Category Archives: education

About Libraries

Activity Being Avoided: None. It’s a writing day. I’m allowed to be doing this.
Music In My Head: Kaa Khem — Yat-Kha
Tea Being Drunk: None. It’s water. I celebrated the civic holiday with chocolate cake, and I now have the same stomach ache I recall from childhood.
Books Being Read: Rebecca–Daphne du Maurier, My Happy Days in Hell–George Faludy

The Globe and Mail published this on Friday: Amid growing demand, GTA libraries are helping to fill a social-services gap

That’s my library they’re talking about at the beginning of the article.

Much as I appreciate this article, I’d like to correct the author: libraries have always filled a social-services gap.

 The small town I grew up in didn’t have a lot for kids like me: there were church groups and Brownies, and sport things. As a child, I had some friends but was more interested in books. (The inside covers of my childhood books all have death threats for the sister who had the audacity to thieve from my shelves.) I was eleven years old when I started volunteering at the local library. Very likely, I wasn’t what the average librarian might call helpful, but I was very happy to be there, touching all the books, getting quite side-tracked by reading the books I was supposed to be sorting, and maybe being a little bit useful or something. I felt mature.

I felt like I was being educated in a way that school could never offer.

The building was dusty, high-ceilinged, hushed except for the creaking of old wooden chairs and titanic reading tables. I can’t find any pictures of the interior, but here’s the exterior of heaven:

Image from Canada’s Historic Places

In 1980, someone made a prediction about the town: because of all the sinners and implicit sinning in the area, God was going to lose His patience and deal with the whole sinful mess. Sadly, God (or someone with a flourishing complex) chose fire to express His displeasure. Along with a good handful of other places, the library went down in 1980.

My heart broke. I think there might still be a small fissure beneath the thick scar.

Not to be thwarted, I volunteered at the school library. It was limited in both size and scope, filled with a lot of books that were, frankly, boring. The library contained books that were “appropriate” for W.A.S.P. children up to Grade 8.

I needed better than that. I needed adult books. I needed my big library.

We moved to a larger town just before my 13th birthday. The library there was much the same: old, creaky, educational and safe.

I had even fewer friends as a teenager. Didn’t need them. I had Timothy Findley and Jane Rule.

Can’t think what I’d be, or where I’d be, without public libraries. Certainly, I would be a demand on social services. Where else, pre-internet, would I have learned to be who I am? Where else would someone like me find sufficient sources of words for their sanity?

It’s always good to see public acknowledgement of our need for libraries.

If you need further proof that a good chunk of society’s money needs to go to libraries, you can also check out WMTC’s Things I Heard at the Library. (She’s a librarian, not just someone who would be a drain on society if she weren’t given enough to read.)

The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent

My political, social and spiritual comment for the week:

The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent, by John Erskine (1915)

tl;dr (excerpts)

• When the wise man brings his list of our genuine admirations, will intelligence be one of them?

• “Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever.”
Here is the casual assumption that a choice must be made between goodness and intelligence….

• …as a race we seem as far as possible from realising that an action can intelligently be called good only if it contributes to a good end; that it is the moral obligation of an intelligent creature to find out as far as possible whether a given action leads to a good or a bad end; and that any system of ethics that excuses him from that obligation is vicious.

• We make a moral issue of an economic or social question, because it seems ignoble to admit it is simply a question for intelligence.

• In the philosopher’s words, we curse the obstacles of life as though they were devils. But they are not devils. They are obstacles.

• But the lover of intelligence must be patient with those who cannot readily share his passion. (Damn. Ed.)

• Meanwhile he continues to find his virtues by successive insights into his needs. Let us cultivate insight.

Workshops in Mississauga

Activity Being Avoided: feeding the cats. Feel free to send them sympathy, but they’d prefer food. The torture will continue for another half hour.
Music (Not) In My Head: listening to this
Tea Being Drunk: just hot water. I’ve been sick, and I’m sloshing with liquids.
Books Being ReadMartin John — Anakana Schofield; An Unfortunate Woman — Richard Brautigan

Ask, and ye shall receive.

At the last Mississauga Writers Group meeting, some of the members were noting the group’s emphasis on the business aspects of writing–the post-writing stuff–and they expressed an interest in the practical aspects of writing. In response, Michelle Hillyard and I have designed a series of workshops for the beginning writer. These will focus on the pre-publication period.

You can keep track of these on my Upcoming Events page.

Depending on how these go, we’ll consider doing more or doing repeats.

(Yes, I know the Queer Literature workshop is in July: that’s when Peel holds its Pride Week. June is for Toronto’s Pride Week, and we are trying to be… not Toronto.)  Never mind. This was deemed “very specific” and they wanted me to water it down with other topics.

