Friday, December 24, 2010

Three challenges for the New Year. Yes, it is that time already.

I’m in a mood this evening. There could be any number of reasons for it. It’s Christmas Eve. My oldest daughter isn’t home for the holiday. My niece has suddenly grown into this little girl who carries on conversations with me. The neighbor’s dog hasn’t stopped barking since I got home this evening. The sun has not been out in days. Maybe it’s all these things. Or none.

Don’t worry—it’s not a bad mood. Not even a melancholic or nostalgic mood. It’s more a mood of sudden determination that has been months in the making. Within the next week, 2011 will be upon us (I have decided that the real New Year is on December 21st, the winter solstice, but no one is asking my opinions on such things). With the New Year comes resolutions. Face it—even deciding to not make a resolution is a resolution, so there’s no getting around it. But if resolution leaves a bad taste in your mouth, let me offer an alternative. This year, let us issue challenges rather than resolutions. The human race is a competitive sort, so when someone throws down the gauntlet we respond. Hell, sometimes we respond with no provocation whatsoever.

So, I will now issue any of you reading this, three challenges. I dare you to accept them. Double dog dare you. Here we go:

Challenge number one: Stop waiting for the perfect time. It’s here. Right now. If you wait, it will pass and it won’t come again. So, next time you want to go or do or say something, do not say ‘It’s not the right time.’ Just go or do or say it. Especially if you need to say I love you. Or I’m sorry. Or I forgive you. Really—those are kind of big ones.

Challenge number two: Pursue joy. Even if it’s just a teeny, tiny, miniscule piece of joy. If you can’t be a ballerina, you can still turn on the music and dance like you’re at the Bolshoi. Afraid someone will see you? No—hope they do! You just might inspire them to make a little piece of their own joy come true. And wouldn’t the world be a happier place if we all pushed each other towards delight rather than towards antagonism?

Challenge number three: Follow your bliss. Joseph Campbell knew what he was talking about:

…if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be.

This is not the same as pursuing joy. Joy is the sensation of light breaking through after a long storm. Bliss is the sensation of coming home. You just know you’re where you belong. Can’t take the time to pursue the path you were meant to be on? See challenge number one. Too afraid to make a change? See challenge number two.

That’s it. Three simple tasks. Who’s in? Let me know. I will gladly offer words of support (or, if you’re of such a nature, I can offer glib comments that provoke you to action. You decide). I only ask that you return the favor.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Enchiladas, the color of taste, and a couple of great songs

On occasion, some of my posts result from challenges issued by my students, the proverbial glove tossed on the ground in front of me. This is one of those posts. It involves enchiladas and the color of taste.

I sometimes assign an essay to my students to describe their favorite food. The early drafts usually come back short and simple, but it becomes a canvas for revision, for working on details and using all five senses to bring the food to life for the reader.

One student this semester wrote about enchiladas. But not just any enchiladas—her enchiladas. The recipe is top secret stuff, the If-I-tell-you-I-have-to-kill-you-secret stuff. Her original piece was fine, but I began pushing her to add in the details that would make us beg her for a plate of the enchiladas. She’s a pragmatic student who doesn’t hesitate to tell me she likes staying in her box just fine, so she was hesitant to embellish what was, after all, an essay on food. I encouraged her to play with her writing, going so far as to ask, “What color do your enchiladas taste like?”

Long story short, several weeks after this conversation began, this student appeared at my office door with a pan of her enchiladas. Handing them over to me, she said, “You eat them and tell me what color they taste like.”

In other news: I love my job.

I’ll just lay it out right now—I couldn’t come up with a color to describe the taste. The actual color, however, is gold. Gold with various lighter and darker veins of the same color running through it, punctuated with moments of russet and small shots of ebony. When I took the pan from her, I was surprised by the heft and weight of it. And while I can’t tell you what color it tastes like, I can certainly tell you it smelled like the Hallelujah chorus. I detected the scent of cheddar cheese, ground beef, and—yes, yes, there it was—green chile. As any respectable New Mexican can tell you, the way to Heaven is paved with green chile.

Savannah and I served ourselves a helping immediately. As I lifted the first bite to my mouth, I reminded her, “Ok, I have to come up with the perfect way to describe this.”

And so, of course, it was Savannah who got it. She took a bite, closing her eyes and letting that wicked, wonderful, witty mind of hers take over. She swallowed, took another bite. Then she pronounced, “They taste like a good folk song.”

And she is so right. These enchiladas embody everything folk music does—history, heritage, and life. Some of reason the analogy of a folk song fits is apparent—the dish consists of food like cheese, corn tortillas, ground beef, black beans and pinto beans, and the green chile sauce. There’s nothing uppity about this, no exotic ingredients, no extravagant cuisine or unidentifiable elements. And it’s the structure of the piece, the layers that fold into one another like the instruments of folk music do in a song. This is not techno dance music, hip-hop, R&B, or even classical. It isn’t flashy or fancy or rich or dull. It’s solid food.

In the Navajo tradition, there are two types of rain—the easy female rain that falls gently and soaks into the earth, nourishing the plants and trees. Then there is the male rain, the torrents that crash to the ground and race along, gathering in the arroyos and speeding away. If food can have a gender, this dish is feminine. It insists you slow down and take a seat. The textures of the enchiladas are playful—the smoothness of the cheese, the easy crunch of the corn tortillas, and the roughness of the ground beef remind me of home, of the chaos of the dinner table and the ritual of family.

And that is the tastiest part of this dish. To know someone made these enchiladas with me in mind makes this so much more than just food. This simple pan of enchiladas reminded me that eating is not merely about survival. It admonished me for allowing my food to come fast and easy, prepared by people I don’t know and who don’t know me, communing with chemicals whose names I can’t pronounce, and never once attempting to answer the age-old questions “Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas?” Perhaps many of us have lost the ancient memory of spiritual union that food represents-- the yin and yang of preparing the meal for others, taking in the meal prepared for us, feeding body and soul. Bona Vida.

I think I know what her secret ingredient is.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fangirl Rises

I have just returned from Orlando and Disney’s Magical Kingdom, where I attended the National Writing Project Annual Meeting. It was a whirlwind three days of sessions and meetings that have the very strange effect of sending me home exhausted yet energized to look at my teaching and think about how to make it better.

I will discuss this in an upcoming new blog I’m creating focused on my teaching and writing career. I’m developing this in anticipation of requiring pre-service teachers to do the same this spring when I teach Teaching Writing, an adventure I’m excited to start. But for this space, I will keep to the adventures within the adventures. There was the trip to the Flying Fish, a wonderful restaurant located in Disney’s Boardwalk area. Six of the team gathered for food, wine, and laughter, and the taking of many pictures of our food.

Presentation is everything!
This was followed by an incident that I cannot do justice to, but I’m hopeful my colleague and fellow blogger Patrick Swope will expand on what it’s like to be rejected by Mickey at the bus stop. Even while clutching one of his $13.99 refillable mugs. I haven’t laughed like that since Mike Nelson’s imitation of Joseph Merrick in high school.

On Friday during our lunch, I teleported to another resort where the NCTE Conference had housed the vendors. Ok, I exaggerate. I rode the bus. But if you’ve never been to a meeting such as NWP or NCTE or AWP or any other combination of letters you can think of, I will try to describe what the vendor hall looks like: heaven. Anyway, to a book lover like me. In the vendor hall one can buy some books very inexpensively (I picked up My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me for FIVE DOLLARS!) and also pick up advance reading copies (ARCs) of other titles for free. There are also book bags, posters, magnets, pens, and other items that are free—until you pack it for the flight home and the airline charges you for the extra weight. But that’s another blog. (Along with my personal observation of a TSA pat-down. I’ll leave it at this—before anyone subjects me to one of those, I expect dinner first. With wine.)

I was meandering down one of the aisles with Sarah when I looked at a woman sitting at a display table. I stopped. I stared. I gave a sound that can only be described by Savannah’s term—SQUEE! There was Erin Gruwell, teacher, author, and inspiration for the film Freedom Writers. I admit it. I started fangirling (another term Savannah assures me is real). I had to meet her! I went to the end of the line, which was remarkably short, but then again, this is Disney World, where magic is suppose to happen. After a very short wait, I met her. I have to say, Erin Gruwell is one of the friendliest people you can hope to meet. She hugged me like we were old friends. She asked about my teaching. She signed my book. And the DVD. She posed for a picture with me. Fan. Freaking. Tastic.

