Friday, December 23, 2005

Reading from the stacks

Speaking of reading (see Unhip) I finally got some done today after many holiday break setbacks: remodeling kitchen, stomach flu, remodeling kitchen, family get-togethers, remodeling kitchen, and, you guessed it, remodeling kitchen. I read several articles for my upcoming class on language in society and the intro and first few pages from Tannen's You just don't understand; I started Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing(I packed this book without reading a page—I may have read the first paragraph a few times—all through the Uinta mts) which I'm excited to read: my one fiction indulgence of the break and I know I will enjoy it as I loved All the Pretty Horses and the first few pages have already created a real sense, the kind that immediately takes hold in one's mind, of rugged ranch life; and, after weeks of it staring me in the face, I finished "Jesus without the miracles" by Erik Reece in December's Harper's.

I knew I needed to read this article and I'm glad I did as it brought together many ideas I've bumped up against and thought about: the Gospel of Thomas which focuses on Jesus as a philosopher and mystic rather than his miracles and godliness; Jefferson's Bible which cut out the miracles, resurrection and such--I didn't know about his redaction but was aware of the oversimplification many Christians make by asserting that we need to return to the faith and belief in God of the Founding Fathers; “eastern” feel of early Christianity; Elaine Pagel’s work with the Gnostic gospels. Of course Reece, who blames organized religion, in part, for he father's suicide, contends that we must choose the philosopher Jesus of this world, the Jesus of Thomas and the Jesus and America (rather than of Hamilton) of Jefferson. He ends the article by inverting Pascal's famous wager: we should not believe in "heaven because we have nothing to lose but rather [...] we should believe first in the world, because in losing it we may lose everything." In short, important stuff for reinventing Christianity and my own faith.

I guess I better go check on the kids. I’m supposed to be watching them but I couldn’t pass up these few quiet hours even if I wasn’t exactly sure where they were—surely they’re ok and certainly their lives will be enriched by the reading I’ve finally done. Remaining on the stacks: to finish--Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed, David Quammen’s Monster’s of God, Ahmed’s A border passage, Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, several articles in Harper’s; to start—Moore’s The stupidest angel, Cunningham’s The hours, and one of the latest books by David Sedaris. I think there are several more I started and/or was going to start but I believe my wife has slowly worked them out of the stacks onto shelves, possibly forever lost to my reading life.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The weight of death

I’ve been obsessing a bit about my weight lately. As I mentioned in another blog, I’ve gained weight—about 7lbs—for the first time in my life. Driving to work the other day, I realized my dread is not really about the weight, nor about my running injuries and change of exercise. It’s about—and sorry to get heavy—death. Gaining weight symbolically represents my frailty, my inevitable spiral to old age and sickness. I guess I’ve mostly avoided it till now. I was relating this to a colleague and she countered “I’ve never worried about my own death, only the death of others.” I quickly replied, “And how old are you?” The answer: “23.” Well, talk to me in 15. But then again maybe it’s a gendered obsession. Mulling over all this, I was reminded of the great line from Moonstruck when Rose Castorini, played elegantly by Olympia Dukakis, asks a male friend, “Why do men cheat?” (she’s trying to figure out her husband) and he replies, “Because they are afraid of death.” I didn’t really get that line the first three or four viewings, but this last time (I caught the final 30 minutes on TV last Saturday) it cut to the core.

An unrelated note: I'm hoping for a reply or two from my fellow teachers out there on the post below. I figure I have at least 25 years of teaching ahead of me and I need to create some sort of emotional scaffolding in which to give it meaning, i.e., I'm curious how you all negotiate the teacher life.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A teaching affair

Today is most likely my very last day teaching humanities 1100, a course I’ve put hour upon hour preparing, rethinking, restrategizing, hoping to engage students’ minds. My pedagogical creativity will be gone, only faint nostalgia. Sure it will remain in my head but without future students awaiting the arguments, the evidence, the connections . . . who really cares about the carefully crafted rhetorical parallels between Patton’s address to the 3rd army, King Harry’s St Crispin Day’s speech, and Lt. Col. Kilgore’s “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”?

Teaching: A series of intensely personal encounters; all along you know they won’t last but still you both furtively and openly grasp at each soul in your class. You obsess, you see their faces before you finally sleep, you plan every little detail of the perfect evening. Later, after it’s all over you pass a familiar face between buildings AD and TB, your eyes avert—it’s too much, too much familiarity in an unfamiliar context, to see one another again. On another day, a different devotee, your eyes meet: you acknowledge the past relationship—“Hello”—but you can’t recall when you embraced this student’s ideas, nor even if it was 1010, 2030, or 1050.

How are you?
How’s the semester going?
Good luck at the U.

The old ardor isn’t there; you both know it’s over, the meaning can’t be resuscitated. One more face in the long line of adulterous affairs.

Today the campus seems mined with remembrances of relationships ended, but also new unfamiliar and unaware conquests I will, I must, I’m required to make.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

My Odyssian Snow Journey

I left work at 4:30; I arrived home sometime after 9pm.

After spending an hour on I-215 (I’d still not made it to I-15) I decided to get off the last I-215 exit into Rose Park and then head back to the SL library to catch Scott Abbott’s presentation on the rhetoric of war. I had thought of sticking around for it earlier but a headache pushed me home. Bad idea. From this point on in my journey I battled to keep it together, to believe I could salvage my evening.


Ok, I will just get off here, then call Alison and let her know I won’t be … shit, I forgot my cell phone. First time since I bought the damn thing. That’s all right, I will stop at that 7-Eleven up the road, the same one I stopped at 6 years ago when my car overheated on the way home from teaching a night class as an adjunct. Still here and there’s the phone. Amazing anyone really uses these things anymore. One quarter in, dial, it’s wants another, some guy answers: “No this isn’t the Christiansens.” Ok, that didn’t work. Maybe I need to dial 801, one quarter then another, same guy answers: “shit!” It’s alright; I’m ok. I will check my cell phone number—had them for few months, but I’m terrible with numbers and I never have to dial my number or my wife’s as hers is saved on my phone…. Son of a bitch: 682 not 681. Fine, two more quarters left. It works though Ali ain’t too happy I won’t be home soon.

This evening is going to be OK; I’ve wasted an hr but I was listening to NPR and I didn’t wreck. I’ll zip down to North Temple and hit the Red Iguana for dinner—we were introduced to the multiple moles last week, yummy. No zipping, as roads suck but I travel the 3 miles in about 20 minutes—man I gotta pee. Great meal and a coffee at RI, graded a pile of assignments while waiting, noticed the abundant Frida Kahlo art in the restaurant. Note to self: need to finish Frida as it is due at Hollywood tomorrow night. Note to self #2: need to request one of these nice little cubby hole dining areas back by the bathrooms next time I come. Library here I come.

Looks like I might be late so I try a little zipping. Not a good idea. Car in front of me brakes, there’s no way I will stop in time. I look in the right rear mirror; there’s a car close but probably it can tape the brakes and avoid me if I change lanes. No time—literally like a second—to ponder: I plow over just missing the car in front of me and getting a honk from the car in the next lane. Accident avoided. Fuck, Fuck, Fuck that would have really ruined my evening.

5 to 7, I make it to the library and there’s actually a park right by west entrance—sweet, this evening is going to be ok. I find out where the gig is, 4th floor, go up, take another potty break—coffee goes right through me. I see the room where it must be but no Scott and only a couple of people standing about. This ain’t good. I see Diana Hirschi—she sent me the email about the event—the Quaker war protester. She says it’s been cancelled: the storm which brought me here has prevented Scott from making it—one hour to get from Orem to American fork so he turned around. That’s OK, I wanted to check out the used books they sale in the library story. I head down to the main floor but the store that was just open is now closed. OK, I’m getting a bit pissed. Are the gods against me? I’ve now spent about 2hrs driving and 15 bucks without accomplishing much. It’s ok Ron: we have bags of work,--humanities’ reflection files—and my computer (yippee!) outside in the car. Trudge out, thankful I had a close park, then go back up to the 4th floor: I want to enjoy the view as I check my email and do some blogging. Sit down, get out comp…son of bitch, computer is like roasting hot. What the F… Ok, if my computer is fried—it does smell a bit—I’m like going to fucking freak out. It’s ok. Let’s go plug it in (battery light is on) and see if it’s ok. Holy mother of god—no power cord, I left it at work. Shit, Shit, shit—I needed the comfort of email of blogging, some comfort, PLEASE!!! Anything!*%

In the end I grade 2/3s of my reflection files—maybe it’s better that I couldn’t waste my time emailing and worrying about the ensuing summer contract vote. By damn I have accomplished two things: engulfed wonderfully spicy yellow mole dish and graded 15 reflection file portfolios.


