Monday, June 30, 2008

Northwest Inland Writing Project's Summer Writing Retreat


copia
co'-pi-a




An important goal and method of renaissance rhetorical
instruction, copia is best understood in terms of the
textbook which earned the term its fame, Desiderius
Erasmus's De duplici copia verborum ac rerum,
"On the twofold abundance of expressions
and ideas."





I honestly had no idea what it meant to be the visiting writer at a writing retreat, save the fact that every time I looked at notices for retreats they always seemed to feature writers of renown like Tess Gallagher or Mary Oliver or Jane Hirshfield.

When asked to be the visiting writer at this summer's NIWP's Summer Writing Retreat, I hesitated. Me? Me? Why? I've published three poems and two essays and keep this blog. I'm not exactly Robert Bly. What's more, I don't teach poetry, fiction, memoir, or creative non-fiction writing in my job and these seem to be the primary areas of interest for the writers attending this retreat.

Why me?

But, my sister, InlandEmpireGirl, and her good friend Bev coordinate this retreat and since they decided to invite me, I decided to trust their judgment and accept the task.

I hoped they knew what they were doing.

Would the ideas about writing that I present to my LCC students work when applied to poetry and memoir writing? Would my knowledge about poetry, earned from years of studying and teaching poetry, translate into helping people at this retreat write their own poetry? How about memoir?

I also was concerned that one or more precious, pretentious writers might have enrolled who might intimidate other writers and who might need to be reigned in a bit.

Things could not have turned out better.

My teaching ideas and methods worked. The writers were receptive to my instruction and very appreciative of each other. No prima donnas enrolled.

We shared humility in common. While a few in the group might have been, well, too humble, and in need of extra encouragement because of a lack of confidence, they came around and I think began to believe in their talent.

I teach writing with a few principles:

1. No writer wants to be pushed around; writers want to work with their own voices and their own styles. Writing teachers who impose their own ways of writing upon others are failing those they teach. I edit lightly and give a few, I hope, well-placed bits of advice.

2. Let it rip. Writers should always feel free to explore copiously the subjects of their writing in as much variety and with as much freedom as possible. Writers should always feel at liberty to write off the subject, to explore the many tributaries of the main river of an idea. This is what makes the brain happy!

3. Writing is largely a matter of being awake and receptive. I don't regard it as a special gift. I think most people have the ability to be awake, to be conscious, and to develop a vocabulary that suits what they see and experience and think and feel.

These were the basic principles I tried to put into action as the visiting writer and I'm very pleased, given the writing I heard individuals read aloud and given what was shared with me in individual conferences, that these principles worked pretty well.

The Onion Reminds Us: Fall's Been Canceled

Fall Canceled After 3 Billion Seasons

November 7, 2007 | Issue 43•45

Fall Scenery

WASHINGTON, DC—Fall, the long- running series of shorter days and cooler nights, was canceled earlier this week after nearly 3 billion seasons on Earth, sources reported Tuesday.

The classic period of the year, which once occupied a coveted slot between summer and winter, will be replaced by new, stifling humidity levels, near- constant sunshine, and almost no precipitation for months.

Fall Highlights

"As much as we'd like to see it stay, fall will not be returning for another season," National Weather Service president John Hayes announced during a muggy press conference Nov. 6. "Fall had a great run, but sadly, times have changed."

Said Hayes: "Frankly, we're amazed it lasted as long as it did."

Though it came as a surprise to many, the cancellation was not without its share of warning signs. In recent years, fall had been reduced from three months to a meager two-week stint, and its scheduled start time had been pushed back later and later each year. Still, many Americans continued to hold out hope that it would make a last-minute comeback.

"I guess I should have seen it coming, but it's still upsetting to think about fall being gone forever," said Peterborough, NH resident Dale Simmons, who was informed of the cancellation yesterday while waterskiing with his family. "Maybe other people won't miss it as much, but I practically grew up watching the leaves change color."

"Now what am I supposed to do with myself between August and December?" Simmons asked. "Wear shorts?"

Though disappointed by the cancellation, a number of Americans have admitted that the last few seasons of fall were "completely underwhelming" and often lacked the trademark mood and temperatures of earlier years.

"In my opinion, fall stopped really being fall after 2004," Margaret Davies of Augusta, ME said. "Once the birds quit migrating south and the need for air-conditioning extended into late October, it just wasn't the same anymore. To tell you the truth, I was shocked to hear that fall was even still around."

Fall's recent slide isn't uncommon, however, with spring and winter also suffering from quality issues. According to recent NWS data, winter has not had a consistent showing in almost four years, while last year spring was cut down to just five days to make room for an extended run of summer that began in March.

"With the way things have been going lately, it only makes sense that fall would be canceled," said Eric Fausbaum, an observer at an independent weather-watch agency, as he wiped beads of sweat from his brow. "But then I still remember when December meant having to put on a sweater to go outside."

Though thousands have signed Internet petitions to save fall, and protests have been scheduled throughout the week, many are skeptical that they will ever see the temperate season again. In addition, the National Weather Service said that even if fall were to return at a later date—perhaps for a brief guest appearance next spring—citizens shouldn't be too optimistic.

"I know people are upset to see fall go, but let's try to keep things in perspective," Hayes said. "After all, it's not like it's the end of the world or anything."

Regardless of whether it ever returns, Americans said they would always have fond memories of the once-ubiquitous season.

"The crunch of fallen leaves underneath your feet, the smell of ripening fruit hanging heavy on nearby trees, the crisp and cool evening air—I'll never forget it," Minnesota resident Jessica Bellauc said. "That was fall, right?"

