Lives of Change . . . Changing Lives (thoughts on the changing of the year)

Two years ago, I had just arrived in the Northern Territory and Justin met me at the airport with a hand-picked bouquet of tropical flora. The air was thick with past and future rain, monsoonal rain, so very different from the cold wintry rain I'd just left behind in California.

One year ago, Justin and I were in New South Wales, enjoying our first (and only) holiday in Australia outside of the NT. We spent New Year's Eve with our friends Waz and Pas (whose lives have changed dramatically since then) visiting his parents' house.

The pace of change does not seem to be slowing down. When I named this blog "Change Junkies" I thought perhaps that it might seem silly after awhile because what were the chances that our lives would continue to change so much? Well, of course, the chances were good as long as we continued to embrace change with open arms. Do we seek it out or do we stumble into it? Are we simply running from boredom and predictability or moving toward our new true lives?

In January 1995, Justin and I moved in together, not sure at all of what changes lay ahead. Who could have predicted that in 12 years' time we'd be living in our 14th home together? That we'd have circled the globe more than once? That we'd be more deeply in love? That we'd be less, rather than more, sure of how best to use our talents in the world?

I don't know what the next year will bring, but I am sure there will be changes. Job changes? Likely for me. Housing changes? Always possible. City changes? I think we'll be here in this area at this time next year. Less easy to predict or even to recognize immediately are the internal changes. In what ways will each of us have changed in one year's time?

At my parents' house on Christmas Eve, I went into their basement study to look for a book. Browsing the bookshelves, I was struck by how many books I'd read and completely forgotten about. Whole series and genres with which I'd been obsessed at certain times suddenly came back to life. Since then I've been thinking of the ways in which my personality, values and views have been shaped by my reading.

I read a lot as a child. I checked out books from the library by the stack. I often read novels in a day or two, and I was never not reading something. When my library supply ran out before we could get back there, I'd head down to the basement study and pick something from my parents' shelves, usually something from my dad's 1950s science fiction collection. I just recently read some science fiction (Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower) and was struck by the clunky heavy-handedness of the genre. Then I remembered that I'd lost interest in fantasy and science fiction in my late teens because the good guys and bad guys were too clear cut, the predictions about the future too obvious. I can't help but wonder, though, who would I be if I hadn't read so much of it?

It's impossible to know our possible selves. If this, if that. Are all our potential selves leading parallel lives in parallel universes? Or do we harbor our alternate selves within us? The selves that made better and worse choices than we did in this world, the selves that were fearless when we were fearful, the selves that were kind when we were selfish, as well as the selves that acted on every emotion when we acted with restraint and foresight. Who would we be without the knowledge of those other selves?

I wish a year of insight, laughter, stimulation and contentment to all of us. May suffering be lessened, may joy increase exponentially, and may love be the prevailing force in the world in 2007.

Back in November...

We spent Thanksgiving down in the desert. The meal itself, a gourmet yet traditional feast, was prepared and served by my aunt and uncle at their house in Yucca Valley, assisted by her fabulous mother. Before the meal and the following day, various members of the clan drove over to Joshua Tree National Park for some rock scrambling and desert hiking.

Some people couldn't resist climbing for a view.

The weather and landscape were spectacular.

After two nights of breathing the crisp desert air, we drove into Los Angeles. We spent the night in a hotel near the airport because one member of our party was flying out early in the morning. The smog reminded me of some sci-fi vision of a dystopic future. The lack of trees (besides palm trees) was also disturbing. I took this picture from the hotel room (non-opening) window.

The Christmas Photos

Nephew K is ready for the goods. Aha! Who knew the goods would be so...chewable?

After the traditional Christmas crackers provided by the Irish relative, everyone was royalty.

A Hike in the City

A couple days ago, Justin and I took a nice hike on the San Francisco coast, part of which was part of the California Coastal Trail. We took a bus across the bay which was itself a novel experience for me, as I'm more used to taking BART which goes under the water. Being up on the bridge and up high in a bus, we were able to see the progress on the new Bay Bridge--pretty impressive! Next time, I'll get a picture.

