Saturday, February 28, 2015

What Bruiser thought.

We're returning from our nightly walk. It has been raining and lightly snowing. The walks are on their way to icy. Up the steps:

The Historian: There you go, Bruiser. What'd you think of that?








Friday, February 27, 2015

Today in sandwiches.

Today, I ordered a sandwich that turned out to potentially be in the running for the longest-to-make sandwich in the history of sandwiches. I'm pretty serious that it might have set some kind of record. I don't know who keeps track of these things, but I'd like to submit the following for the Committee's (there has to be a committee, no?) consideration:

LOCATION: Food court, at my place of employ.
TIME: 11:15 a.m.

I walked into the food court. The Mexican place? closed. Chinese place? too much dubious gelatinous biz. (Actually, I didn't even check the Chinese place--I relied on previous intel.) Pizza? looked heat-lamp scorched and otherwise unattractive. That left the cold case (too much empty shelves of nothing), the grill (#deepfatfried), and the sandwich place. So I decided to order a sandwich.

"Is this where you order?" I asked the young counter worker. Wordlessly, she slid a laminated order card and a grease pencil toward me.

I ordered a sandwich with the following specs:

  • half
  • wheat bread
  • toasted
  • pesto mayo
  • BLT with
  • cucumbers and pickles
Also: a bag of barbecue potato chips, in homage to the days when, in junior high, I used to start to salivate like Pavlov's dog in contemplation of the 
  • white grease paper wrapped hamburger with 
  • pickles on it, which happened to be hot,
  • chocolate shake (oh! chocolate shake as a beverage, what halcyon days!), and
  • bag of BBQ potato chips,
which remains one of the Platonic ideals of a lunch for me. For everyone, probably, I'm thinking.

Back to my sandwich: and then I paid, and I stood back to wait. Bag of barbecue potato chips in hand. I happened to note a guy who was studying his cell phone with grave intent. He had been waiting since before I stepped up to the ordering place. Why didn't I bring *my* cell phone?

I opened my bag of barbecue potato chips. The sandwich maker seemed to be approaching his work with a certain spaciousness. Spaciness, really. He'd study the laminated order card. Then he'd look up, as if perhaps someone were surveilling him. As, I suppose, in fact I was. Then he'd look down and--I'm not joking--look at the order card again. Maybe he'd put a little scoop of tuna salad on a slice of marble rye. Look up, check out the surveillance team (me, cell phone guy), and put some lettuce and maybe a couple slices of tomato on a small piece of white paper. 

This very leisurely pace of work caused me to reflect. I had not gathered, from the perfectly unbusy sandwich place, that there might have been an unmade sandwich pileup happening. Cell phone guy and me, I thought. But no. After about seven minutes of rather desultory sandwich making, the tuna sandwich was leveled into a plastic container and out of nowhere, another guy slid over to the end of the bar and picked it up. As if he had been waiting elsewhere. Probably in a "While You Wait for Your Sandwich Lounge," available exclusively to an A-List of which I was clearly not a part. Not the cell phone guy, either. 

I thought to myself, I can be calm. I can be patient. Which I was, for three more minutes. Then, I walked over to the counter and said, calm as all hell, "So what's the situation here? How are things coming?" As if, somehow, it would have been rude to say, MAY I HAVE MY SANDWICH PLEASE? 

Well, that would have been rude, surely. The young woman looked at the small row of order cards. She looked back at me. She pointed to the one second to her left (my right), and said, "Yours is next after that one."

I stepped back with the cell phone guy. I leaned up against a pillar and ate some barbecue potato chips like it was my job, or more realistically, like they were my lunch, which, in fact they were, at least until my sandwich came into being.

I watched the guy in the cap--sandwich guy--slap some heaven-knows-what on a slice of bread, then lay that bread on a griddle. Ah, "toasted." Young counterwoman assembled the lettuce-tomato-pickle etc. combo on a small piece of white paper. Another sandwich got made in a very leisurely and squirrelly fashion (to wit: young man performed one sandwich-related operation, looked up, checked out the surveillance, adjusted his cap, resumed the next sandwich-related operation). A few minutes or a half hour later, who could tell when time moves this slowly? the young man placed this sandwich in a plastic container and said, "Cell phone guy?"

Cell phone guy stepped forward and took his sandwich with no air of surprise or drama or sigh of complaint. None whatsoever. It was like this was how things were, and always had been and no doubt always would be, here in Sandwich-ville, the slowest place on earth. I resumed my lean against the pillar and ate some more barbecue potato chips.

It will not surprise you, the people, to know that my barbecue potato chips were long gone by the time my sandwich finally made it into its plastic coffin. "Megastore?" the sandwich guy said.

I stepped forward and he looked up at me with the friendliest smile ever. It became clear: he was a sandwich artist, this was obvious, and not some bread-slapping, pickle-mongering hack, and art cannot be rushed nor robotized. 

"Would you like some broccoli salad?" he asked, politely, pointing to several petite plastic containers.

Reader, I took some broccoli salad, and walked the sandwich back to my office where I ate it with relish, and where it perfumed my work for the rest of the afternoon. I should have taken a picture, but I really couldn't--I was starving, and I had a sandwich to eat. And it was damned good.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tiny everyday treasure hunt.

