Schoolyear Homestretch: They Know Not of What They Speak. Or Write.

The discussion in my predominately black, tenth-grade classroom was focused on racism.

We have been working our way through the book A Lesson Before Dying, a wonderful 1994 Pulitzer nominee about a rural Louisiana black man sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit. Set in 1947, the story pre-dates the Civil Rights days of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King (the only such benchmarks my students really know) by a decade, and chronicles the effort to see that the accused man dies with a sense of dignity.

Racism is a dominant theme of the story, and a concept that many of even my brightest students tend to incorrectly think is something in the past or, more sadly, not a huge part of their present.

During the discussion on where racism really ‘comes’ from, a black student stated firmly that racism is generally learned from one’s parents – ‘Even black racism.’ This idea was met with murmurs and nods of approval from those that are inclined to jump so forcefully into a discussion like that, but I wanted to point out that that might be a little over-simplified, noting that what parents think or believe doesn’t always transfer to a child and asking my students to think of things they disagree with their parents about. I told my students that I know of plenty of kids who aren’t racist even though their parents seem to be.

This idea was greeted with a few moments of silent indifference until one of the few white kids in the class chimed in proudly with an affirmation of my concept. “I’ve got proof of that, Mr. Lucker!” the kid said earnestly. “I’m supposed to be a fifth-generation KKK Klansman…

….but I’m NOT!”

“That’s…..good, Darren. Thank you for, umm…sharing that.”

The class stared at me, a few with quizzical looks that I can only assume were a reaction to whatever facial expression I had as I stared at Darren* for a moment. Aside from a few nods of agreement, nobody had a thing to say in response, and at first I was more surprised by the lack of reaction than I was the initial comment.

But I’m not. Just another day in the front of my classroom.

My students have a propensity for being obstinate – like most teenagers – but they will dig in their heels ferociously and adamantly defend their version when their take on a turn of phrase is challenged. Two examples from this year stand out.

The first was a sophomore who wrote about an essay commenting on her sister’s positive attitude, and the inspiration the sister provides her younger siblings, including Brenda, my student. She lauded, in worthy prose, her sister’s ‘self of steam.’

Even with provided context, I still had to read it a few times to understand what ‘self of steam’ meant for Brenda.

Discussing her paper with her, I was met with a puzzled look as I tried to explain that what she meant was her sister had a lot of ‘self-esteem’ – even going so far as to having her look up ‘esteem’ in the dictionary. Still, she contemplated, paused, looked at her paper and the dictionary, then looked up at me standing over her and said, distinctly, and with a definite correcting me tone of voice: ”Yeah, it’s her SELF. OF. STEAM, Mr. Lucker…how good she feels about herself.”

And the young woman’s ‘self of steam’ stayed that way in the final draft.

Maybe that’s what my students mean when they say, “Mr. Lucker…you’re blowin’ me!”

But I’m not.

The other top curious turn of phrase also came from a sophomore girl, who noted that when talking about literary point-of-view, it is not third-person-limited and third-person omniscient you need to understand, but rather ‘third- person limited and third person ammunition’ point-of-view.

She too, was left unswayed by logic, or the class handout on her desk we had been reviewing and discussing, or the textbook on her desk, all focusing on ‘third-person-omniscient’ narration.

Carlene was steadfast in explaining ‘third-person-ammunition’ point-of-view – which she actually did quite well.  If you overlook the fact that ‘omniscient’ and ‘ammunition’ are not synonymous. If you do that.

Even in New Orleans, I’m not sure ‘third-person-ammunition’ is a viable legal defense.

And finally…

I had a good chuckle to wrap up the last full week of the year with Ms. W, our school’s lead librarian. (The librarians love me because I bring all my classes there at the start of the semester to teach them about the library; apparently I’m the only English teacher who does that. Plus, I actually assign book reports – hence the initial library-orientation visit. They then know where to go to find the books for their book reports.)

Seems a student came into the library on Friday to return a book that he had checked out in October and found only now while cleaning out his locker. Aside from any pangs of guilt over depriving some other poor student of a book, the return of said tome also probably removed a financial hold from the kid’s record. Fortunately, the fines cease when the fine amount reaches the cost of the book; $16 in this case.

As Ms.W clicked away on the computer showing the book as returned and getting the kid’s holds removed, she said the running dialogue continued as follows:

“Well, at least I hope you enjoyed the book.”

“Eh. It was o.k. Mr. Lucker made us read a book.”

“But you liked it.”

“It was alright. Mr. Lucker made us read a book.”

All she could do relating the story to me was laugh about the kid’s ongoing ‘Mr. Lucker made us read a book.’ I shook my head and said ‘So, I suppose I should wear that as a badge of honor?

She continued laughing as she headed for the door, “Why not, Mr. Lucker? Why not?”

All this time I thought I was teaching English, not eastern philosophy. But I guess if the mantra “Mr. Lucker made us read a book” is the primary result of the year, maybe that will enhance someone’s self-of…Eh. You know what I mean.

Eh. You know what I mean.

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Reprise: Happily, Less Full of Phil

07/13/16

I learned just today of the passing of a great poet and incredibly influential teacher: professor Phil Dacey. I was finishing up college as a middle-aged non-trad, Phil was in his last year of teaching before retirement, and he helmed my first class at Southwest Minnesota State University. The year – and his tutelage – I will not forget. I wrote this piece four years ago.  Rest very well, Phil. You will not be forgotten.

MLL

This year provided one of the best last-day-of-school experiences I have ever had; certainly the best in the four-years since my mid-life career change placed me in front of various New Orleans high school classrooms.

The fact that I am slated to start the next school year in the same place I ended the previous one is a celebratory first. Being recognized for the accomplishments of my students via their test scores, developing a strong set of professional relationships at a place I really enjoy working and being part of a team-oriented environment all puts a decidedly different spin on reviewing the past year and looking ahead to the next. Add in the fact that I did most of what I did this year on the fly, being hired a month into the school year at a ‘turn around’ school, and there is a lot of personal and professional satisfaction to be had.

But there is another, doesn’t-show-up-in-the-grade-book stat that points to a successful year: I’m running low on my supply of Phil Dacey’s old poetry journals.

