Friday, June 25, 2010

Lucid as Euclid?

Ahoy all my Science & Math-minded friends!

Can you think of any available work--a book, a chapter, an essay, a website, a YouTube clip--that could introduce some more-or-less mathematically illiterate English majors to non-Euclidean geometry?

I don't care so much about their learning the geometry itself, or the various geometries. It's the intellectual adventure of the discovery that I need to communicate: the interest and excitement of it, and the worlds it opened up.

This will be a secondary source for my next interdisciplinary senior seminar on popular romance fiction, by the way. One of the novels I teach, Laura Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm, features a mathematically-gifted 19th century hero who works on the problem. It's been hard for me to get students to focus on that aspect of the novel, or see its relevance to the other material in the book; I need something that will bring the topic to life for them.

By way of early payment, here's a musical tribute to the man behind the story in real life (well, one of them, anyway) from Tom Lehrer:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Help a Prof Out (2): Modern Poets?

Thanks to everyone who weighed in about my survey course ideas! A number of voices saying that they like the variety that a survey brings to the table, whether it's organized by theme (as in the syllabus I posted yesterday) or simply by the order that poems and poets appear in a book (as I mentioned in passing).

As my friend Sara put it, over on Facebook:

I'm answering as someone who could be one of your students. I've never taken a poetry class and would have a lot of trepidation about doing so. I really like the themes approach, because I feel that I'll probably like some of the poems in each section whereas with a chronological or authors approach I'd be very afraid of not liking or understanding whole sections of the course, and hence I wouldn't take such a course. Also as a very casual visitor to the world of poetry I'd want to be exposed to more than 8 or 9 poets.

That's a useful perspective, and a persuasive one--it's always a pleasure to watch students discover a poet or poem they love, and often those discoveries happen while splashing through the shoals of charming minor poets, rather than swimming with the big fish of the canon.

I use the phrase "charming minor poet" advisedly, thinking of the opening of an essay I once wrote about Hayden Carruth:

When Bantam books shipped Hayden Carruth's anthology The Voice That Is Great Within Us to likely reviewers, he got a bitter letter in reply. Its author, a friend of John Crowe Ransom, had looked in vain for the "tougher, more philosophical" work that made Ransom a "serious and important" figure. "He complained that I had used only the slighter poems, the elegiac and gently ironic poems," Carruth recalled in an essay the following year. In a word, "he accused me of turning Ransom into 'a charming minor poet.'"

"Well," Carruth muses in response, "charming minor poet is what we usually call Sir Thomas Wyatt, George Crabbe, John Clare, Padraic Colum, and many others, and personally I wouldn't mind belonging to that company at all, at all. What else is there, except oblivion on one hand and the fluke of greatness on the other?"

Before I commit to a survey course, though, let me say a word or two about the other kind of modern poetry course I've often taught, and see what you think about that.

The second model I've used is an author-based course. I choose some number of poets--8, 9, 10--and have students order either a Collected or Selected poems by each. We then read widely and variously across each poet's career.

The advantage of a course like this is that it enables both me and my students to read poems that never make it into the anthologies, either because they are (shall we say) charming minor work or because they're simply too long. The charming minor poems of Prufrock and Other Observations, for example, are my favorite part of the book. A handful of middle-aged poems by Allen Ginsberg (like the two called "Don't Get Old") are as good as Howl or Kaddish, maybe better, at least to my middle-aged ear. The experience of reading all of H. D.'s Trilogy is radically different from the experience of reading anthologized excerpts--it's much more fun, much closer to a fantasy novel, to my ear at least. Auden's "Letter to Lord Byron" is a joy, but nowhere in the Norton; poets like Stevie Smith, A. R. Ammons, and Robert Hayden come alive when read at length, but I'm not sure they have the same appeal in short bursts.

(The opposite is true of other poets, of course. Every time I teach the three or four poems by William Bronk in Cary Nelson's Modern American Poetry I fall in love with his work, but to read him at length, a book or more? Help!)

Author-based courses also let me hitch my teaching more closely to my scholarship. When I'm writing about poet X, I can simply order up a book by him or her; when I've spent years getting to know the whole career of poet Y, I can take my students on a guided tour.

