A Santa Monica Status Update

For a little over two months, it’s been all silent on the blog front. Sorry.

It wasn’t for a lack of time. Wasn’t for a lack of topic, either. The longest summer of my life, the move, and the whole graduate school thing should have been ample opportunity to fill this virtual space with entries on end. 

The words just didn’t come. I’m trying again now.

Most of the stuff about my teaching, I’ve talked about before; it’s a topic I’ve given a presentation on, even, albeit in crude, rambly form. The only difference is that I finally took the time to write it down, which is, and will always be my preferred way to express anything at length. I mean, I haven’t actually written about my teaching for a while.

Okay, fine. I write about my teaching on most days in anecdote form, sprinkling those stories, some funny and some not, all over your respective news feeds. What I mean is, it’s been some time since I’ve used my writing — actually writing and delving into depth, in a space like this one — to think through my teaching on a macro level.

But hey. That’s my life in Santa Monica so far. You asked.

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Growth is an inherently funny thing. Just like any set of statistics, the narrative and conclusion drawn depends quite a bit where you decide to start tracking.

That word’s been on my mind a lot lately. Probably due largely to that whole you’re going to be a real teacher next fall thing lurking and all.

If I measured from the moment I decided I was going to be a teacher, then it would be exponential almost by default, seeing as I haven’t made someone cry since those poorly conducted individual personal statement meetings my senior year…of high school. Thank god.

So, there is the question: where to begin? Is it more appropriate to begin with my first real class — a summer of College Writing N2 — which is, amazingly enough, now four years ago? My first semester of tutoring under my mentor Luisa Giulianetti, who’s celebrating her birthday today?

Or from an even smaller slice of time — the one year period in I met, befriended, and began working with my best friend on this planet and the person who is destined to become my life-long partner in this profession?

You can see the problem, right? There are almost too many ways to slice or frame this winding, spiraling narrative of me, my literacy, and my teaching, all of which have been tangled since childhood, wrapped up in each other like some word-woven yin-yang.

The funny thing is, even with the complexity of all of this acknowledged, I’m not entirely sure I’ve grown all that much. I looked back at a journal entry of mine recently, which was supposed to cover my educational philosophy back in sophomore year, and these three rules — copied verbatim here — sat at the heart of it all.

  1. Teach your students to challenge everything; and challenge them. (This comment wasn’t meant then so much in the context of big issues like race, sexuality, gender, or class before. but is now. Those are things I want at least bring to the forefront for everyone who learns from me, even if they aren’t so easily solved.)
  2. Be completely committed to your students’ success. (Or as I usually say now — if a student doesn’t get to where they want to go, it won’t be because I didn’t try hard enough.)
  3. Teach not only for the kids who love your subject, but the ones who hate it, too.

Other beliefs that have woven their way into my teaching since this time, of course: the aforementioned and burgeoning passion to use English as a way into social justice issues, and my interest in leveraging technology as a stepping stone for the modern literate.

But for the most part, I feel very much like the same guy. I do a few things better and a few things differently. Not much else. Same old dork, still amid intense negotiations on how to dress and carry himself, largely unrefined in manner. (The Nikes aren’t going, by the way. Begrudgingly, the hats will, though.)

Meeting the members of my cohort over the last week — a great bunch of people, by the way; this is not at all on them, but me — has only accelerated my self-consciousness (distress?) about having stagnated. Each of them seems so polished and accomplished, with numerous experiences overseas or at this organization, or that one. Almost all of them are older than me, too, making me one of a few proverbial children in the bunch. Never mind that I know so little about being a surviving adult that I may as well actually be one — a few weeks ago was the first time I had ever gone to the bank to get a roll of quarters. I had no idea that was even a thing.

It’s true that this summer has taught me to feel comfortable being myself in the classroom, but the context of that room is now changing dramatically going forward, making that lesson increasingly difficult to hang onto.

Even my title of reference won’t stay the same — today at lunch, I wondered with some colleagues about what we were going to call ourselves. Both of them, being women, felt totally comfortable being referred to by their students as miss. The male equivalent of that, mister, makes me feel like I’m in trouble or something.

(Mister, I have a question.)

(Could you go over that again, Mister?)

(Blech.)

