Chimera Song Mosaic
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
I don't really have anything to say, so I thought this would be a perfect time to blog my way back into the conversation. Hopefully, I won't write too much, so I can get back to my 115+ students and their 100+ essays (they don't all turn them in) I have to finish before spring break, which begins on March 5, 2004 (not, like it is supposed to, including my birthday).
I want to eat at Catherine's restaurant. As I have been low-carbing it for a while, I have a serious jones for some polenta.
Further proof that Catfu and I are leading parallel lives:
1. She just received a copy of Josh's book in the mail, and I just received a copy of his book in the mail (along with: George Oppen's Of Being Numerous (recommended by Josh); Jenny Boully's The Body; Angelina Jolie's Cambodian Journals).
2. Didn't Catherine just write that she was reading a biography of Oppen?
3. I saw a preview for the Neil Young movie while waiting to see Monster and City of God.
4. Monster was filled with very ugly clothes--almost too ugly to look at; Charlize Theron could not have looked worse if she sported a tri-color mullet. But she did a fabulous job, and I recommend the film. It was sad, of course, and disturbing--no doubt!--but it was also curiously optimistic. Did I mention that Amanda Ward, fellow Montana grad, published a novel last year called Sleep Toward Heaven, and she based one of the main characters on the story of Aileen Wuornos? Of course I mentioned this! I reviewed it months ago on this blog. City of God was also painful to watch, but in an entirely different way (so many dead bodies made it like watching a documentary on modern civil war in Africa, and it was very sobering to see that the people (characters) were accustomed to the capricious deaths, and it gave a new meaning to police brutality)--but it was also, curiously, optimistic.
5. I also just sent lots (8!) copies of my manuscript to first book contests, am now broke, and wish I didn't have a cell phone.
6. I also just wrote a crappy poem, but instead of, wisely, hiding it from sight, like Catherine did, I took it to workshop last night, then got pissy when no one liked it. I should have buried it in the sand like a cat turd.
7. I love Winnie!
Some of these are pretty tenuous, but some are hard-core, righteous evidence. Catherine doesn't even need a stalker.
List of things I did the last few times I went to Houston, which wasn't very long ago:
1. Saw The Fifth Reaction, a new film by Tahmineh Milani, as part of the 11th Annual Iranian Film Festival. This film won some non-distributed film award in NYC, so when I tried to find it to show for the Foreign Films thing, I couldn't. Duh! See, it's not distributed, for real. Anyway, the movie is a melodrama. It could have been titled My Big, Hot, Chauvinist Father-in-Law, Who Looks Like a Sean Connery-Clone. So far, most of Milani's films have been vehicles for her politics, which are women's rights, and they focus more on that than on what some might call "artistic" elements. But I still really like them. And it was really fun because many Iranians turned out for the event (I knew some were Iranian because when I offered one lady my seat, she said, "Merci," which most think is just French, but my Iranian friends say is, in fact, Thank You in Farsi. Also, it seems most Iranians like to call Iranian things "Persian," so if you are hip, so will you. I also knew lots of people in the theatre were Iranian because they laughed at places in the film when I didn't, which is a sure sign of their authenticity and my bogusness. The film was subtitled in English, of course, but some things just don't translate).
2. I saw Monster (see above)
3. I saw City of God, which is about these government projects outside of Rio De Janeiro, which are supposed to be spacious and comfortable and are built to house the city's homeless and impoverished, but in reality don't live up to specs: no running water, no electricity, no infrastructure of any kind, no commerce, and so the inhabitants create a kind of warlord government that runs the gamut from benignly tyrannical to nightmarishly negligent, molded by the warlords' drug trades, honed into hellish slaughter by the police's corruption (see above).
4. I went to the MOMA's traveling exhibit at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; it's called The Heroic Century, and although my sister kept asking, "What's so heroic about this?" I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I had to agree it was a silly title. I saw: Monet's Water lilies (3 panels); something by a Russian guy I absolutely adored, although right now his name escapes me; Dali's Persistence of Memory; Matisse's Dancing Nudes; Duchamp's Network of Stoppages (brilliant! I saw it for the first time (that I recall) on the front of Mary Jo Bang's Downstream Extremity of the Isle of Swans, but it's even better up close, predictably. First of all, the green is a luminous, throbbing background of animal and organic images, such as a deer head, a horse neck, a frog's hand, and more, and hovering on top of this is a blanched etching of what looks like an aerial of a railroad terminal. The whole thing is exquisite and suggestive of synaptic activity).