After I left, beaming like a good fangirl, I looked at the pictures. The first was a great shot of Erin’s wonderful smile, and my face covered by a sheet of paper someone was handing over to another person. The second shot showed me, but Erin had her eyes closed and was caught in motion, making her look like she was fighting to get away from me. Now I had a dilemma. Do I just accept my luck and remember my encounter with a personal hero? Do I go back to stand in line? Or do I just walk up to her and ask for a quick picture? In a rare moment of uber-aggression, I decided on door number three. I returned to the table and waited for her to finish talking. She looked up at me and said, “Did the picture not come out?” Then this incredibly warm woman stood up, gave me another big hug and said, “Let’s do it again!” And she remembered my name. Little squee. Someday, when it’s me sitting at a table signing my books, I want to be just like her. Of course, I’m absolutely challenged when it comes to remembering names, but I can always aspire to make people feel the way Erin Gruwell made me feel. And the picture came out great. 


Of course, it isn’t a trip to the Magical Kingdom without a trip to the Magical Kingdom. After facilitating a session on Friday afternoon, (which started with me being turned away by a Mouse Henchman—a six-foot-plus mass of man who looked like he had been recruited from the Mafia and somehow made the mouse ears on his lapel look intimidating) Sarah Pope and I sprinted to the park to enjoy a couple of hours before going to see the Cirque du Soleil show “La Nouba.” We had purchased the tickets before leaving, and in hindsight that wasn’t such a good idea when it came to the park. As the friendly Cast Member gave me the ticket, he asked “Are you planning to use this tonight?” “Yes,” I told him, “I leave in the morning.” He shook his head and sadly informed me the park would close at seven pm, but then smiled and added, “Have a magical evening!”

It was now 6:10.

Sarah and I strategized our attack: “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Haunted Mansion.” We raced to both rides and were thrilled to find no waiting. After finishing “The Haunted Mansion,” it was 6:40. I think there may be a Guinness World Record waiting for us.

As we came out of the spook house, feeling quite smug I might add, we noticed how many people were still milling around the park. It didn’t look at all like a fantasy land about to turn off the lights. I went to a Cast Member working the entrance to the mansion, curiously dressed in period prairie style, and asked her to clarify for me when the park closed.

She looked around conspiratorially, making sure no one was listening to our conversation. Leaning towards me, she pointed to the green wrist band on my right arm and whispered, “Midnight. You get to stay for the Christmas party!”

Despite this stroke of luck, we couldn’t stay. We had to catch a bus across the kingdom for the show. As we worked our way through the crowds back towards the entrance, walking through the magical snow falling about us, we discussed the actual price of our magical evening—a magical dollar a minute.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

In Which I Return

After a disastrous turn using WordPress (ugh...), I am back full-time on The Madre's public journal, I Dream and Wake and Wonder. And by full-time I mean plopping some half-arsed post every three weeks. But I have plans to make some more interesting posts hopefully maybe don't count on it.

For one, I am planning my rebuttal to some idiot with a gun who is ranting and raving about the overpopulation of wolves. Check the Endangered Species Act for more information on wolves. I will be examining his thesis-worthy blog post (complete with unintentionally hilarious arguments and captions). Next, I will be posting the transcript to my documentary, tentatively titled Misunderstood Genius Syndrome. In this landmark production, I will address how sufferers of this tragic condition must face eye rolls throughout life, including interviews with three misunderstood geniuses: Lady Gaga, Ke-dollarsign-ha, and Miley Cyrus. It might bring tears to your eyes. I know that it has forever changed me.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Slapping around the inner editor

The NaNo is coming along in bits of drivel. At this writing, I’m over 11,000 words. It’s such a challenge to just keep pushing forward, to not stop in the middle of a paragraph and scream “CRAP!” and hit the delete button. But that’s the whole point to this little adventure. I am learning to soundly smack the editor inside me to and fro and send her back where she came from every time she whispers “Well, about that sentence...” I’ll play nice later, when the words are on the page.

I have a confession to make. I hate to write. Really. The struggle to get the characters out of my head and onto the screen is excruciating. I would rather just not, thank you. Putting the words into a computer seems such a tedious process, even a bit clinical. There’s an intimacy with the written word as the ink flows from the pen onto paper that I can’t capture on the keyboard. However, without getting the words onto the screen, I can’t quiet all the voices in my head, and it’s starting to get a bit crowded in there. Recently, a young girl named Eleanor and her guardian joined the other numerous characters residing in some lobe of my brain, so I have to make room. Besides, if I don’t get the words out I can’t move to what I really love—rewriting.

Rewriting is, for me, like returning to a great vacation place. When you go back you already know where the landmarks and historical sites are and you can really spend time exploring the nooks and crannies. You can get away from the tour guide and sneak down the alley and see what’s happening on the next street. And the more you visit, the more you find. That’s rewriting. Finding all the hidden parts of the story, all the colors and quirks, sometimes even finding out the story I’ve written isn’t even the real story, because I find the real one at the bottom of a long flight of stairs that I didn’t even know were there.

So, I keep putting the words onto the screen, one at a time. I don’t allow myself to reread what I’ve written, and I don’t stop in the middle of a scene. Excruciating. But I only have 39,000 words to go.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fandom: An Anthropological Escapade

I wrote this for my anthropology class. The Madre asked me to post it here. *posts it here*

It was midnight and my time in the field was drawing to a close. My feet were bruised and blistered; I was shivering and trying to warm my icy fingers. I limped from the venue a little ways behind my companions, bitter to be leaving my experience behind. I had just walked away from the very first concert that I had ever attended- if, of course, I didn’t take my father’s performances into account. It was an experience that I shall not forget- the music, the lights, the calm-and-steady then rowdy-and-ready nature of the crowd. I walked into the theater in Phoenix after a ten hour drive; I limped away nearly six hours later, having been stomped, shoved around, and thrown into throngs of a mosh pit. The top layer of skin on my left big toe was gone, but I had experienced an entirely new culture and come to a conclusion about myself: I have made the descent into Fandom.

I’ve always known about the mysterious kingdom called Fandom. I grew up hearing about it and reading about it- this far-off world where packs of adolescent girls cluster in front of copies of Tiger Beat, squealing and pledging their eternal love to some kid with a good set of bangs. My sister left for Fandom when she was six or seven, I believe; she returned and regaled me with tales of Backstreet Boys, of late nights screaming, “A.J., I LOVE YOU!” As I grew older, I watched many around me depart for Fandom. They would camp out in makeshift Harry Potter conventions; they would spend times in coffee shops perfecting their fanfictions. I never thought that I would be visiting Fandom myself.

That’s not what I was thinking as I stood in line to see Jon Thor Birgisson, a quirky, loveable musician from Iceland. I was too wrapped up in the excitement of the night’s festivities. As I quickly learned, concerts are not what I expected. I was a stranger in a strange land- I didn’t realize that I had crossed the border between the rest of the human race and Fandom. There were three lines. The first was Will Call, where members of the culture are sent to pick up tickets that they had previously purchased. The second line was for members of the culture who had yet to purchase tickets; these individuals are referred to as To Purchase Tickets. The longest line was called Entrance- Must Go Through Security First. My party and I were members of the Will Call line.

I looked around me- there were fifteen people at most in our group. Directly in front of us, a young man and two young women were chatting and rocking back and forth on their heels, their hands thrust deep in their pockets. One woman had a dark purple outfit with neon orange paint splashed across her face. The man wore black plastic glasses. I myself had adopted the proper attire for the occasion: on my head perched a large purple peacock feather.

Our party moved to the front of the line and collected our tickets. With these four slips of pink and white paper, we were allowed to make our way to the Entrance line. In the Entrance line, male Fans were separated from female Fans. About ten minutes later, we arrived at the front doors and were searched by security. Past the gatekeepers, I could see the inside of the venue. It was much warmer in there and the volume seemed to increase the closer that we came to the doors. In order to get inside, certain rituals were necessary. All bags were required to be searched. All Fans were required to be patted down. All tickets were required to be checked.

We completed the ceremony and graduated to the inside of the venue. Around me, more people whizzed around buying concert shirts, albums, videos, posters, and beer. The venue did not have chairs- Fans could either stand close to the stage or sit further away from Jónsi. I must confess- I was not prepared for this. We arrived at the theater shortly after six-o’-clock and the show did not begin until after eight-o’-clock; before the music even started, I was already sandwiched between two total strangers and already in a fair amount of pain. This was a challenge that I did not anticipate.

