Posted by: Tom Triumph | December 22, 2013

201. western springs zoo: Sonja Yelich

Want to seem hip to your students? Good luck with that.

I had a class on democratic organizations in college, and the professor used a lot of orchestra analogies to demonstrate his point about leadership and organization. These were mostly lost of us; at least, they were not as meaningful as he meant them to be. In an attempt to bridge the gap, he also tried a lot of football analogies. Fine. But his football knowledge was all from the 1960s and all involved Green Bay Packer’s coach Vince Lombardi. Even that would have been okay, but he knew very little more than five facts (one of which was that New Jersey had named a comfort station after the man).

The class did, though, appreciate the effort. He was a good guy. On the other hand, our Modern Chinese Political Thought professor also used Vince Lombardi as a constant analogy, but no one appreciated it because that professor was a bit of a dull idiot.

But, soldier on. Keep making it relevant!

Lorde is a thing at the moment. I’ve heard the song “Royals” around, and it was on one of those “best of” video compilations where MTV tells people like me (Read: Old) what’s hip in sixty seconds. Perhaps, by the time you read this, Lorde will be old hat. But I see a long life of her providing soundtracks, at the very least.

Here’s the original New Zealand video:

Here is the U.S. version.  It has an ad at the start, but has a lot more of the singer Lorde in the visuals.

She’s intriguing and will provide plenty of chatter about her haunting look and sound, mixed with the “story” within the video.  Plenty to talk about here, but this post is not about interpreting visual media.

One thing that intrigues me are origin stories.  When people become successful, I’m always interested in their influences.  In some cases, they are rebelling from the lifestyle they grew up on.  Others find support from family members, building careers as young children.  Lorde’s mother is a poet.  Go figure.  She has a flair for the dramatic, and knows how to use silence and meter.

Sonja Yelich is that mother, a minor poet of some note, carving out a New Zealand career in the aughts.  Now, her daughter is a superstar.

One area of discussion is the legacy the parents of your students are leaving them.  Student long-term plans?  Are they leaving their small burg, or are they happily going to set up shop near where they were born?  I’ve told students that the idea of an education is not to get them into college, but to offer them choices.  They can choose McDonalds, but it should be a choice.

What do their parents give them? Other than biology, what values and skills have they been taught. Make sure to do an inventory of the bad along with the good. Think about nail biting–how many do it, and their parents do it, too? What are the genetics of behavior? It might make a good research project for a high-flying kid with some time on their hands.

But I’ve never been one for biographical criticism (I wonder if you can do reverse biographical criticism–using the biography of the child to understand the parent?).  In the end, I’m a New Critic.  I look at the text.

The issue that intrigues me is the notion of scarcity of mementos, and how that’s changed.  Back in the day, we took a roll of film.  Done.  Those twelve or twenty-four pictures were all the memories you’d have from a trip, party or event.

Now, we take two hundred of a non-event. Sherry Turkle wrote in the New York Times article “The Documented Life” that we were missing life because of our obsession to document every moment of it.

I do wonder about the three photographs I have of my Oma (German: Grandmother) in her youth, and how precious each is. We examine each of the three for clues of how she felt at age twenty, before and after she crossed the sea and came to America. Every muscle is a clue. The smile. What’s behind the eyes.

Meanwhile, I have a few hundred of our recent trip to Turkey and have not really looked at a single one.

How do your students capture their moments? Have them make a collage of their already-taken photos. Some kids will have gobs, while others very little. Is this a boy-girl thing? Class? A technology gap? Take them to the journals! And what do they take photos of? If my students are any indication, friends are the foreground and the background is…. whatever. Yet, my adult friends with cameras (not phones) take landscapes void of people. Is this a generational thing, or a technology thing?

The other issue to explore is that of nostalgia. Sure, your students may be twelve, but they have a strong nostalgic streak for naps in kindergarten. Show them YouTube videos of old ads (Webkins, which I had never heard of, sent mine into memory-induced hysterics). They won’t stop telling stories. Are they happier now? Would they go back to a certain age? Why? Can they capture that moment?

Have they looked at the old photos their parents have (do people still keep photo albums?). In this digital age, do parents even have physical copies of the photos? One project might be to scrapbook. Create a keepsake. No photos? Perhaps they could interview their parents about a memory the student has–a birthday or family event. How else can you keep a memory? Journal or diary? Perhaps a poem.

Memory. Memoir. Go.

western springs zoo
Sonja Yelich

At the zoo my mother is from 1972.
Our TV is black & white with knobs.
The school bander prints in violet ink.
We have a v dub BJ1476.
My mother is 26 no more.
in a red halter neck that does up
under the fanny part.
With cork heels
& skirt.
My pigtails are in rubberbands.
I wanted plaits but never got them.
The Americans say braids.
We were somewhere by the polar bears.
in a pair.
There’s the fizzing of water & concrete
icicles which drip concrete icicles.
You cannot see me ~
I am gripping my brownie camera in hard plastic
which was an adventurous buy for my parents.
It will only ever take one film
of 12 shots
in its whole whole life.

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