Wednesday, August 31, 2011


A few days ago I talked about not writing for the entire summer.  It really did not bother me that i had not written anything until I got to this end of summer and looked back with nothing to show for it.  I am not saying I wasted my summer, nor will I ever say the time I spend away from writing was wasted, but I am annoyed with myself now, looking back.

I am not going to lament the poems I could have written, you cannot miss what you never had; a cliche which does have some teach in several realms.  Nor am I going to beat myself up.  Instead, I am going to talk about getting back into the act of writing. 

Last night I came up with a line.  I wrote it in my notebook, and just now I did a little fiddling and tried to develop it into something more.  Well, it fizzled and pooped out on me.  The line went nowhere and the partial draft died a quick, painless death.  The more I write, meaning the more years I devote to my art, the one thankful constant is my ever growing ability to recognize crap I write.  I have for years talked about the fact that I often cannot tell what is good and what is bad writing on my part.  Well, that is only half true.  If a poem meets my minimum threshold, then it's one of my babies and very little can be done to dissuade me from backing it up 100%.  On the other hand, if the poem was like today's effort, then I can smell the stench from miles away.

But that's not the entire point, is it?  There's always more.  The practice of writing is just as important as the finished product, and if today's draft has taught me anything, it is that the worst of my sins is actually allowing myself to get out of the habit of writing.  This, I am certain you already knew.  Hell, even I already knew it.  It's just that if I can't write a poem then perhaps I can write about the writing of a poem, and that, like reading or lively discussion of craft, can be considered practice.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Out there on the Facebooks and the blogs and the Internets I have been seeing a lot of people asking me what I have been reading this summer or letting me know what they have been reading these past few months.  I have to wonder if this is some kind of trick question.  Are these people trying to get me admit something they think I don't want to admit?  I just don't know.

I will say this:  What I have been reading, with the exception of The Odyssey, has been hit and miss.  I have bought a lot of poetry books and only some of them have been really good enough for me to want to go back and read again in the future.  Some have been so bad as to make me wonder why I bought them in the first place.

You see, I take recommendations seriously, and perhaps I am a bit naive when it comes to that.  I will buy a book for all sorts of reasons.  I will buy a friend's book in a heartbeat, and I am very happy to look back and see most of my friends (read blogger/writer acquaintances) have delivered the goods.  I will buy a book at the suggestion from one of the writers I know, and for the most part I have been pleased.  I will even buy a book based upon an interview I read, and I seem to be a little less successful here but not enough to quit.

Where I get myself into trouble is when I buy a book based upon people gushing an endless stream of hyperbolic praise.  And even though I tend to do that very thing on my blog when I review a book, I really need to hold back my impulse to buy without a little more investigation because I am really beginning to notice the burn marks from all the times i have been unhappy with a purchase.

Having said all of that I think the best I can ever say to anyone is to be a patron for the arts and damn the torpedoes.  Yes, I have bought more than a few stinkers in my day, but as Collin Kelley has said so well, most 'quality' questions in poetry can be attributed to taste.  What's more, I am one to talk.  I have been incredibly lucky with three chapbooks and one full length collection to my name so far.  My next full length collection is making the rounds right now and I have to tell you it will most likely be out there for a long tome yet, seeing I am not the sort of poet who gels with the contest system.  In fact, that may have to change if I want a real shot, the way the publishing world is going.  That is, unless anyone of you wants to just up and publish my book because you think I am that awesome.  Anyone?  Nope.  Didn't think so.

So while I think it's interesting to ask what everyone has been reading, I hope you all will forgive me if I sit this round out.  And maybe, just maybe, the better question to ask is, "What books did you buy?" or, "What presses have you been supporting?"

Saturday, August 27, 2011

It's about time

Romans 14:22

So it's finally come to this.  I am probably going to be your weekend blogger for a while, considering that when I get home from school I am not really in the mood to blog and things are only going to get busier---though I may have some built in down time at school, waiting for students to come to me and ask for assistance with on-line courses.  But that's not really what this post is about.

