Showing posts with label friendship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label friendship. Show all posts


Sprinkles and Bazookas: A Candid Conversation Between Two High School English Teachers"

More than a year ago, I had a fun conversation about teaching with a colleague and a friend about teaching, but although it was a podcast, it needed to also have a print version. So here it is — 

Join Greig Roselli and Amira Esposito as they share their journey from strangers to best friends, their teaching styles, and their love for English Language Arts.

Introduction: Meet Greig and Amira
Hi, my name is Greig Roselli, and this is my friend, Amira Esposito, also known as Amira Boothe-Soifer. We are two crazy high school English teachers working in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens. Welcome to our inaugural podcast, where we share our story, teaching styles, and passion for English.

How We Met: From Creepy to Besties
Our meeting was anything but ordinary. Greig thought he was being friendly, but Amira found his attempts to connect a bit creepy. After a month and a half of misunderstanding, they discovered a shared connection and quickly became best friends.

Our Teaching Styles: Tasmanian Devil vs. Quiet Loony
Our teaching styles are as different as night and day. Greig is boisterous and performative, while Amira is more traditional and intuitive. Despite these differences, we both believe in showing vulnerability in the classroom to make learning more accessible.

The Sprinkles Club: A Safe Space for All
Fast forward five years, and we've spearheaded the Sprinkles Club, our school's Gay-Straight Alliance. We're planning events like the AIDS walk and possibly hosting an Anti-Prom to create a safe and accepting environment for all students.

Dolly Parton, Bazookas, and Teaching Credo
From Dolly Parton's bazookas to our own teaching philosophies, we explore how vulnerability and svital topression are key to connecting with students. We believe in embracing our unique selves and encouraging our students to do the same.

Adjectives That Define Us: Boisterous, Loyal, Timid, Intuitive
We describe each other in terms that reflect our personalities and teaching styles. Greig is boisterous and loyal, while Amira is timid and highly intuitive. These traits shape our approach to teaching and our relationship with each other.

English Teachers are different in many ways, but our love for English and our students inspire and unite us. Whether we're discussing vocabulary words or sharing personal anecdotes, our passion for teaching shines through. Join us as we continue to explore the world of English, sprinkles, and everything in between.


The Ineluctable Bond of Two Boys Broken: Movie Review of Close (2022)

