Thursday, March 31, 2005
Unlike many conferences I've attended, presenters here make no conference-y dress up parade. Blue jeans, sweaters, fleece vests, long scarves. Alistair McLeod is reading tonight--I'm debating about whether to go. Tomorrow, however, Michael Ondaatje. I should add In the Skin of a Lion to my favorite books list (also The English Patient but who can stand the mocking?). On Saturday p.m., Anne Carson and W.S. Merwin are reading--at the same time my flight leaves. I'll have to investigate the cost of extending my stay.
Rainy in Vancouver
For the first time since I was a little girl, I own an umbrella.
My main comment about this is grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. I'm wearing the same clothes I wore yesterday, when I spent 19 hours in airports as a result of United Airlines delayed flight out of SLC (crew delay, their fault). I feel irritated, sweaty, grimy, and "knife-ish," a wod my son invented in an Arby's after his soccer team lost a championship game. Yes, knife-ish.
. . . on helping students to develop as critical readers of their own and their peers' work. This relates, of course, to my work as a compositionist as well. It occurred to me that way you need is to unbundle, as the IT folks might say, the critical task to see what the discrete activities are of critical reading. Then, you need to retool response activities to reflect these critical reading activities. I got some really good ideas for this, which I'll formulate and disseminate later.
That's all for now. If you're a prayer, pray that my bag will be found in time for me to wear new clothes tomorrow.
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Just so you know, I'll be attempting to blog from Vancouver, B.C., where I'll be attending AWP. I'll hope to send you updates with serious poetry gossip. Not that I'm one of the "ins" in this incestuous, corrupt world of poets. And not that I'm bitter either. Anyway, and anyhow, and in any case, check out this space for possible po-biz slander. At least I'll be able to tell you what the literati are wearing.
Sunday, March 27, 2005
Saturday, March 26, 2005
of the you-know-who to those other guys. A friend, who is more philosophical about these things, said he thought they played well, it was a competitive game . . . I just hate it when those
dynasty schools prevail, supporting all the conventional wisdom and the "curse" ideology. There was a great post on Slate.com about teams in the tournament that we all hate, and this dynasty school was one of them--in large part because of their famous fan, Ashley Judd.
Anyway, last night's loss, combined with a certain Russian breaking his wrist the other night in yet another squeaky loss against the Wizards--the Wizards!--I might be done with basketball this year altogether. Or not--all it takes is a win to turn such fatalism around. I'll just have to engage in "light viewing"--only letting my mind settle peripherally on the game at hand, so that if it starts to go badly, my thoughts can just fly away.
Thursday, March 24, 2005
I am in a funk. I still have half of my portfolios to respond to, the ones I should have graded when I was on spring break, plus my online students really, really need my attention. But what I really want is to go shopping. Either that or watch the O.C. Please, Lisa, help me to sort out my priorities.
Deadly Sinner (sloth)
Advice Columnist A (LisaLand) Responds:
Dear Deadly Sloth,
Think of shopping as a reward for the enormous and humane effort you're expending. You offer a valuable, humane service to your students. Think of them: they need you, they need your humane feedback. As writers, their lives will not be complete without you, humane you and your feedback. Don't think of your aching wrist, your incipient humane carpal tunnel syndrome. Respond, respond as if the humane future of the humane human race depended humanely upon it. Then, by all means, yes: buy yourself that little humane trinket you covet. Because of the great service you so unselfishly render, you will have earned it.
Signed, your ideal mom.
Advice Columnist B/Reality Principle Lisa
Are you insane? You can't afford to shop! For the love of heaven, you're a teacher-- embrace your class position. Don't enter retail establishments, unless they sell damaged freight goods. The O.C.? You haven't got cable, have you? Cause YOU CAN'T AFFORD CABLE. Think of your children and their future! Think of yourself, eating cat food from the can when you're old! Sit your ass down and grade. Right now, and I mean it.
Signed, Don't Be A Moron.
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Last night, Gordan Giricek had a great night for the Utah Jazz (plus made two little old
Croatian ladies very excited by meeting with them, see SLTrib front page today). It's
very gratifying to see this wonderful player get a chance to start, play big minutes, and
really come through. Certain people who watch the Jazz games with me can testify that
I have long expostulated the following: pure shooters need minutes; Gordan G. is a pure
shooter; his usual role with the Jazz of coming of the bench and getting yanked before he
can achieve flow frustrates his ability to express his true nature as a player.
