A Good Time Was Has By All

A dinner among brilliant women is a boost to the soul. Of the eight of us, two were kindergarten teachers, two lit profs, one high school principal, one virtual high school instructor and artist, another is a computer guru and chef de la nuit, and the last, a professional fundraiser officially running away from the circus.

Cooking now for tomorrow’s First Sunday Potluck, I googled whether Blue Cheese could be substituted for the Gorgonzola in the Spinach Gorgonzola Cornbread recipe and apparently it can. I just use slightly less Blue than the Gorgonzola called for. Hopefully, this will be a suitable complement to the Lemon Chicken over Egg Noodles.

Will Wonders Never Cease? Heaven Forbid.

So, just for giggles before class, I open the discussion board where students are supposed to have uploaded their revised essays. My star student, and one other from his class have posted. It’s about the same representation for each of the remaining two sections of ENG 098. Being three weeks away from the semester’s end, I have grown accustomed to, though not resigned to such celebrated indifference to course requirements. I have not given up, hence the ongoing efforts to throw my brains at these walls as so much spaghetti until something sticks or the fat lady sings.

When I open the file, I am greeted by the requested cover sheet containing a summary of changes made according to Jeff Galin’s three modes of revision. The first sentence of the essay is there, with track changes showing the inserted phrase and bracketing commas. Wonderful addition, I think to myself if not aloud, until the morning’s glow wears off with a screech as I come to the end punctuation of the same sentence. Sadly, it is a fragment and for whatever reason, this strikes me as the last straw. I pick up the phone and dial my department chair who is normally walking across campus at the same time each day, a few paces ahead of me. He picks up. I am encouraged. He is not walking in my direction. Instead, he is taking our AAs out to an appreciation lunch. I beg him to send them to teach my classes and take me out to a liquid lunch during which I can forget what feels like wasted decades in the classroom. Realizing this out of character request and perhaps the tremor in my voice, he asks what’s wrong.

Briefly, I explain and he consoles, lamenting the state of developmental composition and local misdirected leadership on the issue. Tilting me in the direction of future projects to ameliorate the situation for the department if not for the profession, he signs off and I dry up, somehow ready to enter the classroom. Turns out that doing so with great energy (little did they know how close to hysteria I was) and good news set the tone and gave them some kind of permission to freewrite more than a few ‘personal best’ word counts.

I was able to have them freewrite on the operating room item from yesterday and then discuss their ePortfolio presentations due next week. Both were accomplished with great energy on their part and their questions led the way. We didn’t establish the order of presentations but, with the visual aid of a Legacy submitted by one in attendance, we were able to deconstruct the relationship between that letter to an incoming student and the ePortfolio accompanying it. No, the ePortfolio should not simply be an electronic version of their print portfolios containing all their work. No, they should not read their slides to the class. Yes, they should PREP their remarks and use graphics to illustrate and explain the things they’ve identified as most important evidence of their learning. Yes, they should summarize their Service Learning Reflection, and no, they should not cut and paste any document onto a powerpoint slide to compare drafts or skills from the beginning to the end of the term.

At the end, two students remained to ask, in so many words, if doing poorly on the Exit Exam and ePortfolio presentation could harm their current standing in the class. I assured them it could only help and they went off nearly as content as I.

The next section of 098 was even more gratifying. I received two great compliments: One came from a student who waits outside of our classroom each week for her own class to begin and asked not only if she could sit in on ours but if she could return next week. She is a filmmaker from Korea and explained at end of class when we asked her to take our photo that she hears so much laughter inside our room that she wanted to see what was going on. We will miss the member who occasioned the photo. She is heading out of the country to nurse a mother heading into chemo.

The other came from within. While collaboratively constructing an ePortfolio from a sample Legacy from a Spring 2010 student, I suggested that this class read a Legacy posted by a student from another section as she had warned her prospective reader that this class was like the family vacation that everyone dreads. I said it was a great use of an analogy to organize her information and artifacts and streamline her presentation. It also made for great opportunities to include graphics to reinforce her main points. Upon hearing this, the student said, you sure know how to take criticism well. I simply said I was from the moon and there we didn’t view such things as criticism but artistic license. Okay, maybe I wasn’t quite so ready and eloquent with my retort but it gave the entire class to understand how real is what I’m after and real is what will get someone in the next semester through.

