Tuesday, August 29, 2006


I grew up devouring fantasy novels. They formed the foundation of my literary interests. Reading Roger Zelazny's Amber series was a revelation to me. I've been interested in literature ever since.

Except, over the past few years I have found very little in fantasy that appealed to me. Fantasy has been overtaken by bloated, commercialized, soap opera fantasy. These huge tomes have nothing for me.

Initially, I was interested in fantasy series that had huge amounts of sequels. But I started realizing that even though the authors would occasionally forward the plots, they were largely writing the same books with new covers and changed names. I grew weary of getting up to book four of a series only to realize that the author was just milking the series success and had no intention of a justifiable end.

Which is why it is such a pleasure to have found Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. I had heard of it many times, the first from Orson Scott Card, who raved about the book when he first read, but I kept my fantasy prejudices away from it. I finally took the plunge and bought it. Rather than intermittently reading a chapter, I smashed my way through it, enjoying every moment.

What's so great about the book is that it entirely fails to ascribe to fantasy convention. The novel has three separate protagonists, each with their own rich story. None of the main characters are from a mysterious lineage nor do they have dead parents who they never knew. Each is dense and vibrant in his or her own way.

The plot is also terrific. Magic in this land has virtually disappeared, those who relied on it reduced to zombie leper-like creatures called the Elantrians. Once Elantris was a rich city built on magic. But something terrible happened and the city crumbled. Nobody is quite certain where the magic has gone, but those who lived in the city are too weak and in pain to find an answer. One of the main threads in the novel is a quest to find the answer and save the city.

But that's just skimming a very dense surface. The novel has a great amount of political intrigue, action, and mystery. But the best part of the novel is that it has...

Wait for it...


Yes, this particular fantasy manages to wrap itself up in 600 pages. The author creates a complex fantasy world with dense history and manages to tell one single story in it. The ending is satisfying and rational, which so many fantasy books completely lack. The author leaves a couple of threads open for a possible sequel, but the reader gets the idea that the protagonists story is finished.

Pick it up, but be careful because you might not want to put it down.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

This Just In...

Ned Lamont is a witch! Do not support this man, he will end up screwing us all over with his witchy spells designed to help terrorists. If Ned Lamont had his way, we would all be deported to Afghanistan where we would support opium farmers. He only cares about his Al-Qaeda buddies, who are personally funding his election campaign. I've also heard he is planning on introducing legislation to burn babies for an alternative fuel source. This man is evil-do not listen to anything he says. He is best friends with Mel Gibson, whose drunken rant was a political ploy to take Lieberman down. Don't believe the hype.

This message was not approved by Joe Lieberman, but evidently neither is any of the messages being said about the communist, hippie, terrorist supporting Lamont. All hail the new boss, same as the old. Literally.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

What Teaching Means to Me

I'm a teacher. It took me awhile to figure out what that actually means. Oddly enough, the best way I have ever learned to be a teacher is by looking at the way in which others teach me. I gain enthusiasm by seeing a person who is really good at their job, but I also gain understanding about how others lack the fire that comes with teaching. Good teachers and bad teachers help me grow into the teacher I want to be.

I've learned by noticing the ways I react to others teaching me. It's hard because I hate judging people- I prefer to think that everyone has the capacity to be good. Thomas Paine once said that we all have the ability to be unselfish and worthy contributors to society. We just need to let go of all our trivial notions and preconceptions.

Back to teaching though. This meditation comes because I realize the greatest impetus for me to learn is to have an understanding and caring teacher. I write papers and do well in a class because I like the person who is teaching it. Previously I used to believe that the subject matter was what mattered and my personality was secondary. I was wrong.

I'm thinking about all of this because I'm taking a class that I'm struggling in. It's not that I'm doing poorly in it, in fact I find myself doing quite well. But when I sit down to work, there's no joy in it. Instead it's just plain work, and nothing more emotional than that.

The professor seems like a great guy. I get the idea that he's a smart, energetic and nice person. But I've only gotten that from inferring it. He has never let us know a single thing about him unless it relates to the work. Instead he walks into the class and launches into the material without any conversation. I begin getting a headache almost immediately.

Furthermore, he doesn't seem to want to know about the scant few (down to 4) in the class. I've tried visiting him in his office, where he seems to want to get rid of me as quickly as possible. I want to know him as an educator, but he doesn't seem to have the time. He never even took the time to ask us our names or exhibit a class camaraderie.

The last class I took that I really loved was Colin's class on blogging. It was magic. Upon reflection, I realize that it had nothing to do with all of us being smart (although we were). It had to do with the immense personal relationships we established. I looked forward to being in class every week to see the people there. Everyone cared about the class and put their energy into it.

We all want to feel loved. In that class I was made to feel wanted, and genuinely appreciated. My comments and bizarre digressions were cared about and validated. The rest of the education happened in that safe and warm environment. We learned from each other, Colin pulling back and becoming part of the class.

I guess I'm wondering what I need to do to prepare for the start of school in two weeks. Usually I voraciously line up serious lessons, but I think I might take a different tact this year. At the end of last year I sat down on the floor with my kids and took the time to really talk to them. I think I might sit down and spend the time to know them the entire year. That's what will make teaching mean the most to me. The material will always be the same, but the kids will never be.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Friends (Again)

My Uncle Peter is sitting in the wicker chair across from me. He smiles up at me, a smile that drips with a long, heavy melancholy. His friend Tony has poured me a shot of expensive tequila and ordered a toast to good friends. We drink the smooth liquor down and I immediately cool off. Uncle Peter's phone rings.

He picks it up and has a short conversation before hanging up. His eyes have become watery. I ask him what's wrong before I realize it's a stupid question. He tells me he keeps expecting Larry's call. Apparently he doesn't have the heart to remove Larry from him phone.

Larry died last Wednesday. He was Uncle Peter's best friend for the last fifty years. He says they met sometime in the first grade and have spoken on the phone every day since. Uncle Peter visibly cringes whenever the phone rings, a stiff reminder that his friend is dead. I nearly lose it.

My brother Mark and I spent some serious time on the beach that day. After hearing that Uncle Peter's best friend died, we decided to join him on Fire Island. Mark and I were together most of that day, reminding me what it was like to be close to my brother. It was nice.

In a sense, I think Uncle Peter is lucky. He's lost his best friend, but his amazing affability and joviality has allowed him to accrue a lot of friends. The house he shares with five other people is packed with incredibly fun personalities who love to have a good time. Uncle Peter says it's been his best season on Fire Island ever. As we are sitting around the table, his friend Sanford has called three times. He misses Peter.

I'm reminded sometime during the day that life isn't about the things we manage to compile or the material things. It's about the relationships we form throughout our lives and how much they matter. I think if there was a scale to judge success based only on that, Uncle Peter is the most successful person I know. He is truly loved.

Back With A Vengeance

I guess I'm back. Which is to say that I took some time off to refuel my writing schtick. Don't feel too bad, I took some time off in general from almost everything. It's been a good, long summer.

I also hated the idea of getting caught up in the CT blogging crowd. I have some views when it comes to the Lamont/Lieberman debacle. But I really don't feel like it's my job to further or detract from either campaign.

So what am I here for? Well, there's going to be some changes around from my blogging temperament. For one thing, I need to stop writing constantly. I feel like I've spread myself out too thinly and lost a lot of creativity out of my need to constantly blog. So I'm going to start out writing some better pieces that are actually structured and make sense. But I'm probably going to do it less often.

See you soon.