Slice of Life, Chapter Eight

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

Last night, I was accused of being a “Northampton Nationalist.” I accept that label, with pride. Northampton is the city where I live and it is a wonderful little place, with a vibrant downtown full of the arts and restaurants and music clubs. The outskirts where I own a home is a peaceful place. It is a neighborhood of giving and supportive people. I love that we are raising our family here.

The comment about my nationalism came following a Letter to the Editor that I wrote to the local newspaper on the topic of our city’s Poet Laureate program. It was published yesterday morning. This is the second time the city has chosen someone who does not live within our city for the post and it completely befuddles me. I know the reason — they want a higher profile — but I can’t fathom why we can’t have someone who lives here representing poetry for our residents. (The two Poet Laureates who are the outsiders are this year’s Leslee Newman — a talented writer and educator — and Martin Espada — a fantastic political poet). We even have a very active Poet Society that puts on shows and readings and events.

The playful accusation came during a large block party called The Spring Blues, in which more than 150 neighbors, complete with hordes of kids, gathered together to eat 35 pizzas and try to win an assortment of prizes (ie, junk) in a fun-filled raffle that also raises money for our neighborhood civic association. We did not want the cast-iron potbelly stove nor the doggy shade tent, but we came home with a box of baseball cards, 15 small rubber duckies, a large fire truck (the catch of the night for the three year old), a white stuffed bear and a potato gun (there’s gonna be trouble, I can tell).

Eight people at the party pulled me aside to agree with my letter to the newspaper, so I guess I was on to something.

Here is my letter:

I am writing to both praise and question the city’s Poet Laureate program. I heap plenty of kudos on the initiative because, as a writer and as a teacher of young writers, I think the role of a City Poet is such a wonderful concept. I love that we as a city can celebrate writing and poems in this way and that the Poet Laureate is designated to act as a sort of ambassador into the world of rhythm and rhyme and verse. What I don’t understand is how we can be choosing Poet Laureates who don’t actually live in Northampton and then call them the Northampton Poet Laureate. This is not to be considered criticism about Leslee Newman, who is a fantastic writer and who works diligently with others to promote the power of writing. (I also understand she used to live here but no longer does). I know there may be a desire for a higher-profile person on the part of the selection committee. But I believe that we have such talent in Northampton itself and such a diverse group of writers that we should be able to choose someone who is now living in the city and who is part of our city life to be the designee. It strikes me as wrong that we need to seek talent from outside our community. I would rather have our poets come from within the city itself.

Peace (in pizza and life slices),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter Seven

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

Not more than four years ago, I could barely turn on a computer and use anything other than MS Word. Today, my home seems littered with technological debris. It’s amazing how quickly the Revolution takes place.

This was brought to my mind last night as our older sons pitted my wife and I against each other in some tangled version of “Are you smarter than your spouse.” The boys were asking us trivia questions and my wife and I were expected to shout out the answer — the quickest answer got the point. My wife is much smarter than I am and quick on the draw, too, so I was down in the points column for some time (ie, forgot that the capital of Illinois is Springfield and I shouted out Thomas Edison for discovery of electricity — doh — too much pressure, I tell ya).

At one point, we were all unclear about a question and answer, and my wife told the boys to get a dictionary and look it up. Now, we have dictionaries all over the place (when both of your parents are educators, that will happen). But they looked at us as if we were some oddities from another planet.

“Let’s just Google it,” the older one said.

“No, get a dictionary,” my wife insisted.

They went into the other room and ostensibly came back with the dictionary, but later, I found my computer screen on Google, with information to the answer we were seeking. I guess they could not resist. The technology is there, so why not use it? (I imagine they thought if it this way and, well, why not?)

That’s when I glanced around my house and thought about all of the technology that we have and the world they are growing up in. What are we exposing them to?

So here is my Household Technology Inventory:

  • One Dell desktop computer (about 5 years old now but still running smooth)
  • One Dell laptop (mostly used for movie editing and for workshop presentations)
  • One XO laptop (my little green machine)
  • One Canon digital videocam
  • One Pure Digital flash video camera (the pocket-sized one)
  • Two digital cameras
  • Four MP3 Players (don’t ask)
  • One digital voice recorder
  • An assortment of flash drives
  • Plus, the usual array of microphones and speakers, etc

What about you?

