Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Opening The Writer's Notebook: Exhibit A from 2002, Louisville Writing Project XXI, #OurNWP @writingproject

Exhibit A. Crandall's notebook, 2002
This is day #3 for me to reflect on the influence the National Writing Project has had on my practice, research,  creativity, and professionalism. Honestly, I think I could reflect on their influence everyday for the rest of my life.

Why? #MyNWP is #OurNWP, and together it creates harmony.

When I set out to dedicate my blog to the thunderclap efforts celebrating 40 years of National Writing Project work, I couldn't wait to get into my office at Fairfield University and pull my first writer's notebook off the shelf. To be truthful, I have kept notebooks since I was 19, but this one was my first NWP one, and each page  - as I expected - was loaded with numerous shifts I made with my own pedagogy as a result of the summer institute. I have since moved from notebooks to blogs to do my meandering, but collecting and connecting, creating and making, and composing and reflecting are what make such notebooks irreplaceable.

The first thing I did when I entered my office yesterday was head to the corner where I currently keep the 25 years of writers' notebooks. I immediately looked for the blue, silky one - the LWP XXI summer institute one - and opened to the first page.

Wola! Memories leaped at me as if I was Dumbledore and Potter dipping a wand into my pensieve - a magic elixir.

Hence, this post: 
Entry #1. Jean asked us to write a response to, "Why am I here?" - a question I continue to ask myself on an everyday basis. Here's what I wrote on that April day when I was a newly minted-30 year old brought into the fold of the National Writing Project.
April 13, 2002 - Entry One
It's a Saturday morning and portfolios were turned in yesterday. I'm cooked, but where I am? I'm sitting with 25 teachers selected as Louisville Writing Project participants and our assignment is to think about why we're here - existentially speaking...why are any of us here? Is there a God? Does everyone in here picture their God to look like Jean's counterpart Tim? Will Chris cuss today like he promised us he would? Does Rita Robinson know how beautiful she really is? Did I remember to turn my lights off?
It rained last night and everything smells new. The garden out back, I hope, is a forecast of things to come. There's all these things blooming, so excited to have life, and I'd like to feel that way again.
This hasn't been the greatest year of because my revelations are getting more frustrated than ever before. How do I keep my energy and passion alive when Slytherins have entered Hogwarts and when gossiping, bitter colleagues are undoing the magic of the Brown? How do I make sense of the reality I learn from my students? When does writing become more important to them when they go home at night to divorced situations, where dad is smoking pot in schizophrenic hysteria, where mom spends nights in latino salsa lounges after she exorcises the house to rid the ways of her 'once' husband? What about the kid whose grandfather left him with a Kroger bag of clothes on the front door of our school with a note pinned to him that stated he couldn't afford him anymore? What do I do when youth come to me with all the pressures they feel in their adolescence and as they begin to realize they are young adults with huge life choices to make? How do I help them see themselves in the mirror for the first time and not freeze? Have I modeled the way of using writing as a tool for survival? Do they understand that writing is therapeutic? Should they? And what about my own journey? 
Through mentoring Sudanese realities and all the Brown School complexities, when do I have time to take care of my own BRC? What comes next? 
The simplicity, I suppose, comes to my Woody Allen curse. Alice would say, "The truth is you have a wandering eye and your dog, Juliette, looks like a stuffed sausage."
 I wrote my dentist a thank you card this morning. I had to pay the last installment of my $2100 teeth extravaganza (without insurance) and decided she probably never gets a card in the mail. I wrote how much I loved our little romance where she gave me gas to calm my nerves and I stared into her eyes with cavity-stricken pleasure. I told her it feels like we are divorcing now. After all, she put nitrous oxide in my soul and let me listen to her stomach growl when she injected novocaine and hysteria into my hypochondriac genes.
What is this writing thing, anyway? Yeah. Good question. Why are any of us here?
What is interesting is that a doodle of a woman who gave our school professional development the fall after I did LWP popped out of the notebook when I opened it. She was all bubble-eyed and sparkly, but totally disconnected with the needs of kids and teachers. I wrote next to her wide smile, "Teaching isn't a commercialized method, yet we're forced fed the gimmicks of outsiders all the time."

And the other thing that fell out of my LWP notebook was that I cut out an article from the Courier Journal: 09/01/04 - the one that covered James Kuch Mangui's murder. During the summer of LWP XXI, I wrote many pieces for Sudanese refugees I worked with. I taught them in preparation for the GED and helped them understand genres like poetry. James was one of the men I mentored. Three years after becoming a fellow, he was killed by three youth suspected to be involved in a gang.

I didn't realize it then, but stepping into the National Writing Project network opened my world to the writing I would spend the next decade unraveling. My dissertation, in fact, was dedicated to James Kuch Mangui, as he was the inspiration for writing about the literacies of relocated youth in and out of school.

In this sense, NWP is #HisNWP, as well.

Monday, September 29, 2014

I Owe So Much To This Mentor. Jean Wolph is #MyNWP, and also #OurNWP @writingproject

Jean Wolph, Louisville Writing Project, Director
A few Annual Meetings ago, participants of the National Writing Project were asked to write a note to someone who influenced the ways we knew writing and wrote the world. Perhaps this was a Spring Meeting in DC - I cannot remember. I do think, though, it was Tanya Baker who offered the prompt.

What I can recall, however, is that I was sitting next to Jean Wolph and I chose to write a note to her. Funny, before I tapped into the thunderclap call this week, I found the note I wrote to Jean in a leather binder as I was going through my desk. My intention was to take it home, type it, and to email it to her after that meeting. Whoops.

Where is that road? Why so paved? What about intentions?

