Thursday, November 30, 2006

When Moving Up the Ladder is Stepping Down

The resignation today of former, and very successful, Gonzaga coach Dan Monson as the head basketball coach at the U of Minnesota made me think of his father, Don Monson, the fired head basketball coach at the University of Oregon, who had been the highly successful coach at the University of Idaho, which made me think of my father, head basketball coach nowhere.

All three men were doing wonderful work in jobs that had lower prestige and moved up the ladder of their professions, and failed.

For many years, my father worked as a journeyman maintenance mechanic in various parts of the Bunker Hill Zinc Plant and Phosphoric Acid/Dry Ammonium Phosphate Fertilizer plant. It was filthy work. Machines that make plants run are out of sight in shit holes. These machines need maintenance. Other machines are high up in precarious places. They need maintenance, too.

Dad worked on weekends on a rotating basis. On those weekends he was also on call. Calls for repairs sometimes came in morning's wee hours. He answered these calls.

Up the ladder, "above" this kind of schedule and "above" sticking his nose in these filthy places was the job of maintenance crew foreman. It was a salaried position. The company offered him a foreman's job. He oversaw maintenance in the lower reaches of the Zinc Plant.

By this time, the 1968 hostile takeover of the Bunker Hill Company by Gulf Resources had occurred. Dad didn't realize the ramifications of managers from this Houston conglomorate exercising their managerial styles at the Bunker Hill. For Dad, it meant working with new-fangled, computer-generated ideas about efficiency. It meant logging how long jobs took, spending time in his office with computer read outs, being pressured to have his crew work more efficiently according to these computer-generated models.

This was not Dad's style. He was a real people man. He thought when he took this foreman's job it would be like a teaching job. He looked forward to working on the ground with the men under his "command", but, in fact, the job took him away from the men who worked for him.

One night, maybe it was my junior or senior year in college, Dad and I went out and had some beers. He might have had bowling league that night. I'm not sure.

What I am sure of is that it was after 1:00 in the morning, because we had closed down a bar together somewhere in Kellogg.

We arrived home. I started toward bed.

Dad stopped me. He sat me down at the kitchen table.

"Let's have another beer." I got a couple out of the refrigerator.

He began to shudder.

He told me he was despondent.

I had no idea what to do.

I listened.

He told me how much he missed working closely with other men on his job. He told me how much he hated his job.

He thought he had made a climb up the ladder.

He had made a step down.

We were both drunk, so that talk is hazy to me. I was in over my head, but I did hold my dad while he cried.

We never returned to that conversation.

A few months after that conversation, Dad quit his job as foreman. He had nowhere to go but to the bottom of the hourly wage jobs. He hired out on the bull gang. It was bottom of the barrel. They did dirty jobs around the plant like dig ditches, clean up flood damage, and other odd and crappy jobs that did not fit into any one else's job description.

The bull gang transformed Dad. He was back in his element. He had men to bullshit with. He knew exactly what to do and how to do it. He wasn't in charge.

By moving down the ladder, he moved up in happiness. After a while, he bid for a job in the company's warehouse and it was an even better job. He could bullshit and pick on anyone who came in for supplies and he had a crew of men to work with there.

In a similar way, I moved up the ladder at Lane Community College. I spent a year as the chairman of the English, Foreign Language, and Speech division. It was a temporary appointment, with a chance I could be hired permanently.

I wasn't cut out for administration. I often woke up with the dry heaves. I couldn't stand dealing with petty student complaints and having to discipline certain wayward faculty members. I hated having to fire a woman who worked out on the front counter.

I stepped back "down" the ladder and went back to teaching, my love.

As an aside, I also wasn't cut out for university work. I cannot research and think and write and know that I will perish in my job if I don't produce publications. Therefore, the emphasis on classroom instruction and close service to students at the community college is perfect for me.
All it lacks is prestige.

I don't know why we look at jobs in administration or jobs in universities or coaching jobs in more prestigious conferences or in professional leagues as always better, or to be coveted.

For many of us, working in more common jobs is deeply gratifying. These jobs are where we belong. For us, moving up the ladder is definitely stepping down.

Three Beautiful Things 11/30/06: Back Home, Quick Hands, Big Tracks

1. In Learning the Argentine Tango, the blog that reads like a serial novel, feeling Caroline's longing and melancholy that she is no longer in Buenos Aires after three weeks of tango heaven, but feeling her happiness to be back with her son and back home again in Montreal.


2. Watching my deaf student Brian sign his final project in Mary Parthemer's class and admiring the way he speaks with his head and chest and eyes and arms and with his quick, precise, efficient, poetic hands.


3. The Grateful Dead, The Scorpions, John Cougar Mellenkamp, Phil Collins, Billy Idol, Joan Jett, Steve Miller Band, Guns n Roses, AC/DC, Van Halen, Dire Straits, Simple Minds, Elvis Costello and the Attractions,The Police, U2, The Who, The Cars, Asia, Duran Duran, Eurhytmics, Talking Heads, and so much more on XM Radio's Big Tracks, Channel 49, playing all night long, all night long.

For Your Information

A short informative tract: for most who suffer depression, it is not sadness but madness. For me, madness is the state of confusion when what is happening in my life is out of step with how I feel about what's happening. I kick a dog barrier because I bumped it. That's out of whack. I love my work. I feel apathetic. I have slept over eight hours. I don't want to get out of bed. My feelings and mood don't fit with what's actual.

I'll keep it short today. My batteries are draining. Apathy is permeating me. I'm fighting it. I'm fighting off sleep. I don't know who will win this one.

This post really isn't about me. I learn more and more about depression as I listen to others who suffer from it. I'm thinking of two of my students. One feels overwhelmed by the idea of showering because it will take too long. Sounds like madness doesn't it? That's depression. Another student, who is as industrious and imaginative of all the writers I'm working with right now, felt guilty when I encouraged my students to look at the possibilites before them when they write, not what is the least they can do. She thought I was talking about her. That's madness. She suffers from depression.

Depression's first line of attack is perception. It dirties the lens through which we see the world. Incongruity results. And madness.

Recently, if someone reacted to you in a way that seemed incongruous with the situation, if you thought to yourself or said to someone else, [insert name] is mad, you are probably right.

But it might not be madness of character.

That person might be suffering from depression.

That person probably seems more mad than sad.

I'm going to try to right my ship of madness today.

I'm going to try to shake out of my lethargy and get free of the apathy I feel.

There, I wrote it.

That helps.

Three Beautiful Things 11/29/06: Ducks, Dead, Dust

1. Checking on ESPN.com and discovering that Oregon defeated Georgetown 57-50, a score which indicates that the speedy Ducks can win against team powerful inside and can win low-scoring tete a tetes when they shoot poorly.

2. Working out my role as Polonius in Friday night's Shakespeare Showcase. All I have to do, really, is get stabbed and be dead. But, it's Shakespeare. What could be more beautiful!

3. Reading a thread of comments on Huckleberries Online in which person after person remembers establishments in Coeur d'Alene, ID that no longer exist, but which hold lasting memory.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Nifty


I played Kellogg-Wallace American Legion baseball with a guy named John Lund. I don't know why, but our nickname for him was Nifty.

Nifty was a pitcher and a pretty decent one. But, for some reason, some of us on the team were assholes and picked on Nifty quite a bit.

In early 1970's baseball parlance, a pitcher with a good fastball threw seeds. The pitch came so fast to the batter it looked small as a seed. Another way of putting it was to say the pitcher threw aspirins.

Our team travelled at one point in the 1972 season to Cashmere, Washington to play. Cashmere was entertaining. They had a home umpire who had these eight-year-old twins with thick glasses act as ball boys and bat boys. He called them Goggles 1 and Goggles 2. He wasn't mean to them, and his act barking out orders to Goggles 1 and Goggles 2 to go retrieve foul balls and get bats out the way was really funny.

If the Goggles 1 and Goggles 2 act was a carnival, our bench during the Cashmere double header was a circus. We were giddy. Cashmere had a lousy team and we beat them handily in the first game of a double header and were pasting them again in game two.

Nifty was pitching in game two. He was doing fine and we were winning. For some reason, I started razzing Nifty about his fastball's lack of speed. I began telling him he was throwing cantaloupes (instead of seeds). Nifty retired the Cashmere side. We came back to the bench. I decided cantaloupes were too small to describe his fastball. I ribbed him about throwing watermelons.

He started to get pissed. Nifty had had enough and asked me why I didn't shove a baseball in my big mouth.

I was playing centerfield against Cashmere that afternoon. As fate would have it, when Cashmere came to bat in the bottom of the inning after Nifty got pissed at me, a Chashmere batter, with no runners on base, lifted a lazy fly to center field.

I camped under it, made the catch, and delayed the game when I popped the baseball in my mouth and trotted to the pitcher's mound, and when I got to the rubber, took the ball out of my mouth, and dropped it in Nifty's glove.

