30 November 2005

Breathing room

After final exams, report cards, portfolio filing, closing ceremonies, goodbye hugs, mass cleanings, and a farewell lunch...yesterday was the last day of school...

...which means I actually survived my first year of teaching.

(Note: None is more surprised by this than I.)

Tomorrow I begin the happy work of library organization and inventory. The rumor is that we'll have more space next year...and more books! Thus, I shamelessly admit that I'm looking forward to a week of cataloging prior to a well-earned vacation, in which I hope to do a lot of reading, planning, and research for next year.

But for now, I'm relaxing with the MetaxuCafé, a beer, and the sunset view from my balcony.


29 November 2005


Forgetfulness is like a song
That, freed from beat and measure, wanders.
Forgetfulness is like a bird whose wings are reconciled,
Outspread and motionless,--
A bird that coasts the wind unwearyingly.

Forgetfulness is rain at night,
Or an old house in a forest,--or a child.
Forgetfulness is white,--white as a blasted tree,
And it may stun the sybil into prophecy,
Or bury the Gods.

I can remember much forgetfulness.
~ Hart Crane

The song goes on its way, meandering the halls of time, heedless of tempo or space. The bird could spend hours bathed in such timelessness--sea and sky might as well be one and the same. Water falls, aiding the dreams of the sleepers beneath roofs in the dark...perhaps in the woods where only the trees remember. Children have ephemeral soap-bubble emotions: grudges, tears, and laughter follow where old moons go. There is blankness on the face of it, or of the limbs bleached by the ceaseless, roaming wind. No ending or beginning, alive to nothing but itself. The sybil might blink and speak and forget to remember that eons have gone by with silence as the only answer. The Gods follow the opposite course--smothered by centuries, decades, years of disregard.

I write this to recall the blessings of oblivion.

28 November 2005


William Blake...mystic, pre-Romantic poet, engraver, printer, painter, visionary.

Born on this day in 1757.

'Tell me what is a thought, and of what substance is it made?
Tell me what is a joy, and in what gardens do joys grow?
And in what rivers swim the sorrows? And upon what mountains
Wave shadows of discontent? And in what houses dwell the wretched,
Drunken with woe, forgotten, and shut up from cold despair?

'Tell me where dwell the thoughts, forgotten till thou call them forth?
Tell me where dwell the joys of old, and where the ancient loves,
And when will they renew again, and the night of oblivion past,
That I might traverse times and spaces far remote, and bring
Comforts into a present sorrow and a night of pain?
Where goest thou, O thought? to what remote land is thy flight?
If thou returnest to the present moment of affliction,
Wilt thou bring comforts on thy wings, and dews and honey and balm,
Or poison from the desert wilds, from the eyes of the envier?'

~ from "Visions of the Daughters of Albion"

15 November 2005

A difficult paradox

Linda Leavell on "Marianne Moore, the James family, and the politics of celibacy":
Her mother explained one of the inspirations for ["Marriage"]: "One day when skating in Central Park, and coming to a statue of ... Daniel Webster, [Marianne] noted the words inscribed, ... Liberty and Union, now and forever,' and thought his notion was as appropriate to the family as to the state." (48) "Liberty and union" is the paradox of American democracy, and of family love, that Moore returns to again and again. It is significant that in "Marriage" she deletes the third phrase of Webster's famous quotation--"Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable"--because it would upset the balance in favor of "union." [...]

Repeatedly her poetry resists categories, resists stereotypes, resists expectations, resists, in short, unions. To lean against the prevailing wind of erotic desire and of most lyric poetry demands "gusto" (Complete Prose 420-26) on Moore's part, if not "criminal ingenuity" (Complete Poems 62). And yet what she chooses ultimately is not the myth of the solitary artist or lone American pilgrim. Self-sufficiency can be as egotistical as "love in the mistaken sense of greed." Rather, her model of national and personal identity lies in the difficult paradox of "liberty and union," each impossible without the other.
(Via wood s lot)

from "Marriage"
Below the incandescent stars
below the incandescent fruit,
the strange experience of beauty;
its existence is too much;
it tears one to pieces
and each fresh wave of consciousness
is poison.
"See her, see her in this common world,"
the central flaw
in that first crystal-fine experiment,
this amalgamation which can never be more
than an interesting possibility,
describing it
as "that strange paradise
unlike flesh, gold, or stately buildings,
the choicest piece of my life:
the heart rising
in its estate of peace
as a boat rises
with the rising of the water;"
constrained in speaking of the serpent --
that shed snakeskin in the history of politeness
not to be returned to again --
that invaluable accident
exonerating Adam.
~ Marianne Moore, born on this day in 1887

14 November 2005

Removing context to preserve meaning?

Boris Fishman has written an excellent essay for Nextbook on what went wrong with Bee Season's adaptation to film, and poses some interesting questions about the possible implications:
Though screenwriter Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal and the directing team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel retain the book's enchantment with Jewish mysticism, they have leached it almost entirely of its context. "We didn't want the religious side of Judaism to overwhelm the spiritual side of the story," the directors told me before the film's release. In the film's production notes, they explain, "We wanted to explore a more universal and accessible vision of what an internal spiritual quest of any kind might be like." [...]

