Friday, December 28, 2007

In Absentia

I've been staying at my mother's house in Kellogg without an internet connection. It's simply going to work out more easily for me to begin posting again when I return to Eugene.

Christmas, my birthday, my visit here in Kellogg, everything has been wonderful.

See you next year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 12/18/07: Casino, Moss, CyberShopping

1. It was mildly fun to go to the new Three Rivers casino near Florence and see what's happening there. Lousy day playing machines, darn it.

2. The drive over to Florence and back was gray, drizzly, and alive with moss hanging in long spindles from the trees along both sides of the road.

3. I'm having fun deciding what to give my sisters for Christmas and making some discoveries that make me happy. I hope the feeling will be mutual!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 12/17/07: Groomed, Cool, Tofu Time

1. Snug is groomed. He looks really good.

2. The Honda has a new radiator.

3. The Deke bought a tofu-turkey on a whim a few weeks ago and we enjoyed eating it tonight.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 12/16/07: Sock Monkeys, Eventual Justice, Fins Win Finally

1. The good cheer of the Deke and Molly sewing sock monkeys gave our home good vibrations today.

2. I watched "The Trials of Darryl Hunt", another documentary movie about a man incarcerated for a crime he didn't commit. Darryl languished in prison for nineteen years before he was released and exonerated.

3. Hiram had to be excited in Miami today: the Dolphins won their first game of the season!

Sibling Assignment #45: Random Thanksgiving

Back around Thanksgiving time, Silver Valley Girl assigned us three siblings to make a video of what we are thankful for. I'm late with mine, but isn't it really Thanksgiving all year long?
Inland Empire Girl's production is here and here is where you'll find Silver Valley Girl's.

Three Beautiful Things: 12/15/07: Hoffman, Scribblings, Catching Up

1. I saw the movie, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead". Could a family have more evil in it? Philip Seymour Hoffman builds on the role he played in "Owning Mahowny", a desperate, addicted corporate underling who tries to hide his panic underneath of a facade of competence. When the facade cracks, look out: violence is unleashed.

2. It felt good to post on "Sunday Scribblings" again after about a month's absence. I've enjoyed the comments different readers have made.

3. I'm trying to finish my sibling assignment from back on Thanksgiving week. I'm creating the assigned slide show of things I'm thankful for and it's been fun experimenting around with different effects and stuff. It should go up today.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 12/14/07: MomPal, Finished, Choice Bagel

1. I had a good conversation with Mom this morning and it felt more like talking to a friend than my mother.

2. I submitted one last grade change form and I think I've done all I can to bring fall quarter to an end. I know one more loose thread is dangling out there, but I can't do anything about it. The student needs to finish her last essay. I've taken care of everything that has come to me.

3. The sesame bagel I ate, with a cup of coffee, at Market of Choice, seemed buttery and rich and I didn't put any butter or cream cheese or jam or anything on it.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Dance

I suffered torture most of the eighth grade from wanting Laura Oakland to wear my initial ring as a sign we were going steady.

One night I met Laura at Dr. Zhivago at the Rena Theater in Kellogg and never knew what was happening in the movie because I kept obsessively sliding off my initial ring, trying to get the guts to ask her to go steady, and chickened out, my ring finger so slick with clammy sweat that my ring slid on and off as if it were buttered.

At the last dance of our eighth grade year, Laura and I were sitting out a dance or two in the grandstands of the junior high gym. I never asked Laura to a dance or a movie. I was too chicken. We always just met there.

Time was running out. The dance was nearing its end. So was the school year. Laura lived over five miles from our house out in Page and I never saw her in the summer. The Beatles' “Penny Lane” played over the gym’s tinny sound system --

Penny lane is in my ears and in my eyes.

There beneath the blue suburban skies

Finally, stomach cramped and cotton-mouthed, I asked Laura Oakland to go steady.

“No. My mom won’t let me.”

“Oh. - - - - OK.”

Shame scorched my face. I bit my lower lip. “Penny Lane’s” trumpets floated with mockery through the gym.

We danced the last dance. Laura rode home with other Page kids. Or spent the night with a girl friend.

I walked home, alone, past Dick and Floyd’s and turned down McKinley. Laughing payday carousers moved in and out of the Rio Club, the Inland Lounge, and the other uptown Kellogg bars.

I crossed over to the alley by the YMCA. It reeked where someone had taken a leak on the west wall. I trudged down to Railroad Avenue, past Freddy Walter’s flimsy house, on my way past the IGA at Cameron and Hill and further west on Cameron, past the Sunshine Inn where Dad was tending bar, and on to our house.

“Penny Lane” played over and over in my ears. I imagined that wherever Laura Oakland was, she and her friends laughed.

I arrived home. Mom was asleep on the couch. The front door opening woke her. She lit a cigarette. “How was the dance?”

“Fine. Care if I change the channel?”

“Go ahead.”

I watched a fight, probably Ray “Windmill” White vs. Mike “Irish” Quarry on Boxing from the Forum. I ate a can of Chef Boyardee ravioli. I went to bed.

I had baseball practice in the morning. Looking back, I remember that practice. Scott Stuart sang lines from “Lady Madonna” while we waited for our coach. He made it sound so funny. He only knew three lines:

Lady Madonna,
Baby at your breast
Wonders how you manage to feed the rest.

Later that summer, our team, Jim Schaffer Auto played the Eagles. I made four errors at third base that day. In one inning.

That summer Jimmy Ferris ran into John Kerns. John was in high school. John lived in Page. John boasted to Jimmy.

He and Laura spent the summer making out.

Photo Hunt: Small

Small price to pay.

For other small photos, go here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 12/13/07: Dylan, D to A, "Autobahn"

1. Having watched the movie, "I'm Not There" yesterday inspired me to listen to Bob Dylan songs much of the day today. After all these years, I'm starting to not only continue to enjoy his music, but to understand his songs and his artistry better.

2. I'd had to submit a D grade for two very good writers who hadn't completed their last essay by the time I had to enter grades. Their papers came in today and I changed their grades to A, the grade they earned and deserved.

3. Rolling Stone online has named the fifty best songs that are over seven minutes long, here. Among them Kraftwerk's "Autobahn". I went to Napster and found a version that is about twenty-three minutes long and I enjoyed the sensation of being behind the wheel of a BMW, feeling its power on the Autobahn.

Learning to Read

Instead of a final examination, I assigned my students a retrospective essay to be written during the time reserved for the final exam.

I created an imaginary situation: your Uncle Dan and Aunt Jill have won 133 million dollars playing Powerball and have decided to fund your education.

All you have to do is write a letter telling Uncle Dan and Aunt Jill what you have learned in WR 121.

I didn't know what to expect. I had read their essays and helped trigger some rambunctious discussions about war, loss, reconciliation, and survival, but I wanted to read my students' own perceptions of what they had learned.

Before I write what surprised and pleased me most, let me say a word or two about teaching college composition.

A college composition course doesn't have any inherent subject matter, aside from the abstract principles of what good writing requires.

Therefore, I assign my students books to read and structure the reading around a central focus. For years, the question I've raised in WR 121 has been, "What is a well-lived life?" and I've worked with my students to read and understand books and films ranging from Plato to Tupac Shakir, from Into the Wild to Drinking: A Love Story.

For the first time, this quarter our readings centered around coming to understand the experiences of loss, survival, and reconciliation, which is the emphasis of Lane Community College's Reading Together program this year.

We read Tim O'Brien's The Things We Carried, a hybrid of fiction of memoir of O'Brien's Viet Nam experience; Dan O'Brien's Buffalo for the Broken Heart, the story of O'Brien transforming his ranch and his soul by deciding to no longer raise cattle and to raise buffalo instead; and, Louise Steinman's The Souvenir, a memoir centered on Steinman discovering who her father was after he died and she found his WWII letters and a Japanese flag hidden away in the garage in an ammo box. The flag has a Japanese soldier's name on it and Steinman tracks down the family of the soldier, travels to Japan to return the flag, and visits sites where her father was in combat in the Phillipines. (The books are here, here, and here.)

