Category Archives: Introductory

Embarking On Yet Another Forced Creativity Experience

TLTNPM

Happy National Poetry Month! Beginning tomorrow (this is no April Fool’s joke), I will attempt for the second year in a row to participate in the NaPoWriMo challenge of writing a poem a day for the entire month and publishing each poem here on the blog site. I promise, no cheating; I will not be publishing poems I have written earlier, but only those poems I write on each day of April, 2014–the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I remember last year the challenge of squeezing out a poem every day, and squeezing out the time somewhere to get it done, and the rewards and pitfalls of writing fast, off the cuff, without time for revision, sometimes from prompts, sometimes from the mundane events of the day, and often inspired by what I was doing in my classroom. That last bit will prove a challenge this year; in both of the classes I teach we are studying the same material I looked at last year with a different group of students: the Chinese poets of the T’ang Dynasty, and American Romanticism. So, I’ve already got a whole series of poems about these things! Is there more to say? I’m sure I’ll find something! It is a cool coincidence (I swear I didn’t plan it this way) that in both my IB English class and my American Literature class we are studying poetry during National Poetry Month.

If you would like to help with the cause, you can.  Feel free to send me suggestions for poems–subject matter, specific prompts, stylistic guidance, particular forms, special challenges.  I’m up for almost anything, provided it’s not ridiculously hard, e.g. write an epic in 300 numbered quatrains about the Spanish American war entirely in iambic pentameter.  You could also help by reading, commenting, and following, which I appreciate immensely.  Otherwise, wish me luck.  I hope you can check it out, if not every day, every once in a while.

Meanwhile, here’s a couple of cool related items of interest:

A great resource for poetry:  http://www.poets.org

A place to play for free books of poetry:  http://ofkells.blogspot.com

A place to learn about and play the poem a day for a month game:  http://www.napowrimo.net

Cheers!

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Filed under Introductory, Poetry

It’s April: National Poetry Writing Month!

one of William Blake's illustrations of Hell

one of William Blake’s illustrations of Hell

Wasn’t it T.S. Eliot who wrote that April is the cruelest month?  Of course it was;  it’s the first line, and perhaps the most famous line* from The Wasteland.  What’s so cruel about April, T.S. Eliot? He must have known something about National Poetry Writing Month. But there is something considerably less cruel in my estimation (I hope my poet friends are not offended) about NaPoWriMo than there is about the seemingly herculean task of National Novel Writing Month.  Again, poets, forgive me, but a poem a day for 30 days seems so much less cruel, so much more compassionate than the requirement for a novel–60,000 words in a single month, which is kind of, if you work a day job that is not writing novels, like Hell.  So I’m on.  I’m taking the plunge and/or the pledge.  I failed miserably at writing a novel in November, and failed again at revising the novel I didn’t write in January, so I’m going to write a poem a day for the next 30 days of April, and I’m going to post all of them right here.

I’m a fiction writer, primarily, and kind of a closet poet.  I’m not in the closet through any kind of shame about writing poetry, but only because I feel less “educated” about the formal and critical aspects of writing it.  I know a good poem when I see it or hear it because I think I know what good writing looks like and sounds like–but when I look at my own poetry, I have less confidence in determining whether what I have done is a good poem than I do about looking at a piece of my prose and determining its value or worth.  I’m not going to freak myself out.  I’m just going to do the best I can do in the moment and try to do one every day.  Today is April 1.  I’ll post a poem by midnight or my name isn’t Michael Jarmer–and that ain’t no April Fool’s gag.

Notes:

*(because it’s the only one anybody ever reads)**

Notes to the notes:

**I don’t mean that.

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Filed under Introductory, Poetry

Of Being Tired of Writing About Teaching

I think, at least for now, I’ve exhausted my brain and my “pen” regarding teaching, issues of public schooling, educational crisis, education reform. I know I will come back to it. It’s inevitable. But for the time being I feel like anything I have to say now will be a repeat of something I have said earlier and I run the risk of sounding like a broken record. To sum up: teaching hard, class-sizes too big, public schools good, underfunding public schools bad, standardized testing bad, intrinsic motivation good, extrinsic motivation not as good, cell phones bad, closing schools bad, fire bad, Frankenstein good.  See, already in my summing up I have started to drift away from the topic.

So what else is on my mind?  What’s worth blogging about? Feel free to chime in or to cast your vote.

