Friday, October 31, 2008
· Slow down. It only FEELS like you’re sick of all this. Trust me, after ten years on the job, any job, you’ll be desperately scheming to come BACK…a new major…another degree…philosophy maybe, bat husbandry, intramural sports administration…anything.
· I know you THINK those double-knit yellow hotpants are stunning with your Ugg boots and red UP hoodie, but trust me, the outfit isn’t as sharp as you imagine.
· Get your hair out of your eyes.
· You might have better luck raising your GPA if you go to class occasionally and stay awake while you’re there.
· Go back to your dorm, and don’t return until you’ve slept, put on clean clothes, and brushed your teeth.
· Employers won’t really look at that double French and Bio major or your Honor’s thesis on rural solid waste management and the life cycle of the aporrectodea turgida; they’ll be checking out your outfit. Maybe double-knit yellow hot pants and a pair of Uggs…
· Don’t let anyone kid you; fast food service is a noble profession.
· “Who’s on the train?” and “Where did Katie get those stilettos?” will never be correct answers for math story problems.
· Sit up straight.
· Quit school NOW. Party for a year or two. Hitch to Oregon with your boy/girlfriend and live on love for year until s/he leaves you for a forest ranger. Write poetry on the Greyhound as you make your way back home. Work like a dog for the next five or ten years at a job you despise. Marry an insurance agent. Have a couple of kids. Pay a mortgage. Don’t come back until you want a college degree more than anything else on the planet, and you’ll do whatever it takes to get it.
· Call your mother.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Some of the rumors, innuendo, whispers, and nervous talk are from well-meaning folks who are truly FEARFUL. I get it. I remember when my Presbyterian confirmation buddy Sherry told me her Uncle Kyle told her that Catholics eat Protestants. But we’ve all heard the adage: we FEAR what we don’t UNDERSTAND.
When Colin Powell recently endorsed Obama, he was asked to comment on the chatter about Obama’s rumored Muslim ties. Finally, finally…someone said to the national media, right out loud, what I’ve been thinking all this time. Here’s an excerpt of Powell’s remarks:
I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the [Republican] party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim; he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, “What if he is?” Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated [with] terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
Bravo!! Still, and pardon the cheesy metaphor, I think the current administration has very successfully plunked a kettle on the stove of the American psyche, in which they’ve stirred together Islam, Muslim, Arab, Middle East, terrorism, and maybe oil and economic ruin, until many Americans see it as one big nasty soup. So while folks are right to be afraid of terrorism, buying into this general fearmongering is like avoiding an amazing Minestrone because you don’t like bay leaves, and there might be ONE in the pot.
Since I’m ignorant myself when it comes to Islamic tradition, I thought I’d check out the main tenets of the faith. Devout Muslims believe in:
1. A profession of faith – the Shehada is the Muslim creed, that there is only one god, Allah, and Mohammed is His prophet.
2. Prayer – Salat – Muslims pray 3-5 times a day and practice both private and public prayer.
3. Ablutions – Wudu – this is ritual cleansing with water or, when none is available, clean, fine sand, before prayer.
4. Almsgiving – Zakat – Muslims are expected to give a portion of their earnings to the poor.
5. Fasting – Siyam – Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, abstaining from food, drink, and sex, during the 29 days of Ramadan. It’s considered pious to fast at other times of the year, but these fasts must not last longer than 3 days.
6. Pilgrimage – Hajj – every Muslim is expected to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of Ka’ba in Mecca at least once in her or his lifetime.
There is much more, of course, and there ARE extremists who bend EVERY religious tradition to their personal, social, or political agendas—consider the Inquisition, the European “burning time” and Salem witch trials, Jonestown. But take out the Arabic words and names above, change Mecca to Israel in #6, and we could be talking about Christianity or Judaism. I’ve always maintained that the world’s enduring religions are ALL fundamentally true & good—it’s the dogma and garbage we pile on over the years that causes trouble in Paradise. And when it comes to people of other faiths becoming president of a free nation, well, we've had plenty of Christian presidents who've stirred up their own nasty soups for us over the years, so I'm not sure that's a sure-fire qualification...
