Friday, January 31, 2003

Yeah, I Use A Template. So What?

I want this blog to be about the blogging: foremost, the writing here counts. The archives, you may have noticed, come first. Although there are surely glimpses into my psyche available to the astute and subtextual reader in everything from the choice of design to the featured archives, the writing itself reveals what it needs to. It is the me I wish to work with. William Carlos Williams says

"The objective in writing is, to reveal. It is not to teach, not to
advertise, not to see, not even to communicate (for that needs two)
but to reveal, which needs no other than the man himself."

I have avoided featuring supplementary information about me me me me. No picture, no iconographic pixie, no descriptive sentence in which each word is a link. But I've noticed a lot of bloggers have, somewhere, a list. Like this, or this. And I like creating lists, like writing sonnets; working within a structure soothes me.

In the effort to provide more background -- to expand the bookjacket authorial description, one might say, if one were so inclined to do so -- I am working on a list.

What should I include? What do you want to know about me or any blogauthor?

posted by boyhowdy | 8:36 PM | 1 comments

Poem of the Week

Back then we were living in an old farmhouse on the hotel grounds. I had just graduated; we were recently married. The summer boys had not yet joined us on the slate patio and peelingpaint porch, our low-rent couches and floors. This really happened.


She is crying when you get there:
you watch her cradle the cardboard box
and do not ask her why the goldfish bowl

is on the patio. Inside the box
the mourning dove or fieldmouse
struggles against flannel and tape;

your wife says its heart is speeding up
when she means to say slowing down.
Her lips move slower than her words,

leaving a backlog of speech. Fractured,
you try to recover your sanity
framed in the doorway like a Picasso

while like a starving cannibal
your wife's empathic heart consumes itself.

May 19, 1998

a collection of original poems

posted by boyhowdy | 10:19 AM | 0 comments

Getting Better All The Time

I was pretty bad off yesterday. Chills and stomach cramping, sudden toilet runs, delirium: the whole nine yards. Restless but couldn't move much. Ate nothing but tea, toast and ginger ale; barely managed to keep it down.

On the bright side, I think I've finally caught up on sleep. Last night I awoke at 2:45, fully conscious, aware of less pain than I had been, and was just...alert for an hour or so in the dark. It was peaceful and very relaxing. This morning I feel groggy but I can tell it's just what remains of the flu. The end is near.

The swelling in my lower back remains. I hobble around the house like an old man, hunched over. I balance on the edge of my chair. I've been at work for a total of five hours this week.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:54 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Goddam, That's Beautiful

The physical union of human and machine, long dreaded and long anticipated, has been an accomplished fact for decades, though we tend not to see it. We tend not to see it because we are it, and because we still employ Newtonian paradigms that tell us that “physical” has only to do with what we can see, or touch. Which of course is not the case.

Why, it's Gibson on the Internet as Cyborg, of course.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:56 PM | 0 comments

Not All Who Wander Are Found, Either

Hmm. I'm really, really sick. My brain feels swollen. I can't make coherent sense. Nothing formal, then.

Ah. A collection of random recent thoughts which never made it to the blog. Kind of like when a singer dies and they release all his left-over studio cuts. Hey, it worked for Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Dark And Cold

The power was out yesterday when I got home. No lights, no stereo, no telephone. Slowly, it got dark. Really dark. Dinner in the dining hall heated by sterno cans and lit dimly by candlelight. No more streetlights on the way home; no more brightly lit dorm entrances. Beautiful.

Then, right before the mustered schoolbus fleet left to take 500 potentially heat-less students to the gym on the other campus, the lights went on. Isn't it ironic? I loved the power outage like I love all chaos, and I the students really seemed to appreciate my attitude. I think it would have been fun to just sit in the dark all night with them, huddled to keep warm. But it's probably for the best: the baby wasn't thrilled about the darkness.

There's Something About Mary

Okay, I admit it. We have a cleaning lady. She comes in once a week for a couple of hours, cleans porcelain and linoleum, vacuums and straightens, wipes and scrubs. Sometimes she brings her miniature toy poodle puppy and I get to hold the little toupee...uh, darling.

Sometimes I feel guilty/foolish about paying someone else to come and sterilize a three-room apartment, but the truth is, it's a lot of work to have a cleaning lady, and its worth it. I mean, if you want someone else to vacuum your floor, you have to clean it first. The night before Mary comes each week is a cleaning frenzy. Cleaning up for the cleaning lady is a lot like washing the dishes before you put them in the dishwasher; you know it's necessary, but it seems redundant.

Pink Slips Sink Ships

Today the axe fell at work. 30 positions (of about 500) were cut, many of them entirely unexpected: Systems Librarians, Asset Managers, Custodians. All were people I know.

For weeks most of the staff and faculty here have been walking around worried about their jobs. A few were publically confident about it, a few withdrawn and worried. Most of us fell somewhere between, watchful but reasonably confident in the odds and in our own institutional relevance. I'm glad it's over.

It's Been Done To Death

There was a time, I think it was around Christmas of this past year, when every blog you read had an entry about being sick. It was as if some weird infection was out there in the bloggiverse, and you could catch it from sharing blog. Now it's my turn, and it seems so empty to describe it all over again when others did the job so well.

But I'm sick nonetheless. Sick, sick, sick.

Talking of Sick...

I've always wanted to do a really detailed blog entry which recounted, exquisitely, everything I have eaten in a 24-hour period. Including the bugs, as described here:

...the Food and Drug Administration allows a certain amount of insects in your food...Pasta is allowed to have 225 insect parts per 225 grams. A jar of peanut butter is allowed to have rodent hairs. In a can of corn, two or more larvae are allowed. And in orange juice, five fly eggs or one maggot per 250 milliliters is OK.

Oh, and Miss Bumptious reminds us that as much as 20% of the weight of the average pillow is made up of dead skin, dust mites, and dust mite droppings. Try not think about it. Sleep tight.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:45 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, January 28, 2003


According to the Bravenet counter stats, yesterday someone was referred here via a web search for Darcie's sex videos.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost is the first result for a search with those terms.

Sure hope that guy (or girl) found what he was looking for.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:11 PM | 0 comments

A Sad Pun That Reflects A Sadder Mess

My take on the State of the Union Address:

My god, he's still talking.

I have a vague memory of learning that, in an age of fast and furious television and Warholian time-frames for fame, public figures who truly want respect and reverence must show the mark of having overcome a visible, fundamental flaw, that they may be mini-martyrs, untouchable, sympathetic, even celebrated for their infirmity. This is especially true of newscasters: think of the botox craze, or Koppel, who appears to have Voice Immodulation Syndrome (c.f. Saturday Night Live), or even Wolf Blitzer's beard.

Ever notice George Bush has no lips? You gotta feel for a guy who can overcome a handicap like that.

As always, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious bonus points if you can correctly identify the song reference in the title. Or, you could just go here.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:48 PM | 0 comments

Worms and Viruses

Tried to blog last night but couldn't: Blogger, like much of the web, was down. Damn worm.

Students also reported not being able to access sites from Korea; naturally, they accused the school of arbitrarily blocking an entire country. As if we had some reason to do so. The adolescent mind sees institutional conspiracy everywhere, but intelligent adults know that carelessness, stupidity, and the virulent maliciousness of a few individuals with some minor skill and very little actual power easily explains most of what's wrong with the world. Still, I'm touched by the naivete on the other side of the adolescent consipracy coin: if we are the cause of all problems, we can fix what's wrong with the world, too, right?

Not much is wrong with my little world, except Darcie and the baby both woke up sick and cranky. I'm hoping it's not the flu, but it probably is; this year's flu came late, but seems to be a pretty powerful strain. Student health services has just issued their yearly warning, and kids are beginning to drop like flies. On the bright side, I get to stay home and look after them; while they sleep, I can catch up with a midmorning blog.

So. Last night's radio show was essentially uneventful, although it was so cold outside (-11 Farenheit, which is, like, a million below zero) that the studio never warmed up completely. Cold enough that the fluids in the Camry have thickened; driving to and from the station with Ginny felt like driving an old bus. This week's eclectic, jazz-and-jamband heavy playlist follows, as always; for previous Tributary playlists, check out other archived Tuesdays.

Bob Dorough -- Too Much Coffee Man (Tributary theme song)
Lucy Kaplansky -- One Good Reason
Phish -- Back on the Train
Ween -- Bananas and Blow
Ben Harper -- In The Lord's Arms
Skavoovie and the Epitones -- Bli-Blip
A Tribe Called Quest -- Can I Kick It
They Might Be Giants -- Shoehorn With Teeth
Laura Love -- Come As You Are
Gene Krupa and his Orchestra -- Drum Boogie
Salamander Crossing -- Five days In May
Sarah McLachlan -- Ice Cream
Iris Dement -- The Train Carrying Jimmy Rogers Home
Greg Brown -- Who'd A Thunk It
Bisuit Boys -- You Don't Have To Do That
Barenaked Ladies -- La La La La Lemon
Dizzy Gillespie -- Salt Peanuts
David Wilcox -- Rusty Old American Dream
Patty Larkin -- Tango
Mark Erelli -- I Thought I Heard You Knocking
Indigo Girls -- Galileo
Amy Mann and Michael Penn -- Two Of Us
Patty Griffin -- Let Him Fly
Billie Holliday -- God Bless the Child
Galactic -- Tiger Roll
Tom Landy and the Paperboys -- All Along The Watchtower
Take 6 -- Gold Mine
Nanci Griffith -- Listen To The Radio
String Cheese Incident -- Up The Canyon

Tonight's contest was "Who sings the original version of Two Of Us?" No one called. How could you not recognize the Beatles? Sheesh.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:54 AM | 0 comments

Monday, January 27, 2003

Missing Molly: On Virtual Absence

Played virtual tag last night with Molly: an unsuccessful chat invite, an email exchange wondering where our cyberselves are, and then, as always, silence.

