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Golden Apple

Hear the sound of those girl’s tears? Oh, poor baby. She has gained a few pounds and her best friend is cheating on her with her boyfriend. How do I know? I am Eris, the original ‘mean girl!’I’m the one who slipped the note in her backpack letting her know about the cheater, and who shrunk her pants so she would think she was gaining weight. Well, who did she think she was, anyway, trying to be friendly and cute to everyone around her, being kind hearted, patient, and sweet? Blech! Makes me want to barf! That syrupy-sweet act doesn’t play with me, sister. You had to be destroyed.

Oh, and I have friends in high places. Powerful friends. Ares, the god of war, my big, brawny and bold brother, always said I would go places, and he was right. He has his own issues though, ones I don’t think any amount of high-priced therapy will help. He was never revered by the Greeks, those country bumpkins, never had a palace or temple built in his honor, never had even as much as a lamb chop sacrificed to him. Those ungrateful peons! The god of war should be honored, worshipped—were it not for him, there would be stifling peace and prosperity, boring harmony and happiness! Well, between you and me, if he even got a scratch on his hide during battle, he would scream like a little girl! What a wimp. The only one who ever really showed him any affection was that tramp, Aphrodite. Granted, my brother is gorgeous, and she had a most unpleasant celebrity marriage with Hephaestus, that hunch-backed freak, so I don’t blame her for seeking my brother’s “affections,” so to speak. But violence, bloodshed and a great piece of weaponry beats out beauty, brains, and honesty any day, if you ask me.

I am the goddess of discord, disharmony, and discontent. It is my solemn and pleasurable duty to make sure there is always a little harmful gossip, a little bit of jealousy sprinkled with a dash of envy, stirred together well in a big, mucky pot of deceitful soup. I believe myself to be very powerful. If it weren’t for me, half the princesses in fairy tales wouldn’t get a prince worthy of them. If there is no conflict, there is no story! In fact, now that I think of it, all great literature, movies, and plays owe a hearty thanks to ME! If it weren’t for me causing the small problems, the self-doubts, the cat-fights, the tussles and tangos of human history, would just be flat, tasteless tales. You need a bad guy to make you love the good guy. I am indispensable.

One of my favorite tricks was tossing my golden apple in the middle of three of those witches, Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera. Athena, that book worm, wouldn’t know a good time if it jumped up and bit her on her fanny. Hera is such a matronly downer, always wasting her time checking Zeus’ credit card receipts for signs of cheating – as if! Who wouldn’t cheat on that old cow! Now, Aphrodite—there’s a chick who can give me a run for my money. She, of sea foam and blood, can really mix it up. She’s almost as much as a trouble maker as I am.

Funny, though. I don’t get a lot of invitations to places. Once I was so rudely dismissed, and didn’t receive an invitation to a wedding. I like to throw rice and toast the bride and groom, so why wasn’t I invited? So, I toss my golden apple, the Apple of Discord, which is one rotten apple, ruining the whole bunch, and whisper in the ear of this local-yokel, Paris, that he must decide who is the “fairest of them all.” (Yes, there’s a lawsuit against the Brothers Grimm for taking that line and using in that stupid story, Snow White. Really? Seven dwarfs? Don’t get me started!) The three ladies each want this golden apple for themselves, and want to be considered the fairest. Athena offers him wisdom. Paris never cracked open a book in his life, why should he start now? Hera offers him land, political power, and oh, yeah – ASIA. Not good enough. Paris doesn’t like sushi. Aphrodite, clever girl, offers him the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen. Here’s where it gets fun – Helen of TROY, as in, “Mr. & Mrs. Troy,” as in “she’s already married to a King Menelaus. And kings don’t give up their trophy wives without a fight. Just tossing my golden apple caused the Trojan War! Oh, those were indeed the days! I really admire Aphrodite’s greed, cunning and how to maneuver on the battlefield of beauty –that lady knows how to get what she wants.

A few years hence, I didn’t receive another invitation to a christening of baby Aurora. Well, I had to put that simpering chick to sleep for a few hundred years, let me tell you. One tiny prick of a spinning needle and lights outs, sister! Teach you to disrespect me! You might know her as Sleeping Beauty, and I as the evil fairy, but that’s a demotion compared to the stature of goddess. I regret that I didn’t keep my mental tools a little sharper and cause a bit more trouble along the way. Evil fairy, indeed. I know how to keep up with the times, and make my own invitations. Who needs Kings and royalty to have a good time, or a successful career? I had a prime cameo role in the hit cartoon, “The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy,” perhaps you’ve seen my work? I am fabulous!

