Saturday, March 29, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 03/29/08: Ready for Spring, Slot Play, School Days

1. I finally finished my course calendars and each syllabus for my spring courses. I'm not teaching any of my courses the way I have in the past and it took a lot of concentration and imagination to figure out how to proceed this spring. I'm relieved. Figuring out these courses has weighed heavily on my mind ever since I got winter term grades submitted on Tuesday.

2. Having finished my calendars, I went on spring break this afternoon and drove with Snug to the Three Rivers casino near Florence and played and played and played and came out twenty bucks ahead. Things were hopping, especially when the karaoke contest started and it felt good to be in a place buzzing with so much fun.

3. I went to Silver King Elementary my first two years of school. Ponderosa Pinings posted a picture of our second grade class on her blog and today Wucky sent me pictures of each of his Silver King classes, minus the third grade. That was the year of a big strike at the Bunker Hill and his dad went to Wyoming to work until the strike ended. These pictures stir a lot of memory and feeling in me.

Three Beautiful Things 03/28/08: Press, Work Songs, Wildcats

1. Snug does this thing that InlandEmpireGirl tells me her springers have always done: he lies down in bed with me, arches his back toward my lower or upper legs, and presses himself against me. It's great. His pressing against me is a comfort.

2. I'm getting close to figuring out a small research project for my WR 122 course. For eighteen years previous I've been teaching this course, research has not been a part of it. Now it is. This old dog is having to learn some new ways of doing things. I'm getting there.

3. I started the Davidson/Wisconsin game thinking I was for Wisconsin. I admire Bo Ryan, their coach. I enjoy their lock down defense and patient offense. It wasn't long, though, as the game progressed when I turned turncoat and got caught up in the magic of the Davidson Wildcats and I completely enjoyed how they dismantled the Wisconsin Badgers. I honestly don't see how they can get past Kansas, but. . .

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 03/27/08: The Say Hey Dog, Calendar, I Found It!

1. When I throw the ball for Snug and Maggie and Charly, Maggie can always snag it the ball out of the air. Snug is almost always out of sync. Today, one time, the ball took a high bounce and the usually awkward Snug snared the ball before it hit the ground. My heart swelled.

2. I spent most of the day figuring out the course calendar for the class MBayless and I team teach. Her part of the course is American Working Class Literature and mine is Composition: Research and it's been an endless quest for me over the last twenty-three years of teaching research of trying to figure out a way to move my students through the process of research and writing in a disciplined and productive way. It's the hardest course I teach, but I keep coming back to it, ready to tackle its challenges again.

3. I found my DVD copy of Harlan County, USA. I thought it was lost, but now it's found and it raised my spirits significantly to have found it!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 03/26/08: Pizza, Gambling, Silver Valley Business

1. Adrienne, Patrick, the Deke, and I were going to have some Mongolian bbq tonight, but Adrienne had been studying all day and didn't want to go back out of the house so we had pizza. Unbeknownst to me, the others ordered my favorite: Canadian bacon and pineapple and another pie of my second favorite, pepperoni. Combined with freezing cold Diet Pepsi, this meal had me in junk food heaven.

2. My gambling buddy Ed called from Kingston and it looks like he'll be coming to Oregon in a couple of weeks for a weekend of casino hopping. Oh, man! This will be one fun weekend!

3. I had a cool email exchange with Atmospheric Idaho Escapee Ruminations about business people in Kellogg and Pinehurst on the heels of my post (look below) regarding the Furniture Exchange and Don and Pat Elfsten.

Sibling Assignment #58: Furniture Exchange and Rollfast Bicycles

The next sibling assignment comes from InlandEmpireGirl: "Pick a local business in the Silver Valley during our growing up years. Share a story that happened to you while being at that business." InlandEmpireGirl takes readers back to Stein Brother's IGA, here, and Silver Valley Girl will be posting her entry as soon as possible.

Over the Christmas break just past, Don Elfsten, one of Kellogg's most beloved store owners died. For longer than I've been alive, the Furniture Exchange has been a fixture in Kellogg and Don Elfsten started the business. It's now run by his son, Pat.

Mom has always loved and trusted the Furniture Exchange. Her houses walls are painted with paint from the Furniture Exchange. We've worn out couches, hide-a-bed sofas, recliners from the Furniture Exchange and when they go out the door a new one from the Furniture Exchange comes in.

