Nonfiction—”5:58 am in Stafford, TX”

Two minutes to six and I can’t ignore the heavy drops of rain tapping my car like a full set of fingers on a keyboard or God beating out a tune in a rhythm I’d have to be God to understand. These are taps I find more distracting then the velvet snores of my wife two minutes to midnight. This morning I am sleepless in Stafford. Last night I was sleepless, too, maybe because grading and lesson planning has me taking caffeine pills at 7 pm. Or maybe it’s an anxiety leftover from Hurricane Harvey. We all seem to be shivering these days at every storm-sign. Fall’s coming. Fall’s here? Difficult to tell away from the screen of my phone and the expedited flings of a google search (Google: the best way to bing). Nor can I look to the skies or stars. Man peers down at the glowing milk of phones while the Milky Way hides behind fog and musk and must and smog. Houston doesn’t do Fall right. We don’t have the crooning red leaves swirling in ancient tempos or the yellow-orange bracken littering the floor like tossed invitations to some garbageborn small town venue. Houston is slimy year-round, the glitter dulled by knees of moss and Jurassic greens. Maybe the sunsets are a little more red when you’re stuck in traffic, but how do you find the beauty when avoiding the Wheels and Winds and Waters? Now Houston rain isn’t fingers—it’s gray cement pouring against windshields. You can never really escape it, nor the feeling you’re slowly falling out of love.

Nonfiction—”Geography and Centipedes”

Today, I had a rather innocent and ill-informed student inspect an atlas on the wall (one with only the boundaries of countries but no printed names), point to Cambodia, and say, “I think that’s South Koran.”

He meant Korea.

I asked him if he was 100% sure and he said, “Well, no, because I thought Korea was near the Middle East.”

“No,” I said, pointing to Africa, “It’s closer to East America, although Middle-Earth is between them.”

“Oh! I should have known that.”

“And across the ocean is the United States,” I said, pointing at Greenland.

“Next to Russia,” I pointed at Canada. The student screwed up his face in confusion (was something finally getting through?), and I added that “the map’s upside down.”

We had fun, I corrected the mistakes, and we moved on.

Later, someone made a disgusted snort at a mention of The Human Centipede (I didn’t bring it up, someone else did). My student, perceiving injustice, protested. “Human centipedes are cute, too! All bugs are, even if you don’t like how they look.”

We (that is, the class) quickly surmised that he didn’t know what we were referring to, and so we stalled at a certain crossroads. We wanted to reveal to him his ignorance on the subject, to enlighten the little fellow, but we didn’t want to corrode his innocence. The human centipede is a concept contrary to decency and goodness. It embroils oppression and futility and the depravity of man’s imagination into a singular, iconic combustion.

Instead, we tiptoed.

“We’re not talking about a bug, exactly.”

“It’s a way… for people to get together.”

“It’s like a team building exercise.”

“It’s not a sexual thing,” someone assured him.

“Is it hard to do?” he asked.

“Not if you have the right attitude.”

“It’s exhausting.”

“Is there also a human caterpillar?” he asked.

“No, no, no.”

A human caterpillar made me think of a human cocoon, and I shuddered at the image of a wet sack of living, struggling flesh. For a moment I envied the know-nothings and little-minds, only to think that really, the degree of distinction between myself and this student was relatively minor, only I’d been shielded from the world’s true evils by Rated R movies and shadow-images, cloistered in a school that looked like a prison, secreted into a suburbs with invisible but tangible walls, as ignorant of greater powers and principalities as a centipede, its face turned ever-downward in its small, contained clamor.

Student Congress

My Debate I course is engaged in Student Congress at the moment (during which students become representatives, argue over legislation, and vote whether or not to pass certain bills and resolutions).

Yesterday, on a resolution regarding the NSA and it’s activities, I had a student give a speech in support of the agency who 1) didn’t know what the acronym NSA stood for, 2) didn’t know who Edward Snowden was, 3) reassured us that the NSA couldn’t see if you were watching porn on your phone, and 4) when asked to identify at least one terrorist attack that they prevented, said 9/11.

Peace, ho!

On the occasion, my students will have outrageous interpretations for the language in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, such as in the repeated expression “peace ho!” or “stand ho!” and the late arrival of a soldier named Clitus. All these manifestations make my students crack up predictably, year after year. But the section most perversely twisted is the following scene from Act V, which I record here for your amusement and under this new context. Hint: Brutus is asking these soldiers to kill him, but that’s not revealed until the end of the dialogue:

BRUTUS: Sit thee down, Clitus. Slaying is the word [in my students’ lexicon, slaying has a sexual connotation]. It is a deed in fashion. Hark thee, Clitus.
(BRUTUS whispers to CLITUS)
CLITUS: What, I, my lord? No, not for all the world!
BRUTUS: Peace then. No words.
CLITUS: I’d rather kill myself.
BRUTUS: Hark thee, Dardanius.
(BRUTUS whispers to Dardanius)
DARDANIUS: Shall I do such a deed?
CLITUS: O Dardanius!
CLITUS: What ill request did Brutus make to thee?
DARDANIUS: To kill him [my students: “Ohhhhh…”]. 

Shirley Geok-Lin Lim

Shirley Geok-Lin Lim is one of my CCS Professors. Our class had lunch the other day and talked about writing. Here are some of her thoughts.

On balancing:
“I do this little dance. I’m a teacher nine to ten hours a day, but I’ll only be a poet for five minutes. It’s wrong. I either have to quit teaching to be a poet, or quit poetry to be a teacher.”
On the muse:
“The muse does not wait for you. If you say I’ll come back later, she’ll say goodbye. See you.”
On guilt:
“It’s always the back of my mind, that I could be writing more. I would write better if I gave it more time. It’s a nagging sense, an uncomfortable sense. Like I’m breaking promises.”
On professors:
“Some people get older and become calloused. Fossils. We need young people to keep us going.”