I wonder if my adventures will continue, but it’s a quick ride home and for a bonus (I just realized there’s a KCPW station at 105. something that I can pick up all the way into Layton especially when 90.1 has switched to jazz) I catch some quirky stories about anorexia and money during my drive and I actually hit 60 mph.

Thank God there are not suitors taking over my household and lusting after my wife. If so I might just turn around and go back to work.

Friday, December 02, 2005

having fun with sound files

Probably old news to many, esp Signifying Nothing, but we've been messing around with sound files. Found this nifty website Wavcentral
I was actually reading blogs but my 4-year old climbed up on me (he is very physical) and so I thought I'd help him understand the Internet a bit. I asked him to tell me something he liked and we could look it up; he replied, "I don't know what you mean." So, I showed him some images of cats, then he decided he wanted to look up images of Chewbacca from Star Wars finally landing on Wavecentral where we listened to Chewwies' growl. Once we found the site we looked up a number of movie lines. One that my son is now repeating over and over is Dinero's "Are you talking to me?" from Taxi Driver. This has been an oft-repeated phrase in our family (Seinfeld, Lion King, etc.)--now we have the real mccoy in our family speech. But I don't think I will let my 4-year old listen/ watch much else of Taxi Driver.

I'm thinking of using sound files in my teaching. A few weeks ago I hooked up an old set of computer speakers to my laptop in order play an interview--it was quite easy but I wish I had a real compact set to carry around. Might be interesting to use sound files to demonstrate rhetorical appeals and then, of course, to discuss the differences between writing and speech.

an evening of conscience

Homero Aridjis (poet), Terry Tempest Williams, Sebastiao Salgado (photos currently at the Leonardo in SLC), and the SLC Jazz Orchestra. Through most of the evening Salgado's Exodus photos accompanied the music and speakers. TTW spoke about her month in Rwanda. Again I was embarrassed for myself and my country--what a futile waste of life, of children, of millions. And to think, with all due respect for the victims, of the money, support, and anger created by a relatively few American deaths during 9/11. I'm afraid much of our outrage at 9/11 has much more to do with genetic encoded survival instincts than with charity or empathy. If it were about true charity we would have immediately restructured our way of life and utilized the money and resources now in Iraq and Afganistan in Rwanda; if it were true we would do it again right now in Darfur (I wasn't even sure how to spell it--pathetic). But, I did not leave feeling helpless.

The beauty of the music, images, and words gave me much hope. The event ended with Salgado's new work entitled Genesis--intriguing and eerie black and white photos of natural landscapes and its inhabitants. Some of the most stunning photos were of penguins in the Antartica. The sheer fecundity in this seeming barren land pushed me dangerously close to hope and faith: if this magnitude of beauty is possible then we will, ultimately, be elevated out of our selfishness and ethnocentrism by pure natural force.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Run for the Turkey

I hadn't exercised for about 6 weeks (probably my longest hiatus in 5 years) but was bound and determined to get some exercise during the short Thanksgiving week. I took my mt bike for a 50 min spin--felt great, wasn't sore, "hey, maybe I haven't lost too much." Then before the Thanksgiving feast I decided to hike Adam's Canyon to the waterfall. First mistake was to believe I would merely "hike" it. I wound up running about 70% of it and all of the downhill--today legs are toast, stairs becoming major impediments to safe descent. Now I'm too sore to exercise so there go my plans to get in a lot of workouts over the break (of course it's snowing today anyways); only benefit was that I was able to stuff myself with more turkey, cranberries, and pie as my workout gave me the deep down hungry feel. Last year in November I won a race and the prize was a 20lb turkey; this year I run once in order to plate up a few more scraps of turkey.

I wonder if I can will myself to exercise on a consistent basis over the next 40 years or so without some major goal (I've given up on running ultramarathons and even 5Ks--too many injuries, too much time, too much damage to overall health). I'm simply amazed at those who live the good life (exercising, reading, writing, eating healthy) without any huge goal to propel them. Just a few months ago I could have put in two hours on my indoor bike knowing it would prepare me for the spring running season; today I couldn't make it ten minutes. Motivation is a curious thing.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Ice-pick lobotomy

Recently I've had a number of riveting experiences with NPR. On Monday I was relieved, excited even elated to hear Steven Mintz, author of Huck's Raft (a comprehensive history of American childhood) insist that we need to give ourkids more freedom to explore, make mistakes, and work out differences if we want help them transition into responsible adults. Last week I heard a great little piece on language I will use next semester when I teach Melissa's "Language and Society" course: the impact of using insurgent vs. terrorist in Iraq. Then yesterday I ate my lunch in my car, nice warm sunning coming through the front window, as I listened to Frabrizio interview Doug Peacock author of Walking it off, friend of Ed Abbey, and the guy Abbey based his character Hayduke off of in The Monkey wrench gang; fascinating to find out Abbey used his Doug's green beret skills to do some real monkey wrenching.

But then yesterday a radio essay by Howard Dully blew me away (see his photo to the left). A harrowing tale of Dully finally coming to terms with the ice-pick lobotomy (two ice-picks shoved through the eye sockets into the frontal lob) he received at age 12. The story was so intense I forgot that I was driving; I winced; I held back tears; I was flabbergasted by the audacity of Dr. Walter Freeman who performed 223 of lobotomies in a one 2-week period, 2500 over his "career," and once, to impress the doctors and students of the simplicity of the procedure, he shoved both ice-picks in at once.

Dully comes to terms with his own lobotomy by interviewing other survivors and their families. Near the end of his journey he gains access to Freeman's medical records, hoping to find out why this was done to him as a boy. Here he finds a picture of himself with (incredibly) the ice-picks in. This picture and the info from the medical records helps him to at last confront his father--it's an amazingly complex riddled with ambiguity conversation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I must confess

Can a real English major not particularly enjoy poetry all that much?
Not like the packed-in meaning,
the laborious pained re-re-re-re-reading?
I thought someday I could
but I can’t: can’t will the desire into being,
can’t fake the literary orgasm.

But give me 800 pages of Quammen
and island biogeography and I’m in
heaven, no faking necessary—ecstatically
re-reading, marking up, eating it up.

I wrote this pathetic verse-like string of words in the back of Random Symmetries: The collected poems of Tom Andrews. We're reading it for my book club this weekend and I haven't made much progress. Of course I feel a bit of pressure since the only other English guy is my friend who chose the book: "So, Ron, you are an English guy--what the hell does this mean?" As If I would know. I don't do poetry that well, never have. It's not that I can't appreciate a poem but I'm not drawn to its intense-every-word-counts style.

Andrews does have some nice one-liners.

In "A language of Hemophilia": "the sun will nickel and dime you to death" and "my solitude can lick your solitude any day of the week"

In "When comfort arrives": "Death is no terrible height/ you peer over now and then--/ it's simple, a fine silence, rain on black/ earth" and "A time comes when you want to account for tears/ and wrong silences, when the promises/ you make to yourself/ and to others are the same promises..."

Still, I know I'm missing so much: I don't recognize the name Mandelstam, unmotivated to look up "trilliums," not sure if the ambiguous pronoun "him" is referring to Mandelstam or death, and even when I almost get a poem (a wonderful image of sun falling like grace and a boy stepping backward down a snow covered road leading to an insight that we can learn to appreaciate small quiet beauties but unfortunately have to blabber about them to make them real), like the third movement in "Praying with George Herbert...", I still can't quite make out "my sins are bright sparks in the dark of blamelessness."

I know the poetry sermons (just sent one out to my students--savor the words, read out loud, the joy will be like that slow then sudden recognition of a magic eye picture) but I'm not really a believer and doubt I ever will be.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Layered bureaucracy

What the hells up with SLCC email? Ever since they fixed stuff a few weeks ago, I've had all kinds of problems and slowing with my email. And it seems like the SLCC server is down most weekends lately--how do they expect us to teach Internet or tech enhanced courses? I'm just ranting but it seems teachers are last to know and last to have input concerning everything that makes up our work: building space, MyPage posting capabilities, technical support, room scheduling, tagging of courses in catalog.... I do believe, last I checked, we are still a TEACHING institution.

Saturday ethos

1. I'm preparing a Gospel Doctrine lesson on "Every Member a Missionary." As I'm very busy and know the tricks of the trade, I've got my GD lessons down to about 50 minutes of prep. Amazing that I feel fairly comfortable living a double life as an active LDS teacher and semi-agnostic reveler in paradox. Go figure. I feel like somekind of double agent at times--teasing out narrow-minded group think from mormon students during the week and then changing into suit (actually I don't own a suit) and tie on the weekend to preach the gospel to the faithful.