I have not written a poem in months.  When the summer began, I had a head full of steam to sit down and write poetry.  I had a head start on my third manuscript with a series of poems based in the early years of my home town's history.  I was going to write and start putting together the framework to that third manuscript, and it was going to be a labor of love, a return to a more familiar voice, and a real project.  I had envisioned it in toto, and while it was going to be far from an organic thing, it was gong to be the book which would introduce my more mature, controlled voice.  But to steal from S.E. Hinton, that was then and this is now.

August 27, 2011 finds me on the other side of summer without a single phrase added to the poems I started the season with, and I don't like that one bit.  I know I have dry spells and I have come to live with that.  I am not entirely angry about that.  Upset, maybe, but not angry.  I am bothered that my best artistic work is never the art I conceive of in the whole.  I m frustrated that when I make that particular attempt, almost everything I write is mediocre.  I am saddened that I have to wait for inspiration to come my way rather than find my own way into creativity.

You see, I am really good when it comes to writing prompts and workshops.  Give me a prompt and my mind races to see what I can create something very entertaining and artistically satisfying.  Otherwise I am a prisoner to the whims of my muse, some lonesome hitchhiker with his thumb out, waiting for the occasional ride.  Put me in a room alone and if the stars aren't lined up, I may as well be one of Shakespeare's monkeys on day one trying to write Hamlet.

It's time for me to write again, so if you are out there, dear sweet muse, please pay me a visit.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Talkin' First Day of High School Walking Blues

So today was day one for me.  It was the first day of school and I gotta say it was kind of strange to be back in the classroom . . .

I'm sitting in the living room drinking my Diet Coke, my wife is in the kitchen cooking up Fettuccine Alfredo, I'm listening to Loudon Wainwright III, and writing my blog.

Day one starts off always the same.  Seating chart so I can learn the names, passing out books and syllabi, making bad jokes and talking about what to expect from the class.  This year I'm teaching world history to sophomores, British Lit to seniors and Honors English to the uninitiated . . .

I'm sitting in the living room drinking my Diet Coke, my wife is in the kitchen cooking up fettuccine alfredo, I'm listening to Seu Jorge, and writing my blog.

Every year they tweak the expectations, both from the high school administration, and from the district office. This year we have a new principal, vice-principal, and progressive discipline plan.  The Junior high ain't got enough teachers and the high school is short a shop teacher and a full time English teacher . . .

I'm sitting in the living room drinking my Diet Coke, my wife is in the kitchen cooking up fettuccine alfredo, I'm listening to Neil Young, and writing my blog.

So I told my stupid jokes and got a few laughs.  I invited all my students to come along for the ride, and I think I got somewhere today.  I know I got a long way to go but I hope a few will still be with my by the time the year comes to an end and that would be something, after all, to be proud of as I walk home . . .

I'm sitting in the living room drinking my Diet Coke, my wife is in the kitchen cooking up fettuccine alfredo, I'm listening to Bon Iver, and writing my blog.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hobble Creek Review

Hey Everyone!

The submissions for our special Bill Kloefkorn issue have started to roll in for Hobble Creek Review, and I am thrilled!  In addition to poems in memory of William Kloefkorn, we are accepting regular submissions. The only real criteria, as always, is that the poems kick some ass, so please consider submitting even if you have not ever been affected by the poetry of Bill Kloefkorn.

If you can, please pass on word to others you think might be interested in submitting.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Is this what we do?

I only have a few minutes here, but I really want to say I am, for the time being, a little more than pissed off at the business of poetry.  Do I expect everyone to fall all over themselves to try and help me with my efforts as a poet?  No, I truly do not.  However, when I have been trying to support the poets and presses I know by buying their books,  promoting said poets and presses by telling people about my good finds(and certainly helping out by not saying anything if the book turns out to be a dud for me) only to get the cold shoulder most places I turn to, it gets a little frustrating.  I have spoken about this on my old blog, and I know I said I wanted to be more positive on this blog, but I am a little pissed at the lack of kindness in the poetry business world.  I don't expect everyone to buy my book, but I would like a little courtesy and civility, especially from those who know my record for trying to be a voice within this community for positive interaction, and outside of the poetry world trying to get people to take a look at what's going on inside of our little world. 

