Thursday, March 28, 2013

Today in famishment.

Today was another long day at work. A good day, but a long day. Eleven and a half hours from when I left home to when I returned.

I changed into comfortable clothes lickety split.

Me (proactively): have you given any thought to dinner?

The historian: No. No, I haven't, except that we should probably go grab something. How about you? Have you given any thought to dinner?

Me: [minutes passed, as I was simultaneously filled with being famished and also despair...o! lord, give me strength in this the hour of my need to figure out where to get something to eat!] about if we go get pizza? A pepperoni one for Walker and a cheese one for us?

The historian: does that sound good to you? (possible mild incredulity)

Me: I will pile a lot of arugula on it. (decisive factor.)

So we chose the closest of two not-all-that-close Little Caesars (Pizza of the Lowest Common Denominator) and drove to it.

Me (getting into the car, proactively): do we have any ice? [please say yes please say yes]

The historian: No. No we don't. We'll have to go get some.

We picked up two pizzas. We planned the logistics of the way home, given our need for ice. We figured that if we turned right then turned left, we could pull into the Seven Eleven and pick up ice.

Me:...and we can get a drink.

Here's what I saw at the Seven Eleven in the one minute we were in the joint:

1. At seven p.m., the fountain drink situation is kind of sticky.
2. At the counter area, there are many new tobacco products that I am unfamiliar with.
3. Hella lotta tattoo magazines.

But the checkout guy was cheery and friendly, and I had a Diet Dr. Pepper/Regular Dr. Pepper mix to fortify me until we got home with our pizza, which I heaped arugula on.  And ate three pieces of, and was restored.

That is all.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dear eleven hour day,

You began in the dark, that's the first thing. I got out of bed when the clock still said six, and was out the door at the beginning of seven. I talked to one two three four students before it was ten.

[Parenthetically, this isn't a story about a heroine, or a person of great fortitude, or a person of great humility and dedication. No, this is about a person who can't resist talking about an eleven hour day. "Eleven hour day," the first time she said the words, sounded irresistibly like a story worth telling. "Eleven hour day," she said to her husband the historian when she came home. And possibly repeated it one two three four times, in every possible legitimate context. And maybe stretching the "legitimate" part, if she's being honest.]

I taught. I taught syntax in a creative writing class. And lo the wonder of it! And ate an apple and met with one two three more students, and then helped two more students learn to use Adobe Premiere Elements 11 so that they could finish their digital stories.

[Parenthetically, the windows in the Publication Center were wide open so the pearly gray damp air could ebb and flow. In a spring-coolish room, it is wonderful to see other people finish a creative project. Parenthetically.]

Eleven hour day, I drove home in the sixes and was both exhausted and famished. I was eloquently exhausted, lovingly and pugnaciously exhausted. Those adverbs, parenthetically, are from the first two sentences of Elmer Gantry, which my students read and admired/parsed today. Eloquently admired, lovingly and pugnaciously parsed. I mean it--I think they might have fought me if I foisted any more syntax on them.

Thank you, eleven hour day, for having so many wonders and dimensions. And thank you for being almost over now. By now, you are even longer--a sixteen hour day and counting. You were, are, and have been long: prodigiously long, not to say excessively, but certainly pronouncedly, long.

Good night,


Monday, March 25, 2013

The ups, the downs, the ins, the outs, the whatnot.

I'll let you do the categorizing:
  • the fact that several students told me they appreciated the opportunity to consult with me
  • the fact that all my students remembered and attended their conferences
  • the fact that I was prepared for all the conferences today
  • the fact that I completely forgot a meeting that I had at 3 p.m.
  • the fact that I ate an apple with cheese for lunch
  • the fact that I ate Starbucks oatmeal AGAIN for breakfast because I am obsesssssed with it
  • the fact that my colleague said I looked tired today
  • the fact that I did, in fact, look tired today
  • the fact that I am grading, still, at 11:25 p.m., in bed
  • the fact that the historian gave a great lecture at the downtown library tonight
  • the fact that we got french fries on the way home
  • the fact that the Jazz won, but it won't matter
The fact that there was sun. The fact that there was no snow. The fact that I'm in bed, even if grading. The fact that I'll be getting up before the sun for more conferences. The fact that I will be eating Starbucks oatmeal again for breakfast, because I am obsessssssssed with it.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Then I was back in it.

The War was on.

Well, not a war, exactly. The closing movement of the semester. We have just concluded the Andante movement, and now we stand, just before the Presto con Fuoco movement begins. The pianist's hands are about the hit the keys. The rubber is about to hit the road.

