Wednesday, October 29, 2014

2 Week Cardio Follow-up, and, Is Sodium in Everything?

I had my 2-week follow-up with my cardiologist today, and the results were what I expected: they need to wait more to see if the medicines are working to strengthen my heart, and that waiting period is 6 months. If there is not an improvement in those 6 months, I'll likely have to get a defibrillator. 

(In the meantime, there are a few other tests they want to conduct, as they search for reasons for the cardiomyopathy, which is now making my heart pump blood at between 35-40% ejection fraction, which is basically bordering on heart failure. These include a sleep study, which will be interesting; the doctors want to rule out sleep apnea, which I don't think I have. They've also increased my medicine.)

In those 6 months, though, my job is to get as healthy as possible. I've gained about 20 pounds in the last year, which I think is mainly the result of fluid buildup (one of the symptoms of cardiomyopathy), as I haven't really been eating unhealthy and I haven't stopped exercising. I've been back on MyFitnessPal for the last couple of weeks, and keeping my daily intake between 2000 and 2500 calories a day, for the most part, which is pretty good for a man who currently weighs well north of 250. I'm trying to get to the gym 5 times a week, and, even when I don't, I've got a daily goal of 100 situps and 100 pushups a day, along with walking my 10,000 steps. Need to be tougher about the gym and not let my work life prevent me from going too often. (Grades are due this week, which has made the gym tough after Monday's epic 95-minute elliptical session.)

I've counted calories, protein, fat, and fiber a lot in the past, but what will be interesting this time is counting sodium. My cardiologist wants me to stay under 1500mg a day, which sounds like a lot, but really isn't. This past weekend, for example, we were eating at P.F. Chang's and a tofu and broccoli lunch was so tasty that I looked up its nutritional information: 4500mg of sodium. Woah! That would have been 3 days worth. I stopped eating at that point, halfway through. My beloved turkey jerky from Trader Joe's is 1080mg for the bag. Turkey bacon, which has become one of my favorite high-protein, low-calorie foods, is about 175mg/piece. My favorite veggie burgers, which I eat a couple times a week, are 260mg/each (that's actually not too bad).  I was even shocked today to realize that a bag of baby carrots from Trader Joe's, which I eat daily, has over 500mg of sodium (8 servings of carrots at 65mg/each)!

This is going to be a challenge. While I've started eating some turkey and chicken in recent years, I'm still mostly a vegetarian, and mostly prefer vegetarian (I only started eating meat for a little bit more protein and to make my diet less restrictive). But the meat I have is usually cured (turkey lunch meat, turkey kielbasa, turkey bacon), only occasionally eating fresh chicken breasts or thighs. I love fresh fruits and veggies, but they don't fill me up, usually. I don't plan on starting to eat pork or beef or anything crazy like that, but it seems like it'll be quite a challenge to stay under 1500mg of sodium a day. More eggs, I guess? (62mg/sodium each... not bad). 

Cutting sodium will be pretty tough, I can tell. I'll have to do plenty of reading up on it.

I asked a bunch of other questions, as well: 2 cups of coffee a day are fine. Happy Hour and a couple beers a couple times a month are fine. Exercise is good. Weightlifting is fine as long as I don't strain myself and listen to my body. 

Hopefully all of this begins to work. The shortness of breath has not gotten better and I know my heart is straining. But it's still nice to know there's an end goal. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Fascinating "Serial" podcast. Are you listening?

Over the last month, I've become terrifically hooked on the Serial podcast, a riveting piece-by-piece examination of a murder of Woodlawn High School student Hae Min Lee, who was strangled to death in February of 1999. Her body was buried in a shallow grave in Leakin Park, and her ex-boyfriend, fellow Woodlawn High School student Adnan Syed, was convicted of her murder and is serving life in prison plus 30 years. Syed has always maintained his innocence, and his friends and family are desperate for exoneration.

