Showing posts with label memoir. Show all posts
Showing posts with label memoir. Show all posts

23.12.23

Meditations Aboard the Saint Charles Streetcar

On Carrollton and Claiborne the Streetcar begins about three blocks from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans.
The streetcar that I ride is classic Christmas green with brown edging. Usually once a week I’ll walk down to the streetcar stop to take a ride. My destinations vary. Yesterday I took the streetcar to visit a High School religion class on Saint Charles Avenue. I spoke to all four classes and at the end of the day got back on the streetcar, a train that does not care about race or sexuality, education or gender. We all sit in the same car (thanks to Rosa Parks) and commence on our respective journeys.  One little girl about as tall as my knee told her girlfriend how she couldn’t wait to get home to eat cornflakes, take a hot bath and get a nap in before her momma got home. On another day, the driver spoke to me about the Presidential elections. He was very passionate about his election choice, warning me about the next four years. I thanked him for his observations and got off at the Latter Library. Another time some tourists in front of me were murmuring about how loud it was and how they should have stayed at the hotel to take a nap. I sat on the seat clutching my bookbag, protecting my laptop so it wouldn’t fall. Streetcars are bumpy, you know. The benches are hard so your body feels every movement, every shock of electricity. The lights will dim off and on near Carrollton and Willow. No one announces the stops. You just have to know. There are no maps in the car, just the signs from the windows. As I ride along, I watch the people get on and off and sometimes I hear the driver announce the next stop. She’ll even announce a good place to eat if you listen. This is journey. I’ve learned you have to listen if you want to reach some kind of spiritual maturity. It is a spiritual journey because it is humanity gathered together  I see it as nearly as I see my own hand typing these words. It is humanity in the fullest sense, an existential snapshot of the human condition right there on Carrollton and Claiborne.

19.4.20

On Writer's Block — A Journal & Rant

Cover of John Steinbeck's Book "Journal of a Novel"
In this book, Journal of a Novel, 
Steinbeck talks about how he overcame writer's 
block to write his epic novel East of Eden.
John Steinbeck famously stalled starting East of Eden by carving a wooden pencil box for his personally carved pencils. He couldn't begin writing a great novel without having both decent pencils and a handsome box to his crafted artist tools.
     I am not that bad, but I think every writer worth his salt battles with writer's block.
     The problem is not WHAT to write but HOW to write what you want to write. The writer is not usually void of ideas, but once settled on one idea, there comes the conundrum of infinite ways to approach the topic. What's the title? Do I write in the first person? Who is my audience - middle age blue-bloods, or pimply adolescents? Do I use accents or write in plain English prose?

Then, there is the security factor. Do I think the piece is gonna be good or not? Will people read this?
     Then, when the work has started, and your pen is moving at a well-clipped pace, eventually, at some point, there comes a stall. The great lull, I call it. Or just boredom. I think this is why most Master theses and Doctoral dissertations go unfinished.
     "It seemed like a good idea," the grad student laments. What's left: piles of research, jotted notes, emails to directors, and an unfinished manuscript.
Connecting thought to idea to word
to sentence to a paragraph . . . can be daunting.

Sometimes, it is the ending that gets ya. 
     Virginia Woolf famously dreaded ending her novels because it felt like a death. I can relate to the visceral, human connection to a work in progress. The writer feeds his work, his blood, tears, ambition, and time. Ink. Pencil graphite. To finish the opus seems too much like divorce - or even worse, death.
     Woolf finished Between the Acts and sometime later stepped into the stream behind her house, heavy stones sewn into the lining of her blouse.
     Now, I don't think I am that bad. But, I can relate to Woolf's decision. Perhaps she was tired of dying. She had written through many deaths.

I can relate to John Steinbeck, better. 
     It wasn't that he felt like he couldn't create an epic American Genesis, but the task was so monumental maybe he thought he would get bored or give up. Woolf killed herself, by contrast, not because she completed a great piece of work but just because it was completed.
     Once the publisher tidies up the manuscript, the text is no longer yours. Once I press submit, it is as if the narrative births itself and leaves the cage of the author.
     One way I helped alleviate writer's block was to start actively contributing to my blog. Writing a blog entry is a way to floss my writer's teeth. To write and publish automatically is a way to remind myself I can create something that is not monumental but, at the same time, hopefully not trite. I try to aim for funny, pertinent - or just plain good, dammit.

