Teaching. Always with the teaching. Except in summer, when I get to take a deep breath and worry about next year for three months. Luckily I got to teach summer school at two different places, so the extreme heat was punctuated by brief moments of frustration. Spending lots of time with the kids, playing games, swimming, camping etc. Cooking with the kids. Playing with them. Chasing feral kittens in my backyard. Ticket to Ride with the kids. Lego Hobbit. Trips to the city. Hanging out at Highland Hospital in Oakland (more on that later).
My annual project is summer reading. Get my mind working and see what I can learn to bring to next year’s lessons and rants. More ammunition for my narrated hand-drawn mapping activities. It also gets one above the earthly plane for brief periods of time. That is important, especially in a town as boring as this one. Here are a few things that have crossed my mind lately.
- Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (Edwin A. Abbot). Where to start? When I first saw that the protagonist was a square living in a two-dimensional world, I had to check it out. I also think there is a Futurama episode based on this book. Go figure. A class-based society with irregular shapes at the bottom and elites ruling because they can see other shapes on a flat plane. Women are lines that can kill everything, so they have to constantly move their backsides and make noise. Lower orders are soldiers, usually with three sides. As one progresses up the social ladder, shapes get more and more sides, attempting to reach the beauty of a circle. The “hero” has a vision of other dimensions, including a one-dimensional and no-dimensional plane. Eventually he is shown the third dimension and has an existential crisis. The Sphere is his guide, a geometrical Virgil. Our hero shocks the Sphere by claiming that a shape could ascend to a fourth dimension and so forth, ad infinitum. Going home, his heresy is a cause for trouble. I don’t know what to say. This books blew my mind and shook my faith in the concrete, and also made me think about math. Good old 19th Century insanity. Brilliant, with definite theological themes to keep one up at night.
- La Perdida (Jessica Abel). A decent graphic novel about a young woman that moves to Mexico City and becomes an expatriate. Good cultural interaction and insight into Mexican Society, but the whiny tone grated on my nerves a little. One of the characters is a communist, and his rants and arguments with Americans were memorable. Sort of. Meditations on Frieda Kahlo and her portrait of Stalin. Themes of country and identity.
- Regards from Serbia (Aleksander Zograf). A comic artist living through the sanctions and bombings of Serbia during the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s. Strange art style, good description of government corruption and misleading the masses and the suffering wrought on Serbia by the U.S. I don’t think he talks much about the genocide though. Good food for thought. Haven’t finished.
- The Cherokee Cases: Two Landmark Federal Decisions in the Fight for Sovereignty (Jill Norgren). I read this book to better my understanding of Indian Removal. Interesting style, kind of a narrative of the Cherokee’s legal battles against the state of Georgia. I learned much about the particulars of the case, and was especially interested in the Worcester of Worcester v. Georgia fame. He broke the laws of the state of Georgia purposely to take the issue to the federal courts. I had not realized that he spent years in prison, and eventually followed the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears to Indian Territory. Why isn’t he covered more in history? More respect for John Ross, the Principal Chief of the Cherokee – he tried desperately to save his people through the legal system, but ultimately placed too much faith in the government of the U.S.
- Along with the above, I have also been reading other books about Native America history, generally in chunks. Working through The Killing of Crazy Horse by Thomas Powers, and learning about the life of the bands of the Sioux and the struggles for the Black Hills. Lots of insight into the culture of the Plains during the late 1800s. Also reading about various court cases in Federal Indian Law. Much of this history is tied into the justice system and brings up confusing questions about sovereignty and rights. This subject tests all of my previous thoughts on life in general. “You must unlearn what you have learned…” Another book I am working on is In the Hands of the Great Spirit: The 20,000 Year History of American Indians (Jake Page). For this I wanted to learn more about ancient history. The debate over creation and the migration of peoples across Beringia is fascinating. Politicized archaeology. Whodathunk?
- The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (Sherman Alexie). A good read, mixing sorrow and humor in a meaningful way. The book is a collection of short stories about the Spokane Reservation with familiar Alexie characters. There was a lot to admire, but at times repetitive (“He was the first Indian to _________, He was the only Indian to blank ______________, Once I was Indian and __________, On the Reservation, _______________ is _____________.”) A few quotes stuck in my mind though, and the adventures of Thomas-Builds-A-Fire make for a good read. The title made me think of a Lenny Bruce bit about the Lone Ranger wanting Tonto for an “Unnatural Act.” I have also been reading a biography of Lenny Bruce. It makes him sound like the savior of art and comedy in our times.
- Currently I am reading The Life of Mahatma Gandhi (Louis Fischer). A good narrative about a subject I know relatively about. A lot about Hinduism and religious tensions in the Raj, and non-violent resistance. Written in 1949, the style reflects a certain dated language about women, and seems to ignore the plight of Africans while lionizing Gandhi in South Africa. Working though (it’s long) but an engaging style that has made me think about the relationship between thought and action. The author seems to think that Gandhi lived a morally superior life, while pointing out his somewhat annoying habits and odd diet, such as a stint eating only lemons and peanut butter. Also a good discussion of nationalism. Religious topics galore.
- The Bible, Koran and Oxford History of the Biblical World. More self-inflicted religious studies. The translation of the Koran I have is frustrating because the author points out that the Koran in English is not the true Koran. Only the original Arabic is the true Koran and the word of Allah. The limitations of the English language when it comes to describing Islam…. something to think about. I think the concept that Muhammad is the only “historical prophet” because he was an actual person with a record. The combination of political and religious history is intriguing. Of course, we also get the same angle regarding Jesus and Rome, and the Tribes of Israel and their neighbors. Is the entire Bible/Koran simply a justification for conquest? Specifically I am talking about the book of Joshua, who led the Israelites to conquer Canaan. Sure, Cain killed Abel and ran off. But damn. Who is going to stand up for the Moabites? What did they do that was so evil that they deserved utter destruction at the hands of the Israelites? I do think it is interesting how often God gets tired of the Israelites because they keep screwing up. I mean, in the Old Testament, God is actually hanging out with them above the Tabernacle. Yet they still lose their faith as soon as God goes away for a little while. Also, the mass circumcision is a bit much. The history book I am reading is giving valuable insight into the scientific basis of Biblical study, going beyond source criticism to physical reality.
Joshua 5:3 “And Joshua made him sharp knives, and circumcised the children of Israel at the hill of foreskins.” To properly gird their loins for combat and show their devotion. Personally I feel like this is a bit disgusting. If you are selectively quoting the Old Testament about gay people, make sure you bring up this amazing adventure in cosmetic surgery. Think of the millions reading it, the scribes translating and writing, the illuminators illustrating the Bible. Religion is strange. But then Jesus told the Pharisees that the law was not absolute. Hmmm…..
Now the connections between the faiths is overtaking my brain. Hinduism, how does it play out? So ancient and confusing to my Western brain. Hindu fanatics attacking Muslims and vice versa. Maybe Marx was right about religion. Links between Native American faith and Christianity. Churches amalgamating, messages changing. I am sure there is common wisdom among them. Argh!
Off for more summer fun and literary adventures.