Monday, March 30, 2009

spring time goodness.

I have swiped this image without permission, but there is that saying about take permission now, beg forgiveness later. As far as I'm concerned, this photo of all the blooming azaleas is one of the first gifts of spring I received, and it looks sort of how my insides are feeling. So, thanks to my old friend e. for snapping a shot of this piece of BR and sharing it with me. Do you forgive me for posting it?

I cannot keep up with the speed at which spring weeks are blossoming into summertime.

Tomorrow, c. and I get to see a Neko Case show at Stubbs. And yeah, I continue to love her, so I'm looking forward to tomorrow like it's a windy Saturday and I'm a kid with a new kite.

Over the weekend, a BR friend comes to town to visit TX State’s MFA poetry program, to which she's been accepted! Part of my grand plan to recruit all the amazing people from home back into my world. Two days after z. leaves, e., my old college roommate and one of my best friends in the world, comes down from NYC to stay with me for a long week of FUN.

Then there are only two weeks of school left before summer. When summer rolls in, I’ll have two weeks to finish training for my triathlon. After the triathlon – one short week before… Ready?... Before c. and I head off to INDIA for a month and PUERTO RICO for a week!!! With any luck, we’ll squeeze in a short trip to Amsterdam! I will keep you posted on that. I should know by the end of the week.

When we return to Austin, my oldest friend in the world and her boyfriend are coming for a 4th of July visit. Twenty-two years of friendship.

Finally, I am so happy to report that c. has been working on a design competition for a really great little architecture firm. The competition was sponsored by a big company whose clothes and advertisements enticed me as a kid. I even recall tearing the ads out of magazines and posting them to my wall. The site for the project was in Tehran. This wrapped up last week, and they'll know who the competition winners are in May. In the meantime, the architecture firm has asked c. to work on another competition that will wrap up in May. If the blessings keep generating themselves, when we return from our trip, he’ll be looking forward to a full time position … Fingers crossed. For now, there is a whole lot of happiness to ride.

I could not think of a song for this post, but I'm trying. Mmmm. Got it.
SONG: Big Time Sensuality, Bjork

Saturday, March 28, 2009

artist peeps.

I have added some links to my artist friends. Please check them out in the column to the right or link to them below.

Meera is my cousin who i have recently been getting to know via email. She just completed a job shooting photos for Canada's national newspaper, The Globe and Mail. She photographed 7 people in 7 days, and over the course of 6 airplanes!

Alyson is a friend of a friend here in Austin. A designer whose website I have been visiting more and more lately. I love the drawings especially.

Dawn is not a new addition, but she is a long time friend who just had a show in DC. I've included the reviews that appeared in both the Washington Post and Art in America Magazine.

Enjoy. I like to think that other people's artistic ventures and successes will circle back to me at some point.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

on the writing front.

I didn’t think this would actually ever happen, but at a random hour on a random day, it occurred to me that two of my blog entries could work together as a story: I will build you a mountain and the ocean dream entries.

It's funny - I had that bear dream over ten years ago, but it is so vivid in my memory still. I had the dream at a time when I was especially productive as a writer, and I always thought I'd like to use it in my writing somehow, but then my writing style kept developing, then it stopped developing all together, and then I began again, and it didn't seem to fit into my new work. I stopped thinking of the dream in terms of writing material and, of course, that is when it clicked - I could indeed work it into a story.

I've been meshing these two entries, and rounding them out to form one story. It's a different kind of story than I've written in a long time, but I like the way the voice is shaping up. I think I like the story. For now.

I've also still been working on the adolescent boys story - the boys with the camera and the sledgehammer. That one is coming slowly, and I suspect that I'll continue working on it into the summer. I've deemed it the following: boys of summer, the adolescent boys story, violent story, marcie story. All of my affectionate nick names. No titles so far. It feels like a hard one to write. It is a hard one to write. But when it's written - one of my incredibly slow, percolating stories, I think I'll have a strong draft.

*I found this photo online. It's not a black bear on the beach, but a polar bear in the arctic is as beautiful. And real. I found it on a website called Alaska in Pictures.

SONG: Palomine, Bettie Serveert (Give it a listen. I love her.)

Monday, March 16, 2009

ways you know Austin is turning into home.

1. You drive to the county tax office to register your car. It is located in the middle of NOWHERE, but you do not get lost.

