Thursday, February 28, 2008

Nation building 101~

I'm expected to "teach" the time span between early civilizations in the New World-- the Aztecs, Mayans, Incas-- to the Civil War. In 180 days. This is mandated by the Massachusetts Department of Education.

So . . . sigh!

The presidential primary elections make the perfect springboard for looking back to understand why we have the form of government we do today. So I jumped ahead in the curriculum a couple hundred years to just after the Revolutionary War when the Constitution was written, the Bill of Rights argued over, the issue of slavery brushed aside to assure ratification, and of course, George Washington's acceptance of the presidency.

Two girls asked to put on a skit, something they'd prepared privately in the big supply closet during recess. Each pretended to be a candidate for president, and took turns reading their campaign promises.

At the end of class, one of my fifth graders stood at my desk, arms loaded with books ready to go to lunch.

"What's up, Josh?" I asked.

"I was thinking, and, well, a candidate could promise to do anything, but that doesn't mean he'd be able to." He paused. "Does it?"

He looked into my eyes, waiting for my reply. I confirmed his thinking, and praised his astuteness. He beamed and left.

We've returned to the 1500's curriculum-wise, but today I shared a "current event." The birth of a new nation: Kosovo.

"It's the newest country," I said. "Just born." I reminded them of our revolutionary beginning, and gave a brief overview of Kosovo's move toward independence: war, the resolutions from the organization in charge, the final declaration, and lastly, that some countries supported the independence and some didn't.

Miles said, "They've just begun and already they have enemies! And allies." He shook his head.

Mike had a different thought. "The kids must not have social studies class," he said.

"Why? What do you mean."?

"Well, they're so new. They have no history," he said.

Ahhh, the perfect segue to remind him of the long history of the Americas-- even before it "belonged" to us.

"Oh, yeah," he said.

I am so going to miss teaching.
"Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them."---George Santayana

Sunday, February 24, 2008

I feel his pain~

Jesse called in a reflective mood, a good mood really, one that's been lacking of late. It was late
afternoon, I'd just laid down on the couch with my book, but my eyes were heavy, a nap was waiting.
Because so many times on the days when he calls four or five times with nothing much to say, I rush him off impatiently, and because this time he was upbeat and chatty for a change, I stayed on the line and let him talk.

I listened, eyes closed. He talked. I umm hmmed.

"Emotions," he said. "What are they, really? I mean are they related to nerves? Or brain chemistry?"

I opened my eyes. The roses I got for Valentine's Day were beginning to wilt.

Emotions. Me, the one in the family who is all for feeling them, expressing them, discussing them. What were they, really?

"Brain chemistry, mostly, I think-- the rush of endorphins, serotonin, dopamine . . . all that. Why?"

"Well, I was thinking, " he said hesitantly, "and I know you don't like the topic-- drugs and all, Percocets-- but I was thinking. Percocet takes away physical pain. It blocks pain from being transferred along the nerves."


"Well, it takes away emotional pain, too. So, I was wondering if feeling emotion had something to do with the nerves."

I was sleepy, but I know we talked more about Percocet pain relief. About emotions. I remember he said he sometimes felt a lot of emotional pain. I asked why. He couldn't say. He assured me he hardly ever took Percocet. Just occasionally, once in a while, not often, he said. Well, that's good, I said, eyes closed again.

"You know, how a good mood feels? I wish good emotions could last as long as the bad ones do. It seems like the bad feelings make more of an impression. I wish the good ones would last as long. You know?"

"I do," I said.

"Well, thanks for talking," he said abruptly, his way of ending a phone conversation.

I fell asleep. It wasn't until more than 24 hours later that it occurred to me. Jesse had probably been talking to me from a Percocet high.
“The worst drugs are as bad as anybody's told you. It's just a dumb trip, which I can't condemn people if they get into it, because one gets into it for one's own personal, social, emotional reasons. It's something to be avoided if one can help it.”~John Lennon

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A picture perfect day in Back Bay~

A jaundiced eye~
Walking down Boston's Commonwealth Avenue with my camera around my neck, I was in my own world, a place I enjoy. It was school vacation week and I decided to ignore the cold, take advantage of the sunny day to get some pictures of the city.

