‘The Bible — is there a lot of parts to that?’: Overheard in my study hall

What follows below are things actually said by the high school students in my 9th hour study hall this semester. While some of these things may have been said mainly to get attention and/or laughs from other students, this is authentic dialogue of real (if inauthentic) human teenagers:

Dramatis Personae:

Teacher: Mr. Hagemann (me, the recorder of these bon mots)

Senior boys: ND, QF, PC.

Sophomore boys: JH, EC, CF (who mostly sleeps)

Freshman boy: DE


10 March 2014: JH said in a low, quasi-whisper: “ND is printing!” “It’s true,” quipped ND.

10: “I was just a little off,” said JH, after he said there were 4 seconds left before the bell when there were fewer than that.

11: JH said “Kobe, Kobe, Kobe” as he passed my calculator between his legs, then dropped it. [“Kobe” was presumably a reference to the basketball player.]

11: JH: “Oh, my freakin’ knee”

11: JH had been accused of saying bad things to a girl on his bus. “You’re harmless, though,” said EC. “Exactly — whoa, whoa, what?” said JH.

11: JH: “Mr. Hagemann, do you think I should be suspended for doing something I didn’t do?”

11: ND told JH that if someone picked a fight with him, he should take off his pants because “no one wants to fight with someone with their pants off.” “Yeah, they do,” said JH.

11: Of some online comments a girl made about JH, ND said, “Maybe it’s a different ‘JH’.” “No, it’s my name,” said JH. Later, EC paraphrased JH as saying that online comments criticizing him were spelled well: “‘I feel her grammar is adequate.’”

11: ND also suggested to JH: “Bite her ear off. Mike Tyson her,” her being JH’s accuser.

11: ND: “What are you doing?” JH: I’m lifting my butt up. … I’m flexing one hump, then I’m flexing the other.”

12 March: JH, after a cough: “Ah, blah, my lungs.”

12: JH said, “I want to go back to my locker because there’s a girl who smelled really pretty over there” and “the hallway smells like booty, which is bad” and a girl smelled like “dandelions and roses.” JH has Febreeze in his locker because people near his locker smell like “booty holes,” he said.

12: ND: “Why are we taking off our clothes?” They weren’t taking off clothes, but JH was talking about disrobing, for some unknown reason. “We’re not,” answered JH. “What is WRONG with you?” asked ND. “Nobody knows!” low-shouted JH.

12: JH said, “That one movie — Ricky Bobby — ‘I’m on fire, I’m on fire’ — with Will Ferrell and at the very end they kiss and it’s weird.”

Mr. H said, “Accidental Movie Reviews by JH.”

14 March: DE: “The Bible — is there a lot of parts to that?”

14: Said JH to DE:  “Get some scissors and you cut the tip off.” JH later explained he was talking about the tip of a pencil.

14: JH, working on computer, said “Where the hell’s my name?” Later, he said, “Oh, my gosh, what happened to my name” and “I don’t know what the hell I just did.”

20 March: ND: “I don’t know where the colon is.” EC: “Like the butt-colon or the grammar colon?” ND: “I’m gonna name my kid ‘Colon,’” as in “Collin.”

20: JH, looking at some webpage he was supposed to add something to, said, “How’m I supposed to put mine in there?” EC said, “JH, you are a quote-worthy person.”

20: DE: “I just wrote the wrong answer on the wrong line.”

20: After DE blamed his poor biology class performance on sitting in the back of the class, EC said, “I also sat in the back and got somewhat educated.”

20: EC said some scientist spent 30 years searching for evidence of the Big Bang. “That’s a lot,” said DE. “Yes,” said EC and ND.

20: DE: “Romeo and Juliet.” JH: “Dude, they died.”

20: “I found it! I found it! I have no idea what I found,” JH said, while doing a word-search.

20: DE said something about not having answers to a biology worksheet. Noting that DE had his biology textbook with him, ND said: “You really HAVE a book that has the answers in it.”

20: DE said a diagram on his biology worksheet was of cake, and that JH had said it was a baseball field. ND said, “Why would the chapter on plants talk about cake OR a baseball field?”

21: EC said CF’s dreams, as he sleeps thru class, have “monsters that speak like JH.”

