As somebody who thrives (read: lives in sometimes reluctant symbiosis with) ADHD, I often find it difficult to complete my favorite hobbies. They’re time-consuming, and there’s little by way of instant gratification. I am a writer who is often paralyzed by my own ADHD when I sit down for a writing session, so I have to work with my ADHD to maximize my productivity. These are my tricks for staying motivated and productive, and working with my ADHD.Read more
The Dangers of Book Banning in Schools: A Comparison to Nazi Germany
Censorship being used as a tool for oppression is a tale as old as time. Historically, when free thought threatens a group in their attempt to gain power, you can look for censorship to follow. And while there have been countless instances of this throughout world history, Americans are undoubtedly most familiar with the burnings of books by the Nazi regime. These burnings serve as a stark reminder of the dangers of censorship and the importance of protecting freedom of expression.
And now, less than 100 years since the 1933 book burnings in Germany, publications such as The New Yorker and The Washington Post report that teachers in Florida are packing up their school libraries to avoid felony charges.
History repeats itself, but in such cunning disguise that we never detect the resemblance until the damage is done.Sydney J. Harris, American Journalist
When the World Ended: A Covid Survival Story
Originally posted at Medium.com.
On March 9, 2020, my friend Hannah was at my house. It was the first day of Spring Break, and as teachers, we were recovering from a particularly busy school year. It had been one of my best school years; my students were rockstars, and I was on my A-Game, but those years are sometimes even more draining than the rough years.
As we sat talking, she mentioned there would be a Cher concert in town the next night, and she thought there were still tickets available. So on a whim, Hannah, my wife, and I bought three last-minute tickets to see Cher in concert.
As we took our seats, we commented on how empty the arena was; there were more open seats than we expected–especially considering there weren’t many still listed on the ticket website. My wife, Sara–a physician and always the voice of logic–offhandedly mentioned that people may be scared of Coronavirus that had just made its way into our local news. At the time, we didn’t have the appropriate data to be scared or respectful or keep ourselves safe. This is what they mean when they say ignorance is bliss. This was our last night of normalcy, this was our last night, BC, before Covid, before our lives were completely upended.Read more
America’s Political Battleground – Public Schools
Originally posted on medium.com
Increasingly, schools, teachers, and students are becoming mainstream media’s focus in an unprecedented way. Buzzwords and phrases like Critical Race Theory (CRT), Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), and school choice have worked their way into an increasing amount of Facebook posts and trending tweets. And curriculum, teacher efficacy, and parent involvement have been called into question seemingly out of nowhere.
So what is going on?
“Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.”Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors
What can you do in seven years? A lot, honestly. In my life alone, the past seven years have seen tons of events: I worked in three school districts, I finished my masters degree, I moved into three different houses (maybe four? The timeline is a little blurred.) I watched my wife graduate from medical school, go through residency, and begin her career as a doctor and medical educator. I played Carnegie Hall–twice! I became a parent.
I did a lot. A lot. And it’s not until I start to make a bullet point list that I start to see just how much my life has changed in seven years; just how productive my life has been.
But in those seven years, I did not find productivity in the area that matters the most: writing. Sure I’ve written casually, here and there. In the past seven years I’ve finished two manuscripts. I know that that is two more manuscripts than many people write in their entire lifetime. But I’m a writer. That is the way I label myself. I am a writer first, and everything comes second–at least when it comes to my career goals. I am a writer, and then I am a musician, an artist, a teacher, etc.Read more
2021 in Review
New Year’s has come and gone, and now I’m looking down the long tunnel that is 2022, with its unknown twists and turns, waiting to once a gain throw me for an unexpected loop. I used to to love New Years Day—it meant possibility, it meant hope, it meant change. But as I’ve gotten older, all it’s seemed to mean is more and more uncertainty.
One thing I can always rely on, however, is books. Books have, and always will be my comfort zone and my safe space. I will always have a home in books, a warm place to snuggle in and feel safe. Even when the story itself is unpredictable, I find comfort in the smell, the heft, the feel of a book. And in 2021, when everything was strange and new and unpredictable, it’s clear that I found comfort in my familiar retreat. I lost myself in 50 books. 50 beautiful, wonderful, heavy stories. 50 chances to live a new life entirely different of my own. So here is my 2021 Bookish Year in Review.Read more
Replacing Required Reading – To Kill a Mockingbird
This week I’m attacking a much-beloved classic; a book that has been challenged many, many times in its history. It has had to go up against many a school board and pearl-clutching soccer moms who felt children should not be made to feel uncomfortable and exposure to adversity should be kept to a minimum. Gauntlets have been thrown, yet To Kill a Mockingbird has come out on top time and time again.
And for good reason. It’s a good book.