Virtual absence. It's a phenomenon we're all familiar with. Like phone tag before it, virtual tag is a neverending game of frustration; like the answering machine before it, newer technologies lend themselves to the suspicion of secretive lurking, of call-screening.

Back when the only media game in town was speech, messages were inseparable from their origin. You went to someone's house, dragging your post-neanderthal club on the ground, if you had a bone to pick or one to offer them; if the person you wanted to see wasn't there, why, you waited, or want away. The away message is moot when the concept of message doesn't really exists, when the idea of the self is the same as that of words-of-the-self.

Later, the development of writing technologies allowed the human psyche to develop an awareness of separation between message and medium, between self and self-thought. Notes could be left, leaving responsibility for renewing contact in the hands of the other. But time was different back then, and what we mean by "are you out there?" changes over time and moment-to-moment, equivalently specific to the conventions of self and other, to time and space and the communications potential of technologies modern-at-the-time.

Now, away messages are all the rage with the students down the hall. Cute or literal, they proliferate in the spaces we inhabit until they become nothing but a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. Like the answering machine message before it, the IM away message has become a screening mechanism, by which people not truly away are able to slyly hide their presence online, that they might be empowered to control who and what they talk to.

But if everyone's doing it, then what? Do chat and email become equally synchronous and, oddly, equally asynchronous, making the terms themselves moot? Is this merely the sign of media collapse as previously distinct media become part of a complex and fluid meta-tool called "communication?" When a phone can be a camera, is the way we separate permanent and fleeting technologies no longer a relevant thought?

If two people are both using this method of virtual screening, IM or otherwise, things break down, and the away message becomes a visible ruse -- can't tell you how many times I've IM-ed someone who was supposedly away just to find, sure enough, they were really there all the time. But where, exactly? In the end, the technical details don't matter so much as the questions that are raised about what it means to be here and now, to be human. Is the question not so much who is hiding from whom? as it is what are we hiding from? Is anybody out there? Emails that ask whether an email message was received are a discursive dead end, prompting only apologies, but do they underscore an important shift in the way we see ourselves and each other as temporal and spatial?

For public-view asynchronous technologies the methods are different enough -- the once-or-twice-a-day blog is the norm, not the exception -- and yet not so different, as nothing is truly asynchronous in an age where an email message gone unanswered for a single day is cause for alarm that one has died or worse, concern that one is no longer important to the recipient. The blog demand for the away message is measured in weeks, not days, certainly not hours. Comments and guestmaps and tracking engines let us know who's there to visit and when, but bloggers that go on hiatus, like Sarah Hatter, cause the blogiverse to respond with new tools and calls to arms.

The other day I was showing a student how to disable one's availability to chat invitations on SWIS, the school's First Class-based email/conference/listserv/chat all-in-one engine, and accidentally forgot to re-enable my own ability to be invited into chats. For most faculty this wouldn't be an issue: most teachers are not comfortable with chat technologies, not habituated to the shuffled-card mode of give and take which today's youth find so fluid and natural. But as "The Media Guy" students rightfully assume that I am more invested in having the conversations in ways that are comfortable to them, when they need them, than in requiring that students interested in my ear must have it in my own developed modes. And they're right, which is why it's so frustrating to miss Molly like that.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:22 AM | 0 comments

Sunday, January 26, 2003

If you give this girl money, she'll jump in the lake


Well, it's for a good cause. Don't just visit; donate money and sponsor her polar bear swim.

Better her than me.

[from Gretchen]

UPDATE (1/29/03) I donated two bucks. Hey, I pay my dues.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:06 PM | 0 comments


Enetation is currently offline for a short while - no user accounts or user sites are affected by this. Odly, not having comments sure feels like enetation's server problems have affected my site, but what do I know?

As you can't leave comments for a while, it's the perfect time to plant your flower at the Not All Who Wander Are Lost guestmap if you haven't yet done so.

UPDATE: Comments woking again as of early Monday morning. But please consider signing the guestmap nonetheless.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:35 PM | 0 comments

Baby Days

Darcie's been wearing her Yearbook Advisor hat, working on layout for parent ads all weekend; I've been minding the baby. With Mama home Just In Case I was able to finally relax with the baby, and just play, and watch her playing. A very empowering and rewarding experience. This morning when she woke up I came in the room; she looked at me and I heard her say hi da da clear as day, but I'm sure it's just a coincidence, as she also said boze today when she was eating her toes.

North to Darcie's parents' house this afternoon, where we had dinner with Darcie's father's college roommate, Uncle Fred. Steak from the barbecue in the garage and and hommade turkey soup and a St. Bernard who had decided that this strange new man in her house was the devil. It was a very comfortable, calmly so. Especially once we put the dog in the mudroom. Home just in time to catch the Superbowl, but I'm more into the Saturday Night Live Weekend Update Halftime Show. Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey kick ass.

After setting up the big screen projector for the boys downstairs, just around kickoff time, I took a slow drive in the deepening snow. The night was silent and carless as I drove into the fat white falling flakes, past faculty houses and dormitories, their gathering places aglow with the flickering light of the spectacle, warm with the huddled bodies of those left behind during the long weekend break.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:31 PM | 0 comments

Is PowerPoint The Devil?

In its own cryptic way, this weekend's edition of Arts and Letters Daily ponders, and I quote verbatum:

If reality naturally divided itself up into neat little bullet points, PowerPoint would be the way to present it. But reality... more» ... more». Edward Tufte on PowerPoint. If Lincoln had PowerPoint at Gettysburg...

But despite what Julia Keller claims through cheap false dichotomies and straw man arguments, her interview subjects, who include best-of-the-media-bunch Cybersociologist Sherry Turkle and Media Ecologist Neil Postman, remind us that PowerPoint isn't the problem. Reality no more presents itself in neat little bullets as it does neat little paragraphs. In all media and in all cases, best practice comes from applied recognition that we are working with a representation of reality, and that each medium allows for and best supports that representation in a manner specific to its own rhetorical rules. Thus, writing or speech is no more or less a "better" way to express reality than PowerPoint or interpretive dance. Deciding which is best, and when, and why, and for what kind of information, is the goal -- that is true literacy.

As always, the problem is us, and thus we should look to ourselves for the solution. It's people who don't get it, and use not just PowerPoint but most shiny new tools for too many things outside those tools' best literacy potential; them, and the lack of media literacy programs that help them see that -- that’s the real devil here.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:01 AM | 0 comments

Saturday, January 25, 2003

In Which I Have A Curricular Epiphany

When I first designed the ideal Media Literacy course for my Masters of Arts in Teaching with Internet Technologies graduate thesis five years ago, I decided to build into the course a final project which tested student learning in the course overall through the old standard, the Time Capsule. Objects chosen had to clearly address a single thesis about some aspect of culture today; the final assignment called for a metatext showing how the objects spoke semiotically to that thesis, in the context of how future capsule-finding cultures might have changed (and thus might have changed their own contexts for the way they interpret the objects), and for a five minute live oral presentation laying bare their assumptions, stating thesis and argument and conclusion for the message of their objects and the medium of the Time Capsule itself.

The time capsule is fun and pedagogically sound. It is a deceptively quick-to-accomplish project, but developing a strong response to the project requires serious mental energy and comprehensive understanding of the course material and the fundamental theorems of the study of media. No one ever suggested that people were their "objects" best able to speak to the past about what our modern world knows is really important, which I had hoped for as a kind of ideal response when first envisioning the project; no one ever made or showed a video tape of their friends just talking about their hopes and dreams, for example. But many students got close. The best presentations have been thoughtful, and the absolute best showed students having fun with the topic, too: collections of sex toys chosen to best represent the love/hate relationship our society endures about sex, a clay model of a boy's room, whose clay objects lifted to reveal paragraphs about the subjective importance of clay beds, clay computers, clay chairs and stiff clay roommates, and a slightly-illicit collection of mind-altering prescription drugs such as Ritalin and Wellbutrin, presented by a girl who used such drugs, but collected door-to-door from peers eager to give away their drugs despite school rules about such things.

But I just had a brainstorm:

1. If the stated ideal goal of the cumulative learning of the course -- all the historical, rhetorical, sociological, anthropological, ecological, epistemological; all the semiotic analysis and attitude adjustment, all the developing confidence and skill -- is for students to be able to create and share knowledge confidently, intuitively, creatively and well in any medium, then success should be marked by testing the student's ability to approach any medium with a studied and clear awareness of the complex potential for best practice in that medium.

