Thursday, December 30, 2010

The reckoning, part 3.

On Books.

I find myself to be an undisciplined, a chaotic reader. Much like every other endeavor I undertake. Anyway. I consulted my bookshelves, my Amazon account, and my memory to come up with the following annotated list of books I read, or bought, or dipped into, and why:

Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Kicked A Hornet's Nest. Having finished the previous two, I obviously needed to finish the set. Slower, talkier; still had the advantage of the great character Lisbeth Salander.

Arnaldur Indridason, Hypothermia. Love this guy, loved this book. The character, Erlendur, is wonderful--melancholy, deliberate, intelligent. It's worth hearing about his own history as he makes sense of the cases that come his way. Also, set in Iceland, which is fascinating. I cannot get enough of this stuff.

Nicholson Baker, The Anthologist. I said to the historian, This book is good but it doesn't really have a story. I had been reading it a few pages at a time and finding it easy to put down. And then, I read the rest of it like the next day, as if it were the most delicious thing ever. I highly recommend this book, especially if you are a poet or have any interest whatsoever in poetry.

Beautiful Junk. A children's book about the Watts Towers. I am working on a poem about them, and this book was recommended somewhere in my research. It is lovely.

Judith Schalansky, Atlas of Remote Islands. Prose poems? Brief essays? about actual remote islands, accompanied by beautiful little drawings. This book is mysterious and ineffable.

Lynda Barry, Picture This. Who does not love Lynda Barry, except perhaps for those who have not encountered her? She is a humane, quirky genius. This book is Barry's answer to the question, Do you wish you could draw? The answer is: yes.

Joseph Brodsky, Watermark. I read about this book of prose poems about Venice in an article about traveling in Venice in the winter. (a) I really want to go to Venice in the (b) winter, and (c) this book is actually waiting for me at the post office as we speak. I am anxious to read it.

Kate Braverman, Frantic Transmissions to and from L.A. A memoir in which the novelist talks about leaving L.A. for upstate New York. Part of my L.A. Project, as I, too, am absent from L.A.

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go. We read this in my book group. I loved it. Not everyone loves it, but I did. I thought Ishiguro's handling of the narrator, who tells the story in an emotionally flattened voice, was kind of brilliant, in that the pathos of the story seeped through that flatness and was all the more compelling for the filter. Well, it's not a long novel, you can see for yourself what you think.

David Smit, The End of Composition Studies. I read a bit of this book and will probably read more. What I read was pretty depressing, I must say, but not wrong. So I better find out what Smit ultimately concludes. I hate lingering over the incisive yet devastating analysis, especially when it's my job to go teach composition.

Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: the Natural History of Innovation. I bought this because I read an article about it on Slate, which mentioned that creative minds are often chaotic minds, which made me feel good about myself. I love, though, the ideas that mistakes often lead to more creative solutions, and that a connected environment leads to greater creativity. Looking forward to spending more time with this.

Clayton Christensen, Disrupting class: how disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns. My friend George recommended this. Also, this disruptive innovation idea was what spawned the recent reorg of the Deseret News (by "reorg" I mean, of course, "wholesale layoffs"). Sometimes you gotta read what the opposition is thinking about.

David Jauss, Alone with all that could happen: rethinking conventional wisdom about the craft of fiction. I bought this because of the chapter called "What We Think About When We Think About Flow." Have I read this book? I have not. However, I want to send this essay to some of my students. If it happens to be good, which I hope it will.

James White, The Salt Ecstasies. I heard about this book from a panel at AWP a few years ago. It's a reissue, part of Graywolf's Re/View series--what a great idea, taking out-of-print books of poems and reprinting them with a friendly introduction (here, Mark Doty introduces). A beautiful book.

Anya Kamenetz, DIY U. I feel a theme emerging--lots of books about higher ed and the challenges posed by different paradigms. This book still needs to be read by me. A colleague recommended it, and actually, I look forward to it.

John D'agata The Lost Origins of the Essay. Thinking a lot about essays, especially brief essays, and especially really old ones. This is a really good book.

Philip Lopate, The Art of the Personal Essay. See the above.

John James Audubon, Library of American Art. These paintings and drawings are spectacular, as is Audubon's whole project--wild and ambitious and grand. Working on an Audubon poem.

John James Audubon: Drawings and art (Library of America). See the above.

Selected Poems, Robert Duncan. Duncan has a poem about the Watts Towers, "Nel Mezzo del Cammin di Nostra Vita."

Darcy Steinke, Easter Everywhere. Memoir about Steinke's youth in a highly religious--Christian--family. I loved a novel of hers, Suicide Blonde, years ago. And I am interested in stories about religious lives.

Christian Weisser et al, The Locations of Composition. Essays I may one day get around to reading.

Public Literacy, Elizabeth Ervin. Another composition book.

Seeking Common Cause (Diane Bennet Durkin/Lisa Gerrard). And another composition book.

Anne Carson, Nox. I am saving the actual reading of this for a time when I can hole up with it for a day or a week.

Microscripts (Walser). Why did I buy this book? Because it is interesting looking. The microscripts are just like what they sound like--tiny pieces of writing, in tiny hand writing. Because it looks cool, okay?

