Excerpt from My Book of Essays Inspired by New Orleans and New York: "Turning Over a New Leafs [sic]"

Read the rest of the book here.
Setting a crate of laundry on top of the washing machine, I told my landlord, who happened to be standing at the doorway, "I'm turning over a new leafs - I mean, leaf -hah hah, I can't spell." He was doing his Sunday laundry chores as well, convivial as ever, and we were chatting about getting stuff done, the usual small talk between landlord and tenant. My landlord is a 40 something single man who runs his own non-profit; he has light brown hair, average build, and a pleasant smile. We barely see each other; mostly our meetings are necessitated by my late rent checks.


Prose Poem: Quote from My Moleskine

In this post, I include a prose poem fragment fount in my Moleskine notebook.
A couple rides the New York City subway.
The empty tomb startles me as I know
it startled Mary


When wishing upon a star be sure to want what you really desire; for desire materializes
Location:Cohn St, New Orleans,United States


New Orleans Park on the River: "The Fly"

In this post, I write about a favorite New Orleans drinking spot, crayfish eating spot, and park - The Fly.
A Google Maps Satellite Image of the Fly
Behind Audubon Park lies what locals call the "Fly." The park is a green space alongside the Mississippi River near the Riverbend and the park's terminus. My friend M. Introduced me to it. She was like, "You can take someone down to the fly, murder 'em, throw 'em in the water, and no one would ever know!" The fly is located beyond the levee near the Corps of Engineers headquarters and Children's hospital. An informer detailed an event she witnesses at the Fly. A woman in her mid-forties walked into the river's shore and popped a squat and let loose nature's rain. It was seen by one except the unlucky few who had sat on the Fly's inconspicuous rocky steps enwrapped in wire mesh. One other cool thing about the Fly is its perfect vantage point for watching international cargo ships parade by. One usually does not notice the city's ship traffic because of levy obstruction.


Sparkling New Streetcar Line on Loyola Avenue in New Orleans

Photo: wallyg
According to Frank Donze, reporting for the Times-Picayune, The Obama Administration approved stimulus money earmarked to construct a new transit line in the city of New Orleans. The city was awarded $45 million to erect the new streetcar line that will run from the Union Passenger Terminal on Loyola Avenue and end on Canal Street, a 1.5 mile stretch. Other routes had been considered by the administration, including a corridor along N. Rampart Street and a line stretching along Convention Center Boulevard (which are still in the works), but in the end, the Regional Transit Authority won the Loyola bid. A stipulation of the money was to enhance existing transit systems in an American city and to provide a connection to existing transit systems, so the New Orleans project seemed to have won the favor of the grant givers, winning out over 30 other cities. The city desperately needs a creative boost to its public transportation system and I am very happy the Federal money was won. RTA has until May 2012 to finish the project. So, wake up New Orleans and get your laissez-faire attitude up a notch.

Born 1917 and Died 2 Jul 1930, Frederick "Freddie" Killman - A Family History Story

In this post, I write a personal family history story about Freddie Killman (my maternal great-uncle), a boy from New Orleans, Louisiana, who drowned in the Seabrook section of Lake Pontchartrain on July 2, 1930.

Family History is important to me and I think it is important to record stories we learn from our relatives. Here is a story about Frederick "Freddie" Killman, a boy who would have been my Great-Uncle, but tragically, he died when he was only a young teenager. Here is the story I gleaned from Killman family records, and oral history.

Frederick "Freddie" Killman (1917 - 1930)
Freddie was very precocious and loved to have fun. He was very different from his brother Hanky who was serious and hard working. His sisters Ida and Dot loved him and looked up to him. Freddie loved to go with his friends to the Lake Pontchartrain and swim. A man from the neighborhood would drive some of the local neighborhood boys to the lake to go for a swim without their parents always knowing about it.

One day Freddie came into the house and announced to the family that he needed some swim pants to go with his buddies to the lake. His mother, Albertine, was surprised, but let him go anyway. That was the last she ever saw of her son. Everybody knew that there was a deep end in the Lake Pontchartrain near People's Avenue and people were told not to go swimming too far out. Freddie was a mediocre swimmer but he was also a risk-taker so he and another boy ventured out further than they should have.