You’ve Brought It on Yourselves

Activity Being Avoided: nothing, really: I’m just waiting for Windows to update on my other computer.
Music In My Head: Tin Man – The Avett Brothers (Hey, at least it’s a different song.)
Tea Being Drunk: none. I’m trying to not float away.
Book Being Read: A Man for All Seasons – Robert Bolt

In an effort to avoid branding, I decided (upon finishing Homology and then again upon finishing To Be Human Again) that I would write about something other than sex. It’s an awesome topic–and I use the adjective literally, not colloquially–but fitting into a box just isn’t my thing.

You monsters, though, you just won’t let it alone. Every time someone proposes an excellent idea, some eejit takes everything back a couple of light-years. For chrissake, I just finished a book for you monsters, demonstrating that there’s reason for everything deemed “deviant”, and you ignore me.

Well. That means I just have to write more.

A recent issue of The Walrus had an article that is good, in that it offers reason and a possible solution to a problem that has not been solved in the history of humankind. It’s aptly entitled Why Would Someone Choose to Be a Monster? Indeed. No one chooses such a life–and no one is asking that pedophiles be allowed to go on their merry way; the point is that we come to understand their perspective so that we can find a way to accommodate their needs without people getting hurt.

And then CBC–written and edited by people who, by virtue of residency and calling, are obliged to be unswerving readers of The Walrussensationalises the idiocy of our justice system with the ever-so-useful term “dangerous offender” in the headline.

Mr. Lund, the “dangerous offender”, has been sentenced to indefinite incarceration; the article notes that he spent more than half his pre-trial incarceration in segregation.

This is a human being. What makes his life any less-important than the lives of the people he’s hurt?

Currently, I’m working on a nice, often-pleasant love story. You monsters, however, have left me in a position where the books beside my bed are starting to display a disturbing tone (again) and the characters are starting to find a place in my head. You monsters have boxed me in, so I’ll have to find a way to use it to an advantage–anyone’s advantage.

I leave you with a video that is a socially-acceptable step in the right direction. Apply it to sexual mental illness. Don’t take us backwards, please.

 

The Potential for Abuse

It’s funny how slow a progressive society can be.  We like to think of ourselves as being accepting, open-minded and awesomely cool; in reality, we’re nothing more than we were 500 years ago.

This month’s Walrus magazine contains an article entitled Campus Confidential. It’s a disturbing read.  In my mind, Liz Beatty now ranks up there with Amy Chua as the author of the most humiliating thing in print: “The potential for abuse is vast.”

The article is not about professors abusing students, or students abusing professors, or each group abusing members of their own group; no, this article is about making accommodations for students who need them.  The examples cited in the article are extortionate things such as note-takers, extra time on assignments and exams, technical aids and “distraction-reduced environments”.  The article also notes that students require a formal diagnosis from a physician before the educational institution can give them any help.

This debate is not about the potential for abuse of a system.  This is a matter of hierarchy.  A professor is desperate to stay on top of the pedestal, and no wanna-be is gonna tell them how to do their job.  If someone of equal social status–a physician, say–suggests that something is kosher, well, then it’s okay… maybe.

This is all about snobbery.

The lofty halls of academia took quite the hit when social class became politically-incorrect.  Institutions for higher education want everyone to attend (because bigger is better, and all the money is the same colour) but they don’t really want to  accommodate anyone who formerly would have been relegated to the kitchens and back hallways.

I don’t think any reasonable person would hold it against a small institution if they said, before taking the student’s money and making promises, they couldn’t afford to accommodate a certain need.  Support staff and equipment can be expensive, and it’s also difficult to quickly get through the bureaucracy to acquire these things (but that’s a subject for another day).  Were a school to publicly post their limitations, denial of accommodations beyond that limit would be valid.

The “vast potential for abuse” rears its ugly head when the teacher is allowed to tell the student how to learn.

Poetry Baffles Us Both

Activity Being Avoided: dusting, lesson prep
Music In My Head: All Is Now Harmed— Ben Howard
Tea Being Drunk: none. It’s chocolate milk.
Book Being Read: Anthem–Ayn Rand; Steppenwolf–Herman Hesse; Bottle Rocket Hearts–Zoe Whittall

Me: What’s up at school?
Student: [Euphemistic obscenity] poetry.
Me: Which one did you do today?
Student: The one about the monster coming again.

I know that poem. My dad studied it (I know because he gave me his high school poetry anthology); I studied it; I assume every English teacher in Mississauga studied it because it comes up every bloody year in every bloody grade.

Sometimes, the answer is an exciting variation: a road less travelled. The students, naturally, maintain the same expression for both answers.

