Writing my way into the merry-go-round oblivion

January 13, 2017


Friday, the 13th. A writing day. All day. Buried in cybernetic space, capturing words and ideas like butterflies to the net, I emerged this evening disoriented. Have I been gone all day? Did I leave the house?
 
When I used to write papers in college, I’d experience that world spin standing still feeling, like just getting off the ferociously spinning playground merry go round where obstreperous middle school boys spin captives sick or flying. I’d spread papers out over the long, royal blue shag carpet of my apartment floor in the days before personal computers (gulp). I wouldn’t even get out of my pajamas for an entire weekend. Just staring at endless scribbled words. That was when I could write in nearly legible cursive penmanship.
 
I’d shuffle papers, pages and pages of written approaches, starts and stops, fits of penetrating insight overlaid with banal truths and just plain shitty prose. I turned and tossed the visions of literary geniuses and abstruse philosophical stalwarts of literary theory over and over in my head, never coming to a conclusion, never quite figuring it out.
 
But the stretch, though painful, felt like progress, growth and expansion. I felt my brain swell with inflammation and information. It hurt so good. I hated it. Loved and hated it.
 
The struggle is not the same now. I read better, comprehend more. Though merely a comp. lit major, I can write a short white paper section on patient warming techniques in the operating room through radiation, convection and conduction devices, condensing thermodynamics, biology and quantum physics into 750 words, like I did today. Before that I wrote about patient engagement strategies in healthcare, and after that I wrote about 5 superfoods for longevity.
 
No, the struggle is not so much in comprehension anymore as in attention span and endurance. I mean it’s all fascinating and boring at the same time. The process, the mechanics–blind fingertips smashing keys. But the flow–the lost time in some other realm–that’s what keeps me coming back for more.
 

Image: Rusted-playground-merry-go-round/pixabay

Digital Art and the Word Drop


That poet last night set spin wheeling nouns and verb sighs.

Just one.

His verses coursing by pleasurably permeable, sealed lids,

Just zero.

Shuttering a head hollowed of word, notion or expectation.

Just one.

Emptied, spaciously awaiting fellow travelers’ souvenirs.   

Just zero.

“Hear with eyes closed and you’ll see,” you once told me.

Just one.

Fluff-sniff uttered tears, sentimental notes on napkins, he

Just zero.

Etched lines pressed hard, full hearted and tritely delivered.

Just one.

 

But none, no magical words soothe-slid my ear’s tongue.

Just zero.

Like a sketched sea on an amber lit canvas of indigo waves

Just one.

You once cyber brushed in digital smears, dot and stroke,

Just zero.

In feathered illusion, simulations of depth, heat and space,

Just one.

But shallow and frail–less breath, less truth, less warmth–

Just zero.

Your screen nearly lifted me, lying flat across atoms and time:

Just one.

No light, no touch, no sight, no rhyme, no texture, no heights

Just zero.

Room Mosaic–Ten for Today

Fan 

A fan blows rhythm into wood;

Across the room stirs fluttered paper;

Vibrations travel far into distant jungles.
 
Poster

Sylvia Plath said it; trapped inside the mind

Nothing you can say or do to get out of that fertile futility forest

Except to lose it.
 
Picasso

The politics of a line fascinates the artist,

Astonishes the viewer with simplicity, 

Of message, method and mood–peace face.
 
Photo

Three folded into one chair–Mamie, flanked by two little granddaughters–summer in France,

My two girls embraced in awkward submission, forced smiles,

Posing for another camera off center.


Air Plant

A floating glass bubble filled with silver and brown sand,

Hemp roped from the ceiling,

Inside crowd rocks, pebbles, earth, shells and one dead succulent.
 
Clay Pot

An art fair in Santa Monica, a day before many moons ago,

When time belonged to browse and easy chatter,

Not like now 20 years later when sparse, efficient words work us through the hours. 

