Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fall, Snyder, Menashe

Up at 6:15 today--well, earlier, really--to get my son up for school. Fall term has started, for the kids, anyway, and that means my own fall can't be far behind.

This came in over the transom yesterday, and although I'm not a fan of Garrison Keillor, who posted and read it on The Writer's Almanac, it seemed appropriate, somehow.
The Trail is Not a Trail

I drove down the Freeway
And turned off at an exit
And went along a highway
Til it came to a sideroad
Drove up the sideroad
Til it turned to a dirt road
Full of bumps, and stopped.
Walked up a trail
But the trail got rough
And it faded away—
Out in the open,
Everywhere to go.
That's Gary Snyder, from a book of out-takes (i.e., "uncollected work") he published back in 1986, just as I was graduating college, Left Out in the Rain. I miss reading Snyder in the uncomplicated way I did back in high school; my mind gets cluttered now with issues of cultural appropriation and so on, but those don't get in the way with this little squib.

I don't love the repetition of "sideroad" and the way it turns into "dirt road," although if you buy me a cup of coffee I can probably explain it away somehow. I do, though, quite like the way that "got rough" surprises me by turning an expected negative (the going gets rough) into a virtue, and the poem opens nicely into dialogue with a couple of other texts: Frost, of course ("The Road Not Taken") and Milton (the end of Paradise Lost, where "The world was all before them, where to choose / Their place of rest, and Providence their guide" etc.).

Sorry to learn this morning that Samuel Menashe passed away. Here's one of his, to say goodbye:
Old Mirror

In this glass oval
As love's own lake
I face myself, your son
Who looks like you--
Once we were two

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Kidney Stone: The Playlist

Yesterday I had the pleasure (hah!) of passing my first kidney stone. I'll spare you the details; in fact, given what I've heard from friends who have been through this, I had a relatively easy time of it.

Suffice it to say that when I got back from an overnight stay at the hospital, as I waited for nature and medicine to take their course, I distracted myself by putting together a Rhapsody "Kidney Stone" playlist. A number of Facebook and Twitter friends made suggestions, as did emails from my college roommates. The jokes are generally bad, real groaners, and obvious from the titles; the only one that relies on knowing the actual lyric is probably the Chumbawumba song, which has a lovely line about "Pissing the night away."

I'll probably tweak the order some, but for now, for posterity's sake, let me post the more-or-less final list here. If you have additional suggestions, feel free to leave them as comments!
  1. Tom Petty, "The Waiting (is the Hardest Part)"
  2. The Monkees, "Steppin' Stone (I'm Not Your)"
  3. Mott the Hoople, "Roll Away the Stone"
  4. Toni Braxton, "Let It Flow"
  5. Van Morrison, "And It Stoned Me"
  6. The Temptations, "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone"
  7. Laura Nyro, "Stoned Soul Picnic"
  8. Bob Dylan, "Like a Rolling Stone"
  9. Mumford & Sons, "Roll Away Your Stone"
  10. Aretha Franklin, "It Hurts Like Hell"
  11. Janet Jackson, "Get It Out Me"
  12. Jerry Jeff Walker, "Get It Out"
  13. David Wilox, "Get it Out of the Way"
  14. Holly Cole, "Make It Go Away"
  15. Terebinth, "This Too Shall Pass"
  16. Cat Stevens, "Can't Keep it In"
  17. Bob Marley, "Waiting in Vain"
  18. Tower of Power, "So Very Hard to Go"
  19. R. E. M. "Everybody Hurts"
  20. Sade, "Flow"
  21. Leonard Cohen, "Passing Through"
  22. Chumbawumba, "Tubthumping"
  23. Carly Simon, "Haven't Got Time for the Pain"
  24. Donovan, "Mellow Yellow"
  25. Coldplay, "Yellow"
  26. Simon and Garfunkel, "I am a Rock"
  27. Debussy, "Passepied" (from Suite Bergamasque)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

77, 76...

