Saturday, May 17, 2008

I Am Iron Man

Talking with a second-grader who was surprised to find out that I read comics.

BOY: Did you see Iron Man?

ME: Yes, twice.

BOY: Have you played the video game? How do you beat those weird girly things?

ME: I haven't played the game, I don't really know.

BOY: Aw, man. Do you have a PSP?

ME: No.

BOY: Really?! Oh, man, you need to get one! Do you have a mom?

ME: Yes...

BOY: How much money does she got?

ME: I have no idea.

BOY: Tell her you want a PSP. Tell her you want a PSP and the Iron Man game and see if she'll get you one. I'm about to beat it if I can get past those girly things.

Maureen O'Sullivan

Born today in 1911. Among other things, the best Jane ever.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Bad Days

Yesterday, the school had Track & Field Day, because if there's anything the kids need, it's apparently not more school lurnin'. I actually didn't hate the day as much as most of the other teachers did; they were all tired as hell today. I was tired and sore when I went home last night, but standing around all day worked out a bad leg cramp I'd had and gave me some energy for today. The kids were all nice and tired, though, so they weren't too fitful.

I had my kids taken away from me in the morning, and I don't really care. The resource coordinator switched stuff around, possibly because of some of the complaining I did. I know that some of the kids I have real problems with send subs screaming into the night. So now I sit in on a second grade class for the first hour and then kind of float around until lunch. After lunch, I'm in first grade, then third grade, and then the two fifth grades. Frankly, it suits me just fine, because I don't have to deal with the combative attitudes in the morning and still get paid just the same. It's frustrating teaching kids who do their best to convince you they just don't want to learn.

Today was quite a day for hurt feelings, though. On the playground, as the kids were lining up to go into school, one of the first-graders had a sudden crying fit. This happens with alarming regularity in the first grade. Yesterday, as the noise and irregularity of Track & Field Day began to wear on the youngest kids, Penelope Pitstop had a massive crying jag after another student (the little know-it-all girl; there's always one of those) got on her for not following some rule or other. It never ceases to amaze me the way first-graders can be completely unable, unwilling, and uninterested in following directions but will jump all over another kid (usually a smaller one) for doing the same thing, especially if it's an accident. Pitstop apparently has problems with this about once a week or so. She suddenly goes off on these fits, convinced that no one likes her and that school is too hard and that she has to go home. Then, it happened a second time when Boo Boo got in her face and berated her for cutting in line. Pitstop just broke down and started crying and crying and crying. I took her aside and asked her why she was so upset.

Her answer? "I'm having a bad day."

I told her what I tell a lot of these kids when they're upset: that they shouldn't give what everyone says enough value to make them cry. To stop giving their peers the power to make them feel bad about themselves. That what other people say doesn't matter as much as what the teachers have to say. She eventually calmed down (the power of the moon bounce) and had a fun day, but that's really stuck with me since then.

"I'm having a bad day."

This morning, the other first-grader that started crying just, as far as I could tell, started crying for no reason. I asked her what was wrong, and she didn't have an answer. Nothing going on at home, nobody said anything to her. But there she was, hugging her kindergarten-aged little sister and crying hard. Guess what her explanation was?

"I'm having a bad day."

These kids are having bad days at the drop of a hat. At least Pebbles was having a bad day yesterday because she accidentally got kicked in the head. And when I saw this other girl today, she was perfectly fine. I was surprised about the morning because this girl is one of the nicest, sweetest, brightest students. Her self-esteem seemed perfectly fine. But there she was, having a bad day.

Lots of kids today were depressed or tired or both. There's another girl in third grade, a very nice and sweet girl, who scratched another student so hard at recess today that he's going to have scars on his throat for at least a week. She just couldn't figure out why she'd done it, but she was very, very upset about it. I think he just said the wrong thing and she lashed out, even though she's so demure and retiring that you'd never expect it. I asked her what happened, and she just didn't know. She surprised herself and everyone else.

I think we're raising a generation of children who just don't know how to handle their anger. Even the tiniest slight can suddenly be the cause of disproportionate rage that even the children can't process. It surprises even them. And I understand it; I've felt the powerful, violent urge to smash and tear and punch for no reason. I've even done so in the past and not understood why. Where does this come from? Where?

Even at the end of the day, in the fifth grade, one of my students was upset as all hell. One of the fifth grade classes has recess at the end of the day, and I usually go out with them and wait for the buses to show up so they can go home. I have a good rapport with most of the students, so I'm comfortable with them. They're familiar. I waited inside today with some kids who had their recess time curtailed because of their behavior; besides those two boys, another girl, Daisy Mayhem, stayed behind. She didn't want to go outside and deal with those other kids. The two boys were making fun of her, pointing out that she was crying and that she didn't have any friends, but I quickly told them it was none of their business and, in no uncertain terms (though not these exact terms) to shut the fucking hell up.

When the boys left, I had to stay behind because there was still a student in the classroom. The school social worker had heard that Daisy was crying and upset and tried to talk to her, but she was just not in the mood to talk at all. She just wanted to stand there and think and be upset and not deal with it, which I respected. I just went about my business, cleaning the board and closing the windows and stuff, and occasionally asked her questions about what kind of movies she liked or if she had plans for the weekend. She didn't really say anything, just an occasional nod or head shake. I'd pepper the casual questioning with inquiries as to who she was pissed at, why she was pissed, what she was upset about, but she didn't answer and I certainly didn't want to push her.

A couple of other kids who had been helping in another classroom came in and got their stuff; I made a joke about how no one in that class ever says goodbye to me, even though it's the end of the day. I actually have students that seek me out to say goodbye from other classes.

Then, just as the other girls leave, Daisy Mayhem suddenly says: "I'll bet you can't guess which two people it was."

"Girls or boys?"

"Girls."

I guessed right on the first try. She explained to me that they had been teasing her and her two friends from the other fifth grade class most of the day, calling them names that ranged in severity from Pimple Face to White Trash and Gutter Barbie Doll. Then, when she got mad in P.E. and told them to shut up, they went to the gym teacher and claimed she was a racist (the two girls in question are black and Daisy is white) and making racist comments, so the gym teacher had apparently yelled at her.

Let me tell you, for all of the problems I had growing up (and in fifth grade, I swear to you, every fucking kid in my class hated my guts and teased me; it was that same year when even my friends turned on me and every boy in class followed me home and beat me up the whole way), I'm so glad I didn't grow up a girl. The catty little cliques start in third grade at the latest, and they aim to kill every time. They just shred the shit out of each other.

I wasn't sure what to say, and Daisy didn't seem to be begging for my advice. The bell rang and she went out to the hall to get her backpack and get her things to take home. I couldn't just leave it like that, however, so I went out into the hall with her.

"Listen, Daisy," I said, "I know that adults always say these kinds of things, but you shouldn't take it this seriously. I know it hurts right now, but by the time you get out of school, you'll realize it doesn't matter. None of it does. Nothing they ever say will change who you are or what you can do, so don't place too much value in what they call you. They don't know who you are inside. Only you know who you are inside. And I know it's frustrating now, and I know it really sucks that you have to deal with this everyday, but it's only temporary, I promise it is. The worst thing you can do in life is give other people the power to hurt you, right?"

"Right," she nodded.