Finally, the books for author based courses are more expensive--but they can be really lovely, a physical pleasure to hold and to read. There's something quite satisfying about working with a Library of America Collected Poems, or one of the slim, elegant American Poets Project volumes, or just a book of poems, rather than a Norton. Books designed for readers, not for students, I mean.

Why, then, don't I always teach an author-based course?

Because then--ah, then!--I have to choose. And, because I'm a liberal child of the '70s, I can't just choose blindly. No, I want to choose a proper mix of genders, races, aesthetics...and if it's the Modern Poetry course, a mix of US and non-US poets. And I can't have more than 9. And that, friends, is hard, for a ditherer like me. My desktop and notebooks are littered with lists of authors, sometimes gathered by theme, sometimes just by affection:
HD (f)
Moore (f)
Smith (f)
Rukeyser (f)
Nine poets: four women, five men, but only two and a half from outside the US (Eliot counts twice), and only one poet of color. Argh! And would I rather teach Moore than Niedecker? Or Millay, whom students often like? And what about Auden, and Ammons, and O'Hara, and Merrill (both of whom taught wonderfully last quarter)? What about Hugh MacDiarmid, whose little aubade "Morning" was a surprise hit back in May?
The Day loups up (for she kens richt weel
Owre lang wi' the Nicht she mauna lig)
And plunks the sun i' the lift aince mair
Like a paddle-doo i' the raim-pig.
Oh, I don't know, friends, I just don't know. Any thoughts? Any advice?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Help a Prof Out (1): Modern Poetry

Sixteen years ago, at a campus-visit interview somewhere in the Southwest, I found myself grilled by an English professor who wanted to know exactly who would be on my modern American poetry syllabus, were I to get hired.

I tossed out a few different models that came to mind: I might teach it this way, with this focus; maybe that way, with another. He was unimpressed. "You're the professor now," he said. "You have to decide!"

Did I? I've now taught a dozen or so sections of DePaul's Modern American Poetry (and Modern Poetry) courses, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, but I've never taught the course the same way twice.

Some years I've focused the course on a particular theme ("Faith, Doubt, and Myth" last fall; "Long and Longer Poems" a few years back). Other years I've chosen an anthology or two and had the students read every page, cover to cover, without organizing the poets into schools or movements or ranking them in importance. Last quarter I planned to do the "read every page" approach at the undergraduate level, for the first time--then balked, realizing that it wouldn't work, since the reading just wouldn't get done. Instead, I sorted the poets into loosely organized groups and worked through those, more or less chronologically, first on one side of the Atlantic and then on the other. (My anthologies were Cary Nelson's Modern American Poetry and the Bloodaxe book of 20th Century British and Irish poetry.) It worked pretty well, except for the fact that I'd assigned a lot of poems which I'd never taught or even read before--and I didn't have nearly as much time as I'd hoped to get them prepped.

So: here's my dilemma.

To simplify my life in the next four years (my countdown to 50--and to my son's departure for college), I'd like to design one Modern American Poetry syllabus and one Modern Poetry syllabus and then stick with them, teaching them over and over again. What, though, should they look like?