Enough of my ranting. Here’s the rest of Powell’s reply about what it means to be Muslim in America, which kind of goes to the heart of democracy:
I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards—Purple Heart, Bronze Star—showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had a crescent and star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Not long ago, I watched two young women come into a restaurant together. They picked a booth, sat on opposite sides of the table, and started looking over the menu. Both were on cell phones the entire time. It would only have been MORE surreal if they had been talking to each other. And I catch at least 2 or 3 students a week texting under their desks during class, in spite of the grade penalties and public humiliation they know I’ll dish out.
This isn’t just the age of instant communication; it’s the age of incessant communication. Cell phones, texting, emailing, IM’ing, Facebooking, iPodding (all with the TV as background noise)…they keep us connected, tethered, CHAINED, to the outer world. Ironically, though, the ubiquitous noise keeps most people completely—and thankfully, according to most of my students—disconnected from the inner silence, from themselves.
Forget the solitude or discipline required for contemplation, meditation, or hermitage. Today, most of us have tremors if it there’s a momentary decrescendo in the din. I know scads of people who would give their right (insert your favorite body part here) to have permanently-implanted earbuds and a subcutaneous iPod. I wonder what about silence drives us to bombard our brains in a constant electronic hum?
Maybe in moments of silence, we meet ourselves. That can be downright scary. Maybe Self is a total stranger, and we all know what parents say will happen to us if we talk to strangers. Maybe Self is no day at the beach, and the noise keeps us from having to deal with a scoundrel. Maybe, it’s like William Benet said, “and now there is merely silence, silence, silence, saying all we did not know,” and THAT’S what keeps us plugged in—we don’t want to KNOW how much we don’t KNOW. Maybe when the noise stops, however briefly, big questions pound in our heads like a trunkload of subwoofers—why am I here, ba-BOOM, where did I come from, ba-BOOM, where do I go from here, ba-BOOM, why do we do what we do to each other, ba-BOOM, is there a god/goddess, ba-BOOM, is anybody really OUT there, ba-BOOM.
I know I sound curmudgeon-ish. I could have started this post, “Why, back in my day, by gum,….” But between checking my email a gazillion times a day, talking on my cell (while driving/eating/cooking/walking—no texting yet, but my thumbs itch constantly), and listening to music (CD’s, iPod, radio), I’m running just as fast from the inner world as the pre-adults I horrify in class. Maybe I should try a day unfettered by electronics. Or at least an evening. Or maybe I’ll start with a couple minutes…
Sunday, October 19, 2008
But I’ve fallen off the “Eckhart Tolle channels Ram Das” truck lately, thinking about the old tradition of keeping extended families together. Today, kids go off to college, away from family, then go even further away to begin careers. Siblings are often spread out across a region or a country. One’s childhood nuclear family rarely spends time together, except maybe during holiday gatherings or “reunions,” which become increasingly rare as kids begin having kids, and the parent-kids are pressed into cub scout, brownie, sunday school, PTA, band booster or soccer servitude.
I think there was “method to the madness” in extended families. For one thing, first-time parents are often…well…incompetent. Really, anyone with opposable thumbs can change a diaper, but things like correct baby food temperature, rashes, vaccination reactions, and total lack of sleep can give the smartest new parents that glassy-eyed zombie look. There really IS no manual for parenting, and so traditionally we learned by modeling ourselves after the parents around us—grandparents, parents, aunts & uncles, etc. Scary, if the models are horrid at parenting themselves, in which case, kids had best move far away and sign up for parent effectiveness training at their local community college.
When good models are available, extended families are a lifesaver. When my oldest son was born, I lived in a 17-room house with my younger siblings, my mom, and my grandma. Someone met my son’s every need, immediately. He was spoiled beyond belief and entertained my grandma’s church circle in a Superman cape and not much else by age two. He grew up believing he was the CU (Center of the Universe), but he also grew up listening to adults in constant conversation. Today, the kid is a golden-tongued debater and performer extraordinaire. And the MOST important thing about raising him in this extended family is that I could hand him over, or better yet nap, whenever I was overwhelmed by new motherhood.
