Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Oh, Romeo Romeo Why The Hell Is That Your Name?

 Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," William Shakespeare edition! What ho, and wherefore?

Herewith an explanation:

"Romeo and Juliet" is a rite of passage for our public school teenagers. Seems like every freshman in the US of A (not to mention the UK) has to read it.

And since all three of you know I teach public school freshmen, you know I must needs teach this tome.

Aye, there's the rub.

As you might imagine, my freshmen can't even graze the surface of the original text. Oh, me! Zounds! It biteth like an adder!

Kind of a shame, because "Romeo and Juliet" is full of poetry and all sorts of fabulous imagery, especially name-dropping, at numerous intervals, bored deities. At the same time, it's a ripping good tale with lots of action and those fabulous plot twists.

My district purchased a "side by side" edition of "Romeo and Juliet" that has Shakespeare's text on the right-hand page and a "translation" on the left-hand page.

Aye, zounds, there's another rub. My students can't read the translation! It's still too hard. Their eyes glaze over. And those long speeches? Forget it. No one is willing to read them out loud.

There's another translated version of "Romeo and Juliet" online, called "No Fear Shakespeare" by Spark Notes. In previous years I have used that one, because it really is easier to read. However, this year Spark Notes put the whole thing behind a paywall. And my district won't buy it because we already have the unreadable one.

Enter Anne, with a Bear.

Readers, I wrote my own translation of "Romeo and Juliet" this summer.

I was faithful to the original. In fact, I was more faithful than the translations. I used some rhyme!

Only one character got a new name. The Apothecary became the Drug Dealer. After all, who these days has a gram of poison that can knock you dead even though you have the strength of twenty men?

And I made one other change that was inspired by this year's freshmen.

It's hard to explain the term "banished" to modern urban teenagers. Let's see. Romeo has to leave the city, and he can't come back or he'll be killed. That was a thing 400 years ago.

As one of my students pointed out this spring, it's still a thing. Now it's called deportation.

So Romeo doesn't get banished. He gets deported.

If you have idly wondered what I've been doing this summer, this is it. I re-wrote "Romeo and Juliet" with struggling urban readers in mind.

This year it will get a pilot run, and if the students like it, I may try to sell it on a teacher platform. Not sure how that will fly with Spark Notes, but hey. I didn't plagiarize their text. I can't even access it!

What a sad story. "Romeo and Juliet," I mean. Not my awesome hood-inspired translation!

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

A Teacher Begs for Books

 First let me say, books are not ever purposely stolen from my urban classroom. I'm firmly convinced that there are dozens of dusty volumes under dozens of beds in Camden and Pennsauken, New Jersey. And probably more than a few scattered around other boroughs that contribute students to my Vo-Tech.

Nor are books purposely defaced or brutalized. They just wear out from use.

The person who holds the purse strings at my school has accused me of not keeping good enough track of my classroom books. And she's right. My classroom library operates on an honor system. There is no way in Hell I am going to submit fine cards for my students if they lose a book. These are kids who get free breakfast and lunch! Why would I make the school charge them for a beat-up paperback?

And with all that said, I don't lose that many books from my room each year. I did when I sent each kid home with a book during quarantine, but can you blame me for that? I thought we would be back in two weeks. It was almost two years.

Anyway, here are a few titles that I could use more copies of. I'll tell you a little bit about them as well.

If there's a book that really does walk frequently, it's Tyrell, by Coe Booth.

These days I'm running a risk stocking this novel in my classroom, because our hero gets a blow job on page 4 and has plenty of action thereafter. But when I say that boys who won't read anything hang on every word in this book, I'm not exaggerating. Besides, this is one of the best books I personally have ever read. It's like the author channeled Charles Dickens and created a brand new Oliver Twist. This story is memorable and a really scathing social statement about our modern society. (Sadly, this book is issued with a weak binding and a flimsy cover. I have had to retire more than one copy after it fell to bits in my hand.)

Tyrell has a sequel, called Bronxwood.

In ten years of teaching, I have only ever had one student who read Tyrell and didn't clamor for Bronxwood. Same hero, same adventures.

Here's another novel that I've had disintegrate in my hands from overuse. It's Snitch, by Allison Van Diepen. The cover art may vary.