Phil Dacey

Phil is a poet, and a pretty darn good one  http://www.philipdacey.com/ . I first met Phil in the fall of 2003; he was one of my professors in the writing program at Southwest Minnesota State University, and I had the immense good fortune of catching him in his last year before retiring after over thirty years of teaching. As a forty-four year old ‘non-trad’ in a top-notch college writing program, I had a different take on things than my peers, and a different appreciation for some of the different verbal proclivities of some of my professors – Phil included. I was often the only student in the room chuckling at an obscure aside.

I spent my first semester back in school after a fourteen-year layoff in Phil’s very intense poetics class, where we spent the semester working our way through an 810 page volume entitled Poems for the Millennium; the University of California book of modern & postmodern poetry. A book and a class like that can either ignite or squelch a love of poetry. In Phil’s hands, we got to explore. And love. (Well, mostly love) poetry of all kinds.

Phil’s plan for retirement was to move from the plains of southwestern Minnesota to the confines of a New York City apartment. This required divesting himself of a massive collection of books, journals and other poetic paraphernalia amassed over a forty-plus year stretch as a student and teacher, and his preferred method of disposal of these goodies was hallway distribution to anybody who wanted them.

An added, tactile bonus to my first year at SMSU.

It became a routine of many of us: swing by Phil’s office to see what he placed in boxes or simply stacked outside of his office door under a Magic Marker-scrawled ‘Help yourself’ sign. While I snatched a few hard-cover books from my daily office drive-bys, I concentrated mostly on the myriad of poetry journals Phil was releasing from dusty shelf captivity and back into the wild.

I fancy myself a poet, and to be hanging out with and learning from poets like Phil and other SMSU notables every day was an experience that I was soaking in and enjoying to the hilt. The fact that I was also expanding my library exponentially on a weekly basis was just frosting on the cake – though a source of dismay to my wife, who was not a fan of my pack-rat tendencies in general.

But there was a method to my madness. As Phil and his fellow poet-profs reminded us regularly, if you’re going to write poetry, you need to read a lot of poetry. So I did.

To say Phil’s collection of journals was eclectic was an understatement. There were mainstream and underground selections, slick, university press journals and crudely mimeographed, hand stapled tomes and everything in between. Some were very high-brow, many were themed-endeavors of some sort, a lot were outright weird. Many of them were sent or given to Phil for review and were autographed with personal notes; many of them also had Phil’s notations covering much of the margins. (One thing I don’t think I ever told Phil was that I learned as much about his evolution as a writer and evaluator by reading his commentaries on the work of others as I did from actually reading his poetry.)

Most of these journals dated from the 1970’s and 80’s – apparently Phil’s heyday for such poetry publications, both in terms of volume and breadth of styles and topics. While there were a number of slick, professional looking entries (mostly from prestigious university presses) most of them were modest budget and fairly small and thin; thirty, forty pages or so in length, most about the size of a Reader’s Digest.

By the time the ‘03-‘04 school year and Phil’s career as an official teacher had come to a close, I had amassed a sizeable chunk of his journal horde – a couple hundred volumes, tightly filling three copier-paper boxes.

Phil retired and I went on to graduate in 2006 with a B.A. in literature and creative writing and an impressive personal library of books my professors had written augmented with a whole lot of interesting poetry journals prominent and obscure.

Fast forward to 2008. I moved with my wife and two sons to New Orleans to step into a new life as an English teacher in one of the worst public school systems in America, while at the same time  my wife was transitioning to become a special education teacher. While we left behind corporate careers and shed much of our stuff, I made sure my library (including aforementioned poetry journals) came with me – for professional as well as personal reasons.

While I had visions of some sort of initiating some sort of inner-city-Dead Poet’s Society-love-of-words epiphany for my students, courtesy of my personal love of poetry and my rather broad collection of non-mainstream poetical works, it has yet to materialize.

At least, the way I envisioned it.

Over the past four years, beginning with my first-year-of-teaching, aged 13-to-17, New Orleans ward-loyal, gang-banging, ankle-bracelet-wearing eighth graders, through last year’s 8th, 11th and 12th grade New Orleans East charter school wannabe toughs, to this year’s batch of struggling west bank (some well over age) sophomores and juniors, those journals have been trotted out at least a few times each semester, whenever poetry rears its mischievous head on our curriculum.

They get us out of the standard textbook’s American Literary Canon and mainstream stabs at diversity, and sets us off on some very different planes. (Oh sure, I still give them a dose of Whitman and Dickinson, and I love Frost so they get a bit of him, too, but we go off on some…definite roads less traveled.) It’s funny what kids will connect with.

Poetry overall is exasperating for my students. They are frequently confused with poetry in general, as the idea of interpretations varying widely from person to person frustrates them; they seek concrete yes/no answers, and poetry – good poetry- doesn’t often offer that singular certainty.

To top it off, in Mr. Lucker’s class, wildly different poetic interpretations (as long as they have some rational basis) are celebrated, further adding to my student’s consternation. Whether they are more frustrated with differing viewpoints, or my embrace of multiple viewpoints…I haven’t figured that out yet. I can tell you that my students test scores have been pretty good, and that when it comes to reading comprehension, my students score quite well. I attribute some of that to our reading a lot of poetry.

I don’t pander to the (often) lower common denominators of basic metaphor and simile examples in the textbooks. Phil’s old poetry journals help me go further than that. I like getting out those journals into my students hands – they’re different. They are compact, and for the most part, don’t look like the typical turn-off-their-interest book, especially once the students open them – often the most difficult part of the equation.

But my stash of old journals is shrinking.

I noticed as I packed up my room last week that I am down to my last copier-paper box of Phil’s poetry journals – and not a quite full box, at that. Over the past four years, many of them have disappeared into the bookbags of my students; many of them under some sort of subterfuge (I’m not sure I could ever accuse a kid of ‘stealing’ poetry, so I let ‘em go) and many go to kids asking if they could keep a particular journal, or specific poem. (Instead of letting a kid who asks to ‘tear out one poem’ from a journal, I tell them ‘just take the whole book.’) A few of the journals have basically disintegrated from classroom use and abuse, but for the most part, they have simply found their way into a student’s hands and head. Where they end up…?

I think Phil would be okay with that.

Making poetry accessible was, and I would think still is, important to Phil. Nowadays, it’s important to me, too. So even though my supply of poetry journals is running low, I figure the box I have left should get me through the next school year. It’s been fun while it lasted, and hopefully some of those kids got something out of whatever little volume they took from my class.

It is not what I had planned when I began collecting Phil’s old journals, but then again, what poet ever plans a really good poem?

