"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Monday, November 28, 2011

If only I had more time...

I still haven't finished Crime and Punishment. But I have until January before my students will have read any of it, so I'm free to continue not reading it for now. For now, I'll read what I want. It usually takes me weeks to read a book. That's because I read several at once until I get nearish the end. Then I cruise through the rest. This solid technique often results in finishing a couple-few books around the same time, which is what happened this week (or so).

This short post is simply to direct you to my latest book reviews over to the left on the Shelfari. Just hover your mouse over the book, and my cogent review pops up for your perusal. Easy peasy Nice N Cheesy. But in case you're too lazy to do even that, here are the books, live and in technicolor, but with fewer words of wisdom from me.

The Crystal Bridge
by Charles M. Pulsipher
I've touted this book before on this here blog, but I've finally finished reading it. Read an interview with Charlie. Find his sweet blog at Notice Your World. Buy the book anywhere you want. It's in print. It's in the ebook ether. Just read it. Tell your friends.

The Magicians
by Lev Grossman
This is a surprisingly fun story mixing Harry Potter and Narnia. But it's not for kids.

by Pete Hautman
A National Book Award winner for YA Lit. I'm curious to read more by Hautman.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda 
Darth Paper Strikes Back
by Tom Angleberger

Nice, clever books where sixth graders know too much about Star Wars. With funny doodles.

But don't take my short, snarky word for it, take my more-thought-out word for it. Hover on over to the right and read my more complete reviews. Go on. No one's watching. You can do it!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Establishment

When did I become this guy? I used to consider myself a free thinker, an individualist, an anti-establishment nonconformist rebel punk. But I'm not that guy any more. Now I'm the guy who follows the rules, who enforces the rules. The company man. I am the establishment.

This could go any number of directions, but today here's where it's going:

At school there's a "no food in the classrooms" rule. This is such a strict rule this year that the new custodial staff sends emails warning us of roach infestations if we leave food out for the bugs, and I was recently forced to hold a "Lunch with Shakespeare" discussion in the cafeteria during lunch because I ordered pizza for the my group of students.

I try to ask my students to finish their food and beverages before they come to class, and if I see them with food in the room, I kindly ask them to put it away. Of course, this past week, some student group introduced a coffee cart that offers coffee treats before school and during first period. But remember, no food--or drink--is allowed in the classrooms. I'll give you a moment to imagine the conflict this might cause.

There was no coffee available for students when I was in high school.
Why do today's teens need it?

This morning two students entered my room with pastry and coffee in hand. A brother and sister. Twins. One does class work. The other tends not to. I asked them to put the food away, though I wasn't sure where they were going to put the full coffee cups. And with that, one of the other 39 students in my room diverted my attention.

I proceeded with class, and a couple of minutes later I noticed that the brother had the lid off of his hot drink and was otherwise occupied with stirring something into the liquid. When I told him once again--and I'm sure my tone conveyed my exasperation at his blatant disregard for my instructions--that he was not allowed to have the coffee in the classroom, he opted to leave. He said he would just get a pass and take the tardy. I informed him that I would be writing up a referral if he just left class, so he offered to go straight to the Dean's office right then.

If this exchange sounds overly civil as I write this, it's merely my overwhelming disbelief at his decisions. Surely, the dean will not allow him to keep his coffee and behave this way, too. Sometimes a student needs that additional authority figure to show him the error of his ways.

A few more minutes of instruction slipped by, and I happened to stroll by the corner of the room where the sister sits. Her half-eaten pastry and cup of Joe sat in front of her on the table.

Now, I have to admit that I can understand a student's need for sustenance in the morning. And I can understand that three minutes after you just shelled out four or five bucks for a coffee and a roll, the last thing a you need is some curmudgeon telling you you have to get rid of it. You might as well have just tossed the money in the trash. But what I don't understand is when a student in one part of the classroom gets in trouble for an obvious reason, and another student across the room who might well be guilty of the same infraction doesn't immediately renounce said infraction before the teacher notices her as well.

Of course, she had no idea that anything was wrong. In an effort to retain some control of my impatience, I offered to put the cup up on the shelf over her head. What I got back was something like, "Why? What's the difference? It's just on the table. What's the difference? Why?" repeated ad nauseum.

My response: "Because you're not allowed." To be said slowly and as condescendingly as possible, as in "not alllloooowwwwed."

You remember what happens when
you don't follow the rules.
Thankfully for my sanity, she finally acquiesced when I pleaded, "Can't you just once follow the rule?" The pastry disappeared (I'm sure she ate it later as class when on) and the cup of coffee ended up on the upper shelf. (I forgot about it at the end of the class and, really, for the rest of the day. I wonder if it's still there. It's a long weekend coming up....)

