Thursday, September 14, 2017

Week in Seven Words #360

He knows it's ridiculous to spend this much money on shoes. He laughs at himself, even as he buys a pair and takes photos of them - first in their box, then on the floor, and after that, with himself in them.

He's afraid to care too much about anything. His heroes have soured on him. His teachers are dead inside. His friends take pleasure destroying things.

The room is wrecked. He stands to the side, nodding slightly to the music from his headphones, as he takes in the work ahead of him.

They craft a lie and treat it publicly as truth. It's the only way to keep peace in their family. They tiptoe past uncomfortable topics and avert their eyes from vile behavior.

She wants to write an email that's persuasive and appeasing. So much is at stake for her, with this one email that may never be read.

Soft pink tomato guts slick between my fingers.

The street is split open with repairs. Mice pour out, seeking other homes.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Paper Tigers (2015): How Did One School Change Its Approach to Delinquent Student Behavior?

Paper Tigers is a documentary set in a school known for high rates of delinquent student behavior and academic failure. It explores the background of some of the students and shows the changes undertaken by the school to help students deal with various problems, graduate, and even go to college.

Many of the students come from homes that are broken in some way. One of the critical parts of Paper Tigers is a discussion of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and research showing how a greater number of ACEs in childhood leads to an increased risk of all kinds of problems throughout life - such as abusive relationships, poor health, struggles with work and finances, and mental illness.

ACEs include emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse, and households with domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, or family members in prison. However, when children and teens have a healthy relationship with an adult, it serves as a protective factor that can help mitigate the effects of ACEs.

In the past, the school's approach to misbehaving students was purely punitive. The documentary shows how teachers began to also offer mentoring and guidance, not only punishments. The school also set up an on-site clinic that provided some basic health services and counseling. By the time the documentary wrapped up, there was a significant drop in the kinds of behaviors that lead to detention, suspension, or expulsion, and there were higher rates of graduation.

I like how the documentary shows the communal effort it took to make this new approach successful. Of course it depended on each teacher working with dedication and spending time with students who aren't used to positive attention from an adult. But the teachers were also able to give each other support. The school administration was fully committed to them and to the students. And the community at large supported the school. As inspiring as it is to read stories about a lone teacher bucking the system to reach out to students, a school-wide change works so much better when everyone is working together. It's more effective, and there's less burnout.

The documentary is also important for opening up a discussion about traumatic childhood experiences. These aren't one-time events - they're ongoing toxic problems that chip away at mental and physical health and stunt development. I also wondered about the teens who don't act out, but who keep things bottled up. The documentary doesn't really focus on the kids who struggle but don't express it through crime, violent outbursts, and other misbehavior. It was impressive, however, just to watch teachers who genuinely care about their students' academic performance, well-being, and life prospects.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Week in Seven Words #359

The robin perches in the heart of a brambly shrub.

Her life has been set to a soundtrack of slammed doors.

Our good-bye has a taffy-like quality. We say it and stand close, and after talking some more, repeating ourselves, we part slowly, the distance between us stretching by inches.

My first sight of her is the bike helmet she's still wearing, as she hunches over her phone, her upper body framed by a dark window.

She may not know who has sent her the note expressing thanks, but she's happy that someone has appreciated her efforts.

They've strung up a few lights to give an otherwise steely, soulless street some color.

The egg he cracks in a neat stroke, but the yolk plops on the floor.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Week in Seven Words #358

There's a bundle of blankets on the couch. It takes me a few moments to realize it's a child, staring at the TV through the fog of a cold.

I need to guard against the antsy expectation of the next thing, the unsettling need to keep scrolling down the page or refreshing it.

They're reading young adult novels set in dystopian societies, and I like their analyses of these books - what makes sense to them, what doesn't, and their take on the characterizations. Their thoughts on what they read have become more complex.

He's bought neon orange gravel for the fish bowl. When he cleans it in the sink, it makes a crunchy, rustling noise in the spray of cold water.

I speak to someone who calls himself progressive. To him, being progressive means using certain tortured terminology and immediately shaming people who don't. It's likely the correct terminology will change soon, so he'll have to keep a close eye on developments. Signaling correctness is a key way to avoid ostracism.

Wine-colored leaves shaped like stars, suspended in perfect stillness under a streetlight.

The waiter brings out a slice of cake with a candle stuck to it. It's meant for an adult's birthday, but mostly the kids devour it, after it gets sectioned with a steak knife.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Vicar of Wakefield - I tried...

Sometimes when you visit a website, it loads too slowly. Maybe there's a blue bar on the browser (like on Safari) that strains forward by millimeters and after a certain point doesn't move anymore. You refresh the page, it starts loading again, and still, no progress.

That was my experience with The Vicar of Wakefield. It isn't a good sign when reading a book feels like staring at a slowly loading website. After a couple of attempts, I put it aside. Because I chose it for the Classics Club Challenge, I feel obligated to say something about it here.

The vicar likes to shake his head over his family's follies. Maybe he regrets his own follies too, but it's his family's weaknesses that cause him to moralize. He sighs and chides them a little, but he seems to have little effect on anything around him. That's about as far as I got with him - his family falls on some hard times, they run into one man who doesn't seem to have money and another man who does. I flipped to the last pages - I'll admit I was curious enough to do that - and things seem to get tied up neatly, more or less.

I chose this book after hearing it recommended by people who found it witty and entertaining. You may get more out of it than I did.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Week in Seven Words #357

Pumpkin pie filling rises between the tines of my fork.

The choice of entertainment falls to the youngest child. He picks a documentary on fish that weigh a lot. Everyone winds up gathering at the TV to watch.

She calms her patients with soft string music, a dish-sized fountain, and a murmured mantra.

A parent, embarrassed by his children's bickering, loses his temper. His overreaction is significantly more embarrassing than anything his children have done.

One of the apps on her phone lets her make movie trailers. The latest one features a bad-tempered dance instructor and the floating head of a unicorn.

The waiting room is part of a suite of doctors' offices. The sofa cushions are stiff. I toy with a book, without reading it. Through a thin wall, I hear wracking coughs and a low, anxious voice.

It's been a year since we last spoke, and it would be a shame if we never spoke again. I email her, and she replies with warmth and surprise. We're still friends.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Week in Seven Words #356

Today, I'm an eyebrow that isn't properly tweezed. Tomorrow, I'll be a forehead pimple. By which blemish will I be assessed the day after?

They express their political stance by posting a meme or buying a product featured in a feel-good commercial from a large corporation.

He has made the mistake of giving broccoli to the dog.

They're stuck with an indifferent teacher who asks nothing and accepts almost anything. In response, they ask their teacher almost nothing and ignore almost everything.

When only the orchestra is playing, the violinist stands calmly, surrounded by the storm of music.

I tell her that I need to talk to her mom for a couple of minutes, then I'll be ready to play. At the two-minute mark, she pops up from behind a cabinet, startling me and reminding me of my promise.

The wind feels like dozens of gentle pats to the face.