The podcast is produced by This American Life's Ira Glass and others associated with that show, so the high-quality storytelling is there. And while I do love This American Life, I've never felt so passionate about This American Life as I do this show. Instead of 3 stories on one theme every week, this podcast delves into one story week after week, examining new wrinkles in a thought-provoking and compelling story. Each week, when the podcast comes out, I rush to listen to it, sometimes twice so I don't miss any details,

The show is fascinating for three reasons:

(1) The story -- two honor-roll students, both children of immigrants; a shocking and tragic crime with plenty of loose ends and interesting "characters". Adnan Syed is heard in numerous interviews from the prison phone, and he comes off as winsome and disarming. A guy named Jay who turned Adnan in is heard in police interviews, and I'm not sure yet if he's a red herring or more, but, either way, his interviews are compellingly obtuse.

(2) The host, Sarah Koenig, is a great journalist investigating a 15-year old murder, turning over everything she can. Through it, she exudes intelligence but also a sort of reflectiveness that makes the reporting feel very personal. Koenig doesn't know how the show is going to end, and neither do we, and we're considering all elements of the story together.

(3) The process: as aforementioned, there is no ending to the story; it is "TBD". Still, Koenig knows more than we do, of course, and she and her producers are deciding what details to share with us at this point (where is Jay today? What's up with the Nisha call?). However, there's a whole lot that she doesn't know yet. The process, therefore, feels like something that I've never really seen before, an ongoing murder investigation. Koenig doesn't know what the repercussions of her show will be, and there has to be some discussions of the ethics of releasing perspectives of certain players in the murder drama first instead of other people in the situation. This is all very fascinating, wondering what the producers decide to release at which point and how they decide it. 

This process leads to things like this. The following is part of a Rolling Stone interview with Koenig
"What's it like working on a show where, at any second, you could stumble upon something that could shift the entire story?
That just happened to me this week, a couple of days ago, and I'm still catching my breath and not sleeping. It's incredibly nerve-racking, and, again, this is why I say I have to be so careful all the way through. You may stumble across some piece of information where you're just left going, "Oh my god. Okay. Okay. We're fine." You have no idea how seat-of-our-pants this is right now. So, it's stressful, but the good part is I can be very responsive to new information."

"Still catching my breath and not sleeping"? Woah. I can't wait. I've become obsessed with stuff like this, wondering how it's all going to end up. I'm listening to podcasts about the podcast. I've mostly consumed media by binging in recent years; I watch Orange is the New Black and The Walking Dead when they're released on Netflix and watch most of the episodes in a couple sittings. I heard an interview with Koenig where she says she's only 4 days ahead of the listening audience, so this binging will never happen. So going back to cliffhanging episodes is a return to the past, in a way, but in a wildly innovative new format. 

I love it. If you're not listening to Serial, it's time. (The Baltimore connection is only added interest for us Baltimoreans.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

May some good fortune come to you, Todd Snider: a Review of His Strange Show in Baltimore last night

I jumped at the opportunity last night (Tuesday, Oct. 21) to see Todd Snider in concert at the Baltimore Soundstage, with Bobby Bare, Jr. opening the show. Since the first time I saw him live back in 2002, Snider has been one of my favorite live performers, a singer/songwriter right up there with Melissa Ferrick and Dan Bern for me as being consistently entertaining and engaging, with songs that run the gamut from heartbreak and loss ("Sing a Train Song") to frivolous hilarity ("Beer Run"). I've seen him probably 10 times or so over the last dozen years, usually at the Ram's Head in Annapolis, and even these days, when I'm not seeing live music like I used to, I still took the time out of a Tuesday school night to see the show.

I usually like to bring newbies to Todd Snider shows, like I was brought by a friend and colleague back in March of 2002, and two at our table were newcomers to Snider. Unfortunately, they got an experience that was unlike any Todd Snider show I'd ever been to before; from almost the opening song, there was a weird vibe between artist and crowd. In fact, immediately after the opening song in Snider's set -- his winsome "My Some Good Fortune Come to You" -- the crowd began shouting out requests to him. Now, Snider shows are often freewheeling events, but it seemed doing it that soon was kinda rude. And Snider thought so, too, glancing in that direction and saying, "I appreciate the enthusiasm, but, don't worry, I got this."

