Sunday, January 31, 2010

This Too Shall Pass

Thanks to a lovely day at the library Friday that included lunch from Wild Ginger (Thai!), to a wonderful Five after Five that involved five vegetarian dishes and some stellar wine choices (it was so crowded that by the time we went through, they'd had to change wines at a few stations, so I'm not sure which we had beside 3 whites and two reds), and to a very nice time up in Dayton that involved a 30-minute tour of their art institute and a homemade spicy Cajun-style shrimp and sausage dish, I have officially recovered from my Thursday doldrums. I still have this pit of anxiety in my stomach regarding all things class-related, but I'll chug on, hope that it shrinks, and even do whatever I can to make it disappear altogether.

Also making me happy? President Obama's meeting with Republicans on Friday, particularly the Q&A session that followed his opening remarks. Every question a Republican asked, Obama considered and responded respectfully in a way that showed he understood the issues but also that he knew why his approach was better and why so many of the political talking points (on both sides, he acknowledged) are disingenuous.

I was talking to my mom about this yesterday - even though he's governing from the center, leaving many progressives disheartened, I really believe he's aiming to change the culture in Washington. He's practicing what he preached during the campaign. And as someone (maybe Andrew Sullivan) put it, this is entirely necessary after 8 years of Bush. Short term frustrations, hopefully, will yield long-term gains. Though I couldn't be more ecstatic that he's finally pushing for a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," a policy that seems increasingly ridiculous.

Here's the video of the Q&A Session. It's worth watching alone for the reminder that President Obama is super smart!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mild Complaining

I've started a new entry about five times since Monday. But nothing's come. I feel drained. I don't know why this hasn't gotten easier for me. Each quarter I have the same problems, the same time-management issues, the same stupid self-doubt. I'm just tired and drained tonight. Looking forward to the weekend.

Monday, January 25, 2010

First day of classes

I'm psyched for the new quarter (though perturbed that Composition has 42 students, 2 over the cap and 20 over what would be ideal). I think the wordpress site will be a tremendous help to me (staying organized and communicative) and to my students - rather than waiting a few hours for a response from me via email, they can quickly check the site and see what we did in class that day as well as assignments for the next one. And especially for Literature: so often, my words fail me, and I don't explain something as fully as I want to. I need time to think. By connecting our discussions to a written blog, I can model how to probe more deeply into a text.

I might have linked to this before, but I love this blog post titled "John & Kate Kill Lochness Monster" - John Adams and Kate Chopin travel through time on their honeymoon. After we read her "Story of an Hour" (in which the main character dies at the end of the two-page story), I give this post out to the class. It's a reminder not to take everything so seriously. Play around. Have fun with characters. (The last group thought it was a little bizarre; we'll see what this next group thinks tomorrow!)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why We Need Reform

With all the back and forth and frustration over feckless Democrats and obstructionist Republicans, it's easy to forget the ultimate goals of health care reform. One of my favorite political sites, Talking Points Memo, posted a reader's email that serves as a reminder. Here is the key portion, though the whole thing is worth reading.

My story: My father is dying of Huntington's disease. Before he dies in 8 to 10 years, he will need anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and drugs that fight dementia and his tremors and convulsions. He'll need multiple brain scans and physical therapy sessions.

Current medical treatments can't save him, but they will give him a few more years before the slow death strips him of his memories, personality and control of his body.

There's a 50 percent chance the same slow motion death awaits me and each of my three siblings. If I ever lose my job I'll become uninsurable, permanently. My sister already lost her insurance.

That means whatever treatment is developed for Huntington's will be unavailable to us. There's simply no way we could afford it. Not only high tech gene therapies or other interventions, but the medications and treatments that exist now that would buy us enough time to see our kids' graduations or weddings, and would give them hope of not suffering their grandfather's fate.

There's a bill that would mean we'd never be rejected for health insurance or have it canceled. Health insurance that could ease our final years, or maybe even save us.

