Monday, December 16, 2002

More Happy Sharing Things

Hey, Rube!


Now, doesn't that make you want to go read this lovely piece I unearthed from the archives at McSweeney's, home of the new young lions of the literati? I promised myself I'd never cut and paste a long chat into a blog entry, but I couldn't resist linking to one, especially a fictional one as funny as this.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:43 AM | 0 comments

Ye Olde Poem Of The Week

Long before I met my Unitarian wife, I knew the words to more Christmas carols than most people: the Holiday spirit has always moved me. I love wandering through the bustling crowds thinking about the people I love and the things I love about them, and I love finding the perfect gift. I love the stillness and purity of NMH very excellent Choral/Orchestral Christmas Vespers Concert, which we saw this afternoon with my parents.

Darcie and I got engaged on Christmas Eve, 1996. Her family Christmas get-together, chock full of tradition and good cheer, has in recent years become a focal point, a liminal period, an opening of the senses for the transition from old to new. I wrote this week's poem about a month after the engagement on a cold, starrystill winter's night.

Winter Song

Six below and still; the cusp, the epiphany:
craving one last cigarette I sneak into Vermont winter
under Ames Hill, behind my future in-laws' home
in the valley below Marlboro College.

The moon blue air and the snow are frozen;
overhead, concentric circles of hazy color
break the surface of the sky,
ripple from the year's first cast white stone --

my breath casts wisps of shadow on the plow-flattened drive
as I pace, trying to keep the blood flowing.
Above the house the big dipper
dribbles bare branches down its handle

into the Thurber's barn, stirring milk cows;
but I feel the cold. Finishing, I work embers,
the last of the tobacco, off the filter, into the snow;
with its last heat the coal hisses and burrows out of the wind.

copyright Joshua L. Farber 1/6/1996

posted by boyhowdy | 12:10 AM | 0 comments

Sunday, December 15, 2002

The Tires Are The Things On Your Car That Make Contact With The Road

Tonight Phish appeared on Saturday Night Live, their first live show in several years. Now, I'm no Phishhead. I have a strong affinity for music and, like many people, need my life to have a soundtrack, and I own almost all their studio albums, and I saw them for the first time over ten years ago in a three thousand seat venue in Somerville Massachusetts and sat in the fifth row next to Jon Fishman's mother. But I don't have it in me to be a true follower of any musical phenomenon. I enjoy a good concert but I won't cry if I miss a performer I like when they come to a nearby venue, and I might not feel like going that night even if I'm free. I'm of the school of thought that all music has merit, as evidenced by my bluegrass to blues, folk to funk, jazz to jambands, littlebitcountry littlebitrockandroll radio playlists and mp3 collection. I like too many kinds of music to specialize.

Still, it was nice to have it on in the background, and the students were happy I mentioned that Phish was going to be on. When I came in from duty at midnight about twenty of 'em were gathered around the broadcast hearth laughing together, which warms my heart in the cheesiest way. And, if they stayed up late enough, they got to see Tipper Gore with her arm around Trey Anastasio during the final goodnight, a juxtaposition of values and iconography worthy of a master's thesis.

Also on SNL tonight: Al Gore, who was better than the name Al Gore suggests -- Tipper was just visiting for the final thankyous, I guess -- and a Robert Smigel takeoff on Charlie Brown's Christmas episode wherein the gang develops magical powers, suddenly able to do, to everything and everyone, what they did in turning the sad ol' Christmas tree into a shiny and suddenly perfect tree (and with Phish soundtrack instead of the original Vince Guraldi, whose name I can't spell).

In other tire-related news, now that we've taken in my grandfather's old couch-on-wheels, it's time to retire the camping van. I'll miss it; the van got us through two years of music festivals and, once I connected with a couple of kids who loved a genre of music I too love, and were willing to pay for my ticket if I'd chaperone, the van took kids to the best jamband concerts, including String Cheese Incident, Widespread Panic (RIP), Michael Franti and Spearhead, Jazz Mandolin Project, and Keller Williams. We paid about $3500 dollars for it two years ago, so even though it's too rusty to pass inspection and not worth the cash it would take to rebuild the body from scratch, I feel like I've gotten a fair use out of it. But I will miss the lifestyle the van implied, and miss living that lifestyle through its oversized armchair driver's seat and backseat bed. Maybe I should have titled tonight's entry Oh The Places You've Gone.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:02 AM | 0 comments

Saturday, December 14, 2002

My First Lost Entry

I wrote a beautiful blog tonight, about family and generations shifting forward as children become parents and my mother crying at the loss of her mother when looking at my child in the arms of her mothers sister; about being daddy, and seeing parents turn into someone else's grandparents; about presents and giving and receiving what one really wants; about supper with my parents at the Blue Heron, a 5-star restaurant on the water where an old mill once stood in a small impossible-to-find town.

And then it was gone, and with it my memories. Now anger and frustration fill my brain, and although I ache at the loss of my memories on the goddamnitall screen, I understand in this moment what it is to blog. For all the debate about who and what the blog is for, it took loss for me to see that the blog truly is for the self; that the invisible projected other is incidental after all. For when writing for others, loss means trying again. But here, in the quiet moment of loss, I understand my heart, and it says it cannot be written again; let it go.

I think of Eudora Welty, who wrote, in her short story No Place For You, My Love:

A thing is incredible, if ever, only after it is told -- returned to the world it came out of.

And I know that she is wrong. A thing is incredible when it is told, but it need not be returned to be told -- to return it now would mean reconstructing a reconstruction, moving further from what I felt, moving towards what I wish I could remember I had once said. It is the telling, not the tale, which matters to my heart, and that telling has been told whether it is lost or remains.

And so I choose to keep my lost memories of this evening as incredible. They will remain unwritten, after all.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:31 PM | 0 comments

Lullaby Lull

Christmas tree shopping was cancelled by mutual consent because it was raining too hard, so I sit here at the laptop in the middle of the best kind of downtime, that time where you were supposed to be doing something else but unexpectedly ended up off your feet with nothing planned. Darcie and the baby have gone to take a nap with the dog, leaving me to re(dis)cover and address the blog.

I'm especially thankful for the break in the schedule, as this is the final rest before a straight seven-day push of work and hardcore play and busy-ness before the student diaspora of Christmas vacation and New Years. The weekend has already been hectic: I was on duty last night, and then had an early start this morning for a breakfast interview with my one remaining college recommendation prospect. After that, I helped Darcie watch the baby and set up for this evening's semi-formal in the Northfield student center, James-Bond-themed this year to encourage formal wear and tuxedos. Wish I could see it in full swing this evening, as the lights and dance cages look like fun, but I'm on duty again tonight. At least it'll be quiet, what with all the kids on the other campus for the dance.

Since we were in separate cars, on the way home from Northfield I squeezed in a much-overdue visit to Wendy the barber to have my beard trimmed. Wendy's was full of hunters finishing their season, returning to their workday haircuts after weeks of mornings in the brush and camping stove coffee, but her good work is easily worth the wait, as trying to cut my own beard is a dissatisfying disaster every time. I get so fussy and stressed out trying it myself that I end up cutting a little more from this side, then a little more to match from the get the picture. It takes hours, and I hate both the time spent and the final result every time. Perfectionism comes through at funny times, but when you wear your efforts on your face all the time it seems like it should be worth it...until you're left with a tiny gen-X goatee instead of your preferred full beard, and then perfectionism becomes a burden. Thank goodness for Wendy; I gave her a $10 Christmas bonus and told her I'd be back after the holidays.

And now here we are, safe and sound and static in the rainy afternoon, waiting, relaxing, making hot cocoa while the family sleeps. My parents are coming up from Boston to see the infant (and us) and for tomorrow's Christmas Vespers service and choral concert, an annual tradition here at NMH; theoretically they should arrive at 4:00 or so, although they have always been and will surely always be the kind of people who are perennially late for everything -- I was 14 and going to the movies on my own before I realized that they show previews before the movie begins. I can't wait to show them the stupid human tricks their grandaughter has picked up since they last saw her at Thanksgiving. Just yesterday, in fact, she learned how to stand up against the ottoman all by herself. I love parenthood.

posted by boyhowdy | 2:23 PM | 0 comments

Friday, December 13, 2002

The Shopping Block

Downtown Northampton, MA

Classes were delayed three hours today after the storm, so I got to sleep in. This unexpected benefit was offset severely, however, by the cancellation of his afternoon's speaker, Howard Zinn. Yeah, that Howard Zinn, the guy who wrote A People's History of the United States. I'm hoping he can reschedule. Prep school hath its privleges; in previous years I've actually been required to attend presentations by Ken Burns, Maya Angelou, Mary Matalin and James Carville, The president of South Africa, the Harlem Gospel Choir, astronauts and glassblowers and writers and scientists and civil right's activists and a holy host of others; this year's schedule includes John Updike.

With the students in class almost all of what was left of the workday and an entirely Zinn-less campus, though, it was a pretty lazy day at the office (a.k.a the media center), at least until I left early to get home and go holiday shopping in Northampton with the wife and kid. Then the day tuned into something between a death march and an easter egg scavenger hunt in FAO Schwarz.