Soon after that episode, the brother came back to class with a pass from the Dean's office (not a tardy pass) with written permission from the dean to re-enter class. He had sat in the office until he finished his coffee and then came back to class with nary a consequence.

The dizzying array of insults within this scenario includes the lack of back-up from the administration, the lack of respect from the students, and the fact that no one else seems to notice a conflict of interest by allowing the coffee cart in the first place.

But what bothers me the most is that I have to resort to forceful statements like, "Because you're not allowed," in order to maintain (or regain) control. I don't like being that guy. But here I am. I'm not Matthew Lillard at the end of SLC Punk deciding to go to law school so that he can bring down the establishment from within. (I never did believe that he wouldn't end up just like his dad, anyway.)

Am I nothing more than a trendy poseur?
I'm just a guy doing what I'm told so that I don't lose my job for no reason because they can do that to teachers now. I am as well-ensconced a cog in the machine as anyone ever could be.

And that makes me a little sad.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Star is Born, part three: Over the Rainbow

Last year I started a journal that I'd hoped to show the boy later as he grows. This blog has turned into that record of his growth and development (but an excerpt of that journal is included below). I posted two other portions of his birth story last spring that you should read if you haven't. My wife's ordeal that ended up in a five week hospital stay before labor is related in part one, and labor and Alexander Brent Wescott's birth on November 15, 2010, constitutes part two. Romantic stuff.

Part three is to be read to the tune of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

When Xander was born premature at 34 weeks, within a couple of hours it was clear his lungs hadn't developed enough to handle his own breath, so he was intubated with a CPAP mask that covered most of his face. That mask only lasted a day, but the ventilator tube remained down his throat for a week. Over the next few days, he was slept in phototherapy for jaundice, put on pain killers to ease the abrasiveness of the ventilator tube, and received chest x-rays every day to determine his lung capacity.

This is after the intubation was over, with the CPAP mask on.

We parents were able to change his diaper and touch him--preemies like pressure, not stroking--but he was to stay in his warmed incubator sleeping for as much as possible. I did the changing. Mom did the worrying.

What they didn't tell us until later was that he had developed pneumonia during those first hours after birth. During the first two days, he actually got steadily worse, with the amount of oxygen helping him breathe increasing as much as it could and the x-rays indicating no change in the condition of his lungs. The steroids they gave him shortly after birth weren't clearing them up like they were supposed to. 
He was a sad clown in black light. Jaundice will do that do a guy.

The only hint of the severity of this situation was from the night nurse on Tuesday who told us that there was nothing else to do once they increased the oxygen flow as much as they could. After that, they just would wait to see what happened. We didn't know until later that some of the staff were actually afraid he wouldn't make it.

The next day, however, he began to turn around. 

What follows is from my journal during the next month:

          Sunday, November 22, 2010

Today Xander was extubated from the ventilator, weened off of the Fentanyl, taken out of the Billruben phototherapy, and the IV line in his right hand was removed. He still needs a cannula around his nose for oxygen and he also has a feeding tube up and down his nose, but he looks like a normal baby for the first time since his first hours of life.

          Saturday, November 27, 2010 

May’s pretty worked up. This morning Xander wasn’t really up to par. He is supposed to keep his oxygenation up between 85% and 96%, or else the monitoring alarm beeps at the nurse. It's pretty common for an alarm to go off. The NICU is constantly beeping from somewhere. If he’s highly saturated, then the nurse pretty much just turns off the alarm, but if he keeps that up, she might turn down the percent of oxygen he’s on. The air around us is 21% oxygen, and he needs to be able to breathe by himself at that percentage. If he is low, again usually the nurse just turns off the alarm and goes about her business because usually he comes right back up to the appropriate level. But sometimes, if his saturation levels stay in the lower 80s, the nurse will turn up the percentage or do one of dozens of things just to make sure everything is okey-dokey. 

For the past few days, since Tuesday when they took off the CPAP mask, Xander has been on a high flow cannula giving him around 28% oxygen. This is supposed to ween him off of the pressure that the ventilator and the CPAP mask were giving him. The high flow started at level 2 (I don’t know if that’s a percentage or just a level, but it’s much lower than the pressure settings he was on through the CPAP). Thursday, Thanksgiving, they weened that level down to 1.5, and he had been working along great like that. 

But this morning, for whatever reason, his oxygenation levels were fluctuating. Some of the time he was high, 96 or 98 percent, and other times he was low, even into the high seventies. This worries May. Everything worries May, to be true, but this came after yesterday’s drop in his heart rate.

