Monday, November 30, 2020

July in August by Maryjo Paradis-Smith (Review)

We live in a world where kids are increasingly aware their world is damaged and that even the best of adults need help sometimes. Helping them thrive in the face of all this is what good teachers, good parents, and good writers do. Maryjo Paradis-Smith fits all bills and this book is her first gem.

Maryjo is witty and wise. Her kind and crazy sense of humor could help us all survive the madness that must be so daunting to young readers just coming into awareness of how our world is real and mad, open to them and closed, and mad and real. Avid readers in their early to mid-teens will find a lifeline in this book. And this is just the type of book to spark the transformation of a reluctant reader into a voracious one.

Maryjo is a teacher, the kind who creates vibrant learning environments for middle school kids deemed difficult to teach but who don’t merit whatever is special about Special Ed. The kind of teacher who is not a baby-sitter, a panderer, an enabler, or a time server. In her classes young people do math. They also read and wrote. (She just retired this year, her last few months scrambling to translate her styles, her techniques, her enthusiasm, and her determination across the Zoom screens). They read whole books, including this one, and they were there for the writing of this book. They were her first sounding board, her harshest and most supportive critics. And, of course, more than one of them has already been inspired by this collaborationist learning experience to begin writing their own books.

Every book is a learning environment. That’s why school boards and parent groups do some books the vast honor of censoring and excluding them. Much excellent children’s literature has been written by people with no classroom experience but who instinctively work with the reality that what they write will have an “opening” effect more than any “shaping” impact. Maryjo, like every teacher, has contended with pressing varieties of experiences that necessitate helping children to “shape up” in certain ways, but she never surrendered the conviction that the goal beyond any provisional structure was openness.

For teachers and students, July is the dead center of school vacation with last year’s term a fading memory and September still far beyond the tightening horizon. August is when one might begin to sense the oncoming crunch full of unknown opportunities, challenges, disasters, and revelations. Here July is just a girl, awkwardly parentified by adult failures. Then she is the victim and beneficiary of an extreme form of adult intervention into her fractured family dynamic; the kind of decisive interruption that some teachers must restlessly dream of almost as earnestly and hopelessly as some children might do. In this case, July is literally catapulted into an alternative but unsustainable version of childhood by another very damaged adult. But as befitting the target audience, the pace is fast with horrors only hinted at, as some adults gradually galvanize to fashion for her a makeshift version of a new family structure that just might be “good enough” for a time.

This is Maryjo’s first publication with many more in the works. Let’s hope circumstances permit her to continue to apply her experiences, her insights, her humor, her expanding theoretical framework, and her storytelling wizardry to additional ventures crafted to open new doors for teens, parents, learners, and teachers who want to make a better future. 

Barnes and Noble




Barnes and Noble


Thursday, November 21, 2019

What We're Up Against, When We're Up Against trimp

Of course, the majority of people who voted for trimp did it DESPITĪ• his ignorance, racism, misogyny, manifest dishonesty, obscene immaturity, and overall vileness. (The bulk of THOSE did that for “religious” reasons...)

But an alarmingly large minority of those voters (and current “dead-ender” supporters) are for trimp precisely BECAUSE of his racism and misogyny. But they actually do what they do mostly BECAUSE of his outrageous propensity to wreak havoc and spread dismay by undermining the rule of law and norms of civil discourse even if it‘s only for the purposes of pursuing both venial and mortally corrupt ends. This is “The Joker” mentality.

The ”Joker Mentality” is a mindset that has despaired of the idea of making sense of the world. It lives in an anaerobic hall of distortion mirrors where sense and sensibility is rejected for the seductions of sensation and futility. It is especially allergic to the strenuous and frustrating work of building habits of mind and institutions that might be able to limit the dangers of tyranny and exploitation. It rejects all meaning--or the possibility of such.

Many who succumb to the Joker Mentality have long felt acutely marginalized and alienated from our bewildering and rapidly changing culture. Many have been subject to unconscionable abuse themselves whether or not, in their thrashing reactions to insults, betrayals, and violations, they have sometimes (or often) found themselves brutalizing others.

Yes, this mentality is turbocharged by anguish, resentment, bewilderment, and a desire to “spread the pain”. Sometimes, it is also bolstered by outlandish fantasies of absolute domination and mastery. Other times, the ability to spread confusion and undermine meaning has become habitually subsumed into a useful strategy for achieving selfish (idiotic and psychopathic) ends.

Some of us who occasionally succumb to the Joker Mentality are capable of shame and self correction. Others may have inured themselves to any semblance of influence from any possible “better angels of our nature.” trimp, himself, is likely one of those who MAY, for all ”practical purposes” be ”irredeemable”. But THAT might only be part of their (his/our) sick fantasy. To view anybody as “irredeemable” is, in a true sense, to grant them another futile, self stimulating victory.

One of the many overwhelming tasks of our civilization, if it survives the throes of climate change and avoids the holocaust of nuclear war, is to examine (and try to correct for) how it creates the conditions that lead so many to succumb to this mentality and then perhaps to act out in irresponsible ways relating to racism, misogyny, and various forms of cultural vandalism--or physical violence. There is, after all, much to be learned from these tortured souls especially in their caustic reactions to so called “norms” that are too often, in themselves, sleazy manifestations of aggression, domination, neglect, and exploitation.

Hitler never won more than 40% of the votes of those who bothered to turn out. 

But that was more than enough.

Attention must be paid.

Joe Panzica (Author of Democracy STRUGGLES! and Saint Gredible and Her Fat Dad's Mass.  He is currently working on his second novel I Wanna Be Evil.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Our Brothers Our Executioners

The idea that ideas are dangerous . . .
 is dangerous itself.

Because it’s true.

Because everything is dangerous.

Even moderation can be carried to extremes.

Albert Camus spoke of limits.

But in an ever expanding universe with no edges . . .

where twisting turning space and time may be continuous or riddled with gaps . . .

where do limits come from?

Only clashes and interminglings?

Manifold vectors spinning through algorithms?

The statistical calculus of entropy?

Or whitehole bursts of identity?

Our Brothers

Our Executioners

Our Ourobor0s 

Slurping the dredgy runoff murk of the Pierian

Simmering in its piss

Their brains joltified by comicbook zaps of current 
in dungeon basement lavoritories
sealed off from dark electric skies
mostly hairless nodes
emptied by resentment and rejection
waiting for the swelling pulchritude of Eureka!
but condemned to strap on travis bickle heat
and turn
and stride
away from foggy mirrors
toward eyeballs full of ardor.

They are