Tuesday, May 26, 2015


I had the best day.

First of all, I woke up and the pink roses outside my window arched along their thorny boughs in their full extravagance. Second, I made oatmeal and read the paper. Third, the house was quiet as I contemplated my day. I already had a plan, but I still had time to contemplate it. That's actually the fourth thing: a plan, and time to contemplate it.

I went to school (i.e., work), but first I went to Target (the sixth good thing). My plan, the one I had already made and then contemplated, was to finish printing the full edition of my class's publication. I had six or seven broadsides from each student that had not been through the etching press, and thus had no monoprint upon it. Because the semester (at least for English classes) has not yet started, I knew, or hoped, that the Publication Center would be mostly quiet, and that I would be able to print in that quiet.

Let me pause to say that I have not ever printed all by myself on the etching press. We got that etching press last summer, and it is a beauty, and I have printed with my colleague the inestimable Kat Allred, but I have not done it all by myself. But I really think that, with things like this, you need to have a solo adventure, first of all to summon up and practice what you actually do know how to do, and second, to recognize where you still need to learn.

I got there, and I was right: mostly quiet, mostly alone in the Center. So I began. I retrieved the broadsides with words but no images from my office. I retrieved the linocuts that would be the matrices for the monoprinting. I got out the inking plate and the ink, the brayer and the knife. I summoned up the spirit of Kat and I squeezed some ink--not too much--on the plate. I used the knife to spread the ink so that it was even, then more even, and then I used the brayer to make sure the ink was in a thin, thin layer.

I planned out how to make four prints at a time, using four different matrices on four different broadsides. I worked my way through six or seven prints of each broadside, then moved/changed the matrices on the press bed.

The ink I used was Calico, Process Blue. It is an indescribably beautiful blue. As I used it, I learned what this ink looks like, and what the subsequent print looks like, when there is slightly too much (very blue, deep deep indigo, and a little blurry), and what it looks like when there is slightly too little (a gorgeous cobalt, a little faded around the edges). I also saw what it looked like when I had just the right amount of ink (perfect).

I made a little over a hundred prints today. I felt my amateurism as I was making them. I felt myself learning. Outside the tall windows of the Center, I could see rain falling. I fell into the spell of that blue and I washed my hands many times with blue soap, to remove the traces of the ink on my skin. Then I started again to take the tattoo of the amateur printer, blue spots on fingertips, as I moved the words to face their inked matrices, turned the crank, the cylinder rolling over it all, and lifted the pages, a little tacky, from their ineffable blue pictures.

Monday, May 25, 2015


I hate to say it, but on our way down to Arizona, I kind of had a small tantrum at the airport.

Let me diagram it for you. Because I had my reasons.

1. What is the point of checking in online and printing one's boarding passes from home if you just have to check in again at the kiosk at the airport? I ask you.

2. Why are the passable restaurants and food purveyors always not sited at the concourse from which one's flight departs?

3. Other minor issues that are, in fact, too petty to mention.

Of course, in the end, we arrived, the airport traumas are behind us (BUT NOT FORGOTTEN!), and that was that.

However, today, on our way out of Arizona, at Sky Harbor International Airport, I was happily surprised to find all sorts of nice things:

  • An artsy gift shop that had, among other things, robots made out of recycled materials. "So it's environmentally sustainable," said the clerk.

  • Art installations, like this one, of cyanotype prints sewn into clothing:

  • even a little gallery, which had some pretty great stuff:

Also, the security line was quick and untraumatic. And I found a salad called "Big Fancy Salad" at a restaurant on my concourse that was pretty darn good, including the fact that it had delicious, delicious cannelini beans. 

Still an airport, but as airports go, the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport made me hate airports just a little less today. In the end, I kept my airport tantrum tucked away for the next time an airport fills me with rage. 

The Sundays.

We have had the best time here, some of it constructed out of little contingencies. This happens when you're visiting over a series of days--you may think you have your days planned, or at least a rough outline of activities, but things change, things happen, stuff you didn't expect becomes part of the architecture of the visit.

Today, I had a lovely, on the fly breakfast visit with a friend who lives in Tempe. I wasn't sure it would fit, but it did, and for a couple of hours, we talked about teaching writing and the ways we were each thinking about genre and assignment design. It was perfect, including the fact that we ate breakfast.

While I was gone, everyone else went to a park, except for my son, who had a church meeting. When I got home, after driving around Tempe

[see above for map of how I navigated Tempe, before I found my way home after a couple of corrective phone calls]

it was time for everyone to eat lunch and to don their church togs and then, in fact, to go to church. I like going to church with my kids. It reminds me of when they were younger and things were different. Anyway, we went, listened to an interesting if desultory sermon, and my son and I chatted in the foyer.

After church: what to make for dinner? What to make for dinner is the ultimate contingent decision. Even when you've just gone shopping, maybe the dinner solution is not apparent. Luckily, soft tacos. After that: feed the chinchillas. Yes, chinchillas: friends who have two pet chinchillas were out of town, and my son and family were doing the caretaking duties. In case you want to know, chinchillas have a diet of chinchilla-specific food pellets, straw of some sort, and lettuce.

Then, because it was the end of a church-y day, and therefore the kids needed to run off some energy, we went to a park and played soccer. The light was beautiful and the weather, just as it has been the whole time we've been here, was perfect.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Errands & a plan.

I am big on the idea of a plan, as readers of this blog may remember. I am also a believer in the notion of a routine. It's like a mini-, quasi-religion with me, and especially in the summer time.

