Archive for January 2015
It looks like I’m going to the school board meeting again Tuesday night. I went last month, too, which itself is unusual. Two in a row? Unheard of. These are for Warren, my local district, which I’ve written about before herein. In fact, the subject of school boards is one of the first I ever wrote about in The Seeker, and I’ve revisited school board issues on occasion. We do things out of necessity, though, and what has transpired recently with a local school board member is a call to action.
The local press first picked this story up and reported it: Local idiot Liz Biondi got herself elected to the school board as a write-in candidate (she only got thirty-some votes), and has subsequently used her platform to do little more than showcase how much of a moron she is. Lack of preparation, ignorance of technology, and paranoia have been a few of her calling cards—and those are the words of her fellow board members at the last meeting. Now, she can add bigot to that list. The district is searching for a new superintendent, so Biondi exercised her First Amendment rights by declaring that they should not hire someone who is gay for fear that the person would be fighting more personal fires than superintendent fires. The outrage in Gurnee has been significant from all quarters of the community and beyond. A full hour was spent at the last school board meeting with people speaking to the board in opposition to Biondi.
This is not the only case against the school board system. Blatant displays of ignorance by school board members have become the norm in the northeast corner of Lake County in the last few months. Perhaps the most publicized one came out of Waukegan. The community endured a month-long teacher strike in the fall. Nothing could seem to break the deadlock until Victoria Torres decided to take on all comers at a school board meeting. The video went viral, and within two days the strike was over. People are going to remember her outburst more than they will recall the issues that led to the strike, especially when she’s up for re-election. I’m going to venture to guess that she will not be a school board member in the next term.
Things aren’t necessarily much better in another Lake County district with which I’m familiar that shares borders with both Waukegan and Warren, which makes me think the stupidity is contagious. In this case, the school board president had moved out of state, yet held onto her position. That’s a violation of her school board oath and the state law. It wasn’t until her ex-husband posted pictures of her license plate that anybody really paid attention to the situation. She quickly resigned, but there has been plenty of speculation that she lived out of district for quite some time before someone did the right thing. This is perhaps the most egregious of the three issues herein; this woman perpetrated her deception and lack of ethics in secret, all the while effecting budgetary and hiring decisions, and no doubt continuing to favor programs run by faculty members with whom she has carried on an unprofessional relationships. She didn’t come out until she was caught, which only supported what many of that district’s teachers have known since they went on strike three years ago: She demonstrates profoundly poor judgment and cannot be trusted.
I’m interested in seeing what happens with Liz Biondi. I can’t fathom a low-level elected official being able to withstand the justified vitriol spewed at her over the last few months. It seems all too often that the clowns who run any particular school board lack common sense and a sense of decency, and remain voluntarily ignorant to what is happening around them. The result is poor leadership for whatever school district they are influencing. I have to share the blame in this, too. I’ve never voted for my local school district, so I’m partly responsible for Biondi getting in the door. I’ll vote in the future, though, for whomever a friend of mine who works in district wants me to.
The onslaught against Biondi has been led in part by a Warren English teacher who established on online petition that helped galvanize the community and bring further awareness to the situation. He spoke strongly and eloquently at the last school board meeting, and I can’t help but think that as a fellow union member and teacher that he is grinning ear to ear at being able to fulfill every working man’s dream: To speak out in the strongest terms possible against one’s boss, and to actively (blatantly!) lobby for her removal without fear of repercussion.
So say that all three of these school board members will be gone in the near future. One is already gone, which is a good start. This won’t solve the problem of school board incompetency. If things have to be so public, if people have to rise up and expose wrongdoing and still not be guaranteed any satisfaction, then the problem has already gone too far. Too few people pay attention to what is going on with their local schools. One explanation is that many people in any given community aren’t vested in the local schools because they don’t have children attending them; they have no direct stake. That leaves a minority of people interested in what is a huge cash cow for any community, so it makes it easy for an out of control or incompetent school board member to divide and conquer. I’ve seen this happen for twenty years now, and these aren’t even the worst instances I’ve endured. One school I worked at featured a board member who managed a parking lot as his full-time job, and another member who hadn’t even graduated high school. It’s hard for people like that to win the respect of well-educated teachers, and their lack of education makes many of their decisions seem dubious at best.
It’s a shame that “dubious at best” encapsulates far too much of the school board system, especially in Lake County.
