Wednesday, November 25, 2009


*Glass negative from the Library of Congress Bain collection. Dated 1910-1915

Me + C. The dogs. Tent on the Colorado river bank. 3 mile hike to waterfalls.

Turkey breast pounded flat, rolled into logs and stuffed with made-from-scratch herb/cornbread stuffing, cooked in skillet. Mashed potatoes. Gravy. Homemade cranberry sauce. Oven roasted brussels and apples with blue cheese and bacon. Rosemary bread.

Cold night.

Hot fire.

Pie. S'mores.


The milky way.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

more on revisions and submissions.

Note to self: Never make grand proclamations like "I finished revising something, and it kicks ass." The second such a proclamation is made, you will re-read and wonder what the hell you were thinking. You will think, This does not kick ass. This sucks.

Friday, November 20, 2009

revisions and submissions.

Dear folks at The Southern Review,

My next submission is in the mail to you and three other journals, and it kicks ass. I feel certain.


On writing in general, while I have not been entirely productive this semester, I did sit down yesterday, push my students' essays aside, and write for myself. I made progress on the story about the boys. Today, the shoving aside of essays was repeated, and I revised like a maniac. The brief writing stint yesterday (2 hours), and the hours of revising and submitting today have put me in good spirits. I hope that as I turn my attention to grading essays, these spirits will not be crushed.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

november list.

1. Songs that make me think of my mother and make me cry involuntarily whenever I hear them.
"City of New Orleans," Willie Nelson
"Country Roads," John Denver
"I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause," Bobby Helms (I know that is weird. But memory is a strange beast. Luckily, this song doesn't get much air time, and when it does, it's Bruce Springsteen's version.)

2. Song that reminds me of my mother and makes me laugh involuntarily whenever I hear it.
"What I Am," Edie Brickell (It's not a terribly interesting story, but it's an interesting quirk.)

3. My sleep is full of strange dreams lately.
I cannot remember them, except in broad painterly strokes. I wake up and the whole picture is never clear.

4. C.'s birthday is next week.
Boy, are we getting old. Maybe not old exactly, but entering the threshold of middle age? We used to be nothing but young. How did this happen? When did this happen?

5. Thanksgiving made me cry on the drive to school last week.
For my entire life, this has been my favorite holiday. Lately, my whole body fills up with tension and chills and general ickiness when I think about Thanksgiving. What I figured out in the car is that, at least for this period of my life, Thanksgiving will remind me of a time when the ground seemed to crack open beneath me. One day, when I can focus on all of the positive changes that such shifts in the earth brought, maybe I will like Thanksgiving again. For now, it only makes me feel the same kind of sad fear that I felt a few years back.

6. I am not nearly as teary a person as this entry makes it seem.

7. Last night, I had one of the worst eating fests I've had in a year. Maybe even longer.
I ate almost an entire cheap frozen pizza. I commanded myself to STOP when there were only 2 slices remaining. But then I ate 1 and 1/2 pieces of pecan pie. I had a glass of wine. I felt completely disgusting.

8. I ate like a teenager because I was also watching bad TV and, most significantly, procrastinating what I needed to be doing. Grading essays.

9. Even though I had crappy food and crappy TV night, I took the dogs on a 1 and 1/2 mile walk during the day.
I have never walked them along the Town Lake trail, and they looked ecstatic the whole time, tongues hanging out, stupid grins on their faces. They have not had a walk like that in months. Neither have I.

10. Thanksgiving weekend, I am going to begin training for the half marathon.
I also think I binge ate yesterday because I was feeling like I needed to shovel it all in while I could. The nice thing about training is that after about 3 weeks, I stop craving anything sweet and bad. I crave vegetables and salty snacks and a lot of water. I am also looking forward to having a little muscle definition in my legs and arms again.

11. Today, I am going to shower and dress and go look at some art. And then. I will grade essays.
The goal for today: finish 10 essays in no more than 5 hours. 4 hours would be even better. I think I can. I think I can. I am not saying that with much conviction, by the way.

12. General insight of the month: I am not so thrilled about turning 35.
I remember friends freaking out about 25. And then about 30. I have never been anything except excited about a birthday. I guess freaking out about a birthday had to catch up to me at some point. Freak-out-ness, welcome to my life. And F U.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

good, bad, ugly, and non sequitur.

Yesterday, I woke up to stories about Veteran's Day. Then I played a goofy 30-second segment from NPR in my class. Something about muggers in Wisconsin (Nebraska?) who apologized to their victim after they went through his wallet and saw he was a reserve officer.

Now that I live in Texas, there are a lot of flags flying alongside the interstate over the distance of 26 miles between school and Austin. Driving home from school, I counted all of the flags at half-mast because of the shooting in Fort Hood. And I got irrationally teary. I have a student who just went to a military ball because her boyfriend is being deployed. She's 18. This hits me the wrong way, and that's all I know to say about it.

The weekend.
Will be a grading fest. Which means that by Saturday night, I will lose my shit, cry inexplicably because I will have slowly begun fixating on every aspect of my life that is not ideal and/or on any personal goals that seem, in the midst of reading 40 freshman essays, one-after-another-after-another, unattainable.

I will try to remind myself before the grading begins that this week I have had a lot of writing ideas. I don't care for the term writer's block, but I have certainly felt something like that. Is there a synonym I can use instead? I will try to make one up before I go to sleep tonight.

