Something in the hills is angry

Friday, 1 September 2017

I am deaf but for rumbles and blind but
for the way the night lights when I strike the ground
I am outside searching deep into black fractal hills for the drum
summoning. A great spirit is awake tonight and haughty.
I am some beast long-chained attempting a great labor
The sky furrows and crouches on the ridge-lines
and nothing will hear me yell as I stalk amid the pines
I am bravado shaking trees and slapping the wet red earth
I have seven league boots and a peacock’s tail but
everything in the dark is much larger than me

I am awake inside a drum 
I am asleep inside a drum
I am rent haggard and
something in the hills is angry and enjoying this

Behind me
in the dark
my son sleeps
dry and uneaten

he wakens
to bright and resinous air a
strange lightning in his eyes

Lifetime Learning

Thursday, 10 November 2016

The boy and I went to a Frontiers of Astronomy lecture at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History tonight to learn about gravitational waves from Dr. Kelly Holley-Bockelmann. Here’s a similar version of her talk:

For a quick run-down about the importance of gravitational waves: Top 5 Targets of a Gravity Wave Observatory.

I’d forgotten how much I missed hanging around a campus and going to random lectures and learning new things straight from the experts. That was one of the highlight of attending a university. Plus the snacks after!

It was my son’s idea to attend, and even though it was way past his bedtime, he learned a bunch, and even asked the astrophysicist an intelligent question about the “pressure” of gravitational waves that she was able to explain to a 3rd grader. It was definitely a more intelligent question than the one about time travel. I’m super proud of him for having the gumption to ask a question when he was the youngest in a room with hundreds of people in it.

After the lecture we went up to the observatory and got to take a gander at the moon. It was a first for both of us, and amazing! Then we had the aforementioned snacks, headed home, and he passed out in the car. I need to start looping myself in to the local lecture circuit. There are too many colleges around for me to continue ignoring the opportunities they provide.

I might even be able to haul along my son, since he seems to be into the science-related ones at least. I guess that runs in the family too.

Petty Theft Runs in the Family

Saturday, 5 November 2016

When I was 7 or 8 I stole a packet of erasers from Mace’s Supermarket in Connersville, Indiana. I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway. I got caught. I do not recall the exact chain of events that thereby transpired, but I got hollered at by my mom, went to my dad’s workplace and got hollered at by him, was returned to Mace’s where I got hollered at by the store manager. I do not recall if the police were called, but I do remember that the threat was there. I learned a lesson.

Today, my son took two packets of Tic-Tacs from Giant Eagle. When I discovered this, I felt trifurcated; like I was that little boy again, and like my mom must have felt dealing with that little boy’s malfeasance, and also as myself, at 35, being both of those at the same time. We returned to the store, and I made him go to the service desk and ask to speak to the manager, and I made him fess up to the manager when he arrived. He got a lecture that I very much remember getting.

His punishment was losing all of his Halloween candy – if he feels the need to steal candy, he doesn’t deserve candy that was given to him. He was super upset about that and felt more than a bit of remorse – although it took him awhile to get there.

At one point he said that he knows he has “good deep down inside me” and I told him that it doesn’t need to be deep down inside, he should let that good fill him and flow out of him, so that he can be a good person to everyone.

We’ll see how it goes. Parenting is full of surprises – and deja vu, too.

When Your Son Invents A Panopticon

Friday, 22 April 2016

My son asked me to teach him how to code today. Why? Because he wants to hack his MacBook into a robot that will automatically keep a public tally of every person’s good and bad actions. It will plug into a big box that has a list of all the actions a person might do so we can see if a person is good or not.

I generalized the ethics of the requirements he gave me, and I think I talked him out of it.

My son’s school uses an app called ClassDojo to micromanage student behavior. I get multiple updates daily on how my kid is doing. Each student gets points added for good behavioral choices and points removed for poor ones. At first I thought this was cool, but now I think it is terrible.

  1. It makes children think it is just fine for someone to monitor their every action.
  2. It makes children think it is just fine for their every action to be assigned a positive or negative value.
  3. It makes children think it is just fine for others to be able to see a list of the merits and demerits they’ve received.
  4. It encourages confirmation bias.
  5. It treats subjectivity as objective data.

