Mysteries of Education

I’ve taught at the same school since 2011. For some these kids I’m the only English teacher they’ve had. One thing that’s fascinating to me this year is how utterly nice and good natured the current 6th graders are. Not that I’m complaining, but it puzzles me and I wonder if this was somehow created or if it’s just luck. Like, not every student is perfect or a great kid, but there’s no horrible bullies, which have been a problem in previous years, or kids prone to violent out-bursts (which is a problem at my other school). Instead the worst thing I have to put up with is some shenanigans where some boys have become competitive over who can be the best class clown. And if class clown shenanigans is the worst I have to deal with, I’ll say thanks and be happy.

And it is just these 6th and 5th grade classes. The classes coming up behind them are already showing some problem behaviors. So that makes me wonder what worked for those two classes and is it something that can be replicated?

Possibility 1: It’s dumb luck, and the chemistry between these students is just how it is and/or they had the good fortune to be matched with good teachers.

Possibility 2: It’s the environment. My school’s neighborhood went through a revitalization project that made the population dip while construction went on. Class sizes shrunk in real time (as opposed to always being small), so students bonded as a group better. Now this renewal project has ended and the neighborhood population has stabilized, but instead of having 3 classes of 22 students, the lower grades have 2 classes of 33 students, which is starting to feel crowded enough for students to get lost.

Possibility 3: A policy change, either regional or local. I’ve seen 3 principals come and go. Each one brought a different character to the school. Maybe a shift in the priorities at the top filtered down and affected the school’s character. Student behavior might reflect this.

But I count myself lucky for now despite the horrors of my second school – my main school’s all right, even if it does make me wonder.

YesterWeird: The Monk by Matthew Lewis, Chapters 3 & 4

We return now to Matthew Lewis’s The Monk.

The deeper I get into this book, 1) the more I like it, 2) the weirder its fetishisization of Catholicism gets.

In the chapters 3 &4 we leave Ambrosio and Matilda behind and return to Lorenzo and Don Raymond the Marquis de las Cisternas. Lorenzo’s upset because Don Raymond impregnated his sister, Agnes, despite her being a nun, and if Don Raymond doesn’t talk fast, he’s likely to wind-up stabbed in all the worst ways. So Don Raymond tells his story, and it’s not a bad story.

The Tale of Don Raymond’s Gap Year AKA How I Ended Up Schtupping Your Sister AKA Don’t Stab Me, Bro

Don Raymond was on his gap year and traveling around Europe in cognito, because in a book with a lot of names I can’t remember, why not have another? While in Germany, his servants and he get lost in a forest during a snowstorm and think they’re going to die, when their guide tells them he knows a wood-cutter nearby that will put them up. The wood-cutter and his sons are happy to have the guests, but the wood-cutter’s wife is having none of it. She doesn’t want these guys in her house, and Don Raymond’s like, “What a bitch”, but the wife just says, “I made your bed, check out the sheets.” When Don Raymond does he discovers them covered in blood and realizes the wood-cutter and his sons are bandits. Their plan’s to kill Don Raymond and all his servants in the middle of the night. But things get complicated when another traveler arrives at the house, and this one turns out to be the local duchess. She wants to get out of the storm, and the wood-cutter realizes they need to get more bandits, which gives Don Raymond time to escape and get help. There are some chases and fights and daring-do. The duchess is saved, Don Raymond’s servants aren’t, and Don Raymond gets an invitation back to the castle. The wood-cutter’s wife tells her story of how she fell in with the bandits and what brutes they were, and she gets exonerated for her crimes, and Don Raymond hires one of her sons (from an earlier marriage) to replace his dead valet. This kid, Theodore, becomes an important supporting character. Showing up at the castle, Don Raymond meets Agnes, because the Duke and Duchess are her guardians, since her parents are dead and her brother away. Of course Agnes and Don Raymond fall in love, but there’s a complication: the Duchess has also fallen in love with Don Raymond and she’s the insanely jealous type.

Time for a cunning plan!

A cunning plan that involves Theodore kidnapping Agnes’s chaperone and keeping her drunk in a closet, while Agnes impersonates the ghost rumored to haunt the castle (The Bleeding Nun) and Don Raymond waits in a carriage by the castle’s back door.

And the plan works perfectly, except the real Bleeding Nun shows up and Don Raymond runs off with her by accident.

