Monday, December 22, 2008

Quiet Like Wax

My husband is a little grossed out by them
And who can blame him
White gobs of wax on my bed table
the shape of my ear canal
Where no sound swims through

White gobs like melting snow
It is always Michigan in them
The world muted in tunnels of snow
Canals of ice packing

My ears were hollowed out by summer dives
to the bottom of the summer pool
But Michigan winter is what gave them
depth, what gave them
echoes like distant silence

Once, in Michigan
I lived below heavy walkers
and their heavy boots
I hated them, their hours
Cursed them like a Charlton Heston character
fist clenched to God
When a friend stayed beneath them
I asked did it bother him, all that noise

No, he said, but I am partly deaf
Lucky, I said

For me, there is never enough snow

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Memory as Snow

When I was little, tunnels brought us to each other
compacted, dark, windowless
muffled under mountains of snow that would never
fold into us or
topple onto us
secure, muffled, tight
in pink wool mittens
in pink puffy snow pants
in pink cheeks and fingers
tunneling and tunneling
toward the warmth

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Primer
by Bob Hicok

I remember Michigan fondly as the place I go

to be in Michigan. The right hand of America

waving from maps or the left

pressing into clay a mold to take home

from kindergarten to Mother. I lived in Michigan

forty-three years. The state bird

is a chained factory gate. The state flower

is Lake Superior, which sounds egotistical

though it is merely cold and deep as truth.

A Midwesterner can use the word “truth,”

can sincerely use the word “sincere.”

In truth the Midwest is not mid or west.

When I go back to Michigan I drive through Ohio.

There is off I-75 in Ohio a mosque, so life

goes corn corn corn mosque, I wave at Islam,

which we’re not getting along with

on account of the Towers as I pass.

Then Ohio goes corn corn corn

billboard, goodbye, Islam. You never forget

how to be from Michigan when you’re from Michigan.

It’s like riding a bike of ice and fly fishing.

The Upper Peninsula is a spare state

in case Michigan goes flat. I live now

in Virginia, which has no backup plan

but is named the same as my mother,

I live in my mother again, which is creepy

but so is what the skin under my chin is doing,

suddenly there’s a pouch like marsupials

are needed. The state joy is spring.

“Osiris, we beseech thee, rise and give us baseball”

is how we might sound were we Egyptian in April,

when February hasn’t ended. February

is thirteen months long in Michigan.

We are a people who by February

want to kill the sky for being so gray

and angry at us. “What did we do?”

is the state motto. There’s a day in May

when we’re all tumblers, gymnastics

is everywhere, and daffodils are asked

by young men to be their wives. When a man elopes

with a daffodil, you know where he’s from.

In this way I have given you a primer.

Let us all be from somewhere.

Let us tell each other everything we can.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The New Buzz

The new buzz in the circle of buzzing I inhabit is babies, which, for an academic, is a strange thing. The general impression I have had for the past many years regarding babies is cute, not for me, you know, but how cute! And now suddenly, I have friends with babies, and friends who want babies, and friends who surprise themselves with angry, jealous responses when they hear of other people getting pregnant, the end result of which, is babies.

Why academics have few children is open for interpretation, discussion, and malignment. For me, I frequently think of a quote from Michelle Pfeiffer in the movie White Oleander: "I was used to having time to think," says the Pfeiffer character, an artist of some talent.

That's a big part of it, the needing of time to think. That's certainly a trademark of the academic life. We need time to think, to create, to write, to invent. It's how our brains are wired, it's what we're interested in, it's what we think we were made for, and unfortunately, it's not something that lends itself to scheduling all that well. Sure, it's all very well and good to say, "I will write ten pages a day." And maybe some people set out those ambitious goals and accomplish them, but to loosely quote Anne Lamott, we hate those people and would like to shoot them.

This is all just to say, we need a lot of free time. We are a group of people who can justify calling reading for four hours work. It is genuinely necessary for the advancement of our careers and our writing lives. (No writing life = no career = no money to take care of imaginary future babies).

Consider now throwing a baby into the mix, a baby who requires all sort of scheduled events - feedings, burpings, diapering, school district planning - and it becomes clear why academics find it a tough row to hoe. All that scheduled time leaves little time for our livelihood, that thing that pays for babies in the first place.

Not that having a baby is any harder for us than anyone else. That's where we just have to get over ourselves. I realize that. The reality is that our jobs lend themselves to babying more than a lot of other jobs as we a) as a group, tend to have more forward-thinking, equal partners in our husbands, and b) have a fairly flexible schedule of actual "need-to-be-there time." Most of our work is done at home, scheduled at our own leisure and discipline and inspiration. But still, when a writer/artist/academic is in the position of having to abandon the infrequent day of mad writing inspiration to soothe a crying, needful infant, it is difficult to make the right choice after years of pursuing that creative moment.

Certainly babies are the most creative moment, extended over many years. But how to make that transition and balance? How to give enough to both lives and inhabit them both successfully and lovingly?

Babies. It's all the buzz. Everyone wants one. Even us academics. After a set of non-toxic dry-erase markers, it's this season's latest accessory.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Gerald R. Ford, Barack Obama, and Philip Fulmer

Two things which continue to confound me about Knoxville:

1) Why is there a Gerald R. Ford Street? I have raised this question in previous blog entries, and yet the question remains. A student tells me that Ford once scored a hole in one at a golf tournament in Memphis, but other than that, the student suggests the only reason Ford was given a street name was because of his Republican status.

