Sunday, January 31, 2010

Three Beautiful Things 01/30/10: My Mouth Shut, Mole Enchilada, Poker Channel

1. Things I don't understand are happening at work and I was all ears as Anne and Russell told me what they think. I used to think I understood these things, and I didn't, but I won't pretend to understand this stuff any longer. I've decided to keep my mouth shut in all things in life if I know I don't know what I'm talking about. I've really enjoyed this decision.

2. The weather today was cold, damp, foggy, drizzly: in short, a lousy day for taking pictures, so Russell and I went to Los Dos Amigos Hacienda and I ate the sweetest mole sauce I've ever tasted poured over a tasty chicken enchilada.

3. I never saw a single episode of the 2008 WSOP main event and here it is, running non-stop on on the Poker Channel. It's fascinating. I know who is going to win, but I have no idea how it comes about.

Bonus: The Deke posted an evocative, beautiful tribute to her brother, David. It is posted here.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Five Days of Beautiful Things -- And No Pity Party: 01/25-29/10: Poems, Kabuki's, Poems for Colette, Nature, Noodles

First a no pity party update on my health. This is news for those of you who appreciate updates. Last spring, when I contracted pneumonia and c-diff, my kidney function went down from 30% to 25%, but my nephrologist held out hope that I would regain that lost function. I didn't. I've been at 30% every since I contracted meningitis in 1999, so my reduced function has been stable. Our hope is that I don't get sick again and that the 25% function stays stable. A person can still do all right but I don't want to lose any more. Function below 25% can spell more serious problems. Federal transplant rules allow patients to be listed for transplants when their kidneys are working at about 20 % of their function. Dialysis can become necessary at 15% to 10% function. If my disease continues to develop slowly, I'm a long way from dialysis. So what now? I listen to the title of Richard Hugo's volume of collected poems: Making Certain It Goes On. I've just got to make certain I go on.

1. Wednesday my Intro to Poetry students wrote "Where I'm From" poems and several read their work in class. They were terrific and made me very happy.

2. Friday it was fun celebrating Herb's 70th birthday at Kabuki's Japanese Steak House.

3. Colette wrote me that she enjoyed the poems I send her from time to time. I think Colette has suffered a poetry drought for several years and I'm helping her get poetry back in her life again.

4. In WR 122, I'm directing our study of Into the Wild away from focus on Chris McCandless and toward focus on what the story's different perspectives upon nature/wilderness/the wild are and I'm enjoying this approach a lot.

5. Wednesday evening I went to the Noodle Bowl for a chicken teryaki noodle bowl and in strolled Sparky and Joe. I hadn't seen Sparky for months and she invited me to join her and Joe and we had a dinner full of good conversation and good cheer.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Three Beautiful Things 01/24/10: Photos, Kellogg Contact, Online Poker

I've been thinking about my struggles with depression today. I haven't had an episode for about a year. In fact, I can't pinpoint the last time I fell into the black hole, but I know it was early 2009. I'm going to pretend I know why and list three reasons for today's 3BT's:

1. Going out with Russell almost every Saturday and snapping pictures.
2. Constant contact with my friends from Kellogg and seeing them in person with increasing regularity.
3. Relaxing and learning playing online poker, playing for play money.

I would also add that I've been very good about taking my medicine and supplements and vitamins. I'm also doing all I can not to do much of anything if I'm fatigued: I'm no longer pushing myself very often. The idea of pushing my limits is dead. I need to live within my limits. I'll let the athletes and super scholars push their limits. I'm not super. I've accepted limits in my work life and home life and surrendering to things I cannot change has helped my mental health a lot.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Three Beautiful Things 01/23/10: Photos at Buford Park, The Hollow Men, Pipe-Knock/Ordnung

1. I need to get over to the Mt. Pisgah/Buford Park area more. Today Russell and I went over there to snap photos -- and on a cloudless, warmish, spring-ish January day like today it was idyllic. I'll post pictures later -- uh, today? this week? Sometime.

2. I transported myself in memory back to 1973 when my love of poetry began which always makes me think of Bruce A. (R.I.P.) and these thoughts were helped along by my chat Friday evening with Jane. Jane and Bruce and I were at North Idaho College and the spring of 1973 was one of the very best times in my life. . . and much of my joy was being shaped by poetry. It was never a school subject for me. I can still hear our recitations "We are the hollow men/We are the stuffed men/Leaning together/Headpiece stuffed with straw.....This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper". I'm amazed in the later stages of middle age how really excited emptiness, hollowness, meaninglessness, and the world whimpering to an end made me for so many years when I was younger.

3. One line, and it's an entire stanza itself, opened up for me the way a poem cannot necessarily be discussed in terms of meaning the way, say, the Lend and Lease Act can. It comes from Theodore Roethke's poem "The Lost Son". Here's the line and here's the stanza:


In the spring of 1973 and again in 1974, that one word, that one line, that one stanza helped me see poetry as not being about a message, but about an experience of sound and feeling. Two lines later, two other words helped me with this:

Ordnung! Ordnung!

