Sunday, November 13, 2011

Before I dig-in...

Today is the last "free" day before I dive into my second 3 week practicum, which will be centered around 4 consecutive full days of teaching as per the structure of SFU's student teacher program.

Again, I'm reluctant to say much about the school, itself - at least in part a result of the increased privacy issues in place here in Canada. However, I'll be happy to comment from time to time about certain lessons and how things go with their implementation. The next three weeks will be a challenge, and I'm going to do my best to be mindful of the fact that I work with three different sponsor teachers - each of whom have their own unique set of styles and expectations. Yours, truly is going to need to check himself not only each day, but with each period when I change rooms.

I will be teaching the following schedule, with each period lasting for 74 minutes:

Day 1
Period 1 - (No class)
Period 2 - English 10A
Period 3 - Resource Room (for struggling students)
Period 4 - Communications 11/12

Day 2

Period 1 - ESL Senior 4
Period 2 - English 9A
Period 3 - English 9B
Period 4 - English 10B

The days alternate one after the other, and it adds-up to four different classes to prep for as My English 9 and English 10 repeat.

I'm excited to get back into the school, and a bit nervous about meeting expectations for lesson-planning, but the more I get on top of with the next three weeks, the better off I'll be when the long spring practicum comes along - I'm going to need the best head start I can manage.

Met Collins for breakfast this morning, realized how lucky I am to have had three visitors to Vancouver already. Good friends and family will make for a very special holiday coming up in Calgary, though I plan on getting the most out of my holiday time in Vancouver as well. There is a Christmas tree that's lit-up each night in the middle of the Lost Lagoon as one enters Stanley Park. That'll be nice, and I'll be sure to get some pictures.

Further to that...

Reprinted without permission from Slate Magazine (Sunday, November 13th, 2011)

Because Our Fathers Lied: Remembering our veterans and reflecting on the glorious ambiguity of Rudyard Kipling's war poetry
- By Christopher Hitchens

I spent much of this weekend, as I often do this time of year, confining myself to writing and thinking about Rudyard Kipling. This may seem like a pretentious thing to be saying, but if you care about war and peace and justice and life and death, then he is an inescapable subject. The same is true if you care about modern English literature, which for no less inescapable reasons is intimately bound up with the great catastrophe of mortality that overcame British families between August 1914 and November 1918.

There had probably never been such a race for a society to get itself involved in the battle for a perceived moral superiority. Great swaths of young men saw their honor, and huge groups of young girls their virtue, involved in the defense of Belgium against the rape of German imperialism. As a result, a huge and successful post-Victorian people found itself nearly decimated, with a special emphasis on the slaughter of its youth of child-bearing age. And Kipling himself, the man who brought us The Jungle Book and many a school yarn, was desolate because he did not have a real son to lend, or to give, to the fight.

Pay attention when people make use of those terms, about “giving” or “losing” your life in wartime. Often, we have only the uncorroborated word of the losers that that is what they did. Either their lives were offered and accepted—this being the great act of sacrifice and solidarity honored since Pericles and the Gettysburg Address—or they were ruthlessly snatched away. In which latter case we have only the word of the generals and the kings and the politicians that this was indeed a legitimate deal. That, also, would be rather more like an accident.

Whereas the last alternative, almost too grim to reflect upon, would be that of deliberate theft. In this scenario we encounter cannon fodder, fiddled casualty figures, falsified statistics and all the cynicism of wartime manipulation and propaganda. And again, nobody is on hand to represent the words of the victim. That is what happened to young John Kipling when he was posted “missing” at the end of one of the fiercest early battles of the First World War. His father Rudyard, upset that the boy was disqualified for the military because of his poor eyesight, had in effect smuggled him through customs so as to pass the minimal regulations. His agony, therefore, as to having effectively cheated his boy into vanishing in the trenches, can only be dimly guessed at.

Young John wasn’t properly identified until the 1990s; a dreadful fact about hundreds of thousands of young British men of that epoch who still have not been bagged or tagged from the ditches and drains of the areas of Flanders and Picardy where the supreme sacrifice—another term to watch out for—was actually carried out in those sanguinary years. I wrote about the exhumation, and it seems that he was horribly injured and perhaps blinded toward the end. As a kind of atonement, his father agreed to write the official history of his son’s Irish regiment and also to help design the official memorial to that strange idea, “The Unknown Soldier.” Unknown to whom?

Even as Kipling was repressing his doubts about the nature of the war and the death of his only son, there was a sort of revolution of poets at the other end of the country. In a mental hospital in Scotland were confined, because of their opposition to the war and their “battle fatigue,” men of the stature of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. Just contrast what Kipling and Owen wrote. I’ll first cite Kipling:

Our statecraft, our learning,

Delivered them bound to the pit and alive to the burning

Whither they mirthfully hastened as jostling for honor.

