Thursday, June 30, 2011

Best of the 90s: 1991.

Okay, I know you've all been waiting with bated breath for my next 90s entry. I know I have! And after writing that first sentence, I also started to wonder what the hell "bated breath" really means. So I Googled it. Turns out the phrase, like many a phrase, finds its way back to Shakesepare. Oh Will, you crazy old bard! But uh, anyway.

Jill's Top Ten Songs of 1991




(Everything I Do) I Do It For You, Bryan Adams

Dramatic Bryan Adams song, in a soundtrack to a dramatic Kevin Costner film? YES 1990S, YES. The 90s were really the heydey of the Movie Soundtrack Song, accompanied by the music video that spliced dramatic shots from the film with a dramatic performance by the singer/band. (The above video is sadly not the official video for this song, which I couldn't find an embeddable form of, just clips from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. While this clip is still enjoyable, and includes a ridiculous shirtless Kevin Costner scene, the actual video includes Bryan singing in a British countryside next to an adorable cottage, alongside a stream.) Nowadays when they have the Best Song category at the Oscars, you've never really heard of any of them, but you can just assume Randy Newman will win. But (Everything I Do) I Do It For You was the #1 song of 1991, according to Billboard.

I loved this song so much that, as a youth, I always believed it would be played at my wedding. Spoiler alert: it will not be played at my wedding. But I still love it just as much. Seriously. It is so good. Dramatic love song in raspy Canadian voice FTW.



Rush, Rush, Paula Abdul

So, THIS IS THE MOST RIDICULOUS VIDEO OF ALL TIME. I remembered liking this song--Paula's debut of seriousness--and that the video was really intense, but when I rewatched it this week, I realized that "intense" to a child, which I was in the 90s, must actually mean "completely ridiculous" in adult reality. The first thing you must know is that this video stars Keanu Reeves.

Oh, okay. Was that not enough for you?

Here's my rough play by play of what happens in this video, if you're too lazy to watch the commercial and then all six minutes of it:

ETA: So Kathy brought to my attention that the whole video is a play off of Rebel Without a Cause. I actually have seen this, but there's a distinct possibility I may have fallen asleep for most of it. ACCORDINGLY, the video apparently would make a lot more sense if you are, you know, familiar with one of the most famous movies of all time, or something. HOWEVER, I still like my ignorant play by play. So, for others who are un-cultured such as myself, this is how it goes:

It starts with one of those creepy clapping monkey toys, with a disheveled and distraught Keanu hovering on the ground and clapping along with it. Why? Who knows! This initially makes us believe that Keanu has developmental disabilities, but in fact, I think it's just completely random.

ENTER SCENE: Paula walks into a police station. Or a private investigator's office? Or a therapist? Oh, and Keanu is also at a private investigator/therapist person. He is yelling a lot. Paula is crying, saying, "He doesn't care!!" You assume this is probably about Keanu, but then she says "My father!" and you are like "Huh?" Oh, and then Keanu and his PI/therapist/lawyer are looking through some weird keyhole that's smack in the middle of the wall and spying on what appears to be a scene from Gone With the Wind. What decade are we in? We don't know; it's very confusing.

Suddenly we learn that Keanu has put some kid in the hospital. Gasp! But he didn't want to hurt him. Paula is crying a lot.

OH, OH, GUYS, OKAY--I think the point of this whole intro is that both Paula and Keanu really hate their fathers. It just took me awhile because of all the bad acting.

Once the song actually starts, we are taken to a more carefree scene of Paula cruisin' with her peeps on a sunny day, while Keanu cruises awkwardly by himself as the Social Outcast Character. Maybe it is the 1960's? Hard to say.

INTERMITTENTLY: Real 1991 Paula dances in a furry black bra outfit.

BACK TO INDETERMINATE TIME PERIOD: Suddenly it's night time, and Social Outcast Keanu and The Cool Kids have clearly been battling for Paula's affections, which ends in a big squealing-tires drag race, with Marilyn-esque Paula waving her white scarf between their cars at the starting line. And then--oh!--Keanu jumps out of his car while it's still moving! Other Cool Kid's face registers shock--and then he barrels over a cliff, or something. Does he die?

Who knows; apparently it's not important, as Paula and Keanu then turn to each other and instead of saying things such as, "Holy shit," or, "Should we see if he's okay?," or "Whoa, that was scary," they ask each other if they've ever been in love. They both say no. Keanu says, "We're all alone."

Then they go to Paula's house and make out.

END SCENE.




Unbelievable, EMF

WHOA! Sideways and/or backwards baseball hats! WHOA! Brightly mismatched clothing! WHOA! Long jean shorts! WHOA! Classic 90s live-performance music video! Seriously though, what a great song. It is kind of awesome, still.



