Sunday, November 11, 2012

I'm not dead...

Hubby and I went to see the film ARGO today.  First, I was amazed at how long it's been since we saw a grown-up film (I said "grown-up," not "adult." Keep your mind out of the gutter!).  We've seen a plethora of kid-friendly movies, but that's not at all the same thing.  I would recommend ARGO.  It was competently done and seemed very true to the period (late 70s-early 80s).  It also, I think, seemed realistic about the politics of the situation.  I was so young during the actual hostage crisis that I remember very little of it, except for the fact that it was nightly news. 

Second, the Kid has been very interested in using clay, Legos, and my camera to make little stop-motion videos.  They're rough, as you might expect, but I'm impressed by his creativity.

And now, back to grading...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Lascaux Flash Fiction contest - deadline Sept 22

If you follow my blog, odds are good that you already follow the Lascaux Review as well.  (If you don't, you should!) In case you don't, I highly recommend you check out their Lascaux Flash Fiction contest, open now.

Here is my entry, entitled "Splinter."  Please do feel free to go read and comment--and read and comment on other wonderful entries.

I opted to submit it as a guest entry rather than as a contest entry because, frankly, I just don't need the stress right now. :)  I loved participating in the Clarity of Night flash fiction contests, and Lascaux reminds me strongly of them--but I didn't want the mental weight of wondering how my entry "measures up."  I just wanted the pleasure of reading and being read. 

You, however, should certainly enter the contest.  Submit flash of up to 250 words, inspired by the photo prompt.  There's a $250 prize, and they just recently announced that the winner will also receive an 8x10 print of the fabulous photo prompt. The deadline for submission is Sept 22.  So go! Now!  And good luck to you!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

And then we came to...another beginning

Beginnings are always filled with such promise, such unbridled potential!  A birth, a new relationship, a new job...all these new developments carry such hope and (I certainly hope) joy.  No, they don't always work out, but, at the beginning, we don't know that yet.  :)

As I face the birthing of a new academic year, with all its usual upheaval, I love the sense of anticipation and potential that comes with preparing to meet my set of students.  Every class has its own personality. Every class has its own strengths and weaknesses, its own characters and conflicts, its own reactions to the work we do.  I can't want to see what happens next.

AND I'd like to draw attention to another new beginning:  The Lascaux Review will be running its first-ever annual flash fiction contest at

I'm excited to see the entries, although I haven't decided whether I'll enter yet (and, even if I write something, I'm considering submitting it as a guest writer, not for competition).

The contest involves a visual prompt. Entries are 250 words max. You can find all the details at the link.  Oh, and did I mention there's a cash prize?  Yup. Go click and find out more! 

Here's to new beginnings!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

An Evolution...or "Where the Hell...

In the midst of grading, meetings, writing, and, you know, life (yes, I hear it's academics, "summer" doesn't mean what might think it means), I just wanted to take a moment to share the joy that is the "Where the Hell is Matt" series.  I've posted one of the videos before, but there's a new one! And while I prefer the music from the 2008 version, there's much to appreciate in each of them. What's equally fascinating to me is how we witness an evolution in the series.

The early ones (2005 and 2006) - - are just Matt in various international locales doing a distinctively quirky dance.  I wasn't familiar with the videos back then, and, frankly, my initial reaction whenever I see them is: "Are you kidding me?? I could do that! Please, somebody pay for me to spend my days traveling the world just to dance--not even particularly well!"  (Okay, so I have a mean streak. I'm well aware of that.  And I'm not even a big fan of traveling.)

I didn't encounter these videos until after the 2008 version was released. The addition of group participation (starting at around 50 seconds into the video) transformed the concept entirely.  Now I wasn't just watching some (presumably) privileged guy dancing around in places I wouldn't in a million years get to visit myself.  Instead, I saw the joy of having people of different cultures, languages, traditions, regions, etc., all having a blast doing the same silly dance.  The video became more about them--and their unadulterated, unchoreographed enjoyment and enthusiasm--than it was about this Matt guy.

Watch the 2008 and then watch the 2012 version. They're both wonderful in their own ways.

The 2012 version is different in some key ways.  There's more of a sense of learning--Matt learning from other participants and teaching them as well.  That's because there's more choreography.  He isn't doing the "Matt" dance...he's doing their dances, and then they're all doing parts of a massive, spliced, choreographed "flash mob" kind of thing.  The crowds have gotten bigger too (AND it turns out one part was filmed where I grew up--phooey!).  My own personal preferences aside (I do love the sense of spontaneous fun from 2008), the changes over time are wonderful.  As a global exercise or outreach or whatever it is (well, advertising, for one thing), the bottom line to me is that it's just soooo damn cool to see so many people in so many different "worlds" dancing happily see appreciation for their cultures...and to see so many people participating. 