Although I am happy with my life now—I still have everything I want, but it’s not the same. I’m a guest host on TMZ and a gossip columnist for the Los Angeles Hollywood tabloids. Whenever you hear a rumor about Brad-gelina breaking up, you can thank me! I have broken up couples that didn’t even know they were having troubles until I gave them the seed of doubt. I am the friend who say, passive-aggressively, “Oh, no those pants don’t make you look as heavy as your blue suede ones do!” My hair is naturally blonde; and my skin always tanned. Because I’m immortal, I never seem to grow old, but change looks so as not to arouse suspicion. I’m the one who’s responsible to making dimwits like Paris Hilton into celebrities. I’m the one who can cause suspicion and jealousy to slither into one’s heart, squeezing the trust out of you. Are you the fairest in the land? Well, it’s probably your best friend, and she’s stealing your boyfriend from you as we speak. Tee-hee!

“To the Fairest”


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Pushing that boulder…

Anytime you hear the term, Sisyphean Task, we have the old sinner, Sisyphus to thank:


Sinner condemned in Tartarus to an eternity of rolling a boulder uphill then watching it roll back down again. Sisyphus was founder and king of Corinth, or Ephyra as it was called in those days. He was notorious as the most cunning knave on earth. His greatest triumph came at the end of his life, when the god Hades came to claim him personally for the kingdom of the dead. Hades had brought along a pair of handcuffs, a comparative novelty, and Sisyphus expressed such an interest that Hades was persuaded to demonstrate their use – on himself.

And so it came about that the high lord of the Underworld was kept locked up in a closet at Sisyphus’s house for many a day, a circumstance which put the great chain of being seriously out of whack. Nobody could die. A soldier might be chopped to bits in battle and still show up at camp for dinner. Finally Hades was released and Sisyphus was ordered summarily to report to the Underworld for his eternal assignment. But the wily one had another trick up his sleeve.

He simply told his wife not to bury him and then complained to Persephone, Queen of the Dead, that he had not been accorded the proper funeral honors. What’s more, as an unburied corpse he had no business on the far side of the river Styx at all – his wife hadn’t placed a coin under his tongue to secure passage with Charon the ferryman. Surely her highness could see that Sisyphus must be given leave to journey back topside and put things right.

Kindly Persephone assented, and Sisyphus made his way back to the sunshine, where he promptly forgot all about funerals and such drab affairs and lived on in dissipation for another good stretch of time. But even this paramount trickster could only postpone the inevitable. Eventually he was hauled down to Hades, where his indiscretions caught up with him. For a crime against the gods – the specifics of which are variously reported – he was condemned to an eternity at hard labor. And frustrating labor at that. For his assignment was to roll a great boulder to the top of a hill. Only every time Sisyphus, by the greatest of exertion and toil, attained the summit, the darn thing rolled back down again.

Yup. That’s how I feel today.


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Who is she?

Johnsons she_0002

I will read anything, including product packaging. If there isn’t a cereal box around, I’ll read the the coffee package. I’ll drink the coffee while reading the on-line version of the Seattle Times. I wake up and read the clock. I read the shampoo bottle. I read the bath soap bottle.

This bath soap “blurb” got my attention:

“She approached every situation with a quiet sense of calmness. You instantly feel at peace in her presence. She loves this lavendar & chamomile body wash because it does more than indulge her skin with irresistibly soft lather. Its unique formula, with an exclusive blend of soothing essences, helps her unwind and feel pampered as she washes her cares away. Her spirit is beautifully serene. Her skin loves JOHNSON’S(c).”

Did I buy someone else’s soap? Who is “she?”

Why did the folks in the marketing/packaging department at J&J choose to discuss the user of this product in third person? I realize they are trying to entice me, the consumer, to project myself into the role of this mystery woman, that in order to be like her, serene, calm, and soothing, I can only dream of achieving the goals “she” so easily assumes. Will I be the goddess of serenity this soap describes? If I use this product, might I achieve the same level of maternal and feminine charm “she” does?

