Last month, Remi and I had a conversation about annotation, graffiti, and school equity for the iAnnotate conference. We build off of the ideas in our book and the ongoing #AnnoConvo. If you’ve got 55 minutes to kill, here’s that video:
She said, “Let’s take a look.” (12/18/2018)
galloping toward the open arms
of an unknown future.
[Reflecting on the eve of your second birthday.]
A confession: I’ve been searching for new metaphors to describe a freer tomorrow. They pile up as text messages to myself. Nouns and verbs and gerunds and false starts seeking what’s not right in front of us.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the quetzal. The mayan bird that refused capture. Wikipedia will tell you that the quetzal will simply die in captivity. However, the version that I was told was that, when the quetzal was caged, it would put itself to sleep and refuse to awaken. [I think the Guatemala national anthem speaks to this history: “que tu pueblo con ánima fiera/antes muerto que esclavo será.”]
What does the quetzal dream of?
Walking around a high school in Southern California recently, I was reminded that—regardless of how permanent school structures and policies may seem—everything is temporary. There are literal cracks in the pavement and spaces for pushing up the stones of positivism that drive knowledge acquisition in U.S. schools. The time for forceful dreaming is now.
Earlier this year, when discussing the second Speculative Education Colloquium, I offered a list of reasons why these events needed to continue. The first three reasons that I wrote were:
- Because things aren’t better.
- Because “better” isn’t good enough when the purpose is freedom.
- Because education still isn’t about dreaming.
Refusing capture and snoozing through captivity: that feels like a promising way to live in service of liberation. What more can we ask of each other than to dream in refusal of a life lived in subordination?
- This song got a bunch of (deserved) attention as the musical centerpiece in the trailer for Netflix’s Sex Education a few years ago (it kicks in about halfway through the trailer, around here). The climactic Wah-Wah-Wah-Wa-Wa-Wa-Wa of the song’s ending feels poised as the exuberance of new love exploding in the lives of these adolescent characters.
- It’s a powerful ending to the song but its transcendence is misplaced (or at least misunderstood) in the context of this trailer.
- Side note: Ezra Furman performs most of the music for both seasons of the show (and she has a cameo in the first scene). The soundtrack is kind of a greatest hits of some of her recent-ish work.
- See, the song starts out being about new love. But new love becomes comfortable love and hard times and buying “drugs from a parking attendant” until finally, like a Tom Waits tragedy, the song finds one character getting “accepted to college” and transcending the shared “garbage small town rat trap.”
- (The wah-wah chorus still hasn’t hit by the time this person leaves the narrator in the dust. This is telling.)
- The narrator gets a “dumb job” in retail, just missing this other person.
- And then.
- And then.
- And then–you know this–life just keeps going.
- And we get to the final verse of the song and it knocks me out:
“I drew your name in the sand.
Came to the beach ‘cause we used to go here.
I watched the blue wave cover it over,
Do what the ocean does best.”
- It’s such a small thing and the simplicity of these lines feels lived in in the same way that the Dear Sugar letter in the previous dispatch does. It’s a small fist in a grand song and it feebly threatens to make the whole thing “pop” like one of my favorite lines in a Mountain Goats song.
- It’s resignation and longing, years after this relationship’s run its course. The narrator closes with a muted shrug: “I feel fine, don’t even feel sad about it, I just love you baby so, so bad.”
- And that’s when that famous climax rises up.
- It’s not a moment of joyful young love. Those wah-wahs? They are the wa-wa-water of blue waves crashing over the sand. A futile effort at washing away loss and memory.
- “Most of those things will have to do with forgiveness.”
- From the title letter of the Dear Sugar collection, tiny beautiful things.
- The whole letter can be read here. My copy of this book is an dogeared mess and the three and a half pages that take up this letter and the initial query are what I come back to the most.
- The overly personal as tied completely to universal truth, e.g.:
- “One hot afternoon during the era in which you’ve gotten yourself ridiculously tangled up with heroin you will be riding the bus and thinking what a worthless piece of crap you are when a little girl will get on the bus holding the strings of two purple balloons. She’ll offer you one of the balloons, but you won’t take it because you believe you no longer have a right to such tiny beautiful things. You’re wrong. You do.”
- There are several other paragraphs I would paste here, but imagine it’s worth just reading the entire thing. As advice, as a narrative, as a piece of writing, I continue to learn from this letter (and the rest of the collection).
