A Self-Made Man Looks At How He Made It — John Scalzi from his blog, ‘Whatever’

Here’s a tonic for our times — “A Self-Made Man Looks At How He Made It” by writer and blogger John Scalzi. I think we will return to this way of looking at our lives — eventually — but only after our culture’s arrogance and narcissism has driven us into the ditch.

She called up the Webb School of California, and found out it cost more to attend than she made in a year. But she was convinced it was the right place. I went and took the entrance test and had my interview with a teacher there, named Steve Patterson. I don’t remember what it was I said during the interview; I have almost no memory of that interview at all. But I was told years later by another teacher that Steve Patterson said that day to the Webb admissions people that if there were only one child who was admitted to Webb that year, it should be me.

[via boing boing]

bird by bird — Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott – Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

My Last Duchess — a poem by Robert Browning read by Mike Wallace

I saw this on Slate — it’s Mike Wallace reading his favorite poem, “My Last Duchess,” by Robert Browning. It’s equal parts beauty and menace and I think Mike Wallace captures it perfectly. Please click on this Slate link to hear him read it. The YouTube version I embedded below (by Tom O’Bedlam) is also really nice.

What was I reading in high school literature when I should have been learning this? I hate to even think.




My Last Duchess

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say “Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat”: such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

— by Robert Browning

Teacher Man – by Frank McCourt



In the high school classroom you are a drill sergeant, a rabbi, a shoulder to cry on, a disciplinarian, a singer, a low-level scholar, a clerk, a referee, a philosopher, a collaborator, a tap dancer, a politician, a therapist, a fool, a traffic cop, a priest, a mother-father-brother-sister-uncle-aunt, a bookkeeper, a critic, a psychologist, the last straw.

— Frank McCourt, ‘Teacher Man’

Last night our book group discussed “Teacher Man”, by Frank McCourt. This is such an honest and perceptive book about teaching (which means it’s also insightful about students, schools, and learning in general). McCourt, who died in 2009, managed to achieve the Holy Grail of teaching — to be independent, successful and appreciated by students. If you teach, or just want to know what teachers are thinking, this is the book.