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Question of the Week: Teacher

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Tell me about the best teacher, or teaching experience, you ever had.

And a bonus: Start up your iTunes, your iPod, whatever, and now hit shuffle. Tell me what 5 songs come up first. No cheating! You cannot re-shuffle to try to make yourself look cool.


Wednesday, Paul Green will be here. Paul is the subject of the documentary, Rock School (see the film clip below) and the inspiration for the film, School of Rock, starring Jack Black. His music school trains kids 8-18 in the fine art of being in a rock band, and if you want to know how the school can change your kids’ lives, just ask Robin Slick, who introduced us!

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Sometimes you interview someone and know you’ll be friends for the long haul. Paul is one of those ones. Hope you’ll be back to meet him!

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  • mikelkpoet
    December 16, 2007

    Charles Lyons was the best teacher that I ever had. He taught Journalism 201, in the second college that I attended, trying to get that first degree. Everything that I turned into Mr. Lyons all quarter was returned to me covered in red.

    I was sure that I was flunking his class. When the report card came, in the mail, there was an A next to 201. I was flabbergasted; so I called Mr. Lyons and said, “Mr. Lyons, all quarter long, you have been covering my writing in red ink, and now you have given me an A; what gives?”

    He said, “Nothing gives, and how dare you call me up and criticize me for what grades I give. I have given you nothing, Mikel, you are the best writer, who I have ever had in any of my classes. The red marks were to challenge you.”

    Mr. Lyons, wherever you are now, Happy Holidays, and Thank You. You taught me a lesson far more invaluable than understanding the old inverted pyramid.

  • jonathanevison
    December 17, 2007

    . . . my best teacher was charles dickens . . .my phone tunes on shuffle:
    bob wills and the texas playboys – rolly polly
    tom waits – goin’ down slow
    jonathan richman – twilight in boston
    manu chao- la despedida
    niko – somewhere there’s a feather
    . . . i didn’t try to sound cool, but you gotta admit, i kinda do . . .ha!

  • lance_reynald
    December 17, 2007

    Della Spradlin. Best English teacher on the planet. and all the style and class of Jackie O (as a doubleday editor even!) She’s the one that made me really fall in love with words…

    and on the infamous iPod shuffle today we have:
    (warning, this could be harsh)
    Bad Connection- Yaz
    Feel Good Inc.- Gorillaz
    Grease Megamix-Grease cast
    You Don’t Know Me- Michael Buble
    Blood On The Wall- Skinny Puppy

    ha!! where the hell did three come from?

  • Nathalie
    December 17, 2007

    I’ve had a few good or even extraordinary teachers when I was at university but i keep a particular fond memory of my History/geography teacher from high school. She was an old spinster (I am mentioning this because she was proud of the fact) and all her life was about teaching. She was the hardest teacher I had to content (we mark on a scale of 20 and a excellent mark for her was 14) but she took the time to make us do extra work on Wednesdays afternoon (which used to be free time back then) to make sure we were ready to take that final exam at the end of our senior year. We all had outstanding marks!
    She was murdered with the friends she was living with a few years later and the crowd at her funerals was enormous. An everyday hero, albeit crotchety, she was an inspiration for all of us who aspired to become teachers.

    I don’t have the necessary gadget to do your other assignment but I’ll try and see if I can beat some random pickings out of my work music box.

  • Nathalie
    December 17, 2007

    The Rolling Stones – As Tears go by
    Amon Tobin – Chocolate Lovely
    Brian Ferry – Where or when
    Devdas soundtrack – Maar Dala
    Don Giovanni – Da qual tremore insolito

  • lori oliva
    December 17, 2007

    Mr. Scott J. Johnson – my high school English lit teacher who encouraged me to go into AP English my senior year. His unique style kept us engaged and encouraged all of us in some way.

    1. Buddy Holly – Weezer
    2. I Feel Free – Clapton
    3. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
    4. Bellbottoms – The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
    5. Tell all the People – The Doors

    Glad you’re back Susan. I’ll start my edits after Christmas. I need the break to gear up for what’s ahead!

  • SusanHenderson
    December 17, 2007

    I’ll give my answer to the teacher question on the Weekly Wrap, but here’s my shuffle:

    Eddie Walker (Live) – Ben Folds
    I Want Her – Keith Sweat
    The Summer Dress Shop – Cameron McGill
    Late Night Pilgrim – Tift Merritt
    Hot for Teacher – Van Halen

  • JimT
    December 17, 2007

    In sixth grade, Mr. Bodeen read Tom Sawyer aloud to the class, an hour each day, and Huck Finn and Penrod books, too. He did all the voices (Becky Thatcher’s and Aunt Polly’s included), making the worlds in books come alive.

    I’m thinking of buying an IPod to up my cool. I’d shuffle my LP’s and 78’s instead if they didn’t scratch so easily.

    Good to see you back in Lit Park, Sue!

  • SusanHenderson
    December 17, 2007

    Guys, I’m quite behind on mail, etc. And I’ll catch up after I’ve written my Christmas letter and finished some details on an interview. (Terry! I need that audio!)

    In the meantime, this is a really fascinating article that I found via Michael Cader:

    And it happens to talk about a lot of the same things Roy Kesey and Amanda Stern and I talked about over dinner a few weeks ago. Check it out if you have time.

