Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The M-O-V-E Update

After a whirlwind two-day trip to Seattle, we have procured a domicile. I can't remember many details about it beyond that it's the upstairs unit in a house in Ballard and there's a lavender doorknob on one of the doors. And it's quite a bit more expensive than our house in Missoula *shocker*.

The interview went well. I am in the system at the staffing agency and they will try to find me editing gigs around town. Temporary, of course, but with the ever-present possibility of hire. Things will not move forward until we return from Prague at the end of July, which gives me a month to learn HTML and XML. And find a new wardrobe of office-appropriate attire. And unpack our boxes.

A good friend in Seattle has a poetry group that meets every other week. I used to attend this group back when I lived in Seattle and I know it will provide a much-needed impetus to generate new work and revise poems I've been sitting on for a while.

Among the things that excite me about my new (old) home: Open Books, The Moisture Festival, The Seattle International Film Festival, and pho.

I am not, however, looking forward to the traffic or the fleece, both of which I find equally offensive.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Academia and "figuring out" political affiliation

In close geographic proximity to UM, a debate continues over the "problem" of political affiliation imbalance in academia, specifically in Boulder, CO where "the University of Colorado is considering a $9 million program to bring high-profile conservatives to teach on the left-leaning Boulder campus.”

Two years ago, we learned of a similar issue facing Montana higher education, with HB 525, a bill that would
promote a diverse learning environment by saying that "teachers should not take unfair advantage of the immaturity of students by indoctrinating them with their teachers’ own opinions before the students have had an opportunity to examine other opinions.”

As composition TAs, we've faced an array of students' concerns, comments, and many times, a reluctance to engage in politicized debate (out of discomfort and shyness; my students often limited their verbal participation but did engage with "politicized" issues in other ways, mainly through exploratory writing when faced with topics that were "political").

Wouldn't proposals to limit teachers' taking "unfair" advantage of the "immaturity of students by indoctrinating them" take the "teaching" part out of "teaching"? Can we not simultaneously give our students the resources to seek information on their own (formal academic research, rhetorical tools of persuasion), while leading them to examine certain topics (from one angle to begin with) that are relevant to their essay units? Regardless of my political affiliation (debates in the media always over-simplify this question to pick-one-of-two-choices:-Democrat-or-Republican?, but I digress), I would like to present some alternatives to the choices proposed in this current election year by asking for the personal experiences of my students to let them know they have a voice in their world. And--please!-- have a responsibility to exercise their right to (register to) vote ASAP.

Here, of course, with the intersection of politicized topics and capital-p-Politics, I run into the sticky problem that proponents of "intellectual diversity" bills like to remind us of. But regardless of political affiliation, who wouldn't want a student population to not exercise their right to vote? And to not learn about political candidates' views?

When examining the idea of "place" for their personal essay, I've asked students to examine (through examples of documentary photography and web sites) the inequalities in affordable access to housing, and how this changes their own ideas about "home" versus "house". This, I suppose, challenged my students to engage in a political debate-- gasp! Did this make me clearly "left leaning"? Did this not ask of them to a) "figure out" my political affiliation? and b) challenge them to figure out what they believe in concert or contrast? Isn't this all a good thing?

Yes, post-graduation summer malaise makes me babble. And pose many rhetorical questions.

Oh, and there's been some blog-activity raging over at Gawker over former-Gawker writer now divulging all in this Sunday's NYTimes. Addicting, I say. And I'm the billionth person to share it with the world via a blog. Always behind on the trends.

UPDATE: I love it! After the Times shut down the comment feature to the aforementioned article, they repented with a Q&A with Gould Re: her article.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Three Ps: Update #2

PhD: I have decided to defer my acceptance to Nebraska. The thought of five more years of school suddenly felt completely insane. What? A language requirement? What? I have to take real lit classes and not just workshop? (Shhh. Don't tell. I revealed none such laxness in my personal statement. And a year out of the nest might change my mind).

Panhandling: Thank you tax refund and stimulus check. Garage sale bought groceries this week. TA money keeps coming through June.

Publishing: Nothing on the books but I actually started writing again Monday. It hurt as bad as I thought it would. The article I thought needed a polish, in fact needed complete restructuring. It's best if I don't tally the hours.

