Tuesday, June 21, 2011


There is nothing sensational about a Reality TV show where people are doing what they should do. People washing dishes or folding laundry or reading a book aloud would hardly get a pilot. You would have to superimpose upon it some kitschy drama interspersed with confusing vantage points, implied relational deviance, and some embarrassing extravagance. So we find out that the dishwasher has an ankle fetish and swears when he breaks a piece of china, the launderer failed beauty school and has melt-downs over tough stains, and the reader is a secret millionaire who has a hard time pronouncing the sound th.

I'm tired of hearing about illegal aliens: I would like to hear more about the legal ones. However, it is unlikely that I will unless I get to know them myself. After all, there is nothing sensational about a legal alien doing what he ought to do by coming to this country legally, becoming an industrious contribution to this country legally, and growing an outstanding business legally. What a boring story that would be, huh?

I recently came across a series of books called The Lingo Guide. On-the-job dictionaries full of industry relevant phrases, these books are designed to fit into a toolbox or pocket. On one side they read English-Spanish. Flip it over and you have Spanish-English. 

The blue book is designed for construction workers, the green book for landscapers, and the black book for safety. Each book is full of thousands of trade-specific words and phrases such as:

How many faucets will there be in this house?
¿Cuántos grifos habrán en la casa?

We need to be careful not to hit the gas line when digging.
Debemos ser cuidadosos de no golpear la tubería de gas cuando estamos cavando.

We need to wear our hard hats.
Necesitamos utilizar nuestros cascos.

Or it can go the other way:

¿Puede realizar cortes?
Can you cut?

Debemos plantar este árbol justo ahí.
We need to plant this tree right here.

Necesitamos una clasa para CPR.
We need a training class for CPR.

Each phrase has a translation and pronunciation guide. If the site manager has a problem speaking Spanish or if the worker has a problem speaking English, each can point to the phrase or word he is trying to communicate. How clever is that?

What I find to be so impressive about these little books is that they achieve many things for both the Hispanic and the American that we Americans value. First, it aids the Hispanic worker in his ability to learn English. Secondly, it gives the Hispanic worker the power of the English language to insure he is not being taken advantage of and to enrich his level of responsibility. Thirdly, it solidifies the dignity of our Hispanic brother and sister by increasing his and her marketable value in our economy.

For the American business owner, he saves money by first insuring a legitimate medium for communication between site manager and worker (so much money and time is spent and wasted due to a lack of communication in project development and execution). Secondly, it helps to insure the safety and competence of his Hispanic workers, building a credible reputation for employer and employee alike. Thirdly, the employer contributes to the Americanization of his workers: they will eventually learn English! Enough English to do their jobs well anyways

As positive as all of that sounds, it is just too interest-specific and too boring to capture the attention of attention-deficit Americans. We are much too captivated by the Reality TV-drama of the antics of illegal aliens in the news and other media that we find no empathy to aid the cause of the legal alien by encouraging him and her during a very scary and unsure time for Hispanics. Some of us are so backward that we choose not to meet a legal alien for fear of coming in indirect contact with an illegal one. The Lingo Guide is one of many practical ways we can champion the cause of our legal, Hispanic brothers and sisters. By increasing communication, we become a people.

Check out www.TheLingoGuide.comIf you have Hispanic neighbors working in the construction, landscape, or general safety industries, PURCHASE A COPY FOR THEM! If you have friends or neighbors who hire Hispanic workers in these industries, LET THEM KNOW THAT THIS TOOL EXISTS. Do you know of an ESL class (English-As-a-Second-Language) near you or of church groups or charities frequenting Mexico and South American countries for building-related mission trips or projects? LET THEM KNOW. This little act can do wonders to aid the Americanization of legal Hispanic immigrants. And don't we want that?

Saturday, June 11, 2011


At the school I founded in 2000 I used to cater to a large number of middle-school boys who either had (or were believed to have had) ADD or ADHD. Mixed in with that number were those with dyslexia, Tourettes, ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder), CD (Conduct Disorder), EDD (Emotional Detachment Disorder), DBD (Disruptive Behavior Disorder), OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), ASD, (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) BD (Bipolar Disorder), NVLD (Non-Verbal Learning Disorder), MD (Manic Depression), and general anxiety. 

