Archive for October, 2010

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I’m Sorta Vampiric: I Want To Suck Your Blood, But Only To The Surface Of Your Skin Where It Will Leave A Bruise And Let The World Know You Are Mine

October 27, 2010

When other little girls wanted to be ballerina dancers, I kind of wanted to be a vampire.
• Angelina Jolie

I wanted to be a trapeze artist. I loved the shiny, sparkly costumes I wore for ballet and tap recitals and I remember thinking that joining the circus would be a perfect way to continue wearing such loveliness as a grownup. Even when I was small, I knew I wasn’t interested in being a ballerina—it just didn’t seem like fun—its seriousness and the patterned perfection of its movement sucked the joy out of my dancing.

I designed circuswear for myself, crayoning colorfully fanciful outfits of gossamer fabrics bedazzled with jewels. I practiced in a friend’s basement where her father had hung a trapeze from the ceiling. As I swung, head dangling, my fingers almost touched the floor and I can still remember the horror I felt one afternoon when I realized that real trapeze artists’ fingers were far from the solid safety of the circus ring. I did not like heights. I still do not. And I still wonder what I was thinking when I imagined that this was a possible career for me. I must have been blinded by the glittery gleam of sequins and rhinestones.

Some memories of childhood are vivid and easily recalled. Others are lost, but not necessarily forever. Italian poet and novelist Cesare Pavese said that the richness of life lies in memories we have forgotten. I call the things that evoke these forgotten memories evocateurs. It’s difficult to predict what will trigger recollection. Recently, it was an episode of Freaks and Geeks (currently airing on on IFC, the Independent Film Channel, and created by Paul Feig, executive produced by Judd Apatow, first airing on NBC during the 1999-2000 season) that brought back a flood of memories.

In the episode, Sam (John Francis Daley) breaks up with Cindy Sanders (Natasha Melnick), the girl he’s pined over for many episodes. He’s finally become her boyfriend, but their love is not meant to be. She disdains the family heirloom necklace he’s given her (“How much did it cost?” she asks) and doesn’t find the movie he’s taken her to—The Jerk—funny at all. When she leans over in the theatre and gives him a hickey, he doesn’t know what’s happening, but he doesn’t like it. And that’s what let loose the flood of memory.

A hickey. When I was in grade school, I got a Mickey Mouse Club shirt. It was a white cotton turtleneck shirt with short sleeves, just like the one that Annette and the other Mouseketeers wore on the television show. My name was on the front and on the back was the circular MMC logo. I loved that shirt and wore it often, but I retired it when I started high school. Until the first time I got a hickey.

It was summer in southern California, much too hot to wear a high-necked sweater, and I was desperate not to go down to breakfast with my neck providing evidence of the previous night’s passion (tame passion, folks, I was the quintessentially “good girl” back then and my parents were ever vigilant for evidence otherwise). Desperately, I searched through the drawers for something to put on, rejecting scarves tied around my neck as too dressy for a day of babysitting and chores, and finally coming across my old friend. Thank goodness my mother and Aunt Mildred insisted on buying their children just about any kind of apparel in the largest size available so that we’d get plenty of wear from our you’ll-grow-into-it clothes. The extra large still fit. I pulled it on with my shorts and was saved from unpleasant inquiries. I hadn’t thought about that shirt in decades even though I’ve been immersed in memories related to my art exhibit entitled Flaming Youth and think often about adolescence for the courses I teach.

I’m currently doing a bit of vampire research for a paper and presentation I’m working on about the possibility of engaging in serious research about just about anything. This work is entitled, “Tootsie Pops and Toilet Paper, Vampires and Zombies: Reimagining Research through the Engaging and Creative Processes, Projects, and Products of The Collectory,” and another thought evoked by this F&G episode was how the process of the vampire’s bite and the hickey are similar, both marking the receiver as the property of the one who sucks the blood*. The paths of memory are twisted indeed.

Have you recalled a memory recently? If so, what triggered it? Write it down so you won’t forget. If not, spend a bit of time in the fields of remembrance and see what you find.

The existence of forgetting has never been proved. We only know that some things don’t come to mind when we want them.
• Friedrich Nietzsche

* How do you give a hickey? Put your mouth against the side of the the person’s neck as though you are going to kiss it, leaving your mouth slightly open. Then suck the skin into your mouth, causing the blood vessels to break and leaving a red somewhat circular bruise. This is a fairly speedy process. I have no explanation for how to actually suck someone’s blood from their body. You’re on your own for that one.