This author has several titles that are hugely popular in my classroom. The settings are urban high schools. This one is a sort of love story that includes gang initiation. I've read it, and it's a page-turner. I'm down to one copy.

Now, I'm going to admit that multiple copies of this next one went walking. But no wonder! It's so good. It's Butter, by Erin Lange.

"Butter" is the nasty nickname a bunch of bullies have given an overweight teenager who has no friends. So this teenager decides to livestream a fatal eating binge on New Year's Eve. When he announces this on social media, surprise! He's suddenly popular. Y'all want to read a good young adult novel? This one is tops.

One genre of book that is popular in my classroom is the verse novel. These are particularly coveted by students who speak Spanish at home. And this is a good one. It's called The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo.

Our heroine wants to live a normal life, have a boyfriend, and write spoken word poetry. But her parents are religious extremists who don't allow her to leave home except to go to school. Needless to say, she starts sneaking around.

Now these last two are the most recent and are just getting traction in my classroom.

The first is Shadowshaper, by Daniel Jose Older.

In case you haven't noticed, most fantasy literature has white, white, white protagonists doing white, white, white things. But this one has a Puerto Rican heroine with a Haitian boyfriend, and her adventures are all based on interacting with the Orishas. Why shouldn't minority students have fantasy novels they can relate to? And by the by, this is a ripping good read.

Same goes for this last title, which was popular with my African American students. It's called Slay, by Brittney Morris.

This one is about a gamer who gets targeted online by racists. I think it's the topic that sells this one. Very relatable for my students.

If you plan to endow me with one of these tomes, email me for my address. My email is annejohnson17211 at gmail dot com.

So there you have it. Miss Johnson's hot read needs for 2022! I thank you, and my students thank you, and my administration bean counters would thank you if they weren't so busy counting beans that they can then stockpile as a surplus.

One bit of good news is that I don't need any school supplies this year. I have plenty of pencils and paper left over from past generosity. And I do still use pencils and paper. I tell my students that their grandchildren won't know the art of hand-writing things. But until then, we do use the basics.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

FAQ about Loki

 Wow! Tens and tens of you read my awesome interview with Loki, below. I'm humbled by the outpouring. I want to leave that important message active for a few more days, even though Lughnasadh is upon us.

I must have gotten two or three passing thoughts about why I would serve Loki two pieces of blueberry pie when I have a white couch, white walls, and a white quilt on the bed upstairs. 

It's very simple. There are stains, and there are stains. If my cat Gamma stains the white upholstery, that's unfortunate. But if Loki stains the furniture, that's a stain from a God. I can point to it and say, "Look. Loki did that. Praised be."

All stains aren't created equal. Some are holy.

If you haven't read my interview with Loki, it's right below. You don't want to miss it, because it's trending in the labyrinth of my imagination.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Interview with a Bored God: Loki

 Oh, how we at "The Gods Are Bored" have strayed from our central theme: giving downsized deities a public platform! It's what put us on the map, so to speak, and has been a favorite pastime since 2005. Yep, that long.

And mostly this has been an uplifting and fun ride. (Ares is the exception, He speaks in all caps and sets the furniture on fire.)

Today I heard a lot of ruckus outside, and I do love me a good ruckus. Investigating, I found Loki on my front lawn, juggling squirrels. Even though the squirrels were having the time of their lives, I sensed that Loki had something to tell me, so I have invited Him inside. (I'm glad the house is a mess. He loathes a neat house.)

Please give a warm, wonderful "Gods Are Bored" welcome to Loki!

Anne: All hail, aww Hell, oh well, howdy, Loki! Sup, cuz?

Loki: More than the usual chaos, Annie.

Anne: You mean extra chaos? Please tell me it's the kind that leaves everyone out of breath laughing and maybe only a few new stains on the upholstery.

Loki (looking around): What could have possessed you to buy a white couch?

Anne: Would you believe it's my second white couch? I know I shouldn't, but I take pride in how little I've learned. Here's a piece of blueberry pie for you, and that wide, wide expanse of white couch ...

Loki: Hey Anne! Watch this!

[Insert laughing emoji]

Anne: At least pick up the big chunks, willya?

Loki: Sure! Because I see you also repainted the walls -- blushy white!

Anne: This is the silliest of questions, seeing as it's You, but is there a reason for Your visit? Other than giving the squirrels a joyride, I mean.