Shortly before the opening act took the stage, my sister and I encountered another problem. We were among the shorter Fans present and could not see over the taller Fans. The mosh pit encircled us and we could not back out or move to a more suitable location. A boy with a miniature afro blocked my view of the stage.

“What do we do?” I whispered.

“Casually wedge yourself between people. You’ll get closer,” Kailee whispered back.

This plan do not go as well as Kailee had implied that it would. We were four rows of Fans back from Jónsi; I was feeling desperate. I just didn’t know how to wedge; I’m not a wedger. Evidently, this is common behavior at concerts- wedging or else simply stealing seats closer to the stage; but I was a novice in these waters and so took a few timid steps forward and stopped when I could finally see a string of microphones.

After what seemed like a few years of being stomped on by the boy with the afro, the lights went down. In Fandom, this signifies the beginning of something special. We Fans raised our voices to deafening levels, chanting, “JÓN-SI! JÓN-SI!” I stopped screaming for a moment. A thought encroached upon my happiness when I realized who I sounded like- the six-year-old version of Kailee crying over the Backstreet Boys. I was not an outsider, a stranger in a strange land. I was in Fandom. I had crossed over without realizing it. This was my culture. We were a culture of colorful Fans. Some Fans had beers and afros while others had peacock feathers and neon orange face paint. Fandom required a lot more patience and determination than I had anticipated- but I was determined not to lose my spot to another afro by sitting down somewhere in the back.

I have since left Phoenix. But I have not yet left Fandom. My experiences in Fandom have created a sense of community, like a bubble, around me and all of the other Jónsi/Sigur Rós (the name of Jónsi’s band back in Iceland) Fans. We are a smaller kingdom within the kingdom, but we are a vocal minority. Somewhere in the corner of Fandom, we come out in droves to listen to great music and mosh pit. The only thing that unsettles me is that Jónsi writes ambient music; I’m not sure exactly what our mosh looked like to outsiders.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

National Day of Writing

Today is the National Day of Writing. All over the country writing is springing forth in honor—and now, as my day winds down, I can join the fray. I’ve thought about it all day, as I conferenced with students, reviewed and commented on portfolios, and sat through a school meeting. Does that count as writing?

Actually, I have craved some writing time for several days now. Last night I wrote briefly about how difficult it is to write in the midst of portfolios, which happens twice per semester. I find myself spent by the end of the day, all creative fire properly extinguished with gallons of metaphorical water and stirred to make sure no hot spots remain. Every time I experience this, I have the same fear—what if, this time, the muse doesn’t return? What if I’ve finally pushed her away once too many times? What if she just throws her hands up in the air and pronounces herself done with me? Why is she a she?

So far the fear hasn’t materialized as reality. Maybe she just likes me that much.

Next month I am embarking on an episode of total insanity. I will be participating in National Novel Writing Month, in which I will attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s a lot of zeros after that five. And it’s not a lot of zeros after the three. Please don’t ask me why I would do this; I have no real answer other than life is short and so is November. Worse case, I’ll be wearing a brace for carpal tunnel by Christmas. Best case—I’ll finally get the book drafted, the one that has chased me around for years. Imagine its surprise when I turn around and say “Fine! Let’s do this!”

Today is also Spirit day. I wore purple in honor and memory of six young men and boys who have recently committed suicide: Tyler Clementi, Asher Brown, Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg, Eric Mohat, Meredith Rezak, Raymond Chase, and Billy Lucas. All of these males were gay, and all were bullied. I don’t care what anyone’s personal beliefs are about homosexuality, we must take a stand against the hate-mongering that leads our youth to taking their own lives. We cannot come to this dance and just lean up against a wall. We must take care of our children.

And, of course, my heart is not only with these boys and men, but all those who face the hatred of others for any number of reasons, whether it’s their sexuality, religious beliefs, race, color, appearance, the way they talk or walk or dance or take out the trash—we must say it very clearly, very loudly:

No more.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

I Do Not Create

I do not create

to signify, symbolize, or civilize.

I do not create to come to terms,

understanding, or worship.

I do not create to be literal,

figurative, abstract, or ambiguous.

I do not create

to vent or rend

or incite or heal.

And although these things happen

when I create

I do not create to make them happen.

I create for the pure and simple reason

that to not create

is just not possible.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

In search of...

Nothing compels me to write like the music of poetry. A good poem is a drug. Even as it echoes to silence in my ear and fades upon my tongue I must have more. One more verse.

I take up pen and cast my own lines, one after another, thinking ‘this one—this one.’ Yet my lines don’t give me that shivering buzz silver sliver quick rushing through veins making my heart pound filling my brain white light pupils blowing wide open hands shaking world accelerating in its orbit flash.

Another line. Another phrase. Another word. They drop onto the page ripping the paper with their dead weight until the page is useless, pieces tearing away to nothing. I don't stop. I am pursuing that mercury moment.

It’ll show. It has to.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A (Mostly) True Story

I hold up my laptop charger to the World’s Greatest Admin Assistant (hereafter to be referred to as WoGAA) in the Humanities department of the college where I teach.

“This charger is no good,” I tell her. She looks over the top of her glasses at me, fingers never ceasing their motion over her keyboard.

“Isn’t that the one I got you last month?”


Fingers are still flying even while she gives me a long look. “What’s it doing?”

“It won’t charge the battery. I can’t work at home without a charger.”

This is truthful—I teach two online classes, so it’s essential that I’m able to access the Internet. But it’s also essential that I relax with a few rounds of Bejewelled TwistTM , Facebook updates, and Twitter. The battery on my computer holds up maybe forty-five minutes; less if I play more than a couple of rounds.

Left hand continuing its feverish pace on the keyboard, WoGAA holds out her right hand.

“Give it to me. I’ll call IT.” With that, I hand off the defective charger and rush off to class.

It might be important to note that this is my third charger in two school years. The first met its demise in a terrible accident. I still can’t talk about it. The second suffered a broken wire, and this third one has been sporadic since I got it. Some evenings I almost go mad trying to --work-- while the screen pulsates between brightness and battery-save mode.

Two hours later I'm walking back to my office when WoGAA stops me. “Denise, Jodi from IT came by to look at your computer. You need to call her.”

“Do I want to call her?” 

“She said she needs to take your computer and give you a loaner.”

I feel a moment of terror—if IT takes my computer, I'll have no files to work with, because in addition to eating chargers for lunch I have a penchant for not backing up to the network. I dash to my office, wondering how much space is left on my jump drive, hoping I can at least download my pictures for my Digital Photography class.

But I’m too late. Jodi has come and gone. Setting on my desk is another laptop computer. It’s identical to mine, but I know it’s not mine because this one is clean. Very, very clean. No milk stains on the keyboard, no fingerprint smudges on the screen. No crumbs blocking the "M" key.

Before I can panic, Vannah, hanging out in my office waiting for her class to start, tells me that Jodi has taken the hard drive from my computer and nipped it into this shiny one.

“Why did she switch them out?” My fingers trace the lovely, clean keyboard face. I don't really care about the answer. “I just need a new charger.”

“She said it wasn’t the charger. The port is broken, and to fix it she has to replace the motherboard, so she just gave you another computer.”

I’m satisfied. My files are safe. For a moment I think about backing them up to the server right then and there; then I think about something else.

That evening I carry my shiny laptop home, pull it from its bag, and turn it on. Everything is fine for a short while—an exceptionally short while. And then it freezes. After unsuccessfully control-alt-deleting it for a few minutes I am forced to shut it down. I wait the requisite minute, and start it again. This time it freezes before it even finishes booting up. And for the next hour we go round and round. It’s Friday night and I have no computer.

Monday morning I stand before WoGAA again. “Now what?” she asks.

“It won’t work.”

“The charger?”

“No, now it’s the computer.”

And again, WoGAA promises to take care of it for me while I go to class. When I return, the computer is on, hooked to the network, the screen looking blue and promising. The anti-virus software is trying to update, so I leave it be. Later, when Jodi calls me to check on it, I tell her things seem to be fine except the update is taking a very long time.

“Hmm,” she says.

I’ve learned that when a doctor or a computer tech says “Hmm,” I’m not going to like what’s coming.

“Can I access it remotely and try to figure out what’s going on?”

“Certainly,” I tell her. I really do say "Certainly." I’ll just review papers—the printed-out kind. But then I find it's infinitely more interesting to watch the computer screen while Jodi manipulates it from another building, the cursor moving like the planchette of an Ouija Board as she opens, closes, moves, and does the voodoo she do so well. She works for at least an hour, then calls me again.

