I just published an essay on my dad, my son and the love of game.
Fellow Teachers, Parents, Citizens and California Neighbors,
We have cut our schools to the bone and then into the bone and Prop 30 and the Governor’s budget are not going to do more than stem the bleeding. The bones are still weak and have been weak since Californians passed Prop 13 thirty-five years ago (almost to the day). From overcrowded kindergarten classes to overpriced university classes, we are paying for our financial mistakes with the miseducation of an entire generation, the decimation of our schools, our libraries and our cities.
One field trip could change all that. Enough with the cutting of librarians, arts in the schools, music programs. Enough with overworked, underpaid teachers, and classroom conditions which do not and will not foster the critical thinking and innovation we need to save our economy and environment! Mark your calendars:
Let’s takeover Sacramento on Friday the 13th, 9/13/13, and demand the reform of Proposition 13!
Here’s an efficient synopsis from a site called Close the Loophole on how we got in this mess, where our per-pupil spending is consistently 48th or worse in the nation:
“Thirty-three years ago, California passed Prop 13 – and it still dominates our political and fiscal realities today. Of course, the right-wing Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association took advantage of an opening – escalating property taxes that were threatening the homes of seniors, gridlock in Sacramento and an ascendant conservative movement that elected Ronald Reagan two years later. At a different time, they may not have been successful.
“But they were also crafty enough to go for a comprehensive measure whose impacts were not suddenly apparent – and would permanently starve the public sector. Beyond giving Grandma peace of mind that her property taxes are locked in place, Prop 13’s real impact was a huge windfall for commercial properties. Billions of potential tax revenue gets lost every year in California, because big commercial landlords pay 1% of their 1978 value.” (
Even the most hopeful articles printed in the papers recently are riddled with the word “maybe.” Five days ago, the San Francisco Chronicle reported a poll that a majority of Californians supporting closing this loophole and yet take a look at the language of analysis:
“This is a change that may find its way to the ballot in the next few years…”
Go find a teacher and ask them, “How’s it going? Everything good at work?” Ask them if they want to wait a few years to see if some change finds its way into the schools?
Why are we even able to talk about this now? Bodies on the street. Say what you will about the Occupy movement, it allowed us, at least briefly, to talk about class again, about the 1%. How we are going to get past just talking about change now?
Bodies on the street, demanding we invest in education and in children.
Let’s stop talking about how California’s schools used to be great and do something about it on Friday the 13th, 9/9/13. The time is now to change the future.
You flip open your computer. Now, seemingly, you have a choice. You can check email, yes. You can see what’s up with your neglected friends on Facebook. OK. But what else can you do?
Well, you could write. Did you know these gadgets are also writing machines? When you reach over to click “Like” on your neglected friend’s posted video clip, did you know your fingers are passing over a keyboard, filled with keys, all the letters of the alphabet? This baby makes words, stories, worlds!
What could you write? You could write a letter. Imagine scooting your chair into a desk and before you is a manual typewriter. It waits patiently for you to write something. The thought bubble above its head is, “Write.” All you can do is write. Ease behind a laptop, however, and it is thinking, “Surf!” “Browse!” “Check!” “Shop!” “Drop!” Buried in there is this notion of “Write.”
For a while now, I’ve been thinking that computers are essentially anti-writing machines. The email button says, “Compose,” but how often do you truly compose something, even for email? It’s 99% logistics. Even when we try to be newsy, it’s too easy to erase. One of the beautiful things about typewritten letters, was that you rambled. You typed a paragraph or two about something and then changed course, but instead of zapping that fragment of a story, you left it in there. Eventually, you pieced together a mosaic of your recent life, gave it a tri-fold and mailed it off to a physical mailbox by a tree or a path or some stairs.
But wait a minute, you say. You’re not a writer. You didn’t get this machine for writing. You got it for…well, what? For work? For surf, browse, check? That’s fine. I’m probably not talking to you, though I suspect you may be more of a writer or artist than you give yourself credit for.
Anyway, time to check email and get to “work.”
Start small, again. Write things you know are true: the apricots making the tree bow as if before royalty, the squirrel flowing over fence-top like fog into San Francisco, and the birds crazy blue in the sky.
Don’t write about your gut and its expansion, because that’s only good for a brief laugh, not a guffaw. Write about what you know in your gut: that the sound from the couch in the other room of your daughter and wife playing ukulele and singing “Lean on Me” is a good thing.
Start small and write often enough that you give the nuggets a chance to present themselves in the pan.
Be willing to be the floor in between being the dance, to call a ragged lawn ragged, a green pot a pot, and the sound of children arguing in the other room just the wind that stirs the tall sproingy reeds sprouting from the soft grass.
Note the berries on your neighbor’s tree, the pitch of the roof next to his and, yes, your gut and its expansion. Consider a bike ride up through the hills, heart pounding, water bottle squeezed like your lungs, heat, sweat, and the chilly zip back down the long hill.
Hold onto that thought, watch it strain at its tether, intent to dart away, chased like a tiny fish from the huge dark shadow and glinting teeth of a shark called Netflix. There it goes, slipping from your fingers, in an instant vanishing into the cracks of your unspackled laziness.
