Archive for May, 2010


I Never Go Anywhere Without A Book Or Two Or Three Or Four Or More

May 31, 2010

A book is like a garden carried in a pocket. • Chinese proverb

Many persons read and like fiction.  It does not tax the intelligence and the intelligence of most of us can so ill afford taxation that we rightly welcome any reading matter which avoids this. • Rose Macaulay 
(Or perhaps, Rose, some of us are taxing our intelligence so much that we need to levy some amusement.)

Warning: Touching story of self-sacrifice opens this post. Our son, who just recently bought an iPad, loaned my husband and I this delight for our train trip. What can you say about a son like that? Of course, we already knew he was wonderful, but this confirmed that he’s thoughtful too. I’ve already played with it enough to know that I want one. Unfortunately, only one of us at a time can use it to read the books available on it. We’re schlepping paperbooks aboard too.

I am tired. Our cross-country voyage begins today and ends on Thursday. Of course, I’ll be reading. I’ll be reading my summer syllabi and making sure I have the schedules planned for my classes. I’ll be reading my conference presentation materials and making sure I know what I’m going to say and how I’m going to say it. I’ll be reading some of the things I haven’t had a chance to work on yet and writing reports to finish up the quarter. I’ll be reading for inspiration so I can write along the way.

I won’t be reading papers. I finished that yesterday. All I have left is final essays and they’re not due until later this week.

The author Gilbert Keith (usually known as G.K., even by those who weren’t his pals) said that there is a great deal of difference between an eager man who wants to read a book and a tired man who wants a book to read.  Ditto for women.

I’ll also be reading junk. Stuff that’s the mental equivalent of cotton candy. It will taste good going in, but if I take the 300 pages or so and compress the wisdom, there won’t be much left. And that’s okay. So much of your life if you’re a teacher or student is consumed by reading the haftas. For me, many of the haftas are pleasurable, but sometimes, my brain needs a break. I’m looking forward to reading something that won’t stimulate a thousand thoughts. Two or three are all I want to deal with.

When my husband and I travel with books, we choose ones that we both want to read and when we finish with them, we leave them along the way for others to find and enjoy. A Post-It® gift message keeps our leavings out of the lost and found. This sprinkling the country with books is also one of the reasons I don’t travel with my favorites or with the non-fiction that is my particular addiction. I don’t want to have to carry it across the country and back.

I hope that required reading hasn’t dampened your enthusiasm for the joys of relaxing with an entertaining book. If you don’t usually read for fun, give it a try. Visit a bookstore and look in places you wouldn’t usually check for reading. Look for titles that are enticing. Summer is coming. Read.

If you’re going to read purely for fun, what kind(s) of reading do you choose? (Note: In an extremely informal survey of English teachers, many of them like books featuring serial killers, real and imaginary. It’s up to you to decide what this might mean.)

I’ve never known any trouble that an hour’s reading didn’t assuage. • Charles de Secondat, Baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu, Pensées Diverses


Dear Todd: I Hate You Now. You Broke My Heart. Your Words So Mean Tore Us Apart.*

May 30, 2010

Note: I’m leaving today for Washington, D.C., via train so will be posting when I can. Connectivity is uncertain on the rails.

That’s the way it is with poetry. When it is incomprehensible, it seems profound, and when you understand it, it is only ridiculous. • Galway Kinnell

I remember sitting in the back seat of the car while my mother drove us to some sort of church meeting that I’d been looking forward to until my heart got broken. As my mother and her friend talked in the front seat, I watched the rain on the window and cried silently. I didn’t want them to hear because I didn’t want to hear anything about how I’d get over it. I knew I wouldn’t.

Skeeter Davis was singing “The End of the World” on the radio. It’s the perfect breakup song, letting the breakee know that s/he isn’t alone:

Why does the sun go on shining,

Why does the sea rush to shore.

Don’t they know, it’s the end of the world,

Cause you don’t love me anymore.

I share this bit of history because I’m officially kicking off my BADolescent Poetry Contest. I will personally provide $50.00 to the person who submits the best angst-ridden poem about adolescence. The contest is for anyone who is—or ever has been—a teenager. Length? Long enough to be meaningful and short enough not to be annoying. Details to come.

