Archive for the ‘musing’ Category

A Timely Reminder from the International Society of Bassists

September 12, 2009

After I left my English class on Wednesday, I found a letter in my mailbox for “Composition Professor” from the International Society of Bassists.  That’s how it was labeled: “Composition Professor.”  The address did not have a department affiliation—Music, English, Art, Chemistry, Culinary Arts—so it ended up with me.  On the surface, it makes sense:  I serve as director of our writing program, so anything related to Composition would be at home in my mailbox.  However, the sender was clearly trying to reach a different audience!

Later, though, I thought a bit more about the word “composition” and how I tend to focus on just the one meaning and medium; that is, to me, composition is always about writing, about language, about alphabetic text.  Even though I am aware of other uses of the term—a composition for flute, artwork as a composition of found objects and silly putty, for example, or the chemical composition of an alloy—these meanings never enter my mind first.  For many, many other people, a composition might mean a musical score, a piece of art, a recipe, a combination of elements…  they might not even think of writing at all!!

I mention this letter because it was one of the many moments when I am reminded that not everyone loves writing—or even thinks of it first.  A lot of my life is tied up in writing—I’ve spent years and years in school to be where I am, so it’s no wonder that I get a little bit focused on teaching writing and doing writing and reading about writing and thinking about writing and….  Well, let’s just say this letter came at an important moment for me.  It’s never a bad idea to stop and look around, to take note of what you understand as “reality” and compare it with other versions of “reality.”  I try to be aware of the world around me, but like everyone else, I get a little myopic from time to time.

Which brings me to my last thought—this semester.  I have been thinking back on my own first college writing class and realizing that I was, shall we say, decidedly less enthusiastic about writing then.  In fact, I recall very little about the content of the class at all.  A peer editing session here, a quiz there, one assignment about dialect…  What I remember more clearly is that I had very long hair, that the football player in my class was HUGE, and that I had a half-hearted crush on a boy named Dan.

Anyway, this letter served as a small but timely corrective to the zeal I bring to each new year.  Composition, rhetoric, and writing are meaningful and important subjects, but they’re not going to resonate with everyone.  The letter/reminder won’t prevent me from bringing my love for writing to class with me each day, but I’m hoping it will serve as a buffer for heartbreak that comes when my students don’t bring theirs.



August 27, 2009

Being neither pithy nor witty, the thought of maintaining a Twitter account or even a Tumblr seems like an recipe for disaster to me.  I’ve never been short on words and I love to play with language, but I lack the nimbleness of mind required for true wit.  I’ll probably hit 800 words before this post is over and still not say anything even remotely sharp.

(In addition to my undying dream of somehow developing a lounge singer voice [think: female Simon Le Bon], I also dream of becoming witty.  So far it’s been braying in the shower and vague and decidedly feeble mutterings to myself well after the fact. I’ll let you know if anything changes…)

However, the appeal of both Twitter and Tumblr does not escape me.  I have in the past months wanted to share a quick thought or observation here but have felt constrained by a lack of time.  In fact, I have a number of drafts piled up here, little snippets and links and ideas I’ve collected with the idea of contextualizing and fleshing out “when I have time.”

Back in January, I think, I finally succumbed to the pressure to join Facebook.  And though I initially created an account to stay in touch with friends, I’ve discovered its power as a low-stakes version of Twitter and Tumblr.  A simple prop medium to occupy my time.

Ah, the world of Facebook—wonderfully social, often terribly superficial—a space where “Status Updates” permit one to say a little something, be it witty, sharp, or (in my case) banal.  I can’t lie and say I don’t like Facebook.  I do.  It’s fun.  I like keeping up with my friends, many of whom do post their keen observations, entertaining stories, and sharp criticisms of this world.  Furthermore, I like having so many of my people talking and contributing in the same space, something that could never, ever happen in the “real” world.  When you think about it, the concept is utterly brilliant—a narcissist’s dream.

And if I’m going to be completely honest, I have to confess that having a mini-newspaper containing headlines from all my friends makes it so much easier to stay connected.  They post something, I respond; I post something, they send feedback.  It’s all so much easier than trying to send emails to everyone, or to call everyone, or to count on actually leaving my house, my neighborhood, my city to see and talk to someone.  Yucky but true–Facebook has its advantages…

But back to this blog for a minute…  I did not begin this blog for an audience, per se.  I did not begin writing to gather comments (although I very much like them) and I did not begin writing to “keep in touch” or anything else.  I began this blog because I wanted to write about teaching, writing, knitting, teaching writing, and, increasingly, the gardens I enjoy as I run, and I didn’t want to worry about being pithy or witty or fabulous or anything else I’m not.

