Monday, December 26, 2005

In with the Old, In with the New

I hate new year's resolutions. They're usually made under duress and most of us really do not believe we'll accomplish them. I like, instead, to think of everything I've accomplished (lots or little) in the previous year and think about what I'd like to do in the coming year/years.

This year I bought a new car and a house, learned how to knit socks on double-pointed needles (I'm wearing my first pair now!), taught 9 wonderful English classes, traveled to Boston and Austin, helped my relatives through two hurricanes, read too many books to list here, wrote a few nonfiction pieces, created a web site for an organization I belong to, and who knows what else--a thousand small acts of kindness, thoughtfulness, silliness, etc., that I wouldn't remember if I were zapped with a cattle prod. The year, in other words, has sped by in a blur, as years tend to do as I get older.

I feel more settled; I have a place of my own to come home to and more order (As if I really needed more of that! I'm such an orderly person--places for most things, and most things in their places). I'm cooking more and eating more healthy food; I knit like a fiend and am not afraid to attempt what looks impossible (ergo, the socks). I'm trying to be more cheerful; not being organically predispositioned to it, I have to work at it. I'm trying to create more time for me and what I want to do. I see it as necessary selfishness--if I'm too stressed doing all of these tasks for others and deferring what I want all of the time, I just get crabby. And I'm not pleasant when I'm crabby. It just makes sense.

So, yesterday, after the Christmas celebration with my family, I came home and sewed on my great-grandmother's treadle sewing machine and I finished knitting my first pair of socks. I gave myself the whole day and I felt good about it.

Now, I must settle down and do the work for my spring classes and edit some WWII oral history transcripts. But, when I have time, I'm going to work on another pair of socks and plan a quick trip to Austin.

Life is full--of interesting tasks, of opportunities. And I want to experience as much as possible.

Have a wonderful (and pleasant) new year!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Blown Away...

I sat under the carport at my brother's house Saturday, watching as he fried fish and onion rings for a family get-together. At one time, about 25 of my relatives from New Orleans and its surrounding areas had been quartered at various houses around Shreveport and Bossier City, but, today, we'd be entertaining the 15 or so who were still with us.

I began to get hot, so I went into the house to cool off and found two of my sisters talking with my Uncle Tony. Tony, his wife, Pat, and their son, David, had to be rescued from their neighborhood after Hurricane Katrina's storm surge flooded their house. They managed to hunker down with neighbors in the second story of the neighbors' house until help came. David had to be taken to a hospital in Lake Charles because he suffers from seizures if he doesn't have his medicine (he didn't) and my aunt went with him. My uncle was taken to St. Bernard High School and was later bussed to McAlister, Oklahoma. We managed to retrieve them from their various locations and bring them to stay with family.

As I was listening to my uncle describe the horror of the storm, I noticed that this was not the same uncle I had known and loved all of my life. He was a changed man, and not for the better. The Uncle Tony I knew was full of fun, always joking, always building, planning, teaching. This man, the ghost of my uncle, was subdued and depressed. My brother told me that he and my aunt had been sleeping almost all day, every day and that David didn't have a clue about what happened. I'm not surprised.

My uncle said that he had survived Betsy and Camille, so he figured he could survive this. But I think he learned his lesson. When the next storm hits, and there will be one, I hope he heads north as soon as the call goes out.

My uncle drifted off into conversation with my younger sister, and I turned my attention to my oldest sister right at the time when she said, "We're pretty sure Janice and Harold didn't make it."

Janice, my (great)cousin, and Harold, my great-uncle, were both probably in their eighties or nineties, and they were both "mentally-challenged"; I haven't seen either of them for many, many years--the last time I saw Janice was when I was a kid. Her mother, my great-aunt, was the "black sheep" of her family and, at some point, we lost track of both of them, until Janice's mother died and Janice was put in the nursing home.

