This, That, & Other Things
“There are connections to be made here. Meaning is where you make it.”
JuxtapositionChapter: On Writing & Not
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I was about the age SchoolLess is now, an early adolescent dealing with the usual sensory distractions and confusions, when I fell in love with juxtaposition.  I loved its sound, the quick one two punch of “juxta,” the enticing caesura followed by the smooth ease into and out of “position.”  I loved the sexually connotative definition:  “the act or an instance of placing two or more things side by side; also: the state of being so placed.”  The existential nature of the idea thrilled me most.

SchoolLess has come to share my love for juxtaposition, as he shares my love of spicy food, Red Sox masochism, an appreciation for the comforting anonymity of a big city, and the inability or unwillingness to resolve inner conflict.

I believe in the power of juxtaposition.  A collection—of rag dolls or bobble head penguins, baseball cards or stamps, feelings or fragments—is a singular thing, by definition a whole.

Below are some of my widows and orphans, a quick and dirty selection not meant to be comprehensive or coherent.  “Kill your babies,” is the workshop mantra, and I did, but here, with the deity-defying power of copy and paste, some remnants have been resurrected.

For example, something that didn’t make it into my recent post, “Failed Youths” re: the parental human heart in conflict with itself:

Go to bed?  Everything you do is greatdobetter.  Mommy and I argue because we love each other.  I’m going to sit with a beer and a ballgame while you do your homework. “Hurry up and slow down,” as John Wooden used to say (don’t get me wrong, on the basketball court this makes sense).  Remember the pushmi-pullyu?

This reminds me of the querulous question asked by a teammate of SmallerMan’s after a post-error exchange with his coach-father: “Why are you yelling at me?”

The father’s right-back-at-you answer:  “If I’m not going to yell at you, who will?”

My first thought, unexpressed, was, “Hey, relax, back off, it happens.”  My second thought, expressed, albeit later and not to the implicated parties, was, “Well, right, of course, who else?”

From some notes—they make sense to me—titled “Follow the Research”:

. . . . studies,” “policies” (i.e. Wilton); repeated comments, not seen as a    teaching moment but congratulatory; these are not isolated incidents but, rather, representative moments; kids calling out, but then “it’s already out   there,” yes, exactly; parents re accommodations; the road to hell; lemmings; Ravitch, etc., winging it at Hampshire; the social curriculum as a challenge for smart, quiet boys; changed my mind; who I was, who I am, who I want to be …

A note from one of Skeptic’s favorites, “Where’s the Rigor?”:

Rigor is not a Platonic ideal.  It’s comparative, relative, competitive.  The stakes are always being raised.  It’s not about being sufficiently or appropriately or ideally rigorous, it’s about being the most rigorous.

Here’s something from the promised but never delivered follow-up to “Listing” called “The Omer”; it’s a list of things I had done in the 49 days (and counting, as it turned out) that passed last spring without a post:

  • I have attended nineteen kids’ baseball games and eight kids’ concerts.
  • I have been to psychotherapy six times, plus an additional  “emergency” session by Skype.
  • I have read and graded 63 student portfolios—almost a thousand pages!
  • I have spent too many hours thinking about paint colors and light fixtures.
  • I have read bits and pieces of dozens of books but have not finished any.
  • I have eaten 126 meals and consumed approximately 42 alcoholic drinks. 
  • I have spent either ten hours a week (my estimate) or twenty (Skeptic’s) watching sports.
  • I have, after much soul searching and online research, purchased my first ever pair of expensive headphones.
  • I have attended one high school admissions session run by the DOE (one is enough FYI).
  • I have taken 28 naps.

Speaking of “Listing”, here is an alphabet soup of education-related acronyms I meant to include:  IDEA, TEAC, STEM, FERPA, POGIL, NCLB, LIFO, SCANS, IEP, DOE, FML.

A note about my own writing:  “I make myself cry.  I make myself laugh.  I piss myself off.  I fill myself with resentment.  I can make you fall in love with me.  I can kick your ass.”

Re: relationships, lovey-dovey, and all that.  Skeptic, looking for something, a physical object or a bit of mental ephemera, referred to her “cognitive blind spots.”

I say, “You got ’em, baby,” she counters quickly with, “So do you, dude.”

I would have included this in “Life Is Good,” but it only came to me yesterday:

A story told ten times may be ten stories but that doesn’t mean one of them isn’t true or, at least, truer.  In a time when narrative seems increasingly manipulated, when opinion and subjectivity are lines of defense, it is essential that we do not allow our critical sensibilities to be co-opted.  My opinion may be that your opinion is wrong.  Where does that leave us?  It has become too easy to agree to disagree.

Although I rarely remember my dreams, there is one that recurs; I haven’t found a home for it yet so here you go:

I am scurrying through the shallowed halls of Wilton HighSchoolI can smell it, my sweat and everybody else’s—trying frantically to find the classroom where I am scheduled to take a final exam in something I can’t fake:  trig or chem or Russian.  I have not been to the class in a very long time.  I am searching for the destination of my inevitable failure.

