Mar 15, 2018

TBT: Sixth Grade Field Trip to the Folsom Global Wildlife Center in Saint Tammany Parish, Louisiana

Josh Newell, third from left; Greig - fourth from left - Holla!; James Porsche, last man to the right

Greig's Sixth Grade Field Trip to the Global Wildlife Center in Folsom, Louisiana 
(Circa 1990s)

The Global Wildlife Center is a nature park in Folsom, approximately fifty-three miles north of New Orleans. The park is nestled in the piney woods of Saint Tammany Parish - and, it boasts a menagerie of zebra, oxen, goats, and other "wild beasts".

I don't remember much about this field trip - except that I was sporting my nifty, all plasticine Nintendo brand spectacles and jean jacket. I have no idea how we got this picture taken - but hey - and check out Josh Newell - my best buddy from the day. 

Can anyone remind me of who's who in this pic? The names are on the tip of my tongue.

Mar 14, 2018

Subway Diary: That Time I was Struck by a Man on the F Train

Riding the F*#) train one morning . . .
So, I was just sitting next to a mother and her son on a chock-full F train this morning. The mom and son were talking about the "fake poetry" posters that have been splayed about subway cars as of late - a marketing ploy by the Internet start-up PolicyGenius (they compare life insurance policies - *boring*). Noticing the rapport between the two of them, I laughed and acknowledged that I also found the ads a bit twee and said, "I know how you feel. Fake poetry. It hurts my heart." The kid wanted to get out of his seat and explore the other posters, but the mom pulled him back. At that moment, a man appeared in front of me, a white, middle-aged man with salt and pepper hair, a bit harried, and in sweats, said to me, "I have something for you. It's your turn next." And he struck me in the face. Unprovoked. I did not know the man nor did I expressly notice him in the car until that moment. The woman and the child immediately got up and huddled in the corner and, I said, "That man just hit me." The train pulled into the 63rd street station and, I got off - and so did the woman and the child - I heard someone say they were calling the police. We three went up to the upper level to escape. The woman asked if I was OK and I told her I was an English teacher on my way to work - and that I was worried I'd be late. I then texted Ms. S and wrote, "A man just hit me on the train unprovoked." After a few beats, the nice woman who had become my reluctant protector told me she was an English teacher, too. I started to cry. I think she was worried about her son about to witness a grown man have a nervous breakdown so, she gingerly asked, "Do you want a moment alone?" I said "Yes," and the woman smiled at me warmly. I felt comforted. As I watched her go, I wondered if she would look me up later and we would figure out why this random act of violence occurred. I figured it was safe so I went back down to the lower level and, the same F train was still lingering in the station. The conductor, the guy who sits in the middle car and announces the train stops, noticed me and said, "They apprehended that guy who hit you and, the police are looking for you." I did not want to deal with the fallout - and I was also relieved that the police had caught the guy, so I just got on the train. And I went to work. I felt shook all day - like a mild shock had invaded my system. Mr. V made tea. Doc consoled me and, Ms. S hung out with my first-period class. Mr. H told me his own story of subway assault and Mr. G. said I should try to get the violent men thrown behind bars. I am just relieved that the man did not have a knife or a sharp object. So. What's the moral of the story: stay alert but don't let one man's crazy act of violence ruin your life. 

Mar 12, 2018

A Riff on Jesus - My Two Favorite Quotes

So - my two most favorite quotes from Jesus of Nazareth are as follows:

Momma gonna knock you out. source: zazzle

1. Do not throw your pearls to the pigs. (Matthew 7:6)

Jesus gonna chew you up and spit you out. source: ignite4christ

2. If you are a lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I will spit you out. (Revelation 3:16)

I feel like when Jesus says, do not throw your pearls to the pigs, he is saying something slightly out of whack with his usual altruistic spiel. Like. Jesus usually says stuff like "Do to others what you would do to yourself" and "The meek shall inherit the earth." When he starts talking about where you throw your pearls, my ears perk up. I am thinking, "Hey. Jesus is talking about me." Heck. I do not own any pearls - but, hell, I sure as hell do not want to throw my pearls to some sorry motherfuckers who'll never appreciate them. Now Jesus is talking my language, honey.

Rather than dismiss Jesus's injunction to spit you out if you're lukewarm as a caveat against drinking warm soda, I suggest you think of his warning more as an indicator of whether you're spicy or mild. Who wants to hang around with limp toast? Have you ever left your cereal in a bowl of milk for too long? Disgusting! So - Jesus is saying, spice it up, or get out.

