Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I'm no Jim Cantore, but I do have a story to tell...

Those of us living along the Texas coast find particular interest in the weather. At the mere mention of the terms "tropical depression," "tropical storm," and far worse "hurricane," we feel our collective pulses quicken. Other news, domestic or foreign, political or economic, pales in comparison to reports of meteorologic and atmospheric conditions. Sarah who? Goldman-Sachs what?

Well, given recent events, it would be obvious to say that the weather holds an immediate effect over our daily lives. Will the day require raincoat or light sweater, sunscreen or snow tires? Perhaps the location of batteries, a supply of bottled water and knowledge of Red-Cross Centers? Certainly, knowing what to expect helps one plan for the day (or in our case, weeks) ahead. But perhaps that is an over-simplification: certainly there is more to weather than our immediate self-interest and self-preservation.

Some people might dismiss the topic of weather all together. True, it is the least common denominator of conversation... Got nothing better to discuss? How about the weather? Stuck in a socially awkward position? The weather is always a safe topic! Yes, it is safe to say that some of our most banal and insipid conversations revolve around the weather. Boy, it sure is (fill in the blank) out here!

Others might argue against weather on more intellectual grounds. A reductionist might simply consider weather as a report of meteorologic and atmospheric conditions. A sceptic might emphasize that weather is "predicted," that it is as much quackery as it is science. Alarmists might add that weather is nothing but another for of media- induced hype.

I, on the other hand, offer a different view of the weather, the story-teller's view. In some way, weather seems to fulfill our desire for tension, for our expectation that something is about to happen, for our sense of anticipation! Yes, weather, in some way, forms the conflict for the world's stage.

Now, don't take those terms - tension and conflict- too seriously. I'm not talking about confrontation; instead, I'm talking about tension and conflict in the dramatic sense, in its narrative function. Drama, by its classical definition , gives any story form and purpose.

But wait, you don't believe weather breeds drama? No better evidence can I offer for the intimate connection between weather and drama than The Weather Channel. Consider The Weather Channel's feature "Storm Stories." Seasonally, survivors of epic weather events recount their own sagas, be they the result of a hurricane, tsunami, blizzard, or heat wave.

Wind-whipped, cold-chapped, or heat-shriveled, they begin their tales of woe (aided of course by filmed footage and sound effects), and we viewers sit on the edge of our sofas ,the suspense, the tension, the angst mounting, wondering how, how, how they survived! How did they make it for five days in a storm cellar? What do 100 mile winds feel like? Will the dyke hold? Will the roof last? Will the walls continue to stand against the buffets and bruises of gale force winds? Will they be alright? And just when we think we can't take it anymore, aaahhh: sweet relief comes. The winds subside, the blizzard breaks, the raging waters calm, and the survivors come out to tell their stories.

And we love those stories - stories of victory and loss alike - stories of our frail human condition and our struggle against unseen, unknown, and uncontrollable forces. Drama, my friends, pure and simple drama.

Need further proof? According to the Nielsen Rating System "More than 62 million people watched TWC during the approach and landfall of Hurricane Ike on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 12-13." 62 million people! That's about 9 times the population of Houston, Galveston, and the affected parts of East Texas combined. Sure, we Texans were keenly interested in Ike's arrival, but so was the rest of the country. You tell me people aren't interested in the weather now!

Why? Well, according to Debora Wilson, president and CEO of Weather Channel Companies,
"There's a deep-rooted, a primal relationship, that a lot of people have with the weather. It's about connecting to Mother Nature and about the awe and the majesty related to that. It helps people understand their place in the world."

Pretty high-falutin, isn't it? I've got a different explanation: I'll say it again: drama! Everyone loves a good story, we crave tension and suspense and fear and storms and floods and zephyrs, oh my!

And so, I'm left wondering what your particular storm storm story is. Wont' you tell us? None is too big or too small, too insignificant or too monumental: each one of us experienced Ike, each one of us realized something about ourselves or the world in which we live, and each one of us is left with a story to tell...

As always, I anxiously await your response...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Storm Lingo

Ok, friends: I've got a little game for you! (Everyone loves a game, don't they???) No, it is not Storm Bingo, although that would be fun, it is Storm Lingo!

Now that we are through the first wave of Ike's drama, let's begin a list of words related to his presence...

I'll start with a few of my favorites:

storm surge
push (as in "push the commodities")

And your favorites?

Friday, September 5, 2008

What did you learn at school today, dear?

NOTE: I apologize in advance for the random formatting of this post. For some reason, paragraph breaks are not being registered, and you can imagine that just drives me CRAZY. So, to amend that situation, I have color coded each paragraph. New color? New paragraph! Thanks for your tolerance...
I have probably already mentioned that I grew up in a family where learning and knowledge were very important. My father was a chemist and my mother a nurse, so our dinner table conversations always took on an elevated tone.
I don't know what other families talked about as they reunited at the day's end, but I envisioned lively conversations where each member shared amusing anecdotes from their day... Pretty idealistic, huh? However, this Utopian vision stands in stark contrast to my own family's evening ritual. My parents would talk about their own days, their conversations peppered with words like "renal failure" and "ketoacidosis", "diatomaceous earth" and "titration." Yes, I knew more about diabetes treatment and waste-water filtration than the average teenager, and I could keep up with their discussions, but I was expected to do more than just listen politely: my parents expected that I participate.
Instead of "How was your day?", the benign question most kids heard after school, a question that could be answered with a simple "Fine" or even "OK," my parents asked a different question: "What did you learn today?" Oftentimes I struggled for an answer. I couldn't say that I learned that teenage girls are mean, or that my Spanish teacher always had chalk fingerprints on the side of her slacks, or that after three years the cafeteria still smelled like a wet dog: no, Norma and Duane expected a real answer, an intellectual response.
Some days the answers came easily -- lessons and their purposes were clear... "Well, I learned about the structure of the DNA molecule" or "We learned a new dialogue in Spanish: Esta Susana en casa? Si, esta con una amiga. Donde esta, en la sala? No, en la cocina!" Other days I had to reach a bit: What was the purpose of that Trigonometry lesson? And what is a parabola, anyway? And will I ever actually use this information?
So, we've been in school for almost two weeks now, and I'm posing the dreaded question to you : What have you learned so far? What have you taken away from our lessons in AP English? What have you gained about our approach to literature, to language, and/or to writing? What questions or concerns do you have?
You see, I think my parents always wanted the reassurance that their youngest child was actually learning something, that the hours and days spent in school were not in vain, that I wasn't utterly confused and lost, that I didn't waste my days searching for split ends and doodling in the margins of my paper (although I'm sure I was guilty of both...), and I'm afraid that I've inherited some of their concerns. I want our time together to be meaningful. I'd like you to gain something from each and every class. I hope that you'll understand the goals and outcomes for this class and see the purpose for our activities; however, I won't know for certain until you respond!
And so, I anxiously await...