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 06/27-29/08: Red Robin Shake, Friendly La Grande, Clean Sheets and Towels


It's Sunday evening. I've spent all day recovering from driving home yesterday from Pendleton in blistering heat without a/c in my car. It really got to me. It sapped my energy, made me ill. I'm rallying, though, and will prove my mettle by listing 3BT's.

1. Yesterday, with a streak of sweat wet running diagonally from my left shoulder to my right hip, right where the shoulder belt pressed against me, I dragged my sorry ass into the Wilsonville Red Robin and ordered a chocolate/Oreo milkshake and water. It cooled me off. It nourished me. It raised my spirits. It got me the next forty miles to Albany before I had to pull off at another rest area and sit in the shade and stare.

2. On Friday, I put almost 100 bucks worth of gas in the rental pickup, returned it, and picked up my repaired Honda. When it comes to customer service and friendliness, La Grande might be my new favorite town. I know they were all taking my money, but the people at All-Foreign Auto, Goss Motors, the Shell station where I got gas, and at the cafe I ate breakfast were all so friendly that I might have paid them all double just for lighting up my forlorn life with their good spirits.

3. After driving from McCall to LaGrande and getting my car back and driving to Pendleton, did a Motel 6 ever look so good? Only once before and that was in Blue Springs, Missouri, but that's another story. Suffice it to say, that when I arrived Friday evening in Pendleton and a room was vacant and service so friendly and the room so clean, I was glad Motel 6 left the light on.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 06/26/08: Silence Broken, Appearances' Reality, Licorice and Beer


1. At tonight's open mic session at the writing retreat, Julie and Betty each read a poem they had written after being quiet all week. Their work was roundly appreciated and the group took great joy in hearing from them.

2. Duane is writing a series of Studs Terkel-like interviews. They are fictional, located in a fictional town named Appearances, WA. They are works of genius; each character's voice is authentic, unique. The attitudes and experiences these characters unfold upon being asked who the most influential person in Basalt county blow my mind.

3. Bev kindly asked me to join her in reading a script she had written entitled "Licorice and Beer", and we gave our reading to the writing retreaters. It is a lovely script and reading it with Bev was a lot of fun.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Many More Than Three Beautiful Things 06/23-26/08: The Writing Retreat

1. I've never been a visiting writer before and I wondered if the plans I had for unlocking the writers at this retreat would be welcome or effective.

2. They have been both.

3. The writers wrote lovely poems that look at writing in terms of something in their life they enjoyed, including swimming, arranging flowers, cooking, lying in the sun on flat river bank rocks, and a host of other things. You can read InlandEmpireGirl's poem here.

4. InlandEmpireGirl has told me many warm and vivid things about her friend Bev and getting acquainted with her has been wonderful.

5. Mary is a tribal judge for the Coeur d'Alene tribe and we talked for an hour about her work, her life's history, the writing she has done about genocide and the writing she is doing about salmon and the Columbia River. She read me a moving children's story she wrote about a goose being given a new name and a poem she wrote about her father, an Indian, having been called a nigger. It was an emotional and enriching hour.

6. Laurie, Silver Valley Girl's sister-in-law sang two songs at open mic. Her singing visibly moved us all. Earlier, Laurie and I talked about a piece she had written and about locating the emotions she is exploring in her body, not so much in her head.

7. Wilma was born and raised in working class family in Kamiah and struggles with the how to straddle the worlds of her home and the world of her education and work now that she has earned a doctorate, an achievement which sets her apart from her hometown and her family. We had an earnest talk about this challenge and she brought it up in our group's workshop and her concern unlocked an energetic discusson.

8. Ellen wrote and read a stunning poem about finnan haddie.

9. Nightly campfires have been a robust way to end each day of our retreat and have featured terrific conversations and much laughter.

10. There is so much more. But it's getting close to 1 a.m. Breakfast is at 7. I have a workshop to lead in the morning at 10. I need to pack it in and get some sleep.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Stuck in La Grande?

"We had this happen before. The customer found an available rental car in Pendleton. The taxi cost 185 dollars to get up there."

Lance manages All Foreign Auto in La Grande. He'd made a couple of phone calls to find me a rental car in La Grande. No one had cars available.

This was not good news.

It was Monday. Sunday, I drove from Eugene to Pendleton. My plan was to drive to McCall, Idaho to the University of Idaho Field Campus to join the Northwest Inland Writing Project writing retreat. I'd been hired to be the visiting writer for this retreat.

I stopped for gas in La Grande. After my fill up, my 1993 Honda Civic with 178,000 miles stuttered as I left the Shell station. I drove down Adams Street and the car felt better, but my car fear was in high gear.

I returned to I-84 and suddenly my temperature gauge leaped to the red zone. I started having morningmares of steam and smoke billowing from under the hood. I exited right away at the Flying J Travel Plaza.

I inquired about help at the Flying J, drove to a Les Schwab shop in La Grande, and a trotting tire man sent me to All Foreign Auto.

"Yeah, we can look at but it'll be a bit before we can get to it."

"How long of a bit?"

"About an hour or so."

I walked the main drag of La Grande, trying to push down more morningmares of being stuck in La Grande, never making it to fulfill my contract in McCall.

InlandEmpireGirl arrived at the retreat a day early. She's the retreat co-director. It would be one thing to tell a retreat director who runs a writing retreat through some college in western Montana that I can't fulfill my duties as visiting writer because I'm stuck in La Grande with a busted car, but the thought of telling my sister this made my stomach burn and knees wobbly.
l
I ate breakfast. I returned to All Foreign Auto.

Lance greeted me. "We're working on it. Not sure yet what's up."