While it sounds like a zoo, school was quite the contrary. My school was in rural Williamson County with sprawling hills and verdant green valleys. The actual property of five acres was surrounded by a horse & cow farm to the right, wheat fields and a mountain to the back, and private property predating the Civil War to my left. Dozens upon dozens of acres cushioned us from civilization. On the property was a pond inhabited by frogs, several aggressive turtles, and snakes. Blue heron visited our pond during winter with Canadian geese making several stops nearby, their signature squawking a comfort during those long Tennessee winters (especially when we would run out of propane to heat the school). Coyote, deer, and turkey used our property as a thoroughfare.

Because the property had been uninhabited for several years before I took possession of it in August 2000, it was a hangout for vagrants and passersby. During the winter I would get to school early to turn on the heat and to check windows and doors for signs of break-ins (which I did occasionally find. Bums occasionally used our little schoolhouse and property as a base, camping on the grounds or trying to find an open window or unlocked door to stay the night). 

It took a while to train these people to stay off the property. I never called the police. The best antidote for discouraging these types seemed to be my emerging from the school after they entered the property. Whenever I would come out the front door to talk to them, they would take off if they were far enough away. If they were close enough for me to surprise them, they would nervously say they were mistakenly in the wrong place and leave. They could not understand what I, a Black man, was doing in a little school in the country. Anyways, I describe these things so that you understand the very pastoral and therapeutic setting for my school.

Because it was my school, I modified "regular" school to aid my students in the total captivation of their focus and in the elongation of their attention spans. I knew that exposure to a wide array of experiences was important to students as a reference point for other complex experiences. So we simulated what I call "backdrops" to their educational experience. We had school sitting on the ground outside under the trees with ticks raining down on us (STUDENT, "A tic is on me!" ME, "A tick is a noun. It is biting you. That's a 'verb.' You are interrupting my lesson. That is a 'disruption.'"), walking around the school property (STUDENT, "Mr. Grayson, I just saw a frog jump in the water!" ME, "And he just saw you. That's why he jumped"), while marching up the mountain (STUDENT, "Mr. Grayson, I just saw a snake!" ME, "Did it bite you?" STUDENT, "No, he just scared me." ME, "If we were trying to evade the Nazis, you would have given us away with that scream. Keep walking"). 

We read Beowulf around the campfire while eating turkey legs (That set the coyotes yipping). 

We played an all night game of Sack of Rome in which case the Romans slept in the school house all night while the Goths had to sleep outside in the 30-degree weather (upper 20's with a wind chill) in makeshift tents by fires that kept getting blown out. The Goths had to find a way to break into the school (doors and windows) where they had to "tag" all the Romans and retrieve several items (which they finally did between the hours of 4 and 5 in the morning before I pulled out donuts and orange juice). 

We celebrated The First Thanksgiving, students giving up their recess (or being made to give up their recess. I do not remember) to go into the woods with handsaws to cut down twenty-foot saplings to form the skeleton of the gigantic teepee in which students further dug a gigantic hole in the middle of the teepee where we made a fire, roasting turkeys, white potatoes, and sweet potatoes, smoke filling up the tent and students coughing up their lungs (that's the way the original authors described it in the Captive Narratives). 

All of these experiences were intended to be enjoyably uncomfortable in order to create a kind of academic sobriety so students had a rhythmically circadian calendar to alleviate the stresses of their very cushioned, sophisticated, and technologically-savvy, culture that provided its own aggravating backdrop to their many disorders. 

That is not to say that students did not have legitimately disruptive behaviors. That is also not to say that students did not need medication like a few of them did need. That is also not to say that students did not need the counselors they were seeing.

All of these children were functional and fun with the exception of a few I could not help (Their issues spanned severe & prolonged sexual abuse and severe oppositional behavior). As my school grew, the number of girls wrestling with similar problems increased, too. 

All of these students with whom I worked were within the Christian religious demographic, and the overwhelming number of them had parents who held to intriguing views of spirituality that I increasingly saw to be a significant obstacle to their children's betterment, even while their children were making "great strides" at my school. 

The following two descriptions of these dysfunctional family types is a montage of odd conversations I would have concerning their children:

The first parent is the one who would speak in religious code.

