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Memoir & Narratives

I’m losing my mind. Thanks, Google.

magnifier-389908_1280Everyday in my middle school language arts class, we open the hour by doing a warm-up activity that consists of some quick grammar exercises and cursive writing. On the Smartboard, I post an inspirational quote for the students to copy onto their paper in cursive. The name of the speaker of the quote also appears on the screen and one day recently a student asked me, “Who was William James anyway?”

Since we do this activity daily, we copy many quotes and sometimes, to be honest, they can come from some fairly obscure people from all walks of life, living and dead. I told the student I had looked up the name on my phone earlier, but I had since then forgotten what I had learned. It hadn’t been the first time that some Googled information had escaped me, so I rolled my eyes, and reached for my phone to look it up again.

After letting my students know that many consider William James the father of American psychology, I told my students, “I’m tired of forgetting things that I look up on the Internet.” And then, as my captive listeners quietly continued honing their cursive, I attempted to theorize aloud (it’s my classroom, after all) the reason why I couldn’t remember who William James was.

And here’s what I came up with: because there was no true search to discover his identity. In fewer than sixty seconds, I was able to Google the name and then, thanks to two or three websites or documents, gain a brief cursory knowledge of the psychologist.

Then I relayed to my students that today’s learning “process” is so vastly different from how it was before the Internet. I followed that by telling them in my best “back-in-the-day” voice, that finding the answer to the question used to involve a visit to my bookcase where I would hope to find an entry in an encyclopedia. If no luck there, then it would necessitate a visit to the library, a 15-minute drive away. Once there, I would again hope to find the answer somewhere within those walls . . .  in the stacks, the card catalog, or maybe the computerized system known as ERIC, which didn’t really provide answers so much as places to find answers. I even recounted to my students the time I phoned the Atlanta,  Georgia Police Department to locate up-to-date burglary statistics for an article about home security systems I was writing for a glossy Atlanta lifestyle magazine.

In other words, I attempted to show my students that before the Internet there was an actual, honest-to-goodness search involved when one needed to learn. Digging. Page-turning. Jotting. Re-reading. Checking. Now that was a search. Today, all that investigative, thrill-of-the-hunt searching is a thing of the past. As a result, I now surmise that the information I learned was retained because real effort and time (not to mention gasoline) were spent in those searches back then.

So what, my students ask? If you forget, you can just look it up again.

“True,” I reply.  After all, why remember anything when there’s nothing at stake in forgetting?

Categories
Memoir & Narratives

Seeing John Malkovich at the Los Angeles Farmer’s Market

 

I followed him, surprising myself with my sense of daring and willingness to annoy.

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John Malkovich—a really, really long time ago, like 1994.

During the summer of 1992, I saw the actor John Malkovich. In person. He’s the actor who plays one of the old guys in the movie, Red. The weirdest old guy in the movie, if that helps you place him. He’s also the actor who played Lenny in Of Mice and Men alongside Gary Sinise. He also played the presidential assassin of In the Line of Fire who was eventually hunted down by Clint Eastwood.

He played himself in Being John Malkovich, a photojournalist in Cambodia in The Killing Fields and a downright, really bad, despicable man in Dangerous Liaisons. Nearly all of Malkovich’s movies contain unique characters that the actor is able to pull off in the most believable way. He has been in loads of other films, but these are the ones that to me exemplify his ability to capture idiosyncratic characters believably.

Notice that I say I saw John Malkovich. I did not approach him. I did not speak to him. I merely leered. My husband and I and another couple were having coffee at the Farmer’s Market on a cool, sparkling morning in Los Angeles. There were probably foodstuffs and produce to purchase somewhere in the market, but we were just there to hang out. As we sat there, I noticed a scruffy, shabbily-dressed man hastily walk by. I immediately recognized him.

“That was John Malkovich,” I quietly told my friends. They discreetly and slowly turned to confirm it, and yes, oh my gosh, that is him, they said. He continued walking into an open-air newspaper stand/bookstore next to the scattering of tables and chairs that we occupied. I followed, surprising myself with my sense of daring and willingness to annoy. He looked at some magazines or newspapers in the bookstore and gathered no attention.

Based on the characters he so effectively portrayed in films, I was a little scared of him. Sure, he had only been acting when he shot the two men point-blank in In the Line of Fire, but my only exposure to the actor at that point had been in seeing him play characters fit to be feared. Even in Of Mice and Men, Lenny is sweet and unknowing; however, he is also, in the end, a murderer.