Unlike Laurie and Trina, I'm not applying for professional work. So what am I doing? All year I kvetched about wanting a third year to work on my thesis, so I'm giving it to myself -- in New Orleans. Always did love The Moviegoer. I worked in the restaurant business before school, and although I swore I would never, ever, as Godismywitness evah wear an apron again...what can I say. Anybody else know of a job I can make $25 plus an hour, work at night (I'm a morning writer) and keep my pants on?The image “'s.jpeg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Imbalance of Time in Relation to Things to Do

Today: 50 pages of editing, two phone interviews, one face-to-face interview scheduled with a staffing agency in Seattle for next Tuesday.

Left to do: over 300 pages of editing by Monday, preparations for face-to-face interview, packing and planning for an open-ended trip to Seattle, seek out and lock down a residence in Seattle, pack up belongings and move, preparations for Prague trip.

Wherefore: sit around and watch TV?

Wherefore: long-awaited trip to Glacier?

Wherefore: generate new writing?

Wherefore: spend time with friends before they all scatter to the four winds?

The month of May is a speedy little thing.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Professional networking made easy

Might I extol the virtues of LinkedIn, a professional networking site? Might I let you know the three of us are available for networking? It's Facebook for people who needn't feel bad about checking it incessantly.

A Few More Words on Freelancing, Publication Updates, and Coffee

I just had an iced coffee AND a regular coffee at Butterfly Herbs, so watch out. As the Joker from that first Michael Keaton Batman movie would say, I'm a real live wire. I feel like I just might shoot into orbit. Coherence is not to be expected.

One of the problems of the global economy and the Internet's widespread interconnectivity is that, while it's great to have access to business partners in far-off countries, there is still the issue of time difference. As a freelancer, this boils down to lag time between questions asked and questions answered. Hence this post. (I am waiting, I am multitasking while I wait.)

The new issue of Hayden's Ferry Review is out. My poem, "Skin" is in it. The cover art is phenomenal (see above).

It appears also that I may have some poems in Double Room. This is good news. My prose poems seem to be finding homes with more success than my lineated verse. I have a special place in my heart for prose poetry. Maybe I'm just more comfortable with the sentence as a rhythmic/semantic unit. I'll admit it--to this day, I still have no idea how or when to break a line. I usually just go with what "feels" right, which I know is no way to go about writing poetry. When I revise, I put lineated poems through so many different versions of lineation that I exhaust myself. Whatever point I reach with a poem before I get exasperated is where the poem stays in terms of form. After four years of grad school, you'd think I'd have developed a more systematic approach. But you'd be wrong. I've read Levertov, Olson, myriad books on traditional form, free verse, etc. And I still have no better sense of the line. Some instructors have told me the line should be in tension with the progression of meaning and rhythm in a poem. Others have told me the line should reflect the content of the poem. Still others have told me that it depends on the individual poem, that I'll know the right way to lineate when I see it. I've heard that lines should be able to stand on their own as beautiful things. Never end on a preposition, article, or insignificant word. Blahty blah blah blah.

So, yeah, thank God for prose poems. Three cheers for the sentence.

One phone interview tomorrow, another waiting to be scheduled. Still no place to live in Seattle. Now we're expanding our home horizons in terms of what will suffice (i.e., we've decided to be less picky). There are some lovely places in West Seattle, which I love for its beaches and ties to Richard Hugo. I do not love West Seattle, however, for the commuting obstacles it poses. How can it share the name "Seattle" and be so damned far away and difficult to get to and from? Still, I was walking on Alki beach once and saw two divers come out of the water, like something from James Bond. At first I thought they were seals and I got really excited. I remained somewhat excited when I saw that they were people. And sometimes, when the tide is low, there are purple starfish. And that's not even the caffeine talking.

Friday, May 16, 2008

J-O-B Part Deux: The Interviewing Process

Yesterday I had my first telephone interview, which is fantastic because I was truly worried that employers wouldn't give my materials a second look once they saw my nonlocal address. I'm in the process of playing phone tag with another potential employer as we speak. Also, I'm sick--not the cute kind of sick that gives you a mad sexy, throaty phone voice, but rather the kind of sick that makes you a spacy, stuffy mouth-breather. It's probably for the best, then, that I am two states away from Seattle so I can't afflict any potential employers with my ruddy and mucous-filled countenance.

