Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Saying Good-Bye to Another Squad - Inspired while at the Art Instituteof Chicago @writingproject #IWPUSN14

A long time ago, a tradition of writing an acrostic poem for every student I've ever taught was initiated (madman emptying the ocean with a fork). This year, I used the NWP Urban Sites Network field trip to the Art Institute of Chicago as my inspiration for the poems. With the students in mind, the literature we read in my backpack, and the art pieces we were asked to explore on the field trip, I etched many of these acrostics. Although too expansive for this post, in the presentation I made for my students, I also shared the artwork that inspired the writing. I post this as evidence that the Writing Marathon was a success! And here's to the last day of National Poetry Month.

K nock knock. Whose there?
i don’t know. Canoe? Canoe Who?
m an, Canoe help me with my homework? Pretty
b ad, huh? Let’s try another. Knock Knock. Whose there?
e tch. Etch hoo? God bless you.
r ight. This is a lot of fun. Woot Woot. Crandall,
y ou are an absolute riot. Yucca Yucca.

Bet you have another one, don’t ya? Knock Knock. Whose there?
a venue. Avenue who? Avenue knocked on this door before? Yep,
i have a whole pile of them. Knock knock. Whose there?
l ettuce. Lettuce who? Lettuce get out
e arly today cuz these jokes aren’t funny. Knock Knock. Whose there?
y a. Ya who. Wow, you really are excited to see me.

D etermination. Conviction. Tenacity.
a ssurance. Doggedness. Constancy.
m indfulness. Spunk. Certainty.
i ndependence. Spine.
e nergy. Backbone. Guts. Obstinacy.
n erve. Dedication. Grit. Pertinacity.

Q uick-wit. Humor. Elasticity.
u nderstanding. Drive. Inevitability.
i am determined to live with integrity.
n irvana. Utopia. Heaven. Universality.
n ow is the best time to appreciate seduity.

A nd Gautama Buddha said, “Peace comes from within. Do
n ot seek it without.” In other words, our
d irectives arrive from mind and not the way language shouts.
r eal peace requires the transformation of
e xternal greed into spiritual gratitude – to find the
w hatever in all that is great. Add an ‘o’ to God and you have good.

S o, I stood once on a hill in Ireland, overlooking
t he Bay of Dingle. It was overcast and I
e ven saw a thunderstorm out to sea. The Irish
w ind waddled the green grass and cattle huddled
a long the stoned pastures and lapping waves. Then the
r ainbow appeared as if i was a leprechaun. i held her hand.
t he universe was calm. I thought to myself, “so am i.”

A nother metaphor my grandmother left me with was the
b utterfly. I’ve never understood, exactly, why
b ut the metamorphosis of Bry has take many
y ears upon a lilypad to understand.

T heir are pillars of caterpillars
e verywhere, but Stripe and Yellow needed to
r each inside. Change, I suppose, is swallowing personal pride and
r emembering the climb isn’t always the answer -
e verything evolves at exactly the right time. The
s ecret is to be patient and to trust our wings.

A nd then there are
b eaches, the way each season reaches to
b uild a climax of something larger than ourselves.
y ou + me = community. Together, we can see that we are a

B raided bunch with a hunch that there’s meaning to the
r andom serendipity of being a squad -
e very troupe begins as a group, a posse, who somewhat
n eurotically, must find meaning from it all.
n ext winter, next summer, next spring, next fall,
a rrives nature’s reminder that we are a team…
n ext year, to one another, we’ll only be a dream of what we once were.

E merson said, “For every
m inute you spend angry, you lose 60 seconds of happiness.”
m an, that leaves many of us in
a mess of wondering about the nature of bliss and love.

J ust as we think we ‘get it’ -
u nconditionally at a place where we don’t regret it -
t he universe throws us dark clouds.
r eal love, though, is a pilgrimage with conditions, where
o nward we must overcome inhibitions -
w hen seriously we must give way to contemplations - that he,
s he, they can complete us with personal revelations – yes, those
k id-like crushes and admirations – that
i ntimately make us feel whole. Elephant Shoe is always good for the soul.

S eahorse. That was the name she gave me as we
h eld hands in Tintagel and
a fter I dubbed her Diana, the Sea Goddess. I was the
n erd (they called me Eeyore, Fat Ass, dufus,
a nd Charlie Brown). I hadn’t quite

L earned the art of unnaming
y et (that sticks and stones break your bones &
n ames get etched in skin forever). She’s a writer now, in
c alifornia and married to some white dude.
h e could never be me, though…not this Frog.

