Category Archives: Politics

Diary of an English Teacher in His Penultimate Year, Redux: When is a Frog Just a Frog?

jpg_Cartoon-Frog-Word

So the school year, thus far, is cooking right along. I like my 9th graders. And that’s no little thing to say. For the most part, they are positive, respectful, willing, and mostly ready for prime time. There are some exceptions, of course, as always, and, of the three groups of 9th graders in my charge, one of those groups is proving to be more of a challenge. Let’s just say, there’s lots of energy in the room, and a lot of that energy isn’t moving in the direction I’d like it to go. But there doesn’t seem to be a single mean soul in the lot. That’s huge. In other good news, I’m hosting an intern from Lewis and Clark College this year. He seems like a great guy and he’s turning me on to a bunch of new music. We’re playing records together during our prep period and as kids come into class. Today’s selection: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard with the Mile High Club.

But the beginning of the school year has not been without it’s drama and difficulty. First, some teachers are dealing with some extreme class sizes. I have social studies colleagues, in particular, who are dealing with upwards of 40 kids in a classroom, one class in a physical space that was designed to house 25 students safely. A math teacher colleague had to teach one of her groups in the lecture hall. She since has experienced some relief. I don’t know if my social studies colleagues are being similarly relieved. Additionally, there were some safety issues: on the very first day of the school year, there was a fight between two brothers that broke out in the cafeteria (I think). In the second week of school there was a lockout. No drill. A lockout. This means that there was the potential of a threat outside of the school building. Business as usual, except for that all the exterior doors are locked and the teachers lock the classroom doors. That lasted ten or fifteen minutes before the all-clear. But again, during a lockout everything just keeps percolating as usual except for the locked doors. And then, a bit of controversy: Pepe the Frog made an appearance at the first assembly in a slideshow promoting a Monday Meme dress-up day for Homecoming.

I’m not a huge purveyor of the meme cultural phenomena. Vaguely, I remember in weeks or months past, hearing or reading on my periphery about the use of this particular image of Pepe the Frog in association with hate speech practitioners and alt-right conspiracy theorists. But it was not, as you might say, on my front burner. I saw the frog (just the frog) on the slide promoting Monday Meme Day and it struck not a single alarming chord. And yet, on Monday of this week, our Leadership Teacher came on the intercom to offer to the entire staff and student body a sincere apology for using the image in the assembly as she reiterated our school policy against hate speech or hate symbolism of any kind and toward tolerance and acceptance for all. Along with this was an admonition to students NOT to sport the infamous frog in any way, shape, or form.

Okay. The announcement came while I had my seniors in the classroom. Most of them seemed incensed, totally taken aback with what seemed to them to be the wild notion that a simple cartoon frog could be a symbol of racism and hatred. They all seemed to understand that that was not its original purpose. It was as if none of them had been aware of the appropriation. Any graphic, any cartoon, any meme can be, and probably has been misappropriated by someone, they said. Consider the recent Thomas the Tank Engine picture where the trains are all wearing KKK hoods. They seemed not to have any inkling that this frog image, somehow, inexplicably, had been used in this way to the extent that it had, any more so than Thomas the Tank Engine. Out of curiosity, today, I asked my 9th graders if any of them had awareness that Pepe had recently become a staple image of various hate groups. A handful of kids were aware–surprisingly, a greater number of 9th graders than in that particular 12th grade group. The upperclassmen in charge of the slide show to begin with also claimed to have NO awareness of how the frog had turned somewhat evil in recent years. Fine. To the kids in my 12th grade and 9th grade classes who were dismissive of the significance and the seriousness of the announcement, I would like to have said: just because you’re not aware of its use as a hate symbol does not mean that it has not been used that way. And it’s possible that you simply do not understand how often and to what extent it has been appropriated. And once a symbol has been appropriated towards evil uses, if that use is pervasive enough, the original intent be damned (right?), it’s now a hate symbol and cannot be tolerated. After all, it made the list of hate symbols curated by the Anti-Defamation League.

