Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sufjan Stevens.


Summer 2006, Boston. I and most of my friends have recently graduated from college, and in a few months, most of us will be heading separate ways. Kathy and I and Allie are sticking around for awhile, but Meredith and Zoe are headed to Portland, Kim and Cliff are going to Oregon, too, Steve and Sam (a little later) will soon be in LA, Sam and Luis are on their way to Kentucky; others have dispersed as well. But somehow magically most of us have the summer together, a summer resting between turning points: ending college, and then, starting the rest of our lives. Things feel weird and anxiety-inducing, but relaxed at the same time, for now; things feel exciting and hopeful too, new beginnings, and all that. We all work a lot at our insignificant jobs, and then we get together. We all sit around and sweat in un-air-conditioned apartments. We run around Boston. We watch movies, have parties, talk. We eat Anna's, order Pizzanini, stuff Starbucks' cupcakes down our throats until we are sick. [We are still all dispersed now, most of us to even different places than we were dispersing to then, but, they are all still my best friends.]

Throughout the summer, we all listen to Sufjan Stevens' Come On Feel the Illinoise! All of us. We listen to it a lot.

When I hear songs from that album now, it is almost near impossible to not think of that summer that was so full of all of my best friends and possibility, and my ribcage fills with all kinds of full, rich, only semi-bittersweet joy.


Sufjan Stevens at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, with Kathy, and Zoe, visiting from California now specifically for the occasion, and Ashley, down from Seattle. We are in the upper balcony, three rows from the back. I only remember once we sit down that, Oh, yeah, I kept meaning to buy and listen to those two new albums Sufjan has put out in the last year. But I, uh, didn't. And then, of course, song after song after song that he plays are only new songs from these albums I have never heard. The concert hall is full of pretty cool looking young Portland-y people. There are these two hipster-ish dancers/back up singers on stage who are rocking Really Cool People, ironic-ish dancing, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. Ashley had warned us right before the concert that the new music was different than Illinoise, less, you know, happy and calming folk-ish wonderland sounds.

As each song segues into the next, my mind slides down into the mode it usually occupies during such events. In this mode, one half of my brain is solidly in the moment. Music is washing over me and down through my eardrums to my belly, where it feels warm and exciting and very present and good. Then, in the other half of my brain, I am thinking about tiny boring things that happened to me that day, things that I have to do that weekend, homework assignments, bills I have to pay, goals I want to accomplish, people I want to know better, things I've said in the last week that might have been stupid. It's like the normal every day thoughts that are in my head all the time, but almost heightened, and all at once, like an unstoppable madhouse of thought in my brain.

It makes sense, really, since music is one of the most personal artistic experiences there is, that listening to good stuff makes you simultaneously really self-absorbed.

But I start to get into the new songs, this whole ethereal, meandering journey of this new music. I am not really disappointed at all; I have accepted that I won't hear the tunes that soundtracked that summer of 2006, and that's fine, because it's 2010 now, anyway. Sufjan talks for fifteen minutes about this batshit crazy artist dude he was inspired by for the album, and whose surrealist, futuristic paintings have been splashing up on a backdrop throughout the night. Sufjan himself, the music, the whole night, is a little batshit crazy, but a very dedicated, focused, sincere batshit crazy, the kind that tugs on my heart and makes me feel glad for everything.


And then, of course, for the last song, right before the encore, when the buzzing self-absorbed half of my brain is dying down a little bit and it is finally getting to just be about the music, this new crazy stuff, and I am into it, I am there, present, not wrapped up in nostalgia for Boston, for summer, for friends, I am there - he plays Chicago.

And I cry.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Addendum to: Everything pumpkin related.

Today one of my students told me about how Dairy Queen's Pumpkin Pie Blizzard was "soooo good," and being that there is a Dairy Queen right next to our middle school (yes, the poor employees), I really had pretty much no choice in getting one when I left. You know, connecting with the students, and everything. Shockingly, I found it pretty enjoyable too, especially the plentiful chunks of pie crust swirled into the mix. That first bite with the whipped cream really did taste, in fact, like pumpkin pie.