But liberals are refusing to support it. I know there are principles and politics at stake. I know people are tired of being told to shut up and take what's given to them. But in the end, there a thousands of people with Huntington's and millions of people with other serious or terminal illnesses who will never benefit from treatment because they are uninsured. Millions more who are otherwise healthy will die premature or unnecessary deaths because basic health care isn't affordable.

I'm off to Nana's - it's been a couple weeks, and my laundry is piled up a bit. We'll cheer on the Colts and Saints today, though I suspect the NFL is hoping for a Jets/Vikings Superbowl.

Friday, January 22, 2010

This week

Beautiful Jenna left her loved ones earlier this week. Family and friends will gather at Spring Grove tomorrow to spread her ashes and celebrate her life, love, and friendship. I am moved and humbled by the spirit of family and community that continues to surround her.


I am -- we are? -- disconnected from everything that's going on in Washington. The Republican won the special election in Massachusetts, meaning the Democrats have a 59-41 majority, not a 60-40 majority. Because of the ridiculous Senate rules, this apparently means everything; and not a single Democratic senator or congressperson seems willing to fight, to put their jobs on the line to bring affordable health care to millions. They seemed relieved to have this excuse. They seemed feckless. These are the people standing up for the disenfranchised? These are who are fighting for the middle class? I've never felt such disappointment; with Bush in, we had an excuse. And maybe that's how they prefer it - having an excuse. It makes me sick and removed from the process. The only way Democrats will stay in office is by exciting their base - not pulling to the center. Because if they're going to act like Republicans, the public will end up voting in Republicans - because they at least pretend to be strong and committed to a cause greater than themselves (even if they are completely disingenuous).

I still believe wholeheartedly that Obama is the best for the job and that he's as sickened by the Democrats as I am. But after all, he's an introvert - he's not going to react in a loud rage. He's reflecting, figuring out his next move. (Yes, I love my Kool-Aid, thank you very much!)

And then there's the Supreme Court decision, declaring bans on corporate free speech unconstitutional. I have no idea what the immediate and long-term effects of this decision will be, but it's hard to imagine that there won't be a great confluence of corporate and political power.

Whatever, I blame Bush.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Things I can control

I've started a new website to aid in communication with my students. I hope to frequently update it with helpful links, reminders about assignments, and examples of different types of writing. I want to look for ways to work with my strengths, rather than against them: my intrapersonal skills abound, while my interpersonal skills run and hide at the most inopportune moments.

About a year ago, I had started one with blogspot, but while blogspot is perfect for this type of writing - newest at the top, add tags, I'm set - it doesn't allow me to create different pages. So this next one is

Last night I saw the touring production of "Spring Awakening." Here's a clip of the original cast performing a medley of some of its songs during the 2007 Tony Awards:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Finishing Up

Finishing up the winter quarter, today, submitting final grades. I feel the most organized I've been since I started teaching these classes, but that's not saying much. We start again next week. I'll know where everything is! I'll give quizzes back the next class period, and essays within a week! When a student asks about his/her progress, I'll be able to give an answer right then and there!

(Ah, and this is the first quarter break in a year that I haven't tried to leave the country -- unsuccessfully last April, successfully in July and October; alas I'll be working in the library most of the break, so no extra time to do "nothing").

But I'm itching to travel again. I've never been to New England, the Plains, or the Pacific Northwest. Places in the south, Texas and New Mexico, I've only driven through as a child. I love getting stamps in my passport - I'd go back to Europe or Australia in a second - but I do need to see more of my own country.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Sometimes life throws us things that make us question the justice of the world.

I'm not religious; I'm not even spiritual. But I tend to believe that there's an order to the universe, that things even out. Despite so much evidence to the contrary, I tend to think good things ultimately happen to good people.

When a lovely, positive, vibrant 27-year old is losing her battle with cancer, I'm reminded that this world can be cruel and random. That horrible things can happen to the best people and the best families.

