Valentines for the Unlovable in Haiku

14 02 2008

Picture 29 students shouting these things at the teacher to write on the board: feet! toe nails! toilet! oooooohhhh! the bathroom! chicken heads! sweaty socks! locker room! rats! nappy head! port-a-potty! broccoli! stains on clothes! flatulence! uuuuuughhh–you’re nasty, man! roaches, spiders, snakes, scars, mud, deer guts, moldy bread, gum on the bottom of desks, trash cans…

From this list, students chose their favorites, or invented new ones and we wrote haiku valentine poems to things that are usually repulsive. I tried to get them to put a positive spin on them at the end if they could, but there’s really not much positive about flatulence (though this student ended her poem with “I feel better now”). I bought really cool looking scrap booking paper with glitter and metallic designs on it and had them write their haikus on the paper… from a distance, my room looks really catchy. Up close, you will find tributes to a variety of nasty, repulsive things. Such is life: everything’s beautiful from a distance.

This activity was really useful in terms of helping the kids learn about revision. Since you have to squeeze your words into that tight structure, you have to be really inventive and it takes some time playing with the words. They got frustrated, but they were pleased I think with their final products. I didn’t sit down all day, but it was really exhilarating to hear the kids talking about and manipulating language in surprising and interesting ways.

Here’s mine (see if you can guess what it is):

Your slimy, prickly

skin: I want to wash my hands.

Marinate then bake.

What’s in a name?

17 01 2008

“Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith.” ~Oliver Wendall Holmes, Jr.

“Names are an important key to what a society values. Anthropologists recognize naming as ‘one of the chief methods for imposing order on perception.'” ~ David S. Slawson

Today my students are writing about their names in their newly mod-podged writing notebooks. Here are some of the highlights from this morning’s shared writings– One student’s mother named him after a man who was stabbed to death by his wife (a story she saw on the news in the hospital after he was born). Another student wrote about her two pet hamsters, Sam and Coach. Unfortunately, Coach ate Sam and then Coach died after bleeding to death in an attempt to eat his own leg. One guy had the nickname “Moonpie,” as a result of his breech birth. The girls were much more shy about their nicknames, so I didn’t get to hear any beyond the standard, “Lil Bit,” or “Sweet Pea.”

In general, it was a fun day. The only downer was the fact that my sixth period is completely lethargic by the time they get to me–unresponsive, heads and arms in sweat shirts, mumbled remarks after I give directions, and just an overall bad attitude. I get so frustrated during that class because everything requires so much effort. It’s really hard to maintain my own energy when I’m reliving the Ben Stein scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (minus the drooling… I think).

I wrote it in the bathtub

3 01 2008

I have found that writing is very much like practicing for a sport. When I don’t take the time to maintain my writing life, I find myself having to really dig deep in order to write anything. I can also get out of practice with different kinds of writing. When I spend a great deal of time working on an academic piece (such as the one that sucked the life out of me the last three weeks of December), my creative muscles begin to atrophy. Certain episodes will spark a piece in my mind and I’ll begin to chew on it like a piece of beef jerky until it is soft enough to digest. The experience I had with the old man in the grocery store yesterday was singular in that I actually began crafting that entry in my mind when I got in the car on the way home. The writer sees an opportunity to reinvent an experience so that it can be relived in HD… of course, the fact of invention requires that some of it be made up. Although I am not always conscious of my “making it up,” I know it happens. I read or heard somewhere that memory is shaped by emotion–that is, we remember things, situations, events to the extent that we feel them. It makes sense. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast last Sunday morning, but I can remember every word the doctor said as he sewed me up after my C-section (despite the drugs).

Joan Didion says that “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” I agree with her. We are very much like toddlers in that way. My grandmother tells the same stories over and over again. When I was younger, I would beg her to tell the story about her twin sisters, Marie and Larue, and how their heads were small enough to put teacups over them. I also like the story about her job as a secretary at Sears where she made like $1.25 a week or something like that. She learned that the world was round on the Christmas Day when her father gave her an orange. These stories are my grandmother–they define her history and they reassure her of her identity. The accuracy of her stories is less important than their truth.

So the trick is to recognize a good story and to write it down whenever it hits you… Merle Haggard said to one NPR reporter that he wrote several of his new songs while he was in the tub. When she expressed her surprise, he said, “Well, I guess it was in the bath tub. There was water all around.”