More Than Words, Extreme


The early 90s carried a wealth of Men-With-Long-Flowing-Locks Duos. There were the fair-haired brothers of Nelson:


--whose stellar After the Rain was also a hit in 1991 (WHOAAA AFTERRRRR THE RAIN WASHES AWAY THE TEARS AND ALL THE PAIN, ONLY AFTER THE RAIN, YOU LIVE AGAIIIIN WHOAAAA!). (No really, watch the video here, it'll come back to you. Although you have to fast forward two minutes through a Rush Rush-esque ridiculous intro to get to the actual song.) And then there was Extreme.

The Billboard Top 100 Chart for 1991 also included Extreme's hit Hole Hearted (THERE'S A HOLE IN MY HEART THAT CAN ONLY BE FILLED BY YOUUUUUUUU), but let's be honest, the most loved and remembered is always More Than Words. Something about this curly-hair-ponytailed dude's voice, accompanied by that acoustic guitar, is so gentle and sad and comforting. Nice move with the black and white video, too. So simple and singable and good.



Motownphilly, Boyz II Men

So, Kathy and I may or may not have Boyz II Men's Greatest Hits on heavy rotation in our car, and we may or may not sing loudly to this song, in 2011, on a regular and frequent basis. I also may or may not believe this to be one of the GREATEST SONGS OF ALL TIME. Okay, no, I do. Everything about this song simply fills me with happiness.

I hadn't watched the video since the 90s though, and there are so many amazing things about it. Those dance moves! Those coral blazers and stonewashed jeans! Those vertically striped sweaters! Those bowties! All the Philly references: A Temple throwrug thing! Geno's (Jim's is better)! South Street! I mean, what other song includes the line: "And all the Philly steaks you can eat"?! That is good stuff!

Spoiler alert: This WILL be played at our wedding. You can count on it.

And as a closing note, A B C, B B D (mmmhmmm).




Someday, Mariah Carey

Alright, so Mariah Carey's first two albums received heavy play in the Guccini household in the early 90s, and it was difficult to choose one to highlight from this glorious Mariah Carey year. Should it be Vision of Love? Should it be the title track to her second album, Emotions (so good!)? But when I think about early 90s Mariah, the truth is, her singing this song in the stairwell of an elementary school is the first thing I think of. I will always prefer the curly haired, black leotard and high jeans Mariah, and that is how she will always live in my mind. And that voice at 3:48! Chills! So classic! I miss you, 1991 Mariah!




Losing My Religion, R.E.M.


Everything about this song is beautiful. Everything about this song is perfect. I don't even know what else to say about it. It is one of the most wonderful songs ever written.

ALSO, every now and then Kathy and I try to imitate the Michael Stipe angrily-and-awkardly-flailing-your-arms-while-kind-of-moving-around dance that's exhibited in this video. We are normally pretty bad at it, since I think Michael Stipe is the only person that can actually do it, but it's still enjoyable to try.

ALSO: As some of you know, I developed a quick but passionate love affair with NBC's The Voice in the last few weeks, and although Dia Frampton wasn't my pick to win, I did really love her performance of this song, which you should watch here, if just for the way she sang "corner." 




Things That Make You Go Hmmm...., C+C Music Factory

So I think Things That Make You Go Hmmm... was the first CD the Guccini family ever bought. Yeah, no, seriously. We are awesome. Or, you know, our mom is awesome, since she was the one who obviously bought all our CDs at this point. And I don't know why I'm calling them "our CDs," since they were really just her CDs, and I just listened to them, since that's what you do when you're in the first/second grade. Anyway, it was a tough decision between this song and Gonna Make You Sweat (EVERYBODY DANCE NOW!), but I had to choose this title track just because it's so much more ridiculous.

1991 on film

The top grossing film of 1991 was Terminator 2. (Scary!) Since I don't like talking about scary things, I will just talk about a few of my other favorites from this year. Kathy told me I should just focus on one movie and/or TV show for each year for this 90s series because it's too much to mention so many, but it's hard because there were SO MANY AMAZING FILMS THIS YEAR. So here are just a few of my favorites. Also, all the following video clips are trailers, because TRAILERS ARE THE BEST.


Hook

HOOK IS SO AMAZING! ONE OF THE BEST CHILDREN'S MOVIES OF ALL TIME! I love you Robin Williams! Rufiooooooooooooo!



City Slickers

Guys. Do you know how much I love Billy Crystal? I love Billy Crystal a lot. I miss Billy Crystal. A lot. And City Slickers? So good! I want to watch it right now. Also, two amazing scenes which you should click these links to watch since I can't embed them: Billy Crystal's career day speech (SO GOOD), and Billy Crystal explaining to Daniel Stern--that dude who's in like every 90s movie ever whose name you can never remember--how to record a TV show on a VCR. CLASSIC. The career day speech, though, is the type of thing that my dad would double over laughing at. Watching it just now, I almost doubled over laughing. Well, I laughed out loud, at least. I'm not quite sure what this means, but I think it probably means I am becoming more and more like my dad and/or am old.