  • Kimberly
    December 17, 2007

    Welcome back!!!!!

    Ooh. Tough question. I think the voice that still rings in my ears on a daily basis is Carlyn Lindley. High school acting teacher. She was the toughest bird on the planet and one who I thought HATED my very existence due to the enormous things she required of me. She made me work harder than anyone else in my class, and to this date, as far as I know, I’m the only one still pursuing my passion. xo Carlyn, wherever you may be.

    The top five shuffle went like this:

    Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues – Ramblin’ Jack Elliot (I’m Not There Soundtrack – AWESOME, btw)
    The Other Side of Summer – Elvis Costello
    Humoresque – Glenn Miller & his Orchestra
    Forever in Blue Jeans – Neil Diamond
    Goodnight Sweetheart – Martha Wainwright

  • Heather_Fowler
    December 17, 2007

    Susan Vreeland–author of Girl In the Hyacinth Blue–she was my highschool English teacher. She had set a box of all kinds of strange stuff in front of the class and I remember we were to each pick something out of that box. There were odd things in it–and I’ll list them, but I only recall the one that enchanted me. It was a pair of used ballet slippers, clearly worn and old. We were to use our “props” to write stories. I wrote one. I had no idea what I was doing or what I’d be majoring in, though I loved reading. After she read my story, she said to me only (and with a very intense look for she was a very intense lady in the classroom), “You will write.”

    It was like a decree of my future in three words. It was like she didn’t need more than that. I cherish her for that.

    IPOD shuffle:

    “I Got Money Now” by Pink, I’m Not Dead
    “Crystal” by Fleetwood Mac, Fleetwood Mac
    “De Ce Plang Chitarele” by Ozone, DiscO-Zone
    “Long, Hot Summer Night” by Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland
    “A Forest” by The Cure, Staring at the Sea, The Singles

    Glad to see you back, the divine Ms. S! Congrats on finishing your edits.


  • aimeepalooza
    December 17, 2007

    I had a history of making my English teachers angry in Middle School. They’d say write a Christmas story. And I’d write a story about a Mom blowing up her kids for Christmas. It was a problem to the point that my Mother got a letter claiming, “Your daughter needs help,” from my seventh grade English teacher. So when my school decided to start an honors English program the year I was to start high school I didn’t expect to be selected. But the person in charge of the program did a blind test, ignored teacher recommendations, and graded the tests himself. I was selected as one of 20 allowed in the program. Our class had 300 kids.
    Our first assignment was to write like Poe (jackpot!) I got the only A he gave on that assignment. And I finally started to learn something about writing.
    I don’t have an ipod because I am not cool.

  • Aurelio
    December 17, 2007

    Welcome back, Susan! I feel fortunate in that I’ve had so many really great teachers throughout my life it is hard to choose. My fourth grade teacher, Miss Norton, was pretty special, and encouraged my writing. She got me my first story publication in a kid’s mag. She somehow made every one of her student feel special.

    More recently, my design teacher at CalARTS, Bill Moore, taught me to really understand what I see, and I owe most of my art career to him. He was rude and abrasive and unlikable on the surface, but brilliant. He didn’t mess around with art – it was serious business. I liked that.

    I don’t own an iPod either and am also not cool.

  • djtuffpuppy
    December 17, 2007

    While my best teacher was a toss up between my math teacher versus my art teacher, I think I would like to tell you about my most awful teacher. His name was Mr. Holmberg. Having made the transition from home schooling to public school for the first time, I found myself in a new environment. It was my sophomore year. Mr. Holmberg taught English. I learned how to write essays, what makes up a compound-complex sentence, how to use a semi-colon properly, etc. It all stuck i’ll give him credit for that. What he taught, I learned. The thing that really annoyed me about him was that he was “anal”. He liked things done a certain way and that was it. There were no other way. You had to follow the directions or fail. When I graduated out of my sophomore year he was one teacher I was glad I wouldn’t have to see again.. or so I thought. As it turns out I was lucky enough to get him again my junior year where he taught basically the same stuff. This made the class very easy for me and I did not pay much attention. Him and I constantly clashed because he wanted things done his way, and I did things his way but added my own sarcastic flair to them. We did not like each other. Then one day I wore a t-shirt with a picture of a cartoon bomb and a witty quote on it. I was called to the principles office where the threaten to search my house because a teacher (Mr. Holmberg) did not like it. Seriously, people were really uptight on Sept 12th 2001.

  • lance_reynald
    December 17, 2007

    (shameless self promotion whilst we’re all here.)

  • Kimberly
    December 17, 2007

    read it. loved it. left you props over there! 🙂

  • Rusty
    December 17, 2007

    The most important teacher I had was in graduate school. I went too early–22 years old–and when I was late-semester strung-out and convinced I didn’t belong in the land of writers and writing, I sat in a conference with Chris Tilghman, and he said “you belong here.” I needed the vote of confidence; he gave it to me. I’m still grateful.

    iTunes says:

    Images, Lou Reed and John Cale
    I’m Your Late Night Evening Prostitute, Tom Waits
    Don’t Ya Tell Henry, Bob Dylan & the Band
    Belinda Carlisle Diet, Patterson Hood
    Soul Desert, Julian Cope

  • Oronte Churm
    December 17, 2007

    One of the most satisfying teaching experiences I’ve had was when a retired business prof asked to sit in on my creative writing class. He has Parkinson’s and wanted something to keep his spirits up and his mind active. He said his family had been asking him for “grandpa stories,” and he wanted to use my workshop to get them written down. He did, and had a couple of them published eventually. He can’t write so much now, but we remain friends.