Some of you out there, and you know who you are, need to readjust your attitudes because we as a group don't have the best track record with the general public and the answer is unity, not self-serving, back-biting selfishness and greed!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Back to school

Today is the first day back for teachers.  Today marks the beginning of my 13th year in the district.  I think I need to seriously consider whether this whole "teaching thing" is for me.  The further I go into teaching the less likely it is that I will become that which I most desire:  Insect Wrangler for the movie Industry.  A lot of people say with the advent of cgi my dream is a bit unrealistic, but I say where there is passion there is a means to succeed.  However, I do sometimes wonder if my willingness to work only with the Box Elder Bug will limit my ability to make a living in Hollywood.  Oh well, it worked for Bill Holm.

Time to go.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hollow Earth Reading

I just got back last night from an extended visit to Utah.  The purpose for going back to Utah was two fold. The first was a reunion of sorts for my wife's circle of friends, and the second was my reading at the Hollow Earth Conspiracy launch on Saturday.  I am here no to give a report on the latter, though both events were a lot of fun.

The evening was filled with visual art, performance art, and music.  A lot of people came to see what was going on in the two rooms which were set up for the event.  Alternating between rooms, different performances by musicians, dancers, actors, and performance artists were taking place all of the time.  One room featured the art of Ike Bushman and a sculpture of ice blocks acting as counterweights to each other.  The other room featured photography by Jason Jensen.

I went on at 9 pm, and I was very pleased with the response I was given to my poems.  I started off by reading a short poem by Dave Lee which celebrates the idea of friendship and collaboration.  I then read poems of mine which were inspired by other poets or other genres of art.  I read for about 25 minutes and had a really good time.  The audience laughed where I hoped they would laugh, and I think for the most part they stayed with me and all of my poems.

I really did experience a buzz.  It was the first reading I have done in five years, and I have to say I did better than I thought I was going to do considering the length of time it has been since my last reading.

What's better is that I actually got to see an old friend from high school.  He showed up as a guest of one of the coordinators and I saw him and got really excited.  We talked for a while and then mingled, talked some more before and after my reading, and then he wrote a very flattering note on my Facebook profile.

After my reading came some really great music by a band called, Death by Deathray.  I really got a kick out of their music and I am looking forward to getting some for my permanent collection.

I have to tell you the entire evening was a great success, and I was able to met some pretty great people.  I hope I can have another chance to read for them because I would love it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Poetry Reading: Be Back in a Week

In a few hours I will be off for the last little summer fling I can allow for myself before heading back into the classroom.  I am going back into Utah for the express purpose of doing a reading at the Hollow Earth Conspiracy launch.  I will be reading poetry and discussing the idea that art begets art, how creativity and creation promotes the same in others.  As such, I have selected some of my poetry which has been inspired by various art forms.  I am going to be reading poems which have been inspired by paintings, songs, comic books, films, and other poems---even origami.  I have been given about 20-25 minutes, right in the middle of the event, which makes me hope I don't drive people away.

Why else should I be nervous?  This will be the first time I have read my poetry in public in about six years, and I will only know three or four people at the event.  On the other hand, it is nice to be thought of in this context as a hired gun of sorts.

* * *

We are leaving early as to attend a sort of reunion of my wife's friends.  When I started dating her I was adopted into this group of friends and they are for the most part pretty creative and intelligent people.  I am the oldest person in the group, and my wife is about the youngest, which creates an interesting dynamic.  We used to get together all of the time, but as happens with young Mormons, families start to grow and people move.  For a while, we did this 4th of July thing, but even that got to be too difficult to coordinate on a yearly basis, so now we are all catch-as-you-can about getting together.  Facebook is both a good and bad thing.  As it stands, not too many of us feel a need (or at least that's my impression) because talking to somebody is just a message away, and saying something to everyone is just a post away.  But it's happening tomorrow, and Becky and I are excited.  Now if we can just convince our 17 year old to keep his moth shut.  He fancies himself a computer expert, and this group are predominantly experts in the field who have probably forgotten more about computers than my son has learned.

* * *

Here are two poems I plan to read later this week:

Prelude to a Letter to my Ex-Lover

My therapist tells me I should write you a letter
explaining all the wonderful things I have
become without you, all the things I could never
have done if I was still caught beneath your spell.

He tells me I need to liberate myself, tell the world how
you were my last and greatest disaster.  He tells me
I should create a list of words, each one
describing how I feel about our sordid past.

