Saturday, May 31, 2008

Where a word leads: "abeyance"

This morning I planned to write about what is becoming an annual May event: the holding pattern. My brain kept bringing me the word "abeyance." This led to memories of a poem and a poet I studied in great depth long, long ago. I couldn't find a poem with the title I recall, "In Abeyance," but I found this one. I thought I understood it when I was twenty. I didn't. Not at all.

The Ache of Marriage
Denise Levertov (1923 - 1997)

The ache of marriage:

thigh and tongue, beloved,
are heavy with it,
      it throbs in the teeth

We look for communion
and are turned away, beloved,
each and each

It is leviathan and we
in its belly
looking for joy, some joy
not to be known outside it

two by two in the ark of
the ache of it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Back, with company the form of some nasty virus. I think only two of us have been whacked, and our maladies may not even be related. But I have about as much energy as a wrung out dishcloth, so you'll have to wait a few days for a complete recap of the women's weekend.

Some points:
• We made collage necklaces, under the direction of Do You Realize? Curiously, I was even more anxious about necklace construction than I was about last year's painting experiment. I'm sure I drove DYR crazy with my constant need for pathetic reinforcement.

• After all that, I emerged with two pieces I love. And apparently left at the hotel. I called today and they had not been found. I keep telling myself "All is impermanence. All is impermanence." But I keep thinking "Damn it! I want to wear those suckers."

• We completed two writing prompts, and the results were grand. If I can collect the Moleskine books we wrote in, I'm going to put the pieces from one prompt up on the blog.

• Despite several bottles of red wine in the suite, most of us stuck to vodka and grapefruit juice. Go figure.

• Sunday I left the cocoon to get a spontaneous haircut and do a bit of shopping, and my Obama car magnet was stolen. Ripped right off the minivan in the mall parking lot. What a sad, sad thing.

• For the first time in my life, I fell asleep during a massage. And did so again after I turned over. That massage therapist is amazing.

• I do not understand how DYR can put that much brown sugar in her oatmeal and stay so skinny. It defies all logic.
June 2, 2008 update: The necklaces were tucked away in my suitcase after all! 

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Stay Tuned

I am still alive, friends....

I'm grading like a demon.

And, yesterday, my mom had a wee little heart attack.  No one is particularly concerned from a cardiac standpoint. The likely cause was oxygen deprivation due to low blood volume due to extreme anemia due to chemotherapy. 

Hopefully she will go home tomorrow.  

Friday, I'm off for my annual weekend with my local girlfriends.  Last year we painted.  This year we are going to make jewelry. We may even write.

All I know is that, barring tragedy, by this time Friday night I will not be blogging!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Parasite Post

I'd like to call your attention to a post over at a blog I favor these days, Violent Acres. The author is fearless, and more often than not hits the nail on the head with brutal honesty.

An interaction yesterday concerning my terminally ill mother drove home the distinction V makes perfectly.  I'm off to give a final exam, and rather than write about my rage I simply offer a photo, one I found on another blog, which is worth a million words:

Photo deleted by author on 1-1-09.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I can't believe I actually just clicked the "send" button and let an essay fly off, as little digital somethings, to be considered for an anthology of creative non-fiction.

One thing's for sure. I can't take it back now that it's gone.

That was even more terrifying than I thought it would be.

Now enough of this self-involved, neurotic rambling!!!!!

Unbelievable.....I just received an error message that my email can't go out due to some server incompatibility doodiddly. 

That means it's STILL in my inbox and I could take it back. Must. Keep. Typing. On. Blogger. Can't Chicken. Out. The suspense is killing me.'s finally gone. And I'm going to sleep. I feel like I've climbed a mountain.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Canon Ball Target Practice

Tonight was Small Child's end-of-year school Arts Night program, which doubled as a "farewell" for the campus; the district, in its infinite wisdom, is closing a perfect little neighborhood school with a long history of excellence and moving children to a megalomentary.

