Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Lion Sleeps Tonight (and, "The Dream Lives On")

Ted Kennedy's memorial, funeral, and burial services have been incredibly tasteful and appropriate. Given his stature and accomplishments, it's fitting that our sitting president gave his eulogy. While President gave a great speech, I think Kennedy's son, Ted Jr., stole the show. I'm embedding the first part of his speech. All of it is wonderful - funny and touching - but my favorite moment comes just before the fourth minute, when Ted Kennedy Jr. recalls a story from when he was twelve.

Who knows what impact Kennedy's death will have on the larger narrative of health care reform. I think that I and fellow progressives hope that the other democrats in the senate will feel a renewed call to pass meaningful legislation, i.e. with a public option.

Finally, click here for a collection of editorial cartoons from the day after Kennedy passed.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Another reason to love gmail...

I had a eureka moment yesterday morning.

These past few months, I've gone through this cycle of ambivalence/ restlessness/ anxiety about my future. What am I doing? Where am I going? I've toyed with the idea of going back to school for any number of things, from library science to english composition and pedagogy.

Any school excites me: getting assignments and essays, doing research, becoming more skilled and knowledgeable. I could go back for archaelogy, paleontology, mathematics, political science, history, and I would thoroughly enjoy it. The problem would come after. I don't see myself excited about any field "after" except creative writing.

A few months ago, I looked into and dismissed (or, at least, postponed) the idea of a low-residency MFA program. A low-res MFA program allows its students to stay where they are, even work full time, while working toward the degree. Then twice a year, students and faculty gather for one or two weeks of intense workshop. They might meet at the school's campus, or they might travel to another idyllic location, depending on the program.

Yesterday morning, checking my email, one of google's "intuitive" and "targeted" ads appeared in the right margin and said to "GET YOUR MFA!" Light bulb. Eureka. Duh! Here I've been whining about what I want to do with my life, when I've known what I want to do. I just hadn't made the commitment to do so.

I'm at the beginning of this process. There are a number of well-reputed low-res programs around the country; the trick is finding one that's the best fit for me.

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. ~Ray Bradbury

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wednesday, Wednesday

I found this quote from my May entry:

"But I don't see myself doing this five years from now, at least not in its current form."

Life is absurd. We all are. I'm destined to have the same revelations over and over again until someone throws a shoe at me.

So there's this old lady...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

"Education is the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty"

~ Mark Twain

"Suck it up," my grandmother said once when I was complaining about all the things I had to do. She didn't say it meanly; she was rather matter-of-fact. And knowing all the sacrifices she's had to make -- all the times she's had to "suck it up" -- makes me feel sheepish.

I'm back at the wall. Behind it, with me, I have the life I've built. It's relatively comfortable and often fulfilling. But I know with greater and greater certainty that I don't want to be behind this wall in five years. I feel like I have been sucking it up for years.

This wall is not about happiness (which is overrated); it's about drive and motivation, passion, creativity, among many other things that have been sucked up.

Five years from now: The recession will be over, Obama will be well into his second term, and I will be... where? And how do I get there?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"But when I start to tell them, they think I'm telling lies..."

I'm in the middle of week four, now, of a twelve-week quarter. Tuesday we discussed literary devices and poems by Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Dylan Thomas, and Robert Frost. The poetry lesson is a brief reprise from comma splices, organization, and logical fallacies, and we do these on the same day we discuss word choice and exact language. Poetry is the best words in the best order, I reiterate.

From "Phenomenal Woman": Pretty women wonder where my secret lies...

From "Dream Deferred": Does it dry up / Like a raisin in the sun?

From "Do Not Go Gentle into that Bright Night": Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

From "The Road Not Taken": Yet knowing how way leads on to way / I doubted if I should ever come back.

Each of these poems, so easily accessible regardless of your prior knowledge of the poet or poetry in general, illustrate that concept: best words, best order. Whether it's a very formal poem, like Frost's ABAAB, ABAAB, or Thomas' Villanelle, or it's a free form poem, without prescribed line length or rhyme, you can't imagine the words in any other order.

Speaking of word order, according to a book I've been reading, there are five basic definitions of grammar: the first is our internalized knowledge about word order and placement, allowing us to speak and write with fluency, without pausing and thinking between words; the second is "scientific attempts to understand and describe" those internalized rules; the third is "the grammar of linguistic etiquette," using standard English as opposed to so-called "bad grammar"; the fourth is the grammar we associate with middle school, learning about phrases and clauses, subjects and verbs; finally is the fifth type, stylistic grammar, concerned about "language beyond the sentence level" (think Zinsser's "On Writing Well," or me, railing against passive voice).