Fried Green Tomatoes

Oh man. Oh man. Oh man. Okay, well I said I don't like talking about scary things, and the train scene--and the beehive scene!--in this movie are both VERY, VERY SCARY. However, getting over these scary parts is worth it because the rest of it is SO. GOOD. Kathy Bates! A good ol' Southern tale! Lesbian love! [While I've never actually read Fannie Flagg's 1987 novel which the movie is based on, Kathy has and assures me that the love between Idgie and Ruth is clear in the novel and is altered in the movie, albeit still at least very thinly veiled.] Cannibalism! Southern food! Ramming into pretty girls's Corvettes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

Also, the very brief clip in this trailer of Kathy Bates holding a box of Krispy Kremes made me real hungry. And it's your guess as to whether it made me stop writing, leave the house, and walk to 7-11 to buy candy bars or not. (The answer is yes, yes it did.)


What About Bob?

So far I've gotten to mention Billy Crystal and Robin Williams, and now I get to mention BILL MURRAY! AND RICHARD DREYFUSS! HAPPINESS! I know Bill Murray is the mentally ill character in this movie, but Richard Dreyfuss is so batshit insane in this movie. In fact, the last time I watched it, I was pretty disturbed by the ending, and wondered why I had never been as disturbed by it in the past. Like, it's really pretty upsetting. Oh 90s humor!

Pretty Woman was briefly mentioned in my 1990 post, and I think it might still reign as the movie my mom has watched the most amount of times, but I think What About Bob? comes in a very close second. Seriously, anytime this move is on TBS or TNT or whatever--and I feel like it is on a surprising amount--my mom has probably watched it. As a family, I think we probably collectively have it memorized.

Other Serious 1991 Movie Highlights:

Sleeping With the Enemy. Okay, again, I don't like scary things, but I just have to mention that I feel like I watched this movie at least five times as a very young person, which is crazy because IT'S SCARY. WHY WAS I WATCHING THIS?!?!

Also, guess what other giants came out this year: Father of the Bride! My Girl! Boyz n the Hood! Naked Gun 2 1/2! The Rocketeer! Beauty & the Beast! Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead! THELMA & LOUISE!

Okay, doing this series is making me start to seriously actually believe they don't make movies like they used to.

Jill in 1991

So I realized I was getting a little ahead of myself last time when I mentioning my famous Richard Troll Stories. I probably wasn't writing these in 1990, but was perhaps starting to stretch my writing muscles at least a little more in 1991. I turned 8 and entered the 2nd grade. I really don't remember much about my early elementary life, other than that our school library had been recently re-modeled/re-painted and it was pretty much awesome. The main atrium of the library had a huge ceiling with big windows, with famous children's book characters painted around the walls. But the best part was going to the little carpet area behind the fiction stacks where the librarian would roll out the TV on a cart and we'd sit on the floor and watch Reading Rainbow. Reading Rainbow was the absolute best.

I think my second grade teacher was Mrs. Williams. All I really remember about her is that she had recently gone to Egypt, or she had a son who went to Egypt, or something, and she talked about it a lot, which we all obviously thought was badass. Because Egypt is pretty much awesome when you're in elementary school.

THINGS YOU LEARN ABOUT IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL:
- Egypt
- The Oregon Trail
- Beverly Cleary novels
- hula-hooping and jump-roping to old 50s pop hits in gym
- Feeling like you are good at math
- Reading Rainbow
- recess
- Getting to play with animals and stuff in science class
- That's it.

And, of course, I was still probably watching a lot of TGIF.

Previous entries in the series: 1990.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Camping.


There are many-a thing which I've learned Oregonians love more so than other folks in the nation, or at least in greater numbers. Local and organic food--okay, local and organic ANYTHING; bike lanes; beer; owning lots of dogs (and cats); independent coffee shops; urban chickens; ironic t-shirts, etc. You know, the cliche things which were highlighted by Portlandia: THEY ARE ALL TRUE. Well, in the metro area at least. Once you leave city limits, it may be a different story. BUT, another thing that I've learned ALL Oregonians love and have all been doing since they were in diapers is camping. While I slept in platform tents in girl scount camp for many a year as a youth, neither Kathy's nor my family were really the camping types growing up. Upon moving here, we discovered the joy of yurts, as I discussed in here a long time ago, but we always knew we were faking it. Real Oregonians look at yurts with their eyebrows raised very high and very dubiously. Really? You need a door that locks and HEAT? Wussies.