Don't get me wrong; I'm a born and bred shopaholic, having spent much of my suburban middle-class adolescence hanging out in the mall. My father and I used to shop together like some fathers and sons go to baseball games or stand knee-deep in moving water and throw flies. And I like shopping: the plethora of new things under my fingers; the textures and bright displays; the smell of the crowd and the salesgirl banter. But while downtown shopping offers all these things and more, it isn't like the mall. One is constantly bundling up and unzipping again; merely going from store to street from store becomes an adventure. And downtown Northampton, which goes for four or five blocks on both sides of the street with side streets, is built on a slope, which on the downhill means holding back the otherwise runaway baby carriage, and on the uphill feels like the trials of a modern day Sisyphus. I don't miss the depersonalization of the same-ol'-same-ol' mall chain stores selling identical styles, but I guess even after living the rural life for a decade there's still a part of my soul that longs for escalators and heating vents.

Still, I enjoyed it for a while, and found numerous things to covet, both for myself and for Willow (Having A Baby brings with it an entirely new interest in an entirely new kind of commerical arena, which really just means there's more interesting stuff in almost every store than there used to be). Checked the price on many items in many stores full of artifacts of modern life, clothes and books and toys and things, from high art to popular culture. Stared hard at lighthouse windchimes and porcelain sardines, smiley-face cheese slicers and calf-skin travel journals, glass dragonflies and woolen jester shoes in bright colors with bells sew around the rims. We stopped for supper in a Mexican place with counter service when we could stand it no more and recharged over chorizo and egg tacos, chicken enchiladas, chips with some spicy picante, and fried plantains before we went on. Even bought some things, but I ain't tellin' what, or for whom, 'cept to say that, all in all, we managed to cross five people off our list in five hours.

Then we came home, set the VCR to tape ER, and collapsed. Digging the other car out will have to wait.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:09 AM | 0 comments

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Found A Peanut

Two things happily worth sharing, happily.

1. We Made Out In A Tree And This Old Guy Sat And Watched Us: A very funny site dedicated, in the host's own words, to "unusual quotes, strange statements, bad writing and other oddities of the language. Things that are funny because of the specific choice of words. Things that sound great because of the context, or that sound even better when given no context at all. (Like the name of the site, for example.)." Or:

Obvious Statements, Part III From the instructions for a Chinese-made alarm clock purchased in Hong Kong:
"Due to the perfection of the alarming mechanism, you are never awake when you are asleep."

2. Shel Silverstein, playboy writer: A collection of works written by Shel Silverstein and published in the pages of Playboy magazine between 1956 and 2001. All are...well, racy enough and un-PC-enough and funny enough for Playboy. Songs, old blackandwhite television stills with odd captions, and cartoons, including several longer-length illustrated collections on topics such as scouting, nursery rhymes, and imaginary zoo beasts:

posted by boyhowdy | 12:44 AM | 0 comments

Snow White and the Seven Blogs

Wow, it's really coming down out there. Snow flakes like banana chips, like feathers, like snowballs. It's heavy, and comes up to the dog's ankles. Did you know the reason a dog's leg looks like it bends backwards is because its ankles are about halfway up its leg?

At this point, it could be a snow day, or it could just be a day with snow. You never know: tomorrow could be a fluffy white day with blinding reflections, a fine and rare day indeed. But standing out there just outside the door, under the sagging concrete overhang, it just seemed peaceful. Through the chain link I could see the tennis courts, stripped of their nets for winter, hibernating under a thick and growing blanket.

Last year the pond froze over weeks before the first real snow. It was clear all the way down, like standing on ice cubes or glass. The bubbles rising through the congealing water had left smooth round holes, one on top of another, like the spaces left behind by a stack of granite stones washed smooth by the ocean might look if the granite simply melted away. Virginia I broke through the thin sheets of ice cover and hollowed out the holes, exposing the thin piggy-bank slits connecting them to the ones next below; and through these slits we dropped pennies, and imagined them there forever, deep in the ice beyond reach.

I think I'll go disrupt the tennis courts. They seem so pristine. I want to be that pure.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:19 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Long Time Gone

I've been off-blog for about 40 hours, the longest lag-time between entries since I went on vacation over Thanksgiving break. I thought about blogging a couple of times, and I showed the blog to a few more teachers so they could see what I mean when I say "blog," but there was always something I was just about to do, and I never (b)logged on. No withdrawl symptoms, though. Guess I'm not an addict after all.

So, let's see: where was I? Oh yes. When last we saw our hero, he had just come out of a nice toasty hot tub, his belly filled with happy-making sushi and dim sum.

So much for relaxation.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are really my busiest days here at NMH; sure enough, 'twas a busy day yesterday and a busier one today, full of the usual mundane/inane/insane bits and pieces which make up my humdrum life. Tuesday highlights included shorting out Laura's computer trying to do a tech assist while observing her class for her three-year review; fiddling with SWIS far too much and accomplishing far too little, and cancelling a meeting of the Professional Development Committee of the Faculty to spend the evening over in the neighboring girl's dorm talking with David about a non-linear research project assignment we're co-teaching for his Issues in the 21st Century class. Today started with a full 105 minute class going over the research project parameters with David's students, moved from there to some cranky-baby babycare while Darcie had a budget meeting and then, after lunch, an all-too-solemn meeting of my own department where we discussed little but the financial straits of the school and how they'll affect us, and isn't over -- I start dorm duty in a half an hour.

If You Lived Here, You'd Be Wet By Now

The weather report says up to 10 inches of evil snow-and-sleet starting tonight and into tomorrow; on my drive home I heard Johnny Memphis on The River, my favorite DJ on my favorite radio station, recommending that you get where you need to be for the night quickly so you're off the road before it all starts. In fact, a quick peek out the window confirms it: up the hill, I can see the beginnings of freezing rain washing the students off the hill on their way home from dinner at the dining hall.

We're in the drugery days of midwinter at boarding school, which traditionally brings a layer of ennui and tedium over everything we do until Christmas break. In the forecast for tonight's duty is therefore some rare excitement, in this case brought on by hopefulness for a snow day that will probably never come...which means another night of unfocused students who are supposed to be studying. Sigh. Everyone's been talking about the snow day possibilities all day, but I'm not holding my breath. 5 years here at Northfield Mount Hermon tells me that we tend to err on the side of getting everyone the heck out of the dorms and into the classrooms whenever we can.

Nevertheless, I'm worried: the new car doesn't just feel like a turns out to handle like a boat, too, swinging wide in turns and sliding all over the place on the rare patches of ice I've encountered over the past few days. I neglected to get both snow tires and sandbags (for weight) for the trunk, so it looks like if there is school tomorrow, I'm driving the Camry, and leaving Darcie and baby at home without a car. I guess there's not much they'd need it for at home, but I worry too much about what might happen -- what if the baby fell off the changing table and had to go to the hospital?

posted by boyhowdy | 6:40 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Still Not Tuesday

It bugs me that Blogger thinks it's already Tuesday when it's really late Monday night. You can set the blogger code to your own time zone, but there's no way to change the settings so that "tomorrow" starts at 2:00 a.m. instead of midnight. I think blogger is prejudiced against the semi-noctural. Or, come to think of it, it's all true outside of the bloggiverse; maybe it's just our cultural conventions of duration and/or time frame, where the notches on the measuring stick are painted, that are prejudiced.

Great, now I'm getting paranoid, all conspiracy-theory-like. If the world of order and sequence is out to get me, does that make me the spirit of entropy?

Went hot tubbing this evening at East Heaven Hot Tubs in Northampton, a place with private rooms by the hour and a wooden Japanese theme. Darcie's parents were already planning to go themselves, but volunteered to watch the baby while we went first, which was nice. It had been a while; we used to go down to the hot tubs almost every other week, Darcie couldn't go in while she was pregnant, and I hadn't been since taking my advisee group last Spring (a big hit). They have speakers in each hot tub room, and Darcie had picked out some Gregorian chants which befitted the mood nicely.

Willow was bugeyed watching bugeyed fish when we came out. Neil was holding her up to the tank, and she kept trying to reach around the glass to grab the koi. Confusion is so endearing.

Went to Teapot for potstickers and sushi afterwards; I had egg drop soup and shrimp dim sum dumplings and Peking Ravioli and Dragon something, California rolls wrapped in eel and avocado, and Darcie had her usual California roll supper with miso soup. It felt just like old times, except for the baby trying to knock over the waterglass.

