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.