What I'm trying to say is that I will be consulting with students for the next week and a half.

Here's where I'm going to go ahead and say that when half your students tell you they can't use the Scheduler tool in Canvas (I use the word "tool" with care) to set their consultation appointments, it's frustrating. Sure, frustrating to them too, sure. But to me. It's frustrating to me. I'm frustrated, is what I'm saying, because the kids can't use the tool. Or half of them can't. It's a quandary. It's a dilemma. It's a big fat quandary and a dilemma and a pain in the ass. Sure, a pain in their asses too, sure. But mine. My ass is pained.

This is leaving out the downloading of their million and one files. You know, the files containing the assignments that I gave them.

The good thing is: when the consultations are done, I will have talked with all the students, and their stuff will be read and graded, by me--I'll have read and graded their stuff, personally!--and things will be much much better. So much better that the semester can just slide on down the greased chute that leads from tomorrow to the end, putting on some speed and getting a little dangerous on the turns, but it will be okay. Because I will have talked with all the students, the reading and grading will be done, or done-ish. And that, my friends--THAT, the people--that smells like the end, or as we like to call it at the community college, "summer."

The Writing Life Report.

This past week, I have been researching and writing my upcoming lecture, about which I'll say no more. Only that, I hope it turns out like my best projected version of it. We'll see.

But anyway, yesterday morning I went to have breakfast with my sister. The morning was unexpectedly super snowy, so I drove along the Bangerter Highway very, very slowly and listened to this interview with Philip Roth, who, as you probably know, has retired from writing. He had this to say about the nature of the work:
"Solving the problem of the book you're writing always remains hard work, and your progress is snail-like. Even if you write a book in two years, sometimes you get a page a day, sometimes you get no pages ... every sentence raises a problem, and essentially what you're doing is connecting one sentence to the next. And you write a sentence and you have to figure out what comes next or what doesn't come next."
While I was driving in the snow, I tried on the thought of doing what Roth had done--realizing that I wasn't really writing poems anymore, and so giving the writing of poems up. Periodically I wonder about this, although really, it's mostly a hypothetical exercise. You should really listen to the interview, because he has trenchant remarks about naps, which is his new vocation.

I got to my destination, had delicious French toast and a soul-nourishing conversation with my sister, and came home.

Later that day, the historian and I went to The King's English for a reading and book-signing by David McGlynn, whom I had the good fortune to meet at AWP. Dr. Write (whose friend Mr. McGlynn is) recommended his book A Door in the Ocean to me. Listening to him read from the book, a memoir, reminded me that I am a writer, that writing is and should be a focus of my life. Listening to him read made me want to write, write about all kinds of things.

I am very satisfied to report that in between the French toast and the reading, I picked up and revised a poem that I have been incompetently flailing at for quite awhile now. I attribute this combination of resolve and insight to the fact that I have been writing all week long. All week long, I have been outlining and reading and note-taking and summarizing and framing arguments and drafting remarks. And even this kind of writing, which only appears to be completely unrelated to poetry, helped me to think more intelligently and more pointedly about my poem.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Night at the Theater.

I have a complicated relationship with the theater, unless we're talking about a movie theater, in which case I love that theater, no complications whatsoever. I have seen some pretty awesome plays, and while I was at them, I was rapt and moved and totally engaged. But on the whole, and who can say why, a movie seems like an altogether more reliable bet. I know I have friends who are theater people who are reading this, so let me just concede: yes, this is probably an indication of my slouchy character, and yes, it's possibly intellectually and culturally lazy. Yes yes yes to any charge you'd care to make: I'm guilty. That doesn't mean I won't choose the movie over the play 99.9% of the time.

However: my college has a theater, and that theater puts on plays. We keep hearing good things. Our good friend is the director of the theater. When we had dinner with him and his wife a few months ago, he told us that the theater would be doing Death of a Salesman, and he'd be playing Willy Loman.

The historian put his foot down--not that he had to put it down very hard. We agreed, okay? that we would go to the play. Tonight was the night (note for those paying attention: Thursday = not a movie night).

In three acts, here are a few scenes from our evening:

Dinner. We're eating burgers--Boca for us, regular beef for running son:

The historian (to running son): So we're going to see Death of a Salesman tonight. Maybe you should come with us, because maybe it would confirm your feelings about selling.

Running Son: ...or maybe it would just confirm my feelings about plays.