We were part of a rather counter-cultural Catholic church in the 80s and 90s. I knew nothing of the orthodoxy and intolerance that continue to plague more traditional Catholic churches, because ours was accepting of differences, more concerned with issues of peace and justice than what people did behind closed doors. The church's first members were young, in their late teens and early twenties. They got married, had kids (I was one of those kids), and thus a generation was born into this caring and intimate environment. We all lived in the same neighborhood as the church. We walked there and to each other's houses for sleepovers and pool parties. Many of us went to the same schools and rode the same buses.

By the early-to-mid-90s, many of the members who'd married had divorced (my parents included), and many had moved away from the neighborhood. Many of us stopped going to the church (the priest who'd helped to start it had long since moved out West) and found somewhere (or nowhere) else to go. Now, members of that first generation of kids are in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties. Many of the parents are remarried, graying. And we're all tolerant, open, and concerned with peace. Justice.

We met today at Spring Grove Cemetery - that large and lovely place I grew up across the street from, celebrated my First Communion in, and learned how to drive a stick in - to honor Jenna. About one hundred of us gathered near the entrance, slowly recognizing each other and sharing hugs and tears. For the next hour and a half, we walked quietly through the cemetery, umbrellas open, thinking, reflecting, crying, and praying. Spring Grove has always represented peace, beauty, and community much more than death. It was a gray, rainy day that seemed appropriate for the circumstances.

I have trouble holding grudges nowadays. I reserve my anger for deceit, injustice, and intolerance, and only towards those I don't know personally. For everyone else, especially, today, Jenna and her family, I have only love and hope that somehow, somewhere, the world restores order.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Where You Have a Choice, Side with Kindness and Optimism..."

~ Me

In Amy Bloom’s “By-and-by,” the narrator deals with the death of her friend and roommate, Anne. The five-and-a-half page story begins after Anne, a young woman living in New York City, has already been kidnapped and killed; the reader doesn’t know this yet. We see the narrator and the roommate’s mother having “interstate, telephonic rum-and-Coke” parties as they wait for news about Anne. But we quickly learn details of the murder, the trial, and the murderer. The narrator, whose name we never learn, doesn’t reveal much about herself. “Every death is violent,” she begins. She later describes what happens to the body as it dies:
The brain cells die fast, and blood pools in the sot, pressed places: the scapula, the lower back, the calves. If the body is not covered up, it produces a particular smell called cadaverine, and flies pick up the scent from a mile away. First, just one fly, then the rest. They lay fly eggs and ants come, drawn to the eggs, and sometimes wasps, and always maggots. Beetles and moths, the household kind that eat your sweaters, finish the body; they undress the flesh from the bone. They are the cleanup crew.

She even quotes something the killer said at trial - “Everyone dies of heart failure” - and she seems to agree with that statement as she describes various people in her life dying: no matter what the cause, it equally hurts. (I’d already quoted Bloom’s final paragraph – “I don’t miss the dead less, I miss them more” – for its precision and detail in an earlier entry).

Throughout the story, the narrator is quite morbid; detached. On first read, my students actually thought she might be Anne’s killer – “She seems disturbed,” they said. That’s a valid response, but closer inspection reveals how consumed the narrator is with grief.

Stories and poetry reveal truths in ways that non-fiction cannot.

Anyway, so where is all this coming from? I’ve had a light schedule at work this week – Monday I didn’t go in to the library because of my eye (now fully open, if a little swollen), and yesterday I finished class early because of the exam – and so I’ve had that time and space to get reflective while experiencing righteous indignation. Yesterday, Haiti was hit by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake, affecting one-third of its total population. Estimates for those made homeless, injured, or killed are likely to be in the thousands.

And then we have Pat Robertson, supposed Christian, believer in Christ, God, and heaven, saying that the quake is a “blessing in disguise” and that the country was “cursed” for a pact it made with the devil centuries ago. Seriously!

