Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

A Little More Exciting...

Well, today was a little more exciting than yesterday. Third hour of tutoring, with seven kids in the class, and someone starts up with a large jackhammer right next door. A second later I realize it's an earthquake, and order all the kids under the tables. It takes me another second to debate if I should go under as well, feeling out the size of the quake, and under I go.

It was a rather long one, if mild. Shaking that felt like construction next door, movement, but somehow off. I've been through Whittier and Northridge (those were real earthquakes), and this felt like the kind of earthquake you experience in a dream. In Northridge, we had liquefaction, and Whittier had the benefit of echoes across the hills, coming in waves. Here, everything is dulled, as if one's senses could not truly operate, as if you could not see or smell or hear or feel.

I counseled the kids as we were under the tables that they had all grown up in SoCal, so this wasn't a big deal; this was a mild quake. After what felt like 30 seconds, but I'm told was 10, we all came out, and I lead them through the post-quake ritual. Every area and culture has it's own rituals. Here, if the quake is small enough, you ignore it, and after, you take bets on the Richter Scale. But since they are children, no bets, just a prize. The kids were all guessing between 2 and 3. I and the youngest kid guessed a 4. I pointed out to them that a 2 was more of a sonic boom, like I've often experienced in San Francisco. The news said it was finally a 5.4. Brandon gets a chocolate bar.

Monday, 28 July 2008

The One-Room Schoolhouse

One-Room Schoolhouses always seem so romantic in Little House on the Prairie. Laura grows up to become a teacher, learning her way through teaching kids almost as old as she is. Cutting-edge, frontier stuff. It's a lot harder in real life.

The teacher of the 7th graders at my tutoring agency quit. Some other kids of hers quit at the same time, as did some of my students. Such are the vicissitudes of Summer. But the agency likes to have at least six kids in the room at one time. Which means that we had to combine those students with mine. I had two 9th-graders, an 8th-grader and a very smart 7th-grader, now combined with a struggling 9th-grader a 7th grader, and a 6th grader. Today was my first day of the one-room schoolhouse.

This is very hard to do. Previously they had all been one class. But there were so many, they brought me on to teach the overflow, and like roads in a yellow wood, the classes diverged. I've been working on reading The Giver, grammar from Strunk & White, and literary analysis essay preparation. They've been doing spelling bees and working on a persuasive essay. So today was like playing basketball and bowling at the same time. (And as anyone who's familiar with Obama's campaign knows, you can only be good at one or the other.) Both classes read a chapter of The Giver together. I assigned brainstorming to the lower division class while I had an open discussion with the upper division class. When one student is falling asleep and not doing his work, I have to constantly remind him to do so, as I have the discussion. Then we all discuss how to outline, which is review for the upper division, and I discuss what the approach to the paper will be for the upper division while the lower division has to outline negative arguments to their proposal. Vocabulary is easier as we all run hangman drills together.

Tomorrow will be interesting. I plan to have a lion tamer in the first ring, two trapeze artists in the second, and clowns in one of those scary tiny cars in the third.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

How to Prepare for Marriage

They say the best way to prepare for marriage and children is to get a pet, as one learns how to care for others without regard to oneself. They also say the sea is cold, but the sea contains the hottest blood of all, and the wildest, the most urgent...

So I've gone and gotten a number of pets. Courtesy of my little brother, Cody, I have a new aquarium. Small to be sure, but worthy of the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end. I started with an urchin and three small snails, and then added a seastar, a worm, and a sea cucumber.

Actually, that's a bit too simplistic a rendition. It would seem that salt-water aquariums are incredibly hard to maintain, especially ones that are as small as only seven gallons. Initially I thought that there was the right amount of salt in the aquarium, and there was far too much. The urchin died.
I went out and got tools to measure the salinity, and a new urchin. His name is Jaws, since urchins have the strongest jaws in the world. (Gender is arbitrary with many of the echinoderms, since only they can tell the difference.)

Next was a seastar, named Cody, because a seastar is all arms. (Let the reader understand.) Then it was a worm, a featherduster worm, like Seballastarte sanctijosephi, which I used to sing of to my little sister when she was two. His name is Jonah, after the real hero of the Jonah story. And finally I found a sea cucumber. I am still looking for the right name for him.