All Things Working Together

I took the operating room analogy for a test drive as a freewriting topic today, after 5 a.m. prayer, after the treadmill, after the reassuring trip to check the gash in the tire, after sending lil sis a rubber chicken. Got some mileage out of it. Remembered a friend’s birthday – a month late. Shared the consolation of poetry with a friend who received a letter of termination today. Instead of being more disagreeable during an argument with hubster, I covered it with love and was richly rewarded by the lesson from the pulpit during Bible Study. Using the story of the Three Hebrew Boys in the Firey Furnace Pastor reminded us to abide and that Our Father would never leave us in such hands. Either way, we’re coming out, for all things do indeed work together for good to them that love God (Romans 8:28).

Writing As A Surgical Procedure

While on hold for T-Mobile, I went online during an episode of Benny Hill borrowed from the library to write simply this: Imagine a picture of a sheet of paper and a writing instrument. I am holding them up in front of my classes on the first day of the semester. This, I say, is an operating room and the idea that has been entrusted to you is counting on being viable once you’ve finished doing what you do with it as wordsmith. Please don’t turn it into a crime scene.

A very little bit of English professor humor. I don’t think it will work half as well as it played in y head on the way home but I thought it deserved an audience.

Clutter & Conflicts of Interest

Is life nothing more than a battle against acquisition and the resulting clutter? This is the question that greets me as I enter the bathroom after critiquing a church member’s essay for his doctoral studies and posting today’s blog on Wit instead of resurrection.

I keep my gaze on the mirror as I floss, hoping to avoid the ubiquity of things not, coincidentally, strewn across the countertop. The items are for the most part neatly arranged. There is a jewelry tree, a basket whose handle, trimmed with hair clasps, contains smallish items I use more or less each day or that need finishing. Then, there is the  oblong, white ceramic tray, the latest addition/attempt to organize the clutter. It holds, in height order, facial cleanser, toner, perfume, perfume, perfume. Three bottles of it in varying shapes and shades of clear glass. The shortest, is a flatish, rounded bottle of Estee Lauder’s Sensuous. The one following, is a rectangular, cool, perhaps celery green bottle from Bath and Body, containing a fragrance they identify as Green Tea. The next one, that runs into the face stuff, is a tall square bottle in a saturated, though see-through purple, eggplant, really, full – or nearly so – of Sexy by Victoria Secret.

The jewelry tree refuses to disappear as I move from flossing to brushing and then to circular motions with cleanser and brush from cheek to cheek. It has over time become quite overgrown with accessories. Earrings and bangles, silk flowers and necklaces dangle from its graceful branches.

Choice, it appears, is the order of the day but I would be as content as my imagination says that Girl With Pearl Earring is in that Rembrandt. Apparently, she is / was ‘no more’ than someone’s servant. Yet to me, in that turban, and sizeable pear-shaped pearl earring, her countenance, completely free of wrinkles and therefore unreadable, is to me something to which one aspires – inscrutable they call it when degrading folk of Asian extraction. I find it a compliment even if otherwise intentioned.

Who, after all, needs more of anything she didn’t want in the first place? What good is choice to someone who appraises it slightly? Long fingernails are sometimes pretty but they always get in the way of typing when found at the tips of my fingers. I realize that the absence of choice doesn’t make for a perfect world either. Had I a choice, my parents would still be living. Had I a choice, God and I would already be on (consistently conscious, on my part) inseparable terms. Though I realize Oswald Chambers cautions us that childlike trust is the furthest thing from self-conscious.

I write all this to avoid saying that it may be juvenile, stunted or self-ish but I do not want to use my writing/teaching gifts in church because I seem wholly incapable of separating the interests that seem in conflict. I don’t like it when people (or I imagine people…) avoid me because of the feedback they’ve asked for and received from me about their writing. I don’t want to have to compartmentalize them so I may worship freely, and I have no intention of leaving the good-ground church where I’ve been planted. So help me, Jesus. How do I proceed?


