Friday, May 28, 2010

Priorites

I'll talk to anyone--anyone--at Noble Coffee, especially when I go with a huge stack of papers.

Today I met Eva and Mark--after I shot the shoot with Jennifer B., a friend of a friend. We spent a half-mocha laughing about middle school kids, their
"communication."

After Jennifer B. left for a field trip, two newlywed dentists from Bend sat down, looking for good sushi later tonight.

I chat. I laugh. I look over a paper or two.

I refill my coffee. I add more cream. I add more sugar. I wish for the billionth time that there was Sweet & Low. I tell myself I'd settle for Equal, even.

I watch Jared and Caleb and Peter--my favorite--steam the milk and strain the espresso.

I watch the door open, hopeful that someone I know will walk through it.

But even if it's someone I've never seen before, there will definitely be plenty to talk about.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Happiness Is

Going two full weeks without bumping into any of those scrappy parking enforcement "officers" with their blue shorts and meter readers!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Catching Up

It is now called an "epidemic" in America, and spans the globe--a "crisis" even in the United Arab Emirates, an otherwise male-dominated society.

It is the rate at which males are matriculating (getting into) and graduating from higher education institutions.

In February, the New York Times reported that for every 100 males who graduated from college, there were 185 (almost twice as many!) females.

In Australia, women graduates outnumber men by hundreds of thousands.

And in Dubai, 60% of the university co-ed student body is female.

What's more astounding (or alarming) is the rate at which females are superseding males in terms of higher ed.

I see it in my classroom. These 18-25 year-old "boys" wiggle in their desks, with their iPods and iPhones stuffed in their pockets. They're drinking Dr. Pepper and thinking about Megan Fox.

An hour and 50 minutes of learning how to write is a really long time, time these guys could be advancing their next mission on Halo 3.

Their female counterparts, however, are writing down every word I'm lecturing on kinds of conclusions. They're asking questions and leading group discussions on the anthropological implications of corn.

Last night at a party of almost all university professors, I asked a sociologist how his male students are performing. He responded by motioning a steep downward slope with his hand.

This morning, I chatted with a proud Harvard dad. His daughter was one of 16 Oregonians to be accepted into the university for the fall, hefty scholarship included. The three other applicants from her high school--with state swim team wins, national debate wins, and perfect SAT scores: all male--were denied admission.

What's the deal?

The deal is that the chasm between female and male students is widening. From the beginning, boys are young, active, kinesthetic learners. But that's not how they are taught.

Their hunter nature to seek and provide food and protection, to procreate, conflicts with their ability to maintain hours inside, in desks. That's why they're thinking about Megan Fox and Halo instead of citations and sentence fluency.

They don't care.

Okay, so what? How is all this an epidemic?

Because, for one, it's an economic issue. The marriage market is changing. Educated women are willing to hold off on weddings. And they're just short of out-earning their partners. But. The divorce rate is steadily climbing. One might argue that males aren't ready to settle down as young as before. And if that's so, they're probably less ready for higher ed., as well.

Sociologically, for too many males, the alternative to college is blue-collar work, or no work, which leads to a higher tendency toward crime.

It's also an equity issue. Are colleges actively recruiting, funding, and supporting men the way they have with women since the Rights Movement?

Males are valuable. Yet they don't know it. They offer a plural perspective--"the other," Lisa Loomer, my friend and co-writer of "Girl, Interrupted," has reminded me.

How can this "other" be preserved, even fostered?

First, recruitment and support have to be engaged. Even filling out college applications and scholarship forms can be overwhelming. Also, the structure of college classes has to change. More frequent classes for shorter periods over a quarter system is more apt to curving attention issues.

Curriculum has to include a variety of teaching methods, including hands-on approaches, out-of-classroom experiences, and one-on-one sessions with the instructor. I'm going to throw out a radical solution here: to crank up competition, the essence of males' nature.

Boy-friendly literature must be used, considering narrator, theme, plot.

For writing, suggested topics must embody concepts males know about--and like. Since male writers tend to be more succinct, papers need not be long. If guys can write a tight 2-page paper, they can write a fluffy 20-page one.

Parents have to recognize the un-readiness of males before kindergarten. These boys need to be supported in preschool programs for an extra year, to start their whole education later.

Mostly, parents and teachers have to recognize that boys are not learning the way we are teaching them. Because they can't connect with it. Because they don't care.

We have to care about that, first. And then we have to change it.


*photo by Veer.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Birthday!

Last night at the charming Bloomsbury Books, my writing partner, Christy Raedeke, debuted Prophecy of Days--Book One: The Daykeeper's Grimoire!

Here's the group:








And the very intellectual husbands:








And of course the offspring, brand-new Baby PoD included:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hypocrisy

Is it bad if I sat in the car and ate Wavy Lays and Aplets & Cotlets while my kids were at tennis lessons?

What if, while they were reading in bed, I was watching Vh1's "Basketball Wives?"

Monday, May 17, 2010

I Don't Seem Like That Kind Of Person

Today I took my writing classes to the college library for a teensy schpiel on the perils of plagiarism, as well as to gather some info. for the upcoming Big Paper.

There are all kinds of topics: health care, corn syrup, quitting smoking, female snowboarders, faith-healing, dieting fads.

One younger man came up to me at the end of class and asked how he could flush out his essay on the history of the NBA.

Well, I told him, you could integrate the anthropological implication--like how Dr. J's game and attitude and image were completely different from Allen Iverson's. What would the legendary Larry Bird say about a guy like LeBron James?

These troubled, trash-talking, tattooed players are role models. Even though they don't want to be. Should they be held accountable for values? That could definitely be explored.