The simplest solution would be for me to narrow the scope of the course to the first half of the 20th century, and teach it from an anthology that includes both modern American and modern non-American poetry. Three come to mind:
  • The Norton Anthology of Poetry, which includes about 900 pages of 20th century poetry, along with plenty of older poems, from Caedmon's Hymn onward.
  • Poems for the Millennium, the Jerome Rothenberg / Pierre Joris-edited anthology of international modernist poetry, much of it in translation.
  • The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, which runs from Whitman to Stephen Spender and Keith Douglas, and includes a bunch of manifestos and other ancillary documents at the end.
Each of these has its advantages and disadvantages. Consider the Norton Anthology of Poetry (or NAP, for short):
  • It would give the students plenty of context for any given modern poem, which is a plus. I can't assume they've read anything prior to my classes--so if I want them to think about, say, Stevens and Keats, it might be useful to have the Keats right there at hand.
  • The NAP is also a book I could use for my Introduction to Poetry course, so that students could go from one to the other without buying a new textbook.
  • On the other hand, the NAP offers essentially no biographical or other contextual information for any of its poets, and it necessarily includes fewer poems by its modern folks than an anthology just of modern poetry will give.
What about Poems for the Millennium?
  • Having taught from it before, I can testify that its description of modernism--overall, and as a group of related 20th century -isms--has the most potential to excite and seduce students.
  • On the other hand, that excitement tends to come, for my students, as much from the headnotes and afterwords supplied by the editors as it does from the poems they choose. In fact, it may come more from those notes than from the poems, which are sometimes more fun to read about than they are for my students to read.
  • Obviously the scope of this anthology goes well beyond the Modern American purview, which means that I'd really have to use it only for the Modern Poetry survey, and work up a separate syllabus, with a separate book, for the other. Not the most efficient approach.
That leaves the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (NAMP). How does it measure up?
  • I don't love some of the inclusions--the older versions of early Yeats poems, for example, that this edition uses instead of the superior later revisions, or the particular selections of Stevie Smith. I could, of course, supplement these with handouts or links.
  • I find it annoying that this "modern" anthology includes poems from the 1960s and later (all of the George Oppen offerings, for example), while shunting modern poems from the 1930s into a second, separate anthology of Contemporary Poetry (e.g. Muriel Rukeyser's The Book of the Dead). Would I make my students buy both for a handful of poems? Use some second text or on-line links? Not ideal, but doable, I suppose.
Of these three, I suppose I like NAMP the most, and I have taught with it more or less successfully before, structuring my course around a series of topics and themes, rather than authors. (As you'll see below, I used both volumes of the Norton that quarter, the Modern and the Contemporary.) Here's what I did that last time; after I post it, I'll publish this, take a break, and come back to the question of whether I should teach a survey or a course on particular authors (say, 8 or 9 of them) later.

What’s a Poem? What’s a Poet?
In Vol. 1, read the selections from Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” Yeats, “The Fisherman,” “Adam’s Curse,” “The Circus Animals’ Desertion”; Masters, “Petit, the Poet”; Stein, from “Tender Buttons,” read “A Carafe, That Is a Blind Glass,” the four poems called “Chicken,” and the selection from “Rooms,” also “Susie Asado”; Amy Lowell, “The Pike” and “Venus Transiens,” Stevens “Thirteen Ways…” “The Poems of Our Climate,” “Of Modern Poetry,” Loy, “Songs to Joannes” parts 1 and 2; Williams, “The Young Housewife,” “Portrait of a Lady,” from Paterson (302-307), Pound, “The Return,” “A Pact,” “In a Station of the Metro,” Cantos I and II; H.D., “Epitaph,” Moore, “To a Steam Roller,” “Critics and Connoisseurs,” “Poetry,” Eliot, “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “Geronition,” The Waste Land, Reznikoff, “The Shopgirls Leave their Work,” “About an Excavation,” Toomer, “Gum,” Bunting, “What the Chairman told Tom,” Niedecker, “New-Sawed,’ “Poet’s Work,” “Something in the Water,” “Popcorn-Can Cover,” Zukofsky, “From Poem Beginning ‘The’”; read the manifestoes from pp. 895-925 and Pound’s “A Retrospect” (929-938).

In Vol. 2, read Thomas, “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” Lowell, “Epilogue,” Koch, from Days and Nights, “One Train May Hide Another,” Ammons, “Corson’s Inlet,” “from Garbage,” Ginsberg, “Howl,” “Sunflower Sutra,” O’Hara, “A Step Away from Them,” “A True Account of Talking to the Sun…,” Ashbery, “the Instruction Manual,” “Farm Implements and Rutabegas in a Landscape,” Howe, “from Thorow,” Ali, “Ghazal,” Bernstein, “Autonomy is Jeopardy,” and “from The Lives of the Toll Takers.”
Gender and Sexuality
In Vol. 1, read Robinson, “Miniver Cheevy” (166), Stevens, “Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock,” Williams, “The Young Housewife,” “Danse Russe,” “Portrait of a Lady,” Pound, “Portrait d’une Femme,” “The Temperaments,” “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley,” part I, Canto VII, H.D., “Sea Rose,” “Garden,” Eliot, “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “Whispers of Immortality,” “The Waste Land,” Millay, “First Fig,” “I, Being Born a Woman and Distressed,” Bogan, “Women,” Smith, “This Englishwoman,” Niedecker, “Well, Spring Overflows the Land,” “What Horror to Awake at Night.”

