Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Quick Update

For many reasons, not the least of which is the start of school, I have neglected my blog. So here are some quick updates on things...

1. Last weekend, the Wedding-Guest and I drove out to Boonville, NY to see our friends in Black Iris of the Sun play at Hulbert House with some other bands (including MEN...I know one of those guys too.) What a strange place to see music: An 1812 historic inn with illustrated wallpaper and lace curtains. Black Iris of the Sun was excellent, as always. I miss their former guitar player, who lent a certain strain of elegance to their sound that I loved, but they are still far and away my favorite local band. Their songs are crafted like powerful spells instead of just a blur of aggression and angst. To be fair, the angsty-aggression bands label themselves "hardcore," and that's their thing. Which I don't love. But I do appreciate the energy and even the wild karate dancing that ensues when they play.

2. Then school started. The first day, I had enthusiastic English major British literature students. After that...sleepy students with bed hair and blurry eyes. I can't count on the usual discussion format of literature classes, obviously, so I'm thinking of ideas. They may be sorry they ever acted sleepy in front of me. But I've been starting the class with metal songs based on Old English literature, and that wakes them up a little. ("Beowuuuuuuuulllllllf!" Thanks, Valgard.)

3. Then, I competed in the 3-Day Novel Contest. In that one, you are challenged to write an 80-100 page novella over the three days of the Labor Day weekend. I tried to write a little metal romance, and I DID come up with a story that has a beginning, middle, and end. It's 54 pages long, and I sent it to the contest people. There is no way on earth it will win. It's pretty dreadful. But it was a neat experience, and I'll probably try it again next year. And next year, I will prepare better for the practicalities of writing non-stop for three days. You must lay in supplies. You must have a nice place to write. The main thing I learned from this experience is how to use an outline for a novel. This was my first experience of that, and it wasn't too bad. The outline changed as I wrote, of course, but it did work. Also, I spent the last few hours revising, and that wasn't too bad...until I somehow lost my changes!!! That was tragic, but it was good because that happens to students, and I always feel suspicious of them. Now, I remember how easy it is to have that accident and what it feels like when you do!

4. I am up for promotion and tenure (not called that anymore, but I'm still using the word) this year, and I need to put together a packet of proof of my achievements. This seems daunting, especially because I don't feel like I have many. But it must be done.

5. I have two more weeks left of doing the Insanity workout. If I make it through, I am going to stay in a hotel in NYC and spend the weekend in museums. That is the only thing that keeps me using up so much of my time (30 minutes-hour) every evening on an activity that prevents me from reading.

6. The Airborne is still off training, and for a few more weeks, there is no communication allowed. I miss his conversation, but I love "the bliss of solitude."

7. Yesterday, I played a "gig" at the Resource Fair with our lead guitarist, JT, who is also a librarian. We sat at the library table and played our very moving original songs about how to use the library. We also played a bunch of other songs when no students were standing right in front of us. It was a very nice way to spend my office hours. I have the weirdest gigs up here.

8. More on this later...There is a man from Texas named Skip Rhudy who wrote a novella called One Punk Summer back in the 90s. It is an important book in my life, so I wrote him some fan mail by Facebook, and he wrote back! I hope he doesn't think I'm a crazy stalker. This book deserves its own blog. I shall write one later, when I'm not rushing off somewhere. Which probably means "Christmas break" at this point.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Rule, Britannia!

All summer I have been working on a Norton Anthology-inspired reading list for my British Literature I students.  More than any other class, I have longed to teach this one. I cannot believe the time has come.

Nor can I believe how difficult it is to choose wisely. It would be so easy to make this Early British Literature That I Love Most. But it can't be that. My job is to give them a good grounding in British liteature from the earliest writings to the icky 18th century, when satire and incredibly boring tracts abounded. We can't just read Beowulf and lyrics and loads of sonnets. We have to read some drama too.  It's in the approved syllabus. We can't just skip Pope or DRYden. We can't skip "The Faerie Queene." Except that we are going to.

I'm teaching British Literature mainly to students getting an associate's degree in liberal arts.  They just need a literature class. Of any kind. Most of them probably chose mine based on timing rather than interest. (Or, in the case of at least two of them, because I begged and pleaded and promised it would be "like studying metal," which was not a lie). So, what do I give them (poor as I am)?