Freddie had gone with another boy from the neighborhood. Freddie was skinny and the other boy was fat. We don’t know what happened exactly but when somebody heard the cries for help they swam out to get the boys. Freddie was still alive when they got to him but he died at the hospital; his friend died too. Edward Spiehler was a witness to this event (Ida’s husband). Albertine was home frying frog legs, Freddie’s favorite. The girls and Francis were inside. Most of the neighborhood knew what had happened but no one wanted to tell the Killman’s the horrible news. Finally, a neighbor told Albertine and Francis what had happened.

Aunt Nen told me that her Dad didn’t say a word and just left the house. Albertine was left with the kids, so she brought them to a neighbor’s house while she went to see for herself what had happened. Both boys were buried at separate funerals and no one blamed anyone for the deaths. Still to this day, Ida remembers every detail of that day as if it happened yesterday. When she told me the story it made me cry but I realized how much she loved her family and our family. She wondered what her brother would have turned out like. Would he have been just as fun-loving as he was when he was a kid or would he have been serious and sensible?

Frederick "Freddie" Killman, René Alberta, Ida Killman, and Dororthy Killman play in the flood waters caused by the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927
Born 1917 and died 2 Jul 1930, Frederick Killman (Freddie) seen here on the right in the floodwaters of the 1927 flood in Gentilly, New Orleans with his buddy, René Alberta, who later died of food poisoning.


A Graphic Way to Text "Where R U?"

Photograph: The Sheriff at Papa Johns

In this post, I post a photograph of the reigning sheriff of Papa Johns.
I think she ordered breadsticks and then hit the mean streets.


Signposts: Mardi Gras Irony

A sign at the entrance to the French Quarter in New Orleans tells people do not walk around with glass bottles (but you can put your drink in a plastic cup).
I found it ironic that this municipal sign is attached to a pole on the entrance to Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Louisiana.


Trivial Pursuit, Sipping a Bordeaux

Trivial Pursuit is fun if you are competitive. If you want to win. One-On-One combat can be brutal. D and I played last night. We drank her bottle of Bordeaux from France (can you say that fancy style?). We shared the bottle, but for some reason, I have a bad headache this morning, slightly quelled by generous consumption of New Orleans style coffee. Question: Where did Tensing Norgay plant his national flag? Answer: On top of Mount Everest. Now you may think that was an easy question, but it is incorrect if you say "Mount Everest" because the correct, more specific answer is "on top of Mount Everest." Now, that is just pure-dee lame. Ugh. I missed an orange pie because of that, but don't worry, someone did not know who coined the phrase "between a rock and a hard place" but they did know Axel Rose was a member of Guns and Roses. M says I have way too much brain sludge. D has an incredible treasure chest of encyclopedic knowledge, but, both of us did not know the "Orphic Egg" was in Greek Mythology. Do you? It has to do with prophecy and an egg enveloped by a serpent (but nothing to do with Orpheus). Now, it is well known that you should use the spokes to move around the game board. Don't do the circle motion. You will lose. And it does pay off to PAY ATTENTION to the question. Question: What Yiddish word means mentally disabled or clumsy? Answer: Klutz. I heard the question and answered the first Yiddish word to come to my head, Shmuck. I was a shmuck in answering that question incorrectly. I did know, however, that shmuck is Alfred E. Neuman's favorite word. The trick at beating Trivial Pursuit is to get questions RIGHT. Who would have thought? I just thought it was the luck of the pie. Question: What country exports the most coffee? Answer: Brazil. By the way, I wonder how many new neuronal pathways are created in the human mind during one game of Trivial Pursuit. I have this odd hunch, that the game actually destroys pathways, but not as much as eating Ben and Jerry's and watching re-runs of Green Acres. Question: By the way, what Green Acres recurring gag features a passageway to the Douglass bedroom? Answer: "The Sliding Door" gag. Now, if you didn't know that question's answer, don't feel bad, there are loads of Trivial Pursuit questions just waiting for you to feel dumb. But, I don't think it matters. I wonder if the SAT or ACT tests are good for your brain. At least those questions are not based on instant recall of extraneous facts but rather force you to think through an issue. The game is called trivial for a reason. Wouldn't it be funny if you had to write an essay response to a Trivial Pursuit question? I always thought it would be funny if on Jeopardy! contestants had to write a 1,200-word essay on a pre-chosen prompt. Brutal!!! There is one thing to know instantly random factoids, but it is quite another thing to assemble all that brain sludge into a cohesive narrative that can sustain one's attention. Good luck America!


Mardi Gras: Go to the Endymion Parade

The best way to know New Orleans is to traverse her streets during Carnival.

My friend's D's brother D.