I was not set completely free, but a liberation was underway.

Going back, today, to those early days of loving poetry made me think of Roethke and those lines.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sibling Assignment #116: Best Song for Stirring Up Memories of Another Time

InlandEmpireGirl is participating in the NaBloPoMo (blogging every day for a month). January's theme is "best". That's why my last sibling assignment post had to do with a best book, and this next assignment also came from IEG's NaBloPoMo:

Name a "Best Song for Stirring Up Memories of Another Time."

InlandEmpireGirl got her Rocky groove on, here, and as soon as Silver Valley Girl finishes reading all of her fan mail after her sterling turn in "I Do! I Do!", I'm sure she'll get around to writing about this subject.

I can't write about a particular song in response to this prompt.

Here's how I have to approach it:

In August of 1982, my marriage to Eileen ended in divorce. We separated in December 1981 and things moved relatively swiftly toward divorce once Eileen decided that she definitely wanted out of our marriage.

I didn't.

I moved to Spokane in August of 1982. Soon I would be teaching full time as a temporary faculty member at Whitworth College.

August, 1982 was one of the happiest times in my life because I was coming back to Whitworth to teach, but I was in the most emotional and mental duress I'd ever known because I did not want to be divorced.

I was a joyous wreck, a happy mess, an ecstatic basket case.

Above all, though, I was alive. I was feeling everything more deeply and fully than I had before or have since.

The music:

The Cars. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Joe Jackson. Phil Collins. The Police. Men at Work. Hall and Oates. Dire Straits. ZZ Top. Don Henley. Loverboy. Steve Miller Band. The Alan Parsons Project. The Fixx. "Come on Eileen". "You Can't Hurry Love". "Saved by Zero". "Be Good Johnny". "Skateaway". "Industrial Disease". "Dirty Laundry". The Pretenders. "You Might Think". "Blinded Me with Science". "Mexican Radio". Pat Benatar. Warren Zevon. Paul Simon. "Turn Me Loose". Blondie. Elvis Costello. "Video Killed the Radio Star".

Martha Quinn.

Every time I hear the music from about 1980-1984, I'm back to Spokane. I'm geared up, fired up, screwed up; I'm deep in grief, deeply depressed, dire and alone; I'm walking the streets, riding the bus, riding my bike, riding my ass; I'm shopping at Rosauer's, eating at Ferguson's, drinking at The Viking, dancing with Colette and Claudia, holding an apartment film festival, going over to Bill's for a beer and a cig and some Men at Work.

I'm teaching hard, drinking hard, laughing hard, crying hard, hard to figure, hard to know, hard on myself, taking it all too hard, and hardly able to go a day without smashing, slamming, punching, or jamming because I'm so angry, while at the same time laughing, dancing, singing, roaring because I feel so free and alive.

It's all in the music.

Tonight, I'll go grocery shopping. I'll turn on XM radio's Classic Rewind and I'll listen to Robert Palmer or Judas Priest or Van Halen or maybe they'll play some Genesis or Pete Townshend or Joe Walsh or Heart.

Whatever it is, it's this music that stirs the most memories in me.

I had lost my wife, lost my faith, lost my way, but I was intensely alive to ideas, ways to teach, serving my students, poetry, laughter, and lots of films.

And I was alive to the popular music of the day, which now, every day, takes me back to that grievously magical time in Spokane, to all I loved and all that loss.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sibling Assignment #115: The Best Book That Changed/Is Changing My Thinking

This sibling assignment comes from InlandEmpireGirl:

Tell about the best book you've read recently that helped change your thinking about something.

You can read about the impact Anna Quindlen had on IEGirl, here, and once Silver Valley Girl gets all her Tony Awards put in the right spots in her house, she'll be making her contribution.

Fall 1972. It struck me. It struck me as odd. Why are these young Lutherans from Coeur d'Alene carrying Bibles? And why are the Bibles so conspicuous? And who did the leather work for the covers protecting the Bibles? Is there a competition going on here as to who has the best looking Bible cover? What's the deal?

I never really got my questions answered.

But, I did have a conversion experience that school year. In late winter, 1973, to be a bit precise.

To poetry.

Then, during the school year of 1973-74, I bought a copy of the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry.

I carried it with me all the time at school and always had it in my car. It was as conspicuously a part of my identity as the Bible was for my Lutheran friends.

I never encased it in leather, but Eileen, whom I would marry a few years later, encased it in clear contact paper, the way they did it at the Coeur d'Alene Public Library, so my paperback copy was, and still is, protected.

This book changed my thinking. And still does.

Here's what happened first: I couldn't believe I was reading words that expressed feelings, thoughts, responses to the world, and insights that I thought were mine alone and that I had kept to myself.




Apocalyptic warnings.



In poetry, I found companionship for feelings I had been feeling alone with since about puberty.

In poetry, I found form and expression given to feelings and thoughts I had that were formless inside me.

In poetry, these feelings and thoughts took shape. I could see them outside me. I learned that other minds were at work, working over these same thoughts and feelings...or at least similar ones.