  • Erin
    December 17, 2007

    My college mentor, Dr. Williams, is an amazing man. However, it is Miss Susan Lake whom i will credit as “most influencial”. She was my honors English teacher my senior year of high school. I was getting low B’s/high C’s on my research and analytical papers despite the fact I was doing all the reading and working my ace off. For weeks before the papers were due, I would spend a couple of hours each night writing these puppies. So my grades were disappointing to say the least. My parents went to parent-teacher conference and Miss Lake told them, “Erin tries too hard. Her writing is forced and awkard.” When my parents told me that, I was pissed! So the next writing assignment, I sat down and punched it out in an hour the night before – a huge middle finger to Miss Lake. Turns out I received an A, and that ticked me off even more because I realized how much time I had wasted before on “trying too hard.” I worked the same system in college and earned all A’s in my English program. Imagine that!

    Music from Erin’s iPOD:
    OneRepublic – Stop and Stare
    Hem – Not California
    Guster – Demons
    The Weepies – Gotta Have You
    Feist – I Feel it All

    Oh those are all such excellent songs! You should download them if you don’t have them. I love my taste in music! Don’t you? Way better than your all’s…
    FYI music lovers: check out and you will die of happiness. I’ve found some amazing artists through this free “radio”. Enjoy!

  • Erin
    December 17, 2007

    ummm, i just wanted to say i like your picture. it makes me laugh.

  • Doug
    December 17, 2007

    ms. parish was my highschool creative writing teacher. we had to keep a journal and do guided writings, which we would hand into her. she would only check to see that the correct number of pages were completed. she never actually read the entries, or so she swore. i believed her. she had tons of really cool stamps and colorful stamp pads. she would place a stamp on each entry that was satisfactory. when i graduated, she gave me a new journal as a gift and told me to keep writing. she also gave me a book about fairies, which was a little odd.

    5 songs…

    Guaranteed by Eddie Vedder from INTO THE WILD
    Light Romance/Madman from BLOOD BROTHERS
    Tune Up # 3 from RENT
    Last Midnight from INTO THE WOODS
    Much Afraid by JARS OF CLAY

  • SusanHenderson
    December 17, 2007

    What a great story about how powerful and long-lasting a few words can be.

    You did not shuffle for me, Mikel.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 17, 2007

    I think you cheated. If GreaseMegaMix had turned up on your shuffle, I’d know you were for real.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 17, 2007

    If I didn’t love you already, I’d love you forever just for admitting the Grease Megamix came up when you shuffled. And even funnier to think you’re going to go from that to Skinny Puppy!

    Thanks for posting your nervous breakdown!

  • SusanHenderson
    December 17, 2007

    Wow, what a story.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 17, 2007

    I have never heard of two people on your list and will go check them out.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 17, 2007

    I was one of those bad parents who did not teach my children correct names for private parts, so they pretty much go into hysterics whenever they meet a Mr. Johnson.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 17, 2007

    I like Mr. Bodeen already.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 17, 2007

    Those tough birds keep us from being average (unless they’re so tough they squash us). Bach-Boy was hugely into Glenn Miller and Frank Zappa when he was a baby.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 17, 2007

    What a really lovely idea to have a props box for writing students. I love that!

    Also, thank you! It’s like having concrete lifted off your chest.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 17, 2007

    What a great assignment. It’s horrifying how kids are having their writing censored. It’s like the teachers have Columbine on the brain.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 17, 2007

    You are cool to me.

    Mr. H teaches that in his drawing classes – how to really see what you’re looking at.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 17, 2007

    My youngest son has trouble with teachers like this, but I try to tell him that if he’d just immerse himself in someone else’s world and thought process, he’ll grow beyond where he is. And the stuff that makes my son tick, that’s not going anywhere. But yeah, I understand the frustration a lot because it feels like someone’s tied your hands or taken you out of the equation.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 17, 2007

    What a great thing to hear. Your playlist looks too cool to be real.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 17, 2007

    Churm! Do you have enough John/Paul answers, or do I need to link your survey again?

    I love your story here.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 17, 2007

    What an awful thing to say to a kid. My teachers always accused me of plagiarizing.

    I will go check out Pandora. If I don’t return, I hope I’ve at least died of happiness.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 17, 2007

    Oh, how much do I love that Eddie Vedder soundtrack!