Loki: I am going to ask you to amplify a message for Me.

Anne: Only too glad to oblige, Tricky Sir.

Loki: The message has been reported seriously and factually here. It came through a Seeress.

Anne: For real, for real? I saw a possession ritual once, and it scared me snotless! I'll bet you put that poor Seeress through her paces. But listen. I know that many blog readers don't want to follow a link from one page to another, so can you tell me the message without possessing me? Or could you at least wait to possess me until the weekend, when I'm going to a LARP and there will be water mods?

Loki: Snap, I love water mods! I'm in!

Anne: But the message ...

Loki: Okay. Part one: Dig up the joy! Look at you and everyone around you. Misery, misery everywhere! You know, misery and joy are both contagious, like viruses. Spread the one, get vaxxed for the other.

Anne: But there's so much to be ...

Loki: You want to sprain an ankle before you get to the water mods? What did I just say?

Anne: Spread joy. Okay, I'll try!

Loki: DO I HAVE TO GO ALL YODA ON YOU, WOMAN? Do or do not, there is no try!

Anne: Got it. Another piece of pie?

Loki: Do you have that white quilt on the bed upstairs?

Anne: White is my failing. Is there more to the message?

Loki: Yep. You know all those plans you have to deck your classroom with witchy stuff and witchy books? Revise and edit those plans. It's not a safe time to be a Pagan in America.

Anne: Dang! You are the last one I ever thought I would hear say this. Go on the down low? A Norse God telling me to go on the down low? Knock me over with a feather!

Loki: Done! Shame to ruin such a nice pillow. But if I can be serious for half a minute, you heard Me right. You are more valuable alive than you are as a martyr. And there are a lot of Christian wingnuts out there with guns, looking to create martyrs.

Anne: I've always had a sneaking suspicion that martyrdom is overrated.

Loki: Yep. So dial back the righteous protest over your Supreme Court's religious rulings. Because this is the remainder of my message: Time will catch up with these fools. All of them. Yes, you can expect some rough sledding. It's dangerous right now. We deities are feeling it as well. But when the smoke clears, some people will walk away like Mad Max, bruised but unbeaten. And those people will rebuild.

Anne: But Mad Max didn't rebuild, he just tramped off into the Outback...

Loki: Let's see what happens if I hold this feather pillow up to the fan ...

Anne: NO! NO! I GOT YOU, BRO! I hear you! Only to glad to amplify the message!

Loki: Thanks. And again, for more details, your fans can go here. Now. About those water mods...

Anne: You'll need a swimsuit that's at least passably in-game.

Loki: Everything I own slips nimbly into a LARP.

Anne: I daresay. Anyway, I'm going to the game on Saturday. Meet me here at 9:00, and please don't do that thing with the bugs and the windshield like you did last time.

Loki: Don't worry, Annie. Last time we didn't have anywhere important to go.

Image: Thalia Took

Monday, July 18, 2022

I Have a Crop!

 Welcome to "The Gods Are Property Owners!" I'm Anne Johnson, proud yeoman of the soil. I'm here to report on my crop yields.

I bought a plot of land in February and visited it in April. Nothing much was growing then except a little bit of sturdy lichen.

This past weekend, my daughter The Fair and I made a sojourn back to the property. If you recall, I named it Anneland.

The Fair is very much into foraging. If you haven't heard of that, it's basically bypassing the local eateries in favor of finding something wild to eat in the woods. The Fair actually found some morels when they were in season ... and those are solid gold.

It's not morel season anymore, but I was so, so glad to have The Fair with me, surveying Anneland. Because as it turns out, there's a crop growing on the hillside. I mean, all along the hillside. As in, probably a quarter acre or more.


This is an actual photo from Anneland!

Now, I am intensely grateful to The Fair for positively identifying the wild blueberries, because if I had gone there by myself, I would have assumed that these were poisonous dingleberries or some such, and I would have given them a wide berth. Instead they will be nurtured (along with one tiny raspberry plant I also found).

As you can see, very few of these were ripe. The Fair says I will still have some to pluck when I return to Anneland in August. Maybe enough to make a tart!

It's kind of fun to have your own blueberry patch. Thanks be to Venus Cloacina, great Goddess!