As I read my students' retrospective essays I discovered that none of my students had read books with attention to seeing how the story illuminated the larger human experience, not just the surface experience of the book's story.

Every student who wrote about the reading in the class expressed a mixture of surprise and joy that they could learn so much from books that had nothing to do with their own specific experience. None of my students had fought in Viet Nam. None raised buffalo. None had gone in search of a father through war letters and travel.

But, all of my students know loss. They all struggle with different kinds of survival. They all long for reconciliation.

My students came to understand what I hoped they would. Good stories narrate the dramas of the human soul. They experienced reading these books as looking more deeply into the stories, as helping them understand deeper experiences in their lives, experiences they shared with writers whose stories, on the surface, bore little resemblance to their own.

They learned to read more critically. They began to understand that how a story is told and how sentences and paragraphs and chapters are structured is as important as what happens in the story.

I was stunned with joy reading these retrospectives. For so long I have been reading books as a way of understanding the nature of human nature and as a way of better understanding the universal experience of human beings, that I had forgotten that for many this is a new experience.

The most rewarding payoff in centering a writing class around good books and philosophical questions is that students are faced with questions to write about that are alive in their lives. Again this quarter, as it always is, it was an immeasurable pleasure to read the essays my students wrote.

Many came to understandings of themselves and their lives they hadn't ever thought to consider before. They came to see that the questions published writers explore and dig into in their books are their questions, too, and that a person doesn't have to be a published writer to express cogent, poignant insights into one's own life, and, in turn, into the human experience.

Several wrote that what they learned about reading and from their reading would stay with them for the rest of their lives.

It's just a start. But, my students learned to read and came to understand that reading leads to thinking and that writing helps deepen and structure one's thinking and insights.

I couldn't be happier.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 12/12/07: The Dead, Deep Reading, The Playlist

1. After driving to Corvallis to watch the beguiling and exhilarating movie "I'm Not There", Kelly and I had a fine meal at the Firkin and Fox and swapped Grateful Dead show stories and fired each other up with our affection for the band and its music.

2. I read more of my students' WR 121 retrospective essays and enjoyed the quiet satisfaction of learning that the course helped my students read books in a deeper, more satisfying way than most of them had ever done before. Most of my students had never read books with an eye to the the way stories explore shared human experience. Most had previously thought, for example, that to read a book about a rancher's experiment raising buffalo was book about buffaloes and not much else. Now they know that such a book can help them explore their own experiences with loss, survival, and reconciliation, even though, on the surface, the book seems to be about a subject they have nothing in common with.

3. I discovered a blog that reports on all kinds of news about movies and their music. It's called The Playlist. Check it out here.

The Idea of Bob Dylan: "I'm Not There"

The six "Bob Dylans" of Todd Haynes "I'm Not There"

And I stood outside myself,

Beyond becoming and perishing,

A something wholly other,
As if I swayed out on the wildest wave alive,
And yet was still . . .

from "The Rose"
Theodore Roethke

About sixty seconds into Todd Haynes' movie "I'm Not There" I made a commitment. I would not try to figure out this movie. I committed myself to taking it in, moment by moment, and to let its stream of images, associations, scenarios, news clips, short stories, dream sequences, shocks, songs, dreamscapes and hallucinatory sequences keep coming at me. I would not analyze, sort out, or question anything in the movie. I kept my commitment. I surrendered to the film.

The more I gave in, the more I felt, to quote Theodore Roethke, "A something wholly other". It was a Dionysian thrill. It was as if "I swayed on the wildest wave alive", a wave of imaginative, adventurous, free wheeling, unorthodox film making. Throughout the movie I was still. I was transfixed. I was overwhelmed. It was almost erotic. I could have watched this movie for four hours. I wasn't ready to stop at two. The movie created world of wildness I did not want to leave.

I had another thought during this movie. I wondered what it would be like if this were the first movie I'd ever seen. I wondered what it would be like if this movie became the standard by which I would view all other movies, if "I'm Not There" was the normal way to make movies and all the other movies were the unusual ones.

How about if I thought that if a movie had a linear plot, that was weird? How about if I thought that the way to make a movie was to have six actors play the main character? How about if I thought movies were an art form that explored characters so complex and enigmatic that it took six actors playing different dimensions of the character to begin to create a portrayal of that character? And how about if I thought the way to make movies was to present a two hour series of multiple styles of photography moving from shot to shot with the logic of dream and memory, somewhat chaotically, and what if I thought the whole idea of filmmaking was to make poetry, and not to tell a story with a strong sense of beginning, middle, and an end?

If "I'm Not There" were to define the making of movies, then our movie going experience would be a most challenging and imaginative experience and we wouldn't always know what happened to us.

It is because "I'm Not There" is so unusual, runs so against the grain of plot driven movies, and works so beautifully in the realm of metaphor and poetry that I loved it.

I never knew what was coming next. Another montage? More surreal images? More anachronisms? What style of photography would I see next? Would there be more news footage from the 1960s? What would I see next and what would the next surprise do to further complicate the idea of Bob Dylan? What would be the next thing to come across the screen that I wouldn't intellectually understand, but that would thrill me with its audacity and imaginative zeal?

This movie is not a biographical portrayal of Bob Dylan. It treats Bob Dylan as a cultural idea, an idea composed of rumors, legends, interviews, gossip, cultural criticism, popular music history, puzzlement, reputation, talent and all the other factors that work together to create what we think of and what we feel when we hear the name "Bob Dylan".

Kelly and I drove nearly an hour to Corvallis to see "I'm Not There". The film left Eugene after a week. Kelly and I made up half the audience watching this afternoon's 3:30 screening. It's not a popular movie. It doesn't do what most movie viewers expect from movies in general and definitely does not do what viewers expect from a "biopic".

That's exactly why the movie gave me goosebumps.

As we left the theater, Kelly said, "I think I want to see that movie about twenty-seven more times."

Me, too.

Maybe after the seventh or eighth viewing I'll make sense out of it and piece together its fractured story lines and understand what it all adds up to as a vision of Bob Dylan.

But for now, I'm not ready to think about this movie in these ways.

I'm just going to keep swaying on the wild wave of this movie. I'll indulge the pure pleasure its copious visual variety and musical wealth afforded me.

And be still.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 12/11/07: Drive-By Coffee, Finished, Being and Nothingness at the 7-11

1. Jeff and Margaret and I had a lively cup of coffee this morning. Margaret had to leave early and Jeff and I had a rousing discussion of Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, The Allman Brothers, The Drive-by Truckers and other music and musicians. I hope we didn't bother other coffee drinkers. We were getting kind of loud in our enthusiasms.

2. I finished grading papers and posted grades for my three sections of WR 121. I am no longer under the avalanche.

3. I dropped by 7-11 around nine o'clock this evening to pick up a Diet Pepsi and Saab was working the counter with Walter Kauffman's classic study, Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre lying in front of him, ready to be read during lulls in the 7-11 action. I did the obvious. I looked around the store, noted the young frantic mother with two cold children, the whacked out guy trying to figure out how to buy cigarettes, and the fellow in front of me in line scanning the Maxim cover on the magazine rack. The 7-11 is existentialism unplugged.

Onion News Network: Nation's Wealthy Cruelly Deprived of True Meaning of Christmas

Monday, December 10, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 12/10/07: Coffee Capers, Appreciation, Out of the Avalanche

Note: The demands of my job have kept me away from blogging. After I get my grades in tomorrow, a tidal wave of posts will be coming. I'm going to do just what successful bloggers don't do: I'm going to have multiple posts in a single day!

1. Michael and I thought today was the day to meet Margaret and Jeff for coffee, but because we were wrong together we got to have coffee ourselves. Then we went Allan Brother's where we thought Jeff and Margaret might be, and they weren't there, but our fellow teacher and great friend Jose was and the rocket fueled conversation continued.

2. A student of mine from last spring came forward in a great email to tell me he's been reading this blog and he addressed some questions to me that I'll respond to in future posts.