2. Moreover, if the media literate student is able to be articulate and clear in any medium, they should be able to be articulate and clear about anything they know in a specific medium.

3. Therefore, the most successful Media Literacy students should be able to be especially articulate in any medium about the potential for literacy of that medium.

As mentioned in an earlier rant, this spring will be the last time this course is taught, at least for a few years and probably forever, here at Northfield Mount Hermon. The final assignment for the final week of the final run of the course every school everywhere should require of every student will be a triumph of metateaching, of student empowerment, of grandiose dreams. I'll probably keep the time capsule somewhere, maybe as a post-final done overnight for the last day of the class, but make it much smaller in scale and in importance, no metatext, only informal oral presentation.

The new final project, I imagine, will look something like this:

Describe the literacy of one medium IN that medium. In other words, make a PowerPoint presentation about how to make the best PowerPoint presentation, write a paper about the usually subconscious habits and rhetoric ideals of writing a paper, write a web for the web about the web, make a board game about board games, have and record a series of exquisite phone conversations about the best way to have an exquisite phone conversation, hand in a cassette about how to best respond to this kind of assignment using an oral recorded medium, etc. Media must be currently in use, but can have specialized application (for example, whiteboards or other classroom or learning tools, conference rooms and other business or environmental media). Length, style, tonality, formality, and other parameters should demonstrate understanding of an ideal, thorough, and course-appropriate application of your chosen medium.

There's an added bonus to this new idea, if I can make it fly: if it works, I'll have 12 student primers on twelve different media, each of which practices what it preaches. I'll be able to use the best of them as demonstrations and instruction booklets as I continue my work with teachers to integrate media literacy into the schoolwide curriculum, too. And in this way, even more so than the four years of Media Literacy time capsules now scattered across the school in ravines and musty attics and buried in the flower garden, the final work, the best work of the best students, my borrowed opus -- delivered as all teaching is delivered through the mouths and hands and minds of my students -- will truly live on, if not forever, than for a good long time.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:30 PM | 0 comments

Kissing and Football: Superbowl Memories

Full trailer to debut during Superbowl.

I must have been all of 13, maybe even younger. Never athletic, that winter the youth choir I attended twice a week had brought me some modicum of popularity, albeit in tights on the grounds of Harvard University, where, as part of the annual Christmas Revels pageant, a select few of us sang and sat quietly for a few moments; but mostly we waited in the cavernous church-like hall we used as greenroom for the entire cast, and hosted pretend marriages in the eaves in order to have excuses to kiss lightly our first kisses under the curious eyes of our fidgety matrons and best men.

Incidentally, I was serious about the acting thing as a profession when I didn't know any better. I even had headshots made a few years later; they're too unforgivable to actually post on the site, but here's one that is hilarious, embarrassing, but almost too ridiculous to pass up. I was such an earnest dorky kid. And (the horror! the horror!) it turns out what brushingfelt and mirrorlooked like cool 80s hair turns out to have been a subtle form of mullet. Wish someone had told me sooner.

Although the acting ultimately brought me to museum demonstration and then, through that, to teaching, the theatre bug had me until my junior year of high school, when, as the lead in Ionesco's surrealist anti-Nazi allegory Rhinocerous, I managed to singlehandedly (and to the great suprise of my fellow thespians) pare the play down to about 45 minutes of utter hyper-surreal confusion, filled with portention silences and inter-actor anger, ending in a mangled, inarticluate rant made up on the spot instead of the page-and-a-half long monologue in the original text. Wanna know how to quit acting forever? The secret is to never get around to learning your lines. It helps if you never tell anyone about it until the curtain is about to open, of course.

But we were talking about the superbowl, and a pair of child-style married couples who cuddled under blankets in a basement, watching it and holding hands slick with sweat and pizza grease, not sure how to find excuses to kiss again. We barely knew each other, any of us, but our commitment to couplehood had become bond enough to bring us together with the game as excuse, if not enough to support conversation beyond uncomfortable silence there in front of the TV. A girl whose name I can't remember was my bride and kissmate; not my first choice willowy Thalia of the flowing blondwhite hair, who ended up with the young host of the party, an aquaintance at best, nor the fulfilled not-very-secret desire of the less popular Jill, who I did ultimately date, and got caught in bed with on the night of my bar mitzvah (we did get close, but no, technically I did not become a man for a number of years after that).

I suppose I may indeed have watched more Superbowls earlier than that, and I suppose I must have in the intervening years, but the only other gamewatching experiences I remember are here, in my five years at NMH. Living in a boy's dorm with a deserved reputation for attracting more than its fair share of varsity athletes, the Big Game is a Big Deal: boys do all their studying early in the day to earn a spot on the floor in front of the big screen, the dorm head springs for soda and sometimes trays of wings, and the kid's father who owns a Subways down in Greenfield donates two of those 6' subs, so long they serve 'em on a piece of lumber. Although for the past few years we've had great fun and success in the school's chairless media viewing room with pillows and blankets, tomorrow, as many of the kids are gone for the long weekend with their parents, we plan on doing something slightly smaller in-house with a high-lumen data projector, some borrowed speakers, and an everso hightech sheet-on-the-wall.

As a media teacher, I watch the Superbowl for the spectacle, the mythos, the overscaled grandiose halftime show and the testosterone playing out on the screen and in the boys I live with, but most of all, I watch for the commercials. This year's commercials seem promising; previews are available at, and you can vote for your favorites there during and after the game. In addition to a holy host of movie trailers, look for past heavy-hitters Pepsi and netsavvy Hot Jobs to shine, Chrysler to be boring, Trident to push the funnybone, Reebox and Gatorade to hit up the inner athlete, and, as always, a few suprises. The New York Times also prints a comprehensive scorecard of which advertisers have purchased spots for which quarter, so you can keep track of what's coming and going.

Of course, my first subjectively significant superbowl was on the day of my birth. As my mother tells it, the doctor at my delivery was eager not to miss any of the game; he seemed to appreciate my arrival a half hour before kick-off.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:07 AM | 0 comments

Friday, January 24, 2003

Our Parents, Ourselves

Home early today after a long boring morning fiddling around the media center while for almost a mile around me in every direction students and their parents (or grandparents, or guardians, or siblings) sat in stuffyhot classrooms drowsing off to long-forgotten Chemistry lessons and presentation on Zen Buddhism and discussions of Vietnam.

Here at Northfield Mount Hermon, just past interim at the midpoint of each trimester, as grades are released, the parents arrive in droves to pick their students up for the long weekend. They attend classes politely, remaining afterwards in their uncomfortable fold-out chairs for fifteen minute meetings with teachers and advisees and college counselors; they glow at their choral or swim-team darlings from auditorium seats and bleachers; they ask about restaurants in the area and, with their children out of our hands and into the back seats of their Lexuses and SUVs, disappear into the night.

I love parents weekend, and see it primarily as a sudden and short-term introduction of 600 new students into our orbit. Many, perhaps most teachers see these visiting days as opportunities to showcase the students, pull out the stops, show-and-tell the parents to death, but the best teachers I know, like I have learned to do over the years, see the introduction of parents into the classroom as a chance to add new voices to an already rich mix of sounds and smells and seriousness, making class more like it usually is, not less.

But I love most of all the moment when, upon meeting the parent, suddenly everything about the student's past behavior is revealed as genetic. Here, three times a year, the perennial and seemingly immortal nature/nurture question collapses into this simple inescapable truth like an Airstream camper in a black hole: we are, after all, our parents, even in those stages of our lives when we are most rebellious and distant.

Which makes today's two o'clock homecoming all the more relevant: it's Friday, so Darcie's mother was there until four. She comes three times a week to babysit Willow because she can, and because she works for free and we are, after all, living on but 1.7 times a teacher's salary for the three of us, in a profession not especially known for making millionaires of even its best and brightest.

There's nothing inherently difficult about Patty, I should note; we like each other, and I think respect each other; we share a love of language and of learning, and we've had twelve years now to get to know our quirks and quills, our barbs and bare selves. But coming home early is tricky when she's there. We've given her this time to be with her granddaughter for everyone's sake, and the gift of that time comes unrestricted, so she's naturally and quite comfortably taken on the role in a way which seems right to her, and I want to validate that. But I covet my daughter when I return; came home early, in fact, in the hopes that I would get to see her at her best, rather than the oft-cranky dregs of the day that remain of my beautiful infant's energies on those ever-increasing nights when meetings and other sundries take me out to the cusp of her bedtime rituals, after which time I become more intrusion than inspiration.

With Mama in the house anyone else is always a second choice; I recognize that this is an inevitability of mother-child bonding through the breastfeeding process, and have accepted my lot, and am grateful for whatever space and time I am offered or find to be part of that bond. But with Patty there, and me there too, the baby seems difficult, frustrated, struggling to understand which mode she should be in, which set of arms she should turn to. Patty and I, I think, feed this frustration -- our roles are no more clear to ourselves when we are suddenly teamed caretakers than they seem to be for the baby herself. We reach for her simultaneously, have no rhythm together, and tag-team poorly. And I am torn: is it better to stay at work with no work to do for the baby's sake and for Patty's, and to keep things clean, and sacrifice my time for the baby's sake? Can I find myself in her pictures, locked in my office, staring moodily at the walls, while she could be having my warmth, and I hers?

