Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 04/29/08: Neruda, Class Buzz, Students Travel the World

1. I love teaching poetry. Today my World Lit students and I worked on a couple of Neruda Odes together and I could feel vitality coursing throughout my body and I'm hoping the poetry came alive for my students, too.

2. Tonight my WR 122 students read essays they had written aloud in groups of three and four and the room buzzed with students reading, talking with each other, laughing, and just enjoying themselves. I was out of the picture, temporarily irrelevant. These are my favorite times in the classroom, when the students take over and listen to and enjoy each other.

3. Today was great conversations with students day: about the Women's Center, travel to India, good times in Mexico, hiking in Alaska, living in the country just off Mohawk Road, travel across the country on Greyhound. None of these things were about me. It was my students telling me stories about their lives and concerns in casual conversation.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 04/28/08: Donut, Snug Improves, Etienne's Conflicts

1. I needed some extra time this morning to get myself together and my team teacher, Margaret, got class going. The extra time allowed me to stop by the cafeteria for a cinnamon donut and that little bit of sugar sweetened my whole day.

2. My adventures playing ball with Snug continue. He's starting to understand gravity better and his timing is improving and he snatches the ball out of the air more often, but still provides plenty of comedy, biting at the ball, chomping on air, and clumsily recovering and picking up the ball off the ground.

3. I read more student essays on Germinal today and some of my students' work made my jaw drop with their deep understanding of the conflicts that churn inside of Etienne, turmoil we, as readers, see and understand, but that Etienne himself has little understanding of himself.

Onion News Network: Home Depot Honors Fallen Soldiers

Home Depot Honors Fallen Soldiers With Great Prices On Tools

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 04/27/04: Germinal, West and East, Strolling

1. I read and graded essays all day today. They were wonderful papers. My World Lit. students are wrestling with the fatalistic Zola novel, Germinal. It felt risky assigning it. Would my students read a 500+ page novel about coal miners striking in France in the 1860's? Many did. Class discussions have been vibrant and their papers have been right on the mark, many animated by enthusiasm for Zola's close to the bone grittiness, dark as it is.

2. My WR 122 students are learning about how to expand their critical thinking by thinking non-dualistically and copiously. We are looking at how traditional Western thought and Buddhist thought overlap and merge with their commitment to seeing the world as fully as as possible, from as many different perspectives as possible. My students essays reflecting their understanding of this overlapping and their examples of thinking this way themselves were fully of vitality.

3. Snug and I took a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood after I finished grading papers and the fruit blossoms around the neighborhood nearly intoxicated me.

Three Beautiful Things 04/26/08: Fresh Air, Blogging, Justine

1. As documented below, Snug and I went on a comfortable and comforting walk in Hendricks Park.

2. You can also scroll down, and see that I broke my blogging losing streak and finally got back to posting again and got caught up with Sibling Assignments.

3. Justine wrote me a late night email telling me she was struggling with her essay that's due on Tuesday and all of her thoughts and ideas for the essay were terrific. I think she might just write a very solid essay!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Sibling Assignment #61: Where I'm From

InlandEmpireGirl assigned this week's Sibling Assignment. Take the poem Where I'm From by George Ella Lyon and do your own version of where you are from. InlandEmpireGirl's poem is here and Silver Valley Girl's here. InlandEmpireGirl posted the original poem during National Poetry Month a year ago. You can read it here.

Where I’m From

Perhaps I’m not from tie dyed socks or tofu burritos

Or long haired boys high in rainbow buses

Or hoppy handcrafted Extra Special Bitters

Brewed beneath the High Street Pub –

And perhaps I’m not from recycling barrels

Or downtown protests of the War in Iraq

Or sold out nights with Yo Yo Ma or Mama Mia.

And perhaps I’m not from Serene Reflection Meditation

Or midmorning tailgate martinis,

Fresh grilled Oregon King Salmon with lemon couscous salad;

I never knew paprika on home fried potatoes,

I’m not from a mint condition first edition of Catch-22 at Black Sun books,

Or Bee Kissed Lip Balm, Higher Power TropicalTrail Mix,

Or wildcrafted Elephant’s Head and Angelica Root.

No, I’m from cadmium dust, sulfur air, blasting caps,

Anodes, cathodes, ingots, bars, pallets of zinc, mountains of slag, and flues.

I’m from Rooster, Goose, Dogfoot, Fanner, Igor, Barney, and Lars;

From Dunbar, Brooks, Cyclops, Jake, Birdman, Scabby, and Speed.

I’m from Jamborees, Freeze-orees, Spelling Bees, Fish Feeds,

Prom queens, Elks queens, blue jeans, and flatulent Jeremiah Bean.

I’m from sleeping out, sneaking out, camping out, and lashing out;

Mays and McCovey, Mantle and Maris, Koufax, Drysdale, and Ford.

I’m from a silly millimeter longer,

You’ve come a long way, baby,

You can take Salem out the country but…,

I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.