It seemed that today would be a great day to finally type up what I wrote. It is day #2 of my 7-day celebration of NWP's 40th year. Here's to you, Jean (and thank you NWP for giving us the prompt at one of our gatherings a few years back).
Dear Jean, 
I am beginning this note hoping you are not a cheater. A cheater? Yes, a cheater! Why? Because I'm sitting next to you and I don't want you to copy from my paper. If you do, you'll know that I'm writing about you and that would be too much pressure. It would make you a Peeping Jean and that is not the image I have of you in my head. Besides, I think it would be tacky for you to write a note to yourself, even if you were using my words to do so.
The image of you I prefer to have is that of an amazing woman who offered me multiple opportunities to step up my teaching game while I was in Louisville, Kentucky. Actually, I met you when I was working on a Masters degree through the Kentucky Institute for Education and Sustainable Development and we often talked about writing, portfolios, the Kentucky Education Reform Act, and a love for the work we were doing. You were at the University of Louisville collaborating with Marjorie Kaiser, I believe, and helping  with LWP work.  I was a graduate assistant who filed documents to pay for my tuition. My space in the Cardinal universe was by the mailboxes. You often came and talked to me (probably admired my hippie hair and birkenstocks) and treated me as an equal. One Christmas, too, you made me a beautiful basket that I still bring out every holiday. Each year, it reminds me of you.
Years went by, I went into the Brown School to teach English, and every intelligent, creative, and inspirational teacher I met in Jefferson County Public Schools had the same advice.  LWP. LWP. LWP. When I finally applied to participate, I learned that you were the new Director who replaced Marjorie and, if accepted, I was going to take a course led by you. Ah, but it wasn't a course. 
It was a life-changing experience. 
We were at Central High School, alma mater to Muhammad Ali, and you led the charges with Tim Johnson. I remember he wrote short stories that shocked his audience (a boy who sleeps with his grandmother). I also remembered thinking that if God had a twin brother it would probably look like Tim with all that flowing white hair (but hopefully wouldn't write stories about a boy sleeping with his grandmother).
And you? You were the amazing sage who quickly tapped her maternal instinct to take care of me. I was your wild child - the zany kid from NY whose outrageous brain worked faster that most Kentucky minds cared to understand. I had terrible sinus headaches from living in the Ohio Valley and one day, you saw me squinting and having a horrible time keeping my head up so you left the room, microwaved a wet cloth, and came back to place it on my forehead and eyes. You tapped my shoulder gently and said, "This should help. You'll feel like writing again, soon." It did.
It always made me proud when you came to the Brown School and served on our senior boards to evaluate the research and culminating projects of students. It made me even prouder when you'd invite me to present at Louisville Writing Project functions and you advocated for my literacy leadership with Dottie Willis at JCPS's central office. I also appreciated the morning you met me in Clarksville for breakfast and had a heart to heart with me about leaving the classroom to earn a Ph.D. Syracuse University had offered a full fellowship and I didn't know if I should take it. I didn't tell anyone else (not family, not friends, nor my dog)...just you. I needed you to help me process the choice.
Now, I am sitting next to you as the new Director of the Connecticut Writing Project-Fairfield. I finished my doctorate and upon thinking about what would make me happiest, I sought writing project jobs. Right now is the first time seeing you since I left Kentucky and my excitement to again learn with you is growing. I hope I have 1/20th of the influence on Connecticut teachers as you have had on those in Kentucky.  
Okay. They are about to call time on this free write, so I'd better bring closure. I write  to say "Thank You." Thank you for believing in me, for encouraging me, for guiding me, for teaching me, for laughing with and at me, and for sitting beside me today as a friend and colleague. Thank you for leading Kentucky's writing achievements for so many years and helping the state to have one of the most amazing assessment systems in the nation, even though they are dismantling it.
Elephant Shoe, Jean. Elephant Show. I couldn't be me without your support.
When I read the penned note in the leather binder earlier last week I said, "I need to send this to Jean."

Well, it seems that #OurNWP is the perfect opportunity to do so.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Committed to #OurNWP for the next seven days, Committed to NWP for life @writingproject

Since 2008 I have been keeping a daily blog to reflect on my personal shenanigans with happiness, karma, Connecticut, cacophony, quirkiness, community and creativity - all elements that continually lead me back to the National Writing Project and its influence on my life as an individual, teacher, writer, scholar and thinker.

For the next seven days, I'm committed to expanding the thunderclap of the work that National Writing Project sites do in celebration of the best network for professional development in the nation.

The National Writing Project is simply astounding and now, more than ever, I want to share its resources with those who believe in the literacy of the United States.

My original writer's notebook from the Louisville Writing Project is on a shelf in my office and my intent is to harvest its seeds for the irreplaceable changes it made in my personal practice. My goal is to find the ways the experience changed my practice sine participating in an Invitational Summer Institute in 2002.  It is the way I intend to celebrate 40 years of National Writing Project work and to see that the work continues to invest in teacher leadership in America's schools.

It is Ubuntu. I am the person I am because of the influence of many, including the stellar educators who mentored me in Louisville, Kentucky and encouraged me with the wisdom, "You need to become part of the National Writing Project. It will rejuvenate the reasons you chose to become a teacher in the first place and reinstate the importance of the work you set out to do."

It is a fusion of teaching, service, and research.

The blogs I've kept since 2008 are a result of the investment made by the National Writing Project, as are the OpEds I've written, the student productions I've produced, the conferences I've hosted, and the research publications and presentations I've made. I see my expertise as National Writing Project's expertise because we are a network of like-minded professionals who believe in the power of writing to achieve the better world we desire.

Here's to the week ahead and to all my colleagues who share in the love of what we do.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Today is Saturday, I'm being silly, and then I'm heading back to work. Yup. The job, ya know?

To the left is the "Little House on the Prairie Dog." It's not that funny, but it is - it's a joke between Pam and I that covers multiple territories and emails exchanges over the last few weeks. It is sort of in response to her recent joke that my tenants, Weijing and Chitunga, might decide to make a baby and name it "Ch'Ting."

I need to be punchy. The nervous pulse under my right eye has become worse and although I try to live like a Buddhist monk who never stresses, my body shows its reality through odd behaviors such as a pulsating vein under my eye.

"No, I'm not stressed. I just have a very strong heartbeat above my cheek. Would you like to take my pulse," he asks.

And the Bunnell High School marching band competition lasted into the dark hours last night provided CNS flashbacks, a cacophony of drumbeats, and the squeal of horns throughout my house. At one point I thought my pulsating eyeball and the music coming up over the hill were synchronizing.

Today is going to be a good day. I'm going to chill out in the morning, go for a long run, then go back to the books. I put laundry away last night, cleaned the bathroom, and worked on the kitchen. I'm feeling semi-accomplished as I begin the weekend - and I know this weather won't be around for long.

This dog wants a little house to purchase, prairie or not. Connecticut taxes, though! Jeepers. Do I really live in this state?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Oh I get by with a little help from my friends. Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends.

 I received a message on Facebook from an old friend named Michael VanNort two days ago. We met in junior high school and he was the trendy-haired soccer player who was connected with all the right people (he knew everyone and was instantly their friend). I quickly grew to admire him and because of our friendship groups, we eventually became friends, too. Mike was a natural leader - totally cool for him - and very much dedicated with an amazing passion for living the extraordinary life (I vaguely remember his drive to recreate the livelihood of the show Thirty Something that was popular at the time - shoot, we're past that by a decade).  "Nort" was picking up furniture near my home in Stratford and stopped in Fairfield for dinner at Oceanna (where he is pictured here). It was two minutes from my office at the University.

The last time I saw Mike was at my house in North Syracuse when we had our 20th reunion (I was a doctoral student making $12,000 a year, but somehow could afford a house!). I didn't have much time to catch up with him then, however, or over the many years since we graduated. After we left Cicero North-Syracuse, though, we both attended Binghamton University. He chose to be a residential assistant and I opted for the hippie life off campus. Still, I continued the admiration for his incredible integrity. I've always been a tremendous fan.

Mike currently owns MVN Design in NYC - a self-started business that has resulted from his years of professional experiences. In a month he will run the NYC marathon and meet another of his lifetime goals. I love that he keeps his bucket list alive and well!

Throughout the years, I've only kept up with Mike's achievements, marriage, and business endeavors through other friends. That is why it was so wonderful to see him again last night, face to face, in Connecticut.

When we were in high school, our moms bonded. He and I shared various responsibilities on school spirit initiatives and Class of 1990 shenanigans. One huge memory I have (it's not dancing to the Safety Dance in my foyer as he reminisced last night) is after we graduated and were leaving Todd Teeter's graduation party. For some reason, I was carpooling him and Lan Nguyen in my Nissan Sentra. We were leaving Teeter's house on Oneida Lake and it was dark out. A ll of us were singing to the radio and full of the infinite spirit (a credit Perks of Being a Wallflower) of the age - we were too alive at the moment to realize how alive we actually were. I realized the road we were on had a quick turn and I was going way too fast. I slammed my breaks and we skidded. We skidded hard. In fact, we stopped right before slamming into trees and were, thankfully, okay.