Last week we were invited with some friends to go Real Camping. Like in a tent. (We obviously don't own a tent, but a friend let us borrow one.) We were only going for a night, but still felt a little anxious about looking like Foolish City Folk in the company of four native Oregonians (plus one native Washingtonian, which is basically the same thing).

We also didn't have any plans or reservations before we went. We were just going to, you know, drive up the mountain and find a place. This is also an Oregonian thing. "What, you need PLANS? Whatever man. It'll all work out!" This makes the Neurotic Overplanner in me freak out a little. But, we drove up the mountain, we found a place, it all worked out. (Although, okay, could it have been worked out a little quicker and more efficiently if we had had a plan? Yes. Just sayin'.)


Once we settled in and set up our tent (i.e. our friend pretty much set up our tent for us), we realized that there really wasn't a huge difference between yurting and camping. There were a few moments when I felt our camping inexperience coming through, such as this in-depth conversation that happened early on about the awesomeness of dutch ovens. This was how the conversation went in my head:


But later, I learned, this is what a dutch oven is!*


* Kathy and I remembered afterwards that our amazing friend Cliff had cooked us delicious pancakes in a dutch oven once, which we then all called Dutch Babies. (For some reason.) But this was the first time we'd seen dutch ovens used in the camping sense.

You cover it in hot coals and it cooks DELICIOUS THINGS! Like this enchilada casserole our friends made!


Here's what I learned this trip: camping is actually just all about sitting around and talking about, and then preparing and eating, food. Camping is awesome!

Here are the pros and cons we came up with of yurt camping v. tent camping.

Yurts:
  • The aforementioned door with a lock, and structure with sturdy walls, which is very helpful if you perhaps have fears of bears or coyotes or Crazy Homicidal People in the Woods (I'm still scarred by that one chapter in Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods) or other such things attacking your tent and eating you in the night. WhichIonlyhavealittle. Especiallyafterwetalkedaboutbearsforlikethirtyminutesaroundthecampfirebeforegoingtobed.
  • The aforementioned heat. We were pretty high up in Mt. Hood territory this trip--we encountered snow the next day, even though it's June--and it was pretty chilly, even in a sleeping bag.
  • There are beds with primitive mattresses, so all you need is a sleeping bag or sheets and blankets.
  • Since most yurts are in established state parks, there is always a restroom--with sinks and showers--nearby, probably along with a spout of running potable water somewhere. This is very essential. While this trip made us excited about camping, we're not exactly thrilled to be wiping our butts with leaves yet, aright. And if you're tent-camping not at a state park with all this stuff, you have to be even more prepared and bring more stuff, especially water, for washing stuff, cooking, and of course consuming.
Tent-camping:
  • Cheaper! (Once you buy all the camping equipment, of course, which is not cheap.) If you find a fee site, here in Oregon it's normally only around $5-$10 for a site to camp, whereas it ranges from $25-$40 to rent a yurt, or I've seen it even higher in other states like Washington. I also discovered this trip that there are some sites where you don't have to pay a fee at all, such as the small site where we stayed.
  • Much more availability. There are a limited number of yurts, mainly just in state parks, and they fill up fast. In comparison, there are probably 120938248973487 places to set up a tent in this state.
  • If you are NOT afraid of bears, you may feel closer to nature in a tent, and I feel like they can be surprisingly and enjoyably cozy and special-feeling. Unless you have a sleeping partner that rolls you into a corner of the tent and refuses to wake up or move despite your pathetic whispering and whining. Then, you might feel claustrophobic. Just sayin'
Things which are annoying about both:
  • Rolling up your sleeping bag (and your tent) into the little bag it's supposed to magically fit back in. It's clear some magic machine fit these things into these bags at the manufacturer, and then you buy it and are all HEY, LOOK AT HOW COMPACT AND CONVENIENT THIS BAG IS. THIS IS HOW THEY GET YOU. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO FIT THESE BACK INTO THESE STUPID #$*&^# BAGS. Okay, maybe not impossible. We normally get it done, somehow, but it takes both of us to work on one sleeping bag at a time and we are normally out of breath at the end of it, and instead of neatly slipping back into the bag, it's normally stuffed in in some type of forced lumpy configuration, which works until the next time we have to take it out of that @#&*$# bag.
  • Maybe real camping people are better at this. Don't tell me about it, if you are. The only way they neatly fit back into bags, in my opinion, is magic.
(Good) Things they both have in common:
  • The aforementioned campfire and camp food. Admittedly, our friends did most of this--the fire-making, and the food-cooking--this time, but I have faith in our ability to become better at both ourselves.
  • The greatest allure of camping: the general feeling of being Away From It All, away from any responsibilities or bills or bright lights or people, other than the people who are also enjoying the privilege of being Away From It All along with you. It's a wonderful feeling, and as soon as we came back to Portland, I was surprised at the strong urge I had to just turn around and go right back. Sometimes life just feels better after you spend awhile in the woods. 

