Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Shocking Lapse. An Apology. Grants. Duct Tape Update.

Hi everyone.
I apologize for disappearing from my own blog.
The truth is, I have been relentlessly pursuing Mammon in the form of writing grants and hosting a fundraiser.
You know that scene in any scary movie where the battered monster just keeps lurching along in pursuit of human flesh? And it may have had a limb cut off or an eye gouged out or acid in its face?
I am that monster.
I need money for books for my students.
My school needs money for stuff like lab equipment.
I do not enjoy writing grants. Grants are time consuming. And I get mad, because it's not like I'm asking for money for trips to Disneyland or even cool field trips to museums, because we don't have money for those kinds of field trips. There hasn't been money for cool field trips since the Eighties.
Oh, wait. No, I did fundraisers to take kids to see plays in the Eighties.
Never mind that line of reasoning.
Today I spent nearly twenty minutes of instructional time trying to repair computers so my students could get their work done.
At least I have some pretty duct tape now! Who knew that duct tape came in patterns?
This is an exciting development in Apocalypse Preparedness.
But I digress.
Hosting a fundraiser was fun. I did an interpretive dance and talked about the need for duct tape, and how I accessorize with it, and a thoughtful colleague brought me TWO rolls of decorated duct tape.
So yeah, I need to get to Part 2 of my interview with my brother.
I need to grade papers.
I admire people who just post no matter what else is going on.
The fact is I need more brain cells.
And money for books.
*lurches off, bloody of eye, to keep writing*

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

No Good Deed. Hellbound Heroes.Interview with Playwright Matt Pelfrey.

Full disclosure: Matt Pelfrey is my brother.
He's the Resident Playwright at the Furious Theatre Company.
He is an Assistant Visiting Professor at UCLA.
Sunday night I went to his latest play, "NogoodDeed" at [Inside] The Ford Theatre in L.A.
A lot of his plays are published and he's won awards and stuff. I'll put his full bio at the end of this post.
Kristen: Matt, what is this play about?
Matt: A kid rescues a girl and the good deed destroys his life. He becomes a doomed hero who has a drug-fueled breakdown and enters a comic book reality where he snorts white kryptonite and becomes Hellbound Hero. But it's really about how sometimes the stress of doing a good deed can transform the hero in a negative way. A good deed can corrupt and poison the do-gooder's life.
Kristen: How did you get the idea for the whole graphic novel piece?
Matt: The original idea when I read about a boy who was a troubled youth who rescued a girl, became a minor media star, but people started picking fights with him because he was supposed to be so tough. He got beat up a lot. He got arrested in a drug scuffle for attempted murder, and the sheriff told the reporter that the "boy looked relieved to not be the hero, to not be "that guy" anymore. And that's the tragedy. The one good deed this kid does turns into his downfall. And the firefighter who saved Baby Jessica ended up committing suicide. None of the other firefighters showed up to his funeral.
So I juxtaposed the idea of this kid and his love of comics and his fantasy life with what really happened and his drug-fueled world.
Kristen:And the Security Guard character is based on Richard Jewell. I think this is the first play where the audience leaves with a real graphic novel in hand with the next part of the story in it. Any plans to keep going with the graphic novel?
Matt: Maybe. If we ever re-mount it again we would do issue #2.
Kristen: Because you introduce a female character in the graphic novel, so it becomes a four person team. She's based on Jessica Lynch. So she joins Fireman, Security Guard, Hellbound Hero and she's Silver Star.
Has any other play ever done this kind of mash-up with graphic novels and plays? Because the way the graphic novel stuff pops up and plays in the background is just amazing.
Matt: Comic books and graphic novels are so much more mainstream. Because if you even cared about Spiderman and you were over sixteen you were weird in the Eighties. Comics were for below high school kids. It wasn't cool. It was Geek Culture.
Kristen: Well, we are a family of geeks. I still have my comic books. Kamandi, Last Boy on Earth was my favorite. We can talk about how my Apocalypse Issues influenced you some time.
Matt: You better read that Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter soon. Article in the Times today about Abe Lincoln.
Kristen: Let's get some background info. Do you remember the first film you made?
Matt: Yeah. It was Super 8 with stop-motion animation and I cut up my monsters and we moved them across the board.
Kristen: 'My monsters' being...
Matt: Godzilla, King Kong, Creature from the Black Lagoon...
Kristen: And your first live-action?
Matt:It was "Hit and Run" in high school...
Kristen:(Indignant)It was not. I was in the first one. What do you remember about that?
Matt: Almost nothing. I was five.
Kristen: You were a monster in a fringed shirt. And you chased me and I screamed.
Matt: I think it was a Daniel Boone shirt.
Kristen: Do we know why it was a Daniel Boone shirt?
Matt: Probably because the fringe was scary.
Kristen: I kind of wanted to be the monster.
Matt: That was my career goal at that age.
Kristen: To be the monster?
Matt: To be a monster movie maker.
Kristen: We used to watch Creature Feature.
Matt: Yeah. That was great. The Day of the Triffids. Invasion of the Eye Monsters.
Kristen: The Eye Monsters. That scared the s*** out of me.
And "Die Monster Die." Nightmares.
Matt: Good times.
Kristen: Loved those movies. Yeah. So back to "Hit and Run."
Matt: We shot it on the backroads. Two hitchhikers, one gets run over by a hit and run driver. The friend runs for help. Finds the driver, who has broken down on the side of the road, the friend knocks him out, ties him to a telephone pole with jumper cables, and tortures him.
Kristen: If memory serves, someone called an ambulance for you guys.
Matt: Yeah. One of the characters was lying in a big pool of fake blood. And then an ambulance came along looking for him.
Kristen: Verisimillitude. In the next installment,we'll talk about how you and your friend caught a raging lingerie thief with a baseball bat.
Matt: Yes. Classic.