@55

55 3I just celebrated birthday number 55 – as a friend so euphemistically put it, my ‘speed limit birthday.’

The Double Nickel. Stay alive, drive 55.

The 70’s called – they want their slogans back.

I’ll go with ‘Thrive 55.’ No copyright or datedness issues, plus it’s mine and I am. Thriving, that is.

55 2For the most part I am. My health, and that of my family, is good; we are all happy and in relatively good spots in our lives. I am keenly aware of this blessing as many long-time friends struggle with a myriad of different chronic ailments. Even the dogs got clean bills of health from the vet this week.

I am blessed.

Approaching this mid-decade birthday, I have been paying extra attention to my health and well-being. Having dropped thirteen pounds since January the first, I can honestly use my new, self-appointed nickname: Lean, Mean Aw-What-the-Hell? Machine.

O.K. it’s a bit clunky.

I am generally of the just-another-year mindset with birthdays, but this year seems to have a lot of quirky numerical significance of milestones and anniversaries.

bouquetWP_20140420_015It’s a busy year. My daughter Lindsay turns thirty in June, and is getting married in July. She does not wish to be reminded of the former and eagerly anticipates the latter. Her two-and-a-half year old son – my grandson – Felix plays a prominent role in the festivities and I am greatly looking forward to it all.

Felix is a bright kid; he has figured out how to call or Skype me when he gets his hands on his mom’s phone. We pick up where we leave off whenever we can.

My eldest son Willi graduates from high school in a few weeks; he was accepted into two top-notch universities and has settled on mortarboradwhere he will go. Thus begins the process of his nest-leaving.

Meanwhile, youngest son Sam is wrapping up his freshman year of high school on the upswing after hitting a few fairly typical first-year-of-high-school rough patches. He now begins the process of flying more solo than he has had to up until this point in life. Daily life without his brother around to torment, nurture, harangue, bicker with, cajole and love (in all directions and all combinations) will be an interesting transition for all of us.

I recently realized that fifty-five is a big deal in part because of all the stuff that happened 40 years ago, when I was fifteen, which I have been thinking about a lot because that’s how old Sam is now. Looking back, fifteen was filled with all sorts of good stuff.

Driving legally comes to mind.

By the time my driving privileges were codified by that little yellow paper permit in 1974, I had been behind the wheel of various66 Valliant1964 Yeep pickup vehicles for a few years during my summer sojourns to Horseshoe Lake in northern Minnesota. I had driven Ivar and Lila’s ’64 Jeep pickup, in which I had learned to drive a manual transmission (though for the first few years, Ivar had to work the clutch from the passenger seat) which I proved my clutch prowess with by mowing down a sapling at age thirteen. I had also driven their ’66 Plymouth Valliant, a zippy little automatic transmission number that was compact enough for the smallish, pre-teen me to handle effortlessly.

Fifteen was also the age at which Ivar let me use the Homelite chain saw, and it was also the summer I occasionally (VERY oHomelite chainsawccasionally) got a full bottle of beer to myself. A story for another (and from another, very different) time.

2014 is also the 40 year anniversary my first job…of the approximately 72 different employers I have worked for to this date. Unless you include all the different things I did and places I did them while employed by five different temp firms. And of course, there was all the stuff I did on the side and sometimes off-the-books. Add in all the fun and funky stuff and the number of gigs I have actually been paid for easily tops 200. (see my poetry blog for more on that: http://markluckerpoet.wordpress.com/2014/04/26/walking-down-sesame-street-with-studs-terkel-at-graduation-time/)

As Sinatra sings in my was then/still is now theme song, That’s Life, “…I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet…a pawn and a king…..”  

If it is not illegal, unethical or immoral, there is a good chance I’ve dabbled in it.

Fifteen, the summer of ’74, was also when I discovered that girls were…? Aww hell, that they were girls. Different but still the same girls as in previous summers. They were something entirely new and familiar.

Fifteen was also the age when I began filling notebooks with teenaged profundity on solo cross-country Greyhound jaunts from Denver to Minneapolis at the start of the summer and back again before school reconvened. At fifteen, I was old enough to roll Grehound SeniCruisersolo. Add in shorter Greyhound hops from Minneapolis to Crosby, Minnesota and back, and I put a lot of miles on those spiral notebooks. That was over two-thousand miles a summer of life and writing about it, experiencing a wide array of people, different places. Big city kid soaking in small-town stopovers and all-night truck stops. Best scrambled eggs and link sausage I’ve ever had were at a truck stop in North Platte, Nebraska, somewhere around two a.m. on a June morning surrounded by bus vagabonds and truckers, great conversationalists and monologists straining their necks to see just what I was writing down in my green steno book.

I had seconds on those eggs from the truck stop buffet, more sausages, too. They were great eggs.

When I wasn’t writing, I was watching and listening. Sometimes to my fellow travelers, sometimes to Sinatra or Dean Martin on the cassetterecorderlittle Radio Shack cassette player with the single earphone I had squeezed into my travel bag. Now and then I listened to all of the above simultaneously, and I vividly understood how movies soundtracks really enhanced the flow of a story.

Forty years have passed. An anniversary of a coming of age.

Fifteen was a crucial demarcation point for me. Now, here I am, some forty years hence.Sinatra singing

“I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king;
I’ve been up and down and over and out and I know one thing –
Each time I find myself layin’ flat on my face…
I just pick myself up!  and get back. in. the. race!
That’s life…”

At fifty-five.

 

Hanging with ghosts and great ideas

Photo1650It is a brisk March Wednesday night in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Once a smitten, first time tourist, I am now a resident of the city, though not a permanent denizen of the Quarter.

I have lived here going on five years now, and remain infatuated with the city, and this unique segment of  it.

Some good friends of ours have a condeaux (colloquial spelling, so sayeth the whimsical plaque hanging on the courtyard wall) that they use for weekend getaways. They play tourist in their own hometown, taking in the sights of the Quarter and the Marigny; live music on Frenchmen Street, plays at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre, various restaurants. Sometimes they just hang in the Quarter.

When they are not test driving retirement, they sometimes make it available to friends. This is my lucky night.

