Monday, September 25, 2006

Ford, Finished 

Writer and game designer John M. Ford passed today after a lifetime of illness. This poem -- which he originally "published" in the comments of one of my favorite megablogs -- serves as a fitting epitaph, and a raison du'blog, all at once.

Against Entropy

The worm drives helically through the wood
And does not know the dust left in the bore
Once made the table integral and good;
And suddenly the crystal hits the floor.
Electrons find their paths in subtle ways,
A massless eddy in a trail of smoke;
The names of lovers, light of other days—
Perhaps you will not miss them. That’s the joke.
The universe winds down. That’s how it’s made.
But memory is everything to lose;
Although some of the colors have to fade,
Do not believe you’ll get the chance to choose.
Regret, by definition, comes too late;
Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.

— John M. Ford, 1957 - 2006

posted by boyhowdy | 10:59 PM | 0 comments


Autumn Dreams 



A fallen Willow, like our own tends to be.


Last week it was unseasonably warm, though too foggy for true indian summer; fast forward three days and it's fullblown fall. Nights drop down to the forties; leaves turn, scatter, cover the dying lawn in golds and reds.

At night, I suffer antibiotic dreams. Three times since last week I've woken to the fastfading horror of my children lost, or drowning, or missing, always unsaveable and my fault eternally, my old adolescent fears of high-stakes impotence rising through my subconscious unawares while they slumber beside me.

I arrived home today to find the living room furniture where the playroom had been, a surprise, but a fitting rearrangement, and not just because this Thursday will mark our one year anniversary in this home, and since homelessness. The children sat unexpectedly calm at their old craft table where a chair once filled the corner, wearing butterfly wings and pumpkin hats, sharing a project peaceably, after months of unsettled, half-dangerous competition.

Funny how a simple change of scene can bring about such difference of emotion. Funny how the seasonal despair sneaks up on me through my subconscious, every year a new discovery, as if I had not felt a lifetime of watching from outside myself in horror as I holed my own boats. Funny, too, how things always start so fine, and how I've never noticed that, after 33 years as first student, then teacher, beginnings always mean Septembers.

But the apples this year are especially crisp: Empires and Cortlands, we picked them ourselves. The children are blond and beautiful, charmers who stop in the school office to bring Daddy's lunch and leave an impression that will not wear off all day. My wife moved a couch today; cleaned house; kept the children happy; found joy for and in us all as everyday, and still managed to make the perfect omelet for supper. The air is clean here, and smells of woodsmoke.

Tomorrow I will wake in darkness, walk unseen stairs to push the coffee button, sneak out into the chill of morning, sit on the porch in the still dark, listen to the blood rush in my ears. Dreams fade, and nightmares, too; as everyday, so will it be tomorrow. What's one dream, one change of scene, when the world is as true and clear as the evening light through the newly cleared woods? We're here, and sometimes, this is everything, and all that matters.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:18 PM | 0 comments

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Quickblog 

Yesterday's blog went to my teaching with technology blogspace, a quick primer on camerause and photosharing for my coworkers in honor of the two cameras I commandeered from the office for curricular use -- and the newly XP-ed machinery now safely ensconced on teacherdesks after years of increasingly halfbroken Windows 98 workstations.

Now we're off to Boston for Rosh Hashanah, the jewish new year, a day late for temple services but just in time for tonight's family dinner. Would have left last night, but Willow had a stomach virus, and wasn't going to be able to sit in the car for long enough to make it.

Thunderstorms on the horizon for tomorrow, but unless it's absolutely pouring we'll probably hit up the barbecue and bluegrass over at the Charlton Orchards Harvest Festival-slash-fourth-anniversary party on the way home. Look for us under the big tent, huddled among the masses, eating the last of this year's apple crop, grinning widely.