She sang in the chorus, among all kinds of faces: Hispanic children, Native American children, African American children, children of privilege, children of poverty, gifted children, children who struggle to read.  This true diversity was apparent during performances and presentations by the Art Club, the Dynamic Drummers, and the Jump Rope Team.  

For these children, the "shared texts" were clear: love, success, creativity, community, rhythm, motion, paint, sound.

By the time they reach college, though, they will likely carry canon shrapnel in their numb butts.

In a comment on Tuesday's post, RedMolly wrote:

Does thinking a shared cultural heritage strengthens our society mean I'm a crypto-paleo-conservative in training? Damn...
In three words  - shared cultural heritage -  she summons all the casualties of all the culture wars I've lived through in all my years of education. Hell, I might as well go all the way.  She nails the root cause of most conflict, doesn't she. 

It all comes down to who defines those three words.

Tuesday, I complained bitterly about the lack of a common knowledge base. Today, as is so often the case, the Universe did not so much as correct me as remind me that I might actually be setting the bar too low.

Student X enrolled in my writing class this spring. She (I have changed most identifying details) is the American-born child of immigrants who left middle class careers in their native land to give their yet-unborn children better educational opportunities. Together they own a small business, one which you might consider quite stereotypical. While she speaks an Asian language at home, the student speaks English fluently although her writing is disordered in the usual ways. She plans to attend medical  school in three years, and I have no doubt she will gain admission. 

Snore. This is the most predictable story ever.

Not so fast.

What is your "shared cultural heritage" when you are, say, a Laotian-American Pentecostal first-generation pre-med at a liberal college in the Bible Belt?

One of the pleasures of this term has been watching as this young man (HA! I switched those identifying details again when you weren't looking) has discovered that he can use his quite gifted brain in ways he has never been encouraged to do. He's learned that he can explore and evaluate his beliefs without  abandoning them and he can do so in conversation with people who do not share his worldview. This is a revelation, no pun intended.

He will find Marx and Freud and Mill and Darwin (gasp!) and Plato and Nietzsche and all the other dead white guys.  He may even find Buddha and other thinkers of "his" cultural heritage. But he will do so because he is hungry for them. 

What are we doing as parents, schools, and a nation to whet our children's appetites? To make them hunter-gatherers instead of foie gras geese?

Tell me, please, what you are doing either for your kids or for your students if you have them. Are you firing or dodging canon balls?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Canon Ball

Final exams begin next week.  The bad news is I'll be grading, but the good news is I will no longer be prepping for classes.  More time to write and to pack my bags for the annual trip to Oregon. Tick, tick, tick....

I've been frustrated this spring by my students' lack of a common knowledge base.  I could blabber on for days with hypotheses as to this sad state of affairs (blahblahblah BushNCLB blahblahblah Creationism blahblahblah AbstinenceOnly). I noticed some erosion when I returned to the classroom in 2003.  But this year, after 18 months away, I faced a mudslide.

I risk sounding like some kind of Bill Bennett conservative (those of you who know me will have to assure those of you who don't that nothing - nothing - could be less true), but can I please whine about the good old days when I could stand in front of a college classroom and expect my students - regardless of their majors - to have at least a "cocktail party" understanding of Darwin, Marx, and Freud?

In our liberal arts environment, I teach freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors in the same class. Some will go on as English majors, while others are fulfilling a breadth requirement. I select damn hard but devilishly interesting novels and season them with a variety of critical perspectives.  I know it's an introductory level class, but why should the big kids be the only ones who have any fun? Usually, most students - even the first years - rise admirably to the challenges. This year I removed important supplemental readings from my course (Marx, Freud, Benjamin, Malraux) because my students were having enough trouble with the literature - never mind the theory.   I doled the good stuff out as treats ("Would you like some theory, little boy?") on the sly to the ones who were ready.* Kind of broke my heart.

