Monday, August 31, 2009

No - Try It Over Here!

Every now and again, a Mockingbird needs to nest. In my case, I have a nest (a rather cozy one, in my opinion), but it needed some sprucing up. This may be due to the Great Office Move of '09 - I'm box-free but the floor is somewhere under various piles of pictures and things that I'm sure I'll need someday. Anyone else ever been there? Anyway, I'm trying to move some things around at home, make a little room, clear out some clutter . . . it's amazing how much stuff you discover you have when you begin doing this sort of thing. And not even useful stuff - I must have put fifty pens aside to donate to some charity or another. Now who needs fifty pens? Fifty EXTRA pens, I should say - I still have plenty of writing utensils, have no fear!

But I think every stick of furniture either has been moved or has been seriously considered for moving. (OK, there's an exception there for the piano. It's not moving. Ever.) I can also report that FryDaddy and Victorian Marxist are virtual oxen when it comes to moving heavy things down narrow hallways. And isn't a sleeper sofa a grand thing when you're not having to tip it vertically and twirl it to get it to fit through a doorway?

The lovely and talented Spooky has been a bit distressed by all the hoopla, but she forgives me easily enough with a pig ear or two, so that's all right. And I now have a study. Or maybe a den; I haven't quite decided.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Julia & Prawns

I recently saw two movies that got me to thinkin'. There are a couple of things that are unusual about this - first, that I've actually seen two new release movies in the theatre (I always have the best of intentions, but usually wind up missing them) and two, that I found such a strong link between two seemingly-different films.

The first was Julie & Julia, (careful - the the link has audio) which I will confess I liked quite a lot. The Julia Child segments were stronger for me that the contemporary story (and as I've learned more about "Julie" I can see why), but the entire movie has a joie de vivre about it and serves as a powerful reminder that life is meant to be celebrated and that joy takes cojones. (Yes, I'm mangling several European languages here; what of it?) Streep is an actress that I often find cold and mechanical, but here she's glorious. Stanley Tucci is fantastic as Paul Child and the relationship between the Childs is the cornerstone of the film. Amy Adams is goshed-darned cute and has some very nice bits and seriously - go see this film. It's a feel good flick and we can all use that these days. And don't be surprised if you find yourself wanting to try something more ambitious in the kitchen than what you usually cook.

In Julie & Julia, Julie has a hard time boiling a lobster for dinner. Julia Child has recommended that the squeamish first insert a sharp knife between the eyes of the lobster, then dump it in the pot. Now I happen to believe that lobsters are lower on the food chain that we are and that's it fine to eat them (I personally don't care for them, but I'm not a vegetarian, so I don't have higher ground to claim here). District 9 has a more troubling view of "prawns" as the seven-foot aliens have been nicknamed. (See, a dehumanizing nickname makes it easier to think of your opponent as non-human. Just flick through history and you'll see my point.)

I'll confess that I liked District 9 (again, careful of the audio) tremendously, but for very different reasons that J&J. I've heard it said before that good stories ask the big questions, and District 9 asks the doozies, like "What does it mean to be human?" Humanity, which is so joyously portrayed in Julia & Julia does not come across too well in District 9. It's a complex film, dealing with prejudice, class warfare, poverty, capitalism, media control, the ickiest sides of human nature, and the slippery question of how far is it ethical to go to be top dog? Keep in mind that this is not a movie for the kiddies. The aliens aren't all bad and, as sure as daylight, the humans are far from all good.

So what links the two? Both films celebrate humanity - one as a force for good, as humans defy convention and embrace creativity to more fully express their own humanity, even through something as seemingly unimportant as a pear tart. The other celebrates humanity's darker sides as humans wrap themselves in bureaucratic details to avoid dealing with the actual beings the rules are impacting. We are both and it is folly to ignore that ugly truth. If we do, we run the risk of turning into the people in District 9 and - trust me - you don't want that.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Back to School!

Normally, I'm quite excited during this time of year. Even though I don't teach in a one-room schoolhouse, I still teach and we tend to get wired in mid-August. Usually by now, I've had a little while to re-charge my batteries, I've got my new highlighters and Post-It notes, freshly-copied syllabi are stacked in my office - I just feel organized. Ready to go, if you like.

This year is different.

I'm sure it's due primarily to the budget woes which have beset my state - the legislature finally agreed on a budget just last week and it seems to contain a fair number of items that fall into the "well, it's the best we could do" category. It's as if education was one of those drawings of a cow you see in the back of butcher shops and the legislators had a shiny cleaver. It's hard to be the rump roast of the state. Sorry to snipe, but what else is a blog for some days?

On top of that, enrollment is booming (we actually have "big" registration day in a few days, so the boom is likely to become a deluge) and, since we had the money at the time, offices are being rebuilt, which means many of us are in temporary digs, making it harder for students to locate us. And no, we don't deliberately hide from students (much), who are often very confused and bewildered at this time of year.

All of which makes hobbies so much more important that usual, at least for me. I have a tendency to pile quite a bit on my plate and it's good for me to have one thing to do that I don't have to be an expert at, but is done for sheer enjoyment. Lately, I have to tell you, my hobby has taken on job-like proportions, which means I need to re-evaluate a few things and hopefully soon.

Sigh. Out of balance before the school year even begins. Need to re-adjust and start over. I daresay a walk in the sunshine with the Spooky-dog (the spookiest Spook to ever spook a spook!) will give me a good start.