Monthly Archives: January 2006

The End Was Nigh

Just when we could actually believe there could be a pull-out of Iraq as recently promised, this tape is released. Bin Laden knows his enemy and knows that if he suggests Bush pull out, well, by golly, even though that was the plan, well, now we’ve got to stay and fight. I’d say bin Laden is using his reverse psychology on a guy who is easily fooled twice. “You fool me once, … shame on…me. Fool…me…twice… … …You can’ can’t fool me twice!”

Here’s the BBC’s story.

And The Guardian’s.

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Celebrity Magnetism

So my school seems to be a celebrity magnet lately. For the past few days, we have received an announcement that there would be a “surprise” assembly on Thursday, at a school with no shortage of assemblies (not at all like a public school). So we all piled into the auditorium just like any other Thursday, but instead of only hearing a few announcements, we also got filmclip. Finally David Strathairn stepped out onto the stage! Earlier in the school year, we took the entire upper school to see “Good Night, and Good Luck”. Strathairn plays Edward R. Murrow in that flic. It was very cool to have him come. He talked a bit abut doing film, staying true to a character, particularly when the character was once a real person. We also talked a bit about Murrow. When he first came out, he kept telling the kids just how lucky they are. He’s absolutely right. It was my exact thought as I realized who the guest must be. The students at my school are exposed to all sorts of great opportunities. I can’t say I was exposed to anywhere near as much great talent and art that they are. But I also have to add, as a faculty member there, I’m pretty lucky. I also was not exposed to this much talent teaching in the public system that I used to. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy the public school. I did, and very much. But I am lucky to be at this school, too — authors, artists, actors, researchers, former generals and presidential candidates, social theorists, etc. There are some pretty exciting things going on at my school. (Remind me of this the next time I am wildly stressed out grading 50,000 essays.) Privilege carries responsibilities indeed, but it is also something good to savor and appreciate.

So That’s Why I have to Write Letters of Recommendation!!!

I was on the “New Yorker’s” site looking for interesting essays to use for my Creative Writing class, something hip and new, and I came across this interesting article about the evolving (at one time) admissions process for getting into Harvard and the other ivy leagues. As it turns out, the reasons I get swamped with requests for letters of recommendation every fall is because Harvard admissions folks were anti-semetic. Thanks, you snotty-snotpantses. It’s actually a really interesting read.

Tim O’Brien at my School

So Tim O’Brien’s visit has come and gone. I had dinner with him Thursday night. I like the way that sounds like it was just the two of us, but it wasn’t. The class that studied him all semester was his primary companion, and the few of us teachers were mainly onlookers. But it was great to see him interact with the kids. We were also privy to a bit more of what he had to say, interesting answers to poignant questions. Basically we had more time.

He spent the entire next day at the school. We had a morning assembly where he delivered what was basically this address. When I talked to kids afterwards and they found this address on the net, many were pretty disappointed that he did not “bother” to come up with something new for them. I understand their feelings, and yet it is a lot expect that someone will personalize an address to a group of strangers. Regardless of whether it had been delivered previously or not, I really liked his talk. I loved his answers to the kids’ questions. And even though he often said he was side-stepping answering them, he usually got right at the heart of the questions with the best possible answer. His answers tended to be grey, and often that’s his whole point in his writing: truth exists in the shades of grey. The only negative point was when he said that you never find out the “answer” in the novel In the Lake of the Woods. Due to my ridiculous planning, I had not had my juniors complete the novel before he came. They were roughly 1/4 through the novel, so he more or less ruined it for them. Again, that’s not truly his fault.

