Awake at 6am

I was able to sleep an hour and a half later than normal today due to the day off. So I was up by six. I don’t remember the context anymore but Dr. Cary last spring in the Systems of Human Inquiry class said to me, “You’re heading toward insomnia.” I don’t know if I can’t sleep, or if I just don’t sleep. Although Sunday night I woke up every hour, thinking/dreaming about both school and work. Oh, well: this too shall pass. I think I finally have a topic for the last paper in Cary’s Instructional Theory class: The politics of Power and Performance in the Classroom. I woke up this morning with the topic as I rolled out of bed to let the cats out. I will use McWilliams’ “Pedegological Pleasures” with little bits of Ellsworth’s “Places of Learning” thrown in for flavor. All very post-modern: I am such an academic wonk. Sounds like a winner, if not then at least something to babble about for the required length of space. Next semester I am only taking one class; I am hoping I will have an easier time. But I will probably find other just as stupid things to worry myself with.

You are the Hanged Man

Self-sacrifice, Sacrifice, Devotion, Bound.

With the Hanged man there is often a sense of fatalism, waiting for something to happen. Or a fear of
loss from a situation, rather than gain.

The Hanged Man is perhaps the most fascinating card in the deck. It reflects the story of Odin who offered himself as a sacrifice in order to gain knowledge. Hanging from the world tree, wounded by a spear, given no bread or mead, he hung for nine days. On the last day, he saw on the ground runes that had fallen from the tree, understood their meaning, and, coming down, scooped them up for his own. All knowledge is to be found in these runes.

The Hanged Man, in similar fashion, is a card about suspension, not life or death. It signifies selflessness, sacrifice and prophecy. You make yourself vulnerable and in doing so, gain illumination. You see the world differently, with almost mystical insights.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

"Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood"

One day left in the work week: Thanksgiving Holiday. The second year I taught, sixteen years ago, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I left the school building at the end of the day drove across town to the bakery I had worked at for two years looking for the owner. I was going to ask for my job back. Judy probably would have hired me; I was desperate to quit teaching. Five minutes before I arrived at the bakery, Judy had left for the day. I ordered a cup of coffee and a cookie, then sat by the window and read the paper. Such are the vicissitudes of fate. Pictures of me from that Thanksgiving show me drawn and thin. The double stresses of a new baby, our first, and my first year teaching in Austin were physically draining me. By the end of the school year I had lost seventeen pounds; I weighed less than I had when I was a junior in high school. I was not having a good year. Today I am just tired. Most of the stress I have now is self-inflicted by my mid-life decision to go back to grad school and work on a doctorate. I wonder if maybe I should have just bought a new sports car instead.

Talking Toward a Mountain

The mountain, a blue shadow,
formed from air, thirty miles off.
We drove talking of other things;
the mountain grew into pressence
slipping into our conversation as
easily as it slipped from the sky.
We drove eighty miles per hour down
a straight road; the mountain
became the mountain; no words
could displace it into meaning
more manifest than its silence.

Secrets of the World

We have always lived
among the ruins

civilization’s continual cascade
a spring wells up again
and flows away recursively

pick up that fallen stone
see fragments of figures
dancing in half turns

we can make something
from the scraps of nothing

I Got Developed; why so Negative?

Spent the day at the Education Service Center with the entire high school faculty for our professional development day. The topic was toxic vs. Supportive school culture. In our groups we defined culture following one of four prescribed metaphors: Web, complex pattern, garden, or glue. I thought of George Lakacs’ book “The Meaning of Metaphor,” where he makes the case that our thoughts are controlled by the metaphors we put into play. I went to one of the “web” poster papers and wrote: culture traps us like flies, culture is a normative agent, and culture is control. I was not in a cooperative mood. We also got to investigate our “belief sets,” which I believe meant our tacit ideologies, but using that bit of terminology would have taken most of the afternoon to explain and would have engendered too many offended sensibilities. As it was “belief sets” caused enough of a tremor through the room. My herniated disk was acting up so the day was fairly painful until I remembered I had my pain pills in my bag; then I didn’t care. We were fed pretty good bar-b-que however, and as the storyteller at Williamsburg said in the middle of a ghost story, “Free food is free food.” All cynical attitude aside, the principal of my school is trying to change the culture of our school; he has made progress from the first year I started here. I think a lot of progress could be made simply by teaching the coaches to stop handing out packets of worksheets, and helping them learn to teach. But then the football team is winning so no one complains.