PARENT, "Praise the Lord, Mr. Grayson." (I don't know whether or not to say "Good morning" or "How are you?" because I don't know what "Praise the Lord" means at 8:30 A.M.).

ME, "You seem energetic this morning."

PARENT, "Oh, the Lord has been doing some AMAZING things in our family!"

ME "Hmm. Like what?" (The parent in this situation is not inviting me to inquire. He is building a wall to keep me on my turf so that I am "amazed" at what God is doing in his life).

PARENT, "Oh, well, you know, He's just... shaking things up, and drawing us close, and teaching us the things we need to learn." (I don't know what that means). 

ME, "Ok. Anything specifically?" (Now, I'm on the offensive).

PARENT, "Well, God is just... you know... we are just seeing his promises come to pass. He is confirming a lot of things and... really... revealing a lot of things." (My brows furrow-flex, indicating that I have absolutely no idea what she means but that I will allow the mysterium of that cryptic statement to stand).

ME, "Well, your boy has done well this week in his papers. Last week he wasn't trying. This week he has written three very impressive papers."

PARENT, "Praise the Lord. We have been telling him to do his best as unto God." (Whatever.)

ME, "He also completed the 100-question Philosophy Exam with flying colors."

PARENT, "You know, I told him to commit himself to the Lord and God will bring it to pass." (What does that mean? We are talking about schoolwork.)

OK, I'm done with this conversation. Such greetings and conversation are not normal or consistent with these sorts of parents, so I tend to take mental note that they are hiding something. This kind of religious talk correlates to the babbling of the hardened sinner stuck in a very tight place. Now, all of a sudden he wants to talk about the "Lord." 

Not only do I find this kind of talk to be obstructive to normal conversation, but I also find it to be simply embarrassing. I never know what to say except to encourage the person to talk in plain English. If a parent is telling me "The Lord's provision just makes me want to worship him more" when he really means "I just had a great breakfast at Shoney's" or "His grace is sufficient" when he means "I lost my job because I don't really want to work and my boss could tell" or "Everything is beautiful in his time" when he really means "I'm not really doing anything with my life right now nor do I feel any motivation to do anything with my life right now and my wife and I are probably going to divorce", I get a little unnerved. I am not sure what I am supposed to do with these kinds of conversations... except to put them in blogs like this one. 

The second parent likes to "mix it up" with an ingenuous combination of profanity and holiness. I think he does it for shock value because I have said something or he has heard something or I've done something or she thinks I have done something that intimidates him (or her).

PARENT, "Oh, God, what a crazy night."

ME, "Something happen?"

PARENT, "You didn't hear? My son got picked up by the cops--it wasn't his fault." (It is never your child's fault, haha).

ME, "And?"

PARENT, "Those damned bigots had nothing better to do so they jump all over his ass at the movie theater." (This kind of aggression is meant to make me think the parent is stressed beyond the point of reasoning. So I am not supposed to inquire. But I do).

ME, "So the police just decided to target him?" (The parent takes an exaggerated deep breath).

PARENT, " Well, you know, he was doing what he was supposed to do but he was with these two other little, thug-wannabes and I've told him before 'Iron sharpens iron. You need to be careful about who your friends are.'" (The parent doesn't want me to ask anything more. He thinks the religious platitude is somehow going to satisfy me by convincing me he has fulfilled his moral, parental duty).

ME, "And?" 

PARENT, "But you've taught him for years. You know how stubborn he is." (Now it's my fault).

ME, "So what did he do?"

PARENT, "So I dropped them off at the theater and one of..."

ME, "So you drove your boy and his bad friends to the theater?" (Maybe I'm at fault for that, too).

PARENT, "What I'm trying to say is that they--not my son, but the other two--had words back and forth with some other little a**hole. They are shoving and the police come. My son didn't do s***, but they blame it on him. I told him later that it's always the righteous people who suffer."

ME, "So..?"

PARENT, "Oh, I talked with him about it." (Oh, that is wonderful. You talked to your son).

ME, "What did you talk about?"

PARENT, "You see, once your kids are grown you'll understand how hard it is to raise kids these days. Like you, I was idealistic. But it's hard. (Now, I'm ignorant).

