BootsnAll Travel Network

Archive for May, 2007

« Home

Voicing the enemy

Monday, May 28th, 2007

Spent six hours today doing the layout for the next issue of The Midnight Special, the magazine of prisoners’ writing edited by the men in the Thursday-night creative writing workshop. I’m very excited about this issue, which I (ahem!) recommend to everyone. One of the pieces that moves me most came from an assignment based on Gloria Anzaldua’s “We Call Them Greasers.” [read on]

It reminds me of what I wanted to become.

Saturday, May 26th, 2007

Just saw Venus. God, what a film. How can it be so? Here’s a film about a “dirty old man and a slutty girl,” to quote Peter O’Toole himself, and yet it’s not about either of those things. It’s about the incredible drama of aging–despite the sordid details, the creeping decrepitude: there is still the beauty of the human desire to give pleasure, to appreciate beauty, and to dance. [read on]

The book, the movie, the T-shirt

Friday, May 25th, 2007

Ever since the day of, I have been obsessed by the drama of the lives of Manko and Kendra. Not just as a mom, but as an artist and social activist, I am gripped by the power of this coming-of-age in America story of two young African-American women, one with a GED, the other with a high school diploma; both with no sense of direction, no marketable skills or talents; both with a terrific sense of humor and zest for life: what will happen when they strike out on their own in Houston in mid-2007? Almost anything is possible. The story they are about to create should be told. [read on]


Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

I spent today looking at apartments with Manko and her friend Kendra, who’s going to be Manko’s roommate. They’ve been friends since they were twelve. Kendra’s a fine big strapping girl, taller than I am, mature and sensible, hard-working, well-grounded, great sense of humor. Kendra is still living with her mom and her mom’s five younger kids and has been working at the Wal-Mart in Wharton for the past year, and she’s making $700 a month now, although at the moment she has no money at all and barely had enough gas to get here. Manko, of course, has been working for Hollywood Video, although lately they haven’t been giving her more than 12 hours a week, and her bank account is overdrawn. I withdrew enough money from my savings to cover a deposit and first month’s rent on an apartment for the two of them, and off we went, in search of a two-bedroom apartment under $550 a month. We laughed till we cried, and I laughed so hard my cheeks are sore from so much laughter. [read on]

Reading Byron after Columbine

Friday, May 18th, 2007

On Wednesday I began teaching my new English Literature 2 class (from the Romantics to post-colonial and postmodern literature), one of those four-hours-a-day, five-days-a-week intensive surveys. I began, as I always do, by discussing what the so-called “Romantics” celebrate in their poetry: nature, sex, drugs, revolution, social justice, non-materialism, the artist genius, the Byronic or romantic outcast…. These values were an easier sell forty years ago than they are now, but the one that strikes no sparks at all from contemporary students is the notion of the romantic outcast. The very word gives them chills. [read on]

Daughter poem

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

Alicia just returned from her daughter’s commencement ceremonies at NYU this past weekend. Alicia said she didn’t expect the waves of emotion that overpowered her as they made this passage together, she and her daughter. Alicia brought to the poetry group this heart-stopping poem by Philip Booth, from his book, Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999. It says exactly what Alicia and I both hope will be true for our daughters: [read on]

Learning “Humanities”

Sunday, May 13th, 2007

I’ve been having a perfectly wonderful time grading exams today. No, really. I mean it. One of the courses I teach is called, for lack of a better term, “Humanities.” I require students to attend or see ten “cultural events” or objects (paintings, sculptures, buildings, rock concerts, car shows, dance performances, opera, etc.) and to (1) compile a portfolio in which they comment on what they’ve seen, using the terms applicable to that field, (2) make two oral reports to the whole class on what they saw, using those terms, and (3) write, at the end of the semester, an extended essay about the impact on them of those experiences. (This of course invites what they call “sucking up” or saying what they think the teacher wants to hear; but there is a genuine quality in many of their papers that encourages me to believe it isn’t all sucking up.) Most of my students come from the working class. Most are, by US standards, “poor.” That’s why they’re attending community college. They had little exposure to art in their childhoods; their school teachers were busy teaching them to pass multiple-choice tests, not how to see the world around them. Most of them had never been to an art museum or a live theatre performance till I forced them to do it. Here’s a sample of what they’re telling me: [read on]

News from Lesotho

Friday, May 11th, 2007

I dreamed about M’e Mpho Nthunya last night, so I got up early, went online to get an African phone card, and called her. I hadn’t talked to her since November, and she whooped aloud when she heard my voice. “M’e Makie,” she cried out, “is it you, ke nete [truly]?” Yes, M’e, I answered, laughing with her at the wonder that we can talk to each other from worlds apart. She went on, “I dreamed about you last night, and we were talking about you with Ntsoaki [her granddaughter] all the morning. I was afraid you were dead because we didn’t hear from you in so long. I didn’t think you could hear us.” So that connection still works. [read on]

Zen Poem

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Tai just sent me this poem by Ryokan, a Japanese Zen poet of the eighteenth century (it, and more like it here). It’s not yet where I am, but it’s where I’m aiming to be, and it helps me understand that odd detachment or distance I experienced at the workshop: [read on]

Hanging out with stars continued

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Now I’m sitting in class, slightly dazed and disoriented from the shock of travel between identities and localities, while one fifth of my students pores over their final exam which I will soon need to grade. My route home from Hartford/Springfield to Baltimore, to Birmingham, and finally to Houston took six hours, time enough for me to re-read Nawal El-Saadawi’s powerful but deeply depressing novel, Woman at Point Zero, which added to my sense of disorientation (why did I take that novel?). The long series of flights gave me time to write some notes to myself, trying to integrate (1) the workshop and my odd sense of mingled hero-worship of the stars and detachment from the whole event; (2) the feelings that arose from being at Kripalu again, the overwhelming power of familiar smells of the place and the woods surrounding it; (3) deep talks with old friends who know me well and whose lives continue to unfold in surprising and adventurous ways; and (4) the relevance of all of that to my on-going quest. [read on]