South Korean traditional ceramic masters

A beautiful film featuring five ceramic masters from Icheon — a Ceramics Village in Gyeonggi Province, South Korea:

Lee Hyang-Gu
Kim Song-Tae
You Yong-Chul
Choi In-Gyu
Jo Se-Yeon

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Syringa’s reluctance to dally with Pan

IMG_0675My mother was neither a gardener, nor a lover of nature. In fact, once she had a construction guy who was doing some cement work in the neighborhood, come to our house and lay cement over our entire backyard. A surprise for all of us when we got home in the afternoon. Our yard was not huge, in fact super small, but still a surprise. “No more mowing that patch in the back,” was her comment.

But she did have a lilac bush. I remember when she and my father first planted it. It was on the side of the house nearest to our neighbors on the corner. She said it would take seven years until it bloomed and I remember waiting each summer, curious and respectful of that auspicious occasion. It seemed to me that the blooms would have to be really sensational if you had to wait that long to see them. When it did finally bloom it was terribly exciting, at least to me. I remember running into the house relating the miracle that had finally arrived. My mother came outside, smelled the heavenly aroma, then went back inside content that nature had followed her limited understanding of it.

The mythology is that a nymph named Syringa (lilac’s Greek name meaning “hollow tube”) was fleeing from the amorous advances of Pan (near the river Ladon) and with the help of other nymphs was able to transform herself into the lilac. The stems of the lilac are reedlike and when Pan sighed at his failed attempt at this relationship, and discovering he was just holding reeds, melodious sounds emerged. Apollo suggested he bind seven of these reeds together to make pan pipes, known as Syrinx.

Two years ago, we planted a lilac in our front yard, also postage stamp size. It was purely for the memory and the sense of promise that the plant holds for me. Today its remarkable blooms are pungent and exploding. After work JB and I lingered on the front porch, sipping wine, and feeling grateful for Syringa’s reluctance to dally with Pan.

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Student locker

IMG_0600This is a panoramic shot of a locker just outside my classroom. I heard lots of noise this morning and came into the hallway. The student, whom I don’t teach and is in a younger grade, was trying to close her locker and was becoming frustrated at not being able to. I’m not really sure what she uses her locker for. She might as well just use the recycling bin only a few feet away. It would save her a step or two.

What is unnerving is that this is what my locker used to look like in middle school. Perhaps this signals that there is definitely hope for this student. Not that my executive is functioning much better than the filing system shown in the photo. My piles, in their maturity, have taken on a creative and intentional look.

We’re close to the end of the school year. In three weeks we will toss all this detritus away, but then, in September, we get to start all over again.

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A Memorial Day created by former slaves


Though Memorial Day was first formally declared in 1868 by General Logan, in charge of the GAR—an organization of Civil War vets, in order to decorate the graves of those who died in the Civil War, there are many cities and regions who claim to be the first to have celebrated this holiday before its formal adoption.

The historian David W. Blight in his Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory makes the case for Charleston, South Carolina on May 1, 1865. He says this celebration predates most of the other claimants, though it is unclear whether this celebration itself had any influence on General Logan in his official proclamation. However, the depth and sincerity of this ritual, Professor Blight continues, demonstrated a meaning to this day that more closely connects to what our Memorial Days have become.

As Professor Blight describes it in his book:

African Americans founded Decoration Day at the graveyard of 257 Union soldiers labeled “Martyrs of the Race Course,” May 1, 1865, Charleston, South Carolina.The “First Decoration Day,” as this event came to be recognized in some circles in the North, involved an estimated ten thousand people, most of them black former slaves. During April, twenty-eight black men from one of the local churches built a suitable enclosure for the burial ground at the Race Course. In some ten days, they constructed a fence ten feet high, enclosing the burial ground, and landscaped the graves into neat rows. The wooden fence was whitewashed and an archway was built over the gate to the enclosure. On the arch, painted in black letters, the workmen inscribed “Martyrs of the Race Course.” At nine o’clock in the morning on May 1, the procession to this special cemetery began as three thousand black schoolchildren (newly enrolled in freedmen’s schools) marched around the Race Course, each with an armload of roses and singing “John Brown’s Body.” The children were followed by three hundred black women representing the Patriotic Association, a group organized to distribute clothing and other goods among the freedpeople. The women carried baskets of flowers, wreaths, and crosses to the burial ground. The Mutual Aid Society, a benevolent association of black men, next marched in cadence around the track and into the cemetery, followed by large crowds of white and black citizens.All dropped their spring blossoms on the graves in a scene recorded by a newspaper correspondent: “when all had left, the holy mounds — the tops, the sides, and the spaces between them — were one mass of flowers, not a speck of earth could be seen; and as the breeze wafted the sweet perfumes from them, outside and beyond … there were few eyes among those who knew the meaning of the ceremony that were not dim with tears of joy.” While the adults marched around the graves, the children were gathered in a nearby grove, where they sang “America,” “We’ll Rally Around the Flag,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The official dedication ceremony was conducted by the ministers of all the black churches in Charleston. With prayer, the reading of biblical passages, and the singing of spirituals, black Charlestonians gave birth to an American tradition. In so doing, they declared the meaning of the war in the most public way possible — by their labor, their words, their songs, and their solemn parade of roses, lilacs, and marching feet on the old planters’ Race Course.After the dedication, the crowds gathered at the Race Course grandstand to hear some thirty speeches by Union officers, local black ministers, and abolitionist missionaries. Picnics ensued around the grounds, and in the afternoon, a full brigade of Union infantry, including Colored Troops, marched in double column around the martyrs’ graves and held a drill on the infield of the Race Course. The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration.