Home in time to meet up with Ginny and go over to Northfield for the radio show. I drank far too much coffee on the way over and spent the show bouncing around the studio, playing music to match. Bedtime stories tonight on Tributary were from How To Eat Like A Child, by Delia Ephron; set list follows:

Bob Dorough -- Too Much Coffee Man (our theme song)
Sarah Harmer -- Basement Apartment
Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks -- Meet Me At The Corner
Oysterhead -- Oz Is Ever Floating
They Might Be Giants -- Fibber Island
The Biscuit Boys -- Ramblin' Fever
Trout Fishing In America -- Happy That You're Here
John Gorka -- Around The House
Barenaked Ladies -- King Of Bedside Manor
Ben Harper -- The Drugs Don't Work
Moxy Fruvous -- Green Eggs And Ham
Mark Erelli -- Little Sister
Garcia and Grisman -- Arkansas Traveler
Ween -- Bananas And Blow
Keller Williams -- Best Feeling
Galactic -- Tiger Roll
Mano Chau -- Me Gustas Tu
Ani Difranco -- Welcome To
Dixie Chicks -- Goodbye Earl
Marc Cohn -- Rest For The Weary
Jackson Jills (the Tufts women's a capella group) -- Wannabe
Kasey Chambers -- A Little Bit Lonesome
Eddie From Ohio -- Let's Get Mesolithic
Norah Jones -- Come Away With Me
Crowded House -- She Goes On
Indigo Girls -- Fare Thee Well

posted by boyhowdy | 1:59 AM | 0 comments

Monday, December 09, 2002

No Garfield, I

A few years ago I managed to make a successful case to the folks I work with (and work for) that my evening and weekend responsibilities should allow me a bit of flex-time during the week when I am otherwise expected to be running the school media center. Since then, I have taken Monday mornings off. I find this significantly softens the blow of the work-week.

This term, I have a class on my home campus from 2:10 to 3:40 on Monday afternoons. Because I'm going to have to prepare my materials for an hour or so before class, I don't go in to the office at all. It's not a bad life: sleep until 9:30, babycare in the mornings for an hour while Darcie goes to work, lunch out of the fridge instead of the dining hall, and then an hour to wander and prepare my class notes after Darcie's mother shows up around 1:00 for childcare. Then Mass Media Messages, the kind of course which makes everyone wish they were in my class:

MED09 Mass Media Messages
Butthead, Bart, Kyle, and Cartman: A study in mass media. Through close media exploration and analysis of Beavis and Butthead, The Simpsons, and South Park, three "generations" of controversial animated sitcoms which use the unique perspective of young people to frame satirical portrayals of society, cultural norms, popular culture, current events, and the adult/youth dynamic in modern American culture, students in this course will identify common themes in mass media and in society today, and will discuss the meaning of their particular manifestations in various media forms. Specific topics will include gender, race, violence, patriotism, generational difference, and other issues of identity and morality.

The class is the only one I teach in Winter term in our trimester system, and it's a minor course, so it meets only twice a week, has no homework, and is serious but ultimately lower-stakes from both student and institutional perspective. Fall I also teach Intro to Web design in the minor course curriculum; Spring I also teach an Advanced Web Strategy minor course; Fall and Spring terms I teach a half-credit major course (major being the "real" courses here at NMH, with homework and tests and GPA relevance; these are the ones that colleges care about), a Social Science course called Media Literacy but the enrollment for that major course is still not high enough to justify a Winter term section as well, so I get a break in Winter to focus more on the Ed Tech part of my job.

It's a good life, and a good vocation. I never understood people who don't like or don't care about what they do all day, who work for money, who have jobs and responsibilities instead of vocations and roles. Why would you spend so much of your life miserable?

posted by boyhowdy | 12:00 PM | 0 comments

A Day In The Life: Breakfast; Brattleboro; Back

Mocha Joe's coffeeshop. Ginny works there.

Woke up at 7:45 on Sunday to find the baby's feet in my face; she had somehow managed to turn herself 90 degrees looking for Darcie, who had left at 7:00 to load kids on the a ski trip bus. Managed not to wake up completely, and so I was able to slip easily into sleep again when Darcie came in the door and back to bed a few minutes later. Ahh, sleep...I miss it so during the week.

Back up at 10:00 for a breakfast meeting at the the only real restaurant in Northfield, a small town which also has two small cafes, a bakery and a general store which makes deli sandwiches. Meeting was with a student who wanted me to write a college recommendation letter. I like the idea of getting off campus to have the pre-rec-letter-writing conference, because that way no one feels like they're supposed to be somewhere else. The pressure of "Oh, I'm at school and should be working" goes away when off campus; just ask the relaxed students in the general store in front of the laundromat: this is really why kids wash their clothes off campus instead of using the school laundry service.

Also, I figure, writing the recommendation letter is a big responsibility, what with the kids' college futures at stake, so it might as well come with a full buffet. The Big Kitchen Cafe was started about four years ago out of an old barn in the middle of a row of houses in town; in addition to the usual local-and-fresh bacon and sausage, eggs, and waffles, one can have potatoes with or without hefty chunks of smoked pork, deep fried french toast, apple enchiladas (a specialty of the house), and a dozen other sundry treats. Pastries and pie, four kinds of juice, coffee and hot chocolate: the interview lasted a while but was fully satisfying for all involved. And best of all, now I get a page of notes which, in sentence form, pretty much become the recommendation.

Home by noon, and, after a short call to Josh and Clay, who were expected to deliver my new car (my grandparent's old car) today but couldn't be reached, on the road again by 1:00. To Brattleboro, VT, 20 minutes north, where the holiday spirit of commercialism, flavored by the small-town quaintness of the primarily tourist-oriented but not touristy shops, was bringin' 'em in in droves. No street parking so I dropped Darcie and the baby off at Mocha Joes, the mellow coffeeshop where Darcie's sister Virginia works, and walked over from a nearby lot. Ginny was busy, but she made my usual free double latte with a vanilla shot and slipped it to me while Darcie breastfed in the corner.

The next few hours are a blur of shops, heaving the stroller up endless stairs and over infinite stoops, and this might be nice for your sister; do you know her shoe size?. Just like last year, the year before, and every other time Darcie and I have gone Christmas shopping, we bought ourselves and Willow a few small things, found a good present for my brother (not telling what it is; he might read this!) and for Darcie's Secret Santa thing at work (A Hamlet fingerpuppet set from The Unemployed Philosopher's Guild), and thought too much about what other people might like without buying anything. Thank G-d for, but I might buy more at The Unemployed Philosopher's Guild website. I mean, they have freudian slippers. And check this out:

Finally encountered the elusive brother-in-law Josh and his long time girlfriend Clay at Darcie's parent's house, where despite my best intentions we inevitably end up staying for supper when visiting Brattleboro. Steak and mushrooms on the grill in the middle of winter really hits the spot, and hanging out at the in-laws is very relaxing, what with everyone sitting in the kitchen to get the full brunt of the soapstone stoves which heat the house in winter, but the baby got cranky and my alergies started acting up -- they have three long-hair cats and a big ol' Saint Bernard with a pedigree -- so it was time to get home.

Home meant Ginny coming over for the evening to help me preview South Park and Beavis and Butthead videos for the Mass Media class I'm teaching tomorrow (have I mentioned I love my job?), Josh and Clay stopping by to drop off the new car, and going for a spin in the powder blue couch on wheels. You could hide six bodies in the trunk, and the front seat feels like an armchair. I think I'm gonna like this car. I mean, look at it:

It's like driving a boat.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:00 AM | 0 comments

Sunday, December 08, 2002

Fire Switch, Light Switch, Red Switch, White Switch

Just got back from a quick 1:00 a.m. jaunt through the deserted streets of Northfield and back. Darcie needed to pick up the cell phone we send on school trips and charge it overnight, but she was breastfeeding and I'm more alert this late at night, so I took the keys and let myself into the darkened student center, scrims still hanging from tonight's techno dance. The office was pitch black, and I almost set off the fire alarm trying to find the light switch in the dark. From the standpoint of both electricians and panicking people in smoke-filled rooms, it seems natural to put the red alarm pull adjacent to the light switch -- it's easiest to remember where you saw it that way, and it's probably easier to do the wiring if the electrical "stuff" is all in one spot -- but it's very poor ergonomics if you consider the way one's hand flails towards the wall when first entering a darkened room. A couple of years ago, I remember the pre-teen daughter of some now-moved-on faculty accidentally pulled the fire alarm in the dark looking for a lightswitch in the basement of their dorm, and we all sat outside and studiously avoided looking at her in her mortification as the fire trucks pulled up to turn off the flashing lights and staccato blare.

Funny how the student center seems both bigger and spookier in the dark, suggesting that its intimacy is a function of the students who inhabit it, not the arrangement of the furniture and vending machines. The space used to be the Northfield campus gymnasium; the theatre downstairs gets its slope from the pool surface on which it was built, and although the locker-room smell is long gone, in the darkness the whole place still has the feel of an old-school gymnatorium. From the balcony, once the running track, where Student Programs has their office, the ground is too dark to see, and it is easy to imagine the distance from old rubber track underfoot to worn wood ballsurface far below as infinite.

In Other, Purely Technical News

The Blogger website seems to be stuck; it has showed the same ten "most recently published blogs" from 11:04 a.m. since...well, 11:04 a.m., I guess. Not sure what's going on at their servers, but ten lucky blogs have probably set new records for the number of hits in one day. Unfortunately for the monolinguistic, most are not in English.

Also, the comments on this page, driven by Enetation, haven't been working for a while; I had thought that this might be a problem with the Enetation servers, but now I wonder if the two problems could possibly be related?

