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Freedom to walk through some doors

Wednesday, July 4th, 2007

Alan Johnston is free, and his words move me. In his press conference he says, “Maybe you have to have been a prisoner of some kind for some time to know how good it is to be able to do the most basic, basic things that freedom allows–like to get a haircut, to drink what you want, to walk through some doors, to speak to people that you love…” I think of the prisoners I love, the men who edit The Midnight Special (next edition coming out as soon as we get it copied and mailed). “To walk through some doors…” after years of sliding steel, banging steel, metal bars, steel grids, handcuffs, chains, and triple-thick plexiglass windows, just the wonder of being able to walk through some doors. Freedom. I think about the doors in free people’s lives, doors both literal and metaphorical. [read on]

What Tillie Olsen actually said

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

Today while I was packing books I came across my old paperback copy of Tillie Olsen’s Silences. The paper is brown and crumbly, and the words have been read, underlined, and read again so many years ago that they became part of the way my own brain works. It is a marvel to look at them and think that at one time, these ideas were new to me. Look. [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]

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]

Arundhati Roy’s Vows

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

I just clicked on Joan Halifax’s blog and found this wonderful quotation from Arundhati Roy: [read on]

Silence, Listening, Censorship, Media

Friday, April 27th, 2007

Twice this morning I have written a new blog posting about two things: the workshop at the prison last night, and Amy Goodman’s speech at the Oscar Romero Awards this past Sunday, which I heard rebroadcast on the radio as I was driving home from the prison. Twice, as I neared the end of my post, I accidentally hit a wrong key that navigated me away from my post and erased everything I’d just written. When that happens twice, I have to take stock. What do I NEED to say? Can I be more succinct? The clock is ticking. [read on]

Ellen Willis & Janis Joplin

Saturday, March 10th, 2007

I’m packing for my little five-day spring break in Mexico, laying out clothes, cleaning house, deciding which shoes to wear, wondering if I will have trouble taking hand-cleaner on the plane, and grading mid-terms. To keep myself company as I ate my dinner of green beans and Mexican cheese, I opened my latest Netflix envelope and tossed a little documentary in the DVD: Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin: Nine Hundred Nights. I’ve always felt close to Janis Joplin. One of the characters I performed in my one-woman show in the 70s and 80s was a Janis/Kendall composite: neurotic and wild, fierce and needy, burning herself to a crisp, wanting to amount to something. If I had been less responsible, more talented, less fearful, more abandoned; if, in other words, I had been someone completely other than I am, I’d have been her. Maybe. Anyway, forget the documentary. What shocked me into a whole new state of attention (abandoning grading mid-terms and packing) was Ellen Willis, cultural commentator, writer, thinker: interviewed for the documentary. In the Special Features on the DVD there’s about an hour of Ellen Willis talking about Janis Joplin, the 60s, utopianism and its dark side, feminism in its early years, and other fascinating topics. I fell in love with Ellen Willis. I could never have been her. I’m not that smart. But I’m drawn to the sharp edge of her intelligence like a battered chrome bumper to a massive electromagnet. As soon as I’d watched these outtakes, I raced to the computer, googled her, and found out she just died this past November. [read on]

Raise More Hell, Molly Ivins

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

Driving to work this morning, I heard that Molly Ivins has left the planet. Wherever she’s headed, that’s where I want to go when I die. She was an age-mate, and though I never met her, I grew up with her. I loved her motto, “Raise More Hell.” I loved her for being wise, funny, tough, and clear. I loved her for saying, “hearts gotta bleed…” and going public with unabashed, unsentimental compassion. Her article on not supporting Hillary Clinton and remembering Eugene McCarthy is an example of what I think she did best–and she wrote it while she was dying. How did she do that? This, I think, was her last column: “Enough is Enough: Stop It” (the surge, the war, the whole damn mess). Her instantly recognizable combination of humor, populism, and plain good sense was as vibrant as ever. I hope she died laughing.

Prime evil

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

As I continue reading about Argentina’s dirty war, I am reminded of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the hearings that it held during the years I lived there, while Mandela was President. Feitlowitz’s Lexicon of Terror features a whole chapter on Adolfo Scilingo, who holds a similar space in Argentine history to the space held by Eugene de Kok (also de Kock and de Koch, also nicknamed “Prime Evil”) in South Africa. Both were enthusiastic torturers and murderers, both followed orders, both did what they did for “love” of what they thought was right, both later felt horrible and confessed to unspeakable actions, and both are living out their lives in prison while the men who were their superiors die free, one by one. The main difference between the two men is that Scilingo tried to get out of the punishment phase of this story; he recanted his confession; de Kok, on the other hand, has become a model of enduring remorse.

A Dirty War

Sunday, January 14th, 2007

Where were you from 1976 to 1983? What did you know, in those years, about the “war on terror?” This was a war, its leaders said, to protect homeland security; a war for family values, Christian values, and clean-living innocent people, against enemy insurgents, terrorists, subversives, non-believers, homosexuals, Jews, Communists, union organizers, and radicals in universities and the arts. [read on]