This camping trip was also great since Kathy's friends from Vet Tech school obviously brought all their dogs (as they do pretty much anywhere they go), and they all have a lot of dogs, and they are all GREAT dogs. Only five are pictured here--there were many more. The only thing that could make any camping trip even better is A WHOLE BUNCH OF GREAT DOGS. SRSLY.

What was also so great about this trip was that it opened up the possibility of much more camping in our future. We are poor, but there are still so many places we want to see in the Northwest, and we are also planning on driving back across the country in a little over a year from now. When we drove here the first time, we stayed in hotels the whole way across, but I don't think our finances can afford that anymore. Being able to camp is opening up a world of nature-y, cheap possibilities. And I am pumped.

Monday, June 20, 2011

This brown polka dot dress & this brown bag.

I usually leave fashion-talk to ladies like Jill D. at Looks & Books (seriously! Her blog is awesome! Go read it!), considering my fashion sense normally rates somewhere on the scale from mediocre to poor, but I had a moment this weekend of feeling somewhat proud of/happy with what I wore, so I thought, HEY, let's drag out this moment of vanity, and do it on the internet!

I own relatively few dresses; the few I do own have been purchased for weddings over the last few years. The only problem is that we keep getting invited to more and more weddings. Which is amazing! I mentioned weddings on here briefly a long time ago, but it was such a pathetic entry in terms of articulating how much I REALLY FREAKING LOVE THEM. I LOVE WEDDINGS, I LOVE THEM LOVE THEM LOVE THEM! Invite me to a wedding, and it will probably take fire and brimstone for me to not be there. But so the only problem is that I am poor, and cannot afford to buy a new dress for each wedding, but I always WANT to, in keeping with the special-ness of each person's Big Event. Like, it almost seems rude to wear the same thing to one person's wedding that I wore to another person's wedding last year. Like it matters at all to anyone what I wear to their wedding. I KNOW I AM A LITTLE BIT OF A CRAZY, BUT SO WHAT.

Anyway. I have done pretty decently with this Wear Something Unique to Each Unique Wedding To Show I Really Care crazy bit, with the exception of the brown polka dot dress.


I first wore this to Kim & Cliff's wedding in Virginia in the fall of 2008. There are many pluses about this dress:
1. I really like brown.
2. I also like polka dots.
3. It's simple and fits me well; i.e., is not tight over my big pregnant-looking belly and I can breathe in it, and also dance comfortably without feeling like my boobs are going to pop out or like everyone will see my booty, etc. I can even wear a regular bra with it with the chance of it tackily showing being only about 10% of the time or so. It is pretty magical to find a dress fitting all these criteria.
4. It was $10 at Burlington Coat Factory.


The second time I wore this dress was to my brother's wedding last year, also, strangely, in Virginia. Like I said, I felt bad about the dress repetition--and to a wedding as important as my brother's!--but I was poor and the brown worked well with the fall colors that were going on in this shindig. My sister wore brown, my mom wore crimson. See? It worked well.

Also for this wedding, I added this little bag I found at Buffalo Exchange, which is probably the best little clutch bag I own. Is this even called a clutch? Who knows. I don't know why I'm pretending to know what I'm talking about in terms of bag lingo. ANYWAY, I LIKE IT A LOT:


But this weekend, I even went so far as to WEAR THE DRESS A THIRD TIME, to Erica & Paul's wedding reception here in Portland at Mississippi Studios. We'd been busy all week and I'd worked in the morning the day of, so I hadn't thought a lot about what I would wear to this event. So twenty minutes before we left, I thought, HEY, I'll go with the brown polka dot, since it's clean and comfortable and I'm lazy.

And then I spotted a green sweater crumpled up on the ground that I had purchased with a green and white dress I wore to Sara & Jamie's wedding earlier this month (I KNOW, SOOO POPULAR), and I thought, that green might be kind of fun with the brown polka dot. So I ironed it, put it on, went into the bathroom, and saw this green necklace that I purchased a long time ago but then never got to wear because it was the wrong shade of green for what I had originally wanted it for. BUT NOW IT WAS THE PERFECT GREEN! SO I WORE IT!


So essentially, this whole post was leading up to this one picture, because I was so proud of spontaneously jazzing up the brown polka dot and making it feel like a new outfit, unique to Erica & Paul's wedding. Was this worthy of a blog post? Who knows! But, it's two days later and looking at this picture I still feel pretty proud of myself. So I think so.