I'll skip all comments about driving in from my small town. Suffice it to say, Boston is a fast-paced, visually stimulating city, and I drive better on quiet two-lane streets where the visual stimulation is mostly grazing cows.

But I made it.

This section of Boston-- the Back Bay-- one of the finer neighborhoods, is a combination of residences, offices and retailers held together visually by brownstone buildings that open through wrought iron gates onto the sidewalk. It's a well-heeled section of the city where old and new are juxtaposed.

There's no trash, no graffiti, things are decidedly upscale: Boston Common, the State House on Beacon Hill, Trinity Church, MIT . . . the list of historical sites is long. This is the part of the city you'd bring visitors from out of state to.

I wandered like a tourist; no one would have suspected I live a mere twenty-something miles south. I watched squirrels who were playful and friendly as kittens, got asked to pose in a picture for a group who were on a scavenger hunt on the Bridge in the Common-- they needed a Red Sox fan, they said-- and generally watched people. Despite the prevailing view that New Englanders are a cold lot, within the city there are warm and open people just waiting for a chance to exchange a smile and a few words with a stranger.

If you're from out of state, consider this a virtual tour, albeit an eclectic one, just to give you a potpourri look at the Back Bay. Neither words nor photos do a city justice. You really had to be there.
Boston's freeway system is insane. It was clearly designed by a person who had spent his childhood crashing toy trains. ~Bill Bryson

Bridge on the Common~

Who let the dogs out?

Close quarters~

Standing at attention~

Window treatment~

Tree heaven~

In your image~

Make way~

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Marketing love~

Ah, Valentine's Day!

What better way to show love than to rush onto a store on the way home from work to choose from thousands of cards, one that expresses just the right sentiment. Sign it in the car if you can find a pen in the glove compartment, or hide it under your coat until you get in the house where you hastily scrawl your name before presenting it with candy and a kiss.

The parking lot at the local CVS store in Bridgewater was jammed this evening. There was a mob in front of the Valentine cards. The registers had long lines.

We like to think we are independent, nobody tells us how to think. Yet, like Stepford wives-- and husbands-- we heed the Hallmark message and follow the stream of people to the card rack to choose from thousands, the one card that expresses just the right sentiment. We earnestly read the messages of cards mass produced to send the same sentiment to thousands until we find the one that matches the mood of the relationship.

Long married couples have it down. Keep it simple. It's the everyday love that matters most. A peck on the cheek will do if the relationship is solid. If it isn't, anything done on February 14th is like frosting a mud pie.

The newly marrieds and dating couples look upon this day with anticipation. Romantic visions still untarnished by practicality, they set standards they'll lower three children and a second mortgage later.

Singles see it as a day to slog through without succumbing to the poor me, I'm all alone mood.

Valentine's Day is one day out of 365, that grew through the centuries to become the day to buy "stuff" to show how much we care. Tomorrow, and the other 364 days will reveal the truth about our love.

And yes, I bought cards and candy for hubby and kids. It's what we do to show our love.
“Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” ~Robert Heinlein

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Happy blog-iversary to me~

Happy blog-iversary to me!

Forgive me if I pat myself on the back.

One year ago to day, I sat in front of my laptop wrapped in Harry Potter's invisibility cloak, and pushed "publish." No one-- well, only one-- knew I had "gone public."

And it was quite a tentative start, like dipping a toe in ice water, and yanking it out immediately. The name I chose-- Upstream and Down-- an acknowledgement of my Pisces nature, felt safe. I could wander, twist and turn through topics, and not need to follow a linear path.

In fact, I had no path in mind at all, no reason to write a blog, but I wanted one. It was that simple.

What emerged from 115 posts to date is a series of "snapshots," snippets of life-- more questions than answers-- filtered through my eyes.

That those of you who started with me have stayed in my stream pleases me. That others have come along for the journey is even better. You've encouraged me with your comments, your understanding, and your sharing of different perspectives.

