Thursday, December 23, 2004

Brief reviews: Mehldau, McDonald, Eternal Sunshine

Haven't written here in a while perhaps because I've been busy with a Wintermester class and little things like Christmas and birthdays. Seems I have lots to write about, but all I have for you at the moment are fragments.

Listening to: Brad Mehldau's Live in Tokyo. Very enjoyable disc. At the moment I'm hearing "Someone to Watch Over Me," a song I think I've never heard a bad version of. This has a nice "Intro" and then Mehldau has this beautiful bumping improvisation in the middle that never loses sight of the tender melody. Further into the song one hears q section that certainly shows me why some compare Mehldau to Keith Jarrett. Another cover of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" (his studio version of the song is on Largo) is a particular favorite. Nineteen and a half great minutes, with not a single note wasted.

Most recently read: Walt McDonald's All Occasions. This volume was published in 2000 and while I had read some of the poems before, those poems were well worth re-reading. I allowed myself the luxury of taking my time with this, as one should do when reading good poetry. I never used a bookmark but trusted my failing memory to help me recall where I had last put down the book. Often times I came back to a poem I'd read the previous occasion and re-read it before moving the those new to me. I must say doing this was a very good experience for me.

Walt's poems have brought be great joy since I first encountered his work, even when he is digging in unfamiliar or unpleasant territory. I'm pretty much a city boy, but his description of life in rural areas seems common with my own in the most significant ways. In "Chocolate," the speaker recalls hiding from his father after eating candy that had been meant for his sister. Any adult who does not recognize the fear and thrill and guilt here isn't reading his or her own life well. As a sports fan, I'm particularly fond of pieces that reference baseball and football: "Batting Practice at Sixty," "Instant Replay," and "When Baseball Was A Game." The latter poem includes these marvelous lines: "Before Vietnam and the death of friends/I could chase down a ball off the wall/and turn and hurl a strike three hundred feet//to a teammate blocking home plate,/the capless runner diving but hopelessly out,/the home crowd going wild." The strength of this poem (and of the whole collection) is that one does not need to have been an athlete not only to get the surface level picture, but the larger vision of time's passage and power of memory on the present.

Many of the poems recall Walt's experience as pilot, particularly during the Vietnam War. These, for me, are further evidence of the fact that poetry is stronger than rhetoric. I do not know his political leanings or how he feels about war (either the one he served in or the present one). However, I don't know how to explain why or how I can support soldiers without supporting the war except to point to these poems. They provide the images and the events and the impact of those events on the life of those who lived what I never have. No reader should assume that Mr. McDonald's ideas mirror my own. However, they should likely rank these pieces right up there with another poet who has written powerfully about the Vietnam War, Yusef Komunyakaa.

Movie I recently watched: Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. I just watched this tonight, and I did think it very interesting, but I'm not sure what to say about it. It's story is not told in linear fashion, and that does not bother me. The narrative certainly works here. In fact the story must be told this way for the viewer to really get the experience being dealt with. One thing I liked was that the main characters, after saying and hearing the worst things the other thinks/says, decide to accept these flaws (foibles?) about themselves and each other and enjoy the relationship for what it is. I'm not sure if what I just wrote is very clear, but I'll leave it for now. I do recommend the movie, but don't blink. Definitely don't fall asleep.

There is much more to say, but my hands are tired.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Toward a definition of the American Writer

Recently a former student emailed me about how I might define "the American writer." Since everything I want to blog about is too hot for me to comment, I thought I'd post what I wrote to him. I hope someone find this edifying.

I remember being asked a question similar to this one in graduate school, and though I was concentrating most of my study on American writers, I was at a loss to answer. I still am, to some degree. I suppose citizenship has a little something to do with it, but perhaps so does birth. This might be confusing: Auden became an American citizen; Eliot became a British subject (though I don't think he renounced his American citizenship). I can't say being here, in the U.S., has much to do with it. Some of our finest writers (and most "American") did their work abroad.

Nor can I say an "American Writer" is one that espouses American values, because despite what so many say, there are very few clear cut ones. Some have decided that certain things are or are not "American". Most of those people have a limited vision of America and of values in general.

One way to define a "American writer" — and I stress it is only one way — is to say that the American writer responds, in some way, to the vague concept of the American dream. Noting that the idea is vague, I know, means I may have contradicted myself. So be it. America is full of contradictions and I believe it is the tension between what the concept and the reality that really defines America as a people. Thus the American writer constantly examines the American Dream, not just to see where it is wanting, but to see where one's place is in it. Certainly there are questions, but it is to me not criticism, but the sort of doubt that produces faith.

The example that comes readily to mind is E.E. Cummings. Many of my students see him as particularly un-American. I disagree. Here is a man who made the choice to not fight in World War I for reasons of conscience, but who did serve his country. Because he refused to say "I hate the Germans" (instead proclaiming, "I love the French"), he was imprisoned in a concentration camp. His experience became the basis for his novel The Enormous Room. In one of his poems, he notes the irony of soldiers, presumably fighting for "freedom" who take the freedom away from some one who legally chooses to not fight in war ("i Sing of Olaf glad and big"). In another poem, he questions the image of the American male that is personified in western showman Buffalo Bill.

Okay, I said this was going to be brief, and of course, it isn't. However, I do hope this helps you. Thanks for trusting me with the question, and forgive me for delaying my answer.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

All talk and no listening

I can't help but think, as I listen to people jabber about this Monday Night Football thing, that the discussion is a perfect example of what I have been trying to teach about argument, that the hardest thing to do when participating in a debate is listen. It seems impossible for participants on both sides to do so.

This morning I listened to The Mike and Mike Show on ESPN radio, and again I'm struck by comments by both Greenburg and Golic. Both continually say they "respect" other opinions, then spend considerable time arguing with their guests (many of whom do not agree with them). Then when the guest is no longer on the air, they keep arguing their position. If they really respect what other people believe, then they need to listen. What seems to come out is that they respect only the basic right one has to express an opinion. They, and others, do not seem to respect the belief system or opinion itself.

To their credit, however, they do give real air time for others to actually express those thoughts on their show, and this morning began to question themselves (without reversing their stand, something they do not need to do). I can't say the same thing for the panelists on another show I usually very much enjoy, The Best Damn Sports Show. On the show last night, each member of the group weighed in on why pretty much anyone who was offended or upset about the introductory promo is an idiot. They completely ignored opinions or ideas from the other side, only asking guests who already agreed with them to comment. Chris Rose pretended to "play devil's advocate," but the attempt was obviously a set up for Tom Arnold's humor, not an honest attempt to accurately portray the other side.

On the other hand, there are those that seem to think that the segment signals the end of civilization. Many are are vociferous and even mean spirited. Many employ rather odd reasoning to support their conclusions. They talk about having to explain the scene to their children or how the segment teaches young boys that it is okay to have sex with just anyone. Groups have called for fines to be paid and heads to roll. Most are concerned that pre-adolescents will be irrevocably harmed by this incident. I don't hear too many of these people demonstrating by their comments that they have looked at the subject objectively. They seem to forget that the segment, rightly called "inappropriate" by blushing (and check cashing) ABC executives, featured a talented, but classless football player promoting a tasteless, campy television show (and himself). They pay very little attention to the fact that there is a significant difference between a star or icon and a role model. Most young people, despite the images they see every day, still see their parents as primary role models. In one of my composition classes, I have my students write about role models. I would say that eight or nine out of ten choose to write about about a parent.

Those lambasting ABC might look for the evidence a young boy is going to forego his football dreams to have sex with someone because he watched Terrill Owens appear to do the same thing. I understand that a bombardment of such images can drastically pull a young person's vision away from complete reality . But if a teenager has sex, it is most likely because he/she is under the impression that sex is good. The segment may very well contribute to that idea, but isn't the only reason that teenager thinks so.

The Mike and Mike show features a segment called "Just Shut Up," where listeners are polled to decide which person they believe should stop talking about whatever he (usually) is concerned about. Because people on both sides of this debate seem to listen so little, I'm tempted to shout the same thing. But there is no need, is there? When I began to write this little rant, the sports world was a buzz with this controversy. As I finish, Friday's near riot at the end of the Pacers/Pistons game and Stern's decision have taken center stage. I think it says something ugly about our society that important issues are pushed out of consciousness by the next big thing. Not that this isn't big. It is very big. But expect lots of talking in the coming days and precious little listening. Don't expect the problems to get solved or the real issues behind this or any other controversy to get discussed in any detail. Expect a lot of answers to questions no body asks.