When I am really feeling it, I go to Twitter and microblog. 
     Wow. What a catharsis. I am energized that Roger Ebert feels the same way. He recently wrote a blog piece on why he tweets. I think he writes his blog and tweets a helluva lot because it lubricates his gears so he can step up to the plate for the big stuff.
     Now, you may say, all this is the same thing as carving that wondrous wooden box to put your pencils because you don't want to get into the nitty-gritty of writing. There's a blog post about this, by the way.

But, I instead write something every day rather than nothing.
     So, here's my something.
     Maybe, you can relate? Lemme know, dammit. Why do you write? When do you not write?

2.1.19

Reflection: Another Year Goes Away and a New Year Begins

My friend and I lit a candle at St. Thomas Church in Manhattan.
Sometimes life is like a circle. I could go on and give examples - and I will - but I feel like E.B. White did it best in an essay he wrote about circus performers.
      It’s been a while since I closely read the essay but I remember its thesis poignantly. Time is like a circle. White focuses his writing on one performer specifically who takes command of the circus ring. He notices she is in counterbalance to another performer, older, who is also in the ring. White imagines the younger performer is at the crest of her career, illuminating and graceful yet the other performer is also she - less graceful and aging. That’s what I remember. White manages to place an idea of recurrence - of repeating and twinning that resonates with me even now. Perhaps it’s because it’s the beginning of a new year - 2019 and I just recently celebrated a birthday. In a year from now, I’ll celebrate forty years on earth. I’ve been out of school long enough to miss it and I’ve been working just long enough to see myself getting better at what I do - but I can see my older, aged twin on the other side of the circle. He waves at me but I can’t figure out if he’s happy or not.  If I zoom in too much on the daily details of my life it’s all a bunch of minutiae - picking up the trash, sipping a cup of coffee, placing dirty clothes in the hamper. And if I zoom out a bit more - like in that book - where each page is a zoom-out or zoom in of the universe - I see bigger picture things like how much time I spent teaching or how much time I spent writing. And if I zoom out even further I see myself as a generation among generations, and further out too I’m a speck - not even significant. Yet this is what amazes me about human beings. We are persistent in our urgency to slam into the earth some smattering of meaning. And it feels worth it when I’m introspective and desperate when I’m barraged by life’s demands - yet it’s a life. At the start again. So - happy New Year.
Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Not Grade Specific - TeachersPayTeachers.com

10.9.18

What If Life Were Like the City Builder Simulation Video Game Cities Skylines?

I don't consider myself a gamer. However, like many kids who grew up in the 1990s, I did have a major hankering for the Nintendo and Super Nintendo. There was one point in my childhood that I almost edged onto sociopathy when I used my best friend at the time just to go to his house to play video games. I think his parents eventually caught on when they realized that Lance had gone out to play and I was left in his bedroom stomping on those pesky Goomba characters that are Mario's constant annoyance.

I stopped playing Mario and advanced onto city builder games.

One game did stick with me after my Nintendo phase wore off (by the time I was in Sixth or Seventh grade). I started to play Sim City and - at some point - I discovered a game that my brother had installed on his computer - A-Train. My interest in city builders was born. It's not a big surprise that I fell into city builder type of games. I had (and still have) a fond affection for Matchbox cars. And I always liked playing around with maps; and, my older brother liked maps too; I think at one point he and I - in one of our rare bonding moments - worked on a super map of an imaginary city in which we pasted a bunch of white-colored posters together with tape and mapped out our city in number two pencil. It was epic. I think we had a city that was composed of at least twelve or thirteen pieces of poster-sized paper.  
La Grange! Oh, how I loved making this city.
I have played all of the Sim City games. But it wasn't until Cities Skylines came out in 2015 that I really saw the potential of a city builder. What a game. What I like the most about City Skylines is that the gameplay is more dynamic than Sim City. First of all, a player has a much larger cityscape to play with, and the city feels integrated even across multiple districts and distances. One train station built in the northwestern part of the map can affect what happens in the city center. 

And I am always amazed by the simulation. There is a cause and effect reality to Cities Skylines - and most city builders - that make it playable. It almost kind of feels like real life. 