Soon, one of Lance's mechanics drove off in my car. I thought this might be a good sign. It wasn't. About half an hour later Lance told me that my car was burning coolant and calmly rattled off a a list of things that needed repair. It would take the rest of the week.

"Where you headed?"

I told him.

"Yeah." Lance sighed at looked at his work boots. "I wouldn't take this car out. If you'd like I can call a couple of places that rent cars and see if I can find you something."

No luck. No rental cars were available in La Grande. I told Lance I needed some time to figure things out.

I went back to the slow streets of La Grande and stumbled into Goss Motors.

Denice was working the business counter.

"Do you rent cars?"

"Yup. You want one?"

"Yes!" I tried not to shout.

"When do you need it?"

"Now."

"I wish you hadn't said that. Our cars are all rented out." She paused. "How about a pickup?"

I lit up. I uttered a silent prayer of thanksgiving.

"A pickup would be great."

Soon, a Goss Motors guy wheeled a 2006 Chevy pickup to the front of Goss Motors.

Back at All Foreign Auto, Lance shook his head. "I told her I was looking for a rental car. When she said, 'no', guess she didn't think to ask me if a pickup would do."

The Honda Will Spend the Week in La Grande

The cost of not being stuck in La Grande will be dear, but worth every penny. I didn't put InlandEmpireGirl in a pickle and now I could do my best to help just over a dozen school teachers with their memoirs and poems and enjoy the mountain air and field campus' Ponderosa pines overlooking Payette Lake.

Saved by a Chevy

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 06/18/08: Perfect Look, Broomstick, Tiger Surgery


1. I didn't know Leah had a station at Perfect Look, so I was surprised when I walked in for a haircut and Leah was at the counter. We had a nice talk about things, including how WR 123/Working Class Lit. has been going since Leah took the course four years ago.

2. I've almost recovered. It's startling how much my body feels beaten up when I finish a school year. Well, I'm almost finished. But, all the same, I slept in today, went back to bed, and when I got up and walked around my shoulders and back felt like I'd absorbed blows from a broomstick.

3. Tiger Woods is out for the season with his need for reconstructive knee surgery and the double stress fracture of his tibia. The question all day on the radio has been whether people will watch golf without him on tour. Nothing in my habits of following, watching, or listening to golf on the radio will change: I enjoyed consuming professional golf long before Tiger Woods came along and I'll enjoy it without him there, too.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 06/17/08: Celts, Grades, Pizza


1. I deeply enjoyed listening to the Celtics completely dismantle the Lakers on XMRadio. I want to make a case for Kevin Garnett as the MVP. Everything the Celtics do is predicated on their defense. Leader of the defense? Kevin Garnett. He had a double figures in rebounds and scoring. Who else has achieved this feat in the history of the NBA? Here's your list: Bob Pettit, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Moses Malone and Shaquille O'Neal. Lastly, Garnett is the heart and soul leader of the Celtics. He had my vote for MVP, but just the tiniest fraction of a milimeter over Paul Pierce, who slashed, defended, yelled, muscled, and jump shot the Celtics to victory. My attitude and regard for both Pierce and Garnett has escalated over the last four weeks. It really feels great to hold these two players in such high regard.

2. Grades done; grades submitted; spring quarter nearly over. Some housekeeping to do tomorrow or the next day and my summer studying, reading, writing, and so on begins.

3. Adrienne is here for a visit and tonight she became our pizza maker and the pizza was brilliant.

Three Beautiful Things 06/16/08: Golf Drama, Yard Debris, Early Deke


1. I love watching golf on television. We don't have a television equipped for tv channel viewing, so I was very happy today when usopen.com broadcast the playoff between Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate online. It was a superb match, with great drama both in the contest and in Tiger Woods' seriously injured knee and leg.

2. We had our yard cleaned up today and it somehow relieved a source of tension in me.

3. The Deke drove home earlier than planned from Seattle this evening for a job interview tomorrow afternoon.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 06/15/08: Playoff, Elegance, Eloquence


1. Round 4 of the U.S. Open golf championship. XM Radio again. I kept thinking that Tiger Woods was going to figure out a way to win or tie the tournament. I know he's playing on fewer than two legs with his bum knee and I know he's never sure where his shots are going to land, but no one plays better when in trouble on a golf course than Tiger Woods. Sure enough. Tiger flopped around the whole course: he was in trees, ice plant, rough, and bunkers. But, on the 18th hole, after driving into a bunker, hitting a pretty lousy shank out of the bunker into the right rough, he managed to put spin on his third shot, lofted it to ten feet from the hole, birdied, and we'll see what happens tomorrow.

2. Karly enrolled in my WR 121 class fresh out of high school. She then took my WR 122 course in the winter. Now she's twenty-one and not a kid anymore and as I read her World Lit final exam today and admired her original thinking and her elegant prose, I took a minute and felt the pleasure of having a sense of how much she's grown as a person, thinker, and writer.

3. Marla is a few years older than I am and is getting serious about earning a B.A. degree. In my fall quarter WR 121 course she was an insecure nervous wreck about writing and the course helped settle her nerves and gain some confidence. Today I read her A+ final exam in World Literature. She's slowly but surely letting go of her anxiety and letting her intelligence occupy her mind and spirit instead of her fear. When this happens for a writer, the writing really takes off and Marla succeeded in writing a beautiful final. Her insights were unique and she wrote them with clarity and eloquence.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day Sports Gift



This morning on ESPN radio, host Freddie Coleman asked for listeners to write or call him with what sports gift, in a perfect world, they would like to give their fathers.

