First of all, Blondie is still going. I usually skip it. It always seemed to me like the same four gags: the giant sandwich, running into the postman, the carpool and the couch. Today, for whatever reason, I decided to read it and was instantly struck by the fact that the mom (daughter? See, that’s the other problem, they’re all like the same two people) is on a computer. I kind of figured they were all re-runs and it never went past, I don’t know, 1962. She’s using a flat screen, stand-up computer. Looks like an iMac. “I’m just finishing up a little online shopping, Dear.” At the end she says, “It’s a whole new world, honey.” There’s not actually a joke to speak of in the strip. It’s like they somehow wandered into the future and now they’re making a quiet, flat, two dimensional plea for help.

In Baby Blues, which I’ve always loved, big sister is staring at little brother (OK, this is why, obviously) and little brother is reading a book. She runs to tell her mom. Mom says so what. Sister says, “It’s a book without pictures!” Mom leaps up, “Where’s the camera!” (Should have been a question mark there, folks). I mention this strip only because this is my life right now. Little brother in my house read his first chapter book the day before he turned seven, last month. It was an A to Z Mystery. He has been hooked now for a month. Every day he comes home, grabs a book and reads on the couch. He gets home from school, walks past his games he loves, grabs a book and reads on the couch. It’s an awesome thing and I must say a total surprise to this teacher parent. I really had him pegged, stereotyped really, especially because he’s such a sports fiend right now, as someone who would maybe get interested in reading mid-third grade. I guess there was also that reading was hard for me. I could write early on but it took me a long while to figure out reading. Even when I did, I got sent to a special class for reading comprehension in 6th grade, because I would read something, enjoy it but not remember it.

What flipped the switch for this little man? I don’t know. I know that the night it happened big sister was reading this A to Z Mystery to him and then she got tired. He wanted to know what came next. He wanted to stay up reading. I told him he could stay up a little more if he wanted to read to himself. He did and he did. This last week was a read-a-thon at their school, so they’ve been writing down all their reading minutes. Big sister at one point announced, completely bewildered, “My little brother out-read me!” It’s a strange new world.

Then there is “Classic Peanuts” as they bill it. No flat screen here. Charlie Brown is lying in bed, under a comforter, turned sideways towards me, the reader. Snoopy is lying on his back atop the comforter, eyes closed. Charlie Brown says, “Sometimes I lie awake at night, and I ask, “Is life a multiple choice test or is it a true or false test?” Next panel (there are only two) he is facing forward, over snoopy, who has shifted a bit but is still sleeping. “Then a voice comes to me out of the dark, and says, “We hate to tell you this, but life is a thousand word essay.”

This is the problem with No Child Left Behind and high-stakes testing boiled down to the Charlie Brown truth. Of all the truth in the world this is the Charlie Browniest.

This is also my life right now, because I’m all about essays. I’m writing essays for my creative nonfiction program. I’m studying essays for my craft of nonfiction class. I’m grading sample essays for my Theories and Strategies of College Writing class. And I’m heading off to Diablo Valley College, this minute, to meet with a teacher about how she grades her freshman composition essays.

Comic, this life.

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