Sometimes, I get a student whose teacher likes poetry, and maybe I’m even introduced to something new. The student watches me read the poem, and they raise a skeptical eyebrow. “You like this shit?” I do. I like poetry. When I’m able to show them something I like, they’re sometimes convinced to dip a toe in the cold literary pond.

When the appropriate person dies and leaves me in charge of the Ontario English curriculum, not only will I arrange for English classes for people who have no use for literary analysis but I will make poetry analysis optional for teachers who don’t like poetry. You can’t teach the stuff you despise.

I try to get to the students before poetry season begins; it’s nice when they come for tutoring in the summer because I have the time to slip in some of the good stuff and change their perspective a little. I don’t, under any circumstance, start with the one about the monster coming again (Yeats’ The Second Coming, for those of you who have repressed high school English), nor with any of my personal favourites (James Stephens/Ken Sparling). I have a stock selection of tried-and-true gems; I choose something that will, hopefully, please the student in some way.

Nick Bantock’s Averse to Beasts: good for the younger crowd (Grades 7 and 8), students who say they only want to read about animals (yes, I get a lot of those, and I try to suppress my inner psychoanalyst when they say that out loud in public), and people who like language but haven’t yet learned how to play with it.

Tim Burton’s The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy: indeed, grasshopper, this is poetry. It can be analysed. Mummy Boy is a favourite. I use it for ESL as well as English Lit. The illustrations make it.

Archy and Mehitabel poems (surreptitiously transcribed by Don Marquis): We start with the lesson of the moth. As I work mostly with teenagers, I focus on the concept of old people wanting something as badly as the moth wanted to fry himself. They are under the impression that anyone who has survived past the age of thirty must not have any passion or desire, so they feel they can tell me how life should be. We then move on to freddy the rat perishes ‘cause the imagery is truly unparalleled.

My latest discovery is Keaton Henson. I bought a copy of Idiot Verse for myself, but then realised what I had in my hands. I use Grow Up with Me (from which the title of this blog is unapologetically thieved) with older students who need their boats rocked a bit, and Richmond with others. Richmond has, thus far, been a hit with two students who are on the autism spectrum. Grow Up with Me has been honoured with what I would consider the highest praise, despite (or because of?) the expression of consternation she wore: “I really like this poem.”

Rarely, I get a student who likes poetry and I get to let loose. Christian Bök is a good one to help them wrap their minds around the possibilities.

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with a poet about writing: he believes that short fiction is the most difficult to write; I believe poetry is the most difficult. While I like having limited space in which to play, the demands of poetry are too limiting for my linguistic abilities. I need more room to make mistakes, I suppose, and my poetry therefore sucks. There is no place for an imprecise word in poetry, and the fear of said imprecise word leaves a chilled dread in my belly. When I think of the English teachers who became English teachers because they didn’t know what else to do, and the ones who are bored by poetry, it makes sense that poetry season whips up all the enthusiasm of a damp cardboard box.

Poetry, like all literature, should make you feel like chocolate has been involved.

 

Make Yourselves Useful

Activity Being Avoided: figuring out what to do with that difficult student
Music In My HeadHopeless Wanderer – Mumford and Sons
Tea Being Drunk: peppermint.  The cheap kind that tastes (almost) like real mint tea.
Book Being ReadCrime and Punishment (emphasis on the “punishment”)

A lot of people have started following this blog: some are likely to be real followers; others seem to be new bloggers who are fiddling around with stuff; others are total spammers.  (To the health nut who thought he could use my comments section to discourage people from eating chocolate: git offa mah blog, please.)  Anyway, my brain has been tied up with reality and hasn’t been creating any readable blogs for you.  To tide you over, have a look as some of these items and see if they do anything for you:

For those of you who are here for the sex stuff (yes, the Psychopathia Sexualis stories are coming but one cannot rush genius), Mike Miksche will give you something to think about.  Or perhaps something to look at.  Or both.

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For those of you who are here for the writing stuff, R.M. Ridley‘s new anthology is out.  As it’s short stories, the best form of writing, I have to recommend it even over the novels.

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For those of you who are into education, my latest project is compiling a list of modern songs (though I can sometimes pull off classic rock) that will actually help high school students wrap their minds around a literary work.  There are lists here, here and here, but they’re not all songs that fly with my students.  If you have any tried-and-true pairings, let me know.

Apparently, Brad Roberts’ hair is unacceptable to the modern student.  They couldn’t explain why.  I could tell they were thinking things that couldn’t be expressed in public.

For those of you who are here for religion, that’s been put on the side-burner (as I’m sure you’ve noticed) in favour of a history book.  More on that when the important people decide what to do about said book.