(After my Great Gatsby post a good friend of mine called me to verify that I didn’t, in fact, hate Gatsby. She was afraid our friendship had all been for naught and that this meant the end. So, I guess I’ll put up front that I love To Kill a Mockingbird. I have very fond memories of reading about it. In fact, I posted about it once during banned books week. You can find that post here.)
However, many of the reasons I want to replace Gatsby hold true for To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s antiquated, it’s from a perspective that doesn’t totally represent modern America, and while it still has a revered place in literature, it may not be the best pick for a 9th grade classroom anymore.
I will say, Mockingbird has some things going for it that Gatsby was totally lacking. For one, it was written by a woman, which is a rarity amongst books taught in public school English programs. In Louisiana–at least when it comes to the middle school curriculum–women comprise between 10-15% of the voices students are exposed to. According to The Ultimate AP English Reading List only 2 of the top 10 most frequently referenced books on AP Exams are books by women (neither of these books are To Kill a Mocking Bird, of course.)Read more
To Stop for Rainbows
Last weekend, for the first time in weeks, it rained here in Louisiana. It was glorious. I am definitely a cliche when it comes to rain; I find it beautiful and calming and relaxing and wonderful. Especially when I don’t have to drive in it or leave my house and be incovenienced by it.
What I’m saying is I love rain when it rains on my terms.
But this rain was on my terms. The raindrops were cold–a needed refreshment in this scorching heat–and it was exactly the right amount, not too heavy and not too light. It also stopped me from having to go outside and melt my skin off to water my garden, which is only a problem because I’m inordinately lazy, and not because it’s actually a bother in any real, significant way.
My son, however, has a very different relationship with rain. When rain is on the horizon, he gets nervous and I have to spend a long time calming him down and preparing him for oncoming rain. And as he develops more language to express his feelings and his reservations, he is more vocal about his displeasure with impending rain. So I knew that this weekend would be no different. Friday when the sky darkened and the air was fragrant with that beautiful, indescribable smell of rain on the horizon, I knew that we would have to have our familiar rain prep conversation.
To his credit, my son took it much more in stride that in rainstorms past. Maybe because we only experienced gentle summer showers, or maybe because he’s maturing, or maybe because three is a really complicated age and next time he will be an absolute mess–but for whatever reason, he was more contented than usual.
When the rain had finished on Friday, we were treated to true, beautiful magic, and I got to experience the world through the eyes of a toddler.
My son loves rainbows. To this point, we had only seen rainbows as illustrations in books and represented in various media together. But when this rainbow arced down seemingly across the street from us as we waited outside the restaurant we had just left, the world stilled and my son open-mouth stared at the gift that had been placed in the air for him and him alone. That was nobody else’s rainbow. It was for him.
Who was I to argue with that?
Normally, my son is a blur–energy personified–bouncing from place to place, and comes with his own tailwind. But for just a moment, time stood still around him as he saw this beautiful view. (Seriously, the picture doesn’t do it justice.) His eyes filled with genuine glee and his mouth curved into a big, goofy grin. And if this picture inspires anything in you, then you can’t imagine how moved you could be by that look. (Surely I say this from a place of unbiased observation.)
Within a few moments, it disappeared, and with it, so did the magic. My son was back to life in fast-forward and the the stillness of the world dissipated into the cacophony of traffic and wind and outdoor sound systems. We went to Barnes & Noble, bought more books than I intended to, and went home for the night.
But there was still magic to come.
Sunday evening while we were driving, we were on the highway. There were no cars around us, we were listening The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on audiobook as a family, and overhead the most vibrant and beautiful rainbow I’ve seen in my entire life appeared. I didn’t have my phone (I know–who leaves home without their phones?) so I didn’t get the catch the moment, with that soaring beautiful, Technicolor, double rainbow. It arced all the way across the sky and stopped me in my tracks.
So I did what any responsible parent would do. I pulled over on the side of the highway, held my son in my arms, and let him stare up at the rainbow for as long as he wanted.
“It’s so pretty,” he uttered over and over, as if every time he looked at it was the first time. “It’s so pretty, daddy.”
We stood there in the cool, damp air, the wind blowing around us, staring at the sky for possibly seconds and possibly years as we both appreciated the beauty and the wonder above us. It’s not everyday you get to see something quite so beautiful. We chased that rainbow all the way home, with the radio off and sitting in contented silence as the ribbon of colors stretched out infinitely before us.
I will never regret pulling over to look at that rainbow; I will never regret the minutes we stood staring up at the sky on the side of the road in knee-high grass getting eaten up by mosquitos. I will never look back on these two photos with anything but fondness in my heart.
Because life is too short not to stop for rainbows.