I will always have more questions than answers, and I prefer it that way. You won't find answers here. Nothing definitive, no advice. Just a moment in time that mattered to me, and my attempt to find meaning in the moment.

Life is in the details.

Thank you for sharing mine.
For the very inauspicious beginning, go here: Only the beginning~
And then I "outed" my blog in this publication.
For those who have too much time on their hands, my earlier posts can be found in the archives at the bottom of the left margin.
"It always struck me as hopelessly exibitionist." ~Ruth Douillette

Friday, February 8, 2008

Touch down~

I was leaving the house on-time-for-work, but last-minute-not-quite-time-to-stop-for-a-coffee-time. But I WOULD stop anyway.

Admiring the frosting of snow on the branches and fences, I drove, past a cornfield in its winter mode: stubble poking up through the dusting of snow.

I looked for my geese; they touch down daily in this field. There they were.

But something was wrong. Three men walked among them. And a dog. My geese remained relaxed, calm, docile. Beyond docile. They were statue-like. Motionless.

Dead? No, some were standing.

I had my camera, and impulsively-- on time for work, be damned-- I pulled over and walked across the field toward the men. I could see the men were picking up my geese and moving them.

Something was wrong. The geese seemed stunned, or drugged. It was an eerie scene from a distance.

"Hello," one of the men walked toward me, raising his voice to be heard. "Can I help you?"

"I write for a paper," I shouted back. "What's going on?" I no longer write for the paper, but if there was a field of dead geese I would come up with something.

"We're hunters," he said. "We're setting up. In a minute you're going to see a whole lot of geese coming in."

I blinked at the surreal setting. A field full of decoy geese; some standing, some like brooding hens. A waggy-tailed dog snuffling among them. Three men. And me, camera hanging around my neck.

"Oh, hunters, " I said." Are you far enough from the houses to hunt here?"

He said they were.

My geese would be coming in soon, fooled by a false flock. I wanted to stand and wave my arms in warning. Or just sit amidst the decoys in the muddy stubble. Would the men drag me off? Point their guns at me? Call the cops?

I had to get to work. I'd be late now for sure, but I'd still stop for coffee.
“Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter” ~African Proverb

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Killing time~

I'd woken feeling stuffy headed, slightly allergy-ish, puffy-eyed, and a tad grumpy. Lots to do, little time in which to do it, school issues keeping me in a state of angst, I considered not going to David's game.

But it was Saturday, the game fairly close to home-- Salem State College-- an hour or so north through Boston to the town of Salem, famous for the 1692 witch trials that saw 19 suspected witches, many of them social outcasts, hang on Gallows Hill.

A change of pace was what I needed whether I wanted it or not, so I went.

I squeezed in a walk around the block that enclosed Salem State's O'Keefe Center while waiting for the game to begin. Just to kill time. I get so few chances to do that.

Others walking, too, passed with no eye contact, no greetings, just sharing the same planet. Two were coming toward me.

Still unfocused in the distance . . . one was tall, the other short . . . two men . . . loose clothing . . . like army clothes, camouflage . . . beard and long hair on the tall one . . . the short one, she's a woman . . . pack on the man's back . . .

When they were close enough for me to see the sores around the woman's mouth, she looked me in the eye and said, "Hello, Mam."

"Hi, How are you?" I said brightly, my autopilot response.

"Surviving. You?" she said as she passed.

The pack was a sleeping bag . . . the baggy clothes were layered over others . . . they were homeless . . . social outcasts . . . killing time . . . until the shelter opened.

In that heartbeat of realization, I struggled to answer her simple question. How was I? Great! Fine. Wonderful, thanks.

What came out of my mouth was, "Better . . . probably."

"Better . . .?" That word came unbidden. My subconscious attempt to convey that no matter how I was, I was in a better place than "surviving."

"Probably?" I don't know. That was lame-- a last minute gearshift in an attempt prevent understanding: not better than you, but better than how you are.


Maybe she didn't hear me anyway. Maybe the wind took my words.

We were people killing time for different reasons, sharing the planet.
As if you could kill time without injuring eternity” ~Henry David Thoreau