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Archive for August, 2007

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Magical thinking

Monday, August 27th, 2007

It is always helpful to listen to someone a little older than you are, someone who has just crossed through the terrain you’re about to travel. Someone whose vision is not too different from yours, who can see further because she’s ahead of you in time. Joan Didion is one such person for me. She published Slouching Toward Bethlehem when I was an undergraduate creative writing major, and “Writers are always selling somebody out” became my motto. I even quoted it in my first little photocopied book, a collection of dramatic monologs based on women whose stories I had listened to. I used these monologs in my one-woman show, and although I made no money on that show–I made, in my best year, only $70 over expenses–still I felt conflicted about the stories: by performing them, was I celebrating the women, or exploiting them? It worried me. Didion wrote, back then, about hippies and drugs and Communism and other things that attracted and frightened me. Now she’s writing about grief. [read on]

Kennedy/Obama and me, blogging

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

I’ve been sick with a vicious migraine the last four days. It crested yesterday afternoon, and it was all I could do to lie back in the recliner with Basho in my lap, fighting the nausea with an ice pack over one eye, taking drugs. I did watch (out of one eye, with the volume turned low and subtitles-for-the-hearing-impaired running) a movie that should have been terrific but failed (beware the link; it takes time and bandwidth to download): Bobby, directed by Emilio Estevez. With a cast that includes Laurence Fishburne, Sharon Stone, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, and Harry Belafonte, how could it be bad? [read on]

Settling in

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

I’ve quit kicking things. The fragrances of Portland have worn off my clothes, and I can no longer remember what the cool air feels like. The sand of Muir Beach and the red dirt of Santa Fe have fallen out of my shoes. My molecules are all back in Houston, and I’m OK with that. My little apartment is a comfort and a delight. Basho is my best companion ever. It’s a pleasure to live near Manko and to see her occasionally. I love my friends. Poetry group met last night–our group has been together for nearly four years now. Gallo brought a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye that might just be my favorite poem in the world. I’ll put it in here, at the end of this post. And next week Gallo and I return to the prison. I love those guys. What was I complaining about? Whatever it was, it has passed and no longer matters. [read on]

Gender in The Lives of Others: Postscript

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

Here’s an interesting thing. I dreamed last night that I was in the world of The Lives of Others, but in the dream (in which I was an invisible presence) the playwright with the dangerous activist friends was a woman; the actor in her company was a man, her lover, insecure about his artistic worth and his career. That would have been quite a different movie, much more “edgy” and surprising. I don’t suppose I should fault the creator of the film for missing this…. But I’m sorry he did. I see that once again, a gifted German man, like Hesse, has created a work of genius, but he missed out on the opportunity to envision a woman as a co-hero or co-protagonist. The other main character in the film, Muehe, was still a man, in my dream–and I think for the film to work it’s better for him to remain a man. My dream-maker has more intelligence than I do. So do see this film. And then imagine the gender of the two artist characters reversed, and see how that feels.

The Lives of Others

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

Came home from work today and watched a film of such power that I’m not even going to attempt a “review” of it, though I have to say something. Das Leben der Anderen, or The Lives of Others swept the German Lola awards; it got the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in the USA this year; and it is, for me, unforgettable. There are reviews everywhere already, like this brief but rather ecstatic one from a London critic, or this slick and shiny one from The New Yorker. But the film is a work of great intelligence, sensitivity, and power, much larger and quieter and more intelligent than its reviews. In the “Making of the Film” feature, there is a bit that made me gasp out loud. [read on]

Mind-numbing language and reasons for hope

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

Rubric–QEP–Templates–Student learning outcomes– Program assessment Plan–Iterative Systematic Assessment Cycle–Bloom’s Taxonomy– Primary Constituents–Triangulation of data–Project-embedded–course-embedded assessment. Gack! I first heard this mind-deadening language in South Africa, in the mid- to late 90s, when we were redesigning what a college education means. Mandela had just been elected president, and we were ready to question the Anglo-centric education model. We wondered if Edmund Spenser might be less useful to African English majors than Okot p’Bitek; if Shakespeare’s comedies might be less vital than Soyinka’s. Our intentions were cultural, political, even vaguely revolutionary. Each South African university had been operating in its own little sphere, so suddenly the people who controlled the funding for universities asked if the B.A. we were offering in KwaZulu-Natal was equivalent to those offered at Fort Hare or at Witswatersrand. We didn’t know. Somebody hired a gang of American education experts (God help us), who brought this language across the Atlantic. [read on]

Boredom and John Berryman

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

I am bored. If I had the choice I would be leaving for Portland and a new life TODAY. But I don’t have that choice. I have to teach five more classes. I don’t want to, but I must. I am restless, and irritable, and bored, and I want to throw things and break them. Dave wondered if I might be exhausted from revealing so much about myself. No. I’m pissed off because there is nothing more to reveal. I’m living indoors, hiding from a blast-furnace Houston summer, dreading the new semester, cursing and kicking things. So of course I am reminded of John Berryman. [read on]

Dave’s brilliant idea

Saturday, August 18th, 2007

I could blog mostly about movies and books! Now there’s an idea, suggested by Dave, who I’ve never met but who occasionally sends encouraging comments to this blog. Kendall’s Quest could morph from the quest for a-place-to-plant-my-little-self into a quest for what matters (to me, maybe to others) in books and movies. Travels, when they occur. And who knows what else. There are other blogs that do book or movie reviews, but they tend to be cutting-edge: movies you can’t get from Netflix and can’t see unless you live in New York, Toronto, or San Francisco and go to film festivals; books that won’t get cataloged at your local library till you’ve already forgotten about them and have lost the little pieces of paper on which you wrote the titles. I love writing about books and movies (and poetry and damn near anything else that crosses my mind)–so yeah, I could do that, Dave. [read on]

To blog or not to blog

Friday, August 17th, 2007

Here I am again in one of those existential blogger moments. In summer of 06 I went to Portugal and started this blog of a pilgrimage, a journey. I came back from that adventure with the sense that all life is a pilgrimage, so I went on with the blog, during which time I intensified the search for a place to plant myself, a place to “retire” and step into as much freedom as I can find. I wrote about books and movies, about my daughter moving out, about the search for a new way of life, and about my cat. Now I think I can vaguely see that new way of life ahead…if I get Section 8 housing in Portland, and if nothing unexpected arises to stop me. In the meanwhile I have one more semester to teach, before that career is over. Do I go on blogging? [read on]

Wandering shoes

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

My shoes are full of stories. The sand of Muir Beach is still in the toes. I can’t make myself empty the sand out. Some of the red mud of Santa Fe in its monsoon season is in the treads. Gently, I place these shoes in the closet of my Houston apartment and feel a little dizzy. Soon I must go to a mandatory workshop on “assessment measures.” I’d rather eat a bucket of sawdust. Yesterday I had a migraine (irregular sleep patterns trigger them), but I stumbled around. I visited Manko (she’s fine, enjoying her work selling vacuum cleaners with her boyfriend’s brother’s company). I unpacked, read my mail, and stroked Basho’s soft fur as he kneaded my belly with his soft paws and butted me with his head. (I marvel at his forgiveness.) I feel like a different woman than the one who left here to make that trip. Every time I let go of a delusion I am freer and older. [read on]