Wednesday, October 31, 2007

XM Radio and the Grateful Dead


I'm not one of these guys who can write smart things about music. I don't have a music critic's vocabulary and I can't detail what's going on in music I enjoy.

Here's what I do know. When I am working and I have on XM Radio's Deep Tracks (Channel 40), band after band can be pleasant background music that I'm not paying close attention to, but every time the Grateful Dead comes on, they arrest my attention.

I was never a Deadhead. I went to a handful of their shows, but I never really related to the scene. I felt no connection with the skeletons, dancing bears, tie dyed clothes, spinny dancing, or any of the other activity and paraphernalia that surrounded Grateful Dead shows.

Every Grateful Dead show I attended, I went to sober. So I never entered into the psychedelic dimension of a Grateful Dead show.

In fact, when I went to hear the Grateful Dead in 1987, 1988, and 1990, I was very unfamiliar with their music. Unlike the Deadheads I went to these shows with, I didn't recognize songs and couldn't anticipate what was coming next.

I had no Dead cred.

I'm still not intimate with the Grateful Dead's catalogue.

But, when I hear Jerry Garcia's guitar floating or doodling or growling through the air of my office, I snap to attention. When I hear the Grateful Dead bring country, blues, bluegrass, rock, folk, and jazz inflections to relatively simple songs, and when I hear them build a musical cathedral out of small country church, they absorb me, and I stop what I'm doing and feel the pleasure of their sound.

That's all. I've expended my talent for writing about music. But, I wanted to get this down. I'm not a Deadhead.

I just love the Grateful Dead.

Three Beautiful Things 10/30/07: Man Crush, Perspectives, Coffee

1. We are reading Dan O'Brien's Buffalo for the Broken Heart in WR 121. I was part of a group that had lunch with him last spring. Should I have told my evening class that I had a slight man crush on him? These sorts of bordering on inappropriate things just spill out of me when I'm feeling relaxed with my students, but then I think, "God. Should I have said that?" I did say it. And, to me, it was beautiful!

2. I really enjoyed listening to my students discuss the ecological perspective Dan O'Brien brings to ranching and seeing it in contrast to the commercial/commodity perspective that prevails.

3. I really like this one cafeteria employee at LCC. This evening she was stopping customers from going forward at the espresso bar to protect the baristas' quit time and working to ensure they didn't miss their bus. When she found out all I wanted was a coffee and not an espresso drink, she let me go to the bar. I also asked about her weekend snowboarding at Mt. Hood. She had a great time.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 10/29/07: Fast Lane, New Baby, Grading

1. I enjoyed meeting with other faculty in the Fast Lane program, where we all share a group of students over three classes, and finding out more about what the other faculty are doing in their classes. These are dedicated instructors who care deeply about each and every one of our students.

2. Anne is pretty worn out and immobilized by her C-section, but Aloysius is off to a good start in this world and it sounds like Russell and Anne have a lot of solid support from their many friends.

3. I have about seventy students in WR 121 over three sections and when they hand in papers it's a formidable task to read their work, comment on it in some detail, and grade them. Tonight I finished a set of papers that have kept me busy for the last week and it just felt good to have them done. Of course, another whole new set awaiting my attention. I'll get to them tomorrow!

Dad's Birthday: An Unexpected Confession


Here's a picture of my dad. He's at his favorite watering hole, Dick and Floyd's, in Kellogg. A mystery my family would love to solve is identifying the man with the Miller Lite in front of him. Had Dad not died in 1996, he would have turned seventy-seven yesterday.

I was too busy grading papers yesterday to write about my dad on his birthday, and maybe that was a good thing. Today, with the papers graded, my mind has moved more easily to memories of him and there has been one memory that's haunted me all day.

It was September of 1994 and Mom and Dad were in Eugene, the last time they would visit me together.

One afternoon, Dad wanted to go to a local watering hole for a few beers and see if he could get to know the locals. I hadn't been drinking alcohol since 1985 and so I dropped him off at a place I didn't know very well, Sher's, and went to Fred Meyer to do some grocery shopping.

Dad was always a heavy drinker. Fortunately, alcohol was either a merry or a sentimental habit for Dad. While it did remove him from our lives in that it was hard to talk seriously with him when he was drunk and his drinking often made him the butt of our jokes, the one thing alcohol didn't bring out of him was a mean streak.

I don't really know why Dad drank so much. I know part of it was just being in Kellogg. Kellogg, for many men, was a drinking town and alcohol, especially beer, flowed freely around everything: weddings, funerals, sporting events, picnics, hunting and fishing trips, holidays, and pay day.

I won't go any farther than that. I'm not going to pretend to know my father's psychological profile and I think my eyes will start bleeding if I hear the word "self-medicate" again.

His drinking was such a normal aspect of our family's landscape that when I lived at home, we never thought of it as a real problem. Yes, my dad embarrassed me when he was drunk in front of my friends. He angered me when he'd want to have a talk with me and tried to corner me somewhere in the house, drunk, so he could unpack his feelings about how much he loved me or to be sentimental about my mom. And, yes, there were countless times that he'd come into my bedroom to want to talk with me and I'd pretend I was asleep and couldn't be awakened.

But, I never thought of my father as an alcoholic until I was older, until I quit drinking myself, and until I began meeting and talking with other adults who had grown up in alcoholic homes.

When I went back to Sher's to pick up my dad, he'd found some barfly to bullshit with. Dad told the guy that I was an instructor at LCC and was taking acting classes. I can't remember exactly what the guy said about his acting experience, but he told Dad he'd been involved in the theater at LCC and Dad was pretty excited about having me meet him.

The guy was full of shit. It was his bullshit tale for the day. He'd found someone to listen to him so he'd improvised a line of shit and Dad took it in. It was harmless.

Sher's had a bank of video poker machines. A couple or three were being played by older women drinking draft beers and smoking long menthol cigarettes. Dad said he'd like to give one a try before we left. I think he only fed the machine a buck, or maybe a five, and he was done quickly.

We started back to my house and Dad, who was a little loose, but not drunk, started to ramble. "I used to gamble. Playing cards up town." I remembered that. I remembered Mom being distraught one day, the day I got my first library card, and, having no one else to talk to, told me, after Dad had been out all night playing cards and losing money, that she might have to divorce him.

He went on. "I knew I had to quit that and I did. I wanted to see what that machine was like, but I've got to stay away from that."

Then he said, "I know I'm an alcoholic. One bad habit is enough."

I nearly drove off the road. Any time, when I was younger, and naive, that I had said anything to Dad about his drinking, he'd always shut me up by telling me that a man's home is his castle and he worked hard and he'd do what he wanted to or that he didn't have a drinking problem because he only drank beer and laid off the hard stuff.

But here, near the corner of west 11th and Chambers, Dad told me he knew he was an alcoholic.

