When I started this blog late last year, it was originally intended to address education-related issues that we were exploring in a graduate school class. Limiting the conversation to that topic became uninspiring. Soon, I began to blog about “Whatev” I was in the mood to write. I now stand by my original belief that this “Whatev Writing” is best reserved for an old-fashioned, private, paper journal.
How much does what’s on my mind matter in the whole grand scheme of life and blogosphere, anyhow?
My thoughts only matter, if they are backed up with actions that achieve a worthwhile result regarding an issue of import. Thus, at this point in time, I plan to take an indefinite hiatus from this blog, so that I can work on writing that matters to me and will hopefully matter to others in the future.
So, if you have come to this page to read my thoughts: Thank you. Check my tweets for the time being.
Until soon, may peace and love and joy rest in your heart and in your home.
Whether you be a lady, a man or something in between, your answer should also be a definitive, “Yes.”
Do let The Black Fool cart you along this bumpy, medieval road to a time and place when Druidism still vied for dominance with Christianity; where serfs and kings switched religious affiliation depending upon the day of the week and upcoming holidays; and where well-endowed, apprentice jesters secured “the odd bonk” with laundresses and princesses, alike.
Mind you, The Black Fool is no moor (although he’s heard that they are masterful wife-stranglers). He is a banterer who beats Death so many times, he dons a clown’s suit in the color of mourning in homage to the Reaper. In modern as medieval times, it seems those in power have never been fond of hearing too much truth, particularly about themselves.
Published by HarperCollins, Christopher Moore‘s 2009 satire came to my attention by way of National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation, while I was outlining a high school curriculum that has as its fulcrum, the work of the most famous playwright in the English language. So, naturally, I wanted to read it. While it took more than eight weeks for the library copy to reach my branch, that did not affect my opinion. Fool is not something I would assign to a high school English class; although it would undoubtedly go over well, due to extensive sexual content.
I would, however, designate this as required reading for college-level Shakespeare courses and serious, independent, students of Shakespeare. Fool incorporates elements and language from multiple plays, including Macbeth‘s witches and Hamlet‘s Ghost (although this one’s female). I plan to buy my own copy soon, so that I can mark it up and search Fool for all the popular culture and Renaissance writing it references. Be still my pulsing bookworm.
Readers of historical fiction, sycophants for satire and anyone who appreciates rich writing filled with imagery and metaphor, Fool will please you from beginning to end. If it were possible for writing to rival Bill the Bard’s — which of course, it isn’t — Christopher Moore’s masterful use of language would challenge as a light-hearted duel between friends. If you desire a decadent, deviant and devilish romp of a read, your eyes will devour this book.
Footnote: For a refresher on the story of King Lear, you can click here for a 16-minute silent film version of Shakespeare’s play. In a manner that would seem comical to us now, this 1910 Italian film directed by Geralamo la Salvio provides both an overview of the five-act tragedy, and a reminder of Shakespeare’s importance and universality to the study of literature, theatre and film.
Whether or not you have your own children, those who have spent significant amounts of time in the company of kids know that they will teach, entertain, inspire and surprise you at every turn. The Vimeo video “Too Much Candy,” starring the French-speaking toddler Capucine, is an exceptional example of the humor and precociousness of intelligent, outgoing children.
For those who want a quick recap of French 101, this memorable minute-and-a-half will serve your purposes better than that commuter CD you bought from Borders, but always forget at home. For those who require evidence for the position that too much sugar causes munchkin hyperactivity, this video short supports your claim with a splash of humor. And for those who simply appreciate the affability of curious children, you will love “Too Much Candy.”
I simply can’t get enough of this — the video, not candy. Okay, fine, I can’t get enough of either. They’re just too sweet. Enjoy.
(Watch “Too Much Candy” by clicking the link below, or by pressing play on the Vodpod side bar to the right.)
If you are one of those people who has told themselves for years that you are going to “get back to” running/riding/dance class/the gym/or any other sport you enjoyed when a youthful metabolism dictated high energy levels — I identify with you. Throughout elementary and middle school, there was ballet. Fleeing toe torture at the age of 14, I took to the gym and mountains for regular exercise. From 18 until a year or so after college, biking frequently and waiting tables in high volume restaurants helped keep me in tip-top shape.
After college, however, my dedication to exercise became about as rock solid as my commitment to my husband (I’ve never had one). And so I relied on periodic spurts of shaping up that had all the staying power of a shooting star.
Then I moved to Monterey County, California. Not only was the exquisite beauty of the natural landscape a great motivator to get outside and move, I met some cool new friends who were fun to work out with. They worked out steadily, and this helped me get back in the habit.
