Friday, May 25, 2012

Occasionally, I Write

Robert Frost wrote to his editor about their summer rental house, in an area of New Hampshire where they rented for many years: "Our summer was one of the pleasantest we have had in years. . . . There is a pang there that makes poetry."

I know that pang--it can trigger poetry or fiction or even a good blog post.  It's a subtle thing and has to be encouraged and given time to spread out into a life.  A life I don't think I have anymore. 

 All this is triggered by the pang when I read the most recent cover on my Poet's and Writer's Magazine: This Is Your Last Issue it proclaims, in bold black letters on red background, as if the gravity of that pronouncement needed any more heft.  The envelopes started arriving a few weeks ago, little reminders that it was time to write the check that would keep it coming for another year, or if you act now, a special deal for two or more years.  I have a stack of these magazines on the shelf above where I'm writing this now.  I can glance up there and see them--the two I saved from ages and ages ago (with the story of Stones for Ibarra and its author, my heroine Harriet Doerr) when it was more of broadsheet-type publication with a soft fold and staples holding it together.  Now the magazine is smaller, has more color photographs, more contest announcements all with a tidy little spine that looks very nice. 

And that's the problem--it looks nice, but I don't read them.  Haven't read them for about the last 18 months.  Opening them reminds me of another time in my life when I thought I would write, when I thought I had the power to push through the ennui of life and Produce the Novel.  Write that fiction that would be talked about in literary circles.  I would be the one of my graduating class to be on NPR one day, reading an essay into a microphone, spreading the gospel of my writing throughout the broadcast world.  I really believed I would do it.  Then I really wanted to believe I would do it.  Then I sort of believed I could do it.  And then I stopped opening up the magazines.  I hated going to gatherings of my grad school colleaguesor UCR's Writers Week, or anything where they talked up what they were writing, and what magazines were accepting their stories.  It didn't really matter to me what mags were, because I wasn't writing.  I wasn't getting those 9 x 12 envelopes all lined up, sending my little pieces of fiction or poetry out into the world, like little flat children.

I was teaching.  I was getting a child (or two)  married.  I was dealing with the illness of a daughter.  I was traveling.  I was meeting new grandchildren. I was building memories with my husband.  I was sewing, quilting.  I was carefully not writing about the things that caused that sharp turn in my heart, for they were too overwhelming.  I was reading.  I was listening to music.  I was loyal, holding back, preserving privacy.  I was reconciling what I thought I was going to do with what I was doing.  I shuffled through doctors.  I graded papers.  I wasted time.  All the while, the binders with various drafts of my novel were like those eerie-but-wise stone carvings in Lord of the Rings flanking the calm river where Frodo paddles past, on his way to his uncertain future.  Today I am moving those binders to the garage.

I'd be lying if I said I weren't sad. 

We used to say in Creative Writing that you can't go back to your earlier writing because you change, and that pang that triggered what you wrote then, is not longer there.  This I know is true.  And I am sad that I will never figure out how to move that character in my novel from her ways of avoiding the emotional center, keeping a careful balance, to the place where she deals head on with the awful calm and crazy that is her life.

Until I can figure this writing thing out (and I may never do that), this blogging forum will be my place to write, to craft something wordwise.  For even though I may have left Margaret stranded in Wisconsin, I can keep the writing muscle limber enough to find her--or some other creature--again.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Final Exam Today

In honor of my final exam day, and my last stack of essays to be graded, I present What Teachers Do:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

One casualty of grading lower-level research papers is the boredom factor.  John Berryman said it best, in his poem Dream Song 14: "moreover my mother told me as a boy (repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored means you have no Inner Resources.’ " However, I don't think this really applies to wrangling a misplaced modifier to the ground, especially if they've lost their way on pretty much the rest of the essay.

So here for your enjoyment, is some of the best and the brightest lines from the recent batch (I'm kidding--no A students are included below):

Not only will they know the medical history but also they will have the opportunity to learn more about his or her personal history. This can make it easier for the child to answer questions such as, “Who am I?” and “Where did I come from?”  (from a paper on Open Adoption.  The essay was mostly plagiarized and she failed the assignment.)
Prevention of homelessness could be prevented, by providing supportive housing, a job, and healthcare. (I suggested he read his papers out loud in the future to catch syntax errors.)
Immigrants not only raise up American population, but also brights the knowledge from their country which make U.S economy unique.  (from my Chinese student, whose English skills belie the fact that he's really really smart, and whose phrasing makes me smile sometimes) 
International adoption has allowed the access for many orphan’s to live abroad in permanent loving homes. When orphans are given the privilege by their government to live in another country, they will be opening the doors for couples. The new window of opportunity to take an orphan from another country will provide the child with a safe home and a loving family, which is not only benefiting the child, but the new parent as well. The parent will encourage and protect them from the dangers that may arise. All in all, the love they provide the child will most likely enrich the life and give them hope and a sense of belonging. Most of all it will remind the child that they are not forgotten.
(I call her the Queen of Redundancy.  That misplaced apostrophe is her work.)
 "One of the main reasons why americans have unions is to make sure their getting paid enough for the work they put into a curtain company. (This student is a happy ray of sunshine in our classroom, and I'll take her anytime, even with typos and misspellings.)