Yesterday May was holding Xander after his feeding time, and she watched his heart rate drop from the normal levels of 145 or so down to under 100. The alarm went off and his heart rate continued to plummet, she said, to about 70. I think this is called brachycardia or bradycardia. May said she patted Xander on the back for a second and he kind of moved a little bit and his heart rate went right back up to normal. The nurse, Susan, said she thought it must have been that his neck was back a little too far as he was resting on May’s chest and perhaps his airway was constricted or something. So it didn’t warrant any more attention than that, but it really worried May.

Last night, May was even more upset by the fact that she decided yesterday for the first time in a week that her throat was not quite scratchy enough to justify her wearing a mask in the NICU. She had been feeling like her sinuses were encroaching upon her face since she was released from the hospital last Wednesday. Her throat felt a little prickly, and she felt for sure that she had caught a cold and would have to stay home from the hospital for days. So she wore a mask the whole time she was with Xander until yesterday. And sure enough, she was holding him to her chest and she felt her nose start to run. Without thinking, she reached up to wipe the snot-boogers away (really, just a little drop of liquid, I’m sure), then went right back to cooing with her little boy, probably touching his face or hands or blanket or something. This memory caught up to her at about 9:30 last night, and she broke down for a little time.

And so this morning, he was not up to par. I think it has more to do with the fact that for the past week, every day brought some new improvement. I, at least, had it in my head that Xander would make these kinds of steps forward every day and we’d be getting him home in days rather than weeks. I know that’s unrealistic, but I hoped, you know? And seeing him just keep to the status quo for a little while, not even taking a step back, is a little disheartening. Kirsten, the nurse, explained that he looked fine, that his numbers were totally normal, but add this to the rest of the last two weeks, to the fact that May hasn’t slept well in months, and she’s worried. Did I mention that May worries a lot?

          Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Xander is four weeks old plus one day, just one day shy of a whole month. 

And he came home today! Booyah.  
If you look closely, you'll see him there in the middle of the car seat.
He doesn't even fit in it any more.

He’s currently in our bedroom sleeping in a small crib/bassonette that folds out like a pack-n-play portable crib. He’s got a low-flow cannula up his nose, giving him 1/16 of a liter of pressure with 100% pure oxygen. Talk about your latest rave oxygen bar. We’ve got a large 3-foot tall tank of oxygen in the hallway between the master bedroom and the nursery with a 25-foot long hose taped to his face. The nurse today told May that he could be on that oxygen just a couple of weeks, or he could be on it for a year. I told May he won’t be on it for a year. She asked how did I know that? I said I just know. Can’t I just know things?

It’s been an exciting day. I left school early to get to the hospital at about 1:30, and the kid was pretty much ready to go. May and I were more than a bit anxious. Filling out a review of his care for the hospital, we marked that he had very good care for everything, but the last question asked how ready we felt about bringing him home. We joked that we should mark the last one, “Not at all.” 
The first of many aerial dives around the house, courtesy of Air Daddy.

Turns out, we did fine. He's a year old this week. Took him to the doctor today. 21 pounds. 28 inches tall. 85 percentile for his head. That all means he's a little short, a little chubby, but with a huge brain. I'll take that any day.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

One Year Ago: A Photoessay

One year ago today, this happened:

You can find out more about what happened immediately before this by reading the first two installments of "A Star is Born": part one and part two. Part three is pending. Look for it this week. Promise. It'll tell more about his time in the hospital, as seen above.

After a month, he came home. Then some more things happened. Most of them entailed becoming cuter and cuter.

And a little fatter.

Despite not leaving the house for the first six months, he's done quite a few amazing things in his short life.

He's already had one Christmas. He loved it.

He had his church blessing. He loved it.

He went to Vegas. He loved it.

He went swimming. He loved it. His sister loved it also.

He went to Halloween. He loved it.

He's been in the snow. He loved it.

 He's a pretty cool guy. I'm glad to know him.

I'm trying to post this to the minute. He's now exactly one year old. Happy birthday, Xander-man.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Noughties (I hope that sticks for the next century)

Dave over at Dave Wrote This has initiated a blogfest stemming from his exhaustive recounting of his faves from each year of the past decade. He has good taste, probably because he's British. And he has a lot to say about Buffy.

I really can only remember the past by recalling the music I regarded at the time. So I'll list some decent albums from the last decade. It should be an interesting exercise to lead me into my own Best Music of 2011 Extravaganza every Monday in December. Despite the morass of music I listen to, the following albums stand out as...outstanding. Give a listen. Travel through my time portal to the past...