That memory may have bypassed Lan and Mike at the time, but for me it was a huge event. I knew Mike was going to be an amazing human being in his future and Lan, man, Lan was one of the most beautiful girls in our class. She was heading to great things, as well.  Had I lost control of the car that night it could have been more tragic. I felt the responsibility that I was carrying precious cargo, because I was. I managed to stop the car and shifted it back onto the road, but in my head I remembered that I was carrying wonderful people who needed to get out into the world to do wonderful things.

24 years later, seeing Lan with her beautiful family in Florida, and Mike happily married to his partner in the Big Apple, I am especially thankful that everything turned out okay that night.

Meeting up with an old friend after so many years is a monumental experience. In one hour over Mediterranean food it was hard to know where to begin. How do friends who have shared 24 years of life together catch up with one another, especially when they have had each others back through it all, despite the fact that they have rarely had time to talk with each other along the journey?

Simple. It's kept unconditionally simple. We just know that one another is on a path as it has always been meant to be.

It's the Great Whatever and I'm thankful for that.

But now I am having flashbacks to CNS drama, trips to say "what's up" at Wegmans where he worked, a road trip with Marybeth DiPasqua to see John Mellencamp in Albany that never happened, the arguments between him and Weston, the bond between him and Boomwa, and the irreplaceable connection he has always had with Twippy and Karen Hite. Amazing how, after all these years, we still touch souls. This is everything.

42 years old. Grayer. More mature. Much changed, yet so little.

A night like this is hard to explain in words. I am nostalgic, curious, thankful, appreciative, and still wondering about how it all comes together like this.

And as I left I sang the Beatles, the theme song of The Wonder Years, all the way home.
yes, I get by with a little help from my friends.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Week Four of No Bread, No Sugar, Lots of Vegetables, Thank God For Meat, and The Farmer's Market....

...which leads me to Pam, who is also trying to do this healthier eating thing. It's not that I'm eating healthier - it's just that I'm trying something new: no pasta, no rice, no couscous, no potatoes. Basically, it's no fun. I've been dreaming of lasagna and oreo cookies. That's about as exciting as my diet gets. Still running. Still drinking water. And allowed whisky and vodka. On weekends, we said we can cheat, but I've been good.

But then last night's text messaging began and I had to laugh.
Bryan (green), Pam (Orange)

Macaroni and Cheese...
Mashed potatoes
Garlic Bread
W cheese
Going for run, then eating broccoli.
Ugh. Gas gas gas
The magnum bar commercial just came on
I want on. Maybe two
I stared at them at the groceries like I was in an orphanage and I wanted them to be my parents.

42.5 years old and I've yet to master the ratio of food to exercise to be as fit as I want. The love handles are with me for life, I guess. The people who guided me to try this diet swore by it and said, "The weight will pour right off you."

Um, no. Nothing.

I do, however, feel better, except when I get rancid lettuce like I did tonight. My stomach is a mess from it. I couldn't even eat carrot sticks.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Finally, A Hip Hop Hooray For Everyday Socks - Men's Style. So Much Easier to Be Me With These Bad Boys.

I've been asking for funky socks for years. Yesterday, however, I bought 10 pairs for $10 at Burlington. I actually bought another 10 pair for Chitunga because he's doing laundry at my house and I saw his socks. Um, they're supposed to be white, but....

Anyway, Burlington has a vast array of funk, color, flavor, personality, spunk, wit, humor, zest, and pizazz with their choices.

Yesterday, I wore a suit. Black pants. White shirt. Grey tie. Very conservative. People stopped me in the hall and asked, "Wow, you're dressed up today. What's the occasion?" I responded, "No occasion. I just teach. I always dress up to teach." Then they respond, "But you're usually more creative."

Ha ha. Shazaam! That's when I pulled up my funeral parlor attire and say, "Bam! Got you! I have new socks!"

Fooled them.

Seriously, I've been bored by the ways a dude is supposed to dress for decades. T-shirts give some personality and occasionally a tie works to tell a story, but ever since the 80s I've wondered where the heck sock makers were. I mean, good socks for men could be a multi-million business.

Then, yesterday, I found that Burlington finally caught up with my wishes. I have my socks. And, if you notice, you can also see I'm laying on my psychedelic mushroom blanket with gnomes that my little sister made for me at Christmas. She needs to go into business with the sock companies...she'll tap a demographic that is totally needed. Gnome and shroom socks. I need them, too.

As Lossine said from a jpeg of my socks, "Those threads are dope. Stoked."

Yep, I'm stoked.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Ebb and Flow of CWP-Fairfield Work ~ Still Haven't Found The Time of the Year When Work Lessens

I am entitled to complete whining at least once or twice a month. Today, I can do that. Why? I forgot my computer charger at work, several reports are due in just over a week, Tuesdays are my long day and I won't get home from work until 10 p.m. tonight, and I'm already fried.

It's only the day after Monday and not even hump day yet.

Of course, in this line of work I need every moment of my weekend to catch up on the time I lose during the week for meetings. Seriously, my life has become a series of meetings that go on and on and resolve nothing. I think that educated people meet simply to report they've been meeting. The meetings make them feel alive and like they have a purpose. Um...news flash...rarely are they purposeful.

Alas, there's no time to gripe for too long. I need to get to work to make up for all I lost last night without a laptop chord. It may have been divine intervention to tell me to chill out (which I didn't because I read, worked on my iPad, and planned the old fashion way - on paper).

So, I will remain calm. It's the least I can do. I know, too, from experience that tonight will be the night I won't be able to sleep. My mind won't shut off from teaching.

Wa wa wa wa. I sound like a tired brat at a grocery store.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Riverlights Boat Parade - A Stratford, Connecticut Tradition Learned By Crandall in 2014

Saturday night was a first for me to attend the Riverflights Boat Parade in Stratford - a ritual that occurs on the Housatonic every year. We had reservations at Outriggers, so were able to eat scallops and clam chowder as the pride of boats went by.

You know I loved this. It was just tacky and odd enough to capture my interest. My favorite boat was the one decorated as a giant shark. They designed the lights so that the jaws of the shark were munching on tornados. The crowd fully erupted for applause for this one.

I can't help but enjoy any grasp of making a Saturday night eventful, especially as the temperatures drop to the 40s at night and our summer fiestas are ending.

We will find any excuse to expand the good-natured enthusiasm for the more pleasant months.

But with this, I welcome Fall. Let the raking begin and I'm already having fantasies about putting my white lights up at my house.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bumblebees, Sunflowers, Pillows and an Evening with @Paintdeez Art in New Haven. Wusah!

Last night, University of New Haven freshman, Melissa Piehl, teaching extraordinaire, Kathy Silver, and I attended the new solo exhibition of artist Gordon Skinner, Bread and Circuses, at EleMar Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut. The facilities for Skinner's new art debut were spectacular and his new work is definitely worth the trip to the gallery. He continues to amaze me with the way he layers mediums, ideas, and social commentaries about the world as he see it - I can't think of a better way to celebrate a a weekend night, or any night for that matter.