From a recent department meeting re: the “issue” of education majors:  “How can she be a great teacher if she can’t write a sentence?”

From one of too many aborted—I can’t write when emotionally roiled—“things fall apart” posts:  Nothing to bring a Sunday night back from the brink of gloom and doom like 30 Rock and ruggelah.

Had the impulse to write a post called “Define Your Terms”:  smart, funny, happy, educated, important.  Idea started with “insignificant’ (see note from J.D. Salinger to his maid below) and ended, apparently, with “finish.”

“Dear Mary—Please make sure all the errands are done before you go on vacation, as I do not want to be bothered with insignificant things.  Thank you, J.D. Salinger.”

On Sunday, in Prospect Park, some women in hijabs, at first mistaken for nuns, meandered through center field.  They did not respond to the yells of parents, kids, umpires, begging the question—I didn’t ask it, at least not aloud, but somebody did—“How oblivious can you be?”

[Statement of non-discrimination: they could just as easily have been nuns, or Hasidim or Park Slope moms high on prolactin, or whatever they’re high on].

I misspoke the other day and referred to SchoolLess not as “home schooled” but as “homeless.”  A classic Freudian slip, I suppose, if you’re into that kind of thing.  Of course we know now that Freud was an asshole (so to speak).  Rush Limbaugh and the feminists can agree on that.

Skeptic exclaims, “The Internet is amazing!”  I suggest a post built around this observation.  She suggests she’d kill me.  Nuff said.

Think about “emotional attachment” re: school, learning, food, habits, traditions, dysfunction, etc.

I am known to some in the ‘hood as “the home school guy,” should write about this.

After my father, a first line for a post or a short story or a therapy session:  “File cabinets scare the hell out of me.”

From “Glint of Light” re: the desire I have for my children to be happy:

There are a couple of complicating conditions.  The happiness need not be attributed to me but cannot be in spite of me.  I must comprehend the happiness.  I must participate in it.  And the happiness cannot be dependent on me.

Meant to include in “Life Is Good” re: SchoolLess’s confused thinking about good and bad luck, the sadness of persistent misconception:

Is it better to be lucky but feel unlucky or to be unlucky but feel lucky?  Which is the more problematic in the end?

Lou Gehrig did not claim to be the luckiest man on the face of the Earth but rather considered himself such, a fine but important distinction.

From the long ago “Who’s the Asshole?” re: having the courage to be wrong:

Failure, not just being open to the possibility of it but the actual    experience, is inextricably linked with success.  How beautiful and fucked up is that?

From a post I started almost a year ago and never finished called and about “The Illusion of Control”:

We haven’t been reading out loud.  [Ed note: still the case.] We have had War Horse around for over a month, there was intention, for what that’s worth.  Will we do it tonight, tomorrow, Sunday morning?  I’d love to revisit some classics; nobody is ever too old for Winnie the Pooh or Roald Dahl.  When Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH was read aloud to younger siblings, I, a contentious teen, enjoyed lurking and listening.  

Dickens and H.G. Wells and a modified Beowulf are in the growing pile, as is the Holocaust memoir Four Perfect Pebbles, as well as the great (so I’ve heard) Moby Dick (we have it on “tape”), a book I have never come close to finishing but for years checked out of the Chilmark Library as an annual rite of passage.  Ovid’s Metamorphoses was meant as a follow up to Kafka’s bug story, though we have to find it first; it’s in the house somewhere.

From a post SmallerMan started but refused to finish (we are an oppositional bunch, I’ll say that):

My Dad and I go to Shake Shack after my asthma doctor.  I get pickles and tomatoes and ketchup on my burger.  My Dad gets everything.  We share a chocolate milkshake and lemonade.  We play catch with a Spaldeen.  I bet you know everything else. 

Propose that “wack job” be added to DSM-5.  The truth shall set ye free.

From an untitled post about young people today:

Good intentions are good but never enough.  And not getting this  limitedness leads to the “mistakes were made” mode of abdication:  it wasn’t on purpose, I tried, shit happens.  Don’t get me wrong:  not intending harm, trying and doing your best are admirable, as are good intentions, and shit does happen.  But such statements are often false.  False with intent or without, I suppose that matters some, but only if the “without” is not by design.  Plausible deniability, feigned indifference, blind disregard, anything can be justified.

The idea that could or should automatically leads to can—Does it come from Kant?  The Ten Commandments?  The Advaita Vendata?–in fact, leads too often to failure, to can’t.

And here’s SchoolLess hopping aboard the good ship “Woe Is Us”:  “Nobody takes the time to text anymore.”  Be afraid, be very afraid.

There are connections to be made here.  Meaning is where you make it.

Or has your imagination failed you?

Have I?

As with the moral of Tim O’Brien’s paradoxical and rhetorically tautological “How to Tell a True War Story”, maybe no meaning is meaning.  Or maybe you had to be there.

Or maybe life is absurd.

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