Actually, that little poem excerpt, which we learned as children from a book of Christmas poetry, does apply:

What can I give him,
poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring him a lamb.
If I were a Wise Man,
I would do my part.
Yet what can I give him?
Give him my heart.

-- Christina Rossetti

I AM poor, in the grand scheme of things:  I am a young scholar, in the world of scholars. I am not a great poet or a great writer. I went to The University of Southern Mississippi, not Harvard. And of course, although one of my grandmothers' families came from England, I am not British. I am Creek. So, what can I give them, my students? I can give them my heart, which since infancy has been filled by my father with British literature. I must trust that the heart will inform the training, but also that the love will not overshadow the least, not too often.

Sometimes, like when one is convincing 19-year-olds to love Christopher Smart, it is perhaps best to let it go. Then, they need "Listen to this FANTASTIC cat poem that I LOVE!!" Not, "Note the interesting structure of Smart's line and meter."

But all this has been but a means of avoiding my reading list, which I must now turn into a schedule of events. And which must not turn into my opening the anthology to something like Spencer's sonnets because if that happens, the love will take me over again, and I will start on a crazy poem about my love of British literature...

For I will consider British literature.
For it is my life and my salvation.
For it is my favorite thing in the whole wide world.
For I always hear it in my father's voice.
For when the real world does not correspond, I am disappointed.
For there is so much of it.
For it can creep.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Your Head Was On the Floor and Rats Played Pool With Your Eyes

You'd think after my beautifully lazy summer I would be impervious to stress, but several stressful things have occurred at once lately, and it turns out I am not. I shall not elaborate on them but only on their effect, which was a massive tension headache that knocked me all the way down yesterday. I don't usually have even normal headaches, so when one like that hits, I'm a big ol' sissy.

Today I feel as if I have a band of duct-tape-sized pain stuck across the front of my brain, but it is a dull pain, not like yesterday. My husband informs me that I am to be still, be lazy, and make an appointment with the opthamalogist because some of this may be related to the eyestrain I gave myself over the weekend, planning all my classes in one fell swoop.  I did make the appointment. 

Laying around is a challenge for me. I like to think that's because I'm like Karl Wallenda or Peter the Great or Bruce Dickinson...those people who can't sit still for accomplishing things. Except I don't accomplish. I just putter with a mighty will, doing one and another thing vehemently and enthusiastically, but not too productively.

Typing this blog hurts my eyes and my head, unfortunately. But that's not why I was away. My internet was down. As you can see, it's back. And I'll be back, the minute I get my feet centered on this tightrope again.

Here are my accomplishments for the day:

1. Watched Trick or Treat. I'll have a whole blog on that later. Very comforting, that movie.

2. Made a list of potential topics for the three-day novella contest, which I am entering over Labor Day weekend. Yes, 80-100 page novella in three days. Unlike NaNoWriMo (my favorite holiday), Three-Day Novel is an actual contest in which you can win one of three prizes, the first of which is publication. My colleague, whose name shall heretofore be Godzilla, is in this contest also. I imagine we shall both wind up with gray hair by the time it's over. He did it last year and came up with a very cool horror novel.

3. Checked the mail. We are in the process of changing from our New York bank to a local credit union. The checks came in. Thrilling.

4. Read Decibel's Women in Metal issue, which I had been avoiding for a month because I was afraid I would be offended and lose my favorite magazine to wrath. But they came through, as I should have known they would. The articles are fair, funny, respectful, and very concious of the problematic nature of "Women In..." projects in general. My faith is restored. I'd write a whole blog about it, but that sounds like work.

5. And now, I shall go to YouTube and look up all the bands whose names I highlighted as I read the reviews. That is absolutely one of my favorite activities. It is also the only way I keep from being totally overwhelmed by the amount of and access to metal of these trying times. Back in the olden days of the late 80s/90s, you had to accept what you could find in record stores or through tape trading. Much less overwhelming.These days...but that's for another blog.

6. It's a beautiful sunny day, but I just can't go out in it. Invincible yellowjackets are living above our front door. I have been stung on the head twice already, and at the moment, I just don't want one more thing that hurts, even a little. Bring on the mindless YouTube excursion...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Not What I Meant At All

You might remember that I mentioned in my summer break blog that our friend was severely injured in Afghanistan. Since then, we have prayed so many kinds of prayer, like praying while we worked out, willing our healthy bodies to infuse their vitality into his. Like when I got stung on the head by yellowjackets (twice in two days) and offered up the searing pain to decrease the emotional strain on his wife and daughter. Prayers that are supposed to be secret but which I am sharing now because grief causes me to no longer care what is appropriate. Of course, you realize that means our friend passed away. His name is Greg Trent. I can say it now because everyone knows.