The book points out that knowledge of #2 and #4 doesn't necessarily translate to better #1. I hesitate spending so much time on it: grammar, sentence structure, and style. But then again, this is something I can explicitly, unambiguously teach. These are the rules, and this is when it's important to apply them. Only the past couple of quarters have I realized and articulated that following #3 and #5 depends on the purpose of the writing; the audience. But, I say, language is power. You're judged and classified by language, for better or for worse. Play the game. Master the game.

Oh, the power of story. I love good stories: Actions, personality traits, exchanges of dialogue, all pulled together in a narrative strand.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

"When the Exxon Valdez spilled in 1989, I was angry. I even wrote on the back of my car, Boycott Exxon!"

~ Alexandra Paul

The Reds game was a complete success: not only did we have wonderful seats on the third base line, seven rows back, but the Reds also won. The crowd was sparse (only 16,000 or so on a beautiful Thursday evening), but blame that on the team's dreadful record. None of us brought a glove, so any time a ball appeared foul, I put myself in a defensive position.

Last night, we skipped five after five in protest. I think our boycott will end next week; while I disagree with the CEO's comments, he's at least putting forward ideas. And I ask myself, "What would Obama do?" Obama would probably invite him to five after five and have a conversation.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Quick hits

I love that moment in a day when I stop worrying about class, work, family, and the world. Unfortunately that hasn't happened in a while. But I've been "good" busy, lately, as opposed to "anxious" busy.

So, I'll take a cue from one of my blogger friends and give some quick hits:

  • I saw "Julie and Julia" last night with my mom. Meryl Streep was divine has Julia Child, and it was wonderful recognizing so many places in Paris!
  • I'm boycotting Whole Foods. This seriously alters my Friday evenings, but the store's CEO penned an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal against health care reform. If he hadn't realized who shops there (liberal, educated democrats), he does now!
  • My dad leaves on Monday. I'm getting ready to take the reins on the website, a facebook fan site, and a twitter...
  • Headed to the Reds game tonight. I'll bring my camera and upload any good pics!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Controversial topics

I wrote yesterday of the confirmation bias, our own conscious (and subconscious) tendency to seek and accept information that doesn't challenge our world view. While my own bias skews far left, I try to be well-informed on all sides of an issue.

A controversial topic is one on which reasonable people disagree. I am vehemently opposed to the death penalty, and I can find statistics, examples, and logic to support my point of view. But there are smart people who are in favor of the death penalty, and they can also make a strong case. I don't think they can persuade me to change my position, but I'll certainly consider their argument.

When I hear President Obama say "we can disagree without being disagreeable," he is acknowledging that we can hold opposing positions and each have reason on our side. He wants to find that common ground. And while my single-payer-wanting self may want him to fight dirty, demonize the other side in the same way that they're trying to demonize him, it's against his nature. He knows there's a middle.

But there are a few things that concern me about this health care debate:
1. The still too-cozy ties between the government (from the White House to both Houses of Congress) and the insurance industry. Frank Rich has an excellent article today about the influence of corporations on media and our representatives. Many of us feel an anxiety that the government isn't for us. He concludes:
A bill will pass in a Democrat-controlled Congress. What matters is what’s in it. The final result will be a CAT scan of those powerful Washington interests he campaigned against, revealing which have been removed from the body politic (or at least reduced) and which continue to metastasize. The Wall Street regulatory reform package Obama pushes through, or doesn’t, may render even more of a verdict on his success in changing the system he sought the White House to reform.
Rich concludes his article in a way I don't agree with:
The best political news for the president remains the Republicans. It’s a measure of how out of touch G.O.P. leaders like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are that they keep trying to scare voters by calling Obama a socialist. They have it backward. The larger fear is that Obama might be just another corporatist, punking voters much as the Republicans do when they claim to be all for the common guy. If anything, the most unexpected — and challenging — event that could rock the White House this August would be if the opposition actually woke up.
I don't think Obama's "punking voters": two wars, an economic crisis, the structure of our government, for better or for worse, doesn't lend itself to quick change. It will take years and far more than one election to get rid of the corporate culture in Washington. But also, I think that a reasonable Right would be good for the government and good for America. Currently, it's the party of "no." Scare tactics. Demonization. But conversations? ideas? This can only raise the level of discourse to something that doesn't make me want to Canada.