I think she was waiting for me to continue, because she was done and just standing there, not really looking at me. I didn't want to overtalk the whole issue; I was just hoping she felt a little better.

"Have a nice weekend, Daisy."

She looked surprised to be off the hook. "You too," she said, and headed toward the door to walk home. Then she actually stopped and looked at me.

"Goodbye, Mr. Frog."

"Goodbye, Daisy."

That was a sweet end to what was, for a lot of kids, a bad day.

Is This Accurate?

I don't remember hearing anyone anywhere buzzing about American Gladiators, but maybe I'm just sheltered.

Throwdown 5/16

Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week. Special Fuck You Edition.

1. Fuck you, Jessica Alba. Quit appropriating the images of people who were more talented than you could ever dream of being to pretend you're talented, too. You're the random sort-of hot chick who starred in the awful Fantastic Four movies, not Meryl Streep. I didn't think I could hate you more than I do. Then you started comparing yourself to Charles Chaplin.

2. Fuck you, Marvel Comics, for saying that Brad Pitt is your top choice to play Thor. That's just ridiculous and I don't want to hear it. Nicolas Cage as Ghost Rider was asinine enough.

3. Fuck you, Drew Peterson, for lying about killing your wife and pretending that we all believe the lie. We don't. We know you did it. Just admit it. Quit marrying women in their teens and twenties and then murdering them when they don't put up with cheating and abuse like you think a good woman should. Your wife "ran away" and you're so distraught you're going to tanning salons and meeting women there? Oh, and fuck you too, 22 year-old tanning salon worker who's dumb enough to date Drew Peterson. The news didn't reveal your name, and they don't have to. We're all referring to you as Future Murder Victim.

4. Fuck you, person or persons who tried to burn down Mayor Daley's vacation home in Michigan just because he praised the Chicago police for killing that cougar before it killed a child. You missed his house and burned someone else's down instead. Why don't you put that outrage and energy into doing something to help people, for fuck's sake?

5. Fuck you, John McCain, for standing up for continued intolerance and a continuation of failed war, foreign relations, and economic policies and selling yourself off as a candidate for change. And fuck you, McCain supporters, for saying you hate President Bush's policies and then really believing that McCain is offering something different when he just wants more of the same. Wake up, will ya?

6. Fuck you, Obama or Clinton supporters who say you'll vote for McCain if the candidate you're supporting doesn't get the nomination. Please explain to me what the hell that's going to solve. You're not running for president yourselves; you're voting for your best interests. This election is about much more than your hurt feelings, so stop being so in love with yourselves and do the right thing.

7. Fuck you, fundamentalist Christian groups, for trying to stop gays in California from being offered basic civil rights.

8. Fuck you, George W. Bush, for spending the last months of your pathetic presidency kissing up to Israel in an effort to protect your legacy by pretending to be for world peace. You're not. And fuck you especially for comparing Barack Obama's willingness to talk to Iran in an effort to stem the nuclear war neocons are just itching for to Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler. You don't even know what you're talking about. Especially being the grandson of a Nazi financier. Fuck you for acting like getting to visit the White House is a special privilege reserved for the most obedient fiefs instead of a basic courtesy to someone with the power to kill millions in an effort to just talk and listen. Trust me, the greatest privilege in all possible worlds will never be to meet with George W. Bush.

9. And fuck you, Carrot Top, you fucking ghoul. Stop showing up in public!

The Spy Who Memed Me

Jaquandor has a very cool meme based on the list of books most often marked "Unread" on LibraryThing. These are books people have copies of either because they seem necessary on a shelf, or because they're planning to read them in the future (I have many books in the latter category).

You're supposed to bold the ones you've read, underline the ones you read for school, and italicize the ones you've started but not finished. Jaquandor also decided to strike the ones you know you'll never, ever read and don't even own, and mark with a * the ones you own and do intend to read.

Go!

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (I couldn't get through very much of it. Far, far too precious for my tastes.)
* Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment (Surprisingly intense.)
* Catch-22
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion

* Life of Pi: A Novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote (Quite possibly the greatest book ever written.)
Moby Dick (Quite probably the greatest book ever written.)
Ulysses (My advice would be to wait for the edition with punctuation to come out...)
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice (I won't rule it out, although I just don't like Jane Austen.)
Jane Eyre (A beautiful book; I read it a couple of times.)
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (I don't own a copy, but I fully intend to read it some day.)
War and Peace (My sister's ex-fiance loved this novel. I'd kind of like to read this one, too.)
* Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife (I've heard a lot of good things here, but I've never given it much thought.)
The Iliad
Emma
The Blind Assassin (I'm not even really sure what this is.)
The Kite Runner (Loved the movie; wouldn't mind reading it.)
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods (I don't care much for Neil Gaiman as a prose writer and I don't have much interest here.)
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (I don't know what this is, but it sounds interesting.)
Memoirs of a Geisha (The movie was so crappy that I'm interested to see if the book is any good. I was working at Barnes & Noble when it came out.)
* Middlesex
Quicksilver
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (There's still something about the entire idea of this novel that really rankles me.)
The Canterbury Tales
The Historian (I don't know this.)
* A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum (Don't own it, but would like to read it.)
Middlemarch
Frankenstein
* The Count of Monte Cristo
Dracula
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King (Gods, I love this book.)
The Grapes of Wrath (This is the Great American Novel.)
The Poisonwood Bible
1984 (Almost everyone reads this in high school, but my class didn't. We read Brave New World instead, which was also a great book, one I like better than 1984. Oddly enough, we saw the movie 1984.)
Angels & Demons (Yeah, right.)
The Inferno (and Purgatory and Paradise)
* The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
* The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
* Les Misérables
The Corrections (Probably I'll read this.)
* The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (I very much want to read this.)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Dune (Love it. I read this in high school.)
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela's Ashes: A Memoir
The God of Small Things (Excellent book.)
A People's History of the United States: 1492-present (I read a lot of history, but never this one.)
Cryptonomicon
Neverwhere
* A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
Dubliners (One Joyce novel per lifetime seems to be my limit.)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Beloved (Sometimes it just kills my interest when things become trendy.)
* Slaughterhouse-Five (I really need to read this. I've only read one Vonnegut book and want to read more.)
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves (I adore this book.)
* The Mists of Avalon (Becca loves this novel. I fell in love with Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Firebrand, and I'm hoping to like this one, too.)
Oryx and Crake (I don't think I've ever heard of this one, either.)
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (I want to read this, too.)
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Lolita
Persuasion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye (I read it in high school and I did love it. I'm not one of the worshipers, but it did speak to me.)
On the Road (Fuck Jack Kerouac and all of that faux-intense beatnik shit.)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (One of the smartest books I've ever read.)
* Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
The Aeneid
Watership Down (One of my all time favorites. I've read this several times in my life, the earliest time when I was ten.)
Gravity's Rainbow
The Hobbit
* In Cold Blood
* White Teeth
Treasure Island (Another absolute favorite of mine.)
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers (Another great favorite.)

The Plains of Passage

Finally, I finished this book. I've been trying to read this on and off for over a year now.