2. Reading a number of children's lit historical novels. Just finished The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. It has a gawdawful cover (beautifuly young girl in perfectly blue dress with flowing hair on a ship) but turned out to be a good read. It's about a young girl crossing the Atlantic ocean. She's the only female on board. Eventually the once genteel girl is forced too choose between injustice and the crew: she becomes a full-fledged crew member but then is accused of murder. Just started Karen Cushman's the Midwife's apprentice, 1995 Newberry medal winner which is amazingly honest about what it took to survive as an orphan in a small village in the 1800s (sleeping in dung heaps, taunted and beaten by ruffians). I'm truly enjoying children's lit and wish there'd been as much as there is now when I was a kid. Nowadays kids have an amazing array of great literature to choose from.

3. I'm starting to feel a bit manipulated by 24. Last night I finished up episodes 13-16 of season #1. In episode 16 Jack Bauer's daughter and wife, who had spent episodes 2-14 kidnapped, were yet again found by the Drazen clan at the CTU safe house. All of the agents except one protecting them are dead so they get away in a car only to be chased. Wife zips down a hilly road in LA, then alludes chaser on side dirt road; she gets out of car to check if they are still be followed (this didn't seem like a wise choice to me); the car starts rolling down the hill with daughter inside; wife thinks daughter is dead as car explodes and then she faints later waking up with complete amnesia. Wife deserves to faint as in the last 16 hrs she's spent time looking for kidnapped daughter only to find out that the father of the other daughter is the father and is working for the Drazens; she's then kidnapped; she's later on raped in order to save her daughter from rape; then finds out CTU agent debriefing concerning the kidnapping slept with Jack while they were separated.

Point: I'd be hard pressed to explain how 24 is much different from many daytime soaps.

Summary: Hitting close to rock bottom because of manipulation, I was able to drop movie off without checking out the next 4 episodes--certainly to be the accomplishment of the weekend.

4. Must install new sink in the bathroom my wife remodeled. Wife said was merely going to remove some bright yellow wallpaper in bathroom but has now completely repainted bathroom, removed the somewhat less hideous wallpaper in kitchen, and repainted both; removing WP and painting led to dismantling bathroom sink and ultimately the impending installation. Just as with the start of the Jazz season, I know the seemingly easy sink installation will end in chaos, cussing, and loss of productive time.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Beer or Bauer?

Disclaimer: I revised this into a beautiful piece of prose (trust me) but then I lost the revisions--no heart to revise again.

The last 3-4 weeks have been a blur. I arranged for the Envision (writing textbook) authors to visit Oct. 20th and 21st and that’s like the last thing I can remember. From there I know I’ve taught classes, graded papers, and read email but it’s a big wash of work. Being so busy you’d think I’d get focused and really get my work done—but no, instead, I’ve gotten addicted to the Fox series 24.

Stephen Johnson says the complexity of its social relationships are on par with Austen or Eliot. While I agree it has complex social relationships, it’s also a bit manipulative with its cliff hanger episode endings and relentless dragging out (since it’s in real-time) of a particular conflict. And there ain’t too much deep philosophical thinking going on as the ethical dilemmas proposed (does Jack escape from custody, kidnap a co-worker and then later a waitress driving a station wagon in order to rescue his daughter and wife from terrorists because if doesn’t escape they will be killed?) aren’t really dilemmas because you always know Jack can get out of it. But never mind high minded intellectual inquiry: I’m like twitchy sickly addicted.

I just can’t get enough. On Thursday night, after spending the day in Envision workshops, I couldn’t sleep (wife and kids out of town—not enough noise) so I got up and allowed myself, thinking it was OK since I couldn’t sleep and was too tired to read, to watch one more episode (episode 2 of the first season). But, you guessed it, I watch two more episodes then watched the 4th episode Friday night and then rented episodes 5-8 Saturday. Going to the video store the next weekend, I was like a true addict: I’m just going to return this and see if my free copy of Batman (I tried to rent it for my son Friday night and it was guaranteed in stock—yippee free rental!) is in yet; Oh, I might as well just check to see if they have all the episodes of 24 so when I do have time to check them out I will know they are here (very important to comfort myself); well, maybe I’ll just carry around disc 2 while my 4-year old looks for a video: I might read the cover or something; heck, I thought, as I got to the counter to check out Batman and a Dr. Seuss movie, I’ll just have them reshelf 24 as there’s no way I have time this weekend. You know how this ends: just like the drunk who went into the bar for a glass of water on the way home. To top it off, like a truly raving idiot, I then slowly inserted the DVD right when I got home and watched all four episodes one after another, slamming them down with gusto. I’d take Jack Bauer over a beer anyday.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

A Comer en Espana

Last night was quite amazing. Last minute, I decided to take my oldest son to the Lemony Snicket’s event at Olympus High. Lemony did not disappoint—it was the liveliest book reading I’ve every been to as he ran up down the aisles, played the accordion and piano, sang, shrieked, pulled jaws out of a bag, and interacted in multiple ways with the audience (e.g. warning kids not to not expose their armpits by raising their hands as a bite from the “jaws” is what had delayed the real Lemony Snickets from attending).

After, in an amazing moment of insight for me, I took my son to CafĂ© Madrid which serendipitously was just down the street from Olympus high. Of course this set me back about 40 more dollars than if I’d just taken him out for a hamburger, but now he has officially “dined,” something I did not do until I found myself in NY by myself as a teenager in front of a lobster, a lobster and assortment of glasses and silverware I could not decipher. You know how sometimes you set out to have a great experience with your kids and it doesn’t workout—they end up hating it or feel you are preaching or they don’t appreciate it. But this little “experience” actually worked. It was pure delight.

We order a Spanish styled salad with Spanish olives and what I call cold asparagus (it’s lighter and has strange texture), then had entremeses (a platter of cured meats—jamon Serrano, some type of pork, and chorizo), next was gambas con bacon, and lastly an amazingly creamy flan. Our waitress was quite understanding, allowing us to eat piecemeal, sharing each tapa in this upscale restaurant surrounded by real adults dining out. And the owner/chef (who I think I overheard is also an artist or maybe his spouse is—still not clear on this) talked with us and even gave us a free bowl of his special chicken soup. I hadn’t remembered (from my missionary days in Spain) any particular Spanish style of chicken soup so he set out to show me what I’d missed. Turns out the minute I tasted the soup, I recognized the flavors and was sent back to 10-years ago (I mean 16 years ago) to a little old woman’s house dressed in black (still mourning for her husband) who served us chicken soup.

I just have to say that my son was not only a good sport but into it. He’s not a sheep when comes to food—he generally hates to eat out and regularly refuses to eat fastfood. At first he was a bit nervous as the restaurant is fancy and I think a bit disorienting for him, but he settled in and enjoyed each part of the experience. During our meal he said, “I love how each little piece of food tastes different; it’s like when we usually eat we just mix everything together.” Oh son, if you only knew how important those words are to me. A true budding food connoisseur—a wonderful gift, one which will bring you much joy (and probably some harassment and disappointment in Layton) and passion.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

A quickie-post on my worst moment as soccer-dad

My oldest son finished his last soccer game of the fall (they pick up the season after the winter) and I had my worst day as a soccer dad. He's in U-12 which is quite a bit more serious than U-10 from last year--full field, all the positions, and they actually call offsides which is a penalty I still do not clearly understand. During the 3rd quarter the game was going well though a bit chilly since all of his games this year have started at 8am. Youngest son got a bit antsy and wanted to kick a soccer ball around so we went into enemy parent territory where there was a flat spot. We were just about to retreat to "our" end of the field, when my son's coach (who was referring) called an offsides on the opposing team. The parents around me went crazy: "What was that? What are you talking about?" and then amongst themselves, "He doesn't know what he's talking about; he wouldn't know soccer from ..." That was enough to put me over the edge: "HE doesn't know what he's talking about? He's played four years of college soccer and works his butt off as a coach... " (I babbled some more stuff but it was mostly full of grunts and generally incomprehensible). Mark it: this was my first time getting upset at my kids' sporting events. It's not that I really understood the the offsides call that was made and I wouldn't have minded if they contested the call but not the coach's integrity. Coach Degraw has been my son's best coach yet--works them hard with running and drills, pushes them to be their best, but always makes game-times decisions based on what's best for the team rather than just winning. It didn't turn into anything too big (the parents, or maybe they were grandparents which would make me feel worse, kind of gave me a mocking apology saying they didn't know he'd played in college and then, thinking I couldn't hear, "that's probably only a rule in college soccer") but still I felt kind of stupid. And, mostly, I was afraid that as my son gets older and I get less able to compete myself, I might find out I'm one of those dad's who yell at refs and players and then punch it out with some parent.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Gross extraction

My wife has an amazing ability to wipe up, pick out, or otherwise take care of the gross bodily fluids of our children. I just witnessed a snot extraction from our 4-year old via fingernail (no tissue needed). Gross! I mean I wouldn’t touch that bare-handed if it were oozing all over his face. While I didn’t appreciate the bare-skin extraction, I’m quite thankful for this motherly ability. On several late night barf clean-ups, I’ve gagged and recoiled briefly before my wife swooped in, pushing my weakling self aside, pooling and scraping up chunky yellow bile before I could even get back to sleep. For this I owe her my life. If I’d had to do it myself, I would have suffered unbearable and irreparable mental and emotional damage. You might doubt this assertion, thinking I’m just another wimpy male but I do so solemnly swear that there is something deep, something genetic, some tough mother-earth, archetypal energy which allows these magical abilities. Let us now praise everyday mothers.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Left to right or right to left

After having read Unhip's and Mega's blog entries, I realized, yet again, that I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about planning and being organized and still, amazingly, I'm neither a great planner, nor very organized.