Do you have any special quotes from the Messiah? I'd love to hear it. In the meantime, check out Thomas Jefferson's adaptation of the New Testament: The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth

Mar 4, 2018

Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne

Absolute Brightness
by James Lecesne
Paperback352 pages

Published May 31st, 2016 by Feiwel & Friends
My Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

I am reviewing the YA novel, Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne.

The Amazing Life of Leonard Pelkey

In the late 90s, James Lecesne raised awareness about gay teen suicide. He wrote a novella that was adapted into a short film about a precocious boy who feels rejected by his family and attempts suicide - only to be rattled back to his senses by a cute candy striper at the hospital. This was back in 1998. Trevor lives. Almost as a counterpoint, in Absolute Brightness (2016),* James Lecesne tells the story of a teenager, Leonard Pelkey, who is murdered in Neptune, New Jersey. 

Leonard is characterized as a nice, talkative fourteen-year-old boy. When he first arrives at his aunt's house - to move in - he is met with derision by his cousin, Phoebe, who is also the narrator of the story. Leonard seems oblivious to the fact that Phoebe does not take to lightly to his fashion decisions - pink and lime-green capri pants and a "too small T-shirt." However, for Phoebe, Leonard was "way too different." And it is this aversion to difference that Lecesne grapples with in this book.

Leonard has all the Packaging of a Gay Stereotype

While he is never outright labeled as gay, Leonard carries all the packaging of the gay male effeminate stereotype. He is characterized, in the novel, like Dorothy - "more the type to be heading toward a place like Oz, as in The Wizard of." He never gets there. And the novel turns directions.

Feb 19, 2018

Who is Your Favorite U.S. President?

Teddy Roosevelt is my favorite president. Why?

Theodore Roosevelt, January 8, 1907, Cove Neck, Long Island, New York 

1. I loved reading The Alienist by Caleb Carr - which is when I learned that Teddy Roosevelt was Police Commissioner in New York City from 1895 to 1897. I know. Just because I read about him in a fictional novel really should not count towards his prowess as president. But. Hey. Everything I ever learned has come from reading fiction.

2. His house in Gramercy is sick. He was born there in 1858. It is now a National Park! I went there once and the National Park Ranger fellow told me how Roosevelt survived an assassination attempt.

3. The dude survived an assassination attempt. He was reading a speech in Milwaukee and was shot. The papers he had stuffed into his breast pocket saved his life - cuz they partially blocked the path of the bullet.

4. Oh. About his service as President. How good of a president was he? I know he expanded the National Park Service. :-)

5. He was somehow indirectly connected to the creation/ marketing/rise in popularity of the Teddy Bear.

6. He was the most boyish president.

Theodore Roosevelt, Age 11, Taken in Paris, France circa 1870

7. And he was a New Yorker. The first President born and raised in the Empire State.

Happy President's Day! Who is your favorite president and why?

Feb 18, 2018

Teacher Journal #2387: "How do you deal with negative experiences in the classroom?"

My co-teacher expresses her feelings
It just so happens I was on Facebook and I saw a post from a kid I taught way back in 2008. He just got a job as a cable news reporter; he’s stationed in South Dakota working the weekend news desk. It made me realize not only how fast time flies, but how in this job, in teaching, in working a classroom full of students, so much depends on a "red wheelbarrow."

What I mean is: so much depends on the subjective experience! For example - I get really bogged down in the minutiae of teaching - the grading, the preparation of lessons, photocopying (double-sided, with staples) - that I do not allow myself to zoom out and get a better perspective on what I am doing and why I am doing it. Let yourself be the wheelbarrow à la William Carlos Williams.

I have to constantly reflect on my teaching practice. Not the mundane stuff. But the me who is in the classroom now. Like. Sometimes I am not happy with my class, how it is running, and what I am doing. If I am having a bad day at school - it's probably because I am preoccupied with all of the stuff I have to do and the little time I have left to do it. I will admit - it makes me crazy and my students notice a shift in my personality. “You didn’t do your homework?” I ask with a more accusatory tone. And the kids slink down into their chairs. Not a good sign.

I feel like we bring our psychological junk into the classroom. Well. Anywhere. But it is interesting to look at the classroom setting. I do not think educators think about this enough. No matter what your rapport with your students is - bad, so-so, or great - if it is a group of thirteen kids and a teacher - that’s fourteen globules of psychological junk. The good news is that technically the teacher has more experience dealing with psychological junk than the adolescent students in the room. But it is a mistake to ignore that junk. I have the power to make “a lesson out of it.”