Thirdly, I am proud to report that we are now officially in week four of the blog. Sure, objectively speaking, that's not very long, but for the ADHD brain doing anything regularly for a month is a triumph.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:48 AM | 0 comments

Saturday, December 07, 2002


I can barely make toast properly, but I had an hour or so while Darcie and the baby napped, and I had bought some boneless catfish fillets and some pre-cooked frozen shrimp at the grocery store, so I tried an experiment. Crumbled pecans, matzoh meal, salt and pepper, one drop onion juice and a whole mess of canola oil breaded around the shrimp and catfish and fried in about a half-inch of oil until the catfish looked done. It was quite delicious. I sat at the glass-top table in the dining room, in my dirty white apron in the noon glare of the sun off the snow, and ate it with a Pepsi, feeling smug.

I expected the apartment to smell like fish when I was done, because the fan over the stovetop went CLUNK and then began making a horrible grinding noise a few seconds after I turned it on (so I turned it off again in a hurry). But all I can smell is my fingers, which still smell like the onions I grated making latkes at last night's Channukah party.

posted by boyhowdy | 3:07 PM | 0 comments

Romancing the Blog

Found a fascinating blog by a social anthropologist at the University of Surrey who has been conducting research on "the culture of weblogging in London" since August 2001. He references all the right books and seems to know what he's talking about, although his recent entries are primarily shout-outs and thank-yous to the people he interviews.

Not much out there on the American side, which isn't surprising; social anthroplogy and, more specifically, the media studies subgenre thereof barely exists here in the states. The closest we come is what is often wrongly called media literacy but is really just a simple critical viewing curriculum, so narrow as to teach only "how TV brainwashes you and what to do about it." As if the concept of media ecology and the facts of cultural feedback in communications media were interesting but esoteric; as if most of our lives aren't driven by the ways we share and create knowledge; as if we weren't in a sea-change right now from writing and print to digital in which the very foundation of our values and assumptions has begun to shift. Bah.

Interesting factoid: to the best of my knowledge, the U.S. is the only English-speaking country which does not have a substantive media and communications curriculum as a required part of the high school curriculum.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:28 PM | 0 comments

And Early To Rise

Frequent readers (are you out there? can you hear this?) will note that I tend to blog late in the evening. This tendency to blog late comes merely from being up that late, which in turn is primarily due to a genetic tendency towards the nocturnal; growing up my father, my sister, my brother and I would lurk around the house in our own little bubbles of wind-down until 2 or 3, studiously avoiding each other as we gradually grew tired and, finally, slunk towards our rest.

Even today, in a community where all of us live and work in and around the typical 8-4 schedule of the school, no matter how early or late I force myself awake each morning, I can never get to sleep until 2:00 a.m. During the summer, I just sleep until noon the next day; during the school year, I end up down a couple of quarts by the end of each week, and so I pretty much depend on at least one weekend sleep-late day to catch up.

Thus, today's blog is anomalous if only because it is way too early on a Saturday I am anyway. Darcie's really sick, and the baby woke up covered in poop -- must have slipped a diaper catch comewhere in the middle of the night -- so although this was to be the only day in several weeks where I could sleep until after ten, I was up at eight giving the little one a sponge bath and a change of clothes for the day.

Yes, I know: Thank you for sharing.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:36 AM | 0 comments

The Dichotomies List

Zack's livejournal is linked from Molly's blog, but it doesn't hit home for either of us until tonight that it feels weird to know that we are reading / have read each other's blog/journal. The realization is that blogging is something unlike any other form of media previously extant, specifically in that it creates a totally new relationship between the self and the other, one simultaneously fictional or imaginary in its default perception and yet chillingly real in its public posture. In other words, we delude ourselves too easily into thinking that anonymity is effective, that those who know us will not after all recognize us when we sit at our screens and mask ourselves in the hum of the global village, that we are part of the invisible masses when we venture out into the digiverse. We exist in a pretend space, so we project a level of pretend-ness onto the people of that space, and forget the wetware behind the mask of the virtual persona.

This is true to some extent of much cyberspeak in its myriad forms, but the blog wouldn't be so shocking it there weren't something especially insidious, something unique in scope and specifics, about the tension between what blogging feels like...and what it can become. Intellectually, it seems intuitively obvious that if a random stranger can access and read your blog or livejournal, so can the next-door neighbor or friend or ex-girlfriend or even parent, assuming that they are online, or have a friend who might accidentally come across your brainspew and pass the word along. Psychologically, though, it is not obvious, but disquieting.

I think because Molly was the one who introduced me to blogging, I blog with the full knowledge that she might be reading, and all that might or might not entail does beg the question of whether I, too, am self-censoring. I gave the URL to some of my family at Thanksgiving, so I know they're there, too. [Hi, mom!] It is nevertheless odd to realize that Zack is probably reading the journal too; that the anonymous sites which show up on the counter stats might wear familiar faces when the lights go on. Here's the case I made to Zack.

There are some who would say that self-censorship either doesn't exist, or is a constant and necessary offshoot of not having diarrhea-mouth all the time. Selectivity -- deciding what to say, and when -- is, in this model, censorship.

But I agree that the notion that others who might actually be IN the journal are reading one's journal is...well, an interruption of the otherwise typical sense that the entire Internet exists in your own mind (c'mon, be honest -- you DID kind of think that, didn't you). And that it leads one to steer away from the more interesting and personal aspects of one's life, especially when it relates to other people who otherwise might-be-named. I don't know the best approach to handling this; some blogs/journals I've seen deal with it by using pseudonyms for everyone mentioned, while others just say to hell with it, and still others gradually drift away from the personal.

I don't know if the reaction we're sharing here is typical or even inevitable, or whether it is only true for some users, who might share some interesting sociological history or use a similar mental construct. But the fact that Zach and I are both emeshed in thinking about this now seems to suggest that it isn't such a rare phenomenon. I'm sure there's a more subtle and nuanced way to really understand this whole thing, and I'm interested in finding out what's going on here if only to satisfy my natural curiosity and maybe write a paper on it and go back to publishing scholarly articles every once in a while, like I did when I was in college and gradschool. But as a purely oversimplified way of starting to get at some of the ideas embedded in my thinking on this point:

(Probably False) Dichotomies On My Mind

  • Public vs. Private

  • Enjoying what is shared vs. Spying
  • Trying to be true to myself and wanting to be an open book about it vs. Having secrets and shames and wanting them to stay secret

  • Wanting to be jus' folks with everyone on a human level vs. The neccessity of social and professional roleplaying

  • Me from in here vs. Me through the eyes of others

  • Equity vs. Diversity (not really relevant, but nevertheless on my mind)

  • Surf vs. Turf (ditto)

posted by boyhowdy | 1:36 AM | 0 comments

Friday, December 06, 2002

Welcome to the Working Week(end)

Latkes, for the last night of Channukah

It's Friday, so you'd think the week's work would be done. But teaching at boarding school is like nothing else; "after school" in the evenings, on weekends, on state holidays like Labor Day and Columbus Day and MLK day, the kids are still here, so we're still technically working. Summer vacation for teachers is thus not a free gift, as some people think; it is a whole year's worth of missed weekends, evenings, and vacations granted consecutively. In no other job I know do you work 260 12-hour days straight (with one two-or-three-day weekend "off" every five weeks to write progress reports, and a one week "vacation," really a full-press grading period, at the end of each term), and then have 100 days off.

With both Darcie and I working here, out of the dorms and heavily involved in activities which naturally spill over into student social events and afterhourstype activities, we have a worst case scenario. The two of us are each expected to work a minimum of two weekends in ten, but we're involved in enough activities and club advisorships that we end up working about four in ten each instead, and since one of us needs to be home with the baby when the other is working, we can't double up on when we do our weekend responsibilities. Thus, we are left with one or two weekends a month as our only time off. And this weekend it's Darcie's turn to be on.

Darcie works for Student Programs, the group of folks (all female) here at NMH who coordinate all-school events, proms and dances, craft activities and holiday celebrations and concert trips and shopping expeditions and record swaps and whatever else students need in order to have complete lives outside of the dorm and classroom. Technically, she's the Program Coordinator, which means her primary responsibility (other than advising the yearbook and doing advising in the dorm) is planning and coordinating events; she's kind of like a combination cruise director, interior decorator, and party coordinator, and she's very good at what she does. This weekend she's on duty Saturday and Sunday, which means meeting busses as they leave and arrive for off-campus events, overseeing the faculty member who is doing ASA (Assisting Student Activities duty) at each event as it goes on, and generally being "the person in charge" at all events as they happen.

But tonight she had the night off, while I helped host the student Channukah latke party (my job was potato grating; it's not all fun and games here, you know), so she's at Ginny's dance concert with Willow. I hope the baby didn't decide to talk to the dancers on the stage like she did when we went to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding about six weeks ago. And I hope, too, that they get home soon. The Channukah party was lots of fun -- about 25 kids showed up, and we played dreidel for M&Ms, sang songs and said prayers, lit candles and broke bread, and generally had a grand old time -- but it just isn't Channukah without the wife and kid. I miss my family when they're gone.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:32 PM | 0 comments

Snow Was Falling, Snow On Snow

I went out into the treacherous universe this afternoon to run errands alone; Darcie and Willow were going to come, but it seemed intuitive that in bad weather the baby should stay home. I feel so...expendable. But in a good way, if that makes any sense.

