Tuesday, December 30, 2008

End Papers

I did the unthinkable last week—at least, it was the unthinkable for me. I canceled my subscriptions to The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

I have been a subscriber to the Los Angeles paper for twenty years or more, through four different addresses, a host of natural disasters, a plethora of cataclysmic world events, and a wealth of local stories that eventually wound up having worldwide significance.

But enough is enough.

Since Sam Zell took over, the paper has diminished in quality to the point where all semblance of quality has left the building. Sure, Steve Lopez is still there, and David L. Ulin, and a few other stragglers from the glory days. But the paper takes less and less time to read, and costs more and more of my income in a time of diminished circumstances for a lower middle class private school teacher. I can read the best of the paper—a very thin group of articles on the best days—online in a matter of minutes. Why pay for home delivery of what I can read for free on my desktop?

The New York Times got the boot for a different reason. I still enjoyed the paper, thought the writing still had merit, considered it still the paper of record for American journalism. The problem was in the delivery. I found myself calling three or four of the seven days of the week to complain when the paper had not arrived at my house. Sometimes a replacement copy came; many times, I received an apology from an electronic voice and a credit of a buck fifty to my account.

Not good enough, by a long shot.

Again, I could read the full paper online for free. Why pay for something that could not be consistently delivered as promised?

A funny side note to this: after I canceled the paper over a week ago, The New York Times now arrives, on time, every day at my doorstep without fail, even though I have called three times to confirm my cancellation. I am waiting for my credit card statement to see if I have been charged before screaming bloody murder.

Overall, I did have other motivations for canceling my subscriptions. I needed more time for books. In these days of diminished financial resources, I find myself also economizing with time. I need more time for study and writing, so a choice had to be made.

But did I make the right choice?

There is something addictive and enthralling about the immediacy of journalism in a magazine or newspaper. I could read journalism forever and be a happy camper. But I am also a book lover, and I could read books forever and also be happy. In fact, my happiness might just be dependent on reading everything forever. There is, however, the problem of the twenty-four hour day and the finite lifespan.

I cannot live without thinking and pondering. I cannot live without reading. I cannot live without writing. These are the touchstones of my life. Meanwhile, my students’ papers pile up. The garbage needs to be taken out. The dog cannot go more than sixteen hours without urinating. Life is a deadline, and there is not enough time to read everything.

For now, I will visit the news stand and occasionally buy my copies of the papers there. As much as I can, I will read online. The world has changed. Book publishing is experiencing declines; magazines are cutting staff and trimming pages; and newspapers have become about the profit margin instead of keeping people informed.

David Carr, a cultural reporter for The New York Times, had this to say about the state of newspapers in the Upfront column in last Sunday’s Book Review: “The physical artifact will become a luxury item over time. Small papers will do fine, many medium-size papers will tip over and large newspapers will have to globalize to survive. The second and third worlds are hatching new customers every day who have a need for high-quality, uncensored information.”

Who would have ever thought that a newspaper might be a more valuable and welcomed commodity on the streets of Iraq than on Main Street, U.S.A.?

As for me, what I will miss is the wood pulp artifact of yesteryear with the news of the world thudding at my door every morning. That sound, I fear, is gone for good, and I mourn the loss.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Season of Light

To all my teaching colleagues, family, friends, and especially, my students: may you find peace, joy, and prosperity in this season of light.
Merry Christmas

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Getty At Night

The Getty Museum, in what is known as the Sepulveda Pass, is one of the tourist hot spots in the summer. I prefer it on a cold winter night when I have the place to myself.

The museum used to be open until 9:00 pm on Friday and Saturday nights. I would tell my students to meet there at six and we could have dinner in the cafeteria and then wander the galleries until closing time. Alas, the Friday evening hours were cancelled a few months back.

The place is magical at night, full of angular shadows and pristine lines. The museum is one of the cultural jewels of Los Angeles.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Winter Rose

I was inspired today to find beauty in the everyday landscape of life. Who inspired me? Take a look at The Jimson Weed Gazette for a beautiful shot of downtown Los Angeles at night. Once you have exhausted the images on the blog, move over to the photographer's website, East of West L.A. Kevin McCollister is a talented artist. It is difficult to make L.A. beautiful, exotic, ghostly and haunting. He does it all, sometimes in the same photograph.