2. You have Texas plates.

3. You have a Texas driver’s license.

4. In a two-mile radius from your home, you know where to find the following:
a. An oil change
b. Car inspection sticker
c. Gasoline
d. Cheap groceries
e. Expensive groceries
f. A haircut
g. A manicure/pedicure
h. A good car cleaning/wash
i. Favorite place(s) for a drink after work/school
j. Favorite place(s) for Sunday brunch/breakfast
k. Comfy coffee shop where you see familiar (yet unknown to you) faces
l. Clothing alterations
m. Dry-cleaning
n. ATM/Your nearest bank.
o. A pharmacy.
p. Local pizza place
q. A good running route/trail
r. The veterinarian
s. The nearest corner store for last minute milk, TP, dog food or vino/beer runs.
t. Favorite taco trailer (yes, this list is officially Austin-centric)
u. Best nearby barbeque
v. Best nearby Mexican food
w. The same vagrant/transients/homeless people you always run into
x. Post office/stamps
y. Dog park
z. Nearby swimming hole and/or record shop.

Phew. I wasn’t sure I would make it to Z.

After a really nice email exchange today with my long-distance friend K. (See How to Succeed in Middle School), I am feeling much better about the state of making friends in a new city and as a new MFA student. If Austin was a person, and not a city, I would count it as a friend. That is a very nice thing to be able to say. Life would be much more difficult if I didn't care for this place in which I've set up camp.

SONG: You're Pretty Good Looking for a Girl, White Stripes

in bloom.

The world in Austin, is indeed, greener. Spring green. Thank you, Mr. Rainstorm.

I noticed these things today. Spirea shrubs in full bloom, yellow Carolina jessamine, and all over town, red bud trees sprouting their tiny pink flowers. I felt surprised that I could remember that spirea is called "spirea" and jessamine is called "jessamine." I saw crape myrtles too – but puny ones, and I suppose it’s too early for these to be blooming.

I noticed that the live oaks, though they are not suddenly more stately or majestic, do look more awake – they look the way a person looks after she (I’m not saying who the ‘she’ might be) hasn’t had a shower in three days and then finally breaks down and gets clean. Their canopies look like washed hair that had been oily and limp.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

color of the weather.

I have been waiting for it to rain in Austin the way it rains in Baton Rouge. I have wanted a torrential downpour, flooding in the roads, constant thunder and lightening. The sound of rapid water slapping my roof and windows without pause.

The last three days have been the closest to a south Louisiana-like rain storm that I have seen, and I’ve relished it. Opened up all of my blinds to let the grey sky fall into the house, and so I could see the water coming down.

Now the sun has come out. Here is what I am hoping to find.

I hope the Austin live oaks that normally look to me like weak old men and women and also like cigarette butts in a crowded ashtray will begin to look taller, grander, as if there is color in their cheeks, which I suppose would be their leaves.

I have been observing lantana and wisteria in bloom. These, too, appear to be drained of energy and color - lacking vibrancy. I hope that the three days of rain will fill the flowers with power – that their petals will droop less, will somehow plump up.

I am not expecting the grass to look less brown. Austin has been in a drought for quite a few years now. But I would be happy to find the grass a little brighter, cheerfully straining up toward the sky.

Anyone who didn’t grow up in Baton Rouge and visited her and then Austin might find a lot of similarities in the landscape. And there are some crossovers. Ones I’ve mentioned, live oaks, wisteria, lantana. I’ve also seen bald cypress trees, Pittosporum tobira (although I’d thought it was invincible until I discovered the shrubs at my house are literally dying), nandina (just as invincible here in Austin).

What I have not seen so far, but I’m not going to completely assume they’re not here somewhere, are azaleas, crape myrtles, red maples, camellias, Japanese Magnolias, irises, spider lilies, purple liriope, banana trees, sago palms, elephant ears, cassia, Japanese plums, basically anything tropical or water tolerant in nature.

In place of tropical and/or water tolerant, I find a good dose of desert plant life and drought tolerant growth. Prickly pears, other cacti and rosemary come to mind. Imagine a photograph in sepia tone. If you took a look at the south Louisiana landscape through a colored filter, I think that filter would be nearly neon green. Spring green. In Austin, sepia seems to be a good description. There is a lot of brown. What strikes me is that, in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and really any place in south Louisiana, as brown as all of the water appears to be – it is striking placed beside the crisp, vivid green of elephant ears and horsetail and grasses and bald cypress needles. The contrast is striking.

Eventually, I am going to learn some of the desert plants that thrive in this equally southern climate. There are certainly lots of pretty desert blooms I’ve laid eyes on. Yet, I have to say, the dirt colored undertone makes me mighty thirsty.