A story of my own Cities Skylines City: La Grange

There is one city I built in Cities Skylines that I am proud of and still play it from time to time. It is a coastal city. I called it La Grange. I have a crappy Mac Mini that is not designed for serious gameplay, so I have to play the game at the lowest graphical level - and I usually try to aim for a city that does not have more than 130,000 people. Of course, I use mods. That's probably the second-best part about Cities Skylines (the first best part is naming everything like you are Adam and Eve in the Garden) - you can access a treasure trove of user-created buildings, roads, and tweaks to the vanilla game. I particularly like using the multiple track enabler mod so I can have subway systems with double, triple, and quadruple tracks. The automatic bulldoze mod is a must because who wants to manually raze every abandoned building; the same goes for the automatic emptying mod (although it is just easier to not have cemeteries and landfills in your city).
Look at those cims scurry to catch the bus!
The third thing I like about Cities Skylines is that it is essentially a traffic simulator game. Everything and everyone has to move around your city. Tiny tweaks in the gameplay can drastically change your cims' movement (N.B.,  In Sim City citizens, are called sims, but if you are playing City Skylines they're called cims. Get it?). For example, I recently moved a bus stop at a bustling intersection and all of a sudden there was a sudden, mass movement of people in the game briskly walking to the next stop.


Traffic is a nightmare - I still can't alleviate the congestion at my airport.
It took me a long time to build a good city. The trick is making a decent transit infrastructure to move cims around the city; that includes subway and bus connections, as well as an integrated interstate highway system. The game has a monorail system that is fun to use, but cims do not like to use it. Trams are great as a replacement for buses that use a heavily traveled route. Cable cars, ferries, and hot air balloons are also an option.

Building a city with districts that have enacted policies unique to their district - no heavy traffic or recycling initiatives - can really change the make-up of gameplay as well.


What if life were like a city builder game?

1. Everyone would go to work, go home, and go to ONE park or commercial zone.
2. Your car would disappear into thin air at random times.
3. The bulldozer would be God. Essentially.
4. It would be like that movie The Truman Show. But with more bulldozers and cims.
The game is connected to loads of assets
you can download for free - many of them made by creative modders.
The developers of this game, Colossal Order, keep coming out with new iterations of the game. The newest one is Park Life - which I really like because it allows you to make a more interactive park system in a city. As with most city builder games, zoning is essential. There are residential, commercial, industrial, and office zones. Zones build up around the road network - but as the city grows and the zones max out along the street grid, there are often pockets of green space that now I can populate with micro parks and whatnot. 

It's funny. My post is becoming an advertisement for a video game. Who knew my blog would boast of such things! I want to wrap up by saying the toys and games we played with as kids do somehow find their way into adult life. I don't have posters scribbled in graphite, but I have a saved game that I love to load up every now and again. So, every city tells a story. I don't play this game every day. I play it as a way to zone out and to relax. It is one activity that I can do where I can empty out work-related stress and just focus on planning my little city of La Grange. I think I need to upgrade my Mac - though - if I want to simulate more cims!

Check out the cityscape of La Grange. Can you spot the arcology?
Another view of La Grange with the city sewer system in the foreground.

It's fun to follow individual cims to see where they go.
Become a hero and put out fires that periodically pop up.
This one looks ominous. Like a throwback to the fires that rained down from Mount Vesuvius back in the day.

I'm obsessed with creating zoos and parks.