While waiting for Kathy in the parking lot to walk into Gordon Skinner's new show, Melissa and I had fun photographing sun flowers and the ways several bumblebees danced across the yellow energy of the flowers. It is interesting to see bees laboring at this time of year, harvesting all the nectar that they can in the frantic quest to best prepare for the harsher, less fecund months. Bees know best how to suck the marrow out of the summer months.

I couldn't help but think that we, too, were drinking from the vineyards of excellence as we viewed new pieces by Skinner. His pieces always showcase the liveliness of warmer days. We laughed at Metallica dining at the last supper and stood in awe at some of his early first pieces he had exquisitely framed for the showing. I was also glad to see Shante, Gordon's sister, at the exhibit and to catch up with her, albeit briefly, during the showing (she's looking great!).

Shante also shared with me that her brother has returned to making pillows from t-shirt material, a hobby he had begun early in his work. I felt this addition made brilliant contributions when viewed side by side underneath his paintings and collages.

Skinner's work is truly the creation of a one-of-a-kind genius and I always appreciate his whimsical play of color, mixed media, and commentary on the 21st century art world and its influence of pop culture (or is that the other way around). In short, he amazes and inspires me to be more creative in my own work with teachers, students, and writers. I love the way he gets me to think about what is possible.

Skinner's show will be on display at DelEmar at 99 Shelton Avenue from September 20th until October 18th. There, you can see his piece, "Three Legged Woman" - an acrylic paint collage on paper, as well as several other pieces (including his pillows).

Being in the gallery with the artist last night, however, made the exhibition  more special. I am so glad I found the time to be with him, his agent, Bob Albert, and Shante for another phenomenal show. They continue to be very important people to me in my Connecticut life.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Um, Last Night, This Happened. (He Walks Away, Tail Between His Legs). Yep.

I have been over a month without sin. Well, moderate sin. But I have out of town guests and I decided to splurge on them with a feast, which included Magnum Bars. Now, I avoided the potatoes for dinner and the incredible chunky bread with garlic, but I couldn't resist the temptation of desert.

Salad. Grilled Peppers. A little slice of steak.

And Magnum Whites. The temptation called and I had to give in.

What can I say? Out of town guests deserve the  best treatment I can give them and well, I hate to make them feel obligated to eat something that I wouldn't consume myself.

So? Well, last night was a very, very delicious night and I'm very glad to entertain people who help me disrupt my neurotic eating habits.

Yep. Shhhh. Don't tell Pam.

Friday, September 19, 2014

With Respect to History, Thurgood Marshall, and His Son Who Shared His Wisdom With Bridgeport This Week.

On Wednesday, I had the honor of hearing John W. Marshall speak during the Bridgeport Public Education Fund's "60th Anniversary of the Historic Decision of Brown vs. Board of Education." Mr. Marshall grew up as one of two sons of Thurgood Marshall, the lead attorney for that case and later the first United States Supreme Court Associate Justice.

Linda Conner Lambeck of the Connecticut Post did a remarkable job covering the event, so I won't elaborate much here (I just wanted to record the fact that I was in attendance and felt honored to hear the wisdom John Marshall shined on the audience as he discussed his father's contribution to the United States.

When you hear stories of such a powerful man, you wonder, "What am I doing in my life to make the world a better place?" The adversities, the histories, the obstacles, and the racism was immense, yet he paved the road so that so many others could follow.

When asked what he thought his father would think about the state of education today, he reflected that there was much still to be done. The inequities between schools and the resistance of so many to see then are primary concerns.

His words hit home to those who work closely in Bridgeport schools. The two standing ovations he received were well deserved and it was a full house. He spoke from the heart, with playfulness, and with integrity. I was thankful the University invited me to sit at their table for such a remarkable event.

I remain a humongous fan for the hard work of the Education Fund who makes such events possible, especially Marge Hiller who is an empire in her own right!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

MIKE LUPICA! I Can Check This Goal Off My Proverbial Bucket List. Proud of @FairfieldU For Hosting This Writer

For almost a decade I've been a huge fan of Mike Lupica's middle school YA novels. Why? There's a back story. When I was working on my dissertation at Syracuse University and began mentoring a young man from Somalia who was struggling with his reading, I used a gift card from my sister to buy Heat - an act of paying it forward. The kid was on the baseball team, but frustrated that his relocation to the US didn't provide the necessary skills for him to pass state examinations. He wanted to achieve, but reading and writing were too new to him.

The young man read the book by Lupica, however, and simply said to me, "This is the only book I have ever read from cover to cover." Shakespeare, Golding, and Hemingway weren't accessible to his literacy, but Lupica wrote sports texts that kept him reading. They made him want to read more. For this, and this alone, I quickly became a fan.

I first met Mike Lupica through my cousin's Hoops4Hope program where I learned he was a tremendous supporter of global literacy. Late last week, however, when buying books for the dual enrollment students from Bassick at the University bookstore, I noticed a pile of Lupica texts on a table with a small note saying he was doing a book-signing. I took a photo and sent it to Mark. Mark let him know I would be attending his event. I wished I knew of his presence sooner so I could better spread the word.

It wasn't the only one, however, at the signing as the Stags Athletic Department, including Coach Sydney Johnson, were also in attendance to greet the prolific sports writer and advocate for athletes who read. It was an amazing opportunity and I'm so glad the bookstore included CWP-Fairfield in welcoming Mike Lupica to campus.  The man has many friends at Fairfield University and I am thankful he lent his valuable time to our community.

Now, I'm going back to reading Fantasy League.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hello. My Name is Elder Crandall. And I'd Like To Share With You The Most Amazing Book


My friends in Milford texted me today to say they wanted me to return their CD, The Book of Mormon. They told me I had to listen to it a year ago and, to be honest, I've been listening to it for a year. I love it. At first I was offended (in a good way) by the lyrics of most of the songs, but I quickly learned that the score and music with Matt Stone and Trey Parker's mind was simply brilliant. There's no other words for it.

"Um, yes. I have your CD. Yes, Yes. I copied it. I know, I know. It's been a year. I've actually had it in my car to give to you, but every time I forget. I am serious. You can have it back. Yes, I know you want it for road trips. I'd want it for road trips, too."

Shucks. Guilt got the best of me and I instantly returned the CD. Now my life goal is to see the creativity in action one of these days. Even seeing this Oscar clip has me intrigued - as my mind has painted a different scenario for the entire script based on the music.

But tickets in NYC are outrageous still and the traveling show hasn't come to the area.

It will happen though. It must happen. And if you haven't listened to the score, please do. Be prepared. It's something.

And I love it.

Bye Bye, borrowed CD.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Thing I Miss Most About a Regular Routine in Louisville Are The Walks and Talks with Sue (Ditto).

As soon as I got on the plane, Sue sent me a text to say that Ditto went into a slump upon my departure (truth is, I slumped as well). Ditto was a peppy vagabond that found his way into the McV household just as I was leaving the 'ville in '07 and was a regular part of the Sunday morning bagel routine and foot romps around Louisville.

He is a very lucky dog, as Sue is a master walker and has scoped out every amazing 90-minute trail in the area - one that keeps the paws poised and the tails in helicopter mode.

I have fond memories of babysitting Ditto and coming home to a home destroyed by him and Baby: pillows everywhere, bookshelves tipped on the floor and puppy dog eyes when I came home to ask, "What the heck is going on in here?"

