Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Silent Times

I've been absent from this blog for a while, absent from writing Three Beautiful Things.

The Deke's mother died recently and her brother is very near passing away, at home, of cancer.

It's been a grievous time, a horrible time especially for the Deke.

Sometimes it's best to remain silent, to let my feelings and thoughts be my own or to only convey them to those I'm close to.

I'll return to Three Beautiful Things and sibling assignments and other things, probably after Thanksgiving.

But for now, and for the past couple of weeks, I have simply decided silence is best.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Three Beautiful Things 11/15/09: Stubb's, Snug Grading Bliss, The House of World Lit.

1. I forgot to mention that yesterday I soaked a Trader Joe's pork loin cut in about a quarter of a bottle of Stubb's pork marinade. Today I threw that meat and three spuds in the oven and enjoyed them with some fried yellow zucchini like squash.

2. I had a great day grading student essays, made all the more pleasant by having Snug press himself against my thigh and hip as we shared the couch. Total bliss.

3. I loved my World Lit. students' papers. They seem to be entering into the spiritual zone the ancient writers invite us to reside in, to live the mysteries of human existence. I think many of them enjoy living there. I always wonder at the end of a course: will my students take up permanent residence in this wonderful house or will they be visitors who enjoy the hospitality of Rumi and Homer and the others, and move on.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Three Beautiful Things 11/14/09: Cemetery, Mac Court, Checker Fatigue

1. Russell and I toured the Pioneer Cemetery on the U of O campus and took photographs. It was a perfect day and place for pictures at the cemetery: gray, leaves and needles strewn about, plenty of light, but none of it sunny. I'm not sure what I think of my pictures yet, but the conditions were perfect for the kind of pictures I like to take: sad ones.

2. Russell and I then watched the Ducks men's basketball team play Cal-Davis. It was a mismatch. I found my attention happily wandering to my enjoyment of Mac Court, the structure, character, history of the old house. Over the last thirty years I've attended quite a few basketball games in Mac Court and I've always loved the girders, grunginess, stale smells, and memories. I even used to enjoy registering for classes in Mac Court back in grad. school. So I took pictures of stairs and girders and brooms and mops and things falling apart after the game. I'm not sure what I think of my pictures yet, but the subject matter was perfect.

3. I really enjoy grocery shopping during a Duck's home football game. The store is nearly empty. This evening's checker was worn out. She didn't speak at all. I appreciated that, but I wanted time to start to fly so she could get off her feet and go home and get some rest or go out and have a few beers. I think she was too tired to even speak. I enjoyed being left alone, but hated seeing her be so tired.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Three Beautiful Things 11/13/09: Clarence is Growing, G is on Fire, Pot Roast Uplift

1. I had a good session with Clarence, going over his essay sentence by sentence, helping him see that his thinking and insights are very good and once he gets some structural matters improved upon, he'll be writing really good essays.

2. I think I helped G. understand how he might write his next essay. He's on fire, working to understand the dishonorable actions of our government toward the Sioux in the 19th century. It'll be his version of a paper on honor/dishonor in relation to living a lie/living truth.

3. Pot roast with Tobasco sauce, fried potatoes with Tobasco sauce, green beans with a little salt and lettuce and cherry tomatoes with creamy Blue Cheese dressing. It was a nice dinner I fixed myself and gave me a lift after a tiring day at work.

Three Beautiful Things 11/12/09: Hot Pizza, Noble Love, Research Surprises

1. LCC's cafeteria sells superb pizza by the slice. Once a week, I buy a couple of slices. Today I bought a pepperoni and a Hawaiian and, then,as if God were moving in the room, my eyes fell upon a bottle of Tabasco sauce. It was like an accident of Providence. I heaped generous splashes on my pizza, bought a 20 oz. bottle of Diet Pepsi and a cup packed with ice and luxuriated in the dough cheese meat pineapple red pepper ice cold wonder of my lunch.