My dad passed away twelve years ago on June 1. Our primary connection with each other was the world of sports, whether we played golf, he was coaching my Little League team, he was coming to watch me play basketball or baseball, or we were watching games on television.

Dad loved the Boston Celtics. When George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees and when the days of Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra were over, he had a conversion experience and became a Red Sox fan.

Dad loved the parquet floor and the cavernous decay of the Boston Garden. Even more, he loved the Green Monster and the classic lack of symmetry of Fenway Park.

If I could have given my dad the perfect sports gift, I would have taken him to Boston in the spring time and we would have attended a Red Sox game at Fenway one day and watched the Celtics on another.

To make the gift more perfect, I would have given it to him with the added bonus of time travel. We would have watched the 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox, with Carl Yastrzemski in his prime and we would have watched the 1968-69 Celtics, with Bill Russell making his last stand and John Havlicek emerging as one of the NBA's most tireless and reliable players.

Father's Day: U.S. Open


On the Father's Days I could spend with my dad, we spent them watching the U.S. Open golf championship. When I had moved to Oregon, I drove to my Kellogg friend Roger's apartment, we watched the final round, and then I called Dad to wish him a happy Father's Day and we became golf analysts and broke down what we'd seen.

Dad loved professional golfers. Aside from Lannie Watkins, whom he considered a "hot dog", Dad enjoyed all the great golfers: Jack Nicklaus, Raymond Floyd, Miller Barber, Gene Littler, Hale Irwin, Tom Watson, Rod Funseth, Johnny Miller, but none more than Lee Trevino.

Dad and I both loved Lee Trevino. We knew his story, how he had taught himself to play golf, used to hustle golfers at a par-3 course, playing with a taped up Dr. Pepper bottle. He was a golfer a couple of Kellogg Zinc Plant workers could identify with. Unlike the scores of professional golfers who advanced to the professional ranks through country clubs, junior programs, and prestigious university golf teams, Trevino came up from public courses and working at a driving range.

For Father's Day, 1978, I was living in Spokane and saw that Esmeralda Golf Course was hosting a Father/Son tournament. It was an alternate shot format and I thought it would be fun to play together.

I had my most humiliating moment ever on a golf course that day. Neither Dad nor I were great golfers. We managed to make our way through the first hole, probably with a double or triple bogey.

On the par-3 second hole, however, it was my turn to tee off. I got myself set, started my backswing, and in a moment of indecision, lack of confidence, anxiety (the emotions that dictate my golf game), I leaned back on my heels, totally out of balance, and only the very toe of my eight iron tapped the ball. It traveled about two feet, max.

Had this happened in a friendly golf game at Kellogg Golf Club, the others in our foursome would have just said, "Take a mulligan."

But, this was a tournament.

I've never felt worse, more ashamed, more inadequate, and more unworthy of my father, when he had to walk those two feet, take a club out of his bag, and hit our team's second shot.

I nearly cried and wouldn't have blamed my dad if he never spoke to me again.

He was embarrassed, too, and addressed his shot grimly, not expecting to have to hit a 138 yard second shot on a 139 yard hole.

I don't remember how that hole turned out or how we did in the tournament. I'm hoping we found a way to at least par a hole.

But when we went to Grandma's house after our round and sat down in front of Grandma's black and white television to watch Andy North survive the blustery conditions of Cherry Hills to win his first Open championship, Dad said, "That was a lot of fun, son. Maybe we can do it again someday."

We never did.

We played a lot of golf over the next fifteen years, but we never again formed a competitive Father/Son team.

Three Beautiful Things 06/14/08: Tiger on XM, French Colonialism, Tigers Charging?


1. My exclusive source for taking in sporting events is XM Radio. Today I listened to the third round of the U.S. Open golf championship and listened to the hobbled Tiger Woods eagle the 13th, birdie the 17th, and eagle the 18th brought me to my feet. Michael Collins, the reporter following Woods, came unglued for each of these stupendous moments and they played out beautifully in the golf theater of my mind. If Tiger Woods wins this tournament today with his knee sore and often buckling, it will rate close to Ken Venturi's victory in 1964 as he nearly crawled the course, severely dehydrated from the 100 degree heat. What makes Venturi's feat arguably the most courageous of all time is the fact that, at that time, the final day of the U.S. Open was a thirty-six hole grind.

2. God's Bits of Wood, a novel published in 1961 by Ousmane Sembène of Senegal, turned out to be the perfect way to finish my World Literature course. I read my students' papers, focused on how the Sudanese and Senegalese portrayed in this book had, in various ways, mentally and emotionally internalized the French who had colonized and occupied their country. It's what happens, no matter the effort to resist a occupier: people begin to become the very people they want to leave their country.

3. I'm cautiously optimistic: the Detroit Tigers won their fifth straight game today. They are six games under .500, seven games out of first place; no one in the AL Central is playing dominating baseball. Maybe the Tigers can overcome their dismal April and May and charge back into this race over June, July, August, and September. As they say, there's still a lot of ball to be played.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 06/13/08: Harlan Joy, Paul Pierce Respect, Tiger Woods Awe


1. I read my WR 122 students' papers on Harlan County, USA. When I planned this course, this was the one "text" I had the most doubt about. I absolutely love this movie, but I didn't know how it would play for my students. I need never worry again. Not only were my students' insights thoughtful and illuminating, many expressed being blown away by the movie. Reading their words of enthusiasm filled me with joy.

2. I went back to Linda's work area in our division office and we broke down Game 4 of the NBA finals and marveled together that the Celtics came back from a 24 point deficit and won that game. For me, the highlight of our post-game analysis was our agreement that Paul Pierce has played with the strongest resolve we've seen in a player for a long time. He's just plain tough.