My daughter was also born while I lived in the Big House (the family home, not prison). The first granddaughter, she didn’t touch solid ground until around age three. I’m surprised her feet didn’t atrophy, she was held so often. She too listened to adults, and she didn’t attempt a word until she had a full, complete sentence ready to go. I believe it was, “Please don’t put eggplant in the lasagna any more.” My daughter had childhood asthma, and there were many times when the extended family saved MY life and hers, staying up with her in shifts, sitting in a steamy bathroom with her, driving us to the ER, or calming my fears so I could calm hers.
My youngest son lives right now with my mom, while he makes important career choices between work, college, being a destitute European street musician, or hitching to California to skate boardwalks and live off discarded cotton candy. I’m incredibly grateful he can be there. Mom can often have meaningful discussions with him, even when he adopts his quizzical, “I don’t understand this foreign tongue you speak” look with us. And she feeds his antisocial cat and gargantuan dog when he’s off skateboarding.
Right now I’m working on getting my oldest son, with my daughter-in-law and two grandkids, back into the fold of family & Midwest, after their Northwest adventure of the past few years. I want the grandkids to have the same benefits of an extended family that my son has always had, even when he locked himself in the trophy case at school, got arrested for cruising downtown at 4 a.m. on a “suspicious skateboard,” left prank phone messages on the assistant principle’s answering machine, or called for gas money home when he found himself living in his car in Boulder. And when my children are all back in the bosom of their adoring family, and they’re raising their own families, I won’t just KNOW karma is getting them back for every fitful, sleepless night I spent during their formative years—I’ll get to WATCH.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
I once had a life reading done by a psychic, in which I was told that at the heart of my unique “life seal,” was the IChing’s hexagram 13: Community.
Our peafowl community is holding steady at 15. Yesterday the flock was riled up and peeking out from inside the garage, all except for the one in the linden tree above my head. Suddenly, the one in the tree took flight toward the pasture to the north. Turns out it was a big redtail hawk—the prairie stealth bomber. I ran after it, clapping and yelling that there were fat, leggy chickens down the road. The hawk flew in a big arc south, then west, then north again, and probably ended up right back where she started in the linden tree. The peaflock was still jittery and huddled close to the house when I got home from work, but no casualties.
There WILL be casualties when this election business is done. We forget that whatever nasty venom we muster for the candidates we don’t like, or the friends & family with whom we disagree, or the colleagues we alienate with our rancorous blow-harding, will still be circulating in our systems after the election. We’ll all need a good cowboy or cowgirl when it’s over, someone to take the Bowie knife to our leg and then suck out the poison before it reaches heart & brain.
Speaking of brains, I think this is how the mind works in the South Dakota winter—you’re stuck inside too much, too long in the dark cave, until you begin to chase after obscure connections—drawing invisible lines from one thought to another (unrelated) thought—just to create the sense that something’s moving.
The truth is, my mind actually takes these odd, twisty back roads from one idea to another all the time, sun or snow. I’m okay with that. Because if Jack Blizzard’s inevitable siege buries me under a thick layer of snow & ice soon, I know some spark, some disjointed notion, revelation or epiphany, some thawed, crystal-clear stream of my consciousness, will be moving, moving, moving…
Sunday, October 12, 2008
According to varying legends, coffee was discovered in the (Arabian Peninsula/Ethiopian Plateau) by Kaldi, an (Arabian/Ethiopian) goatherder in (500 BCE/600 CE), who noticed his goats happily frolicking after eating the red berries (coffee “cherries”) of a wild shrub. Kaldi snacked on a few berries himself and was soon dancing merrily with his flock. Noticing the euphoric goatromping, a local monk snagged a few berries and cooked up a drink for his brothers, whose hyped-up prayers could now extend well into the wee hours. Africans were soon making their own power bars out of coffee and goat fat—yummy—and kicking back with coffee-cherry wine. During the Renaissance, coffee was referred to as a “heathen liquid,” and while I don’t consider myself a heathen, it’s perhaps revealing that I call my stove an altar…
My personal coffee trek began when I was an undergrad and had to pull all-nighters writing scripts or papers for playwriting or English classes. There on the flatlands of coffeeland, I was content with a Mr. Coffee and some dried-up ground Folgers. In the foothills, I discovered the Bunn coffeemaker and fresh ground beans. But I pressed on until finally, I have reached the pinnacle of the coffee mountain—a Chemex drip coffeemaker and Chemex filters, the blackest, oiliest Sumatran or Ethiopian organic free-trade beans I can find (refrigerated, not frozen, and ground only when the water is just below boiling), and cold, filtered water.