The crowd continued to talk and shout through the next song as well, so during the next break, Snider called them out more, especially a guy right in the front row, who was clearly drunk and, although I couldn't see/hear the interaction too much from where I was, Snider said to him something to the effect of, "It's cool if you want to talk to me the whole time while I'm singing, but can you go to a different part of the room? It's going to be weird now." The guy indicated he'd be on his best behavior, but by the next song or so, Snider had asked him to be removed. Snider took a brief break while security removed the guy, but when he came back, he was clearly rattled.

There were still great moments. I got goosebumps during "Play a Train Song". I'd never heard "Enjoy Yourself" and, cliched as it sounds, it made me want to book a trip and made me so regretful of not traveling more last summer (it also made me glad I'd sprung for concert tickets). His "Looking for a Job" captures working class braggadocio perfectly: "Watch what you say to someone with nothing to lose / It's almost like having it all." One of my favorites, "D.B. Cooper", totally rocked.

And the highlight of the show was when he got into his storytelling a bit. He spent 10 or 15 minutes telling his Jerry Jeff Walker story, which I'd heard variations of before, the one when he and Jerry Jeff (who is the one who taught Snider "the difference between a free loader and a free spirit are three fucking chords") had been out drinking one night in some city and they came across a lone busker playing Walker's seminal "Mister Bojangles" to "the moon and the stars and no one else." I'm not doing the story -- hilarious and transcendent in Snider's words -- justice at all, of course; maybe you should think about getting Snider's new book, I Never Met a Story I Didn't Like: Mostly True Tall Tales. Snider capped off the story with a performance of "Mister Bojangles", a beautiful moment.

But things still felt off, and Snider never really seemed to recover from the earlier interaction with the crowd and the one heckler up front. He forgot the lyrics to "Ballad of the Devil's Backbone Tavern", humming the last couple of verses, and, judging from his apologies, probably did it a couple of other times as well (I love the Devil's Backbone song, so I definitely noticed it for that one). His "Beer Run" was sleepy. It seemed like he was trying to go back to his standards to get his mojo back, but he just couldn't. He profusely apologized throughout the show, eventually saying, "Guys, I gave it my best, but I'm going to play a couple more songs and get out of here. If anyone wants their money back, I'm okay with that." He had played around 90 minutes (9pm - 10:30), which is pretty standard for a soloist folk show, and I doubt that anyone asked for their money back. But it was a strange show, and seeing an artist I love toil away apologetically onstage was a little tough at times. Sadly, Snider had a ton of instruments onstage, including a banjo, but he only used his regular acoustic guitar; he never even pulled out his harmonica. There was no reading excerpts out of his new book, which I'd expected, and there was no encore, even though the audience tried its best to call him back out onstage.

We still laughed a lot, and I still had a great time, and I still can't wait to see him again. Everyone has off nights. As a teacher, I can related to feeling rattled after a bad interaction with my audience, so I'm sympathetic. And I think Snider is too authentic to try to fake his way through a show, and he just couldn't. After a canceled gig at Ram's Head Annapolis in January, though, I sure hope he comes back to the Baltimore area sometime soon.

Bobby Bare, Jr.
Bobby Bare, Jr., opened the show, playing six songs with his 3-piece band, which rocked a bit. He was fun; he gets a lot of play out of his awkward nerdy stage presence; at one point, he said, "This is so nerve racking. You all keep staring at me!". His stage banter was pretty funny, at one point asking the whole crowd to shout out, "F*** Bobby Bare, Jr." after a tongue-in-cheek song about wanting fame. I found it difficult to hear many of his lyrics, though, over the (awesomely) pounding drums and keyboard, and I'm a lyrics guy, so I was a little disappointed in that. I bought his vinyl after the show to hear what he's like captured in studio.

