Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Reading By Ear

For the longest time, I felt that holding a book and reading the words written on the pages was the only way to read a story. For me, there was something pure about feeling the weight of the book in my hands, physically turning pages... it feels almost like I'm contributing to the activity of reading.

Because of this, it took me over a year of debating with myself about buying a Kindle. There was no way I could enjoy reading a book off a tablet. At least, that's the argument I used to convince myself that it wouldn't be worth the price. But then I used my tax refund money to buy my Kindle last year. And I really do enjoy it. This doesn't mean I've decided to get rid of all my real books in favor of electronic copies. But I'm not opposed to buying some new books to be read on the eReader.

This brings me to the audiobook. For years I've talked myself out of listening to an audiobook. I had myself convinced that, when it comes to reading a book, listening to someone read it to you doesn't count.

Then I started working at an elementary school nearly 60 miles from my apartment. I spend 2 and a half to 3 hours in my car each day. For the first month or so, I was content to simply listen to music. I love music. I love singing along at the tops of my lungs while no one can hear me. Honestly, I'd still be content to simply listen to music. And I'm talking about CDs and iPod... radio gets obnoxious after extended periods of time.

One day at school, a teacher suggested I read to one of my kids. She said he loves to have someone read to him. I got him to pick out a book and I read out loud while he sat next to me on the floor. As I read, I thought, who doesn't like to have someone read to them?

The last time I can remember someone reading to me was back in 7th grade. Our English teacher would occasionally read passages of the Tripod Trilogy by John Christopher. By the end of the school year, we had listened to her read all three novels.

I do love to read. And there's a very good possibility that if I weren't spending 3 hours of every day behind the wheel of my car, I'd be spending that time reading. So why not spend that time having someone read to me? So I decided to stop by the local library to check out their audiobook selection. It's not a huge selection, but it's something.

It would be easy to become lazy and rely only on audiobooks. I don't want to do that. I still like using my own eyes and my own inner voice to narrate a good book. But these professional readers, usually actors, are able to put a great deal of emotion into their voices as they read. It's all very dramatic.

Please, try not to judge. Three hours a day in the car is a lot of time to fill.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Schoolyard Superhero

I think we can all agree that I'm not very strong or fast. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But for some reason, the little kids that I work with in the elementary school see me as some kind of Superman.

I don't really want to contradict that belief. I like Superman. Being compared to the world's greatest superhero isn't so bad. I just can't keep up with the part they expect me to play.

I go out on the playground with the classes sometimes. And a lot of them will run up to me and yell, "Mr. Peck! Will you push us on the merry-go-round?" How can you say no to those faces? Unless you're a parent, then you should probably get used to saying no quite often. But I'm not a parent. I'm just a guy that works at their school. And they think I can push the merry-go-round better than any of the kids in their class just because I'm bigger and slightly stronger. But just slightly.

And yet, they convince me to push the merry-go-round. I run and push until I'm about to collapse. Believe it or not, it doesn't take long for that feeling to kick in. One time I actually did fall. My foot slipped in the sawdust that makes up the playground area. Really, it's not 'cause I'm a klutz or anything. Stop judging me!

But it is kind of nice to have a group of small children who look up to you. On the other hand, there are the older kids. I heard a rumor the other day that those kids think I'm weird. No, I can't dispute that fact, but it kind of blows the idea I had in my head that I was on track to be one of the popular kids.

Guess I'll just have to stick with hanging out at the merry-go-round.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Question of the Week: Lottery

This week's question comes from my good friend Shannon...

The lottery was recently REALLY big! What would you do with the money if you won? Would you quit work immediately, finish your year at your work and then quit, or keep working despite all that money.

I probably would quit my job. Not because I don't like my job. I actually love my job. But it's a job that's funded by taxpayer dollars. If they don't have to pay me and that money can go to something else, it should. I'd probably spend some time sitting around and doing nothing for a while. When I got tired of reading and watching movies all the time, and felt like I should start doing something productive again, I'd most likely start doing some volunteer work. Maybe try to do the same kind of job, I'd just tell them not to pay me for it. I like the idea of buying an entire subdivision for friends and family. I'd never actually thought of that before. I mean, I have thought about paying off current homes for friends and family. I'd definitely get a place for myself. Somewhere on the water. And then I'd pay for swimming lessons. Since I still don't know how to do that. I'd buy a lot of books. And I'd use my time off work to read them. And, of course, pay off all those pesky student loans. Oh, and my car. I'd pay that off too. Then I'd go to the bank and arrange for a withdrawal of about $100,000 in small bills. I'd then bring that cash to my brand new home and dump it out on my living room floor. Then I'd swim around in it like Uncle Scrooge. And I'd be able to do it too, 'cause I took those fancy swimming lessons. Also, I'd travel. A lot. There are so many places in the world I want to see. There are a lot of places just in this country that I want to see. I could achieve my dream of visiting every Major League Baseball park. I definitely want to visit Seattle. And the Grand Canyon. And Chicago. And New York. And... uh... San Francisco... I'm running out of places. Who has some suggestions? Let me know if you want me to come visit your corner of the globe. I'll have millions of dollars to spare, so I'm pretty sure I could pencil you in.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Real Live High School Musical

