Sunday, May 31, 2009

Project 50: May

“A Wind in the Door” by Madeline L’Engle
This is the second in the series after “A Wrinkle in Time.” Charles Wallace is ill because something is attacking his mitochondria, or the critters that give the mitochondria energy, which Mrs. Murry just happens to have discovered. What’s attacking them? Oh, the Devil. The story itself was a little too overtly religious for me, just with different names for the Devil and temptation and hell. Again, the action was not very action-y. Several pages of “You can do it! Come on, fight it!” “Oh, no I can’t!” “Yes, you can!” “No, I can’t!” “Well then someone has to!” Then it got near the end of the book and everything wrapped up quickly and they were all back in Kansas again. I was expecting a slightly different formula from the last book. C

“Douglas Adams’ Starship Titanic” by Terry Jones

Douglas Adams came up with a great computer game, and since it was Douglas Adams, the producers of the computer game thought that there should also be a novel to be released at the same time. Douglas Adams didn’t want to do it himself, so he enlisted the help of Monty Python’s Terry Jones, who agreed on the terms that he could write the book in the nude. It was funny enough, but I don’t think it does justice to Douglas Adams. My biggest issue was this sexual side story in which one of the women threw herself on an alien she’d just met in a moment of peril and they spend the rest of the story finding ways to add more gratuitous sex scenes to the book. Now, in Monty Python style, Jones does a self-referential bit that acknowledges the previous smutty chapter, but still, it’s rather distracting. B-

“Callahan’s Secret” by Spider Robinson

Spider Robinson insists that he did not write a trilogy. This was just his third and final book about Callahan’s Place. I didn’t read the middle book, but I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. This was less of a collection of short stories and more a whole novel of how a bar full of weirdo drunks saved the world. It’s intense and heroic and ends just the way it should. A-

“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer
Like “Everything Is Illuminated,” this book goes back and forth in time, between the life of Oskar Schell, a nine year old boy whose father died in the September 11th World Trade Center attacks, and the lives of his grandparents, who had separated when she became pregnant with Oskar’s father. Oskar finds a key labeled “Black” in his father’s things a year after his death and sets to scouring the entirety of New York City to find the lock that it opens, and hopefully someone who knows something about his dad. I like this story because Oskar is such an oddball little kid, with hobbies like learning French and writing letters to famous researchers asking if they need an assistant, and who personally sends a cabbie his fare when he doesn’t have the money to pay it. Foer’s writing style is such that every little action, like writing down a name, seems magical and important to record. A+

Friday, May 29, 2009

My job and what I get out of it

I've been working as a special education aid for 2 and a half years. When I applied for the job as a substitute, I wasn't sure if I would like it, but my second day, subbing for a day at the school where I've been most of those 2 and a half years, I fell in love. A boy who will be graduating out of my class this year was compelled to drink with vigor out of every drinking fountain we passed. I was fascinated. What makes you tick? I wondered. Will I ever be able to see or hear you communicate those ticks?

This week was particularly wacky. We've had subs on and off all week. Yesterday was a county-wide event for all the Life Skills classes. One of my students soaked me with a giant water balloon popping device similar to a dunk tank. Another, weighing about 80 pounds (I'm 115 myself) climbed onto my back like a backpack and we climbed up a huge inflatable slide that way. And today I was part of a two-person clean up crew which neutralized a situation involving a dirty diaper and wandering hands.

I used to think I wanted one of those jobs that really made a visible difference in the world. By golly, I was going to put folks back on their feet and inspire others to do the same. But I care too much about people's lives to watch them screw them up again and again, and I'm too much of a results driven person to not feel like I'm a failure at my job when it doesn't happen. I can handle volunteer stuff without the pressure, just not as a job.