So could the media's exploitation of them.

Then there's the economic implication: the salary the players are getting--which is controversial in itself--and the cut their agents and owners take.

Plus, there's the politics: the draft, recruiting, contracts, unions...

My young student looked at me with big eyes. "Wow," he said. "You don't seem like the kind of person who would know all that."

Saturday, May 15, 2010

I'm Dying To Read

Adam Rex's Fat Vampire

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Yesterday

on the sidewalk, I asked former Journey drummer Steve Smith, who lives a couple blocks away, what he thought of "Glee's" cover of "Don't Stop Believin'."

He smiled wide and said, "I love it!"

And I told him I love it, too.

When we went our separate ways, you know what we were both humming.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Part 2: The Other Stuff I Learned Lately

So, among finishing my revision and grading 60 5-page papers on terrorism, and oh, yeah, raising three kids (sorry, baby, now I get why you've been doing all the shopping/cooking/cleaning/laundry), I was recently a critiquer for a literary contest. I can't say which one, or where, or anything, but I can pass on what I learned from reading the first couple dozen pages of a mound of literary fiction entries.

Most of them were purpose-centered around the MC's journey of self-discovery.

Themes were mostly relationships or historical or spiritual.

Internal and external conflicts were tough to balance and maintain.

Often, secondary characters could've used much more rounding out.

Somehow, I could hear the masculine voice of the writer. These premises were either a war or a quest, and were action-packed. But they often lacked reaction and emotion.

Also, as the reader, I found myself looking for dialogue -- really craving it.

And setting was everything: I wanted to know the place and time exactly.

There. Reading all this other work really made me evaluate my own. It was insightful. If I can use it to make my work stronger, that's good. And if I helped other writers strengthen their work, even better!

Friday, May 7, 2010

What I'm Learning From Reading -- Part 1

I'm smack in the middle of editing and scoring 60 community college critical thinking papers (hence the bloglessness), that are, for the most part, pretty decent.

The topic isn't an easy one, especially for conservative Medford, Oregon: "How have the events of 9/11 shaped or shifted the U.S. perspective on Muslims?"

Yet, the papers--the first of the term--are sophisticated in sentence structure, with questions, semi-colons, participial phrases.

College-level word choice is used.

Usually content is a problem: putting in what's relevant, and keeping out what's not. Hard to do in 5 pages. But it seems less so this time.

Because it's APA, there's an abstract, and a reference page.

It's all definitely not something a student can whip up in an hour.

Most papers are either B-s or Fs.

Here's what's going well: leading into and away from citations, using transitional phrases, integrating implications and interesting introductions, titling the person quoted.

Militant Islam is distinguished from Islam itself.

Conclusions include calls-to-action of examination, understanding, and education.

The pitfalls are what they usually are: connecting introduction to the body, achieving length, citing properly, tightening conclusions.

I try to head off those issues in class, but they seem hard to overcome.

In all, I learn from these. How to be a better teacher. How to be a better writer. How to be a better person.

Most students will put about 10 hours of work into writing these papers.

Between the planning, the prep, the instruction, the grading, me, I'll put in about 60.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Money Money Money

One of the most unforgettable scenes in the 1972 movie musical "Cabaret" is Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli singing "Money makes the world go around..."

Abba agrees. "Money money money/always sunny/in the rich man's world."

I don't know much about money. I couldn't even find a single label on all my blog posts about money.

My man, however, has been playing the stock market a bit lately. He and the guys at the department research hedge funds and penny stocks and long and short investments. They call and text each other all day about stuff going up and down.

When Dave showed me a flashy ticker the other day, I told him I got it: the red means stop--don't sell, and the green means go--sell right now! and the "unch" means that those stock people are at lunch, so nothing's going on there.

None of that was right. I'll consider myself an expert when I get the difference between bull and bear market. But I'm leaving the fractions and graphs to the real investors.

Dave even checked out a bunch of Jim Cramer's "Mad Money" books from the library the other day. He plunked himself down on the couch, and the kids froze solid when they saw their daddy reading a real book.

So I'm all for stocks if they lead to reading.

And heck, if I get a few bucks, I might sink it into wheat. Wheat seems like something sensible.

I told Dave about it. "And I've got a plan," I whispered to him. "It's kind of secret. I'm going to buy it when it's really low, then sell it when it's high."

Dave just looked at me and kind of shook his head. Then he went back to texting Bob about the S&P and panic sells.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Re-Post: The Essence of Everything

"'Are people born wicked?'" wonders Glinda The Good of the North in the opening song from Wicked. "'Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?'"

Thus begins a fantastical exploration of an age-old debate:

Are humans inherently good or evil? Is personality created through nature or nurture?

From Paradise Lost to Star Wars, art has attempted to provoke answers.

Wicked claims that people are evil, but that it's no doing of their own. To assuage her guilt at being a mean roommate, Glinda befriends the unattractive, hence unpopular, Ephalba. She tries to convince the green girl that the circumstances of her birth were not her fault.

And click here for a thought-provoking excerpt from NBC's sitcom, "Community":

Are people really driven by sex? If so, does that make us more evil than good?

Then, there's Donna Tartt's murder mystery, The Secret History, in which the reader considers the true nature of man; a group of elite college students plots a homicide against one of their own. When the group unravels, the question becomes whether the absence of reason is insanity, and if evil breeds evil.

Is the essence of humanity defined by what we want? Or to the extent we'll go to achieve it?

"'...What is desire?'" Tartt writes. "'We think we have many desires, but in fact we have only one. What is it?'"

What is it? And how does it clarify whether man is good or evil?

Do you know?