Nicola Griffith, Always. I love this small series of detective novels. The heroine is Aud Torvingen and she is awesome.

Tana French, The Likeness/Faithful Place/In the Woods. All so very good. These are surely some of the most memorable books I read this year.

Berryman Selected Poems. Because everyone needs to read some Berryman.

Greil Marcus, When That Rough God Goes Riding. On listening to Van Morrison. This is more like notes about listening than a fully worked out essay, but it's interesting enough, if you love Van Morrison, which I do.

Kafka, The Trial. For the book group. We also watched the Orson Welles film. Kafka has the power to make you anxious, if that's what you're looking for in a novel.

Krista Ratcliffe, Rhetorical Listening. We read this for our theory book group. If I were a better person, I might gather my thoughts and look at this book again, and tell you what it was about. Like a lot of scholarly books, its crucial theory and working model would make a slimmer book than it actually is, with lots of examples and so forth.

Various LA guidebooks. I am now in the market for many, many, many maps of the greater Los Angeles Area. Part of the ongoing L.A. Project.

Down By the Los Angeles River. A book that will help you find spots on the L.A. River, where you can actually walk alongside it, hear it, see it. But don't step in it. That's a little scary. In a related matter, my oldest darling friend sent me a book of historic photos of the Los Angeles River.

The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots. This used to be freely available online via Bartleby, but no more. Alas. Now I own it as a slender volume. It is one of my favorite tools for writing. What's amazing is to see how a single Proto Indo European root can manifest in a bunch of different languages, allowing you to see that the word for tongue and the word for thorn both spring from the same PIE root. Thrilling.

Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody. Book? or pamphlet? Still, an interesting look into Web 2.o and beyond. Shirky is a very smart guy.

Gunther Kress, Multimodality. Gunther Kress: very smart guy. I have *used* this book but I could not tell you what it is all the way about.

Noulipian Analects. Resource for Oulipo work in creative writing classes.

Desserts by Pierre Herme (with Dorie Greenspan). Dessert! extra fancy!

Dorie Greenspan, Baking from My Home to Yours. Baking! Not as fancy, and lots of fun. Greenspan is an enjoyable writer to read.

A pile of L.A. police procedurals by Michael Connelly. I loved Angels Flight, but I have to say that Connelly is a merely serviceable writer. Still: L.A. And serviceable is not bad.

Kim Stringfellow, Jackrabbit Homestead. We bought this book after spending a couple of days in Joshua Tree, which is fantastic and everyone should go there sometime. This is about the homesteading that took place there through the mid-20th century. Lots and lots of fascinating pictures. Very cool.

Karin Fossum, Don't Look Back, When the Devil Holds the Candle, He Who Fears the Wolf. Fossum is good. Her police procedurals are as good, maybe better, than Henning Mankell's. Set in Norway.

Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End. Read for book club. Whined about its non-plot engine before having finished it. Finished it and loved it. Moral of the story: finish books before whining about them. (This is a wonderful book.)

Substrate, Jim Powell. Poems set in California. Some interesting stuff.

A Place of Execution, Val MacDermid. A book that thought it was smarter than it actually was. But still readable. Set in Derbyshire.

The Names, Don Delillo. Not my favorite Delillo, but Delillo always still holds delights for me, including the fact that the guy knows his way around a sentence.

March, Geraldine Brooks. A splendid book. Civil War, told from the point of view of Mr. March of Little Women fame.

All of it Singing, Linda Gregg. A selected and new from one of my favorite poets.

The Manual of Detection, Jedediah Berry. Not quite as clever as its author might have hoped. Steampunk. But better than George Mann's robot/zombie/zeppelin romance (see below).

Girls Like Us, Sheila Weller. About Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, and Carole King. Joni Mitchell. About halfway through this.

Just Kids, Patti Smith. LOVED. Patti Smith's youth as an artist and her long friendship etc. with Robert Mapplethorpe. Beautiful and sweet and charming and more.

Into a Paris Quartier, Diane Johnson. Who thought Le Divorce was pretty good? I know I did. This is fun to read, Johnson's historical reading of a neighborhood in Paris where she lives. Wish I lived in a neighborhood in Paris.

The Field Guide to Prose Poetry. Bought this as a result of a panel at AWP. Pretty good book--essays by the poets, along with a handful of their poems.

George Mann, The Affinity Bridge. This book is basically a treatment for a screenplay. It made me mad. I kept going. Why? I don't know. It was overdue at the library and I couldn't renew it online because someone else wanted to check it out. It was popular! I hated it! I kept going, because maybe those popular kids knew something I didn't? Gosh. Robots, zombies, and zeppelins, as well as, I don't know, a steampunk Queen Victoria? Give me a break.

I am looking forward to reading: Freedom, Human Smoke, the new Elmore Leonard (Djibouti), the new China Mieville (Kraken--not sure how I missed that this happened! I love Mieville.), and finishing/starting some of the books mentioned above. Also, for Christmas, the historian gave me a book about Obama, The Bridge (David Remnick) and a book by Peter Stark called The Last Empty Places: A Past and Present Journey Through the Blank Spots on the American Map. This is right up my alley, and in fact, I am already there, in Maine. See you when I get back.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The reckoning, part 2.

