4.3.18

Book Review: Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne

Absolute Brightness is a young adult novel.  
Absolute Brightness
by James Lecesne


Paperback, 352 pages

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

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

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

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


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

19.2.18

Who is Your Favorite U.S. President?

Teddy Roosevelt is my favorite U.S. president. Why?
Theodore Roosevelt, January 8, 1907, Cove Neck, Long Island, New York 
1. I loved reading The Alienist by Caleb Carr - which is when I learned that Teddy Roosevelt was Police Commissioner in New York City from 1895 to 1897. I know. Just because I read about him in a fictional novel really should not count towards his prowess as president. But. Hey. Everything I ever learned has come from reading fiction.

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

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

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

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

6. He was the most boyish president.
Theodore Roosevelt, Age 11, Taken in Paris, France circa 1870
7. And he was a New Yorker. The first President born and raised in the Empire State.

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

18.2.18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

28.12.17

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

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


Swing Bridge in Madisonville © 2016 Kim Chatelain
We were driving through that day - like we usually did when I was growing up. Dad liked to take long road trips through the backwoods. So it was nothing unusual. We stopped at the Tchefuncte Feed & Seed on Louisiana Highway 21 (locally called Covington Street). The road is a nondescript stretch of highway - however, it is an unusual bend of the road, turning left and right as it stretches along - basically connecting the town of Mandeville (where I lived at the time) to the town of Covington. So it gets a fair amount of traffic.
Holy Shit! That's Madisonville, Louisiana on the silver screen!
I don't remember who noticed it was a film shoot. It may have been Dad. But we parked our car across the street in the Hibernia National Bank parking lot. We stepped outside the car and there was Margaux Hemingway stepping out of a Mercedes Benz right before our eyes! "Shhhh!" my dad said. "They're filming a movie." We stood there for about an hour watching what I soon learned was the incredibly boring process of filming a movie. In that time, waiting, we parsed that it was a "European director" filming a movie in the United States and the actress was Margaux Hemingway! I never felt so proud to be a Louisiana boy witnessing movie-making in action! Damn. 
I'm almost certain that's a real Madisonville cop!
Being all of twelve and considering myself an astute cinephile, I blurted out to Dad, "Hey, Dad. That's Margaux Hemingway! She starred in the Superman movie!" Not really knowing what the hell I was talking about I somehow managed to knock on the camper trailer where supposedly Margaux was staying. Her handler answered and told us to leave her alone. But I persisted. Finally, Margaux Hemingway stepped out and greeted us with a plastic grin. The girl was none too pleased that a couple of local oglers wanted to talk to her. "Hey!" I gushed. "You're Margaux Hemingway! I loved you in the Superman movie!"

25.12.17

Today is the 55th Anniversary of the Release of To Kill a Mockingbird

Scout Finch isn't talking to Boo Radley in this scene. She's just saying, “Hey, Boo!
On Christmas Day December 25, 1962, To Kill a Mockingbird was released in theaters in the United States.

12.12.17

GIF: Teach Like a Boss

Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Not Grade Specific - TeachersPayTeachers.com