27 February 2007

I've been sick for the past several days. Why, oh why, must I be plagued with this body of death?

I've been watching old movies, playing WoW, and reading After the Ice.

24 February 2007


Apparently, the Academy Awards are upon us once again. For some reason, I'd forgotten that they would be so soon. I was thinking they'd be in March. Oh, well.

This year, I have no opinions about the nominees and prospective winners. I saw few films in the theatre this year, due to the fact that I can't afford to go to movies anymore, and they are usually not worth my time and money anyway. I just hope
Pan's Labyrinth wins Best Foreign Film. Oh, and I wonder why Meryl Streep was nominated in the Best Actress category for her SUPPORTING role in The Devil Wears Prada.

In honor of the miniature golden man, however, I'll discuss some Oscar-winning (or nominated) films of the past.

The first Best Picture winner that I remember watching from start to finish was Ben-Hur. My teacher showed it to us when I was in fifth grade, because we were studying Ancient Rome in social studies and she thought it would be relevant. I was canny enough to realize that Judah was the same person as Moses in The Ten Commandments, which I'd also seen. [We didn't see a lot of movies where I grew up, and they were carefully monitored, but Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments were biblically-related, and so were deemed acceptable.]

The first Best Picture winner that I ever saw that really impacted me was My Fair Lady. I viewed it in the late 1980s. I was fascinated by the music, the dialogue, the elegant costumes and settings. I can still sing most of the songs in the score. However, I'd never even HEARD of the Academy Awards. And I didn't realize that movies had changed since 1964. Pretty much the only movies I had ever seen were musicals or Disney films. And
Star Wars.

The film that really turned me on to classic old movies (and how!) was It Happened One Night. It changed my life. I had just moved to the US, didn't understand New Kids on the Block or
Beverly Hills 90210. Experiencing the great writing, performances, and film-making of a blithe and witty romantic comedy... It injected sense and beauty into my life. I haunted the Beaverton Public Library section on film; I moved from there into the neighboring sections on theatre and music. My goal was simple: Learn as much about old movies as possible. My corollary goal was equally simple: See as many old movies as possible. I refined my tastes and developed lists of actors, actresses, directors, and movie genres that I preferred over others.
Likes - Screwball comedies. Musicals. Historical epics. War movies.
Dislikes - Movies about sports. [Gary Cooper was great, but
Pride of the Yankees really didn't do much for me; ditto for James Stewart and The Stratton Story.] Some gangster movies. [I never finished either Public Enemy or Little Caesar. Not sure why I didn't care for them.]
Any person who has any interest in films, modern or historical, absolutely must see
It Happened One Night. The cross-country buddy movie attains a new dimension, long before buddy movies even existed. Learn handy hitchhiking tips and understand the importance of the walls of Jericho. Figure out why sales of men's undershirts dropped following the release of this film.

It always seems a bit unfair when actors who originate a role onstage repeat it on film and win an Academy Award. It's like, they had WAY more time to practice than their direct-to-film competition. Nevertheless, those performances often deserve the award, as in the case of Judy Holliday and Born Yesterday. I would recommend this movie not only for Miss Holliday's heartwarming performance but as a fabulous (and only slightly fantastic) demonstration of the power of education to transform an individual's life.

I certainly don't always agree with the Academy's choices for awardees. The first Best Film winner that I actively disliked was Cimarron. I still can't figure out why it won, although the competition was pretty weak that year (1931). I've also loathed Forrest Gump, Terms of Endearment, and Shakespeare in Love.