Until then, stay out of the rain, or if you prefer, walk into it with your head held high, reveling in the natural order of things -- something I try hard to do in my own life, plus the looks you get are priceless.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:17 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Joining The Dance 

Willow’s dance class in town was cancelled due to low enrollment, but we like the non-competitive philosophy, so while we try to recruit other mommies -- from the parent network and preschool parents, mostly -- we're temporarily attending the beginner’s class in East Longmeadow, where the much more suburban crowd sustains a two-studio program with little difficulty.

It’s a half hour drive, but after grandma spent so much time and energy on outfits, and after so much psyche-up, from studio visits to a lifetime learning to love movement and direction, it would feel too much like witholding a promise to not find some other solution. Today, we’re trying the Wednesday class, since it’s a tougher trek on Saturday mornings, and, like her Daddy, Willow’s not much of a morning person. My teaching schedule allows it, so the four of us come together.

Dance for kids ages 3 to 5 (technically, 2.9 to 5, but who’s counting) seems to be primarily about placement and direction. The teacher leads the kids through several line-walking activities, first along the tape, then along the same tape but with a blue construction paper puddle to hop over, then finally through a series of small yellow hoops laid end to end. Marching order counts, and the teacher is proactive enough to give each kid her turn to model the activity. They begin and end in a circle on the floor, feet in the center, bodies radiating out like a multiracial starfish.

The mothers sit in the doorway, in institutional chairs borrowed from the room's periphery, and talk about parent things: developmental milestones, where to get the most darling little jeans. Occasionally, they spot their kids peering at them mid-hop, and call out "pay attention to the teacher!"

In the meantime, the advanced ballet class begins in the other studio. Cassia and I watch from the doorway as the once-famous dancer, back braced against his age, takes a crowd of healthy-looking adolescents through their sped-up paces. After a while, I can feel her squirming in my arms, and I look down to discover her face screwed up in concentration as she tries to point and squat, count and hum all at once. "One", she says, an echo of the instructor, and her bare foot rises towards her knee, pushed out just so, as if she, too, were paying for the privilege.

As a proud feminist daddy of two blond, adorable girls, I have my qualms about all the pink and lavender, the fetish of toe shoes, the unavoidable clique of the dancer. Somewhere in my media literate mind I worry that I will have failed if my kids cannot push trucks like the boys, as if tomboy were the only way a girlchild could grow up truly healthy. And sure enough, from the doorway I can see the way Willow keeps creeping back to the head of the line, pushy and masculine, and though I am happy to see her take correction as the teacher cheerfully puts her back in her place, there is a secret part of me that cannot help but be thrilled at her competitive nature.

But I'm a big supporter of dance. In high school, I took dance for a few terms to fulfill my gym credit -- partially because the very idea of competitive sports brings back hard memories of being the uncoordinated dork in the outfield, but also because, like my younger brother “Spilly”, I seem to suffer from a tendency towards accidental self-destruction, a lifetime of smashed watch faces and overbruised shins caused by what other people would call sheer clumsiness, and I prefer to refer to as “low limbic awareness.”

I was never a great dancer -- yearbook pictures show me hopping like the floor's on fire, amidst a sea of graceful female leapers in leotards. But I liked being away from the testosterone peer group; liked the precision and rhythm, the mind/body work, the comfortable clothes, the self as instrument. After so long pushing the brain as an academic, I miss the athleticism of this, the only sport-realm I ever felt I might actually make my own.

And this particular studio, for all its famous graduates and work ethic, is ultimately one which values the individual over the program. You can see it in the way the girls arrive: serious, but thoughtful, comfortable and without the haughtiness of Hollywood dancehype. The dowdiness of the studio floors and the way the director sits behind her desk in the middle of everything, selling sweatshirts and toeshoes and answering student phone messages throughout the hour, speak to a sense of intimacy over impressiveness which belies the suburban Longmeadow stereotype so prevalent in our own rural smalltown. The pictures that line the walls feature the school’s founders and directors, back in their professional heyday, but their black and white stillness is subtle, and their uniform 5x7 size says what it needs to.