ALSO, at this reception we stole a bag of goodies that was supposed to be for entertaining children, obviously, because that is what we do, and I donned a ring pop from it, that ALSO MATCHED MY OUTFIT. So. You can't beat that.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I Like the Internet: Part II.

Life has been chock full of doing Active Real Life Things recently, from attending weddings to graduating from grad school to being out on the town with my mom while she was visiting to other stuff. Doing so much Real Life Stuff is exhausting, and I also find it exceedingly difficult to return to Boring Real Life Stuff after so much Exuberant Real Life Stuff. 

Exceedingly difficult. Like, I feel completely incompetent at anything other than feeling incompetent and whiney and weird for at least a day.

This morning, luckily, after we dropped my mom off at the airport, I was able to ease back into Boring Real Life Stuff by being able to ignore it for a few hours, opting instead to lie comatose on the couch while discovering the amazingness that is Kathie Lee & Hoda on the 11 o'clock time slot of the Today show. I can't remember the last time I actually watched TV at 11 AM, but holy crap, was this a wonderful hour. 


Kathie Lee & Hoda. For serious. You are amazing. Are you drunk the entire time? Who knows. It doesn't matter. Remarkable.

Anyway, along with brain-cell-killing television, the other best way to ignore returning to Boring Real Life Stuff is of course the Internet! Yay! So here's some more stuff I've liked since last time!

+ 5 Seconds of Every #1 Song Ever (well, until 1992). Um, yeah. Exactly what it says. AMAZING. AMAZING. I LOVE THE INTERNET!

+ So, the YA Lit world has been all abuzz with discussion about this Wall Street Journal article published a few weeks ago, which basically stated that YA lit these days is entirely too dark and disturbing, portraying an unrealistically harsh view of the world on impressionable teens. There have been more than a few responses to this, including a YAsaves trend on Twitter started by sassy YA novelist Maureen Johnson, but two of my favorite pieces have been this NPR editorial, Seeing Teenagers As We Wish They Were: The Debate Over YA Fiction, and Sherman Alexie's Why The Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood (which, it should be noted, was also posted by the Wall Street Journal). YA lit is something that's near and dear to my heart, and both of these articles articulated my anger, in a much more eloquent way than I would have been able to. Some of my favorite quotes (bolded emphasis my own):

From Linda Holmes on NPR:
Honestly, the kids who are reading the scary YA fiction — the dark stuff, the creepy stuff, the adventurous and weird and dirty stuff — are the same kids who, if YA fiction weren't dark and creepy sometimes, would just read dark and creepy books for adults.
(Note: This is what I did. The world of YA lit when I was a teen wasn't even as advanced as it is now, so after I devoured everything Cynthia Voigt ever wrote, I read things like Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone instead, which disturbed some adults around me at the time.)
Yes, it's always possible that someone will get the idea to cut herself from a book about cutting herself, but if she's in a position where cutting herself seems like a good idea, she wasn't just fine before she opened the book. The odds are she is already familiar with brutality and loss at some level; kids who aren't don't pick up a book about cutting and decide to slice into their arms.

...But stopping — actually stopping — a YA reader from picking up a particular book because it describes behavior you don't want him to emulate potentially cuts him off from something that might reach him in exchange for ... nothing, really, except your own comfort level.

Not reading scary, weird, dark, or dirty books wouldn't have made me a different kid. It certainly wouldn't have made me a happier kid.
It might have made me a kid who read less, though.
From the gloriously wonderful Alexie, whose novel may be my favorite contemporary YA book of all time:
No, [cultural critics] are simply trying to protect their privileged notions of what literature is and should be. They are trying to protect privileged children. Or the seemingly privileged.

[Teens] read because they live in an often-terrible world. They read because they believe, despite the callow protestations of certain adults, that books-especially the dark and dangerous ones-will save them.
I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.
+ On a similar note, I love pretty much anything related to libraries, so I found this collection of letters sent to Troy, Michigan in the 1970s to help promote the children's library pretty much awesome. Dr. Seuss's is my favorite.

+ AND OH HEY, IF YOU DIDN'T GET ENOUGH OF NERDY BOOK STUFF YET! From Salon, a list of the world's most inspiring bookstores. I feel very proud to have visited two of the 14 on this list: City Lights in San Francisco and of course Powell's here in Portland. I should make it a life goal to visit all of them. I NEED to visit that one in a cathedral in Maastricht in The Netherlands. I HAVE BEEN TO MAASTRICHT! And I didn't know about it! How many people have actually been to Maastricht?!? Such wasted opportunity. Sigh. The one in Buenos Aires looks freakin' awesome, as well.