Which segues nicely into an unexpected concern that developed as I was walking toward my 8am class on Wednesday morning. It was the day after an historic election in America. We have elected an African American to the presidency. A black man in America has risen to the highest position on Planet Earth. It's astounding. I still can't believe it. I'm still struck by the shifting weight of it all - which might explain my sudden annoyance with some of my young relatives who refuse to be great - but that's another story altogether.

Back to that walk toward my classroom: It struck me that bursting into the classroom with tremendous enthusiasm over the newly elected president would be alienating to many of my students, who are, after all, Tennesseeans, who did, after all, vote for someone else, and who were, after all, probably having a pretty bad day.

And so I had to figure out how to bring it up in such a way that recognized the momentous occasion, honored it, and yet did not disenfranchise many members of my class. They are a smart group of people. I respect them and I wanted to show them that. Additionally, I think McCain was a terrific candidate. What an amazing election this was to have had two such capable, intelligent potential leaders. It was this sort of discussion I encouraged. I hope I handled it gracefully. It's a cautious time for everyone, or at least, it should be. It's time for unification. I want to be a part of that.

2) The second confounding element of Knoxville - football. Always football. Phil Fulmer, former head coach of Tennessee, was fired last week for a continuing failing record. There is a central artery running through campus called Philip Fulmer Way, and artery here is a good metaphor. Like many southern schools, football at Tennessee is a lifeforce, the blood that pumps through this whole place. It was interesting to see one man of integrity stand up while another man (of considerably less integrity if the rumors are true) was forced to step down. What an upset for UT students on so many levels. So many changes all at once, which is why I love my job. I get to be a small part of watching them work through that, and hopefully, give them the opportunity to articulate their ideas, concerns, conflicts in writing.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Old Sewing Books

In my nearly endless wandering around Hodges Library at UT (the library's big and it hides its books in deep, difficult to navigate corners), I found a wall of books on textiles, design, and sewing. Nearly all of the books, with the exception of some highlighting current celeb designers, feature copyrights dating back to the 1910s.

The audience for these books is women, unequivocally, unquestionably, unalterably - and not just women, but the only kind of women allowed to exist in American society in 1910. Leafing through the yellowed pages of diagrams and sizing charts, I read little snippets of unasked for advice written throughout the books. Here's an excerpt taken from a chapter of Mary Picken's The Secrets of Distinctive Dress called "The First Requisite"(copyright, 1918):

"Once, at a Y.W.C.A. bathing pool, I was shocked to see a vest so unclean that it looked exactly like the color of the cement floor. When the girl who wore it was dressed for the street, she was half presentable; but, though I met her many times afterwards, the vest was the first thing I thought of, and I could never summon the respect I should like to have had for her."

And another:

"Elderly mothers have come to realize that they look ten years younger and are ten times more comfortable on a warm summer's day in a pretty, soft white dress, and it is pleasing to see a group of such mothers dressed in pretty, light wash dresses, as they appear many times as attractive as a group of young women."


"In a dietetics class held in the forenoon in a classroom, a young woman of good family wore a bedraggled afternoon dress, doubtless with the thought of wearing it out and getting as much good out of it as possible. The dress was distracting to the other members of the class, and the criticism she subjected herself to was costly - more costly than a simple businesslike dress befitting the occasion."

And one last one:

"In America, there are no such class distinctions. Here daughters from every country are blended in the making of American women; but even in this great Democracy appropriateness of dress should be understood and observed."

It's subtle, isn't it? If I had to deal with all these soft, guiding rules every day of my life and bear the criticism for detracting from these "guides," I would feel clubbed to death before a week was out. Certainly my modern goggles cannot view this without the rising hackles of feminity; that should be expected. But reading this as any person of any age, one should, I think, be provoked in the same way.

Every line reads to me like this: Be a good girl. Be a good girl. Be a good girl. Be a good girl. Be a good girl. I don't deny the value of lovely clothing and its power to create a mood, an authority, and to give the wearer a higher overall look. But it's the motivations here that are killing me.

There's more to this - an essay in it, I should think. I'll let you know when I write that one. (Note: here I sit in my $4 Target pants, my husband's old sweatshirt, and slippers. Mary Pickens is turning over in her grave.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Scenes from a Pig Roast

All hail the pig roast. And thanks to the lovely Gilmore family of Pigeon Forge for letting us join in their annual pig roast event. Michael and I thoroughly enjoyed it and are thinking in terms of what annual event we should begin a tradition of. And of course it made us think of the crawfish boil last summer that Nat and Zach had. I hope that's an annual tradition as well.

It was good to see friends and be outside, wrapped up in pillows of campfire. The roast was held at a barn a little ways down from where Birkin's parents live. Getting to their house involved a precariously narrow stretch of dirt road winding up a slight ascent of mountain. No street signs, of course, because that would make life too easy, but we made it there unscathed.

We pulled into a field of cars where pumpkin carving was well underway. Not long after our arrival, the pig was pulled from the ground, then plopped on a long table where an army of men hacked away at it, making quick work of deskinning and removing fat. I was struck by all the layers - a fact made all the more prominent as Katie, the med student, was naming the different muscular stratification as it was pulled away.

Guests pulled up a hay bale and ate macaroni-n-cheese, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, endless salad of infinite varieties, and piles and piles of pink pig flesh. I'm rarely in such a friendly group of people. Every person within a foot of me wanted to know who I was, what I did for a living, and how I liked Tennessee. It was the introduction to Tennessee I've been waiting for.

There was an outhouse of the variety one usually only sees in movies from the 70s or something. Yes, I took that picture from the inside. Don't judge me.

