Illness and Literature

Today would be a first official non-work day, given I technically went in on Friday (for all of half an hour) and yesterday was Memorial Day. Kim is at work and I’m trying to choose one of the many tasks to do. And can you believe that – after spending four and a half months working with almost 190 high school students – I start feeling unwell at home with one spouse and three animals? Yesterday I was pretty convinced it was allergies, today I’m not so sure. Either way I’m less than efficient right now.

I went for a jog with Cindy – that’s what you do when you’re feeling ill, right? – and now I’m holed up at home looking for something to pass the time. I recently started Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid: Why Aid is not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa, which has been interesting so far. But also, I’m going to immerse myself back in literature instead of just academic writing. Enter the Internet.

The 2011 shortlist for The Caine Prize for African Writing was just announced, and there are five pieces of literature that are in the running; each is available in pdf form on the website above, and I’ll be reading them. I know absolutely nothing about African literature, and I’m not much of a literary critic in any country or continent, really. Last week, Aaron Bady said he would be blogging each piece and asked others to join him, and I felt more than inclined to involve myself. Needless to say, he’s much more well-versed in African literature (since that is what he studied for his PhD) than I am, so my blogging will be much more amateur. If you’ve got the itch, feel free to join us and a a handful of other bloggers who will be writing about the Caine shortlisters, and feel free to read both my and Aaron’s accounts as we press forwards.

We’ll both be reading one piece a week since the prize is announced in five weeks. In the meantime I am either going to continue with Moyo’s book or pick up Elizabeth Griwold’s The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam, which I picked up a few months ago when she came to speak at the CSRC. But, as I continue the job search and the redecorating project, I’ll need more things to read. So, question for the reader: what should be on my summer reading list?


What the Internet is For

Over the last week, and really the last few months, I’ve been expanding my internet reading. Out of the dozen or two blogs I’ve been perusing, I can’t remember which one said that the internet began in its adolescent stage of instant messaging, pornography, and video games, and that it’s about time the internet grew an interest for long articles (Google Scholar) and academic work (TED Talks). This brings me to what I’ve been trying to corral into my browser: academic blogs.

And I’m doing all of this heavy reading right at the end of my undergrad. It’s an interesting culmination to think about. I’ve spent the last three years trying to find the most eloquent way to slaughter Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations,” only to find poetic critiques of orientalism on WordPress. I’ve been tip-toeing the whole peace versus justice thing with Peskin before finding pretty strong arguments for one or the other. And, probably the most important, my slow shift on activism.

Through most of college I debated whether I’d find my calling in activism or academia. More recently I’ve been leaning on the academy or even shifting on over to development. Over the last year and a half I’ve been running headlong into the reality of how activism and development have great potential – and squander it. In Uganda I ran into some critiques of Invisible Children, and in McElwee’s course I encountered some really strong rebuttals to the Darfur-is-an-ethnic-conflict and the conflict-minerals-are-barely-the-problem narratives. I only wish I ran more into the Darfur-is-a-genocide rebuttals, as I’ve only just been trying to unearth more of that now. Anyways – all of these topics have resurfaced in the last week or two in the blogosphere, and it has been enthralling to say the least. I find myself learning and re-learning some great arguments, and also seeing some of the established media in an even more critical light than usual.

I’m starting to get the hang of this internet thing.

Around the House

In mid-March, Kim and I began to repaint our bedroom walls. Over Spring Break we smeared all of the walls with primer and swatched up a wall. Over the last month and a half, we haven’t done much other than pick one of the three colors that used to be on the wall, but in the past two weeks we’ve gone a little nuts with the remodeling.

First, we tossed the over-sized bed down stairs and set up a living room/bedroom combo, then began to put together our new bed frame and head board. We bought a new mattress online a while back, and it came rolled up in a box; we laid it out last week and have been letting it rise like a loaf of bread. In the mean time, we have been sleeping – and randomly napping throughout the days – on what we have dubbed “mega-bed.” Our large old bed is nestled up against our large old sofa, and we’ve been lounging whenever we’re not working on the house.