From the Transbay Terminal, we caught a bus across town. Instead of feeling frustrated by its slowness, we enjoyed the chance to see the city and its denizens in action all along Geary Street.

Although we had intended to start our hike at Ocean Beach, we got off the bus at Sutro Beach when the bus driver announced the end of the line. Here's a map of San Francisco, for easy reference. We started our walk north of Ocean Beach. The trail led us through some beautiful trees (cypress, I think).

After awhile we came around a corner with a perfect view of the Golden Gate Bridge in front of us. (We were willing to turn our backs to it for the sake of the photo.)

Further along, we climbed down through some more beautiful trees, like this one.

I wish the color of these photos represented the truly sparkling blue of the sky that day.

Down at a great rocky shore, Justin went to inspect a mass of mussels on the rocks.
Unfortunately, that's when the camera batteries died. After that is when we discovered that the spare batteries were not in fact charged. So the rest of the trip went undocumented (except of course by the porous net of memory).

Later, the walk took us up through some incredible mansiony neighborhood where all the houses have walls of windows looking out on the bay (the kind of houses that made one of us say "This sort of makes me want to have buttloads of money" and the other of us to say, "It's kind of amazing that the poor haven't risen up yet"). Then we walked back down to Baker Beach and ate the lunch that we'd brought and watched other people also enjoying the beach.

Finally, we walked under the Golden Gate Bridge, across it, and then back. That in itself is an interesting experience. Many people, of many ages, from many lands (and from other parts of this one) were gathered at each end of the bridge, and others were walking, jogging, and cycling across. Even for those of us who grew up seeing and passing over the bridge, seeing it up close really brings into focus its amazing vision and engineering. I came away with a renewed sense of wonder and admiration for people with big ideas who see them through.

Dragons and Quakes

Yesterday, I looked out the front windows to see a dozen or more Harleys parked up and down both sides of the street. The riders all had leather jackets with their club name and logo on the back: East Bay Dragons--Oakland. See pictures and read about them at Soul On Bikes. Beautiful bikes and one of the riders was in full Santa suit. They had a large wrapped box which they carried up to one of the apartments across the street. Meanwhile, Justin and I were desperately trying to find some fresh batteries for the camera. Santa took off his Santa hat and put on a helmet--one of those little half size helmets that don't really cover the ears--on top of his white curly Santa wig. Then they all drove off in a loud cloud of glory. It was really a sight to see and I am so sorry I don't have a picture to post.

We discovered that even in our flashlights we had only weak batteries, the discovery of which made us think more about how prepared we are (not) for an emergency.

Speaking of emergencies...we've had earthquakes the last several days, all centered not far away. Before last week, I had only experiences two earthquakes that I'd actually felt. I was in the kitchen on the phone and the all the dishes started rattling and the floor shook. Justin, in the next room, and I both shouted "Earthquake!" to each other and then when it subsided we walked around to inspect the consequences. A golf ball and a small stuffed animal both jumped off of bookshelves, but there was no damage. I thought maybe we felt it extra much because we're on the top storey, but everyone was talking about it the next day at school. For those who aren't going to go read the article linked above, the earthquakes were all 3.7 magnitude, and centered very near us. Maybe we'll finally finish putting together our emergency kit now: so far I think it contains a flashlight (with dead batteries), a roll of toilet paper, a couple cans of tuna or sardines, and maybe a blanket. Hmmm...

Well, here's hoping that you all are ready for any shaking that might come your way, and that you are enjoying the lengthening days and time with friends and family.

Winter solstice, new school program in works

Winter has arrived. I've taken the bus or BART all week; my poor bicycle sits neglected in the backyard. We wear hats inside (especially to bed) and it takes several days for the laundry to dry in the sunroom.

Seeing a few houses in my neighborhood decked with Christmas lights, I remembered how bedazzled Chico houses always were. Garish plastic Santa blow-ups and Nativity scene plywood cutouts aside, I have to admit I've always been a bit fond of seeing lights up at this time of year (while also recognizing it as a pure waste of resources). It's interesting that there doesn't seem to be much outdoor lighting in our neighborhood.