The movies. Oh how I love them. I saw seventy-one movies this year, most with the historian, but a number with various of my kids and a friend or two. Here are a few small confessions:

1. In the "going out" scheme of things, I can imagine little else that is as good as the movies. Even when there's something that's as good as the movies, or even better, and we go out and do that thing, I feel a little twinge of regret for the movie-going we missed.

2. I would rather--so much rather!--see a movie-movie than a documentary. (I said it was a confession, okay? I know, it's not right.) I like to be told a story.

3. I like movie stars.

4. But really, I just love a story, told by actors. They don't have to be movie stars.

5. And if a documentary has a story in it, it's good, too.

6. There are some really, really good documentaries. I know this.

All of the above having been confessed, by me, I offer the following list of noteworthy movies:
  • Youth in Revolt
  • How to Train Your Dragon
  • The Maid
  • Shutter Island. I defend this choice. Stylistically, I thought it was a knock out, and I also thought it held up, emotionally.
  • The Ghost Writer
  • Greenberg
  • The Runaways. So sad it's hard to even stand it. But the performances are great, and the mood and atmosphere are excellent. Its narrative is more implied than told.
  • The Secret in Their Eyes
  • The Red Riding Trilogy
  • Police, Adjective
  • Please Give
  • The Beaches of Agnes. Please note: documentary.
  • Inception
  • Toy Story 3
  • Winter's Bone
  • Despicable Me
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • Get Him to the Greek. My son-in-law takes issue with this, but I assert that (a) this was foul but funny, and (b) Russell Brand is beyond in this role. BEYOND.
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I love love loved this.
  • Cyrus
  • Get Low
  • Animal Kingdom
  • The Town. If, as my friend asserted, Ben Affleck was a bit too well-fed to be fully persuasive in his part, he at least kicked ass, full stop, in directing this movie (did you like how I did not stop when I said "full stop" there? That's because the "full stop" was a metaphor.).
  • The Social Network
  • Howl. A truly beautiful performance by the polymath James Franco.
  • The Fighter. Stands up there with most of the great boxing movies. Maybe not Raging Bull. But that's okay.
  • Tangled
  • Megamind. While I'm at it, I'm just going to go ahead and say Will Ferrell is hilarious in this, and he was also hilarious in The Other Guys. Yes: hilarious.
  • Fair Game
  • Tiny Furniture. Weirdly understated. Maybe too understated. But still good.
  • Hereafter. Just saw this. Thought it was elegant and meditative and beautiful, if not perfect.
I have been thinking this year that the movies haven't been all the good, but this list is not a bad list. So, 2010 in the movies, hold your head up. Nice job.

Here are some 2010 movies I am yet hoping to see, some of which are already here and so I am a little panicky that I might miss them, and some of which won't arrive in the SLC until 2011: True Grit; The Illusionist; Somewhere; Blue Valentine; Another Year; Biutiful; The King's Speech; Rabbit Hole; that documentary about Phil Ochs; Black Swan (seeing this tomorrow with my daughter, for her birthday!); Casino Jack; I Love You Phillip Morris; and The Company Men.

In conclusion: the movies! a great blessing in a time of trial, and also the activity of choice, most of the time, if we're honest with ourselves. And we're nothing if not honest. Most of the time. I'm speaking for myself here, of course.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010: the reckoning (part 1).


No new technology in 2010. In fact, we have moved one old television out of circulation (dreaded blue screen of death), moved another old television into circulation, briefly considered and rejected the idea of getting another, better, More Modern television (rejected . . . but the idea may still be hanging around in someone's mind).

No new computers--well, a replacement for my MacBook Pro (work computer), the first one of which got a crack in its screen because someone--well, me--dropped it. On the driveway. But anyway, I have a new one. It is just as awesome as the old one. In fact, more awesome, because: no crack.

But speaking of television:

We loved and watched Modern Family, Big Bang Theory, 30 Rock, The Closer, Damages, Mad Men, and The Good Wife this year. And by the way: The Good Wife is just so good. If you have not picked it up, I highly recommend it.

Also, this year I watched every single episode of Lost, in the course of about two months. It made me obsessed and heartsick; I watched the ending and wept. Alone. And I have still not had the conversation--not with anyone!--to help me understand what that show did to me. C'est la vie, I guess.

