"Save the First for another Day"

I withdrew from the Graduate school at UT Friday. I had been debating whether or not to continue for at least a year now, coming to a decision then changing my mind repeatedly. Thursday my ninety year old mother went into the hospital after she fell. I left her with my sister in the emergency room so I could go to my Thursday night class. I sat there listening to the prof explain his class in Enlightenment Rhetoric, watching the graduate English majors being urbane, and I felt the onset of the stress I have lived with since I started this program. As I walked back to my car I decided that perhaps I should refocus what I wanted to do with my life, and being a grad student was not one of the things that came up. I will miss it. I truely enjoyed the readings, and the discusssions that grew out of the readings with my classmates and professors. I have grown as a teacher and as a human as a result of my classwork. But I have to move on, look more at he “res” of the world rather than the “verba.”

I was consumed by the amount of time I was devoting to everything for “just the course work.” I cannot stop working in the public schools to gain “academic experience,” because of the economic realities of having three children and living in the suburbs in a fairly secure middle class life. I cannot, being a slave to my responsibilities, choose to be poor again in order to become an academic. My oldest child starts college next year. The colleges he will get into are not cheap. I have two more following quickly on his heels.

I think I overestimated my abilities to do it all (work, school, family, health) and underestimated what was involved. I think I have been selfish in my desires and ambitions. I think I should accept where I am and use that position to make a space for myself for where I want to be: old, fat and happy.

Over the last semester, and through many of the other classes, I have just become more frustrated and angry about the current state and direction of public education. While I enjoyed and have gained much through the classes, I don’t want to be angry all the time. I have felt a tremendous sense of relief after I decided to stop my pursuit of another advanced degree. It might not be forever, but “knowing how way leads onto way . . .”

I have started reading poetry again, which is always a good thing.

by William Carlos Williams

I have had my dream – – like others–
and it has come to nothing, so that
I remain now carelessly
with feet planted on the ground
and look up at the sky–
feeling my clothes about me,
the weight of my body in my shoes,
the rim of my hat, air passing in and out
at my nose – – and decide to dream no more.

A New Year, Same Obsessions

I write to define myself – -an act of self creation – -part of process of becoming – – in a dialogue with myself, with writers I admire living and dead, with ideal readers

Because it gives me pleasure (an ‘activity’)

I’m not sure what purpose my work serves

Personal salvation – -Rilke’s ‘Letters to a Young Poet’
Susan Sontag 9 Dec, 1961

From Sunday New York Times Magazine p. 55 September 10, 2006

I am not sure of the difference between self-definition and personal salvation. Of course one wants to write oneself as the hero of one’s own story. Salvation and redemption coming at the end before death like Beowulf against the dragon, an old story, but then originality is an illusion, and a creation of a consumer society where the new is the desired. I wonder how much of the idea of the self is simply a remnant of the romantic movement, the enlightenment bifurcation of the individual from the whole. We are communal animals, perhaps the enlightenment was an aberration. What was the reaction from the church toward the enlightenment? What was underneath the religious objections to Voltaire and others? Was it just about power, or was there a fundamental reworking of ontology? Or is ontology based on power: epistemes determined by the dominant social group. See things my way or be suppressed.

Dipping into Stein

I have not come to mean
I mean I mean
Or if not I do not know
If not I know or know
This which If they did go
Not only now but as much so
As if when they did which
If not when they did which they know
Which if they go this as they go
They will go which if they did know
Not which if they which if they do go
As much as if they go
I do not think a change.
-Gertrude Stein

What meaning I have is questionable; I have not come to mean anything, rather I have become someone who makes meaning out of what is at hand, a bricoluer, if you will, rather than someone who knows what anything means. Someone who takes what is there and makes what she wills of it. My father, after he retired, opened a furniture repair shop in the garage at home. He had three children from 8 to 17 and he could not afford to retire even on social security, so he took what he had in his repertoire and made money. People would bring him their broken furniture, or their “antiques,” furniture they wanted to keep for some reason. Dad would fix it. He would find pieces of wood reproduce the original and fix it. I remember him staring at a piece of copper sheeting for an hour, getting up walking around the yard, cursing, sitting down and staring at the copper again, cursing some more, before finally cutting out a pattern for something he was trying to make in less than a minute. He was my Axe Handle.
Much of what I write now, as far as essays go, are rambles, I start, then follow where the trail leads. Of course that does not mean a direction as much as a trail, impling a wake like a boat across a lake; I arrive somewhere, so in retrospect it appears as if I have followed a path, rather than cut my way through the tangle of my thinking. The turns of the trail are determined as much by what I do not talk about as much as what I do. I think of Mark Strand’s poem where he says, “I move to keep things whole.” He keeps the air apart in his bodily presence, so he moves allowing the reunification of air. I write to make things whole; I move through the bits of words I have been reading trying to get out of the way. I am not being coy. I look over the “texts” I have been reading, write down a few quotes, out of the slew of underlining I made while reading the books, then start to write. I would imagine that if I could pick different quotes from the same authors, I would come up with a different essay. Of course the quotes I pick are determined by what I am thinking at the time of the choosing, which is influenced as well by the quotes I pick as I am picking them thereby changing what I am thinking. Finally I create a story line that attempts to shape it all into a sense of meaning, or at least a sense of what I think I mean at the time.
I wonder if I am shaped more by the writing than I shape what I write when I write.