Part Two of this Interview on Wednesday. We will talk about Matt, boys,school, and reading. Oh. And writing.

I just copied and pasted his bio from the Furious Theatre Company website:

Furious Playwriting credits:
NOgoodDEED, An Impending Rupture of the Belly

With other theatres:
Pure Shock Value, Cockroach Nation, Terminus Americana, Honkies with Attitude, Gore Hounds, Drive Angry, FrEAk StORm, Jerry Springer is God, Monkey, A Feast of Famine as well as adaptations of The Basketball Diaries and In the Heat of the Night. His plays have been produced in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and South Africa by such companies as the Actors Theater of Louisville (Humana Festival ’99), Furious Theatre Company, Roadworks, American Theater of Actors, (Mostly) Harmless Theater Company, Moving Arts, Hexagon Theatre and the Lodestone Theatre Ensemble.

Backstage West Garland Award - Best Play Writing
LA Weekly Award - Best Play Writing
National 10-Minute Play Competition Winner, 2009
American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award Nominee

Friday, February 17, 2012

Funding the Revolution.

One of the grants I wrote in the last week is called "BFYA Revolution." This means "Best Fiction for Young Adults Revolution."
I need to check with the Young Adult School Library Association to see if BFYA is copyrighted.
I'll come up with something else if it is.
I wrote the grant because my students need Good Books. I want them to have choices about what they read. I want them to read and then do projects that involve technology applications like Fireworks and Photoshop. I want them to make book trailers. I want them to read books by authors who are still alive. I want them to communicate with authors. I want them to read books that they won't need or want Cliff Notes for. I want them to create.
I will never have them write book reports.
I hate book reports.
And you might be thinking,"Kristen, this is all very well. But what is the Revolution?"
I am so glad you asked.
My students are overscheduled and overstimulated. They are constantly plugged in to external devices and screens and noise.
They are told what to do.
There are a lot of have-tos in life. I understand that it is a necessary skill to be good at have-tos.
So I think it's revolutionary to say, "Look. Unplug. Choose a book. Choose a story. Choose a world. Let it be okay if some things make you uncomfortable. Give it a chance. Choose a different book if you need to. Read it. I'll make sure you have time. And when you finish, we'll do something cool."
In an educational system driven by standardized test results, choice is revolutionary.
Reading for pleasure is revolutionary.
Knowing that boys read is revolutionary.
Making sure that students can choose to read books that reflect the reality of their lives and their questions--questions about sexuality, sexual orientation, drug use and abuse, sexual, emotional, and physical abuse--should not be revolutionary, but I think it is. Bullying. Falling out with friends. Cruelty. Loss. Grief. Being different. Falling in love.
Good Books help them know that they are not alone in being human.
Every day I look out at my students and I think about how I am being trusted with the most important beings in the universe. They are themselves worlds of possibilities.
They give me hope.
I think giving them access to books in my computer lab, and in my teaching partner's computer lab, is one of the most important things I will ever do.
I can talk to each student about book choices. I can make recommendations. I can also leave them alone with piles to peruse.
So I wrote this grant so I could get more books.
I hope I get it.
I will keep you posted.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Carrying a Torch for the Fictional and the Dead. My Funny Valentines.