On my way back from the restroom, I pulled these words of wisdom off the shelf:
PLINY Natural History, Volume V, Libri XVII-XIX
Latin on the left side, English on the right
“Putatio ne plaga sit; vitalia sunt omnia quaecumque non supervacua…”
Oh, I forgot you don’t speak Latin…
“Pruning must not be assault and battery: every part of the tree that is not actually superfluous is conducive to its vitality…Swine dung burns the vines unless used at intervals of five years…If pomegranates produce sour fruit, it is advised to dig round the roots and apply swine’s dung; then in that year the fruit will have a flavour of wine, but next year it will be sweet. Others are of opinion that pomegranates should be watered four times a year with human urine mixed with water…
“Figs are liable to fall off when it thunders at the Feast of the Vulcan; a remedy is to have the ground round the trees covered with barley straw in advance…
“Some give the name of the ‘fly’ to a creature that gnaws away the young grapes; to prevent this they wipe the pruning-knives on a beaver skin after they have been sharpened and then use them for pruning, or smear them with bear’s blood after pruning…
“People get the ants to collect in one place by hanging up a fish close by…Many people kill ants and also moles with the dregs of olive oil, and to protect the tops of the trees against caterpillars and pests productive of decay they advise touching them with the gall of a green lizard, but as a protection against caterpillars in particular they say that a woman just beginning her monthly courses should walk round each of the trees with bare feet and her girdle undone.”
That is to say,
“Privatim autem contra urucas ambiri abores singulas a mulieree initiante menses, nudis pedibus, recincta.”
Real talk, people.
You know how when you drop the ball it bounces once, fairly high, then a little lower, then lower, until it is doing quick little bounces just off the ground? That’s how minutes before class work and today once again they were in the final spastic bounces as I burst out of the library gripping “The Subject of Reading and The Colonial Unconscious: Countertransference in J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians.” Even the title exhausts me.
It was sunny, of course, because it is always sunny during the day, at least in space, but it was cloudy here on Earth, beneath the vapor, and chilly with talk of much needed rain coming later to break the bizarre February spring we just completed. I sat on a little wall near a huge, hulking silver sculpture called “Three Interlocking Rings.” I read:
“Thus, the other, rendered infinitely inaccessible, is transfigured into a void in which the colonial sovereign subject speaks to himself instead of speaking to the other (natives) and in which the sovereign subject of the state speaks of the Other (the unconscious desires of the empire) instead of speaking for the other (the desires of natives).”
Sigh. Let me try that again. “Rendered infinitely accessible?” Scrunch. Scratch. Think damn you, old brain.
I looked up at the big hulking three interlocking rings: the other inside the other inside the other, one the empire, one the natives, one the desires of the natives. I looked down at the pool of blue squares around the base of the sculpture. Still slightly murky.
Just then a blur in the distance. I glance up at something coming on fast, like a dog but more like a werewolf, streaking from the long row of sycamores onto campus, a rustle and then a huge deer explodes out across the path into the ivy, dips towards the creek but leaps across, bounding across the large meadow, people stopping, staring, shouting.
A second rustle, a second deer exploding from the bush, this one slightly smaller, bouncier, into the ivy, across the creek, bouncing forward on the meadow, bouncing diagonal, Mills Hall to their right, Tea Shop to their left, across the meadow, through the trees, gone.
I collected my jaw, grabbed my essay and scurried on the winding black path to class. I burst into the room and told the small group of classmates what I’d seen. One worried, “Why were they out in daylight?”
I agreed that was a problem but then I thought: that was cool.
Turns out we’re discussing that essay next class.
He pushes the metal gate creaking open and walks past the box where you turn on the court lights with a long stick or you die of electrocution. He hears a dripping and notices the back of the court, near the fence, is starting to chip off, big flakes of once smooth surface giving way to intractable underbelly. He approaches the bench, that dripping still in his mind and ears, and mumbles good morning to the other player who has arrived and is leaning next to the bench, gripping the fence like a prisoner and stretching. He unzips his tennis bag, reaches in and feels water, pulling out his water bottle with the top screwed askew. He takes out his racket, unzips a bit, tips and pours out a half gallon.
It’s time for Sunday morning tennis.
Hey, I just published my 2nd piece on Oakland Local! It’s about Joaquin Miller (who died 100 yrs ago last week), about a poet’s hike in the Oakland hills, and about Oakland’s literary history. Please go check it out and, as pathetic as this sounds, “like it.” (To be a digital writer is to be a nervous teenager, standing on one foot, one arm behind your back, asking folks to like you.)
The tire turns in the dirt just off the curved driveway and spins and smokes and the humans stand and watch. The chickens are nearby, the skateboard flipped over next to some plants, and the water has risen to the sky and drifted over the hills today, low, gray, thick. The humans stand back and look at the front of the car and the small tree a foot away and the hole beneath the wheel. They picture tow trucks and cranes and helicopters or maybe just Clifford the Big Red Dog, biting the back bumper and pulling the family car to freedom.
The second driver switches back to the first driver and the humans lean on the front and the man from the green house says try straightening the wheel. They dig in their feet and push hard on the hood and bumper and the wheel stars to spin and it catches and moves and they push harder and each imagines they are actually pushing a whole car by themselves and it moves up the slope and up and they push one final push and it pops up over the drive way back onto the asphalt and they are saved.