Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 09/26/2012: Garage Clean Up, Pint-Size Surprise, St. Mary's Big Night

1.  I made more progress on clearing out the garage.  I'm a dump run, donation stop, and a new push broom shy of having it done.

2.  I walked to Oregon Community Credit Union this morning and, on the way back, I stopped into Falling Sky for a pint of Dr. Optic Standard Bitter and as I was getting ready to leave, Jesse walked in, said he had an hour to kill, and I stayed for another pint, this time a scrumptious Get Down Brown.  We walked over to Sixteen Tons.  Jesse opened it -- for Emily!  What a delight to have a beer with Jesse and to see Emily for a short visit.

3.  It was a momentous evening at St. Mary's Episcopal Church as Rev. Robert Bingham Powell was installed as our rector in the presence of a most happy congregation. 

Being a Liberal Arts Teacher

A week ago tonight, Jon Souza, the Troxstar, and I were prowling the streets of Eugene, drinking tasty beer at the Bier Stein and then at Falling Sky

I grabbed a piece of a picnic table at Falling Sky and didn't know that the other guys at the table were fellow salesmen in Jon's line of work and were in Eugene for the same sales event Jon was.

We got to talking and I said something, because I was asked about my livelihood, about being retired and that I was going to teach part time as a part of my retirement deal.  I explained that I would be teaching WR 115, a course that prepares students for our core college writing courses, the courses that fulfill requirements for academic degree work.

I pointed out that I'd be spending less time reading papers because the class size is smaller and these students, by and large, are not yet capable of writing longer essays and need a lot of help with grammar and punctuation, writing full paragraphs, structuring an essay,  and so on.

One of the guys we sat down with is a graduate of Columbia University.  He's an Ivy Leaguer.

When I pointed out what my WR 115 students needed help with, he pounced:  "Doesn't that annoy you? I mean that they aren't ready to do such fundamental things in a writing class?"

I said something to the effect that I'm not paid to be annoyed and that I simply work with my students, help them, and don't really think about where they should be.  I focus on where they are.

In fact, students' lack of preparedness has never annoyed me.

It's kept me gainfully employed!

But, I can tell you what does annoy me. 

Being lied to.  When students lie to me about why they missed class or when they cheat, that is, plagiarize, that annoys me.

Even more, I'm annoyed by the idea that college is place to come to learn skills to help one get a job.

I understand why college is seen this way.  Economic pressures are great.  The more tuition prices rise, the more college will be regarded as a financial investment, assessed as worthwhile to the degree that one gets that money back in earnings when they work.

Nonetheless it annoys me and it diminishes the potential for what a college education can be It can be an experience far more thrilling and important than a career and requires an investment  into something much more valuable than money.

You see, I'm really old school when it comes to the worth of education as well as the purposes of education.

Like the ancient Greeks, particularly Socrates, I see education not as training, not as pouring stuff into the minds of students, but as a drawing out, as a means to self-examination; I see the college years as a time to begin to explore what life means and what it means to live a well-lived life and to enter into self-examination.

My very conservative approach to classroom instruction doesn't fit well with the prevailing attitudes about education we hear everywhere.

 In the early 2010s, I hear and read people of a variety of walks of life denigrate the central mission of a humanities (or liberal arts) education as, at best, impractical, at worst, elitist.

So, when students enroll in a course of mine, I know that they do not see themselves going to school for reasons that align with how I teach. 

For many students, much of their experience in the classroom has focused on scoring well on tests, so instruction has centered, to some degree, on how to prepare students to do well on these tests.  By their nature, standardized tests are going to test measureable outcomes:  testing writing, for example, focuses on grammar, punctuation, spelling, thesis statement, topic sentences, the following of a predetermined structure in the essay, parenthetical citations, bibliographic details and other measures.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these measures, but this approach presents a serious problem.  It’s reductive.  This approach to writing reduces writing to formula and tends to encourage writing that is itself standardized. 

As I teach writing in the 2010s, I try to bring romance to an activity that has had much of the romance drained from it. 

