Thursday, August 21, 2008

Oh, the Urbanity

I think it only fitting that my first blog in a long time pertains to the subject of my last couple of blog entries, in which I whinged about not achieving in my poetic life. Let the record show that Issa Lewis has recently had a poem accepted to a journal, and also received a decline on a submission that asked for more work to be sent in. So, two good things! And the truth was, it was because I sat down and put in some time. Some real time. This summer has seen a dramatic resurgence in my creative life. I don't know if it's because I've had more free time (only teaching 1-2 classes over the summer gave me some days free), or what...but I'm keeping on it and hope to have a new chapbook ready to start tossing around to folks by the fall-ish.

I often catch myself worrying if I'm just too normal to be a poet...a successful one, anyway...I have a distinct lack of angst and drama in my life these days, and really not a whole lot from the past that I can call on, either. I have no addictions that anyone would find interesting, I'm happily married and householding, we have two cats and no kids, blah blah blah. Where's the strife?

But as I've been writing lately, I am realizing that strife is not what it's all about. Does having a dysfunctional childhood give you fodder for art? Surely. Is it a necessity? No. What I find infinitely more interesting now is the average human condition--the way that small fears manifest into larger ones, the way that the petty becomes significant, the way that all memories, even the good ones, are bittersweet.

That's also one of the things I love about acting on the stage. It gives me a chance to experience situations--and thereby emotions--that I wouldn't necessarily get to on my own. Call me crazy, but I love acting in roles where I'm terrified, heartbroken, ecstatic--the extremes that most of us rarely experience. Honestly, that's why I prefer acting in dramas over comedies. Comedies are fun, and it's fun to do them, but my real love of acting stems from the meat of the human condition. As I've written before, "they come to see you bleed." And so it is.

School starts in a few weeks. I have over 100 students (although, at last check, they were going to split up one of my courses into two sections, because it was already overloaded and there are more bound to sign up). It's going to be an interesting fall.

For those of you who are wondering what the title of the post is about, I should catch you up--we bought a new car recently to replace my old Ford Focus. I loved my Focus, but it was just getting to the point where the repairs were going to be costing us more than the thing was worth. I put a heck of a lot of miles on the thing in seven years, let me tell you! So anyway, my new car is a 2009 Pontiac Vibe in a color that is known by the manufacturer as "blue steel metallic." I have asked others for their opinion on the color, and our best estimate is to call it "deep periwinkle." It's somewhere between a blue and a purple and a gray.

But these days, when I tell people what's new with me, I reach for the immediate, big stuff--new house, new car....and it makes me feel so bourgeois. So incredibly spend-y! I promise, we're not. The big purchases we've made recently have all been more towards needs than wants. I mean, we could have persisted in rental life and I could have probably driven the Focus into the ground, but why? It saves money and stress in the long run to just take the plunge.

And this is just a homeowner's FYI: if you buy a house, and you get a home warranty--DON'T CALL THEM. Unless your home explodes, it's not worth it.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

All Moved In

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are all moved into our new house! Which means we are all moved out of our previous residence on Newhouse. I know, confusing, right? New house, Newhouse....*sigh*

But anyway, yes, everything is currently in the new house. Is it put away? Not remotely, but we're getting there. We spent a lot of last weekend putting things in order--the major stuff, so that we can at least feel like we can function. The kitchen is nearly done--just a few tweaks left and it will be perfect. We've ordered the new table and chairs, but it will be a month or so until it arrives. Which is just as well, because we're hoping to have our tax money in a month or so to pay for it. :)

Life is full and busy right now, as you can imagine....I hardly find the time to think, let alone blog about what I think. My yoga practice keeps me sane. So does the thought that finals are next week, and since most of my finals are really just short self-evaluation papers, my grading load is going to be fairly light. Hoorah! But of course, the 109 research projects are also due next week, and those are not so light. That will take some time to wade through.

Today, in class, we are playing arts-and-crafts with their research projects....I brought markers and paper and scissors, so they can really mark up, cut up, move around, and otherwise completely revamp their papers. The revision process, I've noticed, tends to fall by the wayside (as usual), so I want to make sure they really do it this time. And since this paper counts for 30% of their grades, I would hope they'd get into it!

Anyway, class is starting. Away I go! Will be back later, hopefully with pictures!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Anguish as a Second Language

I came across the title of this week's blog from a website that I found when I was cruising around looking for peer revision strategies to use in class. It really tickled me, so I thought I'd share it. It wouldn't let me really investigate the website without having a login, so I couldn't see more of what they were talking about, but again, I just loved it.