He says, Give yourself a way to contextualize
her nuclear bomb to your Nevada test grounds,
her politician to your naive voter, her dung beetle
to your ball of dung. I am not so sure.

Whenever I think of you, everything that was wrong
simply fades away. I can't help but imagine myself
as exoskeleton to your soft scorpion center;
my pompadour to your best Elvis impression.

After hours of trying to break away from you, it's all
I can do to stop myself from widening my scope, thinking
how I could once again be oceanographer to your ocean,
spend the rest of my life exploring your contours.

But then, after all the backpedaling and excuses, I return
to my senses; admit the ugly truth.  You have always been
the flame which sets my orchard on fire.  You will always be
the tiny spark to my hydrogen filled Hindenburg. 

Why My Wife Wants Me to Quit The League of Justice

It's no use hiding behind the door when Superman
comes knocking at 3 a.m. asking for the power tools
he thinks I borrowed. He's drunk again, this time
on more than power. Somehow he's convinced
I've had his lawnmower for more than a month.

But: A) He has me confused with Aqua Man
and B) it's the middle of the goddamned night. I think
it has more to do with the night I saw Lois Lane
flirting with Agent Liberty and didn't say anything,
but that was while we all thought Superman was dead.

When I let him in, he's pacing the floor telling me
how I owe him some sort of loyalty, how The League
is more important than any one of us. Suddenly
he's a frat boy, all bro's before ho's, and he deserves
to know if his woman has the eye for someone else.

It doesn't take my Name That Tune super power
to know Superman is a bully, how he lords over us
minor heroes that nobody want to draw our life stories
in the comics, or to know he gets off on the drama.
For Christ's sake, I've got to teach a class tomorrow.

As I get back into bed wondering whether my neighbors
saw a drunk Superman banging on my door screaming,
potentially blowing my secret identity, my wife turns over,
reminds me that I was the one who said it would be
too expensive and not worth the hassle to install lead walls.

* * *

Sunday, August 7, 2011

How do they do it?

 I am doing a lot of researching for presses because I am looking for possible places to send my poetry manuscript, Sailing this Nameless Ship.  While finding a press can be exciting, I know pretty soon if a press is not for me.  I think one can always tell quite soon, but that light turning on isn't what gets me thinking.  It's reading some of the author biographies presses create for their authors.

I was just at a press I won't ever be submitting to, and I was curious about some of their authors.  I followed a few links and did a little poking around.  What I started to wonder is how some of these poet seem to present such a calm, cool persona.  I just don't know how they do it.  Everything from the words to the author photos gave me pause.

Now I don't hang my head when I tell people I am a poet, but those of you who have known me a while know I tend to freak out a lot.  I have found some peace with who I am as a poet, but I am not quite there.  Still, I get freaked out at the magnitude of the whole PR thing some poets and some presses can manage.  I may have an exaggerated sense of modesty, but I read some of these bio's and write-ups and I don't see authenticity---I see manufactured facades.  I don't see real people, I see ego.

The truly weird thing is that I see most of this in poets who are mid-career---somewhere in the 3-6 book range.  Most of the really established "name" poets you think of as being leaders in American poetry have that quiet sense of confidence I really like.  It makes me think that at some point, a lot of poets see a need to make some kind of shift in what or who or how they present themselves to the world and make the the decision to go towards the slick presentation and away from authenticity.

So I ask, how do they do that?  It's not that I fault them for wanting a really great looking portrait or to emphasize the things they are proud of accomplishing. It's just that after a while it gets to be a bit much.  I guess I just prefer the simpler, rougher, not so polished personas---the poets who aren't afraid to let the reader see something human.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Compassion: The Long Way Around.