I haven't been going out much lately. I've generally stayed busy with things like paperwork and packing up all my worldly belongings to get ready for my upcoming move to a new town and new apartment. But I got a text from my sister Thursday night with an intriguing invitation that I really couldn't turn down.

Her message informed me that Northside High School was putting on a performance of Grease. It was only $5 at the door. As a kid, I loved watching Grease. I loved the music. And between that and Back to the Future, I constantly wished I had grown up in the 50s. So, yeah, I was in. After all, I was out of empty boxes with which to pack my books and DVDs. That pretty much freed up my evening.

I've seen the stage version of Grease once before. When I was in high school, the show came to Roanoke and I got the chance to see it live, performed by some pros. Sure, it was slightly different from the movie, but it was still a lot of fun. I really don't get to enjoy live theater as much as I'd like. I tell myself that if I lived in New York, it's the kind of thing I'd go to all the time. But the reality is, I probably wouldn't.

Anyway, I didn't go to this play expecting perfection. These are high school kids. But I'll admit, I was very impressed by their performance. And hey, seeing the students of Rydell High being played by actual high school students was a really novel idea. That added a certain believability to the show that can't be found when Danny and Sandy are played by folks in their 30s.

In my opinion, the stand out performance of the night belonged to the young lady playing Rizzo. Not sure if it was just because she was having so much fun with the role or because of some deeply genuine talent. Probably both. Whatever the case, she was outstanding. Both of her solos were phenomenal.

The whole thing made me want to come back home and dig through boxes to find my copy of the Grease DVD. Again, it wasn't perfect, but it was a lot of fun to watch. And those kids put a lot into what they were doing. Made me wish I had taken an interest in performing back when I was in school.

So if you're in the Roanoke area tonight, head out to Northside High. It's well worth the $5 admission price. Give me a call if you're going, you might be able to convince me to see it again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Last

Today was the last day of Spring Break. In a lot of ways, I'm sorry to see it go. After all, I did get to spend each day sleeping well past the insane pre-dawn hour of 5am. I also got a lot done in terms of getting packed for my forthcoming move. I was actually quite productive. But I didn't think about work at all.

Actually, that's a lie. I thought about work a little. But mostly because of the one reason I'm not sorry to see the end of Spring Break. You see, when I'm not in school, I'm not getting paid. So that's a week of vacation, but it's unpaid vacation. Which means the beginning of May (when this pay period manifests itself in the form of a paycheck) is going to suck.

I'll be moving at the start of the month. I'll have a new apartment for which to pay rent. I'll have a deposit for a new apartment due. I'll have a few of my other normal bills, plus typical living expenses, and I'll have roughly half a paycheck to do it with.

If you're feeling particularly generous, I still have a PayPal button on my page where you can donate to the "Feed the Blogger" fund. But it's really not necessary. Prayer works too. I'm taking a page from the Most Awesome Person I Know and trusting that God has led me to this place and He will lead me through it as well. Maybe part of that will be through someone's random donation to my completely selfish fund. Maybe it will mean that one of the corporations that expects to receive money from me will suddenly change their expectations. Who's to know?

Anyway, Spring Break is kind of officially over. I considered it officially over at the point in time when I would have been out of school this afternoon, leaving this evening to be just another typical Wednesday evening. I've mentally prepared myself for tomorrow's day of work. I've almost gotten myself ready for awakening at 5am once again. Though, let's be honest, there's really nothing that anyone can do to prepare me for waking up that early. It's just wrong on so many levels.

For me, a long stretch of time off is a dangerous thing. I grow comfortable and kind of lazy. I've heard some people say that, when they take off work for a long stretch of time, they start to miss the job. I've never been that way. Maybe I've never taken off work for long enough to really make that kind of difference. Maybe it's that they seem unable to find something constructive to do with their time. I never have that problem. I always seem to be able to keep myself busy. It may not always be something constructive, but it's at least entertaining.