15.6.18

Teaching My Non-English Speaking Students English

Teaching English to language learners is a challenging job; but, I do it every school day after I drink my first cup of coffee and stand slave to the copy machine.
Word Walls are great for 
English Language Learners
I start each workday with a cup of coffee. I check work e-mail. Then I go to my Google Drive and open up my lesson plan files for the day and mark what I need to photocopy at work. I don't own a printer. So I usually just cross my fingers that the printers at school will spill out glorious spreads of worksheets for me. It's a daily prayer to the teacher gods. Athena, hear me. I don't have a homeroom so I use that time before first period class to staple, collate, or just talk the talk with colleagues. I teach six class periods a day. But I don't have a traditional teaching schedule. I teach my classes to a cohort of eight to twelve kids from mainland China. They all speak either Mandarin or Cantonese. That's not entirely true though because I have a kid from Thailand and I've taught kids from Vietnam, and South Korea. My students are fun to teach but it's exhausting work because we are with each other for most of the day. The kids push out for lunch and their math class - and for the rest of the scholastic schedule, they're parlaying in English with me. Or it is usually English. Sometimes I learn a few Mandarin or Cantonese words.
Bilingual phrasebook in Mandarin and English
A bilingual phrasebook in Mandarin and English
       That's how I learned the word for "dumbass" in Mandarin Chinese is 傻逼. But Google Translate tells me that it simply means "silly." I think something is lost in translation because one kid says this word all the time. It's annoying. It's like having that kid in your class who always mutters not-so-slightly under his breath "[expletive] this shit." At least that is how it feels. Sometimes the Mandarin teacher will push-in and hang out. She told me the word has multiple meanings. So there. I like my job because I've always loved playing with language and meaning. It's fun getting the kids to play the game. To get them to see how language works. To engage them. I want my kids to feel confident and to be OK making mistakes. So sometimes I'll take out the bilingual dictionary and practice pronouncing Mandarin. It's what's humorous. I am mostly frantic during the school day because I am always thinking twelve steps ahead. I have lots of ideas and not a lot of resources to bring 'em to life. I don't use textbooks but that's to my advantage. The hardest class to teach is social studies. The easiest class is the speaking class. I hate teaching grammar. And even though I love to write I'm not the best writing teacher. So that leaves me with my greatest strength: I'm really good at classroom discussion. When my kids take turns talking in English about fun and interesting topics I'm so proud of them because it ain't easy to parlay in a language that ain't your own. Now that it's May I'm in reflection mode about the year. I think we done did good. And I'm super excited about Summer. Of course. But I wonder how next year will flow. It's important for me to feel successful. On Friday I had a meeting about goals for next year. And when I think of next year one thing I want more than anything is for my students to go to a cool museum, write some cool sentences, and feel good about learning in English. Go us.

21.3.18

How I Learned to Love Solitude and Why I Am No Longer a Benedictine Monk

I am going through old papers, tossing out papers, and boxing up books so I can move out of my apartment on April first.
Saint Joseph Abbey is a Benedictine community of monks in South Louisiana
Saint Joseph Abbey Church in St. Benedict, Louisiana
I realized I could not find any photographs of me as Brother Bede. I used to be a Benedictine monk. But the traces of that life are quickly receding.

Leaving a Monastery 
When I left Saint Joseph Abbey - a Benedictine monastery in Saint Benedict, Louisiana - I was twenty-eight years old (and six months). In my life as a monk, I was Brother Bede. I baked bread once or twice a week with my fellow monks, I went to daily prayers, ate with my community at the common table, worked in our college library - and I was a graduate student at the local university. That was nine years ago (and eight months, roughly).

As a monk, you are told: "To work is to pray." So I grew up in this dispensation. We were told that we were monks first. Our work was just something we did as part of our religious identity. If I was baking bread, or if I was studying Latin, I was merely living out my life of prayer and work. I was a monk. So don't complain.

The Life of the Monk
Life in the monastery followed a trajectory. And there were different stages of my life there. Depending on how you count the years, I was first a seminary student - I was called a scholastic. Then I was a postulant, then a novice, then a monk in temporary vows, then a monk in solemn vows - all for a total of ten years. 

I had just graduated from high school when I joined the seminary. It's crazy to think that was twenty years ago. In May, I am going to Louisiana to celebrate my high school reunion. But I probably won't visit the abbey where I gave ten years of my life - formative years (if you want to put it that way.)

I fantasize that when I tell people I was a monk, they think I lived in a stone hut, spoke to no one and ate bone stew and hard bread. The truth is my life as a monk was at the same time innocuous and magical. Life follows a scheduled rhythm in a monastery. Vigils, Morning prayers, Mass, Evening prayers, and Compline. Monks were assigned jobs. And for the most part, we went through our day praying, eating together, and performing our tasks.

Why did I Join?
People often ask me why I joined a monastery. What was going through my head? And then they ask me why I left the monastery. And people seem to be pretty curious about the whole process. For me - I wanted to be a priest or a monk from an early age. I can remember pretending to celebrate Mass with Ritz style crackers while my brothers complained (they'd rather play other games). When I was in High School, I was very much into Catholicism - and I made it pretty well known that I wanted to join the seminary when I graduated.