For someone who makes her living with words, I have to admit that 1) these videos feel to me like they accomplish an awful lot without words and 2) I don't have the words to express how awesome I think this series is.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

What I've Learned from Teaching

Here are a few random observations on what I've learned from teaching...there are are more, but these were at the forefront of my mind today...perhaps because they tie together several different projects I'm working on.

1. Clarity - With a Myers-Briggs personality type of INFJ, I tend to think broadly and abstractly. I tend to seek out new and improved ways of doing things rather than following traditional or standard methods. So one of the things I have to be mindful of is how to communicate broad, abstract ideas or processes in concrete, understandable ways.  My course syllabus averages 13 pages and includes a Table of Contents.  My essay assignments are generally 3 pages long and include "Do's and Don'ts." If what I'm saying in class (or to any audience) isn't clear, it's pretty easy to tell: the glazed eyes (which can also just be a sign that I've been talking too much and need to switch to more engaging activities, like having them write!), the furrowed brow, the whispered questions from one student to another asking for clarification.  And I find that this more overt attention to clarity--Am I making my points clear?--translates into what I do outside the classroom.  It's not enough to say what I want to's also my responsibility to confirm that my audience gets what I'm trying to say.  Clarity doesn't equal simplicity...complex thoughts and ideas and processes can still be presented in ways that make them clear to others.

2. Structure - Both in a pragmatic sense and in a creative writing sense, teaching structure has made me much more keenly attuned to the way communication is structured, the way plot is structured, the way we establish points; raise expectations; and then develop, defend, and deliver on those expectations.  We could jump willy-nilly into situations guided by instinct and impulse (and I'm sure I still do), but I have a greater appreciation for how strongly attention to structure can foster more effective communication.  The five-act structure in drama (also sometimes known as Freytag's Pyramid), for instance, is a classical skeleton for any story.  Even non-fiction uses that basic structure to build audience interest.  It's also the basic setup for business letters: exposition, complication, climax (why you should hire me), resolution, and denouement.  I didn't fully appreciate the five-act structure until I started teaching I see it everywhere (and sometimes my students do too).  And structure goes hand in hand with clarity.

3. Empathy - I remember what it was like to be a first-year college student.  And yet some of my students don't have the naive ego I had.  I was a Honors students with a full scholarship to a prestigious university; I "knew" what I was doing.  Right. During my first year, I basically embarassed myself as the dunce of the Honors interdisciplinary program that was the special first-year experience of my Honors cohort.  I knew how to regurgitate what I read, but as a first-year college student, I didn't really know how to do close readings of classical texts.  Plato was Plato...what he said must be do you analyze that? The Epic of Gilgamesh...yes, it described the flood that's also referenced in the Bible...okay, what am I supposed to do (aka, write critically) about that?  In some ways, my teaching is directly shaped by and echoes the expectations that were laid upon me then, although I tend to use a "bunny slope" version with more contemporary and accessible (and short) readings for my students to work with.  Critical thinking skills are vitally important...and I believe ultimately enable students to be better learners and better self-teachers in all I emphasize skills like analysis, evaluation, and argumentation...BUT I really do remember what it's like to think "What the heck does this professor want from me?  What is he/she asking me to do?  I have no idea what this means!"  And I like to think that, while I maintain high standards and great expectations of my students, I also do whatever I can to help students get past that "I have no idea what you want from me" phase of critical thinking. 

Abrupt ending. Expect a totally unrelated topic next week.

Monday, May 7, 2012


She wondered what this reawakening would bring.  They grew progressively more difficult, both physically and psychologically. She didn't really have much to complain about, though.  In her recollection, she'd never been through anything really traumatic, not like others she knew, not like the ones who wake up screaming or curled up tight, already close to death.  She'd never even been a dung beetle.

She stretched her arms wide. They were longer now, able not just to touch but to stretch her silken prison, like what she remembered of taffy.  Still pliable, this wrapper. When it went brittle, that's when she was supposed to be ready.

Who determines readiness?

She wondered what would still remain of the world.  Would anything still be familiar? Would it be like that time when she (or was it he?) woke in a desert, parched, digging into a sweet cactus as the sky lit up like flame. That was a short visit.

Silk. Strong, but fragile. Protective. She wondered about the other tenuous threads, the ones she'd established before...delicate connections with other beings and times and places.