To my way of thinking, the best academic writing grows out of love, not out of technical mastery.
Love of learning grows out of seeing that whatever we teach, whether it’s literature, philosophy, history, political science, art, theater, sociology, psychology, journalism, mathematics, business, or the sciences, it has its deepest and most enduring value when these subjects point to the big questions of human existence:  What does it mean to be a human being? What is the nature of human nature?  Does a shared human nature exist?  What is the nature of the human condition?  How do we see the world?  Why do we see it that way?  What values or world views underlie the ways we see the world?  How do we determine right from wrong?  What is the nature of goodness?  Of happiness?  Of evil?  To what degree do we look at these questions as individuals? To what degree do we have shared values?

These questions transcend the question I most often hear from students:  “How am I going to use this?”  

When students ask this question, they are asking, ”How does this apply to my major or to my career?”  I used to teach literature students who groused about having to take math (“I’ll never use it!) and used to have math majors who thought taking Shakespeare was stupid (“I’ll never use it!”).

Once again, I’ll confess how old school and romantic I am about eduation.

Colleges and universities were originally formed around the idea of the liberal arts.  The word “liberal” suggest two things:  freedom (as in “liberty”) and breadth.  The idea is that the more broadly knowledgeable a person is, the freer that person is – free to weigh, contemplate, think, and form a world view based on knowing as much as possible. 

From this perspective, my literature students who resist taking math are less free and live life less fully if they focus all of their intellectual energies on stories and poems and don’t also discipline their minds to work with the abstract principles and relationships of mathematics.

It’s why colleges and universities have general requirements.  The idea is that students are better served (and their freedom is increased) by studying a breadth of subjects rather than a following a narrow course of study.

So back to the Ivy League guy.  

Does it annoy me that my students need my help with sentence, paragraph, and essay composition?  Does it annoy me that they need my help to compose essays?


What annoys me and troubles me is that my students, by and large, are not idealistic about their education.  When I introduce them to the ideals of a liberal arts education, it's news to most of my students that education could be liberating. 

What troubles me is that little of the political discussion of education addresses education's primary purpose as the broadening and deepening of thinking and trying to figure out the world.

It troubles me that tuition costs drive idealism out, heighten the pressure for an education to be a source of career training, and increases resistance to that most Old School declaration of Socrates that "the unexamined life is not worth living".  

Old School Liberal Arts education focuses sharply on self-examination, as well as social examination.  It invites the student to think critically, independently.  

Old School Liberal Arts education works from the Socratic principle that the important thing is not to live, but to live well.  It encourages one toward a well-lived life, a life of quality thinking and examining that endures.  

As a retired, Old School part-time composition instructor, I'll keep quietly and persistently working to open my students' eyes to these possibilities as they pursue their studies.


Three Beautiful Things 9/25/2012: Back in the Saddle, Lookin' Good, Out with the Deke

1.  I was back in the teaching saddle today, teaching WR 115 with my new status as a retiree.  The sections of this course are small with eighteen students and it was a pleasure (and a relief) to know that I will be responsible for so many fewer students than I when I was full time.  Both classes seemed to appreciate my declaration that I was on their side.   I'm not a hostile force to be overcome or defeated or outfoxed.

2.  Wow!  When was the last time several people at work told me I looked good?  Looked more healthy? Looked refreshed?  All I could do was grin broadly, thank them, and recommend retirement.  "It looks like it's treating you right."  "Indeed!"

3.  After the guy loaded the Honda on the ramp behind his truck and started it on its week long trip to New York, I talked with the Deke and we decided to shoot the moon and meet at Cornucopia for some refreshment.  No second car?  No problem!  I walked the 10-12 blocks, sat down and enjoyed a couple of Oakshire Amber Ales, an Anchor Steam, and enjoyed a Greek salad and a Cornucopia Gyro.  For an eveningcap, we stopped in at Sixteen Tons and I enjoyed a can of Anderson Valley's Amber Ale.  I'm officially on an Amber kick and it's working for me. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 09/24/2012: Spiffin', Shippin', Rippin'

1.  There's been a lot of coming and going around this house over the last couple of years and this morning I spent some time clearing out some of the remains of all this activity and spiffed up the garage a bit.

2.  We are shipping a car to New York and things are set for the car to be picked up in the afternoon.

3.  I begin my life as a retired teacher working part time in the morning and I have all my handouts ripped out and my syllabus finished to spring on my students on Thursday.  Tomorrow will be all about enrollment and getting some writing from my students and, hopefully, by Thursday, I'll know who is and who isn't enrolled. 