On the work front, I'm getting excited about a new approach we are planning for the final trimester (March-April). It will be non-classroom based (field trips) and interdisciplinary, while still being somewhat independent study. Students will have a science/math field trip and a humanities (language arts, history, arts) field trip each week, then do independent work on the remaining 3 days. It's exciting to plan and to have something different to look forward to. Although it won't address all the problems inherent in an independent studies program aimed at students who've missed out on a lot of school, it may ameliorate some of the issues.

The themes we're going to address on the humanities side are (a) religious and philosophical foundations of world culture, and (b)"globalization"--meaning the movement of people, ideas, and goods around the globe, but not just in the past century.

Can anyone suggest another term for "globalization" that isn't so loaded? Also, I'm looking for great short literature pieces that might tie in, especially if they have a California connection. I think we're going to read The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, which I have't yet read. My humanities colleague recommended it and it looks good. I was thinking of having a few novels for students to choose from and then doing discussion groups on themes, but I'm starting to think it might be easier to just stick with one novel, especially the first time. Does anybody have any novels they love that are at a middle-school reading level that would fit in here?

I'd love your feedback and suggestions as I move into planning this unit.

I hope everyone is finding the short days and long nights of winter to be inspirational and comforting. There's something cozy about darkness; without the overload of sensory input of long bright hectic summer days, there may be more time to reflect and create. I say this now, but I know that I'll rejoice at every blue-sky-day reprieve throughout the rest of the winter rainy season!

urban teaching

One day when I was feeling sick (and I’ve been in extraordinarily ill health for the past two months), I remarked to the one student in the office that I thought I had a fever and pulled out a thermometer and slipped it in my mouth. (You should know that I don’t always carry a thermometer around but had brought it because my fever and other symptoms on the previous day had reminded me of malaria, and it’s always good to track your fever pattern when you have malaria.) My student’s eyes grew huge as she looked at me in utter disbelief. I realized that it might be completely strange to her that I would have my own thermometer. She had told me the week before that there were no scissors at her house.

Every day I get glimpses into lives that are so very different from my own. Sometimes it’s more than glimpses: it’s like they invite me in for an open house. My job turns out to be a lot more counseling than I am qualified to do, I’m afraid.

Here’s a smattering of recent issues:
--uncle’s semi is broken into by his ne’er-do-well brother. Uncle is accused of being an accessory and uncle’s house (where my student is staying) is sealed by the FBI for investigation.
--several hospitalizations of students and family members for asthma
--student’s mom may be going to jail for a little while, so student must drop out of school to work full time
--student’s grandmother doesn’t approve of her butch (“stud” in student’s lingo) look nor lesbian lifestyle
--student’s boyfriend is picked up on a yea- old warrant and locked up. She can’t visit him because she’s a minor and he’s in adult jail.
--botched abortion (on-going issue)
--15-year-old student leaves much-older abusive live-in boyfriend
--student tells me of her neglected childhood with a parent she no longer lives with
--student’s father confiscates her legal papers, threatens to burn them and send her back to Mexico
--student tells me about her gift of sight: she’s dreamed many things that have come true and lately she’s dreamed her own death three times
--parent conferences with families that are clearly highly dysfunctional, if not actually abusive
--several girls who don’t have time for school work because they have to look after younger siblings
--many students are dealing with having lost friends and family members to violence

So…that’s probably why I’m not writing much lately. I feel so inadequate at helping students make sense of their lives. Sometimes I know they just want to be listened to, but sometimes I think they want advice and I just don’t have it. While I am somewhat flattered or honored that they choose to share so much with me, I feel a little resentful too. How can I be given this responsibility without also being given the tools to fulfill it?
Dancing in memory of the dead. Posted by Picasa
A dancer in motion. Around her ankles are seed-pod rattles which make a very agreeable sound! Posted by Picasa
Some dancers between songs. Posted by Picasa

Days of the Dead, etc.

Without making mention of my long absence, I'll just jump right back into this blogging thing.