Trotting to the pitcher's mound with a baseball in my mouth was a hot dog, asshole thing to do. But, it broke the tension between me and Nifty. He uttered some little nicety to me like, "You prick" or "Fuck you, man", but he spat the profanity while laughing. The tension was broken.

I didn't know that such a showboat move would actually be an act of peacemaking. I was just trying to get a laugh. I did get a laugh. The whole infield, our catcher, and Nifty were all cracking up.

Our coach wasn't that amused. My dad chewed me out after the game.

But, I never felt that bad. Nifty had told me to shove a ball in my mouth. I did. Nifty and I got along better after that, and, later when he got hammered in another game, I was able to get on his case about throwing watermelons to our opposition, and he acted pissed, but, underneath, he was laughing. He knew that even Goggles 1 and Goggles 2 could have hit his fastball.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Three Beautiful Things 11/28/06: Relieved, Vanessa, Leftovers

1. Finishing a bureaucratic task in my job at Lane Community College, that had been a worm gnawing at my conscience for weeks.

2. Sweet, lovely Vanessa was working at Dutch Bros. Coffee early this evening where Snug and I went at the midpoint of our walk, and she fixed me a piping hot egg nog latte and told me she changed her hair color because she was tired of being a blonde and how much she enjoyed her recent visit to Hawaii. I hadn't seen Vanessa since the beginning of summer and I enjoyed knowing she's still working at Dutch Bros.

3. The Deke fixed a sweet potato casserole for Thanksgiving and tonight we ate most of what was left of it, and the Thursday to Tuesday refrigeration deepened the apple, pecan, sweet potato, and butter flavors and it was at least twice as tasty as it had been on Thanksgiving Day.

Beauty


I have been working with my writing students during this last week of classes with the concept of beauty. I assumed they would have trouble with this idea, thinking that their thinking would be shaped by magazines and television and billboards and other media where beauty really is skin deep.

I asked my students to think and talk about beauty in a deeper sense and they took right to it, discussing beauty in terms of inner beauty, music and art, the beauty of Mother Teresa and her sense of service and charity; some talked about music and art.

This discussion was particularly sharp to me because my profession is often called into question. Are college professors and instructors (we have no professors at Lane Community College) trying to shock students with readings and films taught primarily to disrupt students' ways of seeing the world?

As an instructor in the liberal arts, I'm not very good at teaching stuff merely for its shock value. It's the same story with my colleagues.

I genuinely think the most shocking readings I assign students are Shakespeare's plays. Shakespeare is an audaciously shocking playwright and confronts his audiences with terribly shocking situations: Macbeth's serial murder spree, Iago's ammorality, Henry V's justification for war with France, Gloucester having his eyes torn out of his head in *King Lear*, on stage. The examples abound in Shakespeare's plays. Yet, I can teach course after course studying Shakespeare's plays, and not a peep of complaint. No one would say I teach Shakespeare merely to shock students.

Do I teach Toni Morrison, a Nobel prize winner in literature, and the author of a story that centers on infanticide (*Beloved*) and rape, to just shock my students? How about Alice Walker's *A Color Purple* and its exploration of incest and rape? Do I teach it just to shock my students? No. But, these stories, whether Shakespeare's, Morrison's, or Walker's or any other writer who deals with the darker elements human action should shock readers.

But, I digress. I began writing about beauty. I think what my students began to understand today is that beauty is not necessarily pleasant. We spent the early part of the quarter studying the movie "Tupac: Resurrection". Tupac's music dealt with harsh ghetto realities. His songs are widely regarded as works of beauty.

I think my students began to see today that beauty and authenticity are linked. Tupac's lyrics are not works of beauty because they are pretty, but because Tupac hungers for justice. His authentic drive for truth informs the beauty of his work. Likewise, Toni Morrison plumbs deep truths about the horrors of slavery and does so in ways that rouse our compassion. By seeking to put us in touch with inexplicable mystery, she creates beauty.

My students and I looked at beauty in the ancient sense of the word, too. Plato thought that if one was seeking beauty, one could not be cruel. I'm simplifying the idea here, but what makes the Shakespeare plays and the novel by Morrison and Walker works of beauty is that their scenes of violence are not ends in themselves, and, in fact, in Morrison and Walker, the stories work their way toward healing and transformation.

When I taught at Whitworth College the first time in 1977-78, the first thing we showed our students in the Judeo-Christian tradition course was a shocking film: *The Pawnbroker*. Rod Steiger plays a concentration camp survivor named Nazerman who has repressed the memory of what he lived through and with his memories repressed he is numb.

Events occur in the movie that make his repressed memories flash forward. At the end of the movie, he impales his hand on a spindle. It's horrible. It's a moment of beauty. Few moments in a movie have lived with me so long. The moment epitomizes Nazerman's plight. To feel means feeling the horror of what happened during the war, including seeing his wife raped. Not to feel means he's shielded from those memories, but cannot function as a feeling human being. He's a living dead man. Impaling his hand forces him to feel.

But, we wonder, to what end? We don't know. The credits begin to roll and we are left with the uncertainty and existential grayness of Nazerman's life.

The movie shocked our students. It shocked us, the faculty.

The beauty of *The Pawnbroker* was its authenticity and the fact that the Judeo-Christian tradition, and more specifically, the claim that Jesus is Savior, makes no sense if it doesn't deal with the bleak reality of broken lives like Nazerman's.

Three Beautiful Things 11/27/06: Snow, Snug, Mirth

1. My WR 121 students interrupted our discussion of whether one can live well without beauty with their spontaneous cries of glee that snow was falling.

2. When I arrived home today, Snug licked my face with a new and unparalleled enthusiasm.

3. My brother-in-law had read my blog about the Deke's ex-husband inviting himself over for Thanksgiving dinner and laughed and laughed. We had a good talk.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Three Beautiful Things 11/26/06: Desiree, Work Poems, Wireless Success

1. I went to Circuit City to pick up an order and Desiree waited on me. She doesn't remember me. Twice, once when she was a sophomore and when she was a senior, I was a judge for the ACT-SO* essay competition when Desiree wrote essays that earned her trips to nationals where she won a bronze medal each time.
*The Afro-Academic, Cultural Technological and Scientific Olympics(ACT-SO) is a major youth initiative of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP). founded in 1978, by the renowned author and journalist, Vernon Jarrett, ACT-SO providesa forum through which minority youth can demonstrate the same prowess, expertise and recognition often only reserved for entertainers and athletes.

2. I wrote comments helping students with poems they had written about work and felt proud for their good work, especially since the time constraints they wrote under were quite tight.

3. The wireless connection between my laptop computer and the printer in the Deke's office worked today. Sometimes even small triumphs feel epic.

Sex Ed


Memory sorts and narrates in ways convenient for the person remembering. I’m quite sure of that. When I heard Michael Moore say that Martin Luther King was murdered on Holy Thursday in 1968, it seemed too rife with coincidence, that King was assassinated, martyred the day before Jesus Christ’s martyrdom would be acknowledged on Good Friday.

I got to thinking more about that Easter weekend, in 1968, because memory tells me that I was home alone on an Easter Sunday when I was in about the eighth grade when my father’s strategy worked.

He had me home alone.

I know the story I’m about to tell happened, but was it really on Easter Sunday? I know it was a Sunday afternoon. But Easter? Where were my mom and sisters? How did I get home without my father, who came home later? Did Mom and Christy and Carol drop me off on their way to a Campfire Girls occasion for Christy? I don’t know. But,

I was home alone in Dad’s television chair in the living room when my dad swayed into the house. He must have gotten a ride home. His tongue swollen, cotton blanched his lower lip and saliva webbed the corners of his mouth. I was all too familiar with his body odor: yeasty, stale beer, faint Skin Bracer, fresh Camel cigarettes, and pungent salami and pepper. His eyes were fishy, filmy, panicked. He misfired a match four times, before lighting a Camel straight.

My stomach tightened. My throat dried. My hands trembled. I started to stand up.

“Sit down, son.”

Dad’s bloated face began to shake. “Everything does it.”

I waited.

“You know, elephants, dogs, hippopa, uh, rhinoceruses, uh, animals do it.”

Oh shit. We’re having The Talk. I tried to help him. “Right, Dad. I know.”

“Your mother. She has a thing.” He made a circle with his thumb and forefinger with his left hand.

I felt like I was watching a car flip on a freeway.

“Girls do. Have a thing.” He pointed the forefinger of his right hand straight out.

“You take your, your thing.” He moved his right forefinger toward the O. “And put it in.” His first attempt missed the O high. The second missed low. The third missed again. The fourth thrust succeeded. “There. That’s. . . that’s that.”

I nodded. I broke the silence, “I got homework upstairs.”

He nodded and staggered to the kitchen for a beer, bumping his shoulder on the doorframe.

Dad’s talk with me was a little late. I had read the book my mom got from church and kept in her and Dad’s bedroom on the basics of sexual intercourse; I read it like pornography whenever I was home alone and once, when my mom found me reading it, and asked me what I was doing, I called it “that book”.

