Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Call Me Selfish

It's already all on the table how I feel about group dynamics. I believe people are at their best in small groups and when they sit in the silence of their own thoughts. I believe we have begun to confuse mere groups with "community."

I used to sit idly by when people referred to their "work family." I might have used the expression myself to refer to groups to which I belonged and to whose members I felt close. But -- what a horrible metaphor. No mere organizational group can ever approach the family level. To imply that is the steal the profundity from what family really is. (Not that many truly understand that anymore.)

The more family declines, the more people seem to be reaching for pale imitations of what family used to be (and of what, if I am being fair, a precious few still are). No matter what happens, teams will never be families; work shift members and colleagues will never be family. Not even close.

The little girl in the middle gets it. 
Perhaps there are circumstances in which people can develop connections that are equally profound (warriors who stand side-by-side in battle, for instance) but it simply is not the same thing as family. A bond brought about by trauma and death and sacrifice might be deep, but it is, in fact, different.

(This all reminds me very much of my problem with using the word "art" as a compliment. Great pitching, for example, simply is not "an art." It's equally as cool as a great painting, maybe, but it just is not the same thing.)

The worst thing about this equating of the group with family is that, in work, for instance, the group takes on an artificial sense of importance in the minds of its members. As a result, the members often develope the audacity to question the individuals' choices when it comes to their own real families.

My wife just shared an article written by a former editor (a woman) who regrets having questioned the commitment of mothers who worked under her. In one example, she says:

"I secretly rolled my eyes at a mother who couldn’t make it to last minute drinks with me and my team. I questioned her 'commitment' even though she arrived two hours earlier to work than me and my hungover colleagues the next day."

Kudos to her for regretting this, but...over-dedication to the group results in this kind of thinking, I think. How dare anyone judge someone for putting her family first? In this case, it's a kind of madness that the writer eventually got over, thank goodness.

I work hard. I dedicate myself to teaching and to running the academic program at a school. But when the day is over, it's time for family. All too often, that time is interrupted by necessities, so to willingly sacrifice what time I do get is foolhardy. So, no, drinks after work are not on my dance card. (Not always; I'm not referring to the occasional one-and-done beer. But I sure don't see it as an obligation, the way the writer above seemed to.) 

What "community" enthusiasts have to understand is that one can be dedicated to work while, at the same time, not making it his number one priority. There is a lot of lip-service to the importance of family, but, in the end, not a lot of true follow-through, that I see. The father or mother who "works hard" so that he or she can "give the family things" is guilty of this. Providing for them is one thing; working to provide them with the superficial is a big mistake. 

If all you leave your kids to say at your eulogy is that "my dad worked really hard," you screwed up. 

But, I'll tell you -- nobody ought to ever tell me my choice of family over work is a sign of a lack of dedication. It would turn out badly. Where I work -- it's not my family. It's a great school filled with talented, good-hearted people and -- more impressively than anything -- wonderful young people who give me hope for the future. But all of it is worth much less than a walk in the woods with one of my sons or a quiet dinner with my wife. Or, even a cuddle with my dog. 

Call me selfish. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Straynger in a Straynge Layund

People misunderstand me. I'm misunderstood. Poor me. I'm really such a nice fellow. It's just that I react...energetically to stuff.

Music, for instance. If I hate a piece of music, I hate it with a regurgitative kind of hate. I, for instance, loathe The Doors. I don't think they are bad musicians or that Morrison was a bad lyricist or singer or that their music was low-quality... I just hate their music. No real reason and no real evaluation of merit or the lack thereof lies under any of it. When a Doors song comes on the radio, I actually curl my upper lip, for some reason, and fumble to change the station as if swatting at some horrible insect. There is no good reason for this; it is as if, as stated above, I ate a food that disagreed with me.

The best pictures of the band are ones
in which my face is obscured by a beer bottle.
But I don't believe there is a such thing as an intrinsically bad genre of music. For every -- literally every -- genre of music I have heard, there has been at least one song that I have really liked. (Yes, rap included.)

I don't, for instance, generally like "country music." It has, however ( the growth of a tumor) become a part of my life because I am in a band that plays and has always played what is popular. We were a classic rock band and then alternative came along and then grunge and we shifted with the times. We never fit into the Spinal Tap cliche -- we have never dressed the part of any  particular music movement and we have never become rock stars in our own minds.

Friday, February 27, 2015


Once, a bully chased me around the neighborhood. He was older and he was bigger than I was.

It was twilight and I needed to get home when the streetlights came on. Somehow that worried me just as much as what he might do to me.

I was carrying a plastic "briefcase" that my dad had given me. I think it was full of toys and probably drawings of Star Trek scenes. It never occurred to me, as I was running and crying, to drop it -- which is good, because, thinking I had evaded the bully, I hid up against a friend's house under a pine tree. It would either be a great hiding spot or it was "a corner."

It was a corner.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Rocco vs. The Moronic Teacher

Behold: me. Look upon my might and despair. I am He-Who-Achieves. I am a reader of books. I am an Internet philosopher. I went to college -- longer than most people do. I have sat at Whitman's grave and at his Crystal Spring composing lines. I have made pilgrimage to Grasmere, for I have learned to see into the life of things -- to read and to respond with insight; to apply both soul and mind to unfurling the sublime work of the great writers. I know them, and they will know me when we meet in the Great Beyond and we shall have tea and biscuits and we will converse about how much smarter I was than everyone around me. Even The Bard will give me that gentle little chin-punch of fatherly approval as I enter through the White Gates and greet him -- and call him "thou" -- for I have known his Truths; felt them in my heart more deeply than anyone ever did. I am an authority in my field. I'm gosh-danged legendary in my own estimation...

...which is why it is nice, sometimes, to be reminded that I am and always will be, a complete moron.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Oklahoma Wants to Change the Programm(ing) of Its Students

So, Oklahoma politicians want to ban AP US History. This a blatant attempt at thought-policing and its bold-faced, out-loud attempt at changing the "program" of our kids' thinking is evidence that we live in a pre-Orwellian world.

For those who might not know, AP courses (advanced placement) are college-level courses taught to the best high school students. If these students score a certain number on the tests, they may be offered college credit in the university of their choice. I happen to teach AP English Literature and Composition and I am also the AP coordinator for my school, so I know something of the challenge-level and rigmarole of the program. 

One of the things that people seem not to care about is that these courses are designed also to foster critical thinking and perception in the students who take them. They are meant to teach kids to think well. But, typical to modern American thought, all anyone seems to care about are practical results: credit for college; higher GPA points... (Don't get me started... Wait...I already got me started... Never mind.) 

Now, it's about "patriotism." All of a sudden, we care about more than grades and college discounts and class rank. "All of a sudden," of course, when the "wrong" political or social perspectives might be getting fostered because, well...think of how that might change voting results!

Not a fan of memes, in general,
but -- how much of this is true? 
Those who seek to ban the course have decided to do so because they claim the new guidelines are not patriotic enough and that they dwell more on the negatives in the country's past than on the positives. The conservative opposers of the course have leaned upon what I am always suspicious of as a crutch meant to carry a prejudiced limp: no mention of King or Rosa Parks. (Too many truly prejudiced people speak too highly of those two, if you ask me. Those two are the historical equivalent of "I have a lot of black friends.") In fairness, they also oppose the fact that the Founding Fathers get no mention, along with the Declaration, the Constritution and the Emancipation Proclamation. 

As the College Board responded, however, what the Oklahoma politicians are responding to are guidelines -- guidelines -- put out by AP for teachers which are meant to help those teachers to prepare the students for success on the test. That's it.