In the evening, there was a faculty (and area teachers) dinner and reading. After the dinner, I got my chance to chat with him. He’s from Minnesota, and I really wanted to know how he felt being from Minnesota impacted his writing, though I never got the chance to directly ask him that. Many of his pieces are at least partially set in Minnesota. Clearly it affects him. He currently lives in Austin, TX, where my sister lives. I asked him if he’d take a package down there and he was obliging. We chatted a bit about Worthington, his hometown, and the Twin Cities. I told him I once spent a night in Worthington. He was shocked — asked what the hell I was doing in Worthington. I told him that my boyfriend’s grandmother had a house in Worthington, and we stayed for the weekend. He asked, “Wasn’t it boring?” in the kind of tone that means the responder should agree. I told him that since I hadn’t been from there, I thought it was quaint. I told him I didn’t remember much, that all I really remembered was that it was in a valley. He said that it’s not in a valley, that it is very flat. At about that moment, I figured I might have made a mistake. And I just looked it up on Google Maps, and it is 3.5 hours from Minneapolis. The place we went to, I think it was only an hour or so. My memory doesn’t serve me so well, so if anyone knows James Kraling, ask him for me where his grandmother’s house was — where we spent the weekend about, oh, ten years ago. It’s funny what memory does. I always imagine coming into the little town, which was quite rural, but had a “quaint” little town center, a Main St. with a pizza place — I imagine coming down into a valley from the side of a cliff. Well, a cliff is to steep, but in my memory we dive into a valley from up high. But I think I get that mixed up with a description I read in a novel a long time ago. The novel is Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo, and it has the beautiful and detailed description of the protagonist entering this “ghost” town (the town is literally inhabited by ghosts — if I recall correctly). And again, if I recall, there is a description of him entering on a winding path into a valley town. SO the image I have very well may be a fictitious image created partially by reality, a novel, and my own soft, brain tissue.

It’s funny how memory works like that. I have this very distinct memory of being around 4. We had our relatives at our house, aunt, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc. I had already gone to bed, but I got up and came downstairs to the living room where everyone was, talking and laughing. I sat down on the carpet in front of my Aunt Pat, sitting with my legs in that upside-down W shape, and proceeded to pee on the carpet. Here’s the thing, I was in a crowded room, yet no one else remembers this. I most likely made it up, yet it is one of my most vivid childhood memories, complete with colors and sounds.

Nonetheless, O’Brien and I chatted about Macalester College, St. Paul, The Hungry Mind Bookstore that is no more, the Macalester Chapel where all the Hungry Mind readings were held, etc. I told him about my lovely neighborhood in MPLS, the cockroaches, etc. And then after the reading, when I got my book signed, he remembered my name. I felt special. I get very star-struck by authors. I really do.

His reading was also very good, though he was really tired. He read “A Letter to my Son” which caused him to break into almost tears. Then he read a piece from his latest novel July, July, which was also very good. Overall, it was a great event. Now my juniors are Deep into In the Lake of the Woods and I think they are getting a bit O’Brien’d out. This is the third text they’ve read by him this year. It is also a challenging and confusing text. Hopefully it will soon strike them.

My Lag and Romney’s Assininity

I know, I haven’t posted in a bit. My life had become insanely hectic (and I swear I have a few hour reprieve right now) with grading, comment writing, and doing end of semester work. Plus Sujal and I wee doing a wedding planning marathon, though it seems like we have accomplished little. I did lots of good work doing my grades and comments, and I am happy with the effort I put in. Alas, now I have one of those nasty teacher colds.

And to think about what nasty Mitt Romney said about us at an MLK Day tribute breakfast:

“Sad to say that the teachers union and their supporters will fight these answers [how to solve problems with the achievement gap between white and minority students] with every tool they have…They will distort and deprive, they will torture and twist, but don’t forget, to them, it’s first about compensation and jobs. To you, it’s about kids and their future.”

I heard that on WFCR on my way to work (and to get coffee) on Tuesday morning. It made me so angry. I taught in that state for five years, and it pains me that I quasi-served under him in some capacity. No one ever questions doctors’ concern over compensation and jobs. And then to be most timely, as I told a class of mine that I once managed a record store at the Mall of America, yes our nation’s largest mall and some of my darkest days, they siad they thought managing a record store must have been cool. They asked why I quit to take a job as a secretary, and I said the pay was bad, one student aptly questioned, “Then why did you become a teacher?” after which he quickly apologized. I was hardly offended (by the truth), and it just further illustrated how OFF Romney is. NO ONE TEACHES FOR THE MONEY!!! I am not saying we teachers are paupers necessarily, though some are, but we are not paid handsomely. Fact. And boy is it a fact in Massachusetts.

