Ode to That Dude This Morning from my car window

No hands no helmet baby

 completely free

No hands no helmet baby

It aint up to me

Sailing thru the four way stop

Y’all can take turns

Sailing past the traffic cop

Feel the muscles burn

Hauling butt down the road

Hear the siren wail

You’ll never take me alive suckas

It’s death before jail

Chance of Rain

California: It’s not going to rain, is it?
Weather: (Distracted) What?
California: You said it was going to rain, but it’s not. Is it?
Weather: There’s a chance it will rain.
California: (Mumbles) There’s a chance I’ll find out where you live.
Weather: What?
California: Nothing. Look, how do you even know there’s a chance?
Weather: (Flipping through weather puppies on phone) Hee hee. Ahhh. Wha…What?
California: What are your sources?
Weather: It’s hard to explain. You have to study metear…uh, metur um…Metallur…It’s, really complicated.
California: It’s a set up, isn’t it?
Weather: Whaddya mean?
California: It’s a set up. Every now and then you put chance of rain five days out and then downgrade it each day, chance of mist, chance of coldish breeze, until on the day it turns out to be one rain drop. You probably drop that drop with a freaking drone and a bucket.
Weather: Dang it.

Moonday Blood Red Moonday

When the Earth is that guy,

standing in the front row

looking dumbly about

noggin obscuring the view,

“Down in front!” seems

toolittle toolate,

for Earth’s itchy scalp

crawls with manifestdestiny


Still there’s enough room in space

to launch an ocean of plastic

send all the weapons too

every glowing green thing

fukushima space up!

a giant floating plastic nuke jumpy house

drifting just past uranus

how ironic when it hits and destroys pluto

Who’s a planet now, little man?


But the blood red moon was nothing but blackness

when we opened our kitchen door last night,

and padded on bare feet to the dying grass,

the Earth standing in the projector beam

and the moon, his biggest fan,

enveloped in the darkness of his ego

Planets who want too much

and the satellites who adore them

(one NASA scientist said the red hue

was all the earth’s sunsets

reflected on the moon

imagine all the lunatics making out to that)


And when the Earth finally sat down

and the bella luna rose full and strong

just think of the millions of tiny heads

tilted suddenly up from a million glowing screens

spines creaking in protest

look up, little lunatropes!

little moonflowers!

For four billion years she has buzzed around our heads

look up!

At the Beach

In the morning the sun is at our backs and we walk into the ocean. The water is clear and warm. We move in and it climbs our bodies and then we dive and are wet but one, creatures of the water. The sand beneath us is flat then slopes then drops into moon craters, then rises. We rise and fall, and still we walk towards the depths of the ocean. We are tiny and helpless, then tall and godlike.

The waves are rolling at us, small, and small, and medium, then suddenly large, forming and crashing too fast, and we are lost to the power and froth. We turn and tumble and find our feet upon the sand underneath, the sun rising at a 45, 50 degree slant, the water clear, and still we head towards the depths.

A small wave rolls by. It would push a child. Another. A medium. Now a large wave forms and I swim to it, turning, swept up in its pull and curve and rise. I face the sun and throw my arms forward and kick and swim ahead of it, racing to grab it, to convince it to grab me, to take me along. I am caught and falling into it. I stroke a few more times and then bring my arms down and tuck them under me like skis. I shoot out into the front of the wave, in the power and froth, and lift my chin and fly ahead with it and fly and fly, until the drag of my body catches like a parachute and I am jerked back to the sea and waves moves on, rolling towards the mud and sand, the morning towels and the wall beyond.

I Know My Heart Beats Fast

Last week I challenged my students to memorize the poem “Invictus.” (You know, “…I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul”.) Four students nailed it. Three of them recited it for the whole class. Perhaps the strongest performance came from an otherwise quiet young woman from Eritrea.

Today I noticed her homework assignment. I had them write a list, “Ten Things I Know to Be True” (Thank you, Sarah Kay!). Her list begins…

  1. I know that I am shy
  2. I know that my heart beats so fast every time I stand on stage

Later she writes,

5. I know that I am lucky to be here

6. I know that life is beautiful

She concludes with

10. I know that I’ve been memorizing Invictus the whole day.

Preparing for an Interview

In a room by myself, I ask questions and then I answer them. I often start with, “I’m glad you asked me that, Bob.” I try not to say “Well…” and then get cross-eyed and then fall over onto my face. I make eye contact with the hat wrack. I smile.

I exude the kind of confidence which can only be exuded when there is nothing actually at stake. Eyes on the hat wrack. “I’m glad you asked me that, Bob.” Smile. I hold out my hands as if sculpted by Rodin and use metaphors or perhaps an efficient little anecdote that turns out to be a parable for our times.

In a room by myself, I say dumb things and then I say slightly smarter things. I write down the smarter things. When I ask myself the question again, later, at first I only remember the dumb things.