This is the fourth book in Jean M. Auel's Earth's Children series, detailing the adventures of Ayla, a Cro-Magnon woman raised by a clan of Neanderthals and trying to make her way in the prehistoric world despite being an outsider everywhere she goes. I remember seeing the first novel, The Clan of the Cave Bear, all throughout my childhood. My mom talked about it for years; it was one of her favorite novels, and she recommended it to me forever. I finally sat and read it two years ago, and immediately fell in love with Ayla. It took me just days as I tore through it. I tore through the sequel, The Valley of Horses, almost as quickly. In that second novel, Ayla met a man, Jondalar, and fell in love. It took a long time to get there, but the novel ended with her happy and ready to set forth on a Journey to Jondalar's home, far to the west.

The third novel, The Mammoth Hunters, delayed them on their Journey, and it delayed me, too. Though Auel has a gift for creating vivid characters, she also has a tendency to repeat herself in a limiting way. The major development in the third novel was a love triangle, as another man, Ranec, seriously courted Ayla and, because of cultural differences, Jondalar nearly loses her. That was a novel that I needed a break from a few times. The characters were great, especially the Mammoth Hunters themselves. I fell in love with Talut and Frebec and the Mamut and wanted Ayla to stay with them forever. In fact--and I'm sure this wasn't the author's intention--I really wanted her to just ditch Jondalar. He's not much of a love interest for Ayla, I think. He's selfish and impatient, he takes everything the wrong way, and he's over-emotional. The entire novel just became a cycle of hurt feelings upon hurt feelings that all could have been resolved with a simple conversation. It became very frustrating.

The Plains of Passage only compounds the problem, and I see why this is the novel that tends to lose most people. Except for some people in the very beginning, it's nearly 300 pages before another character even enters the story. Auel's details are interesting, but also exhaustive. At times, it can become dull. And this is the section that particularly kept throwing me off. Finally, when Ayla and Jondalar meet up with a cave group he already knows, the novel starts to take off. But, for the most part, the novel becomes a new cycle: Jondalar is short and impatient, then they meet a group of people, Ayla worries they won't accept her because she travels with animals (a bizarre rarity) and was raised by Neanderthals, Jondalar worries that he won't ever be able to have a baby with Ayla, both are accepted and asked to stay, but Jondalar gets short and impatient and wants to move on. There are some good episodes, but for the most part it just repeats itself unnecessarily.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I read it. And I'll read the next novel, The Shelters of Stone. I love Ayla and I really want to see what happens to her. But I hope the next book is a little less punishing. I already know it's going to be about the same thing: Ayla's worries that she'll never be accepted, never find a home. But I hope it's handled a little more interestingly this time around...

Originally posted at the Spring Reading Challenge (2008).

Quiz Me Once and Quiz Me Twice and Quiz Me Once Again





Which attack of the Clones character are you?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Padme Amidala

You're Padme Amidala! Go address the senate!


Anakin Skywalker


70%

Padme Amidala


70%

Mace Windu


65%

Obi-Wan Kenobi


65%

Jango fett


55%

Count Dooku


45%

Master Yoda


35%

Battle Droid


25%



***************

Your Score: Julius Caesar


You scored 43% = Tragic, 21% = Comic, 19% = Romantic, 53% = Historic



You are Julius Caesar. Set during the mid-March in Rome, Julius Caesar tells the story of the conspiracy against and assassination of Julius Caesar. While not considered one of Shakespeare's Histories, Julius Caesar is a fictionalized account of a true story. What your score tells us about you is that you are most likely a complex individual who, like Brutus, may struggle between the conflicting demands of friendship, loyalty, and patriotism. However, also like Brutus, you are undoubtedly someone to whom your friends often go before making a big decision. You are their rock, and they wouldn't think of doing anything without first asking you what you think. However, like Caesar, himself, you tragic flaw, might be that you don't take advice or criticism well even if it is constructive. Take heed to listen to good advice when you hear it, and for gosh sake... beware the ides of March.

Link: The Which Shakespeare Play Are You? Test written by macbee on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test
View My Profile(macbee)

***************
My Music IQ

Your final score was 132/180

Mix-Tape Master (109-144 points)
You are a music evangelist: the person in your network of friends who always has the coolest new song, the one whose iPod gets picked to DJ every party. You understand the art of the segue, how the key to the best mix-tape isn't just the songs you pick, but how they interlock with each other. You also know who the up-and-coming acts are and are quick to recognise where their influences lie and whether they will make it big. You work hard at the pursuit of this knowledge, scouring music blogs, magazines and record stores. Most importantly, you are generous with your passion – and your friends should be very, very grateful. Still, it’s always good to get new inspiration for your latest mix.

Prom Weekend

It's prom weekend here in DeKalb. I always love going to the prom. No, not really. I don't go to the prom. But if I was a teenager and I was going to the prom tonight, I'd want to go with JoJo.

Actually, I'm 31 and I'd still like to go to the prom with JoJo...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Civil Rights

The California Supreme Court says that gay couples can marry, and I for one would like to extend a hearty congratulations. It's always nice to see people extended basic equal rights, no matter how damn long it takes people to give in on it. For all that we endure here in America, I still think the most embarrassing aspect of the United States is the way it foolishly, childishly clings to hatred and intolerance and calls them time-honored tradition and the revealed word of a supposedly loving creator.

So, of course, here come the fundies to piss all over enlightenment and call it love.

Focus on the Family calls it an "outrage" and demands once again a constitutional amendment protecting prejudice and inequality in the name of sky god mythology. The Alliance Defense Fund is "very disappointed," which is, I'm sure, something California is very concerned about. There are opponents of this all over the place, screaming about how sacred their hatred is and how fairness and equality must be legislated against. Yeah, they're really preaching those Christian values.

Love thy neighbor as thyself, remember? And this is why Christianity should have no say in matters of actual social consequence. Because the thinking is stuck in the 10th Century, and I'm sick of these people trying to do away with any progress or social justice. They're not entitled to a governmental voice simply because they scream loudly and have an invisible friend.

John McCain opposes gay marriage and says he "doesn't believe judges should be making these decisions." Even though interpreting the law is their job. How is it still okay in 2008 to be running for president and be so completely prejudiced against one segment of the population that you don't think their rights should be legally protected or even recognized? No politician today would say they were against interracial marriage (I hope). How is it okay to be against same-sex marriage?

There are people who are going to make a serious attempt to strike down this victory for common sense and decency. There always are. All I can say to my gay friends is: hang in there. This is America, and though America does change, America is slow to change. It took nearly a hundred years for our government to even recognize that black people were actually people. It was another century before their rights were constitutionally protected. It's been less than a hundred years since America said it was okay for women to vote. America is slow to change, but it does change.

It must change, or it will disappear and die.

Steve Carell: Refreshingly Not Full of It

Steve Carell, in this month's Playboy interview, jokes towards the end that his interview made him come across as a dullard with nothing to say. And while it's true that he doesn't say anything controversial or inflammatory, it was nice to see a comedian interviewed in Playboy who doesn't live up to the cliche. Seriously, I've seen way too many interviews with comedians who talk about growing up as tortured outsiders and how comedy is a way of battling demons and all of that "dark side of a funny man" bullshit, and I'm fucking tired of it. Yeah, some people are like that, and some people are just living up to a "well, I'm a navel-gazing mass of contradictions" stereotype.

What really made the interview stand out to me was that Steve Carell came across as an actor who wasn't caught up in himself; he's a pretty together guy. He's not wrapped up in fame like a lot of creative types.