Sometimes I wonder where the compassion has gone.  Not the kind you see while watching television, where some disembodied voice is asking people for money to rehabilitate the lives of abandoned pets, but the kind of compassion we should have for each other as human beings.  I can't help but link my wonder to my growing political voice.  I wish I could ignore my wonder, but I can no longer avoid my curiosity.  I am compelled to ask myself the question, and I am driven to ask other people the same questions.
            I wasn't always like this.  I am a history teacher and I used to pride myself on being able to keep my politics to myself and I could dodge all of the difficult questions of politics like a prize fighter.  "Where do you stand on gay marriage, Mr. Evans?"  Side step to the left.  "Do you think abortion is okay?"  Shuffle to the right.  "Hey, Mr. Evans.  Do you believe in the death penalty?"  A little two step backwards.  Part of my ability to avoid these questions came from my starting my teaching career as a liberal in Utah.  If you couldn't mask your liberalism in Utah for at least the first five years of your teaching career, until you were a few years past tenure, you could kiss your career goodbye.  Having grown up in Utah, I could do it, and I did it for a little while.  However, when I moved to Nevada, I started to notice I had a level of freedom previously unknown to me.  When students asked me what I believed it was not a litmus test.  They really wanted to know.
            Still, I tried to maintain some sense of privacy in my politics.  I know it sounds strange for  history teacher to refrain from at least sharing what side of the issues I stood, but I still wanted a sense of balance and fair play in my classroom.  I wanted (and still want) every student to feel as if he or she can safely express legitimate political opinions in my classroom.  It's just that I use to think that in order for that to happen, I had to curb my own tongue.  I no longer believe that, and I hope you will stick around long enough for me to explain why.
            I was pretty happy as a teacher, trying to get people to speak their mind, but soon after I arrived in Nevada I noticed I needed to step in to the discussion.  You see, I came to teach in a small border town which is entirely sustained by the gambling industry.  In this town the Hispanic population is approximately 80% and only the truly naive would think everyone in this town had legal resident status.  So, the first question I was faced with was the question of illegal immigration.  Did I have an opinion?  I quite honestly did not have that strong of an opinion when I arrived.  What I knew was this:  I liked my students Hispanic or Caucasian and it made little difference who was which.  I saw the kinds of jobs these families had in the casinos, and I knew how fortunate I was to have graduated from college and tart my career as a teacher.  Who was I to tell someone they should not be allowed to come to this nation and try to find a better life?  For those of you who cannot imagine what I am talking about, put this image in your mind:  Cleaning vomit off of the bathroom floors, serving drunk and rude customers on a daily basis, and putting up with blatant patronizing racism is all worth the risk of being an illegal immigrant simply because you are getting $7.50 an hour.
            Because the population is primarily Hispanic, that means the population is primarily Catholic.  That's right.  I said it.  Most of my students being Catholic, abortion and the death penalty were the next questions I got.  And while I think abortion is wrong, I would never stand in the way of someone having one because it is a matter of being legal.  But because my students were for the most part Catholic, there were always several young girls coming to school pregnant and hopeless.  Now do I turn my back on them because they made a mistake or do I show compassion? 
            What about the death penalty?  One of my contradictions as a liberal is that I am in favor of the death penalty in some cases.  It's difficult to explain sometimes, but the quickest and easiest way I can explain it is how Dennis Miller once put it.  "Sometimes you have done something so terrible, you deserve to have your membership card in the human race revoked.  It's about punishment, not about revenge.  However, I will be revisiting this in a few minutes, so hang on to that one for a little while.
            So what else happened?  To be blunt, George W. Bush was elected President of the United States.  Well, let's be honest.  The Supreme Court appointed him President for his first term and he won his second term because Democrats could not find anyone for people to vote for, and when you can only say "anyone but him" then you are always going to lose.  George Bush became President and the idea of compassion left our national vocabulary. 
            Of course President Bush had help.  Dick Cheney and Karl Rove helped.  The terrorist attacks on September 11th helped, too.  They gave the political right an excuse to take away legal rights and insert a heightened sense of fear into the American Public's consciousness.  The more we were made to be afraid, the more we became rude and insensitive.  No, not the craven PC crap of the early 1990's, just the simple ideas held within our Constitution, the ideas of establishing justice and promoting the general welfare.  Suddenly, reality tv was teaching us to be terrible people and to ignore the plight of the everyday working person in favor of grabbing up everything in sight and hoarding it away.  America became greedy and selfish.  When the bottom dropped out of the economy, we had no way of reverting to being kind and considerate, and look at us now.
            Now we have hyper aggravation.  With President Obama in the Whitehouse, there are so many people running around scared that you would think it was the second coming of Malcolm X.  Well, maybe not that, but what's the old joke?  White people haven't been this upset since M*A*S*H* went off the air.       Unfortunately, it goes even further.  It's as if people have forgotten what it's like to be truly in need in America.  Democrats, who normally should be fighting the good fight in helping sustain and assist the working poor are too busy being Kevin Bacon in Animal House.  The GOP whacks them in the ass with a paddle and all they can say is, "Thank you sir.  May I have another?"  And you know the GOP and Tea Party are more than willing to oblige.
            This is where I decided to step in.  With my students genuinely scared for the futures of their families, I literally felt obligated to step in on my own and tell my students how I felt about things, that the world did not have to stay the festering shit hole my students were convinced it was becoming.  I needed to let them know there are people out in the world who are concerned, think there needs to be a shift to the left, and are actively trying to make that change happen.  It's not about hope or anything as abstract about that.  It's about standing up and saying something honest and genuine, and I could not be honest any longer to my students or myself without starting to say what I felt.  It's not a lot, but it's what I can do with my limited influence.
            So back to my original question and why I even started writing all of this.  Where is the compassion?  Where is your compassion?   As a history teacher I always like letting my students know this little factoid:  There were societies in the United States to protect animals from cruelty before there was any kind of child protective service or agency.  In a nation whose all consuming political focus is now placed on the debt crisis, why is it so hard to remember that the preamble of our Constitution calls for justice and promoting the general welfare of our citizenry?  I have been quite vocal here and in my classroom when it comes to issues like gay rights, and I have tried to approach a lot of difficult issues for my students, exposing my thinking and how it relates to being compassionate.
            Now, there is  place where the rubber meets the road for all of us, and this is mine.  One of my students was brutally murdered towards the end of the 2010-2011 school year.  She was sixteen years old and two of my other students have been charged with her murder.  In a small town such as the one where I live, there is not a resident who has not been affected.  Where is my compassion?  You know where this is going.  Do I think the two accused people, if found guilty, should face the death penalty?  Well, do I?  I have already gone on at length so I will try to be brief on this point.  I do not think the accused should face the death penalty, but not for the reasons you might think.  I think the best thing is to be finished with all of what has been going on.  I think the most compassionate thing is to sentence them to life imprisonment so there will not be the endless train of appeals and technicalities which accompany the system.  It may not be the most popular opinion in this town, but it's mine, and it would be wrong for me to avoid answering the question in favor of being politic.  