Dad had books in their bedroom, too. Many of them had one word titles like Glover and Candy. They told stories of sexual intercourse with no mention of jungle animals. There were no crude hand mimes or faceless figures illustrating clinical sex. These were tales of men and women who were strangers to one another gliding furtively into bathrooms, underbrush, luxury automobiles, or guest bedrooms where they tore eagerly into one another’s clothes and bodies. I never got caught reading those books.

Three Beautiful Things 11/25/06: Kidding, Clobbering, Quiet

1. My sister Carol laughed when I said I'd get the $50.00 I owe her for a gift to her by the Fourth of July.

2. USC thrashed Notre Dame 44-24 and it brought back memories of the miraculous 1974 Trojan victory when USC erased a 24-7 halftime deficit and won 55-24, thanks largely to the four touchdowns scored by Anthony Davis.

3. For a couple of hours tonight the Deke was out knitting with a friend; I was home with the dogs and we were all so quiet at one point I forgot the dogs were in the house except that I could feel their presence and my connection to them, almost as if I were wrapped in a feather bed.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Victor Hernandez Cruz reads Problems with Hurricanes

Listen to and read along. This is one of my favorite poems. Interested in why? Comment and we can discuss.

Problems with Hurricanes

A campesino looked at the air
And told me:
With hurricanes it's not the wind
or the noise or the water.
I'll tell you he said:
it's the mangoes, avocados
Green plantains and bananas
flying into town like projectiles.

How would your family
feel if they had to tell
The generations that you
got killed by a flying
Banana.

Death by drowning has honor
If the wind picked you up
and slammed you
Against a mountain boulder
This would not carry shame
But
to suffer a mango smashing
Your skull
or a plantain hitting your
Temple at 70 miles per hour
is the ultimate disgrace.

The campesino takes off his hat –
As a sign of respect
toward the fury of the wind
And says:
Don't worry about the noise
Don't worry about the water
Don't worry about the wind –
If you are going out
beware of mangoes
And all such beautiful
sweet things.

Precision Cuts: Mom in the Kitchen/Writing Assignment #4


My sister Carol made this writing assignment for her, me, and Christy: Our next assignment is to focus on Mom and remember the special Christmas treats that would come out of the kitchen. Let’s try and name them, describe them, and talk about the ones we looked forward to, maybe what we remember of them being made….however you want to do it.
***********************************************************************************
I'll pretend to speak for my mom. Let's see: I teach the second grade at Siver King Elementary with about twenty-three students, create meaningful learning experiences for them, including reading groups, art projects, caring for live animals like frogs, salamanders, fish, and snakes in the classroom, correct their work, orchestrate classroom Christmas gift exchanges, prepare kids to perform in the annual Christmas pageant, attend my own childrens' Christmas programs, oversee the decorating of the Christmas tree in my classroom and at home, build a Valentine's Day post office, perform hall duty, lunchroom duty, playground duty, go to PTA meetings, pariticipate in the teachers' education association, later with the teachers' credit union, hold parent teacher conferences, do laundry for five, buy groceries for five, cook dinner for five, pack my husband's lunch every morning, fix his breakfast, type my son's high school research papers, clean the house, pay the bills, keep track of family finances, go to night school, summer school, do the family Christmas shopping, wrap and hide the children's gifts, host the unexpected guests my husband invites from the Zinc Plant or the Sunshine Inn, and when I get a four day weekend at Thanksgiving time or a three or four days off before Christmas, I know what I'll do: I'll make popcorn balls, spritz cookies, maybe some fudge, nuts and bolts, decorate cookies, make gingermen, and, above all, fruit cake.

I understate my mother's case.

My mother is unbelievably productive. Even today, in her mid-70's, whe keeps a schedule of gardening, yard work, house cleaning, visits, club meetings, care for her grandchildren, and other things that wear me out just watching her when I come home to visit her.

To me, my mother's industriousness is best captured in her making and baking of fruit cake. If, when Dad made Tom and Jerry batter, he was a pig on ice, my mother is Peggy Fleming. If Dad was a bull in a china closet, Mom is swan on a pond. Understand, my mother's kitchen is about the size of 12-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon, with every inch of counter space taken by microwave, toaster, egg cooker, and containers so that she is in a constant shuffle between cutting boards, the kitchen table, and the stovetop to make room to work, pulling one appliance or bowl or pan out of the cupboards, washing and putting another away to make room for what she's using now. We stayed out of Dad's way in the kitchen because he was a train wreck. I stay out of Mom's way because she is Georgia O'Keefe, because watching her movement, sense of proportion, knowledge of her work space, and physical grace is like watching a seasoned artist at work.

Back to the fruit cake. Mom is a precision chopper. She can take a cup of walnuts, a jar of red and green candied fruit, raisins, if need be, and cut them into delicate, pieces, tinier than baby teeth, perfect for her vision of what the perfect fruit cake should look like to the eye and feel like in the mouth. I could always tell when we were given a fruit cake that was bought in a store, that Mom did not have high regard for the hunks of fruit inside the cake or the ones that smothered the top. She didn't like the way they looked and always thought they were indelicate to bite into.

So, when Mom made fruit cake, in spite of her fatigue from her job and duties at home, she quickly, but patiently, cut all the ingredients into microscopic pieces. I won't go so far as to say they were uniform pieces, but they were small enough that they were close to uniform. Had she asked me or my sisters to help with this, we would have exercised precision for about 56 seconds, lost our patience, and just started lopping candied fruit and maraschino cherries into hard candy-sized chunks and thrown them in a bowl. We would have been relieved of duty. Mom wanted these cakes just right.

Once baked, the fruit cakes were not ready to eat. Oh no! They had to be soaked. I loved this part. Mom soaked cheesecloth in brandy (Dad: Mary! Jeeezzus! Yer wasting good booze!) and wrapped the cheesecloth around the cooled fruit cakes. The fruitcakes then went to the basement and sat in their brandy quilt for I can't remember how long.

I loved the smell of the brandy. The thought of that brandy accenting the taste of the currants/raisins and candied fruit and nuts in the fruit cake stirred hunger in me, a longing for eating fruitcake once it had soaked enough. I especially liked the cakes that Mom had oversoaked a bit. When the brandy was strong and out of balance, when the fruit cake tasted more like liquor than a sweet desert, I really liked that.

No wonder I've always struggled with the bottle!

My longing for Mom's fruit cake has not diminished. Every year, Mom sends a box containing pumpkin bread, banana bread, popcorn balls, nuts and bolts, fudge, and other treats to our home here in Eugene. I grab the fruit cake. It gives me my only Grinch feeling at Christmas. I don't want to share it. Patrick likes it, too. He always asks me permission if he can have some. I hesitate. I listen to the good angel on one shoulder and the fallen angel on the other. The good angel prevails.

Why would I want to withhold the pleasure of Mom's precision cut fruit cake from anyone? Only a Grinch would hoard such sweetness.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Face the Present or Make Mythology of the Past?




Both of these murals are by the American artist Fletcher Martin. Both were painted as part of the New Deal WPA project that funded writers and painters and other artists for commissions made by the federal government. Fletcher painted these two murals for the new United States Post Office in Kellogg, Idaho. They differ greatly from one another.

The top mural is set in the present (c.a. 1939). In portrays two muscular and determined miners rescuing a fellow miner after an accident. To me, it portrays two realities of work underground. The first is obvious: mining is dangerous. This mural accents the danger of mining in its claustrophobic framing of the miners. The ceiling is low and the tunnel, while rounded in the foreground, is more vertical and horizontal in the mine itself, as if these workers are imprisoned in their work.

The second reality has to do with the miners' brotherhood, their reliance on one another. In this regard, the mural is heroic. The miners look like soldiers carrying a stretchered and battle-wounded fellow soldier off the battlefield. The scene of rescue evokes fear and admiration. It underscores how much miners depend on one another for their safety and for aid in time of crisis.

The bottom mural is a more nostalgic one. It celebrates the moment a mine is discovered. It alludes to the iconic jackass of Noah Kellogg. Legend has it that the jackass of Noah Kellogg wandered off and when Kellogg went to find the animal, he discovered an outcropping of precious metal ore and the rich Bunker Hill and Sullivan mine was discovered.

The two men in this picture do not evoke our empathy. They almost seem outside of history. It is almost a pastoral scene. The jackass is content. The prospectors are enthusiastic about their discovery. The mural barely touches upon the reality of labor, let alone the danger.

When Fletcher Martin originally won the competition to paint the Kellogg mural, he painted the top picture. The Mine Workers and Smelt Workers of Local 18, members of the union, praised the mural and supported Martin's work. Not so the Kellogg industrialists. They argued that the mural would pain those who had lost loved ones in the mines.

At first, the government defended Martin's first mural, but eventually gave in. Martin painted the second mural, which I believe can still be seen in the Kellogg Post Office, a much less controversial piece. Rather than approve a mural that brought to life the present and lasting danger of the mining as well as the service of miners to one another, the company prevailed in having Martin paint a romanticized sort of nativity scene of the birth of mining in Kellogg.

