Words, words, words

My regular English II classes spent part of this week watching the Franco Zeffirelli version of Hamlet … which means that by eighth hour this afternoon, I was half-watching, half-listening to the DVD for the fourth time in three days.

Even when a young Mel Gibson* is involved, there is a limit to my attention span, and we had long since exceeded that limit this afternoon, so I quit watching the movie and began working on a letter of recommendation I’d promised to write for a friend, keeping one ear on the dialogue so I could pause the DVD as necessary to explain the confusing bits to my kids.

The outcome of this attempt at multitasking? An implausibly graceful, weirdly formal document with a distinct British-chick-lit vibe that sounded like what you’d get if you attempted to write a resume using nothing but phrases lifted from Jane Austen novels.

Only an English teacher….


* I refer, of course, to the pleasant-eye-candy incarnation of Gibson from the late ’80s and early ’90s, before the long-term effects of alcohol abuse destroyed both his sanity and his sex appeal.

Silence must be heard

Today was another of those days that remind me why I teach.

As I’ve mentioned before, I do an activism unit with my second-semester English classes in which the kids are required to choose a social cause, research it, and promote it through a series of writing assignments. This year, several students’ projects focused on bullying. One girl, not content to confine her efforts to fact sheets and letters to the editor, began encouraging her classmates to participate in Day of Silence, which is a nationwide awareness-raising campaign designed to bring attention to the verbal and physical abuse many LGBT students face every day.

As the name suggests, Day of Silence participants take a vow of silence, speaking only when required to by their teachers. If you remember yourself at 15, you can well imagine the sacrifice and commitment such a move requires.

Because speaking is so central to my job description, I had initially planned to encourage my kids from the sidelines … but last night, as I read all the excited Facebook posts by young activists preparing for their first demonstration, I decided they deserved to have at least one grownup standing in solidarity with them, so I revised my lesson plans to give my own vocal cords a day off.

What followed was utterly beautiful.

The DoS participants were, of course, delighted to find an ally standing at the front of the classroom — but more remarkable was the response from the other students. One girl fell silent after finding out about the demonstration halfway through the day. Another wrote a heartbreaking message about a friend who had been attacked on the basis of his orientation. One boy was a little skeptical about the whole thing, but since he wasn’t participating in DoS, he graciously loaned us his voice, reading my typed messages aloud in a strong, clear, expressive tone that made the lesson easier for his classmates to understand.

Meanwhile, the situation gave me an idea for a nice impromptu lesson about the role of media and technology in activism — a perfect discussion topic for an interest-based magnet school that focuses on broadcasting and digital media — and the break from our usual routine undoubtedly made my pre-EOI pep talk and review of literary terms more memorable for everyone concerned.

Best of all, my kids got to see firsthand the power of direct action. Did they eliminate homophobia from our building? Probably not. But their consciousness-raising efforts were wildly successful, prompting scores of conversations about the issue, and their infectious enthusiasm rekindled a spark of idealism in the heart of an English teacher who’d been teetering on the edge of burnout for a long, long time.

God, I love my kids.


Saturday adventures

I generally judge the quality of any given Saturday by how tired, sunburned, and dirty I am at the end of it. The best weekends involve beekeeping, power tools, Route 66, or a trip to the hardware store. This weekend involved all of the above.

It started with a Friday evening hardware-store run to pick up dirt, hypertufa ingredients, and sweet potato vines for my new-and-improved dragon project.

Here’s what I did Saturday morning:

I was pretty tired after spending the entire morning and most of the afternoon hanging drywall in the souvenir shack at the Blue Whale, but I decided I had just about enough energy left to spend an evening on the berm at OneOK Field.

The bees had other ideas.

Continue reading Saturday adventures

People will come

View from the top of the Ferris wheel. Out in the distance, past the flash and glitter of the midway, lie the lights of the refineries that built southwest Tulsa; at left, cars approach on historic Route 66.

This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good, and it could be again. Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.

— Terrence Mann, Field of Dreams

I saw something beautiful this evening.

For the first time since I began traveling Route 66 a decade ago, I saw the parking lot at Crystal City shopping center filled with cars.

A small carnival is in Red Fork this weekend, offering a midway full of food, rides, and barkers.

Almost everything you remember from the parking-lot carnivals of your childhood is there: the carousel …

This thing sort of frightens me.

… the Ferris wheel …

… the scary rides …

… the baby ride with the little glittery cars that carry bewildered toddlers in slow circles while their parents encourage them to smile …

… the corn-dog stand, the cotton candy, the funnel cakes …

… the win-a-goldfish game, the shooting games, the balloon dart game …

… the game of chance with the little numbered ducks that float by (every duck guaranteed a winner) …

… the strongman game with the sledgehammer and the bell …

… the weight guesser …

… it’s all there. The only thing that seems to be missing is the Tilt-A-Whirl — unless, of course, this Toy Story-themed contraption is some newfangled hybrid of the Tilt-A-Whirl and the tubs:

Ron and I grabbed our cameras — my Rebel, his Flip — and headed over to document the fun after dinner.

As I stood on the midway in the golden light of early evening, watching the crowds and waving to a student who’d just called my name, a snippet of dialogue from Field of Dreams popped into my head — something about what was and could be again — and I suppressed a sudden urge to burst into tears.

This, I thought, shivering just a little in spite of the warm spring air, must have been what Red Fork was like when Route 66 was young. This must have been what it was like when the Zingo was in the parking lot and everybody came to Crystal City to do the weekly shopping. This is what it could be again.

Red Fork is coming back. I can feel it. And people will come. People will most definitely come.

It’s going to be a very good summer.