And I don't know where this is going, or where it goes, but that it is: it is the beginning of the baby's confusion and frustration with the world, and that which will make her mine, and make her me, so that one day we may curse each other for our similarities, and smile when others can connect us in a sea of strangers, like I did with my parents, the eternal struggle that we all must endure, and should embrace.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:12 PM | 0 comments

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Today's Meal

Squash. Butternut Squash.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:38 PM | 0 comments


Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates, A Packet Of Graham Crackers, And A Handful Of Melted Marshmallows

Although ever since they became a breakfast cereal s'mores have lost some of their charm, there's something wonderful about the idea of taking three sweets, melting them into goo precariously by an open fire, trying not to drip hot marshmallowness on your pants. I want there to be a grand metaphor here, something about how the melted summer stickiness of this traditional campfire treat represents something about my life right now, but honestly, I'm too tired. Plus, when you get right down to it, s'mores are too complicated.

I don't even like s'mores, I just love a woman who makes 'em for herself, in the oven on a cookie sheet, when it's four below zero, then leaves 'em out for me to enjoy when I come home from being on duty.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:17 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Fun With Google

If you type wheeeeeeeeeeeeee into, the first thing it asks you is Did you mean: wheeeeeeeeeeeee?

Don't take my word for it. Try it yourself.

Even with the "incorrect" spelling of the word you get about 700 results. Wheeeeeeeeeeeee! Must be a pretty exciting world out there.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:45 PM | 0 comments

Random And Utterly Cynical Thought Of The Day

Now that it's been out a couple of weeks already, I wonder how William Gibson's book sales are being affected by the recent emergence of his blog?

It's tempting to go whole-hog conspiracy theorist on y'all, and suggest that there's something suspicious about the timing of Gibson's blogbirth. I could even go so far as to point out that this new "marketing ploy" is interestingly, suggestively all in keeping with the premise of his new book.

But I wouldn't do that. The blog seems earnest and interesting even if Gibson is off in Copenhagen for a while and, consequently, behind in the blogging. And the book's getting solid reviews from all the right people; I've heard it's quite good -- Kirkus Review calls it a slick but surprisingly humane piece of work from the father of cyberpunk -- but as long as I'm still working on The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2002, Gibson's Pattern Recognition will have to wait.

And I still wonder about those book sales. Promotion is promotion, after all, no matter how unintentional.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:26 AM | 0 comments

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

The Blog Defined

The nominees for the Third Annual Weblog Awards, a.k.a. the Bloggies, have been announced. In doing so, Nicolai Nolan, the coordinator and benevolent dictator of the bloggies by sheer virtue of having run with the ball when he realized he had it, makes an interesting stipulative definition:
For this contest, a "weblog" is a page with dated entries that has a purpose (in whole or in part) of linking to other sites. For instance, sites that are intended to be just personal journals or site news pages are not eligible.

By these narrow standards, this site clings to its blogginess only tenuously. Much of my links are internal; perhaps what we have here is more hybrid, as are most of the more literate blogs, like brokentype or William Gibson's blog.

I note that Nolan defines two categories, one by its intention (subject matter), the other by its approach or implementation (has a purpose in linking to other sites); it is certainly possible to imagine a personal journal which has a purpose in linking to other sites, I think; the two are not mutually exclusive, but complimentary. But it nonetheless makes sense to me that in order to recognize the best of something, that something has to be defined. How can you decide which is the better blog if you don't have a clear sense of what you mean by blog in the first place?

posted by boyhowdy | 11:37 PM | 0 comments

Rethinking Media Literacy: A Rant

For starters, it's not what you think.

Most people think of media literacy as one of two entirely incorrect and limiting things:

a) a critical viewing study, biased heavily towards an assumption that "the media", by which is most often meant mass media but today vaguely references the more corporate major service providers of the Internet as well, is out to get you, and you need to be able to see how and condemn them for it, or

b) a slightly more complex study that suggests that a combination of critical analyitic skills and applied knowledge and experience leads to empowerment, most often to enable one to "stand up" to the media.

The former is most fatally flawed for that it disempowers students through its reliance on an analytic dialectic that is far too small, and far too contradictory. It begs questions, such as: Why are the authors of written texts inherently celebrated for their use of their medium while the authors of web texts are ignored, the authors of TV and movie texts reviled, and the authors of popular music/musicvideo texts ridiculed? In other words, why show the worst of media and the best of writing? Shouldn't students see the ideal potential in all communication if they are to be steeped in a culture which depends upon facile and deliberate use?

The second option is what is commonly practiced in middle-school "Tech Ed" requirements around the country. Usually positioned in a rotation with arts and home economics, the Tech Ed class at its best allows students to have hands-on lab experience with relatively new technologies, and to construct realities with them. These courses are almost entirely creative, in fact; they are where students build web pages and PowerPoint slide shows and make video documentaries of their shaky talking-head friends leaning against their lockers.

Note that both are oppositional models. We approach these perfectly neutral, powerful, ubiquitous communications tools, all of which our students will be expected to have some mastery of, in a way so far unlike the healthy celebratory approach we give to writing, speech, and other media, and the end result is, I suggest, to preclude students' empowerment as participants in their increasingly mediated culture. Modern media's second-class treatment by the pedagogical institution stunts student's development of the ability to actively create and share knowledge, and that's a darn shame.

Neither model, though, is truly Media Literacy in its ideal form as part of the framework for lifelong process, as consistent with the English curriculum's delivery as a way of teaching thought construction and expression through reading and writing and writing some more. The mature Media Literacy curriculum is one which as wholly prepares the student for the world of multiple and fast-changing digital and mediated communication tools as the English curriculum wholly prepares the student for the world of the language which those tools still rely on, although in different ways in different tools, for, after all, the medium, you know, is the message.

I was teaching this, and they are taking it away from the students, so they are taking it away from me. I've been asked to spearhead an effort to integrate this curriculum more broadly throughout the school, through my work with teachers and departments, and it works in theory, in my head, on my best days.

But I'm not sure it will work. The deep study, like the English class itself in relation to the "writing across the curriculum" movement, is a vital part of this curriculum; its absence will keep those who I teach from seeing the big picture -- they'll learn skills more than understanding, and without understanding, they can't teach themselves new skills later in life, if you know what I mean. And those students that took the class, and the teachers that I talked with about the class as the curriculum progressed, spread those ideas like prophets through the hallways, and the world changed for the better, if just for a moment. I worry that we're sacrificing the very foundation of our mission to create life-long learners, and are willing to settle for life-long HTML coders and PowerPoint users -- not inherently a bad thing but worse if that is all they can do -- without realizing that those are the stakes.

And these are not all my best days. I'll miss the class, and miss more the knowledge that the class could have made masters of the universe, and now cannot.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:47 PM | 0 comments

Give And Take

My Media Literacy course has fallen to the budget-crisis-without-a-rubric; I am teaching it to a full load of kids next term and then, sadly, it will not be taught again. I am too mad to say more about that, and I use the term mad deliberately, as angry would have been the right word until yesterday I began to go insane thinking about it.

Instead, sick of bureaucra-speak and institutional politics, sickened by the pretense of pedagogic soundness which clearly does not after all underlie the attack on my course, frustrated by the lack of honesty which seeps like root/rot/rat poison through this community and its members, I've been thinking about Shel Silverstein's classic The Giving Tree. There's an ongoing debate about the text, nicely represented by, of all things, reader's reviews of the book at, but at the risk of alienating my scant readership (yes, you), I hereby present my own take on the text, one which I suspect Silverstein, always the wry cynic, intended as a kind of reverse object lesson:

Give and give and give and give, selflessly and with no return, until you are a stump.

Then, at the end of your lifetime, after about 50 years of loneliness and misery, when you have nothing left to give, you will be appreciated. Maybe.

Of course, you'll still be a stump.

Goddam stumps. At least they're good for sitting on. Smiling and pretending that it's wonderful that you'll still have a job after all might work for some, but what no one here realizes is that I'd be happy to leave if I wasn't going to be happy to be here. Is it so unusual to be willing to be broke rather than do a job you don't want to do? It shouldn't be, and it is, and that makes me sadder and madder than ever.

posted by boyhowdy | 3:52 PM | 0 comments

Frost Heaves, Music Blares

Papa, Please Get The Moon For Me

Chilly out there tonight. Even the moon is shrinking. The clock in the car said 12:19 7 -- more time than temperature -- on the way back from the radio show tonight. Stuck my hand out the window for a second to feel the wind and felt the oils on my hands crystalizing. Almost got frostbit, and watch that windchill, 'cause the weather channel has a severe cold warning out. Supposed to feel like 25 below. It does.