3. Linda and I also broke down the US Open. We didn't know, as we talked, that Tiger Woods had charged up the leaderboard with a 30 on his back nine and catapulted himself into second place. We talked about Woods, though. We agreed that we have loved every moment of watching him play. Linda and I know golf. We know the difficulties of the game. We are in awe of Tiger Woods' skill and mental strength and of his charismatic presence on the golf course.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 06/12/08: Hugging, Incomplete, Jawing


1. The climate in institutional educational settings is such that I keep physical distance from my students. Ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years ago, students and I would share a hug after a conference or when a course came to an end and it seemed good. Today, I had a good talk with Lina and she said, "Let me give you a hug" and we hugged and it was the right thing to do and I appreciated one of these all too rare moments of sharing gratitude and respect. The gratitude and respect is there between me and my students, but we rarely express it this way.

2. Shelley and I have worked together in WR 115, 121, 122, and now 123. She's a wonderful writer with a complicated life and almost never finishes a course on time. We trust each other. She knows that I know that she will finish her work and so we are both relaxed about her needing an incomplete. I really enjoyed working out the possibilities for her last paper this morning and our shared understanding that it would not be long before she finished, but it would be after the quarter ended.

3. At the corner between mine and Margaret's office is a round table with two chairs . Rather than talk things over in our offices, Margaret and I sit at this table and the best part is when other faculty or students see and hear us and come down the hall and join us for some irreverent laughs and a smattering of serious discussion.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 06/11/08: Dan Retires, Laughing with Alice, Northwest Eugene


ImageChef.com Poetry Blender


1. Dan is in the last week of teaching at Lane Community College. He's retiring. Margaret, Jeff, Dan, and I have offices in a corner near each other and we got together for some Thai food this evening and laughed and told stories and continued, even as Dan is leaving LCC, to get to know each other better.

2. Alice came by to talk about her research paper and Margaret joined in and we had a string of long laughs and more or less solved many of the world's problems.

3. Snug and I took a drive today into northwest Eugene. When visitors and travel writers and many residents of Eugene rhapsodize about our fair city, they are never referring to the machine shops, lumber mills, modest houses, taverns, second hand stores, industrial parks, small farms, and body shops of northwest Eugene. I enjoy it more than the hip and upscale areas of Eugene.

Three Beautiful Things 06/10/08: Exam Time, Hero's Journey, Mining Coal


1. The final exam environment today in my World Lit class was cool to me. Ashleigh, with a Venti Starbuck's drink, and Kati sat on the floor, backs up against the wall, typing out their exams on their laptops. Teresa and Kelly needed a power source and sat at a table at the front of the room facing the rest of the class. Others had strong batteries. Many wrote with pens. Red Bull cans, coffee mugs, stacks of the course's novels and poetry, students freely leaving to stretch or go to the rest room, air thick with concentration.

2. Lina's research essay looks at the Chinese immigrant experience and the labor they performed on the transnational railroad in terms of Joseph Campbell's hero's journey. It's an ingenious approach and is developing into a wonderful paper.

3. Fernando, a student from Costa Rica, came by my office this evening to talk about coal mining, inspired by our class having read Sky of Stone and viewed Harlan County, USA. He also watched Morgan Spurlock's 30 Days episode on mining coal in West Virginia. He's intrigued by the demands of the labor, the conditions it's practiced in, and its importance to the USA -- and how different it is from anything he has known in Costa Rica.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 06/09/08: Ghosts, GraceAnne, Roses

1. I'm reading my World Lit students' self-examination essays. In them, they explore ideas we have been studying, and rather than seeing them grow out of the literature we are studying, they examine how those ideas are alive in their own lives. So far, my favorite essays have been ones looking at ghosts. They aren't papers about supernatural beings, but about the way people who have died remain alive in memory and are present in important moments in these students' lives.

2. GraceAnne and I have been working together on her research paper over the last couple of weeks and today she finished it. It's a wonderful exploration of the relationship between consciousness, conscience, and contentment. Remarkably, she looks at the realities of social and economic class in relation to these ideas and makes it work. I've never read a paper quite like it and he work has enlarged my understanding of how to look at class in relation to the inward life.

3. An evening wind stirred our neighbor's roses as Snug and I walked by them and the fragrance, delicate, nearly lifted me off my feet.

Three Beautiful Things 06/08/08: Bloggin' Like It's 1999, Day Off, The Truth


1. I blogged a lot today. I've been wanting to get some thoughts down about some movies and did it.

2. Blogging a lot today meant I didn't do any school work. I took a break. Five more days to go and the quarter is over -- not to mention the school year. I'm rested and ready for the last big push.

3. Paul Pierce is turning out to be a better, tougher, more versatile, rougher offensive and defensive basketball player than I had ever known him to be. I have this outdated image of him in my mind when he and Antoine Walker were the Celts' big cats and, even though I didn't watch that team much, I had it in my head that Pierce was just a gunner. Maybe he was in 2002, but he's doing it all in the playoffs, especially right now against the Lakers.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sibling Assignment #65: There's No Place Like Home


I handed out this week's Sibling Assignment. It's pretty simple:

"What do you understand about The Wizard of Oz as an adult that you didn't understand as a child?"

InlandEmpireGirl's beautiful, moving post about her adult understanding of the Tin Woodsman is one you must read and it is here; Silver Valley Girl's post is not posted yet.

Twenty-six years ago, I taught full-time for two years in the English Department at Whitworth College (now University). My first semester I taught the Shakespeare course and I was going through a transformation in my thinking about and my feeling toward Shakespeare's plays.