To hell with it. I'm a Pinko Socialist!

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
(bold added, of course)

* * *

This isn't a surprise to some of you, but I think it best I clear the air and let everyone know the more and more I see the incredible greed of the GOP, the insanity of the TEA Party, and the ineffective Valium-laced inactivity of the DNC, I really think I need to be a socialist.

First off, I do not define $250K/year as wealthy, but I do know it's a number I will never earn in my lifetime, which means there are entirely too many people who simply don't make enough to even call themselves comfortable.  The other day I posted a video of Matt Damon defending teachers.  In the video, he goes on to talk about the need for wealthy people and his willingness to pay higher taxes.  Even before I saw that video yesterday, I have been asking myself some very real questions about this nation's wealthy population.

When the GOP and Tea Party explain taxes, they make it sound like the wealthy have to surrender that 36% of their income, never to get any back.  What garbage!  Everyone complying with the laws of this land files a tax return and is entitled to deductions.  If you are in the wealthiest 3% of this nation and you don't have a good accountant and tax lawyer, then you don't deserve ANY of your money, let alone the millions you are hoarding.  The real issue at hand is that 3% increase.  With the wealthy still getting all of their loopholes, deferments, and deductions, they will be getting about 3-5% less money back from the government than they were with the Bush tax cuts.  Yet with record high debt, unemployment, foreclosures, social security, and Medicare  at risk, the GOP and TEA Party have tried to make that 3% increase the worst sin an American could commit.

And what are the wealthy doing with that extra money?  Are they the job creating force the GOP claims them to be?  No. Well, that's not entirely correct.

From an article in today's New York Times: "Nordstrom has a waiting list for a Chanel sequined tweed coat with a $9,010 price. Neiman Marcus has sold out in almost every size of Christian Louboutin 'Bianca' platform pumps, at $775 a pair. Mercedes-Benz said it sold more cars last month in the United States than it had in any July in five years."

 So the wealthy are creating jobs, just not American jobs.  Thanks a lot, Job Creators.

