Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The Night Before School

 Whelp, my friends, it's 7:15 pm on August 31, 2022. Which means in 12 hours I'll be back in the saddle as a school teacher.

It would be so much harder without y'all.

Donations of books have poured in. I got some brand-new titles from Barnes & Noble and lots and lots of lightly-used books from ABE and Thriftbooks. I have 20 books and haven't even spent all the money yet.

I won't get to my classroom until Friday morning. When I get there, I will have a big bag of books that I know my students will want to read. That's such a relief.

May the Gods bless and keep you all. Wish me luck.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Bullhorn Bullshit

 Summer is winding down here at "The Gods Are Bored," and that means there are two events upcoming ... and we always go to both.

The first is Philadelphia Pagan Pride Day. It's held on the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend. The second is Labor Day itself, which includes a parade of unions along Philadelphia's waterfront.

Only one of these events draws protesters. I'll bet you can guess which one.

I can't remember if there was a Philadelphia Pagan Pride Day last September. I wouldn't have gone, because Covid was still an issue in our household. However, I did go in 2019, and readers, it wasn't all tree-huggy.

PPPD attracts the attention of the Christian fringe, and they come bearing bullhorns and banners proclaiming that all Pagans are going to Hell. Since they don't have a permit to protest at our event, they are supposed to stay on the fringe. But lately the Philly cops have been -- hmm, how should I put it? -- a tad lax. It's possible that these disruptors may lurch right into the event area with their noxious nastiness.

Honestly these protesters haven't bothered me personally in the past. But I know that their presence is very very triggering to some people in the Pagan community. Paganism has attracted many practitioners who have escaped the abuses of the radical evangelical Christian churches. Being accosted and harassed at a Pride event causes a lot of angst. For that reason, I deeply resent the intrusion of these moron zealots.

The event organizers at PPPD have been very adept at minimizing the Christian presence. Volunteers form a kind of human wall around the noise so that it doesn't drown out the programs and the rituals. And eventually the bullhorns must get heavy, because the protesters usually leave after about an hour.

Who is to say, though, in these emboldened times?

Now I know that West Philly is chock-a-block with anti-fascists who are able to rout any incursion by Proud Boys or other such rabble. But that's politics. This is religion, that other thorny subject. Doubtful that antifa will lend us a hand on this one.

According to trustworthy sources, Christian protesters have become more aggressive at Pagan events this year. I sure hope this isn't the case in Philly. All we want to do is see each other, donate a few cans of food and some pet supplies, buy trinkets from the vendors, and have a workshop or a ritual, or both. Why is that anyone else's business? We don't go to their stupid storefront churches and shout that they're headed to Hades! (Ahem, though it could be true.)

What should I, Anne Johnson, do if these nitwits crash our Pride Day? Don't suggest glitter bombs, because it's a city park with big old trees. Otherwise I am open to suggestions.

Monday, August 22, 2022

The Devil Went Down to Anneland

 Greetings from "The Gods Are Bored!" Wow, what an eventful long weekend I have had! Time to flip up the tank top and gaze deep into that navel!

But before I do, thank you again to everyone who contributed to this year's Personal Choice Reading Book Drive! My students will thank you. I do tell them where the books come from.

I'm just back today from a stay at my lovely, shady, untouched and untrammeled property in Bedford County, PA. I have named the tract Anneland. It's a colony of the Independent Republic of Johnsonia, and there could be no better place for such a colony. Why, only a half mile from its border there's a cemetery chock a block with Johnsons, including my direct ancestors.

Anneland is in fine shape. Meaning that it's just a forest, doing what forests do when they aren't pestered by people.

My daughter The Heir went with me on this trip. For her, Anneland was a source of constant wonder. There were mushrooms everywhere, and fossils, and she set about clearing a pathway and a little campsite where we could sit and feel cool.

We didn't spend the night on Anneland. It would be very, very dark in those woods. As luck would have it, there are some cozy and clean tourist cabins not far from the property. Nice to have a shower and a fridge and a microwave at your disposal while visiting the primitive colonies!

There is also a swimming hole near Anneland. One morning, Heir and I stopped by to check out the water level. I started to walk upstream a ways, and suddenly Heir shouted for me. "Mom, come quick!"

I obeyed my first born's directive and rejoined her by the side of the creek. She pointed, and I gaped.


This is a case where a photo does not do a creature justice. This thing would have stretched from the tip of my middle finger to my wrist. It was like a big, green, horned, spiky cigar. It fell out of a tree, five feet from where Heir was standing.

Boldly going where no one had gone before, Heir guided the oversized insect to shore, because it fell in the water. Then, after we gaped at it for some time, she used a camp shovel to carefully lift it from the side of the creek to the safety of the woods.

Later that morning, when I found myself at a place that gets Internet signal, I asked Dr. Google what this thing actually is. Turns out it's a hickory horned devil caterpillar. They burrow into the ground to build a chrysalis, which explains why it fell out of a tree. You would think that such a monstrosity would be poisonous, but it's not. Poison would be redundant for something so huge and scary-looking. Oh, and by your leave, it's the largest caterpillar in North America.

There are more wild critters in my little New Jersey back yard than there are on four acres of Anneland. I've got a dozen species of birds, squirrels, chipmunks, bunnies, groundhogs, possums, moles, and raccoons. But I have nothing like the insect representation you get when you go to the mountains. "Hickory Horned Devil" is a great name for that caterpillar, but I'm tempted to call it the Lord God Bug. Because you best believe I said "Lord God" when I saw that thing.

We also did a little waterfall collecting, at Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia.


And guess what else, readers? There are windmills upon windmills on the mountains in the Mountain State! Whole lines of them atop the high ridges! A feast for the eyes.

I also moved some roadkill off the road for the Sacred Thunderbirds, and later I saw them feasting on it safely. That was the religious portion of the trip.

Heir and I also feasted like kings at the local eateries, the Road Kill Cafe (not kidding) and the Chat & Chew Diner outside Keyser, WV.

But mostly we just hung out on Anneland. This is the hottest part of the summer, and those woods were cool.

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.