Central to this experience: Richard Hugo. He wrote a poem, "Cataldo Mission" about the place I grew up and in the degradation of the air and the water, he saw the apocalypse. I couldn't believe another person had responded to the place I was born and raised, and that I loved, in this way, much like I had in my own adolescent way.

I found comfort, somehow, in his poetry and its exploration of small towns in Montana, small towns he endowed with grief, sadness, rage, and, sometimes, a dash of courage or hope. The feelings he endowed these small towns with were feelings that I knew all too well, young as I was, and, in Hugo, I found a voice and a mind and spirit and a guide I needed, and still do.

Back to The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry.

Slowly, as I read more poets in Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, I began to experience language in a new way.

I'd never given any thought to language as music. But, Hugo's poems had an emphatic sound, selected words came on strong. It was music. It created feeling in me. Language was doing more than telling me the news of the day or giving me directions or explaining a war or the telling me how to understand B. F. Skinner. Language was singing.

In the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, I started reading poetry I didn't understand but that sounded beautiful or haunting or confused. I started letting the poetry's music work on me.

I didn't really "get" Roethke or Stevens or Yeats or Eliot, but I could hear feelings in their work, or I could hear delight. I read some Dylan Thomas and his poetry was strange to me and then I heard a recording of him reading his poetry and the melodies became fixed in my memory and I fell deeper in love with the musical experience of poetry.

I let go of figuring out poems. I didn't have to know what they meant, if they meant anything.

I was entering the world of beauty.

Lines echoed in my mind:

"The world is charged with the grandeur of God."

"Do not go gentle into that good night."

"And I live alone in the bee-loud glade."

"O body swayed to music, O brightening glance/How can we know the dancer from the dance?"

"I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow."

These lines echoed inside me. I didn't know what they meant. I knew what baseball box scores meant, but these lines were more like tunes to hum, not conveyors of information or meaning.

One poem especially haunts me to this day, a poem I first read in the spring of 1976, while a teaching assistant for Dr. Laura Bloxham at Whitworth College.

It's by Edith Sitwell.

It's about the 1940 bombing raids of London.

"Still falls the Rain."

The music of those words is grim. The words loaded: still=it continues; still=motionless; rain=coming from the sky; rain=reign....both still and Rain make "falls" loaded.

But the music stayed with me. I'd repeat that line, just as Sitwell does in her poem, and I'd feel the persistent bombing, but also feel the hope of the poem, rain (not the bombs) as cleansing, the cleansing as enduring, more enduring than the Blitz, more enduring than bombs, more enduring than a war.

Even if I don't take my copy of the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry off my shelf, I'm reading it every day as I read more poems, echoes from my Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry carrying days ring in my mind.

The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry rang in my mind a week ago when Kate came to my office to talk about T.S. Eliot and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock".

It was the first poem I turned to when I bought The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry nearly forty years ago.

When I was nineteen, I reveled in the bleak existential hollowness of Prufrock's spirit, in how empty the world feels to him, how alien he feels.

At nineteen, I was looking for whatever sources I could that would justify and illuminate my own feelings of hollowness.

I'm not sure what Kate's attraction to the poem is. She's eighteen. She's really smart and loves to learn and is on fire with poetry. I loved helping her see what I see happening in the poem.

And as with hundreds of poems in the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, it continues to change my thinking.

Now I'm not so blown away by the poem's honesty. It no longer seems to me a poem that is speaking the unspeakable as it seemed to me in 1973, when no one I knew talked about life in existential terms. In 1973, "Prufrock" was a relief to me. I wasn't alone in my feelings of emptiness, in my fears that life was meaningless.

In 2010, I am fifty-six years old, probably even older than J. Alfred himself. When I was 19, I promised myself I would never let myself become like Prufrock.

I wouldn't let myself be tired.

I wouldn't let myself lose my romantic zeal.

I wouldn't let myself see the world as rundown, a tired repetition of words and meaningless gestures.

I would always be alive, I told myself, never paralyzed.

I wish I could say I succeeded.

I'm not J. Alfred Prufrock.

I know that.

But, I feel the fatigue.

Meaningless repetitions of words and gestures weary me.

Sometimes it's hard to see the freshness in things.

Romantic zeal. I love the idea of it, still. But....

So, even today, the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry is shaping my thinking. Poems like "Prufrock" that I've read for nearly forty years look different to me.

I'm not excited by existential bleakness.

It sobers me.

It reflects me in ways I don't particularly like.

I no longer need to know that I'm not alone in my feelings of emptiness.

I see "Prufrocks" all around me.

As I go back to The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry the poems are richer, more beautiful, sometimes staggering.

My passion for poetry, therefore, has changed.

It's greater than ever.