After about a year, I left California to finish graduate school and was bound by my own motivation again. Often, my “get up and go to the gym” was more like “sit down and work at the desk.” I needed to hold myself accountable for continuing to exercise. One of those California workout buddies, Jessy, began tweeting her Crossfit regimen. So, I copied her good idea.
Tweeting my workouts helps me:
- keep track of my consistency (which is less consistent this week than last)
- identify when I’m making progress
- get in touch with other people who are dedicated to personal health and fitness
Occasionally, tweeting my workouts inspires other online friends. Sometimes, it even evokes a joke, which is my favorite response of all. Certainly, our ability to laugh at ourselves — and I mean have a real, hearty chuckle at our most offbeat qualities — is just as important to overall health, as the regularity with which we hit the gym.
Since not too many people have read my blog yet, this name change won’t mean too much to anyone other than me. Still, it seems noteworthy that the single word “Traveller” connotes significantly more, while utilizing 75 percent less verbiage, than the lengthier title “Education and the Nation.”
While I admire “America the Beautiful” for countless reasons, I take issue with the collective egoism that allows us to call America “The Greatest Nation on Earth.” To prove that statement, one would need to define the parameters of greatness. From my vantage point, America would fall frighteningly short of true greatness, impaling itself upon a gargantuan sword along the way.
The first time I told my father “I am not an American; I am a citizen of the world,” I was about eight or nine years old. His outrage was dumbfounding. Of course, neither of us had any idea who Socrates was. I just knew that everywhere the pages of National Geographic took my imagination, I wanted to travel there someday. The whole, wide world — no matter how small, after all — was infinitely interesting. “So, why should I limit myself to an All-American Life,” thought my child-mind?
Little did I know that I might be genetically predisposed to an itinerant lifestyle — or what genetics meant, for that matter. My grandmother, aunts, uncles and scores of cousins — the people I associated with unconditional love during my childhood — were Romanichel, the Roma or Gypsies. Until I was 13, I thought this meant we were from Romania. Then, I heard we were from England. Years and dozens of hours of research later, I learned that our clan was more accurately a mix of Scottish and English Travellers with a few Turks joining the fold through marriage in recent years. About 1000 years ago, our ancestors left the mountainous region of Northern India, near Punjab, apparently to avoid becoming members of a servant caste.
Traveller: The word alludes to the perseverence of a passionate people. Traveller: The word implies infinite possibility with few limitations. Traveller: Whether by foot or imagination, the word suggests a life and a world without borders. That is why I changed the name of this blog. I find the name “Traveller,” inspiring beyond measure.
Whether you are a teacher, a writer or an avid reader, you have likely heard the advice “write what you know” and “write your passion.” Suffice to say, this sage recommendation overtakes me now — so much so, that I evade my comprehensive exams to sit down and post this blog.
Any day now (+7 for those who like to know the line), I will snail mail a three-ring binder filled with my thoughts on education in contemporary America, and the education I received as a graduate student at Fordham University. I originally arrived at Fordham by way of an alternative licensing program called the New York City Teaching Fellows. The NYCTF are a lot like Teach for America, with the recruiting emphasis instead on staffing the most desperate schools in New York City. In the near-ish future, I may return to share my thoughts on teaching and learning in the inner city. Today, though, I blog to AVOID tediously implementing all the changes I’ve made in red on my fourth draft of questions 1, 2 and 5.
I PROCRASTINATE to tell you one of the things I enjoy most: Having a laugh at serious issues. Since Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, comedic writers and cathartic actors have sought to alleviate human suffering and change minds by using laughter as an almost medicinal, “perspective modifier.” Earlier this week, as I struggled to convince the hamster in my mind to jump back onto its academic wheel, that furry little free-thinker decided, instead, to gets its cardio on while watching Tracy Ullman, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. “Hammy” went on to compose five, first-draft monologues — in case his human ever decides to slay her stage fright and kill an audience.
That’s right, I said “kill an audience,” which is similar to “blowing up a stage.” I propose that we begin today to shift the meaning of the verb kill. Instead of ranking fourth or lower in dictionaries, from this day forward, the first definition of the verb kill should be this: To make another person laugh so hard that s/he is brought to tears and/or experiences physical pain. Remember: No pain, no gain! Laughter strengthens muscle in both your face and abdominal region.
In honor of my decision to try and change the primary meaning of the verb “kill,” I leave you with “Achmed the Dead Terrorist” by comedian and ventriloquist Jeff Dunham. In less than 11 minutes, “Achmed the Dead Terrorist” challenges dozens of somber topics by “killing” his audience with his human’s sharp-witted, writing and impeccable timing. Suicide bombing, ethnic, racial and gender stereotypes are all addressed in a manner that turns these hot-button issues into hilarious thought-provokers — which is exactly what makes comedy such an important art.