I didn't respond. I didn't know what to say. I might have said, "Yeah." The moment had too much gravity for me say anything back to him. My mind was spinning too fast.

Dad died of liver cancer. He'd been ill with asbestoses, but in the end it was his liver that failed. When he was dying and I was part of the family effort to help him do so as comfortably as possible, I often went to his bedside while he was sleeping and silently bitched him out.

He knew. He always asserted that his drinking wasn't hurting anyone but himself. Here we were, grieved by his dying, and he'd known he was an alcoholic. He'd admitted it.

The alcohol, in the end, laid him to waste. Right to the end it hurt us all. He wasn't only hurting himself. And he knew.

Three Beautiful Things 10/28/07: Dad, World Series, Shelby

1. Were he alive, my dad would be seventy-seven years old today. I thought about how he coached our Little League team. He was devoted to the fundamentals: hitting the cut off man, having good footwork around second base on a double play, moving a runner from first to second with a sacrifice bunt. He was the only Little League coach I knew of in Kellogg who had chalk talks. He lectured on these fundamental indoors, at a chalkboard. It worked. We had a damn good team.

2. I wanted to see the Colorado Rockies win the World Series. I rooted for them. But, I can't imagine ever feeling ill will toward the Boston Red Sox. I deeply admire this year's champion Red Sox. They have solid hitters up and down their lineup, came up with timely hits, featured excellent starting pitching supported by a gritty bullpen. I don't think the Rockies had a prayer.

3. InlandEmpireGirl reported that her dog Shelby is recovering heartily from having to have a gash sewn up. She went on a road trip today and, although she wasn't her usual lively self, she seemed to enjoy the outing and it might have given her spirits a boost.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Hospital

I didn't want to leave the hospital.

It was early November, 1999.

I'd arrived in the Emergency Room, my system under attack by bacterial meningitis. I was in Intensive Care for a couple of days, and then transferred to a regular room.

Meningitis messed with my mind. Early on, as I lay unconscious, I was dimly aware of occupying a surreal, but enjoyable world. It was more a feeling than a memory with details, but within myself I had the pleasant sensation of floating, of being removed from the demands of my waking life. When I had conscious moments in the ICU, the world around me seemed wrapped in a vivid cheesecloth and people moved in slow motion. They were dreamy and I felt deep trust in their benevolence.

By the time I was conscious again, I felt deeply emotional. Small gestures, the visits of friends, the sounds of the Buena Vista Social Club or of Jerry Douglas with Peter Rowan, the Ducks winning a close game with Cal all made me want to weep, and I kept thinking that I wanted to hang on to this close contact with my emotions.

One morning I awoke early and out my room window I gazed at a hill just east of the University of Oregon as the sun rose and thin mist shimmered in the sunrise and I felt a rumbling all through me, as if I were seeing the world at the very beginning, as if the creation were happening before my very eyes.

The meningitis had damaged my body, unquestionably. It also left me unguarded and in my defenseless state everything was sublime. The nursing staff seemed angelic. I could hardly wait for another one to check in on me so I could hear his or her kind voice and watch the nurse glide effortlessly to my side and minister to my needs.

The most blessed experience I had was drinking 7-Up. Its crisp, icy, lemon-lime sweetness made me think that the gods had blessed my life with a magical blend of refreshment and
curative. I asked every nurse for more 7-Up. Soon, when a nurse visited, she glided in with a iced 7-Up before I could ask. I nearly wept, I was so touched by the nurses' kindness and by the anticipation of drinking more.

I didn't protest, but when it came time to leave the hospital, I didn't want to go. I wanted to remain ill enough to be able to live longer in this altered state and to feel this mysterious benevolence.

Sure enough, as I recovered, I not only lost this bacterial nirvana I had experienced, I fell into a terrible depression.

All I had felt and seen was lost, and not even when I fell into the deep sleeps engendered by the terrible fatigue I suffered, did I ever again love another sunrise so fully, nor did 7-Up ever again taste so good.

Three Beautiful Things 10/27/07: Awesome, Lucious, Humane

1. Oregon defeated USC, 24-17. I am in such a habit of thought, which goes back to the O. J. Simpson days, that the Trojans cannot be defeated, that listening to them go down to the Ducks today filled me with awe.

2. The Deke made a sausage, spinach, potato, lentil soup today that was so delicious it defied reason.

3. As I approached the intersection of 18th and Pearl to make a left turn, a driver at the head of a line of about ten cars waited, let me make my turn, before he went forward. I smiled broadly as I waved him a thank you.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 10/26/07: Ranching, Mining, Taking Over

1. I've returned to the wonderful story of Dan O'Brien getting bit by the buffalo ranching bug in his thoughtful and poetic memoir "Buffalo for the Broken Heart."

2. Jo and I had an email exchange which opened my eyes to the fact of coal and lead mining in Missouri, a mining state I had never thought of before.

3. Discussion in WR 121 turned toward the riveting reality of class members who never really knew their childhoods or adolescence because they had to assume the adult responsibilities of absent or overworked or addicted parents.

Sibling Assignment #41: Enjoying the Rain

I gave this week's sibling assignment as the rain was pouring down here in Eugene last weekend. The assignment was simply this: What do you love or enjoy about the rain? InlandEmpireGirl's is here and Silver Valley Girl's is here.

During my senior year in high school, my girlfriend and I went to see Paul Newman's superb movie, "Sometimes a Great Notion". It was filmed on the North Fork of the Siuslaw River, near Florence, Oregon. The rain in the movie was almost like a character in the movie. It was always an obstacle the logging family had to overcome as they worked their family operation. Somehow, though, I found it beautiful, especially the way it came in it low gray clouds and gave the landscape a sheen of fertility, as if everything, ferns, rhododendrons, mushrooms, and the human determination to never give an inch grew strong and flourished because of the rain.

That night, watching the movie, I thought for the first time that I'd like to live in Oregon some day and be where the rain is plentiful.

In a way, I thought living in Oregon would akin to living in England. By the time I moved to Oregon in 1979, I'd been to England twice, and while I didn't enjoy getting soaking wet in English rain storms, I loved the look of it.

I find low lying gray clouds spilling sheets of rain beautiful. I find day after day of blue skies and sunshine unrelenting: the glare, the heat, the way the sun bleaches colors, whether on the car or a papers or a row of books that have sat too long near a window in the sun.

Gray clouds are easy on my eyes. And when they bring rain, I'm inspired by the power of the rain to replenish the ground, feed water supplies, and knock against whatever building I'm in with unique rhythms, whether gently tapping, pounding, or varying in intensity, depending on the wind.

Back in the late summer of 1985, when I did this sort of thing, I was at Eugene's Saturday Market one afternoon. As is usually the case in Eugene in summer, it hadn't rained since late May or June. Lawns were parched. The air was dusty, car exhaust was trapped in the Willamette Valley, and I had felt tension in the air. To me, the air needed to be relaxed, the tension needed to broken.