21: JH: “Math is dumb.”

QF: “Then think it to yourself.”

JH: “I wanna be a civil engineer.”

QF: “I don’t care about your life.”

21: “Calm down, sensei,” said ND to DE after DE did some weird high kick.

21: “‘I need every client you have ‘cuz I’m gay,’” said QF, as if he were JH, who had just said he’d get clients as a gynecologist by telling women he’s gay.

21: DE said “there’s a spring in his pen” in such a way that EC responded with “that was an environment joke.”

21: EC to Mr. H., after some other students had been doing foolish things: “So many years of college and this is where you end up. You’re livin’ the dream, Mr. Hagemann. You’re livin’ the dream.”

31: “This is why you don’t [pause] excel,” said ND to DE about DE taking snack breaks before class.

1 April: ND and JH are both on the track team. “Hey, ND, you want to run 3 miles Monday?” asked JH. “No,” said ND. “Sure?” said JH.

1: Said ND, pointing north: “That’s north.” “If yer LOOKIN’ that way,” said DE.*

2 April: Someone in study hall asked (within the context of a discussion of pranks) if school could suspend everybody, and Mr. H. said they might do something like cancel prom, and somebody (JH?) said he didn’t care about prom, and ND said girls would care a lot of prom got canceled. JH: “We’re not girls, bro.” ND: “True dat.”

2: DE: “Why is our conversation [see * above] on the board?” where the quote was being used as a topic for journaling. ND: “Because it was stupid.”

2: “Let’s throw me in front of that one class,” said DE. This is one of his “acting jobs,” said EC, where DE acts like he has fallen or been pushed.

4 April: “Why’d I say ‘NDs’? There’s only one ND,” said JH, who had said “… when NDs get back” from bathroom.

4: DE: “I don’t like the color of it,” said freshman DE, “it” being rice.

4: DE: “JH, can I have your shoes?” JH: “What?”

7 April: JH said he doesn’t like math but he wants to be a civil engineer. PC said engineers have to like math. JH said, “People don’t like getting naked and having sex for money but they do anyway.”

10 April: JH: “[A particular female classmate] told me she had buns of steel and I asked her to show me and she laughed and walked away. People always laugh and walk away.”

10: DE said he himself was smart. JH said, “In your own world, or, like, in real life?”

10: DE said he had been sleeping in class while having something valuable in his pocket, and he said, “You could’ve pick-pocketed me the whole time.” “I did,” answered EC. DE: “I still have the same money — did you take it and put it back?” “Yes,” said EC.

11 April: “Or you could actually work on the stuff [for his English class] instead of lying across 8 chairs,” said ND to DE, who said he was about to fail English 1 and who was actually lying across the seats of several chairs.

11: To the tune of “Why can’t we be friends,” JH sang: “I feel like I just killed a tree/but it’s not a FELL-oh-knee/why can’t we be friends?”

14 April: Now JH says he doesn’t want to leave with the classroom visitors — he used to ask each one “take me with you” — but today, JH said, “I ain’t about that life.” Visitor SA was confused. “Just ignore him. That’s what WE do,” said ND.

14: “DE, do you know what animate means?” asked EC.

“No, I come from a family of four,” said DE.

“Do you say stupid things just ‘cause you think they’re funny?” said ND to DE.

14: DE to JH, after JH sneezed loudly: “Why are you so obnoxious, as ND would say,” said DE. ND said, “If you’re going to quote me, quote me right.” Then DE cited the quote, with reference to time, date, etc.

14: DE: “Life is not stupid.”

14: EC: “So it came from the heart?” DE: “It came out of my heart … Kevin Hart the wrestler … JH, I want to wrestle you.”

14: Mr. Hagemann said that the staple JH was using to pop what he called a “blood blister” was not sanitary. It’s the dirtiest staple this side of Rochelle, Mr. H. said. EC added: “It’s been in hookers’ butts, JH.”

15 April: ND: “Well it’s snowing [today].” JH: “Mother Nature, go home, you’re drunk.”

15: QF, complaining about the noise level in the study hall classroom, said, “Hey, JH, some of us want to get an education today.” Answered JH: “Oh, I know, I’ve already got mine.”

