The Beard of Poetry

(This post also appears on my Frog Hollow School blog about teaching writing.)

Last week my friend Joshua Gottlieb-Miller came to my Friday class as a visiting poet. It was pretty exciting. The kids had great questions for him. Some highlights:

“Are you a famous poet like Robert Frost?”

“I am zero percent famous.”

Joshua Gottlieb-Miller

“Are you a famous poet like Charles Darwin?”

“I may be a more famous poet than Charles Darwin.”

“Do you write poems about nature, or reality?”

“Both. Sometimes I start a poem with nature, and then it needs some reality so I put in a telephone or something. You know?”

(Rapt stares and nods.)

They were amazed to find out that poets can work at Trader Joe’s (Josh says he is one of two staff poets at his branch), and that you can write poetry about recycling (Josh has an entire manuscript of recycling-related poems). Mostly, however, they were fascinated by Josh’s beard. And it is true, he has an impressive one.

When Josh was leaving, one of the girls called out, “You’ll always be famous to us! What was your name again?” Classic.

After Josh left, they wrote him a collaborative poem, each student adding a line as we went around the circle. They managed to put Josh, basketball, beards, garbage, pink fluffy unicorns, squash, and luna moths in one poem. Pretty coherently. And they wrote it in the shape of a beard and called it “The Beard of Poetry.”

This week, they waxed on for a long time about how much they liked his teeth. They also decided they want to memorize one of his poems. Random poet-face objectification aside, I think introducing Frog Hollow to a living poet was a success.

Black Holes and Socks: a scientific study

Everyone knows about how socks disappear into black holes in the wash. No one, as far as I know, understands how or why this happens. However, I recently have observed something that I feel will add significantly to the scientific study of this phenomenon.

For the past couple of years, I have been doing laundry separately from anyone else’s laundry. During this time, my socks seemed to avoid the vortex of oblivion. Occasionally I would lose an ankle sock, but who really cares about an ankle sock?

Then the strangest thing happened. Nate moved in and we joined laundry. Now he washes and I fold and somehow, socks have begun disappearing. I do not think this is Nate’s fault. We’re talking about a man who is very good at laundry. Did you know that wool socks should not be dried on high? I did not, but Nate did. That is why he washes and I fold. But still, somehow, despite his careful sorting and my careful matching, chaos has inched closer. Is it because of love? Is it because of the low heat setting? These are questions science has yet to answer.


How about them Seahawks, huh? Let me tell you. Actually, I’m the least qualified person ever to do that, because I a) don’t understand football, and b) didn’t actually watch the Super Bowl. But I’m just not going to let that stop me.

Recently, Seattle has been pretty Seahawks crazy. Everywhere you go, there are people in Seahawks gear. It’s kind of like being in Boston on an average day. Only the Seahawks. The obsession even hit the homeschool crowd.

“How do you spell Russell?” asked one of my students.

“Wrestle,” I told him. Poor old Wrestle Wilson.

And then there are all the 12′s. I have no idea what they mean, except that they are suspiciously footbally. The construction crane hangs a 12 flag during its off hours. Our neighbors made a 12 from Christmas lights in their window. I don’t understand it, but it’s friendly-feeling, like a big snowstorm. Like we’re all sharing something.

I did watch some football earlier this year with my friend Scout, who’s a fan. At least, we got burgers and beer and the game was on, and she kept trying to point out the hot quarterback — Marshawn Lynch, Google helps me remember — and I kept missing the hot moments when he had his helmet off, and with helmets on they all look like wind-up warrior ants to me. Finally, I saw a good shot, where he was wiping the sweat off his face and breathing hard. Totally hot. Totally heroic. Is that what football is about — drinking beer and objectifying guys in tight pants? If so, we got it down.

Anyhow, that was all the football watching I did. During the Super Bowl I went up in the Cascades with Nate and Squinch. We hiked in the snow, and it was still and quiet. When we got back, it was over, and the internet showed us pictures of so many people dancing in the streets it looked like Obama had been elected on New Years. We walked around our neighborhood. A drunk man lifted his coat and flashed his jersey at some cars.


Then we went home.

But you know, even when I was off in those quiet woods being a bad Seattleite, guess what color my hat was. Seahawks green.

Best New Ideas for 2014

It’s 2014, folks, which until recently was the future. To make the most of that, here are some innovative ideas for the new year.

Addiction Stores: Like a mini-mart but more so, these stores would sell everything addictive. Sugar, booze, tobacco, video games, porn, buffalo chicken wings, quilting fabric…. Credit goes to Nate for this one. It might not make the world a better place, but it sure would be efficient.

Dog and Owner Yoga: They have yoga for babies, why not for dogs? That way, people wouldn’t have to choose between yoga and walking their dog. Oh no — Google tells me this actually exists. Should I be happy or worried?

Six Pack Keyboards: Keyboards that work your abs. Gently. So you don’t really notice. I’m serious about this one.

