Thursday, September 30, 2004

Girls cry; boys bounce their legs up and down in a nervous twitch

When there's something you don't yet understand, but must face a scantron test on it or well-written paper for a grade, it can indeed cause you to cry.

When I think back on my freshman year, the first in the dorm with my pink and blue floral comforter, raffia door bow and dry erase monogrammed message board, I think of the sage advice my mother once gave me. It was midnight. I had a paper due the next morning, early. It was a mess. I had no idea how to fix it, I remember this. She told me to go down the hall (to the community bathroom) and take a hot shower. She said, "I know you think you don't have time, but it'll relax you. You'll feel refreshed, and your head will clear."

I was distraught. I'm sure it was a final or something. I thought, "No time." And then I thought, "Okay. Shower." I just did what my momma told me, and you know what? She was right.

So today I held conferences with the freshmen. Their papers are these "I did this, and then I did this, and then this happened" kind of things. They are worth little in their current state, but worth plenty in the schema of stages of development. However, the freshmen don't know this. The freshmen think, "She doesn't like my paper. I have to rewrite the whole paper. "

So I called them up one-by-one to conference--a friendly chat. C'mon, don't suck your teeth at me. You know Ms. H is friendly if nothing else. Who's afraid of the big bad Ms. H? Jeremy. He twitched the whole time. He considers himself a reporter, a writer, folks. Therefore, he's nervous to confront the fact that he may not be good at his chosen profession. Becky, she's my girl, bubbly, friendly, thoughtful, but not intellectual, just a regular jo, but there, really getting involved. Her paper was a mess. We talked. She seemed like she understood. But she went back to her seat and stewed, and then had to leave to have a meltdown. Next was my little home-schooled high school senior, looking at me doe-eyed. As I explained in depth new approaches and perspectives, her eyes reddened right up.

I asked her what it was, not missing a beat, and told her to just let it out and not worry a bit about me. "You'll feel better, believe me." She held onto it, wiping her eyes. All she would say was, "It's personal," mixed in with, "But I don't understand how to rewrite the paper."

Monday, September 27, 2004

Have any of you noticed a theme that's been popping up in blogging lately? Starts with an "f," ends with a "g" (if you're in Great Britain). It's that devil that never dies. Got a light?

There's something about academia and coffee shops that serve Pinot Noir and Chimay that make you want to toss out your lungs and take a nice, long drag. I've been trying to stave off the pangs with Oprah autoposies. Bet you didn't know she does those now. Organs dark and polka-dotted with tumors do help. But when your senses time travel, it becomes a teary battle.

I was sitting at my favorite spot tonight, at a table in a garden off Westheimer reading the freshmen's papers about drill team, trailers at the lake house, dances with daddy and the like. I pulled up the hair to stretch for a moment and looked across the street to find a convenience store. I stared at it. Bet they have Parlaiment Lights inside. Boxes of blue and white, their little scooped out filters like Louis Slugger bats in your mouth. The clean and crisp styrofoam filter, and smoke that lets you linger on the still night air.

I'm a gonner. Help a sistra out. I'm dreamy and steamy, a plain ol' low-down tar baby over here. Take me to a basement blues club, a trip-hop lounge, or a scottish pub on trivia night. (NO DON'T) Damn my people.
In 2003, the number of first-class letters declined by 3.3 billion. Sadness. But this week I received two letters and three homemade cd's in my mailbox. Can you believe it!

I have the best friends & family in the world. I must. Three cd's!

1. "The Art Teacher" by Rufus
2. "Truth #2" by Patty (acoustic version from KGSR recordings)
3. "Poor Man's House" by Patty (acoustic version from KGSR recordings)
4. Number 13 on the Garden State soundtrack (and number 12).

What can I say, I love the Patty. I'll have to change this list around after I do some more listening.

Make a cd for someone you love today. (it's like a chain-letter; don't break the chain)

Thank you thank you for small things.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

"Because double binds are repressed, there is always an element of terror in them: the terror of bringing to the conscious mind the buried duplicity, self-deception, and pretense involved in serving two masters. This terror is the stuff of vulnerability, and since vulnerability is one of the least tolerable of all human feelings, we usually transform it into an emotion that seems to restore the control of which it has robbed us; most often, that emotion is anger."

Shelby Steele, English Prof, writer, race relations wrangler.
from On Being Black and Middle Class

Shelby is in conflict about his identity as a citizen, abiding by and believing in the virtues of the middle class (work ethic, education, property ownership, "getting ahead," accepting resposibility) and being black, whose racial identification, he says, urges blacks in the opposite direction--taking an adversarial stand toward the mainstream with an emphasis on ethnic consciousness over individualism--an implied separtism.

This is Steele's double bind. Isn't the purity of addressing such enormous inner identity conflicts as such relief in itself? I have a double bind. One negates the other. I am in limbo. I'm double bound. People also call this a Catch 22, but I much prefer Steele's nomenclature. Statements bring us closer to who we are.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

background: This was written for a newsletter published by the Writing Center at Columbia College when I was working there. Sarah Willis was an undergrad student and tutor at the time. Joanne Siwiec--was a student I tutored.


Writer’s Diary

Art is about breaking free from some old idea or way of doing things, isn’t it? Isn’t it about pushing your thoughts through some invisible boundary line that says “logical” and moving out toward a place we question? Joanne Siwiec does this when she thumbs through felts and mohairs and synthetics for the right touch; Sarah Willis does the same when she uses a hack saw to shape delicate cubes of alabaster, recreating the sweet illusions of sugar. These expressions release an urgency existing within us, prodding us to create or learn more about the complex layering of sound engineering, television production, or computer animation.

Stories are being told everyday, all around us. We tell them in the way we shape our conversations, a beginning, the punch line (or punch in the face), and the end. And we can hear stories as we let our eyes float on a painting, coming to our own understanding through the reactions we experience.

All of this to say, we are here because we care about ideas and we have something to say to each other. The Writing Center, I have found, is a place to start those conversations. I have tutored here for two semesters now, along with teaching three different courses along the way. But I don’t really like the term, “tutor,” or “consultant” for that matter. For me The Writing Center is an extension of the classroom, cranked up a few degrees because it’s your time to talk about your work and your ideas for an hour. I see it as a debate, or an equal exchange, in the way that two people generate more creative thought than one person on his or her own. Exchange is the important word, and it takes us right back to the beginning of this page, because through exchanges, the sharing of ideas, we enable ourselves to push through those invisible boundaries that keep us right where we are, when we know all along that where we really want to go is to a place of new understanding, again and again and again.


"The explanation is to be found in a further fact: to be learning something is the greatest of pleasures not only to the philosopher but also to the rest of mankind, however small their capacity for it . . . "

Aristotle from Poetics


"He knows how to make the invisible visible."

Wynton Marsalais on Louis Armstrong