Three Beautiful Things 09/23/2012: Staying Put, Posting Pictures, Football in TroxAmerica

1.  I had a stay in day until late afternoon and enjoyed sitting at the kitchen counter doing some writing, editing pictures, and having contact with Kellogg friends as well as my family back home. 

2.  I posted pictures of sunflowers and some details of the Wayne L. Morse U. S. Courthouse and was very pleased that those who commented enjoyed the pictures and some could could see that I had tried to create certain effects in my editing. 

3.  I had a great time at the Troxhaus with the Troxstar and the TroxFam.  The football game was thrilling and the meal of cold cut meats, baguette, fresh tomatoes, fresh cucumbers, mozzarella balls, and other delights really hit the spot.  It was hard to see the Troxstar suffer as the Pats lost, but we had a good time enjoying the football, mocking Cris Collingsworth, and expressing disdain for the replacement officials. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 09/22/2012: Back to Bloggin', Courthouse Picture Stroll, Out of the Cooler

1.  I am trying to keep myself writing on my blog again.  I'm going to do my best to write often, maybe not every day, but often.  I've posted pieces the last two days and I've enjoyed knowing that some people read what I wrote, I enjoyed being welcomed back, and I enjoyed even pleasing some readers.  That's motivating.  I am especially happy that my writing about her family pleased Skye so much.

2.  Russell and I took pictures over by the U. S. Courthouse in Eugene this afternoon and it was a boon.  The sunflowers, the courthouse, an industrial plant across the street, and a variety of other subjects made for a great couple of hours of picture taking.  I haven't looked at my photographs yet, but I sure had fun taking them, however they turned out.

3.  The Deke and I went to Sixteen Tons to discuss our future.  Well, we talked about the present a little bit, too, but we are trying to get a sense of what the next 5-10 years might look like.  It was a great talk and a relaxing time, aided in no small part, for me, by a can of Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, a can of Steigl, and a can of someone's Pilsner.  It was American, but, for the life of me, I don't remember the brewer.  I'm an amateur beer drinker.  That's why I forget these things!  I enjoyed buying beers out of the Sixteen Tons cooler, a fun change from ordering from the taplist. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Good People

I have a Facebook friend named Melanie.  She's a few years (or more) younger than I am, comes from Oakridge, and has lived in Eugene/Springfield for many, many years.

As I've come to know Melanie better, I can see that a very important part of her life is, in many ways, very similar to a very important part of my life back when I lived in Kellogg. That part of my life was centered on my parents' friendship with a large group of families who congregated at Rose Lake on the Fourth of July, at the Gerry Turnbow house on Thanksgiving, at Bob Turnbow's on Christmas Eve, and at Ted Turnbow's place up the North Fork of the Cd'A River on other occasions.

Back in 2011, Melanie posted pictures of her extended family and friends out at Dexter Lake on the Fourth of July.  From these pictures I could easily tell that Melanie was enjoying her daughters, her grandchildren, her boyfriend, and other friends . I recognized their pleasure in having a few drinks, eating good food, laughing, and dancing.  I know Melanie and her daughter Skye well enough to rest assured that this party involved telling tall tales, rehashing old stories, maybe trying to keep some unpleasant history at arm's length, all in service to what the pictures unmistakably portray:  Melanie's family and friends having a great time and enjoying themselves in the midst of the many, many years that have bonded and will bond this family and their friends together.

I look at Melanie's pictures and I'm reminded the summer of 2010, after the Kellogg High School all-class reunion had ended, and I had some minor car trouble.  My side view mirror quit responding when I moved its lever.  I went up to Robin Aga at Reco's Auto Body Shop for help and Robin ordered a part and got the wrong one delivered to him and so I stayed in Kellogg longer while this minor sanfu worked itself out and, BOOM!, on Thursday evening, all the instruments in my dashboard lost electricity.  Friday I went to Reco's and asked Robin if he did electrical work on cars, and he said that he didn't, but to take it down to Randy (my tent mate at the 1969 National Boy Scout Jamboree) at Reco's Auto Repair.

Robin told me, "Randy's good people."

