Saturday, May 1

seasons, dark and light

sleeplessly wrapped myself in a fleece blanket and sat outside under the sunrise early today. I greeted this May Saturday in pajamas, without my glasses, before it was even fully day. 

the nights now are not quite cold. it is time for leaving the windows open while we sleep.

if we sleep. 

I might still need a few weeks more of semi-hibernation. early bedtimes to counterbalance the way the waking glow of dawn pulls on me at 5.45am. 

it feels like I'm getting old. 

summer means long days. sometimes that is glorious and sometimes it's exhausting. last night I opened my paper journal (this year's is pastel green, with a scripture about gratitude embossed in cheap, flaking faux-leather) and wrote the date, April 30, only to realize I had written the same date that morning, above a few lines scribbled about our indulgent and lovely anniversary datenight up in the mountains last Wednesday.  

and it's only barely mid-spring. the solstice is months away. 

longer days are coming. 

sleepless or not, I'm grateful for open windows and sunshine and time. may I use plenty of these days for rest and just enough of them for making things happen. 

Tuesday, March 30

springtime words

not very long ago at all I actually stopped and read this poem, "Optimism" by Jane Hirschfield, posted ephemerally somewhere somehow by the instagram account Poetry is Not a Luxury

it is a poem from a collection published in 2005. not very long ago at all. so it isn't in the public domain, or anywhere close, and so I haven't copied it in full for this post.

but I will write out a meandering ode to what I thought about when I read it + what I am still thinking about.

and what I want to remember about it.

it is difficult to explain what's lovely about a poem. is there a truly effective way to make you see or feel the same satisfying resonance or resonant satisfaction that I felt when I read it, or reread it? doubtful, given that even just recalling what it was like to catch myself reading this poem for the first time seems pretty impossible.

part of it is in the journey-- simple, with a first-person subject and her point of view in flux. her admiration evolving. and we get a collection of sturdy nouns as an anchor along the way: resilience, resistance, tenacity, intelligence, persistence.

I'm reminded of friend Trinity once talking with me about the merits of resilient as an alternative to the buzzier buzz-word sustainable. what's the point of something sustainable if it won't resist or withstand a few worst case scenarios? sustaining a system in good times isn't the same at all of sustaining it through a disaster. so we need some more words to talk about more possibilities.

speaking of contrasts, this poem gives us pillows vs. trees. 

the stubbornness of a same shape over and over vs. the sinuous tenacity of remolding yourself to follow the brightest light, wherever you find it

these words. the journey of them.

you can see the pillow, its impermanent dents. perhaps that resistance is worth admiring sometimes too.

and you can see the tree, green and pliant, with branches reaching, shadows falling in its way. 

some part of me, finding herself somehow pausing long enough, focused enough, to let these words in properly-- she relates to the tree, to the feeling of being forced to cast around for different light.

and then the beautiful ending. the contrasting conjunction that breaks down any fear we might have about our blindness preventing any growth.

"But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers, / mitochondria, figs – all this resinous, unretractable earth."

these words. the tip tapping -ence, -ance, -acity of those nouns, and the -ome, -oam, -uous, -ose, -ous, and -able. the sounds of them and the feel of them.

the words in this order like this evoke so much hope even without the title tying a neat bow around that authorial intent. the hope of small turns, motivated by whatever subtle senses we may or may not understand, leading steadily to so much wild and undeniable beauty.

it feels almost like I've just written some kind of literary analysis of this poem. maybe a third of one, or something. I did not grow up to be a literary scholar, so a third of an analysis is probably just fine.

spring tree branches against blue sky

in other news:

we painted some of the walls of our new house a few weeks ago.

oh yeah-- we bought a house. it feels so very grown-up of us to have done such a thing.

next exciting house project: patio furniture.

I am excited for the end of spring semester. for consistently warmer weather and more time to be outside, to sleep, and to read whatever I want. our new nearest public library looks awesome (though its fairly basic clunky website does not quite match, I must say). it has a little cafe, open 7am - 3pm, and I really hope I can arrange my life in a way that allows a few future mornings here and there sitting with books and notebooks and tea in a library cafe. what could be better than that?

