...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Saturday, March 29, 2008

This changes everything

So Daniel's going to be staying here for awhile. We moved his stuff over from his old house this morning and pushed our beds together to make one mammoth bed that takes up about half my bedroom. It's gargantuan, seriously; he commented that it would look like a honeymoon suite if only it were heart-shaped. Anyway, since we had to move my own bed around so that his would fit in next to mine, now my pillow is in a different corner than where it used to be. So this evening I bring my computer over to my bed to read and comment Riana's thesis...and OH MY GOD I CAN PICK UP A WIRELESS SIGNAL! It's very faint and I have to hold the computer just so, but it's there. Hallelujah!

Also: you know how the Applebee's commercials advertise their "killer apps" (appetizers)? The other day I told Daniel that I would buy his dinner (up to $12 value) if he would go to Applebee's and say to the waiter, "I think we're gonna start with some of your killer apps," without a hint of irony in this voice. I didn't think he would do it, but tonight we went to the Applebee's near the Lloyd Center and he proved me wrong. I guess that's why I love him.

Monday, March 24, 2008

This is my school, my high society

One of the educational philosophies around which my preschool is organized is called the Reggio Emilia approach. A hallmark of Reggio Emilia, as I understand it at least, is emergent curriculum--the idea that teachers plan curriculum around children's interests and natural curiosities, which are ascertained through close listening to children's conversations. Questions and new ideas emerge as children, teachers, and parents discuss the children's interests in an open-ended fashion. Last week the children in my class found a spider in one of our playhouses, and they were so curious about it and asking so many questions that I decided we would read some books about spiders and insects during our learning circle and see where it takes us.

So, all that to explain why last Friday at learning circle I was sitting on the carpet reading The Icky Bug Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta to my class of seventeen kids while my co-teacher Cara supported the circle (ie watched and helped kids find seats, addressed squabbles, etc). Each letter in the book is a different unusual insect, but there are funny moments of self-referentiality in the descriptions. The page for the letter U shows a half-painted outline of a beetle and says, "U is for Unfinished Painting. Oops, our artist forgot to finish this insect!" When I read it aloud, Cara kind of guffawed and said, "Huh! I didn't see that coming." I almost, but almost, said, "Yeah, this book is so meta-discursive!" And then the cognitive dissonance of talking about meta-discursivity and self-referentiality with regards to The Icky Bug Alphabet Book was so striking that it almost made my head explode.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The whole magilleh

Today is both Purim (after sunset, since Jewish days go from sunset to sunset rather than midnight to midnight) and Maundy Thursday; tomorrow will be both Purim (until sunset) and Good Friday. Last year it happened that the Christian Holy Week coincided with the Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover). I tried to observe both religion's holy weeks and was met with varying levels of success--today there's even more cognitive dissonance between the two religions, seeing as how it's the zaniest day of the Jewish calendar and the solemnest day of the Christian calendar. This year, except for Sunday brunch at the chaplain's, I'm sitting out the Christian Holy Week.

Last Saturday after the Torah service at P'nai Or, Reb Aryeh read the Magilleh Esther, the scroll containing the Book of Esther. As Religious Studies nerds and trivia enthusiasts know, the Book of Esther is supposedly the only book in the Bible (Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament) that doesn't contain the name of God. However, as Reb Aryeh pointed out, the word for scroll, "Magilleh," can also be translated as "revealing," and "Esther" is related to the word for "hidden." "Megilleh Esther," then, could be understood as "The scroll of Esther," but also "Revealing the Hidden." In the story, Queen Esther hides her Jewish identity, revealing it at an opportune time to save her people from destruction by Haman, King Ahashverosh's henchman. Reb Aryeh explained that he believes that the name of God and nature of God is also hidden in the text, but can be revealed through close reading and careful study.

Today in honor of Purim, I baked hamantaschen (delicious tri-cornered cookies, shaped like the hat Haman supposedly wore--"hamantaschen" means "Haman's hats" in Yiddish, I believe) with the preschoolers. It was fun, but baking with nineteen three- to five-year-olds is always hectic and confusing and this time was no exception. Plus, the school was short-staffed today so one of my two co-teachers was pulled out to substitute in another class, which throws off our whole routine in terms of when we take our breaks, cleaning, setting up lunch, going outside, etc.

At the beginning of rest time I had to speak with one of the most challenging kids in the class about not bothering others with his rest time toy and he ended up whacking me really hard on the back. It really hurt and it so took me by surprise that I started crying. I think that really shocked the rest of the kids--most of them came over to give me hugs and to check on me (in our class when one child hurst another, instead of encouraging the aggressor to say sorry--which is basically a meaningless phrase to a three-year-old, i.e. you are teaching a child to lie in order to please an adult--we encourage and model empathy by checking on the child who is hurt and seeing what we can do to make them feel better).