Peace (in too much cool stuff),
Kevin

PS — I made a strong comeback in the trivia game, correctly getting the capital of Puerto Rico and the years that Franklin Pierce was president (pure guess). We celebrated by having the boys put away laundry. Mom and Dad were both winners!

Slice of Life, Chapter Six

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

It’s pothole season and I feel it in my teeth. Here is my dilemma: there is long way to get to school that is boring and non-descipt and there is a short way to school that is quite a lovely road. I, of course, want to go the short way, and not just for the time saved. It wanders through the open fields and pastures of some local farms, moving through quiet residential neighborhoods. At one point, the road opens up onto the top of the hill with a fantastic view of a local mountain and a sloping farm with horses. I get some comfort saying a silent hello to Mr. Ed out in the fields.

So, you say, what’s the problem? Take the short scenic route.

The problem is that this time of year, after all of the snow and ice and rainfall, the entire road comes alive with car-killing potholes. Due to ts relative quiet, the road is barely on the local public works map. Driving to school becomes a death sport, swerving to avoid the holes that were not there the say before and cringing at every dip in the road. If if were safe to close your eyes, you would do it.

And so, my teeth hurt from every bump and bang in the road that jars the car into submission. It’s already at the point where I am considering the long way to school, if only to avoid a costly trip to the local garage for an alignment. Remember? It was me wishing for Spring? Yeah. I just don’t remember putting in an order for the potholes that come along with. I guess I had a classic case of New England Amnesia.

Peace (in dips and holes),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter Six

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

Sigh. Today’s slice of life is all about frustration.

At my school, I am one of the two technology coordinators, which really means that if your printer goes down or your email doesn’t work, we hack into your computer and tell you the words you most want to hear: “I have no idea what’s wrong. Sorry.” And then we call in the real technology support from the school district. You can imagine, though, how busy I look while I sit at your computer and how much tech jargon can fall from my mouth when I want it too.

No, it’s not like that. Not really. We do kind of know what we are doing, some of the time.

Anyway, one of my tasks is to keep one of our carts of laptops up and running, which I don’t mind doing since having the cart housed in my room makes it SO much easier for my students to use them. But, from time to time, I do have to say goodbye and watch the rolling house of computers go out of my room to another classroom. That is good. That means more kids are using technology.

But …. I wish other teachers would take better care of the equipment. It’s bad enough reminding kids to be careful. “That costs $1,000 — if you drop it, your parents buy us a new one!” I also have to come down hard on my teaching friends and colleagues, who just don’t seem to get it. And here is one reason why there is often a great divide between teachers and technology coordinators. At our school, teachers have ripped power cords from the wall (luckily averting a power surge into the cart of laptops), lost crucial connecting wires for our video cameras (Did you know a power cord for a video camera costs almost as much as the camera itself?), dropped digital cameras, misplaced microphones and headphones, and let kids do all sorts of stuff unattended on the computers.

Yesterday morning, I opened up the computer cart — my students are part of the Many Voices for Darfur social action project — and I completely flipped out. All of the power cords from the laptops were jumbled up in a rat’s nets of wires. It was an incredible tangle that was jammed so tight together that I could barely get the laptops out of the cart. It was like trying to do a complex piece of origami with the shakes. I was furious and had to spend 15 minutes of my own precious time working all of the wires free and tucking them back in, and then I discovered that a handful of the laptops had not even been plugged in to the cart the night before and so, they were never charged up. Ahhhhh.

Luckily, there were no kids in earshot as I swore my head off, cursing and muttering to myself. I was much cooler later in the day when I confronted one of the teachers who had used the cart. She expressed ignorance and said she had seen the wires but did not know if it had been her students or if it had been like that before she got the cart from another teacher. What? I had to resist the urge to berate her (since that is very unprofessional) so I diplomatically used my words (just like we teach our kids) to let her know that SHE NEEDS TO A BETTER JOB OF TAKING CARE OF THE COMPUTERS!!!

Sigh.

Peace (in untangling the mess of life),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter Five

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

Remember Interplanet Janet (she’s the galaxy girl)?