Prime example: my clothes. I used to simply wear everything once and then throw it into the laundry but now I don't feel it's ethical. For one, we now continually have a mountain of laundry (three kids) which is mostly taken care of by my wife and I feel guilty about adding to that mountain. So, when it seems prudent (no stains, not too wrinkly), I rehang and wear again. But this causes a huge problem because I can't remember what I wore the last time I taught my T-TH class or even the day before. Recently, as I realized I was spending 5-10 minutes each morning trying to make sure I didn't wear the same shirt twice in a row, I created an organizational system. And there-in began my problems.

I confidently said to myself, "From here-to-the-future, I will place my worn shirts to the left end of my row of hanging shirts and my problems will be solved." Unfortunately this organizational strategy is similar to my counterintuitive tent erecting problems (see earlier blog): I tend to forget if I'm supposed to put my worn shirts to the left or to the right. Putting them to the right would make more sense because they would then be closer to the hamper which would then symbolically represent their slow descent to uncleanliness. But that's a problem too because after I place a shirt on the right (next to the hamper) it will slowly move to the left, away from the hamper, as I wear and place other shirts on the left. Damn, now the worn shirt is moving away from the hamper which doesn't make sense. On the other hand, I might decide it makes more sense to place them on the left, thus creating a mneumonic device albeit a fairly complex one: hanging my shirts on the left is counter-intuitive because the left side is the furthest away from the hamper and from the symbolic sense of dirtiness. But on further consideration, placing a worn shirt on the left is completely accurate in that now the worn shirt will slowly proceed towards the hamper (on the right) as I wear more shirts and place them on the left. Did you follow that? I'm not sure I did and it's my closet.

Adding another wrinkle, pun intended, my system still isn't completely rational because, while I usually wear a shirt twice and then wash it, I am sometimes, if I get real lucky and have a light day, willing to wear a shirt three times. But this third wearing causes problems because now I have a twice-worn shirt sitting next to (assuming I'm placing them on the left end of the row) a once-warn shirt which are both, now, slowly moving towards the hamper. And this is the story of my life: how will I keep track of which shirt is once or twice-worn and how will I make sure a shirt is never worn a fourth time? At some point, my nose will announce the need to wash but then this might be at 6:30am when I'm rushing to get out to work and trying not to wake-up my wife. At this point, I will SUMB F-it, this ain't working. The next day I will just dump the whole damn lot of 'em in the dirty clothes. I'm slowly losing faith that there is any holy grail of organizing principles out there. I'm cursed to live in chaos.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

SUMBing the F-Bomb

I was in a huge hurry this morning as I often am these days. At one point I was sitting at my desk, trying to get my stuff together for Humanities 1100 and I realized I was swearing under my breath (SUMB) about every third word. It seems I’ve developed, over the last few years, a SUMB habit. I’m not sure where it started or why but I’m definitely cussing like a patron at the ballet.

I have a complicated relationship with swearing it seems. I remember at eight, after listening to that great Jim Croce song “Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown, baddest man in the whole damn town,” asking my mother if I could swear. I mean how pathetic: asking one’s mother permission to swear? Later as a teenager, my Mormon friends (I was a self-proclaimed atheist at the time) would let it rip. It embarrasses me now to think I was the numbskull teenager in line ahead of some poor mom with her 7 year-old daughter at Hardees saying, “Goddam it you motherfucker give me my wallet back or I will fuck you up.”

Many times I’ve reformed my swearing habits—once, at least in her presence, for my Mormon girlfriend (I will never forget the look she gave me driving to Logan during my Christmas break from Methodist College in North Carolina after I used Jesus Christ in some slang fashion); another for my two-year LDS mission; and another while at BYU which waned when around my Utah State friends. Once I settled down into post zoobie-land life (post BYU), I was caught off guard by the language people in the real world used. Of course getting a job at an alternative high school, alternative in that hemp was THE issue for every paper and large black electronic leg bracelets were marks of courage, my transition was rather extreme. The “foul” language seemed so cruel to me coming from these students’ mouths. I don’t know that the context of their language was that much different from the language of some of the faculty but the presence of the language in class further corroded my already tenuous hold on any semblance of authority or control. And it could be very mean and demeaning—the “you fuckin’ c*nt” variety of swearing.

But even the language of the inactive LDS/ atheist faculty faction (I had been adopted by exception since I was an active LDS liberal), made me cringe. For several months a few faculty members from this group would slip out an F-bomb every time they saw me. It became a big joke because they knew the F-word made me grimace. Often in normal polite conversation big Paul would say something like: “I don’t think this fucking new rule about our fuckin’ students is going be able to prevent them from being fuckers.” That afternoon big Paul would then ironically give his long lecture to the student volleyball team about not using the c-word as his wife had helped him understand the nastiness of this particular word. He relished each moment of these discussions with the students; it was a bit perverse. They had a lot of fun with me and I didn’t mind that much—certainly better than the f-bombs coming from my students. During this time another colleague, Liz, made the first argument I’d heard (I know I’m very sheltered) for the versatility of the F-word: it’s a verb, it’s a noun, etc., etc.

Now I’ve grown up and gone to college—very few if any F-bombs in my classes these days and I have to say I like it that way; at least I don’t miss the threatening or vicious F-bombs. But now it seems I’m dropping little SUMB F-bombs all over the place. I’d hate to do a count on a day like today--certainly moving towards three digits. It’s dangerous you know: a sin is first a thought and then acted on. And in this way the versatility of the F-word provides for many grievous actions: using the Lord’s name in vein, bashing in someone’s face, coveting, flipping someone off, adultery, and not loving your enemy. Maybe I can ask my Mormon bishop permission to SUMB: “I know it’s not quite Christ-like but it’s my way of preserving my sanity.” He’ll never buy it.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Fall Season Musings

I've decided I need to get into another tv show I can watch with my wife. We are going to watch Westwing and we used to watch Judging Amy but it got lame and now I think it's canceled anyways. So, we tried out My name is Ed. It had some great laughs (e.g. redneck Ed trying to be sensitive, "Are you a homosexual American?") but it was a bit crude at times. Not sure it will work. We also tried Office. It's billed as a comedy but I thought it was, at least this episode, so pathetic that I found myself cringing and feeling bad for the characters the whole show.

Enjoyed the fall change in leaves (didn't enjoy freezing my ass off) as I rode down from the Tour de Suds mountain bike race this past Saturday. It's a 6 mile gut buster climb from Park City to Guardsman's Pass. What a strange race: many people wear costumes as it's the end of the year race and many carry up a beer to finish at the top. I don't mind the beer/laid back feel but it's a bit demoralizing when someone's carrying and drinking a beer and still in front of you. One guy did the race on a single speed bike wearing full length cowboy chaps. He finished just ahead of me--at least he wasn't also drinking a beer. It was a nice way to end my summer of riding.

We've been (well mostly my wife) canning salsa, pasta sauce, peaches and apples. I love canning or, better said, I love canning going on while I'm reading a book in the background. The smells are delicious, fresh, earthy and they represent accomplishment, storing up for the winter, and industry: "It smells like...fall."

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Call and Response

Thursdays are my tough days at home. My wife works the entire afternoon and evening while I do dinner in between carting kids to piano and art class. This evening I received what seemed to be two prank calls. I think they were trying the old Bart Simpson call into Moes bar (e.g. asking if Oliver Clothesoff or Mike Rotch is in). I didn't quite catch their nifty phrase as the phone connection was a bit fuzzy and because like Moe I was duped. This is disappointing but what really burns me is my lame come-back.