Before viewing the video link in this blog post, please note that “Achmed The Dead Terrorist” contains adult language and subject matter.
Confession: I love to eat, I love to cook, I love to bake. And for the past 18 months, during a stint of life requiring no acting auditions or size 6 costumes, I seem to have grown hungrier. Actually, just knowing I don’t need to be 10 pounds underweight makes me hungry.
Still, whether it’s vanity, habit or health that motivates the feeling: I don’t like carrying “an extra five pounds,” even if mine is an average weight for most Americans. So, I decided to start exercising again, and I really enjoy it. But I haven’t lost a single pound of the 15 that I allowed myself to gain!
I decided to dig deeper into the question of “Why?” After minutes of soul-searching, I arrived at this conclusion: Calories are masters of the metabolic universe.
So What Is A Calorie?
A calorie is a unit of energy; specifically, the amount of heat required to raise 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. (Depending upon your age and physical composition, your body consists of approximately 55% to 75% water.) As it turns out, the Calories most people refer to in their diet and on food packaging are actually Kilocalories (= 1000 calories). You can distinguish between the two by noting that calorie with a capital C stands for Kilocalorie.
There are three general categories of calories that people consume when they eat. These are proteins, carbohydrates and fats. “Food is a compilation of these three building blocks. So, if you know how many carbohydrates, fats and proteins are in any given food, you know how many calories or how much energy, that food contains,” according to Howstuffworks.
Beyond the generality of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, the quality of the calories you consume is at least as important to your overall health as the number. While some people will be blessed with good health, whether they eat Doritos or carrots for their daily snack, most of us need to be careful about what we eat, because of the long-term impact food consumption has on our health.
It really is rational to compare eating at fast food restaurants over the course of one’s lifetime to smoking cigarettes. Most parents would never think of popping a cancer stick in their kid’s mouth and lighting the match; but to take the children to the playground at McDonald’s is one of the most “All-American” things you can do. And just like cigarettes, the younger a person is when s/he starts eating fast food, the more likely s/he is to become addicted to this chemical-laden fare.
Are You Sure You Want To Eat That?
If it contains “meat” and you can buy it at McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Sonic, Burger King, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Jack in the Box, Carl’s Jr., White Castle or Krystal: The answer is resoundingly, “No.” If you need proof, start by reading Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation or watching the movie based on it.
Also know that, while French fries and apple pies are tempting alternatives, FDCFuschia#187WTF?! is no good for you, either. Speaking of apple pies, if you’re going to eat sweets, try to make them yourself whenever possible, using whole grain flours and the least refined sugars you can find.
The most understandable explanation I can recall about what whole grains are and why they are important can be found in an old paperback book called Lazy Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition by Gordon Tessler, PhD. To paraphrase Dr. Tessler, a whole grain has four layers: From outermost to innermost, they are the hull, bran, germ and endosperm. Although we almost never eat a grain’s hull, together in their natural state, the other three elements are rich in B-vitamins, Vitamin E, fatty acids, trace minerals and fiber. During refinement, however, the bran and germ are stripped away; synthetic vitamins and minerals are then added back into the food (as with most store-bought breads and pastas) through a chemical process.
In general, the closer foods are to their natural state, the easier it is for your body to metabolize calories from those foods and absorb the nutrients. Conversely, the more chemical additives a food contains, the more nutrients go wasted; oftentimes, these chemicals additives are left behind to “swim” around in the blood stream or stow away in the body’s fat cells, which can lead to future health problems. So, the more artificial additives a food contains, the less frequently you should choose to eat it.
Truth Be Told
When I first started to write this post, it was meant to a funny reflection on the difficulties of dieting. Then, I remembered a promise I made myself long ago: That I would love my body, no matter what state of too plump or too skinny it was in at any given moment.
On its own, this post became an opportunity to talk to you about food – and a reminder to us both to let that which we eat reflect that which we believe.
I am making this poem available on my blog for any educator, who might like to use it to teach poetry or the Bill of Rights to students in grades 8 through 12. The most essential thing to note is that this poem has a 10 x 10 x 10 Structure, meaning there are 10 stanzas with 10 lines each, and each line contains 10 syllables. I created this structure to symbolize the first 10 amendments of the United States Constitution. The poem doesn’t necessarily rhyme everywhere. And like most poetry, it sounds better if you read it out loud.