In Vol. 2, read Swenson, “A Couple,” Rukeyser, “The Conjugation of the Paramecium,” Jarrell, “Next Day,” Berryman, “Dream Song 4,” Levertov, “Song for Ishtar,” Ginsberg, “Sphincter,” “Personals Ad,” Sexton, “Her Kind,” Rich, “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law,” “Orion,” “Planetarium,” “Power,” Plath, “The Arrival of the Bee Box,” Clifton, “homage to my hips,” “poem to my uterus,” “to my last period,” Atwood, “from Circe / Mud Poems,” “Manet’s Olympia,” Boland, “Mise Eire,” “The Pomegranate,” Goodison, “Nanny,” Nichols, “Invitation,” Doty, “Homo Will Not Inherit.”
Faith, Doubt, Myth:
In Vol 1, read Dickinson, “Brain is Wider” 38; Hardy, “Hap” (44); Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur,” “As Kingfishers,” “Spring,” “The Windhover,” “Hosting of the Sidhe,” “The Magi,” “Dialogue of Self and Soul,” Frost, “Design,” “Directive,” Stevens, “Sunday Morning,” from “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction,” “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour” (on-line; Google it); Pound, “The Return,” HD, “from The Walls Do Not Fall” and “From Tribute to the Angels,” Eliot, “Preludes,” “The Waste Land,” “Journey of the Magi,” “Little Gidding,” Graves, “To Juan at the Winter Solstice,” Smith, “Our Bog is Dood,” “God the Eater,” Kavanagh, “Canal Bank Walk,” Auden, “As I Walked Out One Evening,” “In Praise of Limestone,” Oppen, “Psalm,” “from Of Being Numerous.”

In Vol. 2, read Bishop, “At the Fishhouses,” “Over 2000 Illustrations…,” Duncan, “Often I am Permitted to Return to a Meadow,” Larkin, “Water,” “Church Going,” “Faith Healing,” “High Windows,” Kumin, “In the Absence of Bliss,” Merrill, “b o d y,” Ali, “Ghazal.”
War and Genocide:
In Vol. 1, read Hardy “Drummer Hodge” (47), “In Time of ‘the Breaking of Nations’” (59), Kipling, “Shillin’ a Day,” “Recessional,” “Epitaphs of the War” (150), Yeats, “Easter, 1916,” “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death,” “The Second Coming,” “Leda and the Swan,” “Politics”; Sandburg, “Grass,” Thomas, “Rain,” Loy, “Der Blinde Junge,” Pound, “Lament of the Frontier Guard,” Hugh Selwyn Mauberly, parts IV and V, Canto LXXXI, Sassoon, “Dreamers,” “The General,” H.D., “from The Walls Do Not Fall,” McKay, “If We Must Die,” Rosenberg, “Break of Day in the Trenches,” “Louse Hunting,” Owen, “Dulce et Decorum Est,” “Strange Meeting,” “S.I.W.,” Reznikoff, from Holocaust; “I sing of Olaf glad and big,” Jones, “In Parenthesis,” Auden, “Spain,” from “In Time of War,” “September 1, 1939,” “The Shield of Achilles.”

In Vol. 2, read Olson, “Pacific Lament,” Rukeyser, “Poem”; Jarrell, “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner,” Duncan, “Up Rising / Passages 25,” Larkin, “MCMXIV,” Hecht, “The Book of Yolek”; Hill, “Ovid in the Third Reich,” “September Song”; Simic, “Prodigy,” “Eastern European Cooking,” “Cameo Appearance,” Palmer, “Sun,” Komunyakaa, “Starlight Scope Myopia,” “Facing It,” Fenton, “Dead Soldiers,” Forche, “The Colonel”
A Botched Civilization?
In Vol. 1, read Yeats, “Meru,” “Long-Legged Fly,” Williams, “To Elsie,” “The Yachts,” Pound, “Hugh Selwyn Mauberly,” from Canto XIV, XLV, Jeffers, “Shine, Perishing Republic,” “Ave Caesar,” “The Purse-Seine,” “Carmel Point,” cummings “the Cambridge ladies,” “next to of course god America I,” Brown, “Sporting Beasley,” Hughes, “from Montage of a Dream Deferred,” Auden, “The Unknown Citizen.”