When Willow emerges, with a happiness that will last until about seven steps into the parking area, I consider asking about an adult beginner’s class. But today is about Willow, not me. Some other time, perhaps. After all, just three more months and Cassia will be old enough for the parent-and-toddler class, and I get out of the classroom early enough to join the crowd one day or another, if I wish. Though her mama is, surely, eager to return to the bar herself, there's nothing wrong with being the only Daddy in the room.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:08 PM | 1 comments

Monday, September 18, 2006

Arrrrrrr! 

alt+keelhaul+deleteIt's Talk Like A Pirate Day tomorrow, and my lovely and ever-creative wife loves a challenge, so here we are, watching the last moments of Pirates of the Carribean, gleaning a few last ideas for the best costume this side of Jack Sparrow. Can't wait to wear the boots and sash.

Pirate webquest-slash-treasure-hunt with the kids in class in the morning, too. High-fallutin' phrased questions on everything from scurvy to eyepatches, and what's with all those parrots? It'll teach the sprogs not to mistake full queries for search terms, at any rate.

Bonus question asks how much it costs to send two blueberry pies to Hawaii, with extra credit for anyone who can tell me what that has to do with the webquest topic. Hint: it's a pretty bad pun.

Already prepped an iTunes playlist covering everything from sea shanties to the Spongebob Squarepants theme to a punk cover of that infamous Veggie Tales tune The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything.

Looks like I've finally adapted to the middle school mentality in full. Avast, me lads...thar's learnin' ahead of ye!

posted by boyhowdy | 9:37 PM | 4 comments

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Growing Real 

Hi. It's me.

Yeah, I know. I haven't been around much lately.

I could go for the usual excuses. Tuesday I discovered I probably have Lyme Disease, which would go a long way to explaining everything from those damn tremors to the exhaustion and crankiness to the lightheadedness I start to feel about halfway through every class. Wednesday I was out late with Dad. Thursday was parent's night at school, and by the time I drove off I was so tired, I don't even remember driving home. Friday I fell asleep on the couch at 4, and never really hit consciousness again.

But something else is happening here. Over the past few months I've gone quite naturally from blogging daily to blogging perhaps three times a week, and even then, it feels like I'm doing it just to keep the record straight.

It struck me today that perhaps I don't need a blog so much anymore. Back when we started this ride, I was living in a dorm, my private life only available behind closed doors. Maybe I needed a separate life then, in ways I no longer do.

I'll keep coming back for a while, I think. But as we close in on five years, I'm beginning to wonder if perhaps my newfound abilities out there -- in the yard, in my family, in taking control of my body after all this time -- have taken me to a place where I can get from the real self what I once needed a virtual self to accomplish.

It took me a while to get used to it, I guess. But now that I can change the world, I don't seem to need to constantly create and recreate my own virtual world anymore.

It's a little bit sad. And I'll miss the screen. But there's something wonderful about realizing that I still had more growing up to do, but only retroactively, now that I seem to have grown it.

There's something wholly empowering about finally finding myself ready to take on my real world existence as both graspable and entirely my own.

Maybe, sometime soon, it's going to be time to move on into myself fully. And if that means the blogging urge is through -- that the virtual self has served its purpose after all -- well, it's been a hell of a ride.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:32 PM | 3 comments

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

One Nation, Invisible 

In yesterday's entry, I suggested that my new crop of students have not yet felt national pain. But thinking about it afterwards, I realized that many of them don't even feel national anything.

I mean, every morning, first thing, we stand and turn, our hands over our hearts, and mumble our way through the pledge of allegiance. The principal says "please remain standing for a moment of silence," which lasts, like, seven seconds, since they are, after all middle school students. The kids fidget. I take a deep breath and try not to say "shhh".

And then they sit, and Mr. Hale goes on to read the mundane nuts and bolts of a morning's announcements, and the moment is shattered without ever really coming together in the first place.

So this morning, I wrote the pledge on the board before they came in.



And then, for the fifteen minutes we have between announcements and the rest of their school day, we parsed it.