I started to micromanage him and ask him about his demerits. I want him to succeed – so I want to help. To error-correct. I’d praise for merits too, but the time spent on praise was not equitable. No one needs to micromanage a second-grader. Elementary school children shouldn’t think that it’s okay for their every error or success to be recorded and distributed. They’re young, but they’re not too young to feel resentment to a system that seems arbitrary and unfair.

And then, decide to retaliate by inventing their own panopticon.

A Wetting

Monday, 28 July 2014

we are hidden inside 
while it thunders
when you call for me, in the three o'clock 
dark of my room, I roll off 
and curl fetal on the far side of the bed 
to test
your temper.

You come in, 
the dog's eyes are sharper 
but the sound of your voice
fills the room.

You run along my aggravate silence,
horse feet searching the house, the creak of
the family room floorboard, the bare 
slap on kitchen tile, the rattled shower 
curtain, a burst into the closet -

your timbre gains an edge of question.

The screen door crash as you check the porch,
that last spot,
just sheltered, where
after dark, we sometimes dull the day.

Now, I am a cruel 
hone even to your silence. From the rack you 
gather your jacket, sheathing thin 
bones, turn back outside.

I count your steps
watch your back
rise and reclaim you.

     Where were you going?
     To look for you.
     Were you worried?
     YES!

          I tell him I will never leave him 
          a large lie to tell a small boy,
          who stood 
          looking for me, 
          foot-soaked in the downpour, 
          his hand upon the gate.

He Finally Hit The Ball!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

I signed Abraham up for the Old Brooklyn Youth League tee-ball league back in April. Due to an enrollment mix-up he got put into a coach-pitch softball team instead. More than a little bit out of his league. He’s been struggling a bit with the gross motor demands and focus necessary to play on the team, but he’s just barely 6, so no one really cares – except for him. He’s been fighting against it because sports aren’t very fun when you’re no good at them. It’s the same whining I dealt with earlier in the year with regard to writing. He just wants to not do it because it is hard. He hasn’t yet internalized that the more you practice the less hard things become. So playing catch or batting practice have been more mental struggles than physical ones.

The biggest obstacle for him has been hitting the ball. It’s not easy. Each time he’s been up to bat and struck out 1-2-3, he’s gotten more and more downcast. He struck out on his first at bat and didn’t want to leave. He wanted to keep swinging. His next at bat he decided to go out there left-handed, and his coach let him. Lo, and behold, he knocked a ball foul and ran to first base! He was so excited. And then crushed and not understanding why he had to go back to the box. He refused to leave first, because he’d earned that base, by gum! Then both teams & the spectators began cheering for him and encouraging him to go back and swing again.  Of course, he struck out again, but everyone let him run the bases anyway. It was a great change. He was so happy, and started singing “I Love Baseball!”

The encouragement from the coaches, both teams, and all the spectators made me cry. I’m glad I was wearing sunglasses. This league is about as non-competitive as you can get, all of the adults are focused on making sure the kids have fun and learn about good sportsmanship, camaraderie, and how to play the game.

Tonight when I put Abraham to sleep he said: “When we get up tomorrow morning, can we practice baseball?”

The Legend of Skeleton Bear

Sunday, 15 September 2013

I took the boy camping this weekend. Made up a ghost story about Skeleton Bear the first night, and followed up the second night with an origin story. Spent the intervening time searching Salt Fork State Park for the aforementioned Skeleton Bear. We didn’t talk about or search for The Grassman, because sasquatch stories are a dime a dozen and played out.

The Story

About 100 years ago there were tons of bears around here, and they were all the kind of bears that minded their own business and didn’t cause any trouble unless someone brought it with them. They ate fish and berries, lived in caves, and searched for honey. One day a hunter named Hosak came to the area and killed a bear. He took the bear’s skin to sell it at a store and he ate the bear’s meat. When he got to the store, the storekeeper and the shoppers were all shocked that the hunter Hosak had killed a bear. They asked him why and he told them that bears were vicious, mean, dangerous animals. He frightened the people so much that everyone started hunting bears. They would kill bears and use their skins for rugs, and put their heads on plaques on the wall. They would eat the bear meat and leave the bones on the ground.