3. I'm almost done grading essays. I'm almost out from under the avalanche. I'll miss my students' papers, a lot. Reading their work has been very satisfying, but I'll also be happy to get other things started and finished.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Climate Change/Global Warming Tipping Point

NFL Meteorologists Warn Steaming Black-Guy Heads Occurring Later Every Year

The Onion

NFL Meteorologists Warn Steaming Black-Guy Heads Occurring Later Every Year

NEW YORK—Steaming black-guy heads, the traditional sign of approaching winter for generations of football fans, have been occurring later in the season with every passing year, a fact that may be evidence of a climatic change with long-term...

Three Beautiful Things 12/05/07: Pandora, Skillet Lickin, Deep Learning

1. I decided to take the Pandora plunge and my mind is swimming with the pleasures of Patti Smith, Van Halen, Gun N Roses, Lou Reed, Harry Chapin, Leon Russell, Sleater-Kinney, The Talking Heads, Jim Croce, The Allman Brothers, Iggy Pop, John Denver, The Clash, The Kinks, Harry Nilsson. If it's not one obsession it's another.

2. I scrambled up a nice yam, Walla Walla sweet onion, mushroom, egg, four grated cheese, and salsa skillet dish with a side of buttery English Muffins for breakfast and sprang into action this morning, making my way through many of the gorgeous final essays my WR 121 students have written and are still turning in.

Breaking Free of the Five Paragraph Essay

3. I've taken a sneak peak at my students' final retrospective papers they wrote Monday and Tuesday. I had them imagine that an Uncle Dan and Aunt Jill had just won 133 million dollars playing Powerball and that Dan and Jill offered to pay for their entire education in exchange for a letter telling them what they'd learned in WR 121. I'm saddened, but not surprised, at how many of my students have in earlier writing classes been forced to write essays following strict formats and structures. The most ubiquitous is the five paragraph essay. I eschew these forms. That's putting it politely. Time and time and time and time and time again different students have experienced liberation and inspiration this quarter in not having to fit their thinking to a form, but have been asked to create structure and coherence on their own, in a way that best serves their rhetorical purposes. It's been an ecstatic experience to read how many students have had felt a new or a resurrected love writing simply because they were in charge of how to make their essays work, not under the iron repression of an abstract form.

Bonus beautiful thing: Many of my students had never read books as a way of understanding the common threads of human experience that run through all good stories. Many have expressed delight that even though they had never fought in Viet Nam, were never buffalo ranchers, and had never taken a Japanese flag taken as booty in war back to a family in Japan, that because we looked at these books in terms of loss, survival, reconciliation, my students were able to emotionally and intellectually connect with writers who wrote about surface experiences foreign to almost each and every of them. Few things make me happier than when students from 17-55 years of age have this experience for the first time and realize that the best academic study is not about something outside of themselves and distant. It's about the inner life human beings have in common.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 12/04/07: Hilarious, Handshake, Watch Instantly

1. During Finals Week we faculty meet our classes just once during the week. Meeting classes less often affords us more time to grade essays. It also affords us faculty members to talk with each other and late this morning Dan, Margaret, Eileen, and I had a great bullshit session, marked by stories about characters who have retired or been fired from our academic division. Our loud voices (well, my loud voice) and laughter echoed up and down the hall as we swapped tales of days gone by.

2. One of my reserved students who shows little affect and is a brilliant writer surprised me with an enthusiastic handshake when he handed in his final and with an email asking me to stay in touch, now that class is over.

3. I've just begun to tap into the "Watch Instantly" feature of my Netflix account. The "Watch Instantly" offerings are limited and uneven. Nonetheless I've watched two gems instantly , over the last week. I mentioned "Helvetica" earlier and tonight I watched "Tom Dowd and the Language of Music", an inspiring film about sound engineer and record producer, Tom Dowd. Parallel to the documentary "Cutting Edge" about film editing, this movie afforded me insight into the world of recording and producing record albums that was all pretty new to me. Dowd was widely regarded as a genius and an unflappable, positive creator of fine recordings made by artists as different as Ray Charles, Ornette Coleman, and Cream.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 12/03/07: Doughnuts, Thanks, Pork

1. Every quarter, it seems, I indulge in doughnuts during finals week. I always drink what our union president calls the college's proletariat coffee, the inferior stuff not served at the espresso counter. So today, I found the combination of an oblong chocolate doughnut bar and and a chocolate frosted old-fashioned doughnut bar with proletariat coffee to be just about the best damn combination of tastes I'd experienced in a long time. Sometimes it really pays to have a very egalitarian palate.

2. You know what? I know I do a good job in my work and that my students appreciate all the hard work I do and all the patience and flexibility I practice on their behalf. I know that. It feels good being told, though, and some of my students passed on their gratitude for my work and the WR 121 course after their final today.

3. I had to eat something today to balance the low brow beauty of those doughnuts and coffee! The Deke provided the balance with a spaghetti squash covered with a ground pork tomato sauce, the pork a product of the local pig farmer we buy from, Laughingstock Farms.

Sibling Assignment #46: The Writing Life

InlandEmpireGirl assigned this week's sibling assignment: What does your writing life consist of? What works for you? What advice would you share with other writers? IEG's post is here and Silver Valley Girl's is still to come.

By the way, I'm one assignment behind and when I've dug out from the avalanche of student essays I'm under, I'll post #45, but it requires some time at the scanner and in the My Picture folder, not to mention the CD collection.

My writing life consists mostly of not writing.

That makes sense. If I look at a typical day, I spend a great deal of time sleeping, eating, working, driving here and there, picking up some groceries, watching movies, listening to music, reading, grading student papers, socializing, in addition to taking care of Snug, gambling once in a while, and, well, suffice it to say, I spend a lot more time not writing than I do writing.

So, this can only mean one thing: what I do when I'm not writing is the most important aspect of my writing life.

Writing is the record of one's life's events and imaginings and thoughts and memories and feelings that occur when one is not writing.

Therefore, the best way for me to prepare and groom myself for actually writing is to be as fully conscious of my surroundings, the workings of my mind and heart, and my observations when I'm not writing.

This is what makes writing difficult. To write well, one has to, at some level, live well. It's so much more comfortable to live in a slumber, to retreat from the world and all that is happening around us, but wrapping oneself in a thick duvet of unconscious living dulls writing; living consciously sharpens it.

A difficulty arises for me, though.

I am simultaneously obsessive and easily distracted.

On the one hand, I can sit down with something in mind to write, and suddenly a latent interest I've had gets sparked by a documentary I've seen or by a conversation I've had. I wander away from the task at hand and begin to obsess and fly all over the World Wide Web trying to learn more about this distraction that then becomes a short term obsession.

For example, I've been watching documentaries and reading stories about people who have been imprisoned, but who did not commit the crime. I wrote about this recent obsession here.

My obsession with Public Defenders has led me to read Public Defender blogs and to find the titles of more books to read and it throws me into yet another arena where I learn a little, not a lot, and begin to develop some thoughts and ideas, but I'm out of my depth.

I've been thinking a lot over the last several days about Joseph Duncan, the man who today confessed to a long list of crimes, including murder, kidnapping, sexual abuse of a minor, ten counts in all, in federal court.

I oppose the death penalty.

I am chilled by the number of men and women who have been on Death Row, only to be found innocent of their crimes.

I stand firmly upon the principle that the state should not put criminals to death as long as there is any chance that any person sentenced to death might be innocent.

As long as the judicial system is flawed, as long as it sentences innocent people to death, it's my opinion that the state should end all capital punishment.

The system will always be flawed. Therefore, the death penalty should be outlawed.

But can I write about this? I have, at best, an amateur's understanding of this problem.

It's like so many other things I want to write about.

I just don't know that much and by being alive to so much in life, I almost never stay focused on one interest, so I have a cursory knowledge and understanding about a lot of things, but I don't know a lot about anything.

But, back to InlandEmpireGirl's questions.

My advice to a person who wants to write is to read about and practice the tenets of Buddhism.

I'm not a Buddhist.

But, my readings in Buddhism have enriched and enlivened my writing(and teaching) more than anything else.

Buddhism is not dualistic. Buddhism helps me see what we usually think of as contradictions as complements to one another.