When I ask myself a question that I can’t immediately answer, I stand up and move to the other room. I circle the table, repeating the question and stabbing at answers. “That’s such an important question, Bob…” I finally arrive at a halfway decent angle of approach and return to the other room. I write down the slightly halfway decent angle of approach. Later, all I remember is, “That’s such an important question, Bob.”

When I get tired I sometimes add, “Wait, can I call you Bob?”

Turns out his name is Fred.

Two Drumsticks Clapping

First day of the semester in the pleasant hills. I start the semester right with ye olde carefully setting my alarm for pm and not am trick, but my daughter saves  me with a, “Papa, I thought we were getting up early?” She is up early because the new early morning plan involves dropping her at a friend’s house en route to my 8am class. Saved by friendship.

Through the tunnel and into the hills, I pull into the near-empty lot and fish out my new parking permit. This is Tuesday/Thursday so I use the maroon one. On Monday/Wednesday, at my other community college, I will use…what is it? Oh great, a different shade of maroon. I am marooned in Spring 2015. I stagger off to my office, sliding door, press the button on the heater. It works! Ah, lap of luxury.

A few minutes to 8, I trot to my room, entering it for the first time. In K-12 education, your room is your room. You set it up and wait for the class to come to you. In higher ed, you arrive with or after the students. Later in the day, you wait for a class to file out and an instructor to pack up, before you file in and unpack. You look around, take stock, and make do. I often set out my materials, write something on the board and then sit there looking dopey until class begins.

This morning I venture a strong, “Good morning!” and am almost flipped over Peanuts style by the rousing response. They haven’t learned to ignore me yet. Later, as we are about to begin a partner activity, I have them turn and introduce themselves. It is as if I have flipped a switch; the room erupts into friendly chatter. Building community with this class will be a breeze.

After class one, my students file out, some lingering to ask me questions. One student tells me her English is a little weak but that she has taken such an such ESL class and is a hard worker. I will need to assess her next class. Another student waits ’til all have gone to point out an assignment on the schedule, for next week, and say, “I’m not sure I know how to do a Critical Response. I’m straight out of high school…graduated last month.” I explain to her what it will be and reassure her that I will go over all that in class.

“No one knows what a Critical Response is,” I tell her. I don’t add, not even me.

She smiles, seems relieved, and heads out.

My next class is three doors down, which is a bit ridiculous. I pack up my stuff, head over, walk into a room half filled with students and venture another, “Good morning!” If the first class responded with a 10, these guys give me a 6 back.

As in the first class, I spend most of the 80 minutes introducing the class, firming up the roster and checking with the students on the waitlist. I keep a running count at the bottom of my roster: Students Missing 6. I cross it out each time one of them straggles in and write the new number. The later they were, the harder it was to park, and so the later they are. At one point I ask them all to share their parking tricks. One lanky guy in a warm hat gives away his secret spot near the 7-11.

I suggest we all buy him a slurpee.

When I am down to about 3 student no-shows and halfway through the class, I start to hit a rhythm…literally. I produce a set of speakers from my backpack and plug them into my laptop. I tell them, “Two weeks ago, I was putting the finishing touches on my end of year music mix and it suddenly dawned on me that creating a mix is much like writing an essay.” I begin to play songs for them and describe the process. The first song I put on, by Alt-J, belts out this line,

Hey Shady Baby, come on…

I talk about the prewriting phase where you’re just listening to music (reading) and throwing together all the songs of interest, even dumping in whole albums (freewrite). I talk about the rough draft phase where you’re glancing at the assignment and making the easy cuts and wrestling it into some sort of form. I tell them, if nothing else, to know that all the initial writing they do is just to find what the essay is really about, to identify the spark, the idea, the point and then start over with that.

I tell them it took me a while to find the song that would be the heart of my mix. I blast “How We Be” by Sinkane and watch some feet start tapping. I tell them this song began to suggest a direction for me. I talk about how my assignment may be to craft a mix with songs from 2014, but that I won’t know my theme until I sort through everything I’ve put in there and find what works, what connects, and what I want to say/play. I talk about audience and play the first lines of St. Vincent’s “Birth in Reverse”:

Oh what an ordinary day
Take out the garbage, masturbate
I’m still holding for the laugh

I tell them I play my mixes a lot for and with my kids and that, considering that audience, I was not comfortable with these lyrics for this audience. I tell them I might use this song in a different mix with a different audience. I swapped it for the song “Digital Witness” with the refrain:

People turn their TV on it, it looks just like a window

Around this time, the door pops open and a tall, incredibly young seeming guy lopes in. “Where can I set this?” he says, indicating a huge black, rectangular case he is carrying (keyboard?). I show him and ask him his name.

“Miles Davis.”