When my great-grandmother was forceably removed from her house by her oldest son, Harold, who lived with her, went into the same nursing home that Janice was in, not that he knew who she was (or vice-versa, I'm sure). For Harold, this was liberation. My great-grandmother was a tyrant; she kept the cupboards and the refrigerator locked so Harold couldn't eat what he wanted when he wanted (she was afraid he'd eat everything, all at once). Of course, her idea of dinner was tea with bread and butter, which wouldn't even be substantial enough for me, and I don't eat much.

Harold and Janice were both victims of Katrina. He was in a wheelchair and she had a bad hip, so when the time came to get the patients out or leave them to die, the people, the administrators of that nursing home, who should have been looking out for them, who were paid to look out for them, didn't; they elected to save themselves and their families, rationalizing that these infirm, mental "deficients" would probably die anyway, so why bother?

They were warned, just as my uncle was warned. They had time to call for emergency help, and they didn't.

I'm just sick in my heart when I think about my cousin and my great-uncle facing the terror of the rising water. Listening to my my Uncle Tony describe what he, my aunt, and my cousin experienced when the water broke into their house, I can only pray that the end came swiftly and that they didn't suffer too much.

Hindsight is 20/20. Maybe if the rest of us would have taken this seriously, we could have rescued more people, including my great-uncle and my cousin. But, I know my relatives didn't believe this hurricane was going to be so devastating; and hearing them talk about it, I'm sure they have enough heartache without piling guilt on top of them, too.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Yes, it has been forever, or so it seems, since my last post. Much has happened since I last blogged. A new semester has begun, I've bought a house and moved about half of my possessions. I'm still settling in, so I'm feeling a bit dislocated and "out of joint," to steal a phrase from Shakespeare.

Moving makes me wonder why I have so much stuff. George Carlin has that great comic routine about "stuff"--about how we buy a house for our stuff and, when that house gets too crowded, we buy a bigger house for our stuff. All I can say is moving stuff is a pain.

Half my clothes, half my books and many of my bookcases are still at the old house. I can't really unpack much at the new house, because I need the bookcases; but I need to unpack boxes of books so I can have more boxes to pack more books. It gets very circular--one thing depends on another, which depends on another, endlessly. Right now, I'm exhausted. I don't think I can unpack another box, and I certainly don't feel that I have the strength to move any more boxes.

I've resolved this--if I don't unpack a box within six months, and I don't miss what's in the box, then the entire box is going to Goodwill. If I don't miss it, I don't need it.

My daughter suggested that I just go ahead and open a bookstore. I've always wanted to do that. My problem would be that I wouldn't want to part with any of my books, which defeats the purpose of opening a bookstore, don't you think?

The new semester has gotten off to an interesting start. I have four really good classes--every instructor's dream, I think. Most of the writing I've seen so far has been good. My 226 students have to keep journals and to create a blog for posting commentary about assigned essays. The blogs I've seen so far have been creative, as far as color schemes go; the essay commentaries have been variable, but mostly they have been insightful. I especially enjoy reading a post where a student has related the essay to him/herself. Being able to make connections between the essay and oneself shows a sense of thoughtfulness.

I'll pick this up again soon. I shouldn't stay away so long.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Catching Up

Haven't written for a while--not since my Boston trip. I wasn't entirely sure that I would be teaching summer school, but I did have a Freshman Comp class during the first session, which ended Friday. Good class--17 students; 15 of them showed up fairly regularly, one who disappeared after a week and a half, and another who attended erratically and, ultimately, stopped coming three days before the final. I don't understand that; if someone has paid money to attend a class, why doesn't he/she show up? That's wasteful. And dumb. I do know, however, that some students sign up for classes to get federal money to pay their bills (Pell grants), then don't attend. I try to report errant students as soon as I see that they're not attending class regularly--it's a college requirement--and I'll even attempt to contact the student. Mostly, though, I leave that to the student's college.