[I]n the book, Saul's stewardship of an ordinary congregation implicitly explained his obsession with mysticism; in the film, the avocation comes across as random and weird. These are certainly spiritual times in America, but it may be premature to assume that kabbalist aspirations require no more explanation than a gardening habit. A more specifically Jewish setting might have had a clarifying effect, making the material easier to relate to for non-Jews. Indeed, if Siegel and McGehee are right and Jews have become thoroughly integrated, non-Jews shouldn't find that backstory too difficult to absorb.

The film does pose an intriguing, if inadvertent, question absent from Goldberg's novel: Does anything indivisibly Jewish remain after the traditional markers of American "Jewishness"—the stock characters, the rituals of the shul—have been removed? Is there something uniquely Jewish about this story, or is the Jewish teaching it portrays so universally applicable because it's so unspecific? As American culture performs on Jewish tradition the loving evisceration to which it subjects other cultures before they can join its mainstream, what remains?
There's also an insightful audio interview with Myla Goldberg.

(Via MoorishGirl)


I imagine...
the confident and euphoric Melville at his cigar-and-port dinner with Nathaniel Hawthorne on or about publication day, unaware that the British edition was out, or botched; the British reviews describing his novel "as so much trash belonging to the worst school of Bedlam literature" winging their way to Boston by boat that very minute; the U.S. papers about to quote and re-quote the British press, showing not just a similar lack of insight but that they had not read the book, as the American edition was different, and not botched. The long-term personal and professional impact could not have been greater: "Taken all in all," writes Parker of Nov. 14, "this was the happiest day of Melville's life."
For on this day in 1851, Moby-Dick was published.

(Via Today in Lit)

12 November 2005


I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper-weight,
All the misery of manilla folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places,
Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
Endless duplication of lives and objects.
And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate gray standard faces.

~ Theodore Roethke

(With much gratitude to wood s lot. This has become a new favorite.)

And there was much rejoicing

Yesterday saw the completion of my in-class observation and now I am a certified TEFL grad! I was pleased to discover that it was much more rigorous than I had originally thought...and wonderfully practical. Plus, it was great to be a student again.

Next year will be a whole 'nother ballgame: five classes (25 teaching hours) devoted entirely to English and History. And the miracle is...I'm actually excited about it.

08 November 2005

The latest from my favorite FPLA

It has been an evil day filled with many gradations of malevolence--from finding out about the death of John Fowles to having to extract a wad of gum from the lovely black tresses of one of my students (the work of an infatuated seven-year-old boy).

So what do I do? Stay in and read the John Hodgman interview at One Story, of course (and offer thanks to The Elegant Variation).

Many moons ago when I was barely out of college, I stumbled upon Hodgman's "Ask a Former Professional Literary Agent" columns in McSweeney's. As this was before I discovered the marvelous universe of litblogs, I would email friends with the links so they, too, could bask in the seasoned wisdom of Mr. John K. Hodgman.

Later, I moved to Brookline, Massachusetts and became a proud patron of the Coolidge Corner Theatre myself. (Every word he has written about it is lovingly true.)

Now I discover he has just released a new book, The Areas of My Expertise. Or, as he so aptly explains,
Everything you need to know about my book is contained within its title: THE AREAS OF MY EXPERTISE. That is actually the shorthand title. The full title is:

"An Almanac of Complete World Knowledge Compiled With Instructive Annotation and Appranged in Useful Order by Me, JOHN HODGMAN, a professional writer, in THE AREAS OF MY EXPERTISE, Which Areas Include Matters Historical, Matters Literary, Matters Cryptozoological, Hobo Matters, Food, Drink, and Cheese (a Kind of Food), Squirrels & Lobsters & Eels, Haircuts, Utopia, What Will happen in the Future, and Most Other Subjects."

Which is to say that it is a handy desk reference and book of interesting trivia in the tradition of THE BOOK OF LISTS or THE PEOPLE'S ALMANAC, with the distinction that in MY book, all of the historical oddities and amazing true facts contained within it are entirely MADE UP, by me. This, paradoxically, allows it to be more true.
Of course it does.

So for old time's sake (and because I needed a laugh), here is a glimpse from The Best Column Ever (or in the immediate case below, "Ask A Brilliant But Eccentric Sleuth Who Is As Mysterious As The Many Legendary Crimes That He Has Solved, And Who Has Since Gone Into Hiding"):
Lisa L. F. asks: Marcel Duchamp once remarked that no book should be longer than 99 pages, but still most seem to be much longer. Why?
JKH, WOWAD: Because pages are printed in groupings of 16 or 32 (called "signatures"), the longest a book can actually be is 96 pages long. Most are much shorter: "One Hundred Years of Solitude," which many believe to be a very long novel, is actually only ten sentences long. There are two explanations for the phenomenon, called "page inflation," that you have observed. Wide margins are partly to blame. But more commonly the fault lies in the conjuring of an evil magician, as magicians are the sworn enemies of logic, literary brevity, and, of course, detectives. Electronic publishing will change all this.
And for good measure:
Monica S asks: Is it ethical for a writer to say that she has been published on the website of a literary journal, even if said writer has merely contrived to have a letter printed in that journal's Letters section?
JKH, FPLA: Oh, absolutely. This is common practice in publishing, just as it is entirely acceptable to say that your novel is "being seriously considered" by a publishing house so long as you have not yet opened the rejection letter.