In this post, I write a spoiler-y review of the 2022 Belgian film Close. This review is meant for after viewing the film.
Image Credit: Diaphana Films
Close Garners Accolades on the Film Prize Circuit
Have you recently watched the Belgian film Close (2022), directed by Lukas Dhont and starring two incredible young actors, Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele? The movie was highly acclaimed, nominated for an Academy Award, and won the prestigious Grand Prix at the Cannes film festival. The story is a tragic one about two boys. Having read multiple stories of queer, questioning, and gay young people killed or dying of unsuspecting causes, I went into the film with skepticism. For example, I loved the novel Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne — but, again, it is a story of a young, bright, young person who dies because of hatred and homophobia. But I digress — in this story of two young boys who live in a small Flemish town near the flower fields of Brabant, the story is more about adolescent male friendship than anything else. 
I Did Harbor Some Assumptions (I Confess)
        After watching the trailer, I confess I assumed that the blonde-haired boy, Leo (played by Dambrine), was the more fragile of the two. He appears smaller, in contrast, to Remi (played by De Wael), even though in real life, the former is several years older than the latter, and during filming, De Wael had to wear platform shoes to appear taller than Dambrine. And in an interesting backstory, Lukas Dhont discovered Dambrine on a train, conversing with friends, and asked him to audition for the part — which he did. All of this to say, while my original assumption was wrong, the film is very much about the character of Leo, both in his friendship with Remi, which only takes up less than half the film, and the micro-steps that follow the boys' breakup.
The Exposition of a Boys' Friendship 
       The movie portrays two thirteen-year-old boys with an unbreakable bond. They are kindred spirits, and their connection is unexplainable. A beautiful scene sets up the friends' bond where Leo, as they both cannot sleep on a summer evening, tells Remi a story about a gecko and its colors. Remi lights up as Leo tells the story, and the camera is positioned intimately close to the two. Film trumps other forms of narrative works where the body, the face, can tell a story, and I was drawn into the ease of their facial expressions and how comfortable the two adolescents are in each other's presence. Leo, in this scene, is portrayed as a poetic and sensitive soul, and his monologue foreshadows what will come. I thought Remi would reject Leo, but it was the reverse. 
        Their friendship is exposed to the public eye of their peers. Once they start going to a new school, the other kids make note of the boys' friendship and ask if they are a couple. Despite their kindred and beautiful connection, the question "Are you together?" is enough to put a blunt edge between the two kids' bond. In my head, I thought Leo took it to heart and had a more difficult time dealing with that. But actually, in the movie, Leo is more riled up about the accusation and pushes Remi, the other boy, away. The two boys detonate internally, each in their own unique way, and a gulf begins to split between them. It is in this splitting apart that the film attempts to explore.
An Inexplicable Event Happens. 
         There is a field trip, and Remi is not there. The kids go to the ocean and return, and Leo discovers that Remi has committed suicide. Leo runs frantically, heaving, and arrives at Remi's house, but no one is home, and he sees the door to the bathroom has been busted open. And he knows. In a scene earlier in the movie, Remi was in the bathroom and wouldn't come out, and the mother kept banging on the door. It was after Leo and Remi had a fight. It is evident now. As Leo stares into the window of the empty house, Remi is no longer here. And this is where the story becomes not one of a beautiful friendship but a story of a piece missing, of Leo's tortured journey. And Remi's mother — it was the mother who discovered her son. And when Leo discovers that Remi was in the bathroom when he committed suicide, he internalizes it as his fault.
         Leo goes through the motions. He silently attends his friend's funeral. Leo's emotional journey is acute and raw as he tries to find solace in his older brother and silently deals with his feelings at hockey practice and in class. Leo's guilt and sense of responsibility for Remi's death are palpable, and it is painful to watch a child suffer in such a way. He has to listen as other kids talk superficially about Remi. One boy mentions that Remi seemed happy, but Leo breaks the silence and questions whether the boy really knew. "Was he happy? did you know?" Leo asks and storms out of the room. A counselor comes to talk to the middle school class, but the guilt on Leo takes a toll on him. He befriends another boy on his hockey team, but their friendship differs from his friendship with Remi. Leo finds ways to confront or be with Remi's mother, who is also obviously dealing with her grief. And in this part, the story feels fragile and raw — because, as a viewer, I did not know who would break first, Leo or the mother.
The Question of "Why?"
        The film raises several questions, such as why Leo was not kinder to Remi, why Remi did not seek help from his loving parents, and why it all ended horrifically. Leo is so shaken by it viscerally, but he is still so young that he cannot verbalize his feelings. Remi is dead, and that reality is painful enough, but Leo also holds on to this feeling that he is responsible for his friend's death. A child should not have to go through this type of suffering, right? However, the director slowly turns the viewer's attention to Leo and his struggle to deal with his friend's death without providing easy answers to the "why" of it. The film culminates in an inevitable confrontation between Remi's mother and Leo, which provides a sense of closure, but not resolution. The scene is in the woods, the trees serving as a backdrop of both characters' pain — a place set away from the real world of school, family, and home. Without giving away too many details, this is how the film ends.
Closing Remarks
        The movie's personal and emotional performance from the cast is remarkable, and the actors spent a lot of time together processing the story's magnitude. The film's title, "Close," hits home, portraying the story of two boys who cling to each other. I could identify with the boys — as I, too, had close friendships growing up, and I think this is a phenomenon that many young men experience. Leo and Remi express their feelings about society's bias about close male friendships when girls at lunch call out the boys' friendship, but they first retort, "Well, what about girls? You can have a girly friendship," and no one says anything. The worst crime a society can commit is snuffing out love between two people. I felt like Leo and Remi hold an ineluctable bond that is intense, loving, and special. It is not a gay story, specifically, but one of love, friendship, and the dissolution of those bonds. And it is that dissolution that cries out to heaven for justice.
       I finished the movie visibly shaken. I had not felt this emotionally challenged by a movie about love and connections lost since the 2017 film Call Me By Your NameAs a viewer, one can bring their own emotions and experiences to the film, and "Close" explores the complexities of friendship, guilt, and grief, especially among young boys. It sheds light on toxic masculinity, its impact on society, and the intensity of friendships at a young age. Overall, "Close" is a poignant film that leaves a lasting impact and is a deserving nominee for an Academy Award.
Stray Observations
  • The film boasts the debut of the two actors Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele.
  • The working title was "We Two Boys Together Clinging," which is the title of a poem by Walt Whitman, which inspired the work of artist David Hockney.
  • The film reflects Belgium's linguistic diversity, with French and Flemish spoken due to the country's small size and the presence of Dutch, Flemish, French, English, and German in daily conversation.
  • The small Flemish town where the film is shot is called Wetteren in East Flanders.
  • I lived in Belgium for over a year as a student at K.U.L. in Leuven.
Close (2022)
Diaphana Distribution
Directed by Lukas Dhont
Starring Eden Dambrine, Gustav De Waele, Léa Drucker, and Émilie Dequenne
Original Screenplay by Lukas Dhont and Angelo Tijssens.


Thinking About the Roman God Janus On New Year’s Eve

The Roman god Janus as depicted on an ancient coin.
New and old faces to anticipate the new year.
     The Romans had a god named Janus. He had two faces - one looking backward into the past and the other looking forward into the future. For me, the New Year represents this paradoxical view - looking forward and 👀 looking back.
To be Janus-faced is to face this contradiction.
     And this time of year it’s customary to reflect on a year gone by and to make resolve for the upcoming annual. Now whether you assert that the 2010s are for sure done with or not (yes, there is a controversy about this) - I feel like a new decade has begun (and I’m anticipating a ton of jokes about 20/20 vision and Barbara Walters).
Faces - familiar and novel - to ring in a new year.
Stray Comments On New Year’s Resolutions for 2020
  • I want to walk more. That means 10,000 steps a day.
  • Read more books this year.
  • Write every day.
  • To remember my resolutions throughout the year (but wait - I don’t recall last year’s resolutions!)


