Featured originally in MyMediaDiary.com.
Four years ago, my intended formula for this blog was pretty simple--pick a form of media (TV show, movie, billboard, cat footprints) and let it take you down a path or two. But the last path I took was in August, before I returned to the high school classroom for my 26th year. Being in an office setting since 2012 certainly gave me more physical and creative energy for activities like blogging as well as producing a documentary series, but it also pulled me a bit away from some basic reality-check questions that I've always enjoyed from teenagers--beyond "Can you give me passing grade and a pass to go home?"
The days following Election Day produced some poignant conversations for this English major turned video production teacher--with just a minor in US History.
Q. How can the losing candidate can have 3 million more votes--and what the hell is an Electoral College?
It's certainly a good conversation-piece that six states (Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming) whose combined population is 4.6 million get two more electoral votes than the entire state of Michigan--who has the same population in just six of its metro-Detroit counties.
4.6 million voters live in Macomb, Monroe, Lapeer, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties--the same population as six US states with 18 combined electoral votes.
Two years ago, contributing writer Steve Mitzel with his kids suggested a "Consolidated States of America." I shared it with my students and it seemed like a pretty good idea. One kid even pointed out that if it works in business when Home Depot shuts down your local hardware store, it ought to work for our government, right?
Q. Why do we vote on just one day during the crappy weather season?
No one wants to stand in line in Michigan Novembers, let alone leave their houses much and it's tough enough having your candidate lose and have inauguration occur in the month best known for depression.
Q. Why aren't we required to vote?
Disappointment in low voter turnout, particularly in the groups that were supposed to carry the day for the Democrats brought up the blame being pinned to some degree on voter suppression but it also raises a good question of why this fundamental right doesn't have a bit more teeth. I shared my idea of a Voter Apathy Tax with the state holding in escrow ten bucks per paycheck that you get back at the voting poll--don't show up, then thanks for the donation to help pay for roads. (The 2014 re-election of Rick Snyder in Michigan would have netted $1 billion in apathy money, even before interest.)
Tickets out of Despair-ville?
General dismay in these dark cold days surrounds many of my students, my friends and especially my vilified fellow teachers who wonder why they chose teaching as a career and how they can reinvent themselves, feel respected once again and pay the bills at the same time. Every day I meet someone who still doesn't know that there is no lateral movement for public school teachers in Michigan, unlike their administrators or state and county workers. If you move to another school district, they can start you at rock-bottom pay and no seniority. Most teachers with 10 or more years in one district are pretty much held hostage for the next twenty years. See Four Ignored Elephants of Quality in the Classroom.
So I'll re-boot my brain and use my blog formula and trust that my memories will travel its usual strange route and help me get through our daily dose of grade-school Tweets as I try to remember that America has had its fair share of corruption, disruptive leadership and civil unrest. Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock's SNL skit in a Hillary election party sums up the perspective we might want to consider, particularly following Rock's observation that "You've got a big day of moping on Facebook tomorrow!" with one comment "This is the most shameful thing America has ever done" as Rock and Chappelle look doubtful at the hyperbole.
So, who wants a slide show?
I love estate sales, particularly garages and basements, where all the odds and ends go that won't likely be snatched up on the first day or perhaps even identified. But one estate sale in late August had nothing fabulous in either of my usual spots, instead I found a treasure trove in a spare bedroom jammed with photography equipment from the 1960s full of overpriced Nikon cameras and lenses. There, in the corner was something I'd been wanting for quite a while--I'd just forgotten I'd wanted it.
I took a photography class on Saturdays when I was in eighth grade after I'd found some darkroom equipment at another garage sale. The teacher took us to the Detroit Zoo and to other interesting locales and discussed lighting, plants, bugs and lenses--most of which didn't interest me. I think I was very interested in winning some big cash prizes and that was about it. But on my paper route budget I was also very frugal so when he recommended taking pictures using slides instead I jumped at the idea. So for the next 12 years I mostly used Kodachrome or Ektachrome--never quite sure of the difference since they were both made by Kodak--but the purists loved the Ekta-version.
The hardest part of using slides is that to actually look at them you need to set up a projector, find an extension cord, hope the slides are inserted upside-down and "facing the screen" so that you're not wearing a baseball jersey that says "tiorteD." You're pretty exhausted by showtime, you've pulled the curtain and tied up the members of the family not smart enough to find an errand to run or a dog to walk. (These days I don't have the energy to clean out my iPhone's 1,400 photos until the memory is gone and I've missed the Bigfoot sighting.)
There in the estate sale bedroom, for $40 was the Telex Caramate 4000--an impressive sounding do-dad for what's in essence a TV screen for slides. But I'm still the same cheap paper carrier at heart so I risked all and returned the next day for half-off Sunday and fortunately, it was still there. After 50 minutes in line behind a guy trying to get his credit card approved for a $1,500 moose figurine (true story) I was out the door with my prize. I couldn't wait to try it out--so three weeks later, I did, once I found the box where I'd stashed my old slides. They'd been moved around my various garages, attics and basements so many times that they were constantly in sight and therefore completely invisible when I needed them.
I cleaned out a section of my basement editing room/walk-in junk drawer and not only made room for the "4000" but also was able to find a handy spot for my old Technics turntable with the records right below!
I was out of excuses so I had to get rolling and move some of these mystery photos to digital. I reached blindly into the pile of carousel trays, pulled out two slides and popped them in my machine. There were two two pictures of my 1982 exchange student summer to Switzerland with the wonderful Stern family.--two gorgeous mountain shots that my eighth grade photo coach would have loved...
A blast with the dust-removing spray and I was able to move them to Photoshop--but neither one I wanted to "fix" just yet--it made sense since I was also listening to a scratchy Paul Simon sing "Kodachrome."
Gorgeous shots, right? The saddest part is that what I most remember in the middle of this trip that wasn't going somewhere I'd never been, spending a great time with Nicolas and Stephen, or even having the best bowl of stew I've ever had at a mountain lodge--instead I was consumed with self-pity due to the following..
- I didn't know we were going away for three days. I thought it was an afternoon hike, so I packed a bit too light, particularly in the underwear department. My four years of sliding by in high school French didn't prepare me for much more than cavema-speak for the first 8 weeks or so--such as the moment I mentioned that the souvenir I would like to bring home would be a chicken.
- I didn't know where we were going. Not having the right wardrobe for approaching snow in July was also a bit of a shock.
- My feet were bleeding. I learned a valuable lesson about wearing boots that actually fit AND having an insulating pair of socks. The back of my heels had a divot carved in them in the first six hours and every step was agony afterwards.
The photo below was taken by my host-mother as she trusted we'd find our way through the Alpine pass--and you can barely see my self-pity!
As we tread water through these next days, months and years of businessmen running my state and country, I want to jump ahead and see where things are in 10 or 20 years and wonder how my family and my country are doing.
But it's hard sometimes to tell the mountains from the mole hills.