First High School Research Paper

My son read me the draft of his narrative for English about Amelia Earhart's 1932 transatlantic solo flight.  I told him I doubted that she brought protein bars with her, and doubted that she was wearing a dress that day.  

He said he was assuming those things.  

I asked if his teacher wanted fiction or nonfiction.  Non, but the teacher said you could imagine details to make it more vivid.  

I explained that the imagined details must be realistic.  For example, it was probably not the case that she was bored on the flight.  

"But mom, it was 15 hours!  Of course it was boring.  She didn't even have the internet."

"Just because you think it's boring, doesn't mean that she did."

"But there's no information on her," my son complained and then said he wished he would have chosen Kennedy's assassination because there is a ton about that.  

I asked if he had tried looking in any books.  He had one at school but didn't really find it useful.  I suggested he might find it more useful if he actually read it.  He doubted it.  

To prove to me there is no information, he searched, "What did Amelia Earhart eat on her transatlantic flight?"

He clicked on the first article which he scrolled through complaining that he didn't want to read all that just to find out what she ate when she probably just ate some protein bars.  I said I doubted protein bars had been invented.  He asked Siri,"When were protein bars invented?"  He frowned when she replied, "the 1960's."

"Well," he said, "then I'll just put she had coffee and bread.  Those were already invented, right?"


When Computer Dies

My close friend, Computer, has arrived at her end.  Frankly, we expected it years ago, but she revived, showing a lot of spunk in the final months.  

She was at times senile and growing slower by the day, but mostly she remained sharp as she'd ever been.

She's not completely gone, she still glows when we wake her, but nothing registers on her screen. 

When I told Jeremy, my IT guy, that I was ready, he showed me some options and told me he can transfer all Computer's memory to the new one.  

I am grateful for all Computer has done for me.  

While I wait for her upgrade, I make collages and post photographs of them with tiny tomes I type out with my thumbs.

Last Bear

Our last and sweetest bear
We hung on the wall
Admiring her tiny limbs 
And one nostril nose.

But the kids scribbled on her
And gave her another nostril 
And one day she fell off the wall
Face down on the kitchen floor 
Where she was stepped on 
And dragged around
And thrown into the recycling 
And taken to the curb.


Downtown Dreamscapes

I dream of things going wrong and almost missing the flight, and flying so low we land on the interstate.  I dream of driving through landscapes of animals I've never seen before, giant panda like pachyderms with fluffs of white whiskers, flocks of jellyfish birds, and everywhere, monkeys.

I dream of climbing from one gigantic tree to another, trying to make it back to the ground.  I dream of driving on roads impossibly steep and impassible.  I dream of beaches where the waves are so massive and unpredictable that people are constantly getting washed out to sea.  I dream of living on the other side of the world, on an island flat against the sea with strips of abandoned houses.

I dream of being launched into space with no return date.  I dream of biking through a fancy neighborhood with curving streets and oddly shaped houses.  I dream of getting lost on the subway and running to catch a train and searching car after car for a seat.  I dream of large sea creatures swimming under me.

I dream of tremendously large galleries that house art works make of water.  I dream of concerts in strange parts of town.  I dream of finding Burning Man in the middle of the city and devising ways to sneak in and the labyrinth of buildings we get lost in and the giant roller coasters we ride and the bridges to nowhere and never reaching The Man.  

I dream of being chased through an endless maze of backyards and alleyways.  I dream of being in Africa and going to Carnot and finding a thriving city and going downtown to ask about Pauline and being amazed by all the restaurants and cinemas and tall buildings and driving through a suburb of crowded highways until I finally find her, in a cement house with electricity and carpets and a stove.  

I dream of hiking along a dangerous trail that winds into the mountains where it's permanently winter.  I dream of tornadoes spinning closer as I run to find refuge in vast empty buildings.  I dream of skyscrapers falling.  I dream of a house with an olympic sized pool and bedrooms up staircases we forget were even there.  

I dream of being on a road trip in a strange car with tiny windows.  I dream of being on a bus and not knowing where to get off and a beach town with a giant festival and a long winding path through tall grasses leading to the alley where all the workers hang out.  I dream of driving through office buildings, trying to find the parking garage.  

The Big Dig

She knows there is more to life than digging, but still she digs. She knows how it looks, worthless and silly, but still she digs. She knows there is almost no chance of finding what she is looking for, still she digs.

Maybe if she was actually digging with a real shovel, maybe then it would make more sense, though probably not. Her's is a metaphorical digging, embarrassing yes, because in the world there's a lot of real digging to be done, and she is not doing that.

And even when she finds what she is looking for (though truth be told she has no idea what she is looking for), she is satisfied for only a very short time.  She concludes it is not about the finding, but about the digging, a very dull conclusion since she's come to it many times before.

But still she digs.


Art School Teacher: On Tranquility and the Revolution

The creative habit class has drifted into meditation, deep listening, and compassion practice, so I check in with the students.  What do they want to do with the last five class periods?

Some say they like the path the class is on now.  One girl says it isn't what she expected.  What was she expecting?  "To learn how to take our ideas and make them into art," she replies and says she sees no connection between that and clearing your mind and doesn't understand how learning to be calmer can have a positive impact on your art.  In fact, she sees it as a detriment; that being agitated is what great art grows from.

She makes a good point.

What if, instead of teaching how to calm oneself, I taught how to get angry and channel that anger into art works?  What if that were the current vogue instead of meditation, yoga, mindfulness?