I enjoyed teaching the class. I haven't had the chance to teach the first comp class in a year. I've been teaching mostly comp/lit and advanced comp; in the fall, I'm teaching one comp/lit and three advanced comps (all of the adv comp classes are on T/Th--I'll be brain dead by the end of the day!). My problem with teaching more than one section of a class is that I feel as though I'm repeating myself. Sometimes, I can't remember which class I've told what. I'm sure this is how my mother feels--she has ten children, and she can't remember who she's told what, so she ends up repeating herself a great deal, usually to the same person (me!). In the spring, I'll have a chance to teach technical writing. I've done a bit of that, but haven't ever taught it, so that should be interesting for me and my students.

I've only been to Mr. Lester's once this season. He usually closes down around the first week in August, so I better stop soon. But I haven't had much time to cook lately, and fresh vegetables require immediate attention.

As for the grass, I've been procrastinating on mowing, so the grass is high and wet. We've had two days of rain and the ground is too soggy for mowing. I'm a bit wary of dragging an extension cord through high, wet grass; right now, I'm hoping the rain lets up and I have a chance to mow the grass soon. I thought about doing it this morning, but the grass is still too wet. And, it looks as though we're going to have another shower. I won't really have a chance to do it tomorrow (July 4th), because I'm working at the bookstore until 10pm. Oh well! Maybe the ground will dry up by Tuesday or Wednesday and I'll be able to do it then.

Gotta go. I've got some knitting to finish and housework to do.


Thursday, May 26, 2005

Doin' the Wireless Thing...

In Boston, no less! This is my second trip in the last two weeks--five days in Austin, six at home. I left for Boston yesterday and will be here until Sunday, May 29th.

Are airplanes getting smaller? I'm not a huge person, but I could barely get me and my carry on bag and my purse into the space that was my "seat" on either plane, though, really, I had more room on the prop plane from Shreveport to Dallas than I did on the plane from Dallas to Boston. I felt really cramped. And, for what they charge for tickets, they could give us more than a thin bag of pretzels and coffee or juice. Plus, the flight was overbooked because the flight before mine was cancelled. I love to fly, but I need to figure out how to upgrade to business class without spending a fortune.

I'm in the Boston Public Library on Dartmouth Street, across from the hotel where I'm staying. The lower lobby boasts murals painted by John Singer Sargeant and, get this, ANYONE can get a library card that will give her access to the Internet FREE. My hotel wants to charge $10.95 a day for DSL, which is a ripoff, but, I guess if you don't want to hobnob with the common folk, you'll pay any price. It's quiet in here, the staff is friendly, the courtyard garden has a gorgeous pool, and there's even a coffeeshop that's open until 5pm. Imagine that--a coffee shop in a library--but you still can't bring your food or drink into the library proper. The signal here is incredibly strong and I'm really enjoying being away from the conference I'm attending--the American Literature Association. I love the conference, but, after a while, I need a break from academic types and some peace and quiet.

The session I'm chairing is at 8am tomorrow (Friday), so I'm hoping to get a good night's sleep and a light knosh before the panel starts. And, speaking of food, we've had some good stuff. Ate a great hamburger at the Globe yesterday and interesting Japanese at a restaurant called Kaya today. I like to be adventurous with food when I'm out of town since I hardly get much variety in S'port or in my little town.

And for those of you who have been waiting, Mr. Lester's produce stand is opened. His hours are generally 8 am or so until around 4:30 or 5pm, Mon.-Sat.; he's not opened on Sundays. I think he even has some peaches right now, tomatoes and squash; he also sells local honey, so you might want to check that out too. I haven't been yet because I've been travelling, but I'm sure I'll stop by when I'm planning to stay at home for a while! Enjoy!
Now that I have wifi access, I'll try to write more in the next day or two. Later!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The End of Days

I'm always sad when a semester ends. While I enjoy planning for my upcoming classes, I find it difficult to let go of the current ones. I've come to know my students, most of whom--not all of them, but most--are intelligent, funny, and determined to give their best to their classes. I'm excited by their growth, by the changes in their writing and their attitudes, by the camaraderie they have developed during their shared class experience.

They move on; I move on. But I'm heartened when I see those bright-eyed freshman, who entered my class four years earlier, graduate. They've matured, they've learned, they've put in their time, and they are ready to go out into the wide world and make it their own.