“I haven’t gotten the update to load right,” she tells me. “I’m working on it.”

“That’s fine. I’m going home. I can just leave it here for the evening if you want.”

I have now been without a computer for four days. I am having Bejewelled withdrawals, compounded by my growing frustration with typing on the little keys of my smartphone as well as trying to read posts on its diminutive screen. I go to bed early.

Tuesday morning as I am pulling into the parking lot, my cell phone rings.

“Hi Denise. It’s Jodi. Just wanted to let you know what’s going on with the computer. Apparently, it has a virus. So, I’m going to bring you a loaner computer and try to fix this one. Is there anything on the hard drive you absolutely need right now?”

I’m nowhere near Jodi, but I can feel my face burning. “Actually, everything.”



“You save to the network drive, right?”

“Well, about that—“

“When’s the last time you backed up to the network?”

“Um. Awhile.” The pause that follows is so long I check to see if the call has dropped. I can imagine Jodi in her office, miming strangling me with her bare hands and then air stabbing me for good measure.

“Hmm. I can try to save the files, but no promises.”

“Okay,” I answer meekly. Jodi says she'll call me when she has news.

After class I return to my office and another computer. It is again the same make and model as the last two, but this one sports a large sticker that proclaims it as the PROPERTY OF SAN JUAN COLLEGE. I’m afraid to touch it, so instead I sit quietly with my hands in my lap, waiting for Jodi's call.

“Hi Denise. Ok. Your computer can’t be fixed—“

“Which one?”

“Neither. So you have a loaner, but we’re going to just switch it over to you. I’ll be remotely accessing it to get everything set up for you. Oh, and I was able to save your files. I’ll download them to that computer.”

“Jodi, you are blessed among women.”

“I know.”

And for the first time in five days, I have a working computer to take home. And I do. It’s a glorious evening, except I’ve forgotten the charger in my office. I work the computer until it dies.

The next day I have a long break between classes, so I take the laptop and charger with me to work on essays. I find a large table, empty my computer bag and assemble everything I need—laptop, pen, glasses, smartphone. Ok, the smartphone isn't a necessity, but I've grown quite attached to it. I plug the charger into the floor, then into the computer. Press the power button.

Nothing happens.

I think it’s a good time to mention that over the course of a week, I have not yet met Jodi face-to-face. But I am about to. I march my quite-unhappy-self to the IT building, up two flights, wind through a computer graveyard, and find Jodi's cubicle.

I offer the black computer bag and announce, “Hi Jodi. I’m Denise. This computer won’t start.”

I used to think the phrase “Her face darkened” was a cliché, but that is exactly what Jodi’s face does. I step back a couple of feet.

“What’s it doing?”

“It worked fine last night, but the battery’s dead. When I plugged in the charger, it wouldn’t come on.”

Jodi removes the computer from the bag and sets it on her desk next to the other two. She pops the battery off one of the defunct computers and exchanges it. The computer starts.

“That’s a good sign,” she says. She pulls the charger from my bag, crawls under her desk to find the power strip, and plugs it in. When she plugs it into the computer, the screen begins pulsating—bright screen, battery-save.

“Well,” she says. “This charger is no good.”

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Put It on the Queue

It is time to join the human race: Glee is going on the Netflix queue. Mad Men is going on the Netflix queue. Shutter Island. I'm still not entirely sure what Glee is about (a glee club, apparently), but look forward to it. Onward.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Lesson number two: It's all in how you look at it.

Crawl under your car

and marvel at the intricacies.

Climb the tree in the backyard.

Sit on the roof at sunset,

watch the evening news through the fishbowl,

and cut the grass with scissors.

Wear mismatched socks.

Tie a balloon around your wrist

and take pictures of your toes

in various poses.

Write a love letter to the man or woman in line

at the grocery store.

The one in front or behind.

Or both.

Eat dessert first

then dance through the house blind-folded

while singing (loudly) with Annie Lennox,

Louis Armstrong,

and/or Jonsi. Only then

will your heart be sufficiently open to hear

the preposterous, exquisite, luculent

stories waiting inside you.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Short Observation Post

Every blog needs one.

Because I spend so much time in my neo-gothic, Tim Burtion-loving steampunk kingdom, I'm having quite a time embracing...the bright side of life. I don't know how else to begin. After listening to my new CD (the aforementioned La Roux), I've determined that happy, upbeat music is new to me, and La Roux, at least on this album, is electronica, and is somewhat aggressive at that thanks to Eleanor Jackson's voice, but is decidely spunky and made to dance to. I have never listened to dance pop. Never. I live on rock- what are you going to dance to in Guns N' Roses and AC/DC? Never mind. Don't answer that.

And now here I am- I have a yellow dress. It's the first color of its kind to ever sit in my closet. I also have a giant smiley face wooden necklace that I stole from around a vase full of flowers. It's yellow. And it's very, very happy. Granted: I don't usually wear these items or any of the other items in my closet like this. And I don't listen exclusively to wired music (except Jonsi, but our loveable Jonsi could melt the crustiest of serial killer hearts if he wanted to). In any case, I am more balanced because of it, and I think, in a subconscious way, that this is my way of trying to find balance in myself- yin and yang. We'll see where this goes. For now, I'm going to eat Chinese and listen to Aerosmith.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

On Music

The music list that I've been compiling all summer is not showing any signs of slowing down. I might delete artists from now on, but I currently have one hundred seventy-five "favorites." Sigur Ros remains my pride and the source of most of my musical affections, but some new groups and individuals have caught my eye. I'm hooked.

So I've finally given La Roux a go after only hearing about them for a year. La Roux is the toast of the electronica world, the darlings of the electroclash scene. I have now listened to several La Roux songs and am addicted- for those of you who grew up in the eighties (that would be all cherubs), La Roux will call to mind The Eurythmics with a lot more aggression. Eleanor Jackson is the new Annie Lennox- she's got the androgyny, the coolness, the spunk. And Ben Langmaid, the quieter half of the duo, is the perfect Dave Stewart to Jackson's Lennox. I might be going from Unaware to Huge Fan too quickly, but I hope for bright things for these two.

In finally crawling out from under the expanse of rocks that I call my palatial pad, I've discovered that, for once, the mainstream has kina-sorta made a breaththrough. With their new audience generally numbing their brains on Bieber and Perry, "Bulletproof," La Roux's biggest hit thus far, has amassed eleven million views on YouTube. It's impressive given the tough-to-swallow facade that the duo keep around them. Jackson isn't some petite blondie posing in bikinis. Their music is catchy but distinctive- it takes some chewing, at least in my opinion. I find their lyrics subversive, in the sense that they aren't obnoxious and predictable. Their videos are bizarre. Their image is not the pillar of plastic perfection. I worry that I'm jumping the gun, stretching my appreciation for them past what they might actually have earned, but "Quicksand" is just, plainly and simply, a good song. You might disagree- electronica is not everyone's favorite, particularly it's more in-your-face cousin electroclash. Or you might just not like them. Pfft.

But at least a few great acts have made an impact on the general public. Florence + The Machine hit the big time in 2008, thanks to, apparently, the BBC, which I assume is like British Oprah- there's a sort of BBC Effect and it's benefitting the music world. Janelle Monae, one of the great pleasures of modern music, is gaining speed. I walked past the magazine section of the library the other day and was overjoyed to find her on one of the covers. Adele, Amy Winehouse (say what you will- she's a talented musician and what I wouldn't give to have her voice...), Gnarls Barkley, MGMT, the list goes on. While these names aren't as known as "Britney" or "Christina," I will admit that, I find it so wonderful how more and more people are embracing the less-obvious side of art. I wish for a broader variety even in my own playlist. Quality music isn't limited to a genre- even pop can have artists like Prince or Michael Jackson. I want to see rock and roll, and not pop with nose piercings, but actual rock and roll. I want to see inventive genres from around the world and all of the subgenres that get into the folds and crevices leap out and onto the charts.


At my friend's house a few weeks ago, I became acquainted with First Aid Kit. I love their organic, folksy tunes. They truly make me feel like I have something quality, something like what music junkies had in the 1970s. Give this Swedish duo a go if you can. Then try Loess, Explosions in the Sky, Andrew Bird, and The Shins. Also, on a side not, Gnarls Barkley's Danger Mouse, a brilliant man if there ever was one, has done some work with Shins singer James Mercer- their outfit is called Broken Bells and it is a must-hear: it's dream-pop at its finest and, to me, really put this burgeoning subgenre on the course that it is destined to take.