Read more about why I became celibate after the jump . . .

31.10.17

Halloween Costume (circa late 1990s)

Greig dressed as a scary D.C. lobbyist OR tricky Dick
Halloween Shenanigans
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!

26.10.17

Photo: Sixth Grade Photographic Portrait


Greig in Sixth-Grade, circa 1992
I'll probably regret posting this picture of me taken on a Sixth Grade field trip to the Global Wildlife Center in Folsom, Louisiana.

19.10.17

Recollections: College Visitations back in 1998

At Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana circa 1998
Throwback to that time in High School when I visited Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, on a college visit.
I visited Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, when I was a Senior in High School. Mom drove me. We spoke to the professors in the Liberal Arts department, and I asked them questions about their philosophy program.

I did not enroll in the school - I ended up becoming a seminary student at Saint Joseph Seminary in Saint Benedict, Louisiana.


However, Centenary symbolizes the trajectory I could have taken if I had chosen to stake out my own way as a college student on my own terms.


7.9.17

Recollection: Catholic Confirmation at Mary Queen of Peace Church (c. 1990s)

Me, Archbishop Philip Hannan, and Georgette Pintado (Nanan)
Throwback post to 1997 - a Catholic Confirmation ceremony at Mary Queen of Peace Church in Mandeville, Louisiana.
In the Catholic tradition, young people get confirmed. It's the standard rite of passage for Catholic youth. You take some classes. You go on a field trip. You take on the name of a saint and you choose a sponsor to help support you in your Catholicity. At sixteen years old, I was confirmed at Mary Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mandeville, Louisiana. The pastor was Father Ronnie Calkins - a really nice guy who I later knew better when I joined the Seminary. But that's another story.

27.7.17

Throwback Thursday: Flour Babies

Back in the mid-nineties - hell, it probably still happens - our public middle school in Saint Tammany Parish Louisiana conducted a program meant to curb teenage pregnancy.
The program was called Flour Babies. Every kid in our Seventh Grade class bought a six-pound bag of flour from the grocery store, we dressed it up to look like a boy or a girl and propped a head on it. I guess we gave it a name.

We carried the flour baby with us everywhere we went. We took it to class, brought it home with us, and made sure we didn't leave it behind.

Leaving behind your flour baby was tantamount to committing childhood neglect - I think kids who left it on the bus or in homeroom had to endure after school suspension. Or maybe they were told, "Don't have kids."

Here are two photos from my flour baby days:
I hold onto my flour baby like it's my own dear baby, baby.
Younger brother and Mom pose with the flour baby.
Did you have a flour baby growing up? I'd love to hear about it.

7.5.17

Greig Wakes Up After Reading the Last Chapter of The Sound and the Fury

Greig Roselli Signed Selfie
Discovering filters late in the game, I am all agog.


Do you ever wake up with an intense dream that fills your morning with a rather bizarre metaphysical tone about it? I know - I studied philosophy - so I am not sure if I am alone - but I have a hunch that most of us have had this experience - if not once - then quite possibly a hundred times, even more. 

It goes like this. It is a particular kind of dream. I wake up and I am seized by a memory from my childhood. I am in the backseat of the car on the way to swimming practice. Or I am a kindergartner turned around in my chair looking at mom in the back of the classroom. Or I am being stung by honeybees on a Summer vacation to Pass Christian, Mississippi.

The memory has a connection to the dream but it is not the content. The memory springs from the dream. The dream is often abstract. A silhouette of a man. An empty room that needs to be swept. I wake up and I am seized by the memory. What follows next is melancholy. I become so sad because the memories seem so far away from the current moment. Who was that person sitting in the back seat of the car? I can remember myself in the car but I cannot occupy the self of that person - of that other individual who is me but because either it was so long ago I cannot rewind the moment - or that I have become so different from that kid on his way to swimming practice that I can only archive the memory rather than inhabit it.

What follows the memory is a sharp intonation of mortality. I realize that I will die and I am again saddened by the passage of time. I know. It sounds morose. And it is cliché to say - "We're going to die." But I think when you feel your mortality in the morning after you wake up from this kind of memory sensation it heightens the feeling. It is more intense.

What follows is I think about how I am alive right now with many other people who are alive who share my timeline. People who were born at the same time as me; also, those people who were already alive and I have merely joined in - late for the party. Or, those who have recently joined us here on earth to have cake.