So basically the day went from busy but great (baking hamantaschen with the kids) to really crappy (getting hit and crying in front of the kids) in the blink of an eye. Sometimes I get whiplash from this job.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The world's greatest criminal rat

Hazel, one of the pet rats in my classroom, has a huge tumor or growth of some sort under her throat. One of the kids noticed it at snack--"Look, the rat has an eggsack!" he said, and at first I thought maybe it was a male rat and he was noticing the testicles. It feels weird to be so concerned for the life of our classroom rats, at the same time that I'm trying to stamp out their cousins from my apartment.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Free to be you and me

Springing forward, with its accompanying loss of an hour of sleep, has been difficult for both me and the kids. Yesterday was great. All days at work should be like yesterday. But today the kids ran me over with a steamroller. If I had more energy I would go to Bible Study or my yoga class tonight or downtown for free WiFi or...but instead I will probably lay on the couch with The Walrus was Paul, a glass of Charles Shaw and watch American Idol. My coteacher Cara has been teaching the kids songs from the classic anthology Free to Be You and Me (and what a cultural artifact, with introductions by Judy Blume and Paula Danziger and Gloria Steinem and an afterward by Kurt Vonnegut--I want to take it home and just pore over it; I love that kind of print media from the seventies), so as though walking around in a hazy daze of lost sleep isn't enough, the soundtrack to my sleepwalking is "I see a land where the children are free...and you and me...are free to be, you and me." It's weird.

Awhile ago Amy turned me on the blog Feminist Mormon Housewives. Check out the post entitled Is There Anything Eternal About a Skirt?, which is all about gender performance and the eternal nature of gender in Mormonism and the LDS community. Mormon doctrine holds that sex/gender (the distinction between the two seems to be lost by church hierarchy) is eternal and that people live gendered lives in the celestial kingdom, but what aspects of contemporary gender performance are eternal? The comments on the post are interesting too, especially the discussion of Judith Butler. Another interesting post points out that for most Americans, racism is still a much stronger taboo than sexism; hence Hilary Clinton can be criticized and ridiculed by the public and by pundits in ways that would horrify if they were applied to Barack Obama.

A final recommendation for a laugh: "A Short Salvation": Key to the Scriptures? on Internet Monk.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

This week in God

It's been so long since I've been to a Torah service at P'nai Or (the last one I went to was around Hanukkah, probably, before I got sick) that I'd forgotten the feeling of it. It's so hard for me to force myself to get out of bed early on a Saturday and shlep over to the southwest suburbs, especially when I've been to a Friday night service at Havurah Shalom the night before (as I did last night)--and there's a kind of worship, too, in spending Shabbat morning in one's own bed with a good book, a cup of coffee, and an omelet, or listening to music and doing a deep-clean of one's apartment. But I was glad that I forced myself to get up and go to the service today.

My friend Helana was there and offered some interesting words about Rosh Chodesh, the celebration of the New Moon (today is the New Moon and the first day of the second month of Adar, the Jewish leap month***). She spoke about Rosh Chodesh being a traditional women's holiday, honoring women for not participating in the creation of the golden calf, and noted how as women were suppressed by Judaism the observance of Rosh Chodesh fell by the wayside. In the 1970s Jewish feminists began recuperating the tradition. Helana also talked about how the sliver of waxing crescent that one sees after the New Moon is representative of the Shekhina, the divine feminine presence of God; the Shekhina becomes more and more present as the moon waxes, and when the moon is full the Shekhina has reached its union with the Keter, the masculine crown of God. (The Shekhina and the Keter are two of the ten sefirot, or holy emanations of God according to Kabbalah.) It was an interesting interpretation (a little essentialist, but what are you going to do?) and she described it well.

I finished Eric Larson's book The Devil in the White City this past week, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It's a historical narrative that weaves together the story of the architect who conceptualized and built the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with the true story of a serial killer who operated in Chicago at the same time. I wish I had been able to take the Religious Studies seminar about the 1893 World's Fair--it sounds absolutely fascinating (Eric, I want to hear all about it). I also finished Under the Banner of Heaven recently, which I also recommend, although it should be read with a hermeneutic of suspicion. What's up next? The Walrus was Paul: The Great Beatle Death Clues by R. Gary Patterson, about the "Paul is Dead" rumors that swept the nation in the late 1960s. I love a good conspiracy theory.

Finally, Daniel and I have caught glimpses of at least two mice, and one possible rat (I know...I know), in my apartment, and I will not rest until those brazen little fuckers are dead. There will be blood.

***The Hebrew calendar is lunar instead of solar, so a year has fewer days than the Gregorian calendar (and each Hebrew month has fewer days than one of "our" months). As a result the festivals tend to "scoot up" on the calendar--that's why Hanukkah was so early this past year. But if this was allowed to continue unencumbered, after awhile you would be celebrating Hanukkah in the summertime and Pesach in the winter. A leap month of Adar II is added every so many years, so that the festivals still fall around their correct time of year.