Saturday, June 16, 2018

Fixing a porch light

S.S. Atlantus, decaying in the Delaware Bay
The porch light sways oddly in a breeze, hanging by two wires

One of its panes is broken, and has been for years. We did not notice until a sparrow took shelter inside the lamp one cold winter evening, the curly fluorescent bulb warm, not hot. The sparrow returned on the coldest nights for three winters, then we never saw it again.

I had not noticed the lamp housing had come loose until the flickering started, the usual rhythmic ebb and flow of electrons breaking into syncopated staccato, an unnatural light, created by humans, repaired by humans.

I am now at an age where things fall apart faster than I can put them together again, an age when I lose words faster than I find new ones.

I will fix the porch light this week. Leslie will remind me, kindly, that we can pay someone to do it, and I will remind her, less kindly, that I can do it. Rage, rage against the dying of the porch light....

I see things I did not see before. Under this porch there is land that has been here a long, long time, with people on it, a long, long time, and it will remain here a long, long time. I used to see it when I was a child, imagining what people, what critters, walked where I walk now.

I stopped along the way. Chances are you did, too.

We are surrounded by the cycling dance of detritus and the living, disorder to order then to disorder again, the the sun casting the same clay into quahogs, grackles, dogfish, and humans.

I will fix the light soon, but first I must see the edge of the sea again.



We live, we glow, we flicker, and then back to clay to be resurrected again. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A June prayer

It's June again, always good news.

I am sitting in the sun, the dying flowers of a paper birch tree raining down on me (there are seven on my keyboard at the moment).


We see what we see when we see it, and no one else does. No one. The rush of the wind, the aromas of slight decay in the jubilance of June, the warmth of a sun that remembered to come back.

A tiny green aphid is casting a shadow on the back of my hand, impossibly busy.

Our brains do what they can, dependent on the senses we've evolved to get to this point, here, now, and in June, our guard is down. Light and food  abound. June is good for mammals.

Because we are each living in a singular universe, we are easily fooled. June is a time to get grounded again, sit outside, watch critters who care nothing for you, gaze at the shifting shadows, feel the mortality sitting in the shadows,

This whole thing is ridiculous, of course, and words only make it more so.


We are in trouble, again. We like to listen to the noise of our own making. We cling to hate, to fear, to the abstract.

But outside the world continues to be the world, a handful of good dirt still draws me in, and the beans and the peas and the basil continue to give and give and give.

Someday I am going to miss this (or maybe that's just conceit--I cannot miss what I will not know), but I trust a few of us will remember to go outside, grab some dirt, and remind the rest of us what matters.





June....





Saturday, April 28, 2018

Less power, more control: why typewriters still matter

Many, maybe most, of our young adults here are not very happy. While there may be a correlation between screen time and our younguns' restlessness, causation is a big leap.

Lifted off the net and originally from "Decreases in Psychological Well-Being Among American Adolescents After 2012 and Links to Screen Time During the Rise of Smartphone Technology," Emotion, Jan 22 , 2018
My lambs are fascinated by the classroom typewriter, a machine I picked up off a street in our neighborhood, tossed out after its owner died, along with a case holding her bowling ball and bowling shoes. A copy of her scores from one of her last matches was still in the case.

It's personal. And it still works.

When a child first sees it, she is often mystified. How does it work?

It's fun to watch a child touch a typewriter key--typewriting is an act of force, you do the work, and the keys are designed to let your finger do what fingers do. Touch, feel, react.

The first push of the key is too soft. Typing requires work, force times distance. Children are used to the machine doing the work--a simple touch, the machine negotiates the rest. A typewriter requires more, and the more it requires reminds us we're mammals.

 A type bar rises from the orderly phalanx the to the paper, hesitates, then falls back into the ranks.

She did not push far enough.

She tries again, pushing the key gently, watches the type bar arc gracefully towards the paper, barely kissing the page, leaving, maybe, a hint of a shadow.

Frustrated, she hits the key a bit harder next time, and the type bar flies towards the paper. *Clack* The sound both startles and pleases her.

And there it is, an imperfect letter, a thought transiently incarnate, now permanently etched on paper.

Hers.
Found on the class typewriter, written by one of my students.

Less power--no one can see it unless she shares it.
More control--no one can see it unless she shares it.
***

Dear child,
Google has read every love letter you sent to the boy.
Google has saved every word worthy enough for her.
Your machine breaks down, the letter remains.
***

When you write on a typewriter, you choose the paper. You choose the force of each letter, its place on the paper, but not much else.

You cannot choose the font, the pica, the colors.
You cannot add photos or gifs or links to cute memes.
You cannot make thousands of copies, or even just a few.
You cannot share it with millions of people you do not know.


But you can draw a doodle on it, a doodle never seen before. You can scent it with vanilla (or citrus or madeleines, if you are clever.)