  • Heather_Fowler
    December 17, 2007

    Yes, and my shoes were greyed in areas, pale pink in others, and smelled like sweat. Their ribbons were worn pretty well, too. Clearly the practice dance shoes of a ballerina that were ready to be abandoned for new. Did you know this, how they go through toe shoes pretty rapidly? Ballerinas continue to obsess me, like how they dance, sometimes, until their toes bleed. Like how toe shoes, which permanently alter the feet and cannot be worn until a certain age, are so painful yet we suffer so for art… Then, there is how thin they are. I really identify more with opera stars, tell you the truth, but those on toe are a visual lure every time. So glad that concrete took a hike! All affection, as always, H

  • Noria
    December 17, 2007

    In tenth grade my English teacher, Lori Moore, undid the damage done to me by the mediocre to downright awful English teachers I’d had up till that point. She liked the band X. She lent me her copy of Jayne Anne Phillips’ Black Tickets. She inspired me, and I decided to become — no, not a writer, not yet — a high school English teacher. She told me, “Don’t do it,” and quit after her first year of teaching. Maybe if I’d heard of Lorrie Moore, the writer, when I was fifteen I would have recognized some cosmic influences at work, and maybe I would’ve listened to Lori Moore, the teacher. Maybe I should’ve listened to her. Maybe if I wasn’t always so slow on the uptake I would’ve begun writing sooner. It didn’t even occur to me that being a writer was an option; I just knew that I wanted to make others feel the way she made me feel — seen and understood, listened to, like my words mattered.

    Alas, I have no iPod.

  • aimeepalooza
    December 17, 2007

    Columbine hadn’t even happened yet. They just wanted sappy and I wanted dark, sad depressing stuff. It was a matter of taste. I was not the cheerful, Hallmark girl they were trying to cultivate.

  • Dave Clapper
    December 17, 2007

    5 songs:
    “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden
    “Gril, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” by Urge Overkill
    “Buy You a Ring” by Huffamoose
    “Heaven” by The Psychedelic Furs
    “Nutshell” by Alice in Chains

  • Erin
    December 17, 2007

    oh yeah, it’s good to have you back. funny that you were accused of plagerizing. i plagerize your stuff all the time. (isn’t that like the best compliment you’ve ever received?)

  • SusanHenderson
    December 17, 2007

    I would very much like for Tom Jackson to give me some hopeful news about the Steelers and their playoff chances. What’s happened the last few games? Even with the wins, it seems like something’s changed since the Jets game.

  • chuckles
    December 17, 2007

    seeing what’s in front of you (me) is just about the hardest thing to do. If it were easy, the would would be a much more peaceful place. True art has much to do, I think, with opening our eyes to just that, and we’re all so resistant to it that I understand why one would need to be abrasive to get people to recognize that it’s worth doing.

  • darko
    December 17, 2007

    The best teacher I’ve ever had was Swamii Gurumayi Chidvilasananda.

    5 songs =

    Get It On, by Grinderman
    Drive, by Adrian Belew
    Lucinda, by Tom Waits
    The End of Christianity, by The Stooges
    They Can’t Take That Away From Me, by Billie Holliday

  • chuckles
    December 17, 2007

    Wow, we’ve gone from a question I could not answer, to one to which I have too many answers! I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had so many really amazing teachers, from my dad to my law school ethics prof, but I guess the apex was in public high school in L.A. where Gert Wossner taught me general English, and then History of Art and Philosophy. A German man with Rutger Hauer looks and coolness, he was somehow amusing and pedagogic at the same time. He pushed each of us, regardless of individual academic strength, as far as we could go. Some of us were warmly congratulated for answers for which others were roundly criticized, if he knew we could do better. He kept asking us if we wanted to spend our lives working at “Ahbys” listening to “Auh Supply.” I quit my job at Arby’s not long after I started his class. He collected fun cereal boxes from around the world and taught me as much as anyone ever has, but mostly about getting the most out of myself.

    I deny coolness but eye my pod thusly:
    Klezmer Waltz – Margo Leverett
    Taco Wagon – Dick Dale
    Inexile – Capercaille
    Eleanor Rigby (strings only version) – Der Beatles
    Scarecrow – Beck

    and yeah, welcome back, Susan!

  • Tom Jackson
    December 17, 2007

    OK, regarding the Stillers: They’re a virtual game ahead of the Browns, they still have the top-ranked defense in the league, their injuries will heal up in time for the playoffs, which they WILL make, Cleveland be damned. Pittsburgh has the easier schedule the rest of the way, and they’re overdue for turnovers the next two weeks. The law of averages — you know how I believe in them — will come through. To say nothing of the superior experience the Steelers have — geez, the key guys there are still young and not even two seasons removed from a Super Bowl championship.

    I don’t have an iPod, but I do have iTunes, and here are the ones I’ve bee listening to mostly frequently: Zachy’s and his pal Chris’ version of Norwegian Wood and Paint It Black, Count Basie’s Blues in Hoss’ Flat, Brian Setzer’s Caravan and Sara Bareilles’ Love Song.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 17, 2007

    And also: Hines Ward has the nicest ass in the NFL. You were going to say that to cheer me up, too – right? 🙂