From the insurance agency to the Registry of Motor Vehicles to the supermarket and home again took three hours, but mostly because I have a tendency to get bedazzled in the supermarket. Getting my grandparent's car registered in my name didn't seem weird until much later this evening. What's it going to feel like driving Grandpa's car? It's a couch on wheels, a '96 Mercury Grand Marquis with only 37,000 miles on it, powder blue inside and out, and I know I'm gonna love driving it, because if there's one major material thing I really value, it's a comfortable, roomy car.

But the memories might be difficult at first. The first time I ever drove that car was for their final move North to be closer to the family. We flew down late at night, slept for a few hours, had lunch with all four of my grandparents, and helped my grandmother pack up her house and move on to her "third stage of life," as she called it. This mostly meant helping her to decide what to leave and what to bring to their new efficiency apartment in a senior facility, and keeping her from giving me all of her personal belongings; Grandma was always one to move forward, not look back. That evening we left in their car to drive it up north, making it from Delray Beach, FL to Greenfield, MA in seventy hours with stops in Savannah, Charleston, Boston.

They never drove the car again. For the last two years it's been in my parent's driveway while my Grandfather's Parkinson's robs him of his driving privileges. Maybe three or four times during those years, Darcie and I came down and picked them up in it to take them out for a deli brunch, but no one else ever drove it but me.

Martha never drove, really, not even when my mom was a little girl; they lived in the city, and in the city you hardly needed a car unless you were going out of the city, on vacation or to visit relatives. She kept saying she would learn to drive, but somehow it never hit the top of the list, so the car was always Grandpa's. I remember every car he had, and I loved them all. They were always grandparentmobiles, slightly boxy wide loads with squared-off bumpers, which got only slightly more curved in the later models of their later Floridian years. When I was very little and they still lived in Brooklyn their cars smelled like them, like aftershave and hair tonic and perfume from Macy's and pipe smoke and cigarettes, before she quit and he stopped being able to hold a pipe.

For my entire life, in every car there was a small plastic turtle on the dashboard, one of the ones with a molded body and a head on a spring that bobbles around when the car moves. It was always there. Its name was Myrtle. I thought of it as a toy, and never thought to ask its real significance -- good luck charm? Reminder of the ocean? Inside joke? -- and now, really, I don't know if he'd have the strength to answer such a detailed question. One day, after my grandmother's stroke but before she died, I think, I took the last much-mutilated Myrtle, a plastic turtle whose head-on-a-spring would bob as the car turned corners, from the dashboard out in the sun in my parent's driveway, and put it in a jewlery box with some cotton in the armrest storage compartment of the Camry we drive now. It's melted and brittle from the glass-focused Florida sun, but this weekend it will go back on the dashboard where it belongs, I think.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:08 AM | 0 comments

Thursday, December 05, 2002

You Know You're a Blogger When...

I've been reading other people's blogs, hundreds of them, in the last few weeks, trying to get a sense of the norm for the form (hey, that rhymes!), because I see some real potential for the blog as a replacement for the journals that many teachers here at NMH require of their students...and because identifying new technological tools with potential for classroom use, helping teachers evaluate that potential in the context of their own classrooms and teaching, and helping them and their students learn how to use those tools if they believe them to be beneficial, is my job.

I haven't seen any blogs out there being used as classroom tools, although centainly a few are being used by teachers as a way to share ideas on and about teaching. But I think there's some real promise here. The public nature of the blog is useful in this instance, I suppose, although there is something valuable nonetheless about a journal which only your teacher will see. More specifically, though, the ability of e-texts to exist in multiple loci at a single moment is a great boon for teachers and students alike. With the blog, no longer do we have to take journals away from students, lug them home, and spend hours trying to decipher handwriting, while students struggle with keeping track of their own journals and remembering to write in them. The blog solves all these problems while simultaneously offering a fun and personalized way to journal. As an added bonus, students who learn to use blogs for a class are then prepared to use them for more personal reasons as well.

In my cybertravels, I've found some great blogs, and some great concepts. I've also found, though, that the blog-i-verse, as in the vast majority of self-published information in other forms on the web, is on average no smarter, no more interesting or creative, and no better than the wetware that uses it. Garbage in, garbage out.

Thus, as a show of strength and sympathy for the blog form and for blogging in general, I hereby offer a short list of things which I keep seeing in blogs which you will never, ever see in my own blog...or at least not for the next few weeks, or until I give up on the universe completely, or the aliens finally find me and lobotomize me:

1. This blog will not contain a cutandpaste chat which seemed funny at the time but for which, really, you had to be there.
(Corollary to item 1: If I do paste a chat in here, it will never, ever be longer than ten entries, and certainly will not go on for six or seven screens worth of blog length. Molly seems to have this right, unsurprisingly; when she uses the occasional chatpiece in her blog, it tends to be four or five lines long at most)

2. This blog will always be written in plain english, and ppl wl have 2 deal w/it.

3. This blog will never include an article or story written by someone else if that material already exists on the web somewhere else. This is a hypertext medium, folks; links are these neat things that allow the reader to decide for themselves whether they want to read a twelve page treatise on why solar power is the coolest thing or whether they want to continue reading your own thoughts.

4. This blog will not make the error of style over substance. If design were the most important element of the blog, then this would be an art form, not a literate form, and blogservers and blogservices would prioritize design issues rather than archiving, content organization, and other textual elements.

5. This blog will never contain a long series of entries which have no text but merely link to other things. This isn't a link form, it's a narrative form. If you want to publish a link list on a specific topic, publish a link list, or make a separate page linkable from your blog.

6. This blog will never, ever, EVER contain entries which are so self-referent that the blog becomes a treatise on blogging and blog issues...
...uh oh.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:47 PM | 0 comments

Off and On and In and Out

Home Sweet Home: Hayden House

I work at a boarding school - perhaps I've mentioned it about forty-eleven times - and I live in a small apartment at the end of the dorm. As part of my job, I am on duty once a week and two weekends in every ten. Duty basically involves being a visible, active adult presence in the lives of the 45 boys of our dormitory, Hayden House, in the evening, in loco parentis for the hours in which students come home for the evening, study for a few hours, and then prepare for bed.

Tonight was typical. At 7:00, I came downstairs and checked in with the House Director about a few kids. I spoke with the students about their lives and their last-term grades, read a book while they studied, scammed pizza off them when they came in with pizza. A freshman with pneumonia needed to be convinced that he was sick enough to go to the infirmary; a couple making out in the TV lounge needed to be asked to stop; several students with questions about the papers they were working on for World Religions: Mr. Farber, is there an "ism" word for people who believe in Science? Take check at 10:30, lock doors (from the outside) when they're all acounted for, write up the duty log for the evening, sweep the bathrooms and hallways, and come back to the apartment on the second floor by 11:00, and the job's done for another long day - classes begin in eight hours.

Duty responsibilities are considered three of the 19 "points" it takes to make a full trimester's contract, 57 points being a full-time year's workload for faculty here at NMH, and include both nights on and nights in. On nights are the true duty nights; in nights are nights when duty is performed by one of the more senior teachers who have served their time in the dorm and have earned a place in one of the typical New England houses which dot the outer landscape and the side roads or NMH where campus begins to abut either wilderness or the quiet residential clusters of rural homes and farms which comprise the majority of local life. When these folks leave the dorm to go home at 11 (midnight on Saturdays), the resident faculty, in rotation, are expected to stay in and take on the role of point person for late night emergencies or, more typically, student lockouts (Mr. Farber, can you let me in my room? I only went to take a shower...).

Nights not on or in are nights off, although when you live in the dorm, students with the initiative to find you at home do so no matter what your resident status for the evening is supposed to be. You can go out -- the school recommends that you go out at least once a week, just to be somewhere other than where you work and live for a couple of hours to retain your sanity -- but are generally expected to be home by eleven or so. Technically, overnights need to be approved by the House Director, but most HDs don't really worry about this; if the students can't find me, or if they have a drastic need (say, for example, they have accidentally set their roommate on fire and can't put him out again), they'll just go to the House Director anyway.

Dance on the Television

Ginny was there tonight when I got back to the apartment after my duty shift; she had to stay late at Greenfield Community College for a dress rehearsal for her dance company, and showed up prepared to crash. We're the logical choice for crashdom, as we live about a half an hour closer to Greenfield than her parent's house; Virginia still lives at home with Patty and Neil (my in-laws) after two short out-of-home experiences: One, a living-with-the-boyfriend scenario, ended when the relationship went sour; the other, a house share with a married friend, her husband, and her young son, seemed doomed from the start.

Darcie went to bed pretty quickly; she loses an hour or so in the middle of the night because of diapers and breastfeeding (I'd help, but I'm not lactating, so there's not much I can do) and I only sleep 5 hours a night so I tend to stay up much later. Ginny and I are flipping the channels, and we keep seeing this really cheesy combination of line dancing and tap dancing flash by on the screen, and Ginny realizes that the Greenfield public access channel is showing last year's dance concert. I sat next to Ginny and watched her on the TV, which was a bit eerie.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:51 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, December 04, 2002


I want this. I'd settle for this. But I'm busy and lazy and poor, so I'll probably stick with this*, at least until Christmas break.

Tomorrow I teach 2 sections of 9th grade algebra/physics how to use this for their math journals this term. Wish me luck.