Right around the corner, and literally seventy feet as the crow flies, is the former home of Tennessee Williams. From the courtyard I am sitting in, I could easily toss a baseball onto Tennessee’s former roof. The proximity of his home to Peterson’s condeaux was a surprise to them, as I discovered it on my first visit to their getaway neighborhood, as I read the bronze historic marker affixed to the wall of the structure. That is my compulsion here in the Quarter, where it is nearly impossible to travel a full block without some sort of Photo1645wall-mounted commemorative alloy indicator of some sort.

This is no New England ‘George-Washington-slept-here-yeah-right’ tourist gimmick.

A casual stroll in any direction of the French Quarter is a history lesson to be absorbed: the tribulations of Spanish ownership and French possession, the days of Jean Lafitte, Marie Leveaux and other sundry rogues are all venerated in ample, forged bronze. Jazz greats and their many milestones as a genre was birthed and the purest of American art forms evolved are also celebrated. There are notable pirates, heroes and villains. Painters and writers. Scalawags and incognito ne’er-do-well share historical marker space with captains of industry and high society madams. Generals, governors, future presidents – an array of historical pomp and circumstance –all here for the fascinating, abbreviated reading. There are also trumpet players, trombonists, drummers, pianists and producers to be celebrated. All get their due, because they spent time here. They came here to pillage, conquer, control, carouse and create in. They came to write.

Tennessee Williams wrote here. So did William Faulkner. Tonight, I do too.

Photo1652I picked up a six pack of Abita Amber on my way down to the Quarter, where the courtyard, a small café table and comfortable chair await. The beer is satisfying, the night crisp enough to keep it adequately chilled, the atmosphere and inspiration keeps keyboard fingers warm and nimble even as the unseasonable temperature dips into the forties.

Upon my arrival, while truffle-pigging a rare, elusively available, Quarter parking spot, I encountered a couple of horse and mule drawn carriages on tour, and hoped that once ensconced in the courtyard and at my keyboard, the sounds of hooves on pavement and cobblestone would add to the mystique. Instead, the thick walls, and the condeaux location at the back of what was once a fine antebellum home (their condeaux – all 300 square feet of it – is the former slave quarters) leave me isolated from most of the traffic and neighborhood noise, save the occasional police siren and barking of a few large dogs.

I type, sip beer, revel in every moment.

The silence is crashed by surprising and lengthy horn blasts from the Steamboat Natchez, announcing her return from the evening dinner cruise up the Mississippi. The long, slow, steam whistle is comforting Greek chorus to the soft clicking of my laptop keys, and far surpasses hooves on asphalt for adding ambiance.

Photo1648As I type, I realize that while I may be emulating Williams, my medium would be foreign to him. I have no paper to align or platen to spin; finished work, removal of the page with a clicking flourish satisfaction is not part of the equation here. I think back a few years, to an Internet offer that came my way: a program that turns the sounds of your laptop into that of a typewriter – clicking keys, end-of-line bell, carriage return zipping – all customizable and authentic to the sounds of your favorite vintage make and model typewriter.

At the time, it seemed mildly amusing but frivolous – and also likely to become very annoying after five minutes of use. Were I to receive the same offer tonight…?

Not so much.

Another sip of beer and I set the bottle down on the table to my left. I am no gin drinker and good whiskey was not in tonight’s budget, so I am less Williams or Faulkner than I am Kerouac wannabe, settling for beer. And while the bottle of Louisiana brew beside me is flavorful and satisfying, it is an accouterment to the evening – not an office supply.

Photo1656The night continues, the chill settling in, the writer’s block plaguing me of late is going the way of the mercury and crumbling to dust like so many of the two-century-old red bricks that surround me – though far more quickly. The Quarter, at least my cozy locale, is quiet. The big dog down the street is no longer agitated – or at least in for the night. It has been a solid hour since any sirens, the steamboats are at rest wharf side.

Time passes by with ease, the ideas flow at the same pace. It remains quiet, save the tapping of words coming to life.

The sound of my fingers on laptop keys is different, new to me – a remake of a classic song you know, but don’t quite recognize.  Most often my writing is done in pseudo solitude with a soundtrack of city traffic, two ambling, and tag jingling dogs, video game playing teenagers, Sinatra or sixties via plugged-in ear buds. A life in motion, with soundtrack.

This is most definitely not that.

Photo1646The sounds of my keyboarding begin to amuse me: I am no Buddy Rich of the laptop. My irregular pounding lacks rhythm or anything resembling a tempo or musical beat. I doubt my seven-finger-and-both-thumbs modified hunt-and-peck method would even qualify as good scat.

I type to the beat of my own drummer until I sense a restful sleep coming on. I shut down my laptop, take a last look around, head inside, closing French doors and hurricane shutters behind me; the clicking of the various ancient hinges and latches momentarily sounds like ice cubes being dropped into a glass. I imagine the ghost of Tennessee Williams seeking to borrow a cup of gin as I lock the door, smiling, and settle in for the night

# # #

Thursday morning in a French Quarter courtyard. A little past five, and as refreshing and satisfying as last night’s beer was, the morning coffee (New Orleans, not Irish) freshly brewed, locally roasted, offers even more. The morning is crisp – I can see my breath, rising and evaporating along with the steam from the coffee. I pick up where I left off the night before, awaiting a crooked dawn, knowing that my cozy alcove will let in only a hint of the day’s sunshine. I type, sip, prepare to fully welcome the day at hand.

Photo1657The coffee is superb, as is the arrival of the morning sun, peeking as it does, over and around the surrounding roofs. In an hour I will need to finish the coffee, pack up laptop and leftover beer, and head for school – our last day before a long, Easter weekend. The kids were done yesterday, but teachers have a morning of training before parents begin arriving for early afternoon conferences. A light day, off to a relaxing start.

Photo1658As I sip my coffee and watch the first rays of sunlight waving hello I wonder just how strange this tableau would seem to Messrs. Williams and Faulkner; a laptop, hot coffee, a fiber bar for breakfast. No liquid morning ‘pick me up’ is needed. Not here, not now.

I finish most of the half pot of coffee I brewed, put the rest into a travel mug. I pack up, lock up, and head for the street to find my car and head to school. As I step out into the coming-to-life Quarter, I am passed by a middle-aged man riding a bike, steering his bike with one hand, holding an in-progress can of beer in the other. As he passes me, he waves with the hand holding the beer, then takes a swig from it.

As I watch him head down Burgundy Street, a perfectly logical New Orleans thought comes to mind: “He’s probably a writer”. Laughing at my own joke, I get in the car and drive off into the sunrise to go to work.