How about some Oscar trivia?
First set of siblings to be Academy Award-winners? Norma Shearer and Douglas Shearer.
Second set of siblings to be Academy Award-winners? Lionel Barrymore and Ethel Barrymore.
Another set of Oscar-nominated siblings? Shirley MacLaine and Warren Beatty.
Sisters who were competing with one another for Best Actress awards? Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine for 1941 Awards; Lynn Redgrave and Vanessa Redgrave for 1967 Awards.
Complete nuclear family to have Oscar wins and nominations? Judy Garland (nominated for 1954 and 1961, won special juvenile Oscar for work in 1939), Vincente Minnelli (nominated for 1951, won for 1958), Liza Minnelli (nominated for 1969, won for 1972).
Multigenerational family of Oscar winners? Actor Walter Huston, director John Huston, actress Angelica Huston.
His and Hers trophies? Aside from Garland and Minnelli (mentioned above), several married couples have taken home awards: Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, and Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, won Oscars while married to each other. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones also have matching Oscars, though he won his before they were married. I'm not sure if even I can remember all the married couples who have been nominated for and/or won Oscars, whether married or not at the time. Off the top of my head: Carole Lombard and Clark Gable, Carole Lombard and William Powell, Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg, Joan Crawford and Franchot Tone, Mary Pickford and Charles Rogers, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester, Rex Harrison and Rachel Roberts, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Helen Hayes and Charles MacArthur, Ginger Rogers and Lew Ayres, Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, Annette Bening and Warren Beatty, Sam Mendes and Kate Winslet, Margaret Sullavan and William Wyler, Margaret Sullavan and Henry Fonda, Michael Todd and Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Todd and Joan Blondell, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall... I'm sure I missed someone, somewhere in there.

22 February 2007

Sin in the World

As you may have guessed, faithful readers, my life is boring enough that I don't have a lot to say, and therefore my posts have dwindled. I will do better, I promise.

The thing that prompted me to post tonight is actually a very sad thing. I don't always have the easiest job, but I have begun to build relationships with a few of the young people placed under my care. I have several that I see every day, including my teaching aides. I inherited most of my TAs from the previous Transition teacher, but have lost a few and gained a few in my months in the position. The previous Transition person was also the football coach, and the majority of the TAs were on the football team. Coincidence? I think not. A few of the TAs were actually bad kids that had been placed with that teacher in the hopes that he could influence them for the better. Good plan? Well, I don't particularly think so. But some of the knuckleheads have grown, and others I have gotten rid of. The TAs I still have are good, solid kids. I have come to care a lot for them.

My first period TA is a sweet young man who is growing out of his knucklehead stage. We'll call him Carlos, which is not really his name, but works for our purposes here. Apparently, he was quite a little hellraiser in seventh grade, but as an eighth grader, he is better (not perfect, but better). I keep an eye on him, on his grades and general behavior in school, and I'm very honest and open with him.
If he is tardy, I'll come up to him and say, "Carlos! Get up earlier and get to school on time. Do I need to call your house at 6:30 every morning to make sure you get up? Because you know I will if I have to." And he grins sheepishly, ducks his head, and makes an effort to be on time for the next several days.
When he is sick, I tell him to drink hot tea with honey and lemon.
Last week, I took him aside and said, "I'm worried about you, Carlos. I looked at your grades, and you need to be doing better."
He's opened up a bit about his life and his family, and I've known that things are hard for him. I pray for him and some other students almost daily. But this morning just made me so sad. He had his head down on top of his notebook, and I asked him, half joking, if he hadn't slept much during the night.
"Well," he said, "I went to bed, but my dad came home at 3 and said he was leaving, and left around 4."
"So your dad works at night?"
I was utterly confused. "So where was he in the middle of the night?" I didn't mean to pry; I was just seeking information.
"I don't know. He just came and said he's leaving. I don't know where he's going. My mom is thinking about moving to Sacramento."
"Wait, your dad is leaving your family? Carlos, are your parents separating?"
My heart just broke for him. He told me about how he didn't want to leave his friends, but he had to go with his mom if she moved, to take care of her and his younger siblings. He's been pulling himself together and staying (mostly) out of trouble this year, and now he's having to deal with too much sorrow and too much responsibility, when he's far too young.

Not all my stories from work are funny.

19 February 2007

Sunday in the park with George

Or not, since I didn't go to the park or do anything with anyone named George today.