In addition, it was clearly obvious Malkovich did not want to be bothered. He didn’t want to be recognized. His incognito dress seemed to indicate that: wrinkled beige cotton or linen tunic and loose-fitting painter’s pants, a doo rag, sunglasses. It seems he was also carrying a satchel or bag slung across his body like a shield to protect him from those pesky and annoying star-crazed fans. What would I say to him anyway? Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?

My fear kept me from asking for the obligatory photograph. I had left my camera at the table with my friends so going to get it after asking for a photo would, I speculated, turn the casual encounter into more of an event than Malkovich would tolerate. True, I could have retrieved the camera before asking for a photograph, but I didn’t consider that because, as an annoying, star-crazed fan, I wasn’t thinking clearly. Besides, he might have that plastic gun on him that he made by hand in his seedy apartment back when he was trying to murder the president.

So I just eyed him from about twelve feet away, pretending to scan the headlines on a carousel rack of newspapers at the store’s edge. It was enough. I had seen “the” John Malkovich, a big-time celebrity in the flesh. It was my own personal brush with someone else’s fame.

Now, whenever I see Malkovich in a movie, I think about our near encounter. Pretty famous guy. Well-respected. Should have asked for a photograph. He probably would have acquiesced and been an interesting person to have what would most likely have been an uninteresting conversation with. Oh, well. Usually now when I see him in a movie, I say to my husband, “Hey, there’s my friend, John Malkovich.” And then without lifting our eyes from the screen, we chuckle, and continue watching the movie.


Thanks for reading! What celebrities have you spotted out and about? Feel free to leave a comment. Click follow for more posts!

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Memoir & Narratives

How to win a spelling bee: always ask for the definition

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It’s almost — no, it is — annoying. If there’s a misspelled word out there, I see it, groan, and usually point it out to my husband, Mitch, who is accustomed to my persnicketiness (yes, it’s spelled correctly; I looked it up). Now I’m not talking about truly obscure, rarely seen words. I would probably have to grab a dictionary to look those up, but when it comes to the words we occasionally see misspelled in our daily lives, such as judgment, believable, conceive, I always notice them. It’s similar to when I walk into a room and immediately spot a tiny spider up high on a wall. I have a gift for that, too. But the spelling gift is not really a gift; it’s a curse. That’s because I’m seeing words misspelled more and more, especially on my USA Today app and in those news messages that crawl across the bottom of the t.v. screen. People, proofread. Please. Three times.

When I was in eighth grade I went to the Kansas State Spelling Bee in Topeka, Kansas and competed for the state title with one student from every county in Kansas. There are 105, believe it or not. On about the fourth round, I went out on the word velveteen. Didn’t ask for a definition. I was so unnerved by being given a word that I hadn’t heard before that I simply forgot that asking for a definition is one sure-fire way to buy yourself some time to think it through. After all, I had heard of velvet, and if I had known my word was the actual full name of the luxurious fabric, then I would have known to spell it v-e-l-v-e-t-e-e-n and not  v-e-l-v-a-t-e-e-n.

And there went my dreams of spelling fame. No trip to Washington, DC. No monetary prize. But then again, no more lunches poring over a dictionary with Mrs. Mayberry, my English teacher, while everyone else played dodgeball and socialized in the gym. No more nerves thinking about the upcoming bee, where the rules are many, and the rule-watching parents are more. But I would have loved to have won because I have a crush on words. I really do. And, of course, I was able to spell the word that won the bee: silhouette, which isn’t a word I see often… but if I do see it someday and it’s misspelled, well, I’ll catch it. And groan.

 

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Memoir & Narratives

So this is what a snow day feels like

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I’m not sure why my school district called off school again today, but then again the district is about twenty minutes away from my home, so it could be icy over there. But that’s okay, because I’ve used the two preceding snow days to get caught up on a couple of projects that will affect my teaching eventually, but not right now. You know, those projects that I just can’t get done at school, no matter how hard I try. Here they are: an eighth grade unit on “The Narrative of Frederick Douglass” and a grant application for an international travel opportunity for rural teachers. Both of these projects, which have been gnawing at the back of my mind for quite some time now, are done. Or at least they are as complete as I can make them at this point. Whenever we get back to school, I will send both to my principal for her thoughts and ideas.

So I’m feeling pretty good right now. And that’s why I am creating a blog as I sit in the chair-and-a-half (love this thing) with my laptop, a fire nearby, and a bubonic plague documentary, (sounds awful, but it’s actually pretty fascinating), whispering in the background.

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Family History Memoir & Narratives

Grandpa and me

 

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I used to spend one week every summer in Hume, Missouri, visiting my grandparents, Charles and Rhoda Goodenough.