Buddhism focuses the mind on the connectedness of all things. Buddhism encourages my mind to see that anything I might be contemplating and writing about is connected to all else, so Buddhism encourages me cast the net of my thinking wide and see that things we might not think of as related to each other are.

Above all, Buddhism teaches that to understand a tree or criminal or a spouse or a dog or a person I disagree with or a person I love, I must become that person.

Buddhism encourages the imagination. Buddhism encourages us all to move outside the confines of our own perceptions and experiences and enter into those of others, into the experience of all animate beings and non-animate things.

For a writer, this means that in my poems or in my essays or as I write bits and pieces of memoir, I can, through compassion and sharply heightened consciousness, explore the world through how others see it. I'm not confined to myself.

For a writer, Buddhism is a source of liberation, flexibility, deeper perception, deeper focus, and mental alertness.

When I'm at my best in my writing life, I'm awake, alert, attentive, outside of myself, accepting, receptive, all principles of Buddhism.

I'm not often at my best.

I try.

The best I can do is encourage my alertness when I'm not writing and hope that when I sit down to the keyboard that some of the connections, some of my perceptions, some of my meditative self-examination translates into words that someone else might enjoy reading.

Three Beautiful Things 12/02/07: Dancin' Fool, Secure, Student Writing Pleasure

1. Man do I love Spirit's early 1970's song "Mr. Skin" off their album "The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus". Today it made me dance. In my office at home. Alone. With joy. And as much abandon as my old body will let me express.

2. I live in a sturdy, unremarkable 1940's bungalow near downtown Eugene and with winds gusting, knocking down trees, falling electrical wires around town, I was comforted to live in such a solid house.

3. My students' papers on Louise Steinman's The Souvenir helped me understand the book more fully and deeply, an immeasurable pleasure.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 12/01/07: Defense, Showcase, Damned

1. I've spent quite a bit of time today reading the blogs of Public Defenders. It's fascinating. I have enjoyed reading so many posts by men and women who work to make sure that those prosecuting their clients have their evidence in order and have done their work right. It's also fascinating to read about the very very difficult clients they represent.

2. I attended the end of the term Shakespeare Showcase at Lane Community College. I helped start this project back sixteen years ago and tonight, sitting in the theater watching another series of scenes being performed, I had a part of my life, in the Blue Door Theater, flash before my eyes. Moreover, I sat next to Ann Marie who performed the very first scene ever given when this project began in December, 1991.

3. I read excerpts at Google Books of "Defending the Damned" and these pages riveted my attention. I've got to get a copy of this book and devour it.

The US Justice System on My Mind

A few weeks ago I read Timothy Egan's astonishing book "Breaking Blue", which tells the story of Tony Bamonte's tireless effort, in the late 1980s, to close the case of the 1935 murder of a Newport, WA marshall, George Conniff, outside the Newport Creamery Company. Conniff was killed for butter. Drought engendered a butter shortage and Conniff was killed by robbers, looking to steal Newport butter and sell it on Spokane's butter black market.

Bamonte's investigation leads him to discover that Conniff was killed by a cop, Spokane Police Detective, Clyde Roston ( Roston was never convicted of the crime and maintained his innocence his entire life.).

For me, the heart of the book was its account of the insulation policemen wrap themselves in to protect each other's actions, decisions, and methods, even if it means protecting rogue, not to mention, criminal behavior.

I served on the Lane County Grand Jury back in June, 1999. For four weeks, five days each week, I sat with my fellow jurors and listened to evidence presented by prosecutors and policemen and other prosecution witnesses. Oregon Grand Juries have only one task: to decide if the prosecution has enough evidence to indict a suspect of a felony. That's all. Grand Juries do not determine guilt or hear defense testimony. All a Grand Jury does is determine whether an indictment should go forward.

During the month of June 1999, we heard evidence asking for indictment of a man who killed his girlfriend and wrapped her in a futon and threw her in the McKenzie River; of an abusive nursing home; of a man accused of setting SUVs on fire in a local car dealership parking lot; of scores of men and women in possession of meth; of a man who killed a child in a hit and run accident; of meth house fires that killed occupants; of a negligent semi-truck driver who killed the driver of a car in a collision; there were many more.

What struck me, time and time again was how understaffed the District Attorney's office was and how intensely overworked the police were. I asked myself many times how crimes could be confidently prosecuted when Deputy District Attorneys, detectives, investigators, lab workers, police officers, and others on the prosecution side were stretched so thin. I admired their hard work. I laughed at their gallows humor. I could feel the strain and stress they were under.

I began to realize more clearly than ever that crime and public demands for the punishment of criminals puts enormous social and political pressure on prosecutors and law enforcement officers to perform, to produce, and performance and production is measured by convictions.

The statistics that assess what kind of job the police and prosecutors are doing focus on convictions and on incarceration: the more the better, whether convictions are achieved in trial or through plea bargaining.

Serving on Grand Jury and reading "Breaking Blue" has got me wanting to learn more about police abuses, wrongful convictions, forced confessions, unreliable eyewitness accounts, and sloppy investigations. Most of all, I've been trying to understand police and prosecution self-protection more fully. And, the pressures that bring it about.

If you'd like to follow the tracks of some of my reading and film viewing, here are a few links:

Academy Award winning documentary movie "Murder on a Sunday Morning" looks at how Jacksonville public defender Patrick McGuiness spearheads the retrial and exoneration of accused fifteen year old murderer Brenton Butler. See more about the movie here and here.
Here's a reflection upon the movie at the blog LawCulture.

I check David Brookbank's exhaustive and obsessive blog regularly to read about police abuses in Spokane, both current and past, here.

Advances in DNA technology have advanced the cause of exonerating falsely imprisoned men and women. Learn more at the Innocence Project, here and its blog, here. You can also check out the Life After Exoneration Program, here.

Reasononline, a libertarian enterprise, advances the argument that the government underfunds public defenders through a review of the book, "Defending the Damned, Inside Chicago's Cook County Public Defender's Office", by Kevin Davis, here. Here's an excerpt:

A 1999 U.S. Justice Department study of the country’s 100 most populous counties found that 97 percent of their law enforcement budgets went toward police, courts, and prosecutors, with the remaining 3 percent going to public defenders. That study didn’t include less populous, rural areas of the country, where the public defender position rotates among private-practice attorneys or is filled by a single lawyer in private practice who receives a stipend of a few thousand dollars per year.

Prosecutors have police to investigate crimes, medical examiners and crime scene investigators to provide them with evidence, and considerably more support staff than public defenders do. The 1999 DOJ study, which seems to be the most recent one of the subject, found that prosecutors’ budgets exceeded public defense budgets by about 2.5 to 1. Indigent defendants don’t have their own forensics experts or private investigators, and courts aren’t always obliged to grant them taxpayer money to hire them.

Such underfunding, coupled with the threat of mandatory minimum sentences and an increase in the number of crimes on the books, results in an overwhelmingly high number of plea-bargained admissions of guilt, as prosecutors look to pad conviction rates and defense attorneys have no choice but to slough off burdensome caseloads.
A note: You might remember that I said I thought Lane County's D.A. Office was understaffed and underfunded, along with the police department. So, if an underfunded, understaffed agency gets about 97% of the meager funding, in contrast to the 3% that goes to the public defender, you can see that the public defender offices across the nation are in an abysmal state.

Another good blog is Grits for Breakfast which looks at the justice in Texas and features a look at "Defending the Damned", here. You might also check out the blog Public Defender Stuff
who posts a public defender blog guide, here.

That should be just about enough or now, but if you'd like to read and listen to CourtTV's Jami Floyd, she's got a lot on her mind, here.

Three Beautiful Things 11/30/07: Endings, Exoneration, Enthusiasm

1. Regular class meetings ended today for fall quarter. It's a great day to start to look back over the quarter and reflect on the way I've seen so many of my students gain confidence in their writing, think through ideas of great consequence regarding the deep themes of their own lives, and read compelling and moving books focused on the human experiences of loss, survival, and reconciliation. I'm already looking forward to the start of winter quarter.