In addition to piecing together a Swedish piece of bed I’ve been rummaging through our second bedroom while Kim has been organizing our bathrooms. We’ve been making quite a bit of progress, and in the meantime we’re also redoing our dining table, which has turned our garage into a room filled with blackened chairs and a cloud of spray paint. Also, kudos to Kim for being the greatest at

reupholstering the chairs with the prettiest fabric ever. We’re going to be in this house for at least another year – if not a couple – so we figure we should get it ship-shape for living in. I suppose it’s high time considering we have lived here for about a year and a half, but that’s beside the point.

The One with the End of the Year

In an episode of “Friends,” Rachel and Monica deal with the “end of an era” after years of living together. While my situation is decidedly different, I am at a bit of a crossroads. The past week of school has been a mix of review and advice with a healthy dose of conversation and fun. Friday I said farewell to my seniors (although several came back to visit), and finals and Tuesday and Wednesday made up my last days with students. Graduation was last night, and today I had three students make up tests and three more swing by to say hello. My classroom is devoid of, well, anything. It’s an odd feeling.

I have only been in 508 (my room) for four and a half months, but it has been a pretty momentous time period – even if it isn’t an era. In the last week of January I began a slow process of decorating my empty room with maps, activist flags, and drawings. Today I took all of that down. Over the last few months I’ve accrued an odd assortment of student artwork and notes, and today I fit them all in a pile – with two additions today! I also signed off my laptop and returned all of my books. I had a few random moments of “WHY?!” as I trashed old posters and packed away notes, but I also got to see some of my favorite students and hang out with some of the best colleagues – and friends – I could have asked for.

But, where to now? I have absolutely no idea. I applied at the only high school history opening in the East Valley today, and I’ve also applied for some sort of obscure mentorship-in-American-Government thing. Other than that, I’m looking for just about anything. In the meantime I’m also perusing grad school websites and planning out what to do next in regards to redecorating. Hopefully, things will be coming together. Either way, I’m on my way into the next epoch or whatever.

In Which I Spend the Whole Day Reading Blogs

As far as reading blogs goes, I have a relatively small committed reading list. I read random blog posts when I get linked to them, but beyond that I’ve been reading Angus Johnson’s Student Activism for like a year. Over the summer I read Bill Schabas’ daily account of the ICC Review Conference, which turned me on to his (and his students’) Human Rights Blog. And in recent months I’ve begun following Zungu Zungu both on Twitter and WordPress. Beyond that, it’s been friends’ blogs for the most part.

A week ago I ran across another random blog post. Like a glance at AidWatch (a great blog on development) or a peek at Reclaim UC or Those Who Use It (both activist blogs about the crisis in the UC), it was nothing out of the usual. It was a blog post in defense of the humanities – something with which I whole-heartedly agree and advocate.

Today, I spent an estimated eight hours reading blog posts on PhD Octopus from today back to the end of 2010. It’s a blog made for me, essentially. It’s about contemporary issues in politics and academia, and its contributors are all History PhD candidates. Just this year they’ve touched on contemporary topics like the protests in MENA and the string of union-busting as well as made historical connections including Lincoln’s views on labor and the history of marriage. Go have a look! And when you’re done, here are a couple of other blogs I’ve read occasionally but not enough.

U.S. Intellectual History is a blog with a pretty self-explanatory name. The contributors have even begun to set up a society and host an annual conference on the fascinating subject.

Just last week AidWatch came to a close. It was a blog run by William Easterly (the economist and NYU professor) and Laura Freschi. I have enjoyed a lot of posts and plan to peruse the archives regularly.

A PSA to Those Left Behind

As most of you have heard, today is supposed to be the rapture, or something. It used to be that crazy ideas like this were pretty centralized in some small cult or something, but this whole May 21st rapture thing spread fast, and it has had some bad effects on people. I don’t think I would be affected directly regardless, but my friend Max posted something today that I felt I should pass along.