My paper for the upcoming IASPR conference, "Can't Buy Me Love? Sex, Money, Power, and Romance" is done and polished, or as done and polished as it's going to be. It focuses on two novels that I've taught several times, Jennifer Crusie's Welcome to Temptation and Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Natural Born Charmer, but it uses two secondary sources that are new to me: Jan Cohn's 1988 study Romance and the Erotics of Property and Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, by sociologist Eva Illouz.

Of these, the Illouz strikes me as the more useful, even though I only bring it in at a couple of points in the argument. I'll blog about it at greater length at Teach Me Tonight later this summer. For now, let me just say that it strikes me as a book I'd like to bring to my students' attention, since it focuses on how leisure and consumer activity (when I say "consumption" I think Keats and TB) became and remain integral to the culture of romantic love. The one student I've had who actually read it said that it was a book she had to keep putting down, because it was making her think too much about her own life. That's the kind of book I like to assign!


Three of the four of us, chez Selinger, are working on fitness goals this summer: specifically, we're trying to get to 100 consecutive pushups, using a handy book by the fellow who does this website. I'm up to 103, spread across seven sets--no more than 31 in a row, though. Supposed to try 37 in a row on Friday. We'll see.

I'm also doing Zumba three or four times a week, at an hour a pop. That was how I got the IASPR talk written, too, come to think of it: one hour of writing a day, then stop, no matter how much or how little I'd done. I wonder if I can structure my days that way more often, as the summer goes on: an hour of this, an hour of that. Haven't managed it so far, but I did get in some laps yesterday, and some extended sessions on the guitar. Working on basics--major scales, for example--and on learning some four-note, jazzier chords. Major 7ths, 6ths and such. Always wanted to know those.


Inbox down to a half-dozen messages. A lot of work to be done, but today will mostly be about getting ready for the IASPR trip: errands, printing, packing, etc. After that--the getting ready, and maybe the trip itself--a new phase of the summer begins.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Numbering Days

My friend Mark recently posted about his moderate, middle-aged ambition that "perhaps by 50 (and I still have a few years before then) I can know the canon of English poetry as well as any of my peers."

This got me thinking about my own countdown to 50, which doesn't feel to me like a matter of years, though it is, but a matter of days.

How many days? I checked. And without spilling the beans on my birthdate online, let's just say, it's about 900.

Of those, 78 are left in this summer, for me. (For my kids, it's only 63.)

So--what am I going to do with them? And, more important, how am I going to get my 15-year-old son to do something with his days, so that I don't go crazy watching him veg on Facebook and Fail Blog? Boy needs a project, but more than that, he needs to know that he needs a project--and that's something that I can't teach or tell him, anymore.

Summer updates, coming soon to a moribund blog near you!

Friday, February 25, 2011

My Research Agenda (Or, "Ooh! Shiny!")

A friend once described my research agenda in two words: "Ooh! Shiny!"

By this, I take it, she meant both a compliment and a warning. The compliment has to do with my ability to take an interest in many, many things. To be dazzled, even, by them, and attracted, and eager to get to work. The warning has to do with how scattered my research and publishing threatens to be.

Instead of working on aspects of a single project, talk by talk and essay by essay, I seem to have spent the past few years working on a set of disconnected, purely contingent tasks: an essay on Muriel Rukeyser, an essay on poetry and the novel, an essay on Latino/a poetry, a talk on Bollywood, etc. Even my courses work this way, shifting focus and text from quarter to quarter, busily seeking with a continual change.

Over at Stupid Motivational Tricks I find an entry--one of many--about what it means to have, or not to have, a research agenda. In response to a blogger who was frustrated by her lack of inspiration, Jonathan writes:
The writer seems to be thinking in terms of individual articles resulting from isolated flashes of inspiration rather than an overarching research agenda. Without such an agenda, individual ideas have no framework to sustain them. This lack of a framework, together with a belief in "inspiration," is a sure-fire recipe for "writer's block."
He goes on to summarize his own research agenda in a single sentence: "My research agenda, for example, is explaining the development of late modernism in contemporary Spanish poetry and fusing together strands from intellectual and literary history through the work of authors who belong to both." He elaborates the various "components and dimensions" of the project, which lead to a variety of individual projects, but they're all linked, or in some way in dialogue with one another.