I still plan to add a brittlestar, completing my shallow-water Echinoderm collection, and an anemone, since Cnideria is my other favorite animal group. I don't know why. But it is odd, the two very unrelated groups, having such surface similarities: nerve nets, radial symmetry, and water-based propulsion.

I've spent a good deal of time watching my pets. Cody sits there, and occasionally battles for space with Jaws, since space is more a premium on the ocean floor than a parking space in downtown Seattle. Jaws uses his spines and tube feet to move around, occasionally stunningly moving across the entire aquarium with great speed. I watch him scrape algae off the glass with his Aristotle's Lantern, his jaws, the most complicated jaw structure in the world. It is fascinating to see all the moving parts scrape together.

The three snails, too small to name, also scrape algae, and I can see them slowly remove algae with their radulas, their hard "tongues". Jonah of course just sits there, ocassionally allowing me to brush his tentacles, but mostly withdrawing at the slightest brush of water. The cucumber for the longest time only moved a centimeter every day, literally. More recently, while still at a slothful pace, he has explored the rest of the aquarium, but has yet to eat and excrete the sand. (Cucumbers find snail speed far too impetuous.)

But still too simple a story. I had to add sand to provide a suitable habitat for the cucumber before he was added. This necessitated moving the seastar and the snails out of the habitat. The worm remained, as it was buried, and a filter-feeder. (I tried to move the urchin. You try picking up an urchin.) The habitat was extremely cloudy for half the day. I then returned the snails and seastar, but it appeared that the seastar was too stressed by all the changes. Its arms curled up, and a day later it showed the tell-tale signs of death, as the arm tips turned white.

To rectify the situation, I bought some NanoReef, which puts just the right type of chemicals in the water. You have to add Part A, and five minutes later, Part B, to maintain alkalinity. Two days later the featherduster worm's tentacles began to curl like a fern's fronds. The next day the tentacles detached, and it died.

I bought a test kit, and discovered that the addition of Part B in the recommended amounts had caused the water to become far too alkaline, probably resulting in the death of the worm. The water remains too alkaline, despite the subsequent suspension of all NanoReef Part B.

A saltwater aquarium is hard to maintain, a small one even more so. I now have renewed respect for the amount of care needed at the Seattle Aquarium when I volunteered there. I'm learning as I go, but now, besides the tiny snails, am down to two organisms. I comfort myself that none of these creatures possess brains, and as they say, "No brain, no pain." But I fear that, based on the mortality rate, I am not ready for marriage.

Friday, 18 July 2008


riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

I just finished up my first week in the new job- not full time, only 14 hours a week, but it pays well. More importantly, I enjoy it. I'm back at teaching, teaching writing to 8th and 9th graders, and SAT writing to 10th and 12th graders. While it's not science or theatre, it is teaching, and I have so missed it- planning lessons, finding ways for students to learn in new and exciting ways. Sure, there was tutoring opportunities in Washington- but you have to be certified to tutor up there. Or to sub in public schools. California is a good deal more lax on those points, so even under NCLU (No Child Left Unrecruited), I can actually use my skills, despite not having a stamp saying I am certifiable. I mean certified.

So far we've been using the finest grammar book in all the world, Strunk & White; we've written some rather beautiful sonnets; and today I read to them Chaucer and Finnegans Wake. The last was to give them some real beauty, and also to argue that the book we are actually going to read (The Giver) is a good deal easier. Chaucer and Joyce share a love of the beauty of the word, recognizing that the sounds themselves have an ethereal quality. In Joyce's case, he picked the exact word that was best for both meaning and sound, out of some twenty languages. When he couldn't find the word, he made up his own. So to help the students broaden their ideas of what is possible in good writing, to see that writing isn't about grammar as much as art, I had them right their own Finnegans Wakes, using English, the languages they knew (Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese), and made-up languages. While it seemed odd to them at first, some of them really threw themselves into the exercise, and produced some great compilations.

A way a lone a last a loved a long the