Sunday, October 16, 2011

Painting with Feet

Moving forward in the painting world with a two-year-old, I present our latest project. There are a zillion, trillion things one can do with an imprint of the hands and feet. Just do a quick search on Pinterest and you will see tiny little hands making the shape of reindeer antlers, Christmas trees, and birds. I am in love with all of these ideas and you will probably see many represented here. I just love the idea of documenting Atticus's size and having a cute picture for the fridge at the same time.

I am really partial to the tractor. I blame my son for that particularly brainwashing.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Painting with Cars Project

I have not done much blogging lately. The reason for this is actually a pretty good one. I've had actual writing projects to work on instead of spending my writing energy on blogging. But I miss the blog form and I have guilt over not writing here. Toward rectification of that, I submit the first in a series of blogs on creative projects I have been doing with my son (when I'm not writing or sleeping or teaching).

So here I present painting with cars. It's really simple and perfect for a two-year-old. Just pour some paint on paper and then roll Hot Wheels through it. It's really quite a lot of fun. And then here's the bonus I was really not planning on: once all the painting fun is done, you have a series of tracks that your son (or daughter) will be very happy to tool their cars around on.

I let my son continue the painting onto the cars themselves because we use washable paint. When that fun was done, we then took all the cars to the car wash (a.k.a., the sink) where the fun continued.

All in all, the car painting project took about 45 minutes. And now we have cool tracks to ride on.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Questions About Being a Mom and Being a Writer

Read here on Daniel Nester's site where I respond to questions about trying to mom and trying to write all at once. Oh, the hats we wear.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fun Food Facts and Missing Blogs

It's been many moons since my last entry. For this, I apologize. I can only say that teaching a second summer session (say that five times fast) was rather taxing. And then Atticus's birthday came along. And now the next semester has begun, but what a lovely, lovely semester it is.

This semester of Honors English Composition is focused on the theme of food. In celebration of this, my students come in to class every Friday with what I call a Fun Food Fact (for Fun Food Fact Friday). Here's a few of the facts we have learned this semester:

* Honey is the only food that never spoils.

* A new trend has begun that involves women eating their placentas post delivery. Go here for more on that subject. Or don't. Your choice.

* Beer has most of the nutrients we need to survive.

* If obesity rates do not change, this generation may be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

My students and I have only met a few times, so this list is brief. I'll add more as they appear in class.

And I'll try to blog more. And I'll try to be more interesting. No guarantees on either count.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Blogger Versus Internet Explorer


If you have been having trouble posting to blogger, blame the latest Internet Explorer update. While you're at it, go ahead and get rid of IE and switch to Mozilla. Publishing problem solved.

Blog Followers

Is it important for people to read this? Yes. Very important.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pulling a David Shields

David Shields, for those of you who may be reading and who don't know, is a modern writer who is particularly interested in resisting genre-identification. This is only tertiarily related to my discussion and here's how. Once, at a conference where Shields had been asked to speak - I don't know what he was supposed to talk about - I think it was about genre bending or why it's not useful to categorize writing. Either way, that's not what Shields did. Instead of asking us to reconsider what it meant to write when the contract with the reader is torn to pieces or telling us the invention of the wheel is not the point at all, here's what he did.

Shields stood up, pulled out a small notebook, and in a small voice said, "These are the books you should read." He then proceeded to list off the names of hundred book titles and their authors. There was no banter in between, no discussion of why. No context whatsover. When he was done, he walked away from the podium and off the stage.

In a word, it was brilliant.

I think about that experience with Shields quite a lot and yesterday, I got to see someone pull a David Shields again.

The situation was as follows: I was honored by one of my students with an invitation to a luncheon acknowledging my impact on his life. These events are always somewhat nerve-inducing things, though they are most definitely an honor and a privilege. I really dig the student who invited me; he's easily one of the five smartest students I've ever been lucky enough to have in a classroom and he and I still communicate via e-mail or during the occasional campus run-in. So this is all to say, I was looking forward to the lunch.

Here's how it unfolded: 1) my student did not show up, and 2) the keynote pulled a David Shields. I was highly entertained on both counts. First, you should know that this student will probably show up next Monday certain that he has the right time and date. Second, you should know that I would listen to someone pulling a David Shields any day of the week.