After eating and chatting, the band began. They set up in the open barn and people danced all around the fire. It was a lovely, delightful bacchanal. I can't wait 'til next year.

The Obama O'Lantern was a highlight for me. The artistry! The political statement! The likeness!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dress Two

Here is my second dress, same pattern. It took me two and a half hours as compared to the several days the first dress took. Ay Caramba. That's the difference between struggling through a near indecipherable set of directions and having finally cracked the code. Seriously, who writes those things? I think they have monkeys writing them. No, seriously. I think they do. Monkeys in tutus that they sewed with their own monkey hands.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Project Become a Good Sewer

The word sewer is funny. I meant that title to mean "one who sews" and not a "receptable for waste." Now that we have that clarification out of the way, here's where I'm going with that.

I started a sewing class at the adult home ec center here in Knoxville. It's pretty cool. It reminds of Craft Night with my girlfriends in Kalamazoo, minus the free-flowing wine and Benny falling asleep. My first project is a dress that took me forever. Here I am in it:

I worked really hard on it. I like it. I am proud.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

... in which Sarah Silverman requests that you visit your Nana in Florida to make sure she votes for Barack Obama.

... in which Sarah Silverman refers to Barack as circum-super-cised!

The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Firepit

My husband and I recently bought one of these:

We've only sat around it one evening so far, but it was heaven. It's almost like camping, which I LOVE, but not enough like camping to put off my husband who hates the idea of laying on the ground, being dirty, and being sucked dry by mosquitoes. So we have settled on a camping-like experience with our fire pit.

It is the greatest invention ever. We set it up in the middle of our backyard, threw a fake log in it, started that baby on fire, and then commenced with the marshmallow roasting. My husband refrained from eating marshmallows because he's unamerican and instead just drank a tall glass of whiskey and Dr. Pepper, his favorite drink. Me? I'll take roasted marshmallows over a drink any old day, the more burned and cancerous, the better. My one great carcinogenic excess.

It was a nice Knoxville evening, more brisk than usual. If I closed my eyes and ignored the abundant Dogwoods around me, I could pretend I was back in Michigan camping with some friends up in Manistee National Forest.

But there are some benefits to being here in Knoxville and to sitting around that fire with my husband and my husband alone. We talked a lot. If you know my husband, you know talking is secondary to observation and silence for him. But he talked and that was nice. A fire is good for coaxing words out of someone. It helps that long silences are perfectly acceptable in front of a fire - no pressure on anyone to fill the smoky air with anything but the rumpling of a plastic bag to pull more marshmallows out.

Yes, firepits, marshmallows, and talking husbands are all very good things. The money spent on that thing was well worth it. Friends, come over soon and sit around it with us. After several drinks, Michael may just get down right wordy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Recycling Recremental Language

I don't write anymore. I'm just putting that out there to start with. I have come to certain conclusions about what I want in life and being an acclaimed author is not sincerely on my list. I still want to be on the David Letterman show, but I don't know how I'm going to get there yet.

This is all tangenital. What I really want to get out there is that I just love words. Big ones, long ones, fat ones, skinny ones. I love words. Unfortunately, it would seem they are potentially in danger of extinction. Therefore, I am calling on you, dear reader of this blog - this mountain of letters and skyline of words - to choose one or two obscure words to bring back into the fold of our national, creative, bendy, ambitious lexicon.

For inspiration, read this book review of Ammon Shae's, Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages. My favorite word from the article? Hypergelast: a person who cannot stop laughing.

Or read this from the Times Online, which is also a call to reclaim obscurity from the depths of obscurity. My favorite word from this article? Skirr: the beating of wings.

You can do it, one recremental (having the characteristic of waste matter, disposable) word at a time.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dressing Midwesterners in Apples

Yesterday was unseasonably cool here in Knoxville much to the great, great delight of my husband and I, both of us hailing from Cleveland and Grand Rapids respectively. My husband emerged from the bedroom wearing jeans (the darker ones I bought him) and a long white t-shirt underneath the perfect deep blue polo short (also purchased by me). He looked so good that we had to agree he is deeply midwestern and looks best in fall clothes.

As much as I will miss summer, I'm ready to start covering my legs and arms as well. Soon that time will come when I get to wear both jeans and sandals at the same time, and at night, I could potentially even throw a sweatshirt on. Ah, the best season is approaching. My jeans await.

Unfortunately, it will line up with apple season, the dominant, most defining season of Michigan, I would argue. I will be missing that season here in Knoxville. Certainly there will be naysayers who argue the long, arduous, deeply gray winter is Michigan's most defining season, but that's a really a half-full or half-empty discussion.

Apple harvesting defines Michigan for me because it includes all those great phrases particular to my fine state that asks only: Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam, circumspice.

The phrases "before the snap," "honeycrisp harvest," and "apple hay ride" speak of the coming cold and the amazingly good smells of an agricultural state - the crisp cleanness of the air that you won't find in Knoxville. I miss it so much already. Someboy, anybody, send me a bushel of apples and all that fall weather that comes with them.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ian and David and the Slippery Genius

I've been thinking about these men lately. Mostly, I've been thinking a lot about Ian Curtis and that brutal hand in hand of the heavy, exposed heart and that devastating pressure to end it all. And then comes news of David Foster Wallace, whose prose I alternated between finding joyfully refreshing and in great need of editing. Refreshing is key here, far exceeding the rambling qualities that I am rude enough to bring up here.