Jeff and I got up at a decent hour and went to the second service of our local Vanilla Protestant Church that Does Not Teach Heresy. We have decided to attend this church, basically because we have tried all the other likely candidates and this one was most acceptable to us. We are not crazy about it, but we know that there are good people there and we've really enjoyed the (non-heretical) preaching, so we're happy to attend.

I thought I was doing okay, but I was grumpy during the service's mandatory meet-and-greet time (I think it's inappropriate to force people to be falsely social during a worship service) and then the music contained lousy songs that I didn't know and didn't want to sing. Toward the end of the set of songs, I got the bright idea to count the number of slides that were correctly spelled/punctuated/etc. versus those who were not. This is because things in that respect are usually done so poorly in church, and it IRRITATES me. So, in honor of Poor Taste in Sacred Music, I present the following statistics:
The next-to-last song had banal lyrics, banal and repetitive tune. I started counting in the middle of the song, so this reflects only the BA section of a standard AABA setup.
-Incorrect slides: 6
-Correct slides: 4
The last song was also banal. It had 14 total slides.
-Incorrect slides: 14
-Correct slides: 0

Apparently, today was "Amazing Grace Sunday", but we did not sing that song. But only God's amazing grace is great enough to save someone who decides that focusing on punctuation errors is the way to pass time in His house.

After church, we went to lunch at Strings. I had minestrone soup, pizza bread, and spinach and cheese ravioli. Sometime in the past few years, I've started to enjoy eating again. There were a few years when I didn't care to eat much, because stress caused me to lose my appetite. I didn't even notice when food started to taste good again, but today, I suddenly realized, "Hey! I like food!" I was gratified, and celebrated by eating another piece of bread. I think low-carb diets must be one of the most horrific things of which I have ever heard.

We came home and played WoW, and I leveled my mage from 8 to 10.

We went to dinner at Debbie and Jerry's house, with Olaf and Rosalee and Rob and Candace in attendance. Apparently, Olaf (Jeff grandpa) is in poor health since he had heart trouble and was in the hospital last month. I guess there is some concern over him. He is 90, and has been such a go-getter since I've known him. Jeff's grandparents have always been very good to me, and they are the only semblance of grandparents I have left, so I hope he recovers his health and goes for another 10 years, at least.

It rained today, and was grey and chilly. I hope the sunshine returns soon.

Oh WoW!

Well, World of Warcraft has honestly been taking up a large amount my time, and I'm not sorry to say it. I'm enjoying learning some new skills and it's been nice to have an outlet during the past few weeks, when I've been pretty stressed. I've been neglecting my family and friends, though.

Not content to remain a Level 21 human rogue, I went and created a night elf hunter (now Level 29) and a human mage (now Level 10). I like different aspect of each character.

Below is my rogue at night, in Menethil Bay:


Happy (Belated) Birthday to two lovely people in my life, who both were born on February 14 and who both live, coincidentally enough, in Phoenix, AZ:
-My newest sister, the wonderful Jen Price. Despite the tales that people tell of fighting with in-laws, I've had only positive experiences with them. Sister-in-law Jen is fabulous in the way that she handles her life with order and dignity combined with a sense of humor. She also handles my brother, which is no small task: She has him sending hand-penned valentines to his siblings! That, dear readers, is the mark of a woman whose worth is far above rubies, whose deeds will bring her praise in the city gates, whose children (which she better start having soon) will rise up and call blessed.
-My high-spirited friend, Sam Guthrie the superhero. I've known Sam decently well for not even two years, but I just admire so much about him. He is a good husband and a supportive friend, who is always willing to help the helpless in questing in WoW or provide hospitality with open generosity.

14 February 2007

Return of the Silver

My computer has been somewhat non-operational, at least from a blogging perspective, as our internet has been on the fritz.

But it's fixed. Yahoo!! [The exuberant expression of joy, not the dot com.] So I can now get back to my usual postability.