- I’ve never read anything else by Cheryl Strayed.
- Ally’s best friend handmade these as the centerpieces for the tables at our wedding reception almost eight years ago.
- A vase or two have basically moved with us from one house to another, a constant reminder of the not-so-small gifts that friends offer.
- Luna and Max: this is the 15th dispatch of poems, images, songs, films, and more songs that I’ve been slowly sharing and collecting for you. It’s about holding fast to the good people around you. And it’s about reminding you that your words (can) always bloom with joy, with action, with rage, with love.
- What more might we want flowers to profer than an accumulation of nouns and verbs to pollinate the world?
- On first listen, this song’s kind of doing a Paranoid Android, in that it sounds like three different songs mashed together. So it’s kind of also just an emo Happiness is a Warm Gun (the emo-est of the Beatles’ song title by a mile!).
- But here’s the thing: it’s not a Paranoid Android or a Happiness. The song hangs together.
- It hangs together out of sheer frustration, loneliness, and pleading. It’s a song about letting go and coming home and doing both at the same time. The entire thing builds up to a simple thesis: “I miss coming home to you/I hate coming home.”
- Admittedly, the song sounds like a fine, if typical, emo/punk song for the first minute and a half. But then it goes on a journey (like a musician being a little too road-weary). Two and a half minutes in and the song drops any pretensions and just goes straight to heart-filled pathos and ennui: “All these other motherfucking dipshits can bite me.” Honestly, it doesn’t even sound like an annoying line by the time it sneaks up on you.
- I want to yell along with some dumb “yeahs” and this song feels like the fact that I (we?) haven’t seen live music–in person–for a year and a half at this point, the longest period by several multiples since being a teenager.
- I think about Jeff Rosenstock releasing this song (the final track on his most recent album) in the midst of a pandemic–adrift from a world and an audience. A song that demands chanting and collective screaming: “You’re the only person that I wanted to like me /You’re the only person that I wanted to like me.” And not being able to participate in the catharsis that emo thrives on.
- And then, by transforming a joke tweet into a living, breathing, honest-to-god good ska album, he released the song again in the middle of the same goddamn pandemic. Twice the pleading, twice the angst, twice the loneliness in coming home:
- “We relive every misstep that we’ve made in our lives.”
- I confess I get hooked deeply on one or two songs on every one of Rosenstock’s albums. I think about the simplicity of 9/10 all the time. This verbal introduction of Festival Song–sharing his band’s fee for performing at a dumb festival … at the actual dumb festival–is one of my favorite introductions to a song.
- “Nobody wishes for the things that they already have.”
“Awareness of the past is an important element in the love of place” (Tuan, 1990).
1. Schools in the U.S. operate on land maintained by settler colonial violence. Too, curriculum and the “grammar of schooling” reinforces the logic that makes this violence permissible (Tyack & Cuban, 1997).
2. Other kinds of relationships to land and to life (human and otherwise) are not only possible but have thrived in alternate contexts.
3. Playing in the park with my daughters, I am reminded of the ways collective space is shared, re-used, and re-interpreted. The lessons of taking turns on the slide, the informal pick-up soccer game, the organized martial arts class, the canoodling teens: this space flexes to the whims and demands of a fluctuating populace.
4. I’ve been thinking a lot about “home” lately. What is it, how does it feel, and for whom? If feeling free and safe might be associated with home, how might we move the practices of schooling closer to the sensemaking of “home”?
5. “Homesteading” is a centuries-old concept. It conveys notions of “back-to-the-land,” self-sufficiency, and collective action for a shared, common good. In the U.S., I think homesteading is usually seen as a new-age-y, off-the-grid movement. Importantly, this movement might be seen as overtly dismissive of the ways land and our purposed agency upon it are deeply intwined with race and power.
6. As a starting place for learning alongside young people, how might we re-center our relationship with the land? The carapace of American democracy is shedding at an alarming rate. Rather than relying on centralized forms of governance and control, perhaps localized forms of living and learning–a critical homesteading–might function as the central nodes for pollinating a freer approach to schooling.
Sitting in her smokey mobile home, my grandma called me a tamale once. I was a young child when her spatula pointed at me both accusingly and endearingly.
I didn’t learn to make them until nestled into Ally’s family decades later. Her grandma’s hands already shook by the time she showed me how to do it. Tremors on masa. Husks sometimes inside out, soaking in perpetuity. We are smeared and spread a little too thin sometimes.