I check the roster and, sure enough, there it is: Miles Davis. All I can mutter in response is, “Whoa!” I show him the last empty desk and he sits down. In the back row, two friends who took my class last semester, exchange a look and giggle. I wonder irrationally, for a nanosecond, if they’ve planned the whole Miles Davis Episode.

At this point I forget to go on and mention the importance of one track leading perfectly to another track (transitions) or how I searched to find the perfect intro: “Jackie and Wilson” by Hozier, which comes in with the sound of two drumsticks ticking together: tick tick tick tick…

This is how my semester begins.


March 13 March for Public Education!

While I think we lost a real opportunity to bring back quality funding for California’s public schools when we let our “super majority” slip away, I remain convinced that the return of the arts and music and nurses and counselors and smaller classes and professionally paid teachers (and thus a professional workforce)  all hinges on our taking to the streets and demanding better for our kids. We’ve got to start, I think, with reforming Prop 13. I’ve been searching for the perfect date for a state-wide march on Sacramento to save public education, and now I’ve found it. Let’s march on Friday, March 13, and demand true reform: close the business loophole in Prop 13 that has been underfunding California’s public schools for 35 years.

March 13, 2015, March to Save Public Education!  Anyone in?


Pleasant Hill morning with the sliding door open just a bit because that is the culture here, or at least on my courtyard: open, visible, ready to for a student to stop by or a colleague to pop in. No matter how early I get here, 8:15 today, Kelvin is here first. There he is, across the ferns, door open more than mine, light on a little brighter, sipping his coffee and working. I”ll get there some day, but for now I hunker down and live unit to unit, week to week, class to class.

Now a young student appears, talking incessantly, leading another young student in a blindfold. He leads him between the ferns and Kelvin towards a garbage can. His smile flashes for a moment but then he adjusts the guy 45 degrees left, two steps, 15 degrees right, and they are gone.

This happens again, ten minutes later. Two new students. The blindfold. The instructions, weaving past the prehistoric ferns, dodging the arriving English instructors pulling their black bags on wheels, and vanishing.

And then it happens again.

Fraternity? Outward Bounds?

A really, really good English class? Ooh, no, an ESL class, working the language of directions. You’ll learn it or you’ll maim your partner.

Is the universe trying to tell me something? The universe is always trying to interject. Perhaps a suggestion that I am the blind leading the blind? No, there was only one blindfold in each pairing. The music in my earphones is swelling and the man sings, “Taken for a fool…”

Is it simply that I’m in charge, as a teacher, of guiding my students through the jungle? I don’t know about that, but I do know I just read a wonderful homework letter from my student, A-. She was writing a letter to a future English student, breaking down what she’s learned about reading and taking notes and metacognition.

She writes:

“I think that before I began to really interact with the text and analyze what I was reading, I was missing out on the full context of the writing. And I didn’t start to actually analyze what I was reading until about the third grade. It was just extremely difficult for me to think that there was a literal meaning and a metaphorical meaning to many things that I read. And even in third grade, I still struggled with it.”

Maybe I’m the blindfolded one, being led by my students, by my career change, by my nose. Maybe the universe’s point is more to the tune of this.

If you’re not in danger of ending up head down in the garbage, feet kicking in the ferny breeze, perhaps you’re not really trying.


The Lake and the Mountain

I’m back in the, back in the, back in the USA, well into year two as an English Instructor at the community college. Two days a week I ride my bike through the mansions of Piedmont, winding down past the collective Oakland bakery, alongside our glorious morning lake to an urban college, gritty fabulous. Two days a week I listen to a podcast of music I’ve never heard and drive up through the tunnel, cut left over some hills, glancing over the valley at Mount Diablo, stretched out like a beautiful, comfortable dog, and arrive at a college with trees, a sliding door, a desk.

This morning it’s Pleasant Hill and back-to-back classes on “Developmental Reading.” My first classroom is narrow and tall, always cold, with long tables stretching out from the walls and moving around difficult. To make a circle would be to bring a power saw. After class ends, I have ten minutes to make it across campus to the library, upstairs, for a wide, comfortable room, also with long tables. To get to this classroom, my students,  mostly in their first semester here, stroll through the quiet library, weaving through quietly studying students. If I teach nothing, there is still the benefit of that: students modeling being students, the beauty of a quiet library, those things on the shelves in the stacks.

In my backpack today, four bags of Bananagrams. Last week it was Apples to Apples. This is my first time teaching a class that is just about reading, not so much the writing. If I’m going to teach students to be college readers, I’m not just going to teach them reading strategies. I’m also going to press them to geek out on words and word games. I’m going to get them hooked on Ted Talks or This American Life. I’m going to bring in The New Yorker and The Sun, but maybe also Tintin.

Speaking of what I’m going to do, look at the time! I’m going to do it soon. Time to go over  my plans, double check my homework (Read “Reading as a Reader” by Donald M. Murray) and head out that sliding door. Green ferns wait beyond.