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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]

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]

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]

Friday the 13th, Boogie on down

Friday, July 13th, 2007

Ah, beautiful. I have now been in my new home for a whole week, and it is feeling less “new.” It is only 82 degrees F in Houston at 9:30 in the morning, so I have not yet turned on the air conditioner. The windows are open, and I hear the rustle of oak leaves and the whish of pine needles. Another good friend has said she, too, is hoping to retire in Portland. For the moment I am not reporting for work, not grading papers, enjoying myself in a “constant state of enquiry and mild excitement,” as Stephen says to describe his state of mind when he’s painting. Literally and metaphorically, I’m dancing a kind of boogie of joy to be alive and still actively creating my life. Oh yes! [read on]

Decisions, decisions

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

I whoop with pleasure, reading the travel blogs of thirty-somethings out exploring the world alone (see My Links on the right sidebar), and sometimes I feel a little weird going on with this blog when, until July 25, my travels are interior. That is, I am nattering and figuring, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing lists of figures till I feel like I’m nothing but a jumble of numbers myself. Nobody ever told me that “retirement” involves making a HEAP of really BIG decisions about things (like money) I know nothing in the world about. I might also add that this process is gawdawful boring and therefore I am not (what a relief) going to chronicle it here. But that explains why I’ve been quiet the last few days. I’ve been doing THAT. What I can blog about, for those who want to know, is the fact that Manko and Kendra finally got paid; and the more I learn about Portland, Oregon, the better it seems. [read on]

Playing house, Brokeheifers 2

Monday, July 9th, 2007

I love my new apartment! After 41 years of living in places with various constellations of other people I was supporting, I’m now living in a doll house, or a cradle in the tree tops (oak to the left, pine to the right, and their boughs intertwine right in front of my balcony). I love the simplicity (I can see everything at a glance), the beauty (those freshly-painted walls, my last few collected things from all over the world), the grace of it–because to me, simplicity is grace. This place isn’t quite as small as the one-room efficiency-with-bathroom-in-the-hall where I lived in Greenwich Village in 1971, but it’s close. Basho is settling in, chattering his teeth at the birds and squirrels in the two trees. So that’s the good news. Manko and Kendra, on the other hand, who have been selling Kirby Vacuum Cleaners 12 hours a day, six days a week since May 25, have still not been paid the promised $1950 a month guarantee due at the end of their first month of work. [read on]

The best thing about getting old…

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

What I like best about getting old is the clarity that comes from watching the roller coasters soar and sink for so many years that, while I never lose interest in what will happen next, I am also less likely to expect that whatever is happening now will go on happening. Buddhists call it impermanence. The breath arises and falls away, and that becomes a metaphor…. I’ve received a wealth of emails from old friends over the last few days, and I sit here with my arms outstretched, as if I could embrace us all. [read on]