The production is quite good. Our friend is superb. At intermission:

Me (turning to the historian): This is a great play, one. Two, everyone is really good. Three: it's so depressing.


After the play. We're walking the dog:

The historian: I can't wait till tomorrow when I see [our friend] so I can tell him how good we thought the production was, and how good he was.

Me: He was really wonderful, wasn't he?

The historian: Really good. I'm going to buy a copy of the play and read it.

[we reflect on the overall excellence of the theatrical experience. Bruiser moseys. We follow his lead.]
The historian: So--tomorrow we're going to see that one movie, what's it called?

Me (reading his mind): Admissions? Or something like that. [we both pause, and think of Tina Fey, God bless her.]

The historian: Right--it's supposed to be funny, isn't it?

Me: We can only hope.


In conclusion: the play was excellent. It's a masterpiece, and the production is entirely worthy. It's open for two more nights, and if you can make it, you should go. Aaaand tomorrow night, we'll be at the (hopefully funny) movies.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Okay, spring break,

it's now time to show us your hidden passageway that will take us to the secret wing where you're keeping your extra week. Because I need that extra week right about now.


Well, here's my progress report so far:
  • massively behind, still, in my online grading.
  • making progress on my lecture/presentation.
  • dramatically over-writing the script for one of my digital stories.
  • reading reading reading lots of interesting stuff re the above.
In addition, I have
  • watched two thirds of House of Cards with the historian.
  • eaten pancakes for breakfast and an omelet for breakfast and leftover buttermilk blueberry muffins* for breakfast.
  • and leftover enchiladas for lunch.
  • taken many restorative walks with the historian and the big bad Bruiser.
  • gone to the library with a couple of grandsons and my daughter-in-law.
  • done piles of laundry.
  • sorted through lots of stuff and put lots of it away and culled out lots of things to give away.
I feel that, in the interests of science, I should report that I felt considerably more relaxed on Saturday last than I do tonight, Wednesday, at 11:07. Also in the interests of science: I woke up this morning at 5:45 a.m., thinking about all the stuff I have to do. And also, I had a dream about mice.

Tomorrow will be the attainment of the digital story and the further embellishment of the presentation/lecture notes. And Friday, more of the same. Plus grading, I guess. Who can say?

*Buttermilk Blueberry Muffins.

I read a recipe that I adapted. These were sublime, so don't hesitate to try them. They made an unbelievably lovely Sunday breakfast.

1 1/4 c. white wheat flour
1 1/4 c. unbleached flour
2 t. baking soda
3/4 t. salt
1/4 c. raw sugar

Mix the above ingredients together.

1/2 c. butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. buttermilk
1 ripe banana, mashed

Mix the above ingredients together and pour all at once into the dry ingredients. Mix until the dry ingredients are just moistened--as always with muffins, you shouldn't beat the batter until it's smooth. The banana adds sweetness that's not sugar, but it doesn't overwhelm with its bananarama.

Add one cup of blueberries (you can use frozen ones if you're like that) and stir them through. Dole the batter evenly into twelve muffin cups. Sprinkle the tops with cinnamon sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden.

So. Good.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Me vs. my library, round 1.

Ever since, I don't know, it seemed like there was more light, and the weather wasn't so grim, and it turned from February to March, probably, I have been on a mission to go through my stuff and give things away. And this afternoon, when I was sitting in my study, aka den of squalor, I thought, I am going to give away one third of my books.

Digression: one third seems to be the figure, the proportion, the fraction and the requisite amount that comes to my mind when I think about getting rid of the excess of my stuff. Why one third? I could not tell you. It is a sizable amount. It is not a paltry ten percent nor a paltry twenty percent. It is a third, thirty three percent, and the wind could whistle through the branches, metaphorically speaking, of my library. If my library were a tree and I had just pruned it. I think you catch my drift.

I warmed up by going through my sweaters. Actually just my cardigans. I did not so much go through my sweaters and cull one third of them to give away. I did, however, put some of my more wintry sweaters with the other wintry sweaters (in another location), so that all my sweaters could go in their appropriate container. I plan to do the same with my pullovers and then my scarves next.

Thus in the sorting-and-culling groove, I moved back into my study. My eyes raked ruthlessly over the shelves. I began with poetry. I have a lot of poetry. Some of my books of poetry I have obtained by losing book competitions. I'll start with those, I thought.