Almost out of nowhere that day, powerful gray clouds raced over Eugene. I was listening to the Ron Lloyd Band. Quickly rain fell. The dust on the concrete in front of the performance stage turned into little mud balls. The air thickened and the rain drops seemed to cut through the tense dry air we'd been breathing for almost three months.

I broke into my own version of a rain dance. It was a heavy, awkward dance, without form or elegance, but the dancing expressed my joy as I looked skyward and enjoyed the rain soaking my face and relished the rain beginning to soak my t-shirt. I lost all sense of self-consciousness and felt grateful and at one with rain, that finally Eugene's temperature was cooling and I could open my eyes to the sky without squinting or straining.

I enjoy how rain scratches the sky. I enjoy the drama of rain. I enjoy the promise of rain. I enjoy the coming of rain, how rain clouds bring the sky closer to me, giving me a sense of being nearer the heavens.

Over the last twenty-eight years since I moved to Eugene, we've had less rain. We've even had a drought. Of all the sights I don't enjoy in life, I'd have to list things getting dried out and parched would be at the top.

Therefore, when it does rain and the grass greens up again and tiny rain drops form on the maple leaves and gather on the needles of Douglas Fir trees, I'm very happy.

It's a sight I love and deeply enjoy.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Photo Hunt: Pink


Snug is in the pink.

You can find more pink photos by clicking this icon:

Three Beautiful Things 10/25/07: Universal, Sharper, Crickets

1. I love working with my 1o o'clock WR 121 class and today we dove into that crucial move in thinking more deeply and writing more meaningfully by seeing the universal in the personal. I think they are understanding.

2. I love working with my evening WR 121 class and tonight we looked a handful of student essay ideas that were only partially formed and saw the kinds of questions that would deepen these essays and move them toward sharper focus and deeper thinking. It was electric.

3. The Deke is student teaching this quarter and once again tonight we talked about our respective days in the classroom and it's really fun having our work days have so much in common. The Deke did something with her 4th and 5th graders that I haven't done yet with my college students: she led them in a cricket chirping verson of "The Blue Danube Waltz".

Three Beautiful Things 10/24/07: Good Meeting, Families, Grateful Attention

1. I don't remember the last time I was in a professional meeting where I felt absolutely free to speak my mind, be heard, and others did the same. It happened today. It was uplifting.

2. Families turned out to be the topic of discussion in WR 121 and the air crackled with honesty and students supporting one another with nods and smiles that said, "Oh my God! I know just what you're talking about!"

3. I listen to Deep Tracks on XM Radio while I'm working in my home office and much of the music is there, relaxing, enjoyable, but doesn't make me stop what I'm doing. But every time the Grateful Dead are played, every time I hear the crystal clarity of Jerry Garcia's guitar, or every time I hear the wobbly vocals of Jerry Garcia, I drop everything and experience moments of deep reverie.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Three Beautiful Things: 10/23/07: Punctuation, Acting, Autumn on the Ground

1. I did my best to make my WR 121 students laugh while we studied the usual class killers: comma splice, semi-colon, colon, subordinating conjunctions, and other points of grammar.

2. Tyler and Jonathan stood on the wide porch of the second level of the Center building performing a read through of a script.

3. The sun filtering through orange and red and yellow leaves all over town made the ground beneath the trees shimmer with autumn colors.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 10/22/07: Junk, Canopy, Subversive

1. I had my first junk food day in a long time: chocolate donut bar, cinnamon roll, and, this evening, Taco Bell with a huge Diet Pepsi.

2. The canopy of branches and leaves hanging over West Broadway just a half a block from our house is starting to turn the street into a red, yellow, and orange tunnel. Pictures to come, if I can do the majesty of these oaks any justice.

3. I don't run into Mark often enough and when I do he gives me a view of the world and our workplace that I never hear from anyone else.

Beautiful Weekend 10/20-21/07: Buried

I'm going to take my first break from Three Beautiful Things because the weekend is a blur to me. I graded WR 121 essays almost non-stop the whole weekend and it was a riveting and moving experience. My students wrote about loss or survival or reconciliation and read papers exploring the impact of disappearing dads, the death of grandparents, alcoholic mothers, long friendships with dogs ending in death, families torn apart by drug abuse, adultery, the pain of abortion, broken families finding their way back to wholeness, a soldier's friend killed in Iraq, heroin addiction, homelessness, feeling the loneliness of being an outsider in one's own family, and other experiences.

Reading my students' experiences is painful.

I admire them.

To a person, my seventy or so writing students have suffered and in these essays they opened themselves to the arduous task of making meaning of some kind out of the loss they have suffered or out of the reconciliations that were tentatively worked out or out of the demands of not really living, but surviving.

I do not teach the so-called Entitlement Generation.

Reading these sets of essays kept me from writing and opened me to a beauty in the hearts and minds and souls of my students that rendered me incapable of listing this beauty in a 1-2-3 fashion.

Tonight, however, Three Beautiful Things will return in its traditional format. Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Three Beautiful Things: 10/19/07: Oxycodone, Dark and Stormy Night, New Windows

1. I started watching "The West", a documentary series produced by Ken Burns. Would it be heresy against PBS to say that while I find this documentary informative, that I find Ken Burns' style of documentary film making tedious, redundant, and a bit too precious? So far, it's been a paint by number documentary: Indian flute music or predictable Western sounding folk music over still pictures followed by a talking head. It's all very interesting, but, too often, it feels like I've overdosed on pain medicine as I watch this series. (By the way, I feel much the same way when I watch too many Merchant/Ivory movies.)

2. Our windows rattled. Fall storms are moving in like bands of marauders from the ocean with driving rains and restless winds.

3. The news from the tax man was good. We can have some new windows installed in the back of our house.

Photo Hunt: Practical




Snug is very practical.




For more practical pictures, click this icon:


Friday, October 19, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Le Roi Raymond the First

This week's Sunday Scribbling's prompt: "My first act as Queen/ King of the World will be..."

My first act as King of the Land of Autonomy would be to decree that people let each other live their lives and do their work without smothering oversight and interference.

I'm assuming that the Land of Autonomy would be a magic kingdom where the word of Le Roi Raymond the First would not only be the law, but would have creative force and what I would say would come into being.

Therefore, by the force of my benevolence, meddling would vanish. Workers would do their work and be trusted that they know what they are doing and would be free of needless bosses and administrators mucking up the joy of their labor with petty rules, ignorant memos, abstract, out of touch productivity plans, and oppressive company organization charts.

Mine would be a kingdom of anarchy. The Land of Autonomy's national motto would be "Leave Well Enough Alone". Workers would profit from their labor, not CEOs or administrators or magnates, because in the Land of Autonomy the perceived need for CEOs or administrators or magnates would evaporate.