In Vol. 2, read Olson, from “The Maximus Poems” (6-11, 12-14); Hayden, “Middle Passage,”; Rukeyser, “from The Book of the Dead: Absalom; Alloy,” Lowell, “For the Union Dead,” Brooks, “Vacant Lot,” Larkin, “Homage to a Government,” Creeley, “I Know a Man,” Ginsberg, “Howl,” “America,” “Mugging,” Levine, “They Feed They Lion,” Gunn, “The Missing”; Harper, “American History,” Cervantes, “Poema para los Californios Muertos.”
Against Empire as Such:
In Vol. 1, read Yeats, “September, 1913,” “Easter, 1916,” Johnson, “O Black and Unknown Bards,” “The Creation,” Loy, “English Rose,” Moore, “England,” “A Midnight Woman to the Bobby,” “The Harlem Dancer,” “If We Must Die,” MacDiarmid, “O Wha’s the Bride?” Reznikoff, “It Had Long Been Dark,” Tolson, “from Harlem Gallery,” Bunting, from Briggflatts, Brown, “Memphis Blues,” “Slim in Atlanta,” Hughes, “Weary Blues,” “Madam and Her Madam,” Cullen, “Heritage,” Kavanagh, “from The Great Hunger,” “Epic.”

In Vol. 2, read Bishop, “Brazil, January 1, 1502,” Hayden, “Witch Doctor,” “Night, Death, Mississippi,” some Louise Bennett?, Ginsberg, “from Kaddish,” Walcott, “A Far Cry from Africa,” “The Sea is History,” “The Schooner Flight,” Brathwaite, “From The Arrivants,” “Calypso,” “Ogun,”; James Wright, “A Centenary Ode: Inscribed to Little Crow…”; Baraka, “Poem for Black Hearts,” “A New Reality is Better than a New Movie!” Clifton, “I am accused of tending to the past,” “at the cemetery, walnut grove plantation,” Heaney, “Punishment,” “Casualty,” “Terminus,” de Souza, “De Souza Prabhu,” “Conversation Piece,” Goodison, “Guinea Woman,” Ali, “Ghazal,” Nichols, “Wherever I hang,” Marilyn Chin, “How I Got That Name,” “Autumn Leaves,” Alexie, “On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City,” “How to Write the Great American Indian Novel,” “Crow Testament”
Birds, Beasts, and Flowers:
In Vol. 1, read Frost, “The Most of It,” Williams, “Spring and All,” DHL, “Medlars and Sorb-Apples,” “Southern Cyclamens,” “Snake,” “Lui et Elle,” “Bavarian Gentians,” Jeffers, “Fawn’s Foster Mother,” Hurt Hawks,” “Vulture,” Moore, “To a Snail,” “The Pangolin,” “He ‘Digesteth Harde Yron,” Auden, “In Praise of Limestone.”

In Vol. 2, read Bishop, “Roosters,” Swenson, “Unconscious, Came a Beauty,” “Strawberrying,” Duncan, “A Little Language,” Ammons, “Gravelly Run,” “Small Song,” “The City Limits,’ Merrill, “Self-Portrait in Tyvek™Windbreaker,” Merwin, “For a Coming Extinction,” Snyder, “Milton by Firelight,” “Above Pate Valley”; Hughes, “The Horses,” “Pike,” “Second Glance at a Jaguar,” Oliver, “The Black Snake,” “Hawk,” Heaney, “Death of a Naturalist.”
Modern Love:
In vol. 1, read “Poems of 1912-13” (54-57, up through “The Voice”); “Adam’s Curse” 100, “No Second Troy” (101), “Eros Turannos” (167), Lowell, “A Decade,” “From Songs to Joannes,” WCW, “This Is Just to Say,” “The Ivy Crown,” DHL, “You,” Pound, “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter,” HD, “Fragment Sixty-Eight,” Parker, “One Perfect Rose,” Crane, “Voyages,” Hughes, “Lament Over Love,” Reznikoff, “from Love Poems of Marichiko,” Auden, “This Lunar Beauty,” “Lullaby,” “As I Walked Out One Evening.”

In Vol. 2, read Swenson, “A Couple,” “In Love Made Visible,” Larkin, “An Arundel Tomb,” Levertov, “The Ache of Marriage,” Merrill, “Days of 1964,” Creeley, “For Love,” O’Hara, “Les Luths,” Rich, “Twenty-One Love Poems,” Snyder, “The Bath,” Plath, “The Applicant,” Lorde, “Love Poem,” Atwood, “[You fit into me].”

