Friday, September 29, 2017

Week in Seven Words #363

As evening closes in, the tower of the High Bridge looks like the home of a mage. A light gleams inside it, eerie and suggestive.

Over sweetened almonds, we talk about embittering life events.

A blank, bright field, and at the far end, two kids throwing a frisbee that they never catch.

Long walks through the city are full of interesting shapes. Some buildings look like a wedge of pie, narrowing where two streets split in an acute angle. Metallic semicircles shine from the side of a substation. Buildings march along the river in cubes and rectangular prisms.

There's a free class on Photoshop, which I'm not familiar with, though I figure it may prove useful at some point. I'm the only one who shows up. The instructor looks as awkward as I feel, but we get past that quickly enough, and twenty minutes later I'm pasting a giant baby onto the surface of the moon.

He crouches by the side of a tennis court and buries his face in the dog's neck. It's the happiest moment of his day so far.

The evergreen sapling looks like a glowing gold feather duster in the forest.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Lucy Snowe from Charlotte Bronte's Villette is a fascinating narrator

Lucy Snowe, the narrator for Charlotte Bronte's Villette, starts her story in her godmother's house, where she's visiting. She's a teenager at the time and inhabits the house like a shadow. She says next to nothing about her birth family, which is unusual; all we know is that she's English. She observes other people closely, and she enjoys some quiet pleasures, unnoticed. Soon after this visit, she makes vague reference to events that lead her to fall out of touch with her godmother, and the tragedies and hardships that leave her alone in the world as a young woman. (No details on what exactly happens.) She winds up working in a French school, and her thoughts about her circumstances are realistic and complex.

Part of why I find this narrator fascinating is that she can be frank and blunt. But then she'll turn away suddenly, holding back information and withdrawing from the reader's sight. She is outwardly reserved - many people think her so - while emotions can run rampant in her. She isn't an unreliable narrator in the sense that she has sinister motives or strong delusions, but she's disconcerting. She understands how much she's confessing, and wants to keep some things to herself. Sometimes, she'll introduce a detail or observation that jars the reader out of the complacent belief that they've got the characters fixed in their mind. The reader is kept at an uneasy distance while still being absorbed in the narrative.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Week in Seven Words #362

The clock, striking a late hour, gets shouted down by police sirens.

They bring her out on a blue leash. Immediately, she's on my lap, squirming, sniffing, and sticking her head in my tote bag, where I've tucked away some treats for her.

A toddler stands before a taller doll and interrogates it. The doll, unresponsive, receives a finger to the eye for remaining aloof.

The church has strung together signs on its lawn with slogans that try to demonstrate that it's welcoming (or the preferred word, "inclusive") to anyone who wants to attend. The slogans ring empty, a cut-and-paste job.

Candle wax in multiple colors melts in psychedelic streams and puddles.

The man on the sofa dozes beneath a portrait of an alert military leader.

In the glow of the lamp, a pink bedspread scented with lavender and mint.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Week in Seven Words #361

They have a quick, vicious temper. They'll unleash it without absorbing its effects; they may even forget, an hour later, just how angry they were. The absorption is left to me.

She's finished reading the Harry Potter series, but doesn't want to let it go. Potter Puppet Pal videos are among the media she's found to maintain her connection to the Wizarding World.

Teens with fruit punch hair bump shoulders as they drift through the park.

For indoor soccer, the footrest is the goal. In the middle of the game, the dog trots over and lies down in front of it to lick the floor.

"He's entitled to his own opinion!" she tells me the day after. An irrelevant comment, as I never argued about anyone's right to share an opinion. As for the content of the opinion, I can't argue about that either, without being called names or told that I don't really mean what I'm saying.

The gingerbread truffle bursts and melts on my tongue. I think with even more gratitude about the person who gave it to me.

Throughout the store, there are sniffly kids with smeary noses and slurpy coughs.

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.