Emma Thompson‘s rendering of Professor Dr. Vivian Bearing in the film Wit (2001) was, like the film’s subject-matter, beyond words. It has to be among the best made-for-tv films on record. Perhaps, for those not in love with words or never estranged from the human family, it was a bit slow or the main character a bit self-absorbed. But for my time/money, it was, as the Brits are fond of saying, spot-on. I wonder if that is correctly punctuated. I deeply appreciate the way poetry is threaded throughout, despite the ultimate verdict of its all but irrelevance in such circumstances. I have, on more than one occasion, encouraged students to memorize a poem or three for company during the dark night of the soul that comes like death, early or late, for all who live. I liked too, the way I felt my regrets would not be about harsh moments between students and me, but about students lost or those who never entered my classrooms. I do so enjoy the discipline of study and yet realize it can be no substitute for human/humane relationship – even with the Divine. Thanks for the share, Iveth. I’ll get it back to the library at once.

Such A World

Had a nice chat with a man working the window at the Post Office. Turns out his degree was in Education but he ended up working at a rec center before turning state employee. He said a teacher used to come by after school and he always wondered why he chose such a profession since it didn’t pay. He still marvels at our selflessness.

I tried to get across what it is that keeps me getting up each morning, sleeping peacefully each night, and entering the classroom with hope each day. I recalled aloud the time I discovered precisely what that was and summarized it as informed self-interest. I don’t know why it seems so hard to accept the accolades for teaching as infrequently as they come. To make a long story short, one day a guest speaker got lost on the way to an auditorium I’d reserved and invited several English classes to stop by. Feeling I had no choice but to leave the situation in students’ hands, I left the team in charge who’d read the visiting author’s book and asked them to engage the audience until we returned.

After the event had concluded and the abashed author added classroom visits to his schedule by way of apology, one colleague pulled me aside and marveled aloud at the grace and skill of the students who’d elegantly divided the labor and gotten and kept the ball rolling in my absence. I suggested that it was nothing more than they were accustomed to doing in our class – except with a larger group of participants. I thanked her for her appreciation and said I’d relay the kind words to the students who embodied the attributes of people in a world I could safely turn my back on. This is my goal while teaching and walking the Earth. It is my vision of the world we deserve. Join me, won’t you, in cultivating just such a world.

The Lecture That Wasn’t

Sometimes, not always, I yearn to tell the truth. I want to walk into the classroom some days and announce: I feel your pain, or numbness, or defeat, or indifference, but that doesn’t stop me from pretending that what we do here in this sacred space called a classroom, three hours each week, can change lives. But I chicken out each time.

Anihinga Trail

At other times, I just want to waltz in and say: Look at me. You see this fat? It didn’t just appear over night. It took a lifetime to get into this shape and it will take a lifetime to get out of it. Now, in this moment, is the span of our entire lifetime. A next moment, let alone tomorrow, is not guaranteed. There’s no point waiting. As The Drummer said in the film of the same name, “Life is full of thousands of moments and I am one of them. I am that moment. That moment is me.” Imagine. We know we are this moment and yet, we allow the opportunity to “make” us instead of taking the dominion that is already ours and using it for the greater good. Nothing like informed self-interest, is there?

Anyway, I think up all these things to inspire my students and instead, on certain occasions, I inspire myself yet remain scarcely to make the changes I desire. It’s slow going this moment by moment stuff. But, as Harvey Jackins was fond of saying, Fortunately or unfortunately, I happen to be the best person available for the job. Oh, you’re wondering perhaps, what’s the job? Leading your life, of course. Who better to do it?

We Care Therefore We Are

So very many things seem blogworthy coursing through my head during the day. But by the time I actually sit in front of this laptop, no matter what time it is, early or late, nothing seems to matter more than going to sleep. After a class in which a student actually asked why we should care about one another, debriefing the exchange that followed in a circle of six caring professional educators working at one school but coming from several continents, let alone five different cultures and countries, I realize students are not alone in their chronic indifference, and that we must all keep trying to care and then act on it. Thanks for the reminder, George Lakoff. TED’s Kathryn Schultz invites us to begin by suspending our obsession with being wrong or right. Touché.

President Obama’s Town Meeting on Facebook

I was impressed that the environment was actually as stable as it was. Technology keeps on advancing. I wish we could keep pace with advances in humanity the way John Naisbitt suggested was necessary in Megatrends. I was with a student for part of it. Was education / funding our future addressed?

Democracy is based on empathy, that is, on citizens caring about each other and acting on that care, taking responsibility not just for themselves but for their families, communities, and their nation. The role of government is to carry out this principle in two ways: protection and empowerment.  George Lakoff

When The Country We Believe In embodies this aspiration, she is at her humane best.