My first love had been dead for over 1,915 years by the time I met him.
I read I, Claudius by Robert Graves the summer I finished 8th grade. This reading coincided with the PBS series of the same name.Derek Jacobi starred as Claudius.
And I fell in love.
True, there were obstacles with being in love with Claudius(aside from the fact he was dead.) Claudius was overshadowed by his brilliant brother. He stammered. He twitched. He was mocked.
I would not have betrayed him like so many, even his wives.
I was true to Claudius/Derek.
And you may be thinking,"Why, Kristen, would you fall for an individual with so many challenges?"
And I say, "Because he was smart."
Jane Eyre was interesting because I have a thing for wind-whipped places. And fog. Mr. Rochester made my friends a-flutter, and he was compelling, but, let's face it, the man was a liar.
I do like the line, "Reader, I married him." Because it is declarative and she sounded strong. Better Mr Rochester than that tiresome cousin of hers. What a weenie.
And now we come to Mr. Darcy. In high school I was a big fan of Mr. Darcy. I was a bigger fan of Elizabeth, though. She was funny, and smart, and she was capable of reflection. She also didn't suffer fools gladly.
I admire that in a person.
But getting back to Mr. Darcy for a moment. Smart? Yes. A man of good countenance, parts, and character? By the end of the novel, it would seem so. Not a big score for humor, though.
As a teen, that was good enough for me.
In college I had a mad passion for Geoffrey Chaucer.Another non-fictional but dead guy. I even made up a song as I wrote a research paper on folklore motifs in the Canterbury Tales. I would croon, in my best Middle English, "Chaucer, if I were a folklore motif, would you use me well?" was one of the lines.
Chaucer was smart. And funny.
I could go on. Yes, okay, I admit that I nearly wept over Samuel Johnson, in spite of his scrofula(which is a little off-putting). I loved Jonathan Swift for his rage and his humor.
Yes. Dead and fictional. So many men. So little time.
And after many years of teaching English, I find my taste has evolved.
This man, this paragon, I'd known for years and overlooked. And then,one year, I realized, "I should have married Atticus Finch."
Think about it. Kind, devoted, smart, loyal, honorable. An excellent father and human being. And he does have a sense of humor. It's not like my man Geoffrey's, but it is grossly unfair to ask any human to have all virtues in equal measure.
So, yes, Dear Readers, tomorrow is Valentine's Day. The history of my heart is full of graveyards and people who never existed.
And I think I've had a great love life.
Such is the power of words and worlds and storytellers.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Museum of Extinct Technology: What My Students Saw and Did

I like field trips.
Alas, field trips are scarce in public schools these days. So I took the Good Ship Knowledge for a sail inside my classroom.
I broke out my Museum of Extinct Technology.
The Wonders in this museum are many, and I don't want to overwhelm you with a full catalogue. Likewise, introducing such treasures to the tender young minds I foster might have resulted in Letters from Parents.
Some concepts need a slow reveal.
I spoke slowly and carefully.
"This," I said, "Is something called a boom box."
Some students nodded wisely. Others looked immediately apprehensive.
"This machine can do several things." I held up a cassette tape, popped it in.
There was absolute silence.
Then I pushed "Play." I showed them how to adjust the volume.
They listened to about thirty seconds of the Rolling Stones singing "Ruby Tuesday."
"I know this band," one of my students said. "That really old guy? He was Johhny Depp's dad in Pirates of the Caribbean."
This generated several minutes of animated discussion.
I pulled them back together by holding up a round, shiny object.
A kid raised her hand.
"We know what that is," she said, with the patience teens sometimes have for old people. "That's a CD."
"But it's not just ANY CD," I said. "See how it's all marked up with a Sharpie?"
They saw.
"THIS," I said, "Is a MIX TAPE."
There were several outraged outbursts of "It's not a tape."
"Sorry," I said. "I am old. I forget. We used to make mix tapes. Then we were able to make mix CD's."
I explained that it was a big deal to be able to choose only songs you really wanted to listen to and play them.
They were aghast.
"There was not a lot of great music in the Eighties," I said. "But here are some songs worth our time."
I played the tapecd and the students got back to work on their projects. I danced a little, and encouraged them to dance.
Some did. It was a fine thing.
Then I packed up the boom box, an American Girl machine a student left in my room about thirteen years ago.
I put the machine and the CD back into the Apocalypse Cave that is attached to my lab.
I considered breaking out the Eight Track Tapes.
I looked at the records.
I did not want their heads to explode. The mess, the Letters from Parents.
We want the Good Ship Knowledge sailing, not sinking.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Andrew Smith, The Why Chromosome{2}, and Dangers to "Female Parts"

Andrew Smith wrote a post that cuts straight to one of my core Revolution beliefs. Please go read it now.
I copied and pasted my comment from his blog. Maybe this is cheating in the blogosphere, but, as I say in my brand of French, Je ne care pas. Because we need the Revolution.
I remember being one of three girls on the Cross Country team in high school. We got the leftover uniforms, and we had to augment them with t-shirts because there were no women's uniforms.
Cross Country was too tough for girls, one coach told me.
Girls aren't meant to run, another said. It would hurt my "female parts."
Yeah, well, I was on the team for four years. When I graduated there were upwards of fifteen girls and the varsity went to championships.
To the best of my knowledge, everyone's "female parts" work just fine.
Women joined the "girls aren't tough" mindset as well. One teacher told me to "stay feminine."
I did not know what to say.
Men and women do and say stupid, damaging things. These stupid, damaging things get Institutionalized.
Nobody wins, except those who stand to make money from the Institutionalization.
I continue to fight for the girls, who have come a long way and play sports without being told their "female parts" are at risk but still fight to make their way in science, math and technology.
As a woman who teaches technology, I have been on the receiving end of some staggeringly ignorant comments.
And for over twenty years I have fought for my boys, who can and do read.
At least they can do sports without being told their "male parts" are in danger.
But what people need to hear is that stereotyping minds and hearts maims souls.
Books help heal these souls.
More boys need access to these books.
Adults of both genders must make this happen.
I don't know where I read this, but I think it is true.
"Everybody counts or nobody counts."
And that's how I run my classroom.