*warning: recursive link.

posted by boyhowdy | 2:40 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

On a More Mundane Note

I have added a quotes section. Now all I need are some quotes that aren't stupid. Submissions welcome.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:26 PM | 0 comments

Back in the Saddle Again

The title suggests, I think, that this entry is about work. And it should be. As a journal of days and events, the blog begs mention of the first day back full-time at work after months of leave, a day of gradual acceleration into the usual frenetic pace of my vocation, a pace I hadn't felt since last June, before summer vacation, before a Fall term with a 2/3 contract and a 1/3 leave, an exhausting happy time.

Had I tried to write this from work, perhaps the truth would, after all, be in the details.

But I came home tired, and she was already asleep; I can't turn on the lights to watch her sleep without waking her. And I thought today was the first day since the birth of my daughter that I spent less than an hour in her presence; today was the day that things might never be as good as they have been.

And so for a while, I stared at the idiot box, exhausted. Something was on TV. I microwaved something from a takeout container and I ate it standing up. I wandered a stranger in my own home. I was angry, frustrated, jealous: at myself, for having a job that I love and won't give up that takes me away from my daughter; at the institution, which knowingly overworks us but makes excuses for it rather than doing something about it; at my daughter, who needed to sleep when I finally had time for her; at my wife, who got to spend time with the baby while I sat reading the comics in an empty room just because a student or teacher might come in and need my help.

Look, dear reader, dear self, whomever the blog reaches, whomever cares. I'm sorry for the mess. I feel like I have lost my eloquence, and while emotion without eloquence may be okay for some blogs, it just doesn't feel like me.

Postscript: Love Conquers All

I was writing the above words, and about to hit the "Post & Publish" button. Darcie came and took me by the hand, and pulled me out of my chair. She gently led me to our bed, and nudged me to lie down in the dark, next to Willow. There, I watched my child until my eyes began to adjust to the darkness, until her lips and cheeks and chin became distinct parts of her. I accepted her, and my position in her life, what I had to do and what I want to do, and how those might not be the same thing sometimes. I cried on her, and let her sleep. I tried to let go of all my selfishness and need, to remember that Willow's life isn't for me but for her, to be grateful for the time I have with her, and promised myself to keep working, but to keep missing her all the time and working hard to be with her when I can, anything and everything I can do and more, so she could have everything she needs, so that she can grow into the fulfillment of her secret heart.

And then I turned to my wife, and was about to thank her for bringing me to that better place, and for seeing my need. And you know, before I had a chance to say a thing, she thanked me for going to work every day, for making it possible for her to have time with her child at home during the day, for coming home eager to share my time with them, for missing them when I must be away. For my shortcomings and my guilt, for breaking down and being sorry and missing them, for my anger. For what I want to be, and what I am willing to sacrifice for all of us. For my tears.

Look, sometimes love is a mess. Sometimes I have hurt people I loved, hurt them bad, hurt them maliciously or unawares. And sometimes, many times, I have been hurt myself.

But although I am more than anything else a bumbling fool, when I am with the woman I love I am a miracle. For although my shell remains the goofball of the bathroom mirror my reflection in her eyes shows me the fulfilment of all the promise I have in me. If you ever find a partner like mine, who loves you for who you can be and can make you be that you; who knows your needs when you cannot, and can lead you to your own resolutions gently, lovingly, with care and confidence...then never ever do them wrong, and keep them forever in your heart, for you have found an angel. And although it is presumptuous to think that you can tame or keep an angel, remember that as long as your angel loves you, you will have the love of an angel...and that is sustenance enough for even the most broken and selfish of us.

I guess I'll go back to work tomorrow after all. But this time, I'll bring pictures off my girls -- both of them, wife and daughter.

My cup runneth over.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:48 PM | 0 comments

Because it Stopped Snowing

This week's Poem of the Week was the last poem I posted on Watermelon Pickle Poems before Marlboro College changed servers on me and I lost my FTP access.

It's about a year old. Happy Birthday, poem.

I was thinking about it because of the snow.

How winter come on

One day not so long ago
The atoms of the air
Bloomed like fractal flowers suspended
In front of our faces

And there
Within our soft wet grasp
Came winter: Morning frost on cars
Capillary and glinting

And all of us stood
In doorways full of breath
Talking about how winter come on
Sudden this year.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:30 AM | 0 comments

Tonight on Tributary

It started snowing as I left the house for the radio station tonight at nine thirty, just a light sprinkle, dry hexagonal flakes visible in the glow of the antique streetlight as I stepped out to the car. By the time I emerged, after midnight, the roads were scrunchy with pristine powder. I had to dig out the scraper to see my way home.

Driving tomorrow will be fun, and sure to happen; in my five years here at NMH, we've had two snow days and one ice day, the latter only after one of the women in the school snack bar fell and broke her hip. When you and your students live where you teach, it takes a full-court-press of a blizzard to cancel school.

Anyway. The radio show felt a bit dull tonight. My co-host (also a good friend and, incidentally, my sister-in-law) called in overworked at the last minute. Nora, a student who calls every week, was the only caller. She called to thank me for playing Dar Williams and Norah Jones. Well, at least someone was listening.

Tonight's playlist follows. I was in the mood for cover songs for the first hour or so; all covers have asterisks after 'em.

Bob Dorough -- Too Much Coffee Man (Tributary theme song)
Nirvana -- The Man Who Sold The World*
Tony Furtado Band -- I Ain't Got No Home*
Dr. John -- Deal*
Greg Brown -- Pledging My Time*
Lucy Kaplansky -- Small Dark Movie*
Bluegrass Sessions -- Rift*
Soggy Bottom Boys -- I am a Man of Constant Sorrow*
The Be Good Tanyas -- Rain and Snow*
The Del McCoury Band -- Rain and Snow*
Jack Johnson w/ DJ Logic -- Rodeo Clowns
Kasey Chambers -- I Still Pray
Norah Jones -- Come Away With Me
Dar Williams -- Family*
Dave Carter & Tracy Grammar -- Gentle Arms of Eden
Sarah Harmer -- Open Window
David Massengil -- Perfect Love
Timbuk 3 -- The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades (Acoustic Version)
Robbie Fulks -- Never Could
Suzanne Vega -- The Queen and the Soldier
Patty Griffin -- Long Ride Home
Alison Krauss -- Forget About It
Shawn Colvin -- The Story
String Cheese Incident -- Up the Canyon
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones -- Sunset Road
Phish -- All Things Reconsidered

Bonus points to anyone who can identify who performed or wrote the original versions of at least six of the nine covers in the above playlist.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:01 AM | 0 comments

Monday, December 02, 2002

Hey, Mr. D.J.

I'm off in a few minutes to DJ for Tributary, my weekly radio show on the school radio station, where I play contemporary folk, bluegrass, jambands and alt-pop, read so-local-it-hurts Public Service Announcements for this weekend's back to school dance or crafts activity, and babble incessantly about the usual DJ trivia. This is no dinky high school station, though. According to the FCC, we have the most powerful high school radio station in the country, which in these rural parts means you're listening to WNMH 91.5 fm, serving Northfield, Gill, Keene and Brattleboro ...

Since radio listeners can't be easily tracked, it seems a safe assumption that the students of NMH are, if not our sole listeners, the only ones who really care. I know that some of them actually listen to my show, 'cause they ask me about it when I see them in the halls on Tuesday mornings: Hey, Mr. Farber, was that you I heard on the radio last night? Awesome songs, man. Some even call in to request The String Cheese Incident or Richard Thompson; some call just to let me know that When I Fall is their favorite Barenaked Ladies song and thanks for playing it, you made my night. I've never had a call from outside the school, though. And never from another faculty member. They must all go to sleep much earlier than I do.

I also read bedtime stories on the air, on the half hour and on the hour. -- sometimes poems, more often true bedtime classics, from Curious George to Goodnight Moon. In the tiny world in my head, I imagine that being old enough to have grown to love Dr. Seuss for a second time unifies us without making me that creepy teacher who still thinks he's just hangin' out.

I'll post the playlist when I get back if I'm not too tired.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:40 PM | 0 comments

I Live With a Thousand Teenagers

Yes, it really is a picture of bunnies at school.

Cars have been unloading boxes outside all day. Down the hallway doors slam where, yesterday, silence reigned. The new kid down the hall actually brought two turntables and a microphone -- there's no room left on his desk for his computer -- and he's testing them out now to make sure the connections are okay. I could help, but why encourage him?

The kids are back.

Living in a community where the majority of people are under the age of 20 makes me feel like old and creepy sometimes, like Carson Daly at MTV's Spring Break [okay, so he's a year younger than I am -- even so]. But sometimes I thank G-d that I'm still here after 5 years. On the one hand, I get to be young forever, with young friends and their new and often naive ideas constantly on the edge of my peripheral vision. On the other hand, no matter how much I watch what they watch, eat what they eat, and blog what they blog, I'm constantly confronted by the ever-yawing gap between what I know of the world and what they live out every day. Boarding school is both timeless and ancient, simultaneously young and historic; although the space we inhabit and the constant influx of new bodies and minds are essentially rejuvenating, after too long, I think we all begin to take on the mossy chestnut past of the traditions we are steeped in, the ancient brick and tall pines around us.