A rnold simply wanted more –
n ot to ignore the rowdier ways of the reservation, but to tap his
m editation of spirit, culture, & success…
o h, but what a mess comes from the countering culture –
l ess we hang on to our foundational roots.

T he trick is to stay in cohorts of the Great Whatever,
a nd whenever or wherever or however the
b oots travel (or shoelaces unravel)
a lways stay true to your “you” –
s he needs to do as only
s he can do, and he must accrue,
u ltimately, what he can accrue – playing with the
m agic and this whacky rendezvous we call life.

E very once and a while I feel her –
v ivian Bearing’s blur of intellectual dust –
a nother character I learn to trust
n estled behind the curtain, but still upon the stage:

K nowledge, questions, serenity, &
r age that every sage must face at the end.
i put her down, but she was ready to go – the
c ompanion ran away from home, to the shades of the cave, the pain –
k rypnonite, Superman? With youth in Asia, there can only be the rain.

J ust where I think I’m
a winner, I fail again, a loser
c ompletely incompetent with my inabilities and competence
o lympic moron of confidence
b ouncing about in the circumstances of the game.

K ingston & Alexie, White boys feel lame at times, too –
n ot maggots in the rice, but like albino doo-doo
o n the souls/soles of every giant
s tep for mankind – in
t he pump and grind of survival…
m an vs. self, man vs. man, man vs. the universe
a nd not one of us with the ability to rehearse for the game.
n ah, it’s okay to be lame at times, too – makes the win taste better.

J ust because i
o nly live once, and just because i
have a hunch, that
nestled behind the hours i crunch,

Laughter lives and pernicious poems punch
o vations, overtures, and opportunities launch
n ext to the others who choose to serve a bunch &
g ive of themselves and receiving just as much – that is how to
o wn internal joy all the way.

S h*t.
t hat is just f$%kin re-d*ckulous
e ven that fat f#$k knows better, and he’s a loser
v !gina-faced wanna-be who
e xistentially F#$ked up in the complexity of his own stupidity.

P r#ck. G#@dam# A##hole, imbecility,
e lephant-turd sphincter with no humility
n ymphomaniac, lying F$ckhead who drinks his own pee,
n ecrophiliac douche bag, effing hung like a flee –
a h, #$#@, snap, are you talking about me?

C aution, our stories are told by scars,
h istories of treadmills, dazed by stars & bruises
r un-ins with the law (and bikes), the way some are given throat cancer.
s um of my wounds –
t he total of all my
i nsecure moons and
a chievements….
n ot a bastard with grandchildren,

W elder of many mistakes, but
a son of a Butch doing what it takes to find
l aughter, wit, humor, &
l ove, friendship, hope, integrity
a nd trust in the above.
c aput inter nubilia condo, Virgil,
e ach of us hides our heads, at times, within the clouds.

Since we’re talking about story and the glory of
h ow we explore, see, the complexity of our diversity
a nd the simplicity of global camaraderie, this
h armony, i found satisfaction while looking at art –
i nstinctively insighted i began to see, to start
d eveloping how it is that cultural hearts get

J uxtaposed by the muscles that cause us rifts and fists – to
a sk subtle questions about what puts us at risk of
f inding answers that have the potential to whisk us away.
r elief is when we recognize the pastiche & display beyond the historical star.
i ndividualizing philosophical Ubuntu, that is how we become who we are.

R acing & pacing i find ideas lacing all that is absurd – Moon
o rchid’s blooming goes looming, yet unheard, while
b rave orchid’s history flutters frantic like a bird with a next of
e xtremities. It becomes another word
r eaching atop the dragon’s back, these mountains,
t ip-toeing along the tree tops t be at the front of the line.

H ypnotically, i find myself
e ngaged in paranoia, enraged to the soporific effects of insomnia,
d ancing without any authority, prancing in need of celebrity,
b ounding somewhat psychotically, pranking the
u nbelievability that I’m a boss ass bitch with my vulnerability
r unning, punning, punning, running,  panting frantic and
g oing nowhere as i pace myself in this chaos.

A nd the harder you
l ook the harder
y ou look, with language,
s ong, righting all that is wrong,
s pringing voice boldly to claim “we are strong”
a s we make meaning from the meaninglessness.

P erspectives confess that
o rder is subjective, and the objective
r an-dumb-ness is hidden beyond
t he truth of every culture’s lie.
o h, I’m small, too, David, living on the
f ly, trying to be a creative, artsy guy
e volving revolutions, solving textual combustions,
e ach of us a speck of this literary word-dust.