I’m not sure I know exactly what I’m trying to say here, other than that I miss blogging and I’m going to try to do more of it.  I have a new job (that I love!); I’m part of a writing program (Dream. Come. True.); I’ve been running/walking a ton (I ran a half-marathon in May, it was freaking excellent and amazing, and I’m still addicted); almost every morning I see new beautiful flowers I want to write about (Datura is my new favorite—the aroma is lemony and spicy and fresh and they’re always blooming when I walk really early in the morning.  Yes.  I know they’re poisonous.); and I’m getting back into knitting after a long spell of being too busy.

So that’s the confession, I guess.  I got a bit sucked in by Facebook and it’s been hurting my writing.

More to follow, I hope…

creature(s) of habit

November 12, 2008

I walk/run three days during the week—Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays—plus Saturdays and Sundays. I’m somewhat very regimented about it, which translates to a fairly consistent departure time.  Couple the CDT with my fairly consistent pace, my consistent choice of music, and my consistent route (which only changes on the weekends when I add 1.5 miles) and you get a workout that enables me to reduce the variables and focus on the particulars.  This system is good for my science-y brain—I like to create a “control” against which to evaluate new data (the chronos against which kairos can emerge? the background against which the pattern emerges?—whatever, choose your metaphor.)

One of the patterns I’ve been noticing recently is less a variable per se and more part of the control, but I wouldn’t have noticed had I not seen it day after day after day.

The white-haired, stoutish man with glasses, walking his two small terriers, who smiles and waves at me without fail; the youngish man waiting at the bus stop; the admins in the optician’s office, pulling files for the day; the men at the old-school auto-body, enjoying a morning smoke; the school busses waiting, the woman who walks faster than me yet has shorter legs,  the man at the bagel shop sitting in the same seat near the window every day, the young woman eating her McDonald’s before work at the fabric store.

I’m not exactly sure what I want to say about this phenomenon, other than to wonder if others experience the same patterns.  Also, I wonder:  who are these people?  What are their lives like?  Do they notice me, too?  Do they realize we share these repeated moments on the space/time grid???

On most days, I spend my walk/run/observation sessions making mental notes about the flora and foliage.  If anyone asked me why I get up to walk/run, I would explain my need to “check in” on everyone’s garden.  Seriously.  If too many days go by I worry that I’ll miss someone’s lilies blooming, or, now, that the beautiful locust leaves will drop before I get my fill of their perfectly uniform golden ovals.  Until yesterday, I was obsessed with a series of small trees that line a street.  The leaves have gone from green to gold to gone, leaving huge crimson berries against brown branches.

Lately, I’ve been running in anticipation of seeing these people, these markers.  Will they be there?  Will they be doing their things?

And that’s all I’ve got.  I’m not writing, knitting, or reading.  I’m teaching, administrating, and searching.  And running.

(I always wave and smile back at the man.  Seeing him brightens my day, no matter what.)


November 2, 2008

I know I’m in a very, very small minority here, but I LOVE the fall daylight saving change.  I love the thin, pale blue light of early winter mornings and the fact that sunset occurs before 6:00.  There’s something so archaic about these darkened evenings, so pioneer, as if all the technology in the world can’t stop the cycles of the earth and sun.  On a personal level,  I feel that the new schedule gives me permission to rise super-early (which I love) and to hunker down around 7:00 pm (which is when we all should stop working anyway, goddammit!!!!!)  I also find the early dark more convivial and cozy—somehow the fact that we all have to be inside together leaves me longing for cocktail parties and scrabble and small intimate gatherings.

This year, daylight saving time came a week later, which disappointed me.  However, the reason for the change cracks me up!  Of course, the politicians will tell you that this format saves energy, but I’ve heard several reports about the candy industry and Halloween which indicate that candy lobbyists (seriously, what a job THAT would be!) have been pushing hard for the change as it ensures “more” Halloween and therefore huge profits.

But if you google “daylight saving candy” you can find others.

So, if you’re depressed, blame M&M/Mars, I guess… or eat some: there’s serotonin in chocolate, right?


October 13, 2008


I’m back.

I’m also done.  It feels great, yeah, but it also feels exactly the same.  At a party this weekend I was talking to a friend/acquaintance (not exactly sure where I fall in his world) and I found myself reverting back to Sixteen Candles to explain my feelings post-dissertation defense and graduation.

Remember when Molly Ringwald’s character, Sam, wakes up on her sixteenth birthday, calls her friend, and tries to assess her feelings?  Allow me…

“No, I didn’t expect to wake up transformed.  I just thought that turning sixteen would be so major that I’d wake up with an improved mental state that would show up on my face.  All it shows is that I don’t have any sort of a tan left.”