Poem + Image: "Lane"

girls in a gay bar
hold his hand
on the dance floor

image credit: detail of Rembrandt's painting, The Jewish Bride snapped by koe2moe

PDF Copy for Printing


Me, describing him

"when I look at him now 
face scrunched into the shape of an oval 
he thinks with his jaw set"

 me, describing him

PDF Copy for Printing  


Short Story: Car Keys

… the nonsense of men is called business; the nonsense of boys, though exactly alike, is punished by those same men: and no one pities either boys or men.
– Augustine of Hippo
Measuring my life by how many times I locked keys in the car would be appropriate because I have done it since I was a kid. One vivid memory was at my brother’s soccer game, eleven years old. I had gone back to get something out of the family car, a book or somesuch, and no sooner had I slammed the door shut that it hit me like a panic — I had locked the damn keys in the car. Now, remember I was a kid. I stood still for a few seconds, my mind racing inside, the thud of the slammed door still thudding in my chest.
It had happened -- locked keys in the car -- but I wanted to make sure it really had happened. I jostled the door. Realization. Reluctance … a quiver … it had happened. I could see the keys positioned comfortably on my dad’s vinyl seat. Shit. I started to pace, indecisively; I surmised if I paced long enough I would either
1.) disappear or
2.) the car door would miraculously unlock itself and all would be put right. Nothing like that happened. I wiped my hands on my shorts. Checked my pockets. I tried all the doors a second time to see if one of them would open. A large lump in the gut of me; the feeling of swinging on a tire, a tingling that tintinnabulates in your groin.
If only I could move mountains, I thought to myself. Like Jesus. Only weeks ago I had convinced my buddy Jeremy Accuri that I could uproot our family White Oak. The familial quercus alba that my mom had planted to measure out the life of the Roselli family, I wanted to aggressively uproot. When Mom had planted the tree, it was a youngster; by now it is either mowed down or handsome. But I can remember Jeremy Accuri and me invoking God’s aid for about an hour to no avail. If only I had faith the size of a mustard seed, I thought to myself. I was really disappointed, not that I thought that I could really do it, but I expected something would happen. A manifestation. An epiphany. But no epiphanies, so Jeremy and I went to his house to eat ham sandwiches his mom had made. I can remember how amazed his mother was that I ate everything on my plate. twice. If only she knew how defeated I felt.
And empty.

The emptiness I felt in not being able to uproot our tree was less than the despair I felt in locking my parents’ keys in the Ford. It would not have been so bad if they hadn’t told me, “Don’t lock the keys in the car, Greig.” I had done just what they had told me not to do. Maybe if I had been an adult it would have been different because no one would have had to know, only the lock smith whom I would have called up to come over, maybe exchange a few words; heard his consolation, mitigated any humiliation because I could pay him, say, fifty dollars and it would be done with; or I could have been a responsible adult and signed up for AAA road side service as a part of my insurance plan. But as a kid, I was helpless, at the mercy of my parents’ seeming authoritarian judgment. I was powerless, not only by a locked door, but by own ineptitude to do anything to change my state of affairs, as useless as a jailbird.
I scraped the gravel with my shoes, again. After much consultation with myself, God, and the ground, I finally approached them. I could see my mother’s festive back, "Go Chargers," stenciled in red. Mom and Dad were lined up on the Chargers’ side of the field, belting out affirmations, curses. It didn’t make a difference, just as long as they yelled. I saw my little brother Nicholas strutting around the field like Pélé. He looked so comfortable and at ease in his world, compared to my own self-inflicted dismal plight. Even if I hadn't locked the keys in the car, I didn't see myself as graceful as Nick; I hated sports. The only time I was on the soccer team was age 8; the coach told us to be aggressive and I never forgot the word. Aggressive. Aggressive. I had an inchoate idea of what the word meant: mean, rough, not reading a book. He had us in a huddle, "You boys gotta be more aggressive!" I felt like he was looking straight at me: the boy who preferred to pick through the crimson clover patch by the goal post. Our soccer shorts were like two lollipop colored paper bags filled with air, strung around our puny legs. We bared our chests through a V-neck cotton shirt, about as much bravado as you can get from a pack of pre-pubescent boys. A fury of boys. And me. Furious in my own way; I even brought a book to read, once. How did I manage that? Dad yelling, "Keep your eye on the ball!" and Grandma not minding if I read entries to her out loud from my dictionary, as long as the team was on the other side of the field. I couldn't understand the point of the useless fumbling, so I kept on reading.
After a game we were standing around the merry-go-around. The dust in the air swirling around in nonsensical motes. A bigger kid appeared from nowhere. “Lemme see that book.” “No,” I said. “Come on,” he said and took my book. “No,” I said, “Give it back”. “I’m just gonna look at it. Geez. Get a grip. pussy.” Johnny, with thicker legs than mine, interjected, “Yeah, Greig, just let him look at it; he ain’t gonna hurt it.” I eased up and said sure; I wanted the book back, though. He read from my book. But not the real words. “And Greig eats pussy. Says so here. And weenies and boogers and ass wipes. Man. This is good shit.” Hahhhahhhh. Thay all laughed. Spat on the floor; looked like blood clots on the concrete. And just like that the bigger kid tore the book in shreds and deposited the pieces, like confetti, over the playground, the husk of the book sprawled on the ground like an emasculated man; its flesh swirling in the dust. “Don’t like your book, sorry,” and he laughed. Then they were gone, the bullies, as quickly as they had come. Alone again, I gathered up the pieces I could find, sat down, and tried to put the pages back together. My hands shaking, I tried to calm down. The other children in the playground comforted me after the bigger kids had left, laughing. Sitting cross-legged, a boy my age told me not to worry about it; I could get another book. By this time, ten or twelve other kids had gathered around me to see what was wrong – why was Greig so sad? – I had gained some composure, got up, as if nothing had happened, stuffed pieces of the book into my soccer shorts (maybe I could save a few words) and to no one in particular, I said thank you. We played in the crimson clover patch until it was time to go home.