I think it might be useful for me to brainstorm a list of the things that I've been working on, and see which of them fit together, and how. I don't expect there to be a single agenda there, connecting across genres (poetry and popular fiction) or across topics (love and Jewish American culture, for example), but maybe something will come of it.

At the very least, I suspect I have two research agendas: one on love, which spans a variety of media and genres (poetry, fiction, film, popular song) and one on poetry as such, which includes the Jewish American poetry interest. (I'm not particularly interested in reading or studying Jewish American fiction.)

That's a discovery, this morning. Not sure what to do with it, but if I can begin to articulate what I want to do in either category the way that Jonathan does, I'll be on to something, I think.

Image: "Shiny Things," an original painting by bishopart, via Etsy.

"Character Strengths"?

Got an email this morning from the "VIA Institute on Character."

"Research is clear," it announced. "Focusing on what's right with us is more effective than focusing on what's wrong. Switch your focus today!"

Given how much I struggle these days with feeling down, and knowing that one way to increase your level of happiness is to put your character strengths into practice, as often as possible, I swung by their website to take the VIA survey and find out my "Character Strengths."

My top strengths, in descending order, seem to be:
1) Curiosity and interest in the world
2) Capacity to love and be loved
3) Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness
4) Fairness, equity, and justice
5) Humor and playfulness
I'm a little surprised by 3 and 4, to be honest. Maybe they're on my mind because of all the grading I've been up to recently. (That and the political Tweets I follow.) And I'm sorry to see "Humor and playfulness" last, below them, although that, too, may have as much to do with context as anything else.

I took this survey years ago, but I'm damned if I can remember how I did on it then. And I'm not entirely sure how I can put any of this to use in the immediate future. Maybe, though, it will make me feel better about giving out so many Cs to my students on their first round of papers. Fairness, equity, and justice, that's me.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bronk, Actually

I've been busy, this quarter. Busy since November, evidently.

Wrote a long Parnassus piece on Harvey Shapiro, Michael Heller, and Stanley Moss, whose page proofs I've just put to bed, so that should be out soon. (By long, I mean 41 pp. in print, which is long even for me.) Edited. Taught. Did family things. Lived, worried, fought off the glums. Wrote funny lyrics, worked on my voice and my dancing. (I'll be front man for the Alte Rockers next month, at the synagogue Purim spiel.) Little of this, little of that. The usual.

Didn't see much point in blogging, so I didn't.

Lately, though, I've been thinking about my projects and plans and research agenda, and as I do, blogging keeps coming to mind. Not as a publication outlet, but as a place or a way to do some thinking aloud.

I miss it; or, rather, I miss the man I was when I was doing it more often and more thoughtfully. Reflective, with time on his hands. "The man who has had the time to think enough," as Stevens says. Or drink enough, anyway!

So I'll probably ease back into this. Just so you know.


In the mean time, to hold the fort, here's a little poem by William Bronk.

Bronk's a poet I had to age into. When I was in my, what--late 20s? Early 30s? Something like that--my friend Mark handed me a copy of Living Instead at Chapters bookstore in Washington DC, because he thought I'd enjoy it. I did, albeit a decade later, and that process of coming to like something fascinates me.

Anyway, a year or two ago I bought a stack of remaindered Bronk collections at my local Half-Price Books. This is the opening poem of The Mild Day, a collection that Talisman published back in 1993:

It's like going to Africa to live
with animals all around us, animals
regardless of us and we not the life
of the place ourselves as in this universe,
on earth even, forces are
that we don't see the way animals
could be seen but are around and are
regardless of us who are not the life of the place.
Awed, we stand our foreign ground. We watch.
Maybe tomorrow, or the next day, I'll say a bit about why I like this poem. Wouldn't be the worst use of my time. And who knows what might come of it, or this?