In music:

I bought or (legally) downloaded the following this year. I asterisked* the ones I really liked and recommend. Some of these, honestly, I haven't listened to sufficiently to say anything about.
  • Mary Halvorsen Quintet, Saturn Sings
  • Mike Reed's Loose Assembly, Empathetic Parts
  • Dan Tepfer with Lee Konitz, Duos with Lee
  • Jane Jensen, Comic Book Whore (because of this one killer song in an episode of The Good Wife)
  • Elton John and Leon Russell, The Union*
  • Leonard Cohen, Songs for the Road*
  • Martha Wainwright, Sans Fusils, Ni Souliers*
  • Mandrill, Mandrill (I used to check this LP out of the library about a million times when I was a teenager)
  • Cowboy Junkies, Rarities, B-Sides, and Slow Sad Waltzes*
  • The Magnetic Fields, Get Lost
  • Philip Glass, Piano Music*
  • Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
  • Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz*
  • The Bad Plus, Never Stop*
  • Mavis Staples, You are Not Alone*
  • Of Montreal, False Priest
  • Robert Plant, Band of Joy*
  • The Best of Kurtis Blow*
  • Weezer, Pinkerton
  • Rufus Wainwright, Milwaukee At Last!!
  • Marc Cohn, Listening Booth (1970)*
  • Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Come on Back*
  • Brandi Carlile, Give Up the Ghost*
  • Sleigh Bells, Treats
  • Band of Horses, Laredo
  • Kris Kristofferson, Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends
  • Battle Studies, John Mayer
  • Wyclef Jean, The Ecleftic
  • Gorillaz, Plastic Beach*
  • Rufus Wainwright, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu*
  • Rosanne Cash, The List
  • The Weepies, Say I Am You
  • Paul Motian, Lost in a Dream*
  • Lyle Lovett, Step Inside this House
  • the bird and the bee, Interpreting the Masters Vol. I: Daryl Hall and John Oates
  • John Hiatt, The Open Road
  • Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
  • Mos Def, The Ecstatic*
  • The Black Crowes, Before the Frost . . . Until the Freeze
  • Charlotte Gainsbourg, IRM*
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It's Blitz
  • Vampire Weekend, Contra
  • Stacey Kent, Breakfast on the Morning Tram
  • Rachael Yamagata, Elephants . . . Teeth Sinking Into Heart
  • Justin Townes Earle, Harlem River Blues; Midnight at the Movies
  • Frontier Ruckus, Deadmalls and Nightfalls; The Orion Songbook*
  • Esperanza Spalding, Chamber Music Society
  • Animal Collective, Meriweather Post Pavilion*
  • Girl Talk, Feed the Animals
But what about live music, you say? Well,
  • The Sufjan Stevens show was epic.
  • We heard the Yellowjackets at our jazz series, and it was a great show, as was Frank Vignola's set. And honestly, John Pizzarelli was great as well.
  • I feel I am forgetting something here. What is it?
Tomorrow, I reflect upon the movies. And also my character. Wait for it.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Between the last time I posted and now,

Christmas came and went, we delivered presents to eleven grandchildren and lots of children, made some great guacamole and a couple of lovely salads, listened to some but not all Christmas music in the megastore collection, saw my folks and lots more family. Also, I slept until after nine this morning, we saw a movie, I took a restorative trip to Target, and started to realize how much stuff I need to do before work resumes in January. This makes me feel like I might freak out, a little. Or maybe a lot.

Between now and then, I hope to see a big bunch of movies, read a lot of books, see the grandchildren some more, eat good food, sleep some more, avoid getting sick, and do a little writing. And read a lot and see a big bunch of movies. And organize my shirts and shoes and other stuff. And prepare for next semester. And not freak. Or only a little.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The bakery.

Baking, at Christmas time, is what keeps me going: it's the star, shining from a long way off, that calls me to the birthplace of a little thing we call winter break. When I'm grading, it's baking that awaits me at the end of my labors. It is my reward.

Today--the 23rd of December--is when the baking commenced this year, which meant that I had a lot of time to think fleeting thoughts about what I would bake, once I could bake. One scheme I cooked up included using a pan I have that holds nine tiny loaves to bake teeny tiny chocolate babkas. Remember babka? Wouldn't that have been clever?

Then I looked at the chunk of Caillebaut chocolate I had in my pantry and thought, (a) I am not grinding that up with sugar and cinnamon, and (b) if I were to grind it up, and all that that implies, I would not give it to random strangers, aka neighbors, because . . .

. . . what? you say that's kind of un-Christmas-y? You're probably right. But in defense of my Grinchy, it's possible I haven't had a very good run at Christmas yet. Anyway, back to baking:

Will there be sugar cookies? I don't know. Just like grinding up the chocolate for the theoretical babka, chilling the dough and rolling it out and cutting it and decorating it--the basic Nine Labors of Sugar Cookies--sounds hella arduous in the darkest hours of the year. So as of now, there is no sugar cookie on deck, though this decision could be revisited at the least provocation.

I have likewise deleted the Date Nut Pinwheel, venerable among the cookies of my people, from the roster. Two words: Pin Wheel. This is a cookie with a filling, the people. A cooked filling, which must be cooked and cooled and then spread on the delectable yet somehow always very soft and thus tear-able dough. Nix.

So today I made the Oat Shortbread of my friend Lis, which is delicious but turned out very fragile. Not a good giving away cookie, therefore. Also, I made Maple Sugar Shortbread. Not yet baked, so we'll see how it fares.