If, as a teacher, I can touch one of them, make even one of them approach the world with a more inquiring mind, then maybe I've done something. If I can help them to think for themselves, I've done something. Every once in a while, a former student will come to visit me, long after he or she has left my class, to thank me. Sometimes, it happens after a year; sometimes, after four. But, every once in a while, I get something like this from a current student:

"But from you Ms. Smith, I learned that college teachers have interesting lives, too! Most of us could relate to you because you work more than one job and you also work with the general public like so many students do. I don't know if you or anyone else realizes it, but I feel that I got more out of lessons in your class than what I have to pay back in student loans. And you taught us in a way that forced us to teach ourselves. You did not "tell" us what we had to observe or take away from any assignment. Thank you for doing more than what you set out to do, even if you meant for it to be that way."

And that is why I teach--not for money, or for prizes--but for that.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

If it's cold in April, this must be Louisiana

Woke up this morning to a cold rain on this, the last day of April, 2005. I thought I wouldn't need the heaters anymore, seeing as how spring supposedly has sprung. One thing I can say for Louisiana is that the weather is never boring--often scary, often surprising, but never boring.

As I've been driving home the last two evenings, I've seen several coyotes, looking lean and running fast. I narrowly avoided hitting two of them with my nice, new car. And, Thursday night, as I sat in my chair ruminating on the day, I heard them howling. Their howls are so different from a dog's--chilling, spine-tingling.

For the first time in many, many months, I have the weekend off. Of course, "off" is a relative term. What that simply means is that I can hang around the house in my pajamas; I don't have to physically go to either of my jobs. That doesn't mean, of course, that I'm not working. I'm taking time out to Blog a bit, but I have papers to grade and I'll spend most of today doing that. I wanted to mow the grass, but, alas, the rain prevents that.

This free weekend, though, allowed me to do something I haven't done in a couple of years--actually go somewhere and have some fun. Last night (my first Friday night off in a long while), I went to a party held by the Liberal Arts department of my college, stopped by the American Cancer Society fund-raiser, and stopped in at the bookstore where I usually work on Friday nights for a cup of coffee (as a customer, no less!). I ran into a friend there and talked to him until the first closing announcement. What a luxury!

Today is my daughter's 30th birthday! Happy birthday, Dot! I can't possibly have a daughter that age (and she certainly doesn't look her age--more like 18). Well, I also have a son who will turn 25 this year. They grow up quickly. And, really, if they weren't my children, they'd be the kind of people who would be my friends. Talented, quirky, funny, creative, smart, and employed! Everything a parent could want in a child!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Green, green grass of home

I am not an "outdoor" person. Don't get me wrong--I like to fish and camp, like taking long walks, but I don't like sweating a great deal and don't like participating in "sports" that make me sweat. But, since I live in a house that has a yard, I HAVE to mow the grass. You want a house, you mow the grass or you pay someone to do it.

I hate spending more money than I have to, especially when I can do it myself more cheaply (in the long run, that is). So, I went to Lowe's and bought an electric lawnmower--electric, simply because I'm a little person and do not have enough upper-body strength to pull a cord. Also, to protect it, I have to keep the lawnmower in the house, and I don't want to store anything with gas in it in the house. So, it really was a rational decision for me.

I started mowing the grass on Tuesday; the grass was pretty tall, and, in places, it's pretty thick. I plugged the 100 foot extension cord into a power strip, since my house has NO grounded plugs--not one. The house was built in 1918; the electricity was added later, at a time when "grounded" plugs didn't exist, I guess. And the owner hasn't added any. So, to protect me and the house, I have power strips everywhere.

The problem was that the power strip kept shutting off--protection from overload; it didn't occur to me at the time to turn off everything that was drawing power from that circuit. As a consequence, I spent two hours mowing and running inside the house to pop the power strip back on. I managed to get half the yard mowed on Tuesday, then gave up in frustration.