These first celebrators rooted this day in great meaning. There were very real, tangible reasons for this ritual these former slaves began in honor of those who died to end slavery, to promote freedom for all. Almost 150 years later, and many wars since, commemorating, respecting, honoring those who have died in the name of “protecting” this country  and upholding”democracy” is what Memorial Day has become. As each war and its dead are added to the “celebration,” the purpose and point to each specific war is somewhat diminished and the sacrifices generalized. Let us work to remember the distinctions of each so that we are grounded not in the platitudes of patriotism but rather in the real work of equity and justice.

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“The Fallguy’s Faith” by Robert Coover

Falling from favor, or grace, some high artifice, down he dropped like a discredited predicate through what he called space (sometimes he called it time) and with an earsplitting crack splattered the base earth with his vital attributes. Oh, I’ve had a great fall, he thought as he lay there, numb with terror, trying desperately to pull himself together again. This time (or space) I’ve really done it! He had fallen before of course: short of expectations, into bad habits, out with his friends, upon evil days, foul of the law, in and out of love, down in the dumps—indeed, as though egged on by some malevolent metaphor generated by his own condition, he had always been falling, had he not?—but this was the most terrible fall of all. It was like the very fall of pride, of stars, of Babylon, of cradles and curtains and angels and rain, like the dread fall of silence, of sparrows, like the fall of doom. It was, in a word, as he knew now, surrendering to the verb of all flesh, the last fall (his last anyway: as for the chips, he sighed, releasing them, let them fall where they may)—yet why was it, he wanted to know, why was it that everything that had happened to him had seemed to have happened in language? Even this! Almost as though, without words for it, it might not have happened at all! Had he been nothing more, after all was said and done, than a paraphrastic curiosity, an idle trope, within some vast syntactical flaw of existence? Had he fallen, he worried as he closed his eyes for the last time and consigned his name to history (may it take it or leave it), his juices to the soil (was it soil?), merely to have it said he had fallen? Ah! tears tumbled down his cheeks, damply echoing thereby the greater fall, now so ancient that he himself was beginning to forget it (a farther fall perhaps than all the rest, this forgetting: a fall as it were within a fall), and it came to him in these fading moments that it could even be said that, born to fall, he had perhaps fallen simply to be born (birth being less than it was cracked up to be, to coin a phrase)! Yes, yes, it could be said, what can not be said, but he didn’t quite believe it, didn’t quite believe either that accidence held the world together. No, if he had faith in one thing, this fallguy (he came back to this now), it was this: in the beginning was the gesture,and that gesture was: he opened his mouth to say it aloud (to prove some point or other?), but too late—his face cracked into a crooked smile and the words died on his lips …

—from A Child Again (2005)

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This film, created in 1946 by Ivan and Vladimir Nikitchenko, was produced by the Soyuzdetfilm, later called the Gorky Film Studio, originally founded in 1915. “Яблочко” (or “Little Apple”) is a masterful short film of pioneering special effects, specifically the “Optical Overlay,” created in the days before any digital computer manipulation. It has been recently called the “Russian Terminator” by more contemporary viewers, a title which will make more sense halfway through its viewing.

The sailor/dancer was one of Russia’s first tap dancers — Vladimir Zernov, who taught at the State College of Circus and Variety Arts. The piano player is David Ashkenazy, who worked with many Soviet pop artists of the day.

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Harper Lee is not immune


Today in class I showed the courtroom scene from the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird. Though the movie is a pale reflection of the book, like most movies based on books, the courtroom scene is not too bad—Gregory Peck is exactly how I picture Atticus. Mayella does a very convincing job of the lying victim of the supposed rape.

After the verdict of guilty, the scene ends with all the white people of the town, who had been sitting on the first floor of the courthouse, leaving and Atticus packing up his briefcase while slowly the blacks in the upstairs blacks-only section stand up as an honor to Atticus who, though having lost the case, had put forward a terrific defense. The Reverend Sykes says to Atticus’ daughter, “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.”

It’s a powerful scene, even tugging on the heart strings. But this time, as I watched it, the scene felt awkward to me. It was like the black people in Maycomb were incredibly impotent with only the white hero Atticus to carry their charge. It made me feel that even within this tragic story of racism, there was embedded a story of white privilege— the people of color compliant, victimized without any agency, looking to a white man to save them.

I brought this up to my students. Some of them nodded their heads. Others looked unconcerned. I wanted them to know that the character of Lula, who makes a very small entrance in the scene at Calpurnia’s church, reflects another narrative that is going on at the time— an angry, more activist, more radical, more empowered approach in the fight for civil rights. I wanted them to remember that To Kill A Mockingbird, though one of my favorite books, was written by a southern white woman at the end of the 50s and that in a meta way even Harper Lee is not immune to the notion of biased perspective/point of view which she so deftly portrays in the novel itself.


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