Category Archives: books

My North Carolinian Exchange Student

(I’m using capitals because I’m writing this for the students of Water’s Edge Village School – don’t be alarmed.)

I met Meghan when we were in Greece as AFS exchange students 25 (?!?) years ago, and we’ve stayed in touch over the years. Meghan is the mother of two cool school-age boys and a big dog. She’s also lighthouse keeper in the Outer Banks village of Corolla, North Carolina. Recently she rallied her community to reopen Corolla’s elementary school so that Corolla’s kids could go to school in their own community instead of spending hours on a school bus to go to school in another town. When my Durham friend Jamie invited me to visit her in North Carolina, we planned a weekend in Corolla – I hadn’t seen Meghan since I was 17.

Meghan and Kriste in Greece circa 1990

Meghan and Kriste in Greece circa 1990

Jamie, Kriste, and Meghan inside the Currituck Beach Lighthouse

Jamie, Kriste, and Meghan inside the Currituck Beach Lighthouse circa 2012

Which explains how I ended up being serenaded on my 39th birthday by Meghan’s two sons in their comfy home in Corolla, which I highly recommend.

A very Corolla birthday

A very Corolla birthday

Recently Meghan asked me if I would host an exchange student from WEVS. My response was almost, “Duh.” But I have better manners than that, so I said, “Absolutely!”

A few weeks later, an envelope from Meghan’s son Paolo arrived. Inside it was Stanley. Flat Stanley is the title of a great kids’ book about a boy who is flattened in the night by a bulletin board. WEVS students made Stanleys (Stanlies?) and mailed them off to folks around the country. Our job as hosts was to write back to Paolo’s class about our states and what Stanley did while he was with us. Here goes.

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When people think about Oregon, they usually think rain. But check out that blue sky – and in January!

I live in Corvallis, Oregon. Corvallis has a population of about 55,000 people when Oregon State University is in session. We’re about a 90 minute drive fron Portland, Oregon’s largest city, and about 45 minutes from Salem, Oregon’s capital. My apartment is in downtown Corvallis, so there are great restaurants and shops nearby. Farmers’ market, the library, and the bus station are a few blocks away.

Strolling along the Willamette River

Strolling along the Willamette River – this is less than a block from my apartment.

There is a great park along the Willamette River as it passes by Corvallis. The park has wide sidewalks for walking dogs, riding bikes, and strolling (my favorite). There’s a fountain that kids like to play in during the summer. Farmers’ market is there twice a week from April-October. There are benches and picnic tables and a skatepark.

The Willamette (wil-LAM-it) River runs from south to north, which is pretty rare for Pacific Northwest rivers. Its headwaters are south of Eugene, and it runs about 200 miles from Eugene, past Corvallis and Salem, to Portland, where it joins the Columbia River (which forms most of the border between Oregon and Washington) and flows out to the Pacific Ocean. The Columbia is the river that Lewis and Clark followed to get to the Pacific, and along the Columbia there are a lot of historical sites from the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Oregon Trail.

The part of Oregon along the Willamette River is called the Willamette Valley. The valley was was carved out by the Missoula Floods at the end of the most recent ice age. If you don’t know about the Missoula Floods, check them out. They’re pretty fascinating. Basically, an ice dam broke in Montana and the water behind it raced down along what’s now the Columbia Gorge and flooded down into the Willamette Valley. Our fertile soil is actually from Montana – it was deposited here during those floods. The valley is wide and flat and stretches between the Coast Range (pretty small mountains between the valley and the coast) and the Cascades (large volcanic mountains between the valley and Eastern Oregon, which is mostly high desert). Because of the fertile soil and our rain, agriculture is a big deal in the Willamette Valley. Farms grow blueberries, hazelnuts (also called filberts), grass seed, wine grapes, even Christmas trees.

Stanley was very interested in the speech about  how to field-dress a deer.

Stanley was very interested in the speech about how to field-dress a deer.

I used to be an elementary school teacher, and now I teach at the local community college. Stanley came along to work with me. He listened to speeches in my public speaking class, and watched digital stories created by my writing students. He liked that we could walk to LBCC’s campus in about 10 minutes, through a neighborhood of old houses and mature trees.

The digital stories were about where we're from - this is Cerrie's DS about being from the universe.

The digital stories were about where we’re from – this is Cerrie’s DS about being from the universe.

We're almost to OSU! That's it up ahead.

We’re almost to OSU! That’s it up ahead.

On another beautiful day, Stanley and I walked from my apartment to Oregon State University. In June I graduated from OSU with a master’s degree, so it’s a walk I’ve done many times. For my degree I studied the connections between writing and community and resilience (how people are able to recover from hard times in their lives), but most students at OSU are studying science and business and engineering.

There are over 25,000 students enrolled at OSU, but we didn't see very many of them because we were on campus on a Saturday.

There are over 25,000 students enrolled at OSU, but we didn’t see very many of them because we were on campus on a Saturday.

This is the library - I spent a lot of time in there while I was an OSU student.

This is the library – I spent a lot of time in there while I was an OSU student.

I took Stanley on a walking tour of downtown Corvallis.

Central Park

Central Park

My P.O. Box

My P.O. Box

Benton County Courthouse

Benton County Courthouse

Here are a few facts about Oregon. Our state animal is the beaver. We do all of our voting by mail (this ballot drop box is where I return mine). There’s no sales tax in Oregon, so when you buy something that costs $4.99 it really costs $4.99. You can’t pump your own gas in Oregon. Our state motto is, “She flies with her own wings.” Isn’t that lovely? I think so, which is why I have a tattoo of it.

