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4,3,2,1: LIFT OFF!

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

Manko and Kendra are spending their first night in their new home tonight. They took what they absolutely needed with them today. Tomorrow morning the moving men come, to load up what has been my household and take it over to their place. I’ll supervise the move and delivery while the girls are at work. The Grand Scheme is in motion. Is this really happening? I feel a little like I’m in the middle of that Dali painting with the melting clocks. [read on]

Energy, Zulu traditional doctors, Kirby vacuums

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007

Today is my second full day of not-teaching (till mid-August), and I feel as though I’m on intravenous Life Force. I went for a walk this morning, and I could feel energy surging through me like electric voltage. I think it’s related to a concept I learned from Zulu traditional doctors, about which I’ll say more beneath the line. Meanwhile, as I was finishing off my course, Manko and Kendra started training for a new job. At first they thought they were training to be telephone consumer service reps, and later they realized they were training to be Kirby vacuum cleaner salespeople. [read on]

Anybody want a tripod?

Friday, June 1st, 2007

I finished grading my students’ final exams, turned in their grades on the computer, stood up, and went numb, blank, and slightly crazy. I am now free till August 20, and in that time Manko will move to her first apartment, I will move to what feels like my first apartment (first time in years I didn’t have a kid or two with me), and then I’ll take Basho to a kennel and set out on my next pilgrimage, to see how these Zen centers feel and whether one of them is a good fit for my next longer-term home. I feel spacey, disoriented, and all at loose ends; I’m excited, unfocused, and hopeful, and if I were a cartoon I’d draw big dark circles around my wide-open eyes and a wiggly line for a mouth, with little wavy lines and small circles rising up over my head. [read on]

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]

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]

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]

Honeysuckle and Soto Zen

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

I’m back to myself! This morning I can move again without pain. I resumed my morning meditation and my walk in the park, where great mounds of honeysuckle are blooming extravagantly, promising summer. The fragrance makes me drunk with joy, as it’s very much this moment , but it also holds me in a kind of rapture going right back to my early childhood in North Carolina, where I first learned that sweetness.

My internet connection was down for two days, which gave me an unexpected computer fast, and that coincided with my whole physical system being “down.” For two days after my collision with the parking lot, every part of my body was a wreck. I took frequent naps, gulped Tylenol, and limped along behind Duke at regular intervals, both hands on the leash handle, till his human companion came home Sunday night. [read on]

Basho’s Back

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

Last night, this email exchange with Ansie:

Me: Maybe I should go back and get him. But then what?

Ansie: Then you love him and feel his soft body against yours and listen to the sweet little noises he makes when he is asleep. And you decide what next when there is truly no time left for love. If it was me (and I know it isn’t), I would hold on to every little bit of love for as long as possible because in the end that is the only thing that really matters. [read on]