2. I watched the documentary "After Innocence" tonight. It's a moving hour and a half look at The Innocence Project and at a handful of men who had been incarcerated, despite their innocence, and what their lives are looking like since being exonerated. It's a sobering movie. It underscores just how very difficult it is for criminal cases to be properly prosecuted and how impoverished our judicial system is when it comes to providing proper defense to those accused of crimes.

3. I spent nearly a half an hour talking with Alexandra today, a student who came into fall quarter with a chip on her shoulder, doubting that she had anything to learn in college, and who turned a corner about four weeks in and is enthused about learning, admits her disenchantment was wrong, and has developed into a very good writer, eager to continue to improve.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 11/29/07: Loss/Gain, Fifty Cents, Handwarmer

1. WR 121 regular class meetings ended today for my Tuesday/Thursday classes. All quarter long we have been studying and discussing loss, survival, and reconciliation. In today's discussion, Coleen explained how she has learned from the books we've read that loss can often mean gain. I really liked that insight a lot.

2. I talked with Jake about a couple of his papers today at during our class' short break. I left my money at home. I asked him I could borrow fifty cents for a cup of coffee. He graciously complied.

3. I came in the house, plastic Albertson's bags hanging off my cold hands, and Snug ran up to me and licked my hands, warming them like only a dog can.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 11/28/07:Croce, Clapton/Knopfler, Cale

1. Jim Croce revival! I spent a little time on YouTube tonight not only remembering and admiring Jim Croce, but trying to get beyond my nostalgic feeling for his songs and listening to how he shaped his lyrics and how he performed.

2. Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler! Until tonight I didn't they ever performed together. If you scroll down to my last post you can listen to them perform together: first "Layla" and then "Wonderful Tonight". I cannot get enough of Mark Knopfler's stylings on guitar and what I love is epitomized as he plays a quiet sideman electric guitar to Clapton's acoustic guitar and vocals in their performance of "Layla". Indulge yourself. Scroll down and listen.

3. J. J. Cale revival! Is there a more easy going, placid guitar player and singer than J. J. Cale? His face is cracked with wrinkles and character, but as he performs "Cocaine" on a YouTube video I watched early this evening, he was like a country-jazz Buddha in his expressionless calm as he leisurely worked his way through his subtle rendering of the doom cocaine use promises. "She don't lie, she don't lie: cocaine."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler: Indulge Yourself


Wonderful Tonight

Three Beautiful Things: 11/27/07: Leon, Nilsson, Helvetica Redux

1. Leon Russell revival! While my students wrote their in-class essays tonight, I listened to "Tight Rope", "Stranger in a Strange Land", and "Back to the Island" and wondered why, or why, had I, without malice, banished Leon Russell to the fringes of my music listening for so long?

2. Harry Nilsson revival! While a different section of students wrote their in-class essays this morning, I listened to "Jump Into the Fire" three times and marveled, more with each listening, at Herbie Flowers' gnarly, cellar dwelling, rumbling bass line. I had never before nor have I since first hearing this song in 1972 heard such a growling, toe touching bass line that has excited me more.

3. Stepson Patrick came home from Corvallis. I think he came to do his laundry. I told him I had just watched the documentary movie "Helvetica" and he launched into a long, jazzy riff about the history of typeface and what fonts are sublime and which are the wretched, fraudulent scourges of the Earth, and suddenly I felt new pleasure for having cosigned for about $45 million in student loans so he could pursue a degree in graphic arts/design.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Last Good Day

I was very happy on Thursday, July 16, 1981. My first wife, Eileen, was coming home on one of her days off. She lived in Portland that summer. She was a copy desk intern for The Oregonian. I lived in our apartment in Eugene and took German and began to read in earnest for my English Renaissance Drama field exam, coming in April, 1982.

Eileen seemed happy, too, to have some time together. In fact, on Thursday, July 16, 1981, we indulged ourselves and bought fresh salmon filets and a bottle of wine and some fresh salad vegetables and a couple of potatoes. We overdrew our checking account to buy this food. We had a barbecue with our Hibatchi.

But, Thursday, July 16, 1981 also saddened us. Deeply. That day Harry Chapin, singer, songwriter, and warrior against hunger, was killed in a car crash on Long Island. The report came over All Things Considered and we were stunned.

We loved the two Harry Chapin concerts we had heard in the Spokane Opera House. The first was with a supporting musicians, part of a tour that was later released on a double LP, "Greatest Stories, Live", an album that became a soundtrack to our young married life. The second featured Harry Chapin solo and was a benefit to raise money for a Spokane group working to fight hunger.

Our favorite Harry Chapin songs were dramatic monologues. Harry created characters in his songs gave voice to the delusions, dreams, and sad failures of these characters. "Taxi" featured a cabbie whose fare one night is a lover from years ago whose dream to become an actress has come true, while the cab driver, who was going to be pilot, only flies when he's at the wheel of his cab getting stoned. "Mr. Tanner" tells the story of a man who works at a laundry and sings while hanging clothes: "He did not know how well he sang. It only made him whole."

We had splurged and bought the salmon and wine before we heard the news of his death. We remembered his tireless drive for social justice. We laughed at how funny he was and tried to make sense of his death, tried to believe that, like his famous song, "Circle" that maybe his death completed the circle of his life, since, as he sang:

No straight lines make up my life;
And all my roads have bends;
There's no clear-cut beginnings;
And so far no dead-ends.

He'd reached his dead end, and,we thought, desperate for meaning, the circle of his life had been closed.

We grilled the salmon and tossed the salad and baked the potatoes and put Harry Chapin on the turntable, as if we were having a last supper with him. We enjoyed a perfect meal and felt our grief at Harry Chapin's death and the joy of his music and having a rare evening together.

I didn't know it at the time, but this was our last good day together.

Soon, Eileen's trips to Eugene nearly disappeared. She preferred staying in Portland. I took a trip to Kellogg alone when summer school was out. I thought our being apart was a sign of strength in our marriage: we didn't have to be together all the time like lesser couples. We were strong. We could pursue our ambitions, independent of each other, with full mutual support. I thought we had the perfect mature and modern marriage.

In Kellogg, rumors flew in the Silver Valley about the Bunker Hill shutting down. Soon Uncle Bunker would die, putting hundreds of men out of work. Dad would soon lose his job. Things were falling apart.

Back in Eugene, Eileen began to talk about wanting to leave our marriage. At first, I thought she was being hypothetical. I was still feeling high from our dinner together on July 16, 1981 and was deeply committed to the idea that we had a failsafe marriage.

By December, our marriage was over. I'd been living a delusion. Eileen longed for a life of freedom that I couldn't or wouldn't understand. She wanted to move around, earn money free of our graduate student life, and, I suspect, to be free of my erratic temperament, single-minded academic drive, and drinking binges.

I think back to July 16, 1981 often. In my mind, it was our last good day together. It was a good day with a full range of grief, admiration, ambition, music, great food, wine, sadness, and pleasure. It was as if the whole complex of experiences that comprised our marriage were compacted into a single day.

I suspect, though, that I have fallen into the Emily Webb trap. In Our Town, Emily, after her death, can go back and relive one day in her life. Mrs. Gibbs urges her to choose an insignificant day, but Emily goes back to a day she remembers fondly, her twelfth birthday.

When she relives that day, she sees it from a perspective she lacked as a twelve year old. She sees her father being oblivious, concerned with mundane things, not Emily's joy. She sees her family taking moments for granted, not seizing them for the joy they hold. Revisiting her twelfth birthday chastens her excitement.

I've wondered too many times what would I would see if, after I die, I transported myself back to July 16, 1981. Would it really be my last good day with Eileen? What would I see decades later that I didn't see on July 16, 1981?

I'm pretty sure I know. Eileen was faking it. This was not a good day for her. I would see that she came home out of a sense of obligation, dreading being back home with me.

I would see that her grief for the death of Harry Chapin was genuine.