So now I do this thing that seems futile, yet noble. More than likely, none of my kids will become astrophysicists (but maybe falconers or paleontologists) or great artists (unless Disney plans on making another Buzz Lightyear movie) like some autistic savants. I'm sometimes torn in my principles, demanding that talented and gifted programs be a top priority, but not wanting to shaft kids like mine with the volume of staffing that will give them respect and dignity. I dare anyone to see what I do on a daily basis and not maintain that those students are precious in the eyes of God, even when they are throwing heavy things across the room or drooling or screaming. At the end of a child's time in my class, he may only be able to let someone know he's hungry and put on a shirt, but to me, that will be a thousand little victories. I don't make a lot of money, and I doubt I'll be an Annie Sullivan, but being hit, sassed, and drooled on in the course of everything else gives me more purpose to my life than I think tutoring gifted kids would.

While my job means a lot to me, I don't think it's special and amazing as some people who tell me it takes a special kind of person to do my job. Maybe my whole life has been building up to this, or maybe people don't give themselves enough credit.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

It's not easy being green

I've been trying to change my environmental impact in small ways since I moved out of my parents' house. I started looking at thrift stores or getting old stuff from family first before buying new things like spatulas, kitchen towels, a microwave, a bookshelf (which I repainted and put a back on and it looks FABULOUS). I'm a big tea drinker, and it was starting to bother me how much waste I was making with my daily cup: the foil package each bag came in, the tea bag itself, the paper tab on the top, the string, the staples that held them together, not to mention the box they came in and the plastic they were wrapped in. So I switched to loose tea, and let me tell you, it's wayyyyy better. About two weeks ago, I stopped washing my hair with regular shampoo and started switching off between Dr. Bronner's 18 in 1 soap and baking soda dissolved in water, inspired by Stephanie Langfore at Keeper of the Home.

This year I moved into an apartment and didn't have anything with which to clean, so I went on the search. I thought I was doing great choosing "Green Works" dilutable cleaner and toilet bowl cleaner. Then last night on OPB I heard about a couple of websites that rate the health impact of various products including cleaners, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. I spent a horrifying night finding out that nearly all the products that I use every day are bad for me and bad for the environment. (The sites are Good Guide and Skin Deep, given, some of the ratings are vague and incomplete; they just give the Green Works cleaner a big red dot for "long term health," but it also lists all the cancer causing ingredients) It's good to be informed, and I care about things like a company's environmental practices (the PETA cruelty-free and bad company lists were my Bibles back in 8th grade when I didn't buy anything) but man, I thought I was doing something right! I should have known better than to buy a Clorox product.

I think it would be more wasteful to throw a whole bottle of cleaner, followed by a couple tubes of toothpaste and my shampoo and conditioner into the dumpster, so for now I'm just going to have to deal with using those carcinogens sparingly. I've come across some good websites that show you how to make your own cleaners with baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, and borax, so once I have an empty bottle to use, I'll probably try that for a while. It sure beats spending $5 on cleaner when I could add a few tablespoons of baking soda (from a little baggy that cost me 38 cents) to a bottle of water (basically free). I'm doing my best. I'm learning little by little.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The end of the Trinity

My cousin married a man whose father was a Lutheran pastor. Now, Fred is a professional juggler, comedian, and all-purpose smart ass who has no problem offending people's sensibilities, and at least once in a conversation he can usually trick you into embarrassing yourself. He doesn't really hold to a particular belief, if any, but he attends church regularly for tradition's sake. I'm sure all that doesn't accurately describe my cousin's husband, but it's a start.

Anyway, today I was wearing a sweatshirt with "Trinity" printed across the front. Trinity is the name of the Baptist co-op where I lived for three years in college. Fred tried to make a wise crack about how there was no Trinity and that there was only one "Jehovah God." I said, "Well, I don't think it's true, either." He asked me "You don't believe in the Trinity?"

So there I was, asked the question that separates me from liturgical churches and most statements of faith of other churches by my joker of a cousin. And I said "No, I don't." He called me a Jehovah's Witness and went on being Fred, and I thought, "Huh, that was easy."