I’m from pot roasts, rump roasts, pork roasts,

New pants and shirts in the fall,

Baseball cleats, basketball shoes,

Golf clubs, bikes,

Christmas trees,

Gobs of gifts,

A house that was always warm.

I’m from parents who held me,

Kept me in line,

Drove me where I needed to go.

Obama Sweeps Eugene in a Landslide

The Democrat's presidential primary is approaching in Oregon and I am 100% undecided as I try to decide between Clinton and Obama. I'm not even sure how to decide. I might have to dig out the Ouija board.

But, stand anywhere in downtown Eugene or south of downtown, and within seconds you are bound to see the ubquitious Subaru Outback, festooned with the mandatory Obama bumper sticker. You'd think I'd be more persuaded.

A Walk in Hendricks Park

Mild spring weather broke out today in Eugene. Snug and I leaped in the Honda and glided out to southeast Eugene to the wooded Hendricks Park. This time of year, Hendricks Park is renown for its rhododendrons and azaleas. Alas, the trails winding through these bushes is off limits to dogs, so Snug and I headed the opposite way, into the woods:

The trees stretched eyes upward. Sometimes, though, things closer to the ground caught my eye. I liked the way the sunlight highlighted this wee fern growing out of this tree's trunk:

I also enjoyed delicate wildflowers:

Of course, moss covered logs and trees throughout the park:

Ivy also smothered logs and stumps:

Most important, beyond flowers and trees and moss and ivy, Snug enjoyed himself:

Friday, April 25, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 04/25/08: Teaching Talk, Dan's Retirement, Wobblies

1. Our English department spent time in discussion about different aspects of our teaching life. It's rare. Most of the time when we meet we talk about college business and almost never about classroom teaching and the pleasures of our discipline. It's a shame that institutional life is usually so uncertain that the governing of the institution demands so much attention.

2. We devoted time during our day together to honor the distinguished teaching career of Dan Armstrong. He and I were hired into our full-time positions on the same day in 1990 and started our full-time work in January of 1991. We have had offices next door to each other for many years and have grown close over the years. I'll hate to see him go, but I'm ecstatic for Dan that he will move into his retirement life and live his life at a slower and more relaxed pace.

3. Our Working Class Lit/Research class watched a compelling documentary this morning, "The Wobblies", a series of interview, archival footage, and other forms of film examining the short, but passionate history of the Industrial Workers of the World.

Sibling Assignment #60: Accomplishments At Sixty Years Old

For Sibling Assignment #60, Silver Valley Girl assigned the following task:

I realize some of us are closer than others, but, never the less, what are 10 things you would like to accomplish by the time you celebrate your 60th birthday?

Silver Valley Girl's hopes are here and InlandEmpireGirl's are here.

My first response to Silver Valley Girl's question is, very honestly, I don't have the slightest idea. Very, very honestly, my mind doesn't work this way. I am not goal oriented nor do I peer very much into the future with accomplishments in mind. I've never been very good at this. BUT, I signed on to these Sibling Assignments, so I am going to do my best to list ten things I'd like to accomplish by 12.27.2013.

1. Dark as it sounds, I'd like to be alive and healthy. I never know if the damage caused by the gas I inhaled at the Zinc Plant in 1973 is going to assert itself and become a cancer or something. The meningitis I suffered in 1999 has reduced my kidney function by 70%. So far, I've not experienced further decline, but I wonder how long my kidneys will stay at this level of function and keep me going well.

2. I want to keep coming back to Kellogg as often as possible and enjoy my mother while her health remains sound and enjoy my sisters and my friends in and around Kellogg. It's one of the deepest joys in my life to have free time in the summers and come back home and be where I think I belong.

3. I'd like to finally read Charles Dickens' novel Bleak House. I've started it several times and have always become distracted and I'd like to tie myself down and finish it.

4. I'd like to learn to use my current camera, and maybe future cameras, more fully and have a better understanding of what is possible in taking pictures with a camera.

5. I'd like to continue to learn as a teacher and continue to try new things and continue to mature as a teacher. At my age and with my experience, it can be tempting to fall back on classroom practices I've always employed, but at the age of 54, I continue to teach new books, focus my courses differently, design new assignments, and stay fresh and stimulated.

6. I took a drive in 1992 that I called the Richard Hugo tour. I traveled to many of the towns his poems are set in and walked the routes that some his poem's follow in those poems. I'd like to do that again and visit some of the small towns I didn't go to before.

7. In January, I found out that I live fairly close to Kellogg, Oregon. I've lived in Oregon for almost thirty years and I never knew about Kellogg, Oregon. I must go there and see what the other Kellogg looks like.

8. I've never hit a slot machine jackpot. I'd like to.

9. Harlan County, USA is a documentary film I am deeply moved by and I have a strong urge to travel to Brookside, KY where the movie happens and explore that part of Kentucky and on over to West Virginia and see the scraped off hilltops, a result of hilltop mining.

