Thursday, October 31, 2019

Dear Dad

Dear Dad,

It's been almost twenty years since you died. I'm only four years younger than you were when you fell. That seems impossible.

Everything has changed, but nothing has changed. But mostly, everything has changed.

I married a Stanford graduate, for reals. But most importantly I married a kind and loving man. A man who is honest and doesn't cheat on me or in life. A man who loves his family fiercely. Luckily, he is my best friend, too. And my greatest blessing amidst the ashes of May 2000. You missed meeting him by just a couple of months, in fact. The only silver lining of you not being around anymore is that you two would be best sports and music buddies and that would be very annoying at times for me.

We have two boys! Teenage boys! Almost men, really. Asher is fourteen. I see Asher's playful nature in you. He is the kid that everyone likes and wants to be around, just like you. He loves all kinds of music, just like you. Sorry, he doesn't love sports. But he does run cross country, like you did in high school.

Noé is sixteen. We found out that Noé had autism when he was two years old. I missed you so much through his diagnosis. I always felt like you would know what to do. You would find a way to make it better. You would have helped us carry the burden.

Noé is his own person. I can't really say how he is like you, but I can say you would love him. We sure do. He's the center of the family. He always wants us to be together and happy (and eating). Wait, that is how he is like you.

You also have seven other grandkids. They are all healthy and happy and bright and reflect you in all kinds of wonderful ways. The cousins are mostly close in age and fiercely protective of one another. There was a legendary brawl at a pizza joint when one of the cousins was getting picked on by a random kid. This was back in their preschool days. Now they are teens and tweens and still love being together.

Dave, Jeff, Katie and Kelli? All of your kids have careers and significant others and are putting good things into the world. No one has spent a single night in jail.

Mom. I shouldn't speak for her, but I know she misses you. I also know she is content. She is a machine -- doing family history and learning new languages and serving at church and fixing up her house. She is a gentle light. She is unconditional love.

Speaking of fixing up houses, you will never guess where she lives. Not the Big House. Nope, Mom sold that sucker and it has officially been declared cursed (that's a whole other letter). She went back to Cherry Park, to the Red House on 104th. The Red House still has the cedar paneling you nailed to the ceiling in 1985 and the red shed you built out back. But it doesn't feel frozen in time. We congregate for birthdays and holidays and to just hang out and play basketball out back on warm summer evenings. Mom talks about selling it now and then, but let's face it, that house is in our DNA.

You will never guess who the president is: Donald Trump! Yes, he's the President of the United States and it has been the absolute worst.

Also, a year after you died some terrorists hijacked American planes and ran them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Three thousand people died that day and we call it 9/11.

But good things have happened too: We elected our first black president! Gays can legally marry now! And after experiencing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the stock market has marched straight upward for the last ten years. Today the Dow closed at over 27,000 (I'm not lying!) and the S/P is over 3,000. I remember riding in your Acura in high school and the newscaster announced excitedly that the Dow had finally broken 3000. A share of Amazon stock is worth over $1700 alone. Yeah, that is the little online bookstore. Now we buy everything from them.

I think you're pretty much caught up now. Oh, we're still waiting on the Blazers to win another championship. Sometimes I think that '77 banner will sit lonely in the Moda Center (no more Rose Garden....) forever.

Miss you everyday.


Jenni (but nobody calls me that anymore except for mom)

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

9th Grade English: 1989 versus 2019

"Mom," Asher asked me a little sheepishly. "I want to show you my narrative essay, but I have to tell you something first."

"What's that?" I asked.

"Our teacher lets us use swear words." Awkward pause. "Is that ok with you?"

I stop to consider this revelation and then quickly shift into writer's mode. "Well, I think that depends on how you use the words. Does it add emotion to your story? Does it make your characters more authentic? Or do you just use it crassly or for attention?"

"Uh....oh yeah....that makes sense. Well, I think I use it ok."

I glance at his title, "My F*cking Worst Day of Middle School."



Mrs. Durrell certainly did not let us use swear words in our essays. How I dreaded ninth-grade English class with Mrs. Durrell and her frosted perm and razor-thin eyebrows and outdated pussy bow-tie blouses. In Mrs. Durrell's class we read Great Expectations. But instead of discussing and dissecting Pip's coming of age saga and why Miss Havisham never took off that damn wedding dress and parallels between Victorian era social class norms and our modern day social class structure, we answered flat affective questions typed (literally....with a typewriter) in stapled packets about plot and setting and point-of-view and tone. The only true-world connection I've ever made to that book is when I go visit my favorite Portland donut shop - Pip's Donuts.

In Mrs. Durrell's classroom, Great Expectations, and the many other classics that followed, were taught in their time and place. A time and place which was foreign and disconnected to my own early 1990s American teenage middle class life. It wasn't until a few years later, in AP English class, that I realized the classics can transcend their borders and their timescape and should connect to every generation that reads them.

Sitting stone-cold bored in freshman English, diagramming sentences and filling out those packets, I never would have guessed that in adulthood, I would have an unsatiated desire to read and write my days away. Books didn't hold magic until that AP English class came along. And I didn't start writing until even later.

I / hated  /English


Curriculum Night, Grant High, September 2019

I sit in Ms. D'Cruz's classroom and listen to her ten minute overview of her ninth grade English class.

In English, we will read a mix of classic and contemporary works – from Homer and Shakespeare to contemporary writers like Angie Thomas and Samira Ahmed, connecting literary texts to real world issues. Together, we will be psychologists and philosophers, asking questions about the human condition. This year, I am hoping to create a dystopian fiction unit, offering students a selection of books  around different themes.  

As writing instructors at Grant, , we work together closely to align our curriculum and ensure student growth. Our instructional philosophy in ninth grade English  is deeply rooted in The National Writing Project - we believe writing should be taught, not just assigned and sent home. Each skill is modeled for students, so they have a clear picture of what is expected. Each major writing piece is taken through multiple drafts and revisions before it is assessed. We believe in using not only professional models in our writing, but also teacher and student models, so we share much of what we write out loud.  In this we become a community of readers and writers, growing and (often) laughing together – and we have had lots of fun storytelling already this year as they are just starting to get to know each other as Hawthorne Community classmates.

After her presentation, I have to stop myself from begging Ms. D'Cruz to please let me join her class. I'm sure Asher would be cool with it.


I finish Asher's narrative essay and think it is quite brilliant, at least after we tone down the profanity. He is a natural storyteller and his writing voice is strong and authentic. In his essay, he uses dialogue well and even makes a couple of clever allusions back to his current English class. Ding, ding, ding....I think we have a writer!

We will work on perfecting cursing.