The Chemex is partly responsible for my snofunkiness. It’s glass and looks like a lab beaker or, better yet, a woman—busty top, narrow waist, ample bottom. Water is boiled in a teakettle and poured over grounds that rest in a filter in the top half of the pot. The filters are thicker than ordinary coffee filters to slow the drip and capture more of the bitter oils. I make it STRONG.
Call me romantic, but I sometimes see a split in the world between godlessness and its utter faith in science or humans or capitalism, and anthropomorphized god-centricity, with its utter faith in faith, or in religions whose original beauty is buried and lost in layers of humanist rules, dogma, & politics. What happened to seeking after mysteries? Strangely, this rant brings me back to java. It’s the ritual of morning coffee that I love. I revere the process of coffeemaking and the miraculous transmutation from simple bean to elixir. I perform the ritual in a quasi-meditative (or not quite awake yet) state. And the resulting liquid manna isn’t nearly as important as the process, which is hymn, prayer, pilgrimage.
Okay, maybe I’m blowing my own snofunkity a wee bit out of proportion. And if it turns out that coffee can’t put me in touch with the Divine, can’t bring me to the foot of the great spiritual Mystery, can’t initiate me into the Sublime, well, at least I’ll be wide awake and bug-free, because caffeine is also a natural insecticide.
Here’s a little coffee poem, just for fun…
black blood cooled in sunlight
I wake chanting to the dark beast humbled
a chicory garland twisted in my hair
walk the coals to the kitchen
where you sit
cup cradled in your hands so tenderly
time grinds to a snaked unwinding
we lick our lips while we
boil and boil and boil
hungry for that melding moment
we circle the Circle
sink to stove to table
and the linoleum crawls with lichen and fern
our cool bare feet wearing a groove
until we’re ecstatic fertile singing
and we dance the dark dance
and we drink the strong black blood
again and again and again
until we fall redeemed
into moon and moss
the big dipper spilling black
into a saucer of sky
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
· “Knowledge” will be referred to as PRODUCTS. My years of learning, honing, experience, my degrees, my credentials, my accomplishments, will matter only insofar as I can provide relevant products from which students can pick and choose.
· Students will now be called CONSUMERS (this transition is already in progress), who come to a public university campus to select and purchase their products.
· Titles will be changed from Instructor/Teacher/Professor to FACILITATOR. Facilitators will no longer have wisdom to impart, experience to share, or knowledge to reveal. They’ll only need to facilitate consumers who are purchasing their products. FACILITATOR may be a transitional term until CASHIER is in place.
· Classes will now be called INFOCOMS. Facilitators will no longer be teaching; they will be providing information about commercial products from which consumers may select.
· Facilitators will be required to wear an earpiece 24/7/365, so that consumers may lodge their product complaints at all times.
· Having spent their young adult lives texting, Facebooking, MySpacing, and videoing, consumers’ attention spans will be reduced from the current 11-20 minutes, to 3 minutes. Facilitators will need to shift the focus of infocoms every 3 minutes in order to maximize consumer purchases.
· The current designation of “contact hours,” the amount of time teachers spend in the classroom face-to-face with students, will be changed to BILLABLE HOURS. The number of billable hours required will increase from the current 15 contact hours per week, to 50 billable hours per week, in order to increase productivity.
· Grades will no longer be assigned, since consumers won’t really have to DO anything. All students will receive a CAREER CERTIFICATE once they have consumed 150 PRODUCT UNITS.
· The current division of 75% time spent teaching and 25% time spent completing bureaucratic paperwork will convert to the following: 75% time spent REPORTING and assessing INVENTORY; 15% fielding consumer complaints and escalating contacts; and 10% facilitating consumers in infocoms.
· Facilitators will no longer be required to expand their knowledge base, keep up-to-date in their field, publish, or provide service to the university community. They WILL be required to attend a minimum of 25 new product review and 25 technology workshops per semester, each preceded by a meeting in which FACILITATOR TEAMS establish GOALS for the workshop, and followed by a meeting in which teams evaluate and quantify OUTCOMES of the workshop.