This was my first thinking on the subject. But then, I’ve been thinking about it some more. Would we ban an image, any image, of Charlie Brown, say, if enough white supremacists and nazi sympathizers had mutated it or co-opted it for their evil purposes? Would it then be that ANY image of Charlie Brown, whether it contained a racist, sexist, homophobic message or not, should be banned from public spaces and especially in schools? That sounds ridiculous to me. In part, because it’s Charlie f-ing Brown. How is Pepe, who was originally drawn as a kind of chill-dude-feel-good frog, any different? Has his image moved beyond the point where we are able to even ask: what’s the intent? what’s the message? Is Pepe on the same level now as the swastika? It seems preposterous to think that somehow Pepe is now on that same level. One of my colleagues was talking about the insidious way the frog, just the frog, can be a kind of code between evil like-minds. I don’t know, man. I am decidedly undecided. All I can do right now is ask the questions. My understanding (and it might be an incomplete understanding) is that teachers, not offended students, brought to our Leadership Teacher’s attention the association of the frog with hate speech. To my knowledge, no student at that assembly was shocked by the frog. Does that even matter? Our job, precarious as it may seem, may be to protect even the one kid in a thousand who was offended or threatened but too frightened to speak up. Meanwhile, it seems clear to me: Pepe as a nazi is bad; Pepe as original green frog? The very picture of innocuous. Whereas: swastika? Always bad. At this time, this is the best I can do.

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Education, Politics, Teaching

Mindfulness in 2017: A Reflection

Here’s the new year’s resolution I made two years ago for 2016:

I resolve in 2016 to be more mindful, to find opportunities daily for meditation practice, and to seek out a community, some companionship on the journey.

This resolution was a resounding success. I found myself a community that still meets two years later (we met this morning, in fact), I established a regular practice of daily meditation, and I felt at the end of the year better than I had in a very long while about my secularly spiritual self. So here’s how I repurposed the same resolution for 2017:

. . . my 2017 resolution is mostly a continuation of the one I wrote in 2016, because primarily, unlike most resolutions, it was successful, and, so they say, success breeds success. What I would add, perhaps, is that with the continuation of this work, I might find more specific transformations are possible, personally, creatively, professionally, and politically.

So let’s see how we did! Call up the meditation stats, Bob! So funny, this idea of a kind of meditation score! Three sentences in a row ending in exclamation points.

I spent 83 hours and 11 minutes this year in meditation.

My daily average is 18 minutes, but some of my sessions, especially the ones I spend with my group, clock in at about 2 hours–and that happens on an almost bi-weekly occasion.

My best run of consecutive days with a single session: 121, up from 83 the previous year.

And check out this lovely and enormous graph of my overall improvement in a meditative practice since 2014:

Cool, huh? Nearly epic.

So, I don’t have a graphic for this, or statistics of any kind, but I want to reflect a little bit about the 2017 addendum to the 2016 new year’s resolution. Was I able this last year to find more specific transformations, personally, creatively, professionally, and politically? Let’s be honest, shall we?

Personally: For all intents and purposes, I am the same dude in essentials I was at the beginning of the year. I’ve got some demons that I’ve been unable to shake. Some bad habit energy. Some anger issues. I allow things under my skin. I find myself especially frustrated by shit I can’t control. As both of my parents are gone now, I find I have become them in some of these ways. I have failed this year repeatedly as a teacher, a parent, and a husband. These failures are punctuation marks, mind you, and not the entire sentence–so I’m thankful for that. But the ways I have of failing tend to be habitual, patterns of which I am fully aware but seem sometimes powerless to change. So, I guess I would say that personally, whatever that means, I have not transformed in any specific way.

However, just today, at our lovely group meditation session, our guy Scott Duvall led us through a cleansing of the year. We smudged up 2017 good and proper with some sage burning. We walked backwards through the year collecting all of our regrets, mistakes, hurts, transgressions, obstacles, and we put all that stuff imaginatively into buckets. We forgave all that bullshit perpetrated by others towards us and by us towards others. In my head I could envision how, at work with my students and with colleagues, at home with the fam, I could create new and better ways of being. I could see it. If you can see it, I understand, the possibility of a like manifestation in the world increases a thousandfold. It could be argued, then, my personal transformation started peaking its way through in the last hours of this crazy year. A big thank you to Scott Duvall and this incredible community he has nurtured.

Creatively: I wrote a book of poems! I continue to blog! I feel that each time I write something new, something new happens within–tiny little transformations in the intellect and in the heart. I’m still sitting on and procrastinating a revision on a short novel–but I have a good feeling I’ll be able to wrap that up in the new year.

Professionally: Serendipitously, but also intentionally, my professional life and spiritual life have come together at the beginning of a new journey. After October’s Gateway Retreat from The Center for Courage and Renewal, I applied and then was accepted into a facilitator training program for Courage Work–a description of which can be found in earlier blog entries. If I retire in 2019, this could be my new vocation. If I don’t retire in 2019, somehow this will become part of my work with my school and my district. This is about as specific as a transformation can be. Transformation into Formation. That’s a private little in-joke that I think I’ll just go ahead and leave there.