D ancing with yourself requires acceptance,
i slands, as individuals, in a sea of others,
a sking to be okay in a universe of drought. The
n eophyte in everything must stand up and shout, without
d oubt, that all of us are beautiful; no,
r eally beautiful in a sometimes ugly world –
e ach of us our own warrior avenging our villages, our homes,

C reating safe spaces for where our soul roams
l earning to make a difference within & without
a dvancing our karma with the silence that we shout,
r eflectivng on the infinite ways our dimples bring about change,
k eeping the soul in check & our happiness in range.

E very town has its rooster, a crowing
m adman pecking about with the hens, boostering
i ndividuality of the worker bees,
l etting the flock do as the laborers please in the
y odeling hardship of upstate communities.

B ringing, singing, and flinging half-moon traditions,
u ubiquitously, weaving history through suspicions,
s erendipitously moving beyond inhibitions, the ways we understand
h ome. Utica, Whitesboro,
e ven Rome –
y esterday’s family is a rhizome for growing tomorrow.
K nestled on the side of a road sat a piece of driftwood –
e ventually it would decompose or erode, completely,
l eaving a memory of its formal self, a tree, now free,
l etting go of its roots, existentially, unraveling
y anked from the soil & loyalty of standing its ground.

K notted, old wood, against the
e xpressway floor with a final say, “I have
e volved and solved the
g ordian knot. Sojourned and traveled, it
a ll become disheveled from where i was to where i am
now, upon the gravel, where i continue to revel in the journey."

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

I learned this in high school, and I revisit it often from time to time, because it simply makes sense.

When I was in high school, I was recruited to work as a peer mediator with a team of psychologists and social workers who served teenagers in upstate New York. My roll was to meet with others my age and to talk through life's dilemmas as a peer mediator. At the time, the work was positioned so that adolescents like me could have meetings with teenagers who had a lot of baggage in their young lives. We were trained to be listeners and mentors, and the meetings always began with the serenity prayer.

Throughout my life I've said these words as a motto for working with difficult situations where monkey wrenches are thrown into the worlds of people around me and whenever I can't figure out what is the best course of action to be taken. My nature is to bring peace to those I know, but even then I realize that sometimes the ethical and moral dilemmas are larger than the solutions I have to find answers. So, I listen, think, ask questions, and try to guide in the best ways I know how.

Such was my Monday yesterday, where I was introduced to the story of a young man I worked with in Syracuse. His journey was difficult from the get go, but his latest chapters have become even more complicated. We talked last night and he filled me in on more of his journey - I wish I could say I had advice he could use, but I'm unsure if any advice is good advice. He is trapped in a corner by competing cultures and historical traditions that we in the United States do not know.

I mustered what I could for logical next steps, but I'm not sure any will bring him better peace in his life. As I process our conversation, all I could hear myself saying are these words - succumbing to the Great Whatever that time will be best for all.

Tuesday has to get better, right? If not, that is okay, too. I am now a few hairs grayer and a lot more wiser for having to think through the complexities young people sometimes have to work with. I will add the 'o' to God, and hope Good will win in the end...that is, if good is possible for all people.

Why can't it be Friday?

Monday, April 28, 2014

With only two hours sleep, I arrived back to Fairfield, just in time for NCATE

There are many end-of-the-semester traditions, but this year there were a couple more added to the agenda. 1) My job came to an end at Fairfield University and 2) the university's accreditation needed to occur from NCATE.

Over the last few weeks I applied for a more permanent position with CWP@Fairfield - interviewed all over again - and I'm happy to say that when I returned from Chicago, I had a letter in the mail offering me a full-time, tenured track position to continue doing what I've set out to do in the Southern Connecticut.

Last night, two, all my colleagues in the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions met together (some pictured here) to work with the NCATE team to discuss our work, community partnerships, vision, and courses with outstanding graduate students (the five pictured here are a slice of the enormous pie of the evening's introductions to our program).

Today, I will travel with the reviewing team to several schools, including Bassick High School, and allow them to talk with teachers, administrators, and students who we work closely with. This, of course, arrives after a night of much needed sleep after a fruitful time in Chicago with Bridgeport teachers and National Writing Project folks.