I favor the social realism of the top mural. That mural vivifies the constant struggle against danger and mortality workers face in their labor. Honoring men working and simultaneously having one another's backs in such working conditions would have been a way to acknowledge the risks miners took to earn their wages and to produce the ore that made the mining company prosperous. This mural also humanizes their work. They cannot be regarded as mere cogs in a mining machine.

But, the industrialists wanted a mural that looked backward, that portrayed the miraculous moment when the mine was discovered, as if it were a picture in an illustrated Bible. It makes sense. It creates a more upbeat story. It allows postal customers to escape the realities of the world of labor around them rather than face mining's demands straight on and feel pride for miners and their courage.

Three Beautiful Things 11/24/06: Sloth, Snug, Scrubbing

1. I did not leave the house all day, did not receive one phone call, did not grade a single student paper, and did not have a single worry.
2. I fell asleep holding Snug at my side and the Deke came home and checked on us and we raised our heads in unison to look at her.
3. I scrubbed floors and helped make our house look much cleaner and fresher.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Three Beautiful Things 11/23/06: March Madness, Armenia, Sweet Squash

1. Retiring to the Walsh's television room and watching fifth grader Matt play EA NCAA March Madness Basketball on his uncle Adam's X-Box.

2. Eating Jennifer's scrumptious miniature squash with its cavity holding butter, honey, salt, and pepper.

3. Looking at Ardemis' pictures from Armenia. Here's my favorite:


Gratitude is an Attitude

This Thanksgiving morning, I can't help but remember Thanksgiving Day five years ago. The Deke has three children. In 2001, Molly and Patrick were still in high school and Adrienne was living in Eugene and was in the early stages of her relationship with her husband, Nathan.

The Deke's ex-husband had moved to Eugene. He was in love with the woman he's now married to, and she was working at the local hospital. His plan for Thanksgiving was to have dinner with his girlfriend at the hospital cafeteria, since she was working a double shift on Thanksgiving Day.

Some time in the afternoon, The Deke's ex-husband called and asked if he could join our family for dinner.

Well.

Our peaceful family Thanksgiving dinner would now be not what we had planned. The Deke's children had an uneasy relationship with their father. (Things have improved.) That he would be joining us for dinner brought on a squall of tears, anger, protests, and recriminations, but everyone rallied and put their best face forward. It was, after all, Thanksgiving Day.

The Deke's ex-husband arrived with a bottle of white wine. We already had wine for dinner, so we put his aside.

We sat down to a gorgeous traditional Thanksgiving dinner: turkey, stuffing, gravy, bread, brussel sprouts, yams, jellied cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, all the food our family enjoys on Thanksgiving Day.

I say grace at Thanksgiving Day and as I was getting ready, the Deke's ex-husband asked if he could share something. Being in the holiday mood, I, we, whoever, said, "Sure." Then the Deke's ex-husband pulled a sheet of paper folded in fours out of his back pocket, unfolded it, and said that his girlfriend had found this on the Internet and thought we would all enjoy it.

It was titled, "Gratitude is an Attitude".

Gratitude's an apt sentiment for Thanksgiving Day. But, as the Deke's ex-husband began to read it, we realized that it was not a short something he wanted to read. It was at least two-sided and as he read, we all began to notice the steam rising from the brussel sprouts and the mashed potatoes dissipating; the gravy began to coagulate; the food smelled wonderful and it was becoming a torture not to serve it.

I don't think we had an attitude of gratitude toward this reading.

He finished. We stifled sighs of relief. But, no grace yet. I gave a Hemingway grace. About three words. We ate. I didn't know what to say at the table. I was the step-father. My wife's ex-husband was with us. I was a little drunk. I knew this Thanksgiving Day was not very festive for the kids.

So, every time the Deke's ex-husband spoke, I said how good the food was. At first, it seemed like a nice gesture on my part. I was expressing my gratitude. That seemed natural. But, soon my gratitude for the food started to seem a little strained and my timing a bit weird.

I finished my dinner and went into the bedroom and put on headphones and listened to the all-day broadcast of ESPN Radio's 10th anniversary show.

Early in the evening, the party broke up. The Deke's ex-husband wanted to go see his girlfriend at the hospital, so he got ready to go.

As he left, "Say, we didn't drink that bottle of wine I brought, did we?"

The Deke, "No."

"Mind if I take it back?"

The Deke's ex-husband left, "Gratitude is an Attitude" folded in his back pocket and his bottle of wine back in his hand.

Ford Mustang Postscript

If you read my piece "On Being Against Poetry Torture", you know I wrote about the Ford Mustang as a metaphor. My brother-in-law commented that he was glad I remembered our g-force ride. He also reminded me that his Ford Mustang is a Ford Mustang COBRA, meaning that we were not only riding an unbridled, wild pony, but a dangerous, poisonous reptile, too. Does that mean we were snaking through the streets of Arlington Heights? I suppose Ford is mixing metaphors here. I like the mix.

Three Beautiful Things 11/22/06: Comp, Cute, Coming Home Off

1. My best English Composition students are breaking free of robotic, school-driven ways of writing and are beginning to write with free minds as a way to bring about an understanding of ideas that matter to them.

2. Our division's adminstrative coordinator, Linda, and I had a big laugh after she complimented a student about how cute her umbrella was and I told Linda that I hadn't noticed the umbrella, but how cute the girl under the umbrella was. We agreed that we were both people who looked at the opposite sex, but only look.

3. My mother was relieved that I decided not to come home to Kellogg for Thanksgiving Day because now she wouldn't worry about me if the roads got snowy or icy.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tom and Jerrys: Writing Assignment #3



The third writing assignment that my sisters and I are doing together comes from my sister, Christy: Dad making Tom and Jerry batter every year at Christmas time.
*******************************
In the years since Dad died, I ask those in the know:

"So, was my dad a pretty good bartender?"

"You god damned better believe it. Your old man was a class act behind the bar...he was an asshole otherwise (laugh, laugh, laugh), but he had finesse. He could mix those shittin' woman drinks and serve a clean gin and tonic, too. God damned right he was good."

My dad's favorite two words of praise were "class" and "finesse". If he liked a performer, and it could be Frank Sinatra or Roger Whittaker or Mel Torme, his ultimate compliment was, "Now, he's got class."

When my dad witnessed something he thought was coarse or out of line, he would call it classless or say it" has no class".

Sometimes he would think of the funniest things as having class. He would put on Mennen's Skin Bracer after he shaved and look at me and said, "You gotta have a little class, son."

A steak with a glass of wine preceded by a dry martini on the rocks and followed by either brandy on the rocks or a stinger: that was class. For a long time the wine was Lancer's Rose wine. Later it was Cabernet Sauvignon, which he called "Cabernet Shawvun..Saavaan--Christ, give me the good shit". That was class.

Dad didn't talk much about other people having finesse. He liked to describe himself having it, whether in the garden or if he hit a (rare) soft pitch from just off a golf green.

When my dad witnessed me or someone else do something that lacked finesse, he said that that person was "like a one legged man in an ass kicking contest" or "like a pig on ice".

He had ample opportunity to comment this way on my lack of finesse on the basketball court, especially when my adrenaline was coursing through my veins at warp speed and I ran from one end of the court to the other without finesse, that is, to quote my dad, "like a chicken with my head cut off".

Two things, in Dad's world, gave Christmas class. One was listening to Mel Torme sing "The Christmas Song" -- or Nat King Cole, in a pinch. They both had finesse. They both had class.

The second was serving Tom and Jerrys. Every year, maybe three or four days before Christmas Day, Dad took over the kitchen to make Tom and Jerry batter.

For Dad, taking over the kitchen was a safari. For the other 364 days in the year, the kitchen was two things to Dad: 1) where his breakfast and dinner were served hot at the dining table and2) the room in that housed his Hieldelberg beer. To use the kitchen to make something was culture shock for Dad. He was a nervous wreck. He couldn't have any one near him. We might doodledash his finesse.

I'm not sure what in the batter required finesse. It must have something to do with the egg yolks divided from the whites; or the supergranulated sugar, which we never had in the house except when Dad made Tom and Jerry batter. Maybe it was the cussing. You'd think Dad was smashing each finger one by one with a sledge hammer as much as he cussed making the batter. We'd hear a spatula hit the floor. We'd hear the mixer turn on. He'd take the Lord's name in vain, creatively. Mom would ask him if he needed help.

"No, Mary. K-n-o-w. No," he replied.

Then, he'd announce he was finished. The batter was gorgeous. Thick, creamy, yellow, sweet. I could never believe such beauty could come from so much cussing.

Then he mixed up the booze that went with the boiling water that the batter topped. He combined Carstairs Whiskey, Christian Brothers Brandy, and whatever Rum was going cheap, into a decanter and always said the mixture would "knock a cat off a gut wagon."