I was just about to leave to pick up my two older kids from art class; I was already five minutes late and the prank caller had called earlier when I was simultaneously trying to grill peppers, cook corn, cut up a tomatoe, and instruct my daughter in proper table setting. So at this point I was getting a bit irritated with prankster joe. Once I realized it was yet again the prankster, making me even later, I really wanted to scare them off so they wouldn’t call again. And, might you wonder, what did I come up with? Was it something like Moe would say to Bart:

“Listen, you lousy bum, if I ever get a hold of you, I swear I'll cut your belly open!”

Or “It's you isn't it ya cowardly little runt? When I get a hold of you, I'm gonna gut you like a fish and drink your blood!”

No, not exactly. Instead I somehow came up with this: “Listen, stop calling or I’m going to really be here.”

What in THE hell does that mean? They’re probably still shaking in their boots. I can’t believe I had nothing better than that. What happened?!? Performance anxiety? Fear of offending their parents if they turned out to be the Mormon Relief Society President’s kids? Inability to summon vigorous manly anger? If only they will call back so I can really stick it to them. I think I will use Moe’s “cowardly little runt” phrase and then go into a tirade about how I’m a working father with kids and dinner in the oven. Surely they will then shake in their boots and feel terribly sorry for adding stress to my already stressful evening.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Can I speak to your wife?

I'm finding it much harder to post now that summer is over and real life has kicked in. Having said that I going to keep trying.

No one specific event or issue is nagging and/or inspiring me, but a number of small items.

I drove my son and his five other friends to preschool on Friday. I'm the only father that will take a turn on the carpooling obligations and this I love. I always wanted to participate in those moments in my kids' lives. And, while I can bitch about the pay I receive as a teacher, I do love the flexibility it allows me. Though I've had a number of odd or uncomfortable situations being a father at home, especially in the summer when I'm working from home a lot and my wife is away working. One time a woman dropped off her child to play with Andrew, my 4-year old, but didn't know I would be the parent in charge: she stumbled and stuttered but finally left her children. On several occasions women have called to set-up a play date or set-up car-pooling or to discuss something time sensitive but when I answer and tell them my wife isn't home, they usually decide I'm not the ONE to talk to about such things. Sometimes I've just let it go; other times I've tried to hint that I am indeed the ONE to talk to. Of course I don't blame these women as many (most?) men are clueless (and I still am clueless about such things as doctor appointments and school projects--last year I didn't even meet my son's teacher: what a loser). Still, it's just a bit strange being on that side of the fence, the father at home side.

I realized the other day how hard it might be to be a single-father. A friend of mine who recently moved into the neighborhood confided that it's been quite difficult to fit in as a single father with three kids; as he explained it, "how often do men get together so their kids can play?" Activity and relationships really do need containers and constructions in order to be performed. It's not good enough to just say, "I will be different" because it's nearly impossible to act in ways that are not validated or allowed in our culture. I mean sure my friend could call up some married guy say, "let's get our kids together" but it's almost impossible to imagine: their is very little, if at all, any social structure to support such an event.

Well, it seems I couldn't help but create a little theme.

Friday, September 02, 2005

My one poetic act

How do we forgive our fathers?[1]

“That there is the south west corner post to the lot. The line then runs across that ridge and then down on the other side of that brown hill. Do you see it?

“I think so; it’s kind of by that dead pine?”

“Which one? No, not that one; it’s the one on the other hill.”

“Oh, I see it now.”

Every year we make a pilgrimage to my dad’s cabin; every year my dad takes me and the kids for a jeep ride; every year he points out the stakes that mark both of his 40 acre lots. It’s a passing-on ritual, father to oldest son, the son who will remember our land, who will keep it from marauders and bandits.

My father and I have little in common: he’s an electrician, I’m a professor; he can build or fix just about anything, I hire out. I like people; I work with people; I like to talk. My dad is silent; he seems embarrassed and awkward at every social exigency. I’ve feared and even hated him, but I’ve never craved someone’s attention more. Even at 22, a few months after my return from an LDS mission to Spain, I still so wanted to please him.

Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage
or making us nervous
because there never seemed to be any rage there at all.

Last count, I add up exactly one poetic act in my life, one perfect moment where the gods favored me, where my actions were crisp, efficient, symbolic, necessary and unambiguous. On a knoll above our cabin I watched each ravine on both sides as my dad and his friend brushed for me on the last day, in the last few twilight minutes of the last hunt I would ever partake in. Just about when it looked like they were reaching the bottom of the ravines, a four-point buck walked up on the hill about 100 yards away. I raised my 270 rifle, the first and the last time, took aim and squeezed off a shot. All the years of brushing, hiking, and almost-shots paid off. The deer dropped: one shot, one bullet, one four-point. I could see pride in my dad’s eyes as I cut up the belly of the deer from anus to chest and then reached in a yanked out the esophagus.

A Saturday morning, years ago, in our basement--me reclined, my dad coming in for a drink:

“What are you still doing in here?”

“I’m reading, Dad; it’s a really good book.”

“Some of us don’t have time to waste all day on reading; somebody has to work around here.”

How do we construct the past? Can we rely on our memories? I’m confident my dad hated my reading; I’m certain he was impatient when he tried to teach me how to build things or take things apart. Clearly I’m not like him. I like ideas; I talk; I interact with people; I’m uncomfortable with silence, with unsaid things: I’m confessional; I read to my kids, go to their soccer games, talk to them, pray with them.

And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?
Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning
for shutting doors
for speaking through walls
or never speakingor never being silent?

My father has gotten quite obsessive about his cabin in his “retirement.” He doesn’t quite feel like he’s accomplishing anything unless he’s improving the cabin. It’s a fortress with four sources of energy: solar panels, mega-sized industrial batteries, a huge gas generator stored in a horse trailer a half block away, a small generator in the garage; running water from a tank dug in up the hill; cleared and groomed land all around. He just can’t get to my mom’s muddy backyard where she’d like to put pavers, nor does he have time to accompany my mother to watch me complete a biathlon in Wellsville—there’s holes to be dug and walls to build at the cabin.

Do we forgive our Fathers for marrying or not marrying our Mothers?
For Divorcing or not divorcing our Mothers?

Motivation, obsession, and meaning. In last 10 years, I’ve obsessed about running the Wasatch 100 mile footrace. I toiled away 13 hours on one trail run. I left our house at ungodly hours of the day; I’ve thrown up for days after a race but I just can’t quite get to the outlet my wife would like in the bathroom. How can this be? Son of a bitch: son of my dad.

Do we forgive our fathers in our age--or in theirs?
Or in their death?
If we forgive our fathers, what is left?

[1] “How do we forgive our fathers?” by Dick Lourie; read in the last scene of Smoke Signals by Chris Eyre.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

looming semester

I wrote down some notes while at my parent's cabin about a blog on men, hunting, and digging trenches, but I'm too stressed about the upcoming semester to flesh it out at this point.

Why does it seem that I always set out to prepare dutifully for my fall classes during the summer, only to wind up scrambling to figure out what the hell I'm doing during the 3rd week of August. My only hope is that it can't possibly be worse than last spring when I showed up (first time in teaching career) to my first day of a class without a syllabus and without realizing I didn't have it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Anarchists in Cache Valley?

I went to a cousin’s marriage today, one of the few events in which I see another cousin (groom’s brother) who lives in Denver. It generally only takes us a few minutes to go deep. Normally we start talking books or movies and then bump up against some friction or tension. Today I mentioned the PBS special of Jared Diamond’s, IMHO, amazing Guns, Germs and Steel (a book my cousin had recommended a few years back). My cousin said he wasn’t too interested in the PBS special since he’d read the book, plus he disagreed with some of Diamond's work, especially his new book on civilization. He then went on to explain that he is anti-civilization (I had to resist pointing out that he had just given a toast to celebrate his brother’s wedding, THE ritual of civilization) and doesn’t believe we can reform away our problems. His idea is that we must save the planet first and then figure out our own society. A familiar argument, he argues that society has built layers of consciousness thus removing the individual from direct experience with survival and the earth.

After going out to my car to get a phone number (I was in the middle of trying to set up a pick-up for my new bike rack—talk about layers of constructed consciousness and experience), I sought my cousin out again. I still had some fight:

“So, if you are against civilization and believe we have deceived ourselves with self-conscious layers of ‘thinking about life’ then how can you be sure that your anarchist platform is not just another layer, just another feeble human attempt to abstract its way from direct contact with the earth? Do you know what I’m saying?”

“I do. The idea that by telling everyone they need to live in a certain way the anarchist becomes some sort of elitist.”

“Yeah, in part.”

“Well, it’s different than that. What I’m saying is we go back to our individual roots. I mean did you know that in some hunter gather societies people worked for 3-4 hours a day? So are we progressing?”