One of the miracles of the Land of Autonomy would be elimination of irritation. Cigarette smoke would not irritate others. Neither would perfume. Citizens would take joy in their freedom and would encourage one another to follow their own paths regarding how they love others, the language they use, and the traditions they enjoy. Illusions of a nation united by monolithic cultural values would disappear in the Land of Autonomy because the value that would prevail would be each to his or her own path of expression, livelihood, and spiritual practice, or lack of practice.

Slowly, but surely, words like "impose", "shove it down my throat", "proselytize", "enforce", and "enact" would melt away from the tongues of citizens like a peppermint lozenge, because in the Land of Autonomy there would be nothing to impose, shove, proselytize, enforce, or enact.

Citizens would be free. Free will would be so absolute that the idea of disapproval would fade away as even a choice to make. Autonomy would be so prized that it would inspire acts of charity, not out of guilt, but out of the powerful, free urge to help others and to cooperate within a nation where no one was trying to take away what a citizen has. Paradoxically, autonomy would heighten the citizens' sense of being social citizens. One person's happiness and well-being would be understood to enhance, not threaten, another's.

Le Roi Raymond I would not be king for long.

In the Land of Autonomy, I wouldn't be needed.

You can find more Kings and Queens here.

Three Beautiful Things 10/18/07: I'm a Fat Head, Salt, Nature/Nurture

1. I left my car lights on yesterday afternoon. I turned the ignition this morning as I prepared to go to work. Dead. Jennifer graciously stepped in to get my class started. The beautiful thing was that this is such an alive, trustworthy, motivated class of students that they got going with what they were supposed to do, unsupervised, and the room was crackling with energy when I arrived twenty minutes late. I couldn't have been happier.

2. I love a big bowl of popcorn after I'm done teaching my night class. Unlike the last time I popped a bowl, tonight I salted the popcorn instead of peppering it. It was a lot better.

3. Kat sent me an email answering a question I posed to her about her perspective of the difference between nature and nurture. It was one of the most intelligent, well-crafted, insightful examinations I've read. My students continue to impress and stimulate me. No wonder I feel so young for the twelve hours a week I'm in the classroom with them.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 10/17/07: IRS Tardiness, UnAmerican, Coma

1. What's the rush? Better late than never! What doesn't kill you makes you stronger! I went to the tax man today and am on the verge of taking care of my 2006 returns.

2. It's really good to know that a fellow un-American is out there. MGM and I enjoyed a brief e-rant about how we hate Halloween and the Fourth of July. I added New Year's Eve. It can be isolating, you know, being an outcast in America.

3. Dealing with taxes puts me in a coma. I gave in and fell into a deep sleep nap twice this afternoon and evening after seeing the tax man. Snug faithfully pushed himself into my ribs and slept along with me to reassure me that everything would be all right.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 10/16/07: Shirk, Questions, Aha!

1. Scott Shirk, The Duke Roderigo Wall Don Albany Tom Pedro of Snout, and I had lunch today at Taco Loco and once and for all solved all the problems of live theater productions. If you are an actor, and when you go to rehearse or perform today, when things go flawlessly, drop me a thank you note and I'll pass it on to Duke Snout.

2. What is real? Our primal selves? Our civilized selves? Are we born with an ethical sense? In what way do our stories define us, as individuals and as a culture? Like these questions? Then you'd have a great time in WR 121 where these questions and others have students trying to figure out what it means to be human in a complicated and often puzzling world.

3. J., one of my students, suddenly had a light go on: Mary Anne in The Things They Carried is a metaphor isn't she? A smile broke out over his face and he explained how he could see that she was an embodiment of the collective Viet Nam experience. I could feel the adrenaline course through my veins as he expanded upon this moment of public insight.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 10/15/07: Power Cord Caper, Sparky, Essays

1. I take my laptop computer to school almost every day. I put it in my bag and tuck in the power cord. When I arrived home this afternoon the cord wasn't in the bag. I called work to see if any one had turned in the cord. No. I looked all over in my study. No cord. I drove back to school to see if I left it in my classroom or my office. No. I double-checked at the office. No cord. I resigned myself to buying another one, but decided I'd go back home and check one more time. When I got home, I had to go to the bathroom. There was my power cord. It was on top of the toilet tank. God only knows why.

2. This morning I still couldn't talk or write about LCC's production of "King Lear". About noon I could and director Sparky Roberts and I have been in gmail chat conversation about the beauty of the production all day long.

3. My WR 121 students have turned in their first essays. I've started to read and evaluate them. So far, they've been stunningly honest, detailed, and insightful. It's wondrous what these students have experienced and survived and how eloquently they write about their experiences and develop their insights. I think they just have to know that they have a reader who really wants to know what's on their minds.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 10/14/07: Cinematic, Problem Solving, Courage

1. I was rendered speechless by the Lane Community College Student Productions Association's cinematic stage presentation of "King Lear". I was so moved by the production of this play that I can hardly write about it yet.

2. I have started receiving student essays written in Microsoft Word 2007. The documents can't be read in Word 2007. I went searching for a solution and found one and now I can read these documents. Six months ago, I would have despaired and not even thought to look for a solution and I'm very happy that I'm becoming a more assertive problem solver about such things. The solution, by the way, was not difficult. I just needed to think to look for it and once I did, finding it was easy, too. This is a big step forward for me.

3. The story "Speaking of Courage" in Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" is brilliant.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Three Beautiful Things: 10/13/07: Relaxing, Listening, Gorging



1. Seeing this woman lying in a perfect spot to read and relax in Monroe Park.

2. Listening to the Ducks game on the radio; uncompetitive as it was, I enjoyed the radio broadcast and relaxing while it was on.

3. I prepared and ate a hash brown, three egg, sharp cheddar cheese breakfast that made it nearly unnecessary to eat anything else the rest of the day.

Sunday Scribblings: Mucking Out a Launder

This week's Sunday Scribblings topic is "First Job, Worst Job, Dream Job". Being the darkish sould I am, I've decided to write about the single worst day of work I ever had, doing the worst job I was ever assigned.

I did this job when I was a freshman in college over one of our holidays. I think it was Friday of Thanksgiving weekend. I was working at the Zinc Plant of the Bunker Hill Company. Uncle Bunker was very good about giving college students work during breaks from school and, on this particular day, I was an extra, so I didn't do my usual job of stripping zinc.

I got a job that needed to be done from time to time and that I'd never heard of anyone else doing.

At the Zinc Plant, the zinc was produced in electrolytic cells which had a solution of sulfuric acid running through them, with zinc particles in the solution. Thanks to a high electric charge, zinc collected on a cathode.

This process created waste, a slow building sulphuric acid sludge that collected below the cells in launders. These launders had to be cleaned.

My worst day of work ever was cleaning a launder of black sulfuric acid besotted sludge.

My shift boss took me to my work place. "Here, you'll need this shovel. Here, put on this rain gear." The rain gear was bright yellow, heavy. "I'll bring the ladder," he said.

Quietly, I gulped.

