Sent to my students before the last day of class

What happens next?

I think this is where I am supposed to insert some cliché about following your dreams and the world being your oyster (or if you are a fan of Friends, your lobster). But I am not going to do that. One, because that is definitely not my style, and more importantly, because I am not going to risk upsetting Zinsser’s ghost.

Instead, I am going to tell you a few things I know, comment on many things I have forgotten and, in the end, explain a few choices I made.

I don’t remember a single professor of mine from my undergrad studies. I began as a journalism major at West Virginia University, switched to an education major because I didn’t like following the rules in journalism classes and then switched again to an English degree which I finished up at SUNY-Buffalo.

I remember a few details about a couple of my classes.

My first ever undergrad class was a Logic class. I was the only freshman in the class and I remember doing well.

But that was quickly balanced out by the F I received in a Shakespeare class that I simply stopped going to.

I remember one paper I wrote. The comments on the essay examining Iran Contra received a B+ with this comment: “This is the best paper I have seen in many years. But I disagree with everything you say.”

I remember one class that I dropped after only a few sessions. It was a Feminist Literature class and I was the only male in the class. I was quickly informed that I would represent Everyman and that all things that the literature accused men of, I would be blamed for.

And there was one professor who gave me a book. The Red and The Black. I never read it.

I don’t know the name of a single professor I had while pursuing my B.A. I can’t even remember their faces, or perhaps I attended a Charlie Brown school and none of the teachers had faces and never said a coherent sentence.

But some of those memories give me reason to teach the way I do.

When students miss class, I try to reach out. Perhaps if someone had done that for me, I would have returned to class and done well.

I frequently comment that your paper is judged by the quality of the writing, not whether I agree with it.

I try to be inclusionary when I talk about your dream woman, man or platypus.

As to whether I am as cool as a Charlie Brown teacher, I have no idea. However, one day I would like to learn to dance as well as Snoopy does.

I do remember a lot from the semester when I was an R.A.

I remember the group of freshmen who carried a half-keg up four flights of stairs right in front of a group of R.A.s. The students did not enjoy dumping that beer.

I remember giving advice to some of the guys on my floor who liked to party, encouraging them to enjoy themselves but to take a few precautions so I could claim that I knew nothing about it.

I remember being woken up around 4 am during Finals Week as one of the guys on my floor told me his room had been broken into.

And I remember being called to interrupt and hopefully stop a guy from committing suicide. The ambulance eventually arrived, and they took him in for psychiatric testing.

If I pressed myself, I could probably come up with a few more academic things that I remembered, but in reality, they have just blended into my past.

And that is why I have no words of wisdom for you. I have no reason to believe that anything I said or did this semester will be remembered past the near future. And I am totally fine with that. I have done my job and you have done yours.

You are going to do what you are going to do.

And so, I am not going to insult you by thinking that any advice I give is worth remembering. Instead, I will explain the choice I made at the beginning of the semester, or rather the series of choices.

For those of you who were in class on Day One, you may recall that on the PowerPoint I presented that included crucial information regarding the class including my favorite Disney Princess, there was a +1 in a large red circle. Not a single student asked about that and so I decided not to say anything.

I do have a personal policy, which I believe is worth sharing, related to +1. Each day I try to do something or learn something that makes me better at being me. Every day I try to +1. However,

I decided to challenge myself to “show” that, instead of “telling” it.

But there is also something I did not write on the PowerPoint, and this, which I share with you now, is perhaps as close as I will come to giving you advice.

I wanted you to walk into the classroom and see the following on the board: “I hope that this is the worst class that you ever have.”

I was going to ask you to dissect the sentence and try to figure out what I meant. I chickened out.

But now, I am happy to say it.

I hope that my class is the worst class that you ever have.

I hope that every teacher, professor and mentor is better than me.

I hope that you learn more in every class than you ever did in mine.

