Didactic SynCast #100: Glamour, Guns, and Girlfriends

It’s been less than a week, but I’m back with yet another episode of my award-winning podcast. (NOTE: My podcast has never actually won any awards.) Enjoy!

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  • Hunt for the Wilderpeople trailer:

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The Didactic Interview: Sarah Schulman

Good news, everybody! The Didactic SynCast is back! After months of silence, my podcast is online once again. And what a time to return — I scored an interview with the amazing writer and activist Sarah Schulman, author of the new novel The Cosmopolitans, based on Honoré de Balzac’s La Cousine Bette. Have a listen and subscribe to the new iTunes feed.

Here are links to things we discuss:

Remembering Antonio

My friend and coworker Antonio Turrubiartes died on Sunday after fighting cancer for many months. He was an academic, a watch-repair specialist, an ESL teacher, and — most recently — the receptionist at our school’s front office.

I bowled with Antonio. If Bowling Alone is a sign of community dissolution, then my time with Antonio on the lanes is a good example of something more than friendship. Like Walter and Donny to The Dude, I got to know this man on the planks. We shot the breeze, discussed current events, and cracked jokes. I met his lovely wife Kathy and got to hang out with his sons outside of school.

Recently I started making a half-hearted attempt to learn Spanish. A native speaker, Antonio used every opportunity to help me — he spit immersive questions at me and waited for a proper rejoinder. He corrected my sentences in a way that no website or textbook can. He was always friendly and positive.

One of my favorite things about Antonio was making a joke that took a moment to sink in, and then watching his face erupt in laughter when he realized what I was getting at. He had a sharp wit that not everyone got to see. I’m lucky for that reason among others.

I taught his son Manny for a few semesters. He has his father’s joyful smile and positive attitude. It’s always interesting to befriend multiple generations of the same family, and it was great to add this layer to my friendship with Antonio. Manny is creative and fun to be around. (I’ve met, but never worked with, his other son Tony. I can tell he shares his father’s best qualities.)

Antonio had an operation this spring, which supposedly removed all the bad stuff. He came back to school for the final days of the semester and I was delighted to hear his voice on the intercom once more. Then, all of a sudden, last week we got an email explaining that his condition had declined rapidly and he was in hospice. He wasn’t accepting visitors, but cards were appreciated.

I was at a coffee shop on State Street when I got the news. I closed my laptop and raced to Room of One’s Own to buy a card. Nothing seemed right; what kind of card is appropriate for that moment? Nothing is right or appropriate about a moment like that. The universe lied to me, dammit. He was beating the disease that took my father when I was in high school. Then it all went wrong.

I spent an hour in the public library, crying into a handkerchief and trying to find words to balance my pain and sadness with the warmth and gratitude I wanted Antonio to feel in this insane moment. Nothing I wrote felt adequate, but it would have to do. I sent it off and I knew that would be the last thing I would ever say to him.

Well, the last thing he’ll hear. For a while. In her essay “Women Like Us”, the Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat says: “Death is a path we take to meet on the other side.” I’m not a religious person, but I really want to believe there’s some kind of afterlife. I want to see my father again. I want to see my college buddy Evan. I want to talk to my Wikipedia friend Awadewit some more. I want to bowl again with Antonio.

You can’t work at a school for 13 years without saying goodbye to lots of people. People retire, students graduate, and things fall apart. Usually when tragedy strikes, it’s someone I don’t know very well. There’s a bond of collegiality and human connectivity of course, but there’s a distance too. You contribute to the memorial fund and sign the card and life goes on.

It’s different when you know the person well. Now I know who ought to be in that chair. I can tell that the voice on the intercom is different, and it’s wrong. I’m sure the new receptionist is — or will be — a lovely person, but it won’t be Antonio’s smile greeting me en español when I check my mail in the morning.

On the flip side, one of the greatest joys of working in a school is watching a person’s impact ripple out among the young people. This week I got to see hundreds of students declare their fondness for Antonio and their condolences for his family. He lives in their lives, and exists within his family.

He lives in me.

Goodbye, Antonio.

(If you can, please donate to his memorial fund. Thank you.)

I Should Have Learned

(In response to Sarah Kay’s list)

I should have learned by now…
Some kids don’t give a what about writing
So why bother with attempted insighting and grade-grubbing fistfighting?
Give ‘em all an A, like they say, and I can have a stress-free day — Hooray!

No way.