Visitors came on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The batter sat in a Tom and Jerry bowl in the refrigerator. The bowl was white with Tom and Jerry inscribed on it in green and holly, with red English gentleman figures in top hats merrily enjoying a hot drink. We had mugs that matched.

Dad loved the compliments.

"How'd you do it, Pert? These Tom and Jerrys are pretty goddamned good."

"Finesse. You've just got to have a little finesse. And class. I run a class joint here. Pay close attention, pard."

Three Beautiful Things 11/21/06:

1. Listening to an interview at EDSBS.com with Michael Lewis about college football and wondering why the NCAA doesn't listen to his ideas.

2. Repeatedly watching Johnny Rodgers' November 25, 1971 punt return for a touchdown and trying to figure out how he seemed able to go forward and backward simultaneously just before zipping to his right and beginning his run for a score.

3. Spending some time researching the history of football on Thanksgiving Day and thinking how fun it must be for places that have "Turkey Day" high school rivalry games.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

On Being Against Poetry Torture

This poem has become such a commonplace piece, that I hate to seem, as my students would say, a cliche, and publish it, but it's on my mind as I get ready for the last couple of weeks of my Intro. to Poetry class here at Lane Community College. I'd like to reflect a little bit upon it.

Introduction to poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with a rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Billy Collins


Who started torturing poems? Who started torturing them nearly out of existence? Who decided that reading poetry was a matter of tying "the poem to a chair with a rope/amd tortur[ing] a confession out of it"?

Who came up with the idea that poetry had to be deciphered?

Who came up with the concept that poetry's meaning is found between the lines?

Who came up with the idea that understanding a poem means finding its hidden meaning?

Who started reading poems for their message?


I guess you could call me a Billy Collins guy. He worked hard as our Poet Laureate from 2001-03 to urge a public enjoyment of poetry, work started by Robert Pinsky and being continued by our current Poet Laureate Ted Kooser.

Do we think poems have to be deciphered because that's how we think about metaphors? Do we think metaphors are words written in a code that needs to be deciphered?

If we do, we are mistaken. Metaphors are everyday words employed to convey things that we do not exactly have everyday words for. If I say, "In his famous punt return on Nov. 25, 1971, Johnny Rodgers ran as swift as a deer", I use the metaphor deer to embody his swiftness because there really isn't a word that gives us this kind of a picture of his speed. Therefore, I make it concrete through a comparison that allows me to think of Johnny Rodgers as a deer.

If I were to ever operate a Ford Mustang, I'd be driving a metaphor. I'd be behind the wheel of an unbridled, wild, young pony with restless speed and graceful power. The makers of the Mustang knew the metaphorical power of its car's name when they named it. It's good poetry. But nobody tries to figure out the hidden meaning of a Mustang. We just enjoy its power.

By the way, I especially enjoyed the power of my brother-in-law's Mustang the day we went out to Taco Bell after a few drinks at home and ordered about $50 dollars worth of flour and seasoned beef products with AC/DC blasting through his Kenwood auto stereo. David wanted to show me a little bit of what his wild, barely tamed pony could do, and found a vacant street and I could feel my face going flat as he went gear to gear, picking up speed, and letting me enjoy the power of his four-wheeled metaphor.

Well, on that note, I'm going back to work. It's time to write a handout to guide my poetry students in their last essay for the course.

I'll build the assignment upon the idea of poetry that Billy Collins puts forth. I don't want to know what fancy meanings my students can beat out of poetry.

I want to know if they learned how to let the poem work on them. Did they learn how to quit working on poems? Did they find what was alive in themselves living in poetry? I hope so. Look at all that lives in poems: love, awe, wonder, grief, joy, humor, anger, disillusionment, dreams, in short, everything that makes us human. Surely, surely, some degree of that human experience that is eternally alive in poetry, lives in my students, too.

I know it does.

I hope they know.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Thanksgiving Football

I've lost interest in Thanksgiving football games. Once the NFL took over the day of football, the charm of football on Thanksgiving Day was lost for me.

Maybe I was spoiled. Maybe I feel like NCAA football on Thanksgiving was like having a favorite cafe with excellent food and solid tradition, but that fine diner got bulldozed by a bully franchise strip mall restaurant like Chilis or Red Robin and the new place has more glitz and more buzz and more sizzle, but it's a little too packaged, the whole atmosphere too forced, and so I went to the new bully on the block at first, but it didn't serve anything that really satisfied me, so I took my business elsewhere.

For me, the NFL on Thanksgiving is like that Appleby's or that Olive Garden that came in a few years back, and the bottomless salad or the gallon-sized Mageuritas were okay, but you want that old cafe back. I want NCAA college football back on Thanksgiving: Texas v Texas A&M was a fine traditional game on Thanksgiving. There were others. The best of all time, though, was on November 25, 1971. Oklahoma v Nebraska. The game of the century. Two long-time Big Eight rivals, both undefeated. Both gunning for a national championship. Watch this video,patiently wait for seventy seconds, and then watch Johnny Rodgers run a first quarter 'Husker punt back seventy-one yards in Nebraska's 35-31 victory:



This is one of the very best touchdown runs in the history of football, especially the move Rodgers makes after he's eluded the first defender, unloosed himself from a grab around the ankle, and then takes a huge stride straight at the Sooner coverage team and somehow takes that stride back, reverses it, and in the same motion scurries to his right, jets around the corner and he's off with a zag to the left, around another corner, and speeds to the endzone.

And, get this: an NCAA football game of this magnitude was played on Thanksgiving Day. That means that when I saw this punt return and the see-saw battle that followed, I was at Jerry Turnbow's, with my dad and all his friends, and the air was thick with turkey and sweet potatoes and gravy and rolls baking and this "game of the century" was the climax of the 1971 season, as well as the climax of Thanksgiving Day. Who cared that Dallas beat the Rams 28-21 later in the day? Our commitment on that day was to the college game. Having such a college game on Thanksgiving in the 21st Century is beyond my imagining.

You watch Johnny Rodgers return that punt and you get a sense as to why the NFL wants Thanksgiving Day to itself. The NFL offers nothing that exciting, that electric.

So, this year, on Thanksgiving Day, I'll be home in Kellogg. I'll be with my mom. I'll have dinner with her and my sister's family. I'll walk Snug. I'll go up and visit my dad's grave site.

But, I doubt I'll watch much football. It'll be the NFL. I don't want to go to Appleby's on Thanksgivng. I'd rather eat a the good stuff at the old diner the erecting of Appleby's tore down.

Three Beautiful Things 11/20/06 T. Rex, Capt. Fantastic, Richard Starkey

1. Marc Bolan

2. Elton John

3. Ringo Starr

Together:

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Three Beautiful Things 11/19/06: Au Lait, Slippers, Vermin

1. Bought a grande misto (sorry Dad: I really did say grande misto; you can chew my ass out when I join you up there) at Barnes and Noble, grabbed a table, shopped for books at their online store, closed my computer, and found each book on the shelves.

2. I slipped my rain-sotted feet into the cheap navy blue Echofoam slippers I bought today at JC Penney.

3. Snug reared up on his leash, barked vigorously, and nearly pulled me off my feet as he lunged at a sewer rat exiting Broadway Avenue here in Eugene to join his friends in the nether world.

Fearful in the Hands of the Living God

Daniel 12:1-4a(5-13)
Hebrews 10 31-39
Mark 13:14-23
Psalm 16 or 16:5-11

Today's passage from Hebrews states that "[i]t is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Lordy. On the face of it, that's not very encouraging. Is not much of the emphasis in many churches given to "fall[ing] into the hands of the living God" as a joyous thing? A thing of plenitude? A thing of abundance? The beginning or the affirmation/confirmation of material prosperity? Isn't calling "to fall into the hand of the living God" a "fearful thing" a downer? Shouldn't we prefer the more upbeat things about God and Christian life?

I'm not sure that Hebrews is suggesting that we shiver and quake in the hands of the living God. We aren't much good for anyone or anything if we are living in a state of fear or panic. I think the word fearful suggests more of the gravity of what has happened when we fall into the hands of the living God. In short, we see more. We are (maybe I should say should be) more aware of how out of joint the world we live in is in relation to the Kingdom of God.

Take for example, what Hebrews later says about reasons for this fearful thing: "You had compassion for those who were in prison , and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting." It is these things that Hebrews says brought suffering and public prosecution and humiliation. What's that again? Prosecuted for having compassion for prisoners? Humiliated for knowing you possessed something better and more lasting than possessions (read money)?

Yes. The writer of Hebrews has witnessed Jews who have become Christians be persecuted. But it goes beyond this context. Time and time again, biblical texts, and especially Jesus, guide us in what our attitudes should be toward prisoners: we are to have compassion, serve them, visit them, love them. That's a fearful thing. It's not fearful because of what the prisoner might do to you or me, it's fearful because it means setting aside or overcoming deeply held prejudice that the prisoner is scum. We are to love scum? If scum is our enemy, yes. If scum is in prison, yes. If we enact this biblically described service to the imprisoned, we know what we'll face: You are a bleeding heart! That guy should rot! How can you even be in the same room with her!