In cookie innovation--or, if you like, on the cookie frontier--I have made Ciambelle, which I believe must be an Italian cookie, or else a European fake of an Italian cookie. I got the recipe from Martha Stewart, who put out another special cookie issue; this magazine consoled me in the dark hours before I could actually start baking. I recommend these cookies. They are lemony, as they have finely grated lemon zest in them and lemon juice in the glaze. I happened to have some Meyer lemons lying around, which made them all the better. They are shaped like wreaths and thus look festive and clever.

The picture in the magazine had them decorated with white non pareils, which looks very suave, but in my book, if you're putting on sprinkles, why shouldn't they be in color? Answer: they should be.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

At the eleventh hour, I compose a few e-mails.

TO: One of my favorite students

FROM: your professor

DATE: The day grades are due, @ the 11th hour

RE: I have a question

Remember last week, when I told you how strong your work was, and what a fine job I thought you had done this semester? And we both got tears in our eyes?

In light of this memory, I feel I must ask you: where is your final exam?


TO: One of my favorite students

FROM: your professor

DATE: the day grades are due, @ the 11th hour

RE: I have a question

Remember how we met two times during the semester, the last time in late November? And how, at that time, I read a bunch of your work and gave you feedback, preparatory to you revising and submitting your final portfolio? And I praised that work?

In light of this memory, I feel I have to ask you: where is that portfolio?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dear Meltdown,

I appreciate that you waited patiently until six days before Christmas to point out to me that we really really really needed a Christmas tree. But, dear Meltdown, you did not so forcefully point this out until just after the television started to make the in-your-face gesture of a blue screen, which threatened to take away one of the most basic of human rights, the right to lie in bed and watch a little television, especially before falling asleep. That blue screen really kicked the "We Need A Christmas Tree NOW" campaign into high gear, so that, in fact, we did go get a Christmas tree. Three of them. Live, planted in pots, and 40% off at Lowe's. They are glowing in the living room as we speak.

Dear Meltdown, I also appreciate that you did not assert yourself in the face of the grading that still, still is waiting to be finished, especially if by "finished," we mean "started," really.

I appreciate that you, Meltdown, abated while I made the pizzas for the belated birthday party for Running/College/post-Mission son, and that you withdrew entirely for the viewing of Christmas Vacation that was the specified activity for the post-pizza evening.

But that rant by Clark Griswold--you know the one, the one that ends "Hallelujah! holy shit, where's the Tylenol"? That rant, dear Meltdown, that rant reminded me of you.

Sincerely, lisa b.

Friday, December 17, 2010

On sports and sports movies.

I do not love baseball, either playing or watching. But I love baseball movies (Bull Durham, Bang the Drum Slowly, Bad News Bears, The Natural [is this really a baseball movie? probably not.]). I do not love football. But I love football movies (North Dallas Forty, Any Given Sunday, Invincible, etc.). And--here's a theme--I have no idea if I love hockey, but I do know I love hockey movies (Slapshot, Mystery Alaska,). I actually love soccer, watching and playing, and also I love soccer movies (Bend it Like Beckham, Victory). Running? cannnnnnnot love running, but I adore running movies (Chariots of Fire, Personal Best). And I love basketball in all its forms, especially the movie form (Hoosiers, He Got Game, White Men Can't Jump, possibly others too embarrassing to mention).

And boxing movies: I'm pretty sure I don't have what it takes to actually see a boxing match. I once watched Ali fight Spinks (I think) on television, and it was hard to watch, how he stayed on the ropes and took the punches to the body. But a boxing movie is great. I just perused a list of boxing movies and there are a bunch of great ones I have not seen, but we just saw The Fighter tonight, and it was entirely satisfying in the way that sports movies are. It's partly about the kind of naked need to prevail, but it's more about the life in the body, I think, the in tune-ness that an athlete exhibits. And a good actor can convey what an athlete does, living in the body in a way that is completely at one with character.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Some stuff I could tell you about.

1. how my oven has it in for me.
2. how our lights are flickering, dimming, then brightening (poltergeist?).
3. how we're calling an oven repair guy and an electrician guy tomorrow morning (also: exorcist?).
4. how the e-mail is still a-tricklin' in.
5. how there is a dearth of excellent Christmas movies showing up on television at the moment--is The Wedding Crashers a Christmas movie? I submit to you that it is not.
6. on the other hand, if I never see White Christmas again, that will be just fine with me.
7. how we ate (a) jasmine rice, (b) broccolini, and (c) plain old salad, plus (d) oranges and bananas for dinner: the plainest dinner ever. Did it ever taste good.
8. how it is super cold when you walk the dog at 11:15 p.m.
9. how I got a draft of a poem ready for my writing group.
10. how I still have so much grading to do.

But I can't tell you about any of these things, because it's bedtime. See you tomorrow.

p.s. I really want to eat these.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I planned, this week, the week of finals, to be in my office on several successive days, to allow for drop-ins (drive-bys?) from students with questions or last minute thises and thats, to do some grading, to write some documents, and probably to deck the halls with boughs of holly falalalalalalalala, etc. A sensible person would have had a more focused, a narrower, a more realistic agenda. Also, a sensible person would not have set a final due date of tomorrow for stuff to come in. (Note to self: must be more sensible about due dates!) Needless to say, this is more of what happened:

On Monday, I arrive. I plug in. I take a sip of a warm beverage. I contemplate my list. Then, Unexpected Person Number One drops by to say, "Hey! remember when you gave me that incomplete exactly one year ago? Whaddya know, I finished my stuff! It's on my e-portfolio! Have you read it yet? When do you think you'll be able to turn in my grade?" I tell him I will definitely read his work, give him the grade he has earned, definitely by the deadline.