Meanwhile, Agnes gets caught and the Duchess realizes what’s what and they ship her off to the convent ahead of schedule. Back to Don Raymond, he realizes he’s in a carriage with a ghost, there’s a panic, and horse death. He survives the accident but now the Bleeding Nun haunts him, and he pretty much assumes he’s a goner. Theodore learns where he is and tells him about a strange doctor in town that seemed to know all about the case. Don Raymond wants to meet that guy, and when the doctor shows up, he turns out to be a be-turbaned fellow of keen wisdom.

The doctor agrees to treat Don Raymond’s ghost problem, and there’s some midnight magic stuff, where the doctor says, “I’m going to take my turban off,don’t look at me.”

And Don Raymond says, “Okay”, but he totally looks and the sight of the unturbaned doctor fills him with horror and dread.

Turns out the doctor is the Wandering Jew (although I like to imagine that he’s Cain), and he does all he can to help people despite the curse upon him. Don Raymond gets better, returns to the castle, where he retrieves the Bleeding Nun’s bones and takes them back to his family for decent burial the sadder and wiser man. Yeah, she turned out to be a relation. In Madrid, he pines away for Agnes, not realizing how close she is until he sees her at church. They start having illicit meetings in the convent gardens. Don Raymond’s all about getting her out of the convent, but has to write the Pope for the okay. Meanwhile, both being young and having lived through such adventures allow their hormones to get the better of them, and lo and behold there you go Lorenzo: that’s how I impregnated your sister!

To which all agree it’s best to get Agnes the hell out of that convent.

Move Your Head 2 Inches

One thing I hate in readers is a lack of curiosity. Often times folks devoted to a genre whine loudest about not having anything to read, when actually, if they just moved their heads a little in any direction, they’d find something great. Kindles have done away with that, although I’m not sure they’ve done much to improve reader curiosity. If anything Kindles have managed to speed everyone’s descent into a bottomless pit of their own choosing, only now that descent’s fueled by Amazon’s algorithm.

An illustrative anecdote: a month or so back I gave away some books to a friend. One of them I thought was awful and told my friend as much. A week or so later he told me he’d read the book, agreed it was awful, and “the next seven books in the series were just as bad”.

Now this lack of curiosity might not be the biggest problem in genre. But I’d hazard a guess that it could be the keystone problem all the other problems trickle out from. Again the solution is simple: move your head a little in any direction. You will find something better.

A while back I read this post by E. Catherine Tobler called “The Women We Don’t See”. It starts with an anecdote from a friend of hers who realized he hadn’t read a book by a woman in two years. And he was okay with that. A more recent while back, the writer K. T. Bradford challenged readers to quit reading white men for a year. I didn’t opt on the challenge, but I wasn’t incensed by the suggestion. If anything, both posts can simply be read as reminders to maybe think two minutes longer before picking up your next book to read. Even looking at the suggested books outlined in Bradford’s post, she’s only listing twelve books. One a month. You can’t read one book a month by a non-Anglo and/or non-dude writer. Seriously?

There are two big reasons authors get forgotten (beyond the fact that they might suck). The first is the author wrote only the one genre book, and that one was usually early in their career. Fred Chappell’s Dagon and Frederick Turner’s Double Shadow both fit this description (although Chappell has returned to genre at times).

The other reason books get forgotten is because they either exist outside a genre or within a genre that in part hopes to reject them. Despite the history and tradition of women and non-Anglo authors writing SFF, it’s certainly not part of the institutional memory yet. Not when an author can be asked to recommend books to readers and come up with nothing better than the equivalent of Led Zeppelin. This is also why I’m probably only hearing about Doris Piserchia this year. It’s probably also why Joanna Russ gets read like she’s an inoculation against feminism. And why a comment Margaret Atwood made years ago still gets trotted out against her.

All of which is to say show a little curiosity. Take the extra minute and change up your reading diet a bit.

Yeah, I hate that analogy too. It suggests I’m writing all this to extol the salubrious effects of reading certain books, like Naomi Mitchison’s Memoirs of a Spacewoman is a bit of broccoli on your plate, and you should read it because vitamins, instead of the real reason, which is it’s a great science-fiction book with a moral dilemma at its heart that’s instantly recognizable to anyone who knows what the prime directive is.

And in case you need a place to start, here’s a link to SF Mistressworks. Go crazy.