Politically: I cannot and will not hide my antipathy toward the new administration. It’s abominable, embarrassing, dangerous, potentially disastrous. I have never been a political activist. My activism tends to be quiet, subtle, but infused in everything I do. My poetry, my teaching–in the way I work and the material I choose, my musical endeavors, my meditative practice, and this blog–even when those things are not overtly political–are all in direct opposition to our current political climate and leadership. I like to think that in some ways the small work that I do in these arenas is sending out little sneaker waves that will in turn combine forces with all the other sneaker waves and will eventually make 2018 the year we all figure out our collective political shit. I have faith, and faith is not a word I use very often, that somehow the universe will course correct.

So the resolution for 2018 is just more of the above, only better. Do more of that, but better. Even if it’s failure. Fail again. Fail better.

Tonight, for the first time in a long, dark time it seems, I will ring in the new year with my very best, most beloved friends. Do likewise. Happy New Year. With gratitude and love, cheers.

3 Comments

Filed under Politics, Self Reflection

#241: Stones

kidney_anatomy2

What I thought was Donald Trump
turned out to be kidney stones.
I did the research, and among the
listed causes for stones, Trump
was nowhere to be found. Stress,
however, can indirectly lead to
poor health choices that might
lead to stones. I admit, I am stressed,
have spent more time worrying
about the fate of our nation
than I ever have, and believe me,
I have worried before about
the fate of our nation. Regardless
of what caused these little fuckers,
the fact remains that I have stones
and that I cannot think of a better
metaphor right now for the Trump
presidency. Oh, let me count the ways.
They can’t pass soon enough.
While they are passing, the pain
can be excruciating. They can
transform reality. They require
attention but no easy fix. Essentially,
one must try to flush them out.
One has to catch them in order
to discover what they’re made of,
and once caught, they must be
fought, minimized, blasted,
reduced, until they are so small,
they slip right out without notice
into the toilet or a stainless steal
strainer. Ultimately, as I am beginning to
understand, stones must be impeached,
the sooner the better.

1 Comment

Filed under Poetry, Politics

#24o: Afterinaugurationmath

radiohead___1984_by_onimatrix

The day after my media fast,
I binged on media,
mostly on pictures and stories
of women,
women holding signs
saying things like,
You can’t have my rights,
I’m using them;
This is my resisting
bitch face;
So bad, even introverts
are here;
 I came here to
knit sweaters and punch

nazis and I’m all out
of yarn; and a couple
of my favorites:
a portrait of Bernie Sanders
holding a kitty, how real men
grab pussy, and Sir Ian McKellen
holding a simple portrait of Captain Picard
doing the I-can’t-believe-this-shit
palm-to-the-face move.
And the math was staggering:
3.3 million people estimated in 500
demonstrations across the nation.
And the aftermath was staggering:
Kelley Ann Conway insisting on
the validity of alternative facts
and that Spicer dude saying
that the Trump administration
has a right to disagree with facts, and,
finally, two days after the biggest
march in United States history,
in large part about the rights
of women, Trump signed an
anti-abortion executive order.
I guess he didn’t get the message.
And every day since
has been a train wreck.
I went home from work today
with a stomach ache unlike
most stomach aches I’ve ever had,
not more painful, but placed differently,
gnawing in an unfamiliar way,
and I actually entertained the thought
and real possibility that the first
six days of the Trump presidency
are making me sick.
These are dark times indeed
and I know Orwell is not
necessarily rolling in his grave,
but taunting us from down there.
I hear him shouting, 2 plus 2 is 5.
I told you so. I told you so.

6 Comments

Filed under Poetry, Politics

#239: 24 Hours, No Facebook, No News Redux (Inauguration Day, 2017)