But this time, with no keys, I couldn't escape to the crimson clover patch. There wasn't a book available to swallow up my problem, to outline how to get out of locking one's keys in the car. I began to feel really horrible. I remembered with acrid humiliation that one time at Jeremy Accuri's we were playing in the empty lot next to his house – filled with cans, nails, rotted pieces of wood. On the edge of the Mississippi. The interstate humming. His little sister tagging along. The neighbor too. Josh. I forget his last name. He was skinny and punctuated by a raggedy set of tears in his clothes, torn holes in his torso and thigh. Suffering from a cold, he coughed at us as we played, snot pasted to his cleft. I don’t know what triggered inside of me my coach’s mantra to be aggressive, but in the middle of hide-and-go-seek, I hurled a rusty, empty can of USDA peaches right at him; hit him square in the forehead. Blood was everywhere. Jeremy couldn’t believe it; ran to tell his mom. His sister screamed. Josh stood still for a minute. I thought he was going to topple over, dead. But he lunged towards me, angry. When he caught me in a grapple he couldn’t do anything except bear hug me to the ground; I pushed him off and we both walked to the house, both of us sniffling. In shock, not believing my own aggression, I was horrified that I had hurt him so badly. Blood was smeared on his head. Jeremy’s mom saw I was upset and told me everything was going to be all right. “Do you need a hug?” she asked me and I said, “Yeah, I think so.” And I tipped toed to clutch her broadly for a second then let go naturally. I was relieved that the adults seemed nonplussed. Josh went to the hospital. Got stitches. They didn’t call my mother. I never saw Josh again, on purpose. If I saw him on the playground, I avoided him. I didn’t even go back to Jeremy’s house after that. I was afraid of seeing them again; fearful they would remember the day I broke open a kid’s head.


When I finally told them I had locked the keys in the car, it was as if I had thrown a rusty can at my dad’s head or -- I couldn't quite tell from Dad's contorted gesture - they didn’t understand me. Mom mumbled something; She wanted to hit me. She had told Dad before, “I feel like I want to hit him sometimes,” and Dad leapt from his lawn chair and yelled at me louder than the other parents’ cheers. Everyone turned to look at us briefly, but the excitement of the game eventually won over, so it was just Dad and myself. Dad was a big man, so I remember his puffed up red face and bulging nub; he didn’t hit me, but he dragged me by my head to the car – to see for himself the nasty reality. When he finally released his hand my head cooled a bit and I felt relieved and dizzy.