Speaking of tattoos, Stanley came with me to talk to my tattoo artist, Denise, about another tattoo I want to get. Denise offered to give him a tattoo.

Checking out the equipment in Denise's studio

You sit in this chair and put your head in that ring if you’re getting a tattoo on your back – it’s pretty comfy.

This is Denise - she was glad that she got to meet Stanley.

This is Denise – she was glad that she got to meet Stanley.

I’m glad that Paolo sent Stanley to me – I had fun thinking of things to show him. I would have taken him out to the coast (about an hour drive west from Corvallis), but I couldn’t make that work. I wonder where the other Stanleys went – I’m sure that the WEVS students have been enjoying this project.

Meghan sent me this picture of WEVS students with the little toys my grandma Betty made for them. He said that he recognized a lot of them.

The year that WEVS opened, Meghan sent me this picture of WEVS students with the little toys my grandma Betty made for them. Stanley said that he recognized a lot of them.

return to maycomb

this morning my friend jamie emailed me this article. soon after, my co-worker jason passed along another article and asked me how i feel about this development. and i’ve been thinking about that all day.

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“one does not love breathing.” ~ harper lee

 


in favor

i love the finches, etc.

i miss scout. what kind of man did jem become? what’s going on with the radleys? what is atticus like as an old man – possibly a grandpa? and what about calpurnia? i can already feel the nourishment of spending time with those folks again.

jem, cal, and scout

jem, cal, and scout

the timeline

i am less afraid about this book because to kill a mockingbird is a prequel rather than go set a watchman being a sequel. the story arc started with these characters in GSAW included the events in TKAM. in education that’s called backwards design, start at the end and design from there. and i’m a big fan of backwards design, which makes me less worried about the quality than i would be if harper lee came at this from the other direction.

TKAM back in the spotlight

as part of a project i did with my 4th grade students a decade ago, i wrote harper lee a letter. i knew that she wouldn’t answer, but on the chance that she might read my letter, i wrote it anyway. i said thanks for putting into the world something that made it a better place. that i’m a better person for what i’ve learned about kindness and morality and empathy and courage from her book. so maybe this new book will inspire a few people to pick up TKAM for the first time.

or to watch the movie, which is one of the only times you’ll hear me say that. harper lee was very involved in the movie – the courthouse is an exact replica of the one in monroeville, alabama (her hometown). when gregory peck won an oscar for playing atticus, a character based on harper lee’s dad, he had her father’s pocket watch in his pocket, a gift from lee.

what would atticus do?

 


opposed 

pulling a nicolas cage

nicolas cage was so damn good in raising arizona, and i wish he’d gone out on top and never made another movie. he’d just hang out, naming his kids after superman characters and being cool. but what about leaving las vegas? speaking of cool, how about tom hanks as ben sanderson? and i love moonstruck and con air as much as the next guy, but they just aren’t worth it. will go set a watchman be harper lee’s 8MM?

 

lee lore

i’ll admit that i’ve always loved the lee legend – young woman (34 when TKAM was published) writes the great american novel, lives to a ripe old age and never publishes another book. the literary equivalent of the “i am outta here” table flip. but now there’s another book, and the reclusive lee is back in the spotlight.

scary

 

more truman capote intrigue

dill in TKAM is based on truman capote, harper lee’s childhood neighbor. how involved was lee in writing capote’s in cold blood? was capote the real author of to kill a mockingbird? get ready for more speculation diminishing lee as an author. a young woman can’t write the great american novel and then slide back out of the spotlight and enjoy her life in rural alabama? table flip.

why now?

i mean no disrespect, but harper lee is 88. she isn’t going to be around much longer. so why publish the novel now? in 2011 a friend quoted her reasons for not writing another book: “one, i wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity i went through with to kill a mockingbird for any amount of money. second, i have said what i wanted to say and i will not say it again.” say what? it would be more keeping with the lee lore if this “long lost” companion to TKAM was discovered after her death and published posthumously. is she broke? being blackmailed? is there some kind of elder abuse going on? she had a stoke in 2007 and lives in an assisted living facility. how involved is she?

lafcadio

my 2 favorite books are to kill a mockingbird and lafcadio: the lion who shot back by shel silverstein. these books made lifelong impacts on me and my development as a person. one thing i love about lafcadio is the end – you don’t know what happens to him. there isn’t lafcadio part two: return to the jungle. i would hate it if silverstein had ever written that book. gilda radner called it “delicious ambiguity.” The new york times article quotes harpercollins president michael morrison – “i, along with millions of others around the world, always wished that harper lee had written another book.” i’m not one of those millions. i don’t need to know what kind of adult scout became. i miss her like i miss an old friend who moved away and fell out of touch – i wish her well and am grateful to have known her. meeting her was a transformational thing in my life. as was meeting lafcadio.

lafcadio

lafcadio – my first tattoo


abstain

arrested development

when it was announced that there would be a 4th season of arrested development, i couched my fears by saying things like, “they wouldn’t risk making another season if it wasn’t going to be awesome.” and when i watched it, eh. it wasn’t awful and it was good to see those folks again, but i won’t ever choose to watch an episode from that season over the first 3 seasons. i didn’t hate it. it didn’t damage the credibility of the people involved, but it would have been ok, possibly better, if it didn’t exist.

i hope not to be saying that after i read go set a watchman.


 

those are my thoughts. i’m curious to hear yours if you’re thinking about this.

 

so how about it, seanbaker?

so how about it, seanbaker?