  • margueritemaria
    December 17, 2007

    Dogwoods were blooming, the daffodils were just about wilting, the sky was azure, and the Virginia Tech shootings had just occurred. Blocks away from the site of the former World Trade Center, I sat in a stuffy basement classroom with a group of remedial writing college kids from all over the city. Some of these kids had overcome obstacles that most people can’t even dream up to be sitting there that day. To say that I loved being their teacher, to say that I just wanted them to write a cohesive paragraph and move on, to say that they inspired me, all of this is understatement. Out of a class that, by the end of the term, was down to about 20, three had lost their mothers in the previous twelve months―one just three months prior to that sweet spring day, one just six months before. Both of these were beautiful girls; quite different, one bold but defeated looking; the other small, shy, wide-eyed and luminous. They shared the same pain, a hurt that no child should feel, one that is unimaginable to me. We were all sleepy and had spring fever, though, and that is how it all started.
    To break the monotony, I used to bring in little fun exercises that I would use to jump-start my upper-level creative writing class. On this day, I gave the class, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by Wordsworth, except that I deleted some of the words, so the kids could fill in the blanks to create their own poems, sort of a Mad-lib with the Romantics. We got as far as “a host of golden daffodils” when the hands went up. They didn’t know what a daffodil was, and the dictionaries were not yielding much information. I was a bit stunned. I looked at these eager faces, and a few-not-so-eager, and one or two with the eye-rolling look that meant, “What are you kidding? Those flowers on the corner at the deli,” and decided we needed to just get moving. I thought of my dear mother, gone now five years, and the beautiful trumpeting daffodils that bloomed every Easter. Then I thought about her protracted illness, and our having to sell our family home to move her into my apartment, so we could see her comfortably to her last hour. I looked at my two motherless girls―one disheveled and downcast, the other neatly groomed, dressed in white, brown skin shimmering, small, sad and needy. We needed to get out, out into the spring sunshine, out into the blue.
    I told the kids to grab their backpacks, that we were going for a walk to find some daffodils, and then to use our senses and to make some word pictures. A few stayed behind, but the ones who came, well, my heart, my heart; they gave me such heart that semester. I needed it for I was mourning, too, as I was in the middle of a divorce from my true love who turned out to be not so true and left me bankrupt with kids to rear in the bargain.
    We headed down the stairs of the campus (one of the largest, public, urban colleges in the country) to the nearby park. There were formal flowerbeds in the small park, a playground, a gazebo, and some trees in full-flower. Dogwood I guess. I brought my students to the first flowerbed and told them to close their eyes and just listen. There was a lot of “I don’t hear anything but traffic,” until a low-flying bird flew right past their heads! I mean, almost skimming their ears.
    One or two of my students jumped. One of my more challenged writers whispered, “A bird flew by.” I asked him how he knew. He said that he just knew. One of my sweet girls said, “I heard it flap its wings. I really heard a bird flap its wings!” I do think that she must have heard the pigeons flap their wings, as all New Yorkers have, but we sort of look upon pigeons as flying rats, so that didn’t count to her (or to the rest) because this was a bird, a “real” bird.
    One of the boys said, “Yo Miss, that’s for real. I could hear the wings, too.”
    Another said, “No I heard a squeak sound.”
    Another, a great kid to whom I used to sing “Johnny Angel” all the time said, “No that wasn’t a squeak. Whaddya think? It was mouse? That was some kind of little chirp from down his throat somewhere. “
    I have always believed that the best way to teach writing is to start with sensory details. This is the way to do it, so I had them compose a sentence together, out loud. It started with, “A bird flew by.”
    I asked, “How do you know if you had your eyes closed?” One of my sweeties said, “I knew a bird flew by ‘cause I heard its wings flap.” Another said, “Not so hard flapping, though.”
    “Okay, more, let’s say more.”
    One student said, “Miss, Miss, get some paper. I’ll write it down.” And so they began and built up to, “By the gentle flapping of its wings and the throaty chirp, I knew, even though I couldn’t see, that a bird was flying past me in the sunshine.” There it was; all semester I tried to teach descriptive writing. and here at the very end, right before the departmental final, the most wondrous sentence of all.
    But this, however, is not the most important part of the best teaching experience of my life. I think I’d have to go on too long already. I’ve never posted here before even though Lit Park is on my MySpace friends list. The best part was probably the most profound, and sometimes things profound are hard to write about, and I didn’t even get to the daffodil part yet.
    We walked along the in this little park; the daffodils were wilted and brown. By the time we came to the flowering trees, the class knew just what to do. They were quiet; some would stop and close their eyes. Some would just feel textures; others just sat. When we came to the flowering trees, a few climbed them and hung upside down. I could see several moms and nannies giving them dirty looks, but they were oblivious, and I just glared back at the privileged few. We came upon a gorgeous stand of flowering trees with full-blown white clusters of tree blossoms. Throughout our journey, I modeled behavior that is part of my writing process: smelling things; feeling grass; laying flat on a park bench to look upward at the flowering bowers. The kids looked at me. There I was exhausted, business suit, and just relaxing on this park bench looking upward. I thought of my mother, my mother who, a child of the Depression, could not go to college, but nonetheless, gave me the gift of words. I could feel her there with me. She was so kind and loving and loved words and children. I looked over to see my small, shy, motherless child looking at me intently. The kids noticed too as she approached me tentatively. She wanted to try it, to lay flat on her back and float into the blossoms. We all could see it. I got up, and some of the other young women in the class, and Johnny Angel, surrounded her. I whispered to her, “Go do what I did. Stretch out on the bench and just look up at the flowers and the sunshine coming through.”
    More encouragement from the class. She asked, “Professor, I’m scared. Will you sit next to me?”
    I did. Everyone was silent as she took her place on the bench. She lay down with one hand clutching tightly to the edge even though there was plenty of room. I asked her if she would like me to hold her so she could relax. She said that she would. I put my arm around her back and cradled her and told her that sometimes when I see something beautiful I talk to my mother. She asked if she could do the same and if her mother could hear her. I told her that she could and that I believe her mother could hear her when she speaks to her, especially through something so beautiful.
    The entire class was still. We could hear the sounds of the kids in the sand pit, the nannies chattering, the guy jogging around us on his cell phone, but the whole class encircled this beautiful young soul, and as I put my arm beneath her and held her fast and helped her breathe deep breaths and told her to float, I felt MY mother suffuse my soul. Then I felt this child’s body relax as she floated into the sweet spring blossoms. It was at that moment that I knew that I had taught lessons that day that my mother had taught me, lessons that could not be found in any curriculum or on any syllabus. THAT was the best teaching experience of my life.
    OK Now, shuffle:
    Variations 16-18 Bach;
    Leader of the Band, Dan Fogelberg;
    Just One Look, Linda Ronstadt:
    Every Mornin’, Keb Mo’
    Carrito Pasajerito Various Artists Kingdom of the Sun (Peruvian Folk Music)