I tell my students that in order to write an effective argument, they must look carefully at all sides and avoid being reactionary. Opinions are important. Informed opinions are better. Opinions developed after listening (or reading) carefully are even better, not only because one is more likely to persuade (provided the reader is actually listening as well), but because one can be at peace with one's decisions having brought not only their words, but also their minds and hearts to a stronger sense of truth.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Thoughts from the cell -- number 2

The CSI fiasco. Well, I did get emails from both CBS and the Dallas affiliate sort of apologizing for preempting my show last week. The official statement reads: An overly aggressive CBS News producer jumped the gun with a report that should have been offered to local stations for their late news. We sincerely regret the error. The episode of CSI: NEW YORK will be rebroadcast Friday, Nov. 12 at 9:00 PM/CT."

Okay, so that settles that particular problem, but doesn't address the larger issue. Isn't there a difference between "breaking" news and "important" news. I'm sick of these people, for no real reason other than greed, deciding what is and is not important.

Thanksgiving. Looking forward to seeing the family this weekend and a few friends from college after thanksgiving. Yee-freakin' hah!

Attitude. This is that lovely time of the semester when people have a lot of attitude. It is past the drop date so those left are stuck. Some students begin to realize that some of this stuff matters. Some lose their concern for anything. Some feel more comfortable expressing their outrage that an English teacher actually expects them to read something. A few students show up at whatever time suits them and then complain that they didn't have enough time to complete the pop quiz. Teachers get frustrated and wonder if they are just spinning their wheels, particularly when so many (not just students) indicate that the class is just a hoop to jump through. We ask, "Then why did I devote my life not only to the subject, but also to teaching it to others?"

Then someone, not always the best student in the class, says something, writes something, does something small, but magnificent. And we are answered.

God. God is real. His mercy is fantastic. I'm a lousy Christian. The world is a lousy place, made so by people like me. God does not stop being marvelous.

Titans. The soccer season has come to a close, and Alex's team had its party last week. I'm thrilled to help coach them. Thanks to Ms. Spradlin for the nice necklaces for the girls. Thanks to the girls who hustles so much and made the season fun for me.

Max the Tiger Cub. Click here to see pictures of Max with his troup visiting the fire station.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Breaking news that could have waited

Four minutes! I want CBS and Channel 11 in Dallas to give me back my four minutes.

Last night, I was watching CSI with my wife and one of my kids. The killers had been revealed, but the stories had not been resolved. And resolution is very important to an English teacher. It is a little like ripping the last page out of a novel. However it does not seem to be important to CBS. So if they can't give it back, I want an explaination, and if they are so inclined, an apology.

CBS interrupted the broadcast to share the news of Yasser Arafat's death. After noting the Palestinian leader's passing, we were treated to a montage about his life and politics and commentary about what this might mean for the United States, Israel, and Palestine. Now I am not saying that this isn't important news. I do not wish to argue that my personal entertainment is more significant than the tense situation. But this was not really "BREAKING NEWS," and so it could have waited four minutes for the completion of the program. (By the way, the other major networks recognized this fact. )

Nearly anyone who watches television knew that Arafat was dying and could indeed, pass at any moment. Many people care about how this situation is going to play out. But was it really necessary to interrupt the show just before it ended? They didn't go back to the program and provide viewers with the ending. They didn't even continue with the news, though by the time the montage was over, it was past ten o'clock. No, CBS then aired its commercials, including a teaser for next week's episode of CSI. (Of course, when was the last time a commercial was interrupted for breaking news? You think that any network is going to compensate our loss by replacing four minutes of commerical time with more of the show we missed?)

On the home page for the Dallas CBS affiliate, under the heading "Top Stories," there isn't even a link or headline about Arafat's death. That link is further down the page under "World News." If it isn't an important story, then why in the world would they deign to barge into my living room with news that could have waited four minutes.

As T.S. Eliot wrote, "All time is unredeemable." Okay, so it might be unreasonable for me to expect CBS to give me my time back. I somehow doubt that any of their executives or the station manager at Channel 11 will take the time to read this blog. However, I do hope that I will not be the only one to register my complaint with them. CSI is for entertainment, and I know its place. But I believe people in television have an obligation to take stock of what they mean by "Breaking News." It should not be about who first gets the story out, but also about the right time and place for intrusion.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Thoughts from the cell -- number 1

Okay, as readers of this blog already know, I hope for most of my postings to be about a single subject, kind of like a mini-essay. However, I've decided to also blog with a collection of miscellaneous thoughts and musings, from time to time. Here is "issue" number one.

The election. Okay, much to my chagrin, Bush won and Kerry lost. Guess what? The world is not coming to an end. Well, maybe. I suspect the terrorists will have something to say about that. Emperor (a second term merits a small promotion)George has already renewed attacks.

I am glad that Kerry was willing to concede. Sure the math was against him, but he could have made things worse by prolonging this. He would have solved nothing, likely caused greater division. And despite Bush's "appeal" to those who voted for Kerry, I do not expect him to actually work on healing. Our monarch seems to love/thrive on divisiveness.

The Red Sox. This has been a long time coming, but I finally have to say it: Hoooooray!!!! Glad to see them win, but mostly I'm glad to see the Yankees lose. My daughter, whom I'm trying to teach to be a good sport, has pointed out my hypocrisy in loathing the Yankees so much. When she's older....

Listening to: a shuffling of Miles Davis. Have listened to John Scofield's Works for Me and Pat Metheny's One Quiet Night the past couple of days. Have been listening to miscellaneous piano jazz at the house. Realized I didn't have any Thelonious Monk on the computer at home. Fixed that little problem mighty quick.

Speaking of music. The Pat Metheny Group releases The Way Up in January and will be in town in March. Hope I can get there. Since the disc is to be a single 68 minute track, I don't suppose I'll be able to get it from Napster. I wonder if there will be an extra track available like there usually is on the Japanese imports. Waiting is not fun, but I'll try to be patient.

Well, dear readers, I must go for now. Time to try to get the kids to do their homework and to avoid stepping on the kitty (pictures forthcoming). Peace.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Check 21: The dog licking itself in public

Like many Americans, I was caught off guard by the passage of the law now known as "Check 21." I'm a bit upset at myself for not being better informed because I have been telling anyone who would listen why the practices of the banking industry, in general, are immoral and corrupt, so I should have seen this coming. But I have noticed that many people keep up with current events either found themselves not knowing what "Check 21" was about or they did not see why it is such a big deal.

"Check 21" allows banks to withdraw funds from your account immediately after you write a check. This means that if you are one of those people who practice floating, writing checks a couple days before your own paycheck is deposited, then you are likely to find that the processing time you have previously counted on is not there anymore. People who are used to floating may find their checks bouncing all over town.

I can certainly understand the argument that one should not write checks for money that one does not have. Though in the past I practiced floating, I don't have a problem ceasing (not that it actually applies to me). My problem is that the practice does not force banks to apply to themselves what they make others endure. They are not compelled to immediately credit an account when a check is deposited. In fact, they are able to "hold" a check as long as they please. They say they do this to make sure the check is processed and to see that the check clears. But the same technology that allows a bank to take money out of my account should be available to put money into that same account.

As with anything regarding the banking industry, the motivation is greed. The longer the money is in one bank, the more money the bank makes. The quicker they can take the money from you, the more likely you are to have to incur fees for bounced checks. And don't expect them to reimburse you for lost money should they make a mistake. Don't expect them to fix your credit history when the error is their fault. I've never known them to do so.

The arguments for this practice tend to either be 1) one shouldn't write checks for money one doesn't have and 2) it is legal, therefore it is okay. The first argument, as noted above, is off the point. I can grant the point if banks are willing to make it work the other way. The second argument is circular reasoning.

It reminds me of the old joke: Why does a dog lick himself? Because he can. Well, unfortunately, these same dogs playing with our money. Don't expect me to kiss or pet such a dog.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Here is a picture that Michaela made using the Paint program on the computer. Posted by Hello

A picture of the twins.

Picture by Angela Morris. Posted by Hello

Angela took this picture about a year ago and I really like it, so I'm using it to see if I'm figuring out how to post pictures correctly. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Notes on the week

A shuffling of Keith Jarrett. I loaded the music from his Vienna, Paris, and Koln concerts, and one track from the Munich concert and I'm listening to them on Winamp with the shuffle play on. Nice effect. Wish I had the Lausanne concert on disc instead of just an old tape. I love this stuff after the week I've had. I don't know if it is the softness, the phrases building on each other, the wild improvisation, or what, but these tracks really calm me in a way that no quieter music can do. However, gentle reader, I very much recommend The Melody at Night With You and the two disc Rarum set from ECI.

Committees. I can't be specific right now, but I will say that committee work sucks much of the time. I'm glad to serve and I can say that I've been blessed to serve on committee doing work that I think is important and certainly interesting to me. However, the work has come for me at a very bad time. Okay, is there ever a good time? Anyway, I have not been able to grade papers as quickly as I want to (who does?), and so I feel more behind than every before. I'm going to quit complaining about it now, because my problems are no worse than any other person, and bitching doesn't get the job done.