It does not appear that the writer of Hebrews, nor Jesus, are even thinking about reforming prisoners. They don't say anything about helping turn their lives around. All they say is visit them and have compassion.

So that's a fearful thing. And how about "cheerfully accept[ing] the plundering of our possessions"? Goodness. That's a thought that strikes fear into our hearts. But the cheerful acceptance isn't a condoning of robbers and tax collectors. It's the cheerfulness that comes from knowing that these possessions, this money, has temporary value. Possessions and money come and go. They are mutable. Not the living God. The living God is "more lasting", indeed; the living God is everlasting.

What's everlasting is what the living God stands for. The living God stands for what endures in life: compassion, justice, integrity, service, respect, forgiveness, and the other prevailing characteristics of the Kingdom of God. If we cling to possessions and money, work to build our own kingdoms, at the expense of justice, service, forgiveness, then we do the opposite of what is described in Hebrews. We become those who cheerfully accept the plundering of our honesty, compassion, integrity, service to the poor and the imprisoned, our forgiveness, etc., and act as if our money and our possessions are something far better and lasting.

As I wrote last Sunday, it's all subversive. We fear subversion. The living God subverts our received ways of understanding and doing things, whether in relation to prisoners, our possessions, or our enemies. That's why it is fearful to fall into the hands of the living God. The living God is out of step with the world we have created. (I know the usual way to say this is that the world is out of step with the living God, and that's true. But we have created a world and God is not about to get it step with this, our lesser creation.)

To close, I'd like to look at a few of Jesus' words in the passage from Mark. Jesus warns of false prophet and false signs. He tells us to be alert. If I could, in my sudden presumption, sum up the whole of the Bible, it would be in these two words: be alert. Buddha put it a slightly different way: be awake. Both of them are saying the same thing. In a world so out of keeping with the Way of Truth, it is easy to be seduced into patterns and ways of life that are not in keeping with what is the way of compassion and justice. Become asleep, become complacent, become self-satisfied or become self-righteous, and you will lose your consciousness, your alertness to the ways of the world.

Being fearful in the hands of the living God is another way of saying be alert. The Kingdom of God is at hand, but it is very unpopular and routinely scorned, both inside and outside the Church. Therefore, be alert, be awake, persist in the vision of the Kingdom of God and it will be your place of refuge and peace.

Candle in the Wind



If you don't already do it, I highly recommend that you go to YouTube and do searches of favorite songs and favorite artists and enjoy the videos. One night I gave myself a Paul Simon concert. Tonight, it's been Elton John, and next I'm going to see what performances I can find of Neil Diamond.

A while back, I confessed that Elton John was one of my guilty pleasures. I suppose had Elton John not entered into his glam rock, ostrich-feathered, name-in-neon-on-his-glasses, on stage as Mozart, fish swimming in shoe heels stage, that he wouldn't be a guilty pleasure. I suppose if he'd never sung "The Bitch is Back" or "Philadelphia Freedom" (I love them both), he wouldn't be a guilty pleasure. But he did all of that. His overwhelming success lay, in part, in his going campy, in becoming a personna named Elton John or Captain Fantastic. Elton John, of course, was not born Elton John. He was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight. I wonder if it is here that he felt such deep affinity with Marilyn Monroe, that is, Norma Jean Baker and Diana, Princess of Wales.

Isn't "Candle in the Wind" a song about the way Elton John can see through the facade of the Hollywood-created Marilyn Monroe to the lonely soul of Norma Jeane Baker? And when Bernie Taupin rewrote the lyrics in 1997 to honor Princess Diana, wasn't it a song intended to look beneath the public figure, into the soul of the private person, Diana Spencer, a lonely, pained woman? And isn't the link that holds Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana together the way in which they were each "like a candle in the wind", "never knowing who to cling to/When the rain set in?" Because each of them were at least double persons, then how can either of them know, in times of suffering, whether those around them see them as the authentic person suffering, or only regard them as the personna created for public consumption. Who could they cling to?

As I watch this mid-80's video-taped performance of Elton John at Wembley Stadium, it's clear that this song touches him. What you see in his eyes and in the rest of his face is an understanding that a person really has all she or he can do to carry the weight of a single identity, let alone two or more of them. Elton John, in this perfomance, has not come out publicly that he is gay. In fact, he's a relative newlywed here, having married Renate Blauel. Yes, he has told Rolling Stone magazine that he is bisexual, but the real truth of his identity is hidden. He doesn't know who to cling to.

The singer we see is this video is drenching his secret identity in alcohol, powdering it with snort up his nose, and suffocating it with overeating and then vomiting it out of his system as a bulimic.

Isn't, then, "Candle in the Wind" a song about Elton John? As he sings this song isn't he singing about his own clinging to unworthy things? Isn't he singing about having clung to unworthy people? Isn't he, like Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana, a flame that is being blown horizontal by the wind, but is not extinguished?

This song has poignancy to me right now for at least a couple of reasons. First of all, I think it's a song about anyone who went through what former Spokane mayor, the late Jim West went through in keeping his identity secret. He needed an outlet, someway to express who he was. He could have tried to liquidate it with alcohol, or do like Pastor Haggard and escape it with meth and the pleasures of a buff prostitute. West escaped to a chat room and to dates in the dark, not knowing who to cling to.

My students at Lane Community College have been reading Caroline Knapp's book, Drinking: A Love Story". In her memoir, Knapp tells of living a double life. On the one hand, she is a successful writer for the Boston Phoenix, but she's also an alcoholic. Her work serves as her protection. She does her work superbly. In her alcoholic life, she, much like Marilyn Monroe, Princess Dianna, and Elton John, doesn't know who to cling to. It's a huge part of this book. Caroline Knapp's alcoholic life is filled with random men and random sex and a fitful, bellicose long-term relationship. None of it is real. She never knows the acceptance or intimacy she longs for because she's not a whole person. Her identity is fragmented. Her loneliness is tough. It's the toughest story she's ever written.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Three Beautiful Things 11/18/06: Norma Jeane, Hygiene, Heaven

1. Feeling a lump in my throat as Elton John sang, "Candle in the Wind".

2. The head-snapping surprise that I really like the taste of the Crest cinnamon toothpaste the dentist's office sent me home with on Thursday.


3. Finding at From a Simple Mind's blog this picture of contentment, companionship, perfection.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Iago


Our cast for the Lane Community College Student Productions Association production of Othello has completed two read throughs of the play. Particularly in the second read through, the actors began to experience the way Shakespeare's language creates character.

I think actors of Shakespeare spend too much time trying to go outside the text of a Shakespeare play to understand whatever character they are playing. I say to the actor of Shakespeare, read the lines, first with attention to correct pronunciation and with attention to punctuation. Where does the voice drop? How has Shakespeare phrased the speeches? What words does the meter or, in the prose passages, the rhythm, place special emphasis on? As this study proceeds, I say listen to the sounds: the vowels and consonants of Shakespeare's words have the sounds of emotions: they moan, whine, hiss, chuckle, laugh, weep, and express other emotions. What I'm saying is that the sounds of the words, apart from their denotations, are often onomatopoeic. For example, when Macbeth expresses is despair in the words, "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow...", the vowels in those words are the very expression of despair. Say those three tomorrows along with the two ands without the consonants: o-ah-oh a o-ah-oh a o-ah-oh....you can hear the ahhh the ohhh the aaaa of suffering and despair. You don't have to do a background check on Macbeth to know his suffering. It's in the language.

It's why I love watching Sparky work with actors and why I love to act under her direction. For her, it's so much about the language, the words; in performance, the Shakespeare plays she directs flourish as her actors forcefully articulate the language , with wide open mouths, with mouths enjoying the words as if they were cold orange slices in July.

Whereas Macbeth's language sings the music of despair by the end of the play and Othello's language sings the torment of jealousy from about halfway through the play forward, Iago's language sings a very different music. Much of his speech is in prose because he is working out miniature essays regarding what he is going to do and he gives disquisitions in prose to Roderigo and Cassio upon such subjects as self-love, virtue, and reputation. These are masterpieces of persuasion, so cogent, so beautifully constructed, so seductive, and so sophistic that even we, as audience, who have some distance from Iago and should know better, can find ourselves being persuaded by his expositions and arguments.

An Elizabethan cliche was that passion, the realm of the emotions, was like a wild horse, and needed the bit of reason, or intellect, to tame it. Shakespeare is always experimenting with the passion and reason of his characters, endowing them with imbalances and portraying the consequences of being too much submerged in passion or too much possessed of reason.

I would argue that of all his characters, Iago is the character who epitomizes an over abundance of intellect (or reason) over against passion. While Iago may take some glee in what he accomplishes, it is cold glee. It is not glee heated, or even warmed, with passion. His is the glee of a tactitian, a destroyer, of a gifted observer of what is weak in others. Rather than ministering to others' weaknesses, Iago devises ways, often on the fly and in the moment, to exploit them. It's cold intellectual energy. It is the worst employment of reason.