And you can hold it for a lifetime, or give it to someone else who cares enough to do the same, tucked in a shoe box in an attic somewhere, to be found long after both of you are dead.

No doubt our words carry more power now, thanks to our techno-universes.

Craving the power, we cede the control.



This started out as a letter to Jonathan Rochelle, who I got to see talk last week at IgniteSTEM2018. He gets it, even when immersed in it.
 I haven't finished the letter.

Friday, April 6, 2018

On fixing a fan


Two years ago I tried to replace a broken ceiling fan.

I had a little trouble fitting the cable clamp, and figured I crimped the wires too much.

Sometimes the voltmeter showed something, sometimes it didn't. I feared a short, cut off the circuit breaker when I wasn't home, and pondered.


And pondered and pondered and pondered. I may be the world's greatest ponderer. (Pondering gets you nowhere, by the way....)

I once worked in Port Newark, on the docks at the water's edge, moving tons of scrap metal day after day after day. Some men had cranes. I had a shovel.

I worked as a longshoreman when men still mattered as much as machines. We had a saying.

"If it don't fit, don't force it, turn it over and try again."

That's carried me for well over four decades.


I have always focused on the black wire, the live one, the one with the power and the glory. The neutral one, not so much.

In the States, our power is AC--electrons go here, then scamper quickly back to there. While the black wire has, at its peak, 120 volts more than the neutral, its strength relies on a differential, not an absolute. After two fucking years, I took the abstract and put it in the real world.

If the black wire is live (as it was) and nothing is happening, maybe it's because the electrons have nowhere to go. (If you're a first year electrician's apprentice, no, I do not need to hear from you.)

Pretty much every circuit has a switch, and switches are ridiculously easy to grasp. But people make mistakes.

I had assumed that the problem I had was at the point I was focused on--where the wires fell through the ceiling, the point where I had crimped them together a tad too much two years ago.


I opened the switch box--and there it was--the neutral wire connected to, well, nothing but air.

So now the fan and light work again, but that's not the point. The sun will rise tomorrow, the wind will blow. I can live without a lamp and a fan.

The point is this--the neutral wire matters every bit as much as the one that could kill me. Power makes us all drunk.

The folks making all the noise, controlling the money, hogging the airwaves, well, yes, they can make changes.

But the rest of us, the neutral wires, decide what flows and what doesn't.



Throw your shoe into the machine. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Back into September light

September shadows return tomorrow.

March lettuce, started in the fall

The grackles, my favorite bird, are back, strutting around like they own the place, giving me the yellow eye, tossing over sticks and leaves and clam shells, eating pretty much anything that moves.

A lone crocus flower opened up for business, ready for any late winter bee foolish enough to wander out on this chilly, windy day.

Crocus!

I found the lettuce pushing up on the cold frame window. I may leave the frames open now, answering the prayers of the rabbits readying their nests for bunnies.

A March garden dinner sounds like peasant fare--kale, Egyptian walking onion, rosemary, various lettuces from the garden, bread and potatoes from Acme.

The first peas are tucked in the earth now, a week early, despite the nor'easter threatening to hit in two days. I have plenty more to plant.



As you get older, you realize you have far more seeds than you do time. 


Daylight Saving Time, again....

An hour shorter makes for a longer week... 

"...[T]he shift to Daylight Saving Time (DST) results in a dramatic increase in cyberloafing behavior at the national level."
DT Wagner et al, J Appl Psychol. 2012 Sep;97(5):1068-76

A quarter of the world's population will be groggy tomorrow. A few people will die traumatically. Students' test skills will deteriorate. A few more people will die of heart attacks. The stock market may crash.

And yet we still do it.

Stonehenge time
You cannot save time.

You cannot add an hour of sunshine to your day.

You can, though, manipulate human conceits. If nothing else, Daylight Saving Time is an excellent way to demonstrate to children the folly and the real consequences of humans believing they control more than they control.

Tomorrow my 1st period lambs will trudge through before dawn through blackened banks of snow to get to school. Broad Street in Bloomfield will look like the zombie apocalypse. We'll tell them to keep their heads up (or at least wipe the drool of their desks before they leave), but we are bucking millions of years of evolution.

Photo by Eugene Ter-Avakyan, cc-2.0

Humans need sleep. Adolescents (still considered by most to be humans) need more than the 97 minutes my kids average on Sunday nights.

And why not? What better way to prep for college and career readiness in the global economy than making students take life-altering assessments while comatose? Have kids knock down a few Xanax pills, and chase it with gin and Adderall cocktails to make it really authentic.




Stonehenge photo by Resk, released to PD

Yep, a repeat--I ilke cycles....

Friday, March 9, 2018

Lenten prayer

Wheat in our classroom window a few years ago.

The miracle was not so much the resurrection, such as it was.
The miracle is that any of us are here at all.




Amen.