And talked about symbols, and nations, and what it really means to pledge your allegiance to both.

And talked about a republic, and what it is, and how it cannot work without each of us taking the mantle of it upon ourselves.

And talked about how indivisible is in some ways the opposite of invisible -- that it requires a pledge, and a daily reminder.

And talked about liberty, and justice, and the values we commit ourselves to defending each day.

And mentioned silence, and how we might need that moment, some days, to square ourselves with the daily reality of socialpush and gradegrub.

And for once they were quiet, and asked questions, and wished they could stay longer at the bell.

Not bad for fifteen minutes.

Sure, maybe we'll learn to live with the way we are unified and then dropped again so quickly every day, the way the disembodied speaker voice moves us from the sacred to the profane in ten seconds flat. Maybe they'll forget, and fidget, more often than not. And maybe that's okay, for a bunch of twelve year olds.

But maybe, just maybe, tomorrow and this week and every once in a while from now on, they'll move through the day from there with a little more purpose.

And maybe, just maybe, they'll feel connected to the world of school and social structure just one tiny bit more deeply when they walk out of my classroom door, on their way to math or social studies. And, heck, maybe it'll even make them better humans, and more civic-minded.

It's nothing political, our nation's pledge. It doesn't say you have to stand by your president, or his policies. It doesn't say you have to vote one way or another, or that you can't protest.

But it is a serious thing, I think -- a real commitment, to take on the responsibility of citizenship in whatever way you see fit. And further, it is a great and awesome thing, to commit to seeing everyone else who stands under that banner and takes that pledge as inseparable from you, regardless of how they might feel about the government, or the people, or the land...and regardless of whether you agree with them.

It is what makes us us -- one classroom, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. And I love that, and so, though surely it is insane to confess it, I love the whole crazy idea of pledging to it every day.

(And if teaching isn't about love, then what the hell am I doing in a stuffy classroom all day, anyway?)

posted by boyhowdy | 9:06 PM | 6 comments

Monday, September 11, 2006

(Still) Mourning In America 

Five years ago today I ran the media center at a private boarding school. When the kids started streaming in, I turned the theater projector to CNN, and we watched together as the world crumbled around us. It took an hour before I could bring myself to turn off the cycle, speak softly about the difference between news and spectacle, and send them back to their counselors and dorm parents, and I still wish I had thought of it sooner.

Five years ago today my friend and co-worker Chris Carstanjen took a flight to California to visit a mutual friend. It wasn't until three days later that I learned I had spent the morning watching his plane smash into the World Trade Center, over and over and over again.

Five years ago I had no children of my own. Somewhere in the months that followed, we conceived our first child, and though we had been trying for years by then, I'll never know if creating life then and there was, at least in some tiny way, part of our healing process.

Today at school the intercom crackled at 8:46, and I stood before a group of kids and bowed my head in a moment of silence. I wanted to think about Chris, and I did. I wanted to think about my own children, safe in the car with their Mama on the way to Willow's first day of preKindergarten, and give thanks for thier innocence and grace, and I did.

But mostly, I thought about how my students were seven year old suburbanites on 9/11, and how little they really understand pain.

Five years ago today I lived in another world, like the rest of us. Then the world changed, and we're still picking up the pieces.

Thank God for a new generation. May they never know the horror firsthand.

posted by boyhowdy | 7:50 PM | 1 comments

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Teaching The Cut-And-Paste Generation 

No blog yesterday, as I was all blogged out from writing up an entry over at the workblog, newly resurrected for the new school year.

This week's topic, straight on the tail of a week of teacher complaints of kids parroting (or even printing) instead of just writing the sentence or two required for homework: strategies for addressing (and preempting) plagiarism, a much bigger deal in the cut-and-paste generation, and much harder for the wee ones to understand given an early lifetime of increasingly fuzzy intellectual property habits brought on by the wonderful world of technology.

