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Bluebird

The first science article I remember reading was about Thor Heyerdahl. In the 1940’s, the Norwegian ethnographer and explorer postulated the Central Pacific islands were populated by South Americans who drifted from Peru to their new homes on rafts. This article, on a stiff card, came from the box in the back of the classroom. This was, I think, second grade.

There were four boxes back there. Maybe eight inches cube, maybe a bit longer than wide, they were named after birds. Each contained cards with articles and stories plus reading comprehension questions. Bluebird was the highest of the four levels.

If that was second grade, then four years earlier was when I learned to read. And five years earlier was when I learned to walk and when my parents were told learning to read would be out of the question for me..

Heyerdahl was wrong, it turned out – South Americans did not drift to the Central Pacific. He was terribly eurocentric and felt the migration could not possibly have come from east to west due to lack navigational skill and instrumentation. That the Pacific islands could only have been populated by accident. His son, an academic, said his father did everything backwards – came up with an idea, then made the facts fit it. Genetics, some seventy years after his voyage, would prove him wrong.

But I didn’t know that in second grade. In second grade I could not get enough of Thor Heyerdahl, or anything else that came from the Bluebird box.

You can’t have bluebird boxes today. See if you can follow this. I can’t, and I’m a professional.

Having boxes the kids move through and up from is now considered tracking. This is like having a college track and a technical track in secondary school. Even though the kids can progress from one box to the next, it still separates the kids into groups. But teachers are supposed to differentiate. They get reviewed for, receive scores for, differentiation. Differentiation is when a teacher recognises students have different skill levels and adjusts the work for those differing abilities. That isn’t tracking. When I taught ESL, recently, we used a computer program that tested the student’s reading skills, took articles and adjusted the lexile (reading level) of the content so it was a just difficult enough to make the students stretch their abilities, but could still read it, and then gave them a series of reading comprehension questions, letting them move up through the levels of difficulty at their own pace. That isn’t tracking. But boxes are.

When I was reading from the Bluebird box, computers were more true to their name – they computed. They performed complicated functions with numbers. They counted people and trajectories and helped send men to the moon and took up entire large rooms. They didn’t fit on a desk, adjust articles for kids from Honduras, China and Syria, and then fold up when not in use. Maybe it’s just that boxes are bad. He boxes were simple. The boxes were tactile. I liked the boxes.

I walked proudly to the Bluebird box for another article every chance I got. I devoured them. Anthropology. Botany. Zoology. Mineralogy. Physics. By mid-second grade, I had moved to articles that weren’t in boxes, and then books.

My first book inspired by the Bluebird box was Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl – the story of his 4, 300 mile trip across the Pacific on a balsa-wood raft. Then Leakey and his discovery of Lucy. Once I read a card from the Bluebird box, whatever it was about, I wanted to read more. More about bees. More about volcanoes. More about of trees. More about Aborigines. From the box to the books..

I read anthropology. And archeology. I was fascinated by them. And myths. Lots of myths. In sixth grade I read book after book of Aboriginal and African myths. From there, Philosophy. In eighth grade, I read The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Bach. Realm of Numbers and The Planet that Wasn’t, essays on mathematics and Physics, respectively, by Asimov. I read the collected works of Carl Jung. I read Also Sprach Zarathustra by Nietzsche. Zen Flesh Zen Bones by Paul Reps. Tao Te Ching, translation by Feng and English. I read the biographies of Steinmetz and Tesla. I read The Book: On the taboo against knowing who you are by Alan Watts, and started the ABCs of Science Fiction – Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke. I eventually made it to Zelazney, though I am not a fan.

I also learned about primary sources. I found I preferred reading first hand material rather than second hand accounts. Why have someone tell me what a bunch of other people said when I could read it for myself? After that, my disdain for textbooks was obvious. This often drove my teachers to distraction as I would raise my hand and say, “actually. . . ” and quote exactly what the inventor, explorer, or author said, instead of the paraphrase which was, often, to my understanding, watered-down, misinterpreted or wholly incorrect

In ninth grade, I had heard about pep rallies. They sounded like monstrous things and I dreaded even the idea of them. I’d rather read and didn’t want to participate in anything that wasn’t academic. So every time we students were supposed to be in the gym, I was hiding in the library with a book. I succeeded in avoiding pep rallies until I was found with Oedipus Rex under a table and was removed from the library as I protested that I was learning, which was the function of school, and saw no point in the pep rally, let alone forcing me to attend it. I recall citing Dewey regarding the Pragmatic philosophy of education as I was lead down the hallways and into the gym. Kids were stomping and screaming. I collapsed in the bleachers. Fell on another student. They never made me leave the library again.