“I have heard of this before, but still how can this new idea, these ideas of anarchism, pull themselves out of society, outside of consciousness? This sounds like another sort of ‘false consciousness’ move to me.”

“It’s not about telling people what to do but about each individual getting closer to this unmitigated experience. It’s not the group.”

So is my cousin an anarchist? I do respect him. He does, by and large, live his creed. He has turned down full-time and long-term employment so that he isn’t tied to a job. And he uses his time wisely. He’s been to Italy a number of times and to Japan. This next semester he is going to volunteer two weeks in Costa Rica to help out with sea turtles. Also, he will help put on his second play in January, a political satire, run by a very small yet progressive and participatory theatre group in Denver.

And this is amazing. He grew up in Cache Valley; his mom was 15 when she got pregnant with him. Growing up he didn’t seem that interested in academics. He was, though, a very fine wrestler but also, as seems to accompany success in sports, quite cocky and full of himself. I still remember how he told me he could become a better skier than I was after skiing 3 or 4 times (I’d been skiing, taking lessons and racing some for about 6 or 7 years). And now he’s an anarchist. How did he extricate himself from such a masculine small-town mentality?

I’m fairly cynical about society’s ability to reform itself; nonetheless, I think the effort to reform, whether it leads to an absolute reformation, is still worthy of something. I guess I’m a bit of an existentialist in that way—rolling the rock up the hill, even though we know it will come back down, must count for something. And I think our layers of ritual and society do create authentic, albeit imperfect, meaning in our lives. Still, it seems too simplistic to say my cousin is wrong and I’m right. I guess I’m more concerned with how he lives his beliefs and from that perspective he really is a true anarchist.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Tallying up the summer

Still reeling from the accusations of writing a depressing blog, I want to, in true clichĂ© fashion, focus on the positive. Actually, I’m getting a bit reflective, somewhat nostalgic and want to impress on my mind what’s been accomplished and what’s gone well, in order to thwart my obsessive nature which always says, “I could’ve done more, coulda worked harder, coulda got up earlier, coulda had more energy” (you get the picture). So, on with the list in no particular order:

I started a blog and have been writing more frequently than I have for years (excluding crunch time papers).

My 4-year old son gives me hugs everyday as I’ve been home a lot (he loves and needs much hugging) and he still plays a bedtime goodnight game I started with him a year ago or so: “I love you…I love you more….I love you the most ….I love you more than the most….I love you the mostest” etc. infinitum until I give in and let him love me more.

I lost my running habit which led to extra time and energy to study—most theoretical and difficult reading done since starting SLCC.

Took kids backpacking—memory is bliss even though actual event was sorta o.k.

I baptized my 8-year old daughter. We had a few nice connections before and after, something I generally struggle to create with my very quiet not so bookish, people-focused daughter.

I read Joe Harris’ A Teaching Subject and felt rejuvenated professionally.

Several students got something out of my first go round with Envision: one students created a rhetorically savvy website and several students thanked me for having a class that allowed them to explore their interests.

I've had more time to talk and watch movies with my wife—I would have never guessed it could feel quite this way after 13 years.

I made time for my hometeaching (Mormon church visits) and while most were very perfunctory, checking it off the list as it were, one visit was quite amazing: a young couple facing some of life’s big changes in a very similar fashion to what we did 10 years ago. Husband had just accepted a job and wife was quitting her job so they could move south and then have their baby in September. In a rare fit of listening for me, I realized they just wanted to talk and be reassured.

Experienced beauty of the west: Yellowstone’s colorful hot pools, Island Park’s slow moving rivers, Zion’s amazing views atop Angel’s Landing, and the Uintas’ glassy lakes and cloudy skies.

Was around to see son ride his bike without training wheels—hadn’t needed them for months but was oh so attached.

Made time to watch older classics: Hitchcock’s Notorious (great dialogue but hard to believe they are really spies) and Vertigo; Fellini’s 8 ½ (not as great as billed); Bertoluccis’ (and Brando’s) The Last Tango in Paris (as disturbing as I expected); Brest’s (and Pacino’s) Scent of a Woman (I love Pacino—“Whoo-ah”); Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers.

Have amazingly curious kids who were willing to watch non-Disney films: several Charlie Chaplin’s including Gold Rush (great scene where the house is teetering off the cliff—kids giggled like crazy); several three stooges films; Phantom of the Opera and others.

Completed first biathlon.

Helped neighbor with swimming pool even though said neighbor has been extremely insensitive with us in the past.

Finished Plato’s Gorgias

Gained much insight and understanding of composition field and SLCC English dept. by serving on the hiring committee.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Birthday Angst

I just escaped from my daughter’s 8th b-day party for her friends. My official masculine role was to light the candles. It’s a pretty big to do as we only allow “friend parties” on significant birthdays—5, 8, 12, and 16. My wife created a fancy Hawaiian theme with little wooden umbrellas to stick in the smoothies, music, and grass skirts. While lighting the candles I was thinking about how removed from the moment I was which led me to thinking about writing a blog about this insight which then reminded me of what my friend said about my blog, “Your blog is depressing; I don’t mean that as a critique but just as an observation.” It seems I’m rarely having a ball right in the moment, especially when (b-days, parades, holidays, graduations, etc.) your supposed to be having fun. At my kids parties or Christmas I’m almost always worried about the commercialism and the fakeness of it all; most often I feel super annoyed with my mother, who inevitably gives our children more (in number and costliness) gifts to our children than anyone else including us. It’s kind of depressing. I remind myself of Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye when he’s all worried about those ducks in the pond while driving around in a taxi.

My mother is really into making everything right, choosing the right gift for each child, a gift they will go ape over. Of course this is a dangerous thing, expectations, as one can get disappointed. In these gift giving frenzies I first react to the whole mass of stuff, the commercialism, but then I start to watch my mother and worry about her being disappointed. Without fail I make a rather sarcastic remark, “Boy, I hope we can fit into our car after we put all this in” or “Nothing like investing a ¼ of our income in batteries to run all these toys.” Maybe these comments are to get back at my mother, to say, in effect: “told you not to set your hopes on all this crap.” And maybe they just express my frustration with the pressure and desire to have our lives feel meaningful.

I was thinking about a recent post on nostalgia (Unhip's) and how it ties into the b-day scene. Though I can’t name any one film, I know there have been several films with b-day scenes that induce heavy nostalgia for me. These scenes seem mistily representative of “a” life, an existence as it passes through different stages. I guess that’s what gets me: why can’t I feel some of this dreamy nostalgia-like feeling in the moment? I have to say it is much harder to engage with the moment, to enjoy what’s supposed to be enjoyable, than I thought it would be. I thought somehow it would be easier to find meaning in such important events. Instead the memory of events past or daydreams of moments to come are much more satisfying and real to me.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Visual rhetoric

I'm swamped with portfolios, a task that just doesn't seem to be congruent with summer. Oh well. I used O'Brien's and Alfano's Envision, a visual rhetoric, for the first time this semester and it's gone quite well. I think (I hope) students have been able to more easily find a unique angle on their research questions, angles that allow them to actually throw something back into the debate rather than pretending like they can fix the problem. Also, in many cases, the visual analysis and production in student papers has lead to more ownership, a sense that they have "crafted" their work in ways that only they could. Above is an example from a paper which argued that one can have a rational belief in God without relying on complicated philosophical treatises. In this example the student has tried to visually represent her critique of the ontological argument for God. The words in the background are complicated explanations of the ontological view.

In another example, one I couldn't figure out how to reproduce here, a student created a paraody of a Jessica Alba cover for Self magazine. In her parody, entitled "REALITY"--Alba's head sits in between "REAL" and "ITY," she found a photo from the same photo shoot and then superimposed her own article titles: "hooked on plastic surgery," "Diet pills might be dangerous," etc.

While I'm leery of giving the visual too much credit (as if writing, as we know it, will soon disappear), I do think composition teachers (as has been said over and over again throughout the years) must allow and prepare students to use visual design and rhetoric in the creation of standard English papers. I know much of this has already occurred in public genre focused courses, but it seems to me that it doesn't necessarily take a public genre to teach and/or make the visual integral to what we write. Of course, as I was discussing with a colleague yesterday, it may take much new learning on our parts to reintegrate and introduce the low-culture/carnivalesque/pop culture into our academic composing.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Top 10 things NOT to expect while backpacking...

...with your children in the Uintas (mostly for men)

10. That kid-safe (no deet) mosquito spray will suffice, allowing you to setup your tent while being swarmed by thousands of the tiny sons of ….