There's been little time to process the pace of the Great Whatever, but I am feeling centered in the way things are - everything evolves at exactly the right time and I've learned to slow down and accept things as they arrive. Okay, so they arrive quickly, but I am good with that, too.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Departing Chicago, More Faith in the Great Whatever Than Ever Before

Rooster was a cocky bird, but the Frog understood why. He had more intellectual plumage than most creatures did at that age, and the Frog was delighted he came to his pond.

"I'm not quite sure, bird, what it is you need from me," said the Frog. "But I'm glad you came to my waters just the same. I'll make you read a little, write a lot, and question even more."

The Rooster pecked about checking out the yellow-skirted hens, and ruffled his feathers some. "What the cluck?" he asked.

"I'm not in the business of having answers," continued the Frog. "Instead, I'm in the business of listening to dreams and helping some to find what it is they are searching for. This Great Whatever thing is a little too much for me."

The Rooster checked the library he carried in his backpacks and the traditions he was told ever since he was an egg. He looked at the Frog and said, "I'm not sure I need your croaking. I simply want to understand the way you float on that lily-pad of yours."

He strutted his talons along the cattails for a few years and occasionally cocked his head in the Frog's direction. The Frog, however, paid more attention to the Rooster than the Rooster knew.

The Frog didn't know the Diva. He hadn't met Ganesha yet. Of course, he always wanted to to know Oprah (and was willing to come to Chicago for the off chance to meet her).

"Diva," he stated upon the reunion with the Rooster. "Meet my ol' friend from Kentucky. Ganesha, my dear Connecticut friend, I think you will enjoy this strange bird I once knew."

And they ate Armenian food on Ohio Street in the windy city. The Frog simply looked to the Great Whatever and teared up.

"This," he proclaimed to the sky. "This is something larger than all of us and I'm okay with that."

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Giving Birth To the Preparation - Ready for Two Sessions Today at #IWPUSN14 @writingproject

For several years, my dear friend Aletha Fields in Kentucky - poet, teacher, and spoken word phenomenon - has wanted me to give her a baby. I saw this yesterday at the Chicago Institute of Art, a Miro painting, and I thought, "hmmm, I should give this to her."

I imagine this is what our love child would look like.

Actually, the love child will be given in two sessions today at the Urban Sites Network conference in Chicago. First, the ten-minute play festival will be shared with its recent renaissance in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and second, the Writing Our Lives movement, born in Syracuse, will be shared in the afternoon.

The Connecticut entourage has it all together and we simply need to be sure we get up in time to catch the bus to Loyola University. The facilities are great and I'm looking forward to sharing two of my babies with the Chicago crowd.

Neither look like this child, though. This, I feel, is a complete replica of my baby photos. It's like looking in a mirror.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Moving Right Along - The Muppets (well, @CWPFairfield) Take Chicago. @writingproject #IWPUSN14

While pulling the CWP-Fairfield troupe together yesterday morning, I sent an email reminder for them to memorize the song "Moving Right Along" from the first Muppet Movie.

Why? You might ask. Because that is what our entourage will be. We are a cast of Muppets 'moving right along' as we march to the tweets of a different flautist.

In the chaos of our end-of-the-semester hoopla, we have had this trip to Chicago as our 'light at the end of the tunnel. It's been on our mind and now we are here. Today, we will visit the Chicago Museum of Art for a three hour writing marathon - this, hopefully, after a 10K run along Lake Michigan - and, tonight, we will meet and greet with our national friends. The real treat, however, arrives tomorrow when the Urban Sites Network convenes at Loyola University.

Personally, I can't wait to meet Katy Smith, Illinois Writing Project, and give her a huge Fozzy Bear hug for pulling all of us together (it will be more like a Kermit Frog hug, but it's love all the same). Her commitment, dedication, perseverance, organization, and passion has united us all and it takes someone like her to make things happen. I am stoked to bring her some of the Connecticut drama that has culminated from the ways we've been Writing Our Lives!
Many Stories, One Focus: Writing a More Just Future
Yes, there's much to be excited about today, including an opportunity to hear from Lila Leff, founder of UMOJA Student Development Corporation and Sonia Nieto, language, culture, and literacy extraordinaire! I also have to give daps to Steven Zemelman for keeping the spirit of our urban work alive. I met him last year on a bus to and from the hotel in Alabama and instantly became a fan of his vision.

CWP-Fairfield is 'moving right along' and our troupe of four individuals, each of us a character, looks forward to a wonderful conference. Wait! Wait! Is Tonya Perry coming? If so, this frog is going to be 'skee weeing' all over the Windy City with her - she is the Queen of the Universe, after all.