Who, us?

In The Odyssey, I was always drawn to Oddyseus's return when only his dog recognizes him after all his adventures. Not even Penelope knew it was him. The dog, however, always knows.

Sue was apprehensive about how Ditto would react to me in his home as he has grown somewhat grumpy to strangers in his midst as he's aged. Yet, as soon as I entered my favorite location in Louisville, I was remembered. The joy trickled to his ears, tongue, and tail. I was honored.

And my legs were honored, too. Sue - as always - mapped out several hikes for us and we did as we always did: traveled, caught up, thought together, worked up a sweat (and craving for lots of vegetables), and tried to solve the riddles of the universe.

These are the moments I miss most in my post-Louisville world.

Monday, September 15, 2014

One Last Louisville Ribbit Before Leaping From the Brown School Pond Once Again. This Lilypad I Love For Life

It seems rather appropriate that as I hiked my last Louisvillian trails yesterday, I came across a pond with lilypads and frogs. A few dragonflies wandered by, as did turtles sticking their heads out of shells upon logs.

That is the world I fell in love with in Kentucky and I'm glad to see everything is as it should be - more developed, but Louisville just the same.

And this morning I head out on a flight back to my new realities, realizing that visiting Louisville is like visiting Syracuse - it just isn't enough time. I have 15 years of roots carved into the soil of this city, and my foundation is rocked a bit from not having enough time to see everyone and to visit all the places that were central to my existence here.

It's as if I never left - it's as if I have never been here. All of it is surreal and unbelievable. One thing is for sure...I have family in two locations.

Now, others in the class of 2001 are marrying this spring and it looks like I may need to return for another visit. We shall see, as it all depends on my spring semester schedule.

I definitely did not have enough time to see nearly as many people as I wanted. I don't even think a week would cover the territory needing to be trekked.

And so, Louisville, I say good bye for now. 7 years ago, I packed an Explorer and took off. It was a hard move, but a necessary one. I grew a lot from my departure and have grown even more from visiting this place that was so special to me for so much of my life.

I am a thankful man. Not everyone could be this lucky.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Dedicated to Turtle. 1997 to Now. The Frog Was at the Pond for hisWedding. 17 years. Really?

This is one of my boys. Well, he's the original...the Turtle...class of 2001 (2g's and a dollar) and my student for four straight years. Also mentored him for the next four years, and have kept up with him ever since. He was my house sitter when I went overseas, my confidence whenever I came back, and I drove him back and forth to college as he majored in Psych at Eastern Kentucky. Shoot, he's even been to Butch and Sue's house with the No More Violence project.
When Jon and his classmates graduated I thought I would die. They were my original Brown School babies and everything else was a footnote. They mentored me as much as I mentored them.

Well, Jon married Sarah Frisby today and stepped into his next phase of life. I was happy to be there for him and only wish I had more time to talk.

I have so many years of his insecure egomania and the talks were endless. But he's on his own two feet now and I love the kid with all of my might. As I quoted often with his class, "God only knows what i'd be without them."

I don't know who Frog would be without his Turtle sidekick.

Here's to all you are, Jon. There was no time to talk this trip, but there are many more conversations still to be had. I am proud of you.

Surreal Reflections. Walking Through Yesterday as a Ghost of What OnceWas

I went to the Brown yesterday and collected who I could from my time there. Very few were left and it was strange being a stranger where I used to be part of all that was strange.
Alice and Neysa are the same. No, the classrooms have all shifted, the leadership has altered, but the kids are the same: quirky. I went by my old room bug couldn't look in...I suppose this is what it is like for any who leave what they love only to return many years later. I wanted to walk and photograph the time that once was, but realized that time no longer matters. I was fortunate to have experienced it when I did. 
We had it all. I am fortunate.
Today is Jon Walker's wedding and the focus is on him. Inforgot my dress shoes, so this ought to be interesting. Not a long post today, but lots of love. Lots and lots of love.

Friday, September 12, 2014

"I've been walking my entire life" - William Panther Ruei, Sudanese-American and "Lost Boy" of Sudan

I was 29 years old when William Panther Ruei arrived to the United States and I signed up to be his mentor through the Kentucky Refugee Missions. I had read about the relocation of several "Lost Boys" of Sudan and learned that over 240 were being sent to Louisville. I met him at the KRM and we quickly built a friendship which included driving lessons, buying groceries, navigating Kentucky jobs, purchasing a first car (it was hot and spicy pink and looked like something Barbie and Ken would drive). We built a lot of memories together, but nothing did more for my understanding of the human condition than burying his cousin, James, after he murdered by three youth in the south side of the city. Those events affected me immensely.

William, and the other men of Louisville, were central to my life in Kentucky from 2001 to 2007. His daughter is now 12 years old and she was born 9 months after he arrived here. He is still putting her through private schools in Uganda before he brings her to the U.S. William has finished his two year associates degree and is working to bring his family over. I'm proud to say that this spring William purchased his first home with his cousin Martin.

William also bought himself a 2006, leather interior Cadillac. I was like, "Dude, are you trying to put me to shame? I taught you to drive in my Explorer and look at how you pimpin now!" The car is the size of my house.

Sue, Dave, Jennifer, Jim, Panther and I went to Vietnam Kitchen for dinner (such nostalgia) and then Sue, Dave, Panther and I went for a hike around Iroquois Park. Sue teased Panther at one point and asked, "Are you keeping up with us? Are you tired of this walking?" Panther simply looked at Sue and said, "I've been walking my entire life."

Williams is one of the 26,000 youth who walked 700 to 1,000 miles in the late 1990s looking for shelter and safety after the janjaweed attacked their villages. They approximate only half of all the boys who fled their homes survived. They persevered in one refugee camp only to have war follow their footsteps and disrupt them once again. A few were chosen for asylum in the United States and Panther was one of them. They were named "Lost Boys" because of the parentless nature of their existence - sort of like the boys in Peter Pan.

Of course, my years of 2001-2007 led to my years of 2007 - 2011 when I lived and worked with relocated refugee youth in Syracuse (and my life continued to change). Now, since 2011, I've been working with similar populations in Bridgeport and New Haven, Connecticut. When I met William and the others in Louisville, I never anticipatedI would one day be leaving or that my life's work (doctoral work, for that matter) would be based off the foundation they offered me through the stories they shared. Hanging out with him last night threw me down the alleyway of my memories. It's hard for me to concentrate on anything because I'm so overwhelmed by the volume of such history.

I am so fortunate to have met him....to be back in Louisville once again.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Psychological Insight on Crandall - The Insight Scoop. I Think This Means Something Really Important.

I have a terrible time sleeping. On a good night I can get 7 hours, but usually it is 3 to 4. I never nap. I don't know how to nap. Never have, probably never will.

Yet, there's something about airplanes....being trapped on them for two to three hours, that chills me out in my place. I can totally grow calm, imagine myself flying them, and simply zonk out.

This is what happened yesterday from DC to Louisville. I slept. Not just slept, but SLEPT. I didn't wake, in fact, until we flew through storm clouds and the turbulence flipped us to the side. Well, then I was awake.