So last night's beautiful game was wonderful to behold. Of course, GG wasn't the only
beautiful thing in the beautiful game: Okur looked strong and surprising, which are his
big strengths (who expects the big guy to drive? to shoot the 3 and make it? to run
rather fluidly?). Kirilenko was his usual several-players-in-one self. And Matt Harpring,
who for some reason always makes my night when he has a good game, had a quintessentially
great Harpring game--moving without the ball, getting under the basket, taking his little
jumper. Most beautiful of all: Kobe had one of those nights, and we still won.
This is the Platonic Jazz--the ideal Jazz. This is the palm tree at the end of the mind.
Monday, March 21, 2005
Here are my reasons for why we should still listen to albums:
1. Layla and other love songs.
2. Abbey Road.
3. Kind of Blue.
4. The St. Matthew Passion (Bach).
5. Requiem, Durufle.
6. Pet Sounds.
8. Vespertine (Bjork).
9. I (Magnetic Fields).
10. Mother and Child Reunion.
You can see I'm old from this list, sorry. However, I would like to point out that the inclusion of two major classical works implies a concept: the suite. That is, although there are great songs and themes contained in the Durufle Requiem, for instance, those songs and themes can feel sort of cut off when taken out of context. Sometimes that can be useful and refreshing--to insert something into a new context--but I think that that refreshment depends upon knowing its other context.
Having asserted this, I can think of a zillion other ways to complicate it, but I'm puttin' it out there anyway.
However, despite the mountain of work confronting me, I point to the following as evidence that life is still good:
1. I feel strangely cheery.
2. My sweater is pink.
3. It's lighter and lighter in the morning.
4. I got a huge amount of hiring committee work done during the break.
5. I get to go to Vancouver in a week and a half.
6. No matter what he does--dashing back from his Texas vacash to sign a bill, like Superman, for instance--President Bush just can't get me down. Not today.
7. Only six weeks of instruction, and the semester, and the academic year, will be over. Over.
Dancing in the movies update/afterthought: Will Ferrell dances in A Night at the Roxbury and also in Superstar. These are movies that are probably not worth the stock they're printed on, but nonetheless will make you laugh, and the dance scenes are fantastic.
Sunday, March 20, 2005
His talk will be podcast, I believe, at this web address:
First of all, this was a very interesting, engaging, and exciting presentation. Second of all, from trying to summarize it to others even immediately afterward, I realized that I can only give a very marginal account of the presentation as a whole. So I encourage anyone who's interested in visual rhetoric to look at the presentation directly.
A couple of what were, to me at least, big ideas:
The Greeks, when they invented written language--a phonetic alphabet--invented a technology/tools (alphabet, writing); an institution, the school; and new forms of identity emerged from this fusion of technology and institution, which is to say that the Greeks moved from being a tribal, primarily oral culture, to a city-based, citizen-oriented, written culture. Ulmer notes that "ever feature of this apparatus was invented," and that we need to do the same for the visual language that surrounds us. As heirs of Aristotle, we need to take up and examine, and to a large extent, create, the apparatus--we need "to seek what they (the Greeks) sought."
He calls fluency in the visual "electracy,"--"it may not be a great word, but it's my word," he said--and says it's not just about the media, which is at this point the only apparatus we have. It's not just the digital equipment. An electrate citizenry will have a rhetoric, a logic, and a poetics to work with visual language. (For the Derrideans: you can see in the word "electracy" both the idea of electricity and Derrida's "trace.")
He thinks we need to resuscitate the idea of heuretics--the idea of using theory to invent (opposed to hermeneutics, use of theory to interpret). You can see an implicit critique here of forms of writing that merely ask students to interpret visual language; he envisions students of the rhetoric for an image technology as being able to invent and compose in that language.
Ulmer feels optimistic about the sound-image-color-motion saturation of our culture, and here's why: he feels like this maps very well to the features of the creative mind (as opposed to the hierarchical, linear, analytic organization of the left brain, which is most of what school is). He says that electracy, from the point of view of literacy, looks like a nightmare, like destruction; he argues that it will be not the destruction of literacy but its transformation.
Listen, there was a ton more, even though I realize I'm sounding like I've joined a cult. But I am going to get a book and read it, and I am going to try to find out more. However, I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid, at least not today.
Lester Faigley reminded us that, as chair, he spoke about the declining public investment in higher education, and said that now we have even more perspective about that fact, as the decline has only increased. Consequently, writing programs are working in a general environment of less and less public subsidy. He used California as an example. In the late 70s, California experience a large influx of students, and the state responded by building lots of new colleges and universities. California expects an influx of 700,000 students by 2010, but now the system's funding is being cut so drastically that many qualified students are being turned away from universities, and open-access community colleges have student waiting lists for entry. He said, "we cannot allow higher education to fall into a shambles, or to become prohibitively expensive for some of the people it has traditionally aided."