In the character of Iago, reason is pathological, not a means of balancing the emotions or the passions. He's incurable. For the pathology to be cured, Iago would have to feel the impact of his ploys. He doesn't. Maybe he can't. Feeling the sufferings of others is not in his composition. Pinpointing vulnerability and exploiting it is in his composition.

When my students first come to Shakespeare's Othello and begin to experience Iago, they want to know what motivates him. But, the more they study the play, the more they see that Iago throws us, as audience, some weak possibilities, but he never really persists in coming back to them. Samuel Taylor Coleridge saw Iago as embodying "motiveless malignancy". His term suggests an Iago who is less motivated by external factors and is acting more upon a diseased soul. I like this understanding of Iago. It allow us to see the senseless violence toward another emobodied.

One way I think Shakespeare understood things differently than we tend to is that we tend to believe in reform. Shakespeare portrays Iago as without repentance, without regret, without remorse, and incapable of being reformed. He is still standing at the end of the play. He is silent. He hasn't a word to say about why he's destroyed Othello and pledges never to say a word. His silence affirms his heartlessness; his knowledge that leaving his deeds unspoken about will deeply frustrate those who survived this world affirms his destructive use of his intellect and his knowledge of others.

Three Beautiful Things 10/17/06: Dog, Fog, Puppy Love

1. My Springer Spaniel Snug and the Deke's Corgi Charly are a year apart in age and wrestle in the living room and the back yard, having learned the limits of how far they can go and not hurt each other and keep their romping playful.

2. As I puttered in my Honda over the 30th Ave. hill, the valley below me, where Lane Community College sits, was quilted in fog. At first I appreciated the beauty of the denotative fog, but it also seemed connotative, representative of the conditions we sometimes work in, and some of the beauty dissipated.

3. Young love. A fresh young man and his fresh young girlfriend, holding hands, each in gray and green Univerisity of Oregon T-shirts, bounded up the stairs outside the Center building in perfect step with each other and didn't seem to see me coming down.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Haunted Spokane #2

A former Whitworth student emailed me earlier today. She had read what I had written on November 15 about "A Hidden Life". Her response:
I was a little creeped out to read what you wrote about the
frontline segment because I watched it as well, with
[my husband],and told him the same story
about the gentlemanin question. A synchronous
moment to be sure.
I can't pass this off as meaningless coincidence. At the same time, I can't pretend to know why the two of us, she, who watched the program on television on the 14th, and I, who watched the program online on the 15th both thought about my friend.

The reason this former student and I both knew my friend was that he had helped me teach a course at Whitworth in January of 1984 entitled "The Family in American Drama" and this was one of the classes she took from me, and him.

His death was very disturbing because of its violent nature and because it never became a source of criminal investigation. I don't know much about that. I was thinking today, while driving to school, that it's such a terribly cold case. I don't know if even those miracle workers on those CSI programs could go back and piece things together.

It puzzles me that I hadn't thought about what happened to my friend for quite a while in any sustained way. And now, because of a Frontline story, something about seeing those pictures of Spokane neighborhoods and knowing that my friend may have been trolling for sex some weekends the same way, I guess, Jim West trolled for young men on line, has made me think about my friend's death again.

The last time I saw my friend was in early July,1984. He was in intensive care. He was in a coma, but responded when I spoke to him with nodding and he opened his eyes.

That night, Chris and I went to the Viking to have some beers and to talk about what we couldn't understand. Somehow, I saw a chair sitting a bit back from a table and I shoved the chair violently into the table. A guy at that table picked up the table and tipped it over, pitchers and glasses of beer flying. He puffed out his chest. I made some kind of "peace out" gesture, but he wanted trouble. Chris moved forward. His chest was puffed out. A bartender intervened. Just like that, peace was restored.

We drank some more and I got into some baseball trivia talk with some guys and their girls and Chris and I left and went up Monroe Street to Casey's and got some food to sop up all the beer in our guts. The food was perfect. The beer and baseball talk and girl who squeezed my hand when she left the Viking and the near fight all seemed to remove me from the mortal danger my friend was in.

But, I never was removed. It's twenty-two years later. I am feeling more about his death since watching "A Hidden Life" than I did when he was killed, or have since. My former student is my friend, and she, too, had his death return.

A ghost in Spokane, a terrible deed on the Spokane's streets, is not done with this matter. I can feel the hauntedness of this past and it seems connected with whatever Jim West did and with what David Hahn did and with the boys who weren't safe in their churches and the boys who weren't safe at Morning Star Ranch and connected with the prostitutes randomly picked up and killed by Robert Yates and connected with the women on the South Hill who were raped by Kevin Coe. The ghosts of these deeds are not done calling to us.

I know every city has its ghosts. They have to . Ghosts keep the past alive in the present. Spokane is not exceptional. I feel it more because I love Spokane. Its ghosts unsettle me much like the ghosts of family secrets or of deeds I've done that I'd rather forget do.

I would have never guessed when my mother called me when the story first broke, that the secret life of Spokane's mayor would eventually so occupy my thoughts and feelings and memories when his story was told on PBS.

Three Beautiful Things 11/16/06: Schafer, Mutual Respect, Blonde Tupac

1. I found out through Huckleberries Online that local 7' U of Oregon basketball player Ray Schafer is the son of former Coeur d'Alene standout Dick Schafer, against whom I played for two seasons in high school. This connection, for reasons beyond my explanation, gave me chills up and down my spine.

2. Lane Community College is in decline, economically, and it is causing a decline in the variety of course offerings in the English Department I teach in. My fellow teachers worked out some difficult problems today with deep mutual respect, love for our discipline, deep concern for our students, dignified sadness, and muted anger. I was proud of our maturity.

3. My student Laura performed the role of Tupac and the role of a blonde Idaho diner waitress both in the same skit, and I forgot for a moment she was Laura.

Haunted Spokane

This morning I watched the PBS Frontline program "A Hidden Life". I found myself feeling haunted. It wasn't so much haunted by Jim West, but by other things. I think I'll try to blog this out over the next few weeks.

The first thing that comes to mind has to do with the gay underground of Spokane in the late '70's and early 80's. I had two students at Whitworth in 1978 who were gay, one closeted, the other not. The not closeted gay student wrote in his journal about going to a gay ball at the Hilton and about the more outrageous elements of gay/queen life. The other student was preparing to go to seminary. He was his dorm's chaplain. He was conducting himself as a godly kid by light of day, but in his secret life he was having sex with men in drive-in parking lots other places and was writing about these encounters in some detail in a journal for his Freshman Composition class. It was aggressive writing. He wrote entries assaultively, to shock me. The secrecy and repressed nature of it made it feel like ghosts were living in the hidden regions beneath his public personna. I kept his revelations in confidence. I had promised the writing class they could trust me.

When I returned to Whitworth in 1982, I made friends with man working at the college who I would later figure out had a secret life cruising downtown Spokane for young men. It probably cost him his life. In June of 1984, having moved back to Eugene, I got a call from Spokane telling me that my friend had been found in a pool of blood near the Monroe Street bridge. He was still alive, but badly injured, and in a coma from the concussive impact of his head striking the street. He died several weeks later.

It had been rumored that my friend cruised for young men downtown. On the night of the accident, he had been at The Swamp, a tavern on West Fifth. No one seemed sure when they saw him leave, but he did and somehow he ended up either being pushed out of a vehicle or he jumped out of it, to his eventual death. No one ever came forward. My friend's widow did not push the police to investigate more fully.

Something mean happened that night. The one time I was in the Swamp it was a mean place. The journal entries my student wrote were mean. Something about Jim West and his manner was mean. Spokane has a mean streak.

I love Spokane. Emotionally, it's like the Silver Valley to me. Both places feel like home. In Spokane, I used to feel especially at home at the Wall Street Cafe and Ferguson's and at the Knight Diner when it was on Division and at the Viking Tavern when it was on Washington.

I felt at home in the old Jack and Dan's, pre-John Stockton and I felt at home one night with my dad and two of my friends playing pong and drinking Budweiser at Audie's in Hilyard after watching the Bears and the Seahawks play exhibition football at Joe Albi Stadium.

Alongside my affection for Spokane and the Silver Valley is my knowledge of ghosts. I'll write more about these ghosts as time goes along. They were crying out during "A Hidden Life" as I watched it. They call to me when I watch "You Are My Sunshine", a videotape of interviews with survivors of the Sunshine Mine. I'll never go to the Swamp again. Too many ghosts.

Three Beautiful Things 11/15/06

1. Reading Brianna's essay about old or poorly trained horses and how they are auctioned to become meat,

2. The Deke brought home a loaf of cinammon raisin walnut bread from Great Harvest.

3. Feeling the hauntedness I always feel about Spokane, Washington. I felt it today as I watched the PBS Frontline report on the fall of Jim West from the office of mayor.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bad Novembers

It happened again last year.