Three Beautiful Things 01/22/10: Poetry with Kate, Alex's Frustrations, Chatting with Jane

1. It's not Tuesdays with Maurie, exactly, but one of my poetry students, Kate, comes each Friday to my office to talk about poetry and so we did. We looked at T.S. Eliot's "Preludes", a set of impressionistic and dreary poems I hadn't looked at in many many years. We found Auden's "Song of the Devil" online, and Kate introduced it to me, to my delight. We talked about Dorianne Laux and Sharon Olds and Ai and poetic lines and how challenging it is to write about poetry. It was a lot of fun.

2. Alex is back to LCC after being away for a couple of years and she is finding re-entry difficult. She's taking too many courses. I think she'll drop one. She and I talked about her frustrations for over an hour today and I thought, yet again, about how school is set up for the healthy and the ambulatory. Alex gets around in a wheelchair. Her motorized chair is busted right now. She has to expend a great deal of energy getting to school, making her way around campus...especially with the inferior chair she uses now...and so her studies, of course, slip. She's tired. Her days are chewed up by transportation difficulties. I'm glad we got to talk. I hope her lighter schedule will give her more time to enjoy her studies and not be so weighed down by them.

3. I had a great Facebook chat with my North Idaho College friend, Jane. She is the fourth person outside my poetry class this week who read, "Why Can't I Leave You?" and had a strong response, a response which led us to a compelling talk about life and love and the leavings we've known.

Three Beautiful Things 01/20-21/10: 17th Century Sex Poems, The Depth of Ai, Lunch with Jonathan

1. Those sex poems by Marvell and Herrick are kind of immature, but very clever and witty--and a lot of fun to read aloud and melodramatize. My favorite line of Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress": "The grave's a fine and private place, / But none I think do there embrace."

2. After the sort of fantasizing featured in Marvell and Herrick, it was more satisfying, to me, when we got down to more complicated business in the push and pull of Ai's "Why Can't I Leave You?" : a packed suitcase, scripted sex, and safety.

3. Jonathan and I sat down over some teriyaki chicken and rice and pretty much got everything figured out concerning LCC, the U of O, the athletic department, free speech, and the electorate of the state of Oregon. Not bad for an hour's lunch! I look forward to our next lunch. Maybe we can get the U of O men's basketball team figured out....well, on second thought...there are limits even to the genius of Jonathan and me!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Three Beautiful Things 01/19/10: Happy Birhday, Dell, Good Questions, Feeling Needed

1. Mom's birthday! We had a wonderful birthday talk on the phone. I'm happy to know that her birthday will last until Monday when Carol and Paul fix her a belated birthday dinner. It will mark "I Do! I Do!" having come to an end, too.

2. My students hung in there and, as a result of some research, posed some very good questions about nature in their first paper and I enjoyed having those questions out in the open during class.

3. Every once in a while my office hours is jammed with visitors -- as it was this evening -- and I had the rewarding feeling of genuinely being of help. Nothing compares.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Three Beautiful Things 01/18/10: Swapping Out Dog Doo, Breakfast at Brails, Hugo on Film

1. Randy stopped by to see if we might go see The Pink Floyd Experience and he swapped out his plastic bag full of Willy's droppings for a couple of empty dog crap bags.

2. I relaxed over corned beef hash and eggs and hash browns and English muffin at Brails. The food was terrific, the coffee is superbly non-premium, and my mind floated, wandered, eavesdropped, and pondered.

3. I watched the 1976 film portrayal of Richard Hugo: "Kicking the Loose Gravel Home". I have had this film in my possession since mid-May and haven't been able to bring myself to watch it. I know why. I have memories of Richard Hugo, memories of him reading, and I was afraid that my memories and what I've written about Hugo would be undermined by the documentary truth. It didn't happen. I remembered him really well and, in fact, he's even more of a common man than I remembered and his Silver Valley look is even more pronounced than I have described in papers and lectures.

"The Band's Visit": Reflections

Here's what I enjoy the most about good songwriting, poetry, fiction, plays, and movies: particularity.

For me, lyrics, poetry, fiction, plays, and movies work best when they focus on a particular world in a particular point in time and explore what particularly happens (or, since these are works of the imagination, might happen).

Last night, I watched "The Band's Visit", an movie made in Israel by an Israeli director, Eran Kolirin. The movie is very particular. It focuses on a twenty-four hour time period. It explores one situation: because of a misunderstanding, the Alexandria Police Ceremonial Orchestra takes a bus ride to a remote Israeli town, the wrong town, and is stranded for the night. It's an Egyptian/Arab group of musicians in an Israeli/Jewish town.

If you'd like to see what transpires, I recommend the movie. Let me just say it's very positive. It's deeply humane.

And it's also very particular.

I bring this up because I do not see the movie trying to offer remedy for the tensions between Arabs and Israelis (and Palestinians, for that matter). Although the making of the movie brought Israeli, Arab, and Palestinian actors and technical artists together, I didn't see the movie as a political parable.

That's why I enjoyed the movie so much.

The leader of the police band, played by
Sasson Gabai, was not portrayed as an Egyptian/Arab everyman. He was portrayed as a highly individualized, very particularized character, a man whose deep sense of dignity and decorum was augmented by great personal suffering and further augmented by his deep love of music. He's complicated. He's not a type.