Writing. Got an email from Mark Long this week about the essay I've submitted to Best Practices. He suggested adding material about how I practice getting my students to read and hopefully read more effectively. I ran something together and sent it off. He sent me a note I need to read in the coming days. But I think the piece is getting better. Still don't like the title.

Nothing else written this week except for responses to student papers and a couple things for committee work.

Publishing. Other than the aforementioned essay, I did get an email this week from someone about two of my personal essays. He said he'd like to "hold them for consideration" for a Spring or Winter issue. That sounded good when I read it, but it isn't really an acceptance. The journal (?), Ducts, seems like a good place, so I'm sure that it will be worth the wait to find out. The only problem is that ethically, I should not send it anywhere else until they either accept or reject it. But as I said, this is a pretty good zine. I think I'm willing to wait.

About a year ago I submitted an essay to an online zine, one that I felt published some pretty good stuff. I got a note back suggesting some things about my piece. I enthusiastically revised the essay and sent it to them again because I thought their ideas made my essay stronger. I have yet to hear from them.

Uncle Bryan. Today is my brother Bryan's birthday. I didn't get around to sending him a card, but I do have some pictures my kids drew for him. Of course, when I got my hair cut a couple weeks ago, my devoted children said they liked it because i looked like Uncle Bryan. Christina told me a couple days ago that I needed to go back to Mr. Aubrey (my barber for many many years and friend for even longer). Apparently, I don't look like my brother anymore and need to be fixed. Can't win.

A bientot. Well dear readers, I must go. There is much more to write about (like the jerk that keeps messing with my office), but it is ugly o'clock in the morning and Alex has a game (unless the rain gets to us) in the real morning time. I do wish to leave you with this. If you like what you see here, please check back often and tell your friends.

Enjoy the peace of Christ.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Work getting in the way of work or Life as a process

Sunday night/Monday morning I finally finished a draft of the essay on students and reading. I found that I had to practice more of what I preach and was unable to do much that I would like to do when writing.

Though I often say that writing can take place by composing in pieces and putting the good or important stuff together, I usually don't do this. Most often I have a general outline or plan (or vague notion in my head) and I write a draft from that. Then I like, when time and circumstance permit, to revise. I add specific content where needed, remove what doesn't fit or advance my main idea, rearrange paragraphs for greater effect or coherence. Then I like to edit the work a couple times to sharpen my prose. This may take days to achieve. (So, gentle reader, I'm sure you will notice that this doesn't happen on this blog). Of course, the process is adjusted to fit the context and the type of writing I do.

For this essay, I ended up writing probably four different introductions. I made a short outline, but only after I had drafted several disparate (and sometimes dissolving) paragraphs. I did not make several revisions, and because I was on deadline, I did not edit the essay as closely as I would like. The latter problem is not so much of a dilemma because I know that I will have more opportunity to edit the essay, particularly after it has been reviewed by the editor. (By the way, the piece is to appear in a premier issue of the online journal Best Practices.)

Mark Long asked for about 1,000 words. I gave him more than 2,400. I often tell my students that it is easier to cut material than to add some later after one feels a paper is "finished." But one of the problems I have in the revision stage is that for every word I cut, I often end up adding two more somewhere else. Let's hope they are good words. I will say that I don't feel emotionally tied to any particularly part of this essay. Whatever gets cut is not likely to be upsetting to me.

I am excited about this project. It is the first time I've had a chance to put in "print" my thoughts concerning pedagogy. My composition students also responded to a survey for me, a first for me, and I think a positive step. I'm also glad to see some non-fiction getting out there. I haven't written as much or published any in a while. Most importantly, I had the opportunity to suffer in a way that I hope will help me grow.

So what the heck happened? Well, like many other writers, I have not only another job (the one that pays the bills, and one I am very happy to have) but the responsibilities of being a parent. Perhaps, dear reader, you might say that I just haven't figured out how to juggle time as a teacher, writer, husband, father, churchgoer, television watcher, etc. Granted. But doing so is not so easily done as said (to pervert a cliche).

Many writer/teachers spend their summers and holidays writing. That is true for me. However, I am not content to keep my own writing to those limitations. I don't think it is healthy for me to do so, both as a writer and as a teacher.

I am a firm believer that to do well as a writer, at least for me, a particular time needs to be set aside just for this. That's the rub. Too often that time gets encroached upon by the demands of my other "jobs." This is true for all people and for things unrelated to writing or creativity. It is easy to say to myself, "It's okay that for today I need to spend my writing time grading papers or attending to a sick child. Life is full of such adjustments. But I find that too often that time is infringed upon for days in a row until other people (and I) see the "writing time" as something that can take a back seat to the rest of the world. Writing seems to be a hobby, not a job or a vocation. Before long, I find that I have to reestablish the habit.

Okay, so what? Well, I've noticed that the same problems can occur in all of our real lives. Humans need solitude and need to connect with something other than themselves. We need to do something creative in our lives. We all do not need to be writers or artists or musicians, but unless we create, we destroy.

And it is work to create or to connect with the creative world. One way I try to be creative rather than destructive is to read. For instance, I have a set time each day to read my Bible and pray. Hopefully I learn. Hopefully, I connect in a real (not necessarily powerful) way to the ultimate source of Creation. It is not always easy. Often I don't feel like getting up. Often the very thing I pray about is a distraction to my prayers or my reading. Sick children and stacks of papers do not respect the need or sanctity of one's private communion.

Yet when I neglect this area of my life, the world falls into various states of disrepair. It isn't a matter of "things going wrong" or that God is going to "get me" when I don't have my quiet time or my students will hate me for not practicing what I preach. But over time, it gets harder and harder to see the world as anything except but a decaying entity and action as futile. Work not only "gets the job done," it helps us to unite to what is good and real.

So much of life is struggling, not juggling, the various works and working actions of the world around us. We commit, then struggle, then reevaluate, then hopefully commit anew. What I must do is not let the trials of working get in the way of the really important work that is ongoing for my mind and soul.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Voting my conscience?

For the first time in a couple of elections, I plan to vote. I won't, right now, get into all the reasons I have not voted lately, but I will say that none of those feelings/ideas/attitudes have changed for me. In fact, what disturbs me most about this election is that I will be voting despite the things I believe/know about the electoral process.

I know that I am not voting so much for a candidate as against another one. I believe that King George Bush is the wrong person for the job, but that does not mean the Mr. Kerry is the right one. Yet, I am likely to vote for the senator.

The last time I voted in presidential race, I voted for a third party candidate. While I believed then that this person was the best available candidate, I see why my vote may have done more harm than good. I considered voting this time for Mr. Nader. Concerning some policies, I like him better than Kerry. Concerning most, I like him better than Bush. But I also know that in the last election most who voted for Nader would have voted for Gore had they only had the two candidates. Thus Bush won partially because votes were taken away from Gore, not because he was the popular candidate. I am not fully convinced that my vote actually matters, but if I am going to vote, I am unfortunately left to vote for a candidate who can win. That leaves me with Kerry and Bush. No matter how much better anyone else is, we are stuck with these two.

Why people who believe that the two party system not only works but is central to American politics can't see the problems here is really beyond my comprehension. Most of the people who support the two party system present circular arguments. I hear/read: "The two party system works/is best because only two candidates have a real chance to win." Am I the only person to see the problem here? Isn't this a sign that the system is broken?

I am also troubled by the fact that I have become, despite my own beliefs against it, a one issue voter. I am bothered when people see one idea or issue and vote for the candidate that supports their position, or more likely, votes against a candidate who does not support their position. Yet, I find myself in much the same place. I do not support the war in Iraq. Therefore, I cannot support Bush. Kerry isn't exactly what I want, but I do think he has a better idea of how to handle the mess.

There are many things for me to like about President Bush. Had I been voting then, I might well have supported him as governor of Texas (the state I live in). And yet because he refuses to believe that he made errors not only in going to war, but in the way he has handled terrorism, I cannot in good conscience support him as leader of our country.

I do not believe that it is a coincidence that politicians, at the last minute, encourage citizens to register to vote. While they say they believe the process works best when more people vote, the truth is they really don't care what the turnout is. If Bush really wants to win the election, then he not only doesn't want me to vote, he doesn't want me to register because a registered voter is more likely to try to influence others to vote the same way. Bush does not want me to vote because I do not support him. I have one brother that I am pretty sure will vote against Kerry (by default voting for Bush). I doubt the senator really wants my brother to vote too.

Andy Rooney wrote/said, "I'd be willing to bet that it's the dumbest people among us who are least likely to vote too, and that's fine with me. I don't want anyone dumber than I am voting." I think I understand where he is coming from, but doesn't this idea highlight another significant flaw in the process? Mr. Rooney is using humor to make a point. However, if mostly the smart people voted, then why such system? Why a system so flawed it cannot be fixed by those within it? The truth is that the because people are so easily manipulated, they often vote not from the convictions of their consciences, but according to the voice of their emotions.