Last weekend we went to the Dia de los Muertos celebration in Fruitvale, the especially Latino section of Oakland. As soon as we got off BART, we could hear singing and then drumming. The pedestrian mall was lined with altar booths and the intersections were occupied by dancers and other entertainers. International Boulevard was lined with food and sales and information and art booths for a mile in each direction (or so it seemed). It was a gloriously sunny day. The smell of burning sage mixed with the smells of cooking meat and sugary confections (skulls made of colored sugar are a specialty of the holiday). Men and boys pushed ice cream carts through the crowds, ringing small bells to announce their presence, and several vendors were selling large inflatable plastic...things. I always noticed the smell of the fresh plastic (like a new shower curtain liner) and was so put off I forgot to really inspect what they were selling. I did notice that they all had large (2 feet long) inflatable hammers with some sort of cartoon character on them.

I asked a crafts vendor about a price in Spanish and got a flood of Spanish back. My first reaction was to panic (Oh no, I can't understand that, I have to switch to English and apologize), but then I realized that I did actually understand what she had said--at least the main points (she had told me the price and explained that the items were all hand made). So, I said I understood (in Spanish), but obviously didn't look interested enough. She asked me in Spanish what price I was willing/able to pay (again, my first reaction was, "Oh my god, I don't know what she's saying. Now I'm really in trouble" and again I realized that I did know what she had said).

I am grateful for that interaction and my awareness of my reactions. I am convinced that if only I could spend enough time speaking Spanish with native speakers I would get over my panic reactions and actually maybe make progress in my learning!

Last night we went to a film and lecture up on campus (by that I always mean Cal! a.k.a. UCBerkeley) at the Museum of Anthropology where Justin works. It was an anthro film about a Pomo (California Indian) shaman made in the early 1960s. The accompanying lecturer was the son of the woman featured in the film. He explained what she was doing in the healing ceremony and some background on the filming. It was interesting, and it's especially good to see anthro materials being shared by members of the group under inspection, rather than by outsiders. The museum has a cultural attache unit which I find really heartening.

Today is a holiday from school, thanks to our venerable veterans. To celebrate, Justin and I are going to see Borat at a matinee. It is, by the way, another glorious blue-sky-and-sunshine kind of day, so it'll be hard to go inside a movie theater, but my frugality will win out over my urge to soak sunshine at every possible juncture.

Computer's Back

We had to send our laptop to Texas to get repaired and have been without it for a couple weeks. Somehow, I never felt like blogging on the desktop (perhaps due to the fact that my passwords are saved on my laptop and I'd have to go look them up somewhere in order to log onto my blogsite from another computer!)

So much to write about w.r.t. my job, not sure where exactly to start. I'll post something soon.

On other fronts, we spontaneously (well, 3 days in advance is spontaneous for us!)rented a car and drove to Chico last weekend. We saw several friends and had a really good time. It was nice that it was still comfortable to be with our friends, even after two years away.

Chico itself, though, was another story. There is something a little strange about visiting a place you've lived before; it's kind of like hearing a song on the radio from your teenage years--there's the initial comforting pang of familiarity, followed by threads of emotions which make you ask, "Did I love this song or hate it?" followed by embarrassment that you can't really remember, or embarrassment that you liked something so bad, or embarrassment that you now feel happy to hear something that you once hated.

Well, visiting Chico was maybe not quite like that. More like re-reading something that you wrote a few years ago. You feel both fond of it and faintly uninterested; it is part of who you are, but it's still the past.

Okay, I am getting tired and silly. I'll write something more thoughtful at another time!

2nd Day of School

Although it's the second day of school, it doesn't feel like it. My students meet with me in groups of 10 for 45 minutes once a week. None of my groups met on Monday, which was occupied with administrative duties and the other part of my student contact: advisory. I meet with each of my advisees (so far I have about 24, but may have up to 30) for a half hour each week. Monday and today were hectic with meeting and registering new students (looking at transcripts to see what credits they need, finding space for them in small group meetings, etc.), meeting with my advisees, and dealing with advisees who showed up late for their appointments.

Some students are 17 years old or older and don't have any high school credits yet, but want to get a high school diploma and don't seem daunted by starting from scratch.

Many students have jobs or want to get jobs, but also want to finish high school. One student is pursuing Independent Study so that he can get a job because his father recently had a heart attack and the son feels he needs to work to support the family. A few students have babies or are pregnant. The father of one of the babies is also in the program, so we have a whole family (the baby was there today too).