(After his mother died, Jude stopped loving ice cream. -I thought of this the other day, it goes with my story about the boys. Oh those boys. They don't know if they want to be told in 3rd person or 1st person.

Idea 2 of the week: I worked at Abercrombie, and she worked at Abercrombie. In the mall? But we never worked there at the same time. Hahaha. This cracks me up. I got the idea from a cousin who shall remain nameless, but I told him right away I'd be using it. I think it will be a funny story. I love when that happens. Occasionally it does.)

Finallly, C. has 2 pieces in an event at the East Austin Studio Tour that begins this weekend. So. That's a happy happening.

Now back to 30 Rock. Grr. In spite of the fact that Padma Lakshmi is guest starring. HATE her.

Friday, November 6, 2009

what do you think? why do you think what you think?

The semester has been overwhelming, so I don’t know where to begin with reflecting upon teaching my first two classes. Some reflections have to do with my own personal strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. Others have to do with the classroom environment and the quality of students. I guess it is easiest to talk about ‘others’ first – so I’ll begin with what I’ve noticed about students.

Many students are pushing against their own social class. They have been raised as working class Americans, and for them, college is a next step up. Sometimes, I hear other instructors claim that students "don't belong" in a college setting. But in my view, there is no more concrete way to observe the abstract "American dream" than to interact with these very students in a typical public university system, to witness students unconsciously scratching against the only world they know. I just wish that these young Americans would push themselves to actually become conscious of their predicament.

On a personal level, I like each and every one of my students. I even like the students who for some reason or another make me crazy (they skip class, they are obstinate for the sake of being obstinate, they are not as engaged as I would like them to be, etc.). There are students who remind me of myself at a younger age; there are student who I admire for how different they are compared to who I was at their age; there are students who are genuinely funny, sincere in ways that only eighteen, nineteen and twenty year-olds can be; there are a few students who are trying desperately to push against the ideologies they have been raised with, and I admire their budding awareness and questioning. Each person holds his/her own charm, and I guess I am easily charmed.

Because I like the students, I am also easily frustrated when they blow off my class, when they don’t keep appointments, when they roll their eyes at comments I make, statements I repeat. One student skipped a class, and my feelings were hurt. C. reminded me of all the classes I skipped as a freshman and sophomore. “Your feelings can’t be hurt; you did the same thing.” Point taken.

More generally, and more importantly, I feel stunned by the fact that, when they are asked to think creatively and analytically, so many of them are handicapped. They freeze up. They read essay prompts, and they are quick to state that the prompts are not clear or don’t make sense. In reality, the prompts do not spell out every last item that belongs in the paper. The prompts are not an instruction manual or a recipe. The prompts sometimes ask them to deal with large issues, and to define the very narrow approach they will take to address that larger issue. Earlier prompts simply asked them to draw relationships between texts and real-life experiences: How is the situation you read about in someway similar to an experience you have had? In what ways does it differ? They freeze. The prompts seem unclear because they’ve never been asked to problem solve in this manner.

I don’t think most of them understand that writing an argument- first defining their own argument, and then building the argument on evidence is a critical type of problem-solving, an actual skill that they will need to possess in order to process political rhetoric, policies and laws, in order to judge whether policies and laws are too far removed from ‘real-world’ experiences. Many of the essays read as a string of opinions that sound dogmatic and conditioned, and when they are asked to provide evidence, it is nearly impossible. When they are asked to keep their evidence relevant to a specific point, this is also a challenge. When they are asked to explain why a point is significant in some larger context, many cannot even think of where to begin or how to do so. They want to say, for example, immigrants learning and adopting the English language over their first language has more gains than losses, because a person gains more. But what gains? What losses? They freeze.

I often suspect that their prior education has done little to prepare them to think critically, to problem-solve, to question the face-value of news stories, of films, of music, of literature – of any and every text with which we are all confronted on a daily basis. Instead, it is as if they have been conditioned to look for precise, unchanging formulas, as if the world operates on constancy. When I observe the lack of curiosity about the world, or rather (because the curiosity is there; it peeks through bashfully) the years of conditioning that have made it seem unworthy to hold and explore curiosity, I feel, not sad, but scared. Who has stripped you of your sense of wonder? Who has told you to hold firm to beliefs and laws and systems without also exploring other beliefs and laws and systems? I want to ask. Where is your sense of wonder? Unleash your wonder.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Oh my God. Some days I wish I could just stick my neck in a noose. (No worries. Not literally. I promise.) Straight up. I had the shittiest day. S.H.I.T. day.

It started off poorly, but my office mate tried to give me a pep talk (reciprocation for the days I try to give him pep talks). We try to encourage one another, but I have no idea if we are ever successful. It's always a good effort on both of our parts. This, followed by a horrible class for which I had nothing but good intentions. (Followed, miraculously, by an unexpectedly amazing class). And then. Discovering that my car had been towed for the first time in my life. Getting to the towing lot only to realize I did not have my car keys with me. Slightly earlier, a disgusting meal of 2 southwest spring rolls after I'd only eaten a bagel and cream cheese and nothing else sometime mid-morning.

Today sucked. TODAY SUCKED.

I am 100% doing the half marathon. That is the best news I can offer up. And one kid said he looked forward to coming to my class. That was reassuring. Can't please everyone all the time. But there's always someone who's pleased I suppose.