All this has been a lot to juggle, and it’s something I know I’ll keep juggling as I enter into the actual student-teaching/observation phase of this program. But, in the interest of being honest — it’s on my damn blog header, after all — this erratic sense of comfort about my teaching is what has marked this first month in Santa Monica. It’ll probably continue, and this will continue to be the place where I try helplessly to work it all out.

To be fair, there’ve been days when I felt completely capable too, like the opening lecture earlier this week given on critical pedagogy, tracing the progression from Dewey to Friere to Duncan-Andrade. Nothing there felt unfamiliar, or out of grasp, since they were such integral parts of my Berkeley life. Today was another one of those days — I drove alone on the 10 for over an hour to get to my school site (Humanitas Academy of Art and Technology in East LA), which seems like such a small step, but actually ends up being a huge victory just for someone who seems eternally at odds with automobiles.

I guess that’s it so far. More stories will come when everything really gets under way the next week, and I’m going to try to regularly jot things down in some form or another. Creative work…that’s to be seen.

To make a long story short: it’s just a lot of familiar worries right now. Maybe that’s why I never feel like I’ve gotten anywhere. I’m always worried. Same as I ever was.

Other tidbits:

  • Driving KB to campus on Wednesday and not having her scream in fear for her life even once. #progress
  • Promising to cook a meal for myself — with KB and Alyse’s coaching me up — at least once a week. Salmon’s up next on Sunday.
  • Getting to know Alyse — who I didn’t before moving here — and really liking her. She’s probably not going to see this, thankfully. But I do like her.
  • A good chunk of our weeknights as an apartment are spent plopping down in front of the DVR together. Key and Peele, Modern Family, and the occasional Say Yes to the Dress are popular in our household. We’re secretly like, 85.
  • There’ve been people who have genuinely surprised me with their love and care since I left home. If they happen to be reading, and they should know I’m referring to them, thank you very much. For more than you know.
  • EVERYBODY HERE IS ALWAYS TALKING ABOUT FREEWAYS AND TRAFFIC AUGH I DON’T UNDERSTAND

A brief history of the Nam Le Curse

This post is dedicated to tracking all the wrong predictions I have made this year, which is now at hilariously sad levels. No, I’m not sure why I suddenly don’t know anything now, and I’ll be periodically updating this post as we go along.

1/1/2014 -

Nothing else needed.

1/4/2014 -
Other unlucky victims to start 2014: Alabama, Ohio State, Baylor. (Oklahoma State didn’t make the BCS, but I picked them too, and they…you guessed it, lost.)

1/4/2014 -

I decide to make some selections for the NFL playoffs, and fare no better. At this point, followers are beginning to notice the trend.

1/13/2014 -

Inspired by Breaking Madden, I chose not to count out Touchdown Tom. Thanks a lot, Jon Bois.

1/15/2014 -

THE CHARGERS LOOKED LIKE THEY COULDA PULLED THE UPSET OKAY

2/19/2014 -

Thought Cal basketball might continue winning after I attended the Arizona victory. They did not.

2/20/2014 -

Two minutes after this, the US Women’s Hockey team fell victim.

3/18/2014 -

Coming off of years of success in the March Madness brackets — I finished 99th percentile a few years back and regularly hit 80+ — only Florida survived. Georges Niang broke his damn foot.

Final four, I have: Iowa State, Louisville, Florida, SDSU (I may have just accidentally put the Nam Le curse on them sorry @HunterHewitt) — Nam Le (@AGuyNamedNam) March 18, 2014

6/22/2014 -
Portugal scored not more than 4 minutes after this.

7/11/2014 -

This happened an hour before the article about Cleveland came out. Welp.

7/13/2014 -

At least I knew what I was getting into this time.

7/29/2014 -

UCLA’s campus floods due to a busted pipe main, damaging Pauley Pavilion and shutting down a good portion of it overall. Twitter is quick to attribute the damage to my committing back in April.

9/24/2014 -

Sorry, Dodgers. Actually, no. Not sorry.

Capture

10/1/2014 -

I honestly believed that the Giants would not win their playoff game against the Pirates without Pagan. Pittsburgh suffered for my beliefs. I also don’t have the tweet handy, but rooted for Seattle to make it to the playoffs in Game 162, and they did not — they were immediately eliminated by an Oakland victory.

10/7/14

My followers are now well-versed in how this operates, seeing as I am immediately berated for mentioning Ryan Vogelsong’s no-hitter. The subsequent Bryce Harper home run is also blamed on me…although the Giants still manage to pull off the 3-2 win.