I’m on a quixotic crusade — renegade mental fusillade
Forget the grades, intellectual revolution gots to get made
(And yeah I gots to get paid, but that’s not why I’ve stayed)

I don’t listen to reason, every season apathy allergies got me sneezin
Laziness gives me a rash; my head’s bashed like a slow-motion car crash
I wanna mash on these fools fixated on the cash
Can’t blame the lettuce when they graduate and forget us
I should just take it easy but ignorance makes me queasy
Can’t have a revolution without mental evolution

Keep fighting! More weight! Breathe deep to keep from snappin
I can make it happen, cap’n — “wake a couple ‘heads with my four-star rappin”
The kids who care least need inspiration the most
Wake the ancestors’ ghosts from coast to coast

But I’m exhausted like a muffler tailpipe
Young minds are ripe — don’t believe the hype
Naw, I should be a relaxer and make peace with the slackers
Instead of wearing myself out being a pedagogical attacker
If that kid wants to sleep, what gives me the right to wake him up
and pour enlightenment ambrosia in his red solo cup?
But zombies can be cured — I refuse to be ignored
Knowledge: If you live by this word, you won’t die by the sword

Good enough is not good enough; the world’s full of mediocre stuff
It’s not fair to his family or future identity
If I just let him be — comatose ‘til the age of 23
But what does it get me?
Anxiety, headaches, sleep deprivation
All in the name of some future liberation
I don’t need this frustration and aggravation
How I’m gonna be this kid’s intellectual salvation?

That’s ego domination — right? Isn’t that the explanation?
I should do the minimum required by the administration
I should learn to be bland instead of spicy like selsa
I should learn to let it go like Elsa
But the cold bothers me; I’m from Florida, dammit
Catastrophe is exploding all over the planet
I care about this concept — you need to understand it
A change is gonna come, and it’s time we began it

But why should I care? I can still get mine
If I just hand out worksheets and keep the children in line
Just go for self — isn’t that always the line?
“the vile maxim of the masters of mankind”
It’s the American way; take the path of least resistance
Drop your insistence for significant existence
If I cared a little less and let my classes be lame
I’d have more time for reading and video games

“You can’t reach that kid nohow — he’ll never read a book”
That’s the attitude the teacher’s Little Hater always took
So why be a shnook? Bash your head against the wall?
Pretend there’s a fresh start every year in the fall?
You can’t fix it all, so why put up a fight?
Why not go gentle into that good night?

Because you know the answer — you got red pills to hand out
You’ve got to be Morpheus, make noise and stand out
Rock the Nebuchadnezzar for the future, not vanity
Destroy the whole matrix and rescue humanity

Writing Under the Gun

So there’s a new app called Flowstate that forces you to keep writing, or else all your words vanish. It’s supposed to liberate you from thinking too much and instead learn to trust your core creative self. (What Natalie Goldberg calls “burning through the first thoughts”.)

There’s also a free web version and a Slate article about it which mentions “gamelike qualities” including “flow” — which I view with skepticism as a fair bit of malarkey, unless it’s the psychological concept coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi — but I’m curious so I gave it a try.

I can’t imagine why anyone would want to read this twaddle, but here it is regardless.

well I didn’t want to write for five minutes straight, but I guess I’ll have to, since there’s no way to set it for only two minutes. I’ve had this recommended to me by two people now, which means I have to try it. There’s obviously no wait to use italics, which is weird, because I really wanted to italicize that word “have” in the previous sentence. I also worry that I’m focused too much on proper spelling, because delete doesn’t work — or I should say it doesn’t count as actually typing when you’re being measured by this clock in the upper-right corner of the screen. Then again I guess I cannot be too angry at that, because Natalie Goldberg in her book _Writing Down the Bones_ says that when you’re writing a first draft, you shouldn’t even bother to crrect mistakes. There, klook — I kept that typo in, manh that is really againsty my nature but i’m into trying new things so let’s see what happens when I don’t bother with fixing things as I go. I suppose it’s supposed to open some new door of my consciousness, like a Rider on the Storm, but I don’t really believe that’s likely. On the other hand, who knows what will happen when I try to fight the internal censor? Then again I’m just sorta writing for the purpose of writing and I think the pressure of the clock is more hurtful than helpful here. I mean, I want to kin of organize my thoughts but I can’t, because I’m paranoid that if I do the wrong thing all my writing is going to disappear and there are few things in life worse than the idea that something I’ve worked really hard for will just vanish. Then again, that’s kind of what happens when a minecraft server wipes, so you’d think I’d be used to that by now. In a way, maybe this new format is kind of like a Tibetan Mandala, and it6′s healthy for5 us to consider the value of working really hard on something for a very long time only to see it get blown away to remind us of the transitory nature of all things. I wonder how this will read when I’m done — part of me thinks I’ll be all proud of myself to show off all the things I wrote when I’m done, not to mention the impressive 73 WPM that I achieved and DFANGIT i made another typo because it’s actually 83 wpm but I dare not co.. hey look the top of the thing says “WIN!” So I guess I won. Hooray for me.