Refreshing is the only thing we really need from artists ... a breadth of something new. A strike against the humdrum of what qualified for imaginative discovery previously. We need that moment when we are standing in front of something new and thinking, "Why the hell hasn't this done before? Where did they pull this from?"

Ian Curtis and David Foster Wallace had this in spades. And now they're gone. A slippery genius vetted out once again. Certainly by their own hands and yet the why lays heavily above the whole mess of it. That slippery genius is dead again. Long live the slippery genius.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Viewing Stars and the Viewing of Other Things

Apparently, UT offers a viewing of the stars and the planets on the first Friday of every month, which I think is a terrific delight. I adore telescopes. What wonderful things they are what with all those worlds they contain and yet don't contain at all. Really, anything that offers a clearer view of anything is on my adored list, which follows here:

List of Adored Things that Offer a Clearer View of Other Things

Kaleidoscopes (a clearer viewer of colors, maybe?)
Movie Reviews
Well-Written Instructions Manuals with Correspondingly Useful Diagrams
Talented Teachers
Visors Worn at Baseball Games
Prescription Sunglasses
Approachable Critical Essays
Oliver Sacks
Three-Way Mirrors
Zoom or Macro Functions on Computers and Cameras
Anti-Fogging Spray for Coated Eyeglasses (see DOC Eyeglass Cleaner)
3-D Glasses
The Pain Scale
The Beaufort Wind Scale
Constellation Charts

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fellini Knoxville

Sadly, and I know I've mentioned this, but Michael and I have seen little of Knoxville so far beyond our house and the Fellini Kroger down the hill from us. And yes, the townspeople call it Fellini Kroger. Someone online claims that the Fellini Kroger was built on the grounds of an insane asylum that performed experiments on mentally ill people. I don't know if that's true, but I'm very pleased to be living in a town that is capable of creating such a mythology.

I found this image online with the caption "You know it's Tax Day in Knoxville when these guys are sitting outside the Fellini Kroger":

On Monday, we will witness more of the goodness of Knoxville when Boomsday happens, which is like this super big deal of a fireworks event. They set them off from the Gay Street Bridge. As I am a big fan of fireworks, I am very much looking forward to this. Again, to assist you in viewing the experience, a photo I found online:

And here are a few photos of our place where we spend most of our time. The first here is a picture of our deck which is wet because it's been raining for three days straight. It is apparently the first rain in 25 days, proving the old adage, when it rains, blah blah blah:

Lastly, a picture of our bookshelves, which we just purchased (the two on the sides that are not leaning slightly to the left), and which we fought over while we put them together. Ah, marriage. The highlight here is the awesome typewriters our friends Bethlynn and Calvin bought us for our wedding. They are beautiful, one for each. Extraordinary present, no? We are still blushing from the love of it:

We are off soon to continue our search for the grocery store that will most suit our needs. Oh, Meijer, how I miss you.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


I like it so far. Michael and I spend a tremendous amount of time at home, and so I have little to report of the greater Knoxville area. But since I have only been here for a week and a half, I think this is okay.

More to come soon with pictures and funny turns of phrases and all the stops pulled out.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Change in Status

There are things we mark our lives by: birthdays, anniversaries, semesters, raises, a job well done. Of all these things, there is one arena many choose to proclaim these changes in status in to whomever may be a friend, acquaintance or colleague. I am speaking of course of the Internet life, on either Myspace or Facebook or both. I am in the position of drastically altering my status on both of these accounts in the near future and the thought of it is disconcerting for me. No longer will I be "single" or even the easier to swallow "engaged." Soon I will be swallowed by the word "married," which is a great thing for all the obvious reasons and a scary thing for the also obvious reasons.

I'm going to refer to a movie here and disclaim its cinematic value from the get-go. The movie is "'Til There Was You" with Jeanne Tripplehorn and Sarah Jessica Parker. It's not a bad movie at all, to be honest and doesn't really require disclaiming but if I told you the portion I wanted to reference was from the role Jennifer Aniston played, I'm guessing you would stop listening right then and there. So be it. Jennifer Aniston is not as valueless as many people think as an actress. But that's not the point.

The point is this: the story the movie tells is of a women (Gwen) who is a la-la land romantic, which is all well and good, but does not leave room for the reality of romance which is really a lot of work. Her married best friend (Aniston's character) seems to have it all and Gwen does not hesitate in telling Aniston this frequently in that glowing, oh-look-at-the-fairytale-of-your-life kind of way. Finally Aniston has had it. She tells Gwen something like, "You think my life is over now that I'm married - 'that my life is all planned out now and everything's going to be fine. Well, it's not. My life's not over. It's still hard."

I wish I could find the direct quote. I really do, but I've done it at least a little justice anyway. The point of this long and meandering post is this. It does feel that way. It feels like my life and a bunch of searching is supposed to be over now, like I'm this far more benign, unneedy creature now that I'll be married.

I don't want to feel benign or needless. I wish from the outside in marriage didn't look like that. I wish married people didn't seem less vital or necessary. How strange is my life that this view is common. Perhaps I am being unkind and presumptuous, but I don't think I am. I know my life with my husband will be vital - I've chosen well. But I think it will be more difficult to express that in a public circle and maybe I shouldn't try. Maybe that's really the point after all.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

On quilting and harmonica learning

I made a bold promise to not waste this summer or let it get swallowed whole with wedding planning. I said I would a) learn to play the harmonica and b) make a quilt before my wedding. The harmonica education is coming along slowly, rather like learning an instrument does for anybody, but I am determined. You can ask anyone who knows me - I can play a mean "When the Saints Going Marching In."