The following is a reenactment of my mental state, come summertime:

Me, speaking to myself, silently. In my brain: Okay. First of all, what is my plan? What are my goals? How many weeks are there in the summer? How many have I already spent doing nothing, or finishing my grades, or taking naps? Speaking of naps: I want a nap to be a part of my routine. Like, daily? Maybe daily is too much. A 45 minute nap wouldn't be too much. Also, I want to work out. Beginning of the day? end of the day? Why am I thinking about working out, when the most important thing of allll is writing? I want to write every day. Even a little bit every day. How much is a little bit? Is 45 minutes a day too little? That seems like too little for the most important thing of alllll. Okay, 3 hours. Every day, three hours, or sometimes a little less. So: when should I write and when should I work out? Also, I want to cook every day. Also, I want to organize all my books.

It gets a little crazy up in there.

One of my plans/goals/agendas for coming down to talk to my son about his plans/goals/agendas. Not that he needs my help, realistically. I just feel better knowing everyone's plans/goals/agendas. Seriously: like everyone's.

Reenactment of my mental state about everyone's plans/goals/agendas:

Me, speaking to myself, silently. In my brain: I just want to know everyone's plans/goals/agendas. It will help me sleep at night. Is this so much to ask? (insert extra question marks, for emphasis.)

As you can imagine, I don't get nearly the amount of plans/goals/agendas, submitted for my database, as I would like. But it's also true that, from time to time, I have to remind myself that, while a certain amount of planning and goal-setting and agenda-making is useful and healthy, a lot more flexibility, looseness, roll-with-it ease is even more useful and more healthy.

Today we walked around Tempe Town Lake, where we saw a heron, a bunch of ducks and duck-like birds as well as what seemed like an enormous hawk flying overhead. Also, we got buzzed by a rogue ensemble of irritated bees, which caused us to flee from a shelter where we had been briefly sitting. We--seriously--called the cops on these insects, because my son, no bee-hater, informed me that there is some situation with the bees at ASU. I wasn't quite clear on this, but the dispatcher didn't seem to think this was a joke. A few minutes after the call, some officials came by to check the bee situation out. We weren't nearby, so I can't report what the discussion was like, but I imagine a little something like this:

Reenactment of the bee cops, examining the bee situation:

Bee cops, talking to each other: These bees seem pissed. Better back away. I'm putting up the 'Angry Bees: Beware!' sign right...here. [flees]

I realize I'm talking a lot about bees. Our encounter was actually quite brief. But we took another route, we retraced our steps across the bridge. We threw some stones into the lake. And our day ended up pretty great, with sandwiches and, later, really delicious Middle Eastern food, and stories at bedtime, all agendas and plans and goals and angry bees aside.

Friday, May 22, 2015


Here in Tempe, the schools are out this week. One of my grandsons' school was out on Wednesday. The other's last day was today, and his mother, my daughter-in-law, who is a first-grade teacher, also had her last day today.

We went to pick the school boy up. His mom the teacher would stay a little longer to finish putting away her classroom for the year. Children were lined up for the bus and saying goodbye to each other and their teachers. I saw a few kids who looked like they'd shed a few tears.

Putting away the school year, for a teacher, is such an enormously freeing feeling. My oldest friend, who is also a teacher, has said that she needs to have a day or two to curl into a fetal position and cry, releasing herself, and then the summer can start. I remember--as if it were only yesterday, or two weeks ago!--when I woke up the day after having posted my grades. I checked my online course spaces a little nervously, once, twice--and then, at once, I felt like it was over, it was finished, and everything else could begin.

We got celebratory snacks, played Mario Bros. (you guys, I am the worst.), then went out to dinner. After that, we went to the movie in the park. Everyone was in such a good mood. People chatted throughout. My grandson wanted to discuss the reality--or rather, the non-reality--of mermaids. (The park movie was The Little Mermaid.)

"They would have to breathe underwater forever, and that just wouldn't work," he explained to me, with some intensity.

"What if they had gills, though?" I asked.
"That's not happening," he said. Very decisive. He had issued a science ruling on the matter, and that was that.
Even so, in our little park territory, it was a singalong Little Mermaid. Some of us knew all, or almost all, the words.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Often, in May, we've found ourselves in Scotland. We've worked it out so that we can leave as soon as our school is out. This year, my daughter in Scotland is doing training to be able to teach in Scottish elementary schools, and is currently placed in a school for the whole month.
What this means is that the order of things to which I've become accustomed is upended. I'd like to be able to tell you that I didn't pout about this for a minute or a few weeks. Just like, having had some successes, big ones, come my way poetry-wise doesn't mean that this morning when I was sending off groups of poems to magazines I wasn't gripped with feelings of unworthiness, cynicism, and maybe even nihilism. Poetry-wise.
Well, these things come and go. But right now I am feeling so many compensatory joys: the aforementioned successes can be brought back to a grateful mind. Also, the roses are in bloom, and iris. Often, when we return from Scotland at the end of May, the first bloom of plenty of things is almost concluded. This year, we're here to enjoy it.
We're in Tempe, having just arrived, for a visit with my son and his family. My daughter is having a baby soon, and I'll be here to snuggle her and help out a little or a lot. I got to take her and little Gwen to buy an advanced wrappy-thingie that will make holding the baby close while still doing this or that much more possible, and while we were at it, we bought a berry-flavored Refresher at Starbucks for the road.
And I've been able to work on my manuscript, and I just got the first look at the cover and layout of my book.
So: joys. You just have to let go of your pout and your anxiety enough to see them.



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