A Tiny Test

Just to see whether my new (repaired) link between this blog and my other social media (Facebook / Twitter) is live, here's a one-line poem by Harvey Shapiro, from A Day's Portion (1994):

His liver-spotted hand on hers.
If this works, I should be able to see the post on Facebook, and a link should be posted to Twitter. If not--well, we'll see. It's hardly a priority, but would be nice.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Alpha Males in Love

The call for papers has been extended one last time (last call!) for the big Film / Love conference next November in Milwaukee.

The final-but-final deadline is now September 15, 2010, and although I have a handful of papers already accepted, I’d love to have some more proposals for my panel, International Perspectives on the Alpha Male in Love. (As you'll see below, this includes films that challenge, revise, or subvert the conventions surrounding this figure.)

Here's the formal CFP, one last time:

2010 Film & History Conference: Representations of Love in Film and Television

November 11-14, 2010
Hyatt Regency Milwaukee
Deadline: September 15, 2010

Masterful, confident, erotically charged, the “Alpha Male” has been a cinematic icon from Rudolph Valentino’s Sheik Ahmed ben Hassan (The Sheik, 1921) to Pierce Brosnan’s Thomas Crown (1999) and Hritik Roshan’s elusive criminal, “Mr. A” (Dhoom 2, 2006). As the hero in romantic films, this ideal of masculinity has proven enduringly popular with both male and female viewers, even as successive waves of feminism, in the West and around the globe, have challenged the sexual politics he implies.

How do representations of the Alpha Male in love differ across national, linguistic, and cultural boundaries? How have they changed across the past century, responding to historically- and regionally-specific shifts in gender roles and ideals? What happens to the Alpha Male hero when he stars in a romantic comedy, as opposed to a drama or melodrama? How much can we use this iconic figure to track the power of the female gaze or women’s desires, as has been done with the Alpha Male hero of popular romance fiction, given the fact that men continue to predominate in the writing and direction of the films (as opposed to the overwhelmingly female authorship and audience for romance novels)?

This area, comprising multiple panels, welcomes papers and panel proposals that examine all forms and genres of films featuring “Alpha” protagonists in love, as well as films which challenge, revise, or subvert the conventions surrounding this character. Possibilities include, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • Sheiks, Captains, Emperors, (The Sheik, Persuasion, Jodhaa Akbar)
  • Alpha Male meets Alpha Female (The Thomas Crown Affair [1999], Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)
  • Austen’s Alpha: Darcy and his Descendents (Pride and Prejudice)
  • Sink Me! He’s an Alpha in Disguse! (The Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro)
  • Alpha / Beta Reversals and Alter-Egos (Rab Ne Bana di Jodi, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na)
  • Suspicious Minds: the Alpha Criminal and Detective (Devil in a Blue Dress, The Big Sleep, Breathless)
  • Athlete Alphas (Love & Basketball, Bull Durham)
  • Alpha Lovers in Space (Han Solo, James T. Kirk)
  • You’ve Got Male: Alphas in “Chick Flicks”
Please send your 200-word proposal by e-mail to the area chair (me!)

Eric Murphy Selinger
Associate Professor
Dept. of English
DePaul University
802 West Belden Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614

eselinge at depaul dot edu

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fathers' Day

Happy Fathers' Day (or is it "Father's Day"?) to any fellow fathers who happen to read this.

I'll be honest--I miss my father terribly this morning, and think of him daily. He'd have loved, I think, how my children are growing up, and hopefully how I have been as well. I spent a lot of years rebelling against him, but with his death, that changed--I might be closer to him now (in behavior, attitude, habits) than I'd be were he still alive.

In particular, I've found myself embracing his cosmopolitanism. Dad had little use for anything "tribal," as he saw it; the world was so vast and various and interesting that to focus only on one's own little slice of it seemed perverse at best. When I was a boy, he and my mother went to India for a summer, and they took us kids to Israel, Greece, Jamaica, the Bahamas (or was it Bermuda? I can never remember), and of course Hawai'i, where we lived for four years. He kept a list of places around the world he wanted to visit--it was taped inside a kitchen cupboard, where he'd see it frequently. And, indeed, he worked his way down through it over the years. Only a few lines left, there, at the end.