It was my first time going to the Baltimore Soundstage, which opened fairly recently in a spot right across from Power Plant Live, a corner location that has had several different incarnations over the years, most recently Iguana Cantina (I think). It was a completely seated show, which I think was unusual for the club, and really a perfect venue for a Snider show. I purchased a 4-seat table worth of tickets for $157, a little pricey, but still under $40/ticket for seats that were pretty incredible. Beers were $10/each, so everything about the nice was a little pricey, although the price of parking was $14 off the $24 fee with validation. Split by 4 people, all in all it wasn't too bad, especially since I go to about 2 or 3 concerts a year these days.

All in all, this was a strange show, but a good one.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Keeping Things Fresh

I wanted a change from Richard III, which is my favorite Shakespeare to teach, but I'd done it several years in a row. So my colleague and I decided on Macbeth, which I hadn't read or taught in about 12 years. As of this weekend, I've re-read the play, but...

At the same time, over the summer, my 9th grade team decided on The Thing Around Your Neck by Adichie for our short fiction unit. I've read it and I think it's going to be a great teach, but...

...both units are starting tomorrow, and I don't have a solid sense of what day by day is going to look like. Final assessments are determined. But today is going to be a day of mapping out the month before we get there.

With the 9th graders, we're planning on students writing an essay connecting the theme of any two short stories in the collection (by the way, this is my first time teaching a short story collection). We plan on close reading of about half the stories, and having the students read the rest of the collection on their own.

Right now, we're struggling with a couple of paradigm shifts: how to use literature to teach concepts a little bit more effectively, and how to test for daily reading without using reading quizzes that take up a third of the class period (or more). We've decided we're going to pair the short stories, and I'm trying to figure out a way to gradually take scaffolds away as the students are comparing themes of the stories throughout the unit. I'm not exactly sure how to do this exactly just yet, so I'm going to be playing around with my thoughts on it much of the day.

With the seniors, they're conducting a "first draft reading" (term stolen from Kelly Gallagher) in class in small groups while I continue to record practice IB literary discussions in the hallway, so my task this weekend was to be able to give them enough directives and text-dependent questions so they can do so effectively.

It's important to keep things fresh but it's rare that this freshness happens at the exact same time with two different units. A quality backwards-planned unit makes everything for the next few weeks go well, but it's some work to get there.

I haven't been in school since Tuesday but, largely, neither have the students. Tomorrow I'll snap back to reality but today has to be a continuation of the planning I've done this weekend.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

My Ticker

I'm going to now be someone who blogs about health troubles.

For the last couple of years, I've been short of breath. Even though I regularly exercise, including and especially cardio, I have often found myself winded going up flights of stairs, and even though I've told myself it's because I need to get in better shape than I was, it still felt wrong. At times, I'd go into hacking fits of coughs and not be able to get out of them without difficulty. At other times, I'd laugh so hard I would have get on my knees so I wouldn't faint. I've had difficulty breathing, too, just unable to catch a good breath sometimes, even when resting, and definitely when doing hard cardio.

Over the last couple of years, an assortment of doctors have given me lung tests, chest x-rays, inhalers, and antibiotics to combat this problem. Everything came up negative. I didn't have asthma. I didn't have longterm bronchitis. Doctors were flummoxed, because not one of them looked in the right place: the heart.

I completed my first triathlon in August, something that made me pretty proud, but there were times during it when I felt like I was going to pass out. I thought it was because I didn't know proper form of swimming, and I'm sure that was part of it, but there were times when I literally could not put my head under the water or I knew I would have drowned. I was unable to hold air in my lungs even for a second because my breathing and heart rate were out of control. It was pretty scary. Combined with constant cold, clammy sweats, and generally feeling pretty crappy, it all continued to make me think that something possibly serious was wrong with me.

Finally, on the suggestion of a friend, I called my doctor, a new one, one who has been pretty awesome, and asked her for a stress test. And, while I did fine on the stress test portion of the test -- the PA commented that most patients are too out of shape to get their heart rate up to 170, but I was able to run until it got that high -- the resting nuclear portion of the test revealed some problems with my left ventricle function of my heart.