Likewise, there is nothing sterotypically Arab or Egyptian about the other band members. Kolirin portrays them as particular men, some whom we get to know better than others, but these are individualized characters. We know they are Egyptian, and that matters, but not in a way that makes them representative of Egypt as a whole.

It's the same with the Israeli characters, especially Dina, as played by the remarkable Ronit Elkabetz.

My point is that what transpires in the movie cannot be understood as anything but how these particular characters in this particular town at this particular time responded to each other.

Dina is not portrayed as some kind of a national peace maker. She's lonely. She's vivacious. She's generous. She offers hospitality. Her generosity grows out of the particular character she is, and I didn't sense that the movie was saying anything about her embodying a solution to Israeli/Arab tensions.

In this town, at this time, in this situation, as the character she is, she offered help. And what develops when the band accepts her help is particular to the movie's story. I do not see it pointing very far beyond itself.

It's what happens, I think, when a situation we are conditioned to think of only in political terms is dealt with poetically.

It's not exactly unnerving, but it does force us to see that we think of life in the Middle East in very limited, albeit important, ways.

A poet/storyteller/film director like Eran Kolirin is not, in my view, making a movie with a message. He's creating a situation, a very particular situation and exploring how these particular characters respond.

The focus is not political or ideological or general, but human, humane, and particular.

When the band finds its way back to where they were supposed to go, I didn't think something like, "Now if Israelis and Arabs would only be like that with each other, the problems in that region would no longer exist."


The tensions in Israel and the Middle East are systemic and historical. They aren't personal. People in individual situations being good to each other won't solve the deeper problems. Such personal goodness is admirable and should be aspired to, but it's not a solution.

This was a personal movie, a particular story. It portrayed particular goodness, but did not portray a general solution.

I loved it for that.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Three Beautiful Things 01/17/10: Snug's Vet Visit, The Band's Visit, Comfort Food

1. Snug did something Wednesday morning out the backyard that's been bugging him. I thought he was doing better on Friday and Saturday, but this morning he was listless and uninterested in eating so I took him to the urgent care vet. He's okay. He needs rest. No arthritis or any of that stuff and his joints felt good to her. Snug was a very good boy at the vet and I was sure happy when I got in the car, turned over the engine, and The Cars "Let the Good Times Roll" came on the radio. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I could see Snug dog rockin' out a bit. He's shy about rockin' out, though, so he disguises it.

2. I hadn't watched a movie since summer time, for no good reason. I've simply been in a drought. I broke the drought tonight and watched a really sublime and richly satisfying movie by Israeli filmmaker Eran Kolirin entitled "The Band's Visit". It takes place in a 24 hour period when a police band from Alexandria, Egypt comes to Israel and they are misplaced in a remote place in Israel when they take the wrong bus. I'd never seen Sasson Gabai before. He's now a favorite actor of mine. His portrayal of the aggrieved, straight-laced, constrained band leader deeply moved me and the movie was also my introduction to the radiant Ronit Elkabetz, a lonely, invigorated restaurant owner who helps out the band members. It's a quiet, gorgeously slow moving movie, a piece of poetry about Israel, a refreshing change from all of the politically driven material we usually encounter from and about the Middle East.

3. The Deke's exhausted. I think it's another wave of grief she's feeling after the death of her brother. She asked me to cook dinner and gave me instructions: brown a pound of hamburger in onion; boil pasta; get out a casserole dish; throw the meat, onion, and pasta in the dish with a can of tomatoes, a can of Campbell's Tomato soup and a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup; sprinkle grated cheese over the top. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. It turned out great and pleased the Deke. Talk about comfort food!

Three Beautiful Things 01/16/10: Coyote Alarm, Thai Trout, 7-11 Coffee

1. Russell and I went out to Lane Community College to take photographs and we were down by the track. Inside the oval it's all grass and geese. Suddenly Russell said, "Look someone wants a goose" and we observed a coyote. The coyote was very still. Russell put a lens on his camera and looked more closely at it. The coyote's stillness and patience impressed me. After about five minutes or so, Russell said, "Was that coyote there when you were walking around the track?"
--"I don't thinks so."
--"You sure?"
--"I didn't notice it."
The coyote remained still, ready to prey.
--"Bill, that's not a real coyote."
--"Naw, I'll bet it's there to scare the geese away."
--"It's sure doing a lousy job."

Where's Security? There's a coyote on the Lane Community College campus!

Oops. No need for alarm

2. Russell and I sufficiently recovered from our coyote scare, and went to Ta Ra Rin for lunch. Some know it as ThaiHop since the restaurant there was I-Hop. I went off my usual pad or curry grid and, at Russell's suggestion, ordered Pla Jian, a de-boned trout fried crispy, covered with ginger infused sauce, sautéed with finely sliced ginger, celery, onions, mushrooms, and ground chicken. It was complex, a bit overwhelming, and superb. A genuine Saturday afternoon delight.