You can post your poetry as a comment at badolescence.wordpress. Find it at I’ll be posting some favorites I’ve saved over the years. Revel in this sample from 1993 of what you can expect:

If my boobs were bigger

And my butt weren’t so wide,

Would you love me then, Keith,

Or would you still hide?

If my hair were curlier

And my zits went away,

Would you love me then, Keith,

Or would you still say,

“Let’s just be friends, Jill.

I like you a lot,

But some girls are for dating,

And you, Jill, you’re not!”

All these years later, I still can’t hear Skeeter Davis sing that song without thinking about my first love and my first broken heart.

Do you have a memory—or a poem—about young love or other adolescent experiences?

At fourteen you don’t need sickness or death for tragedy. • Jessamyn West

* Name changed to protect the guilty.


There Is Some Pleasure Even In Words, When They Bring Forgetfulness Of Present Miseries.*

May 29, 2010

Our ability to delude ourselves may be an important survival tool.
• Jane Wagner (1985),
The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe

Work is a comfort when you’re worried about someone or something. It is possible to occasionally become so immersed in a task that you forget—perhaps just for a moment or two—that there are sharks in life’s waters and that sometimes they bite. They circle. They lurk, awaiting their moment. You know they are there. You know they are waiting. You know their attack will come. And the distraction of work can help. Or not. Sometimes I distract myself with poetry about the act of distraction:

These Are The Things
by W-OZ

These are the things I do
in the hours
when I do not
think of you:
seventeen essays graded
scribbled with
apostrophes please
spellcheck won’t catch everything
cite your sources.

While  all I do not say
floats in the air around my head,
pen sharply bitten
never leaking out
its cranky inky admonitions:
What are you thinking?
Are you thinking?
This makes no sense!

And then it’s back to
watch your run-on sentences
and subject-verb agreement.

These are the things I do
in the hours
when I do not
worry about you:
Read three chapters of a
U.S. history text circa 1939.
Write fourteen quotations
onto blue-lined white cards,
a favorite this from Austen.
Mansfield Park.
“A watch is always too fast or too slow.
I cannot be dictated to by a watch.”

And papers sorted
this pile into that and
then into their folders.
I’ve seen some of this
too many times before
and yet
they were not ready for their place.

These are the things I do
in the hours
when I am afraid
to think of you:
Straighten out the closet.
Put the shoes into their boxes,
stack them high.
Fix the dresser drawer
that hasn’t shut for many months.
I found three socks,
a scarf,
and a red beret
I thought I’d lost last winter.

Untangled silver chains and
paired my earrings
into little plastic bags.

These are the things I do.

I do these things,
a dozen others and
then a dozen more,
inventing ways to fill the hours
I dare not think of you.

And still my mind returns
all ways
to you
of whom I cannot think.

But do.

It is difficult to think clearly when you’re distracted by worry. If you’re in school this can be particularly challenging since it’s seldom possible to stop the clock of school and take a worry break. Regardless of what’s happening in your life, papers come due and finals week approaches. At times like this, compartmentalization and distraction are useful skills to develop.

What do you do to distract yourself?

At painful times when composition is impossible and reading is not enough, grammars and dictionaries are excellent for distraction.
• Elizabeth Barrett Browning

* Title wisdom is from Sophocles.


I Am Behind. I Am Really Behind. I Am So Far Behind That I Cannot See The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Right Now. How About You?

May 28, 2010

Desperation is a necessary ingredient to learning anything, or creating anything. Period. If you ain’t desperate at some point, you ain’t interesting. • Jim Carrey

Goodness knows I’m definitely on the trail to interesting because I’m definitely desperate. Without going into details, I will just say that I am trying to finish up one quarter and get ready for the next while also getting ready to present papers at two conferences in Washington, D.C. I’ll be leaving in a couple of days for a train trip across the country (and will be writing, but only sporadically posting what I’ve written as I get connected).

I have not procrastinated at all in the past months. I have made lists and set goals and stuck to them. I am, however, almost out of time. Will I make it? I always do. Things may not be perfect, but they get done. That’s the advantage of having had lots to do and having gotten it all done multiple times. I have faith in myself. I know that if I keep pushing through, the other side will eventually appear.

It’s close to the end of the term for lots of folks whether they’re students or teachers. I hope all of you will get it all done too.

What do you need to do? How are you going to get it done?

One may go a long way after one is tired. • French proverb

Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it.  The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use. • Earl Nightingale


Something To Ask Yourself: Are You A Donkey’s Behind?