Andrea Lunsford talked about the future of the field--shall rhetoric and composition retain its connection with English studies, or shall it separate. She noted that she sees literature departments whose identity is based upon a canonical literature in steep decline. She would argue for a separation on that basis. She thinks that if there's some sort of rhetoric/composition major, one might as well construct a department, since "departments are still the locus of power within the university." And, she says, we as a country are "desperately in need of instruction in the ethics of communication and the ethics of power." She cited David Bartholomae on the issue of staying connected with English (Bartholomae says stay)--a current article in the English Journal (the one on the sublime) has a very interesting article showing the ancient connections between rhetoric and poetics. (that last is a relevant note from me.)
Lastly, Donald McQuade, who's now some kind of bigwig with the UC system, talked about the neighborhood and the community, in terms of thinking about our profession. He pointed out that in 1991, when he was chair, the field was more like a neighborhood; now it's more like an "electronic town square." (He noted that Raymond Williams, in Keywords, said that community is one of the only words that seems never to be used in an unfavorable sense.) He also said that academic units are like neighborhoods--and sometimes neighborhoods are rough. (This reminded me of my own department, in a good way. I really like my neighborhood.)
For anyone still reading this, I wanted also to say that the declining public support and funding of higher education seems like a great theme for a group of readings. I'm going to try to get some stuff together to post on our course website(s).
The talk itself was called "Who Owns Writing?" and Hesse was trying to get us as compositionists to think about the ways we think and talk about writing. For instance, if we're trying to think about writing as a means to "accomplish something in a world of writers and readers," he wants us to consider whether school has much to say to that world. He asked us to think about the notion that writing is "so profoundly contextualized" that it may "resist any pedagogy."
For me, the most important idea from his talk was a binary (which he said he was fully prepared to deconstruct--he was using it "heuristically"--that's a good argument strategy, by the way, for any of us) between what he called "obliged" discourse and "self-sponsored" discourse. Obliged discourse would be that done in vocational or work settings as well as academic settings. On the other hand, self-sponsored discourse would include personal writing, creative writing, belle-lettristic writing, and civic writing (a very useful notion for those of us working with the idea of writing oriented to public settings).
He also pointed to some instances of self-sponsored discourses--journaling, certainly, but also scrap-booking; and the website that military commanders (mid-level) in Iraq and Afghanistan started, called companycommand.com, which allowed those commanders to communicate informally the strategies they had found helpful for armoring their vehicles, etc.
One more pithy observation: "the nature of an activity changes depending upon who organizes it." I could meditate on that for awhile, and on the idea of sponsorship, and seeing if there are ways to attenuate my sponsorship of the writing in my classroom, or if that's even possible at all.
Finally: he used PowerPoint as well as anyone I've ever seen use it--what was on the screen at any given time bore a figurative relationship to what he was saying, as opposed to merely condensing it literally. This meant that my experience, at any rate, of the presentation felt layered and enriched rather than didactic and reductive.
I'm going to do this in short bits rather than in one long report. For one thing, longer posts also take longer to post. Also, I think shorter posts make easier reading.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
2. I came in from the airport in a shuttle that contained two parents and a child. The parents had obviously lived a lot of life and decided to have a child when they were ready to handle it. They were checking into the Hotel Nikko (class resentment alert activated), and when the van driver opened the van doors and put down one of the seats to make it easier for said small blessed family to get out of the van, the dad says, "So this is what happens when you have a kid." Ah, yes, perks galore when you have a kid. My kids are almost all raised, so I've thankfully missed this bullet, but those of you who are still raising small children, a warning: Do Not Become Smug Like This Yuppie Man.
3. I am staying at a hilarious hotel. It's a boutique hotel, which sounded cool to me. It's themed around the arts and artists, so the walls of the corridors and lobby are covered with photographs for sale. Rooms are decorated by local artists--they are in fact works of art. You're going to have to use your imagination here: so I walk into my room, and there is what appears to by arty stenciling on the door--maybe about the size of a man's hand. I unlock, and inside there's a wall that's blue, darker as you get toward the window, lighter as you get toward the opposite wall. There's a flurry of paint--it's like a giant X, which I later learned was supposed to be something like a blurry picture of a bird (I learned this from the placard outside my room--just like in a museum!). There are paint splatters and drips all over this wall, plus in the alcove above my sink and on the mirror. I believe that the paint might interfere with the functionality of the mirror, but hey, anything for art. There's a kind of gritty feeling to the place, even though there seems to be no actual grit. I could go on: tiny towels, lighting from hell (like, either glaring overhead lights that give gorgeous illumination to the wall, but make you feel like your head might explode, or tiny dim bedside light--how to read?), can hear stuff all over the hotel. But I slept fine last night, there's cable, so this is part of my adventure.