That was all I needed to hear.  I knew Robin's good people.  I knew his wife, Rhonda (KHS Class of '72) is good people.  I took my car to Randy and he turned it over to Darrell (I could tell Darrell was good people) who repaired it.  Robin left his shop and came down to Randy's shop to put the mirror on down there.  I went to pay Robin.  He doesn't deal with credit cards and told me to mail him the money I owed him when I got back to Eugene.  Darrell's work was perfect.  Everything worked out and it barely cost me 100 bucks.

All of which is to say that when I met Melanie in the fall of 2010 as her ENG 107 instructor, I could tell she was good people; her daughter, Skye, had given me a head start toward knowing this because Skye is good people.  She had been a student of mine earlier.  Everything she wrote in that class class shone with the light of good people.

So when I look at the pictures of Melanie and Skye and Keith and Theya and they are having some drinks and they are dancing and eating and playing with kids, I go back to Kellogg, to my family and to our family's friends.

And I go back to my friends from the Kellogg High School Class of 1972.

In August, we held our 40 year reunion.

It could have been called the good people reunion.

After a Friday night get together on the deck and the yard outside the Longshot Saloon, on Saturday we had a party up the North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River on the adjoining properties of two of our classmates.

 After forty years, any airs we might have one had upon reuniting had long ago fallen away.  After forty years, we've all been tested and strengthened by loss, failures, and upheaval:  many of us have lost one or both of our parents to death; many of us have suffered broken marriages; we've endured injuries to our children; some have been broken down by the rigors of hard labor;  many have suffered through the uncertainties and difficulties of trying to stay afloat in a world where once secure jobs in mining and logging have all but dried up. 

It all shows in the ways we've aged:  not only have the creases in our faces increased and deepened, not only have we grayed, but we've also matured in our understanding of each other. It's humbling.  No one's a hot shot.  We get it:  life's difficulties rain on everyone without bias.

Knowing this makes us good people.

We don't talk about this much at our reunion.  But, out of unspoken respect and admiration for the ways we have come into our own, we have fun.

This takes me back to Rose Lake and Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.  I know now that our family's friends always had fun in the midst of difficulties.

It's what good people do.

Load up some coolers with beer.  Get some liquor and wine.  Set out BBQ and other great food on long tables under shelter.  Drink.  Eat.


At the Turnbow gatherings, singing happened.  The Turnbow brothers along with George Lyons and Glen Waltman and others sang stuff like "Cockles and Mussles" in harmony and others joined in.

The Kellogg High School Class of '72 likes to dance.

This year two of our classmates, Carol and Ron, formed a band with two of Ron's cousins and they played a great mixture of songs from the sixties and seventies with some contemporary country songs thrown in.

And we danced.

My high school classmates are the only people in the world I dance with and as we get to smiling and laughing and dancing it's the perfect picture of what this little piece I'm writing is all about:

Good people.

When I'm in Eugene, I miss the kinds of get togethers I used to go to in North Idaho.  On Labor Day a few weeks ago, Ed and I dropped in on a couple of Labor Day get togethers.  We couldn't stay long, but there it all was:  coolers full of beer, wine, some booze, and great food on long tables under shelter -- bbq ribs, salads, pizza, baked beans, corn on the cob, pasta, chips, and more.

Ed and I got to enjoy the best part of both of these two get togethers:  shooting the breeze with good people over a few beers.

I liked that.

And I like knowing that Melanie's family gets together quite a bit to celebrate holidays, births, weddings, birthdays, and other occasions.

They do what good people do:  they bring together couples who used to be married, family members who've had some problems,  people who are new to the family, people who are doing great, people who are struggling, in short, people who have endured the heights and depths of social, public, work, and family life, and they enjoy each other.

It reminds me of Kellogg.

It assures me that wherever I am, I know good people.

Friday, September 21, 2012

I'm an Amateur Beer Drinker

Yesterday afternoon, I strolled down to the Bier Stein for a pint of Old Speckled Hen and then I joined the Deke at Sixteen Tons for two half pints, a saison whose name I can't recall and a Black Butte Porter XXIV.

When I arrived at the Bier Stein, I ordered the Speckled Hen promptly, without thought.  My decisiveness caught the attention of a bloke at the end of the bar, a Brit as it turns out, and he remarked, "Looks like you are a man who knows his beer."

My throat went dry.  I might have blushed.  Mild fear struck me. 