Which ones finally broke? She'd learned enough to expect some losses.  There would be a mourning period.

Which ones are stretched to their limit? Which can be salvaged? Which can still be retraced, reinforced before they snap?  She could never predict the world she would meet next. 

She stretched again, her legs this time, testing the limits.

Almost time.

Soon. Very, very soon.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day!

Happy first of May!

*mutters to self* You don't have time for this. You should be grading those portfolios stacked up in your lap.

*self bellows back* But it's the FIRST of MAY!

It's a day for celebration of life and spring and earth...for dancing around a Maypole...for standing up for workers' rights all over the world.

It's also the day that Brenda Novak's Annual Auction for the Cure of Diabetes starts! Go check it out! Right now!  Lots of great auctions for writers and aspiring writers!

It also just happens to be the day the Great Exhibition of 1851 opened in Hyde Park, London, England. But I'm guessing only a small subset of literature and history geeks care much about that.  It seems to be the touchstone of both my fiction writing and my academic career.

Have a lovely May Day...even if it is rainy and grey!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

IMT - "Compromise"

You can find an explanation of the new (and presumably random) IMT feature here.


They tried to
her with
planting bulbs,
and strong,
blooming wild
in her
purple red

They tried to
pile up
of joy
in her lap.
But nothing

They wanted
to find the
key. That
They didn't
know she'd
gobbled it
up long
by stomach
there was
no key left.

They could not
force it on
her.  Only
try to catch
when she

Friday, April 27, 2012

Another dream course I'd love to teach

Two years ago, I participated in a four-session on-campus faculty seminar on meditation and the teaching self.  Fascinating experience (and the primary reading was Parker Palmer's The Courage to Teach...what's not to like?!) One of the culminating assignments for the seminar was to write up an overview of a dream course I'd love to teach at our institution, if scheduling and general education core requirements and basically "real world" concerns weren't factors.  The assignment I submitted (a course on critical thinking) resulted in my college sending me to an intensive three-day conference on critical thinking; subsequently, a Math colleague and I spent over a year developing and presenting faculty workshops at our institution on how to foster critical thinking in our students and courses. Very much a privilege to be given that much support by my institution but also a tremendous responsibility.  I'm still rather amazed at how that personal assignment mushroomed into such a major and continuing career development.

So it's with a little caution that I put in words another dream course that's taken over my imagination. I have oodles of them, not all of them very practical but filled with stuff I'd love to read and study and discuss...including a combination sociology/lit or psychology/lit course.  I'm sure a course like the one I'm about to describe is already on the books at some institutions...probably as a 400-level or graduate course.  Alas (or perhaps for the good of my sanity), I don't think it's likely that this would fit a community's a little too narrow in focus for students who need/want to complete 100- and 200-level coursework...and are not likely to be English majors.  (But I'll leave the subject of English major for another day.)

The Lost Generation
After reading Paula McLain's novel The Paris Wife, a fictional account of Ernest Hemingway's first marriage, told mainly from his wife Hadley's point of view, and after teaching some of the Modernist poets in my Modern (and Contemporary) Poetry course this semester, I'm consumed by a burning desire to teach a course on The Lost Generation, that post-WWI group of novelists, poets, artists, etc. bouncing around Europe like so many billiard balls with each encounter affecting their trajectories.
Ezra Pound
TS Eliot
Gertrude Stein
Ernest Hemingway
Wyndham Lewis
James Joyce
F. Scott Fitzgerald
and let's not forget the artists like Picasso and Matisse

I'm already fascinated by the near-incestuous literary relationships between Pound and Eliot and Stein...and by Pound's apparent charisma (EVERYONE wanted this man's opinion and approval...not just Eliot but William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, lots of "big name" writers of the age). Reading The Paris Wife (which I found compelling and heart-wrenching) and then going back to Hemingway's memoir A Moveable Feast, I'm struck anew by the energy and power of this nexus of writers. While they were very much individual and idiosyncratic, it's easy to see that their interactions fed their collective creativity and honed their writing tremendously.  (I'm still critical of Pound's extensive editing of Eliot's The Waste Land, but that's a post for some other day.) No one would confuse their voices, but their interactions (not necessarily friendships) couldn't help but drive their writing and editing and development.

It would also be interesting, I think, to explore the somewhat peripheral role of women in this conglomeration. Certainly, Stein's regular "salons" and her advice for writers like Hemingway suggest an active role in this literary movement. And her voice and poetics were very much her own. But I'm a little put off by the overall promiscuity of the group...Hemingway's infidelity in particular. (Yes, okay, personally, I'm rather morally inflexible about things like that...but I'm also kind of fascinated by the historical relationship between male charisma and infidelity...Bill Clinton was often described as charming and charismatic...we've all seen the power of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s personality...BUT I digress...that's a completely different course topic and probably not an easily constructed one....Also, not really in my discipline.)