Some examples:

"Early on I decided I'd be happy with whatever success I've apparently had, and I don't buy into it. I'm happy about it, but I don't believe in it."

"I don't think for a second my success will continue. If it does, fantastic. But if it doesn't, I want to be totally prepared and not let it shock me. I still have a contingency plan."

"I worry more about my family than my acting career. I'd be more concerned about providing some kind of security for them than whether my face is up on some billboard or my TV show has the biggest ratings. If I didn't have a career anymore, that would just mean I would get to spend more time with them. If it all ends tomorrow, I have the best possible life in the world."

"I didn't expect anything. I just hoped I would be able to make a living, support my family and afford college for my kids and a decent place to live. Aside from that, I didn't have any preconceived notions."

"It's just a job."

That's so much more refreshing than you usually hear, I think.

I'll Come Running to Tie Your Shoes

The man created three of the greatest albums I've ever heard in my life: Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), and Another Green World. So...

Happy 60th Birthday, Brian Eno!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Reading Level

I'm not sure what the average reading level is.

I noticed yesterday that Josie is reading (or attempting to read) The Magician's Nephew, the sixth Chronicles of Narnia book (the sixth, not the first, get over it). It seemed a weird choice for a fifth grader, honestly, so I asked Becca what she thought about it, since Becca works in books and knows what "they" consider appropriate reading levels. She said The Magician's Nephew seemed right for a 10 year-old.

"Really?" I asked. "I read it in second grade. What do they read in second grade?"

"What do they read at your school?" she asked.

In second grade, they're still reading picture books, which just seems off to me. When I was in second grade, I read a number of novels for class, including The Magician's Nephew, Ghosts I Have Been, and A Wrinkle in Time. Becca says those are all books for around the age of 10. I don't know, it just seems off to me. By fifth grade I was reading Watership Down. Then again, it wasn't until seventh grade that the entire class was reading The Outsiders and The Incredible Journey, and those are good books, but not exactly stumpers.

Does this seem right to anyone else? Maybe I just started reading early and have no idea. I read Charlotte's Web in the summer before first grade, and I've been reading ever since. I read all of those Chronicles of Narnia books in first and second grade, which is probably the reason why they seem kind of childish to me now: I remember them from a very early age.

So, when I see a fifth grader with a copy of Lyle Lyle Crocodile, I'm not sure what to think, really.

Assistance

Yesterday, my schedule was slightly altered for the day (third grade on their second field trip this week), so I was in second grade for the first two hours of the day. I didn't have much experience with the teacher there, but she's nice and she's good at her job. The other classroom assistant took the kids out to P.E. and I stayed behind.

ME: Is there something I can do before the kids come back?

TEACHER: You don't want to take a break?

ME: I just got here.

TEACHER: When did you get here?

ME: 8.

TEACHER: It's 10 now, are you sure you don't want a break? You must great breaks.

ME: No, I just take the 11:45 to 12:30 lunch. I don't need any other breaks.

TEACHER: You don't sound like any assistant I've ever had. They're all very, very concerned about getting their breaks.

ME: Honestly, I just feel like I end up sitting down enough during the day that it doesn't really matter to me. I like the kids and I like the work, I'd rather just keep working through the day.

TEACHER: Really? No offense to your profession in general, but the assistants are terrible because they're always whining about their breaks. They act like the teachers have it so easy because of them, but we only have a lunch and we work all day long. We don't get breaks like they do. The assistant I have now, no offense to her, but she's no help at all. I'm doing everything and she's just sitting in the class. She's supposed to be working with one student in particular, but you heard me discipline him three times already today. Why should I have to deal with that?

ME: I'm sorry to hear that. I hate feeling like I'm not being helpful. I'm a sub, I'm here to do what they tell me needs to be done.

TEACHER: Wow. Can I fire my assistant and replace her with you?

Think About the Future

ME: The thing is, I'm just not sure how much good I'm doing with fifth-graders who just aren't interested. I get them for 90 minutes in the morning and 35 minutes in the afternoon, but I don't always get them. They had a presentation to go to last week to learn about what middle school was going to be like, and they had another presentation where the people who do band and orchestra try to get them interested in band and orchestra. I'm not supposed to pull them out of art class, and if they want to join in the recess with the rest of the class, they can do that, too. Because, you know, teachers get overwhelmed and just suddenly have recess, and their teacher does it every other day. So I barely get to see these kids. Oh, and on Tuesday they have to talk to the social worker.

MY MOM: About what?

ME: I don't know; their feelings, conflict resolution, stuff like that.

MY MOM: Just your kids?

ME: No, she talks to the entire class.

MY MOM: Are you fucking kidding me? The entire fifth grade class needs to sit in a room and discuss their angst and talk about their feelings? That's something that never happened when I was a kid.

ME: Oh, and once a week the librarian comes down to read a book to them.

MY MOM: Fifth graders get story time?

ME: You should see the books she reads. Last week she was reading The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. Granted, adults can appreciate the satire, but that's not really a book aimed at 10 and 11 year-olds.

MY MOM: So, these kids can't even read on a fifth-grade level?

ME: Not most of them, no. Hell, my fifth-graders are doing first grade math, even though they don't know it.

MY MOM: Okay, so, John McCain says he wants to stay in Iraq for a hundred years, and we know McCain is going to get elected because of this debacle with Democrats... who does he think he's going to get to carry out the occupation? A bunch of kids who can't read and need to take time out to talk about their feelings once a week?

Goodbye, Leticia Cline

I was sorry she didn't win Beauty and the Geek last night, since she was the only woman on the show who didn't kind of disgust me at some point, but thankfully her nude pictures will live on.

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

OUR DAILY BREAD (1934)
King Vidor's argument for communism in America is an interesting film; it deals with a poor couple who luck into a failed farm and proceed to build it up into a collective, essentially abandoning America and a democratic government they very clearly say has failed in order to build a better life for themselves and their families. It's bleak and optimistic at the same time, hoping to find something better after the destruction of the old way. That's the most interesting aspect of this film: the way that everyone in the film feels in no uncertain terms that America is on its last legs and that greed is the evil to be blamed. What mars the film most of all is that it's badly acted, but it also gives way to cliche far too often in the final third. I know the characters are supposed to be representative, but that doesn't mean they can't also be compelling. *** stars.

STAGE FRIGHT (1950)
I'm surprised that this Hitchcock film isn't mentioned more often, as it's one of his strongest films (which is really saying something). The real centerpiece here is Marlene Dietrich, playing a beloved stage actress who is marvelously cold, hauntingly beautiful, and effortlessly bitchy. She is, as far as we know, attempting to frame her lover (Richard Todd, Disney's Robin Hood) for the murder of her husband. Meanwhile, he himself has a girlfriend, Jane Wyman, the film's lead, who impersonates a maid in order to prove his innocence, even as she's falling in love with the detective investigating the murder. Hitchcock always has that one great, florid supporting character, and here that's Jane Wyman's father, played by Alistair Sim with great verve and strength, caught up in the excitement of subterfuge and espionage, even as he fears his daughter may be wrapped up in something dangerous. He's the best delight in an excellent film. **** stars. Special mention has to be made of the incredible lighting; the scenes with Dietrich lounging and smoking are beautiful to behold.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Health Report, Year 2: Week 22

I talked to the resource coordinator this morning about Melody saying her mom forbade her to talk to me yesterday. RC didn't buy it, either. She had decided before I'd come in that I was going to be in the second and first grade this morning instead of having to deal with the fourth and fifth graders, and she suddenly said: "Oh, did you think I was taking Melody away because of something her mother said?" I answered: "No, I thought I'd won some kind of contest. You can keep her, if you want."