I will vote on Election Day. I will take the matter seriously and proudly do what I'm told is my civic duty and responsibility. But I'm not going to feel good about it. When it is all over, no matter who wins, I'm not completely sure the country will be better or worse off. I will vote what my conscience tells me to do. But a large part of what my conscience says will get ignored.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Stupid Stuff in Sports

The incident in Oakland, Part I: Professional athletes are people too, despite the pedestals we like to raise them to. That means that sometimes they are going to lose their tempers and do stupid, thoughtless things. And we fans of the games should hold them accountable. We are often upset that athletes (even supposed amateurs) are so important that they are often judged by different standards and many times get away with things that would ruin the careers of other people. So of course, most of us (even Rangers fans like me) are going to support the suspension of Frankie Francisco.

No matter what was said and done, he and his teammates have to keep their cool as best as they can. I cannot see what justifies violence at all, so the chair probably should not have been in his hands let alone set aloft toward the stands unless he thought he was in some danger.

That said, I believe that the standard we expect to judge Francisco by has not been applied to the people in the stands in Oakland, a place that already has a history of problems. As I said, now and then one player loses his cool. But something must have happened to get most of the team out there sparring verbally with these fans. Players are used to heckling and even have to endure verbal abuse that would get the abuser fired at work. But to my knowledge there hasn't even been an investigation into what these fans had been doing. This fact points to one of the many symptoms of our sick society. We cannot look inward to find what in us needs correction. We just go along justifying our actions, pointing fingers at anyone who disagrees.

The security was nonexistent. The Oakland organization spent so much time decrying Francisco's behavior (which, I repeat, is deplorable and inexcusable) that they did not expend an ounce of energy to find out what is going on in their stadium that helps bring such incidents about. As John Kruk wrote, "Let's see what happens when 30,000 people come to your job and shout obscenities about the private details of your life."

When this sort of thing happens again, don't be surprised. And don't be surprised when some of these idiots aren't bragging to their friends and on radio talk shows about how fun it is to rile opposing players.

The incident in Oakland, Part II: The lawyer for the woman struck during the incident reportedly likened what happened to the events at the Abu Ghraib prison. "It comes from the top," he said. This guy has to be kidding. First of all, he and the Bueno's can't honestly think that nothing harmful was said to provoke Francisco and Brocail (see Part I above). But they certainly are maintaining that stance. Second, while it is possible to blame the entire organization for hiring someone with a quick temper, I can't see how the Rangers are completely responsible for his actions. This lawyer is just trying to get attention.

And I think I'm going to pull what's left of my hair out if I hear the Buenos again on television talking about how they feared for their lives. Right. Jennifer Bueno's remarks were a mirror image of her husband. I can't help but wonder what else their lawyer coached them to say.

I won't say the situation wasn't scary. I wasn't there. I'm sure that it was. But if they were really afraid for their lives, why weren't they doing what people who are scared do? Did they run? Did they yell for help? Did they decide they had to defend themselves against impossible odds? (Of course the numbers were on the side of the fans, but that doesn't seem to get brought up.) No. These people stayed there, perhaps to continue jeering and being "ugly," as my grandmother would say.

On a slightly different note, one article pointed out that Craig Bueno coaches football and wrestling and has three sons. Is he so proud of his behavior at A's games that he would want his sons to act accordingly? He claims his comments are relatively harmless, but if he would let his sons do similar things, I wonder about him. I remember coaches taking our teams to games. Does he take his athletes to A's games (he is a season ticket holder)? If so, does he encourage such behavior?

Keyshawn, shut your damn mouth: Keyshawn Johnson may well have cost the Cowboys a touchdown today, and since the game was close, that touchdown might well have meant the game. After a Cleveland player was called for a late hit, he got himself called for unsportsmanlike conduct, negating the penalty which would have given Dallas a first down. Instead the Cowboys settled for a field goal. Off the field, I couldn't tell if he was arguing with Parcells or just trying to explain himself. Either way, it seemed as if the coach told him to shut up.

Good idea. Keyshawn, if you want others to think you are a team player, then DO shut up. You had a good game otherwise. You are good enough to let your play do the talking. The smartest thing you did was knock that ball down at the end of the game and not try to intercept it. That surprised me. Please keep surprising me.

Monday, September 13, 2004

The weekend

Listening to Jan Garbarek. Had on the The Art of Sound before, listening to a bit of a Mel Torme tribute, but they've left. Have been in a Keith Jarrett mood for a few days.

Friday we took the kids to the Dallas Children's Theater performance of Coyote Tales. The plot seemed a bit uneven for my tastes, but the kids enjoyed it and were thrilled when they got to meet the actors and get autographs. We had a great time.

Saturday was for getting some work done around the house. Mowed the backyard and when I got in the car to get more gas for the mower, found that the battery was dead. We had brought home several of Christina's paintings the night before and apparently had not closed the back hatch very well, leaving a light on to drain what little juice the poor van had left.

Also watched the fourth quarter of Notre Dame's wonderful win over Michigan. That was wonderful. Almost made me feel guilty for taking a nap. Almost.

Sunday, Tonya's parents came over and gave us a jump start, and we made it to church for the first time in a few weeks. This was nice. Mother Virginia preached a fine sermon on Christ's parables of the lost sheep and lost coin. We began an interesting series in Sunday School about the historical background of the Episcopal Church. Though I know some of this, I was thrilled to learn more.

Later, Bryan came over and helped me watch the Cowboys lose. Then we went in the backyard and played soccer with the kids. Angela came over and had dinner with us, so the weekend ended quite nicely.

That looks like about it. Didn't have much to grade, so I did some planning. Did some reading, and no writing except a haiku on Saturday when I was upset about the car.

Here's hoping the week is productive.

Peace to all who read here.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Reading, Distractions, and Multitasking

The dang essay on reading has stalled. Wrote 500 decent words the other night, but now I seem to be thinking of stuff to write when I'm not near the computer or paper, and when I am, I find myself writing in too many directions. When I'm not so tired, I need to get just as much as I can out and plan to cut mightily. That is, I should practice what I teach.

Did run into this interesting quote yesterday from Pitkin's The Art of Rapid Reading: "One of the most useless and annoying practices is to attempt reading serious material while the mind is fixed on some other object. Millions of hours have been wasted in this futile endeavor. One man in a thousand can turn his undivided attention from one subject to another without effort. But the normal human being cannot shut the door on whatever is strongly interesting him at the moment and plunge into a book dealing with some totally different interest. Serious reading demands a whole mind. Rather than undertake it with half a mind, you might better not read at all. The ancient rule holds true here, 'One thing at a time, and do that well'" (55).

Okay, I'm not so sure about the "not reading at all bit," but this passage has given me something to think about. My students have so much competing for their attention by the time they reach my classroom, and most have conditioned themselves to believe that reading is not essential and not worth their trouble. Further, there are so many distractions in our lives. I can remember reading in my room at home or in my dorm room, and so caught up in the material (even stuff that at first seemed dull) that I didn't notice a tape had ended or that the sun had gone down. Now we are taught to multitask and it seems that little gets accomplished of the needed work. Reading is a solitary endeavor, one that we not only do when no human is around (or at least none are distracting us), but also we need to do with with minimal stuff going on.

I learned early on that during my morning reading/journal writing time, if I turn on my computer (even if I meant only to use it to play music), then I too often find myself checking emails, remembering some small task that I need to do, and looking for information I will need for some later project. These other tasks are important, but because I get distracted by them, I end up not doing this task that is important for my spiritual and mental health. The same thing can easily happen as the day goes by when my reading is for work.

Now I try to avoid music during my quiet times and during my reading of the day. If I find myself distracted by my thoughts, I will try to stretch or take some notes on the reading to force my mind to focus. If I get sleepy (my quiet times are in the morning, my best reading time), then I put on something that is light enough to keep me pepped up, but soft enough to not get me dancing around the room.

Speaking of which, I was listening the The Art of Sound at
KETR, but since that went off at eleven (an hour earlier than the schedule says), I've been listening to the excellent guitar work of the incomparable Joe Pass on his Simplicity album. I have it on tape, but wish I could get it on disc. I think there is a two disc set with this and another lp. My tape does say who the other players are and I need to find out who did the organ work. Nice. Anyway this is a good piece of music for reading. Smooth and swinging, but not too loud.