Monday, February 8

early February, now and then

maple leaf, portraits, scribbles

yesterday, on a lark I looked at the date and trawled through my blogpost archive to find all the posts that just happened to be posted on February 7.

there are three:

an untitled Sunday scribbling from 2010.

reflections on who a person is or isn't after they run 5 whole kilometers for the first time (2012).

and these twice(now thrice?)-framed and re-framed ramblings about who a person is or isn't after dying their hair for the first time (2013/2004).

are there coincidences here? a theme of identity and the capacity for novel experience to encroach interestingly upon it. 

while I meandered through this blog archive timewarp (knowing I wouldn't write the rest of this until Monday) I also checked for old posts from today's date, February 8:

a meditation on parts of ourselves that are unknown, occasioned by a book and one verse of a hymn (2011).

and this "nostalgic little rant" about how we store old media and what to do with old dreams (2007). 

so?

present and past and future selves. all of them fluid, none of them ever fully left behind. 

and who am I this week? the sixth full week of this sixteenth year of blogging here? 

I am doing a little bit of yoga every day, pondering what it really means to have a good relationship with my own breath. the snow of late January is mostly melted. teaching and teaching prep are taking up the bulk of my days. our pugs still want to hibernate some mornings. we are soon to be buying a house, and the land under it, which seems both like a very weird, half-unthinkable but simultaneously perfectly logical, sensible life decision. 

what will owning this sliver of earth with a house on it mean for the selves we become over the rest of the year? 

I hope it means more time reading and writing outside on the back patio. I hope it means lovely neighbors and a quiet cul-de-sac. it will mean more responsibility and more space. more food storage, more crafts, more plants! more making. more stargazing. more driving for me but somewhat less for Jeremiah. 

and a lovely ancient volcanic hill down the road for both long and short hikes.

Friday, January 29

I, pedagogue (spring semester, 2021)

back in the day, I thought I'd never want to teach. and then I realized that in some ways, everything everyone does can involve a layer of teaching somehow. even if it's a very subtle one.

even still, for these past seven years of wading deeper and deeper into teaching college writing classes of various kinds, the real practice of teaching (with all the planning and record-keeping and decision-making and performing and grading and authority-wielding it typically requires) has not often been my favorite part of academia. it's fine. but it's hard. and I never feel very good at it, so it simply can't be as naturally rewarding as all the other corners of academia where I feel far more skilled.

for better or for worse, my two full-time assistant professor jobs so far have been quite teachingcentric. twelve credit hours of teaching every semester, plus a few during summer semesters, until this year. dozens and dozens of students show up in August or January or June for whichever iteration of professional writing I'm teaching this time, working and sharing and hopefully learning, and then they disappear again.

this year, I have one course release for being brand new in town. it gives me a chance to get used to things a bit.

they also gave all the new faculty a copy of the book What the Best College Teachers Do, by Ken Bain. a few colleagues and I read through it together last fall semester and talked about ways to apply the findings in our own classrooms.

the book and our little faculty discussion group made me think much more intensely about my teaching than I've cared to thus far. it also gave me some concrete hope that maybe I can become better at this thing I don't feel very expert in at all. 

so. what am I trying to do a little better this spring? what have I begun to internalize from Bain's research?

possibly more things than I can articulate very well in a little blogpost. but here are a few:

> talk about your own learning journey with students. model or reenact the kinds of transformation you hope that they will undergo as a result of your class.

> trust students and treat them like whole humans with a million shifting priorities, just like you. this is something I already knew and practice decently, I think. but I took particular comfort in it this past year. my course is a small droplet in the ocean of everything these students are trying to learn and become. if my teaching isn't perfect, they probably won't notice or remember for too long.

> ask students big, meaningful, authentic questions--the kinds of questions that professionals in your field will ask and try to answer. (this is particularly tricky in writing because writing, for most people, in most important contexts, isn't very often about itself. its actual subject is the everything else that we write and communicate about.)