I saw more stuff, but that's all I remember right now. I do remember being struck by the size of some of these famous works. You see them all the time, but it's hard to guess their size. Like the Matisse was the size of a wall, which may be expected. The Dali is about the size of a sheet of notebook paper, which I guess if you know Dali, it's to be expected, but I was still gawking at everything. The exhibit was pretty crowded, and we didn't get enough time to look at everything. But it was still worth it, of course. I think I also saw VanGogh's Sunflowers, but I doubt they made much of an impression on me (haha) because I've seen them reproduced so many times to such garish effect. There were also some sculptures, but I generally don't like sculptures. I'm not sure if it's because the old bronzy ones don't have enough color, or the modern ones tend to be so ugly, or if it's the result of some failing on my part--like I want the artist to interpret it for me in one-dimension, rather than the multi-dimensional possibility of perspective presented by the sculptor. I do remember a group of Rodin's once that I enjoyed; I loved leering into the intimate slits of the armless, legless, headless female forms in this collection. I thought to myself, "That could be Camille Claudel's kootchie." That's how immature I can be.
5. I went to the Dessert Gallery, which sounds fancy, but in reality is a plain jane cake store. The cakes are like homemade, double layers, with rich butter cream or cream cheese or ganache frosting. Slices are served in big wedges. The plainer the better, I say, as far as cake is concerned. I rarely eat cake because it is often so disappointing. I like the brown, buttery, sticky bottom that peels away on your fingertips when it's good. So at the Dessert Gallery, they mostly have very plain cakes, like Mom's Chocolate (chocolate with chocolate), Diner Cake (yellow with chocolate), Vanilla (white on white), Strawberry Cream (that's my piece; I'm not sharing). The Dessert Gallery's cakes are so freaking good that my sister and I went back the next day and got some to go and snuck them into the movie theater, which sells cakes, but frankly if they don't want people to sneak stuff in, they should serve something other than those dry, over-sugary, Euro-psuedo-pastries.
I'm going to Houston for spring break to hang out with the fam. Everyone will be represented: Dad, Mom, Bro, Sis, my Old Man (spousal type). I'm going to the Dessert Gallery, for sure!, and also to the Museum of Natural Science because I am obsessed with the idea of Caddis Flies and need to see those exhibits of brilliant beetles wings, etc., in the insect section. I also like to chill out in the butterfly cenote and visit my favorite insect, the Orchid Mantis.
As soon as this school year ends, I'm going to NYC for a week with my mom, sister, and Lance, which means I'll be able to visit Caeli. Hooray!
What else is going on with me? I am knee deep in essays. I have to go to Uvalde next week for my little Uncle's wedding, and I have to finish Frankenstein (which is a fabulous book!). I have been sick (sore throat, allergies, cough) for a full week, and I got some trees planted in the backyard: Hong Kong Orchid; Purple Orchid; Spicy Jatropha; Wild Texas Olive; Peach; Weeping Mulberry; 3 shades of roses. I love my skinny forest. I keep waiting for the trees to grow, but today the wind is abusing them terribly. Luckily, we have them staked. I am waiting for the mail to deliver the Afghan Chobi rug I won on Ebay. Maybe it is not the manuscript contests after all, but the trees and eBay excursions that have broken me! But all in all, it proves that I exist, capitalistically.
The wind is positively whushing and whistling! I have to go check it out.
Wednesday, February 11, 2004
There are men outside my window leaning out of windows, stalking through wooden house skeletons on stilts, on stilts and ladders with white putty hands and smooth aluminum flippers. This is the fourth time this month I have answered the door in the afternoon wearing only a light cotton nightgown, the same man, the same UPS man or FedEx man, who has seen me, has brought packages to our door of things bought all in a flush of want of recognition that we live here, that someone lives here in this new clay hole of development.