A revolution?

We are so comfortable and entertained and self-centered and well-fed that we have no need to cause a stir no matter how unjust things become, no matter how broken the systems grow.

Inevitably, there will be revolution.  And maybe those of us who have practiced being calm and balanced will be able to make wise decisions and to express complex ideas in understandable ways because we have learned how to listen, how to notice, how to create.

Or maybe we will starve to death.

It's days later when I think of a response to the student's concern:  Perhaps by practicing tranquility we are more receptive to the creative force.  Perhaps when we are tranquil, we can see our agitations more clearly.


all the Jackets in which i might Find my Keys

fuzzy vest made from sacrificed teddy bears, a gift from my mothers-in-law

faux army shirt which all the ladies are wearing this season from Anwen

fancy jean jacket, a lucky find at a downtown consignment shop

rain coat purchased at Isle Royale two summers ago after getting off the boat in the rain

classic hoodie from the sales rack at Target

leather hippie coat with fuzzy accents, another lucky find

blood red floor length velvet coat with rhinestone buttons
pointed out by my brother last Thanksgiving when we were looking for dessert plates at the thrift shop



On the same day I randomly chose from the library shelf Matsuo Basho's The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches, I also randomly chose Sherman Alexie's First Indian On the Moon.  In both these books, the writers present pieces that are written in prose and poetry.  I feel that I have never seen this done before.  Certainly there are examples of poetry books with prose pieces in them and vise versa.  But both Alexie and Basho intermix them into the same piece.

Could it be true that I've never seen this done and then happen to pull from the library shelf on the same day rare examples of both?  Or are there many examples of this everywhere and I've just forgotten, or ignored it, blocking out a thing I did not fully comprehend?

like a word that you've never heard 
until you learn its meaning 
and suddenly everyone is saying it

like a thing that seems so new
but turns out to be
so ancient


all the Bags in which i might Find my Keys

school bag most often containing school binder, samba whistle,  dry erase marker, chime

hippie sport purse from Anwen, perfect for longer outings

day dreamer excursion bag from Grandma L., just the right size for a pen, notebook, camera, and harmonica

woven cream bag for fancy occasions, though more shabby than fancy these days

sturdy black purse from my mom

colorful knit bag made by a guatemalan girl who sold it to me for two dollars the day before we left el estor

all purpose backpack that has carried many groceries, books, and appliances  over the years,
ripped on the bottom but still determinedly useful


Lessons from WWII: Student Papers from an American Middle School

Last spring, at my son's middle school, during an evening concert, I was wandering the halls and read the following student papers that were displayed.

Needless to say, I was shocked.  I went back to get my friend, who was also shocked and showed the vice-principal who immediately took it down.  

The next day I showed the pictures to my son.  He was neither disturbed nor surprised.  He said it was probably an assignment.  I pressed him on it and he just shrugged and said he had made a World War II German propaganda poster for a class that semester.  He couldn't understand why I would make a big deal out of it.

I showed these pictures to many people and was equally as shocked by their reactions.  Many, including a Jewish friend, were more leery about freedom of speech issues than about the anti-semitism ones.  I emailed the pictures to the principal telling him how disturbed I was that my son was not disturbed.  He emailed back confirming that it was indeed part of an assignment and taken out of context, could certainly be misinterpreted.  

But I wonder, in what context is it a good lesson to have middle school children writing sentences like the ones this student did?  Yes, we should teach our children that out of fear grows hateful things. Unfortunately, there are innumerable examples to study.  But why encourage our children to assume the roles of fearing and hating?  What if the lesson was about Al Qaeda?  Would the teacher have led the children to write, "Love is no Americans"?  What if the lesson was about slavery?  Would the teacher have dared post a student's writing that said, "Love is no Blacks"?

The principal offered to set up a meeting with the teacher if I wanted.  I did.  I wanted my friend who had alerted the vice-principal to come to the meeting, but he was busy and then I was busy and then it was summer.  In the fall my son started a new school.  And now it seems too late.  I feel guilty about not following through.  And then I wonder, would making a big deal out of it bring more harm than good?  And it is this thought that frightens me most.  


Art School Teacher: On How to Play the Fool

The Director asked the teachers for volunteers to perform at the school assembly.

So I did.

The weekend before, Matt and Tad played some Paul Metzger for me.

So I was going nuts all week bowing my banjo.

I was also thinking about Steve Martin because Tad just doesn't understand why Steve Martin wouldn't give his banjo prize to Paul Metzger, especially since Steve Martin is all into abstract visual art.  So I wrote a song about that and played it at the assembly.


After I played, one girl came up to me and said rather excitedly, "Yeah, I could totally tell you didn't know what you were doing," since I had said I play improvisational music so I never know exactly what will happen.  



Old Shakuhachi Woman By the Fox

Before embarking on yet another journey, less than a year after returning from his last, Matsuo Basho sold his house.  In The Narrow Road to the Deep North he wrote, "Upon the threshold of my old home, however, I wrote a linked verse of eight pieces and hung it on the wooden pillar." In 17th century Japan it seems that everyone went about writing and reciting haiku.

was it everyone 
or just a self-selecting few
like folk singers, rappers, or monks

these poets animating 
the mundane with bright 
little blossoms of words

along the northbound river
flocks of leaves collect
whispering of winter

old shakuhachi woman 
sits among the grasses and the crickets, 
soaking in the last autumn sun

back home, men hoist motors
onto their backs and blow leaves
into piles on the streets