Saturday, February 26, 2011

Power Towers

  As Dave and I have recently made several trips through the desert, I thought I would post one about the power towers.  Those elegant structures stringing across the desert follow us as we travel from Kingman to home, or home up to Utah, stopping around Vegas.

So we turned off at the Calico Early Man Site, but took a right onto a dirt road, hunting down the towers.

We stopped, and got out, cameras in hand.

I stood underneath a trio of lines, listening to them crackle and hum.  It was eery, but very cool.  I'm sure I increased my risk for cancer about a billion-fold (kidding) or else I zapped some brain cells into oblivion (kidding again).

These things are pretty massive.

I joined Dave underneath the structure of the one closest to our car.

I'm thinking there has to be a quilt in here somewhere.  Or a quilt block.  I remember the sketch of some power lines that resides on my parents bookcase, done by Jeff Rugh. Lots of associations were scrambling around my brain, as I stood out there in the wind.

Why is it that there never seems to be enough time to stop and linger a while, whether it is looking at power lines, or watching a hawk circle over the desert?  We always seem to be in a rush, having to meet some deadline.  I guess that's what retirement is for.  We're a few years off from that, but I definitely want to go and see that Early Man site, if only to cross it off the list.  And visit these power lines one more time.

Self-portrait in the desert.  Time to go home.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

School Daze--March 2011 Version

Correcting quizzes today.  This young man is fairly bright (all my students are fairly bright, even when they're not), but obviously had his mind on other things during the quiz about the  reading--which he obviously did not do.  I suppose that's why the Martian Man is in the border.

Another student, Mr. Know-It-All, came in today 70 minutes late (Our class period goes for 110 minutes--this is the third time he's been this late.  Should I ask him if he knows what time our class starts?).  He asked to talk to me about his paper--rough drafts on the second essay are due today.  His story went something like this: "Well, I went to Las Vegas this weekend and I took my grandmother's computer, which I'm not used to and I always compose without paragraphs or using double-spacing so I was writing and writing and I finished my paper, but when I put in the paragraphs and the double-spacing, it was eight pages!!"  He beamed, and looked at me like he was the first human to lay an egg, then continued: "Is there a page limit on our essay?"

Him: "Great, because I know you said my first topic of Violence in America was too broad, so I changed it to Violence in the Middle East."
Him: "I would give it to you now, but I don't have it printed off."

Right. I figure every student gets a chance.  He's used about 15 of his.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Like, Vagueness

In City, a publication I found by perusing Arts & Letters (see note at end), Clark Whelton pens an essay about Vagueness--about the inability of people to express themselves.  He's obviously older (or at least as old as I am) so is able to get a broader view on the shifting of speech, of communication skills.  He writes:
In 1988, my elder daughter graduated from Vassar. During a commencement reception, I asked one of her professors if he’d noticed any change in Vassar students’ language skills. “The biggest difference,” he replied, “is that by the time today’s students arrive on campus, they’ve been juvenilized. You can hear it in the way they talk. There seems to be a reduced capacity for abstract thought.”
 My mantra in my English classes is "vivid, specific," and I use the photo above as a lead-in to this idea.  I put it up and ask, "Is the young girl laughing or crying?"  I use this photo as the dated details (her hair up on her head, the old car, boy in striped T-shirt) obscures their usual references and they have to base their conjectures on other clues.  They give their answers and we discuss why it is so difficult to figure out what's really going on the picture.  The answer is obvious: the photo is blurry so we can't see the details.

I equate that to their writing.  Vivid. Specific.  I write these two words on the board, and read them examples of writing that eliminates what Whelton calls "Vagueness," writing that uses specific words and sensory images: "an annoying and noisy large seagull," instead of "a bird."

So is she laughing or crying? With the blurriness of vague imagery cleared up, it is obvious. 

I loved Whelton's article as I lecture on the use of like, instead of "as if."  I challenge them to excise "he was there for me" from all their writing.  I implore them to change out the flabby verbs for brisk and vigorous action words. 

Of course, the challenge is for me, their teacher, to continue the attack on my own feeble vocabulary, to be specific, instead of you know, like, whatever.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