And I'm back in Kentucky. Sue and Dave made me a delicious meal of salmon, okra, salad, pineapple, and roasted peaches. It was great. We went on two hikes in four hours, and Ditto - their grumpy dog - totally remembers me and is my friend. They were worried he'd attack me like he does everyone else. Nope. We bonded.

And we went to sleep with a tornado watch. That is the best welcoming I could ask for....so much so that I insisted I put my air mattress on the back porch so when it arrives I could fly around the city I love with style (I'm really hoping the Nados bypass the city, thank you).

Today, I nerd out. But I've learned that old friends are also in the area this weekend, so my plans of being a writing geek might get subsided.

It's simply too exciting to be back in Louisville.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Looavul, Luhvul, Loueville, Looaville, Looeyville, Louisville. Yep. If All Goes Well. I Will Arrive Here.

Finished teaching last night at 9:45 and got home by 10:15 to pack. Not bringing a lot of nice clothes. Just casual wear. I want to relax. RELAX? Well, not really. I need to take advantage of Thursday and Sunday to stay on my game, but I do hope to have some 'chill time' on Friday and Saturday.

I've not told many people I'm coming, because I haven't been sure how I'm going to process the return. It's for a wedding. My brain is already overstimulated with the semester, and I wonder about stimulating it even more with reunions times a billion. I want to see the Sudanese guys. I definitely will see Sue, Alice, and Charlie. Of course, Walkers my excuse for going as he marries his girl.

I hear the Silos have been torn down. I think they're constructing a bridge. The stadium should be finished. I think the humidity is gone (I hope so). And my old room is no longer Alice's room, so I'm not sure visiting the school will do anything for me other than depress me.

15 years in the city and, poof, I was gone. Two Masters Degrees at the University. An Apartment, A first floor of a home, and then a home. A Toyota, a Ranger, and an Explorer. Juliettte Catherine Alanis Madonna Potatohead ScrappyDoo Olivia Dennis and then Baby. PNC Bank to ResCare, to U of L, to Beargrass Creek State Nature Preserve, to Jefferson County Memorial Forest, to JCPS substitute, to Brown School.

600+ students in those years. Trips back and forth to Denmark. Louisville Writing Project. Nancy's Bagels. Vietnam Kitchen. Irish Rover.

Let's see what's happened over the last 7 years while I've been in foo foo fee, mucky mucky la la academia land.

I've missed Derby City. And I'm off.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

One Giant Grateful Post On a Tuesday. Let It Suffice That I Am Grateful Everyday. So, I Tag the Universe. #Appreciate

First, and foremost, I can be a complete bastard and a total prick. I have what my high school students used to say was BMS - Bryan Mood Swings. One second I am happy-go-lucky and optimistic, and the next am a grumpy over-thinker who is miserable with the world. It comes with the territory of choosing the intellectual life. After all, Jonas receives information from the Giver, but sometimes that information is painful and harsh to handle.

Second, I need to throw a HUGE shout out to Jessica Earley who was first to nominate me for the gratefulness challenge. Her call was to post two things for five days, nominating three people every day. I know, however, that I would not be able to achieve this. I can, though, scribble my thinking here. 

I am enormously grateful to Jessica. Always have been. Returning to Syracuse in 2007-2008 wasn't easy, but lucky for me, Jessica returned there, too. I came to her office sweating as I do - a swampy mess - and interviewed for a summer job (a replacement for a maternity leave). 

THAT SUMMER WAS CHAOS, yet it was HYSTERICAL chaos, and the two of use endured it together.
There's volumes of politics behind the chaos (a post I will unlikely ever write), but I am extremely thankful to know her. In fact, on my refrigerator is a card she gave me at the end of my summer employment. I cherish that card and those weeks together.

I am grateful for the memory of working with Jessica because we also worked with Tracey and Kelsey Hogarth. I think of them as a trio of muses that arrived to my path at exactly the right time (okay, this is a public forum and I'm safe now - I totally crushed on Jessica. All summer I was like, "Is this girl for real?" She got to know my wackiness, but didn't kill me. We simply became VIPs for one another).

Alright, I could write a book of what I'm grateful for (I spent a year, in fact, writing on such a topic during my Lily Pad Chronicle Days). Here, however, I will condense my randomness to the 10 things currently on my mind.

Crandall's Additional 10 Things

10. The reality of Frog, born in 1997 when several freshmen began calling me that because of my backpack. I've been Frog ever since and that alter ego is central to the pond life that continues to be created. No, I don't need all the frog figures purchased for me, but I do love the daemon that will be with me for life.

9. I'm 42. Family. The older I get, the more important they become to me. I would never have guessed that my sisters, and later their husbands, would become my best friends. The humor from the years I spent doing my doctorate at Syracuse will be with me for life. It's a good thing, too, that FaceTime came out when it did. Although I'm away again, I can still call my mom, dad, nieces, and nephews. I am totally grateful for all of them, especially my mom and dad who made the specimen who writes this post today.

8. The National Writing Project. Need I say more? They remain the strongest advocates for solid literacy instruction that I know of - they invest in teachers so that teachers can invest in their students. Any and all who don't value the work of the project have no business addressing educational issues. Teaching is a profession and the National Writing Project has always recognized this.

7. My cousin Mark. I'm not sure if I would have landed into the world I have now if it wasn't for him. From a distance, I learned how he created an international non-profit, Hoops4Hope, and began offering what I could from afar. His work in Africa would eventually guide me to my literacy work with refugees in Louisville and Syracuse.

6. Abu, Lossine, Bior, AJ, Werdi, Sabit, Abdi, Omar, Lugendo, Akech, Victor, Chitunga, Remy,
Abonga, Peter, William, James - the list is long. They are the true meaning of Ubuntu. They are extension of my family and with me for life.

5. I'm still running. Yes, I'm a man of girth and sweat, but I've been clocking 30+ miles a week since I was 18. I have worn out enough Sauconys to fill a garage, and I still see it as the most meditative part of my day, although I've always been slow.

4. I have a job. I am doing the work I'm passionate about. The challenges far outweigh the fact that they rarely give me a chance to unwind and be free. I am willing to push the boulder up the hill as long as it is labor I believe in.

3. Good friends. Wherever I've lived, I've always managed to find wonderful people to spend quality time with. I love to laugh, be foolish, and make fun of myself. Over the years, I've flocked to all those that do the same.

2. Kelly Chandler Olcott. She chaired my dissertation and I think very highly of her. I don't know a more efficient, intelligent, capable scholar - I met my match when I was introduced to her and she kicked my arse....but I am so thankful for all that she invested in me. I am a different sort, but I gained more than enough tools from her to utilize throughout my life.

1. College Basketball and Big Brother. Those are my vices. They make me feel American. They get me to use my remote control. They offer noise to my house - one that is usually invested with books and obsessive digital composing. 

And with that, everyone else in the universe is nominated. What are you grateful for?

Monday, September 8, 2014

And Then There's the Night Where You Lose All Conscious Memory of What Went Down. What, Am I 20?

Okay, This happened.

I set goals for my weekend to prep for my week (which I did), to work on a book chapter (which I did), to run (which I did), to eat healthy (which I did) and to do laundry (which I did, but didn't put away).