I would see the distance she was keeping. I would see myself as foolishly ecstatic, trying too hard, aware underneath my delusions that Eileen was unhappy. I would see the salmon and the wine and the salad and the potatoes as a thick quilt of temporary comfort I wrapped myself in to feel secure, but that isolated me from any awareness that our marriage would soon end.

On July 16,1981, I didn't want to believe what revisiting that day would show me was inevitable. I would see that the security and approval I longed for and that I thought marriage would guarantee me for life was a childish dream, ungrounded in actuality.

In his song, "Taxi", the cab driver, Harry, lets his old lover, Sue, off, "past the gate and the fine trimmed lawns", never to see her again.

The song's last moment reminds me of the last time I saw Eileen. It was in Portland in June of 1982. I moved the last of the furniture and other belongings that were Eileen's to her apartment in the northwest part of town and went to the Oregonian to return her apartment key. She took the key,

And she walked away in silence,
It's strange, how you never know,
But we'd both gotten what we'd asked for,
Such a long, long time ago.

Three Beautiful Things 11/26/07: Chapin, Helvetica, Alex Supertramp

1. Oh man! The memories and old feelings blew over me like a Bonner County blizzard when I played myself a Harry Chapin concert on Napster.

2. The documentary film "Helvetica" astonished me. I couldn't believe how fascinating I found this exploration of this ubiquitous typeface.

3. The movie "Into the Wild" has been preoccupying me over the last three weeks. I listened repeatedly to Supertramp's "Long Way Home", trying to imagine this song accompanying the journeys of Chris McCandless, who changed his name on the road to Alex Supertramp.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 11/25/07: Paradiso, Fresh Insights, Iain Matthews

1. Ah! The "Cinema Paradiso" soundtrack pulling tears out of this old dog's ducts.

2. Reading WR 121 essays almost all day and enjoying every single one.

3. Pulling out Iain Matthews' cd "Pure and Crooked" and feeling emotion from sixteen years ago when I first played it, a gift from the people at "Dirty Linen", who gave the recording away to new subscribers.

Three Beautiful Things 11/24/07: SnugGate, Ennui, Comfort

1. Snug and I went to the Armitage dog park and Snug bounded all over the park, intoxicated by the crisp foggy air, the piles of leaves, and his races from one fence to another, zigzagging across the park. Unprecedented: Snug went to the park gate and sat, letting me know he was ready to go home.

2. It's an odd movie, "The Aquatic Life of Steve Zissou". After watching Wes Anderson's other movies, I had to see it. What to make of it? Wes Anderson's an ennui guy. His characters are unmoored. His movies' plots similarly are without secure anchors. Bill Murray is the perfect actor for Wes Anderson's existential wanderings, as is Owen Wilson. Part of the casting about in his stories is sweetness and tenderness. No one is all that admirable, but no one is incapable of kindness. No one is heroic and no one is irredeemable. It makes for an odd and refreshingly authentic experience, within the highly contrived and hermetic worlds he creates.

3. I found a pair of leather-bottomed half way up my calf wool sock slippers in my chest of drawers. Someone gave them to me as a gift last year. I'm embarrassed in my dotage that I can't remember who. I know this: I love these funny looking, warm and comfortable brogans.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Bible as Literature

Oldřich Kulhánek / Oldrich Kulhanek
litografie / lithograph
2004, 91,5 x 64 cm
23.000,- Kč / CZK

Under the headline "Should Bonners Ferry Teach Bible?", D. F. Oliveria, the steady hand at the wheel of Huckleberries Online (HBO), raised the question, "Would you support a public high school teaching the Bible as part of a secular program?", here.

I made a brief comment at HBO in answer to this question and felt like writing more, and decided to address this question in a little more detail on my blog.

I've been a Christian, sometimes barely having the faith of a mustard seed, my entire life. I graduated from a Christian college (Whitworth), spent a year working as a Chaplain's assistant at Whitworth, and taught English two different times at Whitworth. I also was part of the team taught course, Core 150, a survey of the Judeo-Christian tradition. I'm licensed as a lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.

My thoughts about this question grow out of a lifetime spent practicing and serving the Christian faith.

When it comes to the Bible, and understanding the Bible, I'm a pragmatist.

In my view, the Bible should be studied and approached in as many different ways as possible. The Bible should be studied from the perspectives of theology, sociology, psychology, history, literary criticism, historical criticism, mythology, linguistics, etc. I don't regard the Bible as a source of a single Truth, but as a source of countless truths.

When looked at from academic points of view like history or sociology, mythology, or literary criticism, the Bible can only be looked at as the Word of God, if "Word of God" means the word about God, not the word coming from God.

Thus, looked at from a secular point of view, studying the Bible has little or nothing to do with affirming or confirming the tenets of a world religion or of the church.

It has to do with an invitation: what is the text inviting us to understand?

For example, the Book of Job invites us to see Job as an unwitting pawn in a challenge set forth by Satan. Satan questions Job's faith. He says the Lord has put a hedge of protection around Job and Job is untested. The Lord responds by saying, in essence, destroy that hedge. Don't lay a hand on Job, but go ahead, take everything he's got.

Seen from a literary perspective, I would not take the opening of this story literally. To me, it's an invitation to experience what senseless suffering feels like, especially to a person, like Job, who has lived an upright life. He's done nothing to bring suffering upon himself.

In other words, the teller of the Job story might have thought about how much senseless suffering exists in the world.

The teller might have thought, "It's as if the Lord stands by and allows Satan to work destruction upon the upright."

This seems grossly unjust. Why should an upright man like Job suffer such loss and misery? Shouldn't a man as good as Job be rewarded for his service and devotion? Why should he suffer like this?

What are we invited to learn from such a story?

I think the story invites us to learn about the capricious, unwarranted, unpredictable, unjust, uncalled for nature of suffering itself. It cannot be avoided. It comes out of nowhere. That's Job's experience.

The story invites us to see how Job responds to his suffering and to how others respond to it, too.

Thus, Job's "comforters" become central. We are invited to see that in the face of Job's inexplicable suffering, they respond, not with compassion, but with superiority. One suggests that Job just needs to repent. Another tells him to quit complaining. The third tells him he needs to believe more strongly, that something in him is lacking.

None of them offers to share in his suffering. None of them considers this suffering as random, mysterious, or unjust. Each believes the suffering must be happening for a reason.

None of them understands Job's existential plight.

From a literary perspective, the timeless mystery of suffering, of life seeming pointless and absurd is at the heart of this story and we are invited to fully experience the misery of this suffering as Job rails about what's happened to him.

When I have taught Job in a literature course, some Christian students want to rush in and defend God and want to parallel the suffering of Job with the suffering of Jesus Christ.

They want to see Job as steadfast and patient.

But, Job's angry. He lashes out at his circumstance. He bitterly proclaims himself a man more sinned against than sinning. He cries out to Yahweh and Yahweh isn't all that comforting in response.

Yahweh, the story's supreme being, tells Job that he can't understand what's happened to him.

It's a classic existential circumstance and we are invited to see that not only do humans suffer without cause, but that often humans who serve a Supreme Being often know and experience and know suffering more fully than they experience and know the One who created the world and brought all into being.

It's a painful story. Seen from a secular perspective, it illuminates the harsh reality of suffering and how much occurs in the world that is senseless.

But, in the end, all is restored to Job. It's at this point that the story raises the question as to why Job is rewarded in the end.

If looked at from a literary or secular point of view, one way to see the story is that Job is rewarded for his anger, his honesty, his lashing out. It is as if the story not only narrates the mystery of suffering, but the mystery of its coming to an end as Job accepts that he cannot understand what has happened to him.

Suffering perplexes, enrages, and chastens Job.

It's a universal story that should have a place in a public school, not to bring students to believe in God, but to help students understand that from the beginning, beginning with the story of the Garden of Eden itself, storytellers have wrestled with the inexplicable problem of suffering.

Does suffering come from punishment? Is it random? Is it avoidable? Is it inevitable? Can it be explained? How do we live with it? How do we help others? What does suffering help us understand about human nature and the human condition? What is the nature of this supreme being in Job called Lord, God, Yahweh?

Is the Job story a hopeful story? Is it a story of despair?