It's like the whole human race is a collection of dim lights that go on and off slowly - seen from above it would look like a slow-motion version of an air traffic controller's control board. As each light brims into existence, its light glows slowly to a fierce yellow then dissipates. But other lights are also coming in and out of existence. Once the light is gone it is gone forever. And there is not much variation - except the duration - because one light may brighten longer than another. 

It's probably because I have spent the weekend reading Faulkner. Like at the end of The Sound and the Fury, Luster takes Benjy on a furious ride around the Compton plantation on the family's horse and buggy - but very fast and in the direction Benjy is not used to taking. When Luster goes left - instead of right - Benjy groans and moans - roars! - and there is a horrific sense of the order of the world turned over. Of course, order is restored in the end and the world becomes "serene again as cornice and façade flowed smoothly once more from left to right, post and tree, window and doorway and signboard each in its ordered place."

It's like how at school kids always sit in the same place at lunch. Or how a broken clock can send a sharp sense of anxiety even in the most sensible of person. Or the feeling of dread when someone walks across the street and is almost hit by a careening bicycle. Composure is rattled. Like my morning awakenings. But with time everything regains composure and I am once again enveloped in the rhythm of the turning world.

4.2.15

Jesus Did Say "This Too Shall Pass" But He Wasn't Talking about Estimated Taxes

I stop myself. Before I even begin typing. The thoughts in my head may not be appropriate even for a stream of consciousness rant.

Ranting on the Internet, even if it is a like-I-am-in-my-therapist's-office-just-free-associating kind of rant, is rarely beneficial to humanity.

Yet. Here I am. Ranting. Here's one rant I am sure you heard: estimated taxes suck. Rewrites are a pain in the ass. Staten Island needs a rail connection to Brooklyn. It's colder than a witch's tit. Oh. Here's a good one: the rent is too goddamn high. I also wanted to rant about how I worked so hard to write a blog post for one of my freelancing gigs, only for the editor to send me back to the drawing board. Well, almost to the drawing board. She accepted most of the piece but eliminated huge chunks and asked for a rewrite. It's a lesson in humility. 


So. I did rant. But I tried to save myself by saying I am humbled now. I think folks detest rants because they're jealous. They want to rant too. But they don't. So they rant that you ranted. And it sucks. But I ranted by saying that I wasn't going to rant. It's excusable. But estimated taxes really do suck. I think if I were more attentional to minor details it would not bother me as much. It does not help that I have been a slave to a grouchy academic who needs me to ferret out sources for his upcoming book.


This too shall pass. I think Jesus said that.


I guess I should warn you that there is an ulterior motive as to why I am writing this blog post this today.


First, I have to get my mind set on writing. Tomorrow is Thursday. Work awaits. And it feels like I may never reach the end of my labors. I wonder how Virginia Woolf felt when she was struggling with a sentence?


Second, it really pains me that I have started to think more about estimated taxes than what novel I want to read.


Third, someone was correct when she said "no rest for the weary."


I put a period after the last sentence, looked up, and saw a cardinal perched on the window sill. A cardinal. I rarely see cardinals in my neighborhood. Also, the Staten Island Ferry chugs along on its determined route. And somewhere some bloke is estimating his quarterly taxes.


Image Source:  tomcopelandblog

11.9.14

A Room Of One's Own: Dispatch From My Room (As I Work From Home and Decided to Submit A Blog Entry)

A Room Of My Own (And Virginia's too!) © 2014

When I try to find beauty

At the beginning of September, the heat of Summer begins to dissipate in New York. But Summer leaves behind swabs of humidity, still clinging on as I impatiently wait for Autumn. To give context, I’ve been spending a lot of time alone. I’m an extrovert. So it’s an unusual feeling. I plan to spend September mostly alone, for my work is solitary, and it depends on me monetizing my solitude. I’ve lived in the same apartment for quite a long time, but lately, I have come to know my room. It’s probably because I spend more time in my room than I ever did before, and I will admit that is the prosaic reason. To quell my loneliness, I open my eyes, and light upon something beautiful. There are many rooms in one room. The room you wake up to in the morning, in the half-light, where the room is an exit from the dream you've just had, but can't quite remember. Or the room, as it appears when you first enter it, different from the room you sat in all day writing. For the room you share with another person, but you don't notice the room, or the opposite, where all you notice is the space filling up, but words cannot express how you feel. It’s loneliness. But you don’t say it that way because people cannot handle loneliness.