Everyone on the staff of that school is going to breathe a sigh of relief when the school year is over (four and a half weeks and counting) and Melody's on to middle school. Poor thing is going to get eaten alive there, and I put the blame on her mother, who refuses to treat Melody as though she has a problem when she so very clearly does. Spend one day watching Melody not finish everything because she gets bored so easily.

As for the rest: I'm actually losing weight again, and I have the back pain to prove it. The weight is going pretty quickly, but as my weight redistributes, it's given me a different center of gravity that I haven't quite found yet. And the first grade girls are still all over me, pulling me every which way, which the first grade teacher has decided is more funny than disruptive. I'm patient with them; my half-sisters were like that when they were younger, and so were my young cousins.

Mostly I'm just glad it's spring and that I have somewhere to go during the day. That alone is nice.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Day of First Grade

I wish I was in first grade all frigging day. As bad as they get, they're never as bad as the fifth-graders, not by a damn sight. The third grade was out today on a field trip, so I got moved around a bit on the schedule, and after my usual horrific morning with fourth-graders and fifth-graders, I spent more than half of the day with the first grade.

This morning seemed to go worse than usual. Just when I think I'm getting somewhere with Josie, Melody, Valerie, and Alan, things start to completely deteriorate. At this point, I'd like to say goodbye to every single one of them. They won't listen, even when they want the help. They get frustrated taking the time to work out the problem or because they think I'm taking too long to help them. They just won't put in the work. Alan was getting especially mouthy today about how he's so much smarter than everyone else in the group, and I just wanted to say "You know that you're all doing first grade math, right?" I actually have to hide the boxes for some of the materials so they don't find out the truth. Which kind of bugs me, because I think these kids need to be shocked into understanding how far behind in life they already are.

Further, Josie told me that Melody told her (damn it, I hate even writing that) that Melody's mom told her not to talk to me anymore. I'm not sure that's actually true, because Melody's mom was in for a conference today and didn't say anything to Principal MILF (whom I asked about it at the end of the day). We're going to get that worked out tomorrow. I don't necessarily believe a lot of what Melody has to say. When I told Principal MILF that I had a problem with Mel, she said to get in line. When I told her what I'd been told, she said "Melody's mother hasn't said anything to me, and she calls every time Melody doesn't burp right."

The resource coordinator knows that I'm getting burned out with the two fourth-graders in the morning who won't listen to me, so I think she's going to put me in the second grade in the morning now, which is fine with me, because I like the teacher. Frankly, I wish she'd just take away the fifth-graders, too, and leave me with first and third grades. I like those kids a lot. Today was not difficult at all.

There's a very small girl in the first grade, the smallest girl in the class, whom I'll call Penelope Pitstop. Today, Pitstop seemed to adopt me. When I walked into the class, she looked very forlorn, so I asked her what was wrong. She had obviously been wounded in the face; she talked about how her dog had bitten her over the weekend and they'd had to get rid of it (it bit a few people, apparently). Then she pulled a chair over for me to sit down in and asked me for help on her math, which I did. No one else was asking for my help before lunch; honestly, in first grade they don't always want help so much as they want attention. Still, no one asked for me, and they're really good about asking for help when they need it. So it was me and Penelope Pitstop for a while, and then they had to go to P.E.

After they came back, Pitstop started leading me around by the hand because she wanted my help. She walked me around and was very excited that I'd be revisiting the class after lunch. We worked on her art project (the class was cutting out butterflies and decorating them today), and this did not sit well with Boo Boo. She was very annoyed that I was sitting at Pitstop's desk and helping her instead of no one else. I explained to Boo Boo that I was there for the entire class, not just for Pitstop, but no one else had asked for my help. Boo Boo made me promise to help her after lunch.

Meanwhile, a girl who sits at the same table as Pitstop, Rosemary, came back into class from specialized reading and was upset that I wasn't automatically helping her. She likes to monopolize me occasionally, too. And she's another kid who goes crazy if things like teaching and explanations take too long. She'll hold a grudge all day long if she doesn't get enough help.

So, after lunch, I came back to class and Pitstop wanted me to sit by her again. She even went and got me a chair so I could sit with her. But they only had a few minutes before going to music class. I was going to wait for them to come back, but Pitstop took me by the hand and led me all the way up the stairs to the music room and made me come inside with her. She and Pebbles wanted me to sit in the back with them, but I had to leave to check in with Principal MILF. After a half hour it was time for recess, and this time Pitstop and Rosemary both dragged me out with them by the hands. Rosemary rushed off to play, but Pitstop wanted to show me her shady tree and where she picks dandelions. She's just a tiny wisp of a thing, and I'm enormous, so it felt a lot like Frankenstein's monster playing with that little girl by the riverside.

When it was time to go back in to class, Pitstop held my hand all the way from her shady tree to the hallway. Pebbles thought it was funny and giggled accordingly. Boo Boo was a little grossed out, because she thinks Pitstop is in love with me (although she told Boo Boo "I like Mr. Frog, but I don't like like him like a boyfriend" and then giggled a long gale of giggles).

Boo Boo reminded me of my promise to help her, so Pitstop dragged my chair all the way across the room to Boo Boo's desk. It was science time, so most of the kids were sitting on the front carpet and listening to the lesson on acoustics. I figured Pitstop would join the class and let me help Boo, but instead she sits down next to me on the floor, wraps her arm around my calf, and puts her head on my knee. Then, when that gets uncomfortable, she gets up and climbs onto my knee and sits there. Finally, when it's time for the class to follow along and do a science packet together, both Pitstop and Rosemary keep running back and forth to Boo's desk to get ask for my help.

Boo Boo was annoyed by it, but loved that she had my attention when Rosemary and Pitstop (and even Pebbles) so clearly wanted it. The rest of the day involved Penelope Pitstop slowly coming to terms with the idea that I won't be in her classroom all day tomorrow, but she's thrilled that I'm doing morning recess now and plans to meet me on the playground tomorrow.

The thing about Pitstop is that she'd always been nice to me and asked for my help when she needed it. But today, she just attached herself to my hand and refused to let go. Mondays after school is when the Girl Scouts meet, and she wanted me to stay for that, too. As chance would have it, the Scouts were headed out to the playground as I was heading to the parking lot, so she was thrilled to take me by the hand again and walk me out of the building. Then she gives me a hug and tells me she loves me and that she wishes I was in her classroom all day long.

Man, so do I. If I could just do first grade all day, I wouldn't be grinding my teeth at night again and coming home as stressed out as I am. Today was really nice.

I always wanted four girls fighting over me. I just didn't want them all to be six!

Soon

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Evaluating Disney: 1953

1953 is a surprisingly exciting year for Disney output. Three features, a second short documentary series, experimental animation, and more deals for television. Even as the quantity and the quality of Disney animation was falling, there was still much genius and artistry on display. Walt had come alive in a way that many had not expected him to ever again; he was excited with possibilities upon possibilities. The amount of film released this year would not be equaled again for some time; and all the way work was proceeding on Disneyland and on Disney's permanent foray into television.