We went to a launder. The shift boss put the ladder down the launder for me, about six feet down. I started to climb down.

"Wait. I'll have to hand you the shovel. There's barely room down there for you. You go down there and get situated and I'll hand you the shovel."

I began my descent. The shift boss turned on a dim, naked light bulb so I could see a little bit, and when I got to the bottom, I stepped into the ankle deep sludge. My shoulders nearly touched each side of the launder. I had barely any room in front of me or behind me.

"It's kind of shitty down there, but do the best you can to shovel that shit and toss it up here. It's kind of tight, but you'll figure it out."

It was shitty down there. It smelled like rotten eggs. It was hot. The raincoat, which protected me from slow drips of sludge above me, was awkward. My footing was not secure, but, I didn't have anywhere to fall. I figured out how to angle the shovel and get scoops of the sludge and move them just over my head into a pile on the walkway the ladder leaned against.

I got the launder sufficiently clean. At least I shoveled enough out to reveal the wooden floor the sludge had piled on.

It wasn't an all day job. I finished before noon and went to eat my lunch, knowing I'd have some other extra job to do for the rest of my shift.

I went to the lavatory to clean up before I ate lunch. I noticed in the mirror that a spot of sludge was on my face. I tore off a paper towel to wipe off the black spot.

I wiped it off.

The skin over my upper jaw bone went with it.

I nearly shit.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Photo Hunt: Smelly

These shiny chrome Harley pipes emit smelly exhaust.


Click the icon for more smell photographs:

Three Beautiful Things: 10/11/07: Philosophy, Praise, Peppered Popcorn

1. Who says community college students today don't care about metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics? Maybe no one says that! I sure don't. My WR 121 classes both were intensely engaged as we discussed the questions surrounding the nature of reality, knowledge, and moral behavior. These philosophical categories had special power in relation to the stories we are reading about the Vietnam War.

2. Two messages from students after night class telling me how much they enjoyed tonight's class.

3. I didn't salt my popcorn. I accidentally peppered it. The Deke tried it. "Not bad." I enjoyed it myself. Not enough to make it a habit, but it was a sort of nice change of pace!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Three Beautiful Things: 10/10/07: Context, Contact, Reconnect

1. It's a challenge to put Tim O'Brien's book of Vietnam stories, "The Things They Carried" into a historical context, but I bravely tried to this morning and got some good help from my peer, Bill, a student in WR 121 who is my age.

2. I hadn't been in contact with my friend Scott Dalgarno for about twelve years and he is filling the pulpit at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Eugene for the next three months. We are having coffee on Firday. What a surprise. What a pleasure.

3. It was fun to dip back into some Walt Whitman so I could write my latest sibling assignment (here). I shouldn't get as far away from Whitman as I let myself get over the last six months.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sibling Assignment #40: I Hear America Singing

I'm a little late with this week's sibling assignment. InlandEmpireGirl assigned us the following:
"Think of a poet that has inspired your writing, your thinking, and/or your view of the world. Use your words, the poet's words, and images (and music if you want to be an overachiever!) to illustrate how this poet has influenced your life." IEG's post is here. Silver Valley Girl has yet to Gear Up and finish hers!

I HEAR America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics—each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong;
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work;
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat—the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench—the hatter singing as he stands;
The wood-cutter’s song—the ploughboy’s, on his way in the morning, or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother—or of the young wife at work—or of the girl sewing or washing—Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day—At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.


In what I'll call the mid-19th century, American poetry was largely influenced by poetry of England. However, writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman worked to forge an American literary voice.

For Whitman, this voice was expansive, all-embracing, democratic, egalitarian; above all, it was a singing voice, full of the vitality and music of free verse, singing the newness, variety, and beauty of what he saw in America.

His style of writing free verse was almost unprecedented, especially in America. Christopher Smart had written a similar verse in his Jubilate Agno, a fragmentary work written to parallel the Anglican liturgy with its praise of God's creation and its expansive lines.

Whitman's long lines of verse, often going line after line before reaching a period (e.g., "I Hear America Singing" is one sentence), mimic the unbridled energy of America itself, as if no traditional line of poetry can contain all that comprises his vision of America and as if the many features of America spill over into one another into a copious fullness and a nearly incomprehensible unity.

It's Whitman's delight in the spacious variety and his envisioned unity of America that has most inspired my own hopes for our country and my own feelings for it, naive and romantic as they might be.

I can't begin to list all that Whitman delights in. But, I can say that Whitman's vision of reality can be seen a few passages I've selected from "Song of Myself":

I celebrate myself and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
*****

I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth,
I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and
fathomless as myself,
(They do not know how immortal, but I know.)

Every kind for itself and its own, for me mine male and female,
For me those that have been boys and that love women,
For me the man that is proud and feels how it stings to be slighted,
For me the sweet-heart and the old maid, for me mothers and the
mothers of mothers,
For me lips that have smiled, eyes that have shed tears,
For me children and the begetters of children.

Undrape! you are not guilty to me, nor stale nor discarded,
I see through the broadcloth and gingham whether or no,
And am around, tenacious, acquisitive, tireless, and cannot be
shaken away.

*****

I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff'd with the stuff that is coarse and stuff'd with the stuff
that is fine,
One of the Nation of many nations, the smallest the same and the
largest the same,
A Southerner soon as a Northerner, a planter nonchalant and
hospitable down by the Oconee I live,
A Yankee bound my own way ready for trade, my joints the limberest
joints on earth and the sternest joints on earth,
A Kentuckian walking the vale of the Elkhorn in my deer-skin
leggings, a Louisianian or Georgian,
A boatman over lakes or bays or along coasts, a Hoosier, Badger,
Buckeye;
At home on Kanadian snow-shoes or up in the bush, or with fishermen
off Newfoundland,
At home in the fleet of ice-boats, sailing with the rest and
tacking,
At home on the hills of Vermont or in the woods of Maine, or the
Texan ranch,
Comrade of Californians, comrade of free North-Westerners, (loving
their big proportions,)
Comrade of raftsmen and coalmen, comrade of all who shake hands
and welcome to drink and meat,
A learner with the simplest, a teacher of the thoughtfullest,
A novice beginning yet experient of myriads of seasons,
Of every hue and caste am I, of every rank and religion,
A farmer, mechanic, artist, gentleman, sailor, quaker,
Prisoner, fancy-man, rowdy, lawyer, physician, priest.


We are, in Whitman's vision, of each other. To make, honor, and perpetuate distinctions of what or who is worthy according to intelligence, class, race, religion, type of being (human or animal), is, to Whitman, to be out of accord with the greater unity and truth he understands at work in the world.

His dream, never fulfilled, is that America, a young country, a new country, a country capable of forging its own traditions and its own identity, might seize its moment in history and live by the greater truth of unity and not succumb to the inferior ways of division and separation.

