Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"...though I know better..."

The past week was hectic and frustrating. Because it was "Spirit Week," every single day was on a special (read: crazy) schedule, except for Thursday--our craziest normal bell schedule day. On top of that, JV soccer's final week consisted of three games in three days in the middle of the week, capped off by our longest road trip of the year. This week is similar. Tomorrow is a half day--after which I will be in parent-teacher conferences almost non-stop from 2 PM to 7 PM, and then again on Friday from 9 AM to 4 PM.

Even so, I have felt privileged to teach and coach in the past week.


For reasons I do not entirely know, the soccer team seemed to fall into a malaise in the middle third of the season. Our practices and games seemed lackluster, filled with laziness and bickering rather than the earlier energy and enthusiasm. We stayed with one of the best teams in the state for almost the entire game, only to allow their slim one-point lead to explode to three in the final four minutes of the game. In two games our lack of intensity let leads slip through our fingers and turn into bad losses. Meanwhile, the tenth graders utterly failed as leaders, instead encouraging an attitude of selfishness, indifference, and disrespect.

But they turned it around in the last week, approaching practice with renewed seriousness and dedication--and playing much harder. In our blitz of a final week, we tied the first game against our cross-town rivals and won the final two.

I have seen or played in few games more exciting than our season closer, which we won 3-2. Our set-piece specialist boomed in the first goal and his first of the season from 30-yards out, bouncing it over the head of a poorly positioned keeper. After the other team tied it up in the second half, Alex again scored to put us ahead. Only this time, he scored from a free kick about five yards in front of half-field. The ball was a missile, exploding into the top-let corner--a finer shot I cannot imagine. Unfortunately, the opposition again tied the game with only six minutes left. Despite a fearsome response by our boys resulting in numerous close calls, the other team still clung to their lead nearly three minutes into stoppage time--well after Sean and I expected the game to be called.

Enter Alex, again, for a corner kick. We pushed almost everyone into the box, leaving two lone defenders and our keeper to halt any counterattack. Alex's corner was a beauty, but it popped out of the box in left field after bouncing around for a few seconds... during which time, Amal, one of our two reserve defenders, had moved forward. And so, when the ball popped out, it landed right at his feet. He took two quick dribbles to the right, and then took his first--and only--shot of the season. Upper right at an unbelievable velocity. 3-2. Pandemonium. 30 seconds later--game over.


The next day, I began discussions with the 8th graders about the purpose of studying history. And although almost all remain deeply skeptical of my thoughts about history's great worth, most chose to engage me in serious discussion--which I would much rather have than any sort of bland agreement. I am hoping we can build on this in the future, cultivating respectful discussion and reflective thought.


Too much that we do is done at the expense of something else, or somebody else. There is some intransigent destructiveness in us. My days, though I think I know better, are filled with a thousand irritations, worries, regrets for what has happened and fears for what may, trivial duties, meaningless torments--as destructive of my life as if I wanted to be dead. Take today for what it is, I counsel myself. Let it be enough. 
And I dare not, for fear that if I do, yesterday will infect tomorrow. We are in the habit of contention--against the world, against each other, against ourselves. 
It is not from ourselves that we will learn to be better than we are. 
(Wendell Berry) 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Short stories

Graceland (Paul Simon cover) by The Tallest Man on Earth on Grooveshark

Tonight I read the first two stories in the 2012 Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories. Wonderful, both.*

Alice Mattison writes plainly in the latter story. Descriptions of characters skew more towards longform journalism or memoir rather than literary fiction. Despite and because of its unpretentiousness, "The Vandercook" resonates with a mixture of verisimilitude and beauty that again reminds me how profound this medium can be.
Molly turned, looking at Tony, not me, and I understood that it was because she didn't want to find out--yet--how much she had lost. I couldn't look at her frightened face. I wanted love to be simple. I wanted to tell her how nimbly our son with his new haircut had darted across the street, how scared he seemed, how hard it was not to run toward him, stretching my arms out wide.
Short stories will survive the novel's demise. I hope.

*I also read a story by Mark Helprin but will withhold my opinion of the latter out of the regard for my readers whose taste in such matters surpasses my own and who much esteem the man.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The faux-closer last night--after which Kristen shout-requested and Peter Mulvey played "Charlie."

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Industrial Food and the Limits of Science

Take five or ten minutes to read Mark Bittman's takedown of the scientific hackery and incompetence behind the much-ballyhooed Stanford study on the nutritiousness of organic versus conventional food. Some particularly choice points:
...the study was like declaring guns no more dangerous than baseball bats when it comes to blunt-object head injuries.
How can something that reduces your exposure to pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria not be 'more nutritious' than food that doesn’t?

Because the study narrowly defines 'nutritious' as containing more vitamins.
[Newcastle University researcher Kirsten Brandt] not only noticed a critical error in properly identifying a class of nutrients, a spelling error indicative of biochemical incompetence (or at least an egregious oversight) that skewed one important result, but also that the researchers curiously excluded evaluating many nutrients that she found to be considerably higher in organic foods.
The kicker: it appears that Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute, which supported the research, gets major financing from... Cargill.

To turn the "[x] is not a science" adage on its head--science is not a science.