Despite the croup, I'm feeling confident going into this round of interviews. Looking over my resume, I'm proud of the work I've done. Hopefully I will have updates of the positive sort shortly.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

J-O-B, and neglected car upholstery

Last Monday was my finals-week exam time to return my comp. students' portfolios. The following day my real-life non-permanent job began... down the hall from the English Dept. copier, couch and mailboxes I've known and loved for two years.

Rewind: Back in February I was in full freak-out mode over applying for jobs to begin, yes, 6 months later. In Chicago. When you don't have a local address and use your cover letter to explain your eager but far-in-the-future relocation, you're doomed. Only later (a few weeks ago) was it confirmed by a friend that you do in fact have to ensure a few little omissions make it into (out of?) your cover letter ("I am available for interviews next week." "Please contact me at my local address." etc.). But, in all that chaos I managed to send in an application for temporary work through HR at the University. A week before the end of classes I came upon the job offer at a restaurant from the chair of the dept. I had precisely one day to transition from T.A./grad student to Administrative Associate for the summer months.

So I jumped in. It feels the same, really. My own office, check. Thermostat that's broken and always too high, check. Oh, how there are many office supplies at my fingertips. And, oh, how the job requires organization. I'm in Excel heaven. I'm still slightly confused at every turn regarding forms. My duties include but are not limited to: walking down the hall to check my mailbox seventeen times a day, awaiting for the invoice/phone bill/returned copies of travel reimbursement forms, or walking to the copier (often at the same time I decide to check my mailbox) for photocopies. Because this job requires lots of record-keeping. It also requires understanding for all departmental procedure regarding business interaction with Human Resource, Business Services and the fund-giving foundation here. I've slowly been training in Banner, the University database structure, for all financial needs. ThisIsAlltooAlientoMe. And so is this staple remover. We found one in the office and cannot figure out how it removes staples.

What's more difficult without this new phase is how to deal with the rest of my day when office duties and departmental assistance are not required. I wake up now at 6am (okay, okay, 6:30), grab coffee and out the door at 7:30, to arrive at 8, lunch at 12, home at 5. I've restarted novel reading at my lunch hour (Amidon's Human Capital, currently). I should be walking Mt. Sentinel on lunch breaks; I've two weddings to attend this summer. Even more obscene: I've forgotten how to correctly surf the Internet and read whole articles about politics, literature, cute animals. I miss learning about Edwards' endorsement of Obama. About who's reviewing what new collection of poetry. About what Slate has to say about any of it.

Sure, this isn't new to anyone. The office environment is known and loved(?) by many. I've worked jobs before just like this-- one for a health care company (gasp), contracted by Xerox. I sorted mail. I made spreadsheets. But...when will I sit down and write? When will I reassess (or dare to even look at) my manuscript in that crumbled pile of old mail and trash accumulating at home. You should see my car. It looks like I've lived in it for days. And there's bird shit on the car door that I haven't cleaned off. I must address that situation. Tomorrow.

Monday, May 12, 2008

"Higher Education's Cruelest Hoax"

In the June issue of Atlantic Monthly, there is an article entitled “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower” by Professor X. The contents of the article will come as no surprise to anyone who has taught English 101. There are some minor differences between Professor X’s experience and my own: He’s a professional adjunct, I was a TA. He works at a private college and a community college, I worked at two mid-sized public universities. He believes that it is his job to uphold academic standards and seems to be supported by his university’s administration in doing so, I have received mixed messages in that regard and have serious reservations as to what standards the curriculum of English 101 is meant to uphold. Beyond that, the points he makes are all things that have occurred to me or been made by my colleagues in the three years I’ve taught 101. Many students are not prepared to succeed in the strange mix of critical thinking, analysis, and blitzkrieg workload that we’re peddling. Our values as students and teachers of English are different from theirs. Students don’t necessarily come to college to become scholars. Most are just there to achieve a higher income bracket. Some are there to receive specialized training within a field. Very few will go on to post-graduate work.