This morning, though, I did what I should have done Tuesday. I managed to get the rest of the yard mowed without tripping the power once (gee, I really am smart when I want to be!). I feel so empowered! First, I bought the mower myself; second, I put it together; and third, I got it to work. I feel as though I've really accomplished something.

But now I'm really sweaty, so I need a bath before I teach my class this evening. And I'm about three days behind on grading papers. Oh, well. Having a life is tough, isn't it?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

When the Rain Comes...

Louisiana is one of the few places where rain brings nearly everything to a halt. It's almost as bad as, say, snow in Washington, D.C.

Six people (out of about 23) showed up for my 9am class on Monday because a torrential downpour flooded the streets and apartment complex parking lots, or, maybe, these students woke up, saw it was raining, and just decided to roll over and go back to sleep. I wish, at times, that I could do that, too. To be truthful, on days when I don't have to get up early (which are few), I tend to loll about in bed longer than I normally would. One thing I can say, though, is that I seldom skip work or any other appointment because "it's raining too hard."

As I reminded my students on Wednesday, when a majority of them did show up, I drive 45 miles one way, every day that I work. I watch the weather--indeed, the weather report has become my "horoscope." It's the cornerstone of my day. If the weather is dreary, rainy, foggy, windy, I need to know. Driving on a two-lane highway requires a knowledge of the elements, if only for time's sake. If weather conditions warrant an early start, then I make an early start. I seldom leave my house with "just enough time to spare" to get to any place I need to be. I usually start an hour early, just to give me time in case of an accident on the road, slow trucks, or bad driving conditions.

But, I suppose, that's the difference in our ages. Time and age have taught me that punctuality is a virtue, as is dedication. My work ethic is such that I can't imagine missing a day just because I don't feel like working. Let's face it, if that were a legitimate criteria for skipping work, few of us would ever show up. What I know is that people depend on me to be where I'm supposed to be. If I don't show up at the bookstore, or I arrive late, someone's lunch is delayed, the schedule gets off-track, and the rest of the day goes to hell in a rose-colored handbasket. As an instructor in a college, I've made a commitment to teach my classes and my students would get pretty upset with me if I routinely blew them off.

Honoring my commitments is important to me and says a great deal about who I am as a person. I realize, of course, that many of my students haven't cultivated that mind-set, and many of them probably won't unless they are pushed to it. But, that's the great thing about time and age--usually, maturity is a by-product, if only by default.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Saving "Time"

It's 8:18am on Monday morning, the day after "Daylight Savings Time," the old "Spring Forward." I feel as though I've lost a whole day, not just an hour. And where does this "lost" hour go, anyway? I think it's all a ruse to get us synchronized--if I were Chief Bromden (the narrator of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), I'd swear Nurse Ratched was up to her tricks.

I finally cut my hair off. Big shock, big difference. My sister is a hairdresser and, about three years ago, she asked me to grow my hair for an organization called "Locks for Love." They use donated hair to make wigs for cancer patients, mostly children. All you do is grow your hair until you can cut off about 11 inches; after you cut it, you fill out a form at their web site and mail it in. It's painless (unless you get used to your long hair and really want to keep it) and it helps a good cause.

Actually, I feel a bit "lightheaded," but in a good way. My hair is about shoulder length now, just long enough to gather into a ponytail if I want one, but short enough to be springy when I curl it. I'm not really vain about my hair, so cutting it didn't really matter to me. But I'm amazed at how many people haven't noticed that it's shorter.

I've noticed the last few days that the hawk numbers have dropped. Many red-tailed hawks migrate here for the winter and head back north around the end of March or the beginning of April. Last year, they seemed to linger well into April, but we had a late Easter. This morning, I only counted two; my high count this winter was 17 on a morning drive. They clue me into the seasons of winter and spring. I may not notice the changes in the tress, but I notice the birds.
We have a few indigenous species of hawk here, so I'll still see a small number on my drives. But I'll be looking for them again in the fall.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Company Store...