14 12 2007


Signs that I have not been at home for the past week: the laundry is clean and folded, but not put up; the bathtub is beginning to mildew; there are piles of various, unrelated items on my kitchen table including but not limited to: 4 snowman dessert knives, bubble wrap, fake green apples, cords, Mr. and Mrs. Claus salt and pepper shakers; every surface is covered in a thin layer of dust; the only food we have in the house is breakfast related; and, finally, the ultimate signifier of my absence: a clear sippy cup with a purple lid holding the ground-beef remains of the other night’s taco dinner (it’s in the fridge at least).

Where have I been? I have been in the online archives of Cornell’s “Making of America” collection; sifting through writings of Louisa and Bronson Alcott; away from my house and my child, who knocked three little tikes down on her way to the door when I picked her up yesterday afternoon. I’ve been at Audra’s house crying at midnight with the conviction that I am too stupid to write this paper, swinging on her swing, covered in a blanket. I’ve been in the library where students dressed as gorillas have strolled nonchalantly past and chunked bananas in the trash can by my table in the wee hours of the morning. I’ve been sweating in my desk chair, listening to the Vince Guaraldi Trio.

Now I am almost finished, but not quite. Then it will be Christmas time… finally.

Super Mom

9 12 2007


It is 9:15 am and I am eating my second p.b.&j. of the morning. There comes a point of strung-out-on-caffeine coupled with sleep deprivation that creates a hole in my stomach which all food disappears into, leaving me hungry and cranky.

Adam just took Ruthie for a jog–that is, he’s jogging and she’s in the stroller. As they pulled out she called, “Save me, Momma! Save me!” It’s nice to think that I’m a bit of a super hero like that. My super powers include: saving Ruthie from evil beings like her father when he tries to tickle her or chase her (after she’s asked him to); producing m&m’s on command, any time any place; rescuing her from her crib when she calls my name in the middle of the night (she’s got to give me a good 5 minutes of screaming before I’ll change into my Super Mommy outfit at 4 in the morning as I did last night); paying for things (she starts chanting “pay for it?” as soon as we begin to venture down the candy isle); changing diapers at the speed of light; accomplishing any task (no matter how personal or how many hands are actually required) with her on my hip. Oh, and I make a mean mac-n-cheese. Okay, so if my super powers could convert into writing/scholarly super powers, I’d be in good shape.

Thoughts on Writing (and other products of my procrastination)

8 12 2007

In the past three days, I have spent a total of 20 hours in the library with my nose in some fascinating and not-so-fascinating 19th century material. First off, I think we need to give at least the second half of the 19th century some serious props for doing some serious work in terms of education, philosophy, writing, lecturing (lots of lecturing), having riots about who was more awesome: Catholics or Calvinists. I’ve been focusing on the educational movement that took place under the leadership of Horace Mann (the man to whom we owe much thanks for the beginnings of No Child Left Behind). Bronson Alcott (Louisa May’s father) was a tasty piece of Transcendental ass–he was in the philosophical bed with the big boys like Emerson (who called him a “world builder”) and Thoreau (whom Louisa supposedly had the hots for). If you’re interested in the Alcotts, check out Eden’s Outcasts. It’s really interesting, it’s like looking through the Marches in Little Women–add a Transcendental commune, a few (brilliant) failed schools, lots of lectures, a few more deaths and you’ve got the Alcotts.

So when I haven’t been reading or writing, I’ve been finding ways to procrastinate. Here’s what happens every two hours or so: Check email, make playlists, get on facebook (send a few hatching presents, chuck a book or two), check email, read my friends’ blogs, check my phone (no messages), ask someone to watch my stuff so I can go pee (and possibly smoke a cigarette, depending on how late it is and how desperate I am), get some water, settle in and check email/facebook one last time. Sometimes the sequence of events varies, but it stays more or less the same. I have found that the more I write, the more painful it gets–writing never gets “easy” because it’s never done. In every paper I write, there is a point at which I feel as though I simply cannot, will not pull it off. Grad school is the marines of academic writing. Right now, I feel as though I am living the scene in G.I. Jane where they’ve been doing whatever kind of hellish training they do all day and they’re made to sit and write all night long with sleepytime classical music playing. Oh, and they’re cold and wet. At least I’m not cold and wet.

I have found that music is key because it’s the only thing that keeps your brain alive during the long haul to a paper’s due date. Playing on my ipod right now: George Winston (December and Summer), Enya (Shepherd Moons), Miles Davis and Coltrain (I don’t know what the albums are–it’s a collection I put together in college), some French music, and a few soundtracks (Finding Neverland, Meet Joe Black, Braveheart, Upside of Anger, Piano).