Digression #2: The spines of books of poetry are so skinny. This means that, on a given shelf of books of poetry, there are a lot of spines standing side-by-side. It's like a battalion of poetry, organized in ranks. Such a battalion might organized to defeat me in my purpose of thinning the ranks!

One book of poems, plucked from the ranks. Into the giveaway bag it went.

Digression #3: I have a lot of literary journals. Many of these literary journals I subscribe to by virtue of having submitted my manuscript to a book competition, sponsored by the journal. Why do I still have them? Couldn't someone make better use of them?

One literary journal, plucked from the ranks. Into the giveaway bag it went.

At this rate, I don't know what. And don't get me started on literary theory and criticism. Or rhetorical theory and criticism. Who knows what I might need? In the future? for my scholarly projects?

On the plus side, I did throw away and recycle a bunch of miscellaneous other stuff.

Books: Go ahead, sleep the sleep of the innocent tonight. But I am coming back for you tomorrow.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Happy belated birthday to my blog!

I only just now realized that last week was my blog's birthday. On March 4, 2005, I wrote my very first blog post, and thus a highly unremunerative yet also highly satisfying endeavor was born.

I really didn't plan anything, but if we consider today my blog's birthday party, here's what we did to celebrate:
Alexander Johnson, "A press gang seizing a waterman"
  • wrote a proposal for a book chapter. After the sweat was dry, I
  • went to breakfast with my son and had an omelet and toast. Thus fortified, I
  • met with one of my all-time favorite students to discuss digital storytelling, etc., and then I
  • met with one of my all-time favorite colleagues to discuss how to press-gang someone into taking his place as a faculty leader next year, and who that someone might be (look out, people! I will be e-mailing YOU!). Having assembled that list of names, I
  • took a bunch of notes and turned them into a table in preparation for my
  • next meeting, which involved developing a work plan so that we could have fewer meetings--genius! After that,
  • I met with my colleague to finalize the proposal and send it off. Feeling free as a professor on spring break, I
  • went to Target and bought pretzels, Perrier, shampoo, almond M&Ms in Easter colors, and a pair of white jeans. And a couple of spring break magazines.
My trip to Target. For my blog's birthday, obviously.
 I drove home then, to
  • submit my manuscript to two competitions and to
  • decide our evening plans, which were 
  • to eat Indian food and 
  • watch House of Cards.
That's quite a party, don't you think?

Dearest blog, I am sorry there was no cake, but happy eighth birthday anyway--over spring break, I hope to spend a little more time with you.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

My lecture library.

Today while I was slinking around the internet, trying to find out if Kate Bernheimer's book of new myths is out yet (it's not--this fall, apparently), I found this: an account of her current bookshelves, from the Sonora Review.

Here are some books on my shelves at the moment:

Hayden White

"In this theory I treat the historical work as what it most manifestly is: a verbal structure in the form of a narrative prose discourse." (Preface)

The Truth About Stories
Thomas King

"But don't say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You've heard it now."

Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory
David Herman et al

"...the disnarrated comprises those elements in a narrative which explicitly consider and refer to what does not take place (but could have)."

Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights
Marina Warner

"The power of stories to forge destinies has never been so memorably and sharply put as it is in this cycle, in which the blade of the executioner's sword lies on the storyteller's neck: the Arabian Nights present the supreme case for storytelling because Shahrahzad wins her life through her art."

The Silent History
Eli Horowitz, Russell Quinn, Matthew Derby, and Kevin Moffett

"I guess the first element was that I wanted to create a novel that you could somehow explore."

In conclusion, I think we can all agree I need a detective novel to read, and not a moment too soon.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The final countdown (notes on metaphor).

...or whatever other hair metal song from the 80s you'd like to be the theme song of this post.

In just three weeks I am giving a lecture that I have been preparing for several months. If by "preparing" we mean "ordering books from Amazon" and "thinking about it." Also, doing desultory internet research and saving the links on Delicious.

I'm pretty excited about it, though. Over spring break, it will all come together. Just you wait. I am going to give periodic updates as to this coming together progress. I will be

1. weaving the threads of my argument together into a brilliant tapestry (note to self: perhaps textile metaphor will be key?)

2. assembling the pieces of my research into a brilliant mosaic (note to self: artisanal/craft metaphors abound. are there other metaphoric regions from which to draw?)

there *may* be a modern dance component.
3. welding the components of my metaphor into a sturdy and brilliant structure (note to self: welding. good one!)

4. cooking the ingredients of my lecture into a savory and delicious and--yes, it must be said--brilliant concoction. of which we will all eat, and be filled. (note to self: recipe. perhaps a visual?)