Speaking of pumpkin ice creams, I also must mention that a year or so ago I made the perfect combination at Coldstone with their seasonal pumpkin ice cream mixed with plain chocolate chips and slivers of almonds. This was really quite a refined Coldstone palate for me, being that normally it's near impossible for me to stray from my usual: cookie batter ice cream mixed with Heath Bar and Reese's peanut butter cups. Yes, I have a candy problem. But pumpkin ice cream with chocolate chips and almonds! So classy, so delicious! You can thank me later.

I must add these of course as an addendum to my post here from last year about my infatuation with the large orange globular squashes:

12) DQ's Pumpkin Pie Blizzard
13) Coldstone's pumpkin ice cream with chocolate chips and almonds

In a reply to that original post my sister also reminded me about:

14) Pumpkin soup

And oh, I also forgot about:

15) Pumpkin cheesecake.

And, uh, I think that's it, for now. We'll see what next year brings.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Having a roof over my head.

Today was a classic Northwest fall type day, full of absolute downpours broken up by seemingly illogical spouts of bright blue sun before more downpours commenced, and I was lucky enough to not have many obligations at all. So I spent the day trying to accomplish things haphazardly. Kathy made pancakes, I did the dishes, I read the paper a bit, tried to do homework, read a book for awhile, took Toby on a walk, went online for awhile, tried to do more homework. All the while I felt grateful for warm pajamas, for our animals, for our kitchen and our couch and our TV and just the general space to shuffle around in, to feel comfortable, and safe. It's true, my parents help me pay my rent, and probably will until I'm done with grad school and can find a good job. It's true, I'm so poor that Kathy is currently paying half of my bills. But while I have those people at my side, I can still have this roof over my head. And a lot of people can't. And so, I'm grateful. Because it is good.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


To be honest I don't find the food selection of Sonic to be that much to write home about in terms of fast food fare (with the exception of the breakfast burritos! Mmmm, simple yet satisfyingly hearty breakfast burritos!), but we all know what makes this place so darn wonderful. The drinks, the drinks! Especially during the 2-4 happy hour! But really anytime!

The drink selection options are so numerous that the awesomeness overwhelms you. When you drive in to a Sonic, there are two menus that surround your car: one to the left with food and basic drink options, and then one to the right full of even more unhealthy drink and dessert drink (shakes, ice cream concoctions, smoothies, etc) options. I often look at this dessert drink menu and stare slack jawed at all the pretty and sugary possibilities for a few minutes, in dumbfounded and indecisive awe. Therein lies the beauty of the drive in, of course, since being that no one will take my order until I press that neat flashing red button on the menu screen, no one will care if I sit dumbly in my car for five minutes trying to decide which beverage I want. No pressure is such a beautiful thing! Anyway, here's my list of the best stuff:

2. Creamslushes. I usually opt for the orange. Orange creamsicle in drinkable form, um, yes please.
3. Cream pie shakes. What? I've only gotten one of these once or twice, but I just really like knowing that the option is there. Cream pie shake. Beautiful.
4. That crushed ice. Crushed ice makes it every time.

In addition to the drinks, the relative scarcity of Sonics are really what make them so appealing. Back when I lived in Boston, we used to see Sonic commercials on TV all the time with nary a Sonic around. It was hauntingly cruel, and we always used to discuss how delicious it looked, and we could only amuse ourselves by imagining what it might be like to actually be able to taste that deliciousness. Thankfully we moved to the land of milk and honey, the West, translated in the 21st century to the land of In and Out and More Available Sonics. There are quite a few around the Portland metro area, but still none close enough to our actual apartment that going there still has a somewhat exotic appeal. We usually stop at one if possible when heading out of or back into town during a vacation or some such other trip, and so it has that heightened special status that I assign to all things related to road trips.