Originally commissioned by a major education publisher to be used on a standardized test, after 3 rounds of consideration, the school district decided that the level of detail was too great, while the mention of guns and arms was too controversial. So, I was able to retain the rights. If you choose to use this poem in your classroom, PLEASE email me (AmericanAthena@gmail.com) or comment on this blog. I’d like to know what grades you used it with; how your students responded to it; and any suggestions you might have on ways to teach this poem or interdisciplinary studies.
10 Amendments Known As The Bill Of Rights
Back in the day, when the colonies paid
Crops and spices and taxes to England,
Our own colonists decided against
Taxation without Representation.
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Seventeen hundred and seventy-six
The Founding Fathers put an end to it,
When they resolved to form new government
And began to write a long document,
The Declaration of Independence.
Next essay: The U.S. Constitution
Followed America’s Revolution.
The Framers met and discussed big ideas;
They disagreed on some major details.
Through negotiation and compromise
The United States of America
Began her destiny — expansion, rise.
Dispute and debate of Englightened minds
Required resolutions read aloud,
Educated committees — voting, time. 20
Three of the delegates refused to sign
In Seventeen Hundred Eighty-Seven.
One of them was George Mason, who believed
That a man has certain rights guranteed.
Mason authored Virginia’s Bill of Rights
Defining man’s inalienable rights
And is called Father of the Bill of Rights.
Amendments allow laws to grow and change
James Madison proposed to add these Ten
Ten Amendments Known as The Bill of Rights.
Ten Amendments Known as The Bill of Rights
Came to be in Seventeen Ninety-One
Gave protection to individuals
From powerful federal government.
HEAR YE! CITIZENS, VISITORS, AND GUESTS!
The First Amendment has three major parts:
The U.S. government must not favor
Or prohibit any one religion.
The central government can’t prohibit
People from writing or speaking about 40
Ideas and opinions, facts and findings,
Whether they’re based on fiction or science
(Unless those words slander or harm someone).
Last but not least, the right to assembly
For reasons other than a pep rally:
To solicit solutions to problems
Using petitions and public forums;
To redress grievances with government
Requires action of the citizen.
(Procedures and paperwork do apply.)
The Second Amendment has guns in it;
The right to bear arms and freedom from harm;
Local militias, knives, bows and arrows.
The third one prevents quartering soldiers
Without consent of the inhabitant
Of the place where soldiers reside, and
The Fourth Amendment protects free people
From government-sponsored search and seizure.
A warrant with probable cause requires
Location’s description and crime conspired. 60
Trial by jury, no double jeopardy,
Congress cannot make you tell on yourself;
Due process of law, fair payment for land.
That’s all for five. Now, the Sixth Amendment:
Jury trials should be quick, fair, and somewhere
Within the jurisdiction of the crime.
The accused has rights to legal counsel;
And to understand the charges brought forth.
Amendment Seven protects property
Commonly held and worth more than twenty.
Dollars (and cents) start the Eighth Amendment
With Freedom from outrageous fines and bail.
It guards against, cruel and unusual
Punishment for those who do go to jail.
Rights and laws of the Constitution are
Not to be used to deny or lessen
The rights of individuals or a State
The rights Congress fails to state we retain
Unless what’s prohibited is so named.
That was The End — Amendments Nine and Ten. 80
So why does this matter to you at all?
(It sounds like more fun to go to the mall.)
Because rights and responsibilities
Both come with life in a democracy.
To retain human rights that all should hold —
In an era of twenty-four hour news,
When marketing shapes the citizens’ views —
Consider education “The New Gold.”
If you’re too young to vote, don’t sit and mope:
Study hard and serve your community.
The economy and future depend
On young people who care and understand
About rights and responsibilites —
Both come with life in a democracy.
Repeat: rights and responsibilities
Come with living in a democracy.
You excercise one to have the other,
Like going to the gym to build muscle.
The Founding Fathers taught you must “think up”
Train your mind, or someone usurps your voice. 100
— Cheri Renee
“Do you listen to words that come out of your mouth?” one of my best friends asks me about once a week.
“Of course not,” I deadpan, “because if I did, I would never stop laughing.”
If only everyone I encountered realized how funny I am. The most embarrassing scenarios occur when the audience neither gets the joke, nor realizes that they are an audience. I probably ought to design a t-shirt with some sort of disclaimer for that. Undoubtedly, it helps to let people in on the funny.
Around four or five years ago — after months spent reflecting on the end of an ironically dangerous, teaching fellowship, and years spent pondering the lessons of a tumultuous childhood — I promised myself I would no longer take so many things, so seriously.
In addition, I decided to pursue laughter in a lavish and unabashed fashion. Sometimes I succeeded. Other times, I failed, ending either a conversation or an evening mortified about the results of my poorly timed and delivered “jokes.”