· Facilitators will no longer be under contract; all facilitators will be hired as temporary hourly employees. Hourly wages will be established based solely on CONSUMER REVIEWS, and raised or lowered each semester according to the number of product units consumers purchase.
· Department Chairs will now be called TEAM LEADERS, and they will be required to have advanced degrees in business and motivational speaking, rather than in the team field. Team leaders will no longer attend to department concerns; they will promote the TEAM CULTURE.
· Infocom size will be limited to 250 consumers per. All infocom arenas will be fitted with drive-thru windows for consumer convenience.
· Facilitators will be required to live in FACILITATOR BARRACKS in order to provide increased access and convenience for consumers. They will not be allowed to have spouses, children, or pets. They will be sterilized, partially lobotomized, referred to only by number, and will wear identical grey uniforms so as not to distract consumers, in any way, from their shopping.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
I started thinking that maybe aging is less about time, about chronology or physical deterioration—although the bags under my eyes beg to differ—and more about whether or not we’re still experiencing “firsts.” What makes whipper-snappers so full of life, perhaps, isn’t their biological age; it’s the newness of things. In our “golden” years (which I hope refers to joy & wisdom rather than the sallow color of my skin after a looooong week), we tend to settle in for the long haul, making the haul feel a whole lot longer out of sheer boredom & fatigue.
And, if you think back to your whipper-snapper days, you’ll realize those firsts didn’t come knocking while you sat in the LazyBoy eating Cheetos and watching Boston Legal reruns. You went AFTER them. You went to New Mexico with an itinerate musician, in a 1950 Chevy pickup with no heater. Or you rode Greyhound buses for two weeks, from the Midwest to Canada, touring by day cities you’d never seen before, and sleeping across two rock-hard bus seats by night. Or you joined a band even though you only knew three chords. Or you wore all black, spray-painted yourself with silver glitter, and went to a Halloween party as “The Universe.” Or you and your two toddlers lived in an old school bus in a state park for a while. Or you fell madly, instantly in love with a non-dating, divorced father. The point is, when you stop going after those new experiences, those “firsts,” maybe you just stop.
I’m not willing to have only sloppy seconds from now on. So I’m applying for a Bush Fellowship, and if I get it, I’m going to a poetry & religion conference in Lancashire England. I’ve never traveled by myself. I’ve never crossed the Big Water. And in spite of my mother’s scolding & Ray’s scoffing, maybe I’ll get a tattoo before I go...maybe a teeny, tiny, little peacock feather…
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
The flock stays fairly close to the house on these cool days. They like to hang out on the south side of the house against the greenhouse windows in the afternoon, where they can soak up the heat bouncing off the windows while they admire the mysterious and magnificent creatures in the reflective glass. I modified my spoilitude and cut back on feeding them, hoping they’ll do something about these grasshoppers—peacock popcorn.
Cool autumn nights are perfect for knitting, a fuzzy blankie on my feet, and skeins of wool yarn in my lap. I just finished Yogi’s new sweater in blue cotton and bright multicolored eyelash yarns, and I must say he looks very preppie chic in it, especially with the turtleneck rolled. The colors & furriness match his naughty personality. Jada’s sweater is plain variegated wool in earthtones, with a subtle lace edging—slightly girlie but still working-dog tough. I also finished five small drawstring bags in various colors of the most luscious alpaca, which I’ll fill with fun trinkets for Christmas presents.
I’m working on a möbius scarf right now, knit in a lacy stitch out of Lamb’s Pride worsted in a rich chocolate brown. I like the seeming impossibility of the möbius pattern—a scarf that appears to be an endless twisted loop, no beginning, no end. It’s a conundrum, much like life at Uncannery Row.
The cool weather also makes me long to haul out the spinning wheel. I’ve got tubs full of fiber to spin up, including a couple bags of Jada’s fine Australian Shepherd fur, some camel, alpaca, and—best of all—raw silk. I’ve been thinking, too, about spinning in some peacock down and maybe even some milkweed fiber. Spun together, these fibers would make an amazing desert-downunder-orient-prairie yarn. Then I could knit it up into the most fabulous overalls with a matching turban…mmm…