Inner Speech, Deep Inner Speech

I read “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” by Jean-Dominique Bauby today. It is the memoir of a man who had a stroke and was left paralyzed completely. He was able to move his head and his left eye. He suffered from what they called “locked-in syndrome,” because he could still think, see, smell, and hear, but could not communicate with the outside. His speech therapist came up with the idea to rearrange the alphabet into the most commonly used letter order. Visitors would say this new alpha order and when they arrived at the letter of the word he was trying to spell, he would blink his left eye. Early in the book he wrote that he would think about what he wanted to write before someone arrived, because he did not want to waste time thinking about what he wanted to say when he was writing. It was a funny, say, moving story. It made me think about how much time we spend in our own heads, and Vygotsky’s inner speech. Jim Harrison wrote that most of the talk we do is with ourselves. Yes, community is important: Bauby’s amazing effort to communicate is testimony to that, but his book is also testimony to the depth of the world we live inside of our skulls.


Let me see if I understand?

You have this image
a picture, if you will , in mind
perhaps more of a painting
because of the layers
and textures of nuance
you have thought about
but cannot articulate
in any coherent, logical manner
thus the image
or did we agree on a painting
to help out in the explanation
a visual aid of a sort
but a visual provided by a word
which of course is a sound
which represents something else
which creates an image
or painting to represent
all of what you mean
but cannot say
which is there floating around
in your head
like snow flakes or fog.

Is that it?

(Fall 2007)

small talk

the tendency to provide an entry
to give over some easily handled
metaphorical line of thought to make
the intent palatable for the time
it takes to transform the former idea
into the latter one: you into me – –
long enough to allow the thought to form
long enough for the talk to begin

yet still what is there to say anymore
that has not been said before by others
we are constrained in the range of language
how many ways can we say I love you
not enough apparently, look around
so many die with no kiss on their lips

(December 2007)


worry over words
a miser with his money
turning and turning each phrase
each nick and mar memorized
memorialized and cherished
like a prize newly won

What did she say?
What word stressed?

Shades shade each shadow of nuance
What light is cast on what wall

(from Fragments of Water, 2003)


Teaching in the Contact Zone is a good cook book on teaching critically. Gaughan provides lots of activities to engage students in a curriculum of “Fight the Power.” Many students respond well to these types of activities; it gives them a sense of control over their lives and the world. There is something that can be done. There is a teacher down the hall who does a lot of this kind of stuff; she even started a club where the students collect funds for Darfur and similar causes. It is a great motivator for the students she works with. In addition to explaining the activities well, Gaughan gives good justifications for doing what he does the way that he does it. I totally agree with everything. However, I still am uncomfortable with such obvious attempts at shaping the thinking of the students. Pink Floyd’s “We don’t need your thought control, teachers leave those kids alone!” keeps replaying in my head. Where is the line drawn between social activism and social control? Is it ok when I agree with the political agenda? Or is it wrong and propaganda only when done by those I disagree with. Yes, there is always an element of manipulation and control: Power is inherent in every human relationship. I wonder how often Gaughan’s students simply gave him what he wanted to hear in order to get the grade they thought he would provide. They too know how to use the power to their benefit. Too cynical? Perhaps.

from "Primogenitive Folly"

And where does it lie, this belief in some . . .
higher, something beyond our meager . . .
for food, shelter, sex? What drive coaxes . . .
out along the edges of our lives . . .
to hunt for a definition that . . .
satisfy, like a cat curled purring . . .
a chair? But questions come too late for . . .
. . . sense to make a difference between
the words . . . speak to ourselves and others.
Laughter breaks through the cracks in language; . . .
failure propped up on fragmented nerve . . .
. . . , an audacity which still cannot
stand against the onslaught of the world . . .
The sad remnants of the stories we tell.


How to Teach Teachers: How to Know Everything

Reading Smagorinsky and Whitting, “How English Teachers Get Taught,” I become overwhelmed by the difficulty of reducing everything important, and everything is important, into a 15 week syllabus. There is no way everything a pre-service teacher needs to know before teaching can be reduced to a 15-week class. I agree with them that a focused class would be more useful in the long run than a survey course that touches on everything, yet my tendency is to want to include everything. I hope that last week in class a few parameters were laid down, like how many classes per week, how long the classes last, etc. so that I can get an idea about how much I can cram into the syllabus. I am already going to assume that the students will be willing to read quite a bit, but I am not sure what even that means. I remember vaguely my methods class, which was a short series of lessons on various techniques over a few weeks, prior to being thrown into the student teaching classroom. The class that helped me the most was the writing project I weaseled into in 1987 the year before I was first hired. The writing project gave me some things to do, and an outlook that has informed my teaching for the last twenty years. I guess that shows, as Smagorinsky and Whitting argue, for the importance of a balance of theory and practice.