Archive for June, 2010

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The Lost Blogs of W-OZ

June 30, 2010

Don’t be too harsh to these poems until they’re typed. I always think typescript lends some sort of certainty: at least, if the things are bad then, they appear to be bad with conviction. • Dylan Thomas, letter to Vernon Watkins, March 1938

I write. If you know me, you know that no comments you make are safe because if you say something even mildly amusing I’m likely to record it on an ever-present 3×5 card. My family knows this is true. I remind them by quoting them, providing the date and other provenance for their bon mots. (Josh, remember when you told your dad and I that you didn’t want to work in a group with someone who thought Art Deco was a big band leader?)

I write. I write to comfort myself. I write to remind myself. I write to record things that I want to remember. I write to think. I write to create. I write to discover why. I write to save moments I don’t want to forget. I write because it is the only way I will be able to recall what it was like to be me, now, in this moment. I write to capture silliness like the Real Housewife of New Jersey who said of another that “she’s like parsley; she’s everywhere.” A real-life example of a simile is hard to come by and now I have one. Bravo, Bravo!

Writing is not my problem. Word processing is.

As an artist who works with pen and ink and scissors, I am keenly aware that I need to preserve my ability to use my fine motor skills, yet as a twenty-first century worker, I am also keenly aware that the demands on my hands have never been greater. My ability to record, to respond, to generate, to immerse myself in a sea of words of my own creation has never been greater. The temptations and possibilities and expectations of electronic communication overwhelm me.

I write. I write my blog with a Pilot BP-S fine point pen. Black ink. In a dollar store journal. You know the kind. The one with the old familiar black and white cover that provides two-hundred pages of lined paper to fill. Sometimes I write directly on the keyboard that leads to the screen, but before I can, I have to generate the ideas and the blank screen seldom inspires my creativity. Blank pages do.

I have tried dictating my thoughts, but I’m not an oral/aural writer. I need to see what I am thinking. And I need to capture it quickly before another thought overtakes it. There’s something about the connection between my brain and my hand that works differently than when I try to use voice recognition software to record what I want to say. When I try to speak my thoughts without writing them down, I am quickly lost in not-remembering.

And so, I write. And someday soon they’ll appear, The Lost Blogs of W-OZ. The missing days of band names and travel thoughts and written ramblings about this and thatery that I’ve been writing, but not recording here in the certainty and seriousness of type.

What is your writing process? What are your writing challenges?

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop. • Vita Sackville-West

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If Words Are Evidence, You Should Be A Detective.* Remembering The Holidays In Southern California, December 1995

June 24, 2010

For Friday, June 17, 2010

Words are only postage stamps delivering the object for you to unwrap. • George Bernard Shaw (apropos because what I just found in the back of my journal was a variety of fifteen-year-old musings, long forgotten)

Of course, I saw relatives during a holiday visit almost fifteen years ago. Just about every relative or in-law I have lives in SoCal. But I don’t spend much time writing about family relationships. Perhaps I should, but I like viewing these connections through a lens smeared with the Vaseline® of forgetfulness.

Someone was probably grumpy. Someone else probably said something hurtful to somebody that s/he’d like to take back, but it’s too late because you can’t put the peel back on a banana unless you’re stuffing it with chocolate chips and marshmallows so you can wrap it in tinfoil and roast it over a fire. I had fun. I was ready for the solitude of home. The imagined home of nostalgic reminiscence is not the same as the home you create for yourself. The media-induced wonder of familial delight can be elusive.

That’s not the stuff I saved all these years ago and recently found in the back of the journal I used while traveling to Washington, D.C. It’s not just band names I collect. I am fond of signs, forever imagining the creative inspiration that led to a business name:

Lady Mina Skin Care & Electrolysis
The Hall of Frame
The House of Madame JoJo
Gaga Coffee House
Betty Arms Apartments (Oh, Betty, what are you doing without your arms?
Wine Mess Liquors
Inn Kahoots
Clear H2O Cafe
Poly Plaza
Kitty & Doggy Dunk
Anastasia’s Asylum (a restaurant, not an S&M attraction)
Bamboo Pizza Coffee Shop
Morry’s of Naples—“Your Party Store”
Doo Wash Café, Laundromat, Cleaners, Restaurant
Rushing Mighty Wind Christian Assembly
Hair Explosion Salon
The Grateful Head Salon
To the Maxx Hair Salon
Hair-Um (Have you noticed how many puns are used in hair establishment naming? They seem to be a Mane Attraction when naming Clip Joints.)
Jungle Video
Prayateria
Orchid Bowl, Home of the Galleon Room
Geoffreys of Malibu (a restaurant)
Mrs. Steve’s Donuts, Chinese Fast Food, Ice Cream
Comida China at Patty’s Chinese Express (the melding of cultures in SoCal is always interesting and I am also reminded that Via Verde is way more swanky-sounding than Green Street)
Vinyl Horse Fencing (Hmmm, I have several vinyl horses and they stay in place whether I fence them or not.)
Here’s one I want to answer the phone for: The Macadero Apartments in Atascadero. I would want to be wearing a bolero while doing so, perhaps a sombrero as well.
Chateau Lisa Apartments (Betty Arms? Chateau Lisa? Come on, folks, I know you love your names, but Bobby Avenue and Frank’s Bank and their ilk lack a certain je ne sais quoi.)
Haus of Pizza
Bobby Ray’s 24 Hour Restaurant
Hedda & Kranky’s Ice Cream
The Egyptian Pharmacy
Creative Cakery

