Weekend reading: standardized testing, nostalgia, TV’s worst dinner party, surprise siblings

Weekend Reading is a weekly collation of 3-5 articles that have caught my attention, published on Saturday mornings. Previous editions can be found here.

1. I Can’t Answer These Texas Standardized Test Questions About My Own Poems (Huffpo)

Oh, goody. I’m a benchmark. Only guess what? The test prep materials neglected to insert the stanza break. I texted him an image of how the poem appeared in the original publication. Problem one solved. But guess what else? I just put that stanza break in there because when I read it aloud (I’m a performance poet), I pause there. Note: that is not an option among the answers because no one ever asked me why I did it.

These test questions were just made up, and tragically, incomprehensibly, kids’ futures and the evaluations of their teachers will be based on their ability to guess the so-called correct answer to made up questions.

Then I went online and searched Holbrook/MIDNIGHT/Texas and the results were terrifying. Dozens of districts, all dissecting this poem based on poorly formatted test prep materials.

2. Maybe the People Would Be the Times (Vice)

You get your poetry in snatches now, because it shows up as croaked lines deep inside the groove or buried in the mix or mumbled through a sleeve. You might register them only subliminally, maybe pick them up in daylight sometime later and wonder where you caught that sentence. Mostly you recall single barked chorus phrases that rattle around your head while the rest of the number might as well consist of doos and dahs, “She’s lost control again” and “The cassette played poptones” and “Tanz’ den Jesus Christus.” But lately poetry has been filtering down from the Bronx on stray 12s you can sometimes buy in that place on Union Square where they seem to rotate the stock every other day. “I was spanking and a-freaking in a disco place,” says Spoonie Gee, who is the smooth talker, the midnight stalker, the image of the man they call the J.D. Walker, bouncing to the Patty Duke riddim as it shuffles from side to side, his voice track intermittently so flanged it hurts your ears, and that phrase takes on a power and significance you can’t account for except by reference to its reminiscent tense, somehow a harbinger of how all of this will one day fade into sepia, since golden lads and girls all must, as chimney sweepers come to dust. But that won’t come anytime soon, since you are young and have been young all your life and live in the land of the young and have made no arrangements to ever be anything but young.

3. That One Night: The Oral History of the Greatest ‘Office’ Episode Ever (Rolling Stone)

Taking the action away from the Dunder Mifflin office, “The Dinner Party” provides a rare glimpse into the home life of regional manager Michael Scott (Carell) as he hosts an impromptu get-together for three couples: salesman Jim Halpert and receptionist Pam Beesly, salesman Andy Bernard and accountant Angela Martin, and party-crasher Dwight Schrute and his former babysitter/current lover, Melvina. The previous season had seen Jim and Pam finally get together after years of flirtation; Michael had also found love – with Jan Levinson, his former boss. Despite some huge differences with her new boyfriend – she was an accomplished, Type-A corporate executive, he an affable doofus – Jan moved from New York to Scranton and into Michael’s cheesy condo. The dinner party was Jan and Michael’s attempt to show off their happy home; instead, they showed off how utterly dysfunctional their relationship was. The result was a master class of dark comedy that few other shows would dare attempt, as well as 22 of the most brilliantly cringe-inducing minutes in TV history.

4. A Family Portrait: Brothers, Sisters, Strangers (New York Times)

I knew a lot of other children whose parents had used donors to conceive because every summer we went to a camp for same-sex families. Last summer, news traveled through the community that two kids from two families who attended the camp for years had independently gone on to a registry for family members trying to connect with donors or donor siblings. The two discovered that they shared a donor — that they were half siblings.

Until that moment, it had not really occurred to me — or my mothers, even though one is an ObGyn — that I might have half siblings out there. It makes no sense that we didn’t think about that, because my parents deliberately chose a donor whose sperm had successfully produced at least one live birth, whose sperm had, in a sense, “worked.” I think they were just so focused on thinking about the new family they were creating that they never stopped to think about the implications of the huge, inadvertent social experiment they were joining.