The parking lot spun around like a top; I couldn’t quite tell if I had exited reality or not. My dad became a caricature of himself, a cartoon swimming in circles with rage. I remember he was bloated with fury and mean, red all over with blotches of yellow and green. He was talking out loud, saying, “I told you not to lock the keys in the car, didn’t I? Do you have any idea how much it costs to pop this lock? Huh?” He banged on the red door. A loud thud. He banged again. The prospect of getting a coat hanger to fish for the lock was unbearable to him, so he eventually had to call a locksmith. When Mom arrived on the scene she merely glared and folded her arms like a sentry, lips pursed, eyes meaner than a basilisk. “I can’t believe this, Anthony,” she whispered, but staring at me, intently. She didn’t mean it, I don’t think, but she said, “I’m never taking those bastards anywhere ever again.” Dead forever was any future bestowal of responsibility. And my brothers by default. They would never trust me again. I wanted to challenge them raw until nothing was left. I had forgotten that one summer Mom had forgotten Amanda in the car for about an hour while she talked to Aunt Evelyn, until finally someone asked “Where’s Daphne?” They finally found her. There she was, stuck in the back seat of the car where Mom had left her; still asleep, but trapped. And then there was the urban legend I had heard about of a dad who uncharacteristically was supposed to drop his baby off at daycare before he went to work, but forgot to do it, parked his car in the company garage on a hot day and left her there to bake; found her dead at the end of the work day; didn’t even realize she had been there the whole time, silenced. What goes through a man’s head after such a horrible thing? Does he ever recover? Is he ever forgiven? A memory never goes away, completely. It’s embodied, like a renegade bullet lodged in a man’s stomach. You need a surgeon with antiseptic instruments to cut it out from the flesh. Then with stitches you can begin to recover.
I don’t think you can escape from the ravages of childhood.
For some reason or other, I never recovered; never could keep things in the right place. I can count five other times I locked keys in the car after that soccer incident. Once in a supermarket parking lot in 1996. Another at a drugstore a few months later. And to my chagrin, because someone had to fish for the lock with a coat hanger, in front of church in 1997. Another time in front of Veronica’s house last year. And again at home a few weeks ago. To retell them would be prosaic, if not repetitive. Suffice it to say, that first mishap left a scar on my psyche, which probably left me numb and disillusioned to my own self-worth, much less my confidence in the suburban patriotism surrounding soccer games. But there is something deeper. I went further inside of myself. After that day, instead of joining everyone else at the sidelines to cheer for my brother, I sought solace by walking in the woods behind the fields. I pretended it was Narnia, past the lamppost. This did not do well for my reputation though, because I would get lost in my own thoughts and dreams and by the time I had left Narnia the game had long been finished. Mom never called the cops on me, but she was furious. It happened so many times I think they just calculated I would eventually show up. The last car in the parking lot to leave. “How would you like it if I left without you? What if I had called the police?” Mom would say with her arms folded, tightly. I didn’t know how to answer her, “Where were you?” invectives so I usually just stood there feeling guilty, honestly not knowing where all the time had gone and feeling sorry that mom and dad had to worry about me so much. “I dunno. I wuz reading, I guess,” I would mumble. I wasn’t lying because there was the proof: a big fat ochre sci-fi yarn in my arms; my own name scrawled on the frontispiece. The car ride home was silent and bitter and I went to bed early.

One summer afternoon we had just watched that Bette Midler tearjerker that had just come out on VHS which we could play on a VCR checked out from the library, a momentous black box affixed with a manila pocket stamped: 5 JUL ‘82. Something moved inside me after the movie. The gods heard my muses. I was outside in the yard; I was ten. I remember it was hot and humid and everyone was inside but I stayed outside feeling emotional after having just watched Beaches. I lifted my arms up in the air and I was yelling, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty I’m free at last!” There is a scene in the film when Bette and her roommate shout out loud, “free at last free at last thank god almighty I’m free at last”. Something about not doing what her father said. She feels liberated. I really didn’t understand all the adult complexities of the scene being only ten, but something about her energy struck a chord in my little heart. So, I shouted just like her. All my frustrations. All my inarticulate sufferings. Learning to love. Myself. Being me. Which never felt so difficult before. But now. Free at last. Free at last. I must of been out there for God knows how long, but I was alone, everyone else in the midst of their own routines. But for me the yard was my world, around that tree; my dad’s neatly trimmed yard, fertilized. Mom’s sun tea heating on the air conditioner. It will be ready by dinner, I thought. Then the epiphany. A manifestation. I felt it on my head. The flap of bird’s wings. The holy spirit. On my head. I heard the chirp and the frantic rush of wings. The holy spirit had landed on my head. The gods had heard me. I ran into the house and the goddamn bird held on. “Mom Mom Mom. The holy spirit landed on my head.” I yelled and yelled and the bird still hung on. A parakeet. It finally yanked itself out of my hair, flew around the room and landed back on my tousled head. We decided to keep it and named it Pretty Boy. A few months later we found sterile eggs in her cage but didn’t change her name. She died after six years; a faithful bird, very quiet and low maintenance. And believe it or not, the story still circulates around the family about me and that bird. And the white oak. And the Chargers. And picking crimson clovers. And Maggie at the zoo, Lavern in the store, the dimpled red dots on Faith’s face … stories circulate.

Recently, I took Zach to the bookstore and Lorie freaked because we didn’t make it back in time. She did call the cops. After all those years of disappearing no one ever called the police on me; no search parties scouted me out. And I have been lost many times. I chortle at the absurdity of keys and time, of lateness and wrong turns. After all those years of disappearing no one ever called the police on me; no search parties scouted me out. And I have been lost many times. Three times in the woods (Maggie saved me); once at the mall; once at school; once at the spillway and five times in my own room (don’t ask). If only I could be so lucky to have a search party.


Poem: "I never knew how to date"

At the ballpark, the stadium swells with people,

I never knew how to date.
I only knew the camaraderie of a slap on the back,
a troubled smear on the cheek,
an intimate pantomime of swelled emotion.