(Note:  yup, clearly in the throes of grading hell.  My brain is grasping at all kinds of interesting and engaging topics, pulling me away from the actual work I know I need to get done.  I suspect this is very INFJ of me...Grading papers is a very detail-oriented task AND I spend a lot of time and mental energy couching my feedback in ways that are, I hope, productive for students.  So it's no wonder that my brain wants instead to play in fields of big, fun ideas, tossing around concepts and questions and texts.)

Anyway...if you could teach a course on anything...what would you want most to teach people? and who would you teach it to? And why?  Discuss.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

IMT - "Reason"

You can find an explanation of the new (and presumably random) IMT feature here.


He was too old for her
Or she was too old for him
Or he traveled too much
Or she worked too much
Or he wanted children
Or she wanted more children
Or they’d rushed into things.
Wasn’t religious enough.
Wasn’t affectionate enough.
Too political.
Always out.
Too loud.
Too much.
Never wanted sex.
Turned out to be a lesbian.
Turned out to be a different person.
It was complicated.

They stopped agreeing
On movies, on who had to walk the dog.
They never talked anymore.
They married too young,
Lost their passion,
Grew apart or
Turned out they never loved each other,
Not even as they spoke their vows.

I ,
seldom certain about much,
do not doubt

But that is not the same as faith.

Celebrating Poetry

As I mentioned yesterday (yes, my brain is on overdrive as papers and portfolios pile up around me so I'm sorta kinda procrastinating to give me fresh eyes), today is Poem in Your Pocket Day. I posted a link to the poem I'm carrying around today (in truth, I've been carrying it in my purse for a few weeks now...but that's a different and not so interesting story). 

So here are a random sampling of poems for you.  Enjoy!

My writer friends will likely either love Taylor Mali's "The The Impotence of Proofreading" or have an aneurysm:

And here's a glimpse of my (apparently conventional, almost textbook Literature Geek) high school self...I loved Dorothy Parker's "Resume" in high school. I'm disconcerted by this video, though:

A perennial favorite of mine is William Wordsworth's "The World Is Too Much with Us."

And I've come to the end of my allotted free time, even though there are so many other poems I'd like to point you to.

So...what's your favorite poem?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Poem in Your Pocket Day - April 26

Here's the poem that will be in my pocket tomorrow for Poem in Your Pocket Day:

The Buried Life by Matthew Arnold : The Poetry Foundation

It's one of my favorites, which probably reveals more about me than I care to acknowledge. It certainly helps to demonstrate my preoccupation with Victorian British literature as it wrestled into a challenging new world, one of materialism and metropolism (NOTE: I was going for "urbanization" but decided I liked the alliteration, even though "metropolism" isn't really a word), one that threatened to distance people from nature and from each other.

I love so many lines in this poem...and, while I wouldn't list this one among them, I love that Arnold's line near the end "And then he thinks he knows" doesn't allow readers the comfort of thinking we can truly find closure and connection...we only think we can.

Check. 1...2...3...Is this thing on?

*waves* Hi!

First, this is my first encounter with the new version of Blogger. In general, I'm wary of change. And I don't think I like this new version. NOTE:  I definitely don't like this new Blogger composition window.

Second, I'll be starting a random feature here that I think of as "The Island of Misfit Toys" (IMT). If you're familiar with the claymation Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, then you know that the Island of Misfit Toys is where Rudolph and Herme the Elf found themselves after they escaped (or, you know, were banished from) the North Pole. This island is home to toys that were somehow wrong...a wooden train with square wheels, a jack-in-the-box whose name isn't Jack, a pink elephant with red spots (my favorite). These are toys that were deemed not good enough for children to receive as gifts. So they sit on this remote island, abandoned and unfulfilled. As is probably fitting for most children's stories, especially ones having to do with Christmas, these forlorn toys are recognized by Santa, who has just come to appreciate that differences like Rudolph's shining nose are to be appreciated, not rejected. So the poor rejected misfits eventually find happy homes.

Well, my IMT will feature my own writing misfits...pieces that I know aren't quite right but I that I still want to give a home to.

Third, I'm in the middle of crunch time this semester and way behind on grading. So, paradoxically, I may be blogging more heavily as I procrastinate (or, to reframe I recharge my mental batteries in the middle of grading). We shall see.