10/12/14

Whoops.

10/14/14

They didn’t, and the Giants took a 2-1 series lead on a walkoff bunt.

Some thoughts heading into the Northwestern game

Though I still don’t think we’ve completely exorcised whatever curses the football gods have sprung on Strawberry Canyon these last couple years, they have at least granted me one gift — another fresh angle for my 3rd annual “pre-season personal thinkpiece”, which I usually use to sort through some feelings on the state of the program before the opening kickoff. As always, enjoy or don’t. 

Ask any resident of Bear Territory about last August 31st, and you’ll discover plenty of lingering resentment at Northwestern’s suspiciously shall we say, convenient 2nd half cramping. Thanks to those dubious shenanigans, to this day, there remains some belief in the fan base — and even on the coaching staff — that last season would have gone quite differently, had we just gotten off on the right foot and found ourselves on the other side of 44-30. Unfortunately for our memories, the record, and the loss will stand, no matter how much outrage may remain.

Reality leaves us only with a rematch at Ryan Field; a 364 day wait made in hopes that revenge is a dish best served Chicago style.

Seeking it, though, will be a Cal team that isn’t quite who we thought they’d be. At least, not yet — a largely unique position, considering the pre-season outlooks of the 2012 and 2013 teams. Unlike those predecessors, there is no expectation of bowl-dom at this juncture, as there was in the last hurrahs of the Tedford/Keenan Allen/Zach Maynard era, nor is there any of the mystery and intrigue that marked Sonny Dykes’ debut in Berkeley.

Despite hopes that there would be a quick Jim Mora-esque turnaround under Coach Dykes, the much harder truth is the one that has set in these last 12 games — that this team isn’t, and won’t be the ones down south; that they remain amid a badly needed, but still ongoing rebuild, even with the abundance of highly rated recruits Jeff Tedford left behind. A flurry of offseason activity now behind them, these 2014 Bears still project as massive underdogs in every matchup this season, topping out at a line of 34 points against USC, and with most projections falling in the 3-4 win range, the fringe lunatics have already begun to call for Sonny Dykes’ head.

Now, there has already been progress in that rebuild. Of course there has been — we are all no doubt aware of the immense turnaround occurring on the APR front, and a new, warmer program culture emphasizing the Cal family, continues to be nursed along with each set of Dykes’ recruits. (Although it’s a small sample size and anecdotal, to be sure, my impression of the freshmen I’ve met or worked with at Summer Bridge in this 2014 class is quite positive on the academic end, especially in comparison to some of the classes I’ve encountered toward the end of the Tedford era, and I’ve been there for four years now.)

On the field, this team returns a year older and a year more tested, many, the beneficiary of game reps they may not have been fully ready to take, but had to anyway, for one reason or another. Jared Goff is the poster child for this, but he’s one of many — throwing guys like Cameron Walker, Hardy Nickerson, and Chris Borrayo into the fire early should begin paying dividends soon enough, as they continue to be molded into the cornerstones for the future.

The only problem is that their refinement — and most of this youthful roster’s, really — remains ongoing, likely still aways from completion, making this the first season in a little while with no realistic expectation of success, no December vacation destination in sight. That is not to say that the coaching staff will roll over willingly for the fall to come, nor the players, either — it is simply to acknowledge that getting within even sniffing distance of, say, El Paso would be considered a great achievement by most.

Yes, these are the times that try the souls of fans, and though I may have written that line before, damn it, I’m writing it again. (Authorial license and such.)

So, that’s the dilemma ahead for me, one I haven’t encountered since I seriously — and literally, at times — began caping up for California. What is the correct way to feel, heading into a year with only expectations of mediocrity at best, and success at least another calendar away?

I’ve never been a drinker before games, even though that violates Commandment 0 of the college football Bible. Anger, the home that many Blue and Gold keyboard warriors have been taking shelter in as of late, is more tiring than it is constructive, and apathy would leave me with too much time on my hands each Saturday…not to mention depriving me of the chance to write for you all.

Those options, time tested by the legions of frustrated before me, are out.

No, I’ve made my peace with the upcoming year another way, finding a tiny, simple, kernal of liberation in the notion of bowlless existence.