For his love of the natural beauty of America, his love of every expression of sexual and Platonic love, of Abraham Lincoln, of swimmers, carpenters, mechanics, widows, the aged, the American Indian, the industrious, the walker, the hiker, the hunter, the North, the South, for all the states of the United States; for those in peril, those wounded in war, for boatmen, coalmen, fishermen, lawyers, physicans, and priests, I love Walt Whitman.

But most of all, I love Walt Whitman because he stayed true to a very anti-American ideal: in order to love the world we live in, we must loafe. He writes: "I loafe and invite my soul, /
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass."

Repeatedly, Whitman conveys that he sees the beauty of animals, human beings, and plants in the all-embracing way he does, not because of the time he spent working and earning, but because of the time he stopped, observed, became a part of the world around him, meditated upon it, and rejoiced.

That's the beauty of loafing.





Three Beautiful Things 10/09/07: Reflection, Chaos, Surpassing

1. Dan and I spent about twenty minutes during our office hour and reflected upon the Vietnam War and the complex personalities and presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

2. My 10:00 UR WR 121 class is alive with questions, insights, and eagerness. Meeting with them is a chaotic 110 minutes. It's the best kind of chaos: alive, collegial, good-humored, and productive.

3. By not addressing what I asked them to their first analysis essays, a handful of my evening class WR 121 students surpassed the limits of my assignment and charted territory that surprised and pleased. I just try to stay out of the way.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 10/09/07: Clemens, Codgers, Constancy (not History)

1. A wish, more than a thing: I wish Roger Clemens would limp his gimpy hamstring off into the oblivion of a Texas retirement without press conference, without opening the question of returning to MLBaseball, without having to see his ego bloated face again hungrily seeking one last scrap of needless publicity while he awaits his inevitable and richly deserved place in the Hall of Fame.

2. I can hardly wait to observe the New York Yankees brain trust, well George Steinbrenner, dip into the Major League Baseball assisted living pool of once great, at the end of their career players to try to rebuild the Yankee dynasty. Who will manage? Whitey Herzog? Will they lure Cal Ripken, Jr. out of retirement? Maybe Terry Pendleton can take A-Rod's place at third base if Mark Cuban buys the Cubs and secures A-Rod's services with a three-year, 400 million dollar contract.

3. I couldn't stop watching "Vietnam: A Television History". At every turn as the Vietnam War lengthened, every single question that is being addressed during the War in Iraq was raised and every single response was the same. It wasn't eerie. I continue to maintain that there's no such thing as history or the past. In the USA, national ways of seeing the world and USA's place in it and of the assumed strength of USA's military fire power remains constant and is simply directed to different geographical places. Do I need to elaborate?

Monday, October 8, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 10/7/07: Clean, Pick, Pick, Pick, Horror

1. I took what seemed like a million towels and blankets and sheets and other bedding to the laundromat and in one fell swoop got them all washed and dried.

2. I had to chuckle as I listened to this young (I mean young) couple argue for over a half an hour while they folded their clothes. They smiled and laughed the whole time. It was like arguing and picking at each other was their way of flirting.

3. I watched four hours or so of The American Experience's treatment of the Vietnam War. The footage and the facts outlining how we got into the war were horrible, but the precision and clarity of the program is brilliant.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Three Beautiful Things: 10/06/07: Coffee, Cardinal, Curious

1. I hadn't seen Kelly since Nichole hosted a Fat Cat yard party in June and good luck had Kelly selling stuff at a yard sale in the neighborhood today and so we grabbed a cup of coffee this afternoon.

2. Unbelievable. I mean really unbelievable. Lowly Stanford scored a touchdown with under a minute to play and knocked off the mighty Trojans of USC.

3. Walking in the neighborhood with Snug is not really taking a steady walk at all as the smells rising up from tree roots, vegetation, and past dogs on walks excites him and we take a break ever five yards or so so he can smell the next odor that has captured his attention.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: The Ethics of Depression

This week's Sunday Scribblings topic is "Sorry".

I'll tell you what deeply bothers me about depression or any mental illness.

It puts a person in a terrible ethical bind. If, in part, my ethics constitute what I understand is acceptable to do in my life and what is not, depression terribly complicates my ethics. Furthermore, if acting contrary to my ethics leaves me responsible for what I've done, and I think it does, depression complicates this even more.

As I explained earlier, being under the ongoing, not situational, plague of depression, I did things that I would never do when in my right state of mind. I punched a windshield over a cookie; I slugged walls; I said mean, accusatory, paranoid things; I obsessed over things like my checking account, checking my balance several times a day online, or before e-banking, called the automated service on the telephone. Under the plague of depression, I often let my hygiene go. I'd go several days without showering. One quarter at LCC, I wore the same sweater every day. It was worn out, covered with lint, ill fitting, a source of good-natured laughter among my students, but it was a sign of illness.

So, where does illness end and personal responsibility begin? If elements of my brain's function were misfiring or if chemical imbalances were driving my behavior, then to what degree could I feel responsible for my actions?

If you've suffered from long-term depression or been close to someone who does, then you probably know that depression sufferers are always apologizing, desperately seeking forgiveness and acceptance.

"I'm sorry. It won't happen again."

"I'm sorry. That's not the way I am."

"I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me."

"Please, don't be mad. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do that."

"I'm sorry. Please don't leave. I'll be better. I promise."

These repeated apologies ring hollow because the erratic behavior continues. I can't begin to count the innumerable times I did or said things I was ashamed of, apologized for, clung to my wife or girlfriend about, desperately seeking affirmation and approval, and then turned around and within hours or days repeated the very behavior I'd been so sorry for.

Maybe it really doesn't matter whether I was held responsible. What really mattered was that my actions had impacts, always negative, that led to it being difficult to trust me, let alone difficult to want to be in my company.

Often my response to not wanting to repeat my offenses has been to retreat away from those I've been close to. Depression, for me, has been isolating, not only because of the fatigue it causes, but also because I've thought that if I cut myself off and went in a room with the door closed and either slept or listened to the radio, I couldn't cause any harm.

For me, feeling responsible for my behavior was never a problem. Guilt and shame smothered me. The problem was that I couldn't stop myself from feeling like a loved one was belittling me or treating me as inferior; I couldn't stop feeling inferior. When I tried to act like I was positive about myself, I expended a great deal of energy because I was masking how I really felt. I then suffered the fatigue of trying to lead a double life.

The worst part of this illness is that it's contagious. My erratic behavior and my periods of isolation put everyone around me on edge. I didn't realize this. Depression turned my attention to myself and I hardly recognized that the black hole I was in was also a social vortex, sucking those in my home, especially, into the darkness with me.

So, if as a depressed person I had trouble controlling erratic behavior, because of this illness, and if I was only dimly capable of seeing the impact of my illness on others, how could I be an ethical person? How could I take responsibility for how I was?

The best response I could muster was to say I was sorry.