Now as you parse those three sentences, for you certainly know that I would not leave you with a simple farewell, I realized I do have one more thing to add to this.

I have a request.

Many of you have told me that you plan on being a teacher, or an astrophysicist, a nurse, or a police officer. Those are all noble professions, but I ask that you make one small change to your goals.

In front of the name of your profession, please add the word great.

Make it your goal to be a great teacher, or a great astrophysicist, a great nurse, or a great police officer.

The world needs more of those.

And if you do not accomplish that goal, I promise you, I will not be disappointed.

But I will be disappointed if you don’t try.

-written by K.A. MacDonald, December 8 – 12, 2018


My Essay for Assignment #1

I teach Composition 101 at UMass Boston. One of my students asked when they would see some of my writing, so I decided to write my answer to their Assignment #1 prompt.

Here is the prompt:

In this narrative-style essay, you will reflect on your own history as a writer, a reader or a speaker. I want you to think back to one or two important moments in your life regarding writing or reading.

• What has occurred in your life that has changed the way you think about and experience writing, reading or speaking?
• How has this event affected your experience with writing, reading, or speaking?
• What did you learn from this experience that would be appropriate to share with others?
• Why does this event stand out over all others?

Tell the reader a high-quality, meaningful story in the form of a narrative essay that provides the reader something to think about regarding your experience with writing, reading, or speaking.

And here is my essay:
***

Why do I want you to read?

There are two answers to that question. There is the obvious answer that involves the drama of whether Harry will hook up with Hermione, whether Emma Bovary will listen to the speeches given at the agricultural fair while she sits next to a man who doesn’t love her or whether you make the connections between Nabokov’s Lolita and the song “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” by the Police.
Those adventures are without compare. Movies don’t do them justice. It truly is a case of you have to be there.

But then there is the other answer. The one that sometimes keeps me up at night, knowing that I am not doing enough to convince people that reading is beneficial.

My day starts with a quick glance at email, and if there are no fires to put out, I quickly move on to Reddit where I see whether there are literal fires around the world, as well as looking at political cartoons, cats riding vacuums and discussions over what pictures qualify as not safe for work. I then move on to The New York Times and The Guardian to read quality reporting and opinion pieces that help me make better sense of the current political scene.

I acknowledge I create my own reality. My zeitgeist is at least partially pre-fabricated by my choices. But those choices are mine and have been shaped by time and experience. Throughout the day I add in message boards like the Straight Dope where hidden underneath lazy ad hominem attacks (which I am getting better at recognizing) there is great debate going on. I listen to podcasts about baseball and cultural icons and science and literature. I watch TEDx videos that discuss procrastination while I should be doing something else.

But, people who don’t read don’t share those experiences. Sure, non-readers can listen to podcasts and watch YouTube but, be honest, is it likely that someone who shirks reading is listening to podcasts about the fine points of the effect of skin color on the roles that actors are offered in Hollywood? Based on my experience, the answer is no.
Because I read, for pleasure, for work, and because I am addicted, I believe that I can make better sense of this world. When I read something I find questionable, I purposely go seek out multiple sources and usually find that the facts lie somewhere in the middle. When a political ad comes on tv, I listen carefully to the words that are said, and more importantly the words that are not said. Very simply, because I read, I don’t have to depend on other people to tell me the truth. Because they often won’t.

The people I know who don’t read, seldom say that their life is great. Or even very good. Oftentimes, the people who brag about not reading also complain about how life isn’t fair. Now this is not an infomercial about how if you read 45 minutes a day you will become rich. The people who make offers like that are not aiming for critical readers and thinkers. They are aiming for victims who will accept what they are told.

And why not? If one has a skill and can improve their own life by taking advantage of others who willingly submit, why wouldn’t they? I truly hope that I don’t do that. I hope that as a result of my reading I understand the effect that exploitation and bullying have, not just on the people I know, but on the people around the world and since the history of the spoken word.

