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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Haircuts for Boys, sans Rocket Ships

As you can see, we let the boy's hair grow for over 18 months. It got pretty long. But super cute, right?

He was only mistaken for a girl once, even though he was wearing overalls with a football on the bib, which is downright iconically boyish, if you ask me, so it must have been the hair.

The mullet is also worn by
spiders from Mars.
His grandmother took it upon herself to cut his bangs a few times while she was watching him. A small price to pay for babysitting, but one more time and his cute, shaggy 'do would have turned into a mullet to rival Ziggy Stardust.

On Monday, Memorial Day, we opted for an official haircut. I thought I might just get out the clippers and buzz it down, but I know my wife well enough not to mention it. Our brother-in-law said we should go see The Russian, an old barber who's been at this little strip mall shop for decades, I guess. This appealed to my wife because of the spinning red, white, and blue barber pole in the window.

I'm not sure where she got it, but May was clinging to this Norman Rockwellian notion of a boy's first hair cut, complete with--I'm not exaggerating here--a rocket ship chair. I suppose I can understand this. I remember fondly the barber shop where my dad used to take my brothers and me back in the early seventies. Men with mustaches reading the paper and shooting the breeze, letting us kids sit in the tall barber chairs while we waited. To this day, the smell of that place--the wet hair and gel and cream--is what I imagine real men should always smell like. Still, I thought we could just go to Sport Clips where I get my regular hair cut, and even though it's a rather manly salon with a thorough sports motif, since there was no rocket ship chair, the wife wanted to try The Russian.

Unfortunately, when we pulled up, the lights were off and the "Open" sign was dark. Worse, the barber pole was not spinning. Close inspection of the window indicated they were closed Sundays and Mondays. What luck. May agreed that we should go ahead and try Sport Clips. She didn't like that there would be no rocket ship, but it was that or no haircut. Naturally, Sport Clips was closed for Memorial Day.

We tried again the next day. By then, May had abandoned her dreams of yesteryear and rocket ship chairs and said she didn't care where we went. Sport Clips it was, then. When I went in to check wait times, the stylist (I don't think I can call her a barber, can I?) assured me she could take care of an 18-month-old and said it would be about a twenty minute wait. We began to get concerned about the boy, when after fifteen minutes he was running the length of the lobby, exploring behind the register counter, and climbing and falling off of several chairs and benches. Was he going to sit still long enough for a haircut?

Our stylist finally called us back and immediately took control by offering a Dum Dum sucker. Xander popped that in like it was the greatest thing he'd ever put into his mouth. He sat holding the stick, the candy firmly in place, staring at himself in the mirror while the stylist sprayed his hair wet and began cutting. The boy didn't move until she needed him to look down. Mom distracted him then with one of many iPhone apps, and he hardly moved and didn't make a sound. I had to hold his head in place in order for her to use the clippers around his ears, but again, he hardly seemed to notice. Even when the lollipop was down to a nub and getting fly-away hair stuck to it, he sat still and just watched the mirror. What an awesome kid.

The stylist kept as much hair clippings as she could for posterity. We now have an envelope of hair in his remembrances treasure chest. Not to mention all the pictures.

It's not as short as it could have been, but I still was concerned that like Sampson he would lose his mojo without his beautiful, flowy hair. I had nothing to worry about.

Monday, May 28, 2012

School's Out, Thank You Very Much

I hesitate to write this post. As you know, I am an exceptionally humble human being. I'm uncomfortable promoting myself because it smacks of showing off, and I am anything if not modest. I mean, if anyone will inherit the earth, it certainly should be me.

Still, I want to make a point about education that has nothing to do with my teaching prowess, and in order to do so I'm going to have to do something that might seem a little like boasting. I suppose a real teacher would claim it's all about the kids, they did this of their own free will, etc..., but my point isn't about the students. Therefore, at the risk of sounding like a braggart, I present the following thank you notes, precise transcriptions from cards and letters I received from students at the end of this school year.