2. M. nailed it in class today when he spoke of the way love contributes to the living of an honorable/noble life.

3. I was amazed at the variety of sources my evening students had found in the library and the variety of ways they plan to approach their next essay. I am eager to see how it all plays out.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Three Beautiful Things 11/11/09: Meniversary, Wireless Awe, Student/Teacher Similarity

1. I suppose I could look up the exact date, but, meh, I'm not. I just know that it was this week ten years ago that I was hospitalized with bacterial meningitis and I'm glad I'm here today, grading papers, playing online poker, enjoying Snug warming my feet, and having conversations on the cell phone with the Deke as she made her way to and arrived in Chicago.

2. Speaking of the Deke, I'm old enough and still accustomed enough to wires to marvel at the fact that the Deke called me on her cell phone to mine to tell me she was disoriented in Chicago, I, with my wireless internet connection, left an online poker game with players from Indonesia, the Phillipines, Indiana, Greece, India, and Macedonia, jumped over to, pulled up a map of Chicago, located where Debbie called from, and helped her with directions. Maybe some of you arer used to this. I'm still in the miracle phase.

3. I've been reading comments my students have written on a forum regarding what they need to work on to be better students. I suddenly realized that the very things they struggle with to succeed as students are the things I struggle with to succeed as a teacher...procrastination, distraction, outside demands, being a good friend and family member....I read their comments about how they think they can improve...well, me too...Lordy, me too.....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Three Beautiful Things 11/10/09: Between the Lines: NO, Cada is King, Winco Chicken

1. I wonder, as I point out to my WR 121 students, that what Dan O'Brien wants us to understand and experience in Buffalo for the Broken Heart is not between the lines. It's right there, in the lines, in the words, if we listen. He writes about what constitutes an honorable life and he explains how connectedness powers or fuels existence. Honoring, submitting to, working with connectedness -- that's at the heart of living honorably, according to O'Brien. He doesn't come right out and say it, but it's right there, in his lines of prose, in his words, in the connections he invites us to make. It's not between the lines.

2. Anne and Russell invited me to their house to watch the final table of the WSOP and it was fun, especially as Darvin Moon made his way to the final showdown with the youngster Joe Cada. Yeah, I was for the logger over the kid, but the kid fought back from near elimination and won the championship title.

3. Russell was right. Winco fried chicken rocks. I ate about 90 pieces while watching the WSOP. I may have to beeline out there and get some for here at home.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Three Beautiful Things 11/09/09: Be Confused, Coleman Barks, Bacon/Salmon Dish

1. I put forward the thought to my World Literature students that when they hear the Tao or read The Ramayana and say, "I'm confused" that that probably means they are getting it. After all, these wisdom stories and writings shake us out of our conditioned ways of thinking and seeing the world and when we feel confused by them, it's a recognition that something different is before us and is the prelude to an awakening, to being enlightened in a new way.

2. It's been a year or so since I watched Coleman Barks being interviewed by Bill Moyers and listened to him read Rumi's poems with Paul Winter's accompaniment. S.u.b.l.i.m.e.

3. A few weeks ago I fixed salmon patties wrapped with bacon strips served with rice. Tonight I thought why not throw it all together. I fried bacon. When it was close to done I tossed a half a bag of frozen green beans in the pan, let those warm up, and then three Trader Joe's salmon patties. I squirted lemon juice over the fish, seasoned it with Greek seasoning, warmed up leftover rice in the microwave, threw it all together, and peppered it. I'll resign all humbleness for a second: it was really good.

Three Beautiful Things 11/08/09: Sabbath, Book?, Business

1. Sabbath? A day of rest? Sort of. I mean I worked, but in the house, on the couch, in pj's most of the day, learning more about how my students view the maturity of Telemakhos.

2. I just can't seem to see how it would be structured, Bill. I deeply appreciated your comment about my blog writing being turned into a book. I've thought and thought about it, but haven't imagined how it would take form yet...I agree...the substance is right here in kelloggbloggin...but what would a book look like..not on the its arrangement? I know, Deke: sabbatical.