Photo1662

2012 Leftovers: Scraps, tidbits and what-thas…?

100_3851The ever-present-in-my-back-pocket Notebook of Niftiness (NON) becomes something of a Rubbermaid tub throughout the year; while many of the ideas and tidbits make their way into a post on either this blog or into a full-fledged poem for my poetry blog, some just languish there, out of sight, out of mind, but safe in the tub for future use. Or not. Many will never see the light of day again.

Some the notes in NON are tantalizing tidbits to build upon, some are merely interesting quotations I ran across during the year. Some were shorthand notes that made little sense days, weeks or even hours after I jotted them down. Some were interesting or amusing at the time I jotted them down, not so much after-the-fact. Some of the hasty chicken scratches I can’t even read.

Sometimes NON is more than an acronym.

Time to empty the tub. Or at least, rummage through it.

Wile-E-Coyote_fallingYear End News Item #1: ‘Congress reaches a short-term deal to avoid the fiscal cliff’.

Why do I continue to get mental images of Wyle E. Coyote and the word ‘ACME’?

Prime Misconception of the Year 2012: So with all the hubbub about the end-of-the-world via the Mayan calendar, even though it was well documented that the Mayans failed mayancalendar1to account for leap years and Monday holidays, many people were still fixated on the prognostication skills of a vanished culture that couldn’t even foresee their own demise.

The real reason the Mayan calendar ended with December 2012? Impractical design. Made of chiseled stone and measuring three feet or more in diameter, the damn things kept ripping the nails out of the Mayans adobe garage walls before the calendars crashed to the floor in pieces.mayancalendar2

That, and the sacrificial virgin pin-up pictures weren’t much to look at.

My 1st Prediction for 2013: Having moved to New Orleans nearly five years ago, I have become well acquainted with hurricanes, having had to evacuate for one twice in that fifty-some month span – including this past August for Isaac. The naming of hurricanes is curious. Something called the World Meteorological Organization (think ’10 o’clock news weather guessers in super hero tights’) have come up with the list since 1953, only adding male names in 1979. There are six lists that continue to rotate. The lists only change when there is a hurricane that is so devastating, the name is retired and another hurricane name replaces it. Interestingly, 2013 seems to have a decidedly more ethnic flavor; Fernand, Humberto, Ingrid, Lorenzo, Olga and Pablo standing out.

bookieMark my words: somewhere along the line, some elected idiot will somehow work this year’s hurricane names into the national debate on illegal immigration.

My bookie is standing by to take your sucker bets.

MarkTwainNotable quote seen…somewhere/Affirmation:
“In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards”.
– Mark Twain

In addition to the new state testing procedure were are now in year two of teaching toward, this year we also began the implementation of the new national Common Core Curriculum (don’t get me started). Oh, and this year our district is also adding mandatory ACT testing and the associated…uhm, teaching? It’s less ‘teaching to the test’ and more teaching ‘which test is which, again’?

Conclusion? Twian’s faith was grossly misplaced.

Year End News Item #2: Twenty percent of Americans who admit to making New Year’s resolutions say that ‘spending less time on BLOG in Portugese (2)Facebook’ was one of their main decrees to self. The Facebook proclamation came in third after ‘quitting smoking’ and ‘losing weight’.

As long as ‘reading blogs’ stays in the single-digits as a resolution, I’m jiggy with the whole ‘resolve to give stuff up’ approach. Good luck with that Facebook thing, by the way.

Things come in threes…

Early last fall, I wrote in this space about a sophomore who wrote an essay commenting on her sister’s positive attitude, and the inspiration the sister provides all of her younger siblings. She lauded, in worthy prose, her sister’s ‘self of steam.’

surprised-lady steamDiscussing her paper with her, I was met with a puzzled look as I tried to explain that what she meant was her sister had a lot of ‘self-esteem’ – even going so far as to having her look up ‘esteem’ in the dictionary. She paused, looked at her paper, looked up at me standing over her and said, distinctly, and with a definitely-correcting-me tone of voice: “Yeah, it’s her SELF. OF. STEAM, Mr. Lucker…how good she feels about herself”!

The young woman’s ‘self-of-steam’ stayed that way in the final draft.

Toward the end of the semester, we had some more writing to do that focused on sense-of-self and self-awareness. Sure enough, ‘self-of-steam’ once again reared its pesky head…not only with the girl who originally coined the phrase, but in the papers of two other classmates as well.

This episode reminded me of my first teaching gig a few years back. On a district social studies test, much to the amusement of our social studies teacher, three of my homeroom fifth graders used the same, oh-so-unique answer on a question about the effect that iron tools had on irontoolsthe new world: “When they got iron tools in the new world, people didn’t have to take their clothes to the dry cleaners no more”. Much as with my current sophomore, they could not be swayed that their answer was not perfectly logical and correct.

Maybe they could all get together to use some self-of-steam to press their uniform pants.

goodtimecharlierecordHey, it could always be worse. With apologies to Danny O’Keefe: “…sometimes it pours…sometimes it only sprinkles; Good Time Charlie’s got the periwinkles…”

A final thought: School cafeteria food raises the intriguing question, “Haute cuisine or hot food?” If you answered neither, you are correct.

Happy 2013.

For those who aren’t familiar with my poetry

My first writing love is poetry. Please check out my poetry blog, Ponderable polemics, poetic at  https://markluckerpoet.wordpress.com/

I have recently posted a brand new piece about the end of summer. Timely enough. I hope you enjoy it, and anything else you find there.

Been there, not done that

I have been on blog-hiatus.

It was not by choice, per se, it just sort of worked out that way. The last few weeks have been teacher-hectic, getting ready for a new school year and all, but that is a rather lame excuse. ‘Writers block’ has been an issue this summer, though truthfully, lately it has been more like ‘writers-detour’ – plenty of adventures-in-mundane-fonts begun, but…

Just one of those stretches, I guess.

Even my old standby technique of going through my collection of notebooks to resurrect incomplete pseudo-masterpieces or just get a spark from something I once thought worthy of putting on a page hasn’t generated much.

I am in an un-funky writing funk.

