Wednesday, April 29, 2009


1. Our Pluralizing Plagiarism is currently on its second printing. Yee-haw.

2. I was rejected today. Ahem. My manuscript was rejected today.

3. Time to get that tenure packet together. Thus begins the year of judgment.

presents! presents! presents!

I have a song that goes a little something like this: presents! presents! presents!

I really like presents, but I don’t like to open presents because, well, once I do, there won’t be any more presents. It’s the anticipation of surprise that’s so much fun; that’s really the gift that comes wrapped in pretty foil paper and topped with a bow. Last week was Steve’s birthday and I asked him in the evening if he was ready to open his present. Sure, he said. But honey, then there won’t be any more presents.

As I was walking to my life writing class the other day, I was thinking about how Thursday’s class is going to be like a present I’ve been waiting to unwrap. This class this semester has been the kind of class professors dream about and screenwriters imagine when they conjure scenes in college classrooms. On Thursday, the last day of class, we’ll all read an excerpt from a life writing piece we’ve been working on. And a big part of me doesn’t want that day to come because then it will be over. I don’t know how to bottle those feelings, to save them for later, for a time when I need to remember why I do the work I do.

My plan as I’m walking into the room is to tell them this, that I’m thinking of Thursday’s class as a kind of present waiting to be opened. But when I get there, these smart, thoughtful, self-aware students who have written their lives with grace and mettle begin asking asinine questions like, Where is your office again? When’s the final essay due? What are we doing on Thursday? Are we meeting next week?

I moan and groan in response. You’re kidding, right?

And I was just about to tell you all about how I think of Thursday’s class as a kind of present waiting to be unwrapped.



Sunday, April 19, 2009

tulips! and daffies!

I never claimed to be a gardener. I never claimed to be able to tell the difference between a hyacinth and a snapdragon. Or to know that snowdrops are flowers, not drops of snow.

But last Fall I decided to plant tulip and daffodil bulbs in front of the house. How hard could it be, right? Just decide where to put them, dig a hole, drop the bulb in, and voila! In the spring witness their beauty.

There are a lot of lessons on gardening that I missed. Like all of them. I had to ask Becky, as she was frying green tomatoes in her farmhouse kitchen, where she got the green tomatoes. And last week, A. told me that there's a right way to plant flower bulbs.

Oh, come on, I said. You just plop them in the ground.

No, she said. You have to place them in tear-drop-side up. Pointy side up.

So now I've probably got tulips growing straight down into hell. And daffies too. Dang.

Julie Wonka made me feel better though as she waved her hand in the air dismissively and said, "It's nature. It'll work itself out."

I'm happy to report, though, that many daffies made it and at least eight tulips. So there, nature. I showed you.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

if only David Sedaris made movies...

This will come as no surprise to anybody who knows me, but I've got a knack for choosing really depressing movies. A while back on this blog, I defied anybody to find a more depressing movie than Savages with Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney. I mean, good lord, that movie just made me want to slit my wrists right then and there. Well, last week I went to Blockbuster by myself--I was hoping to get Synechdoche, NY, but it wasn't there, so I searched and searched and finally, when I got all the way around to the A section, I found and rented An American Crime. When S. and I would pause it to go pee or to get a drink or a snack, we'd just look at each other and shake our heads. Amy does it again. "You're no longer allowed to choose movies," he tells me. "This makes me want to go hang myself."

And it does. Make you want to hang yourself, that is. But it also made me want to do more research on this "true" account of the case of child abuse that brought child abuse to the nation's attention.

I have a similar tendency when teaching the personal essay course. It's not as severe, of course, but many of the essays I teach in that course are a bit, well, grim. Revise. On the surface, they're grim. But when we read and discuss them, they always make me (and pretty much all of the students, I think I can safely say) see the world differently. But I made a conscious decision to include a few essays on the lighter side. We began the course with David Sedaris' "I Almost Saw This Girl Get Killed," and today, we'll discuss the final two essays before moving into three weeks of workshopping student work. First, Sedaris' "Tricked," in which a young David shovels Halloween candy into his face rather than share it with the strange people next door, and then "Old Faithful," an essay about monogamy that begins with a lump. I don't think I meant to bookmark the course with Sedaris, but I did know that I wanted to make sure students had good models of how to articulate important insights in a funny way.

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Saturday, April 04, 2009


Just when I let myself believe that I could have an afternoon of quiet and simplicity, I am shown what a fool I am.

Wednesday afternoon was a gorgeous early spring day, not quite warm enough to go without a sweater, a nip in the air that reminds me of Fall. Steve wouldn’t be home for a couple more hours, so I decided I’d work in the front yard, removing the hay we’d put on the plants to keep them warm through the winter. I brought the dogs out front with me. I tied Wrigley up because she’s the one more likely to run off after a bunny. Annabelle’s almost 8, so she’s all grown up. She’s finally become the kind of dog who will stay by my side. Took me a very long time to get to this point with her, so I love taking opportunities like today to show her how I trust her. At one point as I’m walking to the street with arms full of hay, I tell Wrigley that someday she might be as well behaved as Annabelle and maybe then she can be outside with us not tied up.

Let me set the scene a bit more. Idyllic afternoon in a middle-class suburb. The little boys next door are riding their bikes up and down the street, the neighbors are out talking, friends come over to pet the girls, and it feels good to do physical labor outside for the first time in months.

And then she saw a bunny. Annabelle was off, running down the street, letting out that animal moan she only gets when she’s on the hunt. My calling her name did nothing except to make me even more frantic. Really, am I really doing this again? Am I really running down the street after this damn dog for what has to be the twentieth time in our lives together?

I should mention, too, that all the neighbors by this time had gone inside. I had no help.

So I ran after her down the street. We live not that far from Hershey Ave., and it was that time of day when all the State Farmers are on their way home from work. In Annabelle time, Hershey was just seconds away. Somehow in my chase, I ended up in a yard with Annabelle running running running in parking lots on the other side of a fence. I’m helpless. I’ve got to climb this fence. But it’s the chain-link kind, the kind with the really sharp spires. I put my foot into one of the slots, put my other foot on a higher slot and try to pull my other leg over the fence. But I’m wearing wide-leg jeans and the bottoms keep getting stuck on the sharp edges of the fence. So I fall back down to the ground. I get up. My jeans are ripped. I’m standing there thinking that the one thing standing between me and my dog is this fence and if I can’t climb it, she’s gonna die. I'm wondering how on earth I'm gonna be able to live with myself.

The woman whose yard I’m in appears and asks if some steps would help. What? I’m so panicky that I don’t really know what she means until I see her small daughter lugging a set of steps over—the kind you might use for a trampoline or a pool. “This is heavy,” she groans as she drags it across the yard ever so slowly. I can’t stay for this. I’ve got to do something to find her. So I run back toward our house, knowing that one of our neighbors has a gate I can use to get through to the other side. I grab a friend who’s just coming home from work. No explanation. Just, “J.W., I need you!” and with no questions, he helps. We get to the other side of the fence out to a grassy swamp. I look left and right, still frantic, when my eyes land on a little black doggie head straight ahead. She’s lying in a mud puddle, content as can be, cooling off after a long bunny chase. And she reeks. I’m so mad at her that J.W. has to drag her home by the collar. When we get back to the house, there’s Wrigley sitting on the front steps, obedient as can be. Such a good girl. Finally, it’s Annabelle who’s in trouble.