3. Often what I need to lift my spirits, satisfy my palate, and to just feel good, if only temporarily, is a cup of coffee from 7-11 supplemented with a generous pouring of non-dairy powder creamer. I was drinking one of these uplifters when I arrived at Russell's and that cup of coffee inspired a lively conversation with Anne about coffee, what we grew up on, what we'll drink, Eugene as a premium coffee town, why I make it a point to drink (and enjoy) non-premium coffee from time to time, and it led to our talking about bread. I'm not picky about coffee. I've become picky about bread. I'm a little disappointed in myself. Not being picky sure makes life easier.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Three Beautiful Things 01/15/10: Kat, Dylan, J. Alfred

1. I plopped down at the counter at Brails for some corned beef hash and hash browns and eggs, delighted to see Dana as my waitress, read a couple poems from the anthology The Body Electric, when Dana's mom, Kat, strolled in, plopped herself down beside me, and we talked and jawed and remembered and pondered all through our breakfast. It was a pure delight.

2. The delight grew when Dylan strolled in, plopped himself at the counter, and after an actor to actor hug, we talked and jawed about Free Banana (his band) and about what each of is up to and rued for a moment that, right now, being in plays is not what either of us has time to do.

3. Katy came by my office, as she enjoys doing on Fridays, with her wonderful list of questions about poetry, and she delighted me by wanting to hear what I had to say about T.S. Eliot and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock". I hadn't had a conversation with anyone about this poem for a long time and all sorts of intellectual and emotional pleasures woke up within me and I felt something like pure pleasure as I reflected upon what I think is happening in that poem.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Three Beautiful Things 01/14/10: MLA Insanity, Debbie Rescued Me, Snug Leapt

1. What's wrong with me? Am I insane? I got fired up and enjoyed teaching the details of bibliography citations this morning and this evening.

2. I got so fired up that I mixed up some information, reversed it. Thanks to Debbie (not the Deke -- a student named Debbie), we got it straightened out. She really saved my bu -- er, bacon.

3. Snug's been having some pain, I think, in is hind quarters, but this evening he jumped up on the bed and he ran to the corner in the back yard and I think he's healing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Three Beautiful Things 01/13/10: Where I'm From, Problems with Hurricanes, Toasted Cheese Deluxe

1. I have never taught the Poetry Writing course at LCC, and today I subbed for the real instructor, Ken. I especially enjoyed listening to the students read from their "Where I'm From" poems and wish we'd had time to get all the way around the room.

2. I assigned my students some time to write about Victor Hernandez Cruz's poem " Problems with Hurricanes" and a lively, insightful, most enjoyable discussion ensued. Do you remember this poem? Or maybe you haven't read it? Here it is....have fun:

Problems with Hurricanes

A campesino looked at the air
And told me:
With hurricanes it's not the wind
or the noise or the water.
I'll tell you he said:
it's the mangoes, avocados
Green plantains and bananas
flying into town like projectiles.

How would your family
feel if they had to tell
The generations that you
got killed by a flying

Death by drowning has honor.
If the wind picked you up
and slammed you
Against a mountain boulder
This would not carry shame
to suffer a mango smashing
Your skull
or a plantain hitting your
Temple at 70 miles per hour
is the ultimate disgrace.

The campesino takes off his hat –
As a sign of respect
toward the fury of the wind
And says:
Don't worry about the noise
Don't worry about the water
Don't worry about the wind –
If you are going out
beware of mangoes
And all such beautiful
sweet things.

3. I loaded up a toasted cheese sandwich tonight with bacon, mushrooms, and dill pickles and it was a delight. So was the tomato soup.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Three Beautiful Things 01/12/10: Clarence in WR 122, Dust in the Wind, Unknown Territory

1. I was standing in front of my WR 122 class this morning yammering on and on about MLA format and documentation and my left eye caught Clarence and I felt a sudden joy that he was in this class, that he worked with me over the break to finish WR 121 so he could register in WR 122 and receive a full financial aid package and he's getting close to having a place to live. Oh, difficulties persist. His son is in jail. He doesn't have a home just yet. But he keeps moving forward with determination and a good heart.

2. Driving home from LCC tonight, "Dust in the Wind" came on the radio and memories of driving back to Spokane from Nampa over thirty years ago after Terry and Nancy's wedding and the joy I felt for them and the good drunk we had the night before the wedding and the deep pleasure I felt being with Eileen, not realizing amidst my naive joy that our marriage and even knowing each other would be dust in the wind, flooded me. That day, impermanence was the farthest thing from my mind, even as Kansas warned me otherwise.

3. I'm teaching WR 122 in a way I never have before. It makes each class session a plunge into the unknown and, so far, the plunge has me fired up.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Three Beautiful Things 01/10/10: Poems of Blessing, The Loveliness of Sow, Snug the Soother

1. I promised my Intro to Poetry class that we would read depressing poetry. I promised. But today was not that day and I reveled in the vitality and ecstatic moments of James Wright, Li-Young Lee, Mary Oliver, and Galway Kinnell. I hope some of my students also felt the uplift of these poems.