It is a good idea. Take a negative feeling you have about your class. I feel like my students do not care. For me - it’s the feeling I get that my students - who are English Language learners - do not spend enough time practicing English outside of my class. It frustrates me. I noticed I was becoming annoyed by it - especially when in class my students would revert to their own language rather than what they were supposed to be doing.

When that happens I either A.) become pissy (which is not a good remedy - I’ll have you know) - Or, I will stop myself and think why is so-and-so not loving ENGLISH!!! Usually, it is because he or she does not have the vocabulary or does not know how to phrase what they want to say OR they are lost on the meaning of the lesson or off track on what I want them to achieve.

For the past two years, I have been building my own ELL curriculum. So I am well-aware that many of my lessons do not always hit the target. I am constantly tweaking lessons, fixing lesson goals, and thinking really hard what I want my students to achieve when it comes to skills and abilities. Often I am scrambling to get my students back on track. However, I have to remind myself that learning is still going on. Those negative feelings are valuable if I allow myself to be curious about them.

I do this. I ask, "What feels good about learning English RIGHT NOW. What feels bad RIGHT NOW. And because it is a language class I write all that junk on the board. It looks like this:

I realize that many of my students do not practice English outside of class because they do not feel that English is important to their social and home life. They do not speak English with their family, their friends, or in their social lives. English is something they associate with work, school — all things outside of their personal sphere. In fact, one odd thing is that the kids in my current class who do try to assimilate English into their “out-of-class” time sometimes get ostracized. But I can make lessons out of those experiences. I can try to make a speaking class based on those scenarios because I have been listening to my kids complain, gloat, and talk. Turn the tables. Get them to externalize their feelings. And if they do it in English - guess what?!  - we both win!

Not everyone will feel great about being in the classroom - I cannot get all of my students to love English or to immediately see its purpose. However, just like that kid who is now a television news anchor - when he was in my class as a high school student - he didn't always see the point of what we were doing in class. Maybe I didn’t either. But I remember conversations we had. I do not always remember the lesson. But I do remember the conversations.

"Why do I have to learn about Homer? Isn't he some dead white dude?" And then we read Homer. And then we talked about how we felt, and we were able to be in that moment - like a William Carlos Williams poem.

Dec 28, 2017

That Day I Spoke to Margaux Hemingway When I Was Twelve Years Old

A Woman's Secret (1992)
It was Summer. I think. Somewhere around 1992 - I'm not sure. Mom and Dad were still together - and we were driving through Madisonville, Louisiana. The town hugs the Tchefuncte River - dotted with wood-paneled houses, an abandoned light house, a swing bridge, a dozen churches, a feed store, seafood restaurants galore, and a Piggly Wiggly - not to mention a scenic riverfront landscape and an old Southern feel. A whitewashed stately two-story building houses the public library. And Higgins boats - the amphibious assault vehicles used to storm the beaches of Normandy - were assembled not too far from town. 

Swing Bridge in Madisonville © 2016 Kim Chatelain
We were driving through that day - like we usually did when I was growing up. Dad liked to take long road trips through the backwoods. So it was nothing unusual. We stopped at the Tchefuncte Feed & Seed on Louisiana Highway 21 (locally called Covington Street). The road is a nondescript stretch of highway - however, it is an unusual bend of road, turning left and right as it stretches along - basically connecting the town of Mandeville (where I lived at the time) to the town of Covington. So it gets a fair amount of traffic.

Holy Shit! That's Madisonville, Louisiana on the silver screen!

I don't remember who noticed it was a film shoot. It may have been Dad. But we parked our car across the street in the Hibernia National Bank parking lot. We stepped outside the car and there was Margaux Hemingway stepping out of a Mercedes Benz right before our eyes! "Shhhh!" my dad said. "They're filming a movie." We stood there for about an hour watching what I soon learned was the incredibly boring process of filming a movie. In that time, waiting, we parsed that it was a "European director" filming a movie in the United States and the actress was Margaux Hemingway! I never felt so proud to be a Louisiana boy witnessing movie-making in action! Damn. 

I'm almost certain that's a real Madisonville cop!