I cried myself to sleep before my nap. That's all, just cried. Why? Because of the front impending. The I-am-glad-to-be-here-are-you-ready-for-your-future-? teacher-front. If I could just grade these last 11 essays, something would happen--not something good, necessarily, but something. That and the sudden realization, after reading so many first year composition essays, that I am just like them, or better, that I should have been just like them. Many of my students waited for years after high school before beginning college, and this their second attempt. I just read the most uplifting one, "I took the road less traveled . . ." about a girl who was all set to go away to college--best girlfriend, classes paid for, everything--when she gave it all up for suspicious second pass and a pair of depthful eyes at the drive in--a second look that reminded me (mildly educated as I am) of Connie's fateful bump into Arnold Friend in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" This story is supposed to end badly, but doesn't. Instead, she has been happily married for eight years, has two kids, and has returned to college (my class, this time) "recommitted, fastened to the wall / like a bathroom plunger . . ." and says she feels more confident in her ability to succeed, more sure of her academic path, than ever before. And that's what I didn't have in college.
We all talk about how hard it is for the returning students--their jobs, their families, their lives--but the ones I see floundering are the ones who are doing what they are supposed to do, fresh out of high school ("I was born on a sunny day in Mission, Texas, on March 6, 1984"). Everything startles them--assignments, due dates, standards--and they so sweetly and innocently believe the lie that someone told them about how you really only have to attend classes every so often. These young kids have not yet figured out how to listen to themselves, they are so busy listening to their well-meaning parents, who pain them with their disapprovals and constant mantra: "I only want you to have better than what I had." The older ones have insight, experience, advantage.
I did not even take the classes I teach. I placed out of them. No one ever asked me when I first knew I was going to college (my first assignment for them). I'd have a story for that instructor. Or let's just start in graduate school: I was poorly advised, or I didn't know how to request what was best for me. I didn't even read all the books assigned in my seminars. I tried to write every 20-page essay the day before it was due. I was never picked for anything: no TA, no cushy faculty housesitting, pet-watching summer jobs, no awards, no publications, no recognition, no invitations. I felt somewhat consoled when I met a kindred spirit--or at least a spirit in the same situation--and was somewhat placated by the time I left that place. And now, out of almost everyone, I am the one who ends up the teacher. This is not meant to be read as ironic; it is not ironic; it is conclusive. My students with the weakest skills always want to become teachers.
It's very obvious that I must get out of teaching. I feel way too much for it--and I'm not saying that I feel too much for my students, which I probably do, but it's not that--I have become them. And not even the older, brightly motivated ones.
It occurs to me that this level of self-pity is, of course, ridiculous. But I can't breathe right now; I have what seems to be a hard disc of phlegm in the back of my throat, rattling. It's from allergy medication, nose spray that just can't keep up with my body's efforts to purge itself. I wake up, or I just sit here, and I find myself drowning. I wish I were drowning in a poem.
Colleen called while I was taking a nap and left a message; she sounded good and wants to talk to me. But I can't call her back right now--it's just unfair to call an old friend when you're in a mood like this. They want to hear the good news. But Colleen has been through so much bad in the past couple of years that even more so I want to report good news to her. She asked, "How are you doing?" on her message, but she sounded unsure about it, like maybe I wasn't doing that well after all. I look around at my brand new house with beautiful, high ceilings painted a lovely tan color (Desert Fawn, which reminds me of George Bush, and I frown), and what can I say but that I am doing fabulous? But what if I got pregnant and had that to report? Another failure. Pregnant just doesn't sit with my friends; none of them are pregnant; none of them have babies. What a condition of nostalgia! I would hate to have Garcia Marquez, along with everyone else, laughing at me.
There are some things that I now realize I can't even say in this blog. This is not, after all, a diary. Not quite. If I have to apologize upfront for being manipulative, then that's a problem, isn't it?
The good news is that my little old pond is back in the ground after some dry time on the patio and blowing around the yard. It is full of water, and the only thing else is my Panama Pacific water lily, almost shrunk to nothing from the shock of sitting in a tiny tub in the shade for months, now with eight or so very small leaves, which I count every day, but I can't recall the previous day's accounting. I do hope he recovers. Also, we have made plans for the surgical nude spots the lawn, the future stages for our dramatic show of paradise flowers--a Hong Kong orchid tree, a purple orchid tree, some dwarf gardenias, some weeping mulberries. I want to grow something. I am anxiously awaiting the news of more seed packets from Nicole's garden. Nicole is an instructor, too, from what I can gather, although this was not the obvious conclusion for her, I don't think. I do hope the Burrow Owl returns.