That is not entirely true. Once I was asked to go back into the gym.

I don’t like dissection and I took part in only one. A frog. The smell of formalin was terrible, and I did not slice it open myself. I was paired with another student who did the slicing and who was, unfortunately, not Grace Barcia. As I was watching him poke around inside I, popular as I was, felt something  wet hit my head. Then my face. I was soon being pelted with livers and lungs and other airborn ampbianalia. The teacher had a rather loose concept of classroom management, especially considering we were in a lab with organs, scalpels and chemicals. So I walked out. I never took part in a dissection again.

Thus, when welcoming the incoming ninth graders with a gym-full of tables displaying all our school had to offer, I was a strange choice to put in charge of the table displaying our menagerie of dissecta. It had the usual jars of fetal pigs, frogs and other animals, none of which I had ever personally taken a scalpel to. One notable object on the table was a (If you are squeamish, please skip down four paragraphs) cat. Skinless, four furless paws adhered to a board, one could examine the surface musculature in detail. I was left, behind a table covered in dissected animals, with a skinless cat, a gym full of high school students, and I was in danger of being bored.

So I sold the cat.

I hawked that cat to everyone who walked by, billing it as the perfect pet. “You’ll always know where it is, you never have to clean up after it and all it takes is a little bit of dusting now and then. Plus, it is guaranteed never to shed!”

I finally sold it for nine one-dollar off Frito-Lay’s coupons. I knew better than to accept actual money. That might have gotten me in trouble.

I don’t know what happened to that cat. It was the morning, and it wouldn’t fit into a backpack, or into anything but a fully empty locker, so I imagine it was hard to not see a student walking around with a skinless cat glued to a wooden plank, but it would not be the first obvious thing missed at my high school.

Another obvious thing missed at my high school was the relatively vacuous state of our library, and our local public version wasn’t much better. The large, full, beautiful library was too far away, in downtown Miami, so I spent quite a bit of my time at Waldenbooks in the Mall at 163rd Street or Arts and Science Bookstore in North Miami. There I read the bulk of Freud, Heisenberg, and as much Alan Watts as I could find. Through the next years, right through college, and still today, I found the use of secondary sources was only to lead me to primary ones.

In college when we came to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I went to the original for a more full understanding, reading Toward a Psychology of Being and finding it so much more meaningful, making much more sense. Reading the original took Maslow’s work from a theory in a textbook to something whole, deep and complete. Once I read his own words, I could see his theory played out everywhere in daily life. That is not something I would have ever gotten from the textbook, no matter how much it cost.

Having Marty Fromm as a teacher in Human Relations, I read the works of her lover, Gestalt psychologist Fritz Perls. Then Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving, and Erik Erikson’s Childhood and Society, then Rogers and more Rogers. Having read Adler’s Understanding Human Nature, as well as other essays by the famed psychologist, when I had the delight of meeting, and spending an extended amount of time with, Margot Adler, author, activist and NPR journalist, we were able to discuss her grandfather’s work, at length, with an understanding of the original texts. Luckily, I had read her books as well.

I read Piaget from Piaget, not a textbook. I read Assagioli and Ellis, Harlow and Groff. I read Milgram from Milgram, Zimbardo from Zimbardo, Allport from Allport and Kohlberg from Kohlberg. In education classes, I read Jefferson and Mann and Dewey, Skinner, Hegel, Kant.

As a massage therapist, I read my textbooks, but I also read Alexander, Feldenkraise, Ling and Rolf. I know that made it difficult to have conversations with me, but if you knew the other students in my class, you’d see that was certainly a plus.

As a teacher I’m an absolute fiend when it comes to source reliability and the use of primary sources in research. Just ask. It’s ok, kids. You can tell them the truth.