Love that!  And I didn’t even get a tan this summer…

The past two months have been a blur.  I revisited a folder that I created while finishing my diss and I found a full summary of an article I don’t even remember reading.  And that is why I titled this post “Unfolding.”  In a lot of ways, the past two months have been busy, but they’ve also been an exercise in psychic (and physical) stretching out.  I didn’t realize how focused I’d been while writing–hence, documents I have no recollection of reading or summarizing.

So, I’ll be posting with a slightly greater degree of frequency, and maybe even about knitting!

watching life go by…from a window in the library

May 27, 2008

In Writing toward Home, Georgia Heard addresses the many challenges a writer faces when drafting/composing a large work.  A chapter entitled “Doing What I Have To” takes up the (sometimes commingled) subjects of discipline and “letting it go” entailed in the writing process.  She explains:

“While writing this book I didn’t vacuum my house for four months.  The spiders were ecstatic.  They wove their sticky webs over everything, connecting chair to couch to table.  Each time I passed I would look the other way, pretending not to notice that they had moved in, this time for good.  Dust balls roamed freely.  I temporarily lost some of my friends.  They began to leave messages on my answering machine: ‘I hope you’re okay.  I haven’t heard from you in months.  Call me back.’  I was obsessed.”

I don’t have spiders, but I’m with her on the dust balls problem.  And truth be told, it’s almost killing me.  I’ve never been the kind of writer who gets lost in her writing.  I mean, yeah, I get into the zone for hours here and there, emerging for a dose of sunshine or a glass or wine or a some human contact.  But I have never been one to ignore my domestic duties (self-imposed) or my friends.

Until now.

Not doing my “chores” is difficult—I find it nearly impossible to simply “look the other way.”  Dishes in the sink, laundry in the hamper, visible dust on a surface—it’s enough to make me crazy.  However, I’ve been working really hard to follow Heard’s dictate on that score.  She writes that it’s an “important decision—momentarily to give [one’s] heart and time over to [one’s] writing.”  And I agree.  I’ve got the messy home to prove it.

What I can’t let go of is the “temporarily losing the friends” part.  I feel so awful!  Even as I type this post, I feel that I should be replying to an email or returning a phone call.  I realized today that I missed a friend’s birthday!

I’ve always prided myself on leading a balanced life when it comes to my work. Until now, I’ve operated under the assumption that if the writing didn’t come out between, say, 9:00 and 5:00, then it wasn’t meant to be. I try to treat writing/scholarship like any other job. Lately, though, I’ve been writing to the detriment of almost everything else in my life.

I know I have to get the work done, and I know that means sacrifices, but I continually come back to this feeling that I’m missing out on life as I log hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours at the library. Is it worth it? I wonder.

In other news: what gives people the idea that it’s “okay” to speak above the faintest whisper at the library? If you have to talk to someone at a library, make it quick and quiet—or take it outside! Sheesh.

(I know I’m getting old, but seriously. Shut up!)

Also, I couldn’t resist writing the first two paragraphs in “academic-speak” as it’s all I’ve been writing lately…

a word about march…before april is over

April 15, 2008

While I’m disappointed with myself for not writing during March, I’m letting myself off the hook because March was decidedly less than inspiring.  I overheard a young woman bemoaning the month as a whole, stating that “March tried to be too much like February, so I ignored it.”

(Meanwhile, it’s supposed to freeze here in Cincinnati tonight, so April’s not blazing any paths to originality, either.)

However, several events are bringing much joy in April.  A short list below, complete with photos:

This jade plant dropped the leaf to the left a year or so ago.  I noticed after a few days that the leaf had sprouted the tiniest root from its base so I shoved it in the soil and ignored it.  Now there’s a little plant growing from the leaf.  Yea!!

smallest jade

In other plant related news, my christmas cactus bloomed a second time in March.  The plant thought it was still winter, too.  It was gorgeous!

I’m working on a new shawl:

another shawl

I finished my hourglass sweater:

better color

However, I HATE the neck.  It’s way, way too big.  Rip it, rip it out.

(The Swingin’ Neckbreakers‘ cover of “Rip it Rip it Up” always runs through my head when I have to rip.)

The spate of news stories on the push-up as a benchmark of overall health freaked me out.  I’ve been doing push-ups almost daily in an effort to repress my first attempt, which put me at “poor.”  Not even “fair,” mind you.  “Poor.”  Ouch.