2. Reading "St. Francis and the Sow" reminded of when Kinnell's Mortal Acts, Mortal Words first started making the rounds at Whitworth College. I wonder if Phil Eaton required the book of his poetry workshop students. They all seemed to be carrying it and one day, I remember, Colette read "St. Francis and the Sow" to me and the last line, "the long, perfect loveliness of sow" has rung in my mind every since, a vivid reminder of the power of self-blessing.

3. Snug is long overdue for a grooming session and was long overdue for a bath. I don't (can't) (won't) groom him, but I gave him a bath today and he looked at me with utterly peaceful eyes as I showered him with warm water and soaped him and rinsed him. Later, working on some research for WR 122, with Snug lying next to me, I kept getting sweet whiffs of his clean fur and when he rested his head on my chest, I petted his soft fur and smelling and touching Snug soothed me.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Three Beautiful Things 01/10/10: Sharon's a Genius, Poetry Links and Memories, Happy Belated Birthday Sissy!

1. Sharon Rodgers' sermon today delighted and instructed me with its wit, intelligence, insight, candor, and vitality.

2. I spent a few hours listening to different poets read on, making links of poetry websites available to my students, and renewing my love for some poems I hadn't heard or read for a while. Some really wonderful memories associated with Galway Kinnell and Li-Young Lee came back to me today. Poetry triggers my memories every bit as strongly as music or smells do.

3. I called InlandEmpireGirl for her birthday, a day late. Her birthday was full and overflowing. Read about it here. Her accounts of disasters (off stage) and triumphs (on stage) when she went to "I Do! I Do!" and of little absurdities in our family's life were really fun to listen to.

Sibling Assignment #114: The Miracle of Facebook

I recently assigned this task to my sisters and me:

Find a photograph you snapped in the last year that epitomizes 2009 for you and explain.

InlandEmpireGirl reflected upon her discoveries about time and how she's changing her behavior, here. Look for a link to Silver Valley Girl's piece sometime after she's finished her Tony award winning performance in "I Do! I Do!" at the Sixth Street Melodrama.

It was tempting to post the photograph I snapped back in late June of my brother-in-law David on our living room couch with Snug. David's death on November 27 came at the end of an illness diagnosed in March of 2009. The shadow of his illness and his death loomed over 2009. You can see this picture, here. You can also read some of my thoughts about David, here.

David's death, along with The Deke's mother's death, and along with my serious illnesses in the first half of the year, epitomized the pain of 2009.

But, for this piece of writing, I'm going to focus on a more positive, almost miraculous development in 2009, and, for me, this photograph is the perfect image to represent this joy:

This is a picture of Diane.

As the year 2008 drew to a close, I was home alone. The Deke and her children congregated in West Point, NY for Christmas and I stayed in Eugene.

I decided to become a part of the world of Facebook because I could see it would be a quick and immediate way for me to enjoy pictures of what was happening in West Point (and Kellogg) over the holidays and I could have at least a small sensation that I was sharing Christmas with my families.

Here's what I didn't count on: I didn't count on a friend invitation coming from Diane. I hadn't seen nor heard from Diane since 1992, the year of our Kellogg High School 20 year reunion.

In fact, when I first received it, I didn't know who it came from. Diane use going by a last name I didn't recognize. But, I did recognize her picture.

Diane and I were friendly acquaintances in high school, but we moved in very different circles. However, our conversations at the 20 year reunion had been really good and we'd shared a letter or two back and forth.....but then fell out of touch.

With Facebook, we immediately discovered a great deal of commonality, especially in our Silver Valley roots. At about the same time, Diane also discovered a KHS graduate named Eric on Facebook.

The miracles started here.

Eric and Diane soon took things offline, started doing this and that together, and now they are doing much more than this and that...they are together.

Through Facebook, Diane became friends with more KHS Class of 72 graduates and soon became aware that a movement was afoot to try to get as many Class of '72 grads as possible together in some unknown place at an unknown time somewhere in Oregon to celebrate having all turned 55 years old.

Diane called me one night. She'd reconnected with Patty. They were together and decided to end the vagueness about this get together.

"Let's rent a house in Lincoln City. Do you think the others would go for that?" Diane asked me.

"Hell, yes!" I replied. "Go for it."

Diane secured the house.

A while later, she opened her home to a June BBQ, attended by KHS '72 classmates from Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. She became friends -- again, in some cases, and for the first time in others -- with Joni, Carol, Ed, Mike, Cheryl, and others and by the time August and the Lincoln City party rolled around, she had been a catalyst for getting people together who had hardly known, just six months earlier, much about each other at all.

Most of it happened because of Facebook.

I think, with the help of Facebook, this circle of friends will continue to widen. Some members of our class who knew the Lincoln City party was happening had other plans and couldn't come. I'm sure if they looked at the photos posted on Facebook, those who couldn't come can see not just the good times, but the good will we shared.

The party at Lincoln City felt like a miracle to me. In fact, I wrote, here, that being with my friends felt like church to me.

I took the picture I posted at the top of this piece during the Lincoln City weekend.