My list also has some perennial musts- Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, The Goo Goo Dolls, Leonard Cohen, Fred Astaire, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Crowded House, and The Beatles. It also has some lesser-known, more "out there" material. If you haven't heard Erykah Badu, you're missing out; and if you haven't heard Deep Forest, well, you're missing out again. Deep Forest is unlike anything I have ever heard. Take some French disc jockeys, throw in a dash of international tribal music, and remix it to house, and you get Deep Forest. It's sublime and you don't know why. Admittedly, I had never heard of them until I found three of their albums at the library. With a name like Deep Forest, I actually thought that it was a New Age/"Waltz of the Spirit Butterfly Crystals" type of thing, but that type of thing can sometimes be relaxing. So I plucked it off of the shelf for future reference. That reference day has come. Check out some Deep Forest.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Death to Summer: I Am The Sloth

Summer will be over tonight- September, the autumn month, begins her reign tonight at midnight. I would characterize my summer as passing too quickly and further demonstration of my eternal procrastination and laziness. I am The Sloth.

So now I spend my time in class; I have five classes. I don't particularly like school- I gave up on homework in sixth grade (the sandbox is as comfortable a place as any to finish last night's homework before the bell rings, my children) or buying school supplies from Hobby Lobby- I have a pottery kit and a sewing kit now. I will make epic shite.

So this is an adjustment to me. Here are the facts: I sleep in until afternoon, don't get dressed, spend my time awake at night perusing new musical acts (of value, obvs), and, in general, act as a giant suction cup attacked to the bottom of society (you could verify this- somewhere in between Courtney Love and crocs, I'll be there). I have been known to nap with reckless abandon. Waking up at an acceptable hour will take a fair amount of work. Though I did amass a glorious amount of music this summer, and I will be sharing that with you, I've no doubt that my independent research will be ending in favor of backpacks and that queen of captivating prose herself, Jane Austen.

True to form, the past three months yielded no fruits. And I remain as unproductive as ever- lack of motivation has become more own bane. I still hold onto the hope that the autumn months will be more fruititious, though in all likelihood we will be revisiting this post at the end of November. I don't seem to care anymore about this. But I wished to write a final summer post and I also wished to see the little number next to posts labeled "August" go up.

Goodbye, Summer. See you in June.

Monday, August 30, 2010

I am so glad I'm auditing.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you—but here it is, my first blog about photography class. I just finished week one. Assignment: create a self portrait with a prop that illustrates something about me. Now how hard can that be?

I go buy a tripod (short pause here while I take a brief, unplanned detour with a monopod. I will wait patiently while some explains to me the purpose of a one-legged camera stand.) I pile up a bunch of books, stick a pen behind my ear, and shazam, I’m ready. Set the timer, snap away. Change backgrounds, snap away. Move around the house, snap some more.

Three battery charges later I am so frustrated I could scream…wait…I did. Why is this so complicated?! It’s a self portrait, for Pete’s sake! I’m not looking to win a Pulitzer for it, just get a decent picture by midnight so my first assignment won’t be late. The problem I’m having is that none of the pictures I take are of me. They’re of some old woman I’ve never met. She has crow’s feet. Her forehead looks like the back yard of a train station. And what’s up with that neck? Ok, who invited her! WHY IS THIS OLD WOMAN HORNING HER WAY INTO ALL MY SHOTS???

Lesson one: You can lie to yourself all you want, but your camera will always be honest with you. Brutally, barefacedly honest.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Andromeda Party Plan

September 9th- it's on. Andromeda Party.

I have switched this party from the 8th to the 9th due to pesky school schedules. The 9th is a Thursday- no one will have to get up early on Fridays (Madre, Me, Vicki- psst...bring the telescope...).

You can bring music and journals if you wish. We can sit in the car for a little while if you want. I'll be Andromeditating in the meantime. I'm thinking Avatar soundtrack and Sigur Ros of course! But everyone who wishes to attend the Andromeda Party can bring what she wants.

Next, the Cosmic Committee must decide on a suitable location. No light pollution. I was thinking the hills behind our house (I don't know what they're called) but am open to other suggestions.

I will supply the junk food.

I may be going by myself. This is my party and I'll take this too Siriusly if I want to...

Who's with me?!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Hunt for Andromeda

I begin my quest to see Andromeda, the closest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way. You might know her by her more famous and romantic name: Messier 31/NCG 224. Or you might know her as the faint smudge in the night sky in the Andromeda constellation.

She's big: bigger than our galaxy. While our galaxy is an itty bitty kitty of one hundred thousand light years (I know what you're thinking- That's all? That could fit on the end of my pencil!) and holds an embarrassingly low two hundred million stars at last estimate, Andromeda is a Big Cat at one trillion or so stars. Oh well- ours holds life. I guess that that's cool, too.

So anyway, Andromeda can be seen most clearly on moonless nights. I will be waiting. The next new moon is September 8th and somehow we lucked out: the best time to see her is August to March. I will be ready to...wake my mother up to drive to the trail and stare at the night sky again. We watched meteor showers a few nights ago while listening to Sigur Ros. It was epic. Andromeda will be epic much- very epic much.

This is how one goes about locating Andromeda, presented in five steps thanks to WikiHow (with some contributions/commentary from yours truly):

Find a moonless night and get away from the television. Mad Men isn't that interesting, anyway.* Locate the Andromeda constellation. This is a given. I don't know why WikiHow felt the need to add this. Next, locate the Pegasus and the Cassiopeia. This was a little less obvious. If you are looking before December, look after eight-o'-clock.

Pegasus is shaped like a rectangle, but it's name is the Great Square of Pegasus. Cassiopeia looks like an M or a W depending on whether the glass is half empty or half full. Andromeda is in between them like a little galaxy sandwich.

Draw a line on the star Sirrah, which is at the edge of the Pegasus and Andromeda constellations, to the Ruchbah in Cassiopeia.

Find Mirach. Then find mu Andromedae. Connect these two. This invisible line will pass through the first invisible line. You might have to squint, given that mu Andromedae isn't a very bright object. And given that the line you draw is invisible, unless you own a cosmic sharpie.

Scan just southeast of where the Invisibles meet. There will be a faint oval of light- the Andromeda galaxy. Despite being 2,500,000 light years away, we can still see it. And despite being a faint smudge, it is still beautiful and powerful nonetheless. Space rocks.

Wikipedia miscounted, but the four directions that they gave were accurate. Go get some binoculars, son. We shall have an Andromeda party.

If you see this instead of a smudge, give me a call.

*It's totally on our Netflix queue, dude.

The New Revolution

I didn’t know the puppy was going to get me up so early this morning, or I likely wouldn’t have stayed up as late as I did finishing Ken Robinson’s book The Element. Ok, not true. I was determined to finish the book in one sitting as I want to get started on the second Robinson book I bought, Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative. Just as an aside, I've taken my shoe addiction under control. I haven’t bought a new pair in weeks. However, I have replaced that addiction with another—books. They’re everywhere. Piled up under my couch as I write. Sitting next to my bed. Coffee table. Everywhere. Somebody buy me a Kindle, for Pete’s sake!

But back to a linear direction of some sort—I purchased the Robinson books after watching his 2006 talk on TED (check it out—he’s a funny guy on top of being pretty smart). I thought they (the books, that is) might give me some material for my freshman comp classes, which are so cleverly titled “The Creative Mind.” That’s where my own creativity ended. But as I read The Element I found passage after passage I want to bring into class. It’s a balancing act, focusing on the purpose of the course, which is to give students writing skills for college and career, and my purpose, which is to convince students that they can dare to dream, they can feed their spirits, they can pursue their true passions and strengths, and that writing is an integral part of the process, not the end result. I admit it—creativity sets me on fire. I like to challenge students to think about how anything can be done differently, maybe even how life can be lived differently. I love to watch students take an idea and go where I never expected. I enjoy the collaborative aspects of teaching, both with my students and my colleagues. Every semester, every single semester, we create something new. To borrow Robinson’s (and Savannah’s) term, I have found my tribe.