Almost two years ago, I woke up one Tuesday morning paralyzed. I could hardly walk, my mental and physical system was so shut down. I'd been to Lincoln City on Sunday and part of Monday, joining friends from Kellogg to watch the Super Bowl and enjoy the casino. When I arrived home Monday from Lincoln City, I fell into bed and didn't wake up until it was time to go to work Tuesday morning. I thought I was just worn out from staying up too late Sunday night and called in sick.

But the weight of the fatigue wouldn't lift. I called in sick for the rest of the week and was barely functional. Finally, on Thursday, under advisement from her therapist, the Deke took me to the Emergency Room at Sacred Heart Hospital. Upon review, thank goodness, the doctor concluded I was not a danger to myself, but I was sent to a psychiatrist, who I saw the next day.

At this point, with the help and urging of the Deke, I was at an ethical crossroads. Was I going to believe those who told me I was seriously ill and take serious steps to try to gain my health, or was I going to risk my marriage and whatever sense of security I had, and continue to try to cure myself?

Slowly, very slowly, painfully slowly, I began to give in. Nothing like this condition changes very quickly. It took more episodes of erratic behavior. I've written about this before: getting together with Kellogg friends and being so excited I drank over a half a fifth of whiskey in under an hour and had to be put to bed, vomiting and barely able to walk; a week or so later, a night of low stakes gambling at Spirit Mountain, getting pulled over for speeding by a state policeman, not getting home until six in the morning, the Deke not really sure of where I was. Apologizing. Saying I was sorry.

But, out of these episodes came an experiment with some new medicine, added to what I'd been taking.

By now, I could finally see that the only ethical thing I could do was give in to taking medicine and to try out different medication, if necessary.

The medicine has stabilized me. I now have what feels like the luxury of making measured decisions. I can respond to what happens around me free of paranoia and suspiciousness. Little things look like little things. I let things go. I sometimes think I'm being apathetic because I spent so many years thinking that anxiety was caring. I thought I blew up because I cared so much. I thought obsessing about things was demonstrating how much I cared.

This more stable life is much easier. It feels better to see and experience things closer to what they really are.

What's more, it feels good not to say time and time again, "I'm sorry."

Three Beautiful Things: 10/05/07: Handout Snafu, Third Person, Curvy

1. I thought I'd passed out a handout to my Friday morning WR 121 class on Wednesday. I didn't. We needed it. I needed a flash drive to download it from my laptop. Bill had one. I had to go to the main office to print the file and Xerox it. This ate up class time. The students waited patiently. They thanked me. How perfectly gracious of them. I am loving this class of students more each day.

2. In WR 121, after the class saw that their first essay is asking them to work with loss or survival or reconciliation in some deeply personal ways, my student Bill made a profound recommendation: might some students prefer to write about these things in the third person. I nearly fell on my knees in gratitude for his most sensitive and insightful idea.

3. I posted my Photo Hunt offering this week on the topic "Curvy". Almost right away I began to receive comments of appreciation for the photograph. These comments have been most gratifying.

Apocalyptic Toronto and My Old Kentucky Home

For two stunning photographs of Toronto's King street east, looking west go here and for an equally stunning picture taken from King and Princess go here. The photographer's name is Sam Javanrouh. His photoblog is Daily Dose of Imagery.

While on the subject of photoblogs, I also highly recommend Deb Richardson's daily photographic explorations of Kentucky at RSR: 365 Days of Art.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Photo Hunt: Curvy

A curvy lonely leaf, the last on this branch.





For more curvy pictures, click here:

Three Beautiful Things 10/4/07: French Forest, Class Interrupted, Old Friend

1. Joleen and Marla and Miriam elaborated upon wonderful insights into the French Forest scene in the short film "Family Tree" and expanded my thinking about that scene and the movie as a whole.

2. Stephanie wanted to borrow my DVD that has "Family Tree" on it and was very sweet as she interrupted my night class and we made a plan for how I could get the DVD to her. (I love the fact that she knew it was just fine to come and see me while my night class was in session and that it was 100% fine.)

3. Night school student Kellie wrote me that she was a neighbor a few years ago of Bob Scrafford, a Kellogg native, and a good friend of Mom and Dad.

Depression: Divorce

I've been through two divorces. I haven't written about this much. But, they are always on my mind.

I've tried, maybe too hard, all my life to be a good guy: I try to listen, be responsive, be honest, and I try to help others.

The thing is, I am a pretty good guy.

But, I've been plagued for years with insecurity, phases of paranoia, intermittent irritability, a bent toward exaggerating small things into huge ones, temper outbursts; I've pounded on walls, punched a spider web in a windshield, slugged pillows and mattresses and couches, jumped high off the ground in frustration, and spent mornings over the toilet with nerve wracked dry heaves.

These dark, too often physical outbursts, taken out on inanimate objects, belied my usually benevolent nature. I hate these outbursts. They make me feel possessed, as if a second person lives inside me, takes me over, and sabotages all my efforts to be the good person I naturally am.

It also wears me out. Being one person is demanding enough, but when a second person asserts himself, too, and wants attention, it drives me to bed for long naps, drives me to want to escape into sleep.

From childhood, and with a more pronounced effort in my teens and on into my adulthood, I've tried to eliminate that possessed person inside me by will power and it never worked. Unable to overpower this demonic other inside me, I not only felt defeated, I regarded myself as weak, and the women in my life who witnessed my erratic behavior accused me of being controlling or of not wanting to change.

What none of us knew was that I suffered from depression. How could we know? We all regarded depression as sadness, not madness, so because I was more mad than sad, when these outbursts occurred, it seemed like I was just ill-willed and difficult.

These marked contrasts in my personality were especially hard on my wives, including the Deke. It just didn't make sense. How could this man who had such capacity for service, compassion, understanding, patience, and good will, be so frightening and so erupt so unpredictably over small things like a window being opened or a cookie in the car or a perceived slight?

Because I perceived myself as a good guy, I would plead after one of these outbursts that it wasn't me, that that behavior wasn't what I was about and I would apologize and want to be held and forgiven. These outburst eroded my confidence, obliterated my sense of security, and frightened me to believe, in time, that I could never have a long lasting relationship with a woman.

I promised and promised and promised it wouldn't happen again. I thought I could stop this behavior by trying harder and I would try harder, but then I would snap, often for the smallest of reasons, and each of my wives would pull back and the distance between us grew.

Now I know that depression is the word used to describe my condition. Something is haywire in me that manifests itself in periods of ecstatic excitement and high energy answered by brooding and self-loathing.

I think I'd still be married to my first wife, Eileen, if I'd been a whole person, if the goodness in me, that I still believe Eileen loved, had been driving my behavior and my speech consistently.

Instead, I was a source of confusion, a person who put Eileen and my second wife, Anette, on pins and needles.