First Essay

The first essay has come in for grading.  I'm currently in the COG--Cave of Grading--a place that has been well described by Dante.  That aside, this essay is one where the students describe when they hit a turning point, a place where they enter through a portal into adulthood, leaving childhood behind.  Some are quite mundane (getting a girlfriend, a driver's license) but others are dramatic.  Following my friend Judy's lead, here are some of my students' stories:
  • Woke up one morning to Child Protective Services banging down his door; mother arrested for endangering a minor with her drug habit and teenager sent to live with the father.  (What this student never answers is who turned her in?  I have my money on the ex-husband, the father.)
  • Decides her family is a pain, so moves in with a girlfriend during sophmore year of high school.  Downward slide of truancy and partying stopped only when met at school by Mom, sheriff and principal.  After two years, moves back home.
  • Student's father dies on Valentine's Day of her eighth-grade year.
  • Busted by cops at a local teen hangout while enjoying a beer, student and his friend are roughed up pretty severely by police.
  • Student got herself into substantial debt while in high school; is working fifty hours a week at two jobs to pay down what she owes, while attending college full-time.
  • Student's mother divorces and student remains with mother through bad stepfather and two difficult living situations.  Student goes home to see his father for holidays; mother hangs herself on Christmas Eve.
  • A near-disaster on a construction site--when his father is nearly buried when the ground gives way-- wakes up a student to the harsh realities of the adult world.
  • After being beaten for nearly her entire life, a young woman runs away from home.  Her grandparents take her in, and help her become emancipated.
That last one had me in tears, because while I can be pretty inured to the writing of my students, she wrote with delicacy and great emotion.  I admire all these students who have struggled through difficult things and now sit in my classroom with all kinds of hopes and dreams for their future. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Egyptian Drama

I think the fact that we can watch this is a miracle on so many levels.
Riveting. I'm happy for them.  I hope it turns out happy in the end, too.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Phil Levine

This week is Writers Week at UCR, and I've been able to go to a couple of the readings.  Tonight's talk will be given by Phil Levine, a poet who spent many years in Cal State Fresno, but now divides his time between New York and Fresno.

I've taught several of his poems in my classes, and I like them because they draw a picture with words and sensory details that are accessible to my students, but still require a little bit of digging, of re-reading.  Here's one for today.

On The River 
by Phil Levine

My brother has an old row boat
moored to a dock at the foot
of Jefferson Avenue, Detroit.
Once a week in decent weather
he rows out to get a better
look at the opposite shore
as though Canada truly were
a foreign country.  It isn't easy
what with the ore boats' lazy
crawl toward salt water, the launches
of tourists and cops, the lunchers
spread out on barges, docks, rafts,
waiting for the oiled clouds to lift
a moment and unveil the sun,
waiting for the fumes of exhaustion 
to blow off in the poor gusts
of our making—collective breaths,
passing trucks, running dogs loath
to return to their chains.
On schedule he comes at noon
or not at all—his only free time—
so he can see with a painter's eye
the hulking shapes of warehouses define
themselves, the sad rusts and grays
take hold and shimmer a moment
in the blur of air until the stones
darken like wounds and become nothing.
He does this for our father
who parked each week exactly here
to stare at that distant shore
as though it were home, and then
passed quietly to a farther one.
He does this for me, who long ago
stopped seeing beneath the shadows
of concrete and burned brick towers
the flickering hints of life, the colors
we made of fresh earth and flowers
coming through the wet smells of house
fallen in upon themselves.  I suppose
he does this also so that somewhere
on the face of the black waters
he can turn, feathering one oar
slowly, to behold his own life
come into view brick by dark brick,
bending his back for all it's worth,
as the whole thing goes up in smoke.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Cynthia's Visit

Recently my sister Cynthia came out to visit me.  I come from a family of seven children--she is Number Two and I am Number Four in the line-up.  So what to do when a frost-bitten sister from the midwest shows up in sunny California?  Take her to the Getty on a nice sunny day.

I always think the Getty's gardens are the most captivating part, right after the illuminated manuscripts. So we headed outside.
We also took in some of the other exhibits, but that sun!  Those gardens!  Kept pulling us outside.  

We got some lunch and ate it on the patio.

Because it was just past the noon hour, the succulents looked especially rich.  Seeing all their plantings makes me want to go home and rip out my front yard and start again.  I just need their budget.

 Another type of flora.  
I liked the headband of the girl on the left--it's in the shape of some mini-bunny ears.  Sort of.

This would make a great quilt--sunny yellow, vibrant green, rich blue in the sky.

Lots of people were out on the lawns, enjoying picnics.  It was such a glorious day.

 The plaza--where you enter, and exit.

What else did we do when she was here?

 (Click on the link for the how-to's for Beggar's Linguini.)

Made a quilt.
(Click on the link for the two-post story of her quilt.)

Enjoyed each other's company.
Come again!

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Push Cars

Our local arts center, the Culver Center for the Arts, had this display of push cars in their main atrium.  The cars were strung up like holiday decorations from a mounted beam near the ceiling, making for quite a visula impact.

Push--or pedal--cars are children's riding toys from an earlier generation.  For some reason, I remember hopping into one of these, but I don't know if we had one, if it were a neighbors.  The child would push the levers, or pedals to create movement.  Both Dave and I enjoyed this display.

The legend for the display.When I went online and tried to find out about how these were worth (all but one were perfectly restored, I was seeing the cars in the 200-500 dollar range each.  I could see my grandsons having a great time with one of these!