Our Zenith televisions, study desks, dining sets, kitchen stoves, refrigerators, all have come from there.

Now Pat has a garden spot at the Furniture Exchange. Last summer Mom's deck was covered in starters. Where'd they come from?

The Furniture Exchange.

The only product the Furniture Exchange sold that I really cared about was bicycles.

Don Elfsten carried Rollfast bicycles. They were sturdy, not very expensive, and the brand name always worked for me.

When I jumped on my Rollfast, it was like I had boarded P. F. Flyers on wheels.

If P. F. Flyers would make me "Run Faster and Jump Higher", a Rollfast had me screaming at the speed of sound up Mission Ave, down Utah, and back home up Cameron where we lived.

I don't have a particular story about going to the Furniture Exchange to buy. a Rollfast, but I do remember my most memorable ride.

I was in the fourth grade.

Bruce Walker's dad hadn't died yet, so he hadn't moved to Joplin.

The freeway through Kellogg was being built and was nearly finished. The road, however, had not been surfaced so the on and off ramps and the freeway itself was smooth dirt.

I have no idea why in the fall of 1963 no one cared that Bruce Walker and I rode our bikes east and west on the dirt freeway.

No one was working.

We had a freeway to ourselves.

We rode fast and laughed, not the laugh of getting away with something, but the laughter of pure joy that we could be on our one speed Rollfast bikes from the Furniture Exchange, no stop lights, no stop signs, no cars, no other bicycles.

It was just us.

It was the best bike ride I've ever had.

Sibling Assignment #57: Writing Vivaldi

This week Silver Valley Girl gave the sibling assignment.

Listen to this piece of music: Vivaldi’s "Concerto for Violin", and write what you hear. InlandEmpireGirl's remarkably imaginative and experimental dive into poetry is here and Silver Valley Girl's post will be coming before too long.

If you'd like to listen to Vivaldi's piece, click the music notes on the panel below the screen on the player posted above.

I hear melancholy.

I hear longing.

I hear dignity.

I hear resolution.

This piece triggers memories from twelve years ago when I began to spend a lot of time with Benny's mom.

Since Benny is a Downs Syndrome guy and autistic, he has a great need for routine, for regularity. Much of the time I spent with Benny's mom was at their house.

Benny's mom and I listened to a lot of instrumental classical music. Benny's mom checked a lot of music out from the public library where Benny loved to go and pick out books and movies and she recorded much of this music and she and I often lay down together and listened, and did little more than let the music have its impact.

Benny was often in his bedroom watching a video, rocking and laughing, enjoying life on his terms and his mother and I would be in the living room enjoying life on our terms.

Ultimately this relationship did not work out. Memories of it remain, though. So does the longing. I felt melancholy and longing for things to work out when it started to be obvious we would go our separate ways.

In Vivaldi's piece, the emotion is resolved as the composition ends.

It never works that way in life itself. Vivaldi lets us imagine resolution and gives us a sense of how it feels to experience the resolution of melancholy.

I've never known such resolution. Things were never resolved between me and Benny's mom and so while the feeling up to the end evokes feelings I had in the last several months of our relationship, if the music were true to my life, the piece would shatter at the end, notes scattered all around, and the music would leave me unsatisfied.

I like the Vivaldi piece the way it is. It's good for me to feel sadness resolved musically, even if it never is in actual life.

A Week of Beautiful Things 03/19-25/08: Final Grades, Emptiness is The Way, Adrienne Stays, What in Life Endures

1. My time has been dominated for a week now with reading final exams and final composition essays and computing the final grades for winter quarter. This is made particularly time consuming because I email my students comments on their exams and their essays. I try to keep teaching right up to the last second, I guess, hoping that things I say on their final work will help them as they move beyond this current course to other courses and as they keep thinking and examining themselves. The beauty of this time is related to the the sorrow of this time. On the one hand, it's remarkable to see how much students can learn and produce over a ten week course of study; on the other hand, it's a brief amount of time. So much is left undone and I see so much promise for further learning. It's hard to let go of each quarter's students and our enterprise together.

2. In Survey of World Literature, I began most of our class sessions by reading chapters from the Tao te Ching. By the last day of class, I had read it all to my students. I love the Stephen Mitchell translation, (read it here), much like I love Coleman Barks' translations of Rumi's poetry. The translations are simple, poetic, and accessible. One of my students emailed me this morning, saying, "Thanks for everything you taught me in class. I have learned to not feel so bad when I feel 'empty.'" Ahhh. That's the Tao speaking through him. In the Tao, emptiness is not a state of lacking, it's a state of being receptive. It's necessary. Listen to chapter 11:


We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.