I could talk about this for hours, but my students say I overanalyze things. As if analysis weren't what I did for a living; as if knowing the world was such a bad thing. Ah, youth. Six weeks 'till I turn thirty.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:39 PM | 0 comments

Teaching Blogging on Professional Day

This morning the faculty, all 175 of us, spent three hours in a diversity workshop discussing the difference between dialogue, discussion, and debate, and beginning the process of dialoguing about issues of diversity and equity at the school. I practiced my active listening skills.

Only two people showed up for my workshop this afternoon. I didn't mind so much, really; both were seriously interested in the ways that hypermedia and other non-linear forms finally offer, as one of them put it, a way for us to apply new notions of collaborative and interactive learning modes to high stakes work, which is a real epiphany for most teachers when they finally "get" what I teach.

David, a Math and Physics teacher here at NMH, was especially struck by the possibility that the blog form offers students as a way to journal in any subject. So, with my educational technologist hat firmly clamped on my head, I'm going into his classroom on Friday to teach his 9th graders how to blog, and, more importantly, how to do it in a literate and rhetorically appropriate manner given the parameters of the blog medium. It should be a noble experiment no matter the outcome.

posted by boyhowdy | 4:18 PM | 0 comments

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog

Molly, who taught me everything I know about blogging, is in the process of a blogsite design overhaul. I think it looks pretty good once you scroll down to obscure the ad for Blogspot.

I just finished a PowerPoint presentation for a faculty professional development workshop I'm giving tomorrow on multipath writing forms (a category of non-linear rhetorical structures which by strict definition includes hypertext but is not limited to it, in case you were curious). In the workshop, I'll be using blogs as an example of a reverse linear linked document.

I put a link in the PowerPoint presentation to Molly and Collin's Blogproject as an example.

Now here I am writing about it in the blog.

I have blogs on the brain.

[Bonus points if you know the reference in the subject header; I almost called today's entry everyone loves a blog.]

posted by boyhowdy | 12:55 AM | 0 comments

Sunday, December 01, 2002

No Futurama

Football instead.

In talking on the phone today with David, a History teacher here at NMH -- he had an idea for a web-based research project he wanted to do with his Issues in the 21st Century class this term and wanted to talk it out -- in the background, his five year old son Jonah could be overheard asking Dad, which team do we want to win?

David explained to me that the question was because, even though the Patriots game wasn't on, Jonah has already learned that other games can affect the outcome of the season for the Pats. Seems like a fairly high-order concept for a five year old.

But I didn't see anything wrong with it even before the explanation. There's a lot of math, physics, and social science involved in Football; it's always struck me as a thinking game, ultimately more like chess than boxing despite what most people think. George Will can keep his baseball metaphors; personally, I think such urges are merely a hold-over from the British upper-class love of cricket. Football is truly the sport of the American intellectual AND the couch potato alike; that's what makes it so American.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:21 PM | 0 comments

My Favorite SNL Sketch

Abstract o' lanterns

Okay, I already love Wake Up, Wakefield. But I especially love this one, rebroadcast tonight, originally broadcast 10/19/02. The premise of the recurring sketch is a 7:45 a.m. public access middle school news show starring pre-teens Sheldon (Rachel Dratch) and Megan (Maya Rudolph); in this installment, it is Halloween. Senator John McCain is the perfect hippie middle school art teacher, complete with hawaiian shirt and long pony tail. He makes Steely Dan-O'Lanterns for the kids, saying he's trying to teach the estudiantes to use their imaginations; the principal (Horatio Sanz) responds that his clothes and hair reek of "imagination" and suggests that he limit his own use of "imagination" to the weekends. McCain even has the voice down pat. Heck, Lorne, hire him as a regular cast member, or at least an and featuring!

Some people say Saturday Night Live waxes and wanes; some say it hasn't been any good since the early years. Personally, I think the current cast is wry and smart, with a better deadpan than any of the earlier casts and a strong sense of minimalism in language, for maximum sustained effect. Sanz and Fallon turned out not to be the one-hit wonders they seemed at first, and the women -- according to a recent Newsweek article the largest compliment of female cast members in the history of the show -- clearly run the show to everyone's benefit.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:28 AM | 0 comments

Saturday, November 30, 2002

Before the archives close on this my second week of blogging, the poem of the week:

Poetry is an Exercise in Futility


Describe for me, will you

How white with dew and dim light
The grass in the cowfields echoes the eclipse
Of the log which the fire consumed.

How awakened, the wind
Creeps under the cat-door
If I am late returning.

The persistent reappearance of certain words,
Like language, and cat, and sometimes.
As if these things could be understood.


Or treat it as a hypothetical case:

Aaron is in the car discussing his impending affair.

We are following Aaron’s girlfriend’s car
Which Aaron’s girlfriend is driving
Back from the garage in Wilmington.
We are watching carefully for signs
That it was not fixed correctly.

Smoke pours out the exhaust
At traffic lights.

We pass to tell her and change our minds
At the last second, just keep going.

Aaron’s girlfriend waves
At the back of Aaron’s head
In the rear view mirror.

Now you try writing a poem about that.


I keep thinking
The boots are the cat.
I keep thinking. The boots. The cat.

Write that.


While we are still lovers, let us continue
To shower each other with constant small gifts.

The impending moon hangs on our every world.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:15 PM | 1 comments

You've Got Pictures

Matt made a slide show of our Thanksgiving story for the family to share.

The one with the beard holding the baby is me.

[added 12/2/02 at 2:00 a.m.] Matt just sent me an e-mail warning me that some of the pictures are 3.1M, so don't try this unless you've got decent bandwidth.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:52 PM | 0 comments

Calm, Before the Storm

The kids come back in 48 hours. Sigh...I miss them, but they are what I do for a living.

And I'm not the only one here on campus who withdraws to preserve these last few empty days. The streets are dead quiet; they have been all day; they were all day yesterday. When you live at a school, no matter how much you like your neighbors, they are still your coworkers. Sometimes you need a more solid line between work and home. Home becomes a sanctuary.

And so we watch television, becoming one of a series of blue flickering windows across the two campuses of Northfield Mount Hermon School as our vacation ebbs away. Darcie curls up on the couch while Willow sleeps in our bed. Leftovers are served -- like wine, I find that gravy only gets better with age and reheating. The vintage is excellent. During the commercials for Erin Brockovich, Emeril makes A Fresh Cranberry and Semisweet Chocolate Trifle on the Food Network

Mmm...trifle. Maybe there's some pie left.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:13 PM | 0 comments

Everyone Sleeps But Me

While Darcie is asleep with Willow in the bedroom, I've been slowly personalizing the blog template. Now there's more sections o' stuff on the right, for example. I've also added a watercolor tree I found at The Online Bonsai Icon Collection to the title bar above. The tree looks funny; I think the transparency is a bit off.

This isn't news, really, but it's a good way to while away some time while waiting for Laura to call.

I can see her car in the driveway from here. Why doesn't she call me?

posted by boyhowdy | 4:28 PM | 0 comments

Alternate Blog Titles

Considered but discarded:

Obviously, some of these were already taken, and some sound too stupid to last. But when you're faced with a growing community of bloggers and livejournal-ers, almost a million strong, the race is on to call yourself something memorable...or get lost in the shuffle.

For the record, I have a bumper sticker on my van that says Not all who wander are lost. If ever I had a credo, that's it. That, or maybe the best things in life aren't things.

And why bother with the list? Well, it provides good context, if nothing else. Of course, it's also good practice, as one day I hope to write for McSweeney's. Until then, the blog will have to do.

posted by boyhowdy | 3:19 PM | 0 comments

The Return of Work

The students don't return until Monday night, but I have enough work to keep me busier than I'd like.

As chair of the school's professional development committee, I have to coordinate the faculty development day activities for Monday afternoon before the kids arrive, which involves collecting the last few descriptions of the twelve round-robin workshops and handing out the "master list" for all faculty on SWIS, the friendly First Class-based School-Wide Information System. That was supposed to happen yesterday.

Then, since I'm presenting one of the workshops ("New Nonlinear Forms of Classroom Expression"), I have thinking about what I'm actually presenting. Of course, since several presenters want to use Powerpoint in their presentations, I also have to put my Ed Tech hat on and meet with them this afternoon or tomorrow to help them think about the best way to do that...

And yet here I am writing about it instead of doing it. Ah, blog.

I'm teaching a new course this term comparing images of youth, culture, politics and satire in The Simpsons, South Park, and Beavis and Butthead that I haven't really started preparing for. The class starts Wednesday, so I have plenty of time.

Because it was late already, I also wrote yet another college rec letter for a student this morning. It's such an honor to be asked, but I hate the process of writing them. Knowing that your letter could make the difference between acceptance and rejection for some worthy student is almost too much pressure to bear, and it drags the process down into nitpickiness. Two more to write in the coming weeks and then we're done for the year, thank G-d.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:29 PM | 0 comments

Friday, November 29, 2002

Outside, The Coydogs Play Marco Polo

Virginia and I just went outside to see the snow.

It's always quiet around here when the students are gone.

But snow somehow makes everything quieter, if just for a little while. On those nights you can hear coydogs.