  • Tom Jackson
    December 17, 2007

    Yeah, sure, absolutely. But you know I prefer the wider ones, like the nose tackes’. Gimme Joel Steed’s any day. ; )

  • ThomasAJackson
    December 17, 2007

    Then there’s Troy Polamalu, whose surname is, I believe, “Booty, round and tight” in Samoan.

  • crobinator
    December 18, 2007

    Never came to your site, but hopped here from – I like your questions.

    Best teacher: Jim Murphy, 10th and 12th grade English. He also taught my film class senior year. He would hit the lights like a bear would swipe at a wall if a bear did swipe at a wall. He got excited about literature – “Feel the wall, Grendel! Feel the wall!” (Grendel, John Gardner), catered to my love of free writing while in class, and introduced me to Milan Kundera.

    Five songs. Oh, dear. Here goes:

    1. Where Have All the Cowboys Gone – Paula Cole, This Fire
    2. One Flight Down – Nora Jones, Come Away With Me
    3. Wanting – The Nields, If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home By Now
    4. Music is the Victim – Scissor Sisters, Scissor Sisters
    5. Color Confused – JayMay, Sea Green, See Blue

    I will hide on my web of shame now.

  • lance_reynald
    December 18, 2007

    told ya so.

  • Nathalie
    December 18, 2007

    Which ones?

  • robinslick
    December 18, 2007

    Oh boy, I cannot wait to read this interview, and thanks for posting the film clip – that’s a very, very young Eric on drums opening and closing the trailer, Julie and Eric sitting side by side at ages 15 and 16 trashing the band 311, and a bunch of shots of both kids on stage for the finale. I hadn’t watched it in a few years and it made me teary eyed. They shot that film in 2002 and 2003 and in kid years, that’s like two decades ago.

    My biggest influence was my 8th grade English teacher, Mr. Barron, who told me that a short story I’d written was the best he’d ever read by someone my age. Sigh…too bad I haven’t progressed any further since then but oh well, he gave me the confidence to at least try.

    Strange but good things came up on my shuffle….but then again, other than two CDs I’m pretty sure would make this entire room cringe my iPod is impossibly cool and speaking of impossibly cool, would we really need to go to Dave Clapper’s website to know he leaves in/near Seattle? Ha!

    Cream: We’re Going Wrong
    The Who: Eminence Front
    Dr. Dog: My Old Ways
    Neil Young: The Damage Done
    Citizen Cope: Sideways

  • aimeepalooza
    December 18, 2007

    Hines Ward…yummy!

  • David Niall Wilson
    December 18, 2007

    My best teacher was a lady named Nell Wiseman – Charleston High School, Charleston Illinois. I started my creative writing journey there, I think, even though I already knew I wanted to be a writer She taught Creative Writing, and was involved in state-wide literary organizations. She managed to create a classroom environment where it was okay to be creative without fearing the reaction of others around you – very important in a high school classroom – and nearly impossible. It was in her classroom that I won both first and second place in a poetry competition, and I believe I won second with my own entry because she knew I’d written my best friend Randy’s entry as well – she gave it first to teach me a lesson – HE got ten dollars…

    Hey there Delilah – Plain White T’s
    Family of Man – The Farm
    Peach – Beborn Beton
    Legion – VNV Nation
    Grow, Grow, Grow – P. J. Harvey

    (From my Pandora station – last five played)

  • Doug
    December 18, 2007

    ditto! INTO THE WILD was my film/book/soundtrack of 2007.

  • Aurelio
    December 18, 2007

    Bill was famous for deliberately setting one of his student’s art projects on fire because he felt it was that bad. In my class, he would pull people’s work off the wall and step on it if he didn’t like it. His reasons were twofold: he wanted his students to realize our student work wasn’t precious art, but a simply a means to understanding, and also to punish those who obviously weren’t putting in the effort.

    But when he complimented your work, you knew he meant it.

    Thanks for thinking I’m cool (but you still haven’t actually met me.)

  • Aurelio
    December 18, 2007

    Yeah, sometimes a situation calls for tough love.