The quilting has been more successful. Behold, me with my first quilt. I suspect many quilts of increasing complexity will follow, but there will never be a first quilt fraught with error and excitement and make-it-workivity.

Quilt, I will love you forever.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Fun Facts about Knoxville

1. Knoxville was named after Henry Knox, President Washington's War Secretary.

2. The corporate headquarters of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is located in Knoxville. TVA was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 to provide "Electricity for All."

3. In 1901, Kid Curry, a member of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch, shot a couple of deputies and escaped out the back window of a business on Central Avenue in what is now the Old City. He was captured, brought to the Knoxville Jail, but escaped and was last seen riding the sheriff’s stolen horse across the Gay Street Bridge.

4. Knoxville is 20 miles south of Oak Ridge National Laboratory which was instrumental in the development of the atomic bomb.

5. In 1974 Walter Cronkite designated Knoxville as the "Streaking Capital of the World." It was in the spring of that year that an estimated 5,000 people on Cumberland Avenue took their clothes off... stripping on the "strip".

6. Still on the law books: It is illegal to lasso fish in Knoxville, TN.

7. The Sunsphere, built for the 1982 World’s Fair, is 266 feet tall and has 26 stories. The actual ball itself houses only five levels.

8. Knoxville Zoo is the Red Panda Capital of the World, having the greatest success in breeding and survival of baby Red Pandas.

9. Nikki Giovanni, the Princess of Black Poetry, was born in Knoxville in 1943.

10. Pulitzer Prize winning writer James Agee was born in Knoxville in 1909.

11. Current NFL star Peyton Manning played for UT in Knoxville.

12. Knoxville had the last successful World's Fair held in America.

13. Quentin Tarantino, the famous actor and director was born in Knoxville. Creator of "Kill Bill" and "Pulp Fiction."

14. Lastly, there is a street here named Gerald R. Ford Drive, for reasons I have yet to discover.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Michigan Summer

In Michigan, summer is a good thing. Sure, it gets hot here, terribly hot and all sorts of humid, but it's not the type of hot or humid that makes you plan your life around it. About a month ago, a friend who lives in Austin told me she waited until summer to go to movies because escaping the heat in the delightful cool of a theater there is necessary. That's not so here. In fact, going to the theater during the summer in Michigan is sort of sacrilegious. We don't waste sun here. It is a precious commodity, a rare and infrequent gift. Summer here is quite manageable and lovely and good.

Today, I woke up, made some scrambled eggs for a bunch of little boys roaming my parents' house, then took a run down a deeply wooded trail. It was a nice run with the requisite buzzing of giant dragonflies. I nearly stepped on a corn snake winding its way in front of me on the path. I think it was a corn snake anyway. I'm not sure, but anyway, it was the size of a corn snake, which is to say it was fairly small but fast. It's a great running path with all sorts of trunks to hop over and branches to maneuver beneath. I get my G.I. Jane out on this path.

After that, it was off to the craft store to buy materials to make coozies, and then of course, there was the coozie making with my nieces and nephews. Coozies scream of tubing down a lazy river, which is quintessential Michigan.

A nice walk to Target followed by a walk through a human maze topped off the afternoon and then it was back home to a pool and a deck full of sunshine. That human maze, by the way, was a cool thing only there were no wrong moves to make. I cheated after a couple of minutes because a labyrinth - that's what they called it - a labyrinth and not a maze should have multiple paths and many decisions to make. This did not, which really makes it just a path. Anyway, it was still a cool thing. My nephews and niece sweated their way through a dead tear run of the thing and then they sat in the center of it in the direct and open sunshine.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Litany of the Books

As is often the case, at least in attempts at grace and ambition, I am stealing this from Otterbutt:

Bold the books you have read, put an asterisk after the ones you read for school (I couldn't underline), and italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary *
The Odyssey *
Pride and Prejudice *
Jane Eyre *
The Tale of Two Cities *
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad *
Emma *
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations *
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales *
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man *
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World *
The Fountainhead *
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
1984 *

Angels & Demons
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse *
Tess of the D’Urbervilles *
Oliver Twist *
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince *
The Sound and the Fury *
Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
The God of Small Things

A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter *
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion is this
There is Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye *
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield

Sunday, May 25, 2008

5:42 in the morning

Increasingly, I am seeing 5:42 in the morning, and this is not right as I have the summer off and there's no reason to experience this fresh and dewy of a morning. While I am a morning person, I am not excessive about it and am not thrilled to be fighting off these heavy eyelids that yet refuse to sleep.

The one good thing about morning is the quiet whistle of birds. I am a big fan of the morning birds. I hope they will sing me back to sleep before the full on sun drives out the pleasant morning dusk of blue and gray in the sky right now.

This very early morning, I am back in Kalamazoo again as I am every weekend and I am very much sick of this drive out here, though it is only a scant 45 miles - not much in the greater scheme of things. But all this travelling - even this short distance - is making me unsettled. Add wedding plans and an upcoming move to a new state nine hours south of here, and you might see the condition of my heart for what it is: a desperate beating thing that is full of love and worry.

I stole that last line. In a colleague's class some time ago, a TESL student used the expression the mind of love and worry to express the English word anxiety. That phrasing has run through my head often when my heartbeat felt a little too bouncy and my legs a little wobbly.

The mind of love and worry. I guess there are worse conditions, and worry is really an enemy. There is no good reason to worry. I might die before the sun comes up and no amount of worrying will improve that situation. Best to just lay myself down and let the birds do their magic.