2. While those of us on the left may feel some anxiety that corporate influence still reigns supreme, the more startling development (surprising more in tone than content) are the vitriolic protests that have been overshadowing rational discourse on health care reform. The overt racism is like nothing I've seen in my lifetime. This Daily Kos diary summarizes three "movements" going on right now: the "birthers," who believe Obama is not legally president because he wasn't born here; the "teabaggers," who are concerned about taxes and expanding power of the federal government (putting it nicely); and now there are the "deathers," who believe Obama is going to kill all the old people. The author writes,

But these are not three disparate movements with three different practitioners, three different conspiracy theories that simply happen to share the same summertime stage. In practice and organization they are one movement, a single collection of the same set of animated citizens and televised leaders, and their signs decrying fascism, Naziism, communism, taxes, euthanasia and outrage over 1960's-era Hawaiian government paperwork mingle freely at every protest. If you find a newly minted tax protester, you are as likely as not to find a birther and a deather as well, all tucked neatly inside the same polo shirt. They are nearly exclusively white, predominantly middle aged and elderly, and unambiguously conservative.

[....]It is, in short, a movement made up of the enfranchised and enabled; people who have gained every benefit from the politics of America and yet who feel in their very bones that they are the oppressed ones, the ones who have nothing left to lose, so rapidly is America falling away from them.

The author, Hunter, goes on to say that "the last time we saw public discourse be as intentionally devolved as it is today was during, of all things, American desegregation." He or she writes persuasively about fear and power and their impact on the national dialogue. How do we find common ground? How can we have a debate about health care when reason is shouted over? When insurance companies are still able to get the ear of public officials and secure sweetheart deals?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Confimation Bias, Emily, & Henry

Most of us are guilty of confirmation bias. We pay attention to and note events and behaviors that confirm things we already believe, and we fail to note events and behaviors that create dissonance with those prior beliefs. I notice everything Obama does right, and I noticed everything Bush did wrong. I visit websites - Daily Kos and Talking Points Memo - that generally share my point of view. And I've stayed away from cable news lately because I don't want to hear what they have to say. I turn it off and find something that I do want to hear.

This tendency extends from the wide world of politics to the intricacies of human interaction. When we believe that we're good and worthy people, we'll notice behavior that confirms that belief. We recognize the smile, the compliment. But if we believe ourselves to be unworthy, we'll pay more attention to the unsmiling, the uncomplimentary. And, of course, then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Smiles beget more smiles, frowns beget more frowns.

I've written about the lines of Dickenson that pop into my head, begetting more frowns: "I'm nobody!" But with a little more thought control, I push Emily out and let Thoreau in: "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined." At the least, I stand up straighter.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Progressive building blocks

I find myself trying to do multiple things at once. I'm grading papers while planning while checking back in my book to make sure that, yes, commas do indeed go there. I'm eating while checking my email while taking a silly quiz on facebook. Everything is on my floor because I'm doing everything while accomplishing nothing (at least, accomplishing nothing with any kind of efficiency).

From first until the sixth grade, I attended a public Montessori school (I attended a separate, private one for preschool and kindergarten). Classrooms were open; that is, desks weren't the first thing you'd notice when entering the room. And often, the only border between classrooms were shelves. Instead of sitting at our desks each day, we completed tasks. We retrieved a carpet square, found a spot somewhere in the room, and lay it out. We took our material, sat down at our square, and completed the task. Then we returned the material to its spot on the shelf and put away our carpet square. One task at a time, from beginning to end. We could work as slowly or quickly as we wanted because, when we were finished, we could find something else to do.

This kind of school and education was perfect for me. It allowed me to be independent (which I crave) and to explore my interests. I didn't have to wait for the teacher to explain, again, some concept that I already understood. Instead, the teacher could spend extra time, individually, with that student. It also focused my attention on the task at hand.

As I scatter my attention, now, in a million different directions, I want to freeze time; I want to stop, put everything away, and then pull out a carpet square.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Way too late (or early)

(Written around 1am; I see this morning that I never hit "publish")

How do I know what I think until I see what I say?

I've thought, often, of this idea of a public voice: speaking from my own point of view toward broader ends; making the public personal and vise versa. While private insecurities and neuroses creep in, I have nonetheless strived to maintain that public voice.

Our society teaches us to hate ourselves. We're insufficient. We're not pretty enough, we don't dress well enough, and we certainly don't work hard enough. With more effort (and, perhaps, a team of specialists), we can be A+ Americans. But as we stand, however and wherever we stand, we're inadequate.

And how dare I rage against these standards, this propaganda and consumerism, and yet refuse to cut myself the same slack. I'm not special; I deserve some slack too. Oh, it's so much easier said than done.

Anyway, my private voice has crept in. I'm still figuring out what do do with it, but for now I'll try to be patient.