On Thursday, I didn't have an umbrella, and it was raining fairly hard (hard-ish?) outside. But the rain here falls slow, lazily, so that by the time I walked from my car to class, I was not soaked at all. I had expected to be SOAKING wet. I had pulled my scarf over my head, and it took all the water, not even soaking through a little to my hair. My pants didn't need to be rolled up. My toes were not wet inside my shoes.

The rain storm hasn’t been a Louisiana rainstorm, and it tempts me to plan a visit in late August or early September so that that I can curl up on a couch like a cat and stare out of a window for a few days. Maybe even take a stroll through the battering rain. The kind that makes your skin hurt - like someone is hitting at your arms and face. But for now, this rain has quenched my thirst, and I’m happy to go outside and discover what effect the water has had on the color of Austin.

Friday, March 6, 2009

violent story.

A thing I am working on...

In one photo, Jude is in the foreground grasping the sledgehammer with his left hand. A vein is popping out of his forearm. He doesn’t have complete control of the tool; this is clear. The hammerhead is thrust against an upright 2x4 wall stud. Jude’s expression matches his popping vein. His mouth is open, in the midst of releasing an animal’s wild groan.

I can practically hear the sound, the way it emerges from the bottom of his gut. I’ve heard it resonate over and over this summer.

In the photo, printed on glossy Kodak paper, there is spit. If you look closely, you can see saliva suspended mid-air in front of his face. Though the image is black and white, you can tell that Jude’s eyes are bright blue set against tan skin, and you can tell that his hair, a bowl cut, is yellow-blond. His forehead is convulsed so creases intersect one another. Thick vertical lines of skin crash abruptly into horizontal lines; like the photo itself, his face conveys no pattern, just chaos.

Neil is there too, in the middle ground. He is a tiny blurry figure standing in another hollow room, leaning against a stud on another wall panel. His arms are held up over his shoulders, punctuated with little fists of victory. If you look at the print through a magnifying loop, you can see that – like Jude’s – Neil’s mouth is also wide open, but open in laughter, relinquishing the noise of menacing victory.

There are no trees to speak of, but I am there. A shadow. My legs, long, stretch from the bottom right corner of the frame diagonally over the concrete slab and vertical, bolted-in-place lumber until they meet the grey blur of my squat torso, from out of which an elbow pokes. The top middle of the frame cuts me off.

The 2x4 is busted, but at Jude’s mercy, it hasn’t fallen over yet. It isn’t even leaning.

In our boredom, we bust concrete foundations, bend rebar that sticks out of the chasms we break into the concrete. In the middle of the night, we knock down wall and ceiling frames before sheetrock and insulation and drywall can be raised by day. Smash these structures before electrical wiring can make the houses come alive. Before new families can inhabit these homes.

There are other images, too. The destruction we wreak at the construction site is well documented. My camera, a hand-me-down from my dad, captures all of our dismantling.

SONG: This Tornado Loves You, Neko Case

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

the sum of small victories.

If I had to choose a way to measure my accomplishments, I would measure them out in small victories. If I think hard about what victories I’ve experienced, most of them revolve, not around winning, but around not quitting.

I did not entirely quit trying to learn how to ride a bike, even though no one was able to teach me. When I was 9, I finally learned. I needed to do it on my own time, in my own way. I had a neighbor friend who I played with. He rode his bike a lot. I learned to ride.

I have never quit trying to learn how to swim. Of course I know how to swim. But I have never quit trying to become a better swimmer, and one day, I think I will be able to say that I am a good swimmer. It might not be until I am 50 or 60, but I think it will happen.

I did not quit playing the violin after one year, even though it is what my mother was sure I would do. (I quit after four years, instead. Stupid.)

I did not quit college, even though my freshman year, it is all that I wanted to do. I guess I toyed with the idea of quitting by trying, unconsciously, to almost flunk out. But I managed to get my act together. (I feel uncertain whether this is a small victory or not, because, in my heart of hearts, I know I did not belong at a university when I was 18. I always knew this, but who listens to 18-year-olds? Who thinks an 18-year-old has the presence of mind to make a wise decision?)

I have never quit my relationship, and the older I get, the longer I have been in it (almost 7 married years, and 5 unmarried years!) the more of my friends’ relationships that touch my life, I realize what a feat and gift this really is.

I did not quit grad school the first time around even though I was wholly miserable and unhappy. I knew I was learning something that fit me somehow. I just hadn't figured it all out in the midst.

I did not quit my first triathlon, even though I had an anxiety attack in the water, fell off of my bike, and also dropped my water bottle while riding full speed.

I did not quit my second triathlon, though it took me about 35 minutes to calm myself down, catch my breath and relax so I could do the swim without a repeat of the anxiety attack.