I sip my beverage. I open an e-mail. I sort through what I have and don't have from my students. I send a few e-mails of the "When might I expect this item from you, this item that was due yesterday?" variety. Then, Unexpected Person Number Two drops by to say, "I have a disaster, and you are my faculty leader. Fix it." I tell this person I will fix it, I surely will. I assure this person I will write a strongly worded e-mail, I will make a phone call, I will raise holy hell. I take a gulp of the beverage, and look at my list, and revise my expectations downward.


It is the end of Wednesday, I have not written any documents, I still have stuff to sort through and numbers to plug in on my grading grid. This week thus far, I have not, in fact, graded one thing whatsoever. Also, I have Christmas presents to buy for the grandchildren! And, for that matter, a Christmas tree. And I need butter. So here is my new plan:

1. Grade things. Everything, in fact.
2. Buy a Christmas tree.
3. Buy some butter.
4. Bake like a madwoman, after the grading is done.

I hope you'll notice that "grade things" was the number one item on my agenda. That means I gots priorities.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Change in the weather.

The wind felt like it was blowing from the north, with us walking into it and it blowing incipient rain or snow in our faces.

I wore something warm, but not warm enough.

In the west, the sky was red or orange or rose--something in that vein--at 10:30 p.m. What's that? we asked ourselves. Was it wind or traffic we heard, or was there a beating of rotors out there? was that light sweeping across the sky?

The dog gallivanted. He raced ahead, dove deep into the yards we passed, turned back on us to play.

The snow is supposed to arrive at midnight. At midnight, there is supposed to be snow.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday Ops.

Today had the following elements that had to be planned and carried out with surgical precision:
  • birthday breakfast for running/former-missionary/college son (happy birthday!)
  • arrival at office when I said I'd be there
  • numerous items on the long, long list of shit I had to do
  • leaving my office on time so that I could make a luncheon appointment
  • leaving my luncheon appointment so that I could shop for two baby gifts for the two (2) new grandchildren who have recently arrived in our family (hooray for babies!)
  • expert shopping, so that I could arrive home by 3, so that
  • running/former-missionary/college son could take my car to his first interim class meeting at 3:30 p.m.
  • packaging up the baby gifts so we could go visit the babies
  • visiting the babies, one at home, one at the hospital
  • arriving home in time to watch The Closer.
In an example of the crack timing I executed today, let me say that I shopped like a ninja. I was in and out of that Target with two baby jammies and two baby blankets, two festive gift bags, coordinating tissue paper, and a copy of In Style, like it was my job. My ninja job.

In a break from the ninja work, we held two beautiful tiny babies. One of the babies was at home, with her sisters milling around and talking about the Christmas tree (Us: What do you want for Christmas? One of the baby's sisters: I forgot. Us: How about an orange? Sister: . . . or a banana? Us: how about both? Sister: [shrug]); the other, brand new, was still with his mother at the hospital, where it was quiet, even hushed.

Holding a baby is the opposite of ninja work. Holding a baby is the antidote for the suspicion that you might be rushing around just a little too much.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A couple of notes on writing.

1. Your plan is nonsense. That list you've made of what you're going to do today, during the 3 or 4 hours you've got to write? You will almost certainly not accomplish what is on that list. And if you do, it won't be an actual accomplishment, more like a gesture in the direction of the eventual accomplishment. You hope. Because that's how writing is.

2. You are going to flail. Just because the last time you took 3 or 4 hours to write, you were able to draft two whole new poems about of your piles of notes, it doesn't mean you're going to turn this particular pile of notes into a whole new draft. Probably, what you'll do is add more notes to the pile. More notes do not add up to a draft.

3. Writing does not necessarily make you feel good, at least not right now. If only you weren't in a coffee house, with people studying for their math exams on the left, their chemistry exams on your right, and talking on their cell phones straight ahead of you--if those people weren't there, and if Christmas music weren't playing overhead, and if all the above weren't be punctuated by steam and clinking ceramics, you could just break down and cry like you want to. Come on. You know you want to.

4. Sometimes the notes you added to the pile of notes yesterday turn into a draft today. Yippee!

5. So it turns out, that list actually does help. It just might take you a little longer to cross stuff off. A little longer, or a lot longer.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Stats: pre-solstice, post-teaching.

Teaching: done.
Baked goods: one cake baked; eaten. None remaining.
Illness: inevitable possible cold.
Grading: all still awaits.
Movies: two.
Mood: rainy but optimistic.
Crossword: yesterday's.
Housekeeping: que porquería.
Young men in their twenties in the house: two.
Online status: powering down.
Semester: almost, almost over.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

I am so so very tired.

I had this distinct thought while I was teaching today--actually still teaching, on the very last day of class--"Why am I still talking?"