Ten Minute Write for July 13th: the divinity of detail


July 13, 2016
Writing to, from and down the bones sounds simple enough–the detail, the divine detail–but the word fount must be vast and strong. Specificity takes knowing the names of things, everything. I can hardly remember my own. Names.

I lack an honest pen. I am just learning to live with things as they are, not according to my vision and story, but as they are. I’ve embellished on life, added color, flexed the edges of pathways and tables to make them fit a certain slant in my sight. It sounds like fabricating–lying–but I think it’s appropriate to call it crafting. Yes, there is a line, a circle too. But crafting is legitimate, carving stories from wood and steel. I do it. We all do. Ultimately we are the stories we write ourselves into from everything we deem real, lived and experienced.

There is a rolled up tube, wide and tall as my thigh, slightly taller, that stays tubed by a rubber band, awaiting a frame as it sits vertically atop my desk, white, serene, divided in half by that serpentine rubber band. Inside, I have seen the cow skull atop the man, sitting in the foreground with powerful arms and lean body, brown man in the heat, in the background a rustic desert cafe one sees in dusty towns off long, leaning highways into the horizon. He wears a skull as ritual, in his town, an African town, somewhere outside Johannesburg. 

The line sketch print, presented to me as a birthday present, one I asked for after spying this piece at a friend’s house art gallery opening, pleased me softly and widely. Perhaps the cow bones spoke the truth in human animality, like the Native American mask that hangs above the fire place: antlers, fox skins and painted man. They came to be as someone’s vision. My husband bought both pieces for me, witnessing the missives sent without reading them. Perception. Vision. 

That is my story, my detail of notice and narration, memory and matters. 

Stillness and Presence


“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, 

Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,

Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

T.S. Eliot, “Four Quartets” 

The dance is ongoing. It is presence. It never was nor will be but at the still point of our ever turning, evolving world–that is us. And the dance is lovely and freeing if you stay there.

The Art of Lovers’ Lessons Learned


A lover once taught me shapes of fair, fragile snowflakes,

Their pockets of space designing mass and configuration

As much as frozen rain mists, cloud-fallen and drifting.
**********************************************

Another one telescoped me the distance and size of stars,

Colored me planetary pictures of rings and ovals, spheres

In spotty galaxies smudged by gaseous gems on sky maps.
***********************************************

One modeled his lessons to me in structured time slots,

Configured inside meetings and lunch, clocking out hour

And over-time pay shifts, allowances for home absence.
***********************************************

And yet another, this one, schooled me in the art of love,

A rare calligraphy of swirling letters adorning words in

Poems and stories that beat true passion into thick skin.
***********************************************

All of these and more have lent a lesson to have and hold

By imagery water-colored on silk screen partitions placed

Between my heart and ribs, thighs and brain, sculpting me.

Scribus Mundanus Me


 
Perhaps you have to be a teacher or know one to smile at this article a good friend sent me today, but I enjoyed seeing myself typecast as a certain type of teacher. Though I have taught my share of literature courses and may have been Libris Scholaris, especially in grad school as a Teacher’s Assistant, guest lecturer or contract lecturer at the university, but I am quintessentially Scribus Mundanus all the way these days, as I stare down a pile of ungraded essays beckoning me to my desk even at this late hour. 

John Minichillo on Timothey McSweeney’s blog writes “How to be a Better Teacher-Person Through Apathy: On the Heirarchy of English Professors, a Nonmenclature: Scholar-Type, Teacher-Type and Artist-Type” to illustrate and caricature teachers on this very week of the teacher. I have been all three, but teaching three composition courses this semester and some semesters four or more, I relate to this description:

The second type of English professor is the composition scholar, or teacher-type, Scribis mundanus. They use the word “text” with far less frequency and their obsession lies in “pedagogy,” a word never uttered outside of universities, but a catch-all title that means, broadly, “teaching.” While Libris scholares teach to make a living, so that they can study texts, Scribis mundani have always wanted to teach, and they have a way of resenting other professors who don’t engage in the frequent self-examination of their own teaching practices. They believe in a growth model for teachers, so that they are involved in teacher training and/or disseminating self-assessment tools, and they command their classrooms with a dynamic flair. They are forever pondering goals and outcomes, and will dole out experimental assignments, so that during any given semester the class content, approach, or grading methods of Scribis mundanus may have completely changed from previous semesters. The field of composition developed out of necessity and it’s the new kid on the block. At the beginning of the twentieth century students were interested in literature, and classes were introduced where these students would write “themes” each week, so that these primitive papers became what was graded in the course. Over time, English classes were separated into literature classes and writing classes, and composition was the methodology that grew up around paper writing, which became the subject, whole and entire, of composition classes.

I am a teacher. I am in it to teach. I use the word pedagogy, yes. Reading “texts” and creating art are collateral benefits that go with and develop from the art of teaching. Becoming an expert on others’ writing and teaching others to write, I have improved my own writing. The reciprocity has quite satisfactorily evolved into paid self-enrichment. 

Mundanus? Sure, the comp grind, as it is referred to in the biz, has its mind-numbing moments, for example, that pile on my desk that promises endlessly winding, often pointless poor prose as well as the surprise satisfaction of a well-turned phrase. I’m happy merely to find the few that followed the assignment directions. But then I remember that my own writing, discipline and substance have developed over a life-time, several decades. What can I expect in mere weeks? 

Maybe the next professor down the comp chain will have better luck weeding out the disorganization in this semester’s crop of students’ harried developing minds and the bad habits cemented over the years. In three weeks, my tenancy with them will be up (except for those who choose to try again with me). And then it’s summer school!

 
Image Credit: http://www.edweek.org

I’m a Teacher


I visited my father at the hospital this morning right after teaching my Tuesday morning class. In small talk, he asked me if I enjoyed teaching. When he is not at the hospital, which is always, he lives with me, so we have had this conversation before, I am certain. But this is how it is with him. He idles in conversation, never moving forward nor backward.

I said, “Yes, I love teaching.” To which he replied,

“Maybe that’s what you were born to do.”

I had to think about that for a moment. It’s probably true. I don’t believe he was accusing me of being too pedantic. The context did not warrant it. I’m sure I have been accused of that one before. Sure of it.

But he may be right. I have been a teacher or tutor or coach just about all my life from having younger siblings to helping out the kindergarten kids when I was a sixth grader to tutoring sociology in college for pay to side jobs through college as a Berlitz School of Languages instructor to a high school English department reader to a high school English teacher fresh out of college as my job while I finished law school.

I thought I should be a lawyer (my mother always said I should be), but as it turns out, I was always a teacher and returned to it after practicing law for 12 years and have done so ever since. 

I have had the great good fortune to teach so many classes, so many, many of them from composition and writing, to American and British Literature, to paralegal and law courses, to creative writing and life story writing, to art and cooking. I coached soccer for nearly 20 years.

So yeah, maybe it’s true. Maybe I was born to teach. I certainly do enough of it. After all these years, I have a knack for it, maybe even a certain talent, though I am equally certain that I am not the best. There are far more organized and structured college instructors than I am. And my ratings on ratemyprofessors.com are an average of mixed reviews. I have been accused of being a tough grader. That is true. One reviewer wrote: “If you’re stupid and you know it, don’t take her class.” I’m not sure what to make of that.

But it’s National Teacher Appreciation week. My students aren’t aware of that, and I am not bound to tell them. But I don’t need to. I am still friends in real life and on Facebook with students I taught in their senior year of high school 32 years ago, professors, business owners and lawyers themselves now. Folks I taught writing tips to ten years back in a class entitled “Writing the Story of Your Life”at a few senior citizen centers down the road 45 minutes are still friends. And dozens of students I see from time to time around town who I’ve taught at the local community college in the last fifteen years have popped up in that amount of time. Kids I coached when they were little are now showing up in my college class room.