"This year I have enjoyed traveling and understanding the world through literature. With your help I was able to travel from Venice to Colombia, and later on to Africa. At times I know I was by no means the nicest or quietest person in your class and for this reason I would like to apologize. However, I would also like to thank you for your dedication to teaching us and also for the humor and sarcasm throughout the year. Most importantly, however, I would like to thank you for overlooking my many flaws this year and pushing me to do better."

"Thank you so much for being a super incredible teacher that cares and helps students excel throughout my two year experience in IB English. I personally think that you are one of the strongest and the best teachers I have ever had because you helped me grow academically and have really helped me be strong enough to get through college."

"Although I highly disliked your class because of all the work, overall it paid off. I learned to become successful and I thank you for that."

"I know I could have tried harder in your class. Thank you for being my teacher. I learned a lot this year. Have a great summer."

"I have appreciated your hard work in preparing me for the IB English test. Besides the test, I have really learned a lot, especially about society. I wish you the best."

"Thank you for making me read again. I used to hate books, but you made me read so many great books. Thank you. And thank you for being you."

"Thank you for reminding me why I love English, and giving me a class to look forward to at the end of the day. Thank you for not hating me even when I stopped doing my homework for two months because I felt pompous and like study guides were below me because I had one of those moments. Thank you for catching every single one of my sarcastic comments, even when the rest of class looked at me strange."

Remember, this is more than an exercise in self-aggrandizement. So here's my question:

Considering the recent climate towards education and the near-constant criticism of teachers in some corners of the country, and considering that last year Colorado's legislature passed a law requiring that teachers are evaluated through a complex system of vague and subjective guidelines but that fifty percent of that evaluation must be based on student test scores, where can I submit my students' thank you notes so that I can be evaluated on the kind of teaching that really goes on in my classroom?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Prayer in the Far Future

I'm fascinated with stories of the far future. Something about speculation showcasing the future of the human race through time and space speaks to me on a cellular level. Recently I've engaged in a few of these kinds of stories, and I want to try to explain what makes them meaningful to me. As a result, this post might be a bit lengthy, so if you don't want to read about the books, skip down to the part about Star Trek because that's where I gets provocative.

This trip starts with my perusal of the book Vortex by Robert Charles Wilson. It's the third (probably the last) in a series that begins with Spin and then Axis.

The premise begins with the day the stars go out. Spin is about how the Earth is suddenly encircled by some kind of force field that allows the planet to experience time at a much slower rate than the rest of the universe (which is the phenomenon they dub "the Spin"). Millions of years pass on the outside, while just a few pass for Earth's humans. The much abbreviated version of the story is that an advanced and ancient alien intelligence called the Hypotheticals has taken it upon itself to cocoon the Earth before we destroy ourselves. At the end, a portal has opened to another Earth-like planet, allowing humanity to plunder it for its resources and continue our passive march towards oblivion.

Axis tells a new story, after the portal has been open for years, with different characters, one of whom is a genetically engineered boy named Isaac born through technology stolen from the Hypotheticals. It allows him to establish some kind of connection with the alien intelligence, and he and a regular old human named Turk end up melding with the Hypotheticals in an unexplained way. It's a differently told book, and not as engrossing as Spin. Worse, Axis doesn't expound on the questions put forth in Spin about who the Hypotheticals are and what they really want.

Vortex is yet another different kind of book set in this same universe, but this time told in the dual time periods of both a few years after the Spin begins and ten thousand years after Turk and Isaac are taken. Turk and Isaac discover more about the nature of the Hypotheticals as they witness the death of the planet Earth. Meanwhile, ten thousand years earlier, their story is written down by a young man who's hearing voices and in trouble with the post-Spin law. You understand how this is possible by the end of the book, but again, it's not as epic as Spin.