Professor X corroborates something that has been bothering me for a long time, although the way he expresses it doesn’t sit well: that not all students are “fit” for college. He notes, “America, ever-idealistic, seems wary of the vocational education track. We are not comfortable limiting anyone’s options. Telling someone that college is not for him seems harsh and classist and British, as though we were sentencing him to a life in the coal mines. I sympathize with this stance; I subscribe to the American ideal. Unfortunately, it is with me and my red pen that that ideal crashes and burns.” He goes on to position himself as a gatekeeper of sorts, crushing the dreams of those students who aren’t up to the challenge of college. What worries me is the assumption that “unfitness” is permanent, that it can’t be overcome, and that it is an inherent quality of the student. I don’t have any proof that this isn’t true. I haven’t seen any remarkable turnarounds to contradict it because I haven’t been teaching long enough. And maybe my resistance to the very notion of unfitness just proves that I buy into the American ideal that everyone should be given the chance to try. That’s not a bad ideal, frankly.

I think the problem enters when we encourage students to pursue a college education blindly and without thinking about their purpose in doing so. The problem is that we end up with students who don’t know what to do after high school and don’t know why they are sitting in our classrooms. Or we end up with returning students who assume that higher education is the cure-all for their life crises, their inabilities to reach the next tier of their career field, their sense that something (they don’t know what) is missing in their lives. With only vague (or inaccurate) notions of what my class, or any class at the university, can and should do for them, students risk wasting significant amounts of time and money. It’s not rocket science—in almost any other endeavor where there is an exchange of money and time, we know why we’re doing it. We go to the gym because we want to lose weight, be fit, prepare for some other physical endeavor, meet other hardbodies, etc. We go to therapy because we are in psychological crisis. We start a hobby because we are interested. Often, the more specific our goal, the more successful we are with the endeavor. Unless the goal is absolutely unreasonable. My most successful students are very aware of why they have come to college and how it can prepare them for their careers. They see how the liberal arts education fits together and they tailor their required courses and electives to their needs, integrating the assignments into their academic interests. My least successful students are the ones who still don’t know what interests them. They are the deer caught in headlights, fearful and sticking to their instincts. They cling to what they already know and are uncomfortable stepping outside of their self-defined boundaries. And then there are the students who have glommed onto this “You can do anything you set your mind to” schtick. The students who struggle with basic algebra and can’t use a research database to save their lives but still believe that, somehow, it will all fall into place and they will become brain surgeons, rocket scientists, Fortune 500 executives and TV news anchors.

As a teacher, you’re supposed to be supportive of your students’ dreams. But you wonder when some responsible adult in these students’ lives is going to sit them down and give them the reality talk. You wonder what world they live in, that these dreams haven’t been dashed already. You wonder whether they might actually make it to their seemingly unattainable goals and wonder if you might’ve aimed higher yourself. And then you’re caught up in that American fantasy of achievement where we all challenge each other to do better and astronauts end up on the moon. THE MOON! And isn’t life amazing and aren’t we, each and every one of us, fantastic?!? And you stay in this la la land until the students turn in the next batch of papers and their gnarled prose shocks you back into reality. Harbingers of the apocalypse? Yes—we are all, each and every one of us, doomed.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Freshman Comp - Harbinger of the Apocalypse?

I'm sitting in my office waiting on students to pick up final portfolios of the semester. At Montana we don't issue grades (just written feedback to writing) until the final kaplow at the end. Some students take their grades with aplomb, others whine about that pesky alien abduction to Planet Kokanee.

I spent the past 24 hours sweating the parting words I wrote on my students' grade sheets (that's rubrics for those who approximate the discourse of pedagogy). I actually woke up in the middle of the night sweating over a "C" I was giving one student, a grade he would surely complain about and a grade actually much higher than he deserved. I envisioned the long exchange we would have when he came to pick up his portfolio. I mentally reviewed the progress of his semester, how I would approach the various arguments and counterpoints he would deploy. I stoned myself to that pitiful little look on his face that would wimper, "but don't you like me?"

He hasn't shown up.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


A Google search for Karen Volkman's new book, Nomina, turns up this.

I just don't even know what to say. Who knew MTV was in the market to shill poetry? I guess it makes a sick sort of sense, what with mtvU (the university-focused version of MTV) choosing John Ashbery as its poet laureate last year.

Still, a bit of a shock that it's the 2nd hit listed.