The students must be restless; we got five calls tonight. Darcie and Virginia's other sister Alicia called from Connecticut pretending to be a student requesting a Pink Floyd song. Andy called to correctly identify tonight's mystery song as The Flight Of The Bumblebee; Nora gave us a ring just afterwards to make sure someone got the question right. Zack called to let me know he was going to burn a CD for me so I could play some songs on the radio, which is very cool of him; Molly called and asked us to play The Ocean; I had forgotten what a wonderful song that is, and never realized that John Prine sings backup vocals on the final verse, which makes the song that much cooler. Zack and Molly are, of course, involved, which makes that entire sequence about as cool as it gets. And cute. Student dating is so serious, but they make it look easy.

Talking to Molly reminded me that I hadn't taken care of her prize for winning last week's contest. To win, she correctly identified my age as 30; like everyone who wins our weekly contests on Tributary, I promised her a week's worth of free coffee at the school snack bar of her choice. Note to self: remember to stop by the snack bar on the Northfield campus and set up those free coffee accounts for contest winners Andy and Molly.

Tonight's bedtime stories (on the hour anf the half hour) were old children's favorites: Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are, Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham, and Carle's almost-popup book Papa, Please Get The Moon For Me. Music was alternately wild and mellow with a 25 minute set of what can only be called Geek Music to get things started. As always, tonight's playlist follows.

Bob Dorough -- Too Much Coffee Man (Tributary theme song)
Moxy Fruvous -- Horseshoes
Sarah Harmer -- Basement Apartment
Guster -- Window (off a copy of their first CD so old the band was still called
Eddie From Ohio -- Monotony
Barenaked Ladies -- If I Had 1,000,000 Dollars ($651,254 American, according to this)
The Bobs -- Mr. Duality (for Nora, a.k.a missduality)
Cake -- Manah Manah
Timbuk 3 -- Cynical
Fred Snyder -- Coconut (why, yes, he
is the guy from the B-52s)
Suzanne Vega -- Blood Makes Noise
Peter Siegel -- Malthus
Ani Difranco -- As Is
Kasey Chambers -- A Little Bit Lonesome
String Cheese Incident -- Take Five (live)
Lyle Lovett -- Friend Of The Devil
Shawn Colvin -- Say A Little Prayer
Marc Cohn -- At The Station
Yo Yo Ma & Bobby McFerrin -- Flight Of The Bumblebee
PJ Shapiro -- Complexity (a song written and recorded for our wedding. Awww...)
Alison Krauss -- Forget About It
Cheryl Wheeler -- Arrow
Deb Talan -- Two Points
John Gorka -- Shape Of The World
Dar Williams -- The Ocean
St. Germain -- Rose Rouge
Susan Werner -- Courting The Muse

posted by boyhowdy | 12:45 AM | 1 comments

Sunday, January 19, 2003

There Must Be A Word For That

Thursday night's blogentry seemed to cue the subconscious: I must have realized that how I chose to envision a phrase, as blog-starter or poem kernel, was a choice to be made at the moment of inception. Or something like that. Anyway, I wrote a poem, the first in almost six months, and I'd like to share it with you.

Impotent, I Control The Moon
Or The Teacher Drives Home Alone After A Late Night Grading Essays

I wish I were a hundred things
But this. Sure, I can spin
The meta, the postmodern gaze;

But that I have sown of myself
A hundred hundred selves
By spending my capital unawares,
Deep in the lump that is belly
I covet their lives like sand dollars.

Impotent, I control the moon
Driving it left behind the trees
With a turn of the wheel,
Dribbling it like a basketball
On the hills above the bridge

Until, burning off the clouds,
Pulling away from the earth,
Fire fading, it purifies the sky.

Please let me know what you think. Or not. And there's always more at Watermelon Pickle Poems.

posted by boyhowdy | 7:40 PM | 0 comments

Monkey See, Monkey Robot Do

More people should read The New Yorker; this week's issue includes the following from Reading Minds, Ian Parker's excellent essay on developments in Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) systems:

A monkey first learned to use a joystick to play a video game, while his keepers similarly build up a key -- a code book -- linking neuronal activitiy with various actions. Then the joystick was disconnected from the computer. The monkey continued to play the game using only his brain.

The technology is being developed and funded primarily to assist the handicapped, most especially to communicatively empower those who are locked in their own bodies, unable even to blink. But more general use is a worthy thought experiment: what can we do with this, really? Imagine the end of the keyboard, the neural net and the Internet collapsed, the mind controlling the body and the cyberbody in tandem with no localized personal/physical mediation. Imagine.

posted by boyhowdy | 2:56 PM | 0 comments


Some bloggers blog about technology; for these folks, a blogentry about recent tweakings of the blog is not only useful, but topically consistent. If Safari is your game, then webraw/blog offers a spitcup for your drool; if geekiness makes you horny, then you already know about slashdot, so even providing a link would be redundant.

However, this blog is not about technology. I'm a media and educational technology teacher, a cybersociologist and theorist, not a technology geek; I have nothing against geeks, I'm just not one by nature. I'm more interested in content, and context only to the extent that it supports that content. And I prefer to leave work at work, and bring literature to the blogging form.

But to talk about the ramifications of technology -- for example, what it means, socially and behaviorally, to design and code in a specific way -- it is sometimes necessary to be specific about that technology, if for no other reason than to help the reader see what you see. Eric J at webraw understands this, and seems to balance what reads like an innate attraction to new tools and toys which I do not have with excellent discourse on how and what these tools mean to the culture of the blog.

Thus: if you, dear reader, find yourself wandering through the blog and come across an entry titled Technote, feel free to skip it, or not; the label is there deliberately, a cue for those who are interested and those who are not, a signpost to assist you in your travels.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:33 PM | 0 comments


For those who care, some blogging notes about this blog. Commentary welcome.

Webrings. I've just joined three of 'em, each specifically for blogs of one sort or another: The New England Webring, Blogging Mommies (also for Daddies!), and edublog, a blog for educators exploring ways of using blogs in the classroom. It seems that blog webrings (blogrings?) are still in their infancy, as all three rings have far less than 100 members. Heck, with the addition of lil' ol' me, edublog has 13. It is nonetheless wonderful to find kindred souls; check 'em out if you want to see the fine folks who share my interests.

Tech notes in general. Frequent visitors to the site will have noticed slight changes to the links and linkstructure on the right of this page; I've taken the liberty of adding subheads to the link categories, mostly to lessen the semiotic noise a bit. I continue to toy with a total redraft of the about section, making it more a short link-heavy sentence or two, bringing it to the top of the list, adding a photo of me, maybe like this one, but I'm not convinced it's for me. Is this something people want, or does it disrupt the "read it to find out" literate premise which I've been working with thus far? I note that I've seen both strategies in use throughout the bloggiverse, but note as well that an "about me" section in conversational tone tends to accompany a blog more about the person than their thoughts.

Readers. Dad reads my blog. My wife reads my blog. Someone from Seattle reads my blog. You read my blog. Plant your flower in the guestmap to leave your mark, if you're a reader, if you're interested in sharing your location and thoughts, if you dream of expressing yourself in forget-me-nots and daisies.

Templates. Live with it. I've toyed with movable type, but until I have many oodles of time to rethink and replot, I like this template, even if it's all over the web. Of course, total redesigns of my site for no pay but plenty of bankable brownie points are welcome, but if you have that much time to devote to someone else's site, you really should get out more.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:58 AM | 0 comments

Birthday Redux

Northampton today with Willow and Darcie to meet up with my parents and brother for a slightly belated family 30th birthday dinner at East Side Grill, not to be confused with East Coast Grill in Cambridge's Inman Square, where I spent my 21st family birthday dinner. Both restaurants serve a variant on basic cajun/southern cooking: the East Coast Grill serves mostly barbecue, so the birthday dinner nine years ago was surely something like pulled pork with beans and coleslaw and vinegar pickles and a slice of watermelon, like it should be, from their open kichen; the East Side Grill runs more towards the gourmet South, specializing in a lobster and corn soup, which I did not order but recommended successfully to my brother, and the popcorn shrimp and artichoke-and-mushroom-smothered tenderloin with fried leeks and garlic mashed potatoes I myself enjoyed. At the East Coast Grill I forgot my ID, and had to have my mom vouch for me in order to purchase my first legal drink, which came with a blue plastic dolphin stirrer I keep in the top drawer of my rolltop bedside table. Today, I had a Tanqueray and tonic, the baby whined through the second half of the meal, and I got a J Crew burgundy mock turtleneck and Ken Burns's Jazz: The Story of American Music 5 CD box set from my parents and three Mystery Science Theatre 3000 videos from my brother. I don't remember what I got for my 21st birthday.

I was born thirty years and four days ago at 11:30 in the morning, a half hour before that year's Superbowl kickoff, in Dekalb County Hospital, outside of Atlanta, Georgia, if my parents and birth certificate are to believed (I'm told I was there, but I don't remember much from that part of my life). Being southerner by technicality allows me mostly to justify a love for good southern cooking, from barbecue ribs to catfish to jumbalaya, and a tendency to use the ever-useful contraction y'all instead of the genderist Yankee convention guys when speaking in second person plural. But I certainly don't remember the place; we moved to Massachusetts when I was nine months old, the same week Nixon left office. I'm more and more each year a native New Englander, even as I drift chameleon-like through the stereotypes as time passes, from northern suburbanite to small liberal arts collegian to rural intellectual. I didn't even mind the cold today in Northampton, even though it's 5 below (in Farenheit!) outside now, cold enough you can feel the ice crystals forming in your nostrils and moustache as you step out the door, even colder in the outdoor hottub darcie and I treated ourselves to at East Heaven Hot Tubs because, well, my parents were eager to babysit and we can't resist the soak.