I think the next post on reading should be about developing the habit of reading each day. But for now, I must get out of here and do some real work.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Sunflowers. Listening to a shuffling of Fusion songs. Working on a couple of tunes from Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Since I moved into my new house, I have been working on a poem/meditation loosely titled, "Postcards of Sunflowers." Most parts are short pieces, kind of meditations, kind of observations, much like my poem "Making Rounds," only a little freer with the verse. However, yesterday, I wrote the following part. Perhaps it stands on its own. I'm not sure why I am posting it here, but I feel compelled to do so.
I took a walk and heard
the sunflowers arguing about
Hurricane Francis. Some leaned
toward the leafless and said
it had come too soon. A few
bowed their strengthening stalks
and exclaimed that it had come
on time. A couple nodded toward
the healthy and declared the rain
had come too soon. The storm
off in Florida, I kept walking.

Only one sunflower had the guts
to tell me, as I left, “We
are only weeds. Why does it matter?”

Friday, I had an experience at Walmart that, unfortunately, is not unlike most times I have to go there. Some guy name John or Johnny was talking on his cell phone as he was doing his job of putting items back on the shelf. His basket had a sign telling people to refrain from putting stuff in. This guy was called over the "help" me find an item after the kid in the meat market couldn't help me. John walked me down several aisles (most of which I had already been down) before admitting he didn't know what the hell he was doing. Then he got a third guy who at least was honest about what he knew and didn't know. I'd love to say, "Avoid the Walmart in Rockwall." But this sort of crap happens almost every time I enter a Walmart no matter where it is.

Oh well, there is obviously more to say, but I have stuff to do.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Monday night, almost Tuesday morning. I just watched The Riverman on A&E. It was pretty scary, and in ways I'm sure many people won't get. Oh well.

Saturday was the big retirement party for my brother John. My family had a great time. We played volleyball (my team losing 2 of 3) and a hysterical game of Horse, which Brett won. Bryan and I beat John and Donnie in basketball, but I don't think talent was least not on my part. (Bets were taken on who would end up in the pool during the game, and though no one officially fell in, I was the odds on favorite.) There was a ceremonial burning of the CG uniform. There was much food and laughter. My ankle and neck hurt a bunch, but it always does. I got to add some pain from pulled groins and the nagging voice that sounds like my mother and says, "You are not young anymore." Some of the pictures are here. (Thanks Kaye for not posting the most embarrassing ones.)

I was much happy spending this time with the family. Finally got to see Jen and Donnie's most gorgeous baby, my nephew Blake. See the pics, adore the child! Was able to chat with my grandfather and visit with Aunt Ellen and laugh with cousins and brothers and sisters. That is minus Steve. His absence was noted with many profound exclamations. Seriously dude, come see us some time!

John and Kaye are wonderful hosts, as are Jen and Donnie. I hope we can live up to the task come Thanksgiving. Anyway, thanks guys for a terrific day!

I am very proud of my brother's service to his country. It is plenty that he devoted so much of his life to his work in the Coast Guard, but he also is a real family man, not like on television, but I've met few men whose love of his wife and children is more obvious. He also has a great sense of humor and though we disagree on many important ideas and issues, he is worth arguing with. I also admire that he wants to work, that he recognizes the need for a man to be of use.

So Sunday, I didn't go to church, and I feel much guilty for it. Our family is still trying to get ourselves used to the idea of getting up and driving to McKinney for services (and Sunday school soon). I know there is a fine congregation in Rockwall, but St. Peter's has meant a great deal to us. I'm not sure yet that it is time for us to leave.

Did some catching up today on school stuff. For once, I won't feel guilty that I took a bunch of stuff home only to ignore it all weekend and rush through it. I conclude, therefore, that all weekends should be three days long. Of course, I didn't mow the yard, but I'm planning to blame that on Hurricane Francis.

Read the first story in Block's Sometimes You Get The Bear, titled "By Dawn's Early Light." It features his character Matt Scudder. I liked it okay. I've decided I probably should save reading like this for the afternoon/evening and keep the heavier stuff to morning when my mind is better suited for it. Thus I seem to be back to trying to read several books at once. Have relegated The Art of Rapid Reading to bathroom time, which sounds bad, but I'm at a point in the book where its age is showing and I'm perhaps a bit less interested, though many fascinating tidbits still come out. As for Aristotle, I'm plowing through, getting some of it.

Also, since I need to be in my office by 6:30, and I want to make sure I have a quiet time each day, preferably at home before work, I will have to try to get up a bit earlier. I'm moving the clock up 15 minutes until I get the timing where I want it. The wife, one might say, is not so pleased.

Peace to all!

Friday, September 03, 2004

Morning in the office. I'm finally listening to that Pat Metheny CD, One Quiet Night. Getting the day started.

Yesterday read that over 40 percent of college students plagiarize papers from the Internet. Most students see cheating as morally wrong, but "socially acceptable," I read as well. All very depressing. I noticed that many articles I read about the subject made some sort of reference to the Enron scandal.

There are a number of reasons this all happens, of course. We live in a culture where most believe that one can (and often should) do whatever they can get away with. Many write about how difficult school (particularly college) is, or how important it is to get good grades. Of course we can explore the moral and ethical dissipation of our world. And as we know, success breeds success. If students continue to get away with cheating, then they often feel they will always get away it. Few realize (or care) that "getting away with it" at school does not mean that you will do so in life. Many students tell themselves that since the class is one they "won't really use" in real life (whatever the heck that means), it is certainly okay to cheat to through.

Why would we hire a doctor who gets answers for his Algebra class? Do I really want to go to a lawyer who cannot do the critical thinking required to write a literature paper because he was able to download something from the Internet? Why should I respect a policeman who has paid someone to sit in on his Biology lab?

I need to write more about this later, but for now, I have work to do.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Listening to: classical music on WRR. Was in the mood for Pat Metheny's One Quiet Night, but had some trouble with my computer. Too bad. Great album for the stress I've felt this week.

Last Friday, I had to request my transcript from college. This was more of an annoyance than anything else since my credentials had already been accepted (as far as I knew) from the review committee. There isn't a question about the credentials however, but about officialness of the document. Eastfield is in the process of its SACS work and the process is very stressful. No wonder it is done only every ten years.

So far, I like my classes and they seem to like me. Working to communicate my assignments better. I have to accept that no matter how hard I work at it, some students are going to struggle with the assignments. Tried to stress today and yesterday that it is harder to understand writing assignments if one intends to see the essay as a one-shot deal where the finished paper is in the head before any composition occurs. One must begin the work for some things to become clear.

Don't know what the heck is going on with my foot. By the end of the day it hurts like the dickens. Neck has been sore and tender too.

I think that after years of not voting, I will actually participate in this election. And I hate that a single issue is driving that decision, but I am really upset at the state of a country that cannot tolerate dissent. And I cannot understand a leader who openly works to squash dissent.

Have not done much writing the past few days. Made some notes here and there, but I've got a list of things to do at school that gets longer instead of shorter each day. How very aggravating!

John's retirement party is this weekend. He has been up here closer for a few months but he will be officially retired from service in the Coast Guard. So odd. He is almost a year younger than me, and is retiring and I feel I've barely begun my career. Maybe I've haven't been living right. Seriously, I'm proud of John and really excited that he is able to start a couple new chapters in his life. Also glad he and his terrific family are a lot closer so we can see them more often.

Angela is at school and seems to be happy (except for her mumbling Biology professor). I got her an ethernet cable for her pc, and suddenly I was super dad. If I'd only known it was that easy!

Can't tell you, gentle readers, how excited I have been this week to discover that some 7-11 stores between home and work are now carrying Diet Rite Cola. The diet soft drinks made by the RC people are the only ones I know of that use Splenda instead of nutrisweet (which is not really that good for you). These are also the only diet soft drinks that actually taste like colas. Okay, perhaps this isn't the most startling news of the day, but it is pretty exciting to me. Most convenience stores carry the major diet drinks, and most also have regular RC Cola. But until now, a Diet RC or Diet Rite has been hard to find. So, 7-11, Uncle Mike thanks you.

Reading? Have not had much energy to read the hard stuff I started, but I'm not giving up. I did discover a used bookstore in Rockwall called Roma's Preread Books. There I found paperbacks of Deborah Crombie's All Shall Be Well and Some Days You Get The Bear by Lawrence Block. So if I decide to take a break from the hard stuff, I still have these two. Deb's novel is one of her early ones. I've read a few of hers and really love them. The Block book is a collection of short stories. I think Block is pretty good at short fiction while most other mystery writers manage to merely take up space. Of course, he's no slouch as a novelist.

Well, I better go for now. I have quizzes to grade and one to write. Enjoy the day!

Sunday, August 29, 2004

A week of classes has gone by and all seems okay. Introductory stuff seems to have gone through okay and all. Trying to get my plans done a week in advance so I have more time at home for my quiet time and stuff with the kids. Spent much of the weekend getting the kids to clean their rooms and other domestic stuff like cleaning my study. Got my hat rack on the wall. Read the in class writing I wanted to read for tomorrow, but not everything. I want to tweak my presentation on invention.