I never knew the arcane rituals,
the runic scripts, the book of love –
never knew the caress of the cheek,
the hand on your face

Never put to rote the rubrics
of subtle peck and pay the bill
Only spontaneous embraces
like best friends at supper.

Sloppy kisses over sloppy joes.

Daubed anxiety
Doggerel verse
Silly adolescence clamoring for whatchamacallit and nachos,
pulling your pigtails,

I am like a kid getting married in the street.

I am bereft of courtship vocabulary,
the “how do I take your hand” svelte.

The “When do I call for a date?” anxiety.

How do I undo your pants,
Meet your folks –
Do I call you at work?

Should I hold your hand during the national anthem?
Or do I clap your back?

I am like the boy playing grown-up in the playpen,
dressed up like Donna Reed,
My plastic skin peeling

and during the ninth inning your child stares
Eating a nodog
I had bought ten minutes before.

Awkward smiles and nonchalance,
No runs batted in and take me out to the ballgame.


Photographs of Friends: Ruby On Fridays (Not Ruby Tuesday, and Some of the Pictures Are Not Ruby)

I took pictures of friends recently when we all hung out.

Ruby, a former colleague but still a friend — not as in Ruby Tuesday — frequents the city of crescents.
A woman in her twenties with red hair dons a painting apron in New Orleans.

A woman in her thirties eats dinner at a restaurant in New Orleans.

The flare of red: "Aphrodite on a half-shell."


Gilgamesh and the Search for Meaning in a, "I love you, man!" kind of way

My colleague and friend, Bonnie, asked me a rhetorical question once when I worked at the public library, “Who, Greig, would want on their epitaph, ‘He cleaned her dishes well'?"
My dishes are not clean. But, I want to be remembered for more than just washing my dinnerware well.

Unclean cups, dirty knives and forks, an unsealed peanut butter jar, torn packets of splenda and granules of instant coffee are splayed as objets d’art.

Waking up this morning thinking about Gilgamesh and that scene at the end of Superbad when Seth and Evan exclaim to each other, "I love you man!" I take solace in Bonnie's aphorism. 

I can explain the significance between the two. I really can.

At the end of Gilgamesh, the hero has his epiphany. He knows he cannot uncover the elixir of immortality even though he swam to the depths of the sea. Having stayed awake for an interminable amount of time our hero is consoled by the fact that he WILL live forever, not by a potion or a magical plant, but by his cultural deeds. Immortality is what you receive from society (if you are lucky). I take comfort in this epic anecdote.

Now, how do I relate all of this to pedagogy  and oh yeah, to Superbad?

Over the summer my ninth grade English class read the epic for their mandated summer reading project. When you are thirteen — as my students are — you probably seldom ponder death and you for damn sure are convinced that wisdom DOES not come from an ancient tome. Leave that to Lady Gadget  or is it Inspector GaGa?

I am not sure if they liked it or “got it,” but several of them, including parents, were quick to point out that the sexuality in the book was ripe, and “inappropriate reading material” for high school — at least I was not pulled into a disciplinary hearing for distributing inappropriate material to freshman.
Kids and adults miss the point. Do I need to teach the obvious truth that fiction is fueled by desire?

For me, it is a moot point.

Get over it.

Immortality gained by deeds is a fertile topic. Folks fail to catch the heart of Gilgamesh and instead focus on the lust (Shamhat, the prostitute being one example). People who complain to me are similar to those who get hot and bothered because The Catcher in the Rye has swear words. Controversy is everyone’s favorite past time anyway. Innuendo must be banned so it will be given a reason to be read. If it were not banned then people would say, "oh that is bland." Banning it gives us impetus to actually pick up the book and read it. It's some kind of whack reverse psychology that I have little patience for.

Gilgamesh could easily populate the world with greedy Calibans but he knows in of itself this is not the ticket to eternal life. The story is not about brute sex. The story is similar to Superbad: it is about friendship and the pain of loss. Seth has to give up Evan just as Gilgamesh has to give up Enkidu.

In the story, Gilgamesh — like Achilles mourning Patroclus — is unconsoled by the death of his best friend Enkidu. Mortality strikes him at the heel and pains him for the first time. Since Gilgamesh is a king and somewhat related to the divine, he has never brushed past death until his friend’s death opens a wound in his psyche and he ponders his transience for the first time. Gilgamesh is a king, half-god, civilized and blessed with superhuman powers — but the love of the wild man Enkidu forces him to reconsider his life. All of this — life on earth — cannot give him immortality. Enkidu’s death makes him stabbingly aware of his limitations. The death forces him to think beyond himself — and to not base decisions on his own prowess — immortality comes from accomplishment — not born out of pride but through cultural achievement.

Gilgamesh is like the privileged son of a wealthy entrepreneur who has never had to fight for anything in his life. One day he loses something. Something he cannot regain. It is in this loss that he realizes that there are values irretrievable. Most accomplishments are for naught. The only true lasting legacy is greatness. The question becomes not “Will I live forever?” but, “Who will remember me?”