Okay, I better go to the actual conference. This little internet cafe is just two doors down from my hotel, so this will be blog central for the duration.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
1. Napoleon Dynamite. After this movie's static first hour, when Napoleon busts a move to save his friend Pedro's election chances, it's EXstatic (I was going to say "dy-no-mite," but I thought that'd be cheesy).
2. Peewee's Big Adventure. Big shoes, tiny suit, on the bar in a biker bar, to "Tequila."
3. Something Wild. This underappreciated Jonathan Demme film [note bourgeois/middlebrow knowledge of film director] features Jeff Daniels adopting the loveable larcenous ways of Melanie Griffith. At her high school reunion, Daniels does some truly great spastic voguing on the dance floor. Must be seen to be appreciated (also requires a subtle mind).
4. Big Fat Liar. Since I am a mom, I see many, many, many movies like this one, and this one's pretty good. In it Paul Giamatti plays a mean, snarky movie producer who, in the morning before he swims his laps, dances to "Hungry Like the Wolf" (prett funny right there, okay?) in his bathing trunks. Tiny bathing trunks. He dances like he means it, man. He's hungry. Like the Wolf.
5. Hitch. Kids, for the dancing alone, it must be seen, and one must concede its greatness. Kevin James demonstrating the white man's funk is priceless; predictably, the movie features a sequence at the end of the real movie with various configurations of the main characters dancing down a corridor of guests. You gotta see Will Smith pay homage to his past as the Fresh Prince.
I will add to the list as things come to me. I'm not putting obvious stuff, like Gene Kelly in anything, or Fred Astaire, or John Travolta/Uma Thurman, or any of that. I'm acknowledging that any list of movie dancing oughtta contain these, but it's no fun. Wait for future eccentric gems.
'Kay, I'm traveling today, so I've got better things to do than blog. Which is why I'm about to do them . . . right . . . now.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Moreover there's a big pile of preliminary portfolios waiting for me to read them with sensitivity and care, the better to offer pointed formative comments for students to use as they make their sensitive, careful, pointed, formative revisions.
And it's spring break.
I've decided to offer any and all readers (readers? Oh, readers--) a daily conference blog. You'll get my CCCCs Greatest Hits compilation starting Thursday. So we've got that going for us, which is good.
Lastly: we saw Hitch over the weekend (yeah, from Gothic demon/angelology to Will Smith--that's what's great about America), and as a conoisseur of romantic comedies (read: indiscriminate pleasure hound [read: promiscuous movie slut]), I give it a big thumbs up. At least the first two-thirds of it. (Minor complaint: how come any moviegoer in the world can sense a comedy grinding to a halt as soon as the characters have to start embracing their fears, undefending themselves, learning the truth about themselves, blah, blah, blah, but almost no actual moviemakers, apparently, can?) Back to brief unprincipled review: the movie was charming and hilarious. I really mean the hilarious part--I love romantic comedies, but I never joke about whether a movie is actually funny or not. A truly funny movie is a joy forever, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I find quite disreputable films truly funny, and will defend them to the death. Case in point: Encino Man. But that's a post for another day.
Friday, March 11, 2005
The still center of the movie was Keanu Reeves in his black suit and black raincoat. Doesn't sleep, eats once, drinks, smokes a lot--a lot!--and casts demons and angels out of "this plane," which is to say, earth.
His is a dry performance, which is not to say stiff. People have wrongfully misinterpreted his performances, I believe. Wooden? Stiff? Why not "stylized"? Why not "conceptual"? Why not "postmodern," even? I don't want to start a fight with anyone, but I must say that that half whispered performance balanced out the florid, excessive imagery of the film. At one point, a spider skitters across his kitchen table. He inverts the glass he has just drained (whiskey) over the spider, takes a drag off his cigarette, then lifts the edge of the glass just enough to blow smoke under it. The spider draws back as if in horror against the far wall of the glass; Constantine whispers, "Welcome to my world." Supercool. Or not, I'm not sure. All I'm saying is it gave me a smile.