Thursday, July 07, 2022

I Can't Fucking Believe I Have To Defend Librarians

 When this blog started, I threw the shade of a sprawling oak over the lunatic fringe better known as the evangelical Christian right. That group is still the lunatic fringe, so how have they seized the nation in their evil iron grip?

Now they're coming for librarians.


You know, those quiet and underpaid people (predominantly women) who check out books and tell you which floor the restroom is on in a whispery voice.

Librarians are being called groomers for showing up at work and checking out books. They are being threatened with firing and physical harm.


I was a bookish kid from the time I could crawl. I've spent countless hours in libraries. I can remember my parents taking me as a toddler. I went just last week to the Haterfield Public Library to ask about the summer reading program.

Sixty years of libraries.

And in all that time, the only librarian who ever offered me books was the one on the Bookmobile that came to my neighborhood in the 1960s. She would have a stack of Dr. Doolittle and Freddy the Pig books for me. Was she grooming me to talk to animals?

I've never known a librarian who was outspoken. I've never known a librarian who tried to befriend her patrons. Librarians are more anonymous than the servant staff of a British estate. If teenagers are paying mind to librarians these days, it really and truly is a whole new world.

But the lunatic fringe is painting this humble profession as a den of vipers, out to turn straight kids gay by having LGBTQ books on the shelves.

I am genuinely curious, readers. How do you choose what book to read? Do you ask a librarian for a recommendation? I literally haven't done that ever. The Bookmobile librarian brought me Freddy the Pig books because my mom recommended them. When I outgrew my mom, I had friends. In 60 years of using libraries, I have never asked a librarian for a recommendation.

But the librarians choose the books that get put on the shelves, right? Well, let's take a look at that task.

There are hundreds of books published each month, and I've never seen a library that didn't have a tight budget. This means that acquisitions librarians (who are even more shy than the ones at the desk) read the trade publications and choose the books that get the best reviews. If these acquisition librarians have any agenda at all, it's to try to stock books in a way that all the readers using the library will find helpful.

So, having conquered abortion rights, having distributed lethal firearms far and wide, now the lunatic fringe is coming for those gentle creatures who check out books, just because the gentle creatures have titles that include all kinds of people, and not just lunatic fringe people.

This is like the fucking Red Scare.

Librarians. It boggles my mind. It's like blaming chipmunks for your cat clawing the furniture.

Shout out to the lunatic fringe: Threaten the librarians, by all means. But don't hesitate to trust that clean-cut youth pastor who wants to build blanket forts for late-night "Bible study." He's all up and up.

Fascist morons.

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

When Boycotting the 4th of July is a Great Idea

 Nine years out of ten in Philadelphia, the weather sucks on the Fourth of July. It's usually hot as hell, or else there are thunderstorms or hurricanes.

This year the weather was outstanding. Low humidity, temperatures topping out in the mid-80s, sunshine from horizon to horizon.

Philadelphia always hosts this big ass "Welcome America" festival on the Fourth. The city closes down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and has a concert and fireworks overtop the Art Museum.

I've never gone to this festivity. I don't like heat, and I don't like crowds. I do like fireworks, but this year I didn't even have the appetite to see them.

So about an hour before Philly's firework show was scheduled to start, I settled into the La-z-boy recliner for another evening of "American Carnage: Active Shooter." Otherwise known as CNN.

I entered into a text conversation with a friend of mine named Nicole.

Nicole: You always pop into my head on July 4 remembering the time we sat and watched the fireworks together

Anne: Aw, I didn't even see any this year!

Nicole: I'm at the Art Museum now waiting

[Nicole sends crowd photo]

Anne: Here I sit at home. I've never done it!

Nicole: I was here two years ago and it's the best I've ever seen by far. I believe Channel 10 is broadcasting them should start in a few minutes

Anne: Next year I will go with you

[Nicole sends a smiling emoji.]

18 hours passed before Nicole and I exchanged a few more texts.

Anne: Almost afraid to ask you about last night ...

Nicole: All good, just a lot of panicking people. I thought of you in the middle of it and glad you weren't there

Anne: I'm glad you're ok!!!

Nicole: Thanks

In case you missed it, there was a shooting on the Ben Franklin Parkway at the height of the fireworks display. Two cops were injured. The shooting sparked a panic, needless to say, and people -- thousands of them -- ran for their lives.

I'm glad I wasn't there. I can't run very fast anymore.

Stick a fork in America. It's done.