Repost: How to Survive a 35,000-Foot Fall - Plane Crash Survival Guide - Popular Mechanics

This article is a must-read for anyone who travels 35,000 feet in the air. I especially liked Dan Koeppel's sense of humor. If you don't have time to read the article, or if you need the abridged version, here are some brief factoids gleaned from the article:
  • You are more liable to survive a 35,000 foot free-fall by landing in a haystack, snow, or a swamp!
  • Landing in water, contrary to popular belief, is just as hard as landing on concrete (water does not compress): SPLAT!
  • At six miles up, a free fall will take three minutes and twenty-five seconds. So, you have some time to contemplate your condition (at a terminal velocity of about 120 mph).
  • For two minutes you'll be unconscious due to lack of oxygen. Hypoxia will settle in and you will lose your breath until you reach breathable air at about 10,000 feet.
  • If you land on your face, you're more likely to survive (albeit in the need of a facelift) than landing on top of your head or the side of your head).
  • Children, military personnel, and crew members are more likely to survive a plummet than anyone else.
  • "Surviving a plunge surrounded by a semi-protective cocoon of debris is more common than surviving a pure free-fall"
  • "118,934 people have died in 15,463 plane crashes between 1940 and 2008."
  • 157 folks have reportedly survived a free fall, "with 42 occurring at heights over 10,000 feet"
Koeppel, David. "How to Fall 35,000 Feet—And Survive." Popular Mechanics Feb. 2010: n. pag. Web. 8 Feb 2010.


Re:”What Makes a Great Teacher”

An article in the latest issue of Atlantic Monthly on what makes great teachers revived my spirit a bit.     After reading the article, I realized that growing up I thought of my best teachers as magical beings, as if they had possessed something we didn’t and they were willing to pass that magic on to us. I know. I had a heavy infatuation with teachers as a kid. So I am biased. And now, I am a high school English teacher. So there is that.
Obviously, good teachers are not superheroes.
     They have foibles just like the rest of us. But, we have to stop thinking that “good teaching” is some mystery that lies in the realm of the unknown. As if the skill of teaching is an intangible thing that cannot be taught. There are qualities that one can detect in a teacher. When you meet a good teacher you realize they are never satisfied. Good teachers say stuff like this to visitors to their classroom: "' You’re welcome to come, but I have to warn you — I am in the middle of just blowing up my classroom structure and changing my reading workshop because I think it’s not working as well as it could.'" Good teachers are constantly re-evaluating their methods and constantly looking for ways to make the learning environment better.
  • Good teachers “avidly recruit students and other teachers into the process.” I know this to be true. Good teachers create a vibe that sends the message: “let’s be a part of this.”
  • Good teachers maintain focus and ensure that everything they do in the classroom contributes to the learning process. I chuckle at this sign of a good teacher because it reminds me of a teacher I had who would always use every opportunity as a learning moment, to such an extent that we as students were not always aware of it. We might be collecting cool quotes to put into our notebooks, not realizing he was teaching us how to be better researchers.
  • Good teachers plan exhaustively and purposefully, planning backward from the desired goal. Yes, I agree this is a good sign of a great teacher. They have broad goals they want their students to reach and make sure every lesson somehow inches toward that goal. The work is in the details. It takes a mammoth amount of creative energy to accomplish this feat.
  • Good teachers seem not to complain about the system, but work relentlessly despite the combined efforts of budget, poverty, and budgetary shortcomings. The converse of this is those good teachers often are ground down by bureaucracy and quit due to burnout.
In a nutshell: Good teachers have grit.
      Here is a different video than what I originally had seen on the Atlantic's web site on the "Manager Teacher" (a model I would like to emulate). The original video was taken down and I cannot find it, but this video is sufficient for what I want to showcase. Notice two things: how the teacher has the students' full attention (that did not come out of thin air) and how from the beginning she demands from students to illustrate their understanding of what they need to do. But she is concise and she uses "economy of language" — and then the students get to work!