Flash forward a couple of appointments later -- an echocardiogram, then an appointment with a cardiologist, all weeks apart from each other -- and the diagnosis was cardiomyopathy, a blanket term for heart weakness. Throughout the tests, my heart's ejection fraction is only about 35-45%; normal is around 55-70%. The cardiologist remarked that he couldn't believe I've been able to be involved with athletics at all because my heart has had to work so hard to pump blood around my body.

It's all been pretty scary, partly because of the length of waiting between appointments, and partly because I began noticing so many other symptoms after my initial diagnosis: chest tightness, some chest pain, increased inability to catch my breath. I'm sure some of this was psychosomatic, but I'm sure some of it wasn't. Naturally, I think, I began thinking thoughts about mortality, even making the "I'm not going to buy any green bananas" joke a few times at school with my colleagues. Reading up on cardiomyopathy, at its worst, it's what often causes the sudden heart attacks you read about with young athletes. Scary stuff for someone who just completed a triathlon (and had a hell of a time training for it, always trying to catch my breath). It was probably time to defer my plan to run a leg of the Baltimore Marathon until next year (which I did, at a $25 charge) and to ease up on exercising until I got more of a clearance from doctors.

Causes of cardiomyopathy are mysterious; some are hereditary, some are virus-related, others have no known causes at all. I have a killer sweet tooth, but otherwise I eat a healthy, mostly vegetarian and no fast-food diet, and exercise regularly,  but carry extra weight that needs to be addressed. Still, it doesn't seem this is it. My hunch is that whatever virus I caught a couple of years ago that stayed in my lungs so long extended to my heart and weakened it.

Planning my unit at the hospital.
Of course, this is just a hunch. My cardiologist (yes, I now have a cardiologist) told me on our first visit, "We have to figure out how an otherwise healthy 37-year old who regularly exercises and runs triathlons can have a heart that is functioning so poorly." His first order of business was to perform a cardiac catheterization

I planned the minor surgery for PSAT day, when I would neither have students to teach or students to proctor. And the procedure was a bit scary. I read up on it, but for some reason I didn't picture it correctly. I expected some sort of IV fluid and dye contraption that would have me out in an hour. Instead, I was laid out on a gurney; I was shaved; I was asleep for much of it; I was at the hospital for hours. The nurses, however, were awesome, as was my cardiologist, who performed the procedure. The catheterization was done through my wrist, which made it easier than it would have been than if it was in my groin, but it still was painful (mostly the three times it took to get an IV going, and then the ache to my wrist afterwards). Thankfully, the catheterization revealed no blockages in my arteries. My cardiologist was happy about this, and I was too: it meant no surgery, at least immediately. I was imagining being wheeled in to get an emergency stent installed, or something like that, but, instead, I'm on three heart medicines and am set to see the cardiologist again in 2 weeks.

Initially, I thought I would be able to attend school on Thursday, but that quickly became crazy talk. I wasn't supposed to even drive for 24 hours after the surgery, and still have very limited use of my right hand. I'm sore and the blood bruise around my wound is spreading, and I remain worried about it breaking open. Friday is a PD day, and I think it's better to be safe than sorry and bleeding out on the hallways floor. I'll be back fresh on Monday, missing just two class periods (because of senior inaugural on Thursday, I wasn't scheduled to see them), and hopefully getting back to an exercise regime (which I'm cleared for, as long as my breathing doesn't get bad) this weekend or shortly thereafter.

Longterm-wise, we still don't know what is causing the heart weakness, but we're going to hope that the medicine works. I'm really, really glad I went in and know there's something physically wrong with me, that hopefully can be dealt with. I head back to the cardiologist in 2 weeks. This is a condition that doesn't just go away, but hopefully it can be managed. Wish me luck.