This continued for many years until all the bears had been killed except one. This bear was the nicest bear in all the forest, and would return missing camp stakes to the tents of campers, gently rubbing the side of the tent and saying “You can call me Bear, I’ve brought back your tent peg.” Despite being the nicest bear in all the forest, she was sad and a little angry because she didn’t understand why all of her bear friends were being killed. The son of the original hunter was now a young man and decided that he and his dad would find this bear, kill it, and rid the land of bears forever. The son even said “I’ll take the bear’s bones and tie them together in the front of Hosak’s Hall so everyone will know who killed the last bear!

The hunter’s son and the hunter Hosak went out into the woods, scattering tent pegs as they went. They set up camp and determined to stay awake all night until the bear returned the tent pegs. They stayed up the first night, but the bear didn’t come. They managed to stay up the second night as well, but the bear didn’t come. On the third night, after two days without sleep, they could barely keep their eyes open, but, just before dawn they heard a gentle rustling on the side of the tent and heard: “You can call me Bear, I’ve brought back your tent peg.”

They hunter Hosak and his son jumped out of their tent with their guns and said “Ha! We’ve got you bear! We’re going to kill you and tie your bones together in our Hosak’s Hall, so everyone will know we killed the last bear!” And they shot the nicest bear in all the forest. Before the bear died it said: “A curse on your kind! There’s enough life left in my bones to get revenge! You’ll see!” And the nicest bear in all the forest died.

The hunter Hosak and his son skinned the bear and removed the meat, and only took the bones with them back to Hosak’s Hall. They tied them together in the shape of the bear and covered it with an old tent. Then they invited all the people in the area to a party to see the bones of the nicest bear in the forest. They all came to Hosak’s Hall and ate lots of food, and drank lots of beer and were appropriately impressed when the hunter Hosak and his son told their story and unveiled the bear skeleton. Some of the people were sad that all the bears were dead, especially the nicest bear in all the forest, but they kept these feelings to themselves.

All of the people invited to the party went home. A few weeks went by and they realized that no one had heard from the hunter Hosak or his son. Another few weeks went by and they decided to send a policeman to check on them. When the policeman got to the place where Hosak’s Hall had been, he didn’t find it. Instead he found a big cave with a bee’s hive hanging in front of it, and no sign there had ever been a house, a hunter named Hosak, or his son. Out from the dimness of the cave a shambling bear emerged. But this bear was only bones! The policeman ran away and Hosak’s Hall became known as Hosak’s Cave, Lair of the Skeleton Bear.

Soon after this, campers started disappearing. Their tents were found clawed apart but there was no other sign of what might have happened to them. People started whispering about the curse of the Skeleton Bear, and it was said that when the bear came to your tent it would ask “Does anyone call you Bear?” If the person answered “no”, the bear would kill them fast. If the person answered “yes”, but was lying, the bear would kill them slow. If the person answered “yes”, and was telling the truth, Skeleton Bear would leave them in peace.

One day a new group of hunters laid a trap for Skeleton Bear. When the bear came to the tent, it exploded with dynamite and destroyed all the bones. But the next night, Skeleton Bear came back and destroyed the hunters. It’s said that no matter how many times Skeleton Bear is destroyed, as long as there are bones in the forest from another bear killed by hunters, it will return to seek vengeance.

Some Context

I wanted to tell the boy a story that would scare him a bit, but make it so that, in the end, he felt safe and confident enough to sleep. The first night, I told him about how Skeleton Bear attacks the campers, and since I’ve been calling the little guy “Bear” since he was smaller than a small one, if the Skeleton Bear came to our tent in the night, he could honestly answer the question and be safe. The next day we wandered around the park looking for Skeleton Bear, and while we were on a bridle trail I convinced him that fallen trees had been crashed by Skeleton Bear, that the horse dung was from Skeleton Bear, etc. By the time we got to Hosak’s Cave, he was reaching his own conclusions. We got back to camp and he lost a tent peg, that I later found and pocketed. I laid the origin story on him by the fire that night and put the tent peg by his shoes where he might find it in the morning. He did, of course, and is convinced that there’s still a little bit of good in Skeleton Bear somewhere.

And he’s not scared at all.