Are not these the very questions that a liberal arts curriculum ought to be addressing, whether through the stories of the Odyssey, Gilgamesh, Beowulf, King Lear, The Ramayana, the Book of Job, the Psalms, or the story of Jesus?

If seen as another book of stories and poems in a long line of other ancient books told by a series of storytellers and poets trying to figure out what it means to be human in relation to other humans and in relation to a Supreme Being, I think it's foolish not to study the Bible in public schools.

But, studying from this perspective, persuading students to study from this perspective, and winning the trust of the religious and the secular community is much, much more easier said than done.

Three Beautiful Things 11/23/07: Corruption, Pork Chops, Not Much

1. "Murder on a Sunday Morning" profiles the work of Public Defenders Patrick McGuiness and Ann Finnell to reverse the conviction of fifteen year old Brenton Butler for the murder of a tourist outside a Ramada Inn in Jacksonville. The dogged work of McGuiness and Finnell reveals, yes, the laziness, arrogance, corruption, deceit, and violence of the Jacksonville Sheriff's detectives who coerced Brenton Butler to confess, but it portrays the lengths law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and the state attorney general's office go to in order to protect one another and insulate shoddy and violent and corrupt law enforcement practices from the public. Ann Finnell's statement in the DVD's extras interview is the most telling when she matter of factly tells the interviewer that to her this is not an extraordinary case, but the kind of case she sees all the time.

2. The Deke, Mary, and I ate a belated Thanksgiving dinner of stuffed pork chops, salad, Brussel sprouts, and potatoes. I had some Talking Rain sparkling water, too.

3. Aside from doing laundry, and watching a superb documentary, I didn't do much today. I like that.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 11/22/07: Gold Star, Knowles Creek, Crisis Line

1. Snug and I went to the Coburg dog park and Snug was the best behaved he's ever been. He responded to my commands, he calmed down after getting too rambunctious with one dog, and he was good to the children running around in the park, who should have never been running around in a dog park.

2. Snug and I took a gorgeous drive and stopped at Knowles Creek and here are three of the pictures I took. I really liked the dim slate late November light.

3. InlandEmpireGirl sent me installation #1 of Thanksgiving Disaster at her house where she is hosting Mom, and Silver Valley Girl's family. Let's see: busted toilet, still frozen turkey, malfunctioning satellite dish . . . .hmmmm....time to bust out the booze!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 11/21/07: 49- UP, Editing, Student Support

1. I watched 28-UP about twenty years ago and became entranced with Michael Apted's project to interview a group of English men and women. The project started when they were seven years old, with 7-UP. Someday I'll watch the entirety of 7, 14, and 21 UP. I've seen 28 and 35 UP. Somehow I missed 42UP, but this afternoon I watched 49-UP and what a pleasure to see these people twenty one years after I first saw them and to see how they have grown so fully into themselves. It's moving and reassuring.

2. I watched a second documentary today: "Cutting Edge" is a most revealing look at the art of film editing for movies. We owe every moment we enjoy in a movie to the editor: they create the memorable moments, give the actors' performances their shape, and give overall shape and structure to the movie's plot.

3. I was punch drunk with fatigue this morning as I conducted my WR 121 class and a handful of students took the lead and helped us explore and study riveting passages from Louise Steinman's The Souvenir.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 11/20/07: Dude, Where's My Car?, Kellogg Friend, Sorghum Head

1. I got a good fifteen minute walk in today. It was unexpected. I was looking for my car in the Lane Community College southwest parking lots.

2. My student Kellie used to live next door to an old family friend and she and I talked more about Bob Scrafford this evening. I regret that I never went out to Sweet Home to visit him before he died. I'd had another student, John, who lived in the house Kellie lived in next to Bob. When John told me about Bob, I just never got myself out there to visit.

3. Tiffanee emailed me to tell me that the question I raised at the end of WR 121 this evening sent the wheels in her head spinning overtime. I was glad to hear this. I had one of those nights tonight as a teacher where I felt like my mind was in a tub of chilled molasses. That Tiffanee was stimulated and bothered and wrote me about it helped me salvage some self-respect after I'd been feeling pretty dismal about my work tonight.

Sibling Assignment #44: Unusual Thanksgiving

My siblings and I are each writing about an unusual Thanksgiving in our past. InlandEmpireGirl's snowbound story is here and Silver Valley Girl's story of immeasurable heartbreak leading to a clearer sense of her mortal self in relation to God's mysterious designs is here.

I gave this assignment and then realized I had already completed it a year ago. If you go here, you can read about our family's infamous Gratitude is an Attitude Thanksgiving in 2001.
But, I have another unusual Thanksgiving Day to write about:

Back in 1986, I was despondent all through the fall months and into the New Year. I had a girlfriend who was living in London and she took up with another guy and I was crushed to the point of instability.

I was desperate to find ways to just feel better, to relieve my mind of the obsessive preoccupation with this loss and to somehow be able to breathe freely and unknot my stomach.

I thought a Men's Group would help.

I had some male friends at the time who also thought that we should do what we knew a lot of women were doing at the time: get together and talk about our gender.

It was an earnest undertaking. We talked well into the evening a few times about our frustrations and how we wanted to be free of roles and behaviors we felt had been ascribed to us because we were men.

We talked with passion and vented our anger.

We shared feelings.

We hugged.

I continued to feel despondent about my love life.

Thanksgiving neared, and three of us didn't have family around and weren't travelling, so we decided to have Thanksgiving together.

We also decided to invite any other Thanksgiving "strays" we knew to join us.

We decided, in the spirit and unwritten rules of a Men's Group, that we didn't want to have a traditional Thanksgiving. Somehow it seemed revolutionary and gender bending to us if we kept it vegetarian. As evolving, independent men, no one was going to tell us we had to eat flesh at Thanksgiving.

We also decided this Thanksgiving would football and alcohol free.

I spent the morning and early afternoon baking a barley-cheese-vegetable casserole and making a big pot of black bean soup. The others brought their dishes. Someone brought a Grape-Nut bake of some sort. We had grapes. We drank fizzy apple juice. Some one brought a dessert, probably some kind of soft tofu fake pumpkin pie.

No one was going to tell this group of evolving independent men that we had to have real pumpkin pie.

One of my students accepted my "stray" invitation and brought his mother.

She was in her late forties, a divorcee, a spiritual person, and she really liked to idea of being part of an evolving independent Men's Group having a vegetarian football-free Thanksgiving together.

I think we held hands over dinner before we ate and invoked the blessing of a non-gendered Higher Power. I think we went around the table and shared what we were thankful for, giving each other vigorous nods of approval if we used the words "expanded consciousness" or "feel more connected".

We talked and laughed and congratulated ourselves for being evolving, independent, and authentic men.

The mother liked this. She told us we were very special men, that the world would be a better place if there were more men like this.

She also kept tracing her lips with her fingers. I have no memory at all of what the mother looked like except she was slender. If I saw her on the street today, I would walk right by her as a stranger.

But, she kept tracing her lips with her fingers and her fingernails. Her lips were attractive. They must have felt soft under the touch of her fingers and fingernails.

It was weird. Her son was at the table. We were all fifteen to twenty years younger than she was. It just didn't seem to fit well with our evolving independent Men's Group vibe.

It wasn't until about a week later that Doug and I acknowledged that the mother had seemed to be sort of seducing us.

Neither one of us wanted to bring it up. We were both kind of turned on by her.

We thought such feelings and their accompanying yearnings were base, certainly below the station of evolving, independent Men's Group guys like us.

Monday, November 19, 2007


I have been working hard keeping up with my workload at Lane Community College. My workload is simple, but not easy. Read and respond to essays. Read and help students dig deeply into books. It's been rewarding this quarter. My students have written perceptively and intelligently, sometimes even spiritually, about the books we've read. Most of them have written honest, sometimes nakedly honest, essays about questions that rise out of these books and how they work out these questions in their own lives.

It's the blessing and the curse of teaching writing. The blessing is being a part of students arriving at deep knowledge of the world and, more important, discovering deeper levels of self-knowledge. Many make new sense out of their experiences and work out new insights about themselves and what has happened in their lives.