Janet is the name of the newest member of my rock and roll band (The Sofa Kings) as last night at practice in the third floor attic where we play, she sang out her heart and won the praise of all of us. This has been a tough couple of months for us as a band. We had spent much of 2007 working on a CD project (now completed) and then the lead singer/keyboard player decided that he wanted to pursue his own projects. This was a bit of a shock to the rest of us, needless to say, and now the CD is on the way back-burner (did I mention it was done and ready for release?) as we have been trying to regroup and figure out a way forward. I am the main songwriter, saxophonist, sometimes-rhythm guitarist and periodic vocalist.

I’ve been playing with a core group of friends for about 12 years now, and we have had any number of people come and go (and we have gone through a few names, too). The addition of someone new always changes the sound and the energy. Therefore, it is a bit stressful. In the past few months, we have auditioned a handful of folks, including one computer science engineer who sang baritone as if he were a karaoke machine. We had someone who has been in the news as a suspected child molester want to audition (he forgot to mention that fact but someone in the band figured it out). We had keyboardist who also played trumpet, saxophone and who knew what the heck he was going to pull out of his Magic Bag next. I was waiting for the kazoo. (He needed a band that was playing out a few nights a week – that ain’t us).

Then we met Janet, who is a singer and, get ready for it (drum roll, please) … an English teacher (two big pluses in my book). She was game for anything we threw at her, including having her sing lead on a couple of original songs. She didn’t complain. She wanted to rock. We wanted her in, even though it means that along with my saxophone and guitar, I now have to dust off my keyboard for a few songs in an attempt to fill in some of the gaps of sound. It’s hard to bounce around on the stage behind a keyboard.

It’s a new chapter for the band and I hope we can find a way to get our CD out into the world (did I mention it was all set to go?)

Peace (in rock and roll),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter Four

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

My wife and I have pretty tight reins when it comes to television (only now and then, usually for movies) and Internet (check out NBA/MLB/NFL scores or game site) for our children and I suppose it is not so much being prudish as it is wanting them to be adept at coming up with games and entertainment, and reading books, on their own. This is a skill that is clearly lacking in many of the students I teach: the ability to use free time to construct imaginative play.

When our kids are on the Internet, we also have some rules, including no YouTubing it without a parent being present. (Imagine my surprise to learn that one of my son’s classroom teacher lets them surf YouTube freely during snack break — yikes. I love YouTube and think it has great value but a quick search for anything remotely inappropriate pulls up some strange stuff that is prob not appropriate for a 7 and 10 year olds eyes). For the most part, the boys adhere to the rules. But, well, kids are kids.

I was reading a magazine in the living room when I heard music coming from the sun room where our computer is. It didn’t sound like the familiar electronic theme sounds from a game. It had a groove to it. Hmm, I wondered. I walked in, and there the two of them are, dancing. On the computer, the screen is open to YouTube. They were watching a music video. They thought I was upstairs and out of earshot, the rascals.

Pause for a second.

I am about to berate them for going onto YouTube without my permission but my attention is first drawn to the video (and them, dancing). The video is … The Backstreet Boys! Now I am doubly angry. First, because of YouTube and second because, well, it’s the Backstreet Boys. If it had been Green Day or the Pogues or even Matchbox 20, I might have danced along with them for a moment before putting on my Dad Hat. But no, it has to be The Backstreet Boys in all of their producer-made, plastic-pop glory. And it wasn’t even a good song!

I shook my head and turned off the machine in mid-dance step.

“Awwww,” said the 7 year old. “We were dancing.”

“Not to the Backstreet Boys, you aren’t,” I commanded with as much authority as I could muster (stifling a laugh), as they looked at me with great confusion before the “Dad Talks About YouTube” lecture began. I wonder if there is a Boy Band filter on this thing ….

Peace (in childhood rebellion — get a soundtrack!),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter Three

I wonder what sporting events were like before all of the hoopla. I ponder this because last night, my older sons and I took a bus trip into Boston to the see the red-hot Celtics take on the emerging Atlanta Hawks. It was the first professional basketball game for all three of us and a Christmas present that caused the most excitement in our house that December morning. So they have been waiting for a few months now to see Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and company hit the floor and shoot some hoops.