Irony, of course, is that as long as we want Generation Net to learn that understanding must necessarily come before pastiche, the best strategies involve disallowing high-tech over-reliance, and requiring handwriting-to-type as a general rule when going from first draft to last. Too, as long as we're going to be making them handwrite their standardized tests, it doesn't hurt to make 'em practice, lest their hands cramp up when they're trying to beat the system. More here.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:37 PM | 1 comments

Thursday, September 07, 2006

No Entry, Really 

Not sure why I started this entry, really -- I've got the once-familiar buzz, but the skills are rusty, and the content just isn't there.

It's not that life is uneventful, far from it. Work is full, rich, fulfilling, my kind of whirlwind. The kids grow in leaps and bounds, each doubling her talents by the day. Their mama and I make halfplans for next summer's deck, perhaps a sunporch, traced narrow up to the very legal variance line for building. We spent the afternoon behind the house, eyeballing a new clearing for a playhouse and swingset where currently stand wood, a decade or more of dead leaves soft and giving like brown bog under our feet.

What happenms is reportable, I suppose. But there is no structure in it, and little joy to merely retell. Where once this need came complete with phrase and meter, in three-paragraph form unbidden, as if a gift from some internal gods, today the need comes unaccompanied by topic or tone.

I sit here and write the urge to blog, as if the mere act of writing would make meaning out of words. Once, it would. But today nothing comes, only the dark, the restlessness, the empty sounds of a house asleep faint behind the quiet music.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:22 PM | 2 comments

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Wednesday Wandering, In Doggerel 

Two weeks into the schoolyear and it's already a ride.
I rise in darkness every day to help minds open wide.
When day is done, and I come home, my children pout and hide.

Mornings in the mirror I can see the fading tan
still stark against my pale white skin from living in the land.
Today at work I gave the eight grade teachers our tech plan.

Once we were two, and wandered much, with hardly any care.
We'd hit the back roads on a whim, wind whipping through our hair
It seems a million million miles since we were living there.

And so the days grow longer as September passes by.
The wood is stacked along the trees where we can watch it dry.
At night I sit upon the porch and look up at the sky.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:21 PM | 0 comments

Monday, September 04, 2006

Harvest Wanders 



Used to be we could take off on a dime, and we did -- I have fond memories of college weekend drives in upstate New York, my future wife at my side, odometer-watching to determine which way to go at each intersection. True wandering is tougher with the kids, but how else to share with them the wandering spirit that to take off and go?

Which is to say, yesterday, we took off and went. The rain came slow but steady all weekend, but my allergies took a turn for the worse in the mold-and-pollen, so we decided to take a page from our wedding vows and head out without a map, looking for the spirit of adventure.

Five stars for the best orchard in the middle of nowhere!20 miles due east just above the Connecticut border a happy accident of meandering and sign-following found us at Charlton Orchards and Winery, where an amish-looking farmer ran his very own farmstand in the steady drizzle, and his wife hosted wine-tasting in the farmhouse next door.

I cannot recommend a better farm-going experience, especially with the kids. We got crisp cortlands, sniffed fresh pies, tasted an octet of delicious award-winning fruit wines; the kids loved the bunnies and ducks, and fed them grain from their hands in the quickening rain.

We've chosen woods over fields, I suppose, landing a long cry from the school-based farmstead we once called home. Always nice, though, to find those out of the way spaces that remind us to stay close to land, and how sweet it is to do so.

We'll be back at Charlton Orchards September 24th for their harvest celebration: bluegrass, barbecue, and this year's cider to celebrate what is sure to be yet another big win at the Big E Eastern States Exposition. Pick your own pears, apples, and blueberries, if they're still in season. Hope to see you there.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:22 AM | 0 comments

Friday, September 01, 2006

I Need A Hurricane 

Chat with the wife and kids from work this afternoon during my free period. Willow reports she'll be taking Yoga as of next Thursday, and my first thought is jealousy -- not that I want to take Yoga, really, just the thought that she'll suddenly be doing something I can neither share nor talk about.