(When my wife and I put up maps in our kitchen, of the US and the world, he loved it; he'd be even happier to hear the kids debating where they'd like to go for the next big family trip, once we get the money. My son likes Spain, or Chile, or Argentina--somewhere he can use his burgeoning Spanish. For my daughter, it's New Zealand. Vancouver seems the compromise; certainly it's the most affordable!)

He told me before he died that he'd always figured he'd die young, like his father and grandfather before him, which was why he did his best to get to all those places on summer breaks and such. "I didn't save anything for retirement," he said, "because I never expected to have one." And he was right.

Dad died shortly before the 9/11 attacks, at a time when the Bush presidency seemed a temporary annoyance, the country was at peace, the economy was strong, and his children (and grandchildren) were all settled, secure, and comfortable. I'm glad he missed the years that followed, although he'd have loved the Obama campaign and victory--and the fact that my older brother was an Obama delegate to the Democratic convention, as he had been for Michael Dukakis back in '88. (Dukakis? Yes--history repeating itself, the second time as farce: years before he had worked on the JFK and RFK campaigns, and we grew up in the '70s with a huge RFK poster on the wall.)

I don't think he'd appreciate my plan to stop reading the news all summer, but given how upset and obsessive I get about it, especially news from the Middle East, perhaps he'd understand. More on that in another post, perhaps.

For now...well, Dad was also a sports fan, which suggests to me that if he were alive this morning, he'd be watching the World Cup. So that's what I'm going to do, with a second cup of sweet black coffee and some rye toast. The kids are already downstairs watching, and once my wife finds out that the Scottish announcer is on, she'll probably join us. (Something about that accent she seems to like. All those years working on my Irish brogue, only to discover it was the wrong accent! Ah, well--something to work on in the next two decades of the marriage, eh?)

Zichron l'vracha--to remember him is a blessing.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Easy to think...

Easy to think of low points from today, what with the computer crash, a bill situation, classroom flashbacks, etc. Also realized, as I graded, that I've fallen into a new, glum habit of thought: when my students do well, I credit them or their prior teachers; when they do badly, it's my fault--a badly-designed assignment or lousy lecture, or something like that.

On the other hand--what? High points:

1) Watching R handle the computer crash w/o losing her cool. Lucky man, I am.

2) Giving a well-deserved "A" to a student who'd struggled with depression early in the quarter, then came back to write three elegant, thoughtful, witty papers for me. I didn't teach her to write like that, but I did keep her engaged with the course through emails and conferences, as well as the lectures themselves. If I'd really done as bad a job this quarter as I keep thinking, she'd have failed or dropped the class; instead, she aced it.

3) Cleaning the main floor of our house in time for R to meet with a prospective client--one who showed up at the house an hour early. Ha!

4) Hitting the "Post" button with those grades--a quick tap with the finger, before I could stop and second-guess (OK, fifth-or-sixth-guess) them any more. When I started at DePaul I had to drive to the office to file the grades; that's an hour of driving I didn't have to do, and a lot less worry, after.

5) Curling up in the afternoon and again after dinner with Steven Moore's The Novel: an Alternative History: Beginnings to 1600, while a line of thunderstorms swept through. Found that by accident at the public library...what, yesterday? The day before? Lively book, and part of the "scholarly base" I need (and want) to lay down this summer. More on both, anon.

And that, friends, makes five things that made me happy today.


Degrading is almost done!

(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

One snag: my "User Profile" is evidently corrupt, which means my computer can't load up my files, bookmarks, email archive...anything.

Thanks to Rosalie, I have backups for all of this, and at some point can create a new User Profile with the old data. Until I do, though, I'm going to stay off the computer, wrap up the grades, and clean house.

New living room setup, new family room setup, soon a new User Profile--if this were a novel, I'd groan at the symbolism. As it is, I'm going to log off, tidy up, and bid farewell to a tough spring quarter.

Summer is i-cumen in, folks. See you soon.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

An Unexpected Letter

I hadn't expected to get so many kind messages in response to my last post! Laura here; private notes by email; and, of course, many comments from Facebook friends--I'd forgotten that the blog was hitched to my Facebook account, but I'm glad now that I made that move last spring, or whenever it was. You've made me glad I posted. Thank you all.