Sorry to beat the tired old drum of the canon. But I'd be interested in your thoughts.  Our institution recently did away with a decades-old series that began as a course in the foundations of Western thought but then morphed to include history of science (real science, lest you worry) as well as exposure to other, non-dominant cultures.  During my undergraduate years it was known, unfortunately, as "Heritage of Western Man."  Yes, we all grumbled as we took our unsupported ( but then-perky) breasts and bounced off in a feminist huff, but I can tell you that I thanked the curriculum gods during my first graduate seminar and every one thereafter.

Please comment, really.  What should we do about this?  I'm struggling both as an educator and as a parent. I want Small Child to be versed in Post-Colonial literature and history, but doesn't she also need to know why it's Post-Colonial?


* Here's a special thank you to some students who made it worth my time: the one who decided to audit the course early on then rarely missed another class, the one who asked for Marx's and Freud's writings on fetishism, the one who explained Hegelian dialectic so I wouldn't have to, the one who wrote the best essay on Faulkner when she thought it stank, the one who is facing the real world in ways the others can't fathom, and the one who throws so much heart into every single page.  If you ever find this blog, you know who you are. 

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Empire Strikes Barack

{Update on May 6, 2008 at 9:55 p.m. CDT...Looks like The Force may be with Barack after all! Stay tuned!}

I have no idea who made this, but I tip my beret to Molly at the RedMolly Picayune-Democrat for letting me find it (and for the post title, too)!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

"The toneless world of highway tragedy..."

This afternoon, I watched my literature students try to find meaning in John Hawkes’ Travesty. If you know the novel, you may now smile slyly and wonder if I have taken leave of my senses. Why would I assign – in an introductory level class – an obscure text by an author who wrote, “Plot, character, and theme are the three enemies of the novel.”?

Because, as one young man put it today, “This is some of the craziest s*hit I’ve ever read.”

From the back cover:

Travesty is John Hawkes’ most extreme vision of eroticism and comic terror. In the south of France, an elegant sportscar is speeding through the night, bearing a man, his daughter, and his best friend toward a fatal crash. As he drives, the “privileged man” justifies, in sustained monologue, his firm persuasion that willed destruction is the ultimate act of the poetic imagination. “What I have in mind is an ‘accident’ so perfectly contrived that it will be unique, spectacular and instantaneous, a physical counterpart to that vision in which it was in fact conceived.”

There’s more to the story, of course. The best friend, a poet, is sleeping with the man’s daughter and the man’s wife. The man’s plan is to crash the car into an old stone barn and kill them all. He is not crazy. He is not jealous, at least not about the sex (they are French, after all). He will, in the cataclysm of “design and debris” (not to mention grisly death), create a true work of art.

I’ve worked with this novel since 1992. I chose it for its theoretical and thematic links to other texts in the course, for what it teaches about narrative. I know it well, and have always been able to treat it as pure text, as the exemplary, “surface,” self-referential postmodern object that it is.

Until today. Until this.

I heard about the accident this morning as I was leaving Small Child’s classroom. I know the man. I knew a previous wife. I do not know his current family. The details are horrific from a variety of viewpoints.

Two hours into the day, my email chimed. The professor in the office next to mine was in a head on collision on her way to campus. Colleagues haunted their computers until we received word that she was badly battered but free of serious injury.

In addition to these collisions, our town of 35,000 or so has witnessed two other highway fatalities – neither of which could be blamed on alcohol, drugs, or weather conditions – in the last three weeks.

All on sunny days. All without a care in the world. All gone instantaneously.


These wrecks plus this book could just about make me into a Jungian.

I know these tragedies are not unique. Nor do I believe they happen for any reason or hold any meaning.

But the same postmodern leveling of meaning we talk about in literature may just apply here as well. Is genocide more horrific than the grief of a man who wakes from surgery to find that his daughter is dead because he did not see the semi stopped in front of him?

I’m not thinking clearly tonight. But I do ask two things. Send positive thought out to a world in pain. Drive with care and mindfulness.