I think it doesn't quite feel like school yet because I don't have classes full of students to get to know or daily lesson plans to prepare. I did have two group meetings today. Forty-five minutes went by quickly. I didn't spend class time on get-to-know-you activities, as I will get to know them from the work they turn in (including personal reflective essays). Some of our students are interested in Independent Study because they have had social problems in school (not that they are socially inept in a nerdy way, but more likely involved in fighting and hurtful teenage intrigue), so I didn't want to make them get all touchy-feely with each other.

Once again I've realized that one of the benefits/pleasures of teaching is just getting to know so many interesting people. As a teacher, I get a little bit inside my students' lives for a little while, and I always feel privileged by that.
We've been camping and my dirty feet are the proof! Posted by Picasa
The boulders were really impressive. Unfortunately, it's hard to show their scale. See my head in the lower righthand corner? I'm standing up. Posted by Picasa
Good food, good fires, good hikes, good fun. Posted by Picasa
The meadow near the campground where we began our hike. Posted by Picasa
This mountain columbine, called shooting star, was still in bloom in shadier areas. Posted by Picasa
My brother explained that this attractive plant is a bit of a cheater. If I remember (and understood) correctly, it lives off a fungus that grows underground. This fungus has a symbiotic relationship with other plants, but this plant does not photosynthesize (having no leaves), so the poor fungus gets nuthin'.  Posted by Picasa
At some point we reached the elevation preferred by junipers like these. Posted by Picasa
A look backwards at the meadow from whence we came. Posted by Picasa
Destination: Burnside Lake. Posted by Picasa
What better place to play some Settlers of Catan? Posted by Picasa

Julius gives way to Augustus

Tomorrow begins that venerable month with the grand name. It's the month when people in Northern Hemispheric countries with both wealth and a cultural focus on enjoying life take weeks off and go on holiday. (Funny language side note: I saw my principal last week and he said he had just gotten back from Alaska. I said, "Were you on holiday?" which must have confused him a bit because his answer was, "We were on vacation." Then I realized that I was using the British/Australian usage; I caught myself saying "different to" instead of "different from" the other day too! What's happened to my linguistic identity?!)Anyway, we live in a country whose culture promotes the idea that we should enjoy work (rather than life in general), so there will be no disruptive month-long holidays/vacations here!

I haven't blogged because I've been spending plenty o' time on the computer with my online class (teaching reading to adolescents) and my curriculum preparation for next year. I also spent a week in Sacramento taking a one-week course (teaching students with disabilities) and spent not-quite-enough time studying for the third exam for becoming a social studies teacher. (More on that when I get the results in a few weeks!)

Some of the other activities of the past month are represented in the pictures and captions below. Not pictured were several Oakland/Berkeley hills hikes, a few nights of Settlers of Catan, backgammon at the Starry Plough, numerous neighborhood walks, some yoga,trips to various farmer's markets, and Saturday's visit to Point Reyes, where we wished we'd gone when Langguj Gel was here. Next time, Langguj Gel!

In August--the only month that's also an adjective--we can look forward to (a) a Kaser camping trip to Grover Hot Springs, (b) Justin's birthday, and (c) the beginning of my school year.
We had a visit from the Langguj Gel. We all spent the week quietly working on our computers. Then on her last day, we went over to San Francisco for dinner and a drive through Golden Gate Park, where some of us were really inspired by the American Bison. Posted by Picasa
The inspirational buffalo. Posted by Picasa
...the inspired. Posted by Picasa
Justin's sister and bro-in-law brought Nephew K across from the City and the grandparents came down too from the North Bay and we all went for a picnic in Tilden Park Botanical Garden. A nice summer afternoon! Posted by Picasa
Ready for zero grav? Posted by Picasa

World Cup comment

Isn't it refreshing to see men encouraged to express their feelings so openly in a public forum? Especially feelings of pain and vulnerability.... No toughing it out, keeping a stiff upper lip, soldiering on, and so forth, for these men. I love it.
Our friend S visited us from Oregon. Posted by Picasa