Today I was preparing to read, with my students, Muriel Rukeyser's sequence The Book of the Dead, which was based on the Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster, in which hundreds of miners were sickened and died due to silicosis. As I was preparing, I looked up, to remind myself, the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, which (you may already know this--I didn't, or had forgotten--) in Egyptian probably meant, literally, something more like the book of emerging forth into the light or book of coming forth by day. This book was composed by many priests over the course of a millennium, and was, in fact, not really a book so much as a series of texts that, over time, comprised a whole funerary tradition, texts and spells taken into the sarcophagus with the dead to guide them on their passage through the underworld.

While I was reading this, scanning and scrolling, I happened upon this fact: the text was written in both hieroglyphic and hieratic script. Hieratic script? I said to myself, because (a) I happened to know the meaning of this word, or at least I thought I did--I used it in a poem once, and at that point I knew what it meant--and (b) I did not know it was a form of writing.

It turns out that--among other things--hieratic writing was generally priestly, and also more cursive than hieroglyphs. To wit:

from Ancient Scripts














The top row is the hieratic--the bottom is the hieroglyphic.

Cursiveness is the degree of joined-ness or connected-ness in the elements of the script. The more connected, the more cursive. Cursive is by definition quicker than print, and hieratic was quicker to write than hieroglyphics, although it's clear that the hieratic signs still referred strongly to the hieroglyphs.

One time I saw an exhibit of Japanese calligraphic works in the Ando Gallery at the Chicago Art Institute. I love this space. I've been there a number of times. It's cool and dark and quiet, ideally anyway--often enough, for a public space like a museum.


The ink strokes on some of the pieces were so thick and bold, there was barely a lightening or lifting of the the brush. The characters connected by joints or tendrils of ink.



I was surprised then, too, to discover that there was such a thing as a cursive style of calligraphic Japanese writing. Similarly, the pages from the books of Persian schoolboys, who practiced their slanting strokes in row upon row, just as I practiced the loops above and below the line on my school girl's paper:



I loved these Persian practice pages so much (I've looked, but can't find the images that I saw back then) that I wrote a poem about then, a poem about cursive writing, a few years ago. I recently took this poem out of my newest manuscript, but now, I'm thinking I'm going to work on it some more. I think it might still have something to say to me--something about writing itself, the ways that these scripts are spells for the journey.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

On anger.

I heard a lecture yesterday by a Native American historian. His subject was the colonization of indigenous peoples' land, and the potential decolonization of them. As he ended, he talked about solitude, anger, and patience, using the example of a person waiting at a light in a car, and the impatience that simmers in the waiting.

He contrasted this--I think this is fair to say--with a native attitude of patience and waiting in the moment, without irritation or hurry. He showed a slide, his final slide, of a sunrise, and said that he always ended this way, with an image of the sunrise, because each day, a person could wake to that light, make promises to the day, and that these would be in the form of prayer.

I have been thinking about this ever since. Thinking of how, say, when I am alone, driving, I often give voice to impatient, harsh words, addressed to the drivers around me, or even to myself. Tonight, for instance. I was in the turning lane, turning south. A car in the next lane hastily pulled in front of me, cut across my lane, hurtled across the path of my moving car, to turn left before me. It was a dangerous thing to have done--perhaps not done deliberately, but mindlessly. I followed, turning, soft curses on my tongue. I thought again: quick to wrath.

In my dealings with people present around me, I am not usually quick to wrath. Or if I am, when my temper rises, I almost always apologize, and quickly. I don't like living with lingering anger and its consequences as my companions.

But in my passages from here to there, when I am alone, the angry source of these words are my medium.

I want to not live in haste, in temper, in quick anger.

I like the idea of beginning the day the way the lecturer described, with a promise to the day that is a prayer. I want to wake and have that prayer be my first thought, and be reminded of it during the day.

I wonder how long I would need to practice that kind of steadiness, compassion, patience to have it become my nature. If it ever could.

Also, I wonder if I will ever manage to wake up at sunrise, and that's the truth.

Hurry is an antagonist of this. Not enough sleep, too much worry, too many things to do. But it's also, clearly, a habit, a reaction and not a response.

We draw upon the languages we're given, but also the languages we cultivate. I want to cultivate new languages. This is only one of them, but it seems like a good place to start.




Tuesday, February 24, 2015

In the middle of the middle.

Week seven of the semester is actually almost half way. Almost. Halfway is such a nice word. Halfway is when you reach minute twenty of a forty minute stint on the treadmill (divisible by five, four, two, ten) (and one). Halfway is when you've done six of your twelve-in-a-row consultations with students. Halfway is, regrettably, when you've eaten your ice cream cone to the point where the ice cream is level with the cone (this is a judgement call, but this is, after all, my blog).

However: halfway also means

  • grading all  the revisions, even the ones that haven't yet been drafted
  • reading and ranking all the job applications
  • planning 80% of the five year program review
  • going to an as yet undefined number of curriculum committee meetings
  • writing two conference presentations
  • finishing several tenure reviews
and so on.

Between now and the end, I will do all of the above--all of it, there's no way round but through--and I will also
  • go to Tampa
  • go to Minneapolis (and the Walker Art Center, yo!)
  • keep teaching my wonderful, unpredictable students, and in the process
  • read more poetry, theirs and others'
  • watch more light materialize every single day
  • see tulips and daffodils bloom in my yard
  • watch the rose bushes come into leaf
  • catch the lilacs blooming
and maybe I will
  • read a few books, God willing,
  • write a few poems,
  • etc.
I was feeling overwhelmed when I started all this bulleting and right now I feel quite a bit better. That's because I'm just about to 
  • go to bed. Which I hope I'll do 
  • a lot of in the next seven or eight weeks.

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