I wish I did, sometimes, because things like Celtic spirituality really appeal to me in their mysticism and prayers, but it's very much focused on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I would probably become Episcopalian if you didn't have to stand up and recite the Nicene Creed every Sunday. I believe there's one God, and it's a disservice to call God "Father." I believe in the virgin birth and the crucifixion and the divine nature of Jesus' life. I can even buy into the idea of Jesus being God in human form, but if that is so, than I cannot call him the Son of God because that implies a separation. But more I believe that Jesus' life purpose wasn't to be God, it was to show people a right way to live, because there's no evidence that I've seen that implies otherwise. The resurrection gets a little wishy-washy with me, and I'm not really sure what I believe about that. I don't believe in the Spirit of God as an entity in itself. I think that God speaks to people, and there's no reason to create a whole other being to describe that.

For me, to say "I believe in the Trinity, even though I don't understand how it works" is to say that I'm willing to suspend belief for the sake of fitting in with other people. I wonder how many people do that, say "I believe in the Trinity, whatever that is." I don't think that dogmas are all that important to faith in God, which is why I wonder why churches put so much emphasis on this abstract theological thing that no one really gets rather than practical life that reflects the way that Jesus lived. I'm cool with believing unitarian.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Project 50: April

“I Sing The Body Electric” by Ray Bradbury
This is the first collection of unconnected Bradbury stories I’ve read. Reading them put me in this happy, dreamlike, “anything could happen” state. Once I started reading the title story, I recognized it as an episode of the Twilight Zone that I’d seen. I think my favorite story was the one about the men who come to visit Ireland, but the effect of the story when reading it depends on me saying no more. A

“When the Music’s Over” edited by Lewis Shiner

My coworker slipped this into my box with a “read and return” sticky note. It’s an anthology of stories against war and violence. I think the editor contacted a bunch of authors and told them the premise and let them have at it. They aren’t at all pastoral stories about a society of love and peace; some of the stories are totally terrifying, and they do contain violence, but in a way that shows how horrible and unnecessary it is. Most of the stories are futuristic or set on other planets, so the whole book has a sci-fi bent to it that I like. A

“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle
I had not read this book since I was about 8 or 9 years old. I think I did a book report on it back then. I got really caught up in reading it because the heroes are genius oddballs and they go on a fantasy adventure and the language is rich and descriptive and challenging enough for an adult. Looking back on the story as a whole though, I think it was a little too simple. There’s a mystery to be solved, good fights evil, good wins within a few pages and it all gets wrapped up rather quickly, as if the author had a word count limit that she wasted back when the characters were fighting over who would go back to save Charles Wallace. I think there are more books in a series after this, so I’ll have to see if there’s more to this story. B

“The Way We Never Were” by Stephanie Coontz
One of my college roommates had to read this for a class, and one day she read some out loud to me. It sounded interesting enough, but it really wasn’t. The author sets out to prove how different actual life in a couple of “golden ages” compared to the idealized version, where mothers didn’t work, but stayed home with the children and fathers were able to support an entire suburban family. The reality was that a very small fraction of the population lined up with that model, but what I didn’t like about this book was that it was about 300 pages of statistics which only proved that some, but not all, of her students “Leave it to Beaver” dreams of the past were real. This book could be summed up with “Yes, but not as much as you’d think.” I guess it was assigned in a college class for a reason. C+

“Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon” by Spider Robinson
My coworker is getting good at lending me books I like. I would describe these stories as “Cheers, but with weird visitors.” Callahan’s is a bar where people come, Jake the narrator says, because they’ve got some kind of hurt that they need to share. These people include time travelers, immortals, alien androids programmed to destroy Earth, and the like. The regulars at Callahan’s don’t usually offer solutions, just support, a non-judgmental ear, and a toast followed by pitching one’s glass into the fireplace. Sounds pretty good. A-