The hoopla I refer to included a bevy of scantily clad Boston Celtics Dancers, t-shirt rocket launchers, little parachute gifts falling from the rafters, contestant shoot-arounds during many of the breaks and the zooming in on the crowd by the camera operators of the Jumbotron. We never got our mugs on camera but we had a great time staring at others caught in the act of, well, sitting there in the stands. The game itself was center-stage, but not all of the time.

All of that is fine. Sports have become entertainment and given the cost of tickets, I guess we expect to be enthralled at events. My sons and I had a blast. What does kind of bother me, though, is the huge Jumbtron hanging from the ceiling. We had seats that were pretty high up and it felt as if the huge screens were directly in front of our faces. What concerns me is that I felt myself drifting from the actual game to staring straight at the video screens, showing the same action as on the floor. This happened to me at a recent Bruce Springsteen concert, too. I kept catching myself watching the massive TV on steriods instead of watching the real thing. It acts like a vacuum cleaner, sucking me into its screen (and then plastering me with the advertisements).

My boys were oblivious to this conundrum, and they easily moved their gaze back and forth between the live action and the digital representation. I, however, felt the whiplash of my attention, even as I gazed at the close-up of Kevin Garnett spinning, turning and dunking in the open lane.

Peace (in field trips),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter Two

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)
I covet the quiet. The only sounds in the house this early in the morning are mechanical and I wish I could just throw a white noise filter over it all and let the solitude invade this space. It won’t be long before the first of three sets of footsteps come pounding down the stairs for the morning ritual. Time is precious in these first waking hours and I am at my most clear, most creative, most attentive to the purposes of my life as a writer.

Years ago, in youthful ignorance, I would sleep during this early morning time.  My life was in full slumber. No longer. Either it is age getting to me, or my mind working overtime at night and willing my body awake, I come to my senses in almost full alert each morning. I feel alive. If I am writing a song, the lyrics dance in my head and I must reach for paper before they are lost. If I am working on a story, the characters move in front of me. I understand them in ways I had not the day before.

This morning, the white coat of snow from yesterday’s storm still lingers on the yard outside and as the sun comes up, the neighborhood is peaceful. The sky is red and orange as the Earth twists itself into place for sunlight gathering. It is a time of potential, I feel, and I am part of that. Sometimes, here and at this hour, we see bears and deer walking through. One time, later in the morning hours, my sons and I even came upon two moose strolling through our streets and we were as surprised as they were. We wondered where they lived and where they would go but they galloped off at such surprising speeds for their size. They were gone before we knew it, before we could wonder if we really had seen moose.

And so, this morning, I look out my window and I wonder at the surprises that today might hold for us. And, as always, I write.

Peace (in slices of life),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter One

(Note: I stumbled upon this Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers and I decided to venture forth. I’m not really sure what I need to be doing but that never stopped me before.)

My three year old sits on the left and the seven year old, on the right, and I am smack dab in the middle, with Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax open on my lap. The ten year old hovers, near enough to be part of the action but not right in the thick of it. The Lorax is a favorite of ours and today, I have brought out my digital voice recorder. I am trying to capture some of my sons’ voices in time, for memory’s sake, and I know the youngest loves to shout out “The Lorax” and “Brown Barbaloots” and other strange Seussian language.

We begin to read and the two youngest boys listen and join me like a chorus when prompted. The Lorax “speaks for the trees.” The Oncler is creating “gloppity glop.” We move through the story, snuggled close, and it reminds me of how special this kind of reading is and how connected a book can make us as a family. Even the older boy, still just beyond reach, is emotionally there with us. He remembers when it was just he and I reading this same book and he was the one shouting out “Swamee Swans” and “Truffula Trees” when given the chance. Is ten years old the age when they start pulling away? I hope not, I think, as the book continues to unfold.

At the end of the story, we pause, and the little one — three years old but wise beyond his years — makes the comment: “Where did all the Truffula Trees go? Why did they cut them down?”

Before I can answer, he comes up the answer: “For thneeds. Which nobody needs.”

The Lorax may never come back but he lives in our hearts at least.

Peace (in life),
Kevin

PS — interested in The Lorax?

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