I could go on. I will go on, hells yes I will go on, I only have three weeks.

When I envision this lecture, I see, like, the best TED talk ever. And bonus--refreshments afterward.
Three words: brilliant. multimedia. extravaganza. BAM.  (four words.)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Dear Boston Museum of Fine Art,

During this recent trip, several people asked me if I had been to Boston ever before. My traveling companion had lived there and had slung chowder (I think this is right?) on Cape Cod one summer. Another friend who happened to be traveling on the same plane to the same conference had also lived there, for two years.

"Have you been to Boston before?" they, and others, asked.

Yes, I have been to Boston. I went once when my mom and dad were living and working in Concord. My husband and I had our first child then, and we flew back to visit. We saw Walden pond and Emerson's house and Hawthorne's house. We went to Faneuil Hall and swanned around Boston for a day. Later, my youngest daughter was a nanny for a family in Reading. We drove out to Provincetown on a brilliant November day while the wind blew with great fanfare around us. And last summer, I went again to present at a conference with my colleague and friend, and ate lobster rolls like they were going out of style. Who knew when I'd eat one again? It was July, and there was a prodigious rainstorm.

This time, we flew in just before a big snowstorm, which continued for two days. At first it acted like spring snow, but by Thursday afternoon it was acting a little more serious, and we woke up Friday to some untidy piles of it pretty much everywhere, and it was still blowing and falling at a slant.

It was possible, though, to barely meet the snow at all, face to face. It was possible to go from the hotel room to the Convention Center to sessions to the book fair and back again, without making the direct acquaintance of the snow. Boston knows from winter, and Boston knows you don't want to have your ability to meet your obligations compromised by something as capricious as weather.

On Saturday, though, the skies were clear, blue, and sunny, which is why we waited until then to visit you, BMFA. Even though I had traveled to Boston before, this would be my very first time at the BMFA. We set out and walked through prodigious puddles of slush, using uncertain GPS coordinates, until we found you, right by the Back Bay Fens where some geese were convening.

If you're looking from a distance, museums are similar to one another. They have their points of pride, and they have their gestures at coverage. They have their ancient, modern, and contemporary. They have their local and their national and their international. But close up: close up, it doesn't matter about this template for curating and collecting. Close up, you get to encounter what someone made, however she made it. You can examine the texture and consider the proposition. You're in one of the only places on earth that actually demands that you think about the challenge of a maker, about that maker as your interlocutor. As the thing, the made thing, asks a question that only you can answer, in that moment of the encounter.

 We were only there for two hours, because two hours was what we had. But those two hours gave me something precious. So thank you, Museum of Fine Arts.



Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Stuff I plan to do while at AWP.

Tomorrow, I am going to get on an airplane and jet away from everything. Well, I am going to indulge myself in the fantasy of that, whilst on an airplane which wends toward Boston.

Here are some other things on my agenda that are hopefully less delusional:

{\/ below, the column of my literary lights \/:}

Mr. Delillo.
1. Eat something delicious every day. Hopefully more than one thing.
2. See some friends.
3. Hide away when I need to.
4. Listen to Don Delillo talk.
5. Listen to Jeanette Winterson and Alison Bechdel talk to each other.
6. Pick up an idea or so while attending sessions.

7. Write a response to an RFP? It needs to happen for reals.
Alison Bechdel!
8. GRADE? help me!
9. Be quiet somewhere?
10. Fondle the goods at the book fair.
11. Wear the outfits I have packed, which are, at the moment, cute, nestled in my bag. I hope they stay cute in transit. Sometimes stuff you've packed loses its cuteness while in transit by a factor of ten. I don't even know what that actually means, but it is nonetheless true, I fear.

Jeannette Winterson!
This is probably enough things to do. I am going to have a good time, partly because I always do and partly because I travel with the Dr. That's right: Dr. Write. She is the mistress of all revelries and also a planner extraordinaire.

But I hope I don't get sick from lack of sleep before I even get out of town.

Sunday, March 03, 2013


Today was Gwenyth Pearl's blessing day at church:

It was such a happy day.

This weekend we heard that a family friend died. He was a good friend of my youngest son's. All weekend long, we thought of him and his family. Shared memories. Wept. We won't ever forget him.

that was then. and, paradoxically, forever.

And today, we went to church and celebrated the life of a new little person.

It's too much to reconcile. We're mourning and celebrating all at once.

Happy blessing day to Gwen!


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