I've been all around the world: Mexico, Holland, Denmark, Ireland, Russia and Estonia back when they were part of the USSR, Finland, Israel, Egypt. I love coming back here, and knowing that we have here to come back to. I love the winter permasnow and the crisp air and the pine tree forests; I love new coats and the reward of spring after the long dark months and snowbright days. The world is nice to visit; I wouldn't want to live there. But if there's a word for it in Creole, or you can cook it best in a half a metal trash can, bring it on. Y'all come back now, y'hear?

posted by boyhowdy | 1:03 AM | 0 comments

Saturday, January 18, 2003

New Coat, Old Hat

...and this shirt still creased from the shelf.

At the Holyoke Mall yesterday for the first time in almost a year, as Darcie needed some make-your-own picture framing supplies for a student-led Creative Crafts activity, and I tagged along to help with Willow and justify my birthday by buying clothes. When I was a kid, clothing stores were vast and diverse, and you could buy essentially identical jeans in any of a dozen stores, for example, or Timberland boots, or just plain old white sweatsocks. But these days only Filene's Basement and JC Penney's carry plain white socks, buried low behind wall-sized displays of argyle after argyle, paisley after checks. These days walking into a store like Eddie Bauer (relaxed fit stonewashed jeans at $29) or the Gap (light blue patterned button-down and a pair of unpleated khakis, both on sale and a steal at $27 for the set) or Banana Republic (corduroys under ten bucks on the outside racks, but I don't like the way corduroy crushes after being folded in your drawer for too long, so I's never wear 'em) or Old Navy (nothing for me, but a sweatsuit and pajamas for the baby) is a masquerade; the shops sell a certain style, a certain ideal, one so focused that, for example, all the jeans in the Gap -- all of them -- are cut and worn thin in patches in exactly the same way. Even Baby Gap (another three outfits, a suede hat with velcro flaps and a winter baby snuggli) is filled with parent-types and wannabes, pawing through cute little outfits with matching stuffed bears, whose personalities as parents or parents-to-be crystalize under the hyperreal, hypercommercial influence of a constant stream of perfect babies flashing on the wall monitors.

The mall has always held a somewhat illicit attraction for me. Not only is it an ADHD playgound of Chuck E Cheese proportion, it gives me a rush like a drug to wander through stores playing dress-up in my mind. And not just for clothes: there's a pet store where you can imagine what life would have been like with a German Shephard; espresso bars on each floor, the ubiquitous food court, Brookstones. Darcie took me to Men's Wearhouse, much smaller than the name suggests, to try on charcoal grey suits, a necessity now that the sympathy weight I gained during the pregnancy has sized me out of my old suitcoat from my college days; I looked fine indeed, but we're still thinking about it.

My best purchase was a new coat in some eurotrash store, a sort of double-breasted cotton insulated peacoat with wide flat collars, but cut almost waspishly in a charcoal grey corduroy and on sale for 27 bucks. It's about to lose a button already, but it looks great with my brown-mauve christmas scarf, even if the pockets turned out to be fake. And it comes with a whole new me: Now, when I look down at myself all day, I think of myself as the kind of guy who would wear this particular charcoal grey corduroy style-over-substance coat...

posted by boyhowdy | 12:20 AM | 0 comments

Friday, January 17, 2003

I Never Promised You A Prose Garden

It's not like I presented them any other way, you know. Love 'em or hate 'em, the poems of the week on this site are all yours-truly originals.

But all have been scavenged, mined from a history of sporadic poetic output rather than created fresh for the intelligent and discriminating blogger about town -- not because I have writer's block, or because I am picky, but because I am an exceptionally lazy person.

See, every once in a while, these great poetic phrases pop whole in my head. At that moment, I have a choice. I can try desperately to distract myself with frenetic activity, blocking the phrase out of my mind so it cannot haunt me, imperfect and half-remembered, late into the unproductive night. Or, I can repeat the phrase endlessly, which for some reason results in the phrase beginning to build at the edges, finding its context, growing from phrase to sentence to stanza like a kind of snowball phrase-magnet for other words and phrases...and then run frenetically to the computer to try to recover the collected mental works before it invariably begins to crumble into a pile of disassociated, almost meaningless iambs and triplets. As you can see, only the former of the two choices offers instant gratification (although it admittedly also creates a kind of vaguely-frustrated-artist melancholy in the long term); most of the time, now that I only sleep four hours a night and am having trouble functioning, I choose the former my sanity's sake.

This all started my senior year in high school, during Project Month. Commonwealth doesn't offer a sping break off so much as it requires a spring break on; underclassmen spend a week volunteering for a local hospital or learning a new language or taking a school-sponsored trip abroad to Ireland and return to school the next week rejuvenated for the remainder of the year, while Seniors took an entire month off, doing a much more substantive project of their own choosing. My Junior year I went to Ireland with a group of six other students, a trip most memorable for the night Dan and I accidentally snuck back into the wrong room after an illicit night signing Twist And Shout with a host of drunken Australians at Durty Nelly's pub down the road and woke up our chaperone's wife. I'd like to say we woke her up by landing on her bed, but the truth is, we were laughing so hard as we frantically snuck back out the window, she would have had to be dead or as dead drunk as her husband in the next bed over to have managed to sleep through it.

My senior year I had a great idea -- to stay solo in the woods for a week -- but the school vetoed it, concerned for my safety, and I proposed a safer solo: a trip to Florida to visit my grandparents, bum around the beaches, and write a sonnet every day. I had been reading Kerouac and Wolfe, and I was sure that the sonnet series I produced would be a travelogue of sorts as I discovered my roots and rediscovered the retiree way of life as a pace to emulate. [I just realized, incidentally, that I have no idea where all these poems are. I know I wrote 'em...huh. Anyway.]

What I didn't count on the was the dreams.

I sat on the porch in my grandmothers house proudly comparing the windfallen cacti on the smoothpebbled porch to the Scarecrow of Oz pointing both directions at once at the crossroads of my life, and after a few days, the sonnet form was a natural thing, like breathing. But there was no off switch, no apnea. A few days into the project I found myself dreaming in iambic pentameter.

I've begun to blog that way, by the way; not in iambic pentameter or in dreams, but in the way whole phrases readi-made for the blog pop into my head as a response to the profundities of the banal. In other words, I seem to have habituated myself to this medium; I find the phrases which appear in my head more conducive to the blog than the poem. But although I continue to maintain that blogging is literature, it seems lower stakes, somehow, than poetry. The form is looser, less defined; the breadth of possibilities for "proper" blogging has yet to coalesce into distinct genres, although certainly there are many overlapping focii emerging in the bloggiverse as we, so to speak, speak. And I miss poetry, and I miss my dreams.

Because the entry is so long today, the poem of the week should be comparatively short. Because it features sonnets, the poem should be a sonnet. Because we're talking about writing poetry, let's have a poem about writing poetry. So:

Downhill Sonnet

To beat the light down the mountain
rush into the first grey of evening
as if through a tinted windshield.

Write poems downhill in your head,
or, if you must, in jittery script
over the top of the steering wheel.

Think of her calves under the table
through the glass slit of the door,
the ankle's curve into alabaster foot.

Lean into the blurring landscape
like a weight tied under the stomach
pulling down, squeezing inwards:

A constriction you associate with tears,
or the moment before tears; and with leaving.

As always, check out Watermelon Pickle Poems for more boyhowdy originals. WPP is hosted at Marlboro College, my other alma mater, and although periodic upgrades of their server structure eventually resulted in a loss of FTP access, the site nevertheless represent almost the entirety of my current body of finished work. Except those few poems I’ve written in the last year. And those sonnets I wrote way back in March of 1991 for a school project, the end product of a once-fevered mind in perfect iambic pentameter, now lost to the ages, or in that cardboard box in the storage room, I forget which.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:05 AM | 12 comments

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Where Are They Now?

I came to Commonwealth, a prep school in a single Boston brownstone four blocks from the Public Gardens, kicking and screaming. I'd been pulled out of public school the preceeding Spring due to failing grades, in turn due to an increasing tendency to prefer McDonalds road trips to math class and, more generally, flagged interest in the facelessness that is public school in rural Massachusetts. But this tiny school -- my class of 33 students was at that time the largest class to graduate -- became home quickly, and it remained that way until I left for Bard in '91. I found first love in Commonwealth's dark wood hallways, learned the value of small and fierce and independent education in its classrooms, flew to Florida to bask in the sun and write a sonnet a day for an entire month for credit, and participated in marathon overnight readings of Joyce's Ulysses at its biannual week-long retreat to Hancock Farm. The school was too small to sustain true cliques, but as in any group of a reasonably small size, the connections one made were true and plentiful.

This morning out of the thin blue ether of cyberspace swam an email from Sam:
Hey Commonwealth Friends!