Back to Macbeth.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Gone Girl: The Book and the Film

As a good academic habit, I tell my students that I always want them to always have a book going, something to read before bed or during Silent Sustained Reading (S.S.R.) time in class. I've believed in S.S.R. a long time for building strong academic habits and developing stamina for long periods of silent assessment -- as well as more affective benefits of fostering the love of reading with books students choose themselves. So far this year, I've been modeling for my students; I always say to myself I'm going to model, but usually I get really busy and decide that this time is better spent grading or planning... but not this year. Therefore, whenever we have S.S.R. time in class, I'll engage in our class's sharing out that we do, and then I'll attempt (while I keep my eye open to all of them) to "get lost in a book" as well-- what I ask students to do, though it's easier to say than to do for many of them. 
With this in mind, I picked up Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn on a recommendation by a colleague (somehow I missed out on the cultural phenomenon it was before she recommended it), and it was my Silent Reading book. Unfortunately (kind of), the book only lasted a week on my Kindle, because that's how riveting the novel was and how quickly it moves. The novel, about a transplanted Missouri wife who disappears one July 5th morning on her 5th wedding anniversary, is ingeniously structured, quickly paced, and well-written. It's a crime thriller, of course, and a good one: it is structured with alternating narratives from the husband's perspective and wife's perspective, is full of twists and turns, including a big one in the middle that kind of floored me. And the writing is good, from her characterization of two basically unlikable characters, so authentic and often hilarious. Here's a few::
This is Nick Dunne, describing working for a magazine before he was laid off: "I'd arrived in New York in the late '90s, the last gasp of the glory days, although no one knew it then. New York was packed with writers, real writers, because there were magazines, real magazines, loads of them. This was back when the Internet was still some exotic pet kept in the corner of the publishing world -- throw some kibble at it, watch it dance on its little leash, oh quite cute, it definitely won't kill us in the night."

This is Nick, describing the courtship of his future-wife Amy: "She hummed to herself because she was an unrivaled botched of lyrics. When we were first dating, a Genesis song came on the radio: 'She seems to have an invisible touch, yeah.' And Amy crooned instead, 'She takes my hat and puts it on the top shelf.' When I asked her why she'd ever think her lyrics were remotely, possibly, vaguely right, she told me she always thought the woman in the song truly loved the man because she put his hat on the top shelf. I knew I liked her then, really liked her, this girl with an explanation for everything."

This is a description of the character Rhonda Boney, a detective, and one of my favorite characters: "Rhonda looked more birdlike than usual -- favoring one leg, then another, her head moving all around the room as her gaze alighted on different objects, angles--a magpie looking to line her nest"

A description of a minor character late in the novel: "Dorothy has one of those '70s kitten-in-a-tree posters -- Hang in There! She posts her poster with all sincerity. I like to picture her running into some self-impressed Williamsburg bitch, all Bettie Page bangs and pointy glasses, who owns the same poster ironically. I'd like to listen to them try to negotiate each other. Ironic people always dissolve when confronted with earnestness, it's their kryptonite."

I thought the book was completely absorbing. A few of my friends have complained about the ending, which doesn't feature (minor spoiler alert) any character really getting any karmic revenge. But with the ending, it seems like Flynn is making even more of a commentary on modern marriage. It's a dark message, and I do wish Flynn set up Nick's desire to be a father a little bit more (I think... maybe I just didn't notice it), but, for me, the ending was strong. Should (more spoilers here) Amy have been given more attention by the FBI? Clearly, but it didn't strike me as a plot problem that she didn't. This is one cunning woman.

After reading the book, I was so excited to see what a good director would do with the material. And David Fincher's film version is one of the best adaptations of a novel I've ever seen, completely captivating me even though I knew the plot all along.

Ben Affleck was a perfect choice for Nick Dunne. The character is callow, and Affleck does callow well; just like in the book, we feel some sympathy for the character, but much like his twin sister Margot, we can't believe what this idiot does sometimes. I imagined Joan Cusack as Margot, but she's way too old now (11 years older than Affleck), probably a statement to the fact that I don't think I've seen her in a movie since she would have been the right age. A relatively unknown actress named Carrie Coon plays Margot in the film, and she did fine, though I sort of pictured the character more damaged in the book. Maybe it was her chain smoking (no smoking in the movie from her).