I think I do pretty well being authentic and open and compassionate as a teacher. but I have been guilty in the past of assuming students could never be all that interested in the big questions that I study. we don't have time for that, do we? especially at a fancy aeronautical university where nobody is an English major and everyone mainly wants to design or build or test or fly airplanes and other such contraptions-- how could any of those students care about a communications course?

but if Bain is to be believed, the enthusiasm of a teacher combined with the sparks of a big, meaningful question can draw students in, motivate them a little, even if they didn't think they'd care very much about a communications course. 

and I can be good at questions, surely. 

especially big ones! like: how do you know what anyone means? how do you know what anyone else thinks you mean? how people really ever understand each other enough to make good things happen in the world? and what does it mean to read? to write? or to do those things effectively?

the trick now becomes figuring out how much time to spend getting philosophical about definitions inbetween all the more "practical" work of practicing reading and writing and revising and all that. I still think students learn most from doing things, more than they can from reading about things or discussing them or whatnot.

but anyway, I added this little linguistics video to my list of assigned readings. I opened the first day of class reading from Celeste Headlee's book We Need to Talk, which recounts the tragedy of an ineffective conversation in an airplane cockpit. in technical writing we spent the first day exploring informal crowdsourced technical descriptions on Reddit.

and when I listened to this recent episode of So Many Damn Books with George Saunders I felt more affinity for Saunders's love of teaching writing than perhaps I might once have felt. his advice is to remember that you're never just teaching 20-somethings who barely know what to do with their adulthood when you meet them-- you're also teaching the 40-something-year-olds that they'll become. I like that. (not all college students are 20-somethings, but the concept holds. we are all humans-in-progress.)

maybe I'll go back and give the Pedagogue podcast another chance, too, now that I feel more hopeful and less grumbly about this whole teaching business.

Tuesday, December 29

wintery mix

yesterday it snowed for hours.

so we opened the blinds and pulled aside our gauzy curtain to watch the flurry of sparkly white magic blow around in the chaotic winds. every texture of snow was represented-- icy shards of sleet, tiny flakes of snow-dust, and cottony pea-sized puffballs. it was mesmerizing.

on our after-dinner walk last night, we admired the pink sunset light glinting off the corners of windows in houses across the gully. all the cleanly snow-covered rooftops gave the suburban landscape a seasonal uniformity, and the smooth swathes of rosy, opalescent clouds glowing above it all made for a highly dramatic, majestic backdrop. everyone we saw on that walk was taking a photo of the sky: the neighbor with his two larger dogs paused at the end of the parking lot to document the loveliness; a woman on a third-floor balcony in the next building leaned out with her phone to capture the perfect light.

after months and months with a mere handful of days with any precipitation at all, this afternoon of winter was wholeheartedly welcome. despite all the blustering wind, I wanted to walk around in it all evening. only the older pug's protestations prevented this. Wesley hates these cold, cold days.

thankfully, our little layer of snow is still around (though as the Tuesday morning grey fades into the brightness of afternoon, I'm sure it will all melt away before long). thismorning the clouds to the north lengthened themselves into perfect ridges, like the tips of a heavenly mountain range. to the east the sky seemed to be auditioning for a role in a Bob Ross painting-- everything blended back into soft smoothness. 

the snow-dust and puffballs, for now, are plastered evenly around the west-facing sides of the tree trunks, draped over eaves and ledges and windowsills like thick frosting, and clumped in the leaves and needles of all the shrubbery. my inner child imagines all this fallen snow as lost and scattered fairy-pearls, broken free from their settings and necklace strings, blown frivolously into our world from some other enchanted dimension. while they're here-- before they melt back into magic-- we can shake them out of the trees, into the cold grey sky, onto our hatted heads. we can dent the clumps and layers of them with our footprints and fingerprints. most of all, we can inhale all the serene beauty that the whiteness has added to these days at end of the year.

maybe it will snow again this week. the weather channel gives it a 5% chance.

Monday, December 21

deep solstice

it has been almost three years since I last joined a public yoga practice. that's kind of a long time. but also not that long.