3. Adrienne continues her stay, but will be flying back to West Point, NY tomorrow. She's a graduate student, studying to be a librarian at Syracuse University, most through online courses. She's been in devoted student mode the last few days, working hard to meet paper deadlines and to keep herself on task, despite being away from home. She's remarkable with her energy, determination, intelligence, and discipline. I'll never forget the joy that rose in my heart when the Deke told me Adrienne was starting this program. She was born to be a librarian and, particularly in the digital age, she will serve her library patrons, in whatever context, very well.

4. Lastly, and then on to other writing. During the past ten to eleven weeks of teaching I've spent a great deal of time working with ancient literature and ancient ideas about life. I teach Thich Nhat Hanh's Buddhisht text, Being Peace in my composition course because I think the Buddhist ways of understanding the nature of reality help students better than anything else to generate thoughts and ideas for writing; likewise, I have my students study the ancient rhetorical trope copia as a way of thinking more fully and fruitfully. In my literature course we read Gilgamesh, much of The Odyssey, The Ramayana, Antigone, and poetry by Rumi, T'ao Ch'ien, Tu Fu, Li Po and selections from the Japanese classic anthologies, and The Manyoshu and The Kokinshu.
If you are still reading this post, you might be thinking that this all seems distant, impractical, purely academic in the worst sense of the word. Dead.
Hardly. The chief joy I experienced this quarter was that my students began to understand that in many ways there is no such thing as ancient, in the sense of gone or past. These literatures, in their exploration of ethical dilemmas, pride, mortality, the heart's longing, the right ways to live, the world of nature, love, and the many other dimensions of being human, were contemporary and unfolded wisdom to us all and these literatures became the means by which my students wrote deeply self-examining essays as they looked at their own experience as part of the unending continuum of enduring human experiences.
No wonder, now that grades are in and the quarter is over, I'm so happy.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Countless Beautiful Things: 03/11-18/08: Adrienne, Poetry, Music, Life and Death

1. Adrienne extended her visit by a week and it's been wonderful having her home again.

2. When I assign my students Japanese and Chinese poetry of the early centuries A.D., I always wonder how it will go. For starters, many students find poetry difficult and I always wonder if this ancient poetry will just seem too remote. A majority of my students loved it. Honestly, when my Survey of World Literature students love this poetry it's among the most gratifying experiences I have as an instructor. I find this poetry wise, elegant, witty, irreverent (at times), and philosophically satisfying and when other students do, too, I enjoy feeling the bond of enjoyment.

3. My WR 122 students all do a presentation of music they love at the end of class and write a short essay bringing us into their experience with this music. Their tastes in music is remarkably eclectic: Tool, Carrie Underwood, System of a Down, Dave Brubeck, The Proclaimers, Jennifer Lopez and Mark Anthony, Bob Marley, Kenny Chesney, Radiohead, Tom Waits, Lynard Skynard, AC/DC, The Asylum Street Spankers, The Statler Brothers, to name a few, and their experiences with this music range from driving eleven year boys to a baseball tournament in Lincoln City to a daughter calling a octopus tentacles testicles to the challenges to a young marriage of moving from Springfield, OR to Orange, CA. My students and I hear music we normally wouldn't listen to and learn a great deal more about each other.

4. My 10:00 class demanded that I write a music project essay and I wrote about the euphoric experience of being gently rocked between life and death while in the hospital with meningitis in 1999 and how music by The Oysterband brings back memories of that mortal and mystical time.

That's all for now. My life over the last week has been and will continue to be dominated by paper grading. Maybe I assign to much writing for my students. Maybe I have too many students. I don't know! But, I have a lot of work to do and I'd better get back to it.

I'll be back here soon.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 03/10/08: Conversation, Chinese Poetry, Essays

1. The Deke and Adrienne and I sat at the dining room table and had an intelligent and probing conversation about stuff going on in our family.

2. Some of my Survey of World Literature students are finding the poetry of T'ao Chi'en, Li Po, and Tu Fu inspiring and insightful.