2/5: Bear Country
True-Life Adventures. Another in the series of classy short nature productions. This one manages to do away with some of the cutesy aspects of this series; at least, there's not so much of it. Or maybe the bears just took all my attention. There really is some amazing footage of black bears in the Rockies in this film, and for that alone, it's an enjoyable short.

2/5: PETER PAN
Peter Pan had been kicking around the studio since 1935; Walt officially made a deal with Great Ormond Street Hospital for the rights in 1939 and planned to follow Bambi (then planned as the follow-up to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) with the classic tale. Initially, the Disney take on J.M. Barrie's play was very dark and moody, not unlike the play itself, which has always masked a sort of creeping intensity. British illustrator David Hall, who had worked on Alice in Wonderland storyboards in 1938, had a set of concepts ready for Pan in 1940. When the war intervened, the story was shelved.

When the project was finally taken down again, Walt approached it pragmatically, the same way he'd approached Alice in Wonderland. Like Alice, he shot a live action reference film for the animators. As in Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella, there are a number of sequences that are pretty obviously rotoscoped. The reference film featured many of the actors voicing the characters, including Hans Conreid as Captain Hook, Alice star Kathryn Beaumont as Wendy, Bill Thompson as Smee, and Disney contract star Bobby Driscoll as Peter Pan.

Peter Pan, like most of Disney's 1950s output, is a film that many scholars are quick to dismiss. It's fairly straightforward, but sometimes dips a little too far into broad, cartoony humor. It seems to be, like Alice, a film that suffers from a lack of definition; the idea that no one ever decided what the tone and direction of the film should really be. Captain Hook, for example, was never really a completed character; it was never decided whether the pirate should be a real menace, a clownish buffoon, or a refined gentleman. To his everlasting credit, Frank Thomas blends these three personalities together and adds some wonderful character flourishes. Viewed now, these seeming schisms that many find fault with seem to flow naturally. Never Neverland is a place out of a child's imagination; therefore, Hook is a buffoon when the plot requires him to be so, and menacing when it is conducive to the story. The same is true of the possibly insensitive portrayal of the Indians (and the infamous "What Makes the Red Man Red?" song sequence): the Indians are a child's concept of Indians.

The story itself isn't really sophisticated, however. If anything, Disney misses out on the inherent darkness of Barrie's material, instead making his story a celebration of childhood. In actuality, Peter Pan is a symbolic story of the fear of responsible adulthood. The symbolism is almost painfully obvious: Hook, the old man, obsessed with recapturing youth and ever fearful of the ticking clock of time catching up with him. The story isn't about Peter Pan at all, but about Wendy discovering that eternal childhood is shallow and disappointing; she accepts that she must grow up at the end. Pan is a tragic figure, eternally terrified of growing up. Michael Barrier, in Hollywood Cartoons, also points out that "the film compromises its theme--the flight from growing up--by making Peter so clearly an adolescent boy; more than that, a boy who is the subject of a jealous tug-of-war among a remarkably large number of adolescent girls (Wendy, Tinker Bell, the Indian princess Tiger Lily, and several mermaids), as if they were all of them teenagers at an American high school." If anything, one of the greatest criticisms of the film has been how it turned a quintessentially British story into more of Disney's American folksiness. Once again, Walt had taken a literary classic and felt trapped by its reputation.

The film does have many strengths, however. The design of the film, much of it by Mary Blair, is simple but pleasantly colorful. It's not an innovative film, but it is unpretentious and pleasant. The best sequence involves the kids flying over London at night, with deep blue tints and a real lushness. Captain Hook is wonderfully realized, and so is Tinker Bell, who became one of Disney's iconic symbols. (And no, she's not based on Marilyn Monroe, although that story's been repeated often; many felt Tink was too "suggestive.") But my favorite character in the film is the crocodile. There's genuine wit in that crocodile, waiting patiently for Hook to drop into his mouth, tingling with anticipation. He's the best part of the entire enterprise.

Time has been kind to Peter Pan; it's not really a bad film, just not really a very special one. It had a lukewarm reaction in 1953 from the audience, who made it a modest success; it always did very well in re-releases.

Animation Credits
Directors: Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson
Directing animators: Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, Wolfgang Reitherman, Ward Kimball, Eric Larson, Ollie Johnston, Marc Davis, John Lounsbery, Les Clark, Norm Ferguson
Animators: Hal King, Cliff Nordberg, Hal Ambro, Don Lusk, Ken O’Brien, Marvin Woodward, Art Stevens, Eric Cleworth, Fred Moore, Bob Carlson, Harvey Toombs, Judge Whitaker, Bill Justice, Hugh Fraser, Jerry Hathcock, Clair Weeks


2/18: The Alaskan Eskimo
People and Places. A second short documentary series came out of the initial trip to Alaska by Alfred and Elma Milotte. The two shot miles of footage, but Walt had focused only on their seal footage to create the short Seal Island. There was a lot left over, however, and it seemed a shame to waste it. The Milottes had shot much fascinating film of the Eskimos, some of whom they'd lived with for a time, marking the seasons with summer hunting and building, winter weathering of the snow, and spring celebration. This remarkable film is actually an interesting companion to Seal Island, detailing life for both animals and people in a remote part of the country.

3/28: Father's Day Off
Goofy. This short sees George Geef minding the home on his day off while the wife goes out and shops. Of course, Geef is completely overwhelmed by the household duties, and it all ends in disaster. The Goofy shorts are wearing on me, to be honest, but this one has some very sharp gags.

4/18: The Simple Things
Mickey Mouse. Mickey and Pluto go fishing, and Pluto is tormented by a clam while Mickey tries to keep his bait away from a seagull. The plot is very, very familiar by this point, and the laughs are in short supply. Not only that, but it's a real wasted opportunity: this is the last short in the Mickey Mouse series for 30 years. Mickey didn't appear in theatres again until Mickey's Christmas Carol in 1983. And, as usual at this time, Mickey is basically in a de facto Pluto short (how sad that Mickey essentially cameos in his final theatrical appearance during Walt's lifetime). Pluto, by the way, would have to wait even longer until he appeared in theaters again. He wasn't used until 1990, in The Prince and the Pauper. By this time, Mickey really couldn't carry his own series anymore (and hadn't for nearly a decade, since Pluto was always the real star). The animators were bored with him and had run out of ideas and, sadly for a year full of creativity and energy, the Mouse was allowed to simply fade out. Another sad fact about this short is that it was the last time Mickey Mouse was animated by Fred Moore, who had been so instrumental in the evolving look of Mickey during the 1930s and 1940s. Moore had also animated the mermaids in Peter Pan for 1953. Tragically, he died months before this short was released, in November 1952. He and his wife were killed in a car accident; sadly, Moore was the subject of a smear campaign that is still repeated as fact (and which I don't want to repeat here).