Add to this Tilda Swinton as a Jean-Paul Gaultier-style Gabriel--like Peter Pan in bondage gear, but all white, if you can add that up--and Peter Stormare as Lucifer (also dressed in white, but with tarry feet; when Gabriel calls him "Little Horn," he sucks in his breath and says, "how I miss the old names!"), and you've got a really good bad movie. I recommend it to anyone who likes a good bad movie--and honestly who among us does not?
Thursday, March 10, 2005
Sometimes I pick something up immediately and carry it around for the duration of the visit. Yesterday: green linen skirt with frayed hem; grey men's teeshirt; beaded flipflops; baby-blue espadrilles.
This is the only time that I ever use the math that I so assiduously "learned" when I was in high school--it's like in A Beautiful Mind, when all that math scrolls by, or like in The Matrix--calculating how much money I have in hand, what I can afford, whether really, really wanting something overrules the "what I can afford" consideration.
I pick up and put down various items. Sometimes, an object's loveliness declines while it's in my arms; sometimes it swells. In the end, ninety percent of the time, I put most or even all of what I've carried around back on the racks (where they came from--I clean up after myself--).
Yesterday's net result: beaded flipflops. That I really, really wanted and I really, really love.
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
The dog likes to spend his mornings outside on the chaise longue. Alternatively, once he's warmed up, he'll lie on the concrete in the shade. Then it's back to the chaise longue. I asked the broken arm where the dog slept--with him on the bed, on the plaid cushion that we bought the dog in an orgy of dog-related spending, or with his sister on the couch (it's her preferred spot, and I'm just tired enough of mothering to have given up the protest). Apparently, the dog likes to switch around, or, as the broken arm says, "he rotates."
Other signs of spring: bare legs, white clothes, a sense that the house needs cleaning (though no concurrent urge to clean it, at least not yet). It's March, not February, even if it's still winter. Fewer layers of clothing altogether. Asparagus at the market. A letter from our organic farmers wanting us to sign up again for a share in their upcoming harvest. Packets of seed at the store.
No new poems, and why not? I'm trying to get out of my semester alive, that's why. But this summer is free, free, free. Once you hit May, there's not a thing on my calendar, and it is my goal, my pledge, my aim to make sure it stays that way.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
The youngest kid, who took a hard charge in a high school basketball class and ended up with a truly grotesque broken right arm which subsequently required surgery, went back to school today. This meant a night of homework aid, which meant, realistically, me doing a ridiculously detailed "The 411 on Shakespeare" worksheet from his honors English class (what two roles did Helen Hunt play? How big was Shakespeare's vocabulary? see answers below). We tactfully labeled this worksheet "Dictated to Lisa B. by Walker B." Into the night this went on.
Which means that when I called the broken arm from work to find out how the day went, he was sleeping, but at least he didn't get shoved or further damaged . . . to my knowledge! Who knows?
By the way, here's what the Atlantic Monthly said about Dave Eggers' new book and why it's bad writing:
ave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, a memoir full of practiced idiosyncrasy and contrived candor, revealed nothing so much as the author's X-rated affection for the sound of his own voice. His latest effort, the story collection How We Are Hungry (McSweeney's), is a far more temperate, generally melancholic affair. But in it a certain voice keeps popping up oddly: that of the irrepressibly manic memoirist."
Yeah, but what if you like practiced idiosyncracy and contrived candor? Like, um, I apparently do.
Movie log: saw Be Cool this weekend, agree with everyone that it wasn't as good as Get Shorty, which wasn't as good as the novel (that's the novel-to-movie-to-sequel declension . . .), but enjoyed it anyway. It looked kind of cheap, except for John Travolta, looking meaty and delish in that suit, in my opinion. Also saw The Sea Inside, thought it was swell, cried like a baby when "Nessun dorma" plays over the "flying in my dreams" scene.
That's it for now.
Friday, March 04, 2005
Everyone has a stash of top tens--at my house, it's usually top fives, homage to
Nick Hornby and High Fidelity. On Humanophone and JewishIrishy, Janet Holmes
and Laurel, respectively, have published their 10 poems they can't live without, or
whatever. Here are mine (in no order, because really, come on.):
Robert Frost, "Directive"
Anne Carson, The Beauty of the Husband
William Shakespeare, "That time of year thou may'st in me behold"
W.B. Yeats, "Among School Children"
Campbell McGrath, "The Bob Hope Poem"
Larry Levis, "My Life in a Late Style of Fire"
John Ashbery, "Syringa"
Elizabeth Bishop, "At the Fishhouses"
Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"
A.R. Ammons, "For Harold Bloom"
Ten is a good number, really--five is impossible. If you play fives, it just means you're not playing for keeps.