Not that I haven’t been trying; my blog file has been filling up with a weird assortment of vague idea outlines, some interesting opening paragraphs, half-germinated seedlings of a post. My blog file in Word resembles the inside of my refrigerator door; half-filled bottles of tasty dressings and condiments with crusted on lids (secondary asides…probably not enough for a full-fledged post) some great ideas I forgot I had until I see, then gleefully grab the jar only to find the contents well past their expiration date, and a few stray odds and ends that just leave me scratching my head, wondering “Why did I ever get or save THIS?”

I can’t even coax a decent haiku about baseball or Bourbon Street out of my right-brain.

Oh well. A new school year is upon us, and in just two days with students I have garnered a couple of tidbits that should work their way under the ol’ masthead. In the meantime, I keep plugging away, seeking that creative flint that will spark…

Eh. Too cliché.

Writer’s block is just part of the deal a writer makes with the devil that is creativity. It happens. The trick is to not give up, not give in, not entertain words like failure. You need to keep plugging away, seeking that metaphorical writer’s-Viagra…

Damn. Really bad analogy.

I guess I need to keep looking for that mindless behavior to chronicle, that moronic turn of phrase to ridicule. No, I don’t do politics in this space; writing about political foibles is too easy. Its like cheating on your mistress, muse….like using a rhyming dictionary to finish a poem….like stabbing your food with a chopstick….its like…like…

Ah, the scourge of writers block. As a proctologist friend of mine used to say, “This, too, shall pass.”

Playing With Writer’s Blocks

I’ve always enjoyed playing with blocks; what kid didn’t? Wooden blocks, of course, the first ones you get when you’re really little, and plastic blocks at my aunt and uncles house. Those plastic ones were my favorites: they weren’t Legos. They were some off-brand, all white blocks with some red and green windows and doors. Some of them were long and thin, which gave them a unique architectural flexibility I didn’t have at home with my primary-colors wooden ones. My older cousins had out-grown them, so that added to their coolness factor.

Sugar cubes can be used as blocks. I once built a pretty funky castle using nothing but a box of sugar and a bottle of Elmer’s glue. I always enjoyed playing with blocks.

Writer’s blocks…not so much. But you work with what you have, right?

So here I sit with a pile of blocks and plenty to get built but nothing is taking shape in front of me; it’s just a mound of metaphorical word shapes. Usually when I have a pile of writer’s blocks I can poke around in it and find a red rectangle or a purple cone, or maybe a green square or blue triangle and come up with…something. But not today, not all this past week. Even my old standby cure of pulling out weathered  notebook blocks and rummaging through long forgotten scribblings on cocktail napkins, steno pad pages and electric bill envelopes has not prompted anything of note from my inner Frank Lloyd Write.

Hey, a pun. That’s a start.

In a cyber-age attempt at putting a stent in the writer’s blockage of my creative arteries (getting closer) I simply Google the word ‘block.’ This gave me decidedly mixed results in terms of creativity, though I did come up with another example for my high school English students on why I don’t like them using dictionary.com

Note that site’s primary definition of ‘block’: ‘a solid mass of wood, stone, etc., usually with one or more flat or approximately flat faces.’

‘Approximately flat.’ What can I add to that? (Not much at this stage; you know I have writer’s block.) This will, however, be another fine example for me to beat my students over the head with a ‘be specific when you write!’ PowerPoint slide. Or something.

“Nah. I’ll wait til it comes out on Kindle.”

After that, as my students and own children would say, ‘epic fail’ of a definition, I moved on to my preferred dictionary of choice, the tried-and-true folks at Merriam-Webster.com would not let me down.

Right?

From M-W: ‘block noun, often attributive \ˈbläk\ Definition of BLOCK 1: a compact usually solid piece of substantial material especially when worked or altered to serve a particular purpose: as a: the piece of wood on which the neck of a person condemned to be beheaded is laid for execution.’

I have no problem with the basic definition; what I found interesting was their choice for the primary example being a chopping block. For people.

The fine folks upholding Noah Webster’s legacy don’t watch the Food Network? They opted for heads of heretics over heads of garlic? I realize while this tangent doesn’t do a whole lot to advance my narrative here, or do much to solve my writers block, it does afford a really gratuitous opportunity to throw a Rachael Ray picture into a blog post.

That’s gotta be worth something.

Back to dictionary.com. Their thirty-one examples of ‘block’ as a noun include such obscurities as examples from Philately and Falconry. They only offer eleven examples for ‘block’ as a verb, and while there are some obscurities on that list too, my favorite definition of ‘block’ as a verb was this, at overall number 39: ‘Sports . to hinder or bar the actions or movements of (an opposing player), especially legitimately.’

‘Especially legitimately.’ Clunky punctuation, but a good qualifier. There has to be a use for that phrase somewhere. Somewhere.

So here we are, only slightly closer to me having turned my bunch of writer’s blocks into a verbiage Taj Mahal than I was an hour ago. Though in the process of Googling ‘blocks’ and finding cute little graphics for this post, I did stumble across a couple of things to be saved as future fodder for…something.

For example, on a website listing for ‘Famous Executioners’ I found, mixed in with Inquisition All-Stars, conquerors and other brutal ancients, American president Grover Cleveland. Apparently, as sheriff of Buffalo, New York, Grover executed two criminals by hanging them. Later in his political career, his opponents tried to use this against him, but according to the site, many voters of them time thought the nickname ‘Buffalo’s Hangman’ showed him to be tough on crime. (The nickname probably came from some late 1800’s focus group.)

I also found out some interesting trivia about garlic, and then there was this picture of Rachael Ray I stumbled across, and….some other stuff for another time and post.

There. Now I have some fresh (metaphorical) blocks to tinker with…

Hey! Tinker Toys! You can build lots better stuff with those than with blocks anyway.

Happily, Less Full of Phil

This year provided one of the best last-day-of-school experiences I have ever had; certainly the best in the four-years since my mid-life career change placed me in front of various New Orleans high school classrooms.

The fact that I am slated to start the next school year in the same place I ended the previous one is a celebratory first. Being recognized for the accomplishments of my students via their test scores, developing a strong set of professional relationships at a place I really enjoy working and being part of a team-oriented environment all puts a decidedly different spin on reviewing the past year and looking ahead to the next. Add in the fact that I did most of what I did this year on the fly, being hired a month into the school year at a ‘turn around’ school, and there is a lot of personal and professional satisfaction to be had.

But there is another, doesn’t-show-up-in-the-grade-book stat that points to a successful year: I’m running low on my supply of Phil Dacey’s old poetry journals.

