Tonight was my school’s fourth graduation. This group of seniors were in 7th grade when I started working at there, and I taught them in 8th, 9th, and 10th grade, and then I had some of them in my AP class this year.
It’s weird, really, to watch these kids grow up from a distance. I think about the 7th graders who like to sit in the library in the morning and are all over the place and I can’t even imagine them being old enough to walk across the stage.
But that’s where these students were just six years ago. I remember them being tiny and nervous and totally unsure of themselves and I’m astounded at how far they’ve come.
I remember when A. started growing and didn’t stop until he reached 6′ 8″. He’s headed to West Point in the fall, although I’m not sure how well that’ll fit his laid-back personality.
I remember when T. was new in 8th grade, quiet and shy and so, so sweet. She became my NHS president and one of the best people I’ve ever met. She’s headed to University of Memphis, after a semester abroad volunteering in Thailand and Cambodia.
I remember when B. started growing and stopped about half a foot shy of 6′, then inspired that research paper post that still goes around sometimes. He’s headed to St. Edward’s, which he picked because Austin seemed like a cool, liberal city.
I remember when A. spoke so infrequently that I wasn’t even sure I knew the sound of her voice. She found her group and became one of the most insightful voices in my class. She’ll start Vanderbilt in January, assuming the rest of her chemo goes well.
I remember when O. used jokes to compensate for his difficulty with English, left our school for a public school, and then came back within two weeks and spent the next three years telling everyone how lucky they were to be at our school while also skating dangerously close to the minimum GPA. He squeaked by with a 2.55 and got into Memphis, but he’s not going to college right away - he’s got an opportunity to play soccer for a team in Miami.
I remember when D. drove me absolutely crazy in 8th grade because she could not keep any of her things (or limbs) contained at her desk, then became an organized, responsible student by the end of 10th grade. I think she’s going to Christian Brothers University.
I remember when J. was a total class clown in middle school, and then turned inward and became unbearably quiet in high school. I was so worried about him, but we got him some help and he’s here. He’s alive, and he’s going to the University of Memphis in the fall.
I remember these moments and so, so many more. It’s helpful for me to remember as my current students make me want to tear my hair out that good things come from the work we do. There are difficult things and frustrating things and scary things for us and them all along the way, but there’s also so much good.
When you’re bored, coconut chickpea and sweet potato curry is always a good idea🌞
On a side note, my friend @anna is planning on volunteering in Thailand but needs help raising funds. The money will go towards impoverished children and their families. If you want to help out, even just a few dollars, there is a link in their bio☺️
There was a sign on the main drag of my town between the McDonald’s and the funeral home that said “No Engine Brake" and I had no clue what that meant. There wasn’t a light in the dashboard of our family’s Toyota Camry that said “Engine Brake” so… But I remember seeing the sign and never even asking my parents what it meant (which was odd for me).
I don’t know when I learned what engine braking was, it doesn’t matter. I know it’s also called a Jake brake, and more specifically it’s used on big trucks and semis to stop them at higher speeds, thereby saving on the brake pads. The Jake brake opens the exhaust valves in the cylinders of the engine, releasing the compressed air trapped inside, thereby slowing the truck down. I’m paraphrasing this from some truck website and it makes no sense to me, but apparently it works, via physics and this truck website.
But for Joanna Newsom, it’s the sound they make. From far away, engine brakes are a legion of bass trombones splattering on the lowest note they can play. They interrupt the white noise of the highway, and depending on where you grew up, crickets just don’t sound right without them entering into the conversation every so often. Close up the sound is the Inception horn, the maw of a hell. There’s a reason there’s no engine braking in small towns and residential areas or between McDonald’s and funeral homes.
It’s a big counterpoint to the ecosystem of “Baby Birch”, which numbers among the songs I would rescue from the underworld. Its composition is drawn in tiny circles, perfect at first, then they grow larger and scribblier and cut into the page inside Ryan Francesconi’s stunning arrangement. As with most of Have One On Me, she simplifies her delivery, and here she sings most of the text in a warm sotto voce until the end.
“Baby Birch” is, as always, leaden with metaphor. It’s commonly read as a 9 minute pang for a miscarriage or an abortion, but maybe it’s broader. It could be about the outline of any figure Newsom cut away from her, either in the clinical violence that she describes with the “barber” in the final stanza or of something a little less drastic.
Always, always, always get chills when it comes around to the final part:
There is a barber who’s cutting,
And cutting away at my only joy;
I saw a rabbit,
As slick as a knife,
And as pale as a candlestick,
And I had thought it’d be harder to do,
But I caught her, and skinned her quick:
held her there,
Kicking and mewling,
Upended, unspooling, unsung and blue;
Told her, "wherever you go,
Little runaway bunny,
I will find you.”
And then she ran,
As they’re liable to do.
I suppose it’s because some years ago, my ex-girlfriend got pregnant after we had an ill-advised rendezvous during a post-breakup limbo period of our relationship and she had an abortion two months later while I was in Thailand volunteering at an orphanage for stateless kids who would otherwise be sold into labor or sex trafficking rings. When I got back to Wisconsin, I asked her with all the grace and tact of a dumb kid who just paid for half of an abortion for a “receipt.” She told me she burned it, along with everything having to do with the abortion. That was the final word either of us ever said about it.
Engine brakes are these otherworldly noises. I only hear them as faraway sounds, something that crests in my ears for a second then disappears again. Contrast to the surgical, busy scene of the last stanza, the present moment of the deed, triage, a whole town watching in the window, witness to the moment this thing leaves your life. It then runs off far away from you, the gravity of it so large that there’s a doppler effect from the noise of its escape, something that bends flat as it passes by. “How about those engine brakes?” those hollow moans of something so small from so long ago that opens big in the night. And it’s like, sometimes those runaway things find you, too.
Men play a popular sport called takraw at an annual competition near Nakhon Ratchasima Province, Thailand. Native to the Thai-Malay peninsula, the sport has spread throughout Southeast Asia and is traditionally played with a woven bamboo ball, three players per team, and operates like a foot-forward game of volleyball. Overhead kicks require remarkable agility and dexterity, abilities players are prided for demonstrating.
There are 91 volunteers in Thailand working with their communities on projects in education and youth development. More than 5,200 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Thailand since the program was established in 1962.