Still, the coda of Vortex takes you on another journey as Isaac becomes one with the Hypotheticals and goes even further through time and space than any human might imagine. I became much more interested in that story than the previous ones and was disappointed when it came to an end, seemingly to the end of the series. I wanted to know more about these ancient Hypotheticals and the far future Isaac had been flung into.

Wilson's series has reminded me all along of one of my favorite authors, Alastair Reynolds, who writes the Revelation Space series, which, somewhat like the Spin series, deals with humans in the future under threat of extinction from an ancient machine race. However, my favorite book from Reynolds isn't one from the Revelation Space series. It's Pushing Ice, a stand-alone story that begins with one of Saturn's moon, Janus, revealing itself as an alien spacecraft and taking its leave of the solar system. Swept into its wake, a human mining crew is pulled into an uncharted (I don't know if that's the correct astronomy term; it sounds very Gilligan's Island, but I guess that's what happens) sector of the galaxy and end up part of a solar-system-sized structure where they encounter alien races and have to work out their own all-too-human differences. What these humans do here has repercussions on the rest of humanity they left behind, but who have advanced during the thousands of years of their travel.

Pushing Ice is full of an intriguing circular logic connecting time and space, but told with ease and skill. Reynolds has a talent for describing the awe of something that to us would seem like the eternities.

One more book I will push out here isn't the same kind of far future travelog but instead is about humans traveling through dimensions. Neal Stephenson's Anathem, to put it extremely succinctly, shows what might happen when a society is able to react physically to the thoughts and desires of another society from a separate dimension of the multiverse. In other words, one world's thought patterns are able to call into existence a group of people from another dimension. I think. This book is difficult to describe. But it's this idea that I think is most fascinating about it.

Pulling all of this together, I need to talk about the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called "Where No One Has Gone Before." I recently re-watched this episode, and it's one that I remember clearly from the first time I saw it.

The Enterprise often travels fast and far, but always within the limits of warp speed set up as part of their universe. In this episode, however, an alien who comes to be known as the Traveler takes the ship across galaxies, somewhere humans never could have reached in millions of years. They assume they are near the Outer Rim of the universe, a place where thoughts begin to become reality. There's some talk about the nature of reality, but the big concern is getting home, which the Traveler is able to accommodate, but not without phasing out of reality himself.

The physics here don't exactly work as explained in the episode. They talk about a "burst of speed" that takes them well beyond light speed. Of course, if that's really how they travel, the effects of relativity would put them back home probably billions of years later. If they would have just called it a worm hole or something, it might make more theoretical sense. But this is just my current response, since I've read a book on physics in the intervening years and am therefore a scholar on astrophysics.

What I remember responding to about this episode, and what I still notice now, is that if they traveled that far, they would be in the future. And it's a most intriguing picture of humanity's tomorrow.

Perhaps more interestingly, though far less coherently, I also reacted to this idea about being in a place--a space--where thoughts create reality. To explain without getting overly religious, because this is definitely The Gospel According to Me, my school of thought (which has some kind of basis in my Mormonism; I promise I'm not just being kooky--unless you just think Mormonism is just that--in which case, I make no such promise to you as I head for the lunatic fringe here) is that spiritual ideas have to have a physical counterpart in some way. For instance, the power of prayer is something I wholeheartedly believe in. For me there's something about faithful, deliberate concentration on a higher power that has to have a link to physical reality. I don't know what that means, other than I know we don't know everything about physics, and as the book Anathem posits, there is a fascinating, physically real consequence to something like prayer. And I trust that our future discoveries and enlightenment will hold answers to these kinds of questions.

I'm sure this makes little sense. Like how these books are at all connected to one idea from a poorly executed TV show. (Watching season one of TNG is hard, but I know it gets better.) In my head, it's clear as Crystal Pepsi. Perhaps in conversation, we can come to some understanding. What do you think?
It's like a crystal ball in there.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lachrymose Film

I disclosed a couple of weeks ago that I cried at the end of a movie. I wasn't ashamed. Here are the movies that made me cry. All five of them. I'm still not ashamed.