Phil Dacey

Phil is a poet, and a pretty darn good one  http://www.philipdacey.com/ . I first met Phil in the fall of 2003; he was one of my professors in the writing program at Southwest Minnesota State University, and I had the immense good fortune of catching him in his last year before retiring after over thirty years of teaching. As a forty-four year old ‘non-trad’ in a top-notch college writing program, I had a different take on things than my peers, and a different appreciation for some of the different verbal proclivities of some of my professors – Phil included. I was often the only student in the room chuckling at an obscure aside.

I spent my first semester back in school after a fourteen-year layoff in Phil’s very intense poetics class, where we spent the semester working our way through an 810 page volume entitled Poems for the Millennium; the University of California book of modern & postmodern poetry. A book and a class like that can either ignite or squelch a love of poetry. In Phil’s hands, we got to explore. And love. (Well, mostly love) poetry of all kinds.

Phil’s plan for retirement was to move from the plains of southwestern Minnesota to the confines of a New York City apartment. This required divesting himself of a massive collection of books, journals and other poetic paraphernalia amassed over a forty-plus year stretch as a student and teacher, and his preferred method of disposal of these goodies was hallway distribution to anybody who wanted them.

An added, tactile bonus to my first year at SMSU.

It became a routine of many of us: swing by Phil’s office to see what he placed in boxes or simply stacked outside of his office door under a Magic Marker-scrawled ‘Help yourself’ sign. While I snatched a few hard-cover books from my daily office drive-bys, I concentrated mostly on the myriad of poetry journals Phil was releasing from dusty shelf captivity and back into the wild.

I fancy myself a poet, and to be hanging out with and learning from poets like Phil and other SMSU notables every day was an experience that I was soaking in and enjoying to the hilt. The fact that I was also expanding my library exponentially on a weekly basis was just frosting on the cake – though a source of dismay to my wife, who was not a fan of my pack-rat tendencies in general.

But there was a method to my madness. As Phil and his fellow poet-profs reminded us regularly, if you’re going to write poetry, you need to read a lot of poetry. So I did.

To say Phil’s collection of journals was eclectic was an understatement. There were mainstream and underground selections, slick, university press journals and crudely mimeographed, hand stapled tomes and everything in between. Some were very high-brow, many were themed-endeavors of some sort, a lot were outright weird. Many of them were sent or given to Phil for review and were autographed with personal notes; many of them also had Phil’s notations covering much of the margins. (One thing I don’t think I ever told Phil was that I learned as much about his evolution as a writer and evaluator by reading his commentaries on the work of others as I did from actually reading his poetry.)

Most of these journals dated from the 1970’s and 80’s – apparently Phil’s heyday for such poetry publications, both in terms of volume and breadth of styles and topics. While there were a number of slick, professional looking entries (mostly from prestigious university presses) most of them were modest budget and fairly small and thin; thirty, forty pages or so in length, most about the size of a Reader’s Digest.

By the time the ‘03-‘04 school year and Phil’s career as an official teacher had come to a close, I had amassed a sizeable chunk of his journal horde – a couple hundred volumes, tightly filling three copier-paper boxes.

Phil retired and I went on to graduate in 2006 with a B.A. in literature and creative writing and an impressive personal library of books my professors had written augmented with a whole lot of interesting poetry journals prominent and obscure.

Fast forward to 2008. I moved with my wife and two sons to New Orleans to step into a new life as an English teacher in one of the worst public school systems in America, while at the same time  my wife was transitioning to become a special education teacher. While we left behind corporate careers and shed much of our stuff, I made sure my library (including aforementioned poetry journals) came with me – for professional as well as personal reasons.

While I had visions of some sort of initiating some sort of inner-city-Dead Poet’s Society-love-of-words epiphany for my students, courtesy of my personal love of poetry and my rather broad collection of non-mainstream poetical works, it has yet to materialize.

At least, the way I envisioned it.

Over the past four years, beginning with my first-year-of-teaching, aged 13-to-17, New Orleans ward-loyal, gang-banging, ankle-bracelet-wearing eighth graders, through last year’s 8th, 11th and 12th grade New Orleans East charter school wannabe toughs, to this year’s batch of struggling west bank (some well over age) sophomores and juniors, those journals have been trotted out at least a few times each semester, whenever poetry rears its mischievous head on our curriculum.

They get us out of the standard textbook’s American Literary Canon and mainstream stabs at diversity, and sets us off on some very different planes. (Oh sure, I still give them a dose of Whitman and Dickinson, and I love Frost so they get a bit of him, too, but we go off on some…definite roads less traveled.) It’s funny what kids will connect with.

Poetry overall is exasperating for my students. They are frequently confused with poetry in general, as the idea of interpretations varying widely from person to person frustrates them; they seek concrete yes/no answers, and poetry – good poetry- doesn’t often offer that singular certainty.

To top it off, in Mr. Lucker’s class, wildly different poetic interpretations (as long as they have some rational basis) are celebrated, further adding to my student’s consternation. Whether they are more frustrated with differing viewpoints, or my embrace of multiple viewpoints…I haven’t figured that out yet. I can tell you that my students test scores have been pretty good, and that when it comes to reading comprehension, my students score quite well. I attribute some of that to our reading a lot of poetry.

I don’t pander to the (often) lower common denominators of basic metaphor and simile examples in the textbooks. Phil’s old poetry journals help me go further than that. I like getting out those journals into my students hands – they’re different. They are compact, and for the most part, don’t look like the typical turn-off-their-interest book, especially once the students open them – often the most difficult part of the equation.

But my stash of old journals is shrinking.

I noticed as I packed up my room last week that I am down to my last copier-paper box of Phil’s poetry journals – and not a quite full box, at that. Over the past four years, many of them have disappeared into the bookbags of my students; many of them under some sort of subterfuge (I’m not sure I could ever accuse a kid of ‘stealing’ poetry, so I let ‘em go) and many go to kids asking if they could keep a particular journal, or specific poem. (Instead of letting a kid who asks to ‘tear out one poem’ from a journal, I tell them ‘just take the whole book.’) A few of the journals have basically disintegrated from classroom use and abuse, but for the most part, they have simply found their way into a student’s hands and head. Where they end up…?

I think Phil would be okay with that.

Making poetry accessible was, and I would think still is, important to Phil. Nowadays, it’s important to me, too. So even though my supply of poetry journals is running low, I figure the box I have left should get me through the next school year. It’s been fun while it lasted, and hopefully some of those kids got something out of whatever little volume they took from my class.