9. That your children will carry their small packs the entire way and consequently that if they do not you will easily, being the manly man you are, be able to carry their packs on your front side or in your hands

8. That you can find time to read Waterman’s Backwoods Ethics and McCarthy’s The Crossing while relaxing in front of a warm fire

7. That your children will surely rather eat a full course, including blueberry cheesecake and spicy kung pao chicken, freeze dried meal (estimated cooking time including water purification: 90 minutes) instead of silly Top Ramen noodles (estimated time: 5 minutes)

6. That camping 50 yards, instead of the required 75, from the trail will be “good enough for the forest ranger,” i.e., “Wow, it’s great you guys brought your small kids out here to experience the great outdoors so we’ll let this infraction go this time”)

5. That repeatedly encouraging your children through positive reinforcement (“You are doing great; now let’s work on moving forward while balancing your pack”) will lead to increased speed and a team-family spirit

4. That your child can, after 10 minutes of instruction, be able to cast a fishing pole into the lake without breaking, tangling, and splashing the entire rod and reel into the lake AND that you will have enough patience to then retrieve the pole and start all over without incurring a sudden and convulsing headache

3. That you can competently and patiently advise your 7-year old daughter in outdoor bathroom practices even if she will not allow you to “look” or get closer than 15 feet even after having major hygienic complications

2. That you can balance a cooking pot on your very small backpacking stove prongs without spilling the water or burning yourself while your children complain they are hungry AND that after spilling all the water twice (laboriously filtered from the lake) you can refrain from saying, “This stupid (bleeping) piece of (bleep)”

1. That after all of the frustrations of family back-packing you most certainly will never take your kids backpacking again OR that you will remember all the hard work the next day after you return which would then save you from ever endeavoring to pull off such an ill-conceived adventure again

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Reading out of despair

My blogger world and real world concerns have converged today. I’ve been frustrated lately (and forever) with my inability to read quickly. So many stacks of books I want to get to but so little time. Part of it is reading speed and part of it is the 7-8 hrs of sleep my body seems to need (I’ve been wondering if caffeine could help me out here) and part of it is my insane need to exercise for too many hrs.

The convergence:

High Touch Megastore (in person): “I just read Harry Potter over the weekend.” It’s like 600 pages.

Another colleague who is already re-reading HP for the second time, “I read it real fast the first time.”

Unhip who blogged about reading Johnson’s Everything that’s bad for you is good in 2.5 hrs. It’s 200 pages.

Signifying Nothing (in-person a few years back) who said he reads more than anyone he knows and who must read fast as he knows way too much about the history of the Catholic church.

Discussion with SR at SLCC about reading strategically in order to stay up with theory in rhet/comp.

Hearing Middlebrow talk about many books he read in an evening or two and, of course, all the while cranking out pages for his dissertation.

As Signifying Nothing indicated in a recent blog, I generally do not like the interactive blog questions (esp ones about music since I know nothing about music—no time to listen to music when I’m trying to finish a 200 page book I’ve been reading for a month) but I must indulge:

1. How fast do you read? If you read fast, have you always been a relatively fast reader or was it something you learned?

2. What reading strategies do you employ in order to read what’s most important? And if you skip/skim/don’t read every word how do you make sure you are still getting it?

3. Do you annotate the books you read? Why or why not? Also, which kinds of books do you annotate and why?

4. How many books do you read each month/year? Are they mostly quick-read novels or some difficult theory, long, laymen’s science, etc.?

5. Honestly, like really honestly, how many hrs of sleep do you need each night?

Sometimes I have a fantasy about reading non-stop until I’ve read everything I have stacked around my house and everything I’ve been planning on reading. Now that's better than any sexual fantasy I can imagine.

Of course this is a ludicrous fantasy but certainly indicates my ever-present, engulfing at times, guilt about not knowing enough.

Crap, I can’t believe I’ve wasted this time writing a neurotic post while I could have been reading: Into the land of Unicorns, The natural history of make-believe, and Patterson’s second book on children’s lit in prep for my children’s lit class in the fall; Aristotle’s Rhetoric so I can say I read the damn thing; my new Runner’s world so I can get pumped up again about exercise; David Quammen’s Monster of God because I love his wry humor and piercing insights; McKibben’s article in the new Harper’s on Christian Paradox because I am a walking Christian paradox; Walk two moons so I can get it back to Unhip; JS Mill’s On Liberty because it’s seminal; The Crossing by McCarthy because I loved All the Pretty Horses; the stack of papers I must have done by tomorrow at 7am because I must…

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Rexburg, The Tetons, and old age

We're at the in-laws. We enjoyed a great stay in Jackson on Friday and Saturday. I'm not a big fan of the shops--cowboy hats, bags of rocks, and moose decour--but I love going into Teton Park. After years of visiting Jackson, I actually felt like I actually got up in the Teton mountains. My wife's family enjoys eating at Jenny Lake but they are not much for hiking. Since we stayed overnight (very expensive), I was able to do a hike with my two oldest the next morning. We headed up the Death Canyon trail towards Phelps Lake overlook, a breathtaking view and only .9 miles of gradual uphill. From there we went down the switchbacks to the trail junction to Phelps Lake, but instead continued on towards Alaska Basin with a promise to my kids we would go to the lake on the way out. Then we started to ascend at a rapid pace. The rock chucks (at least that's what I call them) kept the kids from thinking about the heat and their aching legs, but that only worked for a mile or two. After some cajoling and putting my almost 8-year old on my back for about 1/3 mile (two steep switchbacks) we made it to the first "top," a basin with a pristine river and a winterized ranger cabin--about 7.5 miles round trip. The kids played in the river while I read for a bit from Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran. After we were to meet up with my wife, youngest son, and the in-laws back at Taggart Lake but they were not there. Thank goodness we'd set-up a secondary plan: if we miss or don't see each other we'll meet back in Rexburng.

Turns out my mother-in-law had forgotten an important medication so they'd all set out for Rexburg at 10am. Her health has detiorated quickly over the last year or so. It doesn't seem fair as she's only in her 60s and has already had to overcome other big life challenges. She doesn't have anything life-threatening but she can't get around too well; she's kind of bent over to the side and is on powerful pain meds. Old age, health problems and the like scare me more than I can even consciously admit. Seeing her in pain and witnessing her frustration about what she can't do has made me realize that getting older demands we expect less of our bodies. I know this is a no-brainer but I just can't get my head around it emotionally. I've probably put too much stock in my running, in running faster, in running farther, in completing some all day adventure. I guess seeing my mother-in-law forces me to admit that my own body is breaking down, that is I can no longer say, "this is just another injury [I currently have a hip issue which caused me to miss an uphill race in Jackson--the original impetus for this whole trip] and I'll surely recover on the other side." There will be a time when accepting less will be the only option. Maybe then I can focus solely on the beauty of a hike in the Tetons without a pang of regret about covering half the distance I could have covered if I were running.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Lost Love

Even though there is a week left, the Tour is over. Lance will win #7 unless he crashes or gets sick which he won't do. It's a bit of a downer--no more excitement, no big stages to look forward to each day, no more white-knuckled vicarious hill climbs. It's been a good ride. I think it will be a long time before we witness an athlete as consistent and dominant as Lance Armstrong.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Bladders and Dreams

I didn't sleep so well last night. My deteriating bladder woke me up four times. Don't know what's up as I didn't drink a late night coke or coffee. I guess, as my sister-in-law told me today, at our age we start a long journey of doctor visits where they remove bad stuff and try to fix broken stuff. How exciting. My point: when I get up a lot I tend to remember what I was dreaming about. Sometimes my dreams are a mishmash of images and people but last night my dreams were clearly centered on current worries:

New Rooms: In this reoccuring dream, I realize that our house has this whole new part to it that we (don't ask me how) didn't realize it had. This new room is expansive, the very kind of room I've been recently wishing our stupidly laid out 3,000 square ft house doesn't have, the kind of room which can hold a ping-pong or pool table. This dream replayed after one of my peeings but on the 2nd go around the big, yet dank and dusty, room led to an even bigger room. This room was huge, like ballroom huge, with marble walls and pillars. Boy was I excited and then promptly disappointed when I awoke.

I had another great example but I realized it wouldn't be too wise to share it online--never know who is reading this stuff. Probably about two people but ya never know. My first experience with online safety self-censorship.

May my bladder hold tonight.

Summer of difference and DifferAnce

Having/making time to read theory:

Currently reading A Teaching Subject by Joseph Harris.. Probably old news to many as it was published in 96 but I'm really taken in by it. Yesterday I was reading his deconstruction of the term community while they were passing the sacrement, the very epitome a "consensus" ritual, in my Mormon ward. I'm intrigued by his discussion of the "public" classroom which is a kind of democratic space but I'm also aware of the critiques of this kind of idealized space. Favorite quote: "I don't want no Jesus in my promised land" (Lester Bangs when discussing the Clash) which Harris then reworks as a commentary on writing classes: "I don't want no Jesus and I don't want no Socrates either."