What makes me more angry than that is how the GOP and Tea Party have forgotten about the bolded clauses of the U.S. Constitution's Preamble at the top of this post.  Justice.  Welfare.  These are abstract nouns but they are not impossible to define. 

What's even more irritating is the Democrats aren't doing anything about it.  For the past two and a half year they have done nothing but to successively shoot themselves in the foot, day after day.  I have spoken about how the GOP needs to get the TEA party in hand or it will be the destruction of their entire party.  However, I am now inclined to believe that if the Dems don't grow a pair, they will self destruct. 

 Henry Adams was right:

"We have a single system.  In that system the only question is the price at which the proletariat is to be bought and sold, the bread and circuses."

Stop the world.  I want to get off.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Teacher Rant: Incentive Pay

I want to talk for a few minutes about teaching, seeing that the school year is about to get going.  If you are unaccustomed to my little rants, you should be forewarned I get a little testy, so continue at your own risk.

In the above video, the young girl interviewing Matt Damon tries to get him to agree that incentive pay for teachers is a good thing.  I am certain it was part of a documentary or feature aimed at explaining that celebrity and conservative thinker alike believe teachers should think incentive pay is a marvelous way of paying teachers and should have no reservations against said policy.

The interviewer's premise is that as an actor, Matt Damon wants to get work and get paid more money.  As such, it is in his best interest to work harder and become a better actor.  The result of course is that as a better actor he will get hired more, be in more films, and get more money.  Thankfully, Matt Damon rejects her premise.  He does so on two fronts.  First he says that he isn't an actor to get a lot of money.  Secondly, he tells the interviewer that she is contextualizing the question from the limited perspective of capitalism.

This is where I start in.  Matt Damon is 100% correct.  People who think my motivation for teaching is rooted in so-called easy money really have no understanding of what teachers do or what teaching really is.  My desire to teach comes from a love of interacting with others on a critical thinking level which cannot be matched in any other job field.  I am utterly in love with the tiny little moments of epiphany and self actualization I see when teaching English and history.  I have a strong sense of justice and I want to see people who would normally not have an even chance at learning succeed.  I want them to feel what it is to succeed, integrate a concept, and grow curious.  I can't get those things in the business world.  I could be a lawyer, but that involves working with people who have already made up their minds.  I want more in my heart and mind, and I don't mind so much that I don't get as much in my wallet.

What do I get in return for being a teacher?  I get about 10 weeks off each summer (and by the way I would love to teach year-round school if it was the option given to me) to depressurize myself from all of the emotional baggage that comes with dealing with teenagers for 180 days in a classroom setting.  I am okay with the burdens of teaching like the potshots I get from non teachers, the over-used joke that those who can, do and those who can't, teach.  I even put up with disgruntled parents who think I have something personal against their little ray of sunshine.  You know why?  Because I know most people simply don't know what they are talking about, because aside from their stint as a student, the only thing classroom related most people ever take away from education (other than abiding belief they know everything that is wrong with education) is the rock-solid knowledge they themselves never want to be a teacher.

My wife has been saying this for years and I think it's about the best way to put it:  "Teachers should not be forced to adhere to the incentive based pay-scale because our children are not products.  Even to call them students creates an inaccurate dynamic.  If we could predict with certainty what they are going to do, then the term student might be apt, but we cannot.  They are human and there is no way to predict what the end result will be."

Amen.  We cannot look at teaching as if it was a business or quantitative end sum endeavor.  Education is simply the opposite.  People should be looking at education as programming.  Not programming with general knowledge and a set number of formulas to be tested on a proficiency exam at the end of twelve years, but programming in the sense of an operating system.  We cannot predict who a person may become and we shouldn't try.  I see my priority as a teacher to get my kids to think critically.  To have a base of knowledge, yes, but use that base as a null hypothesis to check against what he or she will encounter down the road.  Listen, I would love to be able to get 25 kids in my classroom, show them how to do something once and have it stick.  I could cover the entire curriculum if that was they way it worked.  I could teach how to organize an essay once, or I could show them how to compare two opposing ideas such as Locke and Hobbes' view on government and then move on, confident in the knowledge all 25 know how to do those things in the future.  But there is a reason I have to do those things over and over, that teaching history has to be more than having my classes read from the textbook.  It's because I have to accommodate 25 different ways of interpreting the information, and again, that is necessary because I am not dealing with products being assembled, I am dealing with people.    Another reason why comparing kids to end-result products is absurd:Because everyone in that room is at different stages of cognitive ability, maturity, and physiological wiring.

