domesticating subversive elements

From the Awesome Files: more people have reached my blog in the past month by looking up “Cheez Doodles” than my name.  This is due, of course, to this post.  Plus there has also been an uptick in public Cheez Doodle curiosity due to the fact that Morrie Yohai, Doodle Creator, died recently.  His life was kind of awesome.  I recommend googling him.

Lately I have been chatting with the English editor about the UK edition of my book.  There will be a few textual differences, plus the afterword will be a foreword because their copyright laws over there are intense.  You have to be really careful when writing a work of fiction based on actual artifacts, so much so that they are trying to cram my lyrical, dreamy-eyed background story full of painfully awkward legalese.  Ouch.  Such is life.

Lately I have also done a whole bunch of messing around with this blog.  If you’ve visited more than once in the the past couple of days, you’ve probably seen the color scheme change.  For a while I had it set up as white text on a black background.  It looked kind of sexy and made photos really pop, but I received such vociferous objections to its illegibility that I backed off into this cream-and-blue color scheme.  Not quite as striking, and thus it should prove less offensive to certain visual sensibilities.  Oh, and guess what?  I added an “events” page!  Because I am starting to get booked for events!  Very exciting.  I also added a placeholder “press” page.  Do check it in you’re in the mood for goofiness.  If you click on the photos, you can see them in their full-sized glory.

Today I read this rather interesting article on Slate called “The strange comforts of reading Mark Twain in the age of oppositional defiant disorder.”  It does offer some cheer with its sweetly quaint observation that children have always been the same, before their behaviors were pathologized with excessive medical diagnoses.  I didn’t buy the pat faux-nostalgia at the end of the article though.  Things were better for rowdy children in the nineteenth century because they could grow up to strike out into the wilderness?  Please.

Yes, the way we castrate the brains of unmanageable children with medication is shameful.  But it wasn’t any easier to be different back then.  Shaming and brutal corporal punishment don’t sound all that much more humane than Ritalin to me.  The truth is that society always has and always will attempt to smother subversive elements.  That is a great deal of what education is for.  Do you remember, I mean truly remember, how awful school could be?  I recall quite vividly sitting in science class in ninth grade, so painfully bored that my very personhood was slowly unwinding like fraying rope.  I was stuck there on my awful little hard stool between two shitheads too vain to get glasses who constantly tore mine off my face, without request or warning, when they needed to read something off the board.  I was quite convinced that when I entered that room, some lever was pulled that actually warped spacetime to make one hour into five.  One day it was so terrible that I wept, quiet and unseen.

This sort of dehumanizing, life-draining bullshit is what they do to prisoners to break them.  We do this to our children, every day.  Before I went to college, school was a veritable Calvary.  The most stimulating classes were, at best, barely tolerable.  They did teach me something valuable: how to float outside myself, how to ignore authority in a way that looked like cooperation in order to be left alone.  Most children are not gifted with my strange little mystic tendencies, however.  They will make their suffering known.

You might ask how I wound up working in, of all places, the educational system.  One of the reasons is that I wanted to give my students little glimmers of life from inside the grinding guts of the machine.  You will not believe how gratefully students react when you tell them something true, something a little wild that they are not used to hearing inside a classroom.  Literature is full of subversive elements, and bringing those out in an institutional setting can be liberating, thrilling even.  You don’t have to destroy the tidy little box society tucks you into, but sometimes–sometimes you really have to give it the finger.  Just that, just this tiny gesture of fuck you, I will not want what you tell me to want can be enough to stay alive.  I assure you, there are few things as wonderful as watching a room full of exhausted students domesticated by an oppressive educational system realize this.

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