So much talking.

I am looking forward to the grading, in silence.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Endings: an FAQ.

Q. How would you describe the final exam you just wrote for your Grammar & Style students?
A. Fun. No, wait: transplendent.

Q. Tomorrow, will there be cake in class?
A. I believe so.

Q. Will Reading Day be a quiet day?
A. Unfortunately not.

Q. Have you done all that you could?
A. I am not sure.

Q. But will there be cake?
A. I hope so, I really do.

Q. And is your conscience clear?
A. Not quite: it is not quite clear.

Q. And will there be cake?
A. If I make it, there will be cake.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Monday, December 06, 2010

An open letter to Going Out on a Weeknight.

Dear Going Out On a Weeknight,

Most evenings, I think of you as a vestige, still to be grasped at fleetingly, of my slightly younger, not yet quite fully fatigued self. That is, when you present yourself, Going Out On a Weeknight, in your cute clothes and high-heeled shoes, an opportunity, a possibility, a proposition, I feel I should take you up on the offer, just on principle. Because if I don't, I must face the probability that life is passing me by. That I am an old-timer, sitting on my porch in a rocking chair, shaking my fist at the young 'uns and spitting my chew into a tobacky can whilst reminiscing about the good old days, when I used to go out on a weeknight regularly.

I don't like feeling like that, Going Out On a Weeknight. I don't like feeling elderly and crotchety. I don't like feeling like horizontality is the most I can hope for, once I slump home from work. What about being vibrant? How about seizing the day, dammit? Going Out On a Weeknight, it's kind of paradoxical, but while you shimmer and pizzazz out there on my calendar, acting all fancy-free and having not even a whiff of the "but it's a school night" about you, really you just make me feel kind of fancy-fail and TOTALLY "but it's a school night." How do you do that, exactly?

What I would like most, Going Out On a Weeknight, is for you to pose your invitations more sparingly. What with the once a week poetry readings, the once a month jazz concerts, the end of the semester events, the thises and the thats, I find myself facing you pretty much at every turn. It's not nice to do that, Going Out On a Weeknight. It's not nice to flash your sassy smile at me almost every night, as if to say, "Hey! How's abouts we go out tonight? A weeknight! Won't that be shiny?" You have to know that all those invitations are going to make me wilt. But I'm starting to think you kind of enjoy that. And--I think this goes without saying--I'm starting to resent it a little.

I get it, Going Out On a Weeknight. You're young. You're full of zip and razzmatazz. Whereas I am full of "let's put on the slippers and call it a night." I believe you've made your point, Going Out On a Weeknight: now give it a rest.



Sunday, December 05, 2010

Today while drifting through the winter smog

I talked to Scotland, made some crepes, read the Times, wrote a couple of drafts and revised another poem, listened to Sufjan Stevens and Glenn Gould, ate leftover enchiladas, walked the dog, watched a movie with my daughter, thought about my life, wished I had Christmas lights up, thought about John Clare and getting lost, sent some worky e-mails, corresponded with students, and wished I had a piece of pie. And now I am in my dressing gown and shall read and do a crossword and dream about next week.

That is all.

Saturday, December 04, 2010


Soon there will be grading a-plenty, and after that or maybe before, a Christmas tree and lights, and baking and gift-buying and birthdays, at least at my house, and festivities galore. GALORE.

But before that, I am trying to do a little writing. This afternoon, I went down to the Roasting Co. for a few hours and took out my second manuscript, the one that I worked on during my sabbatical, and tried to do a little assessment and revision. The last time I did this was one month ago, I happen to know, because one month ago was the date on the notes and drafts I looked at then.

I have to say, it felt good. It took a minute, though, to get in gear. First I had to locate everything, both hard and digital copies. Then, I had to note which drafts were pretty far along, and therefore closer to finished, and which ones weren't really drafts at all. Then, I had to assess my resources--my inner resources--to see which project I was capable of addressing.

I got there when it was still light--at 2 in the afternoon. I had to sit tucked away in back because there were no window seats, but that was okay--less traffic. When I left, it was dark, but I had a draft that was significantly closer to being finished(-ish) than when I arrived. I believe I will do the same tomorrow, and hope that it takes a little less time from arrival to sinking in. I have three fat piles of notes that aren't drafts yet, and I think I will try to get one of those into a draft(-ish).

Perhaps tomorrow, I will also grade. But I believe that before I grade, I will write.

Friday, December 03, 2010

The best part.

The best part of mole poblano is how complex it tastes: it has sweetness to it, like a fruit or, yes, probably the chocolate, but a faint bitterness in back of that, and then there's heat, a little, and it's earthy and round.

The best part of mole poblano is that it is more versatile than its usual applications imply: I made enchiladas with it, and the vegetarian ones, with goat cheeses and chopped squash peppers onion mushroom were so good.

The best part of mole poblano is coming to understand the character of those dried peppers: mulato pasilla ancho: torn into pieces and fried, the unbelievable aroma of them frying, then soaking and pulverizing them, their pulp the deep dark basis of the sauce.