18.4.14

From Adjunct Teacher to Typewriter

image source: videotron
Not having a job changes you.
You have to think differently when you're finding ways to carve out a life through words. For a long time, I wrote so that I could discover myself. Once I discovered myself, I wrote so that I could discover other people. Then my writing became something I did when I was not teaching. Now that I am not teaching, it is as if I have been catapulted back to that original locus of creativity.

You have to think differently to make money as a writer. You can't think, OK, I make this much money a month, and I need to budget accordingly. No, you have to think, how much do I have to work this month? It's a paradigm shift for me. I feel both exhilarated and terrified.

The first time I made money as a writer was when I was twenty-seven years old. I won one hundred dollars in a poetry contest. I never cashed the cheque. I lost it in a gay bar in New Orleans.

13.12.13

On Looking Back at My First Blog Post

Portrait of an Articulated Skeleton on a Bentwood Chair
Yes, this is confessional.
Forgetting that what I post on a blog is read by people, today someone (a student, no less) found my blog online and read my first post. It is an obscurely written poem about Prague and Dvořák. I do like the first line of the poem, "Dvořák strums his fingers on the dashboard, a melodic lilt to the tune of lips," but the rest of the poem is arduous.

16.6.13

To Swim Or Not To Swim?


Floating pool in the Bronx but I ain't swimming here.
When people ask me what's my favorite sport I'm prone to say swimming, partly because, in truth, I have no favorite sport, and it's the closest thing to a sport I've actually put in more than a half-ass effort, not counting my brief stint at Junior Tee-Ball and Little Boy Soccer at NOAH  not named for the old testament shipbuilder, but an acronym for North of Airline Highway. My Uncle thought this was funny.

So swimming it is.
Every year, around this time, I make a pact with myself to go swimming. I have never really kept the promise. Last year I swam one time at the city pool -- but it was the last weekend of the season before they were shutting down Adult Lap Swim. People take Adult Lap Swim very seriously in this city. Every day during normal opening hours they close the pool down and open it only for those serious about swimming laps. They have those silly lifesaver looking dividers and everything.

I got a card last year to prove that I had done it at least once. The head lifeguard was not amused. "You know we only have a couple days of Adult Swim left, right?" Yeah, I told him. He shrugged and filled me out a card anyway. On the books, I am an official lap swimmer at the Sunset Park public pool.

This year I am making the same pact but I am going to swim at the public pool in Gowanus. I figure a change of venue might put some spring in my leap or something like that. I vow that my pact to swim this Summer will actually work for me since I am viscerally disgusted at what appears to be a belly growing out from my midriff. I know I should not be so body conscious. I have always been a fairly skinny person but I must have inherited my mother's genes. Not that she's fat. Far from it. We used to joke with her that she was always trying to lose a few pounds but now, in my early thirties I can see what she meant. Losing three pounds is damn near impossible.

Damn I need to lay off the Peruvian rotisserie chicken.
When I am actually in the water I enjoy swimming. It's the prep work I disdain. Getting dressed, putting on the goggles, doing all that business. My only successful stint at swimming, unless you count the lessons I took to learn to swim and the many hours I spent as a child swimming at the neighborhood pool (yes I was a sexy stud in Speedos back then), was when I was in college. There was a fine indoor facility blocks from the Philosophy department and I loved to do blocks there after dinner. I was motivated, in part, by my environment. A few people in my dorm loved to swim and it was a fun way to take a break from the rather insular nature of studying Kant and Hegel. It was amazing how as an undergraduate we made those trips to the swimming pool quite fun, even though my bike was stolen a few times, but that was common, everyone stole bikes, so the easiest thing to do was to just steal another person's back. It was a kind of fucked up version of pay it forward. And I remember having many interesting conversations in the locker room about the existence of God. I know you would think locker rooms are bereft of conversation and more of a towel slapping hee-haw we're men and we're naked kinda place. But lemme tell you, a bunch of naked men in one room -- they're bound to get philosophical.