Another pleasant surprise in the email box: a message from one of my Say Something Wonderful seminar alumni, linking to some student work.

Hey Eric!

I hope you're doing well. Just want to share some cool poetry video essays my students created using Vendler's framework. You can view them at the school Web site in The Sound of the Page section. They'll be available as Podcasts on iTunes in a few days, too.

Also, I used the Humament strategy again this year and got some pretty cool stuff from students.

Thanks for your guidance!

On another note, I'll be moving to a new high school on the southwest side in the fall. The name of the school is Zaragoza. I'm really looking forward to this new opportunity.



If you click over to the video essays you'll hear (with some text on the screen) some of R's students reading poems, then giving close readings of them based on a couple of chapters from Helen Vendler's Poems, Poets, Poetry, notably the chapter on "Poems as Pleasure." I've found my own students, at college, hear their own prose much better when they have to read it aloud; I suspect that's the case for R's as well, so there's a good lesson in expository prose tucked inside each explication.

The "Humament" exercise comes from Tom Philips' ongoing art project, A Humument, in which each page of a Victorian novel is turned into an artwork, with bits of text still showing. Here's an example:

As you can see from that final phrase-- "that / which / he / hid / I / reveal," or maybe "reveal / I"--this is a way to make one text say a second, preferably a counter-text or unspoken set of desires. R's students took on Luis Urrea's The Devil's Highway, "which tells the true story," he writes,
of 26 Mexican men who attempted to cross the US / Mexico border in 2001. They were abandoned by their guide and left to die in the desert.

We used the Humament activity to examine subtext. The assignment asked students to consider what these men wished they could have said. What they produced became long-term displays in our classroom. Many of the students said this was one of the 'coolest' activities they'd ever done.
I'm delighted to know that our seminar discussion of the Philips, and of Ronald Johnson's Radi Os, which led us to A Humament, continues to ripple out into the pedagogical pond.


Mood-wise, a little down this morning again--this on a beautiful clear day, too. Logging off to grade a while, on the theory that wrapping something up (as I did yesterday) will give me a boost. If not, there's always the local pool!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Four Months Later...

Has it really been four months since I've posted here?


Why so long?

The usual reasons--teaching, writing, grading, family. Agonizing self-consciousness, since it seems that some of my relatives check in to read this, which I'd never expected. Grinding doubts about the project. (How many blogs do I still read with any regularity? Who does this one really serve?) Conference-going; post-conference scrambling; extra committee work. The allure of the 143-character tweet.

Also, though, another reason.

Since mid-April, more or less, I've been wrestling what I guess you'd call a mild case of depression. I had to take a lot of pseudo-ephedrine to deal with a sinus problem, which screwed up my sleep, and somehow things just snowballed. For six weeks, more or less, I would wake up scowling and cursing, still exhausted, and my mind seemed tuned to what Annie Lamott calls KFKD, that inner radio station that broadcasts, nonstop, that everything you've done and are doing is wrong. I'd spend most of the day the same way.

I call it "mild" because I held it together for my classes, usually. But before and after them, I was a wreck.

One result of this was a sort of grim, determined pulling back from social media--and from social activities more generally. I told myself this was about the workload, an effort to be more efficient, but in retrospect it seems more a sort of electronic version of curling up in a corner of the closet. (If you could see my closets, you'd know why I had to do this electronically.)

I actually hadn't thought anyone noticed the change. Until, that is, a couple of weeks ago, my wife asked me, "who are you, and what have you done with my husband?"

Long story short, I've been making some changes in the sleep regime, the exercise regime, the medical regime. Lots of regime change all around. Aside from one or two crashing returns to the blues, things seem to be getting better, so I'm giving these shifts a few weeks. If they work, fine; if not, don't worry, I'll get professional help. (I find it hard to imagine that they won't, as my natural state is so buoyant--but then, maybe that natural state is changing as I age? Well, we'll find out.)

And since one effect of the downward slide seemed to be a lack of posting here, I figure one way out might be to start sending these little messages out into the ether again--not so much about myself, I hope, but about what I'm reading, writing, thinking, doing this summer.

My first in a decade without teaching, by the way. And the kids off at day camp. Time to get something--finally, finally--done.