I’m turning in a poetry chapbook Wednesday. This all came about unexpectedly, but I’ve rolled with it and it’s turned into a quality writing experience.
Most people have heard of National Novel Writing Month. I could be considered a bit shallow since I’ve never having participated in it based mostly on the abbreviated name and how ridiculous it would sound to tell someone that I’m heading over to Starbucks to work on my Na-No-Wri-Mo words for the day (the goal is to write a 50,000-word novel in the 30 days of November, which comes to a little under 1700 words a day). Plus, it all sounds like a gimmick to me. Many novelists say that 500 words a day is much more reasonable when you consider 500 quality words and not merely a 500-word spurt. Forget about it with a 1700 word spurt 30 days in a row.
What I didn’t know was that November is not exclusive to Na-No-Wri-Mo. Writers Digest has put up the Poem-A-Day Chapbook Challenge for the past six years. I stumbled upon it November 2 and blithely accepted the challenge to write a poem each day of the month. They supply the prompts on a daily basis. Contestants have the time from the end of November to January 7 to edit and shape their poems, ultimately compiling them into a chapbook that can have no more than 20 poems. I have ten squared away and ready to go.
I learned that I can write every day. I had never done that before, not even when I was under pressure to produce a lot of work. It didn’t matter to me that it was “just” a poem. I was putting pen to paper each day, sometimes more than once or twice. I wasn’t trying to write a poem each day. That’d be ridiculous, much like trying to write 1700 words a day. But I was developing ideas from the prompts and getting some thumbnail sketches of what I could do with a poem based on whatever prompt I was considering. There were plenty of nights when I was lying in bed and responding to the prompt was the last thing I did before lights out. There were other times when I woke up and attacked the daily prompt right away before even getting out of bed. More frequently than either of those were the days when I woke up at my regular times and wrote the prompt down right away. Sometimes it wasn’t touched until 14 hours later, but I was usually writing it in my head throughout the day.
Also, I soundly kicked the ass of my internal critic who consistently whispers in my ear that some of my ideas are too stupid or uninteresting, or that some ideas are great but will take too long to develop. He also asks why I’m writing certain passages–what the hell am I thinking? Sometimes that other-worldly voice booms, sometimes it whispers, but it is almost always chattering in some way or another. But what I found out is that the voice will shut the hell up if I’m consistently working, literally day by day, no matter what is coming out of the pen. I muted the voice by developing an understanding that maybe today’s prompt isn’t going to generate much, or that whatever is done will be revisited and reshaped later. It’s not about being perfect right off the bat. It’s about producing. You can come back later and revisit some of the work. I ended up writing some completely unexpected and even inane passages that I never would have written before because of the damn inner critic. Some of the them have made it into my chapbook.
By about November 18th, I was ready to type out several weeks worth of bad or partially-developed poems. Not poems, exactly, but prose passages that I would continue to winnow and distill until I could start to find line breaks and stanza breaks. I set up a document on Google Drive and added to it every few days. When November was over, I printed the thing out. I ended up with thirty mostly awkward and ugly pages and set to the task of weeding out the ones that weren’t holding my interest or that were just plain inane. I followed my gut most of the way. If some poems didn’t look good upon a second draft, I shuffled them to the bottom of the pile. Some were better than I remembered, so I kept them for redrafting and continued shaping. Some nagged at me or popped into my head at strange times, which was a blatant signal that I needed to keep working on them. Pretty soon I had about fifteen poems I liked and knew I would have fun with as I continued drafting them. This meant that I had effectively flushed my poem slamming George W. Bush, another philosophizing about The Wild Bunch, and another about insights into ending romantic relationships. I kept ones that included insights into buckets, clever and lusty flirtations between couples, and reflections on mortality.
There were other considerations to make as I approached the finish line. I had to look for some themes or recurring ideas. I had to decide on quality so my best poems are at the top of the order. I had to decide on a title. Actually, a title came to me early on. That didn’t stop me from combing through my ten poems and extracting catchy lines or phrases, one of which might have made a good title for the book. That was fun to do, but it didn’t serve to change my mind about the title.
So will Jeff Burd be the chapbook contest winner? Yes. I firmly believe he will, but the (imminent) failure to claim that title will only result in greater effort. The wrestling team at my school encapsulates their work ethic thusly: Pound-pound-pound. After writing every day in November and working diligently the past five weeks to redraft and shape, I think I know what they mean.