I’ll wait through it for now, taking heart in the gains we do make, while trying to hang onto the oft-forgot axiom that progress is not linear. It will spike, slant, and slump, just as often as it soars, let alone doing it at a satisfactory rate — no different than it would be with any of my students. Many of them make clear advances after a summer, a semester, a year with me, but still, certain concepts remain hazy on occasion, essays of theirs inching closer to putting it all together. More likely than not, the team will look the same way in 2014, progressing forward bit by bit, slipping away at others.

And that’s okay.

I’ll wait for now, because I simply love the acts — of teaching, of watching college football, of writing on it — themselves anyway, and while eventual results in both areas are important, reaching them without struggle would make everything feel hollow, unearned. Those Roses, should they ever bloom, would smell much sweeter after growing from our immeasurable frustrations.

Losing forever isn’t tolerable. Neither are consistent, depressingly low expected win totals. That’s not what I mean to imply in writing all this. In the present, though, it has to be — to me, anyway — if we are to give this staff a fair chance to build toward something greater down the line, or allow them to simply be accurately evaluated on their own merits.

And should down the line — or the minimum 8 wins I’m banking on in 2015 — never come, I won’t be afraid to say that I was wrong about everything. I never have been.

There will be time for those determinations, time for that discussion.

This just isn’t it yet. One calendar turn later, maybe.

I just don’t see a point in rushing to judgement one way or another, the most unfortunate byproduct of an era of instancy and an insatiable demand for hot takes. My insistence on patience surely makes a tired refrain in contrast — especially for those who read any of my work, since I always insist on rational, measured reaction, rather than reacting simply for reaction’s sake — but I think that’s what makes it a crucial one to keep in mind.

These are notions of the young, you may say. A fancy of the foolish. That I, like all Old Blues, will have that patience and levelheadedness beat out of me soon enough.

I sure as hell hope not. I wouldn’t want to be any other way.

See you in Evanston. Go Bears.

#The52Project (16) – “Write an essay on the topic of Writer’s Doubt.”

The beast of Not Believing has lived with me a long time.

As far as I can tell, for all 22 of my years on Earth, it has lurked deep within my being, hungering insistently for the destruction of my fragile, but genuine love for language itself. Although it only shows its actual face on rare occasion, in the quietest hours of the night, I can always make out the sound of its breathing: a cruel, rumbling snarl that swears no word, no syllable, no letter I’ve ever typed has merit, a piercing cry that says my work has never been worth reading, a sharp roar that strips away any semblance of accepted self competence.

No matter how constant or concerted my attempts to do so – and believe me, there have been many — I have not yet found a way to destroy the backing soundtrack of my imagination. I don’t think I ever will, truthfully. The same sounds have tortured every producer of prose before me, and will almost certainly repeat in the heads of those after, as well.

But I have found reprieve from all the noise and from my inner demon in the moments when the words lying before me come alive, singing a song I will never hear anywhere else. Sometimes, I can catch a snatch of it after a particularly satisfying sentence, or following a turn of phrase. On extremely rare occasion, it even plays in full at the end of a finished piece.

Where and when I encounter it, though, are far less important than what, and what it is is some combination of honed passion, honesty, and vulnerability, traits shared by all writerly voices, but finally clicking together in an arrangement that resembles no one else’s. Something that is mine, and mine alone.

In those moments, I have won. I have quieted the beast inside of me, able to drown out its shrieks and yells with my own voice – not the voice granted to me simply by virtue of speaking or writing or birth, but what I instinctively know to be, beyond anything else, my voice. This must seem like such an odd, and perhaps even hollow, way to claim victory over what is destined to be a lifelong nemesis, but the knowledge that such a thing – a voice, authentically my own — even exists reminds me why it is I keep struggling with language, all doubts be damned.

True, a voice is not a guarantee of a work of worth, but no work of worth will ever exist without a voice. And in these moments, brief and fleeting as they may be, I know again with whole hearted-certainty that I might one day have both.

I simply have to keep at it.

#The52Project (15) – “Write a wrestling promo.”

Pro wrestling has a long, long tradition of guys using packaged segments to talk. This action, known as promo cutting, is essential for revealing motivations and building storylines, as well.

Everything – including parallel and egregious/repetitive name dropping – here has been done intentionally, remaining as faithful as possible to actual/real life wrestling tropes. Cutting promos is a chance for me to blow off steam irrationally, in a way I would never present myself in my normal writing. Have fun with it. :)

I did.

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