Monday, May 12, 2008

J.M. Barrie and Miss Bonnie Parker

All this change, like indigo to blue, like bread to toast, like dusk to black. It cannot be stopped once it is set in motion. I despise it. I read Thoreau too young and have that sucking the marrow out of life phrase shooting bullets through my heart with every passing second. I am Bonnie in the last few minutes of Bonnie and Clyde, feeling the sting of that short life, after all that running. "You best keep runnin', Clyde Barrow."

And that's how I feel. I keep running. When time sits for a moment unfilled, it races ahead of me and so I have to leap after it. Unplanned, unused seconds turn to quicksilver and then I am that much older. I am that much more in need of some facial scrub that will keep me young.

But there is not stopping the getting older. Nor have I escaped the J.M. Barrie curse. I want none of it. I do not want the rat's nest that lives over the head of the adult. It is an angry thing, all that chittering, demanding, squirming, squealing - all that splendor of adulthood. Bills, leases, broken lawn mowers.

Once, my 6-year old niece told me it's easy to fall asleep in the car. This was after I told her I could never fall asleep in the car. Truly, I have never been able. The niece said to me, "It's easy. You just close your eyes." Which is a magical way of living. You just do it, she tells me, and then it's done.

If I could just do it (invocation of Nike unintended), what would I do? Would I teach? Would I have babies? Would I renovate houses? Would I design greeting cards? Would I run marathons? Would I win Scrabble tournaments? Would I write books? Would I paint murals?

With time moving more quickly all the time (I don't care what science says), what is stopping me? That's the trick. Not getting in front of time, but getting in front of myself, or maybe it's deeper inside myself. I have to stop running for that trick. But once I stop running, I'll be dead. I'm pretty sure that's how it works. Cut to Bonnie (played by Faye Dunaway, whose shoe was tied to the brake of the car so that her bullet-riddled body could slump clumsily out of the car without falling completely out of it.) Cut to Bonnie who stopped running.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Eeeh! Eeeh! Eeeh!

I like being encouraged to be a monkey. There should be more monkey occasions in life. I'm convinced.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Knoxville Living

My friend Vicki turned me on to the Travel section of Bust magazine (, which offers a wide selection of shopping, eating, and general living suggestions from its readers. Just go to, click on the Travel section, then type in your city. I'm putting this out there for all the friends of mine who will soon be heading out to new and exciting places. It's good to know what's fun and worthy when moving to a new place.

That having been said, does anyone have some helpful information for me regarding Knoxville Tennessee? I'd be grateful.

Here's what I'm looking forward to the most - something called the Great Rubber Duck Race, which occurs annually in August. For $5, you can purchase a rubber duck that will race other ducks down the Tennessee River. Seriously, that's my kind of town:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Terror of the Wedding Dress

I blame television and films mostly for the fact that I thought shopping for a wedding dress would be about champagne and glamour and my mother's eyes welling up at every turn of a swishy gown. But alas, there was no champagne nor glamour, though my mom did tear up a little and I ended up bawling in the car. Mind you, I did not bawl because of the beauty of the whole experience. I bawled because it is all so very stressful.

Imagine: a room full of a zillion white dresses. Now: choose one. Mind you: it must be perfect. This is your wedding day, after all and you only get one of these (God willing).

Bridal shops are dirty and low and stinky. This is my opinion and I am using those words both in the literal and metaphoric sense. Sales staff are either unavailable or pushy; the dressing rooms are either too small or embarrassingly cavernous; and the other brides shopping are spiteful rather than generous. It is a strange, strange thing.

All that having been said, I did find a dress. This was after three or four harrowing store experiences and one meltdown during which I really should not have been driving for the safety of all others on the road. My mom and I were driving down 44th Street and we passed by yet another bridal shop, one that was not on our schedule/radar. Let's do it, I said through tears. Maybe they have the most magical and perfect dress.

One frightening u-turn later, lo and behold, we find that they did. The store was full of beautiful dresses and sales people who gave us just the right amount of attention. I found my dress after one day of shopping for it, but I waited to purchase it to be sure. One day, despite how painful, did not seem long enough. But it was. I went back and it was still the most magical dress in all the stores.

And so above is a picture of the beading alone. If I included the whole dress, my fiance would destroy me, so the beading is here for your viewing interest.

Lastly, a word of advice about local Grand Rapids shops:

1. Avoid Kim Kriner's whose sales people are not only disinterested and annoyed, one of them is also remiss in her use of deodorant.

2. Despite what the commercials tell you, you will not love David's Bridal. There is a reason their dresses are so cheap. There is no construction to them whatsoever. When we walked in, we were interrupted by an aggressive woman who asked if we had an appointment. (An appointment? At David's Bridal?) She proceeded to generously give us an appointment and we were forced to walk around with a sales person who told us they wanted to create the whole look. Um. No. It's my wedding. I get to do that.

3. Bridal Gallery on 44th is very, very good. As is Bridal Espinosa on Plainfield.

4. Don't listen to anyone who says it's going to be magical. It probably isn't. It's overwhelming and stressful and full of desperate searching through a mountain of white. Breathe. Drink beforehand. Breathe.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Perfect Mixed CD

Giving any sort of present is problematic. It suggests we know someone is some way. And not just that we know them, but that we might be able to predict what they would like that they do not currently have. Who hasn't received that cardigan from a well-meaning mother that is a color we would never put near our skin and of a cut that is meant for a woman who is well beyond even her soccer mom years? (Insert clever analogy for male readers).