May 27, 2010

I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day.
• Abraham Lincoln

I recently had an unpleasant encounter with a stranger who was supposed to be providing assistance. S/he-who-shall-remain-anonymous was being paid to provide said assistance. I was a customer. I’m supposed to be right, right? And really, there wasn’t anything to be right or wrong about except that I wanted a bit of attention from the person who was supposed to be taking my hard-earned cash in exchange for the goods s/he was selling.

The right to do something does not mean that doing it is right.
• William Safire

This was too much to ask. I was an unwelcome interruption in a fascinating three-way cash register conversation involving a co-worker (on a break–s/he said so in a brief aside to me, as though to explain her/his lack of attention to my needs) and someone named Lee on a cell phone. Beer was involved. How much and who was bringing it. Tacos too. A houseboat. And much more, unfortunately too banal to report here. Had their three-way been interesting, I’d have gladly waited pretty much indefinitely.

Laws control the lesser man [or woman]. Right conduct controls the greater one.
• Chinese proverb

Instead, I waited patiently for several minutes before asking if it would be possible to exchange my money for their goods. The phone talker asked me if I couldn’t see that s/he was busy. Well, yes, I could see that s/he was otherwise occupied, but I could also hear that it wasn’t work-related.

You do not wake up one morning a bad person. It happens by a thousand tiny surrenders of self-respect to self-interest.
• Robert Brault

Mark Twain said that “be yourself is about the worst advice you can give some people.” I used to have this quotation framed and hanging in my classroom. I believe in personal authenticity, but I also believe that if you are a donkey’s behind in your dealings with others, you might want to consider creating a nicer, more considerate self for public presentation. This is important at all times, but it’s especially important if you’re being paid to pay attention to the needs of others.

Sin lies only in hurting other people unnecessarily. All other “sins” are invented nonsense. (Hurting yourself is not a sin – just stupid.)
• Robert A. Heinlein

I’ve written before about common sense and how I believe that it is misnamed because rational problem solving doesn’t always come naturally to people. Neither does considerate behavior. These things and many others need to be taught, and yes, I do know how busy schools already are. In my fantasy world, every child would learn many of life’s useful lessons at home before s/he ever entered a classroom and would arrive at school ready to learn and ready to be a delightful and productive classroom participant.

Every wrong seems possible today, and is accepted. I don’t accept it.
• Pablo Casals

I also know that there are crucial basic skills students need to leave school with, like the ability to figure out what ten percent off the regular price is if the calculator isn’t working (another important customer service attribute). Still, consideration for others is a basic skill of successful living and if we want to rid the world of donkey’s behinds, everyone’s got to help.

Goodness is the only investment that never fails.
• Henry David Thoreau

So. Are you a donkey’s behind? If you are, what are you going to do about it? If you aren’t, what’s your secret to maintaining civility in a world that seems to be increasingly uncivil and how can you share it with others?

If everyone were clothed with integrity, if every heart were just, frank, kindly, the other virtues would be well-nigh useless, since their chief purpose is to make us bear with patience the injustice of our fellows.
• Jean Baptiste Molière,
Le Misanthrope (1666, when, apparently, the good old days were not always good)


Perhaps You Have Noticed That I Am Fond Of Excessively Lengthy Titles And Thus It Will Come As No Surprise That Today I Celebrate Some Bands With Sesquipedalian* Names

May 26, 2010

Empty heads are very fond of long titles.
• German proverb (Yes, yes, I know that this proverb likely refers to the kinds of titles bestowed on people like The Grand Poobah of Illuminated Graciousness and Seriousness of Purpose Related to Quantifying Brilliance, but I still like it.)

Some band names are brief. Get on with the music, they say; quit fooling around trying to decide what to name the band. Play. There were plenty of them in my recent collection, names like Bodybox, Greenhorse, Sledgeback, Widower, Thousands, Trainwreck, and Neutralboy.

There were also many delightful and sometimes random two-word combinations (perhaps those naming the band put words into a bag and drew them out until a particular combination was found amusing, although some things, like frog eyes and tea cozies, are examples of real life stuff that’s just inherently funny): Tuxedo Man, Smile Brigade, Tea Cozies, Killer Canary, Distant Relatives, Frog Eyes, Wooden Bison, Clarissa’s Weird (Isn’t everyone?), Nervous Energy, and Quiet Life.