radio-silence-L-M8qvlZ

It’s inauguration day and I have once again sworn off
Facebook and any internet news or television media
for 24 hours. All I know is that my son watched
the thing in his 5th grade classroom today
and he said some kids and his teacher
were crying. He and a friend, he said, were
angry and felt that no one understood.
I heard a teacher in my building say that
the inaugural address was more of the same
and if that’s an accurate assessment
apparently I did not miss a thing.
My pledge to abstain from the news is
simply an effort not to give any attention
to this man who is not and never will be my guy.
And it’s disingenuous to say he deserves
a chance. He’s had tons of those and blew them all.
It’s disingenuous to say, this is how it is and
it’s your country after all so buck up and get in.
I believe the more patriotic move is to resist
what in no possible light could be considered good
or just or wise or anything noble and high,
anything other than an embarrassment.
What I am missing, I assume, is the good
news about the spreading resistance.
And why wouldn’t I want to see that?
To be honest, I do, I really do want to see that
and it’s very difficult not to climb on board
the media wagon to view the spectacle of this
historic refusal in marches taking place today
and tomorrow and the next day all over the land.
I can always catch up and I know that I will.
To stay away today, to have been completely
present for my students, and for this poem,
to be reflective without the images and the audio
and the punditry of the day, makes it possible,
perhaps, for me to sit with it in solitude
and to prove that it is finally possible to look away,
at least temporarily, until I understand better
what is most needed and how I can be there
in some meaningful way.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Poetry, Politics

#229: Sore Loser Angry White Guy

unknown

I am
a sore loser
angry white guy.
I’m sore, yeah,
not because my candidate
lost, but because THIS guy
won. And I’m angry, not
because the guy that won
was not my candidate,
but because THIS particular guy
is an inarticulate, stupid,
immoral, ignorant, sexist,
racist, homophobic, bullying
man-baby.
And never before
in my adult lifetime,
in all the other elections in which
my candidate didn’t win,
could the winning guy
be accurately described this way,
as an inarticulate, stupid,
immoral, ignorant, sexist,
racist, homophobic, bullying
man-baby. Not even George W.
fits the entirety of this description,
before now, likely the worst president
our nation has ever seen.
Yeah, I’m sore and I’m angry
because this guys scares the shit
out of me and I can’t believe we live
under a system in which a guy like this
is a possible president, let alone
the Elect, let alone the real deal
come January 2017, despite the fact
that his opponent won the popular vote
by about 2 million citizens. Apparently,
President of the United States of America
is a job you can do with zero qualification,
because he has zero qualification, unless
being an inarticulate, stupid,
immoral, ignorant, sexist,
racist, homophobic, bullying
man-baby is now the job description
of the leader of the free world.
This is how democracy “works”?
I fear that this is how democracy
eats itself. No, he’s not my president.
Even after he’s officially inaugurated,
anyone of good conscience must be able
to say, no, he’s not my president, again, not
because our candidate lost, but because this guy is,
as I have said, an inarticulate, stupid,
immoral, ignorant, sexist,
racist, homophobic, bullying
man-baby. Sure, call me a sore loser
angry white guy. I’ll own that one
for now, until I can figure out how
to channel this pain and anger into
something that might mitigate or
even possibly help reverse what I can’t help
but feel is my country’s impending doom.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Poetry, Politics

#228: On the Day After the Election

is

Having wept myself to sleep the night before,
I got up and went to work in the school house
where we met in small teams in the library
to plan or do curriculum work or talk about
assessments, where instead I chose to color
with crayons at the table our new librarian
set up for art. It was the only thing I could do.
I colored inside the lines with several different
shades of blue and some pink here and there
while I tried to keep myself together.
Talking to anyone, to any friendly face,
I had to work hard not to break down.

I was thankful when students arrived inside
my room. They gave me a focus, a place to
channel my energies, an opportunity to make
some kind of difference. My 9th graders,
unusually subdued and cooperative, dove with
some enthusiasm into a Sherman Alexie novel,
a novel about race, culture, and class divide,
but a novel, too, about hope. Arnold Spirit Jr.
realizes it feels good to help others, and I could
feel that thought resonating inside the room.
Later, my seniors came in for a study of
A Room of One’s Own, and rather than talk and
have to face the reality of this particular irony
head on, I asked my students to make art,
to talk about what was going on in Virginia
Woolf’s head by drawing it on the page.
Students must have paused for a long time
at the passage about the cat without a tail,
the cat pausing, “as if it too questioned the
universe,” as Woolf realizes that, suddenly,

“Everything was
different”
and
“Nothing was changed”
and yet, “the change was there”
not in substance but in sound.
What did men hum before the election?
What did women hum before the election?
And now what, after?
We carry on. We cling to hope.
We agitate and advocate for what we know is good.
We color, and we do what I found today
to be most healthful, finding comfort in
kindness from others and the kind attention
I could give, a hug I received from my son,
and solace in the words on the page.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, Education, Poetry, Politics, Teaching, Writing and Reading