05 November 2005


True education flowers at the point when delight falls in love with responsibility. If you love something, you want to look after it.
~ Philip Pullman

On Thursday, I received a lovely brown package in the mail (hooray for parents and belated gifts!): Literature: A Portable Anthology. Since reading an article back in August on "How schools are destroying the joy of reading," I've wanted to get my hands on this book. It's exceeded my expectations. I got the same feeling as when I was in college and bought my Norton anthologies--beautiful tomes with Bible-thin pages full of friends old and unmet. This anthology by Bedford/St. Martin's is specifically for introductory lit classes (high school) and has wonderful bios and excellent supplementary info (not to mention the 35 stories, 250 poems, and 9 plays by everyone from Sir Philip Sidney to Sandra Cisneros). I plan to rely on it a lot this coming year. (I've been reading through it in my spare time--revisited "Bartleby, the Scrivner" and "A White Heron" yesterday.)

Most days I'm terrified of what lies ahead. But then there are days like last week when I needed to carry a volume of Dylan Thomas in my mochila and devour a few poems during breaktime. Like a schoolgirl with a crush, I wrote his lines all over the blank cover of my new journal: the words of a Welshman in handwritten black ink to serve as a talisman to ward off mediocre thoughts and banal forms of despair.

So for now I won't think about my lack of experience and the vastness of all I don't know. The weight of this new book in my hands reminds me of a time when I knew what I was doing and loved every minute of it.


I have just listened to this
symphony which Mozart dashed off
in one day
and it had enough wild and crazy
joy to last
whatever forever
Mozart came as close as
possible to

~ Charles Bukowski

02 November 2005

Mi ratoncito favorito

"Speaking the Heritage," an anonymous column that appeared this week at Inside Higher Ed, exposes the tensions and complexities of Spanish-speaking communities in the U.S.:
For my students who are what has been called Heritage speakers of Spanish — those whose home language is Spanish, and speak it with varying degrees of proficiency — their relationship with the language is quite different from the one the non-Heritage speakers and the native speakers have. In these years I have worked close to la frontera, I have come to understand that, for many of the heritage speakers, Spanish is much more than just a language: it is a source of pain, no matter how well or how poorly they speak it. Some have come to tell me how they were ridiculed in elementary school for now [sic] knowing how to speak “proper” English. Others told me of other times when the newcomers from Mexico or other Spanish-speaking countries make fun of their Spanish and tell them that they do not speak any Spanish, even in the university!
The professor goes on to relate a particularly heinous experience with a university board. Ultimately, it is the students who suffer.

It is true that "there are all kinds of Hispanics, some of whom, unfortunately, do not recognize somebody who is an ally, and would rather have only people of one ethnic group teach any subject related to the interests of that ethnic group." I'm very familiar with the type of anxiety the author refers to. I think that's part of the reason I abandoned my plans for graduate school and hightailed it back to Colombia. I'm ashamed of what I don't know, of my merely adequate Spanish, of the crater-sized gaps in my knowledge of Latin America. My father knew no English when he arrived in northern California in the '70s, and although both English and Spanish are spoken at home (my Anglo mother is fully bilingual), inevitably, English predominates. (He speaks excellent English--I wish I could say the same for my Spanish!)

The longer I'm here, the more I learn about my father...and myself. (I feel more at home here in a lot of ways than I do in the States.)

As children, my brothers and sisters and I didn't have the tooth fairy. Instead, whenever we lost a tooth, we'd awake the next morning with a carefully folded note from "the Big Mouse" under the pillow. The Big Mouse always drew his self-portrait on his notes by way of signature (which included a cheeky Cheshire-like grin). These notes sent us off on "wild-goose chases" throughout the house--each clue sending us off in search of another until we found our small presents.

I'd always thought this tradition was invented by my dad--and certainly parts of it are. But last month (only last month!!) I found out about el Ratón Pérez--the mouse who replaces teeth with money under pillows all across Latin America and Spain. So I did a bit of digging...

Apparently, Sr. Pérez was partially the creation of Fr. Luis Coloma (a member of the Spanish Royal Academy) for the Spanish king Alfonso XIII when he was 8. In the story, the mouse lives in Madrid with his family in a big box of cookies in a candy store not far from the Palacio Real. The night he goes to take the tooth from underneath the prince's pillow, the prince wakes up and they go on an adventure together. The prince is turned into a mouse and travels with Pérez to meet his family and tag along on his other errands. Ratón Pérez visits many children, and the future king "discovered that there were many different children that endured hunger and cold, but they were also his brothers because all are children of God."

If you go to the Centro Virtual Cervantes site and click on "Exposición," you can view a slide show of 79 different illustrators' depictions of my old friend the Big Mouse. I'd love to add my dad's version to it.