A Mardi Gras Prosody: "The Night that Precedes Chaos"

I only had a twenty. Bought a coffee at Camellia grill. Got some change. Holla. Were the elections today?
A still photograph of a full cup of black coffee (with a torn sweet and low on the saucer)
Getting on a streetcar can only bring one as far as Napoleon avenue; every Carnival goer without a car knows that!
Man takes a ride on the New Orleans Streetcar (interior)
Here we go. The only information I don't have is the route. Saint Charles is blocked. We get off the streetcar. We're taking Freret street.
Man takes a ride on the New Orleans Streetcar (interior)
We are on La Salle/Simon Bolivar now, to Jackson avenue, to turn on Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.
A view in front of a Saint Charles Avenue Mansion Lit Up at Night (exterior)
I think we're on Loyola. Will be at Canal in no time. A handsome time to let loose. Now all I have to do is find Taryn.
Faye Maurin enjoys a candid shot at a local restaurant in New Orleans on New Years Day

Book Review: The Gutenberg Elegies by Sven Birkerts

Here lies a book review on the non-fiction tome The Gutenberg Elegies by Sven Birkerts.
     I read the Gutenberg Elegies in 2006 back when books were still being read in print (har har). The statistics were grim for the written word, but new studies indicate that the written word may be back but will reading survive in the long run? The eReader phenomenon had not yet hit critical mass even a few years ago, but we had been facing a problem at the library: students were not coming into the library. But, hits on the library web site had increased. Students had stopped coming to the library and had instead started doing all their research on the internet; they were checking the library's catalog online, using databases online (an awesome tool, by the way).
Fast-Food Restaurant Library
     Students were not using the library to come and stay: we had become more of a fast-food restaurant: come and buy and go. I was working at the time with a colleague, B., and she was telling me how she predicted back in the 90s that book would eventually be replaced by flexible devices that would allow readers to peruse books as if they were "print." I laughed at the time, even though Sony had come out with eBook readers, and so had a few other companies - but these clunkers were expensive and not amenable to a large selection. So, I read Sven Birkert's book, which is a philosophical musing on reading, words, language, and the art of the medium. At the time I was very nostalgic for books - even though books had not yet left the party. I could not imagine a life without physical books: the smell, the binding. the print, the presence of an actual book. But, then, as time went on, and Google announced its Books service, Amazon announced its Kindle, and now Apple, the iPad, I have come to realize that it is not "books" per se that we should be championing but READING. 
     Will I read my child Where the Wild Things Are from an electronic device or from a book? Maybe both? What about WRITING. Or both: reading and writing. It is one thing to elegize on the loss of the book, but as Birkerts points out, it is a sadder thing to lament the loss of reading. Will the fast production of eBooks toss out reading? Probably not. Will blogs eliminate writing? Probably not? I think the divide is not necessarily due to books versus digital media, but rather, a divide between permanence and impermanence. Books represent permanence. Working in a library you come to know this especially when a patron comes in looking for a book he or she once read: they, panic-stricken, come to the circulation desk, "Where is the book I read twenty years ago?! It is not here. I remember it was right there," they say, pointing to a space in the library that is now reserved for computer terminals. Books are supposed to be permanent; they are supposed to be dogeared, yes, but they must persist; Sometimes people are not too happy to discover their book had been relegated to the basement, replaced by a PC - and some people even lament when their favorite book has donned a new cover art. The gods must be crazy. If the book is not to be found, a worker would have to be sent to request for the book at another location, have it sent by courier, and voilá here was the book, albeit a different jacket cover than they had remembered, but so what. Or better yet: let us say the book had been discarded?! If it had been tossed to the Friends of the Library book sale? What then? What if I had said, "Well, you can read the book on our eReader? Or you can print the entire book on a printer? Or, well, we have to inter-library loan that book from Fresno." The patron would have been unhappy. Maybe furious. We want our physical books like we want our web pages: now, and at this very moment. We want permanence but we want our permanent print like want our Safari to load: instantaneously. I am frustrated that people are so nostalgic for the superficial when they should rather be proactive for the right reasons. It is one thing to lament the loss of the physical book, but I find people are not putting their money where their hearts are. Is this an elegy for the book, or is it rather, an elegy for intellectual curiosity? What scares me more is not the loss of the physical book, but something deeper and scarier: the loss of critical thinking. If the book is only meant to be a fetish for nostalgia, then, it defeats the purpose. Books will be around for a while. Sure. As long as reading = pleasure. But, there will also be Kindles, etc., right alongside of them. What I worry about is access to new and interesting stories, information, words, language, pleasure. Will there be egalitarian places where people can read? Not everyone can afford a Kindle (and for that matter, not everyone can afford a book). Will libraries be places with free access to Google Books and usage of eBook readers? Google states once they open their databases of copyright and out of print in-copyright books by subscription, public libraries will be granted a terminal with free access. 
     What if I want to read the Chronicles of Narnia at home but cannot afford the twenty bucks? In America, access to reading is taken for granted. We forget that it is a mark of a democratic society that champions unmediated, free access to knowledge. Will there continue to be places where people can write out their thoughts (like here on Blogger, which infamously deletes blogs for no apparent reason). Will proprietary devices create an elite upper class? I think impermanence is what we are scared of. We are afraid the loss of the book is the loss of civilization as we know it. What scares me more than anything is the middle-class person who says: "I don't have time to read" when there are people who really cannot afford to read. That scares me more than, "I want an iPad." Or, when I give students a list of books to read, and one of them says, "None of these stories interests me." But, then again, what am I hoping for? Have things really changed? Are people reading less in 2010 as they did in 1956? As they did in 1888? Actually, people are reading more, just not in print. But, the strange paradox is the advent of choice: I am sure today there are so many options to choose from when it comes to reading: just look at the number of books published every year; the number of news blogs, websites, etc. But, is every class of society given the opportunity to read? Who are the people reading more? The next thing to gage is writing. Are Americans writing more? Now, it may come back to permanence and impermanence. Is it the loss of something we are afraid of? If it is, what is that something? That's what I want to know. I will not sing an elegy for the book, but I may begin to sing an elegy for thought. If we are reading more, what are we reading, and if we are writing more, what are we writing. 
Start Memorizing a Book Like the Book People in Fahrenheit 451
     Should I do a Fahrenheit 451 and start memorizing my favorite book or should I go out and buy an iPad? Maybe, I should do both. But, what I think should be done is this: people need to ensure that reading is always made available to everyone in society. Budgets for information centers, books in braille, one book one city programs, writing workshops, poetry circles, lending libraries, etc., should not be cut. I lived in a posh city where citizens voted to not approve the library budget? What were they thinking? People said they just buy their books. They don't need a library. As we speed into the information age, we cannot make the mistake of denying reading to the masses just because books are like an iTunes song: 99 cents.