  • troutbum70
    December 18, 2007

    Martha Dearing, She always pushed me to do better, she was a wonderful teacher and lover of books.

    1. Come Monday Jimmy Buffett
    2. Body Movin The Beastie Boys
    3. Not Counting You Garth Brooks
    4. Looking Forward To Seeing You Golden Smog
    5. Ballad of Davy Crockett Riders in the Sky

  • SusanHenderson
    December 18, 2007

    Amon Tobin and Devdas.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 18, 2007

    My only connection to ballet – besides wanting to be a ballerina so I could wear a tutu – was a girl across the street who lived ballet. And then, as she grew, she was just a naturally big girl with a ginormous bosom, and there was no ballet in her future, though every single thing in her room was slippers and ballerina music boxes and photos of famous dancers.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 18, 2007

    Wow. Setting them on fire?!

    And we need to remedy that last one next time you’re in NY.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 18, 2007

    You might just be someone who takes ideas and incubates them. That’s not a bad thing. When I have an idea, I’m already doing it before I’ve even thought anything through.

    What are you writing these days?

  • SusanHenderson
    December 18, 2007

    I love that Soundgarden guy’s voice.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 18, 2007

    Polamalu’s pretty fine in all categories. I do not need to see Joel Steed’s butt.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 18, 2007

    Isn’t he, though?

  • SusanHenderson
    December 18, 2007

    And tomorrow there will be a small commercial for the new Adrian Belew CD!

  • SusanHenderson
    December 18, 2007

    Your high school had a class on the history of art and philosophy?! Your school was way cooler than mine. I love seeing everyone’s musical taste!

  • SusanHenderson
    December 18, 2007

    Welcome, Marguerite. How weird that the day you shuffled and got Dan Fogelberg was the same day he died.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 18, 2007

    Nice to have you here, crobinator! I have always meant to read Milan Kundera.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 18, 2007

    I love that Neil Young song and that whole album something fierce.

    You’ll have to listen to the audio clips of the interview when it goes live because you’ll hear your name a lot!

  • SusanHenderson
    December 18, 2007

    That’s a wonderful story about getting fear out of the equation. The worst thing for a writer is to start to edit yourself in the first stages because you have a critic in your ear.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 18, 2007

    Makes me smile to think of The Beastie Boys in Oklahoma.

  • Heather_Fowler
    December 18, 2007

    Now, that is a great story. The first line:

    I always wanted to do ballet until my t#$@ got too big.

    Susan, you are hi-larious. This is my new favorite expression, BTW–said like high-larious. Hehe.

    I had a magnetic ballet pair of jewelry box dancers that danced figure eights on the glass mirror top. This was as close as I got to grace–watching them or others, but I think I had a past life as a dancer once, maybe one as a hooker, maybe one as a great rich lord (male), maybe one where I was murdered in an alley (lifelong fixation fear), and definitely one as a mermaid. And you?

  • mikelkpoet
    December 18, 2007

    Shuffle? PS I HATE this new format.

  • crobinator
    December 19, 2007

    I started with Unbearable Lightness of Being, but The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is my favorite, as well as Slowness. That’s not saying you start there though. I have a friend who lived Unbearable, but hated Laughter and Forgetting.

    Figures. 🙂

  • margueritemaria
    December 19, 2007

    Dan Fogelberg died? Wow, am I out of it. I have “Leader of the Band” on my iPod because it could have been written for my late father. Always had to pull over to the side of the road when it came on the radio.

  • Noria
    December 19, 2007

    I am exactly the sort of person who takes ideas and incubates them. Very perceptive, Sue. I’m more tortoise than hare. I’ve been working on what I think is a YA novel. I also just finished a story for an upcoming superhero anthology.

    There’s a teacher I forgot to mention — Elizabeth McCracken. When I did finally begin to write I drove from San Francisco to Provincetown, MA, to take a summer workshop with her, and it was there that my book of stories took shape and became more than just an idea.

  • ThomasAJackson
    December 19, 2007

    Yeah, definitely one of the uglier sides of the ol’ 3-4.

  • chuckles
    December 19, 2007

    my hs was one of the coolest places in the greater la area – at the time. some years ago I heard on NPR that it was the “poster-child” school for how badly things had deteriorated. Vandals broke in to Gert’s classroom and destroyed his cereal boxes. But at the time, sitting next to Simon Glickman of the “Very Hot Jews” site, there was no better place to learn.

  • noteon
    December 19, 2007

    I found my way back through Kimberly’s blahg. (Hi, Kimberly.)

    My biggest influence was Mrs. Silverii. Her English class was so uninteresting that three of us taught ourselves to write by creating a two-sentences-each round-robin epic that spanned several semesters.

    iTunes won’t shuffle, for some reason, so here are the first five alphabetically:

    1. A.B.I, Najite Olokun Prophecy, Africa Before Invasion
    2. Aaj Mein Peeni Ah- PBN, DBI, Absolut Bhangra 3
    3. Abadou, Zap Mama, Adventures in Afropea
    4. Abede, Salif Keita, Papa
    5. The Ability to Swing, Thomas Dolby, Aliens Ate My Buick

  • Ric
    December 19, 2007

    High school English was a joke – wasn’t until college that I stumbled upon Don Morse, who would hand back my carefully crafted papers with a big red C on them, until I tracked him down in his office and he said to stop handing in the first drafts. Life got much better after that – he introduced me to Vonnegut, whom he looks like and remains a friend still.

