the joke about government working purely and productively might seem like a lame cliche today just shows us, yet again, that there’s nothing new under the sun:

In the School of Political Projectors I was but ill entertained, the Professors appearing in my Judgment wholly out of their Senses, which is a Scene that never fails to make me melancholy. These unhappy People were proposing Schemes for persuading Monarchs to chuse Favourites upon the Score of their Wisdom, Capacity, and Virtue; of teaching Ministers to consult the Publick Good; of rewarding Merit, great Abilities, eminent Services; of instructing Princes to know their true Interest by placing it on the same Foundation with that of their People: Of chusing for Employments Persons qualified to exercise them; with many other wild impossible Chimaeras, that never entred before into the heart of Man to conceive, and confirmed in me the old Observation, that there is nothing so extravagant and irrational which some Philosophers have not maintained for Truth.

The final section of the book has the darkest humor, such as this almost invisibly veiled swipe at expansive governments spreading their influence:

But I had another Reason which made me less forward to enlarge his Majesty’s Dominions by my Discovery. To say the Truth, I had conceived a few Scruples with Relation to the Distributive Justice of Princes upon those Occasions. For instance, A Crew of Pyrates are driven by a Storm they know not whither, at length a boy discovers Land from the Top-mast, they go on Shore to Rob and Plunder; they see an harmless People, are entertained with Kindness, they give the Country a new Name, they take formal Possession of it for their King, they set up a rotten Plank or a Stone for a Memorial, they murder two or three Dozen of the Natives, bring away a couple more by Force for a Sample, return Home, and get their Pardon. Here commences a new Dominion acquired with a Title by Divine Right. Ships are sent with the first Opportunity, the Natives driven out or destroyed, their Princes tortured to discover their Gold; a free Licence given to all Acts of Inhumanity and Lust, the Earth reeking with the Blood of its Inhabitants: And this execrable Crew of Butchers employed in so pious an Expedition, is a modern Colony sent to convert and civilize an idolatrous and barbarous People.

Haydn

So I’ve spent a lot of this year getting into Haydn. It’s odd–I’ve been courting a taste for classical music for most of my adult life, but I never really listened to Haydn until now. He slipped through the cracks somehow. I read something recently about how Haydn used to be regarded as highly as his younger contemporary Mozart, and was just as popular, until the last generation or so, when we decided Mozart was the be-all and end-all of music. (I enjoy this channel of animated classical music, which has hundreds of videos, but which I just found has zero pieces by Haydn.)

The two men’s styles are certainly similar, but in Haydn I see a man I find spiritually simpatico. His symphonies each sound simple, but developed deeply–each a paean to grace–like Mozart’s–but also direct in a clean, friendly way, as opposed to Mozart’s often overbearing showmanship. A balance of lofty and grounded.

I just watched a lecture by Robert Greenberg about Haydn, and learned that he was a child of the working class, and a late bloomer: another level at which I connect with him. It may be illustrative of pretension, but when I listen to Haydn, I feel the best of both my abilities and aspirations underscored–ambitions for productive contemplation, if you will. I’ve listened to the Sunrise quartet on some Sunday mornings, for example, and find it a perfect fit.

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40 For 40 Progress Report 1/12

I’m a month into being 40 now. I set 40 goals for this year for fun and self-improvement–the list is at the end of these notes on my progress so far:

  • I’m finding that for the ones that say “do such and such 40 times this year,” I need to average 3-4 times per month, and most of those are still at zero. I’ll make a weekly list for those to keep me on better track. I’ve also had to decide what counts and what doesn’t–eating at a new location of an established franchise I’ve been to before for #28? (No.) Riding my bike across the UNLV campus at work for #19? (Yes.)
  • I started with some that I felt were easy and/or foundational–today is day 32 of morning and evening prayers, and drinking 40 oz. of water. The prayers have helped me be more serious and self-reflective…and more critical of how I pray. I missed one night of prayer around that halfway point–not sure how to handle that. The water has been really easy and very rewarding–I have less soda and junk food just from trying to drink more water; I find that I crave even more than 40 oz. now.
  • Today is day 12 of doing sit ups–I realized that I didn’t want to just do these goals in isolated rounds; it would be better if they overlapped at irregular intervals. I’ll start another new one this week, as the first round starts wrapping up soon.
  • The biggest failure so far is the one about learning 40 new Portuguese words a month–I did nothing at all with that last month. Well, time to start and do better now.
  • Other items I’ve made some progress on so far: 2, 5, 6, 18, 19, 23, 24, 28, 30, 35, 36, 39, and 40. It was a great month, but life always has so much more to offer!

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A Thought About Gospel Teaching and Sacrifice

An idea that came up in our ward’s teacher council: to be effective teachers, we must diligently prepare lessons, but we must also be flexible to the needs of our friends during class and must be willing to let go of all that we prepared as the Spirit directs us. We could spend hours preparing a lesson, and only end up using some of it because it becomes clear that a discussion needs to go in a different direction.

And yet, if we do no preparation, no such inspiration is likely to come. A friend remembered a sacrament meeting where a man started his talk by taking the script he’d written, putting it in his pocket, and saying, “Well, I had one talk prepared, but the Spirit is now leading me to say something else entirely,” and the resulting talk was exactly what people needed to hear. I then remembered a time about 20 years ago, where a speaker decided to improvise the entire talk on the fly in order to illustrate the workings of inspiration; he only stumbled and rambled for a few minutes, confusing himself and the congregation, before closing and sitting down.

It’s almost as if the Spirit says, “I will guide you, but only if you put in the work first.”

And that makes me wonder if good teaching is related to the basic law of sacrifice. If we research and draft and prepare good lessons, we have something that we can then give up as needed, so greater blessings can come. If we do no preparation, we have nothing to sacrifice.

Similarly, like the rich young man in the Savior’s parable, we can create materials and then cling to them in spite of what the obvious needs are around us, like a teacher who checks off every item on their lesson no matter what real world needs come up spontaneously in class, which demand that we give up our plan and serve others, if we really want to help.

The classroom, then, is a microcosm of life, and we are all teachers.

“The little warm concrete faith in my hand”

Two hands on sunsut.

Overwhelmed by all
but underwhelmed by myself.

How do stress and wonder blend so cleanly
inside the same small minutes
every single day?

It’s enough force to crack the soul
like continental plates, grinding like my teeth.

So I go courting the Spirit
trying to make the magic moments
that already are:
the paradox of conscious effort.

But maybe that conflict is good,
to highlight the steady solids by contrast,
because in a corner of this epic drama
I feel the little warm concrete faith in my hand.

Three Old Poems From Las Vegas

I saw this page in a now-defunct alt-weekly sixteen years ago, and fell in love. I don’t often like new poetry, but I really enjoyed all three of these. I tore out the page and put it up in my classroom. It’s followed me from school to school since. Sometimes I’d refer to it, sometimes students asked about it, usually it just sat among the detritus that teachers collect year after year.

Last summer, I came across it while doing some decluttering, and took these pictures of each poem, and here they are, preserved now in Internet amber.

I like these because they each tell a specific yet oddly relatable slice-of-life story, told in vivid language, but not at all flowery. These are unadorned decorations on small moments, as most of my favorite poems are.

I just Googled the titles and authors–none of these poems are available elsewhere online, it seems (indeed, none of them seems to have been collected at all), though the authors all seem to still be writing, with some professional success. That makes me quite happy.

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