And, of course, there are many communities like the Diamond Grove—A Gated Community for Active Adults. Do the gates keep people in or out?

I also enjoyed the compelling endorsement on a Saturn billboard, a family group who assert, “We’ll probably buy another one.”

Target announces that it’s having a “Re-Grand Opening.” What does this mean? And how grand will it actually be?

And finally, signs remind me that we can rely on advertising when we have difficulty formulating a philosophy of our own: Sauza comforts us with the reminder that “life is harsh” and that our “tequila shouldn’t be.” And then there are the friendly folks at Long Beach Cellular who provide this piece of advice: “To stay on top you got to stay in touch.” Bless their hearts. It’s too late to correct them now, although I definitely prefer my philosophical statements to be grammatically correct.

What’s your favorite sign?

“On the eighth green of Los Coyotes Country Club Golf Course is a six-year-old custom home being offered by McGarvey-Clark Realty. . .two ten-gallon salt water aquariums introduce a living room accented by a marble fireplace.” This December 23, 1995, clip from the Santa Ana Register reminds all of us that copywriters are human. I imagine as I read it that as potential buyers enter the foyer, the fish speak: “Hi, we’re the fish and this here’s the living room. Sushi, anyone?”

• This quotation is on a junior high school reader board, but by the time I’ve written it down, the school is gone and I don’t know its name.

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Where I Am, Where I’ve Been, And Where I’m Gonna Be

June 24, 2010

For Thursday, June 16, 2010

Most of us just want to do what we can in the best way we can and we hope others will understand. We get damn tired of explaining, though, what we can’t do. It’s not excuse-making, it’s not oppositional behavior, it’s not reveling in being difficult, it’s us knowing who and what we are and trying to survive. • Dr. Pauline Wayne

Between prepping for courses and for conference presentations and grappling with registration challenges, I’ve been spending way too much time on the computer lately. I’ve been reminded of why I quit the world of graphic design some years ago, foolishly thinking that teaching would mean less time onscreen. And it used to. But no more. Pushing back is all I can do.

Too much time focused on the technological blessingcurse of the computer can trigger visual disturbances and migraine headaches, not to mention pain in my hands and wrists if I overindulge in keyboardery. I do my best to manage these problems by stopping, commonsensical advice provided by a doctor more than two decades ago.

I’m on such a stoppage now, doing only the absolutely necessary computer stuff.

And that brings up a bit of student success information. Sometimes teachers don’t do what you would like for them to do, but sometimes they have reasons for not doing it. For example, I do not take student work electronically because I cannot read it onscreen and I am not willing to expend time and energy trying to print it out so that I can look at hard copy. Some files open. Some do not. And by the time I get work printed, I could have read and commented on it, a far better use of my time.

Not everything that others do is intended to make your life miserable, nor does it provide evidence of their unwillingness to be accommodating. Sometimes it has to do with their well-being and their ability to sustain a productive life.

What accommodations do you make with life in order to sustain your energy and enthusiasm for the things you need to accomplish?

It was ability that mattered, not disability, which is a word I’m not crazy about using. • Marlee Matlin

P.S. I’ve been writing old-school—pen and journal—and will be slowly catching you up as I can.

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My Head Is Too Full Of Ideas Right Now, Many Of Them Unrelated To Things I Absolutely Must Finish Immediately; It’s Impossible To Bring Coherence To Anything But The Necessary And That Requires Ruthless Dedication, Leaving Little Time For Frivolous Frittering (Although There’s Always Time For Allitering)!

June 17, 2010

For Wednesday, June 15, 2010

Dream small dreams. If you make them too big, you get overwhelmed and you don’t do anything. If you make small goals and accomplish them, it gives you the confidence to go on to higher goals. • John H. Johnson

Is a blog a confessional? Sometimes it seems to be. It’s tempting to talk to the screen and confess your sins to the silent and quickly erasable electronic page. No judgment from the computer. It just sits there, no matter what you write. This is comforting. It’s also frightening because it’s so easy to blurt your woes and weaknesses to an invisible audience.