The recent alumni newsletter (in which I read about Josh Farber's current exploits among others) and last week's dinner (in which I saw Deborah and Jess for the time in close to a decade) has inspired me to write as many of my old friends as I could find (I searched the database on and say hi and give a little update of where things are for me now and hope to get back in touch with some or all of you! : )...
A close look at the To field revealed a mailing list of fifteen, a vertiable who's who of friends and friends-of-friends, some recognizable from their email addresses, some mysterious, tantalizingly familiar but too partial to decode into late-adolescent bodies and faces. And, predictably, over the course of the day, the messages started trickling in.
...I'll write more later, but I wanted to say to everyone that I'm alive and well in Seattle, WA....

...Indeed - I was thrilled when I saw Mark's mail. It's great to hear from you all! OK, me. I got my BA in Philosophy...

...So what's happened to me? Well, let's see. I invented a form of underwater squid dancing which was a huge hit in Bali...
And my own, which included a link to the blog; here's how I introduce myself to those long-absent:
Dear Lord. What a wonderful blast from the past. Hello all!

Lets see...after three years as a teaching fellow at the Boston Museum of Science, two years as an undergrad at Marlboro College to finish a BA in the social sciences of cyberspace, and a Masters of Arts in Teaching with Web Technologies, I'm in my fifth year at Northfield Mount Hermon school, the biggest residential prep school in New England, in Northfield, MA (at the intersection of MA, NH, and VT on a map), where I am dorm parent / media and communications faculty / ed tech specialist and chair the school's Professional Development Committee. Married to Darcie (who I met in college) for five years (she coordinates weekend events and yearbook), our first child Willow just turned 6 months and cut her first two teeth on the same day. Other than a quick Jess Potts sighting at Newton Wellsley Hospital last Spring, I have been far out of touch for a while, but if anyone is interested in hearing and seeing more, my blog is at

Anyone else?

The potential here is interesting to me professionally. If conversation continues, the insta-listserv phenomenon/scenario it creates is a new one to me, worthy of footnote for a media teacher always on the spy for memes and materials. If this current exchange turns out to be a primarily one-shot yawp from the far reaches of the 'net, however, we might say that the media, when used in just the right combination of elements, merely spurts forth a grassroots alumni mag with no warning or precedence.

While I wait in line to host the 2003 Blog A Day Tour, yet another wish-I-thought-of-it-first idea, this time from out-of-work Texan Lawrence Smith of the oft-permalinked Amish Tech Support, my email has been filling up with fragments of my history, pouring the past into the present. I am grateful for the peek into the parallel lives of friends once had; if it lasts only for a moment, it will be enough.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:39 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

My Hero, Eric J

Found Organizing your writing for the web at webraw/form and am very, very impressed. It's a perfect beginning primer for writing in and on the web, and an equally perfect resource to use for my teaching. Better yet, it practices what it preaches, modelling its thesis in its structure. Wish I had written it, or that I had loose enough morals and big enough balls to steal it and present it as my own.

posted by boyhowdy | 2:08 AM | 0 comments

Pronouncements and Observations, Part 1

Bob Dylan's voice is so unmelodic it hurts. I recognize his genius through other people's music.

If the oversensitive aftermath of this Sunday's campus meeting on gender and media indicates anything, it is that Mr. Garrison is right. Most people, especially in education, have completely missed the vast difference between tolerance and acceptance, and acceptance and approval. The new PC sucks, and it is my life's mission to do something about it, one student at a time.

Light pollution at my parents house in Newton makes the clouds overhead glow brightly pink-orange late into the night. This is all the more noticible here, in overly rural Northfield, MA, now that the cold has pulled all the humidity out of the air over the past few days, leaving it clear and thin, and you can see a thousand stars.

Alf hawks cheap collect calls while Grimace chats with Donald Trump. Would it be so much of a surprise to learn that Mr. T and Carrottop were Muppets? How about Don Knotts? Don Rickles? That big guy on Everybody Loves Raymond? How many "celebrities" are really Jim Henson experiments gone horribly awry?

Balloons are impossible to put away well. They're fun and all, but where do you put them after the party's over?

posted by boyhowdy | 12:30 AM | 0 comments

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

If You're Only As Young As You Feel...

Happy Birthday To Me

No work today. It was my thirtieth birthday, and I needed a nap.

I slept in instead, and accompanied Darcie and Willow to the baby's six-month doctor's appointment for weigh-in and shots. The baby loved wrapping herself in the paper they put down on the exam table; her reaction to the shots was predictably horrifying. Lunch afterwards at Bogies in downtown Greenfield; Bogie is a short skinny bearded man whose sandwiches are basic and only two-star at best, but how can I stay away from a place where one can get breakfast all day, homemade corned beef hash and a vanilla latte with double shots and whipped cream?

We returned to find the power out and the emergency generator burning propane outside our bedroom window like an annoying neighbor's riding lawnmower. In addition to running emergency lights and smoke detectors in the dorm during power outages, the generator is set to turn on once a week; for most of our time here it woke us up at 10 a.m. every Sunday morning; this year we got smart and asked the school's electricians to reset the timer for a more civilized hour, and since then it runs on Thursdays at 1 when we are meeting with our advisees.

I did manage to nap restlessly for an hour or so on the futon in the baby's room, dreaming of electric bee swarms and waking half-aware of the grinding of the emergency generator in the backyard. At this rate, I'll finally be able to catch up on sleep once Willow goes to college.

Woke up at four thirty to the alarm and, after an appropriate period of grogginess, stepped outside into the growing chill darkness to climb the hill to the dining hall to chair this week's Professional Development Committee meeting. The Dean of Faculty surprised me with an excellent cake (Vanilla layers, raspberry jam filling) from the school bakery, a plastic lei (morbid black), balloons (30 Years: Over The Hill) and a committee-signed card; we ate cake and discussed how to prefect the sabbatical process for next year in the context of the economic woes currently sweeping the prep school community. Home afterwards to another cake, this time a rather dry but good-with-milk chocolate with buttercream frosting from the Greenfield Coop, with cards and a promise of an impending gift-in-the-mail from Darcie's parents, String Cheese Incident's live double-CD Carnival 99 from Virginia, and messages on the answering machine wishing me happy happy happy from Josh and Clay, who couldn't make it.

When she called from the car on the way back from the airport this evening to sing the Happy Birthday song -- the 'rents were on their way back from a trip to Florida to see Lil and dad's parents -- my mother reminded me that my father has always taken his birthday off, too. She didn't mention it, might not remember it, but he used to take my birthday off from work back when I was in elementary school, and, later, my bother and sister's birthdays off, too. Dad would take us anywhere we wanted for our special day; having no sense of driving time or distance at that young age, we usually spent weeks overestimating what was humanly possible and preparing an impossibility, a week's itinerary worth of places and pleasure, but I have fond memories of racing through the suburbs of Boston, full of dim sum, on our way to the Boston Children's Museum or the local arcade. Just Dad and me. Gotta remember to put that on the list of things to do with Willow.

How cool that it's up to me to imitate and thus establish the pattern; how empowering to think that when the baby gets old enough we, too, can skip work/school and spend the day doing whatever she wants. Doing with Willow what my father did with me will let us celebrate our childhoods together. Giving the gift of time to oneself and one's offspring is now officially a family tradition, courtesy of dad and me.

Ah, there it is -- now I don't feel so old anymore. Thanks, Dad. Happy birthday to me...

posted by boyhowdy | 11:13 PM | 0 comments

Over The River, Through The Woods

First you have to be able to see the squat stone pillars at the gate, the long winding drive through the snow-covered trees bent low, the campus opening up before you slowly, houses emerging from the woods, then, suddenly, the tennis courts. You have to be able to understand the way the lights of the campus on the hill glisten through the windowpane air as you drive across the bridge, over the Connecticut, to a fast jazz sax on the radio playing, say, A Night In Tunisia. You have to feel the dark as a tangible thing broken only by lights in the distance and your own cone of headlamp glow and the twin red eyes of Virginia's red Saab's taillights.

I turn thirty tomorrow -- technically today, as it's after midnight. The weight of years grows heavy, and lends a desperate cast to the radio show tonight. We played songs with bounce and groove to stave off melancholy. Interestingly, two of the songs we played this evening were written and performed by people who went to my own prep school, Commonwealth. Evan Dando of Lemonheads fame went there, too, but I don't have any Lemonheads CDs in my collection. I'll give a $10 gift certificate to anyone who can guess which two performers or bands fall into this category off of tonight's Tributary playlist:

Bob Dorough -- Too Much Coffee Man (our theme song)
They Might Be Giants -- No!
Manu Chao -- Me Gustas Tu
Julianna Hatfield -- Hang Down From Heaven
Nirvana -- Polly
Matchbox 20 -- If You're Gone
Phish -- Farmhouse
Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks -- My Cello
Cassandra Wilson -- Drunk As Cooter Brown
The Biscuit Boys -- Coming Into LA
Nickel Creek -- The Fox Went Out
John Gorka -- People My Age
Patty Griffin -- You Never Get What You Want
The Story -- The Perfect Crime
Robbie Fulks -- Never Could
Ani Difranco -- The Poet Game
Iris Dement -- The Train Carrying Jimmy Rogers Home
Keller Williams -- Kidney In A Cooler
Moxy Fruvous -- My Baby Loves A Bunch Of Authors
Billy Bragg and Wilco -- My Flying Saucer
Los Lobos -- That Train Don't Stop Here Anymore
a DJ Harry remix of String Cheese Incident -- Search
Acoustic Syndicate -- Rainbow Rollercoaster
Nikki Boyer -- Brain Damage
Barenaked Ladies -- Great Provider
Suzanne Vega -- Stay Awake
Keller Williams -- Anyhow Anyway

I read selected poems from Poet Laureate Billy Collins' most recent collection Nine Horses on the hour and the half hour; I wasn't sure about his work when my parents gave me the collection for Channukah, but like the new shiny grey hairs starting to pepper my beard, they grow on you.