Fourteen U.N. staffers, on the agency’s Haiti mission, have been killed in the quake. I’m not going to waste time arguing with Robertson’s outrageous statement. But along with the failure of our media to treat issues seriously, the muck and gamesmanship of politics in general, and my own inability to understand how people can be anything other than kind and grateful to one another, I find myself indignant. We’re surrounded by so much death and sadness that’s not of our own making, whether by accident of man or nature. How dare we diminish others?

We have no control over so much. We have no say over when an earthquake will strike or when the cells of our body will turn against us. But we can control what we say; we control how we treat others, how we conduct ourselves.

Poem for the day: "Common Ground"

Common Ground

Blood tells the story of your life
in heartbeats as you life it;
bones speak in the language
of death, and flesh thins
with age when up
through your pores rises
the stuff of your origin.

These days,
when I look into the mirror I see,
my grandmother's stern lips
speaking in parentheses at the corners
of my mouth of pain and deprivation
I have never known. I recognize
my father's brows arching in disdain
over the objects of my vanity, my mother's
nervous hands smoothing lines
just appearing on my skin,
like arrows pointing downward
to our common ground.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What Would Jerry Tweet?

You wonder what Seinfeld would have been like were it set today: its main characters (despite Kramer's shenanigans and George's bouts with unemployment) seemed relatively well off. They would have smart phones; they might even text and tweet. At the very least, they wouldn't have had so many miscommunication and misunderstandings. I can imagine them having fun making fun of the new set of codes that have arisen with social media.

I love the Swedish subtitles.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Wash, rinse, repeat.

I had a flashback to 1994 this morning. When I woke up, I couldn't open my right eye - my bad eye. It's the one that doesn't blink quite as quickly as the left eye, or that droops a little lower when I'm tired. It doesn't look up or down too well, either. I see the asymmetry in pictures, sometimes, especially if I'm mid-blink. But otherwise it's not noticeable, as far as I know. Anyway, I had suffered some optic nerve damage from my accident back in '94, and my inability to open my right eye this morning convinced me that the nerve damage had worsened and that my eye would be stuck closed forever and ever.

My fourteen-year-old self found it very amusing that my right eye was my bad eye - my "evil" eye. After all, left was supposed to be sinister, and my left eye was awesome! According to other sources, the word "sinister" is derived from the Latin sinistr-, meaning "on the left side or inauspicious." But a little digging (er, well, typing words into google) reveals how left, and particularly left-handedness, came to be associated with evil.

I may play it cool, but my mind jumps to the worst possible scenario. My life is built for quiet, full of structure and routine. In that empty space, though, I find room to entertain these thoughts. To become anxious and excited. But then everything settles. Tomorrow is our last composition class for the quarter, and students take their final exam. As I write and revise questions, I worry about making them too hard, afraid that I haven't taught them well enough.

Edited to change "close" to "closed" and "worse" to "worst"...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

So there's that

The Bengals may have played yesterday, and I may have watched, but I have no memory of it. It's erased. Gone. Spring Training begins for the Reds in less than two months. So there's that.

My latest excitement comes from my new phone, a myTouch 3G. It's a "smart" phone that has access to the internet and a full browser. Also, I can download many apps, like bar code scanners and tetris and my personal favorite, "Coloroid" (I played it yesterday while the Bengals were imploding). Anyway, it was an impulse buy, and my hope is that it will make me less attached to being home at my computer. Instead I'll be at Starbucks, grading papers; or when the weather is nicer, I'll be at the park, grading papers.

Today I go to my grandma's to show off my new phone, grade some annotated bibliographies, and eat a home-cooked meal.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood...

Snow is the great equalizer in the city. Poor neighborhoods, rich neighborhoods, all receive the same blanket of white stuff. It all looks beautiful.