16 April 2014: After JH had just called minuscule-sized DE a “Big Boy,” ND said, “Please don’t tell someone you’re gonna wrestle and then immediately call them ‘Big Boy.’”

17 April: EC: “Sometimes I think you’re a bird.” DE: “Why, because I don’t stop talking?” EC:

“No, because I just think you are.”

17: DE: “Are we friends?” ND: “What day is today?”  DE: “Thursday.” ND: “Sure.” Then DE made a high-pitched yelping noise. ND: “We’re not friends anymore.” DE: “Why not?” ND: “That noise.”

17: DE said,  “Screw it, there’s two solutions,” as he sat down with a worksheet and calculator.

17: While doing math, DE said: “I don’t think I simplified it right.” Mr. H: “So you complicated it?”

ND looked at DE’s math work and said: “It’s not ‘plus 4 x,’ it’s ‘plus 4.’” DE: “Oh, you gotta move it to the other side.” ND: “You’re not moving it to the other side, you’re adding it to both sides.” And then DE devolved into silliness and nonsense and silly nonsense.

17: “Do you wanna fight?” asked DE. “Kinda,” said ND.

Etymology of ‘Easter’

So the name “Easter,” as it refers to the Christian festival commemorating the resurrection of Jesus, apparently derives from the name of a pagan celebration. According to my New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1993 edition, “Easter” comes from an old English variation of “Eastre,” “a goddess whose feast was celebrated at the vernal equinox.” (See also sources here and here.)

Another word for this Christian holiday, also according to the SOED, is “Pasch,” which, like non-English words for the same event (for example, the Spanish “Pascua“), seems to be derived from the Latin and Greek and, ultimately, Hebrew, words for “Passover.”

So what’s weird is that these two names for this most-uniquely Christian of holidays both come from non-Christian religions, and specifically, “Easter” and “Passover” are actual holidays in these other religions. Was this perhaps a marketing move on the part of the early church leaders, a way to convert the non-believers by appending a Christian celebration onto celebrations the non-believers were already having, not unlike Christmas?

I’m 2.7% ‘Neanderthal’: The language of evolution

According to a recent analysis of my DNA done by this company (which was a company used by Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s series “Finding Your Roots” on the PBS), 2.7 of my genetic material comes from Neanderthals.


Not that this amount of Neanderthal makes me unique — I’m only at the 41st percentile. But it was only recently that it humans were understood to have any Neanderthal ancestry at all. But knowing this about myself, I watch shows about Neanderthals, like this one I watched last night, in a different way than I used to. They’re my people — well, are Neanderthals people? I guess it depends how we define people.

Definitions like this matter a lot when we start talking about genetics and evolution, as “Your Inner Fish” does (also, here). Watching episode 2 — “Your Inner Reptile” — last night, I was struck by how easy it is, when talking about evolution, to make it seem like evolution is an active force that guides/aims the change in organisms toward the end of becoming what they have become, rather than thinking of evolution as a passive descriptor of an essentially random process that it technically is.

I’m not a biologist (and if I’m getting this wrong, I’d appreciate hearing from an evolutionary expert), but my understanding of evolution is that the act that causes alterations to the bodies of a certain line of creatures over generations is genetic change in new offspring. Due to sexual recombination of genes, as well as random mutations that occur, individual creatures are born with features that may be different than what any parent has. For a crude example, perhaps a baby squirrel is born with four eyes. And, while many new features are useless or even harmful to the individual creature, perhaps having four eyes helps that creature survive and reproduce more than its fellow squirrels. Eventually, four-eyed squirrels could be so much more successful at living and reproducing than normal two-eyed squirrels that eventually all of the squirrels that get born and survive are four-eyed squirrels.

Now, of course, none of the two-eyed squirrels became four-eyed squirrels. No squirrel born without four eyes would spontaneously start to grow four eyes. A squirrel is born with the genes it gets, and even if some person decided to give that squirrel two additional eyes via surgical implantation, that squirrel would not have the genes to create children with four eyes. (Of course, there could be genetic engineering to do such a thing, and some bacteria just share their genes).