But then Saturday night, I took what was supposed to be a two-hour break for a birthday party, but turned into an evening where I had to be driven home. I drink, but I don't DRINK. I'm a control freak and have been faulted for not relaxing enough and rarely taking a break. A drink with dinner, well...I can do that. But when a friend makes your dinner and keeps refilling your drink without you knowing it, and that drink has tequila, you lose your sense of self. More tragically, I lost my sense of responsibility.

I was told I danced a lot and did impressions of my niece in field band. I was told I talked a lot and didn't have the best use of language functions. I was told I had a great time and I was hysterical.

The thing is, I wasn't there. Well, I was. Late in the evening, the executive decision was made to have someone drive me home. I was okay with this, because I had no consciousness that the evening was even happening.

I woke up Sunday feeling fine, but with the epiphany I didn't accomplish all I set for my Saturday night agenda. Then I started receiving texts and apologies - inebriating Bryan was a goal of the party, I guess and they succeeded. They did allow me an evening to relax, but I wish I was around to experience it.

So, yesterday, I spent my day in extra guilt mode doing as much as I could to make up for time lost. It's frustrating, though, because I wanted Saturday night to plan out the action so I could finger tap the piano keyboard all day Sunday. Instead, I had to chisel at my intentions in the morning and write into the wee hours of last night.

Man, the price you pay for being sabotaged and living like the rest of America. Do I have regrets? Nope. But I really do wish I could have attended my own fiesta.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

This is the week I am supposed to return to Louisville, Kentucky - my home from 1994 - 2007. Go Cards!

This week, I am heading back to Louisville for a wedding. I haven't been back in several years and  I'm nervous about returning to the territory that once was so central to my entire existence. This was the view from the Clarksville side and it's been seven years since I returned.

The northeast has cooled its temperatures and I am looking forward to a vacation of sorts to my old stomping ground. I am writing with apprehension, however, because it was at the epicenter to all I once was, but so much time has passed and so many amazing things have occurred: a doctorate, new friends, a new job, much scholarship, new writing, a new position, and new experiences.

It's sort of surreal to think about what would have been if I stayed, and what has become because I left in 2007. It's 2014 and I imagine much has changed, as it should have.

It's also complicated to think that 7 years of graduating seniors have occurred, the curriculum has changed, the national fabric has altered, and what I knew as normal is no longer the reality of the city. Still, I consider Louisville to be at the heart of my well being and look forward to soaking up all it has to offer.

Jon Walker, class of 2007, is getting married and I'm proud to celebrate his occasion with him. Still, I'm unsure if I can emotionally and spiritually endure the karma that is to come.

Bottom line, I can't wait to see Sue, Alice and Charlie. Their influence on my life is immeasurable and that is why this trip will be that much more special.

By Wednesday of this week I will be there. I hope to embrace it for all the creativity it has to offer.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Asking the Bigger Questions About Suffering...a Few Initial Thoughts. Ah, but it's Saturday Morning

I, along with some of my more interesting colleagues, was asked to be in a small learning community at Fairfield to address the question, "Why suffering" and "What are our responsibilities to communities who suffer?"

We met yesterday, a Friday afternoon, and I thought to myself, "Why are such busy people gathering at the end of the work week to ask ourselves such complicated questions?"

A nurse. A business woman. An engineer. An economist. An accountant. A historian. A teacher.

We were united because of our interests in working with populations locally and globally who have lived with trauma and immense obstacles.

This is premature in my thinking, but I was most drawn to the ways our diverse disciplines responded to the question, especially in terms of economics, opportunity, inequities, and global realities. We couldn't help but discuss happiness, too, as the opposite of suffering and how relative the terms we use actually are. I think we all struggled with our initial thoughts, especially as we make sense of how to best guide our students to thinking about such difficult questions.

I was thinking about junior curriculum at the Brown School where I inherited that larger question and the books we taught. We felt that 17 year olds should begin thinking about the question of suffering as they were on the verge of adulthood. The notion of pain (psychological and physical) is relevant to how we create a philosophy of life.

Pain makes us beautiful. Or does it?

So, I will be spending every other Friday talking this way with others who think very different than I do and I have to admit the conversation was thrilling, if not scary. We all recognize that being in a place of higher education is a privileged space to intellectually meander around such questions, but I believe wrestling with them brought all of us to a better understanding of their importance. The opposite of addressing the questions is not addressing them.

And we began to address them. I have many pages of notes that I left on my desk (and am angry about this because I wanted to process them this morning). But, I am good rifting from memory, knowing that the questions were so influential that I actually talked about them with the lady cutting my hair after work and with friends over dinner.

Perhaps at the core of who all of us are is our willingness to face such a question head on and/or the total avoidance of thinking about it. Our behaviors, I suppose, indicate our relationship to our responses.

These conversations should prove to be more interesting. I loved that I was in the company of so many experts with different angles of the world. It was a dialogue that was very rare.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Ten Books (Responding to Facebook Tags and Challenges) - These Are My Influences For Today, Anyway

The trend across the universe is tag people to list ten books that have been influential to them as readers and writers. This is my response on this date in history, but I know that my ten will likely shift, depending on my mood. Even so, here it goes:

As a kid, I loved visiting my grandmother so I could read Miss Twiggley's Tree by Dorothea Warren Fox. The story is of an eccentric loner who lives in a tree with a dog, some bears and her cats. She hates people and they make fun of her. She's the village eccentric until a hurricane comes to town and suddenly she's casted into a savior role. I didn't realize the impact this book would have on me until I, too, learned of my aversion of people and my preference for doing things my own way. Now, I love reading this book, as it is a reminder of my core.

When I was in high school, I was first introduced to Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. I read it with complete awe and continued to revisit its text as an undergraduate and again as a teacher. I love the lifelong journey of the Siddhartha allegory and the idea of finding the right path. It may sound corny, but it centers me.

The summer before I left for college I discovered Alice Walker's The Color Purple.  I read it over a couple of nights and was mesmerized by Celie's life story and the power of Walker's writing. I see the book as central to who I am as a person and I am very thankful it was written. I taught the text in Kentucky and found it offered me a lot of depth to talk with students about history, life, Africa, and what we want in the one chance to be better on earth.

Another text that has helped center my ideologies of the world is Alan Paton's Cry, The Beloved Country. I read it right before Oprah made it her book club read and the price skyrocketed at the bookstores. I often taught the book, but it didn't have the same heart with students as I felt with it in my own reading. I often think of the character, Arthur Jarvis, and the work he did as a mentor: it parallels the work try to do in my classroom. It's not a book for everyone, but I love it.

I couldn't post a history of influential texts without referring to Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I read this book in 1999 and quickly passed it on to a student. He passed it on to another. It was passed to every student in his grade until they all read it. I then bought a class set and every copy was stolen. I bought another class set and they were stolen. Parents challenged the book and shied from teaching it (but I now see it is often on the curriculum in high schools - students will read it despite the paranoia of their parents).

Another controversial book that I love is Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It might be one of the most thought-provoking books of all time, only because it appears to be an adolescent text, but in context of the U.S. and its history, especially in relation to colonialism and the necessity of a Western education, I find the story to be at the heart of a lot of great conversations educators need to have with youth - especially those who doubt what doing well in school has to do with their worlds.

In the classroom, I've also had a lot of success and a passion for rereading W;t by Margaret Edson. It is a script, and one of the deepest pieces of staged literature I've ever read. Each time I pick it up I think about my world as an academic and all the controversies it creates - especially in relation to a non-caring, heartless, and cerebral world. Everyone who is in higher education should have to read this play and think about it.