I received word that classes were canceled today about three hours after I'd already gotten up, showered, and furiously finished my plans. The snow has slowed, but I hope more falls...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Teachers' Dirty Little Secret

We like snow days just as much as students. We stare at the scrolling list at the bottom of the screen; if our school's not there at first, we keep watching. And when we do see it, we cheer.

A full 3-5" of snow is supposed to fall tomorrow morning across the Greater Cincinnati area. If you're from Michigan or northern Ohio, you would snicker at our reactions to snow here in southern Ohio. In addition to schools closing left and right (granted, most of these schools are rural -- city schools close far less frequently), people stock up on supplies like it's Y2k.

So I head to bed to read more of Barbara Kingsolver's "Lacuna" and dream of the pending snowpocolypse.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bridging the Gap

I started working on my admission's essay for Warren Wilson. I have months to finish it (and truthfully, I should be concentrating more on selecting my writing samples), but I feel like the process of writing it will be helpful. I get to write something, in 3-4 pages, that describes

· my preparation in the study of creative writing and literature
· additional experience that seems particularly relevant to this application
· the strengths and weaknesses of my writing
· my goals for my two years of degree study

There's just so much I want to say and write; the challenge (and fun part) will be shaping the words and sentences into something cohesive and interesting and that doesn't simply restate what I've already written on my blog. (I couldn't just send this url, right?)

Anyway, I have two more weeks in the current quarter. In class today, we reviewed for the final exam; thinking back, I see a disconnect between how I teach them to approach their assignments and how I approach my own writing. Maybe the more I bridge those, the more convincing I'll be as an instructor.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

And I am a Snake Head

Many of us would-be hipsters go through a They Might Be Giants stage: late teens, early twenties, we go to their concerts, we buy their tee-shirts, we phone up "Dial-a-Song." Their nonsensical lyrics speak to us.

When I found out that yesterday's date, 01-02-2010, was a palindrome, the band's lyrics came rushing back: I am a snake head eating the head on the opposite side... (Snake head)...

I'm reminded that not everything has to have a deeper meaning. Maybe part of what makes TMBG so enjoyable, especially for people of a certain age, starting college, determining what they want to do with their lives, is that it doesn't have a greater significance; it is what it is - fun and entertaining.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Aunt Robyn's 9 Lives (an update)

I brought up my aunt's health last week. She'd been in the ICU, on a ventilator, with little hope of recovery. We've been through this before with her, and somehow she's beaten the odds and come home. This time, the doctors and nurses assured us, her organs were too weakened. Too battered down.

She's not out of the woods yet. But when I visited her today, her ventilator was removed, her tv was on, and she was talking and even singing at times.

The resilience of the human body amazes.

Looking forward

Being born in 1980 makes the math easy. When I was a kid--this tiny little creature with a tendency to hide in corners or behind her mother's skirt--I could quickly calculate my age and imagine what kind of grownup I'd be. Wow, in the nineties I'll be a teenager, I'd thought. In the two-thousands I'll be in my twenties! (Ha, I remember wondering what they'd call these first years of the new millennium; they never really figured it out). And man, in the twenty-tens? I'll be in my thirties!

I didn't understand how to be a teenager, how to put on and take off different identities, seeing what fits; I hate looking back, seeing how unhappy and uncomfortable I was, and wishing I would have just relaxed. But the twenties? I learned to use a different measuring stick. I didn't have to compare myself to other people; rather, I had to determine the shape of my own life. Now it's the decade of my thirties, though ego forces me to note that I'm not, technically, in my thirties yet.

What will this decade bring? You know, it's scary and exciting having absolutely no idea. Fifteen years ago, and silly as it seems now, I couldn't imagine that there would be boys who like me. Ten years ago, I certainly wouldn't have envisioned myself teaching at a college or even working in a library. Five years ago, I didn't see myself returning to this idea of me as a writer. And exactly one year ago, after finally breaking free of a relationship I'd hung on to for far too long, I didn't anticipate what an exciting year 2009 would be, from weekly wine tastings to visiting other continents.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next.