We're ready to enjoy the show!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Heading to Chicago - Scripting Excitement for #IWPUSN14 @writingproject @FairfieldU @CWPFairfield

Bryan: So, my student, Victoria, had an idea for a theater program at the Brown School.
Shaun: And?
Bryan: I had no theater training, but I went to Actor's Theater of Louisville's Humana Festival and
experienced their ten-minute play festival.
Shaun: That sounds like my language.
Bryan: I knew I could teach short script-writing with my 11th grade English class. In fact, it worked
fluidly with the Greek Literature 6-week unit I already had in place.
Shaun: Get to the point.
Bryan: I used a few short scripts as models and asked the kids, "What do you think? Can you write
scripts based on your life?"
Shaun: Nice.
Bryan: Then, the students selected scripts and rehearsed them. They were performed through several performances and a tradition was born.
Shaun: Ah, that is why you came to Central High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Bryan: Yup. I knew your expertise could bring the writing tradition to a whole new level.
Shaun: And I had my students write. The National Writing Project tradition, right?
Bryan: Of course. Then I had my graduate students offer feedback.
Shaun: The kids took what you taught them. They got real excited.
Bryan: Well, your enthusiasm for what was possible also got them excited.
Shaun: You're right. I can be theatrical at times.
Bryan: And I also knew you had the digital guru stuff behind you. CWP-Fairfield fellow.
Shaun: And I wanted to document the process of the 1st Annual Playwright's Festival.
Attallah: What about me? Where do I fit in?
Bryan: I knew you were at Central and I introduced you to Shaun. They needed to hear your spoken
word talents. You're the Diva, after all.
Attallah: You gotta write!
Bryan: A'ight?
Shaun: The rest is history, of course. The video is a rough cut of some of what was accomplished.
Attallah: And I get to go to Chicago with you?
Bryan: Yup. This is hot. Ellen's coming, too. We need to share this!
Shaun: And share we shall! Look out, Chicago! Here we come!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Make it Three! Ryan Colwell, You Got This! UCONN deserves the trifecta and it begins with you.

Dear Ryan,

Over a year ago, you and our mutual friend, Jennifer, asked me to visit UCONN to work with student teachers on building digital reflections for professional portfolios after they experienced a field placement. I didn't know it then, but a few months later you would apply to be a colleague with me at Fairfield University and, as luck would have it, would be given the office directly next to mine (where we can share toys, games, silliness, a glass of wine here and there, and academic texts!).

For the last year, too, I've seen you as a variant shadow/memory of my own self during my first year at Fairfield University (it is a blur, this pace we keep). Like a ram, I charged forth head down in order to finish my work at Syracuse and that is exactly what you've been doing at Connecticut. You have hunkered down, devoted yourself, and been focused, energetic and efficient with your time. Today, however, it culminates with your defense and I am thinking of you with all the support I can muster. I which I could stand directly next to Dr. Doug Kaufmann to share pride with him today for what you've accomplished.

This is where UCONN goes 3 for 3. Men's team, Women's team, and the literacy team.

At 10 a.m. today, you will set forth to discuss what you've passionately set out to do - a much needed, up-to-date exploration of writing workshops in elementary classrooms with all the twists of your expertise, analysis, theoretical perspectives, and knowledge in the field.

I wish you the BEST today and know in the deepest core of my being that you will rock every second of the defense. Embrace every second of it for the joy that it is.

Working with you this last year has been an absolute pleasure and I feel fortunate to have you as a colleague. I know that together, with our colleague Dr. Emily Smith, we really have the pre-K-12 spectrum covered. Yes, the two of us are early career in academic terms, but we have years and years of practitioner experience to draw upon and we will use this to push forth and advocate for student and teacher writers in the state.

I admire all that you are doing. You have proven your ability to juggle tremendous responsibilities in this first year as a scholar, teacher, leader, and family man. Your wit, creatively, energy, intelligence, and craft are greatly appreciated and I know, THIS is just the beginning.

And so I am looking forward to hearing the details from your day (and will wait patiently by the email/phone to hear how it went. Your work is IMPORTANT work, and it is only the beginning of the Ryan and Bryan (and Emily, it doesn't rhyme) collaborative...aligning literacy expertise along the Connecticut shoreline.

WE ARE PROUD OF YOU. I am carrying many poems in my pocket.

Go get 'em.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sending Everything Positive to Elizabeth Years Stevens, Today: She's Got This! Ubuntu!