My grief is not the story, although this is my blog and I suppose it could be. But I'm Creek. We have big families, tight communities. We learn to grieve from an early age, when we are taken to funerals as babies and grow into our roles in communal grieving. And I've lost friends, also, not just relatives. To suicide, which is the most terrible. To war, which is also terrible in its own special way. Grieving is familiar, but the loss of each dear, special person merits pain as individual and specific as the love they gathered in life.

Joseph met Trent, or T, as he was called, and his wife Beth when he first moved to Italy. They were in the 173rd Airborne together. I came along a little later, and by that time they were already fast friends. Joseph constantly told me I would love the Trents, and he was right, immediately. For here was a couple so in love that they glowed with it. They were smart, funny, and direct in a way that I had always wanted to encounter. I assumed it was because they were from the East, but now I know it was just their way. They could speak the truth, be it serious or funny, with such grace and courage that it made me feel free to be as brave -- something that is difficult for a new Army wife, for we often feel bound to say only the positive, the practical, the safe.

They were best friends, and they, like all Army couples, knew the fragility of life. So they LIVED. They had a beautiful little baby, who has grown into a beautiful little girl. They went on vacations. They celebrated good things. At Christmas, they made their house the gaudiest, brightest, merriest house in the neighborhood. Beth's updates about it on Facebook were a hilarious part of my holiday season. They had hard things happen just like anyone, but joy is deep and abiding, and they had that.

No matter what I write, it is not quite what I meant to say. The time for struggling with it is not now, and not here. I won't write about our friends again in this blog, but when I write of other things, it won't mean I have forgotten. We never do.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Mist and All

The Mist and All

I like the fall
The mist and all
I like the night owl’s lonely call
And wailing sound
Of wind around.
 I like the gray
November day
And dead, bare boughs that coldly sway
Against my pane
I like the rain.
I like to sit
And laugh at it
And tend my cozy fire a bit
I like the fall
The mist and all.

-- Dixie Wilson

When I was little, our aunt and uncle in Kansas brought us a set of Childcraft encyclopedias. You'll probably hear about Places to Know in another blog because for awhile it was my favorite book. But this poem was in Poems to Know. My sister and I read that book constantly.  It's not that we didn't have other poetry books. Our father loves literature and taught English; we had anthologies galore. (I was going to say we were "well-versed in poetry," but I thought your eyes might roll right back into your head and not come out again). But this was a book of poems especially selected for children, with interesting illustrations and poems we hadn't read before. We would take turns reading them, and we memorized several.

(If my sister is reading this, she will laugh when I write, "The gingham dog and the calico cat, two by two on the table sat...")

We always knew the writers of poems because that was important in our house, but we didn't pay as much attention to them in Poems to Know for some reason. Thus it was that I didn't know this little poem was written by a Ziegfield Follies chorus girl. That makes it even more interesting, but I'm actually not here to talk about poetry and poets, despite what it looks like. (My students would say, "Isn't your thesis supposed to match your essay?" And I would say, "Only if you want a good grade. Blogs are for anarchy.")

I posted this poem because every fiber of my being is trying to rush ahead and look forward to fall. I know better. Northern New York people have taught me not to rush summer, for its lease hath all too short a date. There will come a time when I am freezing cold, coming home with a bag full of papers to grade, and I will think back to a summer day that I didn't properly appreciate -- this one, perhaps, when I am thinking about apple cider and beef stew, earlier dark and students unwinding scarves and patting down their hair to quell the static.

Winter is my season, but I do like fall, the mist and all. And when I've had a good summer, I don't dread its coming. But it doesn't start until September 22, so I'm trying not to rush it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Introducing the Cast of Characters

I am drinking detox tea and eating a great big pastry. There, in that image, is my life. I feel guilty for neither and see no contradiction. A good blogger would use it as the center of an entry about her philosophy of life, but I'm not a good blogger. I'm a person who eats a great big pastry with her detox tea.