I have gotten emails from that downtown yoga studio, Sunshine Yoga, in the meantime. pointless emails, but at least they were not overwhelmingly spam-esque.

there was a yoga studio called Spark in Natchitoches for a moment, but it closed its doors before I could participate. I was sad and a tiny bit angry when that happened. how unfair. what stupid timing.

there are at least fourteen yoga studios here in Prescott, but there is also a pandemic going on.

and so the time since I practiced any good yoga with anyone but my own household stretches longer and longer.

I do still have Yoga with Adriene, thankfully.

and now I also have a weekly yoga church thing, which I joined on strong recommendation from friend Patti.

I met Summer Cushman, the beautiful soul who hosts this event, just once I think-- during a dinner at Black Sparrow at some point during this visit to Indiana. her partner Jeremy Cushman orchestrated my introduction to the graduate program + environs at Purdue that March. 

so for the last three Sunday mornings, I have set aside 90 minutes for a little yoga, a lot of journaling, and a much-needed dose of connection and fellowship. it's over Zoom, which will never quite be the very same thing as an everyone-in-the-same-room-breathing-and-moving-together yoga class, but it is very lovely in its own way. 


{ one of my favorite hand-drawn cards from Christmas 2018 }

yesterday, we turned our journaling and our meditating to the depths of this season. midwinter. cold. darkness. accepting the rhythms of putting down what is ready to die and making room for the new things that might grow when the spring sun comes back. 

we were encouraged the day before to collect and arrange a simple little solstice altar for the occasion. 

mine is still on the coffee table in our cozy front room. I laid out a hand-woven scarf from my mentor Kelli Cargile Cook, a small wrinkly white handkerchief, three candles (one Christmas-scented), two little paper snowflakes, one red jingle bell, a pine cone and various other plant-bits from the walking trails near our apartment.

while I gathered all these things, I kept thinking about silver and gold. I untangled the bell from a long golden ribbon it had been tied to. the twig I picked up is pale, easily imagined like slightly-tarnished silver. the curled leaves look much more obviously golden in real life. and the brilliant embroidery thread of the handkerchief shines a little bit like precious metal. 


I don't remember the rest of the lyrics to the song, other than the basic title: Silver and Gold.

but I like the idea of using whatever we can to brighten some of the darkness this time of year. candles. sparkles. carols. 

during yoga church we came back a few times to a quote from Glennie Kindred. I don't want to merely regurgitate everything from yesterday into a blogpost here, so I'm posting just two snippets:

"...it is important to realize that this festival is not the beginning, in a linear way of looking at things, but a rebirth within a cycle in which the starting point chosen here is part of a vibrant whole. Therefore it is necessary to make a connection to what has gone before.

"Something old must die in order for something new to be reborn. This period of rest and darkness is a vital link in the cycle of life."

linearity vs. non-linearity is a (fittingly) constant source of pondering for me. it seems that the connotation of linear = straight, one-dimensional, confining, constricting. but I know that lines can be curvy and wild, too. a circle is also made of points on a line, sort of. 

it is easy to forget that, though. to make our stories about ourselves into stair-steps that only go one direction. 

yesterday, taking time to remember the bending arcs of things, the out and in, the back and forth-- that was very nice. our starting points and our ending points can be chosen. there can be palpable connections-- whether we make them ourselves or find them waiting for us-- to an infinite, cyclical, beautiful whole in each seemingly-insignificant little moment.

Monday, November 23

sleep and soup and stories

the general if mild exhaustion of this month feels pretty normal by now. but it is Thanksgiving week at last. there shall be time for sleeping more and making art and baking a dozen pies.

okay, maybe only three pies. or a smattering of mini-pies. we shall see.

there are bigger ideas than pie that I want to blog about. will blog about someday. maybe even soon.

on reading and teaching and knowing and goals that involve other people and therefore feel both somewhat easier and a million times more difficult than any other goals might feel. 

on airplanes and writing. believing. or not.

but today the priority is simpler: blogging for its own sake. I know my brain is too tired for blogging about all or any of those big ideas. so for now, this post is about smaller things. or at least about smaller-to-write-about things.

like the sunlight and shadowy air that lap around the hills and ridges about this town. the depth of horizon we get here is an endless source of loveliness.

or like how I've run out of time for making my handdrawn Christmas cards. but maybe I'll rehash one or two into digital ones. or reprints. or something.

what else?

today, apparently, is a new-ish holiday of its own (invented by a 7-year-old New Zealander a few years back). so, happy howly Wolfenoot to all. perhaps I'll give the gift of a bath to our two little pugs, for the occasion.