Dear Elizabeth,

We met in 2008 when Dr. Kelly Chandler-Olcott made us writing partners in a doctoral seminar where you were working on a piece reviewing Ralph Fletcher's advice and I was thinking critically about Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Weekly, we updated one another on our writing and we offered, where we could, ways to sharpen our writing before we sent it out for publication.

I'm proud to say we were both successful!

Since then, you and I have shared our experiences through taking courses, finishing a research apprenticeship, proposing papers for the Literacy Research Association, crafting an IRB, fulfilling FPP obligations, designing a study, collecting data, and carrying forth the monstrous dissertation.

Together, we had the irreplaceable experience of bonding with Dr. Kristiina Montero's Local Literacies, Global Histories project, too. Both of us were changed forever from that experience (and my life flew into a new direction - a journey I am still on). We took flights together, dined together, stressed together, laughed together, worried together, and accomplished together.

Today, however, is your day to do what you've been crafting for the last six years. You have proven yourself as a teacher and as a one-of-a-kind mother for two beautiful daughters. You have also proven the power of maintaining a relationship with a generous husband who understood the reasons why you and I 'married' our research and, at times, one another, to get through the process. I can't wait to have a beer with him and, well, your parents, too. They were there for it all.

I am, sadly, unable to be at Syracuse University's School of Education and the Reading and Language Arts Center this morning for moral, emotional, intellectual, and social support - I am there, however, with spirit, karma, friendship, and alliance. The hard work and investment culminating today is the result of devotion, commitment, passion, and your love for excellence. Embrace every second today.

It all belongs to you and I have nothing but pride and appreciation for what you've accomplished. You are a part of the SU community and, if you ever had any doubt, think about our Ubuntu Matters symposium last year in Texas - We are who we are because of who we are together. 
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart. ~ Helen Keller
I am in Connecticut now, the region of Helen Keller and her influence on the teaching world. Literacy is multidimensional and complicated, and we are only scratching the surface of its power. From the time you've committed to this work, you have found a way to empower others with your questions, interests, scholarship, and work ethic: students, future teachers, practitioners, leaders, and colleagues.

You've got this! I am thinking of you.


Monday, April 21, 2014

If I had one, this is what I'd be discussing around the office water cooler today.

Just between you and me, I really hate Monday.

I discussed with my brother-in-law last night that if I were to become president, I would mandate three-day weekends every weekend. I'm amazed what one more day will give a person. Actually, I wouldn't mind a rotating three days - work five, off three, work five, off three, etc. The extra day makes all the difference in the world...I was even able to get a walk in each day and catch up on most items.

Ack! It's Monday again, however, and this week is crammed to the top of my sanity. I must say, "I'm surprised there isn't more violence in higher education at this time of the year." As time gets tighter, it seems more and more people schedule meetings to fulfill bureaucratic obligations. I enjoy the company of many of my colleagues, but at this time of the year, I don't think it is healthy to sit together to make more work for ourselves. I'd much rather be by myself getting work done.

I am creatively cranky knowing today begins the frantic pace.

But, I'm holding my breath...this will be over with before I know it. When I think about it, it was much worse while teaching high school. As students did culminating projects, submitted portfolios, and wrapped me with their last phase of senioritis, I also had to do a senior trip, work-in senior awards, chaperone prom, and prepare graduation. I used to think to myself, "Seriously, the life is drained out of me and now I have to make awards for these kids?"

I loved it, but it was too much.

And so it is again. Breathe in. Breathe out. The investment we make into future generations is far more important who we are right now. The goal - make the world a better place one student at a time.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Nerd Confession: I Graded All Day Yesterday and Loved It! Finally Found Time For My Students

This was me, yesterday. I tried to pep up my running look, otherwise I spent my entire day on a laptop. Once upon a time I used to plow through over a 100 student portfolios a year, averaging 30 pages a piece. Now, I have trouble finding time to read 18 essays a semester. What is up with that?

Truth be told, teaching is at the heart of what I love doing. There's nothing more important to me that helping a student to compose something that matters to them and that helps them to showcase growth as a writer.

Yet, with academia, teaching is not necessarily at the core of the work I do. I still feel that the best work is in the classroom, but the demands of what I do have me out in the field, attending meetings, organizing events, and supervising possibilities. When I can actually find a few seconds to read what my students are writing, I am stoked. And reading student work over the last 48 hours has been a blessing. By noon, today, I should have the latest batch read and with feedback.