Today, though I read less now that my eyes are often problematic, and sometimes listen to books, I’m still likely to read an article, see the study discussed, regardless of the field, and then immediately go to find the study. I am always appreciative of the nuances of the original which seldom translates into the paraphrasing and description found in secondhand accounts.

And, regardless of what I’m reading, and right now I’m reading The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, and Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton and The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, I think, believe it or not, nearly daily about the Bluebird Box. and what it did for me. Shallow enough to be beautifully wide and varied and deep enough to provoke an interest from a that has lasted my entire life, with neither dulling nor diminution, in a child who was never supposed to be able to read. The Bluebird box is still the best box. You can quote me on that.

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Posted by on March 23, 2017 in Books, Culture, Education, philosophy, Social

 

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Halfway Through March

When I woke this morning, I was afraid I could not write. I felt it was gone. It, whatever that is, felt absent. But during the day’s discussion, in the three minutes between classes, in moments during planning, the topic of poets came up. I found the poem “We Bring Democracy To The Fish,” by Donald Hall. Don’t blame me for the way the title is capitalized – blame Donald. Anyway, he was Laureate until that poem was published. Then he was Poet Non Grata. He and the Dixie Chicks hung out together looking for work.

Distressed Haiku had this line: “I finished with April/halfway through March.”  His wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, had died in the month of April, 1995. That line. That one line. I have said that myself, nearly word for word. And I was writing again. But would I ever write of anything else?

I ask that, yet I have. I have. But, time and time again, I return to it. Why? Because one doesn’t go on. One doesn’t heal. One continues, with the wound. With the weight. One may be happy, one may be loved, and one may be content, one may have a wonderful life. I certainly do. But that is still there, because it is part of our lives. For those in this “club we’re in that I wouldn’t wish anyone to belong to,” as a friend of mine put it, one doesn’t go back to the old way of being, but creates a new normal around the space.

Everything is made of space. So, I guess, I’m still writing about everything. I guess.

 

Halfway Through March

It is second period.
I have been discussing
Poetry with Mr. Wolf.
Poets, appreciated but
Never paid well,
Never paid attention to,
Paid heed, respected,
Honored, yes: the Poets Laureate
Paid, at first, in wine.
Chaucer paid in
Gallons of wine.

Name bridges after them,
Put up markers roadside,
Have them inaugurate
The president, but don’t
Pay them enough to
Leave their teaching posts
So they can develop
Their craft without
Daily worries of bills due.

The discussion moved to
Donald Hall. One year only
He held his post.
He published
“We Bring Democracy To The Fish.”
So long and thanks for all that.

But now it is period three,
Donald Hall is in my brain,
So I am reading.
Students working,
Teacher reading, because
I can barely think
Anything else.

I didn’t know
He lost his wife.
Twenty-six years,
Cancer comes and
She goes.

I had always pictured him
Alone. Solitary, New Hampshire
Snow. Writing.

But he wrote of
Her leaving and
What was left,
He wondered if he
Would ever write of
Anything else.
Here, listen to his
Distressed Haiku:
“Will Hall ever write
lines that do anything
but whine and complain?”

Here is the Universal.
Here is the experience
Of the creative. Of those
Who take everything
Of their lives, of their
Surroundings,
Turn it into something

To understand.
Make the internal life
External, visible, palpable.
Make something with
No hands reach out,
Shake you, shock you,
Leave you thinking,
Understanding what you
Did not understand before.

Make the solitary
The common experience.
Remind me
I’m not the only one.

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2016 in Books, Culture, Education, philosophy, Poetry, psychology

 

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Seven Questions for Adam: An Interview by Craig Smith

Seven Questions for Adam: An Interview by Craig Smith.

 

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Win a Copy of my Newest Book : Yom Kippur as Manifest in an Approaching Dorsal Fin

Want to win a copy of my newest book? Of course you do.  Goodreads is holding a give-away for ten copies. Just click on this link.

From the back-matter:

“Whatever ‘the Jewish experience’ might mean to the modern reader, Adam Byrn Tritt’s approach is uniquely his own. He is ‘observant’ in the sense that he carefully observes, as you would expect of a man who is, at essence, a poet. As a self-described ‘Jewitarian Buddhaversalist,’ he is aware that each tradition illuminates the other. This collection of essays and poems provides us with good talk. Conversation is the highest artform, and Mr. Tritt invites us in most kindly, with insight, erudition, humor, and compassion.”