I was only twenty-eight years old and had been studying Shakespeare seriously for about two years, but his plays had really been on my mind since I was twenty.

During much of that time, I saw the tragedies comprising Shakespeare's most profound thinking and deepest feeling. I regarded the comedies as fluff. I treated them as afterthoughts. To me, it was as if Shakespeare needed a vacation from writing real plays, so he dashed off some comedies.

But during the fall of 1982, my thinking and feeling and attitude began to change.

In part, I think the divorce I'd just been through inspired this change. Divorce left me longing for reconciliation, healing, stability, union, and reunion; in short, I longed for home.

I was preparing to teach A Winter's Tale when it hit me that this play, like many of Shakespeare's comedies is about the pain of separation and the longing for reunion. Furthermore, A Winter's Tale, like The Tempest, was about being separated from home and the longing to return home again.

Shakespeare's comedies satisfy that longing to return home, whether home is in actual place or whether it's portrayed in the success of a threatened love relationship culminating in marriage and the promise of a new home.

It suddenly struck me that this idea of home, a place of security, trust, belonging, and ease, was not only a physical place, but an inward spiritual truth.

Inwardly, home takes shape as a wholeness and Shakespeare's comedies suddenly were more profound and meaningful than his tragedies in their portrayal of the joy that comes when one's home is lost or one is separated from home and one returns. The comedies portray peace.

Suddenly, preparing A Winter's Tale, I pictured Dorothy wandering the yellow brick road through the forests and poppies and finding herself in the castle of the Wicked Witch and I remembered her baleful voice, the sound of longing.

All Dorothy wanted was to return home.

The Wizard of Oz always moved me as a child and its power was beyond my understanding.

Now I know.

As an adult, I began to understand that Dorothy's longing to return home was not just her longing, it is a deep human longing, deep in all of us, and I had been feeling Dorothy's longing since I was about five years old.

In the loneliness and despair of being newly divorced, I felt the loss of the sanctuary I thought I had with my wife; within myself I was casting about, pitching between the joy of my work and my inward misery. I knew I couldn't return home with Eileen; I wanted to find home within my soul. It was a futile search. It's still elusive.

My literature instruction began to seize more and more upon the idea of home. When I wanted my students to understand the emotion, outside of themselves, of this universal longing for home, I implored them to remember Dorothy and her repeated mantra: "There's no place like home."

Like me, my students began to understand The Wizard of Oz as adults in a way they hadn't as children.

Movie: Harlan County, USA




Barbara Kopple (pictured above) hadn't yet made a feature length documentary movie when she started work on a movie that would explore the United Mine Workers of America's election between reform candidate Arnold Miller and longtime incumbent Tony Boyle. When a strike at the Brookside, KY coal mine broke out in 1972, Kopple and crew moved to Brookside and "Harlan County, USA" resulted.

It's a harsh, sobering, and, inspiring movie. The strike is its main focus, particularly as it documents the role of the miners' wives in support of their husbands and as it looks at Basil Collins, an infamous strike breaker, and his men who were scabs and gun thugs.

As compelling as the main story of the strike is, the genius of the movie lies in its detours. The UMWA election story gets told in "Harlan County, USA". On New Year's Eve, 1969, Tony Boyle's leadership opponent Joseph "Jock" Yablonski, along with his wife and twenty-five year old daughter were murder in their home.

The movie takes a brief look at this murder, at the ascension of Arnold Miller as the reform candidate, and at Tony Boyle's being tried and convicted for having hired two men to murder his opponent. It also covers Miller's successful campaign to unseat Boyle, before Boyle was convicted.

This detour into the corrupt practices of Boyle and the divisions within the United Mine Workers of America keeps the movie from being an uncritical view of the United Mine Workers of America.

Yes, on the local level, the union is the coal miners' only hope for better pay and benefits and for an increased focus on safety. But, at the national level, the union organization is in the same league of corruption and greed as the mine operators it purports to be in conflict with.

The movie's other detour is its examination of blank lung. The coal operator's are as callous toward the miners' pulmonary health as they are to the miners' living conditions (no running water or indoor toilets). The pictures of older miners at pulmonary capacity machines and others being treated with respiratory therapy deepens the movie's overall story of the terrible plight of these miners.

In fact, the miners are being crushed underneath layers of power weighing down on them. The Brookside mine is an Eastover mine which is run by Duke Power of North Carolina which is under the sway of the nation's petroleum companies and all of these entities have the government regulatory agencies, particularly the Bureau of Mines, on their side.

The government wants the mines to operate so steel production continues unabated and so the nation's electrical demands are met. Then, as today, mines are given safety extensions, are subject to less than rigorous inspection. Miners' wages are kept low. Benefits are lousy. Lower company overhead means cheaper steel and electricity.

It's a dictatorship. The miners have next to no real control over their work and their lives. In fact, the strike the movie covers happens because Duke Power refuses to recognize the miners' vote to join the United Mine Workers of American.

The movie, released in 1976, is not titled "Harlan County, KY". It's "Harlan County USA". It's a microcosmic look at the USA, labor conditions, power, health, corruption, disregard for miners and other workers, and indifference in the USA for anything much beyond production and inexpensive products.

The movie always makes me think of the Silver Valley and my hometown of Kellogg, Idaho.

What I experienced and witnessed in the world of hard rock mining and smelting could have been made into a movie called "Silver Valley USA".

I lived in a place where the environmental indifference and disregard for workers was also a microcosm of the USA itself.

Movie: The Story of the Weeping Camel


I wrote a pretty funny post about Mongolian cinema here. I just read it again. It's not bad!