A Day In Deep Freeze by Lisa Shapter

1619760835.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_SL500_My review of Lisa Shapter’s novella A Day in Deep Freeze is up over at My Bookish Ways. The book reads like a horror-themed slow-burn Philip K. Dick in the mode of Time Out of Joint with a narrator slowly crumbling beneath his paranoia and inability to confront hard choices about who he is. It’s one of those books where if the hero succeeds and gets what they want, it’s the worst possible solution they could achieve.

Anyway, I blather.

Check out the review. Check out the book.

YesterWeird: The Monk by Matthew Lewis Chapters 1 & 2

The Monk is a Gothic novel from 1796 written by a 20-year old Matthew Lewis rife with murder, magic, sex, and decadent Catholicism, because if you’re an 18th century English Protestant nothing says sexy decadence sexier than a Spanish Catholic. Set in Madrid the novel depicts the corruption of the monk Ambrosio and his ultimate pact with the devil, as well as tells a gory picaresque as two sets of lovers try to escape the various forces arrayed against them.

If there’s anything The Monk reminds me of it’s a 1970s era heavy metal concept album. But more on that in a bit. For now here’s Michael Gothard from Ken Russell’s The Devil:

tumblr_n3zplhK85X1tyahd6o1_1280In Chapter 1, all Madrid’s come out to see Ambrosio speak because he’s a great holy man and handsome too. The church is packed and people have climbed up onto the statues to get a better view. A young woman and her chaperone arrive late and have a hard time finding seats, but the chaperone’s able to play upon a couple of cavaliers’ sense of gallantry and convince them to give up theirs. At first they’re disappointed, because old lady, but then they espy the young woman’s delicate foot peeking out from beneath her skirt, and nearly slip into raptures. Finally, the young woman unveils and one of the cavaliers instantly falls in love. He gets her name (Antonia) and gives her his (Lorenzo), and there’s talk of another character (the Marquis de las Cisternas) and I’m pretty sure already I’m not going to keep everyone straight in this book.

After Ambrosio’s speech the throng dethrongs and the cavaliers and the ladies split up. Lorenzo stays behind and has a bad acid trip vision of angels and demons fighting for Antonia’s soul. They pretty much tell him “SHE’S GONNA DIE!!!!!”, but he’s not really picking up the cues. Another guy arrives Don Christoval arrives and he’s appy to see Lorenzo since he now has someone to peek at the nuns with. They go hide and watch a stranger eave a letter beneath the foot of a statue. The nuns show up. One of them is Lorenzo’s sister (Agnes), and she’s the one that takes the secret letter, which makes Lorenzo all incensed because virtue and his sister and all that. He hunts down the shadowy letter leaver and there’s going to be a swor fight, but who is it revealed to be, none other than Raymond de las Cisternas, and he has a story to tell…

Which he will tell in a later chapter.

The rest of the chapter has Antonia and her aunt walking home where they meet a gypsy and decide to get their fortunes told. The aunt’s fortune is “You’re old. So old. And ugly.” While Antonia’s fortune is “YOU’RE GONNA DIE!!!!!” and “WATCH OUT FOR DUDES!!!!! ESPECIALLY THE NICE GUYS!!!!” Then the gypsy hightails it out of there, and the ladies go inside.

Chapter 2, Ambrosio sits in his cell doing the 18th century Spanish Catholic monk version of looking at porn, by which I mean staring at his private picture of the Virgin Mary and thinking sentences like, “I am constrained to enter some lovely female, lovely… as you… Madonna…!”

Shit. He ellipsised before his exclamation point.

Well, there’s a knock at the door ending all that and who should be there but the young, handsome, beautiful, but mysterious monk Rosario. He’s stopped by to decorate Ambrosio’s cell with some new flowers, because that’s the type of guy Rosario is. Rosario is completely smitten with Ambrosio, but fears his feelings aren’t returned – but Ambrosio replies that he has feelings for Rosario and before things get much further the bell rings and they have to go to class, which in this case is Vespers. Vespers over, Ambrosio listens to the nuns give their confessions.

Nuns...! Ammirite?

Nuns…! Ammirite?

Unfortunately, Agnes drops her letter that she received back in Chapter 1, and Ambrosio picks it up and reads it. Turns out she’s pregnant. Ambrosio being the stuck-up prig he is ignores all her pleas for mercy and decides to tell her Mother Superior, who’s straight out of the Confessions of Maria Monk. Agnes get dragged away to be tortured.