3. Sometimes Market of Choice can be just a little too friendly for my tastes. Not always, just sometimes. I can count on one checker there to treat our transaction as a business deal, not a best friends forever-fest. I went through her station this evening. She pretty much acted like I wasn't there. Thank you...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Three Beautiful Things 11/07/09: Old Neighborhood Pictures, Sheets, Sweep

1. Russell and I decided to pick a neighborhood and walk around it, looking for photographic subjects. I suggested we go to an area in Eugene where I lived almost twenty years ago and it turned out great. Here are some pictures I took in the general area of 29th Place and Washington/Madison:

2. Sometimes achieving a relaxed, peaceful state of mind is as simple as clean sheets.

3. Sometimes achieving a relaxed, peaceful state of mind is as simple as sweeping the floor of my room.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Three Beautiful Things 11/06/09: Talking it Up, Poker Room, Back to the Future

1. I was done with my official school job duties at 12:30, but I decided to dung out my office a bit. Hanging around opened the way for a great conversation with Michael about nothing/noting in Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" and then, whoa!, Dan appeared -- haven't seen Dan since March and was it ever fun to talk about the world and life and school and everything else with him. Made me think I shouldn't always be in such a rush to leave the workplace......

2. Hey, Jake! Thanks for sending me all the poker tournament information and it was heartening to know you continue to read this blog. I might, one day, just take your recommendation and venture out to Coburg and try the poker room you so enthusiastically suggested.

3. Sometimes to move forward I have to go back. I'm wondering if ways I taught composition fifteen, twenty years ago might not conform better with what I understand should be happening in our composition courses in the year 2010.

Three Beautiful Things 11/05/09: Clarence Has a Room, Clarence Helps the Homeless, Honorable Life

1. Clarence and I had a good talk. He and his son are not living under a bridge; thanks to his financial aid, he is able to rent a room in a local motel for a week. He thinks they might have a place to live with friends. Clarence told me it's easier to do his homework by motel lamplight than huddled in a blanket under a bridge reading by candlelight. No self-pity: it said this like I would say, "We're out of milk."

2. As Clarence and I talked more, he told me about the volunteer work he does to help homeless people in Eugene/Springfield. Did I mention that Clarence is my age, diabetic, homeless; did I mention he is also taking care of his troubled son who is nearly thirty? And they volunteer to help the homeless.

3. I'm wondering if now that many of my students are understanding that Buffalo for the Broken Heart is a story about what it means to Dan O'Brien to live an honorable life, well, I'm wondering if they might find that this deeper dimension of the book makes it more compelling than when they thought it was just some old wordy guy talking about buffaloes.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Three Beautiful Things 11/04/09: Spirited Discussion, Rest, Royal Flush!

1. Maybe we didn't give the Ramayana the "coverage" it should get, but we had a hell of discussion of suffering as redemptive and misery as unredemptive pain and related issues in World Lit.

2. I just had to take the rest of the day off after I was done teaching today. If I don't rest, even if it means getting a bit behind, I put my health at risk. Work's been wearing me out and I need to slow down if I'm going to do good work in the long run.

3. I drew my first ever Zynga poker royal flush!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Three Beautiful Things 11/03/09: Gut Spill Time, Painful Essay, Living Lies

1. The spirit moved me and I spilled my guts to my WR 121 class regarding my love of inquiry and ideas and that I see the purpose of going to college as first and foremost to learn more fully what it is to be human. I probably sounded like a blithering old man, but it helped burn some carbon off my spiritual valves.

2. I had a great time with L. going over the places where her essay needed punctuation correction. It was a deeply moving essay, filled with pain, honesty, and determination.

3. Buffalo for the Broken Heart is about the terrible consequences of lying to oneself, whether on a social, cultural, or individual basis. Living lies causes widespread damage. Repairing it is hard work. I hope my students will join me in coming to understand what a profound truth Dan O'Brien is getting at.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Three Beautiful Things 11/02/09: Sorta Mentor, Campbell Tears, Marcia's Back!