Rather than taking a victory lap today, let’s remember the consequences of the blind faith of the doomsday-sayers. Pets put down, life savings spent, jobs thrown away. I’m sure more stories will be coming out in the following weeks. Lets remember to try and insert a healthy degree of skepticism into our own beliefs, not just to that which we know to be ridiculous, but to that which we hold unshakably true.

Update: AOL Weird News has a live-blog of Rapture-related news here.

The Unconventional Lunch

I’m nearing the end of my week of low-cost meals, and it’s been interesting. I’ll list a day-by-day at the end of the post so you can see what I’ve been living on, but this post is more about what I’ve been doing and what I learned. Chief among them, I spent the wee eating $1.50 worth of food each day, which has been interesting. It wasn’t impossible and it wasn’t crippling, but it wasn’t easy.

Posing with my first meal and $1.50

I lost choice. My selection for meals was drastically reduced when considering the budget and the schedule. Planning ahead led to small meals in anticipation that I wouldn’t have enough for later, so I was always looking for the most filling but most inexpensive option, which is scarce. This is especially compared to my normal diet. Even if I avoid fast food and restaurants and make my own food at home it is usually comprised of meat (expensive) and layers of goods (think burgers, nachos, pasta – all with tons of extras). When it came to finding food this time I was restricted to the inexpensive and the simple: rice, noodles, beans and the like.

Food gets boring. The slim pickings also led to boredom with food. The third time I was eating rice I was far less enthused. I’ve eaten the same food a lot before, but I usually have the option to change it – add something here or mix it up a little – and that option goes away. No choice means things get pretty bland, and there are only a few ways around that.

I drink too much soda. That is not news. Like, not at all. I routinely drink three to four sodas a day, and I knew that would be my biggest hurdle of this challenge. On Monday I had a headache by 5 o’clock, and I sacrificed some budget for a soda. I decided that, in an effort to stymie the headaches, I would set aside 37 cents for a soda each day. This kept pains away, but also cut down on my budget even more.

I’m faking it. I’m clearly not living the same life as someone under the poverty line. There were several occasions in which I fell back on society’s cheap, overly preserved foods. Nearly every meal was made with a luxury appliance: stove, rice cooker, microwave, something. Most people living below the poverty threshold do not have these opportunities. They can’t toss a potato in the microwave or grab 16 cent Ramen noodles. They also don’t have a VIP card at the local Fry’s to grab all the ingredients they could ever need. A meal requires the time, in addition to the money, to get the necessary ingredients before you spend even more time cooking. It reminds me of the Black is for Sunday video (Invisible Children, in case you hadn’t guessed) when Katie tries to make dinner and explains that the second you finish one meal you have to start making the next one. I did not run into that problem. I was able to do my own thing and then make food in a few minutes before carrying on with my own thing – a luxury few of the world’s poor have.

This was just food. I lived off of $1.50 a day – for food. I used utensils and cookware that were already paid for, and I utilized electricity and technology not always available to the less fortunate. And that’s not talking about my fuel expenses, electricity for non-food use, entertainment (cable, internet, what have you) and other expensive items. The poverty line is how much you make, it’s how much you have to spend on everything.

26 cents of the smallest pasta ever

In summary, I’m just about done. In yesterday’s 2nd hour and this morning I talked with some students about all sorts of food, which made me crazy-hungry all day. BUT! I haven’t felt full since Sunday, and it’s been a very interesting challenge. I’m going to say that it was informative or empowering or whatever – but it was something worth doing. I learned a thing or two about food and I was able to bring up the issue of poverty with several dozen teenagers. All in all, I’m glad I did it and I’d gladly do it again. For more information on the campaign, go to, or you can look at the Global Poverty Project. Also, my friend Erik used to work for ACF International, which runs food security programs all over the world – kind of like an anti-hunger welfare system. While I am not familiar enough with any of these groups enough to endorse them, I think they are all worth a look.