+ In addition to books, I also love trains. This evolution of Amtrak that somebody neat made--again, I love the internet!--is neat but mainly just depressing. It allows you to click through Amtrak's rail network in the US from 1962 to 2005. And the progression is not good. Not good at all. Amtrak. :(

+ Okay, I know I am wayyyyyy behind in Internet years in posting this, but I'm going to link to it anyway, BECAUSE I WANT TO, ALRIGHT: And I Should Know by Roseanne Barr in New York magazine. Awesome, awesome, awesome, and interesting. I feel like the popularity of this article made people suddenly love Roseanne Barr in an almost annoying way. Like, listen: most of y'all didn't actually like Roseanne Barr until you found out she could write a well-written and interesting article such as this. You didn't ACTUALLY love Roseanne like my sister and I did. We grew up on Roseanne (until they won the lottery).

+ I also like friends, and my friend Keegan has a new website full of his artsy stuff. I like photographs a whole lot, and I like his series of photos--the first two links under "work"--a heck of a lot. Although I have to say I don't think I'm cool enough to understand most of his videos. I'm sorry Keegan. I think I used to be cooler and would have understood them more when I lived in the same city as you. I think I feel my coolness seeping away from my bones every minute. But, yayyyyy pictures! (Also, I don't understand why your video for Restore isn't linked on this website, because that's Kathy's and my favorite.)

I just wasted SO MUCH TIME writing this and looking at stuff on the internet! Silly real life productivity. This feels so much more normal.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Teaching / The 7th Grade Class at Lane Middle School.

I had a weird nightmare the other week.

I am not usually one to analyze my dreams/nightmares, and to be honest I normally can't remember any dreams/nightmares, anyway. In fact I doubt I ever, ever remember any real dreamy stuff that happens in my REM cycle or whatever, but sometimes in the early morning I rest in a half-asleep-half-awake state where some truly effed up stuff goes down in my brain. I think this is probably punishment for not actually just waking up and getting it over with. Sometimes I remember this stuff, although most of the time I wish I hadn't, because it makes me seriously uncomfortable when I do. Anyway. This nightmare was actually a little more logical than other freakshow-ish type things that occur in this dream state, if a little nerdier and amusing, meaning, it might be amusing to you.

It involved two of my students (two very random students) currently in the classes in which I'm almost done student teaching. I can't remember the first half of it, but the second half involved these students acting really silly. There was somehow a bottle of wine involved, and it came to it that I had somehow provided this bottle of wine, although I don't remember actually doing so in the dream/nightmare. [The students are 13.] One of the students, who never gets in trouble, was yanked out of the classroom and came back in tears. Then I was yanked out of the classroom--violently, like bruise-on-my-arm-worthy--by some scary, very official looking administration dude. He brought me to a meeting that was in an official looking board room type thing, full of official looking administration people. They were all very angry with me for providing alcohol to minors, and I essentially had no say in what was happening to me, which was that I was being kicked out (obviously). Like, I had to get out of their faces that every moment, was told I could never teach again. I asked, "Can I say bye to the kids first?" They said no. And I cried.

The day before this nightmare, I had worked a shift at my old receptionist job. I'm available to my old job as back-up when they really need someone, and I don't really mind going in, although it always feels like a weird time warp returning there. My conflicting emotions about this job, which I had for two and a half years, still haunt me sometimes. Sometimes I really kind of liked it, if just for the fact that:
1) I was good at it;
2) Everyone always told me I was good at it, which is satisfying;
3) It felt easy and comfortable sometimes, and it's satisfying to be paid for something easy and comfortable that you're good at.
Sometimes, I really kind of hated it, for the fact that:
1) It was in this rich suburb, full of rich suburbanites who made me feel plain awful about humanity sometimes. Like, sick to my stomach thinking about the things these people worry about and what they think is acceptable treatment of other human beings. I am a Portland person, I am not a rich suburb person;
2) I felt so unlike myself there most of the time. This is actually the best explanation I have for why I hated this job a lot of the time. I smiled and was friendly and efficient, I made things work for my co-workers and for the clients, and they liked me for it, but at the end of two and a half years, none of them really knew me. I know this is the case for many people in their jobs, but it made me feel weird.
I've also been somewhat stressed the last couple of weeks thinking about whether I wanted to take this part-time office job my old boss had recommended me for. While I was never quite sure what this job would entail exactly, I knew it meant going back to the suburbs and back to sitting at a desk for a good chunk of the week. While this didn't exactly sound awesome to me, I'm in an extremely, extremely poor financial situation at the moment (and trying to plan a wedding on top of it!) and so knew I really needed to consider it. In typical Jill fashion, I spent more time stressing myself out just thinking too much about it, instead of just making a decision and dealing with it.