It also made me think about the way I've been living my life lately. The stress level has been more than a little bit elevated, on multiple levels. And yes, I've been whining about it. I think one could safely say that anguish has been a second language for me over the years. I didn't realize until recently that I didn't like that about myself. That's not to say that it isn't theraputic in small amounts (clinging to Ryan when I don't feel good physically, for's soothing to be held and comforted), and likewise I don't want to not honor my own feelings--I don't want to tell myself that feeling any given way is BAD, in itself. But perhaps it's not the most constructive choice, particularly when it becomes prolonged.

I do appreciate the kind and constructive responses I got to my last post, when I was whinging about my creative life feeling stalled. I still feel somewhat stalled, but I'm being kind to myself about it now. Honestly, this just may not be the best time to devote hours to writing. I have a whole household to purge of unneeded stuff, to pack up, and to move to a new town; then to unpack it, after decorating the new place. And it needs to happen in the span of a couple of weeks. That's just a priority right now. No getting around it.

I like what Chad said about it boiling down to putting in your time at the computer (or wherever you choose to write), creating and revising. I think it's true. I have to make space for that in my life, once the move is over and we're relatively settled. It has to become a priority, right along with my physical health, if I want to be successful at it. I know I have it in me. I just have to do it.

But I also do, as I said, have to be kind to myself and know when I'm approaching overload. I am right now. It will all be worth it, but it's overload nonetheless.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What Really Works

I just got done reading the most recent postings on the blog for my MFA program, Tyger Burning. It's been updated to include pictures from alumni and lots of postings about what folks are doing these days. Some I don't know because they graduated from the program before my arrival in January 2005, but many I knew (know) and love. I'm so happy for their successes.

And insanely jealous.

I feel as though my creative life is stalled. I feel as though all the publications, awards, all of that--it could be mine. I know I have the potential to achieve great things in the field. But ever since graduation, it has been like pulling teeth to coerce myself to invest the time and energy into writing truly noteworthy poetry--let alone sending it to people who would note it. I've made some halfhearted attempts over the past several months, most of which have come back as rejections. I understand that this is the game--you submit, submit, submit, like throwing jelly at a wall and hoping some will stick while the rest runs off. I know that it takes more than one try. And in honesty, I know I have not given it enough tries.

That doesn't make it easier to receive those rejection letters, or to see the success of an acquaintance. I'm proud to say I know those people; proud to say I come from the same stock as them, that I was taught by the same esteemed teachers. But I worry that it didn't rub off on me in the same way. Continually, I return to the question: "if this is what I love, why is it so hard to make myself commit to it?"

And the usual answers surface: work takes a lot of time, as does the commute to and from. The miscellany of preparing to buy a new house. My need to also devote time to my physical health and well-being. My investment in my marriage. Wanting to be there for family. All of those things are legitimate distractions. But it feels like my creative life is suffering from neglect, as well as the non-paying profession that I'd like to turn into a more lucrative one. I love being at Davenport, the feeling that I have gotten my foot in the door of academia, but it would be nicer to teach more creative class, literature, all of that....

And now if you'll excuse me, I have to go bust some students on Facebook.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Juiciest Pear

Today I ate the most delicious pear. We bought them at Meijer on Friday and they were just right--so ripe as to be to the point of dissolving in your mouth. This pear just melted on my tongue. I'd forgotten how good pears can be--real, fresh ones, not ones out of a can and encased in sugar syrup.

The last couple of weeks have been pretty rewarding, as a teacher. More and more students are coming to see me on their own time to get individual help, and I really feel that is the best way to do it. And the best part is, they were getting it! Really getting it. It felt so great to see them light up and finally understand something. It's times like that when I'm truly glad I do this for a job.

On the other hand, I did get my student evaluations back from last semester. On the whole, they were good. There were a couple that seemed from out of left field--apparently I talk about people's sexual preferences too much, and it's offensive?--but I've talked with Diana and feel at peace with it. It's just the way it is. Not everyone is going to like me, my style of teaching, or the subject of English at all--and any one of those reasons is enough for them to lash out and say something mean. Overall, the good comments outweighed the bad by a record ratio.