I’m going to stop beginning every one of my blog entry titles with the word “of.” Of is so on or about yesterday. I want to write about writing.  I want to write, in particular, about what to do with my first novel, which is, in this very moment, sitting in a box. I want to write about reading.  I’m excited about the new book by David Shields called How Literature Saved My Life and I think I could write a blog entry or two about how that has been true in my life as well.  Maybe there’s a meditation on a key book or two.  Hell, I might even write a review. I want to write about music.  Maybe I’ll write about what I said I wouldn’t write about, my band and its endeavors.  Hell, I might even write a review of the new They Might Be Giants record, or the new David Bowie (which I do not yet possess), or the new Eels (which I do not yet possess)  Maybe I’ll write about records I would like to possess.

I’m afraid, but I would like to write about religion–and, being afraid, that’s probably the sign that I should write about religion.

You get the picture.  It’s time to transition.  It’s time for a change-up.  It’s time for a new conversation.  I don’t know if this is true or not, that topic consistency might be a selling point for a blog site, the thing that makes people keep coming back, but I think I’m going to risk losing a reader here and there in order to sufficiently entertain my own bad self.  I hope you all stay along for the ride.

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Filed under Education, Introductory, Publishing, Teaching, Writing and Reading

Of Of and On

What’s it about. What’s the subject. Why no question marks. One could perhaps ad an of or an on to any title and the title would still function properly. Check this out: Of The Great Gatsby. Of Shades of Grey. It would not work so well, though, if one’s title begins with a preposition, if it already begins with an of or an on. Of Of Mice and Men doesn’t sound good and makes little sense—unless one is writing ABOUT Of Mice and Men, in which case about would be a better choice, albeit pedestrian. What ABOUT Of Mice and Men? “Of Steinbeck’s Use of Fuzzy Rabbits in Of Mice and Men.” That’s much better.

Why am I writing about this? I am writing about this because I have been reading Michel de Montaigne, the French writer from the 16th century who pretty much invented the essay form, coined the term to describe this animal, and who, more significantly perhaps, and more germane to my crazy blog title, began every single one of his essay titles with the word of: “Of Cannibals,” “Of Drunkenness,” “Of Smells,” “Of Thumbs,” “Of Sorrows,” “Of Liars,” “Of Fear,” “Of Sleep,” “Of Names,” “Of Three Good Women,” of etc.

So I had an idea that I would try this out—this of and on way of beginning, and I thought that, too, I would solicit of_____ titles from readers, students, friends, and I’d come up with my own list—so that I would never be at a loss for something to write of, on, or about.

What would be the nature of these babies, these “Of_____” essays? They would be short, highly improvisational meditations on a variety of subjects, and they would serve the purpose of stretching my thinker, broadening my range of subject matter, teaching me something about something, experimenting with mind, rediscovering my inner Montaigne, and postponing my fiction writing. And for you, dear reader, they would provide some free-form thought theater.

So what do you say? Would you like to help? Give me an assignment, a word, a verb or a noun, a phrase, a writer, a book, a day, an artist, a poem, a song, a band, an animal, a plant, a film—and I will do my best; verily, I’ll do my best. You can bet though, I’m going to cut myself some slack, in that if I receive and choose an of or on topic for which I am woefully unqualified to speak, I will approach it any way that I can. And that may or may not be satisfying to the originator of the topic, but I hope it will at least be of some entertainment or educational value to the general reader.

Ready? I will put all suggestions into a hat or a bag or a bucket, and when I am so inclined, hopefully with some regularity, I will draw a title and begin to write.

Game on. Or, game of.

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Filed under Introductory, Writing and Reading

Monster Talk Prologue: Of the Children of Monsters

Wherein Michael Jarmer reads the two epigraphs and the prologue from his novel, Monster Talk; wherein he struggles with the natural lighting, producing an unintentional but potentially appropriate ghostliness; wherein he informs us once again where one could procure a copy of his wonderful new novel; after which, he wonders whether or not video readings are distracting, whether or not it would be more effective if performances like these were audio only, hopes that readers, listeners, and viewers of his blog might weigh in on the issue. 

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Filed under Introductory, Writing and Reading

The Inaugural Video Blog

Wherein Michael Jarmer introduces himself, his novel, and the purpose of this particular blog medium; wherein Michael Jarmer learns about video recording himself, where to look, for example, where to place the microphone, how everything on the screen is the opposite of where it is in the room; and finally, wherein Michael Jarmer demonstrates rudimentary proficiency in video blogging.  Please let him know if you are interested in video performance/readings from Monster Talk.

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Filed under Introductory, Writing and Reading

Try Again, Fail Again, Fail Better

The following is the prologue for a work in progress about—you guessed it—teaching. It may become a real book some day, I hope, or, at the very least, a series of related blog entries.