When I was a kid (somewhere in the dark ages), Tennessee Ernie Ford had an AM radio hit with "Sixteen Tons." Every time I make a major purchase, that song echoes in my head--"You load sixteen tons/ and what do you get?/ Another day older and deeper in debt./ St. Peter, don't you call me/ 'cause I can't go./ I owe my soul to the company store."

I don't work in a coal mine, though sometimes it feels that way, but I feel as though I'll be working for the rest of my mortal life, a slave to ownership. My reason for lamenting? I just bought a new car.

I like this car; I think it will serve me for quite a time. But I am indentured to it for the next five years (and beyond, if you count maintenance costs, gasoline, etc.). I suppose if I lived in a city like Austin, TX, or in some quaint little neighborhood where everything was is walking distance, I could dispense with a car, as my children have. They both live in Austin and haven't owned cars for several years. They're incredibly fit because they walk and ride their bikes whenever possible. And they don't have car payments or insurance; they take the city bus when they need to, and are quite familiar with the Greyhound Bus and Amtrak schedules. They've learned to live without the vehicle, and I envy them.

So, I chose to live 45 miles away from the places where I work; but, even if I lived in the city where my jobs are, I would still need a car. The city has a lousy bus system; what's more, it has spread, spider-like, in every direction and the bus doesn't reach all areas of the city. Using public transportation would create difficulties for me; I can't imagine what it does to the people who rely on it. The buses begin running around 7am and shut down around 7pm most nights; on weekends, they stop running earlier and run less frequently. If I had to be to work at 3pm, I'd be okay; but, if I worked until midnight (which I do), I'd have to walk or beg rides from my coworkers. A city with a population over 200,000 should have a better (and cheaper) public transportation system.

Okay, enough about that, though I think we create many of our own difficulties. And, of course, we buy into popular perceptions of what makes up "the good life." I'm content, at the moment, to know that I have reliable transportation--my old car was on its last leg (or would that be tire?) anyway.

I'm making inroads on grading my papers and should be finished with the majority of them by Sunday. On "my" time, I've managed to knit a number of washcloths and make some progress on a couple of scarves I've promised to people. My niece is expecting a baby and I want to start on a baby blanket, some booties and a hat for the tot.

I really love to knit. It's become addictive, the way writing has always been for me. I love the texture of wool and cotton and the fun of eyelash and metallic yarns. And color--I love color, especially for hats. Ah, I think I'll knit for a while before bed.


The dogwood is in bloom, as is the redbud. Color everywhere, and scents! Spring's a wonderful time, except for my allergies. But I try to ignore them and enjoy the season.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Lambs and Lions

The winds of March are upon us, those roaring blasts that snap off limbs as though they were twigs. I don't mind them, except when I'm driving. My tiny little car weaves and bobs like a prizefighter. But, while I'm inside grading papers or out mowing the lawn, the wind is welcomed. Inside, I can listen to the wind chimes as they dance; outside, the breeze blows the sweat off and keeps me from overheating.

I only really fear high winds at night, especially when they accompany a thunder/lightning storm. Several years ago, when I lived next door to my parents, a large oak tree crashed across our common fence and landed up against my bedroom windows. One minute, I was looking at the traffic on the road, the next minute all was obscured by oak leaves. And, of course, the falling tree took out the electricity, so I was also left in the dark (for about two days).

The house I live in now is surrounded by very tall, very old trees--pine and pecan. Limbs from these trees snap easily and I worry that the excessive amounts of rain we've received lately will uproot them. This is probably a groundless fear, but... When I lived in the Highland area of Shreveport, rain and wind crashed over 100-year-old oaks on a regular basis; I imagine a pine tree wouldn't be difficult to topple.