But, as I think I shall write more regularly (at least for awhile), I thought it might behoove those of you who are not Daddy (my main and best reader) to know who I am talking about when I give people nicknames -- a practice that seems like good blogger etiquette.

Obviously, I know more people than this. I have many, many cousins and many musician-friends, along with many work-friends and acquaintances and Army friends. They will get nicknames as they come along in the blog. For now, here are the main people you are likely to hear about:

1. Daddy. He is my actual father. He is brilliant, witty, and talented in every way. The sun rises and sets at his will. He loves literature; I love literature. He taught English; I teach English. He plays guitar; I play guitar. You see how it is. He is also probably the only person reading this.  (Hi, Daddy!)

2. Mama. She is my actual mother, and she too is brilliant, talented, and very...what is the word now? Hip? Cool? With it? (I'm sure it's not that one...) She is it, and I am not it. She, perhaps, will understand the joke of the last sentence, but you will not, and I won't tell you. That's how you remain hip. Cool.  With it. She won't be in here much, not because she is not ever-present in my life, but because she probably wouldn't appreciate being in a blog.

3. The Airborne. He is my husband, and he actually is a paratrooper. I'd say "was" because he is now with a non-Airborne unit, but if you live with a paratrooper, you know that this does not matter.  When Daddy talks about him, he calls him The Airborne, so I will too, here. Where he is, there is Eden.

4. The Great. He is my nephew. I call him HisActualName the Great, but as I'm not using actual names here, he becomes The Great. He just turned 1. You should see him. He is magnificent. He is also the only grandchild in a family of three girls. He is the boss and the tv star.

5. I have two sisters, but I haven't come up with names for them yet. I must consult them first. Otherwise, they will become Coka and Biting Bull. They may not like that. Or they might. If they are reading this, they should let me know.

6. Tula. That is her actual name. She is our black and white rescued cocker spaniel. If I figure out how to post pictures, you will see her.  She has crooked teeth and a neurotic soul. Mostly, she lies around like a beautiful stuffed animal, waiting for someone to drop food.

7. The Nik. That is is actual name. (Well, it's Nikki, but we call him The Nik.) He is our peach and white (it even says so on his vet records) rescued Tibetan spaniel (or so it said on his adoption papers). He used to have really crooked teeth that stuck out of his mouth, but he lost one in a skunk battle.  He lost the other in an oral surgery extravaganza, along with 11 other teeth. He weighs 17 pounds. When we got him, he had just recovered from a broken jaw he got fighting a pit bull. When he is not fighting dangerous animals, he lies with all his legs sticking out, more like an area rug than a dog.

8. The Big Unit. That is his actual name. He is our blue and red King Betta fish. The King Betta as a breed is disputed, but that's for a long blog you may want to avoid unless you are particularly interested in fish. So far, he has been kept alive for almost five weeks. He is my reward for completing one week of the Insanity workout. I have since earned him rocks, a betta hammock, a skull house, and soon, an aquarium vaccuum cleaner thing. He is named after the only baseball player I have ever known about. Because he is big.

9. The Monstrosity. You will think I am a terrible person for calling our giant aloe vera plant that. If I was a better person, it would have a lovely, encouraging pagan name like Freya or The Green Lady. But I can't quit calling it The Monstrosity. It is truly huge. It looks like it could climb off the shelf and walk around. It's arms are as long as baby arms. If you burn yourself at my house, never fear; we have plenty of healing aloe for everyone in this county. It is the joy of my life.  It is also the only plant that has ever survived my good intentions for this long.

10. Cinderella. She is 21 years old and used to be my student. She needed some adults on her side, so we stepped in. Despite bad odds and our fumbling, she thrives. She is a semester away from graduating college on the dean's list. She is also a beautiful ballroom dancer who looks unfailingly elegant, yet does not act embarrassed to be seen with us. She will also thrash you in badminton and Bible trivia, so don't let yourself be hustled.

11. The Wedding Guest. He is 22 and also used to be my student. He is a writer with big ideas and a metalhead who can endure my long-winded lectures on The Gallant History of Thrash. As the Ancient Mariner found the one who "must hear [him]," so I found the Wedding Guest. Never has a mentor been as inept as the one he has found, but he endures my badgering, questionable advice, and (probably embarrassing) cheerleading. And he has completed two novel manuscripts, one of which he just finished revising and which it is my job to read. Amazing.