So I had just spent time in old-receptionist-job mode, and couldn't stop thinking about this new potential job. And then I had to go back to what I've actually been doing for the last nine months: teaching. Getting my master's in education, or whatever. My mind had to say to itself: "Okay, warp back into teacher mode now!" Only thing is, sometimes it takes my mind and body a little while to actually accomplish this warping. It feels sluggish and weird and confusing. And then I had the nightmare.

Here's the cheesy conclusion of this long, drawn-out story which I had to draw for myself: I'm not normally a dream-analyzing kind of person, but I think the point of the nightmare was that I need to be a teacher. It felt like a nightmare when I was torn away from the kids. I mean, maybe the message was supposed to be about drinking less alcohol, but, eh, that's what I'm taking away from it.

I was never one of those people who KNEW I wanted to be a teacher, who went straight from high school to undergrad education classes and grew up being a summer camp counselor. (And to be honest, I think teachers who have seen a little bit of the world and had some internal struggles themselves about their lives end up being better, or at least more empathetic, teachers.) I was never even one of those people who knew I liked children! Going into this year of student teaching was exciting but also scary. I believe in public education, I believe in the potential of every student, I believe in Jonathan Kozol, I believe in equity, I believe education has wronged way too many children, I believe in a whole bunch of stuff. Believing in stuff is all different from actually standing in front of a room of kids, and since I always shaked and shuddered anytime I had to give a presentation in front of anyone in the previous 398473 years of my schooling, I had no idea how I would do.

What I learned this year: I feel more like myself talking to 13 year olds than I do anywhere else. I'm a better Jill around kids than I am anywhere else. I in fact feel like I understand the kids in certain ways much, much better than some teachers who have been doing this teaching thing for years. Going into any new situation with kids is always scary, but I think I could in fact be very, very good at this. Even if I had taken that office job (which I'm not), in the end, this is who I am.

Even when I am screaming at them, even when I am so absolutely disgusted and filled with rage at the things they say and do to each other and to everyone around them. Even when I am doubting myself. Even when I am feeling cynical about the system. At the root of things, I am still so much happier at the end of the day than I was at that old job. I may be angry, but I am myself. And I am trying to make things better.

Tomorrow is my last full day at Lane Middle School, and it's approached quickly during a busy time, and to be honest I have't even given much thought to it. I don't have any awesome last-day plans or speeches or games for the kids like I thought I would. I've already gotten all the appreciation from the kids I would ever want over the last couple of weeks. I'll probably just say bye, have a great summer, here's my email, keep reading. Oh, and keep reading. Really, read. And then I'll pack up all the books I've brought in this year, whatever ones aren't hiding under kids' beds, and go.

But next week, I know I'll probably get sad when I realize I won't be making the daily trek to middle school, won't see these guys every day, maybe ever again. I will be bummed. I meant to keep a journal of hilarious quotes kids said, or ridiculous things they did throughout the year, but that never happened. So, for posterity, and since I know I'll forget if I don't, here's a list of some of the things I've liked the most with this 7th grade class of 2010-2011 at Lane Middle School, Portland Public Schools, Portland, Oregon.
  • Pre-1st period conversations with A____.
  • Anytime I ever showed them or said something I thought was cool but thought they would just think was nerdy and they responded, "That's tight."
  • P____'s random singing. P____, in general.
  • A____ yelling "That's bull!" every five minutes.
  • A_____ friending me on Goodreads and sending me amazing, thoughtful messages.
  • When AVID went really smoothly and fun; the classroom atmosphere of the room in general; Ms. T_____'s dedication and passion. A_____ & M__: they never stop talking to each other, but man, such charmers.
  • T_____. Drove me crazy at times, but such a serious, good, hard-working kid when it gets down to it.
  • S___'s letter he wrote to Rick Riordan that I sent for him.
  • Any and all kids who wanted to talk to me about books.
  • 4th period. I yelled at them so much but I love them so much. They will last the longest in my memories. They are so intelligent and creative and mature. Some of my favorites from 4th: K____ & T______, two kids who are so great and who have been told that they're "bad kids" so, so many times in their lives. I really have a soft spot for K___; he's so smart. T___ & A_____ are also two of the toughest and smartest girls I've ever met. Their toughness actually intimidates and irritates me at times, but I am tough in my judgment of girls, I think. It's hard not to be.
  • "She be floatin."
  • Waving to D_______ & T___ as they walk to and from school when I pass them on my bike.
  • R_____, so small and sweet, who says "Hi Ms. Guccini!" every time she sees me, even though I hardly ever even had her in class.
  • When C___ included punctuation in his writing for the first time, after I told him "periods!' ten times. And him saying "Yeah, I know, I need periods," as soon as I looked at his paper.
  • J______, so big-hearted and optimistic and eager to learn.
That's all I got for now. I know there's more. But just this list? Already more than enough.