Found out this morning that my poem "Midlife" has been accepted to the print issue of Mandrake Poetry Review, a sister publication of The New Formalist. This is pretty exciting. Not as many of my rhymed pieces see print and this is one I'm a bit fond of.

Angela is off at college, living in the dorm her mother once lived in, her first class tomorrow. We all got to chat with her a bit. Boyfriend was there being Mr. Wonderful. I'm a little nervous, but I've got much faith in her.

Made more notes on the essay about student reading and preparedness. It seems the more I draft, the more I feel I need to do in the way of invention. Read the introduction and some of the first section of a grand old book called The Art of Rapid Reading by Walter B Pitkin. The book was published in 1929, and it seems that what got in the way of businessmen and women as far as reading is concerned seems to still plague our modern day student. I think I may use a quote or two from the book in my essay.

A thousand or more people protested Bush today in NYC. There was a replay of the episode of The Practice where a woman who is told to move her protest of the president assaults a police officer. I certainly don't condone violence, but the commander in chief and his cronies have to see the bad p.r. that stifling free speech does to them. This issue alone may make me vote for Kerry. But I refuse to vote according to one item or agenda.

Started reading Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Trying to practice what I preach about reading. Probably finding it as tough to wade through as much students find much of the material I assign. This is in the second book of a four volume set called The World's Greatest Thinkers. This is the "Man and Man" volume. I have given myself the lofty goal of reading the entire series, hopefully by the end of the semester. So gentle reader, prepare for either pithy quotes and astute observations or my vile expressions of frustration.

Listening to a tape I made several years ago of the David Becker Tribune. Sure wish Napster had some of their stuff. KNTU played a few cuts from their recent album regularly this summer and I wanted to get some. But alas, none is to be had.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Convocation week. This is the week before classes begin when we go to meetings that are usually too long and often unnecessary, work on our syllabi, and catch up with our colleagues. Today we had a workshop on collegiality. I went away feeling unwell. Maybe that's good. I have a lot to learn.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The school year will soon be upon us. Monday begins school for the kids (except Angela) and I have reporting week. Then classes the following Monday. Angela moves into her dorm at Texas A&M Commerce on Wednesday. Tonya had a devil of a time getting Angela registered for her classes, thanks much to the runaround of a student worker who didn't understand enough English to get past the difficulties of the pat responses he was told to give.

I am looking forward to everything, but I feel I have not gotten as much done this summer as I would like. I hope I can work on the syllabi and writing e-book this week, so I will not be so stressed next week.

Have not done much writing...a few poems, or rather a handful of disparate lines. The other day, I worked on the plagiarism essay and the letter to politicians essay, but I don't know if I've really accomplished much.

Spent last weekend with my brother John and his family. Was really nice to visit. Mom and Bryan came on Saturday and we played volleyball and ate steak. Mostly I did nothing and chatted extensively with John.

Finally finished The Greatest Story Ever Told. I'm glad I read it. There is much to like about it, but some of the book did not set well with me. There were some subtle places that seemed a bit anti-Semetic and too often the dialogue (especially where passages of Scripture had been taken directly) lapsed into King James English, which disturbed not only the flow, but the tone and flavor of the overall story. However, I may be too critical about these points.

Have returned I, Robot, by Isaac Assimov. Am in the third chapter/story. So far so good. I do sense, perhaps because I am returning to school soon, perhaps because I have not written much, to read something a bit more substantial.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Blake Matthew Bowlin, my new nephew, was born Sunday. Happy mother and father are doing fine at home and trying to get used to life not only with child, but also with family.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Listening to: Pat Metheny's Watercolors disc (actually on tape) IN MY NEW HOUSE!!! We are finally here! It seems like a crazy long journey, but I have finally moved. Tonya and I are really sore and tired, perhaps a bit cranky, but really happy to be here. The kids are figuring out how to live in a house, and the experience has been painful at times, and ecstatic at times. Max's favorite thing seems to be the water sprinkler, that and the TVR feature on the new Dish system. The twins seem to delight in chasing each other around. Alex seems to love her solitude in her room.
Took forever, it seems, but finally found the book I was reading, The Greatest Story Ever Told. Perhaps I've lost a little interest, but I had read a good third, and I'm committed to finishing. Plan to read Asimov's I, Robot next.

Ready to get back to some sort of routine of writing. I got a nice letter the other day from someone who actually reads my blog. The letter encouraged me to get back to work on an essay that has been bouncing around with me for some time. I'd also like to get back to submitting some stuff.
Did get news that two poems have been accepted for online journals. One is to be published at Dufus. It is titled, "Slam the door when you go." The other, "Fear at Burger King," is already available at Chronogram. I'm actually getting paid real money for the poem at Chronogram. So thanks to all that have looked so kindly on my little pieces. And reader, please go read.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Back at the library, checking emails, trying to get some quiet, fighting various temptations, picking up a couple of movies.

We finally have a closing for Monday. Hopefully we can load the truck on Sunday and get out of the crap hole early. Have already gotten a couple of nasty notes from the apartment (which seems to have already changed managers after only a week of having a new one). We are excited, but a bit anxious. After all the roadblocks, I suppose we keep expecting a call that says the whole thing is off.

The whole ordeal has been, and continues to be, an exercise of faith. We have prayed and trusted that this move is the will of God. I've wondered if I was blinded by the house, and that these roadblocks might be confirmation that we are not to proceed. But faith untested is not faith worth having. We must have trials and difficulties to prove the faith real, not for God who knows us, but for ourselves, who cannot fathom the depths of our possibilities.

About a third through The Greatest Story Ever Told, and despite a couple of nagging problems, I am enjoying it. A couple of notes: first, I noticed in the Prologue that a chief motivation for writing the book was that so few people were reading the Bible, that biblical phrase in conversation brought stares and blank expressions. Mr. Oursler seems to have been sad that such an important document was fading from (my expression) cultural literacy. The book was published in 1949! Well, Mr. Oursler, it hasn't gotten any better.

Second, in the Prologue, the author explains that he took great pains, when the story would be made into a radio serial, to be sure that the story was accurate and would not offend (and I presume appeal to) Protestants or Catholics. He writes nothing of how it would be received by Jews. There are pains taken, it seems to my ignorant mind, to faithfully reproduce the people and times. However, there are little things that might stand out as inaccurate or even offensive, such as Jesus being described not only as having a perfect body (not a problem in itself), but coupling the image with notes that his skin was "lighter" than his companions. I don't know that a lot of people would notice it, but it did bug me a little. However, the story is still interesting. I'm sorry, actually, that I am past the part with Joseph's role in the story. I liked reading about his as a man of faith. However, I'm confident I will find similar tales of others in the novel.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Well, I haven't moved into the new place yet. I'm sitting in the library after reading my emails because I have no phone at home and thus no internet access. We were supposed to close a week ago. Argh!

Have finished reading The Best American Mystery Stories 2000 and a book of haiku poems I found a few days ago at Half Price Books. The haiku was not so great, but it is part of a series I have two or three books of. This is the first (I think, I'm not sure because the others are in my office). It wasn't terrible, but I suppose I have found some more satisfying. Of course, with haiku, one's state of mind has much to do with how it is received. And I have not been in a great state of mind.

The mystery stories were fine. I'm glad I finished before the move, but with my books packed up, I'm reticent to start much else. I did begin reading a copy of The Greatest Story Ever Told by Fulton Oursler. I have this first edition that isn't in great shape and it somehow didn't get packed with the other stuff. So far, I've read three chapters. I like some; some I'm not too keen on. We shall see.

Still writing...a little. Haven't worked on the "grief" essay in a couple of days, but I think I'm nearing the end of the draft. I did finish drafting my first (can you believe it, after 40 years?!?) sestina. It is about the delay in moving. It is perhaps too dreamy, but I'm glad I finally did one of these. I think I'll do others.

Better run for now. Peace of Christ to all who read here.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Listening to Keith Jarrett, the two disc rarum set. Really nice. Just what I need these days.

To paraphrase Bart Simpson, I didn't think it was possible, but moving both sucks and blows. Tonya and I have worked out butts off this weekend and I feel like I'm barely any closer to being ready. Of course, if the little ones would quit dumping boxes or taking things out of boxes I've packed....

Trying not to be too cynical (cynicism is second nature to me), but I probably won't feel right about the move until we are actually in the house. And for a while after then I'm likely to keep expecting someone to show up at the door and say, "Oops, sorry, made a mistake, you'll have to leave." We close on the first and Tonya wants to move in right away. That's the middle of the week though, and I don't know how much help we will have. I certainly can't afford real movers. John, who brought some boxes by the other day, said he'd help if he wasn't working. And I think the little ones will stay with Tonya's parents the night before, so we should be able to get a thing or two accomplished. But I have my doubts.