My father started giving me books of poetry several years ago, after I started showing him my own work, long after I exhausted the poetic professorial resources of Bard College (at that time, avant-garde John Ashbery, American Buddhist Robert Kelly, and experimentalists Joan Retallack and Charles Stein) and Darcie and I dropped out together. For a while, he carried one of my poems in his briefcase; for a while after that, things went sour and I wrote poems I would never show him. He never struck me as the poetry type, but he's made some excellent selections of the years. Several years ago he gave me a Phillip Levine collection and two smuggled cuban cigars for, I think, my birthday. It's hard to picture him in his bathrobe at 3 a.m. reading poems, but somehow easier to see when the poets are Levine and Collins and Pinsky, an unfortunately dying breed of middle-aged white men, the inheritors of a tradition of Anglo-Saxon silences.

From Collins' Consolation:

I will not puzzle over the bill or record in a journal
what I had to eat and how the sun came in the window.
It is enough to climb back into the car

as if it were the great car of English itself
and sounding my loud vernacular horn, speed off
down a road that will never lead to Rome, not even Bologna.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:19 AM | 0 comments

Monday, January 13, 2003

Nothing Cold Can Stay

For a week it's been below freezing. The cold makes it dry. A sharp nasal inhale becomes a painful act, like snorting liquid nitrogen; mouthbreathers suffer sore tonsils and ragged coughs.

It has snowed a little every night, less than an inch each night added to the raised platform that has become the world, three feet above the paved people pathways, and the lack of humidity in the air makes for the dryest snowflakes. They are like the air through which they fall: light on the chill wind, easily picked up again from the packed-ice path to our door. Misleading towers of snow topple when brushed by an errant pantleg to reveal their true selves, swollen with air and not much else. It's the sort of snow that's squeaky when you walk on it, loud enough that one assumes naturally that one's movements can be heard from a long way off.

But the snow dampens sound, muffles footsteps, covers branches from the whip of the wind. Winter's quiet comes with the first snow that stays, and lasts until Spring thaw. It comes from living beings huddled in buildings and nests and undergroung waiting for warmer days; it comes from the lack of places to go. Until then, the world is silent.

Except when walking through it breaks its silence.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:14 AM | 1 comments

Saturday, January 11, 2003

Fine. Be That Way.

I Feel Dirrty, and Flirty, and Briiiiight

I have watched the same two Miller Light commercials over 20 times in the last 24 hours: the same two boyfriends imagining the same two models catfighting; the same rockclimbing guy about to fall off the side of a mountain and his same rockclimbing friend who ridicules his terror in a bar visited subsequently. And the same two minutes of music video coverage: Puffy Coombs and a bunch of bimbos in bikinis and mink coats, Janet Jackson and her entourage, Willa Ford and her skintight short-shorts, Christina Aguilera and her Dirrty red panties. My head swims with crotch shots, I found myself humming songs in the car on the way home I wouldn't be caught dead listening to on the radio, and I can't get the Dirrty backbeat out of my head. And I haven't enjoyed a moment of it.

I spent all day in the media center making copies of the video footage for tomorrow's All School Meeting on Gender and Media. Many, many copies, each different. So we can decide at the last minute which sequence and selection of media texts best serves the planned student panel discussion. Because my pedagogy includes the belief that we can't afford not to teach students how to be literate about their own culture without using the artifacts which they most recognize and identify as of that culture. While the school Chaplain...feels differently.

The challenges of teaching-as-vocation includes the bald fact that your own moral and ethical upbringing, necessarily a factor of your own acculturation and socialization, can never be that of your students. If you want to teach well, without students seeing you as out of touch with their own times and lives, you need to be willing to embrace your own discomfort with what they see as a norm. I think the vast majority of teachers never truly understand why, when they were students, they, too, never felt like their teachers really understood them.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

To get dirrty, dirrty Aguilera out of my head, I scoured the CD collection for something, anything, with banjo or mandolin, but ended up listening to Mano Chao instead. And to calm myself down, I'm actually going to take a page from a site I myself dissed before I found myself unable to do more than blather on and on blog-wise. You want the trivia of daily life? Here, this is what's happening within 18 inches of me right now:

I type on a two year old Compaq Armada E500, provided for me by the school; the screen is about to fall off as the hinges are faulty. The screen glass is quite dirty, as I am prone to eat when working; during the first half of today's entry I consumed a ham and cheese croissant from the local natural foods supermarket, about an inch of leftover egg drop soup, a Pepsi. Above and behind the screen at eye level on the wall beind the bookshelftop on which the laptop rests is a painting of a monkey on its back on a palette staring up at a photograph of an old lady's feet; the monkey's arms are pinned by his sides under his cerulean blanket, and at his waist is a jar of ink. Next to the laptop by my left pinkie finger is a slinky and a thumb piano; by my right hand the Fuji Finepix 601Z, the PalmIII cradle, and the Iomega Zip Drive wait their turn for the USB umbillical cord. I am chewing nicotene gum, and yes I know you're supposed to tuck it between your cheek and gum like chewing tobacco but that doesn't serve the oral fixation. There is a golf pencil which I snagged from the media center this afternoon hidden in my ponytailed redblond hair. I erased this sentence twice before writing it this way. I am wondering, now, what to write next, and squinching up my forehead; when I'm done, there will be a red mark between my eyes from where my flesh knits when I concentrate.

Blogging minutia, as recommended by The Pepys Dcomentation Project folks: It's kind of like having a song stuck in your head.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:30 PM | 0 comments

Friday, January 10, 2003

Gibson's Famous Blog

William Gibson has a blog. Yes, that William Gibson. He started it four days ago, and it's already the talk of the bloggiverse.

Today's entry offers two tidbits: a discussion of panic after the dog eats chocolate, which I can relate to, and some thoughts on fame under the title what to do if you meet me, which I wish I could relate to. At least I'm famous in my own mind.

Scary how the speed at which the news has spread only proves Gibson ever-more-right.

posted by boyhowdy | 4:50 PM | 1 comments

Thursday, January 09, 2003

It's Pronounced peeps

The big thing right now is Samuel Pepys' journal, but I've read pieces of it as it comes online, and I'm not finding it anywhere near as exciting as the hype might suggest. Is it just me, or are a quarter of the blogs I read more interesting than this? Am I missing something? Is this merely a large-scale case of the "it's old, so it must be good" phenomenon?

The folks who run The Pepys Dcomentation Project, a.k.a how to write a blog they'll read in 100 years, think this is a model for immortality. But I think they're using too narrow a set of assumptions in trying to determine what qualities and approaches would make for a blog which will rise above the chaff and remain relevant, a sterling detailed piece of history, for years to come. The authors of the site suggest, among other things, that it was Pepys' attention to detail about the plague, the great fire of london, and the aftermath of the English Civil War as well as the triviality of daily life in another time and place that makes the difference. But for a counter-example, look at Gilgamesh: so old we hardly have any of it left; it is mythos, not trivia-laden fact, yet it's still relevant, read commonly in required freshman college seminars as a way to understand one of the most ancient cultures we know.

Style is, indeed, relevant; good literature needs important silences as much as it needs important words (if not more), and good literature will survive regardless of how concrete it can be about the trivial. And no, this isn't irrelevant; I submit that public writing, most especially the blog, is literature by definition. Even the bad stuff -- it's just bad literature. After Surrealism and Dadism and Post-Modernism, laundry lists can be art as well as artifact. The Cobain Diaries are selling like hotcakes. Reportedly, they're lurid, but hardly oriented towards the detail which the Pepys Dcomentation Project suggests is inherent in immortality. You can't tell me that specificity and timeliness of content is the x-factor which determines immortality or future readership relevance. In fact, I'd suggest that the vast majority of what makes a text historically relevant is cultural, not personal, and thus entirely out of the hands of the author.

Hmph. Need I be such a contrarian all the time? And what the heck does Dcomentation mean?

posted by boyhowdy | 8:27 PM | 0 comments

Do The Mauve Tea Roses Go With The Yellow Ones?

Stopped at the flower and garden shop on the way home today. Roses are expensive in the winter, but Darcie's eminently worth it. She takes care of us; she is my best friend, and I love her very much. And she's learning how to cook the perfect steak. Here's us, newly wed, in warmer and childless days.

The mauve tea roses, by the way, are the strongest-smelling roses I've encountered. Darcie loves 'em. I told her they were from Willow.

posted by boyhowdy | 7:50 PM | 0 comments
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