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Happy Rabbits Farm*—Home Of Rapidly Multiplying Stacks And Shelves Of Books And The Endless Ideas They Inspire, Support, And Challenge

October 24, 2010

Note: I’m publishing this post on Zinnfull, but it can also be found as the first post at a new blog I’ve begun, “Shelf Analysis,” at http://www.autobibliography.wordpress.com/

Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you will have a dozen.
• John Steinbeck

Without sufficient money for a meal I have spent the few pence I possessed to obtain from a library one of Scott’s novels, and, reading it, forgot hunger and cold, and felt myself rich and happy.
• Hans Christian Andersen

I am obsessed by books. They are my greatest indulgence. I seldom go on a trip without buying books. I almost never leave a thrift store without a book or two. Deliver me from the shelves of sell-‘em-for-a-dollar-each library discards. I will take some home. I am endlessly amused, inspired, comforted, educated, delighted, confounded, transported, and overwhelmed by books.

My first collectable was a book. Most of the trouble I got into as a child can be traced to books, whether I was challenging a teacher because of something I’d read, reading the wrong book when I should have been reading something else, reading inappropriate books, or just plain reading: “You always were a little shit,” my stepfather told me not too long ago, “always your nose in a book, and always wanting a ride to the library to get more books.”

I don’t doubt that I was a little shit. I was a smartypants and a smartmouth who hadn’t learned the kinds of discretionary skills that now moderate my smartiness, although I did learn to keep quiet and keep my ideas to myself. This is not necessarily a good skill for students—or children—to develop. Be warned. If you want students of any age to read, you should probably be prepared for them to think and wonder and question. Books are dangerous that way.

In Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg (1926) wrote, “The farm boys in their evenings at Jones’s store in Gentryville talked about how Abe Lincoln was always reading, digging into books, stretching out flat on his stomach in front of the fireplace, studying till midnight and past midnight. . .The next thing Abe would be reading books between the plow handles, it seemed to them.” I grew up in Springfield, Illinois, surrounded by Lincoln lore and learned from a National Park Service brochure that some of the books Lincoln read were Parson Weems’ Life of Washington, Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, Robinson Crusoe, and The Arabian Nights. I wish that Lincoln had been an autobibliographer.**

An autobibliographer tracks her or his reading and revisits these tracks, following the trails that lead to self-understanding. Through “shelf analysis”—the exploration of reading preferences and avoidances—passions and interests are revealed and deeper understanding of personal intellect is possible. Researching your reading choices is one way to begin to know your own mind. As tastes change and mature—or stay the same—these attractions and repulsions continue to be revelatory. I am the same person I was when I collected my first book, and I see in its pages the origins of some of my current reading obsessions.

That first book I collected, Dante’s Inferno, a folio edition with engravings by Gustave Dore depicting the nine circles of hell, began my fascination with the grotesque and gory. Coupled with regular revisitings in Springfield newspapers about the Donner Party and their cannibalistic scandals, as well as the radio spookiness I shared regularly with my grandpa, I grew up loving Cinderella, but loving all kinds of creepy stuff more. I understand why my latest acquisitions include the following from the stacks sitting in the living room waiting to be filed, all of them for Yuckology 101: Vile and Disgusting Literacy Activities for Children of All Ages:

Zombie Haiku by Ryan Mecum (2008). “There’s a lot of them./Enough for us to eat well,/and then keep eating.” (p. 114). Who can resist poetry celebrating the undead? Not me.

The Munsters and the Great Camera Caper by William Johnston (1965). This “Authorized Edition based on the well-known television series” is one of those dandy Whitman Publishing Company shiny-covered books celebrating schlocky TV. It’s chockfull of Munster wisdom like this from Herman, “Things are always darkest before the nightfall. I guess nothing seems as bad in the dark as it did in the daylight” (p. 205).

Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology by Lawrence Weschler (1995). Weschler’s book celebrates the odd and wonder•full and visits David Wilson’s Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles.

Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett (2007). “I get edgy near sharp knives,” Little Mouse writes, while above him, the page informs readers that aichmophobia is the fear of knives and the facing page shows a triumphant farmer’s wife on the front page of the newspaper, holding three mice tails. This participatory children’s book invites readers to record their fears on its pages.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies! A Book of Zombie Christmas Carols by Michael P. Spradlin (2009). Fair warning, “Zombie Claus Is Coming to Town,” and “He eats you when you’re sleeping;/He bites when you’re awake./He chews if you’ve been bad or good,/So just hide for goodness’ sake!” The kids will love singing these.