I'm also thinking about cookie dough. I'll probably make spaghetti and asparagus for dinner in a moment. there is laundry to fold and knitting to knit and a new roleplaying character to draw several increasingly-less-terrible sketches of. (she is a halfling monk with a wild amount of red hair. I named her Juniper Thornbrook, or June to her friends.)

and there are plenty of little bug-monsters to fight, in this rather adorable new to us platformer game.

and reading and writing, too. three library books. a journal/diary five-eighths or more full. two or three teaching notebooks (one for plans, one for grading), a research notebook, a professional service notebook, and various folderfuls of notes (inside my brain and outside of it) on a half-dozen half-told stories.

one month from now I'll be another year closer to being "old," whatever that really means. it'll also be the depths of actual winter. what will the solstice-time hold for us then? hunger and cold, to be counteracted with stories and soup. (speaking of soup, this is my new most favourite soup ever, though we make it with vegetarian meatballs.)

so inbetween baking pies and roasting poultry this week, let us collect some more good soup recipes, stock our brains with good stories + good story ingredients, and make plans for hibernating in as much comfort as we could possibly ever deserve.

Thursday, October 29

masklessness

I stepped out of my old blue car today without my blue cloth facemask on.

the sheer normality of doing such a thing... that normality and all the long-ago memories that come with it all try (and fail) to drown out the thin jolt of not-quite-panic about almost forgetting. it's not quite panic. nothing to panic about. just a deadly contagious respiratory disease, potentially lurking about in the ghostly residue of everyone's breath.

the almost forgetting has only happened one other time. it's usually easy to attend to these rules. face coverings are required at all times on campus. face coverings are incessantly encouraged at the grocery store. and all other stores. 

I only neglected it momentarily, only twice, and nobody noticed, anyway. I just have to duck back into the car, snatch the mask from the dashboard, and wrangle it around my lower face before I walk through the sunny parking lot to shop or to teach, and it's fine.

it's fine. 

this is normal now-- masks all the time.

my primary mask is blue paisley print. I made a few for myself and Jeremiah out of an old spare pillowcase. his has elastic loops for the ears. mine has a stretchy string tie. 

maybe I should invest in some more fashionable mask options. maybe that would make it slightly more fun to wrap one around my face every time I venture out into any of the very few public places I ever go these days.

I can remove my face covering when I'm alone in my office (as I am in this photo showing off my new glasses), as long as the door is closed. 

on the rest of this quaint desert campus, I have not seen a single maskless soul since I was here in January for my job interview. 

...unless you count a student here or a student there who lets their ill-fitting mask droop a little. or a student here or there who is eating or drinking in class and removes their mask for a few minutes to do so. 

at the grocery store, most other shoppers wear masks too. the employees all do. all kinds of shapes and colors and designs. stripes. prints. slogans. solid-colored t-shirt fabric.

it would be creepier if they were government-issued, matching beige or navy or grey masks. if every face were obscured with the exact same shape and color of cloth.

wouldn't it be?

Saturday, October 17

nothing momentous

can these miscellaneous photos become something else if I throw them together in a blogpost today? can they tell a real story or scaffold the lines of a poem?

for me there are wispy old memories inside each one. the past curls up, loose and wriggling, in little mental pockets marked with "autumn 2015" or "July 2016" or "that one conference in Rochester, NY."

but what are they for you? 

evidence? or art? or both? it probably depends on who you are.

plants in a garden. plants on a windowsill.
all in the middle of growing, dying.

or both. 

all of it part of some cycle. up. down.
rainfall, rainbows,
showered on or sheltered from.

or both.

writing or drawing, or both. seeing or listening, or both

being or breathing. 

but not or-- and.

always trying for and.
or failing. 

or both. 

along with the wispy memories, there are deep and unpredictable tides of emotion, too. a longing for the pieces of these pasts that have faded too far. a fear of losing all the people and connections that once felt so close and certain. amusement and nostalgia drizzling from clouds of wonder about why everything feels so impossible.