Writing? Well, I even feel guilty doing this weblog. Tonya found ten more of my old short stories. They were in some slightly stinky folders with drafts of each. I wrote most of these when I was going through a self-indulgent phase (as if writing a blog isn't self-indulgent) where I assumed that long after I was gone, people would want to read every draft and note about every story I wrote, so I kept them together. Well, I took the final drafts out, scanned them, and threw away the rest of the stuff. I planned to throw away the final drafts too once they were scanned and I had made sure I had everything okay. But I've decided to keep them in a separate folder (I hope the Lysol helps). I have edited about four or five and even submitted three. I don't like most of these all that much, but they seem okay. I believe a few are worth publishing though they do represent a slightly different person than the writer I am now.

Have also, I suppose, been working on an essay. I started it a few days ago, and it was then a kind of comparison of my mother after her miscarriage and my wife at various difficult times in her life. But it has turned, it seems, into a different animal altogether. I wrote last about a funeral and a graveyard I used to walk through. I remembered a few things about growing up right before my Mom got remarried. I'm not sure what the essay will be eventually, but I suppose I have to write it to find out. I really don't know why it bothers me to think about some of this stuff, but it does, and I know I won't quite feel right until I finish this piece.

I don't believe, in all the ramblings I have made here about what I read, that I have mentioned the reading that I do with my kids. Pity. Anyway, we usually let the three youngest take turns choosing what "chapter book" we'll read next, and I sort of talked Christina into reading L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. We finished the chapter called "The Happy Medium" tonight. This is a wonderful book. I think the kids really liked it. The other day Max brought me one of the other books in the series and said that he might choose it when we are done (he has the next turn). Anyway, every time I look at this book I wonder why I don't read more by L'Engle. I have read one of her journals, a book of poetry, and maybe one of the other novels. She's terrific no matter what one experiences.

On a side note, I realized something as I read tonight. "The Happy Medium" is the chapter where the kids get to Camazotz. They see everything bland and the same. I could not help thinking of Ayn Rand's Anthem, which I read several months ago. I did not care for Rand's book so much, though I didn't hate it. I probably would have loved it in high school or college. Anyway, I was thinking about how both authors seemed to protest mindless conformity, but I like L'Engle's vision better. I don't think it is just because she is Christian while Rand is not, though I'm sure that has a little to do with it. I'm not sure I'll have to mull it over some. I just remember thinking of the two as I read.

Well, I don't know if I'll write again before the move, but who knows. Can't get much done at night anyway.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Listening to: Eberhard Weber's rarum xviii (the very good collection series from ECM). Will likely go to Wayne Shorter or Brad Mehldau after that.

I'm sitting in the library at Collin County Community College as my twins are at Girl Scout "Camp". Making some minor changes to the webpage and maybe getting a little writing done.

The move appears to be very much on! We met with the builder yesterday for the "walk through." I actually got excited seeing my backyard that needed mowing. I've been fantasizing about the computer in my new study and letting the kids watch television or play in a room that is not where I am reading and not having to chase away a roach when I get a drink of water. I sure hope Royce City is ready for the Morris family.

So far, I have not done much writing on the novel. I did manage to put together a chapter or so, but in the past week, I think I've contributed about 1,000 words to the project. That doesn't depress me as much as I thought it would, I suppose because I have been working on a couple of essays. I think it I came out of the summer with some publishable stories and essays, I might be okay.

Have been submitting work pretty much every day I can. So far I have probably a dozen or so decent stories under consideration. That does make me feel like I'm getting something done. Most of the publications are online. This is because I just have not had the time (I work on this mostly at night) or resources (do you know how much postage and paper costs, never mind that my printer dies some time ago?) to commit to much for print journals. I also see a couple of other advantages here. Most of these "zines" are pretty good. I do think they get read by some important people. I also have been able to read sample work before submitting. This, I know, increases my chances because I won't waste their time sending something that is nowhere near the kind of story, poem, or essay they publish.

Some places take novel excerpts. I have only submitted the first chapter of Of All Things, a couple of time, and was rejected each time. Perhaps, however, something online would like that.

Now listening to Brad Mehldau Trio's Songs: The Art of the Trio, Volume 3. Should probably go somewhere and write. It occurred to me the other day that I have never attempted a sestina. So I've been thinking about it, but haven't gotten very far.

Speaking of not getting very far, I'm still muddling through (not really the best word choice, I know) the Best American Mystery Stories of 2000. Finally finished this novella that is in the middle of the dang book. I really like most of this, and the stuff I don't love is still entertaining, but I hate taking so long to get through a book. But I suppose despite my vacation, I've been pulled in many directions. At least most of these directions are good ones. I'm broke, tired, and stressed, but having a pretty good summer so far.

Have yet to write anything about Father Chuck leaving. His leave taking service was Sunday and I admit I did cry a little during his last regular service. Not so much during his sermon, but at communion. Communion is a pretty emotional moment of church for me anyway, and I guess looking up at him as he said, "Body of Christ" for what is likely the last time got to me a little.

Chuck has meant a great deal to me as a spiritual man, but he has been a wonderous champion for my family. He is not only a well-grounded man as far as all the spiritual "stuff" of theology, scripture, and tradition is concerned. He is also a well-grounded man of this world. He understands real life. His patience and love for us has taught me a great deal and while the many ways he has helped me in temporal way has meant a great deal to us, he has helped me hang on during some rather tough spiritual times. I sure hope the congregation in Waco really understands the blessing they have coming to them.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Listening to Coltrane, but not very loud. The more "out there" pieces are on and everyone else is asleep. I ought to be, but I've screwed that up by taking a long nap.

We have been doing some cleaning in anticipation of the move. Tonya found some folders of my junk the other day and one had some important stuff, at least to me. There was a volume of my personal journal from around 1986 or 9, I don't remember which. There was a small note pad that I must of gotten to write some sort of devotional pieces in. And there were a couple folders with some stories and poems I wrote a long time ago.

The really great thing about this discovery is not just that I found some writing that I had pretty much forgotten, but that I found a few pieces I didn't hate. There were two decent short stories, one I think is still pretty good. I have scanned it all in and the stuff I think is publishable will go out with the rest of the stuff I've been sending out this summer. I've already sent off the story I liked most, "Promise."

A few weeks ago, I got the idea of collecting some old poems in a small chapbook and perhaps shopping it around, entering it in a contest or two, or making an e-book to sell somewhere. When I had this idea, I spent the better part of an afternoon finding and retyping some poems I thought wouldn't be too embarrassing to publish (some have been). But I only had 13 poems, and a couple of those were written in graduated school. I have found 11 more. After some editing and revision, this might make a nice little volume. It is not a project I had expected to work on this summer, but I think it might be worthwhile.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Can't sleep...again! Seems if I take a nap, I can't sleep until two or three in the morning, but if I don't, I'm able to conk out about one.

Finished The Best American Mystery Stories 2003 the other day. I'll write more about it when my hand doesn't hurt so much. Let me say that I only hated one story. Out of twenty, that's pretty good.

Reading the 2000 book of the same series. I read a couple of the stories some time ago, but I don't remember when, so I guess some of it is getting re-read. Plan to read some New Yorker stories in the next few days as well.

Have submitted some work, a little each day, for the past few days. Most of these are to online publications. This isn't exactly what I want all the time, though some of these are really, really good. But this is easier. I can research and submit on the Net without printing and mailing and all the hassles. I wish more print publications accepted e-mail submissions, though I can see why many don't.

Fingers numbing. Typing too loud. Gotta stop for now.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Can't sleep. It's two something in the freakin' morning. I'm listening to Bill Evans Live at the Village Vanguard. Fine disc. Wish I could play it a little louder, but oh well.

Maymester is over. Glad of it. Did like my class. I think it went well.

Thought I'd ease into writing this week. Piddle around a bit with some stories and essays and then next week try to get back to the novel that was started last summer. Have stumbled partial drafts of two essays and started a draft of a story. The story will have Eddie Pacer, speaker and protagonist of the mystery I am writing, as one of its characters. This will be in third person going between the killer and the investigator (Pacer).

Finished Block's Hit Man a couple days ago. Really liked it. Each chapter is a short story, and the episodic tale works. Very enjoyable as a read. Some stories bothered me, but I think that was on a personal level. I didn't like some of what Keller (protagonist) does. But he's a hired killer, so how much of him should I like. But maybe that's the point. Block makes him a real person and I DO like him at times. I think this is a strength. I'm interested in Keller and not just to see what he will do next. Not as dark as the Scudder books and certainly not as light as the Burgler stories, this may be Block at his most philosophical. Certainly one of the better Block books I have read so far. I had intended to wait a bit for the second in the series, but I may change my mind.