• And finally, I love black and white artmaking and I get inspiration paging through books of copyright-free images. Mostly this stuff is only available on the internet now and that’s just not the same as looking through books where serendipitous discoveries await. Dover Publication’s (2010) Spiders, Insects and Crustaceans is the latest addition to my collection.

Of course, I bought some cotton candy books too, but since I read five or six of these a week, they don’t really count except to reassure you that it’s not all serious stuff around here.

Consider beginning your own autobibliographical studies. Record the books or magazines or newspaper articles you read or your web searches or other literacy activities. Be sure to date everything and keep track of bibliographical data. In time, revisiting these records is bound to be interesting!

Books are becoming everything to me. If I had at this moment my choice of life I would bury myself in one of those immense libraries that we saw together at the universities, and would never pass a waking hour without a book before me.
• Lord Macaulay

* Because ideas are always blossoming at The House of Stuff, my husband and I call our home Happy Rabbits Farm, home to The Amuseum of Un-Natural History, Keep Smilin’ Music, Dr. Z’s House of Fun, and more.

** For insights into Lincoln’s reading, see Robert Bray’s (Summer 2007), What Abraham Lincoln Read: An Evaluative and Annotated List (Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Vol. 28, No. 2).

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The One Real Object Of Education Is To Have A Person In The Condition Of Continually Asking Questions.*

October 1, 2010

Asking a question is the simplest way of focusing thinking. . .Asking the right question may be the most important part of thinking. • Edward de Bono

It’s the end of the first week of the first quarter of a new academic year where I work, and although I don’t expect anyone is likely to take time to answer all these questions every week, I do hope that you’ll spend some time this weekend thinking about your responsibility for your success in school. (BTW, did you buy your books and read your syllabi and do your assignments for next week?)

The questions that follow are ones I used with reflective journals in a student success course and are meant to be asked weekly, regardless of whether you actually write about them:

• How was your attendance this week? (I am always surprised by students who miss the first week of classes and don’t contact me, showing up week two wanting to be caught up. I’m surprised by this no matter when it happens. Go to class!)

• Did you participate in class? (First impressions matter. If you sit in the back and don’t have any materials and aren’t taking any notes and look as though you’d rather be somewhere else, it will be difficult for me to overcome that first impression of your seriousness of purpose—or lack of it!)

• How much of the assigned reading and other work did you do? (There are often assignments early in the quarter, sometimes they’re even provided electronically before the course begins. At the very least, I suggest getting your textbooks before class and looking through them before the first class session.)

• What was your attitude toward attending class and doing assignments? (This might seem like a “duh” question, but I’ve talked to plenty of students who are choosing to be in school and expending lots of energy griping about that choice. I’m sometimes guilty of this too. It’s never easy to jump back into work after a break!)

• How do you feel about what you accomplished in school this week? (The guilt builds over the course of a term if you’re neglecting what you ought to be doing. It can become overwhelming, particularly when you get behind. It’s much less stressful to stay on track—or even get ahead whenever you can.)

• If each of the following weeks went like this one, how would your term go?

• What could/should you do differently next week?

• What could/should you keep the same?

• Although the primary responsibility for your continued success rests with you, what other people or resources might be helpful to you? (Do you need to visit a learning lab, get a tutor, talk to a professor, join a study group, make adjustments to your work schedule, have a family meeting, set up a schedule with your roommates, or. . . . .?)

• What, if anything, interfered with school this week? (And what are you going to do about it?)

• If you were giving yourself a grade for your effort in school this week, what would it be?

It’s not likely that you will always do your best at everything in your life. It’s impossible to keep up such a pace. You’ll get sick. Your other life responsibilities will temporarily take priority. The unexpected will happen. Count on it. And when it does, the question becomes how quickly you’ll deal with it and get back on track.

What questions should you be asking yourself about your first week in school–or any week in school?

You must constantly ask yourself these questions: Who am I around? What are they doing to me? What have they got me reading? What have they got me saying? Where do they have me going? What do they have me thinking? And most important, what do they have me becoming? Then ask yourself the big question: Is that okay? Your life does not get better by chance; it gets better by change. • Jim Rohn

* Credit for the title quotation goes to Bishop Mandell Creighton.