The coydogs are amorphous, unseen, mythical beasts hidden in the acres of New England wilderness that surrounds us here. They howl until the fog comes, and morning; all night; long after the train passes, whining, over the highway; while the dog shudders in her sleep beneath the comforter.

It is possible that they sense the quiet campus and fill the empty air with their voices in replacement. It seems equally possible that the coydogs are always there. Both possibilities seem ominous.

Last year another teacher's dog was killed by a coydog. We don't let Zellie out without a leash.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:53 PM | 0 comments

Thanksgiving on Friday

It seems very late, but it isn't. I guess Thanksgiving is a lot of work.

We were up and doing errands by ten -- wine and beer, flowers and shrimp -- then home and frantic cleaning for the guests who never saw the apartment while Darcie set everything up downstairs. Then suddenly, while my arms were still deep in the sink suds, everyone arrived at once, and the day kicked in hard right around 12:30. I was in Social Mode for most of the afternoon, and barely remember eating. What I do remember:
  • Baby up, Baby down. I think she was overstimulated. Didn't spit up on anyone, though (a Thanksgiving miracle).
  • Clay's overly alcoholic tiramisu
  • Too many pies
  • Bruno and Zellie under the table, begging for scraps
  • Bruno and Zellie growling at each other under the table and having to be separated
  • Sarah's new girlfriend Hesse, picked up from Brattleboro, reading in the corner after Sarah left.
  • Foosball. Lots and lots of Foosball. I think I won one game.

Overwhelmingness. The rest is sort of a blur already. So many people to see and talk to, one invariably watches people leave thinking did I ever talk to Darcie's Aunt Vivian today? But I had some good conversations with my father. And we finally got a chance to ask Jesse if he'd be willing to be appointed legal guardian of Willow if something were ever to happen to both Darcie and me. Talk about a conversation you could never imagine having...until you have kids.

It was the first night of Channukah, so Darcie, my parents, my siblings, Willow and I lit candles and sang the brachot. Sarah gave Darcie and I Baby Signs, a potentially fascinating book about using ASL and body language to communicate with your pre-verbal and early-verbal child.

Neil brough a slide projector and showed pictures of him growing up outside of Montreal, Darcie at 4 and Alicia a baby, Patty and Neil at his mother's house. Younger people, or aliens on vacation, sometimes in boats. I got out some slides my grandmother had given me of my parent's wedding and showed them, too.

The snow started about an hour before dark. The "adults" went home, as did my siblings, and while Darcie went upstairs to put the baby to bed, Josh and Clay, Alicia and Matt, Virginia and I hung out for a while talking about families, comparing notes and recovering our pasts for each other.

We have so much to be thankful for, really.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:37 PM | 0 comments

Thursday, November 28, 2002

A Thanksgiving Intermission

Darcie's sister Virginia and I just got back from a whirlwind tour of the downtown Greenfield service station mini marts. Darcie's not feeling well and needed meds.

She needs her strength because we're hosting an 18 person Thanksgiving tomorrow. The three of us; Darcie's parents and mine; my artist brother; my sister and her girlfriend of the moment; Darcie's brother, his girlfriend and her brother and father; Virginia; Alicia and Matt and Darcie's twice-divorced Aunt Vivian will fill ourselves to the gills in the dorm lounge downstairs.

Yeah, I know it was today. We do Thanksgiving on Fridays at our house. That way there's no fighting about whose parent's house we went to last year. On Thursday -- today -- everyone else sees other relatives, and we get the day off.

As an added bonus, the drunks and the cops are off the road by Friday. But they sure were out tonight.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:04 PM | 0 comments

To Bountiful, Redux
Missing Martha at the Olive Garden

Part Four:
Aunt Lil

When my father's parents first moved down to Florida, there was already another reason to visit: Lil and Milty, Grandma Martha's sister and her husband, a pilot. I remember their cactus garden and days on the beach, playing in the sand and sea. Once I got stung by a Man O' War; I remember it hurt like a sonavabitch. Milty loved science and engineering, and we shared a love of figuring out how things ticked; I remember when he passed away I was offered some Geo magazines of his as a keepsake, although I don't know where they are anymore.

And I remember being hurt when I wasn't allowed to go to Uncle Milty's funeral. For a long time, Milty was the only relative I remembered enough to love directly who had died. Cancer. Young, relatively speaking.

My mother's parents had moved to Florida too, and we began to go down to Florida more often, almost every year when we were kids. Martha, Lil's sister, was the family matriarch, strong and strong-willed, boss of the household, a Brooklynite Jewish Grandmother who once came into my own house, opened my refrigerator, and offered me my own food. A woman of willpower and determination, who quit smoking, finally, in her late seventies.

I could write a book about Martha, but it's too soon, I think. I miss her.

Four months ago, Martha fell into a coma and passed on. Two days later, on July 15th, at 8:14 in the morning, Willow Myla Farber was born by planned C-Section: Myla for Martha, and for Mildred, Darcie's grandmother, who passed a few years after Darcie and I first started dating. I sent a eulogy, which my brother read, reportedly with aplomb and maturity. But I missed the funeral: Jewish law mandates a quick burial any day but the Sabbath day, and the baby was too close.

Lillian, her sister, lives alone in a complex of ten thousand senior citizens outside Boca Raton “for the security,” a twenty minute drive from the now-sold sister she loved and sometimes hated for weeks at a time, with no one to call on the phone just to say hello. We went to her the afternoon of the 24th, Sunday, and took her out to the Olive Garden at her request…and recreated Martha as best we could.

And were thankful together.

posted by boyhowdy | 5:06 PM | 0 comments

Bountiful, Redux
One and One-Half Wandering Jews

Part Three:
Hy and Florence

Continental breakfast in the small dining room at the Plaza Inn in Palm Beach. Silver service coffee; sticky banana cornbread muffins; passing the baby back and forth over the fruit cups.

Sunday morning, exactly 24 hours after leaving home, we headed back inland towards Cresthaven, the retirement community my father's parents have lived in for 24 years.

This meant driving through the endless sprawl of strip malls and superstores which have sprung up to serve the burgeoning suburban belt, a band of pavement, cars, and dirty canals that, on a map, cuts a wide swath just inside of the beach communities along the substantive part of the Eastern border of Florida. I seem to remember that these things were not here, that the land was pristine, back when Florence and Hy Farber first moved down to Florida in the late seventies. When we were very small, my brother and I used to dig for fossils -- powdery grey imprints of clam shells, clams being an abundant and therefore cheap filler for concrete -- in the building zones when we came to visit, and going out to eat meant going back towards town; now there are no towns, only endless suburbia.

Finding the turnoff for Cresthaven was easy, but finding the house proved more challenging. In 24 years, I've probably been to this house nine or ten times. Until a three years ago, when my Grandmother's body began to betray her, my father's parents had come up North to summer in Killington Villiage, along with half their retirement community, it seemed. There was never a need for us to trek to Florida; eventually, those who could make the migration -- and a migration it was, North in the Summer and South in the Winter -- came back each year like wild geese do.

But Florence walks with a cane now, turtle-slow, after breaking her arm falling off a curb a year or two back. She's had stomach problems, with accompanying whatever-ostomies. Cataracts have left one eye blind, swollen shut, and the other able only enough for books in large print. I remember her as solidly cynical and complaining; now that she has much to complain about, paradoxially, of course, she seems happier, or at least at ease with herself in a way I do not remember.

Hy takes care of her when he needs to; mostly, she sits around the house, which doesn't demand direct care. He's much more active, but in a kind of supervisory role for the community which brings him a notoriety and accessibility she can't stand and he seems to relish. He calls the bingo games at the Clubhouse twice a week, and plays old standards for them on the Organ with a rhumba beat, wiring the speakers from the organ straight out to the pool that no one uses. When we go to the clubhouse, there is a sign tacked to the top of the community bulletin board -- Bulletin Board Supervisor: Hy Farber. Effective September 1989. -- which says it all.

Years ago, he used to beat my father soundly at pool. Now, in the clubhouse, he carefully peels back and folds the thin plastic tablecloth to reveal a carefully maintained pool table; breaks; loses twice to me, even though I am using a house cue while his unlocked from a wall rack. It isn't that I've improved. He's getting old, the first real sign of strain I've seen in him in 20 years or more.

We spend Sunday morning, and then Monday morning and afternoon, at their house in Cresthaven.

I glean precious gems about my father over the two days.

Hy watches the baby on her blanket while we talk as if he might never see her again.

I hear my grandmother say Joshua seems like a very active Father; you're very lucky; men weren't so involved when Steven and Susan had him to Darcie in the other room when he and I are talking about my father.

They show us pictures of Aunt Marion, who has a huge head as a result of water on the brain. She lives only in black and white, in memory and one or two very old pictures. Marion died before my father was born, and bringing the baby to them seems to make them wistful; they talk more about family, especially about their lost daughter, than I have ever heard even from my father.

I think about my father, and his father. I learn that my paternal great grandfather, who neither my father nor I ever met, sang while he farmed, and that my grandfather, his son, played the harmonica to accompany him.

I think about my father, and myself, and my daughter.

My heart sings.

posted by boyhowdy | 3:03 AM | 0 comments
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