10. I'd like to find a joint here in the Eugene area comparable to Smelterville's Johnny's Bar or the Kingston Exxon station where guys get together every morning for coffee. I'm afraid that here in Eugene this will be the hardest thing on this list to accomplish. At these places in the Silver Valley where guys get together, they've know each other for decades, from when they were young.

Sibling Assignment #59: Kindness

I assigned this sibling assignment to acknowledge April which is National Poetry Month. My sisters and I were to post and poem that is important to us right now. InlandEmpireGirl posted her poem here and Silver Valley Girl posted her poem here.

Here's the poem I selected and a few comments:


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihab Nye

Nye's vision of kindness is that it's grounded in loss. It's a good thing. Otherwise, kindness would never prevail. Our lives are filled with suffering and loss, and if we only extended kindness when our lives or the world were in a happy state, we would rarely be kind.

Indirectly, this poem also speaks to the refining and chastening nature of suffering. It's a mystery. Suffering has an inexplicable power to move us to see the suffering in others, to share in that suffering, and extend compassion. Nye's word is kindness.

My hope, in reading this poem, is that I have the capacity to translate my disappointments and pain into kindness. Honestly, I know that I am a source of difficulty for others at times. I am grateful when the suffering or discomfort I have caused is returned with kindness.

Nye says it so well: "it is only kindness that makes sense any more." Indeed. Why should we extend our misery or sorrow to others, when kindness "goes with you everywhere/like a shadow or a friend".

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 04/05/08: Tigers, Jayhawks, Vanessa

1. ncaa.com makes the NCAA basketball tournament games available live and without charge. I watched today's games. In game #1, I was for UCLA, but was so impressed with how Memphis dismantled the Bruins that my inner rooting mechanism for the Bruins kind of died and I watched the Tigers with astonishment.

2. Likewise, in the second game, the Kansas Jayhawks stunned me. I'm not sure how much time had elapsed when the Jayhawks were up 40-12, but, for that stretch of time, I hadn't seen such amazing basketball played for a long time. I didn't think any team at any time could bulldozer North Carolina the way Kansas did in the first half. My jaw dropped. And dropped. And dropped.

3. What a pleasure it was to see Vanessa working the customer service counter at Albertson's. Vanessa was one of my students in my winter Survey of World Literature course and she wrote papers expressing her amazement that ancient literature could speak so clearly and immediately to her life and concerns in the 21st century. It was fun to talk with her and to remember her insightful and enthusiastic writing.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 04/04/08: Igby, Backyard Polo Grounds, Chris Llewellyn

1. I watched an unusual movie this evening: "Igby Goes Down". It's a blistering, cynical, morose, dark comedy about a 17 year old boy played by Kieran Culkin who leaves his privileged but psychologically and emotionally damaged home and moves in with a heroin addict who is his godfather's lover and becomes lovers himself with a Bennington college student only to have his detested older brother take her away from him. And there's more. Susan Sarandon, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Ryan Phillipe, Claire Daines, and Amanda Peete all play significant roles beautifully.

2. If you've seen the famous catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series that Willie Mays made, back to the plate, deep in center field, over the shoulder, than you know what kind of catch Snug made today when I tossed the tennis ball high, it took a huge bounce, went near the fence, and with his back to me, Snug snagged the ball and stopped, pivoted, and brought the ball back. As if they were fans at the Polo Grounds, the Corgis went wild.

3. Poet Chris Llewellyn wrote a series of haunting poems exploring the The Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire of March 25, 1911, and our students read some of these poems aloud and I heard them in unsettling ways I'd never heard them before.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 04/03/08: Louise, Louise, Lola

1. I love it when a writer of keen intellect and elegant prose turns out to be, herself, an elegant, gracious, and keenly intelligent person. Today Louise Steinman, author of The Souvenir, visited Lane Community College and spoke movingly about the story of unearthing her father's WWII letters after he died in 1990 and how the discovery of a Japanese flag he had brought home from the war led Steinman to travel to Japan to return the flag to the family related to the Japanese soldier whose name was on the flag. I wrote Three Beautiful Things about this book back in September, 2007, here.

2. I was invited to a luncheon with Louise Steinman and was asked to invite three of my students. Marla, Teresa, and Alex all beamed to be in Steinman's company. It's no wonder. Louise Steinman listened intently to the students' own stories about family members who'd been in combat, as well as their comments about their lives. She valued the students, respected them, and helped them see that greatness is as much a matter of spirit as it is in achievement through publishing.

3. It was a movie to challenge the senses with its frantic pace and techno throbbing soundtrack, but my World Lit class seemed enthralled and excited by our viewing of Run, Lola, Run at 8:00 this morning. It's a hypnotic study of love, chance, and the way the slightest occurrence can result in the direst of consequences, but alter that occurrence very slightly and the consequences can be considerably sweeter.