The keynote was one Dr. Heffernan of the English Department here at UT. This is noteworthy as this was not an English Department event. The group putting on the lunch asked Dr. Heffernan to speak about the history of the university or about leadership. Did Dr. Heffernan do this? No, no, he did not.

Instead, Dr. Heffernan spoke for a little over a half hour about how the human body produces sound. He discussed plosives, and phonemes, and passive vocabularies (mine is over 70,000), and the epiglottis, and neanderthals, and collective speech, and on and on and on and on.

It was beyond fabulous. I was deeply enraptured with him after the first 30 seconds of his speech. I didn't want to look around to see how the chemistry, business, and mathematics students and faculty were taking in the talk. Dr. Heffernan didn't care and neither did I.

When his rambling, disorganized, yet engrossing talk was done, or rather, when it fell off the precipice of time and courtesy, he walked away from the podium and sat down in his seat. There was a silence in the room that I wanted to fill with wild applause. I wanted to applaud his lack of preparation for this specific audience, his certain belief that his subject had universal appeal, and his general moxie. So I did, and those around me joined in in a sort of shellshocked way.

But really, isn't this precisely what a speaker should do? Shouldn't they leave us in a state of shock and awe? Wouldn't it be awesome if every speech ended with jaws collectively dropped and with that uncomfortable confusion that is the precursor to a new way of thinking?

Bravo, Dr. Heffernan. You've inspired me to reconsider several lesson plans/lectures for my upcoming summer class. I too will pull a David Shields, leaving my listeners disoriented, bewildered, and hopefully, in the case of at least one or two of them, altered.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Duck Duck Goose

Around these parts, Duck Duck Goose is more than a game. It's bloodsport. In Knoxville (and other southern cities), Duck Duck Goose is a consignment event that is not for the faint of heart. Everything a child could need from age zero to teen is available at Duck Duck Goose for cheap. My husband, who is clever and handsome and very forgiving of how much I just spent, calls it legal looting. It is. Women come with strollers as machines-of-war, giant tanks that make those of us who have come with conveniently condensable bags shudder and quake.

Really, it's not that bad. It's more that everyone is so incredibly focused. The ones with the strollers also have their children with them which makes me wildly empathetic for the parent-come-warrior and seriously sympathetic for the child who WILL meltdown and who will be clocked by an errant bag at some point in the day.

I love it. It's Black Friday only it happens several times a year. I've been looking forward to it for far too long and of course, I spent too much, but here's all the awesomely awesome stuff I got:

30 articles of clothing (shorts, shirts, pjs, hats - including Atticus's crawfish outfit to wear one month from today)
5 pairs of shoes (including Keens and Stride Rites)
1 eight foot pool (snap-set, new)
1 Radio Flyer tricycle (Fold-up with handle)
1 Fisher Price Pull Dog
1 Fisher Price Little People Garage with Elevator
1 Viewmaster Reel Case with 33 Reels
1 Tonka Ambulance
1 Discovery Channel Viewmaster
1 Little Tikes Riding Toy
1 Toy Story Racetrack
1 Little Tikes Train
1 Playskool Train and Tractor

I won't tell you how much I spent, but I will say this, I got a whole hell of a lot for the money I paid. And I cannot wait for Atticus to wake up to play with his new tricycle!

Personally, I wish Duck Duck Goose was every day; Both my husband and my bank account, however, are glad it is not.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The End of Life is the Phone Interview

When I was too young to understand it, I read Thoreau's quote,

"The end of life is education."

And it deeply resonated with me - so deeply in fact that I luxuriated in degree after degree of higher education to be where I am now with two Master's degrees. (No PhD for me. The MFA was enough).

But lately, my confidence in how I have pursued (or more accurately, meandered toward) the philosophy of Thoreau's quote has come into question. I've begun to doubt what I'm doing or again, more accurately, the ability to which I am doing it. I don't want to read theory. (I know, I know ... no one does, except some people actually do). I can't use the buzzwords. My memory increasingly fails me. All that education is awash in the daily activities of my life. Most days I would rather clean the floors than reread some Faulknerian work. And let's be honest, Faulkner rules.