Replacing Required Reading – The Great Gatsby
A couple of months ago, one of my friend texted me. She’s a high school English teacher in Texas, and though she is every bit as qualified as (if not more qualified than) I am when it comes to the pedagogy of teaching English and literature, she often comes to me when she needs help solving a problem with literature or connecting with her students. I appreciate that she values my opinion, and I’ve always valued the conversations we have about books and teaching and life in general.
The theme of this conversation was her displeasure with teaching The Great Gatsby. I personally have never taught Gatsby; I’ve only taught English at the middle school level, but I can imagine what drudgery it could be from year to year. The students she teaches are not very different from the students I have been teaching for the past ten years. The nouveau riche lifestyle of the New York elite described by F. Scott Fitzgerald is not something many of my students could even begin to connect with without a lot of scaffolding. It would take a lot of front loading and relevantizing (I’m positive this is a word) in a way that many students would lose interest before they even cracked the cover.
And then working through the language, explaining the ideaology of the spoiled elite, and making sure you harp over the symbolism of that green light so that when those students are 36 years old and remember nothing else about the book, they remember the green light (trust me, it happens. It’s a tale as old as time. Most of the people who where in my AP English class only remember the green light and that there was a character named Daisy. I’ve now exhausted the list of things remembered from Gatsby.) And while I’m confident my friend teaches this book very well and addresses the important themes, and works very hard to make this book something more than just some fleeting book in the lives of her students that only crops up as a recovered memory when they think of the color green, she felt it was time for a change.Read more
Review – Strange Love by Fred Waitzkin
I get some of my best reading done on an airplane. I don’t know what it is about it. Maybe it’s the weird stasis of being in the air. There’s not much else you can do. There are no pressing concerns; there are no deadlines. Time has no meaning in air. It passes as slowly and as quickly as it chooses—not to mention the pesky changing of time zones as you go. You never quite know where you are. I’m sure there’s some kind of existential metaphor there, but I’m not getting into all that today.
This weekend, my wife and I stole away for a weekend trip to Charlotte to celebrate our 10th anniversary. It was an unexpectedly wonderful trip; we were surprised by just how much we found to do on this surprise trip. (COVID travel restrictions cancelled our original plans and we chose Charlotte by essentially throwing darts at a map.) But we had more fun that we could have imagined. We will definitely be returning.
And as the plane was transporting me to North Carolina, a brilliant author was transporting me elsewhere.
We were seated at a weathered picnic table on the beach behind the Fragata Lounge with a view of old fishing boats tossing on their moorings in the wide bay. The high tide was practically touching our feet. Rachel was across from me talking in Spanish with her aunt, a few cousins, and some others. She had wanted me to meet her family.Strange Love (3)
One of the things I love most about Fred Waitzkin’s writing is his ability to transport me to other places. He paints a scene in his opening paragraph that, even with an economy of words, plops me in the middle of a story. His stories are immersive and masterfully woven.
A few years ago, I reviewed Waitzkin’s Deep Water Blues, and enjoyed every second of it, so I was excited at the opportunity to read Strange Love when it was presented to me. In fact, I didn’t even read the description when the email came through, I just remembered the incredible experience I had with Deep Water Blues and knew that I wanted to read whatever Mr. Waitzkin had to offer me.
Strange Love is a complex, quiet story. A narrator who remains unnamed, two sisters who are opposites sides of one coin, and complicated stories of love and loss are spun together in such an intriguing way that when the book ends, you’ll both feel satisfied and want so much more.
One of the things that sticks out to me as brilliant about Strange Love is the dual storylines that weave throughout this story. While Rachel is telling her own story of her sister, her mother, her nephew, and her own life, the narrator weaves his own tale in, dropping the life of a former writer, a has-been who has lost more than he could ever hope to regain. He’s lived his own tragedies that could never amount to Rachel’s, but preoccupy his own mind.
As a reader, I was invested in both stories equally. I wanted to know about the narrator’s story just as ,ICG as I wanted to know about Rachel’s. I was intrigued by both, the story of potential that felt tied to a failing lounge and family obligation, as well as potential fully met quickly fizzled out.
For readers who are more sensitive, I will caution you. There is nothing explicit, but Rachel’s story is heartbreaking. It will take its toll on you. It will find the deep places of your heart and rip at them, just a little bit. And—if you’re like me—you’ll love it for that exact thing.
Take a moment, allow yourself to be plopped into the middle of a story, stay a while with some characters who need some love. Enjoy a new culture, and enjoy Waitzkin’s description of island life. He clearly has a love for it; he shows it so beautifully both here and in Deep Water Blues. And allow yourself to become immersed and invested in Rachel’s story. I recommend it.
The Plucky Reader
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