Some mixed cds are the equivalent of that: compilations of music I would never put near my skin and definitely not cut for me. So when I make them for friends, I try to do the opposite of that. I want to give them something they don't have, but something that will complement who they are and will fit into their cd collection.

What's important as far as I am concerned is not the content. Gone are the days of trying to express my emotions to someone via the mixed tape. I'm a writer and a fairly direct person. If I want to tell someone how I feel, I'll use my own words. What is important is transitions, pacing, arc, and a powerfully snobby aesthetic. Access to a very large collection of music is also helpful.

Here is the double-disc playlist I recently created for a friend who is turning 33 (this very day! Happy birthday, A!), and yes, I did put Dolly Parton between Jay-Z and Roy Orbison. It works better than you might think:

1. Wasted Days and Wasted Nights (Freddy Fender)
2. Dedicated Follower of Fashion (The Kinks)
3. No Matter What (Badfinger)
4. The Passenger (Iggy Pop)
5. Beautiful Girls (Sean Kingston)
6. Lucifer (Jay-Z)
7. Jolene (Dolly Parton)
8. Working for the Man (Roy Orbison)
9. Stand (The Bees)
10. Amsterdam (Guster)
11. Publish My Love (Rogue Wave)
12. That Time (Regina Spektor)
13. I Feel It All (Feist)
14. Girl Least Likely To (Morrissey)
15. Holland, 1945 (Neutral Milk Hotel)
16. Is This Love? (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah)

1. Put a Penny in the Slot (Fionn Regan)
2. Song of Our So-Called Friend (Okkervil River)
3. On a Great Lake (Chris Brokaw)
4. I’m Lonely (and I Love It) (Future Bible Heroes)
5. When Your Mind’s Made Up (Glen Hansard & Markita Irglova)
6. Little Sister (Rufus Wainwright)
7. I Believe in a Thing Called Love (Edson)
8. I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever) (Stevie Wonder)
9. Michigan (Ambulance Ltd)
10. Four Seasons in One Day (Crowded House)
11. Vincent O’Brien (M. Ward)
12. Honey and the Moon (Joseph Arthur)
13. Dry the Rain (The Beta Band)
14. Sugar Free Jazz (Soul Coughing)
15. Days (Elvis Costello)
16. For Today I’m a Boy (Antony & the Johnsons)
17. Mix Tapes/Cell Mates (Rocky Votolato)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Things I Would Miss

Okay, so this title and list idea is completely and entirely lifted from Otterbutt. My equal apologies and thanks. With the advent of her taking leave of my fine state and fine city, she has posted those things she would most miss about Grand Rapids. Well, I will miss her terribly.

Here is my list if I were to be leaving, which, at some point, seems a likely eventuality:

1. My family
2. Logan's Alley on Michigan Street
3. US131, which is always navigable, even when it's down to one lane
4. Meijer
5. Recognizing 60% of the people I see and trying to remember how it is I know them
6. Looking out the window of my apartment
7. Rollerblading down Kent Trails
8. Vertigo, the greatest music shop ever, on Division
9. Going to Little Mexico Cafe with Texas friends who approve of the food
10. Proximity to a Nordstrom's Rack where I go for therapy on some very stressful weekdays
11. Proximity to the beach
12. Proximity to Chicago and Detroit
13. Pleasant Michigan summers
14. Lakes-a-plenty
15. The fact that it only gets better every single day
16. The fact that it is constantly in a growing state
17. The fact that I can drive down the street and frequently find a new bar or little shop that just opened
18. The fact that the Domino's on my street takes an absurd amount of pride in the quality of their pizza as though they were a gourmet pizza place
19. The fact that Grand Rapids will always be here for me
20. The fact that I will always have come from it

Monday, March 24, 2008

Peep Show for a Little Post-Easter Fun

The Washington Post has fun with Peep Dioramas. Go here and enjoy the fun:

Who knew Marilyn Monroe could be Peep-ified?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Wait Ache

I feel like a rubber band that's been pulled taut for months. Soon, the weather will improve. Soon, the sun will be out frequently. Soon, I won't have to worry about how much heat I am using in my apartment. It all feels like it should be happening now, that the thermometer's inching skyward is happening far too slowly. We are at 46 and always holding. I want the fifties, then the sixties, then the seventies before my rubber band self snaps.

This is what I hate about living in Michigan. When the sun and the warmth finally do return, I feel guilty with every moment that is not spent sucking it up with every availiable stripped, exposed, unclothed pore of my body. It makes working and writing very difficult. But I know - a part of me always knows - that the sun will go away again and it will be gone a long time. My body knows it and it inflicts me this overwhelming sense of obligation to get out. To go rollerblading, to go biking, to go running, to go walking, to move move move move. Be in the sun, it demands. And this would be a good thing if it wasn't coupled with a crippling knowledge of its temporariness. It makes the whole thing a little unliveable. It really is time for a new state.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hey Jude Baby

I totally stole this from Cindy, but I have to say, I'm totally going to have babies this awesome, only likely not Asian:

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Gah! Students!

More on more, I realize the fundamental difference between me and students is they want more black and white. I want more gray.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Play, Part Deux

I found a place to play and I felt I owed it to others to share the joy.

First off, let me just say that my gym sincerely rocks. It's a YMCA with two pools, one of which has a huge twisty slide and a lazy river. Now that's just cool. Recently, the coolness level has been upped by a zillion with the addition of this room they call the Strive Room. The name doesn't sell it, but I'm about to.