I know they appreciate what they learned. Somehow I do. But I don’t think teachers are appreciated enough and in fact, are often ridiculed and belittled as the children they are charged with educating. They certainly are not respected given the status and pay afforded to them in this country. Perhaps that is one reason I felt–against my better instincts–that I should become a lawyer rather than “merely” a teacher when I graduated college. And I have vivid memories of teacher friends having to defend themselves from the old “you have summers off and I wish I had your job” patronizing.

Yet how many of us can remember at least one teacher that influenced them, taught them something and gave them stories to pass on to their own children? We take their continued existence for granted. We take them for granted–except for the one obligatory nod mandated by celebrated days of a week each year in May, primarily in grade school, when kids bring in flowers, apples, mugs, cards or chocolate to their teachers, who smile and fuss in return. I remember my years as room mom in my kids’ classrooms, having to coordinate that event each year as well as the holiday gift in winter and the parting gift in summer. 

And I often get Starbucks gift cards or gilded thank you notes at the end of the winter, spring and summer sessions. These are lovely tokens of appreciation. But I also get shorted a class and thus lose my family’s health insurance every five years when the district, state or country suffers budget crises. I’ve been through three of those cycles in fifteen years, sometimes at perilous times in my family’s health history. I am also never guaranteed a class as I do not work under contract, just the good will built over time of performing my job. 

This semester was the first in fifteen years that I was paid for office hours, though I hold them throughout the day and night outside my classroom when it ends, at tables on campus, on my way to my other job via telephone and at night when I return via laptop.  And I am happy to do so. I love my job. I just wish teaching were as respected and well paid as other jobs with comparable education and training. And the more I teach, the better I am at it, though there is always something to learn as a teacher.

Teaching is in my bones. No doubt. I’m fortunate to do what I love. Remember your teachers this week, most all of them givers–in the spirit of the profession. Hugs to all my teachers, good and bad, for helping build my life and teaching me to pay it forward.

Weekly Coffee: deep trout

image
Credit:http://melodieperrault.bigcartel.com/

“I adore looking down at his face, his mouth and chin wet with my pussy,” she sighs.

An unmistakeable internal wince triggers the 20-second rapid-fire movie reel of analysis playing before my mind’s eye: 

“Why the discomfort at glimpsing a peek into her fucking? It’s not like I’m intruding. Certainly I have outgrown my culturally infused hang-ups about nudity and pleasure long characterized as pornographic guilt sources. And the word “pussy” ceased to make me bristle decades ago, ” I muse.

She and I confess daily details hidden from the public in the corners and crevices of our lives each week for years now. “From whence does this auto-shame come?” I hear a feigned British accent ask inside my head. 

I watch her circle her hollow straw round the inside of the half empty mocha blended drink she seemingly speaks into. Her fingers are long, delicate and deceptively thin for how strong they are. I have seen them finger guitar frets and forcefully rip out knotted laces of a five year old’s shoes with ease. And her lips belong to a much younger woman, half her age, the way they remain stained pink-naked like the color of her fingertips after strumming that guitar. 

The rolling analysis halts at the sound of her voice.

“But he still can’t make me cum.”

Shaking my head, “After all these years…?”

“I know, right? You would think he could figure it out. Of course I don’t give him much help finding his way. I give hints like it’s some sort of treasure hunt or game of you’re-getting-warmer…put your finger here, circle like this, now move here… but I lose interest when the whole lesson becomes teachy and disruptive to the flow. I prefer to masturbate for cumming and leave the loving to him.”

“Hmmm…” I intone. Funny how we parcel the sides of ourselves out like that, almost a division of labor delegation to those who specialize according to training and capability. Who is more trained at knowing a body than its long-exploring owner? And it’s far greater, multiply abundant, to love physically with another than alone. 

“How ’bout dem Ducks,” she mocks, and we’re off to more surface ground.