And so lately I’ve been thinking that what we label as “evolution” is an abstraction used to describe the perception of physical changes in successive generations of offspring. This is associated with the idea that each person alive now (assuming no human has yet been made in a lab from one parent’s doubled genes) must have had ancestors going back to, well, when life first started. I am here because my parents created me, and their parents created them, and so on, back to the first molecules that could replicate themselves. So I come from a genetic line of individuals who were successful at reproducing themselves going back to early humans, to proto-humans, to proto-mammals, to creatures who looked more like reptiles, to creatures who looked more like fish, to single-celled organisms.

And the change between any two generations, children compared to parent, was likely quite small — the big changes, like from one species of proto-human to Homo sapiens, can be seen only by comparing individuals who are millions of years (and many, many generations) apart.

But of course, to label different creatures as being of differing species is to draw distinctions that are perhaps useful but certainly arbitrary. (Yes, a species is defined here as “the largest group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring,” but of course, this boundary is apparent only many, many generations after the original divergence).  Any two individual organisms that are compared will have some things in common but not other things. The term “evolution” then is applied to explain these differences in individuals where one individual may be an ancestor of the other, but “evolution” is not itself a physical entity. Physical organs are touchable things, as are offspring, but “evolution” is an abstraction.

Overheard at the Wedding Reception of Steve & Rachel

LAKE WINDSOR GOLF CLUB, 5 April 2014 — An older white man, later identified as Rachel’s father, said to those assembled for the reception that while the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team would be playing in an NCAA tournament game later that evening, “the wedding was important, too.”

Steve’s former roommate and groomsman Dave said to the group that “it took me a while to break [Steve] in.”

When I asked a member of the waitstaff if I should keep my fork as she was taking my salad plate, she said, “you have plenty.” She was right; there were three more forks around set at my place. “That’s a good assessment,” I concurred.

As I gestured with my pen towards my wife’s bare legs, I said, “Hi! Want some smiley faces on your knees?” She did not.

Tracy, whose husband, Pete, was another groomsman, was at our table with her two-day-old son, Zakkury (spelling uncertain, due to the disconnect between English pronunciation and English spelling). I said the boy would be a party person as he grows up because “he’s been partying since he’s been born.”

“I’m Greg,” said Greg, to the group.

Greg, who is the groom’s brother, also said that his brother’s doctorate didn’t make him any more mature. Greg called him, “Doctor M___, P.H.D., L.M.N.O.P., S.O.B.” Greg also said that he was at first unimpressed that his future sister-in-law was a native of Wisconsin. Then he said something nice about Wisconsin, “so I don’t get beaten in the parking lot somewhere or something,” Greg explained.

A little boy was in the path a server was about to take. A woman said, “David! The cake is comin’ — sit down!”

A four-year-old boy at my assigned table noted that his fish and his chicken portions used to be alive. I noted that this boy, whose parents had been students in my high school about 11 years ago, would be my student in another 11 years. My former students said this made them feel old.

Increasingly inebriated groomsman Dave noted “‘at’s a byootiful dressh” that the bride was wearing. (I may have exaggerated the “sh” but not the dropping of the “Th” from “That’s”.)

My wife started swaying left and right, and at the next table, Emily did the same, mirroring my wife, and Emily noted that she herself was swaying “with cake.” Later in the evening, when I read Emily this quote from my little notebook, she said, “make sure you add ‘bitch’ to my comment.”

The boys frightened little three-year-old Olivia off the dance floor, said her dad, Pete, who then said “YES!” and pumped his arm. My wife later said, “that’s very dad-ish.”

From the dance floor end of the hall, the D.J. started calling out larger and larger numbers, and couples stopped dancing and left the dance floor. By the time he called out “62, 63,” there was only one couple left, and then they stopped dancing. It may have been a chance to honor those who’ve been married for that many years, or he may have been auctioning off old people.

As some people were speaking of nerds, Liz said, “have ya MET Steve?”

The D.J. played the “Budweiser Song,” which my old high school used to play at football games as the “Hub Song” (though a fellow student of almost my age did not recall this, I confirmed it with our band director), and during which the Wisconsin contingent shouted “WIS-CON-SIN” where the song says “BUD-WISE-R.”