Pan's Labyrinth

Jeff observed that the proper name for this film is Labyrinth of the Faun, per the translation from the Spanish to the English.

We watched Pan's Labyrinth last Saturday night. I had read good reviews and was interested in seeing it, and when a friend from Bible study rang us up and proposed a trip to the theatre, Jeff and I agreed. I wasn't sure what to expect, even though I'm usually fond of artsy foreign movies, but I found myself completely blown away.

Yes, it was violent, although less so than many other films I've seen (*cough* Passion of the Christ *cough* or Braveheart *cough*), and the violence had a purpose: to highlight the horribleness of, well, senseless and cruel violence. And it demonstrated the truth of the scripture, "Greater love has no one than this, that he (or she) would lay down his life for another."

09 February 2007

O Crappy Day

Pardon my French, but you know it hasn't been sunshine and roses when the question "How was your day?" can't be answered without phrases such as "gang fight", "police dogs", and "full lock-down".

My particular school site is the second-worst middle school in the district, as far as poverty/drugs/gangs/etc. are concerned. Even if it's not the very worst, it's pretty bad. A bit of background: There is gang affiliation among even 12-year-old children, and gang-related scuffles are not uncommon. Most of the gangs are ethnically segregated (Asian, Hispanic, and African-American gangs), and there is fighting among rival gangs within ethnic boundaries, as well. Basically, nobody can get along with anybody else. The Hispanic gangs in our area are primarily affiliated with either surenos (south/blue) or Bulldogs (initially connected to the nortenos, north/red, but now resisting association with the main nortenos; they want their own identity); these are prison gang affiliations, and they're kind of confusing. There is good evidence that Latino gangs throughout CA have started to engage in violent crimes against African-Americans, reflecting a larger power struggle between browns and blacks in the west coast's urban centers. And so, in the past few weeks, there have been several face-offs, sometimes coming to blows, between Hispanic and black youths. [Note: The Asians gangs are pretty cut-throat, but as with any Caucasians, the Asian population is small enough to make them a minor part of any equation.] Fun times. The Bulldog presence is very strong, and the students are not allowed to wear any red. We are always finding grafitti (tagging is usually ESF or BDS) on the property. I know some of my students who tag Bulldog stuff on their binders and papers. Not too bright.
Yesterday afternoon after school, African-American students were jumped by a group of Bulldogs, allegedly wielding crowbars or brass knuckles, just over the fence from the school. I wasn't on the scene, but I heard reports of the fight on my walkie-talkie, and then heard the siren and saw the ambulance. Not a happy scene. Naturally, tensions were high today, and I actually expected some fights. I did NOT expect to hear via walkie-talkie, during Period 3, that we were going into lock-down for an unspecified reason. I had just sent my TA on an errand, and I went to the door and called him back. The announcement came over the PA a few minutes later, and I had my smallish flock settle down to wait for who-knows-what. I was rather pleased that they stayed relatively calm, and I myself wasn't particularly nervous or frightened. Thanks to my walkie-talkie, I heard a lot of radio chatter, and there was police presence; they were bringing dogs around to check out every classroom. I don't know what exactly they were seeking, nor do I know what exactly they might have found. Even the radio traffic didn't give me that information. However, the standard teachers who didn't have walkie-talkies were even worse off, and I know (from talking with them later) that they were very confused and (in some cases) frightened indeed. We essentially stayed in lockdown till the end of the day, although students were allowed to go to lunch and then switch classes once, under heavy security. My students don't change classes, so we just stayed put and they brought lunches to my classroom. Someone finally came to relieve me, after 1:30 pm, when I'd been in there without bathroom or food since 8:00 am.
At the end of the day, there was no official police finding, so students were given an explanatory note for their parents and then dismissed. I was exhausted, because even though my class is small, it is very intense, since it consists of 100% poorly behaved, at-risk students. A few of them, being (1) illogical and (2) very naughty, actually tried to run out the door while we were in lock-down. Grrr. Being stuck in a room with them for more than three hours, with no outside contact except a walkie-talkie utilized by harried administrators, was not fun. Let me just say, however, that I truly appreciate my teacher aides, as they were beautifully behaved and supportive during the ordeal.
Anyway, that was my day. I feel as if I haven't related it very well at all, but it's the best I can do at present. So I am fine and healthy, if a rather tired, but I'm realizing that I actually DO work at a school where many students are violent and cruel, carry weapons, and probably won't live very long. As a teacher for at-risk students, how can I reach out to them? I've found that it doesn't work very well to take a logical approach and explain, using straight facts and basic reasoning, that gang involvement is a poor prospect indeed. I don't understand the appeal, and I don't know how to get into their brains and get them to really THINK about things before they make choices that will destroy them. Frankly, I'm the wrong person for the job.