My students groan at the repetition and seeming irrelevance of an ancient oral tale. Most think Gilgamesh and Enkidu are gay. In their homophobic worldview, two men can never really LOVE each other — GROSS! — but, that is a discussion for another post (which will be how loving the same sex is not necessarily the same as being gay) but, we have a good discussion about deeds and achieving immortality — that love, no matter the gender — we are not talking about who’s hot and who’s not, people — can embolden us, change us, scare us.


Jocks and Goths

Jock or goth — geek, nerd, slut, queer, poser, wimp, shrimp, hippie, prep, emo — or in Shakespeare’s day, “You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!”; walk into any high school in the United States and you could probably pick out any of these above mentioned categories — even the Shakespearean ones.  Or, if you are not versed in the taxonomical nomenclature of your average high school student, talk with one.

Luke Bernard (note: some names and identifying characteristics have been changed), a high school student in a mainly white, upper-class suburban neighborhood, told me about the gangstas, the wiggers, the nerds, the geeks and the posers at his school.  He said, “The gangstas in my school are the rough, tough black people.  They buy the knock-off versions of the coolest brands and wear them for awhile and when they’re bored, they get a new pair.”  He then told me there are a few goths, if any, and no one wants to be called a queer.  He did say there are, “the wigger kids.”  According to him, these are white kids who try to act gangsta.  “Some pull it off well,” he said, as if a proud thespian performing Shakespeare.

    Candace, a girl from the same neighborhood spoke to me about the skaters.  They are to be found in the nearest abandoned parking lot, with affixed decals on their boards which promote a favorite band or political expression (“Bush Sucks,” exclaims one).  “Skaterz,” as one boy from the inner city of New Orleans, told me, “Get a bad rap cuz people, mostly cops are looking to arrest us.”  In one recent issue of Skateboarding magazine that he holds in his hand, there is an advice column on how to evade the police if the cops catch you doing an ollie on public property.  The mag advises the best way to avoid the police is to run when you see them and hide in a secure spot. 

    And then there are nerds.  Luke told me that a nerd is somebody who is not able to socialize with other kids and desperately tries to make friends but no one wants to be friends with them.  “Not even the skaterz?” I asked.  “No.  There is one girl — she is so sheltered that I don’t even try to talk to her.  She is trying to be someone she’s not.  The geeks —”  I asked him to explain what a geek was: “anybody who plays too many video games.  They talk about it a lot.  To the unaided eye me and my friends would be considered geeks.”

    The geeks know HTML code better than they know about sex and the nerds sit around discussing World of Warcraft or The West Wing.  The wimps and shrimps are bludgeoned because of their lack of height and the preps come to school with collared shirts with insignia emblazoned on their lapels — purchased by their yuppie parents. The emo kid wants to slit his wrist because his girlfriend dumped him and the poser is like a chameleon who wants to be who he’s not.  “You’re a poser,” Luke explains, “when you say you’re a goth.  Or when you have to tell everybody you’re cool.”  Greg, a senior in high school, said that the queers limp their wrists and exclaim, with mucho drama, “O My God!”  But apparently, not all gay teens are so demonstrably limped wristed.  Greg is mentioning merely one possible of homosexuality among men.

But Luke, Greg, and Candace are no different from most of us when it comes to labeling others.  When I was in high school, I was dubbed a nerd, because I liked to read books — but I didn’t see myself that way.  I just like to read books.  I imagine that is true for the guy who skates.  He likes to skate.  Or the girl who cheers on the football sideline.  She likes to cheer.  But I understood, even as a kid that there is an entire collection of labels conveniently used to pigeonhole people into little boxes, especially in an environment where the true search for self is squashed.  Or, worse — killed.

   Whether it be a Dilbertesque office space, the virtual geography of MySpace or a shiny Sunday School, there will be the vast and vicious panoply of name calling and storytelling.  The kindling sticks and rough stones hurled to hurt are rampant in our society; and we all feel like abused Holden Caulfields.  If we have been name called as a child, we cannot help to remember it with a certain sense of bitterness.  And as adults, we may use different labels than the current generational code, but the idea is the same.  Whether you are a square or a fag, the exclusionary nature of name calling is a rather territorial penchant human beings have, originating probably from our primate cousins.  Have you ever seen Chimpanzees make fun of each other? 

    Whether it’s nature or nurture, I don’t know, but we perceive others through a preconceived framework that neatly sizes up our world comfortably and securely.  We make up stories, some urban legends, some truth, some blurry on the dividing line between reality and illusion so that our worlds can appear less complicated than it really is.

    The perceptions our stories are based on are preconceived schemes stored like templates, like cookie cutters in the brain.  The brain processes external stimuli by applying learned labels to distinguish one thing from another.  This way of perceiving the world is talked about in psychology as Gestalt theory.  Red from black.  Fat from skinny.  Ugly from beautiful.  And Jock from Goth.