The catalyst for this moment of doubt is a recent phone interview. I, of the almost negligible social phobias, suffer from a particularly version of catatonia, or maybe its opposite - logorrhea - when it comes to phone interviews. I ramble, I lose thoughts, I inarticulate, I search and search for answers that extinguish in my head like mean clouds of smoke as I approach them.

A bad phone interview does not mean one is in the wrong field except for the importance of the phone interview in this field. They're mandatory. They're the gatekeepers to get the jobs that keep us in books. They're the entranceway to that whole Thoreau-ian end of life thing. I don't know how to get in front of my nerves in that situation and it bothers me that so much weight is carried by such an artificial, nerve-wrecking social context.

This is not to say that I'm wildly better in face-to-face interviews. No, wait. Yes, I am. We all are probably as phone interviews - generally conducted with three or more interviewers - are all dependent on us knowing when to speak, when the interviewer is done speaking, and how our answers are being received in the absence of the visual cues we so depend on as social reinforcement.

So this is all to say:

Dear university for which I would very much like to work, please let me move past the phone interview. I promise to be charming, articulate, and all together very likable and impressive during a campus interview. I will not fidget or pace. I will not race through incoherent monologues that never get anywhere near the appropriate responses.

In short, I will be the intelligent and lovely person I have spent the last thirty-six years becoming. I promise. I'm a gifted and smart teacher, not that you'd know it from the babbling idiot I become on the phone.

Here's what I do know with confidence: Thoreau was wrong. The end of life is the phone interview.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

All the Reasons You Should Be Watching "Fame"

Just recently, the Ovation network has been airing day-long marathons of a show that first aired in 1982. Based off the 1980 film by the same name, the series chronicles a gentler, better time when sweatshirt material weighed heavily in the fabric of our fashion choices. But that's not the real reason why you should be watching this show about a school of the arts in New York. The real reasons are as follows:

1. Real Dancers, Real Singers. Debbie Allen (sister of Phylicia Rashad who is longtime tv wife of Bill Cosby) is the producer of Fame. One look at her body in 1982 will tell you this is a woman who is primarily a dancer. Same goes for all of the central actors on the show. These are not actors who have been taught to dance and sing or who even have some dance and song training in their lives. These are the real thing. It makes a difference.

2. Actual Narrative. Take that, Glee fans. There are actual writers who wrote actual storylines for the show Fame. You can go ahead and argue that your little show has narrative, but I will shout you down. Snarky exchanges between superficially developed characters do not equal plot.

3. The Clothes. Oh, man, I want all these clothes. There's a rawness to Fame that's reflected in the clothing. Too, there's a dancer's flexibility to all of their street clothes that is necessary to the frequent dancing and feats of acrobatics that happen on the show. But beyond that, there's a playfulness, an ease of fashion here that reflects the 80s as a whole - a time before high stakes marketing of teen clothing. This makes the clothes inherently more sincere and cooler.

4. The Eighties. Yes, I love the eighties. It's my era, but I would love it even if it weren't my era. Here's why. Everything was more real in the eighties. Everything was less slick, less superficial, and less produced. Fame is a perfect example of this. There's a raw edge to the show that naturally comes from a generation that used hairspray as its main accessory. I don't mean that statement casually or comically. Consider an era before cell phones, youtube, Facebook, iPods, and Mac Cosmetics. This is a show about sweat, hairspray, and Maybelline mascara. That's it. And they look damn good, too. The eighties are about figuring out who you are and being who you are without a team of people producing you. I miss that time. Now I have the Internet and Rachel Zoe and Tim Gunn and Stila Cosmetics guiding me through my day. I used to put Vaselines on my lips. I think I looked really fabulous then.