I’m not worthy.

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Worst insult ever: You’re boring.

Comic Book Guy

My current burning question is, “Why do some kids get their assignments done, and others don’t. Simply–don’t.”

If the reasons why were the Seven Dwarfs, these might be their names:

  1. Boredom: I think it’s boring.
  2. Entertain-Me: I think Mrs. L is boring.
  3. Ennui:  I don’t see any value in the assignment.
  4. Smarty-Pants:I already know this, and everything else. I have all the knowledge I will ever need, and I am 14! Whoo-hoo!
  5. Apathy: I don’t care to demonstrate any level of skill or creativity.
  6. Resignation: I don’t understand this, so I won’t try.
  7. Humdrum: It’s the same old routine anyway, so I might as well sit here.

I don’t use the “L” word, lazy. I don’t think most people are lazy. To me, laziness disappears when something is motivating or entertaining. Remember the 53 hours a week spent on media? Apparently, tweens/teenagers will work more than a full-time job on watching TV, texting, listening to music, playing on line games, video games, talking on cell phones, etc. Lazy? Hardly! They’re working their little thumbs down to the nub!

BUT – most of that media is one-way. It puts things in your brain, and you don’t have any content control. You are willingly, actively, giving up your own brain to electronic devices. Did you want to be a robot when you grew up? Well, okay then.


Here is my grading philosophy, which I share with every student at the beginning of the school year, and reinforce all year long:

All I ask is that you do the work to the best of your ability. Show me what you know, or have learned. If I ask you to write about the process, how you came to that knowledge, it’s to help me help you so you won’t continue with misinformation or misconceptions.

You give yourself your grade. You do the work, you get credit. Something is only truly graded on a scale when you have worked to revise, reflect, and polished – did you make your writing better? Did you make sure you hit the mark on certain assignments, meaning-did you look over the rubric and decide and evaluate your own work? I make this scale transparent and fair. For example, if I ask you to write a paragraph and add at least one line of figurative language (that we spent a week reviewing), then that is the scale by which it’s evaluated. Didn’t put in a single line of figurative language? Well, then you didn’t do the assignment as assessed.

Question: Is it that rewiring your thinking about your education is difficult, that you have been programmed to respond a certain way over the past nine years and now you can’t think for yourself?

Answer: I don’t know.

I look at assignments that have been turned in.

I see amazing work, from every level of academic ability. (And that’s a whole other issue!) I see work that students attempt, even if it misses some of the marks, that’s okay. That’s where the growth happens. I know that if a student consistently turns in work that meets every requirement, every point, I am not challenging them. I need to step it up for them.

I am really struggling right now with students who are arrogant. Who, at least outwardly, portray this image of apathy, boredom, and waste their intelligence and creativity by doing nothing. I try to remember that my students come to me with a long history of behaviors, but my own ego thinks my creative, interesting teaching will be the key to unlocking their genius. Wow–what kind of hubris is that? I’d better check my own reflection, I guess.

So–now what?

For those of you who turn in your work, who email me questions, ask questions in class, and stretch your thinking: Congratulations! You have decided to make your life more interesting, more creative, more imaginative than the next human. Your life is already more bright, more enriched by your own power, your own control.

And if you think I’m boring as a teacher, well, not much I can do about that. Call me Resigned. I love to develop lessons and units that I would like to do, that I wish I could have done in school, or I listen to other teachers’ ideas about interesting lessons, too. (It’s not just my perspective – I try to think about what you would like to do.) Before you start blaming others for your own actions, though, you may want to check in with your own head. You only see me about 235 minutes/week. You’re in your own life 10,080 minutes/week. My class is only .02% of your week.


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My Huckleberry Friend.

From the Writer’s Almanac, February 18, 2010:

In the summer of 1883, Mark Twain wrote in a letter: “I am piling up manuscript in a really astonishing way. I believe I shall complete, in two months, a book which I have been fooling over for seven years. This summer it is no more trouble to me to write than it is to lie.” And on this day in 1885, Mark Twain published that manuscript, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Almost a decade earlier, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) had been a huge success, and the public was enthusiastically awaiting Twain’s newest installment, a sequel to the escapades of Tom and his friend Huck.

