Friday, June 25, 2004

Life is all about change, but I have never been very good at it.
I would probably still be living in a little apartment above the Newton County News office if Richard Bush hadn't fired me 22 years ago for not selling enough advertising.
I really was hoping there would not be too much change at South next year, at least among the faculty, since it generally takes awhile for people to warm up to me anyway.
It appears I will be the senior person among the eighth grade communication arts staff next year. Robin Chew, who had been around for a few years, will be teaching Spanish at Memorial Middle School. Angela Porter has taken a job in the North Kansas City School District. I don't know who the other eighth grade CA teachers will be.
Of course, this isn't about me. Life goes on and I don't have any say about it. At least it won't be like last year. I entered the 2003-2004 school year not knowing anyone at South except the principal, Mr. Mitchell, who had been the principal who hired me for my first teaching job at Diamond. I was still trying to deal emotionally with being let go at Diamond and being told that the reason I was chosen to be put on an unpaid leave of absence was because I affected fewer students than the other teachers. Combine that with the fact that I have never made friends very quickly and that I was slowly losing nearly all of my red blood cells and getting sicker and sicker with each passing day, and needless to say, I was a mess.
Things got better in the second semester. I was healthy. I had established a rapport with the students and I was gradually getting to know the rest of the staff. Now all of those students are gone, most of them to Joplin High School and some of the teachers are gone.
Fortunately, some of the teachers who gave me the most help are still there. I was reminded of that today when I ran into Rocky Biggers at the Joplin Public Library. (That makes two of us who really know how to live it up on vacation.) Rocky has the room next to mine on the second floor at South and teaches eighth grade social studies. He will be back (he's one of the veterans at the school) and, as far as I know, so will Michelle McDaniel, the science teacher, who was also very kind and helpful to me during my inaugural year at South. And I know there will be a host of other familiar faces when the school year starts, but losing the other two eighth grade CA teachers is going to be tough. Angela and Robin were both very helpful to me and both listened to my jokes without reaching for the Pepto-Bismol.
Rocky is going to be going to Australia with a group of students this summer. I, too, have travel plans. I will be on a one-city tour of Sane, Missouri. If you have never been there, trust me, you are not alone. The Sane Mule Motorcycle Shop is a located a couple of miles from Boulder City. It is becoming something of a tourist attraction, especially with people who get the t-shirts proclaiming that they are "In Sane." Natural Disaster will perform at the motorcycle shop sometime in July. No money will change hands, at least not as far as the band is concerned, but there is free ice cream and that is enough to get us to perform. I'm not sure of the exact date, but I will print it on this blog when I find out.
I finally got out of the apartment for a while today. In addition to the little trip to the library, I stopped by a number of book stores and did a little grocery shopping.
I broke down and bought Bob Woodward's "Plan of Attack" when I was at Books-A-Million. Even with the 30 percent off, followed by an additional 10 percent (last I heard that makes 40 percent) I received from my Millionaire Discount Card (man, have I got them fooled), it still was more money than I like to pay out for one book. I also bought a few books at some used book shops, including a biography of Edward R. Murrow, an investigation into CBS correspondent George Polk's murder by Communist forces in Greece in the late 1940s, a novel, "The Shipping News,", a true-life story of a woman who taught in inner-city schools in Chicago, and a biography of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter.
I also bought an old favorite of mine, "Look Homeward Angel," a 1929 novel by Thomas Wolfe. It has been more than two decades since I've read Wolfe. His four novels (he died at age 39), "Look Homeward Angel," "Time and the River," "The Web and the Rock," and "You Can't Go Home Again," were once considered classics and I believe they will be rediscovered at some point by literary historians.
Wolfe was a giant of a man, standing over six feet, eight inches tall and he wrote his novels standing upright and placing his paper on the top of his refrigerator. When he turned in his first drafts to his editor, the legendary Maxwell Perkins, they were thousands and thousands of pages long. When Perkins was done, they were still long, but they were a little more manageable.
Wolfe just opened his heart and let the words flow and he had little control over how they came out. He was a master of vivid description (some would say overdescription). His novels are still well worth reading and I am looking forward to reacquainting myself with his work.
When I finish with the book, I plan to pass it on to Lindsey Hamm, who was one of my top students in the advanced communication arts class last year. When I read one of Lindsey's early works in my class, I discussed her tendency to overdescribe. I pointed out that the writers who were most popular these days were no longer the ones who poured layer upon layer of description. After that talk, I kept thinking about Lindsey's writing. She was far and away the most talented writer of fiction in my classes. Who was I to say that she might not be the one who would make rich, descriptive language popular once more. So a couple of days later, I apologized to her. I told her she still needed to be careful that she didn't obscure her plot by burying it in description, but that she needed to follow her heart and her mind and be her own writer not the kind of writer Randy Turner thinks she should be.
When we had the short story contest during the second semester, Lindsey had cut down on her description, but not enough to change her writing style. Her work was wonderful. The judges thought so, too, and Lindsey won first place in the short story contest.
I told her that the way she wrote reminded me of Thomas Wolfe. Hopefully, by the time Lindsey becomes a published writer, Thomas Wolfe will be well on the way to having his reputation as a literary giant restored.

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