The best part of mole poblano is that I made it, that I made it over the course of three days, that it was an ordeal and a process, and that that ordeal, that process, yielded something so completely satisfying.

And that is the end of the mole poblano. At least, the end of the mole poblano posts--I have a lot of the actual mole left.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Long day in high heels.

. . . but a good day. We celebrated the new issue of Folio, our student literary and arts publication. I am on a predictable high after a predictable era of mounting anxiety. We had tons and tons of students submit, published more work than we've been able to before (at least since I've been the faculty advisor), and have a new website with web-exclusive stuff. Overwhelming, the good stuff. This is why being a teacher is a great job--because you get to see these students make something amazing happen.

oh gush gush gush gush gush GOSH. But I dressed up for the event, including wearing high heeled boots, which were just fine till around 4 p.m. when I realized that, predictably, my feet were tired of being high heeled. Anyway, the event, which started at 6 but really started at 6:20, ended at about 8, with us getting home around 8:45. Whoa. That is a lot of high heeling.

Why high heels, you ask? Because, I answer. Because: Folio. Folio is worth dressing up for. And having hurty feet for.

In other news: I have now tried to order Watermark, a book of prose poems about Venice by Joseph Brodsky, for the third time. The first two times I ordered a used but in good condition copy from two different Amazon Marketplace booksellers. Each time, I got an e-mail a day later saying, Whoops, so sorry, we're out of that book. And I was all, well why'd you say you had one, then? Just because the New York Times travel section mentioned it on Sunday in an article about going to Venice in the wintertime which I totally want to do and so, apparently, does everyone else in the bookbuying universe. Anyway, it's a dirty plot to make me buy a new copy from Amazon. Which I did. Today. Hopefully this order will stick.

In other other news: For those of you watching the mole poblano situation closely, there is a mole update, if not much of one. This morning before work, I went to the Mexican grocery store. They had ancho, pasilla, and mulato chiles. So I bought them. Also, regarding the family dinner that the mole poblano is a part of: I lied to myself today, saying, "When I get home I will make the tres leches cake and also the pumpkin flan! It won't matter that it will be after the Folio reading and I will have hurty feet and also won't feel like making two desserts anyway, not to mention tearing up chiles, frying them, and soaking them. No! I will be making cake and flan!" So now I'm telling myself another lie about how I will get up early early to make a tres leches cake and pumpkin flan and fry the chiles etc., even though probably I will get up at 8, as usual. And yawn around for a minute or an hour. Why? Because: Folio. Folio is worth sleeping in and yawning around for.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Mole poblano.

[So: I am making mole poblano with turkey for a family party. I have never made it before. I will be reporting in stages. Rick Bayless is my guide.]

[Note to anyone who is coming to the family party: this will be delicious, I promise. But do not pay attention if you don't actually want to know what is in the dinner. I mean it.]

Stage 1. Toast the seeds and toast some other stuff as well.

But first, put 3/4 of a 15 oz. can of tomatoes in a bowl. Or, guess how much is the equivalent portion of a 28 oz. can, and put that in a bowl.

Then, crumble 2/3 of a tablet of Mexican chocolate into the tomatoes. Try to think of this as a step and not something really disgusting.

Then, assemble all your ingredients for the toasting before you start the toasting. Or, if you are me, toast and scramble for the next item in the list: sesame seeds, coriander seeds, chile seeds (see note below). Then almonds and raisins. Then onion and garlic, a tortilla, and two slices of stale bread.

The toasting seeds is aromatic and not something you should do whilst scrambling for the next item on the list. Happily, there was no scorching. Toasting chile seeds is a heady--not to see cough- and sneeze-inducing--experience for the 30 seconds it lasts.

A note on chile seeds: For this recipe, you are supposed to tear apart piles of dried chiles, taking out the stems and ribs and reserving 2 t. of the seeds. Except I did not find the proper chiles at my store which has a pretty well-stocked Mexican grocery, which even so did not have: ancho, pasilla, or mulatta chiles. I thought to myself, well, I will just get these other kinds of chiles and we'll figure out which ones will approximate. But The Bayless says: "Mole poblano calls for the triumvirate of ancho, pasilla, and mulatta chiles. If you can't find these chiles at your otherwise well-stocked Mexican grocery, pick up your marbles and go home. You are not making mole poblano." So that means I need to go to a real Mexican grocery. Tomorrow. And find ancho, pasilla, and mulatta chiles or die trying.

Anyway! I decided that my inferior chiles could still yield chile seeds, so I tore some up and got the seeds, and toasted them. Heady, cough-, sneeze-inducing. Etc.

Also, I ground up some spices (aniseed, cinnamon, pepper and maybe one other thing), and I toasted the almonds in oil (delicious!) and also the raisins, which, how curious is that? But kind of fun, to watch them puff up, and some onions and garlic, and finally a tortilla and the bread. Toasting toasting toasting. All of this stuff is in a bowl now, each thing getting acquainted with the other.

Tomorrow, assuming I find the illustrious tres chiles, I will fry and soak them, and then blend up the chiles with all of the above along with a lot of broth until it is the mysterious, the ineffable, the awesome mole. I will report how it goes.


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