Not since her birth has our Earth seen such worth loosed upon her!

… But who shall return us our children?

Wilfred Owen decided to rework the ancient Bible story of the binding and killing of Isaac by his father Abraham. If you recall, Abraham listened to his god’s instructions and carried them out until the last moment, whereupon an angel called him out of heaven, telling him to “offer the ram of pride instead” of Isaac. In Owen’s poem, the action follows this form until the angel makes an appearance. At this point, old man Abraham turns remorseless:

But the old man would not so, but slew his son.

And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Reading them today, it is surprising how closely the two poems converge. In both cases, fathers grieve in different ways over the slaughter of their sons. They also brood over the paternal responsibility for the bloodletting. This introduces elements of ambiguity into the reflection.

Last week, some mediocre California mayoress announced that she wasn’t going to attend a Veterans Day event in her city of Richmond. Gayle McLaughlin, in fact, was down with the “Occupy” guys and gals instead. You can easily picture the response she got: the city of Richmond insulted, along with the memory of its brave men and women in uniform. Indeed, there might not even be a Richmond if not for those unforgettable volunteers. But if this were true, then the writing of history would always be simple. So would the composition of morality stories. Both Kipling and Owen came to the conclusion that too many lives had been “taken” rather than offered or accepted, and that too many bureaucrats had complacently accepted the sacrifice as if they themselves had earned it.

And this has made a lot of difference. It means, for example, that each case needs to be argued on its own merits. I am convinced that the contingents who went to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, though badly led on a scale almost equal to that of 1914 to 1918, are to be praised and supported. But I take no comfort from the idea that this should be an official position. I must say I think that La McLaughlin expressed herself with awful casualness (because Nov. 11 is, after all, truly—still—a solemn day on the calendar). But it’s still more important on such a day to discuss dissent, and to reflect on whether it might have been your own enemy, or your deeply mistaken father, who brought you bound to the pit and alive to the burning.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembrance Day

I realized, just this morning, that I hadn't attended a proper Remembrance Day ceremony since 2006. Each November since that time had been spent in Korea or Thailand, and there's either too much Pepero or too much Beer Laos in those locales to focus on what the day really means back in Canada.

I was pleased the last two years when teaching in Korea however, when I was able to implement a pretty cool poetry lesson using Jon McCrae's famous poem "In Flanders Fields". It was sobering for the vast majority of the students to recognize that British Commonwealth countries recognize their war dead in such a way. The lesson really worked, and it was nice to note that I was able to collect a great deal of Pepero on the day: students who brought me Pepero on November 11th got a Canadian flag pin in return. I was rolling in Pepero for weeks afterward.

Anyway, I was glad to head down to Victory Square this morning to take in my first Vancouver Remembrance Day ceremony and my first one on Canadian soil in half a decade. There was a great turn-out on a soggy grassy hillside - the rain which had stopped before the ceremony had already had its way with the green space.

It was a beautiful ceremony - what always gets to me the most, among the songs, readings, and wreath-layings, is "Flowers of the Forest", the Scottish Lament - and the silence that precedes and follows it.

It's also interesting to see how people react to the day - from a myriad of personal places of hurt, sadness, gratefulness, or anger. At today's ceremony, a woman waved a Canadian flag from an open window that looked down on the parade below. Her sign called for an end to the Canadian involvement in Afghanistan, and she became vocal - with tangible sadness in her voice. Not knowing her, or the place her emotion came from, I can only sit back and respect both her, and the people marching below who fought to maintain a country where she has the right to speak her mind.

When soldiers themselves can be in support of or rally in protest against their wars, it's clear that nobody - not even one directly involved - can have a monopoly on appropriate response. Looking at the variety of those laying wreaths, I see the day being about those who were lost; those who have worn a uniform and survive to continue to do so; and those who have watched others deploy and never come back. There's just something in me that reminds me that I have no right to tell Cindy Sheehan or Richard Tillman to keep their mouths shut - especially on Remembrance or Veteran's Day.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sea Wall after Sunset

Had a great weekend - Saturday at the aquarium with friends and a flower girl, and then today I headed downtown with my extra hour of daylight savings time and bought some Christmas cards.

I know, it's not even Remembrance Day yet, but it is chilly enough, and it's after Halloween, so it's more than appropriate to find a festive Starbucks, sit down with a pen, and think about people who aren't here.