I don't really know beer.

I've been drinking the kind of beer sold at Sixteen Tons and the Bier Stein for over a year now.  Many come from small brewers and are experimental, some made in small batches, and all are flavorful, pleasing.

Yes, I do know a few things. I'm not crazy about intensely hopped beer, not crazy about IPAs, but I enjoy saisons, ales from the firkin, stouts, brown ale, porters, ambers, some pale ales, lagers, pilsners, some sour beers, lambics, wittes, and, well, if the hops are not too over powering, I like just about everything.  I like Budweiser with tomato juice, Budweiser with bloody Mary mix, Budweiser with orange juice, and Budweiser straight from the tap -- as long as it's ice cold.  I like Canadian beer, Belgium beer, Japanese beer, Dutch beer, German beer, Irish beer, English beer, Czech beer as well as Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon, New York, Missouri, Colorado, California, Utah, etc. beer.

What makes me an amateur is when it comes to talking about beer.  Aside from always being concerned about the Alcohol by Volume (I don't like to get intoxicated) and being able to give some attention to the IBU (International Bittering Units) (the higher the IBU, the more bitter the beer), I mainly talk about beer by saying, "Yeah, that tastes really good" or "It's a little too bitter for me" or "Wow!  That's really interesting!  I like it".

I read beer reviews (Hey!  Check out Emily's blog!) and I listen to gals and blokes at Sixteen Tons talk about beer and they talk about chocolate and tobacco and citrus and overtones and finish and drinkability and booziness and how the beer is smooth or tart or has hints of grapefruit or cherry or subtle hints of chicory and I just nod dumbly.

I can't tell any of that stuff.

I love beer, but I don't have an analytical experience.

As with so many things, when I drink beer I have a romantic experience.  How does this beer make me feel?  Does it trigger any memories?  Did I like the company I drank it with?  Where was I when I last drank this beer?  Does it taste so good it brings tears to my eyes?

If it tastes so good it brings tears to my eyes, I won't be able to tell you why in beer talk.  Maybe it reminded me of some cask conditioned beer I drank near Ambleside in the Lake District while eating deep fried scampi after a gorgeous walk on easy trails with my first wife in 1979 and maybe the beer makes me want that moment back so intensely that I tear up.

Beer, my love of beer, is an intensely personal experience.  It's why I almost never recommend a beer, why I give vague answers when someone sees what I'm drinking and asks if it's good and why I would never write a beer review.

So when the guy at the Bier Stein heard me order an Old Speckled Hen and told me that I was a man who knows my beer, I refrained from saying, "Well, yes, this past July 1st I had gone to worship at The Church of the Holy Apostles and went back to my Brooklyn hotel room and after a nap savored Tiger Woods' win the AT & T National golf tournament and I decided to go to Park Slope and try Russell's favorite fish and chip place and when I sat down at the Chip Shop I ordered a pint of Old Speckled Hen, not knowing what I was doing, and the first taste was so overwhelmingly sweet and delicious and it brought back so many memories of English pubs and long walks in towns and countryside throughout England that I nearly cried and when my huge fillet of fish and golden chips arrived the Old Speckled Hen complemented the food so perfectly that I nearly cried again and then a couple of days later Scott Shirk and I found the Chip Shop on Atlantic near Brooklyn Heights and we were good friends but became even better friends when we shared in the deep pleasure of an Old Speckled Hen, so, now, whenever I can drink it, whether in a can or on Nitro, I order it, and, if possible, go somewhere in the bar alone and, as if I am kneeling in a private chapel in an abandoned Episcopalian church, I drink in the private pleasures and memories and sweet goodness of Old Speckled Hen."

Instead, I said, "Yeah.  I really like English beer.  It's not so bitter."

The English bloke did what all non-amateur beer drinkers do: First he asked me if I'd ever drunk an English beer I'd never heard of and then he explained to me the difference between English hops and Pacific Northwest and other American hops and how they impact the bitterness of beer.  I nodded dumbly.  My eyes were growing vague.

The bartender brought me my gorgeous pint of creamy Old Speckled Hen.  I raised it to the Brit, smiled, and gave a hearty, "Cheers!"

The Bier Stein was not crowded.  I found an isolated spot to drink my Old Speckled Hen. 

It was spiritual.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012