Archive for August, 2007

cliché # 865: bloom where you’re planted

August 31, 2007

Or root. Whatever works.

***

No matter what, Russell and I will not be in our apartment next year on this date. Even if I don’t get a job, even if I do get a job, even if we decided to stay in Cincinnati just one more year, we will no longer live in this apartment, at this address, in these rooms. We understand that this change is minor and not at all life-threatening. We don’t care. We’re still sad.

***

I do the dishes in our relationship. For the most part. Russell is a fabulous cook, and I appreciate the thinking time that doing dishes affords. The view’s not bad either…

full view

And beyond my little “greenhouse” I can see the leaves of the beautiful ash outside my window as well as a giant oak tree in the next yard. It’s lovely and contemplative and green.

Tonight as I was scrubbing a pan I was thinking about a class I’m teaching this semester. I’ve assigned a journal component, not just because I’m mean, but because I really do believe that writers, and teachers of writing, should reflect on writing and teaching writing. It makes for good practice and it is good practice.

I’ve assigned this book for its journaling prompts. I like it and I don’t—but that’s a topic for another day. What I want to address right now is the author’s first chapter, the chapter I assigned to my students for their first journal prompt.

(I should point out right now that I’ve made the same egregious error decision to write all assignments with my students.)

So the author tells us, in her very first sentence, “Home is a blueprint of memory.” Later, she insists that “Finding home is crucial to the act of writing. Begin here. With what you know.”

***

Earlier, over dinner, I say to Russell: “Today is our last August 30th in this apartment.”

There is a pause before he replies, “Yeah. We’ve had our last whole August in this apartment.”

We sit there for a minute, letting the reality of this statement sink in. My first thoughts are remorseful: where did August go? did I appreciate our time here enough? was I even paying attention? no, I wasn’t. oh my god, what did I do last week? yesterday??? too fast….

After some nostalgia, we make a pact. I’ll write every day for the rest of the time we’re here; Russell will take photos of all of the idiosyncratic things about this place we adore. We agree that offering each other suggestions is okay. I make a list for Russell…

***

I know we’ve only lived here for four years, but it’s “home.” But only for another 11 months.

***

Goodbye, blueprint.

***

I’m thinking this thought and more as I finish the dishes. But I’m also looking at the many plant cuttings and baby plants in my mini “greenhouse.” Several thoughts occur to me at once, not the least insightful of which is the lesson these plants can teach me. Not two days ago I trimmed a jade—chopped it, really—in order to help it grow. I took the pile of stalks, tidied them up, and placed them in some water to root.

before and after

When I went back to the plant, I noticed my other jades, one of which I had trimmed last week. I remember that it was a small plant, from a trimming, not six months ago. And it had undergone it’s first trimming this summer.

planted and trimmed again

***

There’s no such thing as “home,” Georgia. And you say as much later, after I’ve already worried over my “blueprint” and its now-constant state of fade. I think I’ll stick to my jades and roots, which remind me every day that there’s a system, a process to keep in mind. Root, plant, water, ignore, tend, enjoy, trim, root, plant, water…

Reminds me of notice, think, read, daydream, draft, savor, revise, notice, think, read, draft…

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breaking it down

August 14, 2007

Today has been less than productive. Okay, it’s been almost entirely unproductive. I think I’ve refreshed every single website and blog I frequent at least 50 times today, which is only about ten fewer than the number of times I’ve hit “Send/Receive” on my email. And while I would ordinarily beat myself up for my inability to focus on my writing (can’t pass up an opportunity to self-flagellate!), this time I’m not at all certain I’m entirely to blame.

When’s the last time you wrote an abstract? Seriously. Abstracts suck. It’s just not natural to distill 35 pages down to one 50-word paragraph. Not only have I been reduced to, gasp, fumbling through a thesaurus for the right word, but I’ve also been writing in a voice that sounds to me like it comes from one of those academics who introduces himself/herself as “Dr.” when you first meet. Think Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop—“Not gonna fall for the banana in the tailpipe”—and you’re there. Yuck.

As I made my 700th trip to the kitchen to see if something other than lemon lime Canada Dry and carrots had materialized in my fridge, I had a pretty horrifying thought about abstracts and my inability to produce one. It began with a question:

Why is this so freaking hard? Why can’t I just crank these little paragraphs out like so many spoken explanations of my work? What is my basic problem?!!!?!!

Continued with a defensive response:

You know, I’ve never really learned how to write an abstract. It’s not as if I’ve had much guidance or practice…

And culminated in this solution:

Maybe I’ll force my first-year writers to create abstracts or précis of all of the readings we’ll do for class this fall. So they don’t suffer like I have today.