I've graded another set of papers, so now it's time for me to take a break and finish knitting another dishcloth. I love knitting. I taught myself how to knit ten years ago, but didn't really apply myself to it. I picked it up again last winter and knitted about 30 hats, nearly one for each of my co-workers at the bookstore. I sent my daughter 10 or 12 hats, too, to wear, sell or give away. Scarves take me longer because they can be boring; but I did knit myself a poncho/shawl and a long, skinny scarf. Big needles and bulky yarn--those are the tricks to make scarves go faster!
I'm still working on a pair of socks using single-pointed needles. I had to search for a long time to find a pattern for socks that didn't require double-pointed needles. But, I've discovered that, if I have to read a pattern to knit something, I lose interest in it. I like to "wing it." With hats, once I get the basic row pattern down, I can vary the pattern and adapt it to the hat's basic shape. One of my co-worker's says I'm an "intuitive" knitter; she may be right. I just like to do it my way.
So, I'm off to knit now.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Spring Break

As much as I'd like to believe that spring break actually is a break for me, I know better. I just downloaded about 40 assorted assignments from my students and will probably spend the better part of the week reading/grading. Yeah, I know--if I didn't assign the work, I wouldn't have to grade the papers; unfortunately, our educational system requires evaluation in some form, and papers/journals are necessary in this case. I'd love to be able to not give assignments, to just talk about what we read, but the realities of academia preclude that.

I have, however, decided to pace myself. I'll grade a few at a sitting, then go do something else--I have some knitting I want to get done: scarves, dishcloths, maybe a summer sweater (like we really need those here!); I also have a few academic papers I want to work on (publish or perish!). And I have a book to read before Monday night (The Soloist by Mark Salzman) for my reading group at a local bookstore. So, even though this is a break, of sorts--I'm not really "working" my usual hours at either of my jobs (I also work at the aforementioned bookstore part-time)--I'm still "working." I guess the "break" consists in having my time to myself and being able to choose what I want to do with it. That, in itself, is a luxury for someone who is too often constrained by the clock.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


I taught my evening lit class tonight, trying to do justice, in under three hours, to both Flannery O'Connor and Sandra Cisneros.

I like night classes, generally. The students are usually more mature; most of them have full-time jobs and families, and have learned to prioritize their time, though I do occasionally have to threaten them with a quiz if they don't read the assignments. Also, many of them have greater insight into the complexities of poetry, fiction and drama--because they usually have more real-world experience than 18-year-olds.

But, back to O'Connor and Cisneros. Both come from Catholicism, though their approaches to religion seem polar opposites. One cannot read an O'Connor story without being acutely aware of her view that, without faith, one is doomed. Without faith, one lacks a core. Her characters, even the protagonists (the people we're supposed to like) are reprehensible. The only characters in her stories who seem to have belief systems are the "bad" guys--Manley Pointer in "Good Country People", The Misfit in "A Good Man is Hard to Find", and Mr. Shiftlet in "The Life You Save May Be Your Own." Her central characters are constantly being whacked on the head in an attempt to shock them into belief, but, each time I read her stories, I despair that they have learned their lessons.

Cisneros, on the other hand, deals with the constraints of Catholicism, especially on women. In "Woman Hollering Creek," Cleofilas is a victim of her macho, partriarchal, Catholic, Mexican heritage. She has little support from her brutal husband or her father and seven brothers. She gets help from two women, total strangers, who conspire to spirit her away. What Cleofilas finds is that women do have options--they can holler "like Tarzan," they can have jobs and buy their own pickup trucks. Cisneros seems to imply that faith doesn't help much, that we must make our own way, with or without it.

I always wish this particular class met more often; I have too much to say, too many questions to ask and not enough time. I hope, at least, that I communicate my love of language and literature--my sincere belief that our lives, hearts, minds are enriched by the insights that writers share with us.
Mr. Lester's peach trees bloom in stages, so I should be able to enjoy this swash of color for a few weeks. And, to borrow from a letter E. D. wrote to her brother Austin, "The peaches are very large--one side a rosy cheek, and the other a golden, and that peculiar coat of velvet and of down which makes a peach so beautiful." This is what I have to look forward to this summer--more time to read and Ed Lester's peaches!

Monday, March 14, 2005

Ed Lester's Farm

I'm beginning my third year in this small town. I know this because Ed Lester's peach trees are in bloom again.