5/9: For Whom the Bulls Toil
Goofy. One of the last great Goofy cartoons, this fast-moving short really seems to owe something to the UPA style. In my posts on UPA, I've mentioned that UPA became the animation standard in the early fifties in the way that no other studio had since Disney became the standard in the 1930s. Now, with the full animation style too expensive and lavish, and the UPA design style so popular, most animation studios began to allow for a sparse, creative, colorful look that always looked more like a style choice than cheaping out. The backgrounds for this short were painted by Eyvind Earle, who caught the attention of Walt for another project, the feature Sleeping Beauty. This short is fast-paced and hilarious, with Goofy outsmarting a bull on a Mexican road and being mistaken for a great matador. The Mexicans in the cartoon are funny without being stereotypical, I think, and a real highlight of this short is hearing Rafael Mendez on the trumpet. This has some of the best music of any Disney short as a result.

5/28: Melody
Adventures in Music. It's a shame this series was so short-lived, because both of the Adventures in Music cartoons are wonderful. The star of the series is Professor Owl, who teaches his classroom of birds about music. This short, running ten minutes long, was the first American cartoon shot and released in 3-D. The color scheme, designed by Eyvind Earle, really pops in this short, and the design is excellent, but the highlight is the music, constantly changing styles to keep to a common theme of how melody is achieved. I love the different birds, especially Susie Sparrow and Bertie Birdbrain (who, though I can't prove it, sounds an awful lot like Paul Winchell; Bill Thompson, most prominently Disney's White Rabbit and Mr. Smee, plays Professor Owl). It's a real winner.

5/30: Don's Fountain of Youth
Donald Duck. I always remember this short from my childhood, just because what Donald does here is so much what I would do. The duck is out driving around Florida, trying to find historical sites, but his nephews are too involved in their comic book to appreciate the trip. To get back at them, Donald finds the pool mistaken for the Fountain of Youth and pretends he's turned back into a baby. The nephews are horrified, so Donald regresses further and places an alligator egg nearby to fool them. It's hilarious until the alligator comes looking for her egg back. The animation in this short is a little sparse, but it's fast-paced and funny.

6/20: Father's Weekend
Goofy. Another adventure for Geef and Junior, with Geef trying to enjoy his Sunday respite from work. He's forced to take the boy to an amusement park, which turns into so much of a trial that work becomes a respite from home. It's a funny short, but I did notice that there was some reused animation (a shot of the amusement park that appeared in Cold War and Straight Shooters) and one of the best gags is a sort of repeat from Donald's Double Trouble.

7/11: How to Dance
Goofy. There's some great animation in this "How To" short, with Goofy learning to glide across the dance floor. The best animation is in the beginning, with scenes from the history of dance, including some wonderful animation of a hula girl. The Firehouse Five Plus Two, the jazz band of Disney personnel, appears as themselves; I love the caricature of them in the cartoon.

7/23: Prowlers of the Everglades
True-Life Adventures. In my opinion, this is one of the best shorts in the series, cutting down on the cutesy jokes and attempts to build personality through forced humor. The Milottes shot this film of alligators in the Everglades, and they got some amazing, clear underwater footage that is especially a pleasure to see. It does a real service on that alone; while we were watching it, Becca wondered aloud if the water in the Everglades was still that clear and clean. It's a stunning short on a fascinating animal.

7/23: THE SWORD AND THE ROSE
After the great experience making The Story of Robin Hood, Walt kept the same team together: writer Lawrence E. Watkin, director Ken Annakin, and star Richard Todd. Based on the novel When Knighthood Was in Flower by Charles Major, The Sword and the Rose told the story of a young captain and his romance with Princess Mary, the sister of King Henry VIII. Annakin was flown out to Burbank to do prep work on the film with Watkin and producer Perce Pearce, storyboarding the action scenes with Walt, planning them precisely, something which Annakin felt gave him complete freedom to block the dialogue scenes any way he wanted. With that much confidence in him, Annakin turned in a film that was the equal of Robin Hood, and in many respects a better, more sophisticated, more involving film. Part of this is the casting; Todd is once again appealing as the action hero, and Michael Gough is a wonderfully sneering, menacing villain. Glynis Johns stars as Mary, naughty and witty, and James Robertson Justice, who had been so much fun as Little John in the previous film, makes a delightful Henry VIII. The production design also enhances the film; the crew had spent a lot of time researching period detail and building their sets on a grand scale. Peter Ellenshaw's matte paintings, 62 in all, are once again unnoticeable. In Leonard Maltin's The Disney Films, Annakin praises Ellenshaw, saying "Peter just knew how to modify reality to make it look even realer than real." He's right, too. The narrative is winding, but the dialogue is fun, as is the swordplay, and The Sword and the Rose is an engaging picture. Once again, the critics were not kind to the film. English critics savaged the movie for playing fast and loose with history; American critics merely thought it was boring. Still, Walt was very pleased with the results, and pulled the same team together for one more film: Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue, which he spent the summer of 1953 filming in England.

8/1: The New Neighbor
Donald Duck. This is another cartoon that feels very UPA-inspired, very designy, but not in a way that detracts from the story and humor. This is a very funny cartoon, with Donald Duck moving in next door to Pete, an obnoxious neighbor who borrows everything and takes advantage of him. This escalates further and further into a big war, with fences going higher and higher as the neighborhood watches and cheers on. It's a hilarious cartoon with a great ending. Another of the in-jokes I love: Pete singing "Lambert the Sheepish Lion."

10/2: Football Now and Then
Special cartoon. Jack Kinney hasn't lost his touch with this funny cartoon pitting modern football players against their turn-of-the-century counterparts. The satire on the sport is witty and pointed, and the jokes revolving around the differences in playing style are hilarious. The look, the humor, the fake TV ads--it's one hell of a short. How can this be so forgotten? The character animation is just exceptional.

10/23: Rugged Bear
Donald Duck. This cartoon is the real first introduction of Humphrey the Bear, a fantastic character who had the misfortune to come about when Disney was scaling back on the shorts. Humphrey is really the star here, hiding out in Donald Duck's cabin during hunting season and pretending to be the living room rug. Donald doesn't even have his trademark bad luck here; all of the bad things happen to Humphrey, whom Donald thinks is just his lifeless rug. Most of the humor in this short comes out of the character of the bear, who nearly comes close to losing it several times. The backgrounds are especially worthy of mention, very un-Disney and linear.

11/10: Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom
Adventures in Music. Once again, Professor Owl teaches his class about music, this time schooling them on the fundamentals of sound and how music developed. Another delightful music cartoon, the second and (unfortunately) the last. Where Melody was the first cartoon in 3-D, this Oscar-winning short was the first cartoon in Cinemascope, which makes it a shame that I first saw this cartoon (as many others did) on a 16mm filmstrip in music class in elementary school. One of the best Disney cartoons, with such great design and colors (again by Eyvind Earle), a real treasure.

11/10: THE LIVING DESERT
True-Life Adventures. Walt Disney had felt vindicated by the success of the True-Life Adventures series, which had so far won him several Oscars and had remained popular with audiences. He still remembered when RKO and even his own brother Roy had tried to discourage him from releasing Seal Island, a film which had taken the Oscar and reinvigorated his interest in film. Amateur nature photographers were also thrilled with the series, and freelancers began sending in their own footage in the hopes that Disney would include their film in one of his shorts (and some were, particularly Water Birds, which seems to be mainly a compilation of freelance material). One piece that particularly caught Walt's eye came from Paul Kenworthy. It was film of insect life in Death Valley that Kenworthy had shot for his UCLA doctoral thesis, the centerpiece of which was a stunning death battle between a Pepsis wasp and a tarantula. Walt was very impressed and immediately hired Kenworthy to return to the desert to shoot more film, enhancing what Kenworthy had already sent in. The footage was combined (along with the work of other freelancers) to create the first True-Life Adventures feature film, The Living Desert.