3. It won't last long, but I am essentially caught up in my paper reading and grading. Soon an avalanche will bury me, but, for now, I can breathe easily.

Revisit: The Healing Powers of Snug the Joiner

Here's a picture of me on stage filling the role of Snug the Joiner as Lion. Snug is roaring.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 03/09/08: Royal Visit, Daffodils, Ball

1. The Deke's daughter (my stepdaughter), Adrienne, is visiting for the next week. She's here from West Point and her presence back in our house livens things up. It's also wonderful to see what a fine woman Adrienne is, so intelligent and mature.

2. Snug and I took a beautiful walk on this gorgeous spring-like day in our neighborhood and I took pictures of daffodils, but blogger is being obstinate and I can't upload the pictures. Maybe Blogger will be cooperative later tonight or tomorrow. (The photographs are posted now. Scroll down to my next post. For now, Blogger only allows the uploading of one image at a time.)

3. Snug, Charly, and Maggie have found a way to play ball together. Snug gets the ball and when he runs it back to me, Charly and Maggie are his energetic, smiling escorts. It's a great deal they've worked out, without tension, with each dog's role clearly defined.

Daffodils on March 9th

I promised in an earlier post today that I'd walk Snug and take some photographs. Here are a couple I took with Snug tugging on his leash, eager to move on.

Sibling Assignment #56: Healing Powers of Snug the Joiner

Because Silver Valley Girl and family have been playing Moliere's farce, "The Miser", at the 6th Street Theater in Wallace (Center of the Universe), I assigned me and my sisters this topic: "Write about an experience you have had in the theater that made you a better person."

InlandEmpireGirl wrote about how special she felt portraying Mother Goose in kindergarten, here and Silver Valley Girl sees her life in the theater as a spiritual experience, drawing her closer to God, here.

You can also check out pictures of the 6th Street Theater production of "The Miser, here and here. What's more, you can read InlandEmpireGirl's glowing review, here.

I look happy in this picture, don't I?

I was really happy.

This picture was taken at the Blue Door Theater at Lane Community College during a break in rehearsing our Spring, 2005 production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream". I was playing the role of one of the story's rough mechanicals: Snug, the Joiner. Snug, in turn, is cast as Lion in the play-within-the-play that the rough mechanicals give to the nobility to end the play, and, in this picture, I am wearing my lion headdress.

The year 2005 started terribly and was a continuation of a terrible 2004.

In July, 2004 my stepdaughter, Molly, was terribly burned in a camp stove fuel accident. Although the accident was not life-threatening, Molly suffered serious burns to the upper part of her torso, her neck, and the backs of her arms. She was admitted twice in the Burn Center in Portland, once for attention immediately after the accident and again following skin graft surgery which came about three weeks after the accident.

Even before Molly's accident, I had sought medical help for headaches and fatigue. Throughout the spring of 2004 and on into the summer, I'd been sleeping long hours and had headaches I couldn't shake.

In December, once the fall 2004 school term ended, I visited another doctor and it became clear what ailed me: my blood pressure was very high and I had lost 70% of my kidney function, most likely a result of the bacterial meningitis I had contracted in November 1999, and it was evident that I was suffering from clinical depression. I'd been down this depression road before, but the stakes seemed higher now.

About six weeks later, in February of 2005 , I went on a wonderful outing. Friends of mine from Kellogg were traveling to Lincoln City to spend Super Bowl weekend and spend some time on the Oregon Coast and I drove up on Sunday to meet them, play some games at the casino, and spend the night.

I had a great time.

Driving back to Eugene on Monday afternoon, however, I fought and fought against fatigue. I figured the problem was from staying up too late. I pulled off the road, slept for a while, and resumed my trip home.

I arrived home around three in the afternoon and fell right into bed, slept through dinner, slept through the night, and when I tried to wake up to go to work on Tuesday morning, I couldn't get up.

I was under the grip of depression. I'd never felt worse. By Thursday, the Deke took me to the emergency room at the hospital. I was released from ER and I saw a psychiatrist the following day. Things were dark.

Not long after this episode, Sparky Roberts asked me to audition for a couple of roles in "A Midsummer Night's Dream", which was already in rehearsal, but two cast members had left the cast.

With the Deke, I deliberated and deliberated whether I should take on a project like this given all the trouble I'd been having with fatigue and given how frayed I was after the episode with depression I'd had shortly before.

But, I decided to go for it.