In his new book Five Minds for the Future, Harvard researcher Howard Gardener notes that it takes about 10 years to master a discipline. So, I figure the problem is that I just haven’t mastered my distinct style of comedy.
Although, I seem to do fine at the faux pas.
Five Fine Ways to Faux Pas
1. Tell a famous comedian you just walked out of his movie, because the humor was too graphic. (Sorry, Penn!)
2. Write a long letter to someone you really like, when you are very emotional. Decline to edit. Press send.
3. When someone says “Help Yourself,” respond with “Thank You.” Then, eat or drink as much as you like.
4. Operate electronic communication devices after consuming alcohol.
5. Create an editorial calendar for your blog, but don’t use it.
6. Forget how to count.
While all of these scenarios suggest comedy, each has an edge that can send an amateur funny person fleeing for cover — or at least a brown paper bag in lieu of a hat.
Fortunately, you can recover from most of these missteps with cosmetics and finesse.
Four Fixer Uppers for Foolishness
1. Dye your hair blonde. When you say something stupid, drift off into an empty stare and begin to blink a lot. People will think the peroxide has gone to your brain.
2. Carry a big purse (or man bag, if you’re metro). Inside, keep a wig, dark glasses and change of clothes. When your humor tanks, just add camouflage.
3. Confess that your fifth post is two months late, because you dropped the ball on a blog you started in grad school
while juggling too many balls.
4. Smile widely, invoke a Southern drawl and apologize for your manners.
When pulling the “descended from hillbillies” trump card doesn’t get you off the hook for acting southeast of silly, you’ll need to fall back on either good looks or money.
When none of those work for backing out of a bad joke, at least once a week, say to yourself “TGIF.” Then give your bruised ego a little cheering up with the acronym’s true meaning: Thank God I’m Funny.
Although I don’t remember Mrs. Hopson as well as I do Paige Patton, who was famous for the blue NASA jumpsuit that she wore at least once a week to school in the 5th grade, the one book that stood out for me during that school year was A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle. I still have my original copy, published by Dell Yearling for $2.95 in the U.S. and $3.95 in Canada. It was a Newberry Award Winning Classic.
L’Engle explained the concepts of disapparation (unmassing and remassing through a “portal”) and time travel by activating my imagination. The word tesseract(ing) proved to be a most outstanding concept for explaining the essence of “getting through the wrinkle” and for space travel itself.
Of course, there are other planets out there with life on them. “How could there not be?” I always wondered as a child.
“Hhee iss beehindd thee ddarrknesss, sso thatt eevenn wee cannott seee hhimm,” said Mrs. Which.
Meg began to sob aloud. Through her tears she could see Charles Wallace standing there, very small, very white.
This quick image from the opening lines of Chapter 5 in A Wrinkle in Time sums it up in a snapshot that was my 10-year-old imagination. It seemed obvious to me by way of a quick observation at the world around us that some sort of dark energy was hovering over our solar system, within our atmosphere, even then. It also seemed obvious that only the innocence of children; the willingness to play nicely and share often; and to be kind to one another, regardless of our similarities or differences, would save us from this darkness.
Then again, the first book I remember reading was The Bible. So my emotions and imagination were programmed to respond to stories that embraced battles between good and evil; struggles between light and dark; something deep and profound that might lead sheep out of pastures before wolves encircled a herd to pluck off one at a time.
To summarize those stories I remember from my first reader (my grandmother’s copy of the NIV Bible): “A child will lead them” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
So, the unconditional love shared between the protagonist, big sister Meg Murry and her highly intelligent yet quiet-as-a-mouse little brother Charles Wallace, made perfect sense to me. What great characters they were; and what great adventures they had together.
I don’t remember the first screen on which I saw the videos for it, probably one of those TV carts that they wheel in to elementary classrooms; but I distinctly remember seeing some really cool promotional videos for NASA’s Space Camp. Alas, I never got to float around in one of those non-gravity-see-what-it-feels-like-to-travel-in-space-chambers.
But I do remember where I was the day the Challenger blew up. It was a snow day at school; I was at home, sitting by my grandparents’ faux fireplace with the TV turned toward me, so I could watch lift off and stay warm at the same time. I was drinking a soda pop from McDonald’s with the lid off. Sometime during that little sip, the space shuttle ignited and I forgot what I was doing, which allowed the straw to melt on my leg, leaving me with an unpleasant “Owie.” I still have the scar.
Christa Mcaullife, school teacher for a bunch of children I didn’t know, had died — and some astronauts, too. But at least they died trying. It is a lesson I hope never to forget.