I am having a pretty interesting day. Not fun interesting. Just interesting. More later.

07 February 2007

Treasures of Note-writing

Dear readers, I am coming to believe that featuring correspondence obtained from the grounds of a middle school will become a regular feature of the offerings of Kiti Fantastico. I find material here and there, and will share it as decency allows (I found one note last week that was so foul that I threw it away rather than putting it here to upset you, dear readers).

The latest: A young woman expresses interest in the workings of the criminal justice system, and asks her friend to let her fingers do the walking, so to speak.

Dear Jxxxxxx
Hey Gurl how u doing? Me ain't shit [sic] Just chiling? By myself and writing you dis letter... Well anyway forget about the big favor I told you about calling Rxxxx (scrap foo)... But there's another big favor that i want you to do for me and it's by calling the operater (411) and asked them if they know the new address to the new Julvie (the jail for young teenagers) You know what that is... Well also Just Give me call at xxx-xxxx right now not tomorrow right now i mean it ok so please... Well Just do this for me and i'll owe you one ok friend...
{hear} Lxxxx Exx
Lil Momma

I know I speak for all of us when I say, "Make your own stupid phone calls until you're old and important enough to have a secretary!" And also, "Search for juvenile hall on Google Maps if you want to know where it is." Sheesh! But at least this girl was smart enough to ditch the "scrap foo". [Note: A "scrap" is a slang term for a member of a certain local gang.]

06 February 2007

I alluded to being ill in my last (list) post.

I have been fighting a cold for a week. It has been more annoying than anything, because it never gets serious enough to stay home from work or go to the doctor, but it has taken its time going away. I had a sore throat for most of last week and through the weekend, sneezed and sniffled on Sunday, and am slightly husky-voiced but recovering right now.

Nothing fabulously fun and interesting at present. I am trying to feel better, talk to friends and family on the phone, get together with Merina, and pull together motivation for life in general.

03 February 2007

Weekend To-Do

Laundry - Mostly done
Clean Kitchen
Watch Veronica Mars - Done
Finish and delete two items from DVR
Go to gym - Cancelled due to ill health
Write two pages of project
Compile list of frequent students for work - Done
Post on blog - Done
Go to church - Cancelled due to ill health
Meet w/ Merina and family after church [tent] - Cancelled due to ill health
Burn CD of favorite songs
Finish Dead Mines quest with group - Done!

