Friday, December 26, 2014

Where the end of the year muses

Language. Lately, I constantly find myself thinking about words. Like what does a year in review mean?

I'm listening to NPR's All Songs Considered podcast and pondering rationale for their list of 2014 music. Sun Kil Moon's Benji's album lands because it's "quite possibly the most depressing record...ever heard in my life." Beck's Morning Phase is "surprisingly wonderful," Chris Staples' "Dark Side of the Moon" has "been a close companion," and Alvvay's "Archie, Marry Me," is essentially a great pop song and "there can never be enough of those."

And so I forget for a moment about words and think about marriage as I rock to Alvvay. For my year in review would be incomplete without a mention of marriage, my marriage, the year Nan and I tied the knot, got hitched, I do'd. Almost midway, a day shy of the center of the year, Nan and I became Spouse A and B, legally wed our style at the Marriage Bureau in NYC. We didn't know it would be this year--we can't plan the vagaries of politics. But the timing was right. Our stars aligned. Like Rent's "Seasons of Love," sometimes you can measure the year in love.

And travel. Lots of travel. Most years include new places, revisited places, chances to move away from myself a bit and see anew. Stop. It's often a forced stop since I am away from distractions, technology, that which distances me from being mindful. And 2014 was all of that, beginning at dawn, a literal daybreak of the year awaiting the Taj Mahal. Breathless through many moments of India. I don't call it a trip of a lifetime, as some might. Not because it wasn't remarkable, unlike anywhere I've been, but because I am lucky to venture many places that amaze.

I don't want to make lists, try to be comprehensive, capture it all in a single sliver of reminiscence. Digression. A shooting star of mind. Scattering.

I wrote in 2014. That matters. Lots. New material. Unfinished. Almost finished.

Honestly, I don't want to assess my 2014. I assess all the time. It is my profession. It is my mind. It is my natural lens to the world.

At year's end, I am grateful.  Fortunate. Thankful for the day, today, when the snow forces a quiet and I choose the time to reflect.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Almost Done

Done is not until actually done, but tonight, for the first time in months, I can feel the end, the moment of deep breath. Each semester, I swear I'm going to videotape myself musing on the art of exhaustion, insisting that I've never felt this tired, never felt like I wanted to crawl under the covers and sleep for hours without any hint of technological memory, student chatter. Nothingness.

Tonight, though, I'm reminded of the end of semester joys, the pure pleasure when I get to sit back and roam through my students' learning. I've spent the last day or so reading research based multigenre/multimodal projects, and for the most part, when they rock, they soar beyond the ordinary. I read a student reflection on how her original position regarding GMOs in Africa changed during the course of research, moving away from a simple stance of GMOs are bad no matter what to arguing for the use of GMOs in Africa to help deal with starvation. Another student discussed the nuance of audience and why putting her project about a generation of hope in North Korea on tumblr made the most sense. And yet another student demonstrated how her project argued that wearing a motorcycle helmet should be a personal imperative rather than a legal one, discussing ways she employed both ethos and pathos throughout her project. I'm blown away and happy. And of course they don't all sparkle, but they all show a level of engagement with their research and presentation that goes beyond simply accomplishing the task for a grade. Note to self--future research project looking at student engagement with multimodal composing (get that IRB started now).

My last week was spent reading lengthy fiction portfolios, falling into students' stories, seeing their experimentation and willingness to trust the process of drafting and drafting and revising and not feeling done. I watched literature students perform rewritten plays, seeing the creative snaps of adaptation, happy to sit back and applaud.

So yeah, I try to remember not to rush through it all, not to sprint to done, because then I might miss the view. And the view is kinda nice after all.

Friday, October 31, 2014

A Long Overdue Reflection

Pema Chodron asks, "What are you going to do with what you have already--your body, your speech, your mind." I'm beginning to think that there is power in the universe, some type of synchronicity that brings what you need. I'm taking a second writing class during the semester (my rule is usually only one and sometimes one a year), because writing had leapt to the not so distant outskirts, away from a consistent center that grounds and stills me.

I began this semester in a less than grateful mode. I lagged from the summer, a summer spent chasing travel and fun, a summer with little writing and reading. Ask me if I'd do it differently, and the honest answer is no--in many ways it was perfect like every summer, like every moment that I surrender to without judging.