The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection. • George Orwell

I am, however, wary. I confess cautiously. Today I am in the midst of a mess. The syllabus I’m working on is the equivalent of the closet you’ve been meaning to clean out for ages and when you finally get to it and get everything pulled off of shelves and racks and sorted into piles you aren’t sure what to do with—well, you wish you’d never begun. I’m teaching a course I didn’t plan to teach again until summer 2011, and I’d hoped to organize the syllabus into a syllabook that could be printed to use as the text before I taught it again. I’ve been adding materials to the files for two years.

Try as hard as we may for perfection, the net result of our labors is an amazing variety of imperfectness.  We are surprised at our own versatility in being able to fail in so many different ways. • Samuel McChord Crothers

Alas. It is still a syllabook, but despite a prodigious wrestling match that took all day, it remains a work in progress. A 57,692 word work in progress. I have had to accept defeat. I must quit when I am not ready to. I do not like this at all, but I tell myself that it is good for me. I have other courses that begin on Friday that need work too. And many miles to go before I sleep.

A man [or a woman] would do nothing if s/he waited until s/he could do it so well that no one could find fault. • John Henry Newman

Letting go is good. Letting go is good. Letting go is good. Perhaps if I write this enough, I will believe it.

Always live up to your standards—by lowering them, if necessary.• Mignon McLaughlin (1966), The Second Neurotic’s Notebook

What do you have to let go of because there just isn’t time?

Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.  • Harriet Braiker

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My Philosophy Is: Don’t Think.*

June 16, 2010

For Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I’ve mentioned one of my favorite teaching moments before: Several years ago a student told me—in defense of an extremely poorly researched and written paper—that the syllabus didn’t say he had to think. Since then, I’ve added this requirement to selected syllabi when I fear that this reminder may be necessary. I was reminded of this incident when I overheard two girls talking in the train station about their recently-completed finals and one complained to the other that her teacher actually expected her to “think and stuff.”

I like to think. Here are several quotations that inspire me. If you’d like to ponder something, give one of them a whirl:

What you don’t know would make a great book. • Sydney Smith

What don’t you know? This is a really long list for me. What I don’t understand would fill another book. What confuses me is yet another. I could fill a library with unknowns and uncertainties. And, of course, I am a smartypants too, and could fill several volumes with both useful and useless information. How about you? Which volumes in your library would be the largest?

Three fortunes found in one day at an ATM, on the sidewalk, and with Chinese food, NYC, May 29, 2006: 1) Believe in yourself and others will too. 2) Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. 3) Don’t be afraid of fear.

Write three interrelated fortunes for yourself that you’d like to have come true.

First sentences are doors to worlds. • Ursula K. Le Guin

Write a series of first sentences and then choose one to explore further.

In the movie, The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, Arthur O’Connell says to Gregory Peck: “Write me your autobiography in one hour—everything you can think about in one hour. Explain yourself for us. Examine your life—tell us what kind of person you are and why we should hire you—and at the end, I want you to finish this sentence: The most significant thing about me is. . .”

Write a one hour autobiography and be sure to answer the question: What’s the most significant thing about you?

What inspires your thinking? What do you like to spend time thinking about?

The mind I love must have wild places, a tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in the heavy grass, an overgrown little wood, the chance of a snake or two, a pool that nobody’s fathomed the depth of, and paths treaded with flowers planted by the mind. • Katherine Mansfield

* Clearly, this philosophy worked well for Charles Manson, the notorious man who said it.

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Things Are Only Impossible Until They’re Not.*

June 16, 2010

For Monday, June 14, 2010

Creativity represents a miraculous coming together of the uninhibited energy of the child with its apparent opposite and enemy, the sense of order imposed on the disciplined adult intelligence.• Norman Podhoretz

I’m a sucker for conference sessions that address issues related to creativity. If the “c” word is somewhere in the title, I’m there. Most of what I heard in such sessions in Washington, D.C., confirmed things I already know, like the speaker who said that people need time to think. This seems self-evident, yet the pressure to multitask (serial unitask is what I call it) and work “efficiently,” AKA quickly, is intense in many professions.

I’ve written before about engagement as one of the themes of fun in learning, and my workshop, “Don’t Let Space Be Alien in Your Life,” also addresses the need for contemplative time. It’s comforting to hear other people who’ve reached the same conclusions based on their work with students. It’s not that I don’t believe in efficiency. There are things I want to complete quickly so that I can move on to others that require a more thoughtful and time intensive approach. This is why I sometimes call myself an inefficiency expert.