I thought it might do me a lot of good to be a part of a theatrical cast.

I thought it might do me a lot of good to take on a role that might get me outside of myself.

I underestimated how much good playing the role of Snug, the Joiner would do for me.

Shakespeare's Snug is a good chap. He's a little bit slow minded and he's frightened of acting. His heart is very good and his aim, above all, is to please.

It really did me good to have long periods of time, both in rehearsal, and especially in performance, when I was not my depression suffering self and could be this good chap Snug.

Snug became a favorite of the cast and his portrayal of Lion was, for many, an unforgettable moment in the play.

It was healing to be this guy, to create such a likable character and to embody his simplicity and his moment of courage when he overcomes his fear and plays Lion to the best of his ability.

Shakespeare's genius in creating the play-within-the-play is that while the performance is farcical, the effort of the rough mechanicals is so sincere, so genuine, so eager to please, that it's touching to the nobility and to the theater audience.

Something that had been constricting and constraining my spirit cracked open when I played Snug. I could actually feel myself breathe more freely and laugh more fully and feel more deeply. The camaraderie I enjoyed with the cast, men and women much younger than I, opened me up to music, movies, books, and ways of seeing the world that enriched me, made my world seem at once fuller and lighter.

It was one of the happiest phases of my life, a great relief, and I have the theater to thank for it.
Not only did it temporarily lift my spirits, this phase inspired me give my dog his unforgettable name!

Sunday Scribblings: Experimenting Without Drugs

With the arrival of 2008, I thought I'd experiment with not taking the medicine I take to treat my mental health problems.

I don't think I ever thought I would quit taking this medicine forever, but I longed for the range and immediacy of feeling I experienced before coming under the care of these medications. I also longed for the technocolored and wildly erratic dreams I have when I miss a day or two of taking these medications. I longed for a month or more of such dreams.

Without my medication, I do have a wider range of feelings. I'm more alert to beauty, more sharply touched by poetry, more delighted by things my students say: I laugh more heartily and am more easily moved to tears. When not taking medicine, I feel at liberty to have a few alcoholic drinks and I enjoyed a beer and few rum and cokes over the course of these few weeks.

On the other hand, without my medication, I'm grouchier. I snap at students who displease me in ways they haven't heard before. On medication, I'm slow to anger, so slow it rarely happens. Off medication, I'm quick to anger; I do not and cannot roll with things that annoy me and I see my world through a much darker cloud. I feel inferior. I experience things said to me as condescending and my desire for compliments and need for reinforcement from others increases. Off my medication, I think too much about death.

I never think about taking my own life, but I think a lot about death being a comfort.

It confuses me that I experience the world so much differently from within myself outwardly on medication than off.

Predictably, I wonder what's real. Are my grouchiness, snappiness, anger, and sense of being inferior legitimate feelings of outrage? Am I more in touch, when not medicated, to aspects of my marriage, my work, and my relationships with others that are unjust and that ought to be pissing me off? Or are these diseased responses? Ill reactions? And how about pleasure? Without medicine, things give me more pleasure. Is this a diseased response?

Am I healthier when medicated because things don't bother me so much, my emotions are tamer, things are less dramatic, I feel less pleasure and have less access to pleasure, and I don't feel so inferior?

Is living in the midrange of feeling, with little experience toward the extremes the definition of sound mental health?

I don't know.

A week and a half ago I decided to take my medicine again and I'll stay with it. Even if it's not the "real me", I think it's better for my family and students and fellow teachers (and for Snug) for my temper to be more even-keeled. I think it's better to think occasionally about death, but not have it crowding my mind a lot. I think it's better to not be on guard and defensive, not to feel like others are being condescending toward me, or treating me as inferior. It's likely they aren't.

I seem to have decided that the sacrifice of stronger pleasure is worth it. I'll exchange hot salsa for medium or mild. It still tastes pretty good.

About ten days ago, when I started taking my medicine again, my system experienced quite a shock. It was all I could do to get to work in the morning and once I returned home, I went to sleep. I didn't write in my blog, my first gap of more than a couple or three days since I started blogging.

I know my work in the classroom suffered for about a week. The transition has been difficult, but I think I've made it.

My experiment with going off my medication is over.

My ten day absence from my blog is over.

It's time to take Snug for a walk and take some photographs!

I'll post them later.

For other Sunday Scribblings on experiments, go here.