5. Lastly, the following male leads: Leroy Johnson, Jesse Valesquez, and Christopher Donlon. Hot.

6. It Holds Up. For real, this show holds up even with little Janet Jackson playing the undecided Cleo. Sure, the storylines maintain an innocence that would make Glee viewers laugh out loud, but go ahead and laugh. Embracing teenage sex does not make you hip. And anyhow, Fame addresses teenage sex in a far more believable and less pushy way than Glee. Beyond that, the dancing is still cutting edge and the music, well, the music is amazing. Cassidy, the Flock of Seagulls-esque composer of the show, could still get gigs with his innovative keyboard playing. No, I'm serious.

Overall, the show is solid. Not in a Mad Men or Wire kind of way. But it's worth viewing. Ovation is marketing the show as the original Glee, but it's so much better than that. Glee isn't even in the same universe.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


This title is to signify that a) the assertive shouting of the word MOM is the greatest force in my life, and b) I still struggle with what that title means.

The daily act of motherhood is not so confusing. I wake up when Atticus calls for me, I make him breakfast, we change diapers and clothes, then I plop him down in front of the television so I can have a few moments to myself in front of the computer. The rest of the day winds away in similar fashion with increasing variety as he gets older and more fun.

I get the daily structure. That's no problem. It's the big idea of motherhood that still confuses me. I don't know how to be a mom, a wife, a teacher, and a writer. Things fall by the wayside, not necessarily in that listed order. I don't know what I'm supposed to want and which things I am supposed to prioritize or when I'm supposed to prioritize them.

What I do know is I'm lucky because Atticus is exactly the kind of kid I wanted. He's got that devil twinkle in his eye and when he laughs, he bends his whole body down to prove how funny he thinks something is. He's funny and assertive and he's got his own thing going on.

Okay, wait. I think I'm onto something. Motherhood is an in-the-moment thing, which is not at all comforting for me. There's too much lack of a plan. This is not ideal for me. I like plans. I like following through on them. I like writing to-do lists. Atticus scoffs at my to-do lists.

It's bigger than this, but that's also the problem. Motherhood is so big, it consumes me. It's too big for words strung together into sentences, whipping through the great vast unknown. I don't like whipping through the great vast unknown without a light, without a schedule, without a map, and certainly, not without a to-do list.

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Year's Resoluting

Despite myself, without intention, I find I have made some seriously life-changing New Year's resolutions. I'm not opposed to resolutions at the start of the new year; in fact, I think they're a fine idea. So here's what I'm doing to make my life a better one:

1. I am turning off my computer at 5pm. This doesn't sound big, but I cannot tell you how much this has already changed my life. My husband and I are the kind of people who keep our computers up all day, visiting them with great frequency to check our e-mail and facebook. Now, after 5pm, there is no reason for me to walk into the office. This means all that attention, once divided, is all Atticus's and Michael's and books that I am actually reading. (Hello, Cloud Atlas!)

2. No purchasing of clothes for the entire year. This is huge. I'm big on retail therapy and while I've always done it frugally, even that is too much at this current time in our lives. And more importantly, I don't need another damned article of clothing. I have purged my closet in a really satisfying way and I'm not looking back. There's a small caveat on this in that I obviously will have to purchase some clothes for the ever-growing Goose, but even that I'm going to try to limit. You should see his ridiculously full closet; it's embarrassing. I packed more for him over Christmas break than my mom ever owned for any of her children. Seriously. That's just gross.

The rest of my resolutions are either small (going to a class at the gym once a week) or private, but those two big ones up there are already making a huge difference in my life. I feel unencumbered in a way that I haven't thought possible for many years. Who know the abolition of computer and clothes should be so freeing? It's time I finally recognize those addictions for what they are. Now that I have, here's to a year better spent.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Things to do in DC

It is that time once again when the AWP (Associated Writers and Writing Programs) Conference is nearly upon us. This time, it will be in Washington, DC, a place I have never been but which I am looking forward to seeing largely because of Josh Lyman, Donna Moss, CJ Cregg, and Jed Bartlett. Here is a list of things I would like to do and see while in DC:

1. See the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial
2. Tour Mount Vernon
3. Do Georgetown
4. Visit John F. Kennedy's grave at Arlington National Cemetery
5. The Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument
6. See the Supreme Court
7. Visit the White House
8. See Capitol Hill

I am intentionally leaving 9 and 10 blank. Any suggestions of must-do, must-see things?