I have the best job in the world.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Summer musings

I have packed a lot into this summer. Took trips to Texas, Santa Fe, Albuquerque (some of them were even planned), turned Kailee’s room into my office (hope she isn’t planning on moving back in), gained back all the weight I’ve lost, (see photo of the Hey Cupcake trailer, in Austin. Absolutely the best chocolate on chocolate cupcake of my life) and acquired a second dog. Yep, a fruitful three months.

I have also waded into the wonderful world of Twitter. Little play with consonance there. Anyhoo, I have avoided Twitter because I thought it would be a drier, emoticon-free version of Plurk, which I bailed on just recently. I really didn’t want to get updates on what everyone was doing or wearing or going or eating or anything else. Instead, though, I have found it to be a fantastic networking tool. Who I follow can be divided into lists: education twitterers (is that a word?), writing, art, and just for fun. I admit, Jason Hawes from “Ghost Hunters” is on my list. And Grant, although he doesn’t tweet as much…

In a very short space of time I have learned so much about the ongoing conversation taking place around education. If anyone doubts the passion of teachers, I dare you to try to keep up with their threads. I have ‘met’ filmmakers and writers, artists and the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama, people! He twitters! I have him categorized under “just for fun,” but I admit that’s probably not the best choice. Maybe I need a new category. Any suggestions?

I have also been introduced to some great blogs. It’s a virtual smorgasbord of information out there—really, really good writing. And just in case I grow too serious about life, the Onion tweets some pretty outrageous headlines.

In other news, and closely aligned to the Twitter thing, I broke down and bought a smartphone. A BlackBerry. I have no idea what kind, except it’s not a Storm, which is good because I would have hated to spend that much money on a phone I can’t even use in the UAE. I say this is closely aligned to my Twitter adventure because this little black box that doesn’t really look like a berry at all brings Twitter right to my palm. I can also see my email and Facebook. Now, those of you accustomed to technology just stay offa my cloud. I’m like-- me in a candy store. I can even—ready for this?—surf the Internet while walking along the river. I don’t know what kind of voodoo magic this is, but I’m liking it. A lot. I’ll let you know how much of my soul I’ve sold when I get my first bill…

But, sadly, summer has come to an end. I am back to work, which requires me to actually get up in the mornings. And wear shoes. However, I am taking a digital photography class, dance with me, people! I will no doubt be using this space to share my attempts throughout the semester. Consider yourself warned.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


Electric eels aren't actually eels. They're a type of fish called knifefish.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

News Bulletin

Please read, my children (or...the seven people who may choose to ignore all of these odd posts I author...). Important and fun stuff ahead!

Bulletin One: Great news! The Madre, Denise "Mom" Hinson, has successfully contacted Laura Bliss Spaan. Spaan directed a documentary in 1995 called More Than Words... about Chief Marie Smith Jones and her quest to preserve Eyak as a language and a culture. Facebook has made all of the difference: Ms. Spaan has an account and responded to let us know that she will reply with more details next week. This is exciting news! There's no guarantee that this will pan out into something, but I have faith. Woot woot!

Bulletin Two: Moving ahead, I am working on a jacket for Darfur. It's a blazer. Medium blue shade. Once it's finished, it will be up for sale, so please, ask about purchasing it. All money will go to Save Darfur. Though the t-shirts are out (no capital- and we can get more art out of a blazer than a t-shirt: blazers with decorations stand out more than t-shirts with messages), but I will also be making stationary, posters, and a song, which I'm rather excited about. The song will be without genre or set lyrics- everything is subject to change. The purpose is to play the song, then have anyone play it- play it at your house, to your students, add your own lyrics about Darfur and hopefully the song can spread to a few people. Music does wonders, especially music that we all contribute to. I think the base of the song, which I'll start and pass on, will be either jazz or more dream-pop or international folk. Hip hip hooray!

Bulletin Three: There are fewer props than I realized for my show. An ungodly amount of costumes and a freakish about of sets...but six props. I went over my list twice, was nonplussed, too. Herman was surprised as much as I was. Herman, below:

Bulletin Four: Jet and Atticus finally have appointments to see the vet. They'll be thrilled. Atticus will, no, seriously, be thrilled as long as food is involved. Jet will wear the Cone of Shame. He will not be pleased.

Bulletin Five: I still like lists.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Eyak Exhortation


I am in need of help, cherubs. I have scouted the murky edges of the internet. I have researched, shoveled through countless empty results on Google, and have not found a guide to studying Eyak.

Thus far, I have received a few gems, but not the gold I was hoping for. Here are said not-gold gems:

Eyak Language Restoration Group*
Eyak Language Project
Review: More Than Words...**

According to Redzone, there is a set of materials for those who wish to learn Eyak. However, I can't get any information on them. I can't find where to study this language anywhere. Do you have any suggestions? I'm running out of options, I think. Please help, cherubs. This is incredibly important.

Everyone should learn an endangered language. There are one hundred forty-one languages with fewer than five speakers- last time that I checked. But a language goes extinct in this world every two weeks. About eighty of these languages are based in Australia, where Aboriginal languages are facing a massive decline. Eyak's last native speaker passed on in 2008, sadly, though I'm not sure how many speakers remain. Evidently, in Alaska there are workshops and the tribe is trying to revive its culture: there are roughly one hundred seventy-two members in the tribe, which is native to Alaska (the village is today called Cordova, on the Copper River- this is where much of the workshops are located, apparently- plane tickets anyone?). In 1995, the first potlatch in over eighty years was held- that's the most recent potlatch that I've heard of. The Eyak tribe is, as of 2001 (my information is a little dated...), the smallest tribe in Alaska.

Please help find resources on this culture and on this language! Or please learn this language yourself. Or study an endangered culture and language from another part of the globe.

I'll continue gathering information and do a series of posts on this topic, starting with Eyak. Please do read, cherubs. It means everything.


*Thanks, Facebook
**A documentary about the fight to preserve Eyak

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Writing assignment #4 - Poetry


My world reclines at the mouth of the Chihuahua desert

in the shade of Franklin mountain

sustained by the russet ribbon of the Rio Grande.

Just below that dirty hem

like the ragged stockings of worn out charwomen

shanties crawl up the hillside

pushing against each other in

circuitous anxious support

casting out children

barefoot into the ferocity.

They shake their tiny boxes of despair

like maracas keeping frantic rhythm

as mothers howl

in voices without echoes

disappearing in the heat

rising from the desert floor.


Not One More

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Writing assignment #3 - creative nonfiction

Here’s the thing. They aren’t showing up. I would expect them to appreciate their role in this enterprise, to understand that without them, the job just can’t be done. Ironic, really, that I’m in a position of authority over them, yet I’m powerless to make them show up and work. They’re a rogue bunch; I’ve known that for a long time. But I thought after so many years together we had an understanding.

How dare I presume.

Anyone who writes knows this fragile relationship. The words decide the art. For some writers, the images are there, but the words to form them refuse to present themselves. For others the pesky little devils choose to clomp about and pout like surly children who won’t behave until you give them money to chase down the ice cream truck.

And what must I sacrifice to coax them onto the page? Really, I have nothing they want. They run the show, they know it, and that’s that.

It’s small comfort to know other writers—great writers—have struggled like I do. Borges laments, “What a writer wants to do is not what he does.” Faulkner nods his wise head in agreement, adding, “The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with.” And, like a tight game of poker, Flaubert raises with “I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sounds he hears within.” With the masters showing such hands, I find myself wanting to meekly fold and crawl under the table to sit at their feet.

Some call this battle of wills writer’s block. I think this a tragic misnomer. It’s much truer to call it word’s block; after all, it’s the words refusing the writer, not the other way around. They get together, decide on an embargo, and the writer is left with a notebook she cannot fill, or entire passages that serve little more purpose than a great pair of red heels on a jungle expedition. Why keep trying? Why struggle every day in hopes the words will give me even a nutshell of hope, a thimble of gold? Well, because, as the cliché goes, I don’t know any other way.

The poet Marie Ponsot, who at 89 years old recently suffered a stroke, finds herself searching for language—the words to poems she wrote, poems she loved, words that have disappeared inside her broken mind. She says it was, for her, an experience of “explosive astonishment—realizing that language is everything in the egg (tapping her head)…You take it for granted.”*

So words are not separate from me. They are me. Without words I cannot form my place in the universe with any real assurance. Perhaps the struggle isn’t that words won’t work with us, but that we fear the power they posses. We fear the heights they can take us, fear suffering a fate like Icarus,’ our own vanity sending us plunging into the depths of the sea. But words were made to fly close to the sun, so we best gather our courage and fly with them. If we refuse, they will simply go on without us.