The other thing I like about Starbucks is the feeling that regardless of where one is in the world, all Starbucks are pretty much the same. For North American ex-pats, it's a touchstone of sorts - a place to feel "normal" when everything around you can feel different. I know that it's sad that it sometimes takes a large corporation to bring this feeling about, but it is what it is.

Anyway, today - with all of the cold and Christmas action around me (music and blend, I mean), I felt as though I could just walk out of Starbucks and into Samcheong-dong or Myeong-dong and meet my friends who would be waiting for me with Santa hats and songbooks, all ready for some caroling along the Cheonggye-cheon.

Anyway, it was then onto my bike and I thought, even though the sun was down, I could still get a decent ride in. With the hub dynamo lighting, I'm good to go on the Stanley Park sea wall, even when the only other sources of light are the moon or the lights along the Lions Gate Bridge when it comes into view.

It was truly awesome. I think I'll be doing the wall at night more often, and if tonight was any indicator, I'm not the only one to have that thought. There were quiet places on the NW section though where all I could hear were waves lapping the shore and weird cooing/clicking sounds from roaming raccoons.

A fine weekend - topped off with a Flames victory, and Stephanie was good enough to take my Jonas Hiller for her Kiprusoff - so now I can feel really good whenever Peter puts one in the win column.

PS - I didn't bring my camera with me, so I borrowed this photo from Northwest Photography here in Vancouver. Check it out - for all of your Vancouver photography needs.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Take Shelter

I haven't seen it yet, but I'm thinking I'm going to love it. Heading to Granville for an early evening showing with the Boyce. Michael Shannon is the kind of actor who will bring me out of the house to the most obscure film. I've got me some high expectations here, but wanted to wait until the right time to see this one. Before I wrote my mid-term was not the time to see a movie this intense. I'll try to write a review at some point this week.

Just a quick update is all I have time for. My first three week practicum is at an end. It was great for the most part. I was pleased to be able to teach two entire class lessons (74 minutes) as opposed to the recommended 20 minute "mini-lessons" we were encouraged to do during this initial stage. I was asked to teach the next literary element in a line that began with short story plot structure and will end somewhere down the line with theme. My assigned element was narrative point of view, which I won't get into deeply here except to say that it was surprising how bloody confused I can be with the terminology when I've been away from it at a distance for as long as I have. Anyway, pulling a myriad of ideas together to one lesson ended-up being quite the treat for me. For whatever reason, when I began with piecing the lesson together, I came across the 2nd trailer for Speilberg's upcoming Christmas Day release, War Horse. My lesson ended-up using the 1982 novel (which I snapped-up at Chapters to prepare for the lesson) and bridging it to the film through an examination of the 2010 West End production of the story on stage.

Of course, we did spend a fair portion of the lesson reaffirming the 4 selected main forms of POV as outlined in their text, while at the same time reminding ourselves that rarely is one form followed in its purest sense through an entire text. It's amazing the things one can discover when planning a lesson. The War Horse examples ended-up book-ending the lesson really effectively while the text exploration portion of the lesson ended-up being really engaging and generated some in-depth discussion among myself and the students - citing everything from Harry Potter and Game of Thrones (Third Person Limited and Third Person Multiple) to Inception, which showed differing colours depending on whether we considered the film on screen or on the printed page in screenplay form. Anyway, it was fun to nerd-out about it all and I was grateful to have the opportunity to teach the lesson in consecutive days so that I could fix what needed it.

Anyway, glad to be back at campus up on the mountain. I crave the level of discourse there, and I feed off of the discussions generated by the people in that room. I have missed university. Nerd.

I was also lucky enough to celebrate my sister's birthday this past weekend when she came out to explore the city on the coast. It's going to get harder and harder to leave Canada next year.

In other news, while waiting for my colleague to gather her bike parked at Pigeonland near Burrard Station late last week, two gentlemen (I base this on their manner and their state of dress) came up to me all friendly-like and asked inquired with the following:

"Um... excuse me... my friend and I were debating how old you are, because there are some aspects of you that are old and others that aren't." (This is world-for-word).
"Ahhh... how old do you think I am?"
"I say 27, but my friend says 23."
"I'm 35."
"So... looks like 27 is the big winner."

And that was that. You know, there was a time when I - a man with nothing approaching a 4:00 shadow - could at least revel in the fact that heart-throbs of the day (Titanic Leo and Order of the Phoenix Daniel Radcliffe) were as baby-faced as I. We can't all be Colin Farrell. But now Leo's gone all The Departed and Radcliffe's gone all Woman in Black and I'm left here looking like a guy who is 20 years away from looking like James Cromwell in Babe.

Oh, well - you know who else still has a baby face? The son of Jor-El, that's who!