Wedding Page Update

We’ve updated the wedding page with airport and travel info. And I’ve added B&B info and updated some of the other categories.

Accommodation List Update

I’ve updated our Wedding Page.

Many of the places that rent weekly are filling up, so I have been trying to stay on top of what remains available. Most of the links below should be available. You might want to ask if they are being held by the Shah or Hojnicki wedding group. When you have booked a place, please email one of us to let us know where you are staying. We’d really appreciate it. We are getting so excited!!!!!

Re: places that rent for the night — I’m not sure how fast they are filling up, but I’d try to make reservations ASAP, because it is a very busy time of year in July.

Tim O’Brien

Tim O’Brien (a slightly bizarre website that claims to be his homepage, yet fairly comprehensive) will be visiting the school I teach at next week. I’m really excited to “meet” him. I say “meet” — because it’s really about the kids, not us snotty know-it-all teachers. I usually teach (this being my second year at the school and all) In the Lake of the Woods, which I will still do, but the entire school is reading The Things They Carried. It’s been awhile since I read the book, and it has been an emotional experience rereading it. I love the way when one reads a novel at one point in his or her life, the perspective changes when reading it at another stage in life. Perspective maybe isn’t the best word I’m looking for, and yet it seems the most apt. I think the other layer I mean is one’s understanding changes, which of course goes with perspective. I recall reading the novel when I lived in Minneapolis (this is a picture I could find of my neighborhood — a great little diner). I took a writing class at The Loft called “The Novel in Stories”. We read several novels that were written as a series of short stories, and that was probably my favorite of them.

Reading it the other day, it all came back to me — the anger that I felt, the disbelief at him throwing the word “cooze” around, not that I even necessarily knew its exact meaning, but the context was hateful enough. And I remember questioning what I was reading, then thinking I “got” it, then thinking over its hateful ambiguity. I went through those stages again. One of my students hinted at that he felt the tone was superior: You cannot possibly understand unless you’ve been there. I recall getting that same inpression when I first read it, and I think that’s what got my blood boilonmg the second time around to some degree (no pun intended). And then I think about it. I believe there are things in life one cannot truly comprehend unless one experiences it. I can imagine fighting in the Vietnam War is easily one of those events. Part of my issue with the text (when I first read it, and then as I was rereading it) is its exclusion of women. Now, women were mainly excluded from the war, but I think it’s his use of the word “cooze” — it has such hatred. Then I reread the chapter “The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” and it no longer excludes women. And I think I recall softening, being disarmed (wow — I’m just letting them roll!) by it. Perhaps I do not see the novel any differently at all. Perhaps I have no significantly greater understanding, but it is the act of reading that is fleeting, ephemeral. We read something and bits stay with us, but in the moment it is all so vivid, a variety of concepts in the forefront of our minds all at once. Reading good writing is such a sensual experience, and since he provides such a sensual experience, I really like his work. I also love that he plays with truth and subjectivity. I was recently called a “fiction writer” — though I haven’t written any in a really long time, because I’d said that I think that fiction gets much closer to truth than non-fiction does. I do not claim this as an original thought, but I do believe it. I think O’Brien is also a proponent of this school of thought. Black and whites are seriously rare. The world is shades of grey, and it it tough to get at the heart. “How to Tell a True War Story” is so awful to read — the cruelty and violence to the animal — to “learn” that it’s not real — whether it is or not is unimportant — it’s the concept — the extreme cruelty of which we are capable — it is all horrific to read, and then the reader realizes that it’s no matter what the fictional victim is or who it is, it happened somewhere and somehow.

Enough. More after I “meet” him. Did I ever mention I once had lunch with Billy Collins? He sat next to me at a luncheon at the Key West Literary Seminar and we talked shop: teaching. Name dropping is fun, but it gets me into snobby trouble 99% of the time when I do it. Tee-hee. What is it with brushes with fame? Why do we even feel the urge to name drop? Sujal gets excited that he saw Penelope Cruz in a restaurant. I still have no clue who she is. When I was at the The Key West Literary Seminar, I was excited about meeting famous poets, and I would rehearse the brilliant things I’d say when I met them. Of course when I met them, the dumbest things would fall out of my mouth. Okay, I must grade now.