Have been reading The Best American Mystery Stories 2003. I'm up to the story by Joyce Carol Oates. So far, I've only really disliked one of the stories. I'll probably write more when I have finished the whole book.

Well, time to go for now. Happy reading!

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Listening to: Chris Potter. (More specifically, I'm listening to a playlist on my computer of sax jazz.)

Finished grading papers this afternoon. Hoped to finish yesterday, but happy to not have them hanging over my head tomorrow. Have the last week of the maymester pretty much planned out, so hopefully the grading is all I have to worry about. Fifteen of the original nineteen left. Seems to be a pretty good class, and I sure could use one.

Alex had a tournament today. They dropped two of three games, but they played hard and I'm pretty proud of them. Good kids these are. Go you might Sugar and Spice!

Finished Steve Martin's Shopgirl on Friday. I liked it a lot, but want to reserve more specific comments on the novella until Angela has had a chance to read it. For some reason, I'm very interested in her opinion of this book.

Started Lawrence Block's Hit Man. I'm in the fourth story/chapter and so far like it. The main character, Keller, is a hired killer, and we get to see him in not necessarily a positive light, but certainly a human one. I have been interested in writing about characters the people usually write off as inhuman (not always killers), and so this sort of story intrigues me. I also like the idea of writing a novel so that the chapters are stand alone stories. (This was a device I may have first seen in Walter Mosely's series involving Socrates Fortlow.) I think I will likely read the sequel to this one when I am done. If it isn't good study work for me, it certainly will be entertaining. Even when Block's books don't knock my socks off, I'm not disappointed.

And now the mighty Coltrane blesses us with his "Song of Praise." So I suppose it's time to get back to reading.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Doing a little writing as my students do research.

Why the blame game, particularly with educators? So many teachers are willing to just write off a person because of behavior that is not acceptable or because they haven't figured out a way to solve it. They often pick one answer and assume that if their "methods" or "strategy" doesn't fix it, then there is nothing that can be done. Further, many teachers seem to just do what comes easy: blame the parent.

I am a parent and a teacher, and I am well aware that both have influence on a young person. But there is too much damn oversimplification when things are not working and I am seeing that many children are hurt in the process of adults working to shift some of the responsibility off of themselves.

It is no wonder Jesus said that one must be like a child to enter the kingdom of God.

On another note, I downloaded all but one song (ironically the title track) of Jack DeJohnette's Parallel Realities. I really love it. I like DeJohnette, but I think it the combination of his playing and Metheny's presence that really make me take notice. And happy day! I found the ECM rarum edition of DeJohnette (and Metheny and Bill Frisell) at the library yesterday. Much good stuff to listen to for awhile. (I already have all the Metheny stuff from other discs, but I’ll enjoy this as a collection.

Finished The Burglar On the Prowl. It isn’t great, but I did enjoy it. Bernie's adventures are a wonderful escape. Perhaps I’ll post a more detailed review later. Perhaps not. I’m reading Steve Martin's Shopgirl now. Hope to finish it by the end of the week. I want to spend the weekend on other reading.

That's all for now.

Written May 17, 2004.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Watched the series finale of Frasier the other night. There were tons of cliches in there: dog eating the wedding ring, cannon going off every time, the name of the married couple is mentioned, pregnant woman having the baby in a place not expected (with the two "doctors" not capable of real assistance), the show ending with the main character heading off to find the love of his life and a "new start." But I really enjoyed the program. I found myself laughing even when things were obvious. I had lost interest in the show as a whole some time back, probably after Niles and Daphne finally "found" each other. It was still okay, but I suppose it had lost its charm, and I think my family was interested in some other show that was on another network. (For the life of me, I can’t think of what it was, and I should chide myself for my laziness.)

But near the end, I have to admit, I cried. Frasier recited one of my very favorite poems, Tennyson’s "Ulysees." That poem always gets me. I have trouble teaching it sometimes because I always feel I have to read it, and my voice cracks just little each time. Frasier begins saying it to his family and friends and then the scene fades to him at the station reading it to his radio audience. And there I am in my living room bawling, my twins looking at me and wondering what’s wrong.

Listening to: three Lyle Mays cds shuffling on my computer. I like all his solo work, but I think Fictionary is probably my favorite. Terrific piano trio in the vein of some of Mays’ own influences. One track is called "Bill Evans," and it seems appropriate. Street Dreams and Lyle Mays are enjoyable, though I might think so because there are some hints of that Metheny sound in there. But not so much to make me think it is a clone; just enough perhaps to help me see just how much of an influence Mays has on the songwriting of the group recordings. I really like Solo: Improvisations for Expanded Piano. I feared Solo would remind me too much of Keith Jarrett (not that this would be terrible), but it did not. I bought it the summer it came out, and listened to it a lot in my hot car. The only think I don’t like about it is that some of the quiet moments are perhaps too quiet.

But Fictionary is my fave. I really don’t quite know how to describe a jazz album I like, and maybe I don’t have to. (A friend told me once that I didn’t have to understand jazz, just enjoy it.) I only really listened to this disc a few months ago, but I know that it already is one of those that seems right no matter what my "mood" is. It is strong where it should be, subtle where it needs to be. Of course the disc isn’t hurt by having Jack DeJohnette on drums and Marc Johnson on bass.

That reminds me: I need to get some DeJohnette for my collection. Downloaded "Cantaloupe Island" and something else a few months ago. Have a disc of him with Metheny and I think Dave Holland (what a fine band that is!). Noticed he has something new out.

The Metheny group, I read, is working on a new studio disc. That would make my summer even better!

blog written May 14, 2004

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Listening to: my daughter practice her violin. Was listening to Bruce Hornsby.

Reading Block's The Burgler on the Prowl. A little over a hundred pages into it. So far, I don't love it as much as others in the series, but I think it is getting better. Found paperback first of Steve Martin's Shopgirl. I think I'll read that next. I hear it it will be made into a movie.

One week into the Maymester. Looks like I have a pretty good class. Graded first set of major papers and the second set comes Monday. I am enjoying myself more than I thought I would, but I am very much looking forward to the summer.

Speaking of which, I may have written this already, but I am hoping to spend at least an hour each morning writing and after a day of walking, reading, and playing with the kids, another hour in the evening editing past drafts. If I don't have to do too much other stuff, then I think I can get something accomplished.

Looking into buying a house. Yea! Don't know if we'll manage it this summer, but we've taken the first step.

I am thinking that I will get more blogs done if I write them first on the word processor and block them here. Have so much to learn about computers. At any rate, hope to say a thing or two about Nick Berg's tragic death and the last episode of Frasier.

Enjoy the day!

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Listening to: Ken Burns Jazz: Miles Davis (specifically, "So What"). Today's poem: "Photograph of My Father In His Twenty-Second Year" by Raymond Carver. Some of my students are writing about his "Cathedral." I wonder if any will see something connecting both.

Twins came out fine. Christina even made it to her art show last night. Was nice, but had to stand a long time. She was tired, but just when I thought I needed to take her home, someone would come and admire her paintings and she would jump up and down happily. I think she needed the nice strokes.

Thought this morning about being forty. I didn't like it. The actual age isn't the problem, but the feeling in many ways one isn't much different than at 30 or even 14. Sigh. Then there is the sense that certain accomplishments one hopes for (forget about dreams) might not really happen. But what do I know? I'm probably just tired.

Gotta go. Have coffee to drink and class to teach.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Listening to: Nothing. The kids are asleep, twins on the couch, and it's late. But I've been going between Herbie Hancock and Dave Brubeck much of the day.

Twins have surgery in the morning to get tubes out. They have been looking forward to it. What do kids know? Tonya has been a wreck about it. She helps me worry.

Somewhat productive weekend. Got some school work done. Got some of the place cleaned. Was going to avoid television this weekend, but when that plan got altered, I didn't feel bad about watching the Mavs whip up on the Kings.

Alex's game got postponed. That means if it doesn't rain next weekend, we'll have two games to go to. Three little girls spent much of the weekend at Grandma's. Angela's show wrapped up. Bummed, I didn't get to see it.

Had to move the Villager because a sticker's out of date and the the apartment is nuts about stuff like that. I haven't been driving it, but it is crazy. I've been through too much for that blasted vehicle. Will probably sell it.

Friday got a rejection notice for my story "Fixing the Sandwich." Guess it bums me a little, but I'm okay. Need to find time to update my spreadsheet about what I have out and what has been rejected. Need also to submit some work to a few places that don't have email submissions. While sick I could take advantage of the net. Now that I'm working regular hours, I haven't had time to keep up with all those details or to seek out those places.

Need to work on the workspace here at home. Can't type long without the carpel tunnel getting me. Not good for a guy who plans to spend his summer writing.