2009 Passion Pit Manners

Icy synths and high falsettos. Passion Pit takes the best parts of the 80's new wave revivalist sound and perfects it. Great dance beats, sing song melodies. Ear candy in the best of terms.

2008 Ladyhawke Ladyhawke

Immediately hooky, Ladyhawke is the dance music I wish would sweep the world instead of the likes of Gaga and Perry. Shades of the 80's seep into the production, which only makes me enjoy the songs more. Each song is memorable and actually makes you think you must have heard it all before, but only because it's so instantly beguiling.

2007 Robin Guthrie / Harold Budd 
After the Night Falls and Before the Day Breaks

If ever you need a calmative, the beautiful ambiance created by Guthrie and Budd will not fail. Guthrie's magical guitar production, coupled with Budd's minimalist piano work is the soundtrack they play in heaven. I'm serious. They released these two albums in conjunction with one another. They're pretty much the same sound, just more of it, so I'm listing both.

2006 Belle and Sebastian The Life Pursuit

The best Belle and Sebastian album, with the possible exception of Dear Catastrophe Waitress...or Write About Love. Either way, The Life Pursuit is stellar twee indie pop, with influences everywhere from French pop to 60's swing and jaunty folky 70's organ funk. Give it a twirl.

2005 Mew And the Glass Handed Kites

Mew is a tough band to describe. On most songs, there's some heavy, layered guitar work that rock away, then it slows down for a brief interlude, only to take off again. Over all the swagger creep in the penetrating vocals of Jonas Bjerre leading to a simply dazzling chorus.

2004 Keane Hopes and Fears

I can't help but say it: Keane sounds like Coldplay. Exalted piano melody but with less arena rock bombast and more soaring falsetto. Each song on Hopes and Fears is a gorgeous gem of a pop song. Go ahead and sing along.

2003 Delerium Chimera

Much-maligned for metamorphosing into the poppy step-cousin of the aggressive industrial Frontline Assembly, Rhys Fulber and Bill Leeb's Delerium is extremely catchy and accessible without being boring. They clearly have a need for such and outlet, and they utilize a variety of (mostly) female vocalists to help them do it, from Sarah McLachlan to Leigh Nash and Julee Cruise.

2002 Sigur Ros (  )

This album is commonly called Parentheses, and every song is called "Untitled." They're from Iceland, so they can do that. I have an aneurism every time I hear this album. It's that good. Every song starts slowly and softly, adding layer after layer of sound and singer Jonsi's voice until you just can't stand it any more and it blows you away.

2001 Lamb What Sound

Lamb is one of my first trip hop loves, probably second only to Massive Attack. What Sound begins to digress from the heavy breakbeat sound of their first two albums, adding more chill out waves. But there's still plenty of freak-out drum & bass to jam on, too. First and foremost, though, is always the sultry voice of Louise Rhodes to carry it along.

2000 Emiliana Torrini Love in the Time of Science

What a quiet, smokey, powerful voice. No wonder Emiliana Torrini was tapped to sing the moody credits tune for Peter Jackson's The Two Towers. Each song on her first album Time of Science is easy on the ears, with great hooks and a soothing, summery combination of guitar string melodies and trip hop beats.

There's my musical trip backward through the Noughties. Listen and learn and love, people.

Below is a list of other participants in the fest. Go. Read. Remember the Noughties.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

iTunes, Amazon, CDs, MP3s, and a Half-Hearted Attempt to Start a Blogfest

I currently own 55 albums that dropped in the year 2011. That's way too many for some people. For me, it's just the beginning. I'm sure to double that in the next year or two. My 2010 iTunes list boasts 115 albums. But wait. What would you say if I told you that number rose to 177 for albums from 2009? It's true.

This is what they look like. No video. No photos.
Just 30,000 songs on each of them.
And I still need another one if I'm to carry all of
my music around with me.
Most people know I'm a connoisseur, that I own some CDs, that I listen to music much of my time. But I'm certain no one until now realized the extent of my addiction. Not my wife, not my Amazon account. Me? I've known it all along. It just got that much worse when my wife bought me my first iPod three years ago. Now I own two iPods. The classic, big kind. None of this "nano" bull pucky that holds about fifteen tracks. I could carry around a Sony Discman if that's all I wanted.

With the iPod came iTunes. I love fiddling around with the various permutations of organization. And keeping everything organized is so much easier when it's just a digital list than when it's a shelf full of jewel cases that need to be moved from one end to another.

I tried the iTunes store, and my first music download was Specimen's Azoic just so I could hear "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" again. If you've never heard it, listen to the whole song, all the way through the screechy goodness of feedback at the end. It's sublime. (Ignore the video, though. Like most, it's pretty terrible. Just push play and keep reading.)