I am also reminded of things I know but don’t always articulate, like the speaker who said that teachers need to be creative role models. I sometimes forget to make it clear to teachers with whom I work that there is a difference between being creative yourself and leading students to discover their own creativity. Creative leadership for teachers also includes setting up conditions under which others can find their creative spirits. It also requires keeping your mouth shut sometimes when you know an—not the—answer.

I often use quotations to jumpstart my creative thought and that of my students; here are three such braindances:

One: Trust that little voice in your head that says “Wouldn’t it be interesting if…” and then do it. • Duane Michaels (Note: We get off the train in Minot, North Dakota, to walk around a bit and I pick up today’s Minot Daily News. My husband’s horoscope (Aries) on page A7 says, “Trust your imagination. Instead of wondering how things are or trying to find out who has the right answer, just make it up in your head the way you prefer it to be. Your way is as good as any.” I don’t believe this is necessarily so since some ways that people come up with are not only lame, they’re dangerous and wrong, but that’s what horoscopes are for—providing delusions in the guise of useful information.)

Make a list of at least five interesting things that would be possible in your ideal world.

Today I’d begin my list with, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if I could eat a big meal and somehow store food like a camel stores water so I wouldn’t have to eat again for several days? I call these extraordinarily tasty meals camelfood. If I could, I’d have been able to eat all of the scrumptious spinach, mushroom, onion, tomato omelet I got yesterday instead of leaving two-thirds of it on the plate. Nothing that’s been available since has been anywhere near as good. I’m hungry and I hate eating “Mt. Everest food,” the kind you mindlessly munch just because it’s there.

Two: Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. • Lewis Carroll

What are six impossible things you’d like to believe?

I’d like to believe that it’s possible to switch my motivation on and off with a literal switch that allows me to get lots of productive work done when it’s on and relax without guilt when it’s off.

Three: It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. • Henry David Thoreau

Write about at least one thing that is more significant than it might at first appear to be.

The long, long, scarcely populated and sometimes empty spaces we pass through while on the train remind me how big this country is and how difficult it is to imagine an infrastructure of public transportation accessible for everyone. Politicians and pundits who live in big cities where buses and subways and cabs are readily available sometimes speak with contempt of those who won’t give up their cars, but until there’s reliable public transportation available, forgoing automobiles is not a realistic option for many people. Simply saying that Americans are addicted to their cars as though they’d have a way to get to work or the doctor or school or wherever they need to go without personal transportation ignores crucial issues. Horses, anyone?

What do you do to wake up your imagination and get your creative juices flowing?

Sometimes imagination pounces; mostly it sleeps soundly in the corner, purring. • Terri Guillemets

* Title quotation delivered by Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), Star Trek: The Next Generation.

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Daddy! There’s A Dead Rat In The Sink!!!!!!

June 12, 2010

For Sunday, June 13, 2010, when I’ll be on the train

I was never unusually squeamish. I could eat a fried rat with a good relish, if it was necessary. • Henry David Thoreau

Sorry, Hank. I am squeamish and my husband knows it. I love gross stuff, but not to nosh on and not around my food. You may remember a recent rant where I discussed the rudeness of those who share surgical shenanigans and accident hijinks within earshot while I’m trying to eat. They need to hush their mouths.

I was in the middle of my Eggs Benedict Florentine when my husband said to remind him to tell me something. We do this to each other quite often, trying to foist off the responsibility for remembering things so that if something important is forgotten, we can share the blame with a no-longer-innocent bystander.

I didn’t remember to ask when we finished our brunch and left the restaurant, but he did and told me what the little boy said to his father who was working behind the bar: “Daddy! There’s a dead rat in the sink!!!!!!” I’m glad I didn’t know about it while I was enjoying my spinach and eggs.

I am not fond of rats. Nor do I like mice. Rodents are not on my love list, although I do like Mickey Mouse even though Robin Williams reminds us that to a little kid, he’s a giant rat. Just knowing that the dead rat was somewhere nearby would have ended my meal; I’m glad I didn’t know.

I can’t stand a hair in my mouth. Just seeing one in my food is enough to make me dump the entire plate, even if it’s a great big cream puff or a freshly-stuffed chile relleno. What turns you off when you’re eating?

You can’t be friends with a squirrel. A squirrel is just a rat with a cuter coat! • Sarah Jessica Parker

The grossest thing I ever found in my food when I was eating out was a large red fake fingernail in the whipped cream of my mud pie at a Claim Jumper Restaurant in Southern California. They didn’t apologize or offer me another slice. In fact, the server acted like it wasn’t a big deal and I heard several of them laughing about it as we left. • W-OZ