Sitting on a Branch in the Drizzle

Some people need to sing. Others to dribble the ball. I need to write.

It happens for days, weeks even. My fingers twitch at night. I toss and turn, words and phrases dropping through my brain like Pachinko balls.

Lately I’ve been better about taking a minute to sit in my front porch (enclosed), feet on the furry green pillow, and dash off some thoughts in my journal (it’s really a little blue keyboard, but that’s another story) before bed.

But there’s the writing you do for yourself, like lifting weights to build muscles, like going for a walk to clear your head, and then there’s put words into whiteness that are read by someone. That’s where writing gets exciting.

So, here I am, in between grading reading quizzes, writing again. Here I am, flapping up to a branch and singing my song. (Suddenly, as I am just about to reach the last line, I remember something I actually wanted to write about! Coming soon! The ice begins to crack. The flow returns.) It feels pretty good.

Finger on the Issues

It is raining in drought town again

but who is more confused?

the flowers

or the electorate?

this climate change uncertainty

those white flowers used to bloom only on my wife’s birthday

now they are angry,

drive white trucks

and vote the game show ticket

…except, looking closer,

the bumpersticker says “Bernie,

because F*%k this S#%t!”

So…

how can we join hands

and throw our petals in tickertapehooray!

when the only thing we have in common

is the middle finger?

Keeping the Streets Safe

Today I saw a guy out walking without earbuds in. He was apparently just listening to birdsong, carroar, the beat of his own heart, the breeze, the whisper of leaves, the crunch beneath his feet. I, of course, alerted authorities and he was immediately swarmed and brought down. They quickly got him set up with a pop music IV, a nice blend of Bruno Mars and Beyonce with a dash of Drake, and sent him smiling down the street towards the nearest phone store, with a coupon for an upgrade.

In related news, check out this blasphemy in the L.A. Times Monday. Whaddya think? I’ll wait for the song to end…

 

The Dogged Moon

This morning my semester began again and the moon was waiting for me as I emerged from the tunnel. She rose just over the green hills. I told her she looked full, hastening to say I meant healthy, but we both knew she was on the wane. She dogged me as I turned off the highway and wound through the hills, disappearing behind leaveless trees, rising briefly above a cow’s head, and then vanishing into a thick fog that gobbled up every last bit of cheese.

My students were waiting too, sitting at those small forward facing desks, staring at an empty blackboard, as if willing the chalk to rise up and write fabulous things. For some, this 8am reading class was their first college class and so 8am would be their first college moment. All I had to do was open my mouth and it would all begin.

I said, “Good morning, good morning!” as I walked in, because I’ve been burned before, those times I said just one good morning and no one answered back. With two good mornings it at least feels like call and response. Actually, I tried this in both classes today and found I got far more good mornings back than usual, as if they fell for the illusion of conversation and wanted to get in on it.

The day was spent talking too much, as always, and the best moments were when I had them talk to each other, sharing their answers to a reading and interests survey. What’s your favorite subject? Do you have a job? What kind of music do you like? Suddenly they were smiling and room came alive for a while. Don’t worry. I shut that down and got them back to staring up at me, wide-eyed, nary a twitch on their faces.

For my first act of cruelty, I asked them to share what they had learned about their partner: commonalities or differences. “He speaks Chinese,” said one, “and I speak Farsi.” Another said, “We’re both Psych majors.” As they ran out of comments, I introduced them to my old friend, Awkward Silence. I told them I was OK with awkward…(wait for it)… silences because just like boredom they usually lead to good things. I then laid some more awk-si on them. Several more students crumbled under the pressure and shared what they had learned about their partner: “She doesn’t like reading either,” “He speaks another language too,” “We both like to study in the library.”

It was the first day of my semester and I taught two classes and returned to my car. The fog was gone but the lower corner of my front windshield was still fogged up, a kind of frozen blue color, as if someone had fired a freeze ray at it and soon would punch their way through. As I drove off through the hills, I had the sneaking suspicion it had been the moon, still offended by that “you look full” comment.

 

 

 

Final Moments

Six hours of finals washed away when the student turned in her paper, paused, looked at me, came back and said, “Thank you. I have learned so much in this class.”

Beautiful and Cozy

Over Thanksgiving break, my 75 developmental reading students at Diablo Valley College had the option of a “November Check-in” on how this semester was going (for most of them, their first semester of community college): two paragraphs on expectations, reality, points of stress and intentions for the final stretch. I find this a good time to reflect on whether you have entered a November Nosedive and whether you intend to pull up or crash and burn.

When I checked today, I found that only five students took me up on the extra credit in each class (20%), going online and posting two paragraphs about their semester on our discussion board. At first I was disappointed, but then I thought, well, they were probably crawling to their break and going on the computer to do some extra assignment was the last thing they wanted to do. Then I read through their responses, eager to see how they felt about things. They said it went better than expected. They said it went normal. They said it was going “pretty good.” They said, “Overall, this is a good adventure for me.” One student said his first semester had been “A blast!” Another said, “It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but it wasn’t easy either.”

One comment which really caught my eye, though, was about the sense of community in our class. When I was in grad school, something that always troubled me (as a trained elementary school teacher) was the lack of community building. Sometimes, if there were personal writing involved, we got to know each other that way, but very rarely did we spend any real time, beyond perhaps the first class, going deeper in our understanding of and comfort with our classmates. When I first started visiting community college classes, I asked the students if they felt like at the end of the semester they knew their classmates. Most agreed: nope. Not at all. The same people always sit together, they told me, and they just talk to each other.

I decided that my classes would not just start with introductions and personal writing, but would include time throughout the semester to check in with each other: dumb stuff, simple stuff, good stuff, from what kind of alarm do you use to get to this 8am class to where did you grow up to what’s your favorite movie or dinner or singer? I made a real effort to break up the pods and cliques, mapping out different groups ahead of time, moving the back row to the front and the front row to the back, drawing random cards to re-seat students and, later, as they grew to trust me a bit more, asking them to go find someone they had never spoken to and interview them, find out a little bit about who they were. Which is why today, reading through the comments, I was so pleased to see this comment:

“As the classes went on, my fellow classmates and I were comfortable because of the many times we had to switch around the class and interact with one another.”

Another goal I have with my basic skills and developmental classes is to build some muscle memory with them around going to their college library. Marching them in for orientation and showing them around is great, but you’ve got to go back and back again (and back some more). After the tour, I bring them back and have them grab a magazine and find a good study spot to fill out a worksheet reading and responding to the text…but really I’m more interested in them finding a good study spot. I bring them back again and have them use the library computers to go to some web site or send me an email describing a character sitting next to them. I have them check out a book and, if they wish, immediately slide it back through the return slot, just to make sure they know how. Sometimes I have them spend the full class time sitting in the library reading, taking notes, or catching up on their work.

So I was equally ecstatic to see this comment in the November Check-in from a foreign student. Pardon his rapidly-improving English.

“I have never reached out library in my High School and Junior High School. I don’t think library is in my dictionary. I felt so odd with library, once I heard about it, my first impression is nerd, dusty, old and silence. Until… [my professor] encouraged us to do our assignments about library in the library. That was the first time I entered DVC Library, and it overwhelmed me. I have never know library could be so beautiful and cozy. It is not dusty. It is not nerdy. And it is not old. After that assignment, I know something that I have a new place to study now.”

Is he possibly just writing what I want to hear? Almost certainly.

Do I care?

Nope.

 

 

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.