I haven't had an outburst of temper or exaggerated a small thing or been obsessive about things that hardly matter for almost two years, thanks to medication. It is a great relief. I trust myself more. I don't second guess myself so much and I don't miss that second person taking over and making me, by all appearances, a person possessed.

The Deke and I have been through a lot of difficult times thanks to this plague of depression. We have not fully recovered, but we've grow more comfortable with each other as the medication continues to work and as I become more emotionally predictable and reliable.

William Styron, in his memoir narrating his life of depression, "A Dark Visible" concludes that depression has it roots in some experience of loss. If this is true, one of the insidious facts about depression is that the manifestations of depression compound the experience of loss. The depression sufferer is always losing something: self-confidence, confidence, intimate relationships, the understanding of others, and, in my case, marriages.

I'm grateful the medicine is working. I'm grateful that my life does not have the kinds of excitement and moments of unbridled passion and grateful that I do not feel like a man darkly possessed.

When I said, "That's not who I am", I was wrong. All of that possessed behavior was who I was and if it comes back it will be who I am.

Until I could see this, I couldn't be helped.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 10/3/07: Boys, Boy, Girls and Boy

1. The boys spoke. My 10:30 MWF writing class is populated mostly by women and some of them are dream students, especially when it comes to class discussion. Today, for the first time the boys spoke up and I was very happy to hear their comments. It gives me confidence they aren't intimidated by the more assertive, older women in class.

2. I took some black and white pictures of the Boy in a Chair. Here's an example.




3. I took some pictures of the dogs in black and white, too. Here are some examples.





Corduroy Couch

It never occurred to me that our marriage was in trouble.

It was the summer of 1981. We'd just moved into a lovely apartment, replete with an upstairs study where I immersed myself in American drama in preparation for a four hour field exam. Passing it would earn me my masters degree and make me eligible to teach Freshman Composition at the University of Oregon. (I passed.)

I was naive and blind.

My wife was doing a copy editing internship at the Oregonian. I was doing very good work in graduate school.

And we had just bought a new corduroy couch.

Things looked good. To me.

When my wife told me she wanted out of our marriage, I kept thinking of that tan corduroy couch.

I couldn't put it together. Didn't that couch embody a purchase that signified permanence?Why would Eileen insist we buy a couch we had to buy on time if she was going to then insist on a separation and then a divorce?

And those new unfinished bookshelves. We brought them home and stained them together. Is this what couples about to split do?

That's what I thought in 1981. I had had no reason, I thought, to think that our marriage was in trouble. We bought a corduroy couch.

It's funny what objects take on magnified meaning in a break up.

When Eileen and I stopped sleeping together, I spent nights on the corduroy couch.

When I wanted a break from my upstairs study, I came downstairs and studied on the corduroy couch. Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller sat on that corduroy couch.

When I came home from studying German during the summer that Eileen was doing her internship, I'd walk in the front door and I always felt a little surge of pride when I looked at our brand new corduroy couch.

It was firm, strong, and soft at the same time, that corduroy couch. That corduroy couch deepened my sense of the enduring nature of our marriage. I looked forward to where we would go next, after we were done with our graduate studies, and where we would take our corduroy couch.

When the truth came out that Eileen wanted more in her life than our marriage was giving her; when the truth came out that she wanted to live in a more metropolitan place; when the truth came out that she was making new friends in Portland that she didn't want to leave, including the man she's been married to now for twenty years, we had these talks on the corduroy couch.

When I was frustrated and confused and couldn't believe what was happening, I pounded my fists on the corduroy couch.

It turned out the corduroy couch wasn't a sign of anything. It doesn't matter. Buying a corduroy couch in July that seem to signify permanence doesn't mean a thing when a spouse wants to leave the marriage in October.

Yet, we invest these household things with what we want them to signify. It might be curtains. It might be bookcases. It might be the purchase of a new living room rug. In my second marriage, it was the purchase of a house. I invested a sense of permanence in that corduroy couch.

When Eileen and I separated, when I stayed in Eugene and she went to Portland, we divided our belongings.

The one thing I knew I couldn't bear to have in my possession any longer was the corduroy couch.

It went to Portland.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 10/02/07: Fast Lane, Night School, Popcorn Mountain

1. I teach in a program at LCC geared to help students in their first quarter of college learn effective study skills and get on course in their attitudes about themselves and about school itself. It's my third year teaching WR 121 in this program and after meeting with my "Fast Lane" students three times, I'm very excited about this new group. Today they nailed aspect after aspect of the film we watched ("Family Tree") and I love the perfect blend in the class's population: Iraq war vets, fresh faces out of high school, men in their early twenties who are just starting school, and older women who are transitioning out of one life into another. Today's class meeting gave me goose bumps.

2. I felt more goose bumps during my night school WR 121 class meeting. This is a class of students I have come to expect when teaching night school. They embody why I volunteer to teach night school. They are mostly older students, some wary of returning to school, but being older students, they have a receptiveness to learning and discussion that I can hardly wait to work with throughout the quarter. I did not want to dismiss them last night at the end of our two hours. I wanted to take a short break and meet for another two hours and listen to more of their insights and ask them more questions about "Family Tree". But, alas, school is set up like a factory and we teachers don't have the luxury of pursuing learning without regard to time. We have to stop when the whistle blows.

3. Just for the hell of it, when I came home during my afternoon break between my day and night classes, I popped a mammoth bowl of popcorn and drank iced glasses of Diet Pepsi from a 2 liter bottle.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 10/01/07: Feisty, Wild, New Card

1. I really enjoy my 10:00 class. I think it's got some feisty students and the level of intelligence is very admirable. I can hardly wait to read their writing. It'll be coming soon.

2. Was I ever grateful tonight for my subscription to XM radio. I listened to the entirety of the Rockies' 9-8 victory over the Padres and it was the Rockies' broadcast team. It was really fun to hear such an exciting game narrated by broadcasters who were rooting for the Rockies and who got caught up in the shock of Colorado's three run, bottom of the 13th rally that pushed them over the top and into the playoffs. It was one of the most exciting and unlikely games I've ever listened to.

3. We had to report a lost VISA card a week ago and the new ones came for me and the Deke today. I can't believe how habituated I've become to using the VISA card when buying groceries, gasoline, and for withdrawing a little pocket cash. I feel more secure now!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 09/30/07: Phils, Rockies, Hot Lunch

1. Those pesky Phillies. Seven games down with seventeen to go and they overtake the Mets and with the Eastern Division. Amazing. Unprecedented.

2. Those pesky Colorado Rockies. They also come from behind in the NL West race and tie the Padres for a wild card spot and force a playoff game today in Denver. Too bad they have to face Jake Pevey today. That will make the consummation of their comeback very difficult.

3. The Deke told me before I ate my share that her enchiladas were not as good as usual. She didn't have enough cheese and there were no green chilis. I loved them. I told her I loved them because they reminded me of hot lunch food from school days. She laughed approvingly.