But wait, there’re more: Campfire OK, Reflection Eternal, Eclectic Approach, Con Dad (What’s the story here?), Diego’s Umbrella, Hey Marseilles (Is this an indication that the band would like to greet the citizens of the largest port city in France or are they simply taking delight in the rhyme?), Strong Killings, Mother’s Anger, Tough Tittie, Planet Booty, Unmanned Drone, Afternoon American, and The Basements (Let’s name the band after our practice space?!), as well as ((Low Hums)) (((which I’m not sure how to pronounce, but maybe I just don’t get the purpose of the (()) ))).

Then there are the names that truly delighted me this time, the ones that really are more: more words, more syllables, more letters. I imagine these groups being introduced and it brings a smile to my face:

Super Happy Story Time Land
We Wrote the Book on Connections
Girls Just Wanna Have Prom
The Scarlet Tree All Stars
My Life with the Thrill Kill Cut
The Pioneers of Prime Time TV

Activate your brain. Give it a shot. It’s today’s braindance: neurobics for your gray matter.

Create your own band names using one word, two words, and at least five words. Imagine that you’re being queried by Rolling Stone and the interviewer wants to know why you chose those particular names. What will you say?

I’m naming my band Things They Say When They Really Want To Say Something Else. It’s an homage to my parents. Sometimes I wish they’d just yell at me instead of always being so reasonable.
• Student response, 1997

* Sesquipedalian describes long words, having many syllables, but can also refer to sentences that are long and ponderous, or, in this case, I’m using it to describe band names comprised of many words.


There Are Certain Inevitabilities In The World: Death and Taxes, Sunrise and Sunset, Orange Plaid Culottes and Lime Green Knee Sox, and Trip Out Of Town and Band Names

May 25, 2010

I love a foam nose. I swear I do.
• Kelly Ripa on an April 19, 2010, television promo for
Live with Regis and Kelly

Kelly Ripa loves foam noses and I love band names, and while I have my own private stash of round red nose-enhancing baubles, I have to say that band names blow noses out of the water. (OMG, that sentence was really fun to write! That probably means that I should delete it immediately since you know what THEY say about anything that you are amused by in your own writing. It probably isn’t as good as you think and you are well advised to delete it. No way. Suck it, THEY; this one is staying! OMG, I used suck it and a semi-colon in the same sentence. I truly have reached some nirvana of posting. I’d better write that bucket list I’ve been meaning to get around to so I can check this one off.)

But back to business. Band names. I was in Seattle and picked up the Seattle Weekly for May 19-25, 2010. I’m sure there were some good articles in it. I probably could have learned a lot from reading them. But I didn’t. Instead I made a long list of band names and they’ll be coming at you as I think of clever and no-so-clever ways to use them.

Today, I shall use them as examples of non sequiturs and thus double my pleasure by interweaving a bit of a lecture on vocabulary with an opportunity to wallow in band name delights. What about your pleasure, you say? This is all about me. You’re just along for the ride.

Loosely defined, a non sequitur is the pairing of things that do not relate, coming from non (not) and sequi (to follow). A non sequitur is kindasorta the opposite of a cliché—pairing the completely unexpected and nonsensical instead of the predictable. It can also refer to serious—and seriously flawed—arguments, but we’re on the non sequiturious band name trail, one that was well-traveled by those pioneers of the sixties who left behind a garden of delights: think Ballpoint Banana, for example.

You can find many of these by Googling®. I’d repeat some of them here, but irreverence and scatology (look it up) abound and I’ve already said “suck it” twice (oops, three times) here, so I’d best behave myself.

Gazebos of Destruction is a non sequitur. So is Blue Light Curtain (Is this where the K-Mart special illumination hides when not in use?). I like The Holy Tailfeathers and Civilized Animals too, and The Exploding High Fives creates an appealing mind picture.

More names from Seattle tomorrow.

Baffle and confuse fellow travelers on the road of life today. I am certain that as you write your own non sequiturs and try them out on your friends, three dogs will eat daffodils in the dusty lane alongside the old lady’s house.

My band would be named The Careless Curtains of Calico, a name I chose for its nonsensicality paired with its appealing alliteration.
• Response to the big-ole-whatcha-gonna-name-your-band query, 2005