Sorry, but the following contains spoilers. Because I have to explain why I'm crying at the end of the movie, see.

We Bought a Zoo. It wasn't my fault. Read why.

About Schmidt. I love me an Alexander Payne ending. In Sideways, it cuts out before she answers the door. In The Descendants, the dad simply eats ice cream on the couch with his daughters. And in About Schmidt, Jack Nicholson reads a letter. Then he cries. Admittedly, I was in the beginnings of a divorce when I watched this, so I wasn't anything but a pile of weepiness, but even now I get misty when I think about those stick figures drawn by the African boy.

I am Sam. This is a tough one to confess. I'm a grown man who's worked with developmentally disabled adults, and I know when I'm being manipulated. But even though the story itself is more sentimental than realistic, Sean Penn gives an incredibly believable performance and you can't argue with Dakota Fanning. Thus, the fake happy ending won me over and I spilled my tears because the disabled father gets custody of this precocious daughter. Probably my divorce affected me here as well.

MASH: Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen. Being the most watched television episode in history (still, because I don't count Superbowls), I don't know how I ended up watching this by myself. At thirteen, I knew a good thing when I saw it. Still in shock at Hawkeye's revelation of what killing the chicken meant, I watched him take off in that helicopter while BJ's final message spelled out in rocks: "Goodbye." And I'm bawling like a baby who wants his Mommy. Or at least a good hug. Obviously the best series finale ever.

The MASH finale was the first time I cried at a movie. Then I cried one more time before I was fourteen, and it wouldn't happen again until I was in the throes of a divorce.

Savannah Smiles. Who knows this movie? I found myself watching it on video at my aunt's house one night, again alone. Even at my tender age (can a thirteen-year-old boy be considered "tender"?), I recognized the Utah locales even though I hadn't lived there for a few years. I can't really think of another reason why I cared so much about this cute little girl getting accidentally kidnapped by these hapless escaped convicts. But she turned the key and unlocked my heart just like she did to those crooks. Thus, under full Stockholm Syndrome myself, when she has to leave them at the top of Bridal Veil Falls because they chose to give her back to her family rather than escape the law, I cried.

There you have it. For posterity and everything. I probably won't cry at another movie for a while. Unless Jonsi does the soundtrack and a precocious girl is in danger and Jack Nicholson cries, too. Then I might.

What's your favorite weepy movie?

P.S. "Lachrymose" means "teary" or "weepy." A great word, isn't it?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Jellybean Pleases

Starburst jellybeans taught Xander how to say "Please."

You see, I'm plagued by cravings for seasonal sweets. During the winter holidays, Sam's Club bakes these red velvet/ white chocolate chip cookies that are great gobs of cosmic delicacy. I was physically depressed when I went in for my fix in January and was told they only make them during the holidays. I'm in a forced state of remission until November.

Then I get this thing for Starburst jellybeans every Spring when bean season comes around. I'm fond of most kinds of soft, fruity, jelly candies: the orange slice, the gummy bear, the Mike and the Ike. A regular jellybean is a tasty treat, even the black ones. But the Starburst jellybean completes the Easter basket.

I don't think they taste much like the old-school, square Starburst fruit chews. But each flavored bean is something better. Even the yellow ones. And especially the purple ones. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, purple is the best fruit. The original package is what I yearn for. The tropical versions aren't the same; it's a dangerous game to incorporate coconut into, well, anything. The sour flavors are a good addition, but the tart burst in your mouth can be unpleasantly surprising.

So every year, I purchase several bags to munch on while I wait for Easter to happen, then I eat the ones that somehow end up in my children's baskets, then I go buy more after Easter when a bag is, like, fifty cents because apparently no one likes the jellybean anymore after Mr. Echo's pal has made his rounds.

(Sorry, bad Echo and the Bunnymen reference, up there. Here's a fitting ditty as an apology. Who needs jellybeans when you have lips like sugar. Oh, this is getting ugly...)