Sure, she's not me, and her knowledge is her own. She's collected trivia out of my presence, knows books from library story hours I never saw, taught me songs from school. Interesting, nonetheless, to think that this will be the first fullly unique skill that she'll be picking up. Makes her seem more real, somehow, and more separate.

At supper we brainstormed things Daddy could do that Mama cannot, and other than a few primarily violent summercamp skills (archery and riflery among them), we came up pretty empty. Good thing she loves me, I guess. It would take days to list the things my wife can do, and does, lest they go totally undone, though not through lack of trying.

In other news, the weather says:
...NASTY WEATHER WILL AFFECT MUCH OF SOUTHERN NEW ENGLAND FOR A PORTION OF THIS LABOR DAY WEEKEND...
I sped home today, skipping what promises to be the first of many afterwork "taco" sessions to stack the last of the wood, cover it with blue tarp and bungee in preparation for the gale-force wind and rain. Looking forward to a few days home with the family, watching the rain, sharing our days again after a long week mostly absent.

Bonus points, as always, to anyone who can identify the seriously obscure musical source of today's blogtitle.

posted by boyhowdy | 7:35 PM | 0 comments

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

New Beginnings, Ragged Ends 

Another year, another crop of kids. The seventh graders are overwhelmed by homeroom's end; the eight graders turned surly and distracted, all-over adolescent overnight. At the close of the hour-long, rules-laden assembly at start of day, some kid wants to know if hugging is okay. I think he's serious. Happily, it seems to be acceptable, as long as the feeling is mutual.

Work is exhausting, but my new schedule leaves me clean half-days "free" to work with teachers and other classes in the lab, a big improvement over last year's sporadic and hard-to-schedule on-off hodgepodge. The new principal is sincere, eager, easy to work with. I begin to expect big things.

Back home the elderkid pulls a Delilah on herself, chopping a jagged hairline from brow to ear with her project scissors when her mother's back is turned. I try to be disapproving, but, honestly, she's worse the the eight graders.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:19 PM | 1 comments

Monday, August 28, 2006

A Tale of Two Children 

Cassia couldn't sleep, so I took her outside in the damp night to listen to the bugs buzz, the peepers peep. Her year-and-a-half eyes glowed wide with wonder as walked down the driveway, the pitch black before us, the garagelight fading behind us. Afterwards, she gave me a snuggle and said my daddy clear as a bell before asking for Mama, and bed.

Meanwhile, Willow had a hissy fit out at the stream this afternoon, so we cut the fishing short and fumed back through the woods together, though if she were old enough to make her own way back, she would have. She pulls at her sister, and natters loudly if we try to talk to anyone else in her presence. Tonight, on the phone with my mother, of all the wondeful things we did this weekend, she chose to share did you know that we were pulled over by a policeman in the car?

Once, the wee one was practically prehuman, cute but essentially object. Once, the elderkid was sweet, generous, gracious and gentle by default. I suppose they'll forever see-saw, too, on their own wobbly curves, sometimes in sync at high or low, sometimes like today, just a study in opposites.

Ah, who am I kidding. I love 'em, God bless 'em. Even if their reaction to my daytime absence were to remain forever diverse and unpredictable, I miss them terribly when I'm working. So long, summer vacation. Hello again, teacher's life.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:52 PM | 0 comments

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Glad, Glad, Glad 

Malcolm Gladwell has the ability to make me interested in anything. This week, it’s the dependency ratio, a vital economic conceit in which the ratio of non-workers to workers in any pension system turns out to be amazingly powerful predictive factor for long-term systemic potential -- including impending corporate doom -- to a factor of about 40 years out.

I know, it’s the kind of article you skip over first time around, and read later because there’s nothing else around to read. But it was, honestly, fascinating, and I wish you'd stop reading this blog and go read it right now. Gladwell's blog-based follow-up helps us chew the gristle a bit, too.

I’m glad there’s a Gladwell. It gives us someone to aspire to, without the threat of jealousy.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:59 PM | 0 comments
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