The conversation has gone on for longer than it should. The parent never expected to reveal that much information. Yes, it is going to be hard raising kids when they know a parent does pot or porn or two women at a time. The parent is only angry because his children won't let him be a child anymore. 

His little feelings, juvenile attention span, and truncated capacity for responsibility isn't large enough to even have a family much less a balanced opinion. He thought aggressive language would somehow illustrate his frustration over injustice, a virtue he assumes I value. He also thought I would respect his space. He thought I would somehow try to calm or comfort him. He thought I would "take the heat" for him like I'm his little nanny or his Negro.

It is obvious to me why many of these wonderful children never get the help they need: they have parents who block their path to genuine healing by insistence in ambiguous mediums of conversation (Who will ever understand what is really going on?) and in various levels of blame-shifting (Who will ever really know the real causes?). These parents often reinforce the right combination of dysfunctional environmental factors that replicate the high-functioning behaviors their children manifest and that eventually drive them to ever-widening circles of insanity. At a modeling level if there is no change in the parent, there will be no change in the child. Period. No matter how fun a student thinks I am. And I'm a lot of fun. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Two weeks ago outside my school I could hardly hear myself talk on the phone for the the thousands of chirruping cicadas that covered the trunks of the dozens of trees on the property. I gave up the conversation to take pictures of this particular breed of cicada called "Brood XIX" which emerges every thirteen years. Here are a few photos (Imagine the background to be the grotesquely amplified sound of a million, battery-operated, toddler toys in the past phase of its juice). Cicadas are the Goliath version of flies without the stigma of living on poop and throwing up in your sugar bowl.  Below is a photo of a serene cicada. He's not mating. He's not latching himself to my head. He's not making a peep. 

This is what we saw on every edifice in the Nashville area several weeks ago: the alien shells of cicadas (My wife and I watched a waste of film a few weeks ago called SKYLINE. It ended up being some apocalyptic flick where insects were rapturing people who didn't want to be raptured. I fell asleep towards the end which tells you how bad of a movie it must have been. Because insects are the most abundant form of life in the world, it is believed by some funny scientists that aliens, if the exist, are more likely to look like insects than humanoid).

I had never seen a cicada hatch before two weeks ago. It is rather impersonal the way they come out of their shells. I don't know, imagine a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. Now imagine that caterpillar doing so many drugs in his life that when he emerges, he doesn't do so gracefully and he is void of all color.

He looks a bit normal when he is done being born again.

Like I said, they are colorless when finished hatching.

Several years ago, I caught a few who were "off season." They had eye color that ranged from blue to green. "Brood XIX" have red eyes. Someone started a rumor a few days ago that Vanderbilt University was paying $300 per blue-eyed mutant cicada. The University kept getting phone calls.

I read a few days ago that fishermen have had some really nice catches lately because drowning cicadas have brought the large fish to the surface. While being cleaned, nice-sized catches have been found to be glutted with cicadas. Even the birds won't go to sleep! They are up all night, undoubtedly, eating their fill of the creatures who average at least two inches in length, being responsible for my falling asleep at 2:00 A.M.

I have noticed the last week or so that the smaller ones are hatching (or maybe the larger ones are shrinking?). They have been the most aggressive, latching themselves onto my clothing or skin, and screaming when pulled off. Open your car door or the front door to your house and one will take the opportunity to squeeze in. A student of mine had some graduation pictures taken that were rather amazing. When they were blown up to be printed, they noticed a cicada was on his shirt, posing along with him... with those demonic, red eyes.

They don't sting. I have been told that people eat them. That doesn't surprise me, and I don't blame them. Grasshoppers, ants, and snails are edible in civilized parts of the world, so why not cicadas? While in Bavaria during the summer of 1987, I ate a snail (They called it escargo, but I saw the cook pick it off a leaf in the garden. It was a snail).

As I am sitting writing this blog right now, I am in my livingroom with the overhead fan on, with the curtains drawn, with my children playing and screaming on the trampoline, and I can STILL hear the mating calls of the promiscuous cicadas as backdrop to everything. Thirteen years from now I will be fifty-two and a little deafer, so I should be enjoying them while I can.

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