For today, though, I'm going to reflect a bit more seriously on "The Story of the Weeping Camel".

I'm trying to think when I first knew this movie had come out. It seems like it came to my attention in Cincinnati in 2005 when the Deke and I were visiting Adrienne and Nathan and I was poking around in the district near the U of Cincinnati and found an art movie house that was playing "Hustle and Flow" and "Murderball" and it seems like "Weeping Camel" was also being shown or about to be shown.

I didn't go. I did, however, visit the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and marveled at a wall where one ball was mounted for each of Pete Rose's 4,256 hits and where I looked at a model of Crosley Field and remembered watching Vada Pinson on television run up the slight grade that served as a warning track as he camped under a long fly ball. I loved that sloped outfield feature of Crosley Field.

I don't think "Weeping Camel" was at that theater in Cincinnati now that I think about it. Oh well.

So, I didn't watch "The Story of the Weeping Camel" in Cincinnati, but a few years ago, when my struggles with mental depression were at a nadir, I had decided to try to medicate myself by watching at least one movie every day.

It's funny. My doctor sent me to see a therapist around that time. I only went to this guy once. His self-centeredness creeped me right out. All he talked about was himself as a psychologist of elite athletes and his therapy area was plastered with certificates, pictures, and other crap, all about him.

Anyway, he asked me what I was doing to take care of myself. I told him I watched movies, at least one a day. He asked me to name some and it was the usual litany of "Raging Bull" and "Apocalypse Now" and "Godfather".

He thought I needed to lighten up.

Well, about that same time, I bought a bargain priced copy of "The Story of the Weeping Camel" at Hollywood Video.

It's a Mongolian documentary.

I put it on late in the evening. I fell asleep while watching it.

It's a slow movie. Not much happens. There's wind. Yurts. The Gobi Desert. And camels.

But I was tired that first time.

So I gave it another shot another evening when I felt better.

With this viewing, I began to realize that the movie was inviting me to enter into a pace of living within a way of understanding time that I was unfamiliar with.

It's a movie about patience, about a family who patiently bends their will and their ways of doing things to the demands of the harsh environment of the Gobi Desert.

I began to realize that while the movie told a story about a family, their place in the world was very small. In some ways, then, they had a small role in the story.

Nature starred. The movie moved at a pace congruent with the patience nature demands.

I began to let the movie work on me. I surrendered myself to becoming a Mongolian nomadic sheep and camel rancher and to the idea of depending on living in cooperation with the environment to survive.

I won't tell you why it's called "The Story of the Weeping Camel". Watch the movie and find out. If you are looking for escape, this movie will invite you to escape to a world of story telling, reliance on nature, traditions and rituals, a journey, and to a world where joining song and with a camel's inward being has a miraculous outcome.

It's an amazing documentary film.

Movie Thought: Brief


I don't watch movies for escape.

I don't know why I've never looked to movies to get away from things in my life.

I do want to escape, though, and I do it at the casino playing electronic slot machines.

I watch movies to enjoy stories, to learn, and to appreciate pictures and acting.

I keep writing about my roots in Kellogg and how much I either am or want to be a Kellogg guy.

Honestly, when it comes to movies, I think I betray my Kellogg roots.

When it comes to movies, I'm kind of a loner, living in the enjoyment of my own private eccentric pleasures.

Movie: We Don't Live Here Anymore



I was over at 2Blowhards yesterday and read Michael Blowhard's derisive musings on the movie "Stranger than Fiction", here. I resisted his dismissal of the movie as pretentious drivel. I'd enjoyed the movie, on its own terms, and immediately I thought of a movie I'd just watched, that I imagined Michael Blowhard resenting in a similar way for its existential musings and lack of action and zip.

"We Don't Live Here Anymore" features Laura Dern, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Krause, and Naomi Watts in a painful exploration of adultery.

A week or so in WR 123/ENG 257, Margaret and I showed out students the movie "After Innocence", which I'll write about soon. It features several men who were incarcerated for crimes they never committed, only to be released after many years in prison thanks to DNA evidence.

The movie featured a police officer in Providence, RI who was accused of murder. What linked him to the victim? Adultery. He'd had an affair with the victim. He was innocent of the crime, but the prosecutors had established a strong motivation because of their liaisons.

I told my students that there are very pragmatic reasons not to commit adultery. I thought the police officer's story substantiated my comment. Adultery never works out well, never creates trust or harmony, and can even make a person almost automatically a crime suspect if something goes afoul. I din't care to speak moralistically with my students. I was being a pragmatist.

No murders occur in "We Don't Live Here Anymore".

Brokenness does.

Jack and Terry are married. So are Edith and Hank. The couples are best friends with each other. Jack and Edith are having an affair.

Jack and Edith meet outside an auto repair shop and run off to a river bank or to a motel room and consume each other, charged by lust, excitement, despair, and make believe love. They even have a morning stand up quickie in Hank and Edith's kitchen while Hank sleeps upstairs.

The adultery becomes a virus. Jack turns on Terry, savaging her for the way she keeps house, degrading her intelligence, and belittling her as a mother. He's really savaging himself. He's haunted by his adultery and it perverts him. When Terry retaliates and has sex with Hank, Jack wants to know the details, as if Terry's detailed account, as if being a voyeur to his wife's adultery, will alleviate his guilt.

Hank, on the other hand, views his wife's adultery, and his own, with casual indifference. He thanks his best friend Jack for loving his wife, grateful that his wife seems happier around the house.

Slowly, deliberately, with scenes of long conversations and multiple close-ups of pained faces and anguished contemplation, the movie takes us deeper and deeper into the erosion of these two couples' marriages and the erosion of the relationships between the adulterers.