Anywho.
Beyond that time of childhood and college swimming, the only nautical exercise I have had are the numerous times spent at the beach and if you count the many restful evenings with a glass of Chianti in a filled-up bathtub.

So this year I am starting on June 27th (that's when the outdoor swim season starts in New York) at the Douglass-Degraw public pool. I still need to buy goggles. I have my swim trunks! Yeah! Last year I didn't buy any goggles for that one-time-only swim and my eyes paid the price. I'm really a wimp though. I still get scared of jumping in and because of my early memories of the drain at the far end of the pool (in the deep end) I still get anxious goose pimples. I am also dreadfully afraid that I will swim out of my lane and haphazardly swim diagonally into whichever crazy direction I should not go.

It'll be an easy go at first in the slow lane. The fast experts hate people who choose the fast lane so I will respect the fast experts and stick to the slow lane. I really wish I could sneak in a bottle of wine but I might end up dead.

I think this year will be a success.
If I can just tell myself that swimming is good. And oh. I need to buy some earwax because golly I can still remember that Summer I got a terrific earache from pretending I was a dolphin. I did too many flips and stayed underwater too much and my ears suffered and I got this terrible ear infection that pretty much has made me hard of hearing. It's quite an occupational hazard. When I am teaching I never know what questions people are asking so I've learned to read lips. And forget about it if I am in a crowded restaurant and you're trying to tell me an affecting story. It's embarrassing really so I really need to pick up earwax from Duane Reade.

My first lap will be splendid. I will swim and swim and swim. It'll be exhausting. I'm woefully out of shape. Yesterday I ran to catch the B63 bus and Jesus H. Christ I felt like I had done a triathlon. It'll be good though. I am sensing this Summer will be wet and wild.

Do you think I'll make it?
If I could figure out a way to read the New York Times on my mobile app while swimming that'll be an incentive. And oh. Does anyone know where there is a safe and clean place to swim in the Hudson?

28.5.13

Teacher Rant: Uncanny Moment Grading Papers (Or, Why it is Unsettling Reading Final Exam Essays)

The Pitiful Job of Grading Papers
It's slightly unsettling to grade students' final exams and to read their answers to the essay questions. Some of the students have their own voice and I can tell they understand the question through their own mastery of the concepts. Stellar work, I say, and then there are the students who just don't get the question correct; but, what gets me every time is reading a student's answer that has an uncanny resemblance to my lecture vocabulary and style. It's creepy. I can tell they understand the concepts but they're using my style of delivering the answer. It's not exactly copying. Nor is it their own words  well, sorta  it's their own rehashing of what they remember I said in class. Rather impressive. 
Grading Papers Reminds Me Of How I Wrote Student
I am sure I wrote like that when I was an undergraduate. We really hung onto what are profs said. I really don't remember anything my teachers said about philosophy. I remember the slips of the tongue and non-sequiturs. "Nouns and verbs and shit," said one prof answering a kid's query about what the paper should contain. A sensible answer, I thought. Or one teacher in college told us we could choose any color we wanted to write on the board as long as we used its name as if it were a liquor. Green chalk was Chartreuse. That's all I remember. I drink the stuff with relish (and when I have the dough). It's divine.
image credit: johnkutensky  

15.5.13

Things I Probably Shouldn't Have Said (And Other Faux Pas)

Things I Probably Shouldn't Have Said (And Other Faux Pas) is a book of 13 essays about my journey from New Orleans to NYC. Most of the essays were originally written for this blog, Stones of Erasmus, which I then took out, mishmashed, and turned it into a story about my journey from New Orleans to New York, mixed in with anecdotes about things I shouldn't have said in subway cars, yeshivas, Catholic high schools, my college classroom -- you get the gist. Check it out. I made it into a Kindle Book Here.

Ersatz Existential Daily Post

Today I poured a cup of coffee into a plastic, reusable cup. I sighed. As the world sighs. I sat at my Formica dining room table, listening to the sound of faint music from the bottom floor rising up like a tribal beat, a haunting sound, then quiet. My cup dry. My cup doth not runneth over. The refrigerator hums. I sit in my pea-green apartment and I am one with the universe. It's the best thing going for I must have some sense of transcendence. Right? It bothers me that I must be so existential in the morning. Damn coffee cup. Damn emptiness. I eschew you. Spit you out. There. That's better. Good day, mates.