Also of note: readers who are interested in this book may also be interested in A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila: Complete Uncensored First Season DVD set, an MTV houndstooth tote, or an "MTV Intern" T-Shirt.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Postponed Panhandling and Publications

Geeze. We are graduates (save for the thesis archiving process, scattered poem revisions, and bar visits yet to be had). Two years ago, at a rest stop in South Dakota, I ran into fellow road trippers beside gopher holes and buffalo herd. In friendly conversation it came up that I was on my way to an MFA program, very unprepared to teach, and even more unprepared for sustained attention to writing. Fake it 'Till You Make it, they said. So I tried. And lived to tell about it.

I realize now I've learned how "to be a poet" from more observation and absorption and mimicry than I care (until now) to admit. I suppose this is no great shock or revelation for writers, however, this approach felt, at the time, disingenuous. Sure, we're careful enough to understand the line between regurgitation and actual digestion of material to produce carefully-rendered "originality" for workshop and a thesis, but is it not lecherous to await another's rush of inspired material and hop on the coat tails? Turns out, What the Hell was I Thinking? I needed everyone's voice in workshop to empty my head of void. I had a lot of waking up to do. So now, two years later, still groggy and caffeine-deprived, I am very much (prepared to be) awake. (Yes, I used "waking" as a metaphor...dang.) Thank you, all you amazing writers in the program.

Other forms of mimicry in my sordid past: I remember SAT words on "The List" that were so foreign to me that I clung to them so as not to lose what was deemed "necessary" vocabulary for a future college student. I clung to them longer than this test, though, because they felt silent and underused enough to be useful. Assuage, Cogent, Phlegmatic... I can mimic the effect of these words (long vowels lull in "assuage", complimentary to the words' meaning...) in my writing, but I'm never sure about the rhythms and power of conversational, everyday speech.

Visiting poet Ed Roberson asked our workshop if (and why didn't) we use our "speaking voice" in our poems. We didn't have an answer of that. Some commented that the world of common interaction can often be disappointing on the self-fulfillment scale. That's why we need "phlegmatic" because it sounds gross and compliments a gross-poem despite its ungross meaning, but we might have to leave it out of our everyday speech. We must at least partially partition language, even when that feels disingenuous.


Updates: Recently learned that one of my thesis poems will be published in a future issue of DIAGRAM. T and I await our publication in the newest Phoebe, and our "Missoula Collective" class collaboration just appeared in 580 Split. Kelly looks forward to ensuring her place in Cat Fancy and Mad magazines, to add to her growing list of publication credits.

I've also secured a temporary (oxymoronic, no?) position for the summer in the English department here. I begin a sudden full time job next week, a day after nearly all graduation requirements are finalized. I briefly join the ranks of the fully employed until I embark to Chicago...
I received my contributor copies of Touchstone (which also features fellow MFAer Laura Dunn) yesterday. Also, a collaborative poem composed by the students of Michele Glazer's Spring 2007 collaborative writing class is featured in the current issue of 580 Split(#10), which also features fellow MFAer Catherine Moore.

In other news, the first of my good friends here has left town for a job in Colorado. How good a friend was he? We have a toothbrush just for him in our bathroom. Needless to say: tears, regrets. But he did give us a sweet rug and an EZ chair. And I bet we could swab the toothbrush for some DNA in order to clone him if we wanted to.

Last night was the penultimate thesis reading. I began to tear up but was able to get a hold of myself before my mascara started running. I think it finally hit me that, in a few short weeks, I won't be seeing these people on a daily basis any more.

I have one paper left to write. I've got 12 pages, which means I need 5 more. I'm writing on a topic about which other scholars could produce encyclopedias. It's due tomorrow. I feel that I've said all I have to say on the subject. While I could write 5 pages in my sleep normally, I really feel like I am completely incapable of doing so now. Perhaps it's my way of holding on to the program by my fingernails, but I doubt it. Every fiber of my being just wants to be done with this paper.

Doug went to get me a smoothie. Maybe that will help.

Beyond the paper, all I have to do (for school) is: turn in a hard copy of my thesis with appropriate forms, return my student portfolios, and go to a couple of extra class meetings this week. I should be ecstatic. Instead, I keep thinking about how I totally missed St. Patrick's Day somewhere in the past semester, and for some reason this really bothers me. I also missed Easter and my niece's birthday. And by missed, I mean forgot, totally failed to acknowledge. Also, the other day I tried to send my car insurance payment without postage. It got returned and now it is late. As is the rent.

It's all unravelling, which, from previous experience, is to be expected. As long as I can find my mojito, I'll be fine.