Literary Tropes: Into the Woods

In this post, I point out features of literature that attend to the trope of going into the woods.
  • The woods are a dark and scary place in fairy tale legend.  Out of a tale in Grimm's stories, Carol Anne is sucked through her TV into the Otherworld in In Poltergeist. The woods lie at a space between goodness and evil, light and dark, good and nice, deception and honesty, justice and wrong. In the woods, characters are inextricably changed forever. Lucy in C.S. Lewis's novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe enters through a wardrobe, not so scary as a monster television, into a wood called Lantern Waste in Narnia. She meets a friendly faun and is forever changed; she becomes a queen, rules the land, but returns back through the wardrobe to the real world, restored to a little girl once again. But, the woods can be simply a place of an obstacle, like Hagrid, the hefty groundskeeper in the Harry Potter series, leads his pupils into the woods to accomplish the task of pulling out mandrakes from the soil, or learning to tame a hippogriff. As a side note: in the film, we get to see the CGI splendor Harry in flight and Malfoy's almost fatal encounter with the creature. In the woods there are fauns, giants, monsters, vampires, wolves, fauns, and humans too. In "woods" stories, the hero undergoes countless obstacles, like Odysseus on his twenty years journey -- a long woods moment -- he didn't want to leave his family and son to fight in Troy, similar to our young men fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Odysseus is us. We didn't ask for the odyssey of crazy, absurd adventures, asked to eat of the Lotus flower, which makes us forget the purpose of the journey - to return home. And Odysseus does return home, eventually, restoring his home, wresting it from the inhospitable hands of the suitors.
  • The woods are like portals. In Celtic mythology, the woods are cracks in the space/time continuum, as in the Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, Book 2) by Philip Pullman; the protagonist Will slices through London air with a magical knife to enter another world. Going through the woods, we leave our world for a time, to return, changed. Like Thomas Covenant Unbeliever, in Stephen R. Donaldson's epic fantasy saga about a man ridden with leprosy in our world, crosses over into an otherworld (The Land) and appears as a powerful warrior.
  • A popular woods motif is taken from William Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream: young lovers run away into the woods, only to be shaken up by the fairy boy Puck who daubs lotion into their eyes, switching identities, transformations are made, all hell breaks loose (don't you get confused reading this story?). I still cannot remember who fits with who in the Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius, Helena quadrangle. One thing is for sure: a guy gets turned into an ass and Helena is quite a dog! It is in the woods chaos reigns. The woods lie at boundary lines; we enter into the woods, and come out again, back into life.