The cast, though, is really uniformly awesome. Rosamund Pike is someone I'd never heard of before, but she was terrific in the lead role - running through a gamut of identities and being believable in each. Kim Dickens could get an Oscar nomination as the detective running the investigation; she is just a joy to watch.

In terms of minor characters, I just don't think Tyler Perry is a good actor; he plays Nick Dunne's lawyer. It's amusing to see him in the role, but I can hear him reading the lines like they're dialogue, not like they're conversation. However, it was cool to see Casey Wilson (of Happy Endings) in a small role as a pregnant neighbor.

But Fincher, of course, is the real star here. This moodily crafted film was suspenseful and unsettling, and Trent Reznor's music is note-perfect.

A few differences of note between book the film:

1) I loved that they gave Nick a proposal scene in the movie; it's done very well and kind of summarizes some of the early courtship of the characters.

2) I thought the character of Desi Collings (played by Neil Patrick Harris, who is excellent) was given a little bit of a short shrift; in the novel, we meet his mother (who grieves for him after he dies and knows it was Amy) and he just seems a much more reasonable and less creepy character than he comes off in the film.

3) Amy's parents were delineated much more in the novel. In the film, they're flat characters; the mother is immediately acerbic, the father is a goofy peacenik. In the novel, we get a sense of who they are a lot more.

4) The book takes about 6-8 hours to read, so obviously a lot of the details of the crime and such are left out when translated to a 2.5-hour movie. There is more interesting procedural stuff in the novel, but that's to be expected.

All in all, I think both film and book were top-notch. I don't think either is high art, necessarily, but both are stylish thrillers in the hands of people who know what they're doing.

The controversial ending is pretty much the same in both book and film. I've heard from some that don't like it, but I found it ominous and disconcerting... exactly what I think Flynn and Fincher are going for. They're making a statement about the roleplaying and artificiality of the modern marriage, and I found the cynical closing to be spot-on with these characters.

Interesting fact: the character has to enter his birthdate into a security system to turn off the alarm, and he has the exact same birthdate as me: 8-15-77. And, in the film, the character has to do the same, but Ben Affleck enters a different number in... which is odd, considering that Ben Affleck's birthday is also 8/15. Weird.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Rare Books Petting Zoo at the Folger

I visited the Folger Shakespeare Library again this past weekend, doing some work around the instruction of Shakespeare. Every teacher of Shakespeare I know uses parts of the Shakespeare Set Free series, which are now 20 years old. The question that we're answering is: how is that updated for the 21st century? It's a compelling and mind-expanding question that can have a lot of impact of how teachers and students encounter Shakespeare and -- since a statistic we hear this weekend is that 88% of everyone has their first exposure to Shakespeare from their high school English teacher -- even how Shakespeare will continue to be a part of American society.

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC.
As part of our weekend, we were able to engage in a Rare Books Petting Zoo. This is really cool, and, in the next year, the Folger -- via an NEH grant -- will be sending 18 Folios around the nation on tours to different cities. The First Folio is the collection of Shakespeare's plays published a few years after he died by his friends, and is the most studied book in the world after the Bible. Around 230 First Folios still exist (750 were printed in 1623) and the Folger has about 80 of them.

Here are a few of the items in the Folger's collection we were allowed to touch:

Walt Whitman's copy of a Shakespeare poetry book.

This copy of Canterbury Tales dates back to 1467! That's Pre-Columbus! 

Paul Robeson was one of the first Black actors to play Othello and this is his scene book and notes for his scene.

The quarto version of 'Much Ado', my favorite Shakespeare comedy.

This atlas dates back to the 1560s. Not Great Lakes discovered yet.

Outside of the Folger.

Me and the First Folio.

The Rare Book Petting Zoo.

John Barrymore's playbook with notes for his production of Hamlet.

The Vault holding the rare books.

The Folger Library reading room.

7 Ages of Man.