It was set to be published in time for Christmas in 1884. But in late November, someone in the publishing house of Charles L. Webster and Company realized something that had escaped the notice of Webster, the writer William Dean Howells, and Twain himself when they looked over the proofs: Somewhere along the way, someone had tinkered with the illustration of Uncle Silas on page 283, making it look like he was indecently exposing himself. Two hundred and fifty copies of the book had already been sent out, as advance reader’s copies; but 30,000 more were printed and ready for people who had ordered the book on subscription. The publishing house had to make a new plate, then go through every printed copy, cutting out the offending picture and replacing it with a cleaned-up illustration.

But eventually it was printed, and for readers who had pre-ordered a book, there were several editions available. There was a regular cloth-bound book in either olive green or blue, there was a sheepskin leather binding, or a sumac-tanned goatskin with marbled edges. Prices ranged from $2.75 to $4.25.

Although it was a big seller and got great reviews in England, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn got poor reviews in America. A San Francisco paper said that it was dreary, and “nor is it [a book] that most parents who want a future of promise for their young folks would select without some hesitation.” A Boston paper said that it was “so flat, as well as coarse, that nobody wants to read it”; another that it was “pitched in one key, and that is the key of a vulgar and abhorrent life”; and a New York paper that it was “cheap and pernicious stuff.” In 1885, it was banned by the public library of Concord, Massachusetts, and Louisa May Alcott explained, “If Mr. Clemens cannot think of something better to tell our pure-minded lads and lasses, he had best stop writing for them.”

But Twain said, “The public is the only critic whose judgment is worth anything at all.” Three months after Huck Finn was published, in early May of 1864, Webster had sold 51,000 copies of the book, and as of today, an estimated 20 million copies have been sold.


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has also been on the list of top ‘banned books’ in the U.S. (meaning, people won’t allow other people access to reading it, it’s forbidden):

(I even made some revisions here, because I’m not ready to teach some of these difficult concepts yet – we need time and discussion):

In 1885, the Concord Public Library in Massachusetts banned the year-old book for its “coarse language” — critics deemed Mark Twain’s use of common vernacular (slang) as demeaning and damaging. A reviewer dubbed it “the veriest trash … more suited to the slums than to intelligent, respectable people.” Little Women author Louisa May Alcott lashed out publicly at Twain, saying, “If Mr. Clemens [Twain’s original name] cannot think of something better to tell our pure-minded lads and lasses he had best stop writing for them.” (That the word [sic] appears more than 200 times throughout the book did not initially cause much controversy.) In 1905, the Brooklyn Public Library in New York followed Concord’s lead, banishing the book from the building’s juvenile section with this explanation: “Huck not only itched but scratched, and that he said sweat when he should have said perspiration.” Twain enthusiastically fired back, and once said of his detractors: “Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.” Luckily for him, the book’s fans would eventually outnumber its critics. “It’s the best book we’ve had,” Ernest Hemingway proclaimed. “All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.”

Despite Hemingway’s assurances, Huckleberry Finn remains one of the most challenged books in the U.S. In an attempt to avoid controversy, CBS produced a made-for-TV adaptation of the book in 1955 that lacked a single mention of slavery and did not have an African-American portray the character of Jim. In 1998, parents in Tempe, Ariz., sued the local high school over the book’s inclusion on a required reading list. The case went as far as a federal appeals court; the parents lost.

Read more:,28804,1842832_1842838_1844945,00.html#ixzz0fzd0r1L8

I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in high school. It’s one of those novels that I was proud to have  “slogged through; ” remember, back in the day, teachers gave us book lists to read, and we answered tests or wrote book reports. There was no Internet, no “readers’ workshop” or book groups, no Oprah, no way of knowing if I was interpreting the themes and the author’s purposes except to buy Cliff Notes, which teachers back then considered cheating. I’m still not sure what was “cheating” about it–if I didn’t understand a concept, I was made to feel like a criminal and cheat. Not a great way to learn to love literature. We (students) read in isolation, and were made to feel ashamed when we were book worms or illiterate. There was no middle ground. What I was left with was a bad taste in my mouth for novels I didn’t immediately grasp or connect to. I didn’t even know the term “connecting” with literature. (Note to Mr. Spenser: Maybe that’s why I have an abiding love for To Kill A  Mockingbird – I got it, sans Cliff Notes.) 