1. Every once in a while a student, looking to pursue a career in teaching, comes by the office and wonders how I came to be a teacher. It's fun to piece together the good fortune I've had and to convey my enthusiasm for teaching and how much I love teaching at a community college.

2. Dallas came to talk with my about my teaching career just minutes after I wiped the tears from my eyes and cheeks while listening to Joseph Campbell talk with Bill Moyers about the Hero's Adventure. I have a lot of history with Campbell and with this particular series of interviews and the sweet memories of driving from Boise to Salmon City listening to Campbell on audio tape and the wonderful days teaching with Rita all came flooding in and the tears flowed.

3. It was so good to see Marcia back in class today. She no longer had her cane but has a wheelchair and she was brimming with happiness and relief that her mobility was easier and that she was in less pain. I hope to see much more of her now!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Three Beautiful Things 11/01/09: Writing Day, Deke Laughs, Soup Pleasure

1. When was the last time I spent a whole day writing? It really felt good to get caught up on my blog writing, especially completing the Sibling Assignments that have been hovering over me for quite a while. I'll pay for this day, though, tomorrow when I have to dive into the school work I did not do this weekend. Always trade offs...

2. It was fun showing the Deke my Wuthering Sacred Heart photos. She got a kick out of how I portray Sacred Heart as a creepy place. Russell likes what he's seen so far, too. I need to get more of those pictures up on Facebook.

3. The Deke threw together a really good tomato and ground beef other stuff soup. It was filling and warming and refreshing: what could I ask from a soup?

Sibling Assignment #110: God's Country -- An Inward Land

Inland Empire Girl raised this question for this sibling assignment:

What do you consider God's country and why?

InlandEmpireGirl's post examines Lake Chelan, here and Silver Valley Girl will get to this assignment when it fits with a letter of the alphabet...don't get the lame joke? No problem. Go here and you will.

I don't know if I can explain this very well because it's a private experience and there may not be words for it.

I'll try.

One day, back in the 1990's, I took a drive in the Silver Valley. I went up one of the gulches near Osburn. I don't remember its name; all I remember of the physcial location is that a ways up a trail there was a place where riflemen had done a lot of target shooting. The site was littered with casings and shot up targets and other stuff.

The only other thing I can tell you is that it was pretty warm that day and the heat excited the smell of the cedar and pine trees and this excited an experience inside of me.

One by one I started to see the faces of my fellow Kellogg High School graduates. They didn't appear before me, the way ghosts do in movies and plays and cartoons, but they appeared inside of me, and I could hear their voices.

They didn't say anything in particular, but I could see and hear them and fellow graduates I hadn't thought of in quite a while were with me on that trail, inside the pine and cedar smell.

The experience stirred me. I stopped. I let the faces keep coming. I didn't try to stop what was happening and I silently said hello to them: Debbie, Mary Lou, Frank, Denise, Ken, John, Rick, Wes, Carla, Annette, Gary, Tom, and many more, and tried to listen if they had anything to tell me.

They didn't, exactly.

They didn't need to tell me anything.

The feeling I had is not easy to describe. All I can say is that I knew this was my foundation. These were the people, whether friends or not, that made my life what it was and is.

Some didn't come into my life until high school. Others came into my life in junior high. Others came in elementary school and a few have been in my life since the day I was born and a few others since pre school Sunday School.

In this moment of, what can I call it? this moment of visitation, it felt like we were all a part of something bigger than any one of us and we were all in it together, whether we have never seen each other since 1972 or have seen each other a lot.

When I think of God, which is always, I think of unity and I experience a unity that stretches beyond the church and encompasses all persons, whether they profess a belief in God, or not.

You see, this experience on this trail to a place where guys shoot rifles and guns was a mystical experience. It took me out of the place I was walking and the time of the year and the time of day and suddenly I was with people who live all over the place and who were not with me in time.

I think we were with each other in God's country, a place without geography or boundaries, a place I feel deeply inside, and place I experience most deeply when I'm in the Silver Valley or with friends from there.