—Wayne McNeill, author of Songbook for Haunted Boys and GirlsImage

Yom Kippur as Manifest in an Approaching Dorsal Fin explores—in essays, poems, and creative nonfiction—the tension between cultural heritage and contemporary society, between religion and spirituality, between the family you inherit and the family you create. From early-morning wrestlings with God to portraits of three remarkably different family funerals, from Kabbalist chants at a pagan bookstore to the humorous “What Do Jews Do on Christmas?,” Tritt’s writing taps into themes nearly universal in today’s world in ways that will resonate with readers of all backgrounds and faiths—or no faith at all.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2013 in Books, Culture, Family, psychology, Religion, Social

 

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Link

Enter to win the Songs from the Well revised and Expanded edition, in paperback.

Enter to win the Songs from the Well revised and Expanded edition, in paperback, to be release on Yom Kippur, 9/8/13, along with my latest book, Yom Kippur as Manifest in an Approaching Dorsal Fin.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2013 in Books, Culture, Family, Religion, Social, Suicide

 

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Reviewer holds Songs from the Well “Close to (her) Chest”

The newest review for my latest book, Songs from the Well. If you haven’t read it, this reviewer thinks you should.

I’ve just finished Songs from the Well by Adam Byrn Tritt and I’m in awe. At the moment, I’m sitting on my recliner, holding my kindle close to my chest because I can find no other perfect place to have this story other than close to my heart. My heart is swelling with love and breaking at the same time, my eyes are tearing from admiration and sadness and I am finding it hard to concentrate on anything other than this book. This book is, hands down, 5 stars. Wow.

From the very first page of Songs from the Well, I was in love. Adam Byrn Tritt’s story about his wife’s life, family and contribution to the world and everyone around her placed me in his shoes and showed me exactly why he was- and still is- absolutely head over heels in love with her.

This story is packed full of sweet sentiments, hilarious stories of Adam and Adam’s wife- Lee’s- adventures, heart warming family connections and tissue worthy poetry.

This book is not very long, but I’ll admit to you all, my faithful readers, that it took me three days to read. Not because it was difficult to get through, but because I wanted to savor the story. I wanted to take my time with Adam’s recollections of Lee’s life, their experiences of grief and mourning and wonderful insights for ways to look at life.

Adam also writes a letter to his granddaughter about his family and their ancestors and past, which makes me envious for that rich of a family history.

This author and Songs from the Well will capture your heart and fill your emotional bucket with love, friendship, laughter and sorrow.

Rebecca Tyndall –  The Literary Connoisseur

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2013 in Books, Writing

 

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Why I write? In part, for reviews like this one.

It is quite gratifying, as an artist, as a writer, when one finds one’s work has hit the mark, has had an effect, has reached the heart. This review reminds me why I write.

Please read the new review on The Phoenix and the Dragon, on Goodreads, here.

This was absolutely gorgeous.

I really enjoyed reading it, and I have already gone back to read single poems again while waiting for the bus and playing around on my iphone. It was a fabulous find, and I am really lucky to have been able to read it.I have already started another work by the author, and I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a good “poem in your pocket” kind of book.

The poet does a wonderful job of showing rather than telling (telling is bad for novelists, but wrecks poets).
His clear intelligence shines through as he weaves a narrative with a minimal amount of words – what is gained and what is lost and what is being felt and thought are always at the forefront of the pieces, but rarely need to be “spelled out”. The illustrations and quotations that marked the shifts in content/theme/category really helped to give the reader a sense of the journey that the work represented.

It’s difficult, without just copying my favorite lines, to tell people what specifically I liked. I can say that the poetry resonated – I didn’t like all of the poems deeply, some of them really “spoke” to me. And that’s the beauty of poetry. You might like different aspects. But regardless, there is something to like. A subjective universal (yes I know that’s a contradiction) awaits you. Read it.

Thank you so much “Making Connections” and Adam Byrn Tritt for providing me with a copy.

Alyssia

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Books, Poetry, Writing

 

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