My wife was concerned about the D.J.’s musical selections. “This man who’s in charge of my dancing fate. … I’d be happy with some Kesha. The ’60s were a LONG time ago,” my wife said during “Brown-Eyed Girl.” When the D.J. ordered “You guys sing” at the part of the song that goes “sha-la-la,” my wife and I protested, quietly, “ah, fuck you.”

After a little girl of maybe six years vintage asked my wife to dance with her to “Footloose,” my wife found the request adorable but the dance exhausting. “These little girls are brutal, man,” said my wife. Later, several of us adults repeated the dance moves this girl came up with during such songs as “Thrift Shop.”

After the groom’s mother sorta fell-flopped into a sitting groomsman’s lap, the groom’s aunt Lyssuh said of the mother, “I know. She’s a skank; she’s been like that all her life.” (Note: The transcription of the name “Lyssuh” and of the semicolon are the transcriber’s guess.)

“Panera, Noodles and Company, or something GOOD,” said Liz, to my wife, about the lunch restaurants Liz would like to see come to the town where they both work.

“I don’t want to go yet! I don’t want to go home!” said groomsman Pete as he danced across the dance floor, not more than a couple minutes after he had said he was leaving the reception.

The next morning, my wife didn’t feel so good. She said that maybe she had never had hangovers, but “I just had dance-overs.”

Update: After I told my wife I had posted this, she said she liked the idea of having someone record what a person says at a wedding. If the couple hires a wedding photographer, why not hire an undercover wedding reporter?

Ten years of ‘Morning Pages’

This weekend marks my 10th year of following the advice in Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” and getting up early each day to write “morning pages” — three hand-written pages of whatever comes to mind. This means that I’ve written 3650 (well, maybe I’ve skipped two or three days in that 10 years, but otherwise it’s been every day) days of “morning pages” — or, as I also call them, “journals.” I’ve almost always written at least 3 pages, and probably my average is more like 4 notebook pages; at an estimated 250 words/page, that’s 1,000 words/day, so 3.7 million words. Sure, it’s meaningless to talk about a quantity of words written, but it’s still fun to see those numbers. It’s weird to think I could write a million of anything, but over time, the texts add up.

I have kept a journal since I graduated high school at age 18, but until age 30, I wrote only sporadically, usually when I felt I had something to express, and that filled about 35 notebooks (mostly of the 8.5″ by 11,” 200-ruled-page variety). But once I started writing journals, I still recorded things I felt I needed to record (including daily activities, reactions to experiences, etc.), but I also started writing things that I didn’t know I needed to say. I started to say things that surprised me, things that seemed wiser than I felt I was, and so I have been able to learn from my smarter-self (my subconscious mind? I’m not sure where these ideas come from), such that I feel like my best teacher now, the teacher I most need to pay attention to, is my self.

Sure, that sounds egotistical, and sure, most of the 160 journals I’ve filled in 10 years do not contain fascinating writing. It’s the height of self-indulgence, someone could say. And yet, of course, it’s “indulgent” only if I’m asking for others to indulge me, to pay attention to what I’ve written only for myself, and that’s not what I’m doing. Writing doesn’t always need to be made for others, and I write because I love the sense of listening to my writing-voice.

Writing these journals has also given me a chance to write on days where I wouldn’t otherwise time or energy to create. I get up early to write, and that’s time I’ve been able to protect better than, say, time in the evenings.

I don’t even go back and read my own journals very often. I have kept all of my journals, and I go back sometimes to see what I did on a certain date, and sometimes to see what I was thinking about. I wonder sometimes if these journals could provide ideas for writing about here on the blog, and they could, and have, but mostly once I write a journal, it’s done. It’s past. I want to write what’s going on now, what’s new, rather than re-reading what’s past.

It’s been an interesting and valuable practice for me, and I’d recommend others try it as well — I do assign my high school writers to write journals, with topics of their own choosing, every class day. Some of my students seem to love doing their journals while others don’t enjoy it much. I suggest to all of them that they at least keep the journals they’ve written once the class is done — this text of their teen-selves is something that no money can replace. I now have almost 200 books that are unique to my library.