It's an inward country, a place in my soul, a spiritual resting place, a retreat, a place of love and unity.

God's country strengthens me and gives me hope and it's the foundation from which I move out into the world, trying to be as true and decent and kind and faithful and good as all those people I grew up with me who paid me a surprise visit among the gun casings, shredded targets, pine trees and cedars.

Sibling Assignment #109: An Early Trip to Condescension

Silver Valley Girl assigned me and InlandEmpireGirl to do the following:

"Write about one of your earliest trips to somewhere special, besides Spokane and Orofino, and why it was special, and what you remember about it."

You'll find Silver Valley Girl's account of sniffing glue with visiting our second cousins, the Coomers, in Boise, here, and InlandEmpireGirl's account of the universe of our extended family, here.

One summer..the summer of 1966.. my sisters lived with my mom during the week while she went to summer school at the Univ. of Idaho. Dad and I "batched" it in Kellogg. I had a paper route and played baseball and Dad was our baseball coach, and, of course, he worked his job at the Zinc Plant.

What I'm writing about that happened in Moscow may have happened during different visits. It doesn't really matter. The truth of what happened to me in Moscow some time is what matters, and I'm going to write as if it happened the week I spend with Mom and my sisters.

I don't exactly know why, but that summer something clicked inside me, and I didn't exactly like how the click felt.

While we were in Moscow that week, we visited the Miles family. Bill was a Kellogg native and was making quite a name for himself as the high school football coach in Moscow.

But Bill Miles didn't seem to be like my dad's other friends in Kellogg. I couldn't, and really still can't, put my finger on it, exactly, but he had an air about him. He acted slightly superior to my mom and us kids.

Maybe it was because he was a football coach and was highly successful
, but whatever it was I didn't like it.

Then I noticed that his kids also had this air of superiority. Even though I was only eleven or twelve years old, this air registered.

I didn't know quite what it was about.

That same week, we visited with David Wilde, a kid who used to live on the same block we did, but his family moved to Moscow.

We went to the swimming pool with David and I remember he had a skateboard and I remember thinking that he thought he was better than me. And my sisters.

He didn't say anything. Not directly. It was the way he talked and the way he carried himself. He thought he was better than us.

I thought more about this condescension I felt and it reminded me of one day several years earlier when our family still lived on Portland Street and Craig Lenhart was our next door neighbor.

His family took a trip to California. I think they might have gone to Disneyland.

Anyway, he brought back a pack of Beech Nut Fruit Stripe chewing gum (watch an ad for the gum, here).

Kellogg didn't have that gum yet. We wouldn't have it in our stores for months. Craig acted superior because he had something from California that I couldn't get in Kellogg.

I think that week in Moscow and being looked down at by the Miles kids and David Wilde was a pretty significant trip for me to a place I'm all too familiar with.

As I got older and as I paid more attention to places like Coeur d'Alene and Spokane it began to sink in that these places didn't have daily air pollution. Lewiston did, but it didn't have a gray river running through town.

Kellogg stunk. The air was bad. The river through town was dead and ugly.

I began to realize that people outside of Kellogg, when they heard I was from Kellogg, associated me with the pollution and, maybe even more so, with the poverty.

I didn't think much of it until I left Kellogg. I didn't think much of the tiny houses in Kellogg at the bottom of Portland Street or all through Sunnyside or up Wardner or the ones in Smelterville or up Moon Gulch or up Big Creek or Pine Creek or in Kingston and Enaville, some of them with the siding crumbling off, black tar paper exposed. Many didn't have yards.

Now I know.

These were signs of poverty.

I didn't think about it until I started to hear my hometown ridiculed as I moved out into the larger world.

Or until I began to realize that kids, like jocks or Boy Scouts or guys in DeMolay or at Boys State felt superior, looked down their noses at us Kellogg kids.

It was a very important trip for me to make that summer to Moscow and begin to feel that condescension. I think Bill Miles felt like he got out of Kellogg and, at some level, was better than my mom and dad who didn't. I think David Wilde had a similar attitude, even though he was only about ten years old.