Being all of twelve and considering myself an astute cinephile, I blurted out to Dad, "Hey, Dad. That's Margaux Hemingway! She starred in the Superman movie!" Not really knowing what the hell I was talking about I somehow managed to knock on the camper trailer where supposedly Margaux was staying. Her handler answered and told us to leave her alone. But I persisted. Finally Margaux Hemingway stepped out and greeted us with a plastic grin. The girl was none too pleased that a couple of local oglers wanted to talk to her. "Hey!" I gushed. "You're Margaux Hemingway! I loved you in the Superman movie!"

Margaux Hemingway gave me a mean stare and simply said, "Thank you," and walked back inside her camper trailer. Her handler looked at us and said, "Look. Ms. Hemingway was not in that movie. That's her sister. Mariel." And he walked back inside. I don't think he slammed the door. But it felt like it.

I was crestfallen. And shame ridden. I felt really bad that I didn't know which Hemingway was which. Later, I found out that Margaux was - of course - the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway - and - even later I was further saddened when - in 1996 - just four years after she had filmed the movie in Louisiana - Margaux Hemingway died. It's an irrational thought - and I am embarrassed to even admit it - but when I found out that Margaux Hemingway died I thought it was my fault. I should have recognized her! Maybe all her life people had overlooked her and focused on Mariel and not on Margaux. If only I had known who she really was!

I didn't know it at that time but the movie I saw filmed was A Woman's Secret (1992) and it was directed by an Italian filmmaker Joe D'Amato. And yes - if you watch the movie you can see the bit where Margaux pulls into the Tchefuncte Feed & Seed. It's not called that anymore - by the way - it's now Ace Hardware. And the public library is back to being a police station. And the Hibernia Bank is a Capital One.

However, later in the movie, there is a scene showcasing the Holiday Inn in Covington. My mom was baptized a second time in their swimming pool when she decided her Catholic baptism she had done when she was a baby didn't take. Anyway. You can see Margaux Hemingway walking out of that very same Holiday Inn - it is located next to Interstate 12 on Louisiana Highway 190 in Covington, Louisiana.

The movie sucks by the way. I watched it once on an old VHS. The lines are lackluster and - ummmm - the story goes nowhere - and the acting is just really really bad. There are a couple of shots of New Orleans during Mardi Gras (which is nice for the "authentic" feel) - and plenty of shots of Margaux Hemingway sitting on a hotel bed or - my favorite - Margaux Hemingway telling the concierge she wants a single bed - but no single beds are available! - and she ends up having to get that double bed. What drama!

Keep in mind the Internet Movie Database entry for A Woman's Secret does not mention Madisonville or Covington as filming locations. It only mentions New Orleans. 

I later learned that Joe D'Amato is better known for his other work. Go figure.

As an added bonus - if you want to see a movie that is also filmed in Madisonville (and portrays the town in a postcard-worthy style) - watch the film Eve's Bayou (1997).

And oh. Mariel Hemingway really did star in a Superman movie: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

Details about A Woman's Secret (1992)
Director: Joe D'Amato
  • Daniele Stroppa
  • Margaux Hemingway, Daniel McVicar, Apollonia Kotero

Nov 23, 2017

Thanksgiving, Y'all

Thanksgiving Meal, © 2017 Yuanhao Zhu
If you strip away the context, Thanksgiving is basically a harvest festival. It is a way to say "thank you" for the food you'll need to survive the upcoming Winter.

I love teaching my high school English Language Learners the word "thanksgiving." It is a great word to introduce to students because it opens up a nice way to talk about gratitude, what to give thanks for, and what is the meaning of sharing and community.

I particularly like this photograph one of my students took at our annual Thanksgiving dinner at school. I like how he chose to take the picture of the plate from a bird's eye view. It gives the place setting importance - even the plastic glass full of apple juice is in the right spot - and the fork and spoon set in the right place.

I am thankful for my students - we spend a lot of time with each other every day - and sometimes it is a challenge - but at the end of the day it is kinda cool

Here is what one of my tenth graders wrote:

I am thankful for my parents because they have given me a good life and good conditions, so I am very grateful for what they have given me. I thankful for my teacher, because they teach me English and learning new words.

Maybe it is an overused, overdone question (because of the holiday) but what are you truly thankful for?

Oct 31, 2017

Halloween (circa late 1990s)

Greig dressed as a scary D.C. lobbyist OR tricky Dick
I don't dress up for Halloween anymore. The last time was a few years ago - I was a wizard.

However, I found this darling picture of me from back in the day - I was dressed up as either a crooked political lobbyist from the bowels of some Washington, D.C. think tank or I am just basically your standard Richard Nixon - except I look pretty ragged.

Peace out, dudes! And happy All Hallows Eve!

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