When the first 1/3 of the semester ended, and I again began to feel like work weeks usually topped 50 hours and sometimes soared above 60 hours, I decided to keep score. Every hour I was on campus (regardless of whether I spent the time chatting with colleagues or surfing the web, I counted as work), every hour I spent at home (even if distracted and surfing the Facebook in between) counted. My calculations weren't to predict how efficient I was and whether I could be more efficient, but to get a realistic sense of hours worked, even if sometimes in a distracting way. The first week, I hit 40 hours by Friday afternoon (starting with Monday). At that point, I decided to stop working until the clock reset Monday.

While my decision proved a wee bit amusing to me, its effects weren't worthy of laughter. On Monday, anxiety set in, and I realized the enormity of the current grading pile and the looming grading pile. For that week, I worked over 60 hours (and stopped when I hit that number). Boom. Predictions somewhat correct. But when I told Nan of my supposed success, she asked me whether knowing that felt good. She reminded me of what I have--enormous flexibility in my job, and encouraged me to start keeping track of that. Keep track of those rare four day weekends when I can accomplish lots at home and have time to do my thing. Keep track of a lack of an alarm on many days. Keep track of engaged students and the ability to approach the classroom however I'd like.

And so I did. And continue to do most days. Sometimes I falter, but lately I stay grateful, remembering all that I have. And to answer Pema, it's to remember to be, to find ways to stay more present. And the way that always brings me there is to write. Always.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Road Trip

I don't like to drive. It's different though, when you're behind the wheel without a need to get from home to work, from home to an errand, from home to somewhere that your schedule dictates in a set amount of time.

3,650 miles in 16 nights through seven states. I'm on the road with Nan. We have a loose sense of going from here to there.

It's that loose sense that makes it more than driving. I am behind the wheel, and I don't mind it. As a matter of fact, I find myself liking it, watching the road, counting the states.

Even when there's monotony, I make up stories. The salt flats become my voyage across the desert, speeding across the landscape, noting emptiness, thinking that this must be what it's like when the apocalypse comes. A rest stop becomes
 a shot in a film.

This must be what it's like when there is nobody.

I am not alone, though, and that makes the road trip more than my head, more than my eyes, more than my sense of where I'm going and where I've been. Nan snaps photos, Nan bags miles behind the wheel, Nan laughs when I decide that the salt flats hold a mirage of water.

Road trips hold surprises. A place becomes more than a name on a map, an exit. I spend an hour avoiding the local history museum, preferring to walk, counting the steps on my Fitbit, noticing windows and signs in small town Meeker, Colorado. People wave to me from their cars, smile when they walk past me. But there is no conversation. They don't know me. I pretend to be invisible. I always look, watch, notice what I don't expect to see. Hippies hang in the park in Craig, CO.

We get used to checking in, even though we carry camping gear and never use it, frightened by signs of bears, swatting of bugs, preferring the mystery bed over the hardened ground. It's an adventure

a literary wander

Crater Lake
and simply beauty,
day after day
Bandon Beach

and still.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Why I Love The Oscars

Every year, I have the same sensation. I expect to be a bit bored, easily distracted, feeling like it could be the last time, just like last year.

Damn I love this show. 

It's the mix of the macabre, Glenn Close in a black gothic looking pointy boobs kinda outfit destined to rock the tweetosphere, an exaggeration of life introducing the annual montage of the Hollywood dead. James Gandolfini. Roger Ebert. Esther Williams. Harold Ramis. The list is endless.

Philip Seymour Hoffman.

And then it turns Hollywood, because it is. Shmaltz. Bette Midler. She's a show stopper, a bit Esther Williams, a tear jerker.

Damn I love this show.

There are those who demand reverence, command the stage, and surprise, in a rant that praises God, family, wholesome values out of the mouth of Matthew McConaughey, an edgy outlaw facing down AIDS on the big screen. I don't expect this. Cate Blanchett gracing praises on the other nominees, taking a slight dig into those who skew judgments against Woody Allen, reminding them of his brilliance, his place in Hollywood.

Pink is hot. She's a show stopper like Esther Williams. But she's no Judy Garland. She doesn't show vulnerable, not like Judy. Rufus Wainwright does Judy better than anyone else. Liza Minnelli would have been a tear jerker.

Damn I love this show.

It's got to end great, not just good. A tear jerker.