The weather is turning colder this weekend. The solstice is coming. The moon is in its full stage, and is passing closest to the earth, so it looks huge and bright in the night sky. I was just out with Stone, taking in the view. Ah, the smell of wood smoke.

Winter in Los Angeles can, on occasion, be beautiful, like a winter rose.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Cathedral of Thinking

On the occasion of my one hundredth post, a nearly wordless tribute to the library. In this case, it is a photograph from the Archive of the Royal Commission On The Historical Monuments of England entitled "Library After Air Raid, London, 1940."

These are the ghosts of another era.

Friday, December 5, 2008


December 8, 1980. I am riding home from a school event with my father. It is dark and late. The radio is full of your death. The world grieves over the loss.

My father does not seem too upset. Not surprising. My parents only like country music. He fiddles with the knobs, trying to find the Laker game.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night…

I am eighteen years old and I am hanging out in a jazz club listening to a band put the finishing touches on a killer version of Norwegian Wood. I will spend several days in the coming weeks playing the song over and over again on the piano, painstakingly working out the arrangement for my own band. I love the melody. There is something exotic about the song.

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…

So world-weary. I know now. Yesterdays haunt us like ghosts, and in the end, I now believe yesterday tells us the truth of our lives. The past tells us what the present is all about, and dictates what the future holds. It is the river—everywhere at once.

I believe in yesterday…

The dark trees fly by the car window. Christmas is in the air. I am unhappy, depressed. I am uncertain of the future, of what my life might hold. I feel the weight of the world, false hopes, dreams that will not fly.

So this is Christmas…another year over, and a new one just begun…

Sometimes it seems like all the great voices have been stilled. You were younger than I am now when you died on that Monday.

You were only waiting for this moment to arise…

Arise. I think of a phoenix rising from ashes. I did not see the Dakota on my trip to New York. I should have made the pilgrimage.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I am not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.

Sometimes the light goes away too soon and we must learn to live on in darkness. Paul has not been as good without you. Neither have we.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Week of 12-1-08 Through 12-12-08

Here we are, back from the Thanksgiving break, all rested and fresh. Yeah, right. The weather has turned cold—today—could be hot later this week. The Christmas tree is up in the quad area. The PTO has started a drive to help needy families whose children are in the hospital over the holidays. And we are in the final push leading to Christmas vacation.

When we return from the break in January, we will only have a few weeks until final exams for the close of the first semester. So students should be reviewing and studying over the holidays. The work never ends. I will be grading papers and finishing planning for the remainder of semester one. Still, it will be nice to spend time with family and be at home.

So, in the next two weeks, I will finish Siddhartha with my tenth grade honors class. Instead of a test, they will be working on a paper comparing Jesus as he is portrayed in specific biblical passages to corresponding passages in the novel depicting Siddhartha. By the end of the first week, we will be returning to Oscar Williams’ anthology for more study of poetry, beginning with Ben Jonson and my particular favorite, John Donne. I accidentally stood on Donne’s grave in the floor of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London a few years back. I hope he forgives me, and knows that I am in awe of his work. “All of mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…” Love John Donne. So many great quotes.

Freshmen honors English will return to the anthology as well after weeks of speeches and other work. We will be reading some Whitman, more Ray Bradbury, and dear Robert Frost. Together and separately, we will again contemplate the roads we travel, the places we go, or should go, in our lives.

Seniors will dive into William Blake. Religious zealot, fanatic, artist, writer, guardian of innocence and experience, we will look at all sides of this great figure in British literature. Here, too, we will use the Mentor edition of Oscar Williams’ anthology of British poetry.

AP Language and Composition will focus on cultural criticism over the next two weeks. Some of the writers they will be reading include Anthony Burgess of A Clockwork Orange fame, Adam Goodheart, and Jessica Mitford, a writer most famous for exposing the foibles and intricacies of the funeral industry.

When we meet again in the afternoon, we will continue our study of SAT vocabulary words as well as critical reading and other test skills. I have also incorporated some current news articles about college admissions, the validity of SAT and ACT testing, and current thinking on what makes for a good college student into the mix. We analyze the essays, most from The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, and try to determine an action plan for dealing with the testing and admissions processes that are only just beginning for these eleventh graders.

Off we go.