It's a candid. Diane didn't pose for it. She didn't know I was suddenly going to swing my camera in her direction and snap this picture.

This unposed moment captures what epitomizes the best parts of 2009 for me. You can see it in Diane's face: joy, generosity, enjoyment, openness, relaxation, authenticity, and spiritual beauty.

These are the qualities I love in my friends from Kellogg and I will be forever grateful to Diane for taking a great idea that many of us had, "pre-Diane", and giving it shape, structure, organization, possibility, and vitality.

It was one of the best weekends of my life.

Three Beautiful Things 01/04-09/10: Open Vowel Sounds, Poetry Nostalgia, Autzen Fog

I paid the price. This past week I paid the price for not doing any preparation work for my two classes while I was on break. Recovering from fall quarter took about a week and then it was off to Idaho and we stayed longer than we planned and, well, I did good work the first week of school, but I was very busy getting caught up and figuring things out and I didn't write in my blog.

So, here are three highlights from the past week, three beautiful things:

1. I loved getting Introduction to Literature: Poetry started up again. It's been three years since I've taught this course and I come alive in unique ways when I get to help students read, listen to, and dig into poetry. We started with Wallace Stevens' "Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock" and that opening picture of disillusionment: "The houses are haunted/By white night-gowns". Ahhh! Those big vowel sounds in the words houses and haunted and gowns create plenty of room for ghosts!

2. As is so often the case with teaching poetry, moments I love from my past come alive. I love so many things I've done over the years in the company of poetry. I think back to Whitworth in 1982-83 and the student study room/lounge in the basement of Westminster Hall and the glee Colette and I took in Wallace Stevens' poem "The Emperor of Ice Cream" as we surrendered to its nonsense and reveled in its music and its absurdity, roaring the lines aloud, laughing, really getting it ("Call the roller of big cigars/The muscular one, and bid him whip/In kitchen cups concupiscent curds"). I think of Craig Thomas at Whitworth and the lovely short essay he wrote on Ben Jonson's "On My First Son", how Craig's essay help me appreciate Jonson so much more deeply as a craftsman, how his essay helped me feel anew those haunting words: "O, could I love all father now!". I think back to Whitworth, still again, and the first time, in Core 150, when I first heard James Wright's poem, "A Blessing" -- and when Phil Eaton read it aloud and when he went spontaneously ecstatic as he read the closing lines (Suddenly I realize/That if I stepped out out of my body I would break/Into blossom") and I remember being inspired by the poem and for Phil Eaton's love of the poem, by his ecstasy.

3. Russell and I had a great photography outing Saturday. We went down by Autzen Stadium, near the dog park, and really enjoyed the leafless trees, the fallen trees, the moss, the millstream, and the fog.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Three Beautiful Things 01/03/10: Home, Wallace Stevens, The Cars

1. Father Ted's sermon was right: worshiping at St. Mary's feels like home and my sense of that comfort and security and belonging was especially strong today.

2. I took my thick volume of Wallace Stevens' poetry off the shelf, read a handful of his poems, and marveled at the music of his poetry. The poems gave me a few good laughs, too. The older I get, the funnier his poetry is.

3. Just as I was reaching for the Brussel sprouts at Trader Joes', The Cars "Moving in Stereo" came over the sound system and it was summer, 1978, and I was back on Mountain View Lane in Spokane, arriving home from Eastern Washington University, where I took first year French with Madame Siefert, whom the Deke would study with ten years later, and I tried my best not to look like some goofy guy in his mid-fifties on the verge of dancing in the juice and sparkling water aisle.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Three Beautiful Things 12/30/09-01/02/10: VANDALS WIN!, Food and Friends Trump Rose Bowl, Easy Trip Back

The days at the end of 2009 and at the start of 2110 are a blur to me now that I'm back home in Eugene. Nonetheless, here are three things that stand out to me as memorable.

1. IDAHO! I D A H O! IDAHO! The Idaho Vandals looked DOA when Bowling Green scored with well under a minute to play, but, no! The Vandals rallied to score a touchdown with four seconds left and then, rather than kicking an extra point for a tie, Idaho went for a two point conversion and got it! It was thrilling and, frankly, for me, made the rest of the bowl season meaningless. Even the Rose Bowl with Oregon playing.

2. In fact, I didn't even sit down and watch the Rose Bowl. I caught pieces of it at the Mission Inn in Cataldo and some more at Noah's Canteen in Kellogg, but my real attention was on being with Ed and Jake and Carol and Sharon and the Deke and Sue and enjoying some red Raniers (Happy New Year, Rhonda!). Hanging out with such good friends and being in these fine Silver Valley establishments and the Vandals' win --well, it rendered the Rose Bowl emotionally almost meaningless to me -- despite Oregon playing in it.

3. The Deke and I twice delayed our drive back to Eugene. We decided to wait until the warm/rain wave covered Easter Washington, the Columbia Gorge, and I-5 to Eugene from Portland. The trip was easy on Saturday: some rain, no snow, no ice, and safe roads.