Since then, I’ve been a push-up machine.  I wish I could say I was above jokes about going to the “gun show”…

And finally, because it’s been such a long time between drafting and posting, here’s another photo of my jade. Another little shoot!

bonus bud

And that’s all I got.


i’ll take dreams that nauseate for $200, alex

February 9, 2008

Answer:  What is “unsuccessfully spurning the advances of your cheesy but self-important boyfriend from high school”?

All I can say is ew.

Haven’t seen the guy in years.  Why pop up now?  Thanks, subconscious.

quick and dirty

February 6, 2008

Okay, maybe not so dirty, but this post will be brief and spartan.  I really, really want to dedicate some time to a few of these items, but they’ll have to wait for now.  Until then, here’s a list of topics for future posts:

•  We’ve moved.  I know, I know, who moves at the start of a semester?  No one in their right mind.  We took up the idea to move on January 11 (the date of my last post), chose a new place on the 14th, and moved the 28th of the same month.  In that time, we packed up our stuff, painted five of eight rooms in our new place (one a two-tone job) and moved.  The unpacking?  A work in progress.  Every new box is like Christmas.  Most commonly uttered sentence:  “Oh that’s where ____ ended up.  Funny.”

•  Second semester is underway.  I actually have a draft of a post entitled “they’re just not that into me…or the class.”  It promises to be a long semester in that regard.  The real question is:  do I care?  The answer:  I’m not sure.

•  Campus visits.  Oy.

•  New apartment, new area of town.  We’re basically in the East Egg portion of East Egg.  Too many runners, too many Audis, too many Starbucks-toting, Uggs-wearing citizens.  We got a deal on our apartment.  No, it’s not in Oxford.  Why do you ask?

•  Knitting?  What’s knitting?  My fingers itch at the memory of holding needles.  Phantom limb for the wool and needle set?  I have about half of one sleeve left to go before I attach the sleeves and begin the yoke:

hourglass with sleeve start

Check back with me in April, when cashmere will most certainly be the least appropriate fiber for the rainy, sticky, pre-Spring evenings.

 •  And finally, Opening Day can’t come soon enough.

browsing the stacks

January 11, 2008

In a recent job interview, one of the committee members asked me: “What have you read lately—that doesn’t have to do with rhetoric or composition?”  I answered honestly, even though I recognized the dilemma inherent in the question.  If I admit to reading books for pleasure, that might leave the impression that I’m not dedicated to finishing my dissertation.  If I don’t, I might appear to be somewhat narrow and, dare I say it, dull.  Everyone knows that person who’s singularly focused on her or his own work and is therefore prone to stultify otherwise interesting conversations.

So, I went for broke and talked briefly about two books I’ve read recently:  Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Megan Marshall’s AMAZING biography The Peabody Sisters.  I highly recommend both, for what it’s worth.

What I didn’t tell the committee is exactly how much outside reading I do.  I’m in a book club—a dirty little secret for someone who’s ABD–and I’m forever hearing about (and sometimes succumbing to) tempting new publications.

(Follow me a minute more as I make this turn…)

I was in the library on Wednesday, on the third floor where the British and American literature is held, and I remembered that I wanted to borrow my next book club book (Atonement, Ian McEwan) rather than buy it.  I’ve been lately trying to stop buying fiction that is easily available at the library.  Anyway, I started browsing the PRs and PSs (yes, I know the call numbers, and yes, I know this fact cements my status as a total nerd.) and on the way my eye caught the title Arrowsmith, a novel by Sinclair Lewis that won the 1926 Pulitzer.  I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long, long time.  I loved Main Street, and I loved Babbitt even more.  Needless to say, I haven’t been disappointed by Arrowsmith—I can’t put it down.

This morning in the shower I was reflecting on the series of events that brought me to the book.  While I did not set out to find the book, I was delighted to be reminded of it while browsing the stacks.  I only hesitated a second before grabbing it and continuing my search for Atonement, rationalizing that I could burn through two books just as easily as one.  Several questions emerged in the middle of these thoughts, none of which have answers. 

Has the new electronic catalog system (as opposed to card catalogs) impeded our ability to browse?  In some card catalogs, the books were arranged in the order in which they appeared in groups on the shelf, so as you were looking for one book, you might stumble upon others of interest.

Has our “drive-thru” lifestyle (or what Russell and I call “in out nobody hurt”) obliterated our willingness to spend more than 1o minutes searching for a book?  (Full disclosure: ordinarily, I would have used the library catalog to find the exact call number to retrieve Atonement but I was too lazy to go down and up three flights of stairs to the computers so I browsed.)

Do people even check books out from the library anymore?  Does anyone read anything besides Oprah’s book club choice, conveniently available at Barnes and Noble?

Okay, back to the ten thousand letters of recommendation I agreed to write.  Oy.