Saturday, October 10

telling the future

I haven't done this before, ever, in all my years of following the Tournament of Books. but after listening to this episode of So Many Damn Books last week, I thought I'd sit down and force myself to guess.

the left-hand side of the bracket seemed easier, somehow. I've read fewer of the books on that half. but most of them have rather striking reputations. 

Cloud Atlas was sure to win (and it did, as I predicted).

I hoped The Road would lose, mostly out of spite (though I am no fan of the Diaz novel either). Carolyn Kellogg's judgement review yesterday was most refreshing to read. the trickiness of separating art from artist and the ethos and value of each... it will always be tricky, I imagine.   

I am still only halfway through Toni Morrison's A Mercy, and I simply cannot seem to find my way into enjoying Wolf Hall, at least not in ebook form. there is so much beauty in the former. my reading brain keeps getting lost in it. I hope to finish it this weekend, and I suppose I could always amend my predictions once I do... but... given the undeniable popularity of Mantel's historical fiction, sustained even further by the third book's recent release, I expect Wolf Hall to make it at least to the second round. but I could be very wrong! 

as for the right-hand side... I've read all but one of these books by now. I have five more days to devour The Good Lord Bird before it faces The Orphan Master's Son. we'll see if I make it. if all else fails, there is a television series of it now. would it be cheating to watch an episode of that and call it good?

anyway, on this side of the bracket I went with the books I liked the most of each match. it's been a while since I read Station Eleven, but it was so lovely and possibly even more relevant and necessary to the world we have here in 2020 than the world we had in 2014. I think that will give it a good chance.

I left the center championship match slots empty. there is so little chance that my earlier bracket choices are accurate, it seemed far too wild a commitment to guess the final winners.

A Visit from the Goon Squad I've read too recently. the zombie system of this particular tournament is so unlike the usual system. I haven't read Freedom (though I remember enjoying Franzen in small doses, way back). All the Light We Cannot See was lovely also, but I don't think it has quite enough depth to overcome its old rival.

what is the outcome I'm hoping for?

do I want Station Eleven to win? 

yes.  

.


postscript
it feels like I ought to update my notes from my last Tournament of Books post, so here I go:

The Accidental, by Ali Smith
the climax here was somehow given the perfect shape and balance-- not too dramatic, not underwhelming, strange and unexpected, but not unbelievable. the ending itself felt a little stretched and more ambiguous than it needed to be, I thought. (my goodreads review here)

A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
I loved how this starts out. and then the third section came out of nowhere, shaking down everything I thought I'd be getting from the story. it unwinds from there like... like... I can't even figure out a good metaphor. the main 2011 tournament judge described it as scaffolding. in some ways, the structure echoes Cloud Atlas, but not.

The Sellout, Paul Beatty
I am still not sure that I am a person who is supposed to understand everything in this book. it's a lot. it's impressive in just how dense and rich all the writing is. but it's a lot. (my goodreads review here)

A Mercy, by Toni Morrison
I mentioned the beauty in this book already. it's a beauty that feels half-hidden. blurry, somehow. I must admit, my reading attention is currently split (quite unevenly) between this book and the audio version of Hank Green's new book, so that may be one reason I don't feel like I'm fully appreciating the former.

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
the world of this book is painted so gorgeously vivid. the journey the main character takes is so long, so fraught, but somehow steady and full of optimism.

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
so many people like this book so much. I thought I'd like it too, at least as much as I like reading most books, but the sudden drastic time jump away from Thomas Cromwell's youth kinda lost me. hopefully I'll get back to it someday and give it another chance, when I don't have to read it on my phone.  

The Good Lord Bird, James McBride
still waiting to get past page 3 of this one, so far. I think I was feeling overloaded on narratives with slavery in them after The Sellout and Underground Railroad, so I had to set it down.