...and now I have to go! will write more later.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Blocked at Every Turn

I know I said I would be blogging more, and believe me, I've tried. The most frequent place I blog is at work, when I'm in a class and the students are working on a project. But for the last two weeks the DU network hasn't allowed me access to the site, saying it's a "potential phishing risk" or something....and then the time I tried to blog at home, it came back as the website undergoing routine maintenance. Grr! So here I am now. Apparently DU thinks this is an okay site again, because I am in class. *shrug*

Well, my recommitment to me so far has been going pretty well. I haven't lost as much weight as I would have liked to, but I'm trying to make it not about that. I have been doing yoga with real regularity, and meditating too, and I feel like it's really helped me in terms of emotional/mental balance and physical energy.

I read an article on Yoga Journal about eating, and how craving foods (particularly sweets) is a symbol of attachment, of obsession, and can knock off your balance. I had never thought about it that way, but I know that it's true now that I think about it. It seems blasphemous to me to not have some kind of dessert with my meal. But truthfully, it's not necessary or even always good. I equated it to the interview I read with Rodney Yee, who explained that sometimes being a teacher can cause you to become dependent on students' praise and help them achieve something, and they get all excited about you and say what a good teacher you are (as if you could actually take credit for what they do), but the downside is, once that praise is gone, you're left feeling empty. You constantly search for the next "fix" of praise. Just as I constantly search for the next sweet taste. But what that does is take away your sense of balance and can't just know you're a good teacher intrinsically. You have to be told. And heaven forbid someone tells you you're not a good teacher.

And as a teacher (not of yoga, but in general) I also feel that way. I feel so gratified when a student expresses their positive feelings about my teaching style, my personality, the class, etc. that it sometimes feels lacking if I go for awhile without hearing any praise. And it cuts to the bone when someone expresses negative feelings towards me, towards my class--even towards my subject in general. That's not balance. That's attaching my sense of self-worth and value on something outside me. And it can only come from me. Only.

They announced the new season for the Civic, and it sounds great. They're doing Cyrano in the fall, and I full intend to get cast in that show. *wink* Only one female role? Pshaw!

I'm also intending to try out for Pirates of Penzance, which Kindleberger is doing this summer. For the first time in years, I can actually participate in Kindleberger! Hooray! I've never done outdoor theater, so it should be a fun, new experience.

This actually happened a few weeks ago, but I thought I should report it anyway. I was on my way to work one Wednesday morning, and I'd gotten to the place just south of Hamilton where M-40 widens to four lanes (a blessing for those of us who hate getting caught behind the "Hurry Courier Service" car who goes as much as 20 mph under the speedlimit....hurry, indeed....). It's very busy at that point in the road. And as I approached it, I saw two dogs in the road. In fairness, there was about a foot of snow on the ground, so it's not like they had a lot of options about where to walk....but they conveniently chose the middle of the road, rather than the safer option of the shoulder. They were also completely unafraid of cars or honking, and in fact seemed like they wanted to go up to the cars who would slow down for them. Sadly, not a lot of people were slowing down, and that angered me....I mean, if you can't be bothered to think about the life of an animal, worry about your car! These were both large dogs, lab-sized or bigger, and would probably really do some damage to your front end if you hit them. But some people are just both callous and shortsighted, I guess.

So I stopped and called them over, and they came without hesitation....such sweet dogs, these two. It was obvious they had once belonged to someone; they loved people and even knew their commands a little bit. I diverted them (thankfully, a woman stopped and helped me who had dog treats and other accoutrements in her car) and Animal Control picked them up.

Well, then I learned that the county Animal Shelter routinely put animals down....they're just too small and can't handle the volume, so animals don't stick around for long if they aren't claimed or adopted. I was horrified. I couldn't imagine putting down such sweet dogs, and I don't even like dogs! I had every intention of adopting them myself and then finding homes for them personally, if no one else did. As it turned out, two separate rescue organizations took each of them, so I didn't have to resort to extremes. But I followed their progress all the way through, and now they'll be safe, happy, and in a home as opposed to Death Row.

It really makes me consider getting more involved in animal issues....I understand that county shelters have to make do with what they have, and if they don't have space....they have to do what they have to do. So why don't they get more funding to build bigger facilities? This is something I may address, since I will soon be an Allegan county resident....

Speaking of which.....

Our closing date is set: March 26! We will take possession on the 29th and begin moving then. Our official "big move" date is April 5, but throughout that week we'll be in and out, moving smaller things and painting, etc. to get ready for the rest of our stuff. It seems so strange to think it's only a matter of weeks away. 3 weeks from tomorrow!

