Friday, December 30, 2016

Basil on the windowsill

We have a basil plant on our windowsill. We were plant-sitting it for my Auntie Beth last winter while she and (don't call me Uncle) Bob found refuge down in Florida.

We used it a bit until summer, then turned our attention to our garden basil, now just dead sticks in the cold ground.

Auntie Beth's basil plant, however, has plugged along, and this week we were rewarded with basil flowers.

So as 2016 draws to a close, and as events close to home seemingly mirror the greater (in scope but not in depth) events that plague our larger culture, I look upon the miracles around us.

There are Brussels sprouts in the garden and clams in the bay. We had both last night, the living sustaining the living, every being alive today a happy accident at the individual level, but all part of something bigger, of life, which, I pray, is inevitable, even if, I fear, humans are not.

(I will attempt to pollinate the basil today--should I get any seeds, I will plan them in spring.)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Saint Stephen's Day

A reminder from my adventures two years ago.
It is one thing to write of mortality, quite another to kiss its cheek.
I am in the land of the fine again, but we all are dancing in the same shadow.

Flatiron Building, 1902, Library of Congress

A St. Stephen's Day Story

My great grandfather was a bricklayer at a time when New York City, just a sail away, was laying a lot of bricks. He'd come to the States, ply his trade, then return to the island.

In New York City there are many magnificent buildings erected on the backs of those who traveled from home, because they had to, and I am sure many families in the area claim a particular building (or two) as their own.

To whom does a garden belong? The gardener who digs into the rich bed of life, or the rich man who pays for his gardener's services? And so it is with the Flatiron Building in New York City. It is as much ours as anyone with a legal claim to the deed.

I can only imagine the thoughts running through a man far younger than myself as he tumbled several stories to the street below in a city far from his home. I can only imagine the pain and fear as he was carted off to a hospital, at a time when no one expected a man to survive a fall like that.

I do not have to imagine, though, that he prayed.
I have little doubt that in his prayers, after, of course Jesus and Mary, he prayed to St. Stephen.
Stoning of St. Stephen, Paolo Uccello, 1435

St. Stephen was stoned to death for a few reasons, but clearly he agitated those in power with his belief that  "the most High dwells not in temples made with hands." He is the patron saint of bricklayers, which would be ironic in most cultures.

So today is a good reminder to me to remember a few things that matter:
  • We are here by the tenuous thread we call the Grace of God.
  • Though our individual threads will break, we are all part of a larger, living tapestry.
  • Spills, even bad ones, can end well.
  • We revere the temples of learning at our peril.

I am the same man;
I will not be the same teacher.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Teachers as technicians

This was true a couple of years ago when this first appeared.
Getting too old to pretend anymore.

I hardly teach biology anymore--I teach sophistry. Learn the magic words, and the patterns among the magic words, and you are wise. 
        peptide bond
            phospholipid bilayer

I get paid reasonably well to do this, and so long as my students fill in the Holy Scantrons read by the Great Machine in Trenton, and so long as the pattern they create comes close enough to the patterns discerned as truth, my students are certified as worthy of participating on our new global workforce, machina ex deus.

If you never care to watch the stars move, you will never be more than a technician. That seems to be OK to just about everybody these days--technicians are a lot easier to manage than philosophers, and they're certainly easier to please.

And if I accept my role as just a 21st century teacher, delivering some bon mots to help my lambs pass the PARCC exam, then I will never be more than a technician, either.

The sun rests still in the sky for a few days, and the winter chill reminds those of us closer to our end than our beginning that maybe, just maybe, safety isn't the primary goal in a life that will certainly end in death.

Time to get moving.

It's really not all that complicated, this life/death thing. You are, and then you're not.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Trumpe-l'œil in Windows Paint Series

This is an archive of a self-indulgent "art" project, and I cannot even claim credit for the nifty title (my brother came up with that). I want to remember why I created each piece (though I've already forgotten the reasons for a few--too many concussions for one brain to handle).

All work done in Windows Paint, using cut and paste with some shading with brushes, no mean feat for a colorblind artiste.

Still, it's my party and I'll blog if I want to....

The latest entry to my oeuvre was a response to the unpresidented PEOTUS's lies about the timing of the CIA's notice of Russian meddling in the election.

This one is a nod to my boyhood here--I had no idea he was even more orange than Mr. FortySixPercent until I needed to shade the borders.

This one was supposed to counterbalance JFK's "Ich bin ein Berliner" moment, but a friend of mine (and professional translator) pointed out that a Russian would not say it this way--but then, JFK's German was suspect, too, so I left it alone.

This was originally going to be a Trump and Steve Bannon portrait, but I liked the end result so much I left it alone. This may be my favorite--Dark Helmet is Trump personified.

"Groping Babes in Toyland" is my best pun, but only my aged friends get the reference. Just as well, that movie is sexist, misogynist, and racist, all wrapped under "tradition."

This was in response to Trump's cheap shot at Boeing with regard to Air Force One--but plays a little too heavily on the groping theme. Mr. Trump's visage (continuing with the French words sub-theme here) does make for a good blow-up doll, though.

Mr. FortySixPercent calls Taiwan, thinks Formosa is fabulous, plans to build a great wall across South China Sea--says China will pay for it--I bet J. Fred Muggs would fit right into Trump's Cabinet.

This one glorifies Mr. FortySixPercent's brilliant decision to bring the McMahon clan into his administration. I may re-do this one with Putin added and Trump's role switched.

Behind every bully is a moral coward--though I almost did not do this one because I like Bert Lahr so much. 

This is the original, inspiring the series--Trump as golden calf. Be careful who you worship, Evangelicals, be careful who you worship.

"What Endures and What Does Not"

"The biologist drills a hole in the sea snail’s shell 

and slides a miniature stethoscope inside, listens
for the heartbeat: it’s beating, still beating, still beating."

The tide does not rise--the edge of a murky wave laps up to the edge of a mud whelk, half-buried in the muck, then recedes, for a moment, then licks the edge of the shell again. Mostly a little higher, sometimes a tad lower, but incessantly.

Mud dog whelks, by Andrew N. Cohen

The waves now reach the tip of the snail's shell, and it stirs, aware the tide is returning, and slides along the mud again, joining hundreds of others, aware of each other through their scent and their shadows.

In mid-December they are still here, reminding me again what I forget under fluorescent light.

Mud dog whelks on a flat, by James T. Carlton

You can watch the tide as it rambles up the edge of the sea, snaking its way around the snails. You can watch the sun slide along the horizon while you stand at the window drinking your morning coffee. You can, if you are patient enough, see a hops bine grow in June--almost an inch an hour.

This week I will lead a hundred or so young adults to a stairwell window in our school, to let them see where the sun sits in mid-December. I will ask them to make a note in their journals--most will not remember this later, because it does not matter to them, because it does not matter to the adults around them. I will also ask them to leave some space for a second observation later.

In June, we will return to the stairwell, and I will ask them again to note where the sun is.

See? It moved when you we're not looking.
(And a handful may start to do just that...)

(A few of my lambs are, of course, aware already...
but their awareness can be lonely in a world of electric light.)