But Julia Cameron’s book states that morning pages are a primary tool of creative recovery, and I’d agree that doing these journals has helped me grow as a writer — I have learned more about what I want to do and who I am as a writer, and I’ve also learned what seems to me to be the most-important concept in becoming an artist: the willingness to put words on paper without worrying about whether these words are interesting or good or bad. I just write, and that’s enough (most days, anyway).

Links: KISS, fiction writing

1. An amusing piece by Chuck Klosterman about KISS includes this passage:

When the critical world looks at Kiss, they see adults pretending to be characters they are not, projecting unsophisticated music about fantasy emotions, presented as a means of earning revenue. What they do not see is that this is how almost all rock music would appear to an alien. It is inside the genre’s very DNA, all the way back to Elvis. So Kiss are not a cheaper, exploitive translation of rock; Kiss are the living definition of rock’s electrifying unreality, presented with absolute transparency.

2. This article describes the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference, but it describes things — the difficulty of getting published, the lack of money once one does get published, and the few teaching opportunities in creative writing — that make me wonder why so many people want to become fiction writers, at least, as fiction writing seems to be institutionally practiced now. I understand that some people feel called to write fiction, and I don’t mean to criticize that impulse, that desire; what I find odd is why so many people seem willing to suffer the indignities of a market and a public that doesn’t want them. I’m a writer, too, but the idea that one would need to get paid for such an interest seems a harsh principle to live by.

3. An Atlantic article with the title: “Why Music Sounds Better When You Know the Artist Is Eccentric: Our brains associate eccentricity and creativity in musicians, painters, writers, and other artists—as long as weirdness doesn’t feel like a gimmick.”

4. Fiction and the passage of time.

Flexible Complexity

I love the sound of that title phrase, and so I’m using it, and now I just gotta come up with some stuff to go with it. Trying to fill in a post with what one might expect to find under such a title seems banal, so let’s just explain that I haven’t posted in a while (because of busyness, tiredness, March) and want to get back in the ol’ saddle of blogging, so to speak.

So here are some recent things I’ve learned from my observations:

1. Any minister who says “I’m just jokin’, I’m just jokin’” at a funeral, in the context of no perceptible joke, may not be doing a good job of funeralizing. Also, it may not help to remind the surviving spouse — in the middle of a prayer — that he’ll be facing lots of loneliness and dinners for one in his coming weeks and months.

2. I know I’ve spent too much time in my rural county when I travel one county east and am amazed at how beautiful strip malls can be. A Starbucks, for Pete’s sake, seems a like an oasis in the commercial desert that is my home county.

It’s not just me that thinks my home-county is getting decrepit. A local newspaper, the Oregon Republican Reporter, last week printed a “Public Voice” letter written by someone who “grew up” in a local town but who now resides in a much nicer Chicago suburb, which letter advises Oregon’s “park district, school district, realtors [sic], chamber of commerce and the city .. to get together now and do something about [t]he decaying downtown district, decline in school enrollment, too many houses for sale, no new houses being built, and no new industry.” Also, “the community also needs young families with children and something needs to be done about that now.”

This is the kind of thing that is easier to publish once one has already left. One’s neighbors tend not to appreciate such critiques. Of course, it’s far easier for one to up and leave than it is to stay and struggle. But what are ya gonna do? Just because it’d be nice if some kindly developers would come along and gentrify everything in Ogle County doesn’t mean they will.

3. Other great titles I’ve heard lately, for which works should be created:

a. Sounds Like, Might Be, Coulda Been (said a waitress, describing how she wrote what might have been the name of the person who ordered food over the telephone)

b. Like Vinegar, and Betrayal (from a restaurant review in the 24 March 2014 New Yorker magazine)

c. Mid-Op Transsexuals (does anybody need to name a punk band?)

d. Staying Awake Makes You Sleepy (said my wife today)

e. Calm Down, Sensei! (said one of my students in study hall to another student who had just done some kind of quasi-martial-arts kick)

f. The Last Thing This World Needs Is Another Me (said one of my students last week)

g. Hey, Your Elephant Has a Really Nice Trunk (as one of my teacher colleagues said, as a facetious example of finding things to praise about a child’s drawing)