I also think I enjoy these days because I don't shower. Chitunga, a young man I mentor and advise, said to me, "Yeah, that's a male thing." He said this to me yesterday when I also looked like crap.

But I peacock'd it out when I ran yesterday (and even found time to take a walk). I should also point out that I cooked, as well - even cleaned some in between offering comments to students. Did I physically see anyone? Not really. I talked to my mom and that sort of counts. A few text messages were also sent.

So, I'm accomplished. Nope. No eggs. Nope. Not Easter dinner as I did it in Syracuse. Just a fantastic three days off to actually do the job I'm paid to do. It feels so good to catch up.

Happy Rabbits Day!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

In the tradition of a Crandall acrostic...a poetic throwback for Saturday

In a longstanding tradition, I was in the habit of writing a poem for every student I ever taught (only because I was told that acrostic poems could never be good poems, I set out to prove this teacher wrong). I looked at the opening stanza of 2007 (my last year in the classroom) and found these words: 

Another Goodbye, Another Year
and he went to the front door,
nestled at his blinds to look
out towards his painted porch
to see who rang the bell.
he saw no one. his
existence was only a maple tree seed
ricocheting on concrete from the wind.

ghosts. he thought. buried 
on the horizon of his past --
on the shorelines of forgotten lakes and
days where he once wandered in 
youth and adolescence. he knew he had to
evolve - continue his revolution of Hegel’s theory.

and then came the question. why was
no one there, at the door, wanting a greeting, or an 
orientation of hospitality? hello, can i help you?
the world was empty, and 
he felt it in his 
eyes -- which he shut --
racing inward to find the answer.

you’ll have these moments, moonbeams. they come
every once in a childish smile
and, for a little while, you’ll begin to wonder. who 
rang the bell? isn’t there supposed to be somebody there?

In retrospect, I read the words as a precursor to my ongoing search to find answers. That, of course, was before setting out for a doctorate and finding myself where I am right now...still opening the door and wondering, "What else is left out there?"

Friday, April 18, 2014

When the whirlwind of the Great Whatever skids you to the side of the road... think about what just happened and you readjust your settings to figure out exactly what your supposed to do next.

This week was a chaotic, but healthy frenzy of keeping pace with the universe and although all roads were set with the best intentions, I made mistakes and didn't quite get out of it everything that I envisioned.

I missed meetings, I made a few, and I kept on keeping on, but still I didn't achieve what I set out to do. This is good for me, because in reflection, I am considering what needs to come next.

You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have...

the facts that what I do comes with the humanity I was born with. So, today, I have space to get on top of the work that I've put aside and I have an opportunity to figure out where to go from here. This is the beauty of everything and I know I'm up for the journey still left to explore.

So, exploring, I will go forward - that is always the greatest solution.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

An Open Letter to My Roommate. Please Don't Hate Me. It Will Get Better

Dear Weijing,

I am posting this letter as a reminder that things are about to change real soon. This is a photo of you last year in May when the tree out front bloomed and we captured the energy while posing in front of it.

I haven't seen you in several weeks, not because I've been away. You've been home, too. It's just that our schedules are completely opposite and you have slept late and studied later for your exams, and I've been out of the house in the chaotic nature of my work: presentations, workshops, classes, and meetings.

With that noted, I realize that we live in a sty.

I am channeling Beauty Makinta here who scolded us that we should habitually take Friday evenings to scrub every corner of our house. We have both failed. The dishes in the sink, the piles of laundry, the mail that hasn't been put away, and the floors that are in great need of a vacuum are evidence of our pathetic state.

I promise that I will have time to clean over this extended weekend, in-between Cadbury eggs and jellybeans. No, I haven't graded the pile on my laptop nor have I finished several writing projects, but I am committed to maintaining our home. In fact, the presents I was given for my birthday in February that are still in the gift bags on the dining room table will finally be put away. I think the Halloween decorations, too, deserve to be relocated to the basement.

Such is the life of a graduate student and an academic, I guess.

A few weeks ago - when I partially cleaned - I told my friend, Sue, that I am this close - t h i s
c l o s e - to hiring a bimonthly cleaning service (I don't care how much it costs). Why? I am in absolute awe that a household without pets and kids can be in such disarray.

It's not as bad as it could be, of course, but when I saw sugar ants swimming in my cereal this morning (yes, they're back and this year they're wearing flippers and goggles), I realized it's time to prep our home. I've ordered an anteater and some Clorox. We've got this. Martha Steward will be proud.