This trip has gone on for my whole life. I am able to pretty much shake off anyone who demeans Kellogg or North Idaho now.

I know they don't know what they are talking about and I just remain proud and happy within myself that I came from a place with such solid, decent, loyal people and friends.

But, I have a lot of students who come from the less fortunate strata of our county and have daily conversations with students who know their homelessness or disabilities or poverty make them outcasts. They know they are look down on.

They know the feeling, better than I ever did, of being looked down on, regarded as inferior, laughed at.

My life long trip to teaching at a community college and working with many students who are down on their luck and having some sense of connection with these students began when I took little trips outside of Kellogg, whether for sports, FTA, DeMolay, or to be with my mom while at Moscow.

It began when I started to feel the sting of being regarded as inferior.

Sibling Assignment #108: Creepy Abecedarian Poem Inspired by My Creepy Sacred Heart Medical Center Photographs

InlandEmpireGirl gave us this assignment. I think it's the most challenging one we've ever tackled.

Pick a favorite photo you have taken yourself. Post the photo and write an Abecedarian poem about the photo. You can also use a series of photos. Silver Valley Girl's poem and photos are here and here is InlandEmpireGirl's.

My Abecedarian poem is a fiction inspired by photos I took on Halloween when Russell and I made a photo taking visit yesterday to Eugene/Springfield's Sacred Heart Medical Center, a place I find creepy. The line breaks are messed up. New lines begin with each capitalized letter.

“Annihilate this place! Annihilate it!” Zoe

Bellowed. She fell to her hands and knees as if to

Creep across the lawn into the parking garage. “It

Depresses me. All this brick. Those crosses. It

Endangers health. This place is creepy.” Later Zoe

Flipped out when a nurse wheeled her to the calming waters. Zoe

Grumbled that the waters looked dirty, polluted. “These waters will only

Hamper my recovery”she cried as she thrashed about, threatening to

Injure herself and the nurse, who couldn’t believe how these waters

Jarred Zoe into such a rage and so she hustled her back to the hospital and

Knifed Zoe’s wheel chair between the doors just as they closed, Zoe ready to

Leap out of her chair. Zoe longed for Andy to arrive in his tricked up

Mazda and take her out of this place, wanted him to come right in the

Nick of time before the doctors increased her drugs or told her they’d have to

Operate, to remove the part of her brain that hadn’t responded when they

Pumped her full of electricity, hoping to shock her system and

Quell the outbursts of paranoid ranting and endless sobbing. It

Rankled Zoe that these doctors wanted to change her; they’d rather she

Slip into a deep and peaceful coma than have to

Tangle with her insights and prophecies. They didn’t know how the thoughts

Undulated in her head, how they came in big waves and then would

Veer from joy to fear to hope to despair, and how she spoke the truth. Then before she could

Wiggle free, they took her to that room again, acted like they were just going to take

X Rays or maybe even another scan of her brain, but she saw through it and

Yelped , softly this time, and cried, “No, no, no no no”. They wanted to calm her so they

Zapped her for the third time that week and jolted her into a dreamless sleep.

Sibling Assignment #107: Postcard from Sacred Heart Medical Center

I gave this sibling assignment:

Write a postcard, in poetry or prose, patterned after Ted Kooser. His are winter postcards of winter morning walks. Ours will be autumn postcards and we'll make our observations however we want...walking, driving, sitting, whatever....and time of day is up to us...

His postcards: 1. State the date 2. State the weather conditions 3. Capture physical detail of the moment 4. Reflect upon that moment, either implicitly or explicitly.

InlandEmpireGirl’s post(card) is here and you’ll find Silver Valley Girl’s here.

october 31

Sacred Heart Medical Center

gray, breezy, cool, dreary

Bare trees shiver.

No leaves.

No sparrows, no crows.

No sound.

Only a nurse


Wheeling a gray woman to her son's gray Buick

Oh...and a matted gray horse

Across the street

Gleaning the damp grass

For apples.