It's not a motion picture. It's more like seeing a play or reading a novel.

It's why this movie was not a major release, but an independent movie that showed in limited theaters.

The characters are childish, self-centered and self-absorbed, and bent on destruction of themselves and each other, whether by adultery, alcohol, petty cruelties, verbal abuse, or amoral indifference.

In this way it's an adult movie, serious, dark, literate, sad, and unnerving.

I found it absorbing and disturbing and I envied the actors for their opportunity to play such conflicted, miserable, and complex characters.

It's not a moralistic exploration of adultery. It pragmatically unfolds adultery's poison.

Why I Could Never Be a Professional Movie Reviewer


Why couldn't I ever be a professional movie reviewer?

Because, I love movies.

When I go to a movie or put one on at home, the first thing I say to myself is, "Okay, movie, try to disappoint me."

Basically, I enjoy almost every movie I watch. I like movies just for being movies, most of the time.

I read movie reviews at rottentomato.com and most of it sounds phony, like the reviewers are duty bound to fabricate reasons to be critical in order to sound knowledgeable about movies.

When I show movies as a part of the courses I teach, I ask my students not to act like Siskel (RIP) and Ebert and give it a thumbs up or down or use some phony stars system to register their response to the movie.

In other words, I ask them not to be consumers of the movie, but viewers looking to learn from the movie. I ask them to view the movie on the movie's term, not on their terms.

So, in the posts I'm going to write about some movies I've seen recently, I won't be rating the movies or recommending them.

I'll be writing about what I enjoyed; but in the rare case that I watch a movie I didn't enjoy, I'll try to account for why I didn't.

In the last year or so, I haven't been able to remember movie titles of movies I've seen, even if I've seen them recently.

I'm going to write about movies more often in this blog. It'll help my memory to have a record of the titles, if nothing else!

Dog ID

What dog breed are you? I'm a Labrador Retriever! Find out at Dogster.com

Monday, June 2, 2008

Golf Dream Again

A couple nights ago I had another golf dream.

Somehow, I got permission to play on a U.S. Open course. It was unlike any earthly course.

The same themes of my other golf dreams recurred.

Prominent was a 600-650 yard par 5 hole. The tee box had an obstruction in front of it and so it was impossible to hit a full tee shot. All I could do was hit a chip shot down one side of the fairway. One golfer was so frustrated by the teeing area that he set his ball on a t-ball tee, about waist high, and tried to tee of with a club with a cream pie where the head of his driver should have been.

For my second shot, I had to hit a long shot to the crest of a hill. Once on the crest, I looked below and the largest water hazard I've ever seen stretched out before the green. Not only was it a water hazard, it was teeming with jungle animals, rhinos, crocodiles, and other nasty animals in the water and on the edges of the hazard were trees full of monkeys with lions underneath the trees shading themselves.

All I could do was hit a shot short of the water and once I got there, a bunch of other golfers were in the hazard, sometimes knee deep in muck, sidestepping hippos and water buffalo, trying to save a penalty stroke by hitting out of the shallow water and sticky mud.

From the front of the hazard, I hit a shot at what I thought was the green, but it wasn't the green. It was a false pin and the surface was concrete hard so that my ball hit it and ricocheted off the surface and bounced way over the real green.

I had to make my way around the water hazard and was mocked by monkeys and terrified by lions.

It seemed like over a dozen of us were all playing this hole at the same time. I found my ball and hit an approach on the real green and then putted dozens of times trying to finish out the hole.

The dream ended with it turning out that the course was Kellogg Golf Course in Pinehurst, Idaho. The clubhouse was the Kellogg clubhouse and I saw men from my teenage years who all played golf at Kellogg Golf Course, but everything else was unfamiliar and it was like I'd gone home only to find myself in an alien place.

Three Beautiful Things 06/01/08: Weeping Camel, Meadow Romp, Frauds

1. A little over a week ago I showed the Mongolian movie The Story of the Weeping Camel to my World Literature class and today I've been reading my students' remarkable essays examining it. I am deeply impressed with how immersed they were in this slow paced, gorgeous movie. Many seemed relieved to see a movie that was such a radical departure from the movies they usually see at the multiplex.

2. Snug and I went to Westmoreland Park. Parts of the park grow wild with hip high grass and Snug loved tunneling through these park meadows, stimulated by the sweep against his coat and the variety of smells. I wished I could have let him off his leash so he could have really gone beserk.

3. I got detoured for a while today watching videos of James Randi debunking psychics and, most satisfying, the miracle healer televangelist Peter Popoff. These frauds don't have a chance when confronted by Randi's unrelenting rationalism.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Three Beautiful Things 05/31/08: Albertson's Idol, R and R, Clothesline

1. I was shopping at Albertson's this evening and Lionel Ritchie's "Easy as Sunday Morning" played over the store's sound system. I glanced down the frozen food aisle and a woman in her early twenties in khaki jeans and a work shirt and hair to her waist glided back and forth, dreamily singing with the music.

2. I took the day off today. Spring term is almost over. It's the end of the school year. About this time every year, the mental fatigue sets in. I have a lot of work to do. I'm hoping I'll be fresher to do it tomorrow.

3. With the Lakers and Celtics ready to square off for the NBA championship, I went to YouTube and watched Kevin McHale clothesline Kurt Rambis and watched the overtime period of the Celtics' game four victory over the Lakers. I've got to look for a video of the end of the the fourth quarter. The Celtics were down five with less than a minute to play before they tied it. They did this on the road in the Fabulous Forum. They'd lost game three, 137-104.

Here's the McHale clothesline, third period, game four: