Sunday, December 30, 2007

Favorite Movies of 2007

Some of my favorite movies from the year 2007 appear below. Occasionally, my reasons for choosing these movies appear ideosyncratic although I attempt to achieve objectivity in my comments about these movies. My choices are limited to those movies that have appeared at area multi-plexes. If I were living in a larger city or a university town, I would have access to both European releases and independent productions created in this country.

Best Comedy: Mr. Bean’s Holiday
A genuinely funny movie in which Mr. Bean, without his knowledge, becomes responsible for so many problems. The scene of Mr. Bean dropping the oysters he ordered in a Paris restaurant into a woman’s purse cannot easily be forgotten.

Best Animated Feature: The Simpsons Movie
Nearly every moment contains another gag. It will take several viewings just to discover all of the humor.

Best Computer Animation: Beowulf
This depiction of the old English poem contains a lot of good things. At one point, a bard in the mead hall is reading from Beowulf in Old English. Most fascinating of all is the music that only appears when Grendal’s mother is interacting with Beowulf. The alteration of the poem’s plot creates a convincing argument.

Best Action/Adventure: Live Free or Die Hard
John McClane returns for another adventure in which computers play a large role. Justin Long’s character offers exposition and comic relief. The action remains intense as McClane and Matt Farrell (Justin Long) piece together those clues that will prevent the economic collapse of this country.

Best Drama: 3:10 to Yuma
This update of an earlier western develops the story in more detail by adding more characters and giving Ben Wade and Dan Evans (the two main characters) more human characteristics while framing the movie around the violence in the opening and closing scenes