*quoted from “After Stroke, a Poet Hunts for the Language Lost” by Jim Dwyer, printed in the New York Times June 25, 2010.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Writing assignment #2 - flash fiction

Becoming the Sea

I hear Momma crying before I reach her door. I find the nurse trying to comfort her, but Momma is inconsolable. “Hey, Momma,” I say. “What’s wrong?”

She turns her puffy face to me. “Cindy,” she whispers. Her nose is running. I reach into my coat pocket for a tissue. “Cindy, they’re being mean to me!”

“It’s okay, I’m here now.” Cindy is my aunt, Momma’s older sister. While wiping Momma’s face I smile at the nurse, who is new and perceptibly uncomfortable at the accusation. It’s okay I mouth, nodding my head. I think, You think your job is tough? Try no longer existing in your own mother’s mind. The nurse returns my smile and leaves us alone.

I rub Momma’s back, gently, feeling each vertebrae of her spine through the light gown. Too much pressure is painful and I must be careful not to rub the same area too consistently. Some time passes this way until her tears finally slow and the hiccups stop. Then it’s time for indignation. Momma has always been a stickler for routine.

“Cindy, these people are crazy!”

“Are they?”

“Yes! I heard two of them talking in the hall just this morning.” Momma turns her thin body toward me, motioning me closer. I lean into her. In a low voice she tells me, “They’re going to turn my bones into buttons!”

Her hair hasn’t yet been combed, so I pat her flushed cheek and go find her hairbrush. There’s no need to remind her that she’s quoting Gregory Corso. Momma lives in some other time, a time parallel to the one we are sitting in right now, but her time doesn’t include the past of her I know. In her past there is no daughter, no grandson, no students watching her grow animated as she discusses her beloved Beat poets. Yet, it all still exists somewhere inside of her, and from time to time it comes out, confused but beautiful.

“Look,” I tell her, “I brought you something.” I go to my bag and pull out two bottles of soda. The bottles are glass, identical to ones I remember from my childhood. That morning I had found them in the grocery store in a display meant to provoke a nostalgia purchase. Momma’s face erupts into a smile as I hold the bottles up for her to see.

Growing up, there were two things I could always count on to be in the refrigerator any time I pulled open the heavy metal door—a gallon of whole milk, and bottles of soda. A soda addict for the better part of her life, the height of it was, perhaps, when we lived in the little house on Sycamore street. It’s a green house with brown trim now, but in my childhood it was a brown house with matching brown trim. Shaped like the boxes Dunkin’ Donuts put Munchkins in, it sits across the street from the First Baptist Church at the end of a long driveway held down by giant cottonwood trees.

Those trees are gone now, and the church has grown eastward into a mega complex complete with a contemporary sanctuary sporting giant video screens displaying the words to the hymns for the convenience of the congregation. The old chapel, however, is still used; it’s where my mother’s funeral will take place sooner than I am ready. Her casket will set just feet in front of the baptismal where I was baptized at fourteen and just yards from the front door of the little house.

The retro soda bottles present me with a minor problem—how to get the metal caps off. They can’t be twisted off like today’s plastic lids, and I don’t have a bottle opener. In the house on Sycamore there was a metal opener attached to one of the cabinets in the kitchen. I would bang into the kitchen, pull our sodas from the refrigerator, put the lips of the metal caps into the mouth of the opener, and shwock, pop the tops. Momma and I would go into the back yard and lounge in the shade of the willow tree, listening to the noise of the highway and watching Trixie stalk beetles, peering at us from the edges of his emerald eyes to see if we were sufficiently impressed by his, as Momma called it, phenomenal feliness.

A nurse’s aide opens our bottles for us. I take that first big swallow—the one that burns so good that it makes my eyes water and expands to fill my stomach. We don’t rush —there’s nothing else competing with our time, no urgent activities or errands wait. Even the cancer taking Momma away from me is on hold. For a short while, just for a moment, I beg, let all our pasts and presents align into one bright curve, let me be allowed to bend time to my will. The universe is kind enough to say yes.

I turn my empty bottle sideways and peer into it as I would if looking for a ship in a bottle. But instead of seeing a clipper with sails fully rigged questing into adventures unknown, I recognize a little brown house on Sycamore street, its front door open. I see Momma, tranquil now, standing in the open door and smiling at me, holding her soda bottle in her beautiful, slender hands.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Writing assignment- meet Dilly

Dilly James saw her first ghost when she was six years old. She tells me this in our third meeting, a startlingly confession from a child who refuses to make eye contact with me.

I'm not sure how to react. We've only known each other for three hours-- technically, two hours and fifteen minutes, as our third session has only just begun-- with long two-week breaks between. Those first two hours were marked by long silences as Dilly scanned my office, her green eyes resting the longest on a jade funerary mask I brought back from Singapore. It sets on the bookcase behind me, peering down on the ten year-old girl. As she watched the mask, Dilly had willingly answered any questions I put to her, but her answers remained short, unadorned.

Today I notice she has a habit of pushing her ginger-colored hair behind her ears and then brushing her index finger over the bridge of her nose, as if trying to wipe away the constellation of freckles there. I am suddenly struck by how much Dilly looks like Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap. I can only hope she has a brighter future in store. But then again, that is what we are suppose to be working on in these sessions.

"Tell me about this ghost," I prompt. She shrugs her shoulders, which are peeling from an early-summer sunburn. "Was it in your house?"

She shakes her head. "No. She was crossing the street."



"Was it late?"

"July, I think.Maybe August. It was hot."

"Oh! I meant, what time was it?"

"Before lunch. I was riding my bike."

"Really? How interesting! Most people see ghosts at night." She shrugs again, pushing hair behind her ear, swiping at her nose. I wait.

"I was riding my bike, and this woman was walking on the sidewalk in front of my house. She was really old, and she was wearing this long black dress, really long sleeves, and one of those things on her head-- it covered her face--"

"A veil?"

"Yeah, but like--like a Spanish one--" Dilly's hands become animated, illustrating her words by wiggling her long fingers in front of her face. I notice she bites her nails.

"A mantilla?"

"You know, lacy. Black."

"I think so. She must have been really hot, wearing so much black in the middle of the day in the summer."

"She was a ghost. I don't think she noticed."

I smile. "So tell me how you knew she was a ghost."

Dilly pauses for so long that I think she isn't going to answer. Then she takes a deep breath and pulls her feet up into her chair. She has slipped off her sandals. She wraps thin arms around her legs and rests her chin upon her knees. There are small bruises running down the ridge of her shins.

"Cause she went across the street, to the house across from my house. It was falling down and no one had lived in it for a really long time. And then she walked through the front door without opening it."

Dilly keeps her chin on her knees as she tells me this, and I realize she has locked her green eyes on mine.

This is going to be interesting, I think to myself.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Five Great Songs

There are no particular themes to these Five Great Songs. I just like them. But perhaps the next time that I scan the abyss that is YouTube I'll come up with a theme. Anyone else like folk music and Swedish techno yodeling? No?

Well, then, in the meantime you will have to be subjected to Jon Thor Birgisson (otherwise known as Lives Up to His Divinity-Inspired Name), Raison d'etre, Monsters of Folk, Simon & Garfunkel, and Guns N' Roses (one of these things is not like the doo be doo...).

And YES, I understand that adding a link to a video on YouTube is not nearly post-tastic as putting the video straight on the post, but I don't know how to do that. Technology: you elude me.

Anyhow, onto the good stuff.

This is why I still worship my Jonsi (even if I wasn't invited to his birthday party). If you listen to this and do not see cherubs floating about your room sobbing, then just give up on life. Right now. "When Fat Little Cherubs Everywhere Sat Still and Sobbed, Quiet."

Raison d'etre (God, I hate how Peter Andersson doesn't finish capitalizing the name- damn Swedes) is a single (Swedish) man with a mission (that would be Andersson, Our Damn Swede with a 'Thing' Against Capitals) to create ambient and somewhat creepy music to listen to at night. But his chief inspiration is, evidently, Jung, so it's not as though he's being spooky for spooky's sake. I mean, come on- he's Swedish. "This Would Be 'Emo' If It Weren't So Mature and Swedish-Like."

Monsters of Folk is kind of the go-to groupie band for folk nerds. They're not Swedish. But M. Ward is a member so they're alright in my book. Oh, that and they're geniuses. "The Soundtrack Fairy Squees at Finding the Most Epic Soundtrack-Sounding Song EVER."