"You know what, Stuart? I like you; you're not like all the other people, here, in the trailer park."
Wednesday, February 04, 2004
The Whiny Part:
I had a horrible day today. I would have been done today at 11:30, just in time to grade like crazy and work poems, but I had to meet a slacker student at 2pm (he has missed the first three weeks of class, including his first major paper--you don't even want to hear his excuse, it's so ridiculous) so I could help him "catch up," so I made an appointment with my doctor about my hurt foot to take up the time between my last class and the appointment with my student. The doctor's visit went fine, but now I can't walk for exercise anymore; he said I can only swim. I have Plantar Fascia something. It's when your foot cramps across the bottom and you have great heel pain. I have had it for 4 months or more. He said I probably injured it. Now I have to get some soft heel inserts for my shoes and can't walk around a lot. Of course, I normally wear sandles, so how any I going to use the heel inserts? I'll probably have to buy more shoes, spend more money. He said usually people get it who have really high or really low arches, but mine are normal. So who knows.
I'm sad about the walking. Now I have to go swimming or ride a bicycle, which is a lot less convenient. And the dogs will be sad not to go on walks.
Then I met with my student, and he assured me that he would catch up, even though he is already missing 16 points off his final grade (I didn't let him make up the essay he missed). Too bad! One more paper to grade now that he's joined the class again.
Then I found out I had missed the Fed Ex guy, spent 3800 on my credit card last month, that Lance had the phone number changed because we kept getting stupid calls for a fence company (so now none of the contests I have submitted to will know how to find me--but they probably won't need to contact me anyway), and Lucy had shit on the floor. I had just gone by Human Resources and filled out a bunch of forms to change the address AND phone number, and now I have to do that again. I also had to drive all the way to Pharr to drop off a video I had rented for my students, then I came home to the shit. Lucy has done this for the fourth time this month. Now she is outside in the wind tied to the table, where she can stay for a while. Maybe she'll live outside now. Also, today a student corrected my spelling of "omniscient" on the board (but he was gentle), and I lost my blog post, which was long, pensive, cheerful, and way better than this one.
The only good part is that I graded 3 essays while I was waiting in the doctor's office, and now I have only 7 more to go, but I am very tired. I got up at 6 am, like I do every MWF--sometimes I wake up at 5:30 if I have to wash my hair.
I am tired and I really need a break. But now I can't go anywhere for spring break because I spent so much money on the new house. Plus I want to get that corrective eye surgery, and it is really expensive. Maybe I'll get it in Houston while I am there during spring break. Maybe it will be cheaper that it is here (Mom, can you send me Dr. Penn's phone number so I can call him and ask for a referral?). I really need new glasses, but I am trying to hold out for the eye surgery, so I am dealing with blurry vision from scratches in my glasses every day. And now I can't go anywhere for spring break, like I do every year for my birthday. So this year I am going to turn 30 and have nowhere to go.
I always thought I wouldn't be one of those people who whines when she turns 30, but I guess I was wrong about that, too. I keep jumping forward to the next few months--I write 4/4/04 instead of 2/4/04, and I thought the first of this month was April Fools. This is either because I already want the semester to be over or because I am trying to skip the sad drama of turning 30. I think it is the latter. I shouldn't delude myself, too.
The Good Part:
I graded 3 essays already while waiting in the doctor's office, and I came home to find that my copy of American Letters & Commentary had arrived (probably late because it had been forwarded, and our post office sucks, and even though I sent AL&C a change of address form months ago, they haven't acknowledged it). This is my absolute FAVORITE journal! I love every bit of it! The cover is fabulous this year, it has a free, color-coordinated book mark inside, and my buddy, Josh, appears in it. He has a splendidly sonorous sonnet in it. This made me happy. Plus I only have 7 more essays to grade today.
The Petty Part:
When I found Josh's name in there, it made me happy. But it also made me jealous. I am such a brat now I can't play with anyone.