The Living Desert is a stunning film to watch, if not always a stunning film to listen to. There is some excellent footage, not only of the above-mentioned wasp and tarantula, but also of a hawk fighting a rattlesnake, prairie mice at play, and a powerful flash flood. But the narration is just too cute, too funny, trying too hard to find anthropomorphic humor in the natural life of animals. Once again, this has been the criticism of the True-Life Adventures, and here it's more than warranted. Turning the mating dance of scorpions into a square dance is frankly idiotic. It was this sort of thing that led critics to savage this film and the entire series, touting the films as factual while playing the material for laughs and imposing a narrative structure (something which worked better in shorts such as Seal Island, Beaver Valley, and The Olympic Elk, in which a year in the life of the animals is followed). Walt was, sadly, not trusting the intelligence of the audience or in the strength of his material to speak for itself; or, as Time magazine put it, "Disney has a perverse way of finding glorious pearls and then using them for marbles." Some have gone as far as to claim Disney was being dishonest and falsifying the material. I only think that, once again, Walt's powerful naivete won out. It doesn't excuse what is, of course--not anymore than it excuses racism in Song of the South or sexism in Peter Pan--but it's the source of the problem. In response to the negative criticism of the narrative approach of The Living Desert, Disney would tone it down in the future.

11/11: Ben and Me
Special cartoon. This 25-minute featurette is another film I remember seeing on 16mm in school. Many of the best animators were assigned to this short, Bill Peet's adaptation of Robert Lawson's children's story of Amos Mouse, who goes into the world to make his own way and becomes a friend of Benjamin Franklin, helping him with many of his innovations. It's a charming short, very well-animated, almost a miniature feature. Sterling Holloway narrates and voices Amos Mouse, with Charles Ruggles as Franklin and Hans Conreid as Thomas Jefferson. Colonial America is the perfect place for Walt's folksy humor and charm, and Bill Peet usually knows how to manipulate that into something winning.

11/11: Working for Peanuts
Donald Duck. Sadly, this was the only appearance this year for Chip 'n' Dale. It was also the second Disney short made in 3-D. This time around, Donald is a zookeeper tormented by the two chipmunks, who are trying to steal peanuts from Dolores, the same elephant from The Big Wash and Tiger Trouble. (Donald even sings the same "Dolores" song that Goofy sang.) There's a lot of negative space here, and I wish they'd utilized it better, but the Eyvind Earle backgrounds are nice and the cartoon never slows down; I love the final suspenders gag.

12/25: Canvas Back Duck
Donald Duck. Donald and the nephews are at an amusement park when Donald is lured into a boxing match with Pee Wee Pete (who turns out to be that Pete). Nothing we haven't seen before, really, and most of the gags seem inspired by (or even ripped off from) Tex Avery cartoons. Good design, though.

12/25: How to Sleep
Goofy. Still another in the endless variations of Disney cartoons about someone who wants to sleep but just can't. This time it's Goofy, who has insomnia when he tries to sleep, but easily falls asleep everywhere else. There's some wonderful silliness, but overall it doesn't quite come off. We've seen this all before, though audiences wouldn't see it again any time soon; the next cartoon in the Goofy series wouldn't come until 1961.

1953 had been a wonderfully experimental year for Disney. Walt in particular felt vindicated by the success of The Living Desert, which had won over audiences and would go on to win an Academy Award. RKO had been reluctant to release Seal Island; they had begrudgingly agreed to it, and the short had won an Oscar and been quite popular. The True-Life Adventures series remained popular and won Oscars just about every year. When Walt had decided to release a feature, RKO had put its foot down, refusing to release it. Their resistance lost them their relationship with Disney; Walt created his own distribution company, Buena Vista, and released the film (and every other film) on his own. It was another gamble that paid off. RKO knew it was coming, and spent the year releasing compilations of Disney cartoons to make some quick profit off of their last rights to Mickey and his friends. After the Oscar win, Walt released The Living Desert on a bill with Ben and Me and a live action short, Stormy, through Buena Vista. It was a box office hit. Walt would follow it up with more True-Life Adventures features.

Disney would also be following Peter Pan with at least two more animated features. Lady and the Tramp was nearing completion. Kay Nielsen had worked on conceptual sketches for Sleeping Beauty and Eyvind Earle was painting backgrounds; the film was about to go into full production. Walt envisioned it as a lavish film along the order of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

After his experiences making One Hour in Wonderland and The Walt Disney Christmas Show, Walt had decided to produce more material for television (even though Roy Disney would even hold a press conference to say that Disney had no future in television). In February, he had signed a licensing deal for the rights to produce a TV show featuring Zorro. Having formed his own small company, WED Enterprises (which had incorporated Disneyland, Inc.), Walt hired Bill Cottrell as producer of the proposed Zorro series and commissioned some scripts. Both NBC and CBS wanted to see a pilot show, and Zorro was put on hold. Later in the year, WED Enterprises would sell the rights to Zorro to Walt Disney Studios.

It was only one of many questionable deals that surrounded the creation of Disneyland. It was also one of a number of television deals that would aid in Disneyland's creation. Having raised the money to begin preparations on the theme park, Walt commissioned the Stanford Research Institute to perform an analysis of amusement parks and public attractions, as well as advise him on the best location for the park, to the tune of $32,000. In the meantime, WED hired a staff of what Walt named "Imagineers" to design the park. Then, making things even shadier, WED entered into a deal with Walt Disney Productions to give WED the Disneyland railroad, 10% of merchandising, and a $153,000 annual salary for Walt himself from the studio (plus a percentage of film profits). WED would then design and build attractions for the park and sell them to Walt Disney Productions at cost plus overhead. The deal was only approved after three board members resigned in protestation. This actually brought a lawsuit from a small shareholder, Clement Melancon, who claimed Walt was illegally siphoning profits from Walt Disney Productions.

While Walt made a television deal with ABC, Stanford determined ten possible locations for Disneyland. Walt decided on a place in Orange County, where land could be obtained cheaply. The Santa Ana Freeway, when completed, would take drivers from Los Angeles right by a 270-acre parcel of land in Anaheim in just 27 minutes. Through a real estate agent, Walt began quietly buying the land from 20 different families, though some residents caught wind of who the buyer was and jacked up their prices. Walt would have to negotiate for some time to get everything he wanted.

He also began serious planning, working with Marvin Davis to create the general outline and with Herb Ryman to draw a detailed visual presentation for potential investors. Most of the investors weren't interested, but ABC was eager to further their relationship with Disney and invested $500,000 and guaranteed a $4.5 million line of credit in exchange for a 35% interest in the park and a weekly one-hour TV program that would showcase not only the development of Disneyland, but also Disney cartoons and films.

The series would be called Disneyland.

Spaced Stuff

Man, not only is the great BBC series FINALLY coming to Region 1 DVD this summer, but Fox has decided NOT to pick up the McG-produced American remake. So, hey, for once we have a win-win outcome here. We get to see Spaced on DVD, and it doesn't have to get raped by the producer of The O.C. We win one every so often.