I realized something important this past week while I was on spring break in regards to my poetry. I'd been getting pretty frustrated, not just at my lack of output, but by the fact that what I have put out seems to be coming back without results. The frustration I felt reminded me of the same frustration (mixed with a healthy dose of self-doubt) that I felt for the last five years or so, trying to get cast in plays at the Civic. Literally, five years and no casting. Granted, I didn't try out for every play available, but I did audition at least once or twice a season as my schedule allowed, and no luck. This stood in direct contrast to the praise I'd received after my first show there from the illustrious Jim Carver (whom I saw, recently, at the Civic season-announcement party--it was so good to see him!).

So after I didn't get initially cast in The Women, I asked Preston, who was directing that show, what I could be doing differently in auditions to bring better results. Obviously I didn't need him to explain himself and why specifically he didn't cast me, but I wanted to know what I might be doing that was putting me in the slush pile. He said that while I read as well as anyone, I hadn't made myself "memorable" in comparison to all the others who auditioned with me (particularly for that show--he must have seen at least 75-100 women and girls). So, in other words, good, but not exciting, not enough to etch myself into the memory of the director. I took his words to heart, and, when I auditioned for Macbeth, I went over the top. And what do you know? I got cast.

That made me think of what Bob AuFrance, who directed me in Picnic my senior year at Albion said. He told me, "Remember, they [the audience] come to see you bleed." In other words, they don't pay money for a ticket to see something bland--they come to see your heart soar or break, so they can feel along with you--almost a voyeuristic/vicarious situation. And that made sense to me at the time, and it still does.

So, turning that same logic on my poetry, I can see where the poems I've been sending in are not bad, not thoroughly rejectable (as, in my darker moments, I imagine them to be), but simply not memorable. When a contest receives hundreds of entries, you absolutely need to stand out from the rest. You achieve that by "bleeding," so to speak, on the page. Letting your gut write the poem, not your head....your head can polish it, but your gut has to write it.

This (and a deadline) inspired me to revisit a poem I'd written probably a year and a half ago, during my semester with Alicia Ostriker. It was a poem about my dad's knee replacement surgery. I'd never been happy with it--it felt lackluster, bland, and emotionless. So I went back and bled all over it, figuratively speaking. *grin* But seriously--I allowed the real crux of the issue surface. Not the literal happening--oh, he had a knee replacement, it's a really grueling procedure, and he's in pain now, isn't that sad....but OH. He's my dad, we signed him up for this thinking it would help and it didn't, and now his pain is my pain, and not just that--all the drugs and their side effects, the feeling like this is a horrible carnival ride we can't get off of now, the heartbreak of it. I won't post it here because it is up for consideration at an online poetry journal, but rest assured, you'll see it there when it comes out. :)

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Day Two

Today is Day 2 of my 30 days. Yesterday went fairly well. I did manage to get in 30 min. of yoga despite coming home late and tired. It did feel good to go to bed after that....rather than stampeding into bed, to quietly relax myself to into it. I think I got a deeper sleep.

I've been following my meal plan, more or less....some adjustments made, as it was planned out two weeks ago and sometimes the planning wasn't great--running out of this or that--so I've had to adjust, but I've done what I can and I've stayed within my guidelines anyway. So kudos to me. :)

Had an interesting day today at school. Last week, I sort of laid the smack down on a student who, in my opinion, had really dropped the ball. Granted, it wasn't really a huge problem--the amount of work he was missing wasn't actually going to affect his grade very much, but I wanted to make a point. He had emailed some assignments to me--not telling me that he was doing that, and then not checking in when he didn't hear from me. When it came to light that he had, fact, emailed me, I told him I wouldn't accept them since they are now quite late, as per my late policy.

Well, let's just say he wasn't happy with that.

And I want to say, I have a soft spot for this student. I think he's a smart kid who is capable of a lot, but he's not living up to it. All the more reason why I really wanted him to get the message on this one.

Needless to say, he got upset enough to contact my supervisor, who in turn contacted me. She was with me on the issue, but since I never specified in my syllabus about the email process, never made policies saying that you have to do it this way, and this part is my responsibility and this part is yours...etc. then I can't hold him to anything. So the obvious step now is to make a policy as an addendum to all of my syllabi, and include it from now on....but the second step is to deal with this student.

It was just a little upsetting, because I had felt really good and really strong about that exchange....I think I blogged about it last week....I felt like I'd finally stood up and been the teacher I wanted to be. Not unkind, but not a pushover either. *shrug* It was just weird that it should work out that way. But I'm not taking it as a deterrent....I will keep my head up and keep doing what I know is right. I accept no unearned guilt.

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