First, there are two Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) machines in this room. Yesterday, this really lovely man who in no way looked 54-years old - seriously, bald black man can get away with anything - played DDR with me. We played it at the slowest level possible so that I could finally figure out how to do it. I received a C-level, which is average, just like in school. This is a great improvement for me. I usually leave the machine wanting to cry as I suck so bad at it.

Next, and here's where it gets unbelievably awesome, they have this giant machine whose purpose sort of resembles that Simon game from our youths. 'Remember that game? The one where you have to follow light patterns and push the buttons? Well, this thing is like that only it's huge and you have to punch and kick the giant buttons surrounding you. It was so awesome.

Lastly, they had video racing games hooked up to actual exercise bikes. Now, I really suck at racing games. I am a good driver in real life, but I cannot keep the video car on the road for the life of me. Still, that was some serious fun pedaling my tush off while trying to catch up with my 54-year old friend who in no way looked 54. When the game was done, my legs were Jell-o. I can't wait to go back!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


A student asked me the other day, in my "professional opinion," if I thought kids should go to school year round so that Americans could be more competitive on the international market.

My "professional opinion" (as a college instructor who has no children) is that kids should play more than they do. Adults should play more as well. I can't find enough ways to play, particularly during this harsh winter. There should be more things for us adults to do than to go to the bar and drink. We need adult playgrounds, more Dance Dance Revolution machines. We need big jungle gyms and exciting swings (and I don't mean that in a sexy way).

No, I don't think kids should go to school all summer long. I think summer is a time for other kinds of learning. It's a time for reading langorously propped up on elbows in the sun. It's a time for picnics and swimming and sunburns and throwing rocks at bee nests and then running away. There should be more fun and more laughing and more enjoying for everyone. We can beat out China any old day. I'd rather spend that time trying to remember how to hopscotch.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Lenten Swearing

Words, words, and more words. Sometimes they come at me like water raging down from a waterfall right into my wide open mouth. Other times, the waterfall is dry. Lately, words have been right and good and plentiful and I am grateful for it; I am even more grateful as I know their transient ways.

If I believe words are as important as I do, I ought to appreciate and respect them in all things. As Lent is a time in the Catholic calender to come closer to God, I thought I would take this opportunity to purge my sailor mouth, please God, and give even swear words the respect they deserve. This is to say that they should not be used with such tremendous frequency.

So, goodbye, you lovely, all-purpose f-word, you who have stood by me in my darkest hour, you who have filled my car with the sound of rage when I couldn't get out of my icy parking lot for the umpteenth time. Goodbye word that is a homonym for beaver's dam, you lovely word who when drawn out for full impact says what only you can say. And goodbye taking-God's-name-in-vain expression that I use to exhibit disbelief when I really am a believer.

I'll miss you all, but I'm supposed to be good at language. I should be able to come up with some replacements.

I'll keep readers posted on that front.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Snow Day

The Snow Day is officially a good day to write. I am under obligation to submit 3000 words to a couple of lady writer friends by Sunday. (Nik, that is your official reminder). I have written about a 1000 thus far and I'm feeling pretty good about that. I've also done the requisite applying and submitting for this week, but am looking for some recommendations on places to submit. I need variety. I need a new vision. I need the spontaneity that only someone else's list of journals can provide.

Suggestions? I'll be forever grateful.

The snow today is in competition with the horizon. It moves like it. It fills it.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

On the Write Again

I'm getting closer to writing again, maybe out of desperation, maybe out of looking around at my life and thinking something along the lines of what the fuck am I doing? I even sent out submissions of some things last night, partly thanks to Beth for asking me about an essay of mine. It was one of those nice and bleedingly rare moments when you read some of your old work and you don't need to burn it. Burn it? Nay! This exquisite sample of writing should be alongside the Magna Carta under glass, it so precious and necessary. So I sent it out to some places and contests.

I had a second great moment yesterday. After a second or third beer while watching recorded episodes of Angel on television, I stood up and looked around at my apartment. Let's face it. Generally speaking, I am not the happiest of people, nor the most convinced of my accomplishments and potential. But after those several beers and being a little high on the delightfully satisfying storylines mapped out by Joss Whedon, I looked around my apartment and thought, this is mine. I made this. I pay for it. It's all mine. And then I thought, okay, I might be a little cool. Maybe my life can still be awesome.

And I really want to have an awesome life, but every second seems to push that possibility out of my reach. Every second breathes more concrete into my veins and smoke into the vessels running up and down and across my brain. Paralysis is never immediate.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Top Albums of 2007

I think about music a lot. And even more lately as it seems near impossible to explain things going on in the darkness of my mind. Only music can come near to it, either in comprehension or in the expression of it. God, to be musical would be the thing. That's the real gift of life, the one thing that means more than everything else. Music reaches higher and lower than every other form of expression, and deeper and softer. It's just damn magical. If you don't believe me, just listen to "The Hill" from the soundtrack for Once. If you don't agree after that, you and I have nothing to say to each other.

I'm actually a little surprised I haven't posted this already. Here's my top albums of 2007 (not in order because that's too darn specific for me, though if I had to give you a front runner, it would be between the soundtrack to Once and the Bishop Allen album):

Feist, The Reminder

Once (the soundtrack)

Jens Lekman, Night Falls Over Kortedela

Bishop Allen, The Broken String

Amy Winehouse, Back to Black

Beirut, Flying Club Cup

The Bees, Octopus

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Microscopic Phobias

This is all I need to never leave the house again. And by that, I mean never be able to leave the house again:

One use credit card sized microscope, available in 5 packs of 500x to 1000x

Comes with your own isolation pod and vat of antibacterial wipes.