Because I read, I know that I live a better life. My childhood is sadly not different enough to be unique, but suffice it to say, I could come up with myriad excuses as to why I would not be successful and would not be a living a life that I very gladly say is great. But instead, I fell in love with reading from a very early age, at first encouraged by others, but soon after, as an escape and a refuge from the reality of my childhood.

At any point I could have stopped and been mad at the world, but instead I let Dr. Seuss delight me (he still does), and Stephen King scare me (he still does). And the moment that the Harry Potter-verse reached my awareness, I was onboard. I was at Walmart at midnight for the release of the last two books, surrounded by others who wanted to devour every word, and yet never wanting to see the words The End.

But I have also taught a number of students in America and in Tanzania who take pride in the fact that they don’t read. And that makes me sad. Everyone has brilliant thoughts to share with this world. But without reading and engaging in critical thinking and increasing one’s vocabulary, instead by allowing others to dissect discussions for you and tell you that this time history will not repeat itself and insisting that if a man claims he is rich, he is a great businessman and leader regardless of his own personal history, of which there are many books written, those thoughts are never going to shine as bright as they otherwise might. And that hurts the world.

I do not yet have the ability to physically travel to a planet that is inhabited by a solitary lamplighter, but oh, how I long for that opportunity. And there are so many people in this world, who I know would, given the chance, love to join me. Although there is a movie that tells you what to see, without having that book in my hand, and my thoughts which are shaped and elevated by reading the words of wise women and men, along with ignorant fools who I am able to recognize, I know that we simply will not make that journey together.

-written by K.A. MacDonald, September 29, 2018


Window shopping

Today is an open-windows day!


Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts

Dear Basketball – This was my favorite of the five nominees. NBA legend Kobe Bryant wrote a letter to basketball as his career was coming to an end. This short takes his letter and sets it to a beautiful pencil-drawn story about a young boy falling in love with basketball and dedicating his life to honoring the game. Good animation, powerful story.

Lou – This was Angi’s favorite. This Pixar short is a feel good tale about the toys and clothes that end up in a Lost and Found at a school and how they help a bully change his view on life. I thought it was good, but there were a few loose ends (that were highlighted in the introduction of the title on the screen) left in the story. Typical Pixar quality with nice details.

Garden Party – This was our least favorite. When we got our tickets, there was a notice warning viewers that there was something gross at the end of this short. It was gross, and not necessary, but then again, the entire premise – frogs doing frogs things at a deserted(?) and desserted (with mold and flies) house wasn’t exactly world changing.

Negative Space – A feel-good/feel-bad story about a boy recalling the most important lesson his father ever taught him. The metaphor about properly packing a suitcase comes full circle with an emotional ending.

Revolting Rhymes – A fun play on Red Riding Hood, the Three Little Pigs, Snow White and a few other fairy tales with a number of twists and turns. This was labelled as Part One, and the story ends with a Wolf possibly preparing to do what Fairy Tale wolves do. A fine short, but there are many wonderful variations of these fairy tales.

Added Content: Because there are only five nominated shorts, there were a couple additional shows included. These were labelled as Highly Recommended and we each found one we definitely would have taken over Garden Party.

Weeds – This is a very short piece that brings Zen Mindfulness to a dandelion. I enjoyed this one, because I feel the simplicity of the story, matches the simplicity of the lesson.

Achoo! – This was Angi’s favorite of the extras. This is a cute folk tale about how a Chinese celebration came to be. A young dragon must try to outsmart some of his older and bigger rivals. Fun, but in my opinion, a little too much snot. (Really)

Lost Property Office – It was nice. A tale of a man who works in the Lost Property Office who must deal with becoming redundant. The style and format felt formulaic.


Still too cold to go outside

It’s better under the covers.


Sunday


‘Tis 2018


31 Hours in New York City


I believe the rule is…

that to resume a blog, you must publish cat photos. Consider this blog resumed.


From the Streets of Stone Town