It is not what I had planned when I began collecting Phil’s old journals, but then again, what poet ever plans a really good poem?

My diagnosis? ‘George Washington Syndrome.’ (Or: Cherry tree? Whats a cherry tree?)

“What this night really needs is a couple of good lies to be told.”
– Me, speaking to two teaching colleagues, 7:00 P.M. 03/26/12

We had parent-teacher conferences at school last Monday night, and six of mine showed up out of roughly 75 students. Not a great ratio, but better than many of my colleagues. Of the six, they all had legitimate concerns and none was disputing my interpretations of what was ailing their kids in my class. Only one of the six protested that her kid was doing ‘okay’ in her other classes, but also acknowledged that her daughter doesn’t like to do a lot of writing, so English is always a struggle.

I wasn’t getting ‘beat up’ by parents as can frequently happen in such situations. My guests were all rational and seemed to want to work together.

My only issue with my well-meaning parental visitors was that almost all of them shared personal information about their kids and/or family situations that, while helpful in explaining some things, also went wayyyyy over the line into TMI mode. As is frequently the case here in New Orleans, some folks have boundary issues. (This is not confined to parent teacher night: in making phone calls home just this week, I have learned way more than I ever should have about three family situations – information that had I ever ventured to ask about would probably get me fired.)

As usual, the biggest head scratchers came from the students themselves. Two of the parents who showed up in my class had their respective child in tow…both of whom surprised me with their lack of guile.

To wit:

Student #1:
Male. 11th grader.
Bright kid, a year from graduation. Spends most of English class joking with his girlfriend. When he writes, he writes well. Periodically participates in class discussions, knows the material yet usually bombs any quizzes. usually not a huge discipline issue for me.

Explained situation to mom (left out the girlfriend part, opting for the more generic and also true, ‘talks and messes around’ a lot). Mom looks at kid, asks, “Is that true?”

“Well, yeah.” Mom sits dumbfounded, looking at kid. I am watching from across the table. Mom says, “So, what Mr. Lucker is telling me is true. And you admit it.”

“Well, yeah.” kid says with a shrug

“May I ask why?” responds mom evenly.

“I don’t know.”

“You know all this stuff, right? You’ve never had problems with English before. What is the problem here?”

“I just don’t feel like doing it.” says kid, with a matter of fact shrug.

“You don’t feel like it? We all have things we ‘don’t feel like doing’ sometimes. You think your dad and me don’t feel that about our jobs ? But we do it because we have to. Your job is to be a student, even when you don’t feel like it.”

“This stuff doesn’t interest me.”

“But you need this to get through to your senior year. You know that.”

“Yeah, but it aint interesting. Nothing here is interesting.”

Mom proceeds to read kid the riot act on why he is in school, what he should be doing, why it escapes her how he can be doing the wrong thing and admits it, what privileges he is about to lose, etc. She then looks at me and shakes her head. “Mr. Lucker. I don’t know what to tell you outside of he will be doing better and if he doesn’t, you call me. “

“Yes, ma’am.” We say our goodbyes, she looks at her kid incredulously as they walk off down the hallway.

Along with that kid, and the parents who apparently confuse me with Dr. Phil, the pièce de résistance of the night was this kid:

Male. 10th grader.
Bright kid, has a history of good test scores. Spends most of English class talking or just staring into space. When he writes, he writes well. Rarely writes, and when he does, he frequently stops in mid-sentence, leaving thoughts unfinished. Embellishes every handout or paper that comes his way with names of his favorite basketball teams and drawings of their logos.

First part of our discussion concerned his behaviors as noted above. Kid did not disagree with my assessment, agreed that it was fairly accurate. Also shrugged when asked ‘why’ by mom. Mom was perplexed; kid is very bright, mom is a degreed professional, very involved, truly seems to ‘get it.’ Then came this exchange.

“Mr. Lucker, how did Oscar* do on his tests?”

“Poorly. Another big thing that cost him, grade wise, was not getting in his second book report. It was worth two test grades.” Which prompted her to turn and look at her son.

“You love to read. Why didn’t you turn in your book report?”

“Because I didn’t finish the book from the first book report.” I had forgotten that fact.

“True. He didn’t get that one turned in, either.” I remembered.

“Why didn’t you get that one turned in?”

“Mom, the book is 516 pages long. I couldn’t finish it.”

“Why” I asked, unable to hold back my curiosity, having required a simple, 200 page novel for said book report, “did you pick a 516 page book for your book report?”

“It was the only book in the library that looked interesting.”

“The only one in our school library that looked interesting?”

“Yes sir.”

“Was it a Harry Potter book?” I asked, puzzled, never having seen the kid with such a huge tome in his possession, and having not seen that many books of that size in our library – except for HP.

“No. It’s called ‘Caged’.”

“Wait a minute;  that the book that’s been sitting on your dresser for a month?” asked mom.

“It hasn’t been there a month.”

“Well, it was a two-week project, due two weeks ago…so a month sounds about right.” I interjected, in reference to book report two – book report one was a month before that.

“No, I got it for the first book report. And it’s overdue at the library. I owe money on that one, so I couldn’t get a second book.”

Mom looks on, dumbfounded, as I remind Oscar and explained to mom that anyone who didn’t have library privileges for whatever reason could always get a book from my classroom library, pointing to my large, very visible, lime-green bookshelf. Mom’s eyes narrowed.

“Why in heaven’s name would you pick a book that big and then miss two book reports?” She asked. Quite logically, I thought.

“I couldn’t finish it, mom. It’s 516 pages long!”

Mom looks at me, mouth agape.

“I don’t know what I can tell you, ma’am. Like I said, he could’ve gotten a book from me at any time…”

“But I already had a book, Mr. Lucker.”

“But you didn’t read it!” reminded his mother firmly, through clenched teeth.

Because it was 516 pages long – I keep telling you that!” said Oscar, plaintively.

After a few seconds of strange silence, mom wraps up our session with a handshake. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Lucker. I don’t know what to tell you.” With that, mother and son walk out the door and down the hallway – silently.

Life proving once again that truth is stranger than fiction, as I wrapped up for the night I couldn’t help but wonder: as a writer and a teacher, do I in good conscience need to spend more time with my students focusing on the art of creative story telling?

Oh yeah – that whole truth-is-stranger thing.