I read Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland right out of college and have been on a rampage of his writing every since. I think Life After God is my favorite, but Shampoo Planet was the first novel, post college, that hooked me into an obsession of wanting more from a writer. I've read all of his work and although some appeal to me more than others, I'm always a fan of the way his mind works.

My grandmother also taught me to love non-fiction, and because of the work I do, I'm a huge fan of Warren St. John's Outcasts United. I've read the book twenty times and continue to revisit it to understand the inspiration of Luma Mufleh and the story of her soccer players in Clarkston, Georgia. It's one of the more educational texts I've ever read, probably because it has helped me to make sense of the world I've found myself living.

Last, and not least, I continue to be a tremendous fan of Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior. The second chapter, Fa Mu Lan, helped me to think about global realities more than I previous had, and about the ways women are conditioned into particular societal positions by virtue of their sex and heritage. Like The Color Purple, it is beautifully written. I love the questions it allows me to ask of young minds.

Interestingly, there's a parallel, sans Coupland, for the books that have been influential in my life and those I teach in the classroom. I read so many (love even more), but continue to come back to these as a core to the man and thinker I am. We are what we read, no?

So, what's your ten.

Fudge. Stitches by Daved Small. That needs to be here, too.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Three Cheers for the Farmer's Market - Good in Stratford Until October! So Glad I Discovered Their Mondays (but it's Wednesday)

I miss my garden.

I miss my father's garden.

I miss the grilling tray at 5388 Amalfi Drive with the fresh vegetables cooked with Buck's seasoning, but I'm trying my best to recreate in Stratford.

Earlier this summer, I discovered the Stratford, Monday farmer's market, and - lo and behold - reasonable prices for fresh vegetables. It really makes a difference when the vegetables are locally grown and without the grandiose macro-production of commercialized veggies. Simply put, they are delicious. I love that the farmer lady who sells to me each week wears her hair in pig tails. She also wears overalls. Love it.

And I've established a new hobby of stocking my fridge every Monday with vegetables. Last night I cooked many on the grill (although I still need to get a BBQ veggie tray) (Ha! I had Buck season).

The result? Perfection. I also cooked yellow beans on the stove and roasted them a little in garlic and basil - so good (would have been better in dad's buttermilk). The hot Italian sausage was a bonus, too.

I think after Tuesday night's mishap of not preparing anything to eat during back-to-back teaching did a number on me. I needed substance. Last night, Wednesday, I had to eat, and I cooked the vegetables. It was worth every second.

Now, I want to plant a garden again. I want to harvest my own plants and cater to all that is delicious, natural, and smart. I'm not looking forward to returning to the grocery store for vegetables. I've been spoiled. Summer eating is so much better than eating the rest of the year.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

It never fails...bring kids back to school and a heat wave arrives. It's horrendous in some schools.

I'm having a flashback - somewhat of a hot flash - to the days I spent in a Syracuse High School working with English teachers. It was spring and the temperatures were in the 90s. The school had no ventilation and the English wing was on the 3rd floor. Even with windows open, no air moved. Teachers brought industrial fans to their rooms to stir the air, but it didn't work.


Because every May the school heaters kicked on and the heat cranked out. Freeze in the winter, but they work in the spring. Kids used to strip down to what they could get away with and if a teacher picked up chalk, it melted in their hands. Thermometers read over 100 degrees on the top floor. And teaching was supposed to occur?

This was the working conditions of some schools. Actually, these ARE the working conditions of some schools. What amazes me is that everyone act like it's normal - like the steam is supposed to be there and walking through a fog of moisture is healthy for young people in school.

Fast forward. New city. Same thing. Urban classrooms don't have air conditioners. The heat rises fast in old buildings and no air stirs. Today, the hottest day of summer, was a sauna in Bridgeport. After I ran in the morning, it took two hours to quit sweating. Then, in the air conditioned rooms at the University, the heat crept in and the cooling didn't take effect. It was hot.

But, in classrooms of poor school districts, the hot gets outrageous. It's criminal. There's nothing enjoyable about it at all. I imagine most parents from wealthier backgrounds would pull their kids out of such an environment.

And that is why I'm ready to say, "Go away, heat. I love you, but you didn't visit us much this summer, so don't come sticking your icky fingers on us now. Kids are back to school. Leave the extra misery away from their buildings. They are already enduring enough. They deserve to have a cooler experience. The testing culture is bad enough"

Now bring me a pool. I want to jump in. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Obligatory Post: I Am Back To School Starting Today. Truth: I Have Never Left School. It Simply Continues.

It's a Tuesday. This is my first day of a new semester and Tuesday's are my long days. Office during the day and back-to-back courses in the evening...and I get out late.

Still, I have to laugh. Once upon a time my days were filled with 150 kids for six hours every day. There was rarely a moment to think, to plan, to gather ideas, to reflect, or to build. It was survival of the fittest and it began on day one.

Yes, my life is still as hectic, but it's a different kind of hectic. The stress comes from different angles and I have to say, "It's a much more selfish lifestyle." Before, my every moment awake was spent worrying about the lives of kids, my classroom, the future of my school, and my ability to keep up the pace.

Now, my every moment is spent worrying about the ways schools hinder learning and keep teachers from doing what is best for student writers. I am constantly admiring how classroom teachers keep the pace, given the ways our country has turned against them.

But I need to be optimistic and hopeful. I need to keep my mind on doing the work that will make the world a better place.

Today, it begins with in-service and pre-service graduate students at Fairfield University. Sadly, I forgot to buy apples to celebrate another year. Ah, but September is here and apple season is upon us once again. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Good Ol' Rosie, A Day of Celebrating the Fact That We Can Labor For What We Love

It's another Monday. I began laboring when I was sixteen years old by making hotdogs at Spera's meat market. I strapped the pig intestines onto a pipe to stuff the pork, until KayBee Toy and Hobby hired me at the mall. I did that until Sibley's hired me to work retail and eventually I could sell women's shoes. I labored there - paid for college - until I worked frying chicken wings at a student union and learned to puree lasagna in a blender at a nursing home. I went to graduate school and labored at a bank and then a home for mentally disabled adult men. I worked at a nature preserve for the Beargrass Task Force and for the University of Louisville stuffing material into files. I then worked at a high school for ten years before working at Syracuse University. I worked for Upward Bound, LeMoyne College, Liberty Partnerships Program and the Reading and Language Arts Center so I could earn a doctorate. Now I labor at Fairfield University for the Connecticut Writing Project.

This is a celebration that I've had the luxury to work and to earn a salary. That is not the case for a large portion of global populations.

I've been able to labor so that I could earn more education to advance myself. Work, I've found, brings me to the next steps in my life and I'm thankful that I've been afforded opportunities to provide my might and mind to serve others. For a short time I lived in Clarksville, Indiana - home of Rosie the Riveter - and not a day goes by when I don't nod my head in the direction of all who worked before me so I can work today.

It takes might. It takes ingenuity. And it takes dedication. Work, as exhausting as it is, gives a man or a woman opportunity.

And there's much, much more work to be done.

Happy Labor Day. Appreciate all who dedicate themselves to providing more chances to have a shot for others in this world. Not everyone is so lucky.