So, as you can see from my comments on their writing, it's always a mixed bag at this level. The really faltering students have dropped (although I liked some of them, too) and I'm left with those who have hung on and put up with my incessant homework and assignments and requirements and quiz after quiz.  My son Peter and I had an interesting conversation today about how the middle class is getting shafted (no big surprise).  It occurred to me as we were talking that these students are in that group, because their education--their ticket to the future--has been fairly decimated.  Eighty percent of the teaching at my tiny community college is done by adjuncts.  If they are only getting teachers who are being paid (if you calculate the hours spent for the money earned) less than these students are at their Starbucks barrista jobs, what kind of talent is behind the desk at the front of the classroom?

My friend Judy and I feel like we do a pretty decent job, but we were recently in a meeting where one adjunct, who teaches at another school, confessed to only assigning half the number of required papers.  I was pretty stunned and a bit angry at a situation which hires people who are beyond stressed, and who can only give half of what is needed.  I salute the students for persevering through their shell of an education, and applaud them for getting through my class, even with their quirks, typos and misplaced modifiers.

Here's to a happy summer! 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bad Batteries

At the Kmart checkout, I can't scrawl my version of  signature because they are asking me to respond to five questions, something on the order of "Would I recommend shopping at this store to my friends?"  What?  Of course not.

I think the last time I was in here was about two years ago and it's the closest "department-type" store to my house.  The linoleum has bubbles, the bins are filled with junky toys, the clientele is the kind that sneaks into a box of Snickers, takes one out, carefully puts the box back on the shelves, and then eats the candy bar, tucking the wrapper behind their stack of yellow Best Value towels.  Not that I saw anything like this, of course.

I'm there to buy a new battery charger as my camera tells me in flashing lights and pictographs, that as soon as I put these fully charged batteries in, I need to change them.  Is it a bad camera, bad batteries, bad battery charger, bad wall socket?  There's so many variables in this equation that I don't quite know where to start.  But I decide a battery charger is the place because the old one is making interesting noises like someone flicking their finger against a bed spring, a rattly metallic sound.

Home, I nearly slice open my hand trying to get the battery out of its hermetic plastic shell, but the scissors and I prevail.  I find an open plug (somewhat difficult: older house) and slug in my batteries, the old ones.  A red light starts blinking. 

Probably not a good thing.  I go and find the booklet.  The flashing red light is bad.  It means you were as dumb as rocks and put an alkaline battery in.  But mine aren't alkaline, so now maybe I'm leaning away from the bad charger theory to the bad battery theory.  I take out the batteries and replace them one by one, getting the happy solid red light.  I then put all four of them back in.  Red flashing light.  I take them out again and put them in the hallway to be taken down to the hazardous waste recycle can.

So, now I'm really leaning toward bad batteries, and maybe that old recharger that I just threw in the trash should be resurrected and tried again.  Then I have visions of our workbench, a repository for things that Almost Work Okay, like the power drill that now, at my age, is too heavy to lift with one hand.  And those batteries are bad too.  As is the charger. 

My brother Andy says the next New Big Thing will be an app that helps all of us remember all those useless internet account passwords, as we won't be able to keep straight which one we use for the iTunes account versus which one directs the bank to recognize us.  We have six pages of passwords and usernames and accounts and I tried to reorganize it one day. Is this the correct code for our computer, or is it the one on the other page that had the star symbol beside it? Do we still have this bank account? Do we ever shop at Zappos anymore, and didn't they lose all the account numbers in a bad hack and reset the account anyway?

And in the end, it all comes down to the quality of my brain cells playing a tedious chore of mental hide and seek, trying to make sense of those things that at one time made perfect sense. Like a store flashing up a questionnaire screen when I know it is supposed to be the screen where I scribble my name and hit Enter.  This confusion will be played out with increasing frequency, I'm sure, until I won't know which variable to work with when the time comes to try and figure it all out.  I'm just hoping it will be something easy. Like a case of bad batteries.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Dave listened to it and confirmed that all the cuss words are real.