Startling Statistics #2 — The Final Numbers on I522

Unlike the first startling statistics I wrote about, these are true:

In the recent I522 campaign to label genetically modified foods in Washington, the Yes campaign raised $8 million dollars from 16,421 people. Average donations were about $10.

The No campaign raised $22 million from 12 donors, only six of whom were human people instead of corporations. Average No donation? $1.8 mil.

The initiative, if you weren’t following, lost 51.09% to 48.91% with less than half of voters actually voting. It won in every age group except seniors.

First response: a spike of outrage about corporate money in politics. Second, the calm knowledge that GMO labeling is just a matter of time. At worst, we just have to wait for all those skeptical old guys to die off.

Meanwhile, I think we should organize a sporting event pitting the Yes donors against the No donors — something civilized, so those pitiful six real humans won’t get crushed. Maybe a tug-of-war. Then we’ll see which way people want this thing to go.

Nelson Mandela and the Flow Motion Snake

The radio these past two days is all “When I met Nelson Mandela….” and “My impressions of Nelson Mandela….” from every person of any possibly qualification, from journalists to the Prime Minister of the UK. I think this is a way of generating enough airtime on his death to do him justice without getting too deep into the very complicated and not-yet-actually-very-pretty legacy of colonialism. I have some opinions about that. Anyhow, I did not meet Nelson Mandela, but I’m going to chime in anyways.

My first memory of learning about Nelson Mandela was around 1991, when my dad gave me a children’s biography of him. Now, my dad does not give me many presents — gift-finding is on my mom’s side of my parents’ division of labor — and while my dad loves and understands me really well, I don’t always understand my dad’s presents. Let’s just say that gift-giving is not my dad’s primary love language. I was a bookworm as a kid so a book wasn’t really a weird present, but I think I wasn’t that excited about biographies at that point. I remember it bewildered me. Was I supposed to read it for fun? I’m not sure if I actually did read it, but I remember sitting on the floor of my room, on my North Seattle street with its one black family, looking at the book, trying to decide if it was going to be boring. I know I read the ending, which was that Nelson Mandela went to prison and was still in prison. This strikes me now as being very interesting — that he was a man who had done enough in his life that they were writing children’s biographies of him, long before the end of his story had happened.

Looking back on it, my dad choosing that biography shows a knowledge of me that I may not have had yet about myself. Fast forward twenty-two years, and I’m reading much more about racism and colonialism and the power of individuals working with each other to change things in real ways, and also the way colonialism has shapeshifted into global capitalism in a way that reminds me of another thing from 1991 — those balloon-tubes filled with liquid (AKA Flow Motion Water Snakes!) that kept slipping through your hands and calling it fun.

One of the momentous things about Nelson Mandela is that he reminds us that all of this stuff isn’t ancient history.  Apartheid ended when I was in middle school, and I am not that old. The U.S. still has colonies, right now. And even though apartheid is over in South Africa, it doesn’t mean there is an equitable distribution of capital. There’s that old slippery snake.

You can pop those balloon snakes with a pin. Not sure about their real-world counterparts, but that is something the rest of us will have to figure out now that Nelson Mandela is gone.

A Grateful Run

Running through the fog today, in the pre-festivity Thanksgiving morning lull, I started thinking about how grateful I am to have work that I love. Frog Hollow is pretty much my grown-up equivalent of unschooling; I get to share what I am passionate about with people who are bright-eyed and passionate themselves. It’s pretty great.

And I realized that homeschooling was what gave me the confidence and the trust to invent my own perfect job and make it real. This led me to feeling grateful (for the zillionth time) that I got to homeschool. There were the practical benefits, for instance that when I applied to Stanford homeschoolers were admitted at twice the general admissions rate, but beyond that, there were all the life skills I learned.

We had a class when I was miserably attending middle school that was called Life Skills, of which I remember two things: people being sent out in the hall for drawing on themselves, and a painful sex-ed video where a camera followed the journey of the sperm only everything was blue and there was bad synthesizer music.

Homeschooling, on the other hand, I learned a basic life philosophy, and I learned it through experience, without a synthesizer sound track. I learned what it feels like to follow what excites me and to trust that whatever crazy place it takes me is a good place for me to go and that if it ceases to be good, something new and exciting will open up. This is a huge life tool for someone as indecisive and hesitant as myself, and the times when I have used it have been some of the best.

Operating from that kind of inner motivation is a profound skill, especially in a culture as grade/prestige/image oriented as our own. It makes both success and rebellion authentic, and I believe that it is the source of most deep positive change in the world.

I feel grateful to have been raised with many role models and the encouragement to develop that in myself, and I feel incredibly lucky to do work that not only allows me to keep following my passions, but where I can encourage that in another generation of young people.

(This post appears as well on my new blog about teaching writing to homeschoolers. Most posts on that blog do not overlap with The Friendly Moth, so if you like what I write, check it out! You could even subscribe!)