In fact, when we drove across country from Boston to here, there was one day--I believe when we were meandering through the wild, strange lands of Wyoming and Idaho--that we just happened to keep going past them, and we kept being thirsty, so we stopped at three separate Sonics in one day.

It was a glorious day, my friends.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Northwest Conference on Teaching for Social Justice / Rethinking Schools / It Gets Better

A few Saturdays ago I was able to attend the Northwest Conference on Teaching for Social Justice, which I decided to attend very last minute, but immediately felt pumped about the minute I walked in. I had really wanted to spend my Saturday being lazy, but instead I got to attend a keynote by Sonia Nieto and then panels on GLBT Educators, Comic Books & Social Justice, and Transgender Youth. How cool is that? Really cool, is what. The annual conference is put on by local chapters of Rethinking Schools, an organization I was first introduced to through a textbook for a class last year, Rethinking School Reform. In particular, one essay in this book by Linda Christensen, a local influential Portland teacher and now a big part of Rethinking Schools, on the possibilities of untracking English at Jefferson High--classified as Oregon's only black school, now under threat of closure--kind of blew my mind with its awesomeness. I was left in awe of the potential of the effect one teacher can have on making their classroom more equitable and enriching all of the students' lives in the process. And by 'enriching their lives,' I mean learning more academically, learning more socially, and learning more about a better world. Since then, I have deduced that pretty much anything Rethinking Schools, which is a non-profit made primarily of teachers (as opposed to businesspeople or politicians) and which is primarily a publishing outfit, is part of is awesome. And the seemingly limitless amount of neat-o things there were to attend at this conference was just so lovely.

In my brief student teaching experience thus far, I have already experienced how much teachers moan and groan about professional development involving diversity, equity, multiculturalism, etc., and some of that is warranted. At the same time, many of those teachers are also the ones counting down the years until they can retire. And I am ready to take their place. The truth is, teaching is a political act. That doesn't mean your teaching has to, or should be political, but you better bet what you decide to teach or not teach and say or not say has an effect on those kids' lives.

(And if you don't think the purpose of education is to help make a better world, then why are you even there?)

Case in point has been the recent highly publicized slew of teenage and young adult suicides over bullying and harrasment, many of which deal with GLBT issues. Although I agree that we have a crisis on our hands, and I am grateful for the media attention, I do also believe that it is not a new crisis. This stuff has been happening--both the bullying, and the suicides--forever. Literally. I also don't believe schools can ever wipe this stuff out, or that teachers can be saviors to every kid, but I do believe there can be huge changes made in schools. Like not being afraid to actually talk about hate speech. Like not being afraid to actually talk about homosexuality with students. Like not being afraid to actually talk about anyone who might be different from you. These kids are not being taught about fairness, equality, and humanity from their families; they are not learning about them from the media, politicians, or video games. Of course, a lot of families do teach good things; not all media, politicians, or video games are bad. But for a lot of kids, the only real stable influence in their lives are teachers. So, teach stuff.

There have been a number of amazing things circulating about these issues. First, Ellen's impassioned speech on her show made me cry. Then, there was Dan Savage's amazing campaign, It Gets Better. This not only made me cry, but the message is so extremely simply and powerful and true and good and what kids need to hear. The invitation for people around the world to post their own It Gets Better stories on their YouTube site is the epitome of the power of social media, fo' real. Then there is the Bullied documentary, which is so brilliantly free and open to show in all schools. And, a little less polished and much straighter to the point, I think my favorite of all might actually be what Sarah Silverman said.

Overall, I feel like I have meaning and purpose in my life for the first real time, like I really like what I'm doing, like I could and must do this for the rest of my life, and that feeling is much bigger than any words I could think of to describe it. And although I do think it's essential for kids to know that it does get better, my main purpose when I'm in my own classroom, or my own library, is to help the lives of kids get better right now.