Today at Work

Tomorrow marks the end of another grading period. My students are in a panic because of their grades. The coaches are in a panic because of the football player’s grades. I am tired from their, both the coaches nd the students, constant questioning about their grades. If they would spend half as much effort during the six weeks as they do in the last few days, they would all have A’s. I feel as if I should read the “Tortoise and the Hare” to them again, and again, and again. Oh, well: it is a part of my life. We were in the computer lab today, they were working on the next piece of writing. I have let go of them now. I think I might spend a lot more time in the lab; I was able to talk to several of them about what they were writing about. And just through the talk progress was made. They still want me to read the writing immediately, but I have held strong and made them talk to me about it instead. I think I will finally learn how to do this teaching stuff about the time I stop doing it. That is part of what makes it fun.

God, I love this poet!

Galway Kinnell’s new book, Strong is Your Hold, came in the mail yesterday. Last summer when I was on pain killer’s I pre-ordered it, then forgot that I ordered it because of the drugs. It was a wonderful happy moment yesterday when I pulled it out of the mailbox. There is a poem, “When the Towers Fell,” about the attack on the world trade center that is amazingly beautiful. At the risk of sounding maudlin, by the time you get to the last word (yes the last word) you will be overwhelmed by everything. It is what makes poetry such a numinous moment: a glimpse of the face of god. It is not the subject, although it is that as well. The poem is stunning. I had the same feeling when I first read his book, “The Book of Nightmares” twentyfive years ago.

Language and Meaning; Ambiguity’s Meaning

“Language is a virus from outer space,” William Burroughs wrote. The panoply of symptoms this virus produces determines how we create and view the world we inhabit. Language, like a virus, replicates itself and mutates as we attempt to control it, or perhaps, adapts to our attempts to control it. More often language controls us; and, we let it.
Sitting in an aisle of a local bookstore in Austin, I read, in a book on Derrida, “Meaning is Fascist.” I laughed out loud. Totalitarian perhaps, but fascism is not the only ideology meaning takes on. Ideology, whether political, religious, social, academic, or poetic, controls through cliché. Cliché controls through limitation of thought; self-satisfied set pieces that defy interpretation, interaction and interpenetration with a reader. Tom Raworth said he did not write down to his readers because he was one of his readers. I prefer my own clichés, a totalitarianism of myself. I rarely set out with any direction in mind; meaning manifests itself without my help. I place two words in proximity and meaning appears, despite myself.
Meaning is ambiguous; ambiguity is attractive. In ambiguity, the poem is opened to multiple readings, depending upon which facet sparkles the reader’s eye. As it comes forth, the multiplicity inherent in ambiguity dazzles like light through a prism. Which half of a metaphor is being compared? The subject/object dialectic fuses rather than divides. Infinity unfolds in a grain of sand. Meaning is never set; it shifts, not evasively, but transcendently: transcendent of any one reader or writer. Variant readings occur simultaneously; each brings depth and complexity to the other as strings in a piano create and sustain resonance.

Thinking about Lit in my Classroom

Almost everyday my students write at the beginning of class what I call, from the Folger Library’s Shakespeare Set Free, a Contemplation Question (CQ). Somedays I have them read a piece of lit, like a poem or passage from a novel, then they respond one of three ways, sometimes they have a choice, other times I tell them which way to go. (I adapted this from Linda Rief’s 100 Quick Writes): 1. Write whatever comes to mind when you read this passage. Write as quickly as you can, being as specific as possible;2. Choose a line or sentence you like for whatever reason, write that line down as your beginning and let the line lead your thoughts wherever they wish to go. Write as quickly and as specifically as you can; 3. I make up an open-ended question that has something to do with the themes or issues brought up in the passage. For example, after reading a passage from Ecclesiastes I asked them whether or not they believed in fate, if everything had a purpose like the passage said, and if so what was the purpose of disease, hate, war, and death? Other days I give them the question first, like with W. Blake’s “The Schoolboy” I asked them first what they thought was the purpose of school, and if learning outside of school was more important or less than what they were taught in the classroom. After I had voluteers read what they wrote, and invited comments from others, we read the poem. The initial conversation, opened up the poem to them, made them realize that their ideas are not new and that they have similar ideas to writer’s from “the canon,” the past, and to “genius.” None of which I belabor, because they would be bored by that as they should be. This takes anywhere from ten to twenty minutes depending on their response. Somedays nothing happens. Somedays more than I could imagine happens. In the same day, it works in one class and not another. Last year a poem by Wislawa Szymborska, “Could Have,” illicited no reaction except maybe negative ones like, “That’s stupid. How is that a poem?” This year the same poem, the same set up, and my students wrote a lot and the discussion came up again a few days later. That is one of the reasons I bring in stuff constantly, and don’t despair when it doesn’t work that day, because not every piece of lit will spark the students on any given day. Which I imagine is the same with most people who read. I have reread poems that have left me cold to discover meaning and insights I had never noticed before. One is never the same person from one day to the next; neither are poems.