Speaking of Socrates, I've also made some progress (only like 1400 pages left:) on The Rhetorical tradition by Herzberg and Bizzel. I just finished reading, well if one calls my attempt reading, Phaedrus. I'm amazed at how the issues have stayed the same over so many years, though I have to say I tired quickly of the condescending straw man approach of the dialogues. Had a nice moment when I ran into Theuth and Thamus' discussion of writing: Theuth claims it is the "elixir of memory and wisdom" but Thamus counters "You have invented an elixir not of memory but of reminding." Of course Socrates goes on to compare writing to painting, noting that words can't defend themselves. What interested me in this was I recently finished Stephens's The rise of the image, the fall of the word where he uses Thamus'/Socrates' attack on writing as proof that we often focus on the weaknesses of a new technology rather that its eventual potententialities. Stephens' ultimately argues that we have barely tapped into the potentials of image, video, tv. In this sense the Neil Postmans of the world (and everyday derision of the couch potatoe) are missing the mark just as Socrates was concering writing centuries ago.

I love it when a writer can help me see behind-around-through what I've become used to seeing as normal. But also it's dismaying how much work, time, energy, and luck it takes in order to put into the background a view I've taken up in order to see something anew.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Familial harvest

While I have ambivalent feelings about our current hot season (see earlier entry), I do quite enjoy the early mornings. This morning I finished hanging out the clothes my wife had started and then I sifted through the bean plants--these amazing little plants that started as a small seed only a couple of months ago. The harvest must call back to some evolutionary constructed connection with the earth and sustenance. I fondle each plant, moving it around to find the ripe beans, each a treasured reward. But this isn't a farmer type harvest--pick it all and then off to the market--but rather a familial harvest, one where I ask the plant for a few beans each day. Bean plants I learned are actually quite sensitive to the harvest, producing more if the beans are picked early before the bean undulates with pregnant seeds, producing less when it's weighted down with big meaty beans. Later I will ask my kids to snip off the ends of the beans, a chore I did with my mother and grandmother as I grew up. Then each night during the harvest season we will have some garden item to eat--beans, a red pepper, a tomato, some cucumbers. It's not much and may only compliment a frozen piece of meat or some pre-packaged noodles but it's a small token of my tenuous connection with cool summer mornings and the green earth.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Counterintuitive: a personal etymology

Counterintuitive became a permanent part of our language the 2nd year of our marriage. We were students and quite poor; biggest purchase to date was a wedding ring. Since we wanted to travel some and camping was all we could afford we bought a $180 tent. It nearly killed me to spend that much money, but actually putting up the tent was far worse. Every time we put it up (inevitably in the dark and hungry) we failed to place the correct poles on top so that the tent could be erected. Finally I realize that it was counter-intuitive: the long poles went on the bottom and shorter ones went on top. Unfortunately it took many years and arguments to come up with this pneumonic device and then a few more years to actually remember what the pneumonic device meant: “I know we decided these poles are counter-intuitive but does that mean we would assume the short or long ones go on top?” This past June for the first time in our marital history we put the tent up correctly on the first try—only took 12 years, 34 tries. As one might guess the word has taken on a life of its own, entering conversations at odd moments, usually causing a knowing grin of recognition.

I guess I could end with some huge claim about how life is counterintuitive, but I’m not sure at all what intuition tells me about life—do we intuitively see life as easy? Difficult? Full of surprise? Boring? And if I did decide what exactly I had intuited about life would I remember it in the same way when I hit my next challenge? It would probably take me like 34 tries.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

F-bomb hot

it's F-bomb hot. Went for a 30 minute run and then continued to sweat profusely; I mean like buckets. It was kind of uncomfortable but also felt rather cleansing. I've purged all pores for the day, my only real accomplishment other than 4 hrs or so of Tour.

Vicariously meaningful

Armstrong proved his mettle yet again yesterday. What a display of team work by Team Discovery and then pure mountain genius by Lance to finish it up. He didn’t quite take the stage but he put time into all of his main challengers (unless the polka-dotted RasmUssen continues to keep up).

Embarrassingly anxious, I was about as vicariously engaged as one can get. I have to go back to the 98 Jazz run at the NBA title against Chicago to remember feeling so connected to a sporting event. I feel a bit silly during those white-knuckled viewer moments knowing I’m just one of millions drooling over Lance. Whether there is something of long-term value in this spectatorship, I don’t know. But I do know I greatly enjoy the moment and then, later, reliving it. I guess it’s wanting to be part of history but it’s probably more like not wanting to miss out on history. So much of life just passes by and is forgotten, crunched in amongst a thousand memories, most moments completely forgotten and the rest not worth remembering. There’s something comforting about being able to measure out life by recalling these few “lived” moments (sporting events, world disasters, big life experiences).

While driving to my class this morning I was thinking about all this. I’d just spent another 4 hrs watching today’s stage (I got up a 5am to catch early coverage) and I was feeling a tinge of guilt for not being better prepared for my class—those hours could have been dedicated to prep for a real-life class and students! But is it so simple? How and where do we create meaning? Can we choose to make something meaningful? My father-in-law will often invoke the future memory of an event we are currently experiencing before it has even finished. Sometimes I see him arranging a meaningful experience, like one composes a photograph, to view and re-experience at a later date. He’s very skilled at this, understanding quite well the balance between allowing or setting up an event vs. forcing it. While my wife has many fond memories which her father set up, she also admits he had an easier time getting caught up in a book than in an experience, maybe best expressed in his infamous response to his children, “I think we’ve had enough fun for the day."

I guess my fun meter alarm went off after my Tour indulgences which then spurred on my guilt. Tonight I will most certainly focus on constructing authentically meaningful lived experiences for my students. Real life here I come. No more silly flings with Lance for me.

Monday, July 11, 2005

I ... Love .... Lance

My best friend M. often refers to Bruce Springsteen as merely "Bruce" as if he knows him personally or something. It kind of bugs me but I'm beginning to get a sense of why he might do this. The Tour de France is in full swing and for the first time since my days at BYU on-campus housing with free cable, I'm watching the Tour de France live on OLN. I switched my cable option to include OLN just a day before the Tour started, a huge move for my normally tight wad self. So, I'm like a Tour junkie. I taped all 5 hrs yesterday and then watched it throughout the day. And I just can't contain myself as I wait for the real race to begin in tomorrow, the big mountains where "Lance" should prove he is yet again the top rider. I know some have begun to wonder about Lance ("he must be taking drugs" or "Sheryl Crow???") but if one takes the high road with Lance, you might as well give up all professional sports, not to mention reading novels, visiting art museums, or listening to classical music. I'm not into Lance's character, I'm into his body (bring on all sexual innuendos--I don't care). He's simply amazing. I'm no cyclist but I've done some riding (once I limped through a 100 mile ride which wasn't even a race) and I just can't believe what he has been able to do in the Alps for the last 6 years.

Good luck Lance. I'm watching your every move.

Superman Sucks

Last week I rented Superman for my kids. I had all these good memories of watching it as a kid (I would have been about 9), but my memories have been distorted, I assume, through the years. First off, I didn't even recall the first third of the movie at all. I started wondering if I'd even seen the damn thing--Marlon Brando warning the inhabitants of Crypton, baby SM being sent in small capsule, toddler SM being raised by some farmer couple, MB giving fatherly advice to the confused young adult. I remembered nothing until the "real" Superman appeared as Clarke Kent the newspaper guy with Lois Lane. Finally I felt at home only to quickly realize Superman is the most uninspiring superhero alive. As Stan Lee, the creator of the original Spiderman, has commented, Superman is boring--he can do anything, even speeding around the world in order to go back in time to save Lois Lane. I could have fastforwarded through the last half but by then my kids had gotten into it, forgiving it the lame special effects and eerie Brando floating face. We sat and watched till the end. Thank goodness for Spiderman. Now there's a thinking man's hero: conflicted, unable to live up to his expectations, confronted with the death of others, silently brooding over his love for M.J.

Inaugural Post

I finally publish a blog. I've been thinking about it for a few months now: first inspired by Middlebrow (my officemate) and then by the blogging mania in my department. At one point I decided I wouldn't do a blog as I was most assuredly only trying to be hip (however Unhip some bloggers may think they are) but then I realized that everytime I lurked through through the SLCC blogs I was unconscioulsy composing blogs in my mind--wasted ideas frittered away as I start some new task. Life demands some sort of recordiing and reflecting. So, here I go...