I think that covers the immediate characters.  As I said, more will be added as they come along. And they will. I'm an English-teaching, guitar-playing Creek military wife metalhead...My address book runneth over.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Real Summer Break

It has been so long since I wrote in this blog that everything about it has changed and I don't know what I'm doing. I can't figure out how to look at old blogs or change designs (not that I knew how to do that before) or anything. So I hope this gets to all two of you who read this. (Hi, Daddy!)

Despite what it sometimes looks like, I am a hard worker. In my profession (teaching college English), much of the hardest work happens inside one's head. You wouldn't think that would be tiring, but it is. My wise father warned me of this when I went into teaching, and of course, he was right. And of course, I didn't really listen. Thus it is that I have spent every glorious summer break of my teaching career planning lessons, reading for lessons, thinking about lessons, and, most of all, feeling guilty any time I wasn't thinking of or doing these things.  Finally, I got so exhausted that my little well ran almost entirely dry. When I sent down a bucket for a lesson plan, it came up with mud. And then dust. And then nothing.

So this summer, I cut off my long hair and made the momentous decision to have a real summer break -- no work, no thought of work. At first, I tried to cheat by working on my upcoming conference presentation.  I did it on the porch with a glass of tea, but it was still work.  Then I tried to revise one of my novels -- not the one I wanted to work on; the one I thought I ought to work on. My soul rebelled.

It's like I forgot how to have fun that wasn't actually some kind of work.

But gradually I figured it out. I went to Niagara Falls and watched Nik Wallenda's historic and inspiring tightrope walk. (I meant to blog about that, but it felt too  much like work.  I'll do it someday.) From there, I went to Oklahoma and spent some time with my always-fun relatives and baby nephew (who is 1 as of yesterday!). We watched the Oklahoma City Thunder in our matching blue shirts. We had a cupcake birthday party for my mother and aunt. I rode around with my other nephew, the drummer for an excellent Black Sabbath-sounding metal band, and talked about music.

When I got back, it was The Airborne's (that's what my father calls my husband) leave, but he couldn't go beyond an eight-hour radius because of a complicated Army thing I'm probably not supposed to talk about in my blog. OPSEC is everybody's business, after all. So we went to Buffalo and hung out with my sisters-in-law and niece, then spent some time in the actual city of Buffalo. It's much more fun than you think -- especially if you happen upon a pit-bull rescue benefit featuring rockabilly bands and a burlesque show.

After that, we went to Connecticut to visit one of Joseph's gun friends and my college roommate, who now works at ESPN. By then, I was definitely on vacation and it was great fun to see her after all these years -- and talk as if it had been but a very eventful week since our last visit. We got the "friend tour" of ESPN, which was very interesting and exciting because she is part of it, and I knew her when we were just learning AP style. We also visited Mark Twain's majestic mansion and Harriet Beecher Stowe's efficient little house. We also missed several things I hope to see when we go back. Who knew Connecticut was so fun?

Soon after that, Mama came to our house in New York, spontaneously. She was here for about four days, and we went on the St. Lawrence River tour boats and spent the day in Kingston, ON. She seems to approve of The Land of Mist and Snow. At least in the summer, when it is the Land of Flowers and Sunshine.

I'm not sure what I've been doing since then, but it hasn't been work.  Once she left, however, a strange impatience began to grow within me.  I began to have dreams about forgetting to teach class. I suddenly wanted to buy autumn-themed tea towels for the kitchen. And that is a sign that I have had enough summer break for once. Now, I am ready to think about how to share literature, not just consume it.

Several terrible things have happened in the last few days:  A good friend was severely injured in combat, so we wait for news and pray without ceasing. Another friend and former student is being sent home early from a volunteer trip to Sri Lanka because she is so sick and malnourished. The Airborne now knows for sure that there is a deployment on the way (which isn't unexpected or that terrible, but which is always surreal if looked upon directly).

I don't mean this in the selfish way it sounds, but I am glad I decided to have a real summer break. My part in all dealing with all of these things will be made easier for having fortified myself with sun and good books and travel.

Today, our new professor is coming over to have lunch and talk about teaching. I am ready for that kind of lunch (aside from the table being piled with old student papers and gun parts). I know very well how much harder my life could be, so I am glad I was smart enough, for once, to enjoy it during the easy part.