Ambrosio, shaken by the ordeal of being a judgmental prick, goes for a walk in the garden, where he finds Rosario sitting alone in a grotto. They read some verses together, and Rosario goes on about his BIG secret. Ambrosio can’t stand it and commands that Rosario spill it, at which point Rosario tells Ambrosio that he’s really a she named Matilda. He does not take this well.

I was more comfortable when you were a dude bringing me flowers.

I was more comfortable when you were a dude bringing me flowers.

Rosario-Matilda threatens suicide if Ambrosio refuses to let her stay in the monastery, because all she wants to do is be near him, and it’ll be like they’re just friends and stuff. She’s all set to kill herself with a dagger to Ambrosio’s horror, but a pang of mercy and a glimpse of her boob, her left one, and “oh! that was such a breast!” The boob’s magnificence is then described for a half dozen more sentences.

Well, what’s a guy to do after seeing a boob, but give in and do whatever it commands. Ambrosio convinces himself it’d be okay if Ambrosio stays. He’ll even pluck her a rose to prove himself. Only when he does so he’s bitten by a snake, and poisoned, because subtlety is for suckers. For days he lies near death with Rosario-Matilda tending to him, by playing her harp and reading to him from chivalrous romances.

Miraculously, Ambrosio recovers and decides, “Matilda’s trouble and has to go.”

To which Matilda says, “Well, I’ll be dead in three days, because I sucked the poison out of your hand and it’s in me now. Also, I modeled for that picture of the Virgin Mary you keep under your bed, also, also, its better that I die because I totally want to have sex with you.”

To all of which Ambrosio has no idea what to say except, “Huh? Wha?” and then he touches her boob, the left one, and it’s all over for him.

“He remembered nothing but the pleasure and opportunity.”

…!

One Book, Four Covers: Star Rider by Doris Piserchia

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I’d never heard of Doris Piserchia until two months ago when someone on a webforum mentioned how great her books were, so I downloaded the Gateway reprints to my kindle.

And let me just say right now that you should too.

Piserchia’s style is hard to pin down – someone said she’s a bit like Philip K. Dick, but it’s the PKD of Clans of the Alphane Moons rather than, say, A Scanner Darkly. The writers she reminds me more of are the later Alice (post-Tiptree) Shelton and Clifford Simak (whose also a bit like PKD). Pischeria shares the same weird exuberance that just dives into a story, no matter how outwardly crazy, and runs with it. Case in point, Star Rider.

In the future mankind has spread throughout the galaxy by means of genetic modification that allows us to leap between worlds as long as we’re telepathically bonded to mounts which are like these space-dog-horses. Those that travel are known as Jaks, those that settle are called Dreens, and off on the sidelines are Vthe arks, which are a bit like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland – if the cat were made from pneumatic tubing. Everyone’s searching for the planet Doubleluck, and later this becomes a search for a method to hop across the galaxies, an act no ones been able to pull off without going mad. Into this situation comes Jade, a young Jak, who might or might not have the ability to make the leap, and it’s that mystery that makes the plot-shenanigans ensue.

The thing I like about the covers are how they all treat the mounts differently while still oscillating between the poles of dog and horse. The annoying thing is how most of them dress Jade in varying shades of chainmail bikini. The exception is the non-English book, which is my favorite of the four. It would certainly have been the version I’d have read if I was a German hippy in 1974.

Anyway, buy the reprints and start here or with A Billion Days of Earth, because that one has intelligent rats with metal hands that think they’re humans.

Caring is Meaningless

This is a thing I wrote in response to some SFF fandom bullshit going on. If you’re reading this and don’t know what the Sad/Rabid Puppies are, well, I envy you. Stay unaware. Don’t google it. Google prehistoric squirrels or Steven Universe conspiracy theories instead. It’ll be time better spent. For the rest of us poor bastards who have eaten of the Fruit of Bullshit from the Tree of Train Wreck, this post is for us.

When someone says, “Well, at least I care!” all they’re saying is, “Well, at least I have an opinion!” I’ve read this from one of the Sad Pup ringleaders, and couldn’t help but read the bit about “caring” as the foot-stomp of the petulant, self-righteous child. Caring is meaningless. Caring can be split so many ways and made to mean anything. You can carry it down into all kinds of Godwin Law absurdity. Mussolini cared about train schedules. Custer cared about the Sioux. You can’t say they didn’t. They certainly cared enough to have opinions about them. To state so sternly that you’re justified in your actions, because “you cared” is simply a sleight of hand attempt to raise feelings up to the level of values, because you’re not wise or self-aware enough to process your feelings without making noises.

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