That Guy Who Sleeps and Showers in the Same Home As You,

PS: How is it that we are never here, but we can make such a mess?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Hammering on Rocks with Joseph Ross @JosephRoss27 @YohuruWilliams

Before setting out for home last night, I wandered over to the Kelley Center on Fairfield University's campus to meet Joseph Ross and to hear him read from his new publication, Gospel of Dust. Ross, a high school English teacher in DC, is a member of DC Poets Against War and an educator who explores faith, spirituality, and meaning through tight, reflective prose. His poetry tackles history, race, and place. He contemplates heroes, biblical passages, and the ways words (prayers) work with (and against) difficult times.

From his poem, "Hammering on Rocks - for Nelson Mandela" the poet penned, "Hammering on rocks / can break the hammerer's back." Ross praises the S. African champion for human rights, "Somehow you also knew / the rocks you cracked / into two decades' dust / were watering the country / who sat silently in your cell, / more a prisoner than you.

Joseph Ross began the evening with discussion of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombings.  He drew from a Catholic upbringing and how he came to make music out of reflective contemplations. His style brings insight into his understanding of the world through spirituality, global inequities, curiosity. I couldn't help but think of the THE GREAT WHATEVER as he shared his special work. The poetry didn't preach, didn't scold, and didn't bite. Instead, it pondered meaning through verse with gentle grace.

Although the audience was few, the impact of Ross's writing was enormous. His brevity as a poet is concise, but the delivery provides a delicate punch. For example, in one of the two poems he wrote about 'Cool Disco Dan,' a graffiti artist in Washington, D.C., "because sometimes, only graffiti can say: / This is my body, given up to you."


As Rose Marie Berger wrote in praise for Gospel of Dust, "in Joseph Ross' poems something is also rising."

Joseph Ross' words, shared generously at Fairfield University last night, are connected to a grander plan. It was a bonus to my Tuesday and a great way to close out the day.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"What a Teacher Makes" - Taylor Mali, 2007, Def Poetry. Throwback

Because it's April and I'm on a three-day focus on poetry with my posts, I thought it would be pertinent to share Taylor Mali's piece from 2007. I love when teachers define their boundaries beyond the parameters they're restricted to by schools and mandates. The current (de)form movement has no idea what energy, passion, creativity, and dedication it takes to really make a difference in the lives of young people. In their McEducation limitation, they think it is as easy as creating value meals and Supersizing when the need arises.

Anyone with classroom experience knows it takes education, professionalism, leadership, and liaison with national organizations of other teachers to make the biggest impact - the best teachers are attuned to research and not the dollar signs in the peripheral vision of today's corporate interests who are ruining schools.

Today, I am leading a workshop for 60+ soon-to-graduate urban teenagers who asked me to speak about writing in college. Lesson #1 is: UNDO WHAT THE REFORMISTS HAVE DONE TO YOU. In college, they will not take multiple, state-initiated examinations, but will be required to write abundantly in a variety of genres that depicts their knowledge from much reading (yes, it's close reading, but it is Freire's notion of literacy: read the world and the word).

I was in their position in 1990 and I had my Regents Honors diploma in AP coursework, and my good boy story. Then I entered college and realized I was not prepared for the critical thinking, creativity, and worldly knowledge needed of me. Instead, I was trained as a robot (and I did well on those tests. They were only good to get me in the door). When I finished suma cum laude, I chose to leave NYS because of the testing. I knew I wanted to teach, but I didn't want to fall into the rhetorical claims made by those exams. I learned they were Groupspeak. I moved to KY and felt fortunate to be part of state curriculum that really supported college and career readiness through the emphasis of research and writing.

Guest what? The reform movement came there. It was either become the robot of the tests or leave. I left.

I think it is important to offer counter narratives to what the reformers are claiming. There is some truth to the claims they make, yet they are funded by individuals with shady interests in profits off the backs of the poor. That is what bothers me most.

Taylor Mali? I could learn from him. He has voice, flavor, spunk, and originality. The machine and mechanism of the reform movement -- not so much. Perhaps we should higher Pee Wee Herman's Conky.

The word of the day? Resist.

What a teacher makes? Well, the kind I hope to be is what Mali expresses. What they hope the teacher will be is a poorly paid simulacra of the worst kind of teacher - a boring robot.  Just look at the PD offered in cities where the reformists have won. It's sick.

And that is my soap box for this morning. I'm going into the world to light some fires with young minds and to set them on a path of questioning everything.