    I do not possess an I-pod
    so my 18 year old son shuffled and came up with this:

    Anti-Flag – Cellular
    Garth Brooks – Cowboys & Angels
    Bob Segar – Come to Papa
    Green Day – Jesus of Suburbia
    Sublime – Soundcheck

    (at least I’ve heard four of the five)

  • David Niall Wilson
    December 20, 2007

    Yes, critics are bad, but this was worse. I meant the fear of the reaction of other high school students to anyone actually trying hard to do well in a class…because it makes them look like they are NOT trying…writing poetry wasn’t exactly high on the cool meter, even in the 1970s…


  • SusanHenderson
    December 24, 2007

    Ooh, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting look really good!

  • SusanHenderson
    December 24, 2007

    Welcome! Anyone who pops over from Kimberley’s blog is cool with me!

    I’ll have to check out this music you listen to; it’s all new to me.

  • SusanHenderson
    December 24, 2007

    Vonnegut has (had, I guess) an amazing look!

    Maybe you’ll get an iPod for Christmas! I’m the only one in my family who doesn’t have one, but I’m fine with iTunes for now.

  • johnguzlowski
    December 25, 2007

    Hi, David, I knew Nell and her husband. They were great teachers. I taught at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston for 30 years, and saw many of her students. They were sharp, motivated, and lovely people.

  • johnguzlowski
    December 25, 2007

    A writer/teacher who really shaped my life and writing and thinking about writing was Paul Carroll. He was a poet and a critic and a guy who found it easy to offend a lot of people. But he was also a fellow who taught me some important lessons about writing. One of the lessons that never left me was that all poets are brothers and sisters.

    I wrote a poem about him and what he taught me. It’s written in his style:

    TITLE: Ode to Paul Carroll, dead these many years but still singing in Heaven with the Irish angels and the Chinese saints who drowned in their love of poetry

    Remember me, Paul?

    I wrote those weird poems that bad summer of ’69

    about Jesus burning
    the prostitutes up
    with His exploding eyes

    and about being a mind
    blistered astronaut
    with nothing to say
    to the sun except,
    Honey, I’m yours


    You were the first poet
    I knew

    the one who told me
    to believe all poets
    are brothers and sisters
    and poetry is all the poems ever written
    and that if you’re lucky enough
    to still be writing poems
    when you’re fifty
    then you’d know the true grace of poetry

    Do you remember that guy
    in the red plush beefeater’s hat?

    He said in class the revolution
    would send old farts like you
    to the camps with the other assholes proud of their money
    and their dick pink ties
    and all you said to him was

    “Maybe you won’t be able to get it up tonight
    because you’re tired or drunk-but
    someday there will be weeks and weeks
    when your penis
    will just stay a penis
    and then,
    there you’ll be”

    We were young and nobody
    knew what you were talking about, running
    riddles past us like some
    Irish Li Po from the back of the yards

    I still don’t get your Ode to Nijinsky, its blank staring page

    And what’s behind it?

    The lesson that poetry and art
    Disappear/vanish before
    we can see their dance?

    But surely that’s not the lesson
    you wanted to teach us

    You always had faith in poetry and poets,
    called them your pals, even the dead ones
    like Wordsworth and Milton
    Dickinson and Yeats,
    pals sharing a ragged pencil nub and sneaking smokes
    between visions of angels
    and teacups and Picasso
    bald and 80 among the true Chinese poets

    Our brothers and our sisters

    You’d tell us stories about poets drowning
    in their love of poetry
    and you’d lick your lips
    And say, Yes, Yes, and Yes
    As if some great meal
    Had just been served

    When you died I read in the Chicago papers
    that your last days
    weren’t so lucky
    your wife gone, you
    drinking too much and searching for James Wright
    in the yuppie bars around Division and Clark

    When I read that I thought maybe
    you were wrong
    about how Yeats’s Chinese grace
    could keep a man alive
    and a drunk sober

    But reading your
    last poems again last night
    I saw you were right

    So I went to the library and stole
    a copy of Odes, your first poems

    and read your Nijinsky poem again


    john guzlowski

  • Anon
    March 31, 2008

    Oh man, there were many many of her students who went into theatre, not just you. Off of the top of my head:

    Chrissy Hall
    Stacy Highsmith
    John Cecil
    Shawn Willet
    Barry Steele
    Mike McGreevy
    Heidi Schwartz

    I know there’s more, like I said, that’s off of the top of my head.


  • Kimberly
    March 31, 2008

    That’s so cool!!! I wonder if she knows how many people she’s inspired??? Do you happen to know where she is anymore? How can we let her know??

  • DCB
    June 18, 2008

    Wow! Another Lindley survivor! She was one of my teachers back at Gibbs in the late 80’s – early 90’s. Where you around the day she called in sick and came into work in disguise just to see what we’d say if we thought she wasn’t around? ::SHUDDER:: That woman was a brutal control feak who taught through abuse. When Ileft the ATP program to work professionally, I swoe that if I ever directed I would do everything the opposite of what she did. Glad to say I succeeded.

Susan Henderson