Ed Lester owns a farm directly across the Red River from my house. The peach trees bloom a pinkish purple, usually right before Easter. When I come across the bridge each morning, I'm shadowed by his orchard, bounded by his vegetable fields.

He should be opening his vegetable market before too long. I'm always surprised, because I never expect anyone to sell fresh produce this early in the spring. He must grow his first batch in his greenhouses--the fields are still fallow, just being plowed.

More on this as the spring and summer progress. I can't wait for the first batch of yellow squash and the vine ripe tomatoes. His prices are reasonable; his produce just tastes better than storebought.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

E. D.'s "Circumference"

Emily Dickinson's "circumference" generally refers not only to what is enclosed, but also what is left out. If we think of the "circumference" of a circle, the boundary of the circle encloses space; at the same time, what is outside of the boundary also becomes significant.

For Dickinson, at least, choices demanded exclusion--to be a poet, as she saw it, meant that other options were not viable. Her "circumference" excludes as much as it includes.

She has been on my mind a great deal lately. In freshman lit, I teach Dickinson, Robert Frost and Langston Hughes "in context"--in other words, I try to provide some perspective on these poets' influences on literature and life. Over the years, I've gained a deeper appreciation of her complexities--I'm not sure I understand her work any better, but I certainly appreciate the boundaries she set and her rationale for those boundaries. To be a "poet" meant that nearly every other choice had to be rejected. We can see this in such poems as "I'm 'wife' -- I've finished that --"(#199) and "The Soul selects her own Society --" (#303).

Sometimes I wish I could do that--be defined as only one "thing" instead of having to carry all of my identities around with me. Each is important (really, every aspect of our identity is important); it's when they come in conflict that I want to throw up my hands and run (This usually involves a fantasy where I learn to speak fluent Spanish overnight and abscond to Mexico).

The difference, I suppose, is context. In Dickinson's time, women weren't expected to amount to much outside of their families. They were daughters, mothers, wives--the house was their domain (and this has changed how?). These days, we're expected (and, to be truthful, we expect of ourselves) to be masters of all trades inside and outside of the house--brilliant, beautiful, wise, funny, ambitious--able to leap tall buildings, etc. I'm really not complaining; I believe women should have the right to do whatever they choose, whatever suits them. As Virginia Woolf would say, you cannot define "women's work" unless you find out what they are capable of doing.

But, every once in a while, I wish I could, as Emily did, just "[shut] the door." And, sometimes, I do.

Saturday, March 12, 2005


I just set this up and have precious little time to do much with it at the moment. I will be back later to explain the title and introduce myself. But, by way of introduction, here's Fragment 802 from Emily Dickinson:

To ascertain the House
And if the soul's within
And hold the Wick of mine to it
To light, and then return --


I've downloaded all of the student midterms, papers and reading journals that I have received so far. I guess I'll be grading papers all day tomorrow (Sunday), which is usually what I do on Sundays (and Tuesdays and any other day I have a block of time to read critically).

One of my students sent me her Blog address--she keeps her journal on her Blog--so, I thought I'd start one, too. My friends tell me I'm opinionated, though I'm not sure that's required to keep one of these. Maybe "curious" is better for a blog. Anyone can have an opinion; not everyone has curiosity.

I teach composition at a local university (notice I haven't told you where--that's to protect them as well as me!). My ideas are my own, and in no way, shape, or form reflect those of the institution where I teach. I love teaching; I think, if we each have a destiny, that teaching is mine. What I love most about it is seeing the look on students' faces when they finally understand, independent of anything I've said, what they have read. My most wonderful moments are when students crowd around me after class, eager to continue a discussion we've been having--their ideas tumble out, their eyes shine, they're excited. And, every once in a while, I get papers that take the top of my head off--full of profound and studied opinion and observation about a topic on which I briefly touched. When students begin to really think, they begin to really write well, and that's my deepest joy.

I have been teaching at this university for four years. I hope to continue doing this for the rest of my working life. The only profession I'd like more, I think, is as a professional book reader, but I think I'll have to wait until I retire.