Prologue

Imagine, it’s August, and I am in the last few days, minutes, and moments of what we call in the field of education, the summer break. I have four week days and a weekend, plus what remains of this day, a Monday, in which to do all of the things I have not yet been able to do, more of the things I have been doing and would like to do more of, and some things I’m sure I do not want to do, like anything related to going back to work, like planning, or work in general, like painting the house. And yet, here I am at my laptop, about to begin writing about WORK, or about teaching, probably in order to avoid planning or painting. I have wanted to write about my life as a teacher for many years now. I have written about it in a number of ways, in fits and starts, off and on since I began in this career twenty some years ago. I’ve got a lot to say about that twenty years but what I have been searching for over the last five or six years in which I have been actively thinking about a book, is a form, a way of speaking, a kind of writing, an appropriate vehicle for what I have experienced and learned and for some god awful reason feel compelled to share with others. I’ve written some fiction about teaching. I’ve written a number of poems about it. I’ve written op-ed pieces for the edification of my colleagues. I’ve written memos. As I write this, though, I still don’t know what my book will look like. I know what I don’t want to do. I don’t want to write a book for teachers about how to be better teachers. I don’t know the first thing about that. I don’t want to write a book for students about how to be better students. I know a little bit about that but I think it would be didactic and boring. I want to write about what I’ve experienced and what I’ve come to believe about all things educational with a general reader in mind, involved in education or not, one who cares about what teaching and learning is like in an American Suburban High School, one who has concerns about the way education is or is not shaping up in this milieu, one who thinks it’s important to think and talk about these things, a reader who has a head on her shoulders (though she does not have to be a woman), one who simply wants to go on a little exploratory ramble through the heart and mind of one who is, as they say, in the trenches. I guess this is a kind of memoir, or a manifesto, or right now, a blog series. You’re welcome to join me.

Twenty years is a long time. But who’s counting? Ten years ago, I thought no way in Hell would I be doing this same work for another twenty years until I retired. Ten years fly by and I’m two-thirds of the way there, and I’m thinking, wow, that was fast, and twenty years doesn’t seem like such a long time anymore. I could blink right now and when I opened my eyes I’d be 55. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not counting. And I’m not ready to be 55. And I enjoy this work. It’s rewarding. It feels, for the most part, like a good use of my skills and my time on the planet. I’ve flirted with the idea of teaching college students because I thought that that might be a better fit for me, and I’ve flirted with the idea of other careers, both fantasies that are mainstays from my youth, those of being a professional writer and a professional musician. I say fantasies, not because I think those things may never happen for me, but because they are dreams, quasi-practical vocations, extremely compelling hobbies, ones I plan never to give up on and ones at which I still believe I stand a chance of attaining some success. But if I do, like I say I do, enjoy the work of a high school teacher, why all this flirting, then, with college kids and writing and music? I’ll tell you why. Public high school teaching is difficult work. And herein lies the general thesis for the book, or the blog series, on which I am embarking, and of which you are probably reading this minute, god bless you.

While I read them and am inspired by them to a certain degree, I am tired of books written by people who know all the answers, who have a “thing going on,” who pretend to have a great number of issues figured out. Maybe I’m just jealous: I don’t know any of the answers, I don’t have a “thing going on,” I have a number of issues figured out that I could count with two-fifths of the fingers on one of my hands. My feeling has been, no matter how solid their research and how impressive their credentials or how brilliant their ideas, they’re always writing about and recommending something that is just outside the realm of possibility. Why is that? Again, because the work is difficult and the answers to our problems and our prayers, if we pray, that come to us in these manifestos written by Education Professors are not entirely practical in the everyday real life of teachers. We can only flirt with these things, experiment enough to make us dangerous, implement enough to make minute differences in the lives of our students or in the tenor of our classrooms, but not enough to make substantive changes in our field. I understand that reform in education moves at the pace of evolution, almost, you know, like it has taken us almost 4.5 billion years to question the standardized test.

So, here’s what I plan to do. I plan to talk about the difficulty of this work. I plan to describe the fundamental facts of the life of a high school teacher, the facts that make substantive reform and change nearly impossible. But the last thing I want is a piss-fest. I love my work and I hate it. I want, through the course of writing this book or these blogs, to figure out how to love teaching more, how to love it better, how the work might look if we could make substantive changes, what those changes might be; I want to figure these things out, even if, ultimately, this means only that in the end I simply find ways of failing better.

Let’s begin, shall we?

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Filed under Introductory, Teaching