My pay should not be incentive based because my real incentive is actually to get my classes to think critically and very few politicians are interested in supporting evaluations which accurately measure that skill.  Too many politicians (and unfortunately regular citizens) seem to think public education is a failure.  I see it as one of the greatest success stories in American history.  Millions of Americans who might normally not have access to an education have instead gone on to great things because they were afforded the dignity in the premise that everyone deserves the opportunity to receive an education.  Not only is it a boon to the economy for people to be educated, it is healthier, which creates a boost in the standard of living across the spectrum.

And lest we forget---many of the people who are decrying our public education system, the same ones who think they know how to fix it all by adjusting one component in the equation, are products of public education.  If their critical thinking skills are up to the standard and their ideas are sound, then why was the public education system good enough for them but not the kids who are in the system now?  Why are teacher unions now worse than thirty years ago?  Why are teachers now suddenly greedy and soulless?  What has changed? Have the teachers changed?  No.  Teachers have long been on the low end of the professional spectrum when it comes to pay and respectability.  Is it the kids?  No.  For centuries the older generations have been complaining about the lazy minds of the younger generation---written records dating back to Ancient Greece bear this out.  So what is it?

What do I think?  I think the answer has something to do with the instant gratification we have grown accustomed to in the past few decades.

The education system doesn't work in it's current state?  It must be the teachers because I don't want to do anything about it myself.

Think about this:  If you want the answer to a question now, you go on the internet and look it up.  Do you need to think it through?  No.  You just look it up.  If you can't find the answer within five minutes, you e-mail somebody and they will have the answer.  This does two things.  One, you get lazy and trying to solve problems like education becomes a one variable problem.  It must be the teacher.  But it does something far more dangerous. It gives the illusion that learning isn't a big deal, what teachers do in facilitating skills and knowledge is becoming outdated.  If you think the end sum of an education is trivia and rote information, then why do you need a teacher?  Why do you kids need a teacher?

Teachers must be in it for the money and they are just being lazy.

No, it didn't start with the internet, but it has become more fashionable to vilify teachers since the advent of the internet.  Well, stop it.  Education in the U.S. is messed up, but I will tell you now that to think teachers are the problem because we don't want incentive based pay, then you are simply an idiot.

One last thought: if incentive based pay was the law of the land, then I would be in fear of my life, because I would be making more than $80,000/year.  I am just that good!

Monday, August 1, 2011

I know it's irrational

But there are certain things I am missing right now.

1.  I am missing being in the army.  Specifically my time in Germany.  I had a really great time when I was in the army, stationed in Germany, and I miss it.  I know I can't get those times back, but I am really jones-ing for some bratwurst and gyro, the barracks in Schweinfurt and Bad Kissingen, Germany.

2.  I am missing being involved with community and/or college theater.  It has been over 15 years since I have been able to be in a live play, and right now I would give almost anything to rehearse with friends and perform in a play as an actor.

Now, if I could only buy some bratwurst, audition and get a part in a community production of a play being performed in a U.S. military community, I would be so thrilled!

Gentle Reminder: William Kloefkorn Issue of Hobble Creek Review

This is just a gentle reminder that today marks the beginning of Hobble Creek Review's submission window.  We will be taking submissions for our issue in general, as well as the section we are making in honor of the late William "Bill" Kloefkorn.

Here is part of the e-mail I sent out describing what we are looking for:

In consideration of William Kloefkorn's tremendous influence, a part of issue 14 of Hobble Creek Review  will be devoted to him and his memory. If you have been impacted by Bill's work, or had the good fortune to know/work with Bill personally, please consider submitting a poem to this upcoming issue. Along with your submission, please include a narrative summarizing your relationship with Bill, his work, or perhaps the impact he had upon you as a writer.  Some of these narratives will be included with the poems published.

Also, please consider passing along this notice to other poets and writers who themselves might be interested in submitting to this special issue.  Submissions will be accepted beginning  August 1st, 2011 and continue until September 15th, 2011.

Thank you all so much!