Simon & Garfunkel- perhaps you've heard of them while bopping about your daily life. This struggling, baby bird of a band that limps along, I'm afraid. "Those Crying Cherubs Find a Song That They Know the Lyrics To."

Has anyone seen Axl Rose lately? He still squeezes into those leather pants...twenty years and forty pounds on. I have so many cocaine jokes, but somehow, I think that I'll leave it to your fertile imaginations (being all writerly and such) to make your own and also there's that nagging fear that they won't be quite original enough to do rock music everywhere justice. Guns N' Roses is one of those bands you listen to everytime you want to punch some pop starlet in her plastic nose for daring to compare herself to David Bowie (that's know who I'm talking about- BACK OFF). "The Fat Cherubs in Unison: Air Guitar!"

I keep referring to a "you," but I'm not sure who this "you" is. Who is "you?" I don't know who reads what I write, but I talk to myself all of the time, generally a trait reserved for the Swedes. But now I talk to the internet all of the time. And, really, I slapped this post together because I thought the little bar at the side made me feel pitifull at only having six posts thus far this year and it's already May.

Hello, Collective You. Or do you prefer being referred to as "Fat Cherubs?" Everyone loves Fat Cherubs, even if that is a little redundant since there's no such thing as a Skinny Cherub. Those would be called groupies n' emos. I doubt you're Swedish, but-

"Oh well, whatever...never mind."

-Kurt Cobain.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Patterned Animals & Constellations: Musings on Skin

Some animals have neat patterns: cats, domestic and wild, zebras, ladybugs, horses, hyenas, birds (too many to list...), piggies, spiders, giraffes, baby deer, fish, freckled humans.

I'm thinking of freckles in this manner after seeing a ladybug last night. We freckles are people with spots. And neat-o patterns. This way of looking at things is known as "a nice try."

But unfortunately, wolves don't have spots- oh the powers that be...

But I think that perhaps I was made to resemble the night sky: I could always draw constellations on my arms and connect the freckles into the Big Dipper, Orion, or Gemini. I have big planet eyes. I have sharp teeth like the Pillars of Creation (I counted my canine teeth the other day: besides being unusually sharp I have twelve prominent canine teeth but only three wisdom teeth- for the win!). I have a scar in the shape of a moon. It was meant to be, I suppose. And I could always draw a wolf constellation, Canis Major, on my arm connecting the freckles ("spots").

Though "freckles" is a dumb word. "Patterned" is better. And I would be okay without the freckles. Very okay.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Deep in Thought

I'm contemplating my future activities- sitting on the couch and staring at the walls will do that for you- as the semester winds to an end. Because I usually spend my summers inside of a bag of pretzels (good stuff, people), watching Jet posing out in the backyard like Annie Leibovitz is going to hop out from behind a tree and snap a picture of him, I've decided to get productive this summer and work on some new projects:

1). T-shirts. Can never have too many of those. I'm making Darfur t-shirts and then fact t-shirts for fun. The Darfur t-shirts are about, uh, Darfur, with snippets of African poetry and a painting symbolizing a part of Darfurian culture (music, food, religion, and so on and so forth). I'll sell the t-shirts and give the money to Save Darfur. So, uh, anyone up for an order? Fact t-shirts are second-which will have, uh, facts, all over them: Audrey Hepburn Spoke Seven Languages Fluently. The Second Most Common Surname in the United States of America is Johnson. Iceland is Awesome (that is a fact, Mom). Neat. O. And this time my stab at fashion will be far more successful because t-shirts are much better than the decorative shirts that Carmen and I attempted five years ago- forgetting that once you sew, button, and add lace along the bottom of a shirt it won't stretch anymore and you'll get stuck trying to put it on. THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN.

2). Make soap, lotion, and shampoo. It's organic. It smells good. It's cheap.

3). Follow Nate Sheets and continue to be his groupie. Nate Sheets is my hero. Even if he hates the greatest musical ever made and by that I do mean Cats. There is no Dogs. Back off, haters.

4). Stalk Sigur Ros. Given. Didn't need a plan for that.

5). Continue hating on Andrew Jackson by my "Remove Andrew Jackson from the Twenty" campaign- it's just me right now but you're welcome to join in on the campaign to get Sitting Bull or Martin Luther King, Jr. to take his place.

6). Find out what's going on with Elliot and Olivia. If you don't know who they are, give up on life and don't try again until you've seen every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit known to man. Our species thrives on stuff like this.

7). Benefit concert. That's right. Since I was thirteen, I've been procrastinating on a Darfur benefit concert. I'll move to do something this summer (any local musicians please- let's discuss). I'll start with a venue. I think that an outdoor thing would be better- maybe the city of Durango would be willing to listen to my proposal once I put it together. If that doesn't work, I turn to local joints.

8). Study Eyak. There's only one speaker of Eyak left in the world, and the last native speaker died in 2008. Her name was Chief Marie Smith Jones and she spent her life in a fight to preserve the wonderful and breathtaking Eyak culture, the culture of her tribe. The Eyak tribe hails from Alaska, land of the wolves. The language is preserved somewhere- it's been recorded, videotaped, and a dictionary and grammar book have been made. I'm not sure how to get it, though. It is possible to learn and flourish in this Athabaskan language (it's closely related to Navajo), though it could take me some time to track down the materials.

It's sad when the sole speaker of any language is an anthropologist.

9). Train Jet- I still haven't done it yet. Our little wolf is a wild man.

The summer list is off to a satisfactory start, says I. God bless the internet for holding me accountable. Ugh.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mission accomplished

My 211 students challenged me to write about red shoes for at least 500 words. Seems some of them think red shoes cannot generate that many words. Ha! I say. Here is my response:

I Need Red Shoes

Just this last week I was dismayed to realize that my favorite shoes, a pair of low-heeled red pumps, are no longer safe to wear. The heels are dangerously loose and the leather has stretched, making wearing them an act of faith. At any time I could be sitting on a desk, having friendly banter with a class, swing my legs, and send one red shoe flying at an unsuspecting student. The time is coming to let my beloved shoes go.

The time has also come to take the next step in my relationship with red shoes. When I first met my red shoes I was on an out-of-town school trip with a group of high school sophomores. As I held the shiny shoes up, a fellow teacher sternly told me, “English teachers don’t wear red shoes!” I put them back. Then, several days later, called my brother and asked him to find them for me. He did.

Now, it is time to find their replacement. While it is true that in my closet are several pairs of shoes, including black high heels with a peek-a-boo toe, gray snake skin heels, black and brown and tan pumps, a very funky pair of boots, and a numerous assortment of flats, there are no other red shoes. I want red shoes.

Red high heels are not a frivolous whim, not a passing whimsy, not impractical. They make a statement. Begin with the color: Red is the color of passion. We all look forward to red letter days, painting the town red, and walking the red carpet. Only the most passionate souls work up the temper to see red, and it is a devil-may-care person indeed who lives in the red.
Red is the color of power. Just ask the Germanic god Thor, who had red hair, as did the Celtic Queen Boudica, who took on the Roman Empire in the first century A.D. While I don’t intend to take on an army, red heels cause me to stand a little straighter, walk a little slower, and smile. A lot. To say nothing of how they brighten up the closet floor in the midst of so much neutrality.

Red is the color of life. The click of a good heel is just satisfying. The click of a good red heel puts everything in its place and all is right with the world. Red heels remind me that life needs playfulness. And, red heels will help me lose weight. It has been shown that the “mere perception of red…enhances the human metabolism by 13.4%”, something few diet pills can deliver.

And the structure of heels is absolutely essential to my safety. Anyone who has watched Single White Female knows what a heel to the eye will do. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character used black stilettos. Certainly, they did the job, but if she had been wearing red stilettos in that iconic scene—the image is almost too powerful to behold. The point is if I find myself in a predicament needing a weapon, heels are custom made. No fumbling in my purse for the mace or dropping my cell phone in a panic. The sole of a good pair of heels will fit perfectly in my palm, the height just right for wrapping my fingers around the vamp, and the weight solid enough to get the job done.

When my red pumps take their final walk, I will embark on the hunt for three inches of closed-toe red heaven. Not too shiny, no fancy adornments; no pinstripes, no designer name emblazoned on the heel. Just let the heel stand for itself. And when I find these shoes, they will call to me like the Lady of the Lake and become my Excalibur and Rocinante all at once. My God, I don’t want red shoes—I need red shoes!
647 words. Yes!