Meals I Ate This Week

Monday: Steamed rice (45 cents), a soda (37 cents), and two packets of Ramen (28 cents)

Tuesday: Two eggs (24 cents), a soda (37 cents), and two more eggs (24 cents)

Wednesday: Two Pop Tarts (68 cents), a soda (37 cents), and one half of a Kraft Mac’n’Cheese (45 cents)

Thursday: Seven ounces of rice (49 cents), two eggs (24 cents), potato (40 cents), and a soda (37 cents)

Friday: One Pop Tart (34 cents), approximately 15 ounces of pink lemonade from a student (18 cents), pasta made up of two ounces of spaghetti noodles (10 cents) and four ounces of Ragu pasta sauce (16 cents).

Living Below the Line

Today is the first of five days during which I will be living off of $1.50 of food per day. It’s a part of , Live Below the Line, a campaign led by the Global Poverty Project. World Bank marked the international poverty threshold at $1.25/day in 2005, and since then inflation has bumped it to around $1.50. That’s for everything – housing, fuel, education, transportation, food, all of it. And over a billion people live below that line, struggling to afford to live.

So I’m going to try to feed myself with $1.50 a day. It’s not the same as living off of that, and I’m not alleviating poverty directly. I know that. But, it has led me to make this blog post, and I hope it’s informed you a little bit about poverty. It’s a huge problem that a diverse number of groups are trying to bring to an end. This week, I’m taking part in a campaign to raise awareness about it.

This afternoon I broke my fast with 45 cents worth of steamed rice. I’m having 37 cents worth of soda right now (I was going to go soda-free for the week, but caffeine deficiency got the better of me). I’m debating dinner right now but it will probably be some sort of noodle. It has been an interesting day so far, and the week promises to be a challenge as I go forwards. I’ll try to post again about it before the week is out.

In Which I Return to the Classroom

So, long story short – I’m back in the classroom. For details, keep reading.

After closing up shop at my high school, I went home and got word that my grades had posted. Most of the weekend was a waiting game, but Monday went surprisingly quickly as I began to run errands. I woke up to e-mails from several contacts at ASU about approving my attempt to get an early institutional recommendation (IR). So, without further delay, I grabbed everything I needed and drove on out to the Arizona Department of Education. Once there, I waited in line before submitting several forms, wrote out a check, and walked out with a substitute certificate! From there I drove way back across town to the district office to approve everything before I popped my head into my classroom. From there, I just had to go back to waiting.

I passed time by walking in circles with Alli and having some Starbucks before spending the evening with Kim. That evening I got a call saying that I’d have to wait for eVerify to prove that I’m a citizen. All told, I spent most of Monday zipping across the Valley and most of Tuesday relaxing. It was nice to be productive outside of the classroom, but it was also a much-needed mental health break. But, since then I’ve been back in the classroom and it’s been pretty swell.

Last week was pretty slow – we finished watching some movies while students continued to work on study guides and reviews. This week has just started, but it’s the last week for seniors and we’re rounding the corner with my juniors. I’ve got the next seven business days figured out, but after that I’ve no idea what’s next. All in all it’s been a good few months, so I’m just going to enjoy my last weeks of the school year.

Last Day, maybe.

So, I’m feeling oddly lost. Friday was my last day at the high school – for now. As I mentioned in my last post I’m working on a path to subbing before the semester’s out. But this last week has been an interesting one. Trying to get grades as up to date as possible, I stayed until at least 4 every day I think, and on a lot of days I was able to talk with some of my students after class. Wednesday and Thursday my room was packed with test retakes, questions, and conversations.

And Friday, oh that was quite the day. Before the first bell even rang I had students bringing me things to brighten my day. I really don’t think these kids have any idea how important they are to me. It might have been cookies and balloons to them, but it meant a heck of a lot to me. But then again, I’m a complete sucker for anything sentimental.

Even though Monday hasn’t arrived yet, I feel like I’m missing something. Odds are tomorrow I’ll feel a little weird not getting out of bed at 5.30 or rolling down the 202 by 7. But hopefully I’ll be productive and get Operation Subbing underway. In the meantime, I’m listening to Vampire Weekend and glancing through the yearbook I picked up on Friday. And maybe I’ll eat a frosted cookie.