A boy—16 and on fire—once passed out drunk and in tears in my classroom. Just up and fell out of his chair and into his dreams like in a movie. This was just a few months shy of the ubiquity of kids recording every outburst on cellphones, at least saving this brother the indignity of going viral while his heart was melting open.
When I visited him in the nurse’s office after class, he was penning an apology. “Dear Mr. Garcia, there are so many obstacles in my life that God didn’t foretell.” I remember that beginning. I remember it because a 16-year old who is so intimately familiar with how life doesn’t proceed along cleanly cut lines that he naturally wields “foretell” is someone you don’t forget.
We get tied up sometimes. All of us. Our husks maybe a little too rigid for the task of making sure we don’t lose our way. That fibrous thread has helped makes sure we maintain a semblance of normality, even if it cinches a bit too tight.
Learning, my fat fingers fumble with the shifting weight of making something coalesce. Easing the uncooked vessels into their place in that massive pot. They only seem uniform because their guts are all the same.
We all have promise and we all make of that promise with hands that remember, that slip, that shake, that tremor.
I was bothering our nanny last week, thinking about faith and agitated about the obstacles that she was facing that also hadn’t been foretold. I asked “Is this God’s plan?” She said God has a plan, but people have the capacity to act and to change it.
My clumsy thumbs, our foolish hearts, sixteen months of shutting off the world and sheltering in place: these are plan changers. They are amateur fingertips badly wrapping someone else’s meal.
Tamales are a messy metaphor. You squeeze too hard and you end up with a whole bunch of nothing. But there is an act of deliberate creation in making one ready for steaming, for wrapping it up with a bit of care and a bit of patience. They have an expected shape but some are just chueco.
I didn’t know what my grandma meant when she labeled me tamale. I hear it today as uncertain potential, packed by culture, by privilege, by at least a little bit of hope. Her words echo across time. That drunk child, a tamale. Lately I’ve been thinking about him, so earnest and confined as he wrote so clearly of how his life was a series of barricaded desires. How we all get tied up.
Every tamale, a minor gift-wrapped miracle. An act of love and a promise that nothing is foretold.
A triptych of covers:
- Here’s the thing, I’m not a Springsteen fan. He’s fine.
- I don’t even really love the original version of this song (although I think I could personally get down with it as a karaoke jam).
- I do wonder what it says about my tastes that three artists I do like all offer drastically different takes on this song. Is “Dancing in the Dark” the indie-rock version of “My Favorite Things” or “I Got Rhythm” for jazz musicians? A familiar slate on which to do something innovative, meaningful, personal?
- A few words on each of these versions:
- The brattiness of the Downtown Boys in this song is just straight up jubilant. Also that… sax solo. The skronkiest of saxophone solos. It sounds both entirely out of place and imperatively necessary—something that could probably be said about every sax solo on the two Downtown Boys records.
- Hot Chip does their Hot Chip thing adequately in this. I think it’s the interpolation halfway through of an LCD Soundsystem song that I love enough that I used it when I announced my first professor gig nearly a decade ago and that I also had a good friend perform a version of during my wedding ceremony. You just like it when things you like get combined into one (it’s the sonic peanut butter and chocolate model). I think it’s why everyone continues to love that damn cover of Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World that gets played everywhere for everything in all contexts forever (we will have our culture collapse as a montage to Izzy’s, sadly, singularly memorable recording for most).
- I guess Lucy Dacus offers the most conventional cover of the three. I think I get wrapped up thinking about how damn good of a songwriter she is. I mean, Night Shift. I dig the levity and the fun here and it’s a joy that, to these ears, goes beyond The Boss’s original.
- I should note that, while I don’t really love Springsteen, I guess I appreciate the work in his wake. This cover aside, I am a big fan of dumb bombastic sax-heavy pop. The upcoming Bleachers album feels like it’s basically one big Springsteen tribute (he even shows up on the first single on the album). I am overdue to draft a dispatch entry on just how much I like Bleachers, btw. Also, in the same way that that solo feels like the entire reason My Guitar Gently Weeps was brought into reality, I kind of think one of Springsteen’s greatest accomplishments was paving the way for this Sharon Van Etten cover.
- I think the line “This gun’s for hire” is one of the dumbest things ever written in a song.
- And it gets immediately forgiven because I love belting along with “Even if we’re just dancin’ in the dark” right after it.
- “I’m sick of sittin’ ’round here tryin’ to write this book.”