Okay, so the X-man caught on early that when Mom and Dad don't let him eat what they are eating, that means it's better than the rice patty Mum-Mum or even the cheese stick snack he's likely to get. And the jellybeans have been ubiquitous around here for a good two months now. The boy will only be held back for so long before he gets his way. It doesn't take much, of course. Really, all that's required is the quick pitter-patter of jammied feet or the slight toss of his head and a toothy smile. I melt so easily.
Seriously. Say "no" to this guy. Go ahead and try.

I hand him one jellybean, which he cups in his hand and moves away, hunching over as a puppy might with a biscuit or Dracula with his victim, cape collar hiding the fangs until that last moment, and the satisfied discordance in his throat. Within moments he's back, empty palm up, babbling for more. His words mostly sound like "Ma ma ma ma," and to me it's mostly just "whinewhinewhinewhine," but he knows I know what he means. Eventually I have to stop. As a conscientious parent, I can't keep giving him candy whenever he wants. It's not good for him. Besides, getting him to brush his teeth is like trying to poke a tiger in the eye.

I say to him, "Say please."

He says, "Ma ma ma ma. Whinewhine."

I say, "Say please," and repeat "please" again, slowly and clearly.

"Ma ma?"


He says nothing, wondering why his handout of chewy goodness isn't in his mouth yet.

"Say please. Please. Please."

And quietly, barely audibly, he says, "Plbbpt," which is frequently referred to as a "raspberry" or, as Bill Cosby would call it, a "zurbit."

But it counts! Solid "P" sound at the beginning, attempt at correct tongue placement to get the "S" sound at the end. Definitely a "Please." He gets a jellybean. I'm elated. He's sated. Briefly.

The next time it sounds more like "Peace" and he gets a handful of jellybeans.

He regularly says "please" now and often even gets a jellybean in return. He's Pavlov's dog, but his vocabulary is increasing.

Except I'm fairly certain he thinks a jellybean is called a "please."
This is Candyland park where he gets to climb the gumdrops.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

100th Post Reboot

This marks my 100th blog post. I'm home with the boy today. It's fitting since I started this whole thing by staying home with the boy in the first place.

The difference is that last spring he was a little peanut squirming around, attached at the nose by a line of oxygen. Today, he's still pretty squirmy, but with clearly defined motor control and he's able to breath his own air. He's about to hit 18 months, and he's turned into a pretty healthy, extra cute kid. Look, see?

We celebrated (my staying home, not my blog) by taking a long walk around the neighborhood, stopping for a while at the park for some climbing and sliding. The X-man loves the slides. He'll climb up a straight ladder to get to the top of a slide, then he throws himself down the slide by basically walking off the edge and falling onto his diaper-padded bottom. He's gratefully learned to lean backwards and not forwards because half the time he's so quick I barely get to the front of the slide in time. It's a thrill ride for him, a panic attack for me.

I'm working towards a more consistent presence, so I'm rebooting the blog once more. Not much is different, except I'm hoping to post at least twice weekly, like on Mondays and Wednesdays or Thursdays.

For now, as a retrospective for those of you who are sort of new around these parts, here are a few posts you might want to take a look at, to give yourself an overview of what goes on in my world when I'm actually writing about it instead of just grumbling or laughing at it. Sometimes it's both.

One of my first posts was Fatherhood: A Manifesto. Not such an original title, sure, but I explain why I stayed home on paternity last year when the boy was just a few months old.

How about the one where the teacher can't get anything right? Read A Classroom Comedy of Errors.

For more fun with the kiddo, check out Baby's Day Out, where I chronicle one of the first times I took the boy out of the house last year.

And one of my posts about the music I love was My Revolutionary Music. Seems that many people missed this one. Let me know what you think of my poetry.

Welcome to Building Castles on the Beach 3.0. Or is that 4.0? 5.2? It doesn't matter.