More treasures from work

My relationship with my job is a funny thing. It has been my impression that many of the teachers at my school are very gifted, and they are passionate about what they do; they work hard and make sacrifices because they feel that they are called to work with middle school students in a tough area. They really like the kids and like working with them. For my part, I have been passionate about many things, and feel that I have a calling, but it really isn't to work with troubled adolescents in southeast Fresno. Nevertheless, that is what I do, and by all accounts, I'm pretty good at it. And I think some of my giftedness in that area comes from the fact that I don't really like the kids. I don't like kids in general, and these in particular are rude, ill-mannered, and often poorly groomed. Don't get me wrong: I love the children as God's creatures, and there a few of whom I am secretly very fond-- their antics keep me amused all day long. But I don't suffer from the illusion that I am buddy-buddy with the students, or that they want any sort of real relationship with me. I don't care if they hate me. So my combination of tough love and unconcern makes me a stern taskmistress and thoroughly unsympathetic, though actually very empathetic and concerned for their well-being (they just don't see it, being focused on the whine of the moment).
They say, "I hate you!" I reply, "Okay" and smile.
They cry, "You're mean!!" My answer is always a smile, accompanied by some comment such as, "It warms my small, shriveled heart to hear you say that".
They complain, "Transition sucks!" And I smile and say, "I'm so happy that you think so. It means I'm doing my job well."
Any comment from them about boredom, lack of supplies, or pretty much anything is met with, "I don't care" or "I don't need to hear it". Followed by reminders such as "Remember, it's your responsibility, not mine, to _____________" and "Make better choices, and you won't end up here again".

That's it, all day long: "Make better choices, Horacio!" "What kind of choices have you been making today, Jose?" "You need to focus on making good choices, Jakeerah."
Maybe, some day, it will sink into some student's head. I'm waiting for that day.

My students teach me a lot, too. Some of them, at 12 or 13, know more about life behind bars than I do, even after having watched many episodes of Law & Order. I learn plenty about drugs, gangs, and juvie, by sitting around and listening to them talk at lunchtime in the cafeteria. Sometimes they remember that I'm sitting there, and clam up, but other times, they just don't care, and plunge right ahead. I am finding out tidbits regarding which students are "bulldogs" and "scraps", who may be planning to fight after school, and whose family members allegedly sell drugs.

Interestingly, a few of my young people have made observations about my appearance. They all seem to focus on the fact that I am slender, though they utilize the less-flattering term "skinny".
"I'm going to eat my lunch so I don't grow up to be skinny like you."
"How come you're so skinny, Mrs. Felix?" [Oh, yes, and there is this one student who is, for some reason, convinced that my last name is Felix.]
I think it's odd, since I am slim-to-average, and not particularly thin at this point in my life. However, I try not to react too much to their remarks, choosing instead to instruct them in etiquette: "It's not polite to make comments about people's appearance. You should not talk about whether they are fat or skinny, because it may be a sensitive subject for them."
Ah, body image, the great equalizer.

02 February 2007

Out of the Mouths

Commentary on sociological demographics, as presented by an adolescent in southeast Fresno.

[Context: Eighth graders are currently doing pre-registration for next year, in high schools throughout the area. Last week, one of my students was doing just that, and we ended up discussing high school options and such.]
HIM: Did you go to Clovis High School?
ME: No.
HIM: Oh. You didn't go to Clovis?
ME: No. I've hardly ever been in Clovis, except maybe once or twice.
HIM: What?!? I thought you were from Clovis. There are a lot of white people in Clovis.
ME: ...staring at him, dumbfounded...

Wow. I can see how, in his mind, it would make sense. But, really... wow.

This brings to mind a story about someone who did go to Clovis High School. Back in the old days (2002, in fact), when I worked at the HATC , there was a summer intern who shared my office. His name was Trevor, he was from Clovis, and he actually went to college with my younger brother, at the Supersmart Yuppie School. Anyway. Trevor had diabetes, and I'd see him stabbing himself with either a lancet or a needle on a fairly regular basis. Trevor also had a poorly planned internship assignment that left him with long periods of down time, when he'd read, play around on his computer, or even take a nap. This led to me walking into my office and seeing him with his head down on his desk or keyboard. Knowing he was diabetic, I'd panic and cry out, "Trevor, are you all right? Speak to me!" Because having someone die of insulin deprivation (or whatever) in my office? Not high on my list of things I'd like to experience in this lifetime. And then Trevor would lift his head and stare at me balefully and resentfully, dragged from sweet slumber back to interminable ennui by the blast of my voice. *snicker* As far as I can tell, Trevor never much liked me.

Okay, well, the Trevor thing was funny, but I guess you had to be there.