You know those parents who, being unable to accomplish something in their own youth, project onto their children their desires? Little Susie may not want to be a cheerleader, but dammit, she’ll jump around whether she likes it or not. And Tom, well, he better set his origami to the side because he has to play tennis or else. Yeah, those parents. Uh huh. Yeah. How creepy is that? Discipline and punish.

(This post burned approximately 15 minutes. I’m that much closer to hanging it up and giving myself over to a run/walk and the Pixies…)

keeping it real. and just keeping it.

August 13, 2007

First, some background. Architects have to take a series of nine exams before they are officially licensed, which means that, until they are, they can’t “stamp” anything as certifiably sound, even their own work. Mind you, these exams come after a six- to seven-year stint in school (BA and MA, or a “professional” degree, offered by some schools in a six-year program) and 5600 hours of training under a licensed architect, all of which must be documented and signed off on before starting the exams.*

So, Russell’s getting ready to take his “General Structures” exam and he’s telling me what he’ll need to review. He says, “Yeah, I have to remember all of that sine, cosine, tangent stuff. I haven’t thought about that since Algebra.”** My feelings about my math abilities are documented here, but regardless, I offer to find and loan him my chart from my high school trigonometry class. I also take a minute to brag about the beauty of my chart, the neatness of my printing, the straightness of my, yes, multicolored lines, and the overall economy of space designated to so much important information.

However, instead of gratitude, Russell informs me that his chart is most certainly superior to mine, and proceeds to challenge me as to the merits of our individual handiwork. (We had to make them for the same class because, yeah, we went to the same high school. No, we didn’t hang out.) At the time of the challenge, we were walking downtown to the farmer’s market, so we decided to table the discussion until we returned home.

(As a side-note, yes, I know this kind of conversation is as juvenile as it is ridiculous, to say nothing of dorky, but what can I say? This is my life. I’m a dork.)

No sooner do we get home before I’m rifling through my files. It doesn’t take long to find it:

trig chart

See? Beautiful, right?

Russell’s is nowhere to be found…

And maybe that’s because he’s not a packrat. A shot of my files, which contain notes from high school, undergraduate, and graduate classes, all of which are neatly packed into manilla folders and ordered by class and/or date taken:

files

For the next hour or so, I dipped into a few of these files, reading aloud particularly insipid, yet utterly earnest passages—from documents I esteem(ed) enough to haul from Perrysburg, Ohio, to Oxford, Ohio, to Moscow, Idaho, to Columbus, Ohio, to Cincinnati, Ohio, and beyond—while Russell listened and laughed at me.

Have you ever heard of Cringe, a reading series wherein people share their (really awful, embarrassing, usually poorly written) adolescent writing? Well, I have half a mind to start an offshoot series for really bad academic writing. I’m certain there’s already a site for this kind of thing, with a cool title and everything, but I’m ready to start one anyway. (Attention: I’m terrible at titles, so feel free to offer one up.) I’m obviously ready to go with excerpts like this gem, from a paper on Silas Marner:

“When creating a novel, many writers chose a scenario or way of life on which to base the storyline. By carefully choosing and expanding on characters in a novel, the author draws us into the story and allows us to “see” through his or her eyes.”

Seriously? They do? Sage, Jen. Sage.

Or this, from an application to, ouch, graduate school for my masters degree:

“This letter has, I hope, provided you with a clearer picture of who I am and where I want to go. I think my diverse areas of study are a good indication of my flexibility and determination as a student, but I also hope my desire to focus upon literature is apparent to you.”

I cannot begin to articulate in words the shame I felt just typing the phrase “focus upon.” It makes me want to barf and laugh at the same time. Awkward and nervous, my favorite combination. I sound so very sincere. Not even a whiff of irony. And I can’t even think about the word choice…

Anyway, the whole thing made me laugh today—I mean, who actually keeps (to say nothing of freaking LAMINATING) their trigonometry chart???? But it also gave me pause: with so much evidence to the contrary, can I honestly presume to teach writing? In ten years, when I look back on my job letter and my CV, will I be able to bear the shame? And what about the fact that I just used the phrase “gave me pause”? Gouge away.

Before I end this tome, here’s a picture of the gorgeous and super-flavorful REAL tomatoes we bought at the market today. In my opinion, only two good things happen in the summer: baseball and what I call “dirt tomatoes,” tomatoes grown in the ground instead of in hydroponic, sterile environments that make them taste like plastic… Sea salt, fresh pepper, olive oil…yum.

many toms

*While I sympathize with this perspective on architects (I’ve listened to an hour-long conversation about the wonder that is concrete), I also sympathize with anyone who must endure so many hurdles for so little pay. It’s no wonder they want to talk about it. They’re sure as hell not being suitably compensated or appreciated.

**Seriously, what are the practical uses of sine, tangent, or cosecant? I really want to know. Ryan N., I’m looking at you here…