My tendency is toward quitting. I begin a new challenge. I get bored. I get frustrated. I get impatient. I deem that it is not an act I can carry out to perfection (because I am a perfectionist). I want to quit. None of my small victories are extraordinary, but they have added meaning to my life. To who I am. I don't know their sum. Maybe I don't care to know. I hope for infinity of experiences that I choose to finish.

SONG: Boys Don't Cry, The Cure


Students come to my essay workshops and office hours with their drafts, and I sort of love these students. They are eager to try. When they leave, I can see the change in their eyes – like they ‘got it’ while we were working together. They turn in their final essays, and I see that they have made vast improvements upon their drafts. Often, a student will tell me that I’ve helped. This makes me happy.

I’m not looking for people to be scholars. I’m not looking for students to apply to ivy league graduate programs. I am just hoping that they grasp how to better organize their thoughts, what it means to analyze rather than summarize, and that they can push themselves to think critically. When I see that little shift, or the extra push, I’m happy.

I think it helps that I’m from the South. I get that a lot of these kids come from families of farmers, farmers who’ve sold ranch land to developers b/c farming in America is so impossible unless you're a corporate farm in CA. Some of their parents work at oil refineries. Then there are the first generation kids and the immigrants. Kids for whom English is clearly not the first language. Suffice it to say, I'm looking at a lot of middle and working class kids. Middle America.

These students come from families who add ten-fold, and without real recognition or compensation, to the quality of privileged people’s lives. These are kids whose families hope their kids will take the next step up. I don’t expect them to be brilliant. I doubt their parents expect them to be brilliant. At the same time, I assume students' intelligence before I ever assume their lack of intelligence. I feel positive that these student's life experiences give them perspective that I cannot fathom. Likewise, intelligence proceeds knowledge.

I've heard it said a many times now (mostly by graduate students whose lives have been vastly different than their students' lives) that students who don't have a leg up, be it language issues, or other issues, must work that much harder because they're competing with students who do have a leg up. I don't see school, or life, as a competition. I know that many people do. It seems to me that only the most privileged among us have the liberty to view education through the lens of competition. For those who do not come from privilege, it's probably fair to say that an education is about creating a new opportunity, the next opportunity.

I agree that students who are behind (be it language barriers, poor family foundations, poor K-12 foundations, learning disabilities that have been mistreated and/or ignored for years) have to work that much harder. I suspect that they are already working 'that much harder' than their more advantaged counterparts. But competition? When students meet with me, I'm conscious of one thing. I want to assess where they are, and I want to assess whether they improve upon that. I'm not interested using other students as a measuring stick. A person needs to be his own measuring stick.

An IA was struggling with what grade to give on an essay. It seemed clear to him that part of the student's issue was language.

Monday, March 2, 2009


There's a new Facebook note floating around - What are the 15 albums that changed your life. I don't know if it's cheating to make a blog entry out of Facebook notes (I do know for a fact it's lazy, because I know that I'm feeling lazy about coming up with blog entries lately), but here I go again.

A few things: a) I couldn't narrow it down to 15, so here are 21. b) One doesn't have to say HOW or WHY these albums were life changing. So. Please take my word that in some small way, these albums helped transform my musical life. c) These are not necessarily in chronological order; the list began that way, but then chronology escaped me. d) I feel a little guilty making this list. Am I betraying other albums that have been important to me? That's what it feels like. My friend c. doesn't like making favorite book lists for this very reason.

1. Duran Duran – Union of the Snake (Seven and the Ragged Tiger - Thanks, Alex.)
2. Madonna – Like a Virgin
3. Go-Go’s – Beauty and the Beat
4. The Cure – Standing on a Beach
5. The Sugarcubes – Life’s too Good
6. U2 – War
7. Charles Mingus – Right Now
8. Neko Case and her Boyfriends – The Virginian
9. Neko Case – Blacklisted
10. Liz Phair – Exile in Guyville
11. Morphine – Cure for Pain
12. Neil Young – Harvest
13. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
14. The Breeders – Last Splash
15. The Pixies – Doolittle
16. Pavement – Crooked Rain
17. Built to Spill – There’s Nothing Wrong with Love
18. Bob Dylan – Nashville Skyline
19. Lauren Hill – The Miseducation of Lauren Hill
20. Andrew Bird - Weather Systems
21. Elvis Costello - This Year's Model

I could probably go on to to a list of 100. But I will stop now. Or save the other 79 for another post.

SONGS: Killing an Arab & Boys Don't Cry, The Cure