Now that I think about it, we didn’t even have STICKY NOTES! Gasp! How did we EVER SURVIVE?

I will say, looking back, I’m glad that I had the chance to read Huckleberry Finn without the distraction of it being a ‘banned book,’ at least at my high school.  That meant I could work my way through it, and gain my own understanding, instead of being a rebel without a clue. I remember really liking the book. Did I love it? Not sure love had anything to do with it. Now that over twenty-five years have passed since I first read it, I think it’s time for a second read. The old saying of ‘you never step in the same river twice’ holds doubly true for reading classics. Our life experiences have taken us on a journey, and much like Huck and Jim, the journey isn’t idle, pleasant, or relaxing. There’s a shadow, a threat, constantly waiting to disrupt one’s peace and destiny.

On another note, I suspect the good people back in the 1880s were expecting another light-hearted tale of boyhood charm and mischief, like Tom Sawyer, from Mr. Twain, but instead, they got a mirror held up to their faces showing them as the racists they were (and still are, perhaps). It made them uncomfortable. They didn’t want to think about a friendship between a runaway slave and a white boy, both on equal footing and stature. (And it is a complicated friendship-no question about it. The examination of the friendship, however it’s defined, is fodder for much debate about race, class, and freedom.) Later, they didn’t want to think about young boyhood not being idyllic. Humanity is stinky, dirty, grubby, and unwashed. And yet further down the river, they (the book- banners) didn’t, and don’t, want to think about a time when the United States was ugly, racist, and deadly. Many consider that downright unpatriotic. To me, what’s unpatriotic is not learning how to have a civil discourse about tough issues.

 Falling from grace

And what’s even more unpatriotic is for our children not to learn how to read. I think I’m really most upset by the fact that I know many of my students aren’t ready to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn yet, though they’re almost in high school. They are working on the skills to understand dialect, setting, time periods, political and social influences, and develop the stamina to read a novel as long as Huckleberry. But many are not there yet, and I don’t know if I can push them harder. I try to provide as many contemporary, new titles for them, new classics that I think rock on ice, such as The Hunger Gamesby Suzanne Collins. I would be horrified if anyone tried to ban that book because it deals with tough issues, like putting children in mortal danger. Those stories and deeds have been done since the beginning of time. Heck, even Huck had an alcoholic father who beat him, didn’t feed him, so Huck had to learn to think by his wits. If we placed Huckleberrry in the Hunger Games along with Katniss, I’m sure he’d have given her a run for her money.

What are you ready to read?

What do you think about censorship and banning books?

One last thought (and I make no promises):

By Shelley Fisher Fishkin

By the time he wrote Huckleberry Finn, Samuel Clemens had come to believe not only that slavery was a horrendous wrong, but that white Americans owed black Americans some form of “reparations” for it. One graphic way to demonstrate this fact to your students is to share with them the letter Twain wrote to the Dean of the Yale Law School in 1885, in which he explained why he wanted to pay the expenses of Warner McGuinn, one of the first black law students at Yale. “We have ground the manhood out of them,” Twain wrote Dean Wayland on Christmas Eve, 1885, “and the shame is ours, not theirs, & we should pay for it.”

Ask your students: why does a writer who holds these views create a narrator who is too innocent and ignorant to challenge the topsy-turvy moral universe that surrounds him? “All right, then, I’ll go to Hell,” Huck says when he decides not to return Jim to slavery. Samuel Clemens might be convinced that slavery itself and its legacy are filled with shame, but Huck is convinced that his reward for defying the moral norms of his society will be eternal damnation.

Something new happened in Huck Finn that had never happened in American literature before. It was a book, as many critics have observed, that served as a Declaration of Independence from the genteel English novel tradition. Huckleberry Finn allowed a different kind of writing to happen: a clean, crisp, no-nonsense, earthy vernacular kind of writing that jumped off the printed page with unprecedented immediacy and energy; it was a book that talked. Huck’s voice, combined with Twain’s satiric genius, changed the shape of fiction in America, and African-American voices had a great deal to do with making it what it was. Expose your students to the work of some of Twain’s African-American contemporaries, such as Frederick Douglass, Charles Chesnutt, and Paul Laurence Dunbar. Those voices can greatly enrich students’ understanding of both the issues Huckleberry Finn raises and the vernacular style in which it raises them.