    From these basic forms, we can know that a leaf is a leaf based on all the leaves we have leafed through.  We know Luke as Luke because he is imprinted in our mind as a schemata.  If Candace gets a facelift — even a slight facelift — or gets new glasses, the schema shifts and we do a double take when we see them.  “Hey, Candace, is that you?”  “Yeah, it’s me!”  “Oh!  Didn’t recognize you with the rhino rims!”

    What happens to these monikers, such as jock or goth, is that they develop into messy, but powerfully persistent narratives.  Some of the stories we conjure up about other people are harmless.  Some of the stories we create are attempts to understand ourselves.  As Luke, above, mentioned about the posers.  We create identities as a way to search for our own.  Like the Twain tale about a prince who dressed up as a look-a-like peasant to see what it was like to be poor and insignificant.

    Other stories we tell are more dangerous.  The dangerous narratives are those conjured out of fear and ignorance.  Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinosfky chillingly demonstrated the dangerous narratives people create in  their documentary for HBO, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders of Robin Hood Hills, about three teenagers in a provincial Arkansas town who were convicted for the murder of three children in a secluded river bed, ostensibly, because they were satan worshippers and dabbled in ritualistic sex and murder.  The modern-day Salem Witch trial found the boys guilty without substantial physical evidence, but a strong, powerful narrative convinced the jury they were guilty.  The truth was they were “Goths.”  The kids wore black and listened to Metallica.  But this was enough for the town to pronounce them guilty.

    Stories like the Robin Hood Hills murder describe the powerful force of narrative and the way that it replaces truth as the convenient litmus test for who is innocent and who is dangerous.  The childhood ditty, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” not only is false but belies the fact that words can not only hurt but strung together into a powerful enough story, can play into the generalities we construct to make sense of our world, into myths that are ultimately destructive.


Eulogy for My Dog Maggie: 1990-2006

Dog walks on a gravel road
Maggie on a walk
When my dog Maggie died, I wrote her eulogy.
     When a girl reaches that age of sweet sixteen uncertainty, my girl has reached the age of mortal certainty, her skeleton worn out from a teenaged span of use, her gauzy eyes barely seeing, her ears clotted with wind, her matted hair uncombable  she sits in the living room panting, refusing water, wagging her tail nevertheless.
     She was a Humane Society special. $50. That’s what she cost. Including her shots. Nick was 9. I was 11. Brad was like 16. Brad, Nick and I picked her from a mixed bitch’s litter, the babies all scrunched up beneath her teets, we picked the one  eyes still kinda closed  who had the personality we were looking for, independent but lovable.  Mom was concerned, “How big is she going to get?”  The vet assured us this dog could be a house dog (She ended up being an outside/inside dog).  She was a Springer Spaniel mix; we didn’t meet the father. And the mother is a strange memory -- because why would I remember her, the dog who bore my baby when I myself and my family would become a mother to this mutt? Maggie is the name we gave her after severe brainstorm in the living room.  We called her many titles over the years.  Fat girl, we called her. Pretty girl. Morga. Maggie. Morgus. Thing. Baby. Hey, baby. Mooga. Maggie Roselli. Maggie the Magnificent.
     Her first night we were afraid she would shit all over the house, so we put her in the bathroom and shut the door. She cried all night. I slept in the top bunk, being older  and Nick slept on the bottom. Both of us heard Maggie’s cries. She hated being by herself. Even till the end. She hated it. She would prove to be a dog who followed you wherever you went. Just to be with you. So she wouldn’t be alone.
     She would get on a kneeboard in the Tchefuncte river just so she would not have to wait alone in the boat. She followed Nick and I to the bus stop  and sometimes attempted to get on the bus!  She went with me into the woods and we got lost a few times.  We were off the beaten path; we had gone into the woods to eat blackberries; I turned to her  as lost as she was  “Maggie, where are we?” She just looked at me, crushed chlorophyll frescoed into her face.
     We finally got out of the woods, onto a country road a few miles from the house.  She didn’t complain.  And just a few years ago  in her later years  she followed Zack and I to town.  It’s a long walk to town but Maggie insisted she come along.  When we got to the river she walked down the algae-covered concrete steps and got soaked; she loved it.  But when we got to the hamburger shop near the main drag and I tried to get Maggie some water from the clerk, Maggie wanted to get inside into the Air Conditioning.  Her tongue was panting so painfully, that it almost reached the ground.  But I wouldn’t let her.  She looked like a sea hag come from her morning bath.   She waited behind the paned glass door and at the first moment she got she squeezed past a customer and showed up by my side.  She scared a lady exiting the restaurant. “Get that thing away from me!”  I have to admit, inadvertently, Maggie looked menacing.  I pretended she wasn’t my dog, but when the owner asked whose dog it was, Zach turned me in, “It’s his dog,” pointing directly at me.  I picked up Maggie and cradled her sloppy wetness to my dry shirt and walked out.  We called a cab; they charged a canine tax.  Bastards.  Zach loved it.  So did Maggie.  I don’t think I let Maggie follow me on my walks ever again.