November was my worst month. In about eighteen out of the last twenty years or so, the month of November has been a time when I have been able to count on very serious illness, infidelity, deep depression, marital difficulty, and general malaise.

Somehow, November always seems to have a surreal atmosphere. Last year, for example, on Thanksgiving Day, I drove my dog Snug over to the Hobbit Beach north of Heceta Beach so that he could have some time to chase seagulls. The Deke and I had been invited to a family's house for Thanksgiving dinner and I planned on being back in plenty of time to meet our invitation.

When Snug and I arrived at the Hobbit Beach parking lot, a man was standing by the roadside, trying to find a ride south. I waved to him, we exchanged some pleasantries, and Snug and I tramped down to the beach.

We were there for about an hour or so and when we came back up, the man was still there. He had been unsuccessful hitching a ride. We talked and I said I could give him a lift to Florence.

He began to tell me his story. He'd been living at a woman's house in Medford and she kicked him out. He said things had been going really well, but some tension developed and he was on his own again, with nowhere to stay or live.

I could tell he was lying about Medford. I don't remember the details now, but the whole story made him out to be a victim and he had that exaggerating sound in his voice that liars have and he began to aggrandize himself, but I figured he was harmless enough.

And he was harmless enough. We got to Florence and I said, "Why don't I just drive you down to Coos Bay."

"You'd do that, man?"

It was starting to rain really hard.

"Yeah. I've got time."

But, I didn't really have time, not if I was going to make it back to Eugene in time for Thanksgiving dinner. I'd already had one incident earlier in the month, on the 12th, of driving around western Oregon, not coming home, and here I was, doing it again. This time I was pleading the Good Samaritan defense to myself, that this was different. I was helping this guy out.

I didn't make it back in time to eat Thanksgiving dinner with the others. They saved a plate for me. The Deke told me later my vibe was weird at our hosts' house. One of the guests had taken her aside to ask if I was all right, that I'd seemed odd lately and what was going on with me being late and driving a guy to Coos Bay. I tried to socialize comfortably, but did a lousy job. I think the Deke just wanted to get out of there. Well, get me out of there.

This is all subtle. It's not like I was tearing things up or putting on a self-centered show. I was in a November fog. One of my former students from over twenty years ago has written me recently and asked me how I was doing. She remembered me always struggling in November.

And, yes. November. When I last lived in Spokane, November of 1983 was when I flew to Boulder, CO and ended one ill-advised romance and started in another ill-advised romance that same week. I was a drunken boor and an embarrassment at the family Thanksgiving dinner table, made worse by showing off my boorishness in front of friends I'd invited to Kellogg for dinner from Spokane. In 1981, my then wife told me she wanted out of our marriage in November. In 1982, the emotional weight of the end of our marriage hit me in November and I started having terrible dreams and raged and threw things around in my generic North Spokane apartment. In 1986, in November, my girlfriend, living in London, told me about an affair she was having. It crippled me. I was an obssessed wreck. In November of 1999, I contracted bacterial meningitis.

I suppose many of us have that time of the year when things seem to go awry on an annual basis. I don't understand these cycles of life. I don't pity myself, either. It's just the way things have been. I hope to make it through this November without anything too painful happening.

We are nearing the half-way point. I'll be careful driving to Kellogg next week. I'll stay home if ice and snow is forecast. I'll not drink. I'll take my pills. I'll hope for the best when I get a physical examination this Friday. I know I won't have the same November experience I did last year: a colonoscopy.

I want to do the same thing every November: find a bomb shelter and stay in it. I want to stay out of the world. But, I don't. I go out into the world and hope I can be wise instead of foolish, lucky instead of darkly fated.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Three Beautiful Things 11/14/06: Santana, Tielsa, Snoring

1. Grading papers in Tutor Central, listening to Santana's Abraxas on Napster, with my headphones, and falling asleep with that wonderful music somehow serving as a serenade.

2. Tielsa came by my office and caught me up on what's happening in her life and gave me a picture of her and me smiling broadly in our academic gear at last spring's graduation ceremony. Tielsa looks stunningly radiant, so beautiful, so proud of her achievement.

3. During the Othello cast's read through of the play, in Sparky's studio, Scott came upstairs, lay down, fell asleep, and snored, providing a comical backdrop to the tragic action of Othello.

1970: Coeur d'Alene High School Dedicates New Gymnasium

In the late fall of 1970, we, the Kellogg Wildcats, opened our basketball season against the Coeur d'Alene Vikings. It was a Tuesday night game. It was a very big game for the Vikings, not because they were playing the Kellogg Wildcats, but because it was their first game in a freshly built gymnasium in a newly opened high school. Dignitaries were honored at half time. For all I know, the governor was there, or maybe the mayor, probably Red Halpern, but certainly past Coeur d'Alene players. It would be a night to honor the tradition of Viking basketball. They had been state champions as recently as 1963.

It would have been more appropriate if we Wildcats had been nicknamed the Kellogg Sacrificial Lambs. That's what we were that night. In every way, the Vikings were a far superior team to us and they were playing with extra verve because the gym was being dedicated.

But, we Wildcats didn't realize what we were in for. We had had quite a bit of player turnover from the season before. The idea was that with new players would come a new attitude and a fresh start for our team.

But, we didn't have any players who could match Coeur d'Alene. I wish I could remember the entirety of Coeur d'Alene's starting five, but I definitely remember three of them: Dick Schaffer was a tall, fairly elegant inside force at center; the team's leader and one of their guards was Duffy Taylor; I was assigned that night to guard Bryce Bemis, so I know he was one of their forwards. I also know he scored at will against me.

From the game's outset, Coeur d'Alene crushed us. I used to know the exact score, but I don't remember now. Suffice it to say that Coeur d'Alene had the historic pleasure of putting up over 100 points in their first game in their new gym. Yes, that's right. We gave up over 100 points to the Vikings and we barely broke 50 ourselves. The score was something like 106-54. (If anyone could verify the score, I'd appreciate it; likewise, if you know who Coeur d'Alene's starting five was, I'd appreciate knowing that.)

Here are a few things I do know: coming into the 1970-71 season, I had this terribly inflated sense of myself as a basketball player. I had been a very good player in freshman basketball. My success was largely because of my early growth spurt and a deft shooting touch. But, as other kids grew to be as tall as I and as others passed me, it turned out that I had peaked athletically, in the ninth grade.

But, I didn't know that. I entered the Coeur d'Alene game determined to beat the Vikings and to establish myself early on as an all-Inland Empire League player.

So that night in Coeur d'Alene, the game opened and, because in my inflated sense of myself, I considered myself a great shooter. So I shot. And shot. And shot. And shot some more. If you were to look at a shot chart of that game, you would see that I burped up sixteen shots...and made one.

That's right. Mr. I'll be all-Inland Empire League my junior year scored eight points, six were from the free throw line, and I missed fifteen shots from the field. I became the trigger man for the Vikings' fast break. I fired up a shot. It ricocheted off the back of the rim. It rebounded like an outlet pass. The Vikings were off and running. And we couldn't catch up to them.

So, on Tuesday night we surrendered over 100 points to Coeur d' Alene. On Friday night we surrendered another 100 points to Ferris. On Saturday night we actually led Gonzaga Prep at halftime, but collapsed in the second half, but we held them way under 100 points.

A local tavern, the Kopper Keg, decided at the beginning of the basketball season to honor a player after each weekend of play as the Kopper Keg player of the week. I don't know what kind of drunken congregation gathered to decide the first week's winner. We went 0-3. We gave up over 100 points in two games. In one of he games I put up sixteen shots and one dropped.

How bad were things? I was named the Kopper Keg player of the week. I was ashamed and humiliated. I shouldn't have been named even the Not a Pot to Piss In Player of the Week.

Our basketball season limped along. We won a few games. Not many. We were knocked out of the conference tournament immediately.

And, it only took about three weeks for the Kellogg Evening News and the Kopper Keg to discontinue the Kopper Keg player of the week.

It was an ethical decision. And a merciful one.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Three Beautiful Things 11/13/06: Poetry, Pronunciation, Carry Out

1. After Introduction to Poetry met today, two of my older students told me that poetry was touching parts of their lives they had left unattended or had been asleep, had been untouched.

2. Watching and listening as Sparky Roberts, our deeply caring Othello director, patiently stopped actors each time they mispronounced a word and lovingly pronounced it correctly for them.

3. My wife walked in the door and brought day old Chinese food home that Molly had not been able to finish, so my quandary as to what to eat for dinner was resolved.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Three Beautiful Things 11/12/06: Leaves, Caffine, Depression

1. Thinking the plastic pool in the backyard was full of water and the dogs were splashing in it, to later bring a wet mess into the house, when, in in fact, it was the sound of the dogs rustling and leaping in leaves on the ground.

2. Grinding, brewing, and drinking Starbuck's bold Christmas Blend coffee.

3. Exchanging emails with jb3ll3 to work out each of our understandings of the mysteries and medicines of clinical depression.