Soon, my darling wife showed me how to download music from Amazon, which I discovered is not only an easier site to navigate than the iTunes store, but it is cheaper to buy music there as well. It used to be that most individual songs were only 89 instead of the 99 cents at iTunes, but recently I've noticed that most songs are now 99 cents on Amazon. I rarely buy single songs, so it's cool that most full albums to download from Amazon are only 7.99$, rather than the usual 9.99$ from iTunes. Plus, every month they have a load of mp3 albums available for only five dollaroonies, and every day they have a special deal for 2.99$ or 3.99$. Often that's some new release like Death Cab or Florence + the Machine. My first mp3 download from Amazon was the day The Killers album Day and Age dropped. It cost 1.99$. Which is pretty awesome.

I didn't mean for this to turn into an ad for Amazon.com (check out the new Kindle Fire! wink wink).

I still buy CDs. Often from Amazon. It's pretty amazing how often you can find used CDs for a penny. Of course, you pay for shipping, but that's three bucks you're then paying for an actual physical compact disc, complete with liner notes and production credits. Sometimes you can buy an mp3 album with a digital booklet attached, but it's not the same.

The greatest record store in Denver.
Or a couple times a year my wife will see I need to get out of the house and she'll send me away to Twist & Shout or Wax Trax where I can spend hours sifting through the bins and end up with a couple dozen used CDs to take home. I have a hard time spending more than five dollars on a CD, though, because I know that I could order it from Amazon for cheaper. If you wait long enough, the CD you want is always available for super cheap online.

My point is that I buy a lot of music. And that I blame my wife.

The guy who owns Twist & Shout
was my high school English teacher.
And I've been pondering writing up a Year-End Best Of... Extravaganza, but it's become difficult. I own 55 albums released in 2011. Culling them down to ten or whatever is hard. It's not like I go out and buy crappy music. Deciding on the best is no easy task. So what I've decided is that every Monday starting in December I will write about a few of what I would consider the outstanding ones from the year. I have no idea how to start a blogfest or anything (anyone want to give me some pointers?), but if you want to join me in December to talk about the best music of the year, that'd be swell.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My Revolutionary Music

I wrote the poem further below as a model to my students for writing parody poems. The original poem comes first. My apologies to the genius that is Nikki Giovonni.

Revolutionary Music
by Nikki Giovonni
(published in The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni, 1996)

you’ve just got to dig sly
and the family
forget the words
you gonna be dancing to the music
james brown can go to
viet nam
or sing about whatever he
has to
since he already told
the honkie
“although you happy you better try
to get along
money won’t change you
but time is taking you on”
not to mention
doing a while
song they can’t even snap
their fingers to
“good god! ugh!”
talking bout
“i got the feeling baby i got the feeling”
and “hey everybody let me tell you the news”
martha and the vandellas dancing in the streets
while shorty long is functioning at that junction
yeah we hip to that 

aretha said they better
but she already said
“ain’t no way to love you”
(and you know she wasn’t talking to us)
and dig the o’jays asking “must i always be a stand
in for love”
i mean they say “i’m a fool for being myself” 

While the mighty mighty impressions have told the
for once and for all
“We’re a Winner”
even our names--le roi has said--are together
intruders (i mean intruders?)
not beatles and animals and white bad things like
young rascals and shit
we be digging all
our revolutionary music consciously or un
cause sam cooke said “a change is gonna come”

I had a lot of fun with this. Here's my version:

My Revolutionary Music
by Brent Wescott

you’ve just got to get stoked for kaja
and a flock of seagulls
forget the words—
like, gag me with a spoon—

you gonna be dancing to the music
u2 can go to
or sing about bloody sundays
since sinead o’connor told
the pope
to go “fight the real enemy”
not to mention
the smiths   
warning thatcher
“the queen is dead”
and the pistols demanding 

 “anarchy in the u.k.”
then kurt cobain
does a whole
song they can’t even sing along to
“here we are now
entertain us”
bowie and jagger dancing in the streets
while sting is dreaming of the blue turtles
fer shur we bad to the bone 

tears for fears said to
but modern english already said
“i melt with you”
(and you know what they were talking about)
and hear spandau ballet ask how much is

i mean depeche mode says “i want somebody
to share the rest of my life” 

While the americans tried to tell the
for once and for all
“We are the World”
even our names are built to provoke
pink dots
bunnymen (aren’t they cute?)
not madonna and springsteen and new white
kids on the block or other
safe boring throwaways
we be slamming to
our revolutionary music physically or un
cause henry rollins said “if you really want to rebel
against your parents:
outlearn them”