Please don't confuse this apathetic rant with a lousy work ethic. I really do like my job and I feel like I'm making a difference, or at least attempting to make a difference. I'm just saying, if I was one of those lucky few who struck some kind of jackpot, I wouldn't be the kind that keeps going back to work. You'd probably catch me volunteering somewhere at some point, but not until I grew bored with watching The Price Is Right each day.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Regional Sectionals

I've been watching Glee since it first started airing on Fox. You can mock if you wish. But if you read this blog, you should know that I'm the kind of guy that likes music. I like to listen to it. I like to sing in the car. I'll even pick up the guitar and play a few chords if I really feel like doing something I'm not very good at.

So I've followed along with the adolescent lives of these kids at McKinley High in Lima, Ohio. And I usually think that the songs that the actors/singers cover on the show are very well done. I pretty much know what to expect when I tune into the show each week. Sure didn't know what to expect when I decided to go to a real life local glee club competition.

I kind of went on a whim. At some point last week, I heard the local radio station mention that there would be a glee competition at the Roanoke Civic Center on Saturday. I didn't really think much about it at the time. Though I have thought in the past that it would be interesting to see what real glee clubs were like. And it absolutely was interesting.

Obviously, there's no way of telling if our local high school show choirs deal with all the drama that the kids involved with New Directions have to live through. I would hope that taking a Slushee to the face is a complete fictionalization. I was really only able to judge based on their singing and choreography. Let me preface this by saying, it didn't make it too easy to judge the real life glee clubs based on their own merits when the guys in charge were playing the Glee soundtracks between sets.

Also, it should be known, it can't be easy for these kids to give up their Saturday to come out and sing in front of a live audience. Especially when that audience is so very small. I'll get to that rant later. That being said, some of the singing was really good. A lot of the choreography was decent. And some of the singing was pretty bad. But again, they deserve a lot of credit just for putting themselves out there and giving it a shot.

I was a little disappointed that the choir that I thought did the best did not win. The prize of $1,000 went to a school that I would have placed in 2nd. But what do I know, I wasn't one of the judges.

Now, a rant about the size of the audience. Over the years, there have been a lot of heated discussions regarding support for arts programs in our public schools. These programs include performing and visual arts. Budget makers tend to argue that when money is tight, it's better to continue funding standard curriculum like English and math than to throw money at choirs and ceramics. When inevitable budget cuts happen, there is a very vocal outcry demanding that money be found to fund the arts. And there's a good reason for it. Studies have shown again and again that involvement in the arts is linked to higher academic performance.

But it's really hard to convince educators to continue funding these programs when no one wants to support the kids that are participating. I looked around the auditorium on Saturday and saw a very sad sight. By my estimation, there were more kids performing than there were people in the audience. That means that there were a lot of kids' families that didn't even bother to show up for the event.

You watch Glee's competition episodes and see the choirs singing before packed houses in front of celebrity judges. In real life, these kids are dealing with half empty seats and serious technical problems. The emcee announced that they would be holding this local competition again next year. I plan to go back. I don't have a horse in this race, but I'd like to be one of those people who is willing to provide moral support for this kind of thing. It was a free event. It should have been better advertised. I think it would be nice to see the auditorium packed with people who are excited to see how hard these kids have worked to get to that stage. They may not necessarily be aiming for stardom in their adult lives, but they're doing something they enjoy doing here and now. By supporting them now, it may help the students that come after them to have the same opportunities to enjoy the same activities.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Question of the Week: Prevention

If you could prevent either an earthquake in Peru that would kill 40,000 people, a crash at your local airport that would kill 200 people, or an automobile accident that would kill an acquaintance of yours, which would you choose?

I guess it depends on how you want to look at it. Some, like Superman, would follow Spock's logic in that "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one." That would imply that it would be important to prevent the earthquake in Peru that would kill 40,000 people. However, I'm of the belief that things happen for a reason. Earthquakes fall under a category that is specifically labeled Act of God. That sort of tells me that those 40,000 Peruvians were meant to die at that time. And if I did something to prevent that natural disaster, then it could spin into the longest episode of Final Destination ever. And we all know how Final Destination worked out for those kids that got out of their airplane accident. Now, a car crash killing someone I personally know, that's not necessarily something caused by natural phenomena. Most likely, one of the drivers involved did something stupid and wasn't paying attention. So I guess I'd try to stop the car accident. Maybe that's selfish, but it seems to be the one that I would most likely have the ability to prevent.

*Question of the week comes from The Book of Questions by Gregory Stock, Ph.D.