It's really too strong of a word to say curse. It sounded right when I wrote it, but it's not a curse. It's a weight. This is heavy work I do. That's a fact. I become privy to a wide variety of losses, abuses, crimes, heartbreaks, disappointments, and other things that my students have suffered or commited.

As weight, it starts to weigh on me. I suffer fatigue.

It's a fatigue I know well. As I grow older, it weighs on me more. I have grown more sensitive to the difficulties I read about in my students' papers and I seem to take more of it in each year.

Oddly, a consequence of this weight is that my class sessions are lighter. The more my students write and they more they know that I know and the more I encourage them that they are writing more honestly, more cogently, more expressively, more thoughtfully, the more trust between us grows and this trust spills over into the classroom.

We joke with each other. We laugh a lot. We discuss serious ethical, emotional, intellectual, and philosophical subject matter, but in our shared trust, laughter is always just a wise crack or a quick story away.

I don't think it's unusual to be fatigued by what I love. At one level, it's my love that engenders the fatigue because I pour myself into my work and I give my students all the energy and attention I can muster.

But, it's tiring, and while my work and my service to my students doesn't suffer from my fatigue, my writing has suffered.

I've had many ideas about things I'd like to be writing about on this blog and I've imagined pictures I've wanted to be taking.

But, I have to draw the line somewhere. I can't let my work suffer, so my blog has.

So I thought I'd write a post about why I haven't been posting much writing.

Three Beautiful Things 11/19/07: Starting *The Souvenir*, *Hustle and Flow*, Get That Paper Done

1. We started our discussion of Louise Steinman's memoir, The Souvenir, in WR 121 today and began to discuss ways that this book helps us see the way the history of the United States, and particularly war, is inextricably connected to the lives of families and how they behave with and understand one another, or don't.

2. I watched Hustle and Flow and deeply admired the acting of Terrence Howard and Anthony Anderson. I'd first been impressed with Anthony Anderson in his role as Antwoine in The Shield and once again experienced him as a profoundly emotionally open and available actor. It's a complex movie, juxtaposing its central character DJay's cruelty and exploitation as a pimp with his tenderness and poetic fire as a man who wants to break into world of making rap recordings.

3. I was very happy to work out things with Shelley today. She's been a student in three of my classes and lives in poverty with two children. She's absorbed a lot of hardship and hassle since I've known her and she's determined to graduate from LCC. She contacted me over the weekend and today we confirmed that she's going to write the last paper she needs to in order to complete the WR 122 course she started last winter and this will enable her graduate in the spring.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 11/17-18/07: Great Essays, Sobering DVD's, Buffalo Joes

The two days of this weekend have been like one day. I've spent many hours grading essays for my three sections of WR 121, which leads me to the first of my three beautiful things:

1. My students have read Dan O'Brien's Buffalo for the Broken Heart with unusual depth and insight. Even though reading these papers has been very time consuming, each paper excited a different thrill in me as I read their different ways of understanding O'Brien's ecological vision and his struggles to find purpose and meaning in his life.

2. Before I started reading these papers, on Saturday morning I watched the last of The West, the Ken Burns produced multi-hour PBS series. It's been very sobering. The series gave particular attention to the conquest and relocation of the many Indian tribes in the west, and nothing about that story was good. I learned a great deal from this series and am left hungry to learn more and have several books piled on my desk that will help me do so.

3. My fellow English instructor Pam Dane has turned sixty-five years old and she threw a party for herself at a local bookstore this evening. Kate brought buffalo sloppy joes and it was the best sloppy joe I've ever had in a career of sloppy joe eating that goes back to Frontier Days and the Silver King elementary school PTA booth at Ferd Stadium in Smelterville and even farther back than that.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 11/16/07: Stubborn, More Introductions, Murderball

1. Hyun Kyung Chang, who goes by Julia, is in my WR 121 class and when I asked her to read the introduction to her latest essay, she asked me to do it for her. We playfully sparred about it. I came to where she was sitting and sat next to her and read her introduction. I stayed in that seat for the rest of the class session and it was fun to conduct class from among the students rather than in front of them and to continue laughing with Julia about her stubbornly refusing to read her paper out loud. We both had a lot of fun, as did the class.

2. How about those other paragraphs students read aloud? Terrific. Each student's introduction was unique in style and approach and artfully opened the way for his or her paper to move more deeply into the paper's exploration and argument. When I left class I had to go to my office and quiet down the adrenaline that had been jolted by my students' writing.

3. I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary film "Murderball". The movie's back stories, player and coach profiles, and footage of the game being played introduced me to a whole world of athletic competition I knew nothing about. Wheelchair rugby is not only highly competetive, but it's a physically fierce and mentally demanding sport.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 11/15/07: Starts, Taxes, Conversaton

1. My evening WR 121 students wrote wonderful introductions to their next essay, and going around the room and hearing them all was uplifting.

2. Property tax bill paid. Well two thirds of it. More later.

3. A wonderful discussion with Kendall about Into the Wild.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 11/13/07: Denali, Pictures, A-Rod

1. Today's Media Commission meeting hashed out the future of the college's literary publication, Denali. I enjoyed the discussion. I enjoyed the give and take about several issues surrounding the magazine. I enjoyed that we came to a reasonable and workable conclusion in our work. I admired the others I was working with and could say something I rarely do: "That was a good meeting."

2. I went to Into the Wild for the third time tonight. I'm ready to go again. This movie is growing on me. I love the movie's pictures and how they are framed. Again and again, this movie presents pictures of a variety of American places and presents them in a variety of styles that enlarge the story and work beautifully with the music soundtrack, which I absorbed more deeply tonight. That's all I can say for now.

3. I'm unusually and unpredictably happy that Alex Rodriquez is negotiating on his own to try to rejoin the New York Yankees. I actually thought this might happen. To me, the good news is that he must have found out that other teams he's interested in were not willing to shell out the millions of dollars he and his agent were asking for, and without that kind of money available elsewhere, he's back knocking on the Yankees' door. I wouldn't be surprised if he works out a deal with the Yanks. It would add relish to the already weird world of Major League Baseball in the 21st century.

Three Beautiful Things 11/13/07: Mormons, Tight Writing, Noble Cattle Ranching

1. My 10:00 WR 121 class got into a loud discussion, voices yelling across the room, about whether the Mormon church sanctions adult men having sex with thirteen year old girls. It was pretty funny as three lapsed Mormons worked to explain to one student who had heard this was the case with Mormons that he was wrong.

2. I enjoyed, probably more than my students did, reading passages from Buffalo for the Broken Heart just what a mindful writer Dan O'Brien is, especially when it comes to structuring his book and working to make each piece of it, paragraph by paragraph, hold together.

3. While discussing Buffalo for the Broken Heart, we've discussed Dan O'Brien's criticisms of cattle ranching and Joleen talked about her upcoming essay which is a discussion of her mother's side of the family. They have been cattle ranchers for five generations on land near Weiser, Idaho. She explaining in her paper that theirs is a noble undertaking. I was proud of Joleen. She was risking disapproval. I was proud of my students. They listened intently to her and some might have had ugly thoughts about cattle ranching made more complicated, thanks to Joleen.

Three Beautiful Things 11/12/07: Megaflood, Flood Prevention, Heavy Lifting

1. The geological history of central Washington state is stunning. The scablands were carved out by an incomprehensible flood when a great glacial lake in western Montana broke through an ice dam. I learned about all of this watching a Nova DVD today. Stunning.

2. Stepson Patrick decided to blow off his mother's wishes that he clean the leaves out of the back rain gutters. So I did it and it was satisfying not falling off the ladder, not having the ladder tip over, and not having the ladder come back on me as I flopped around on the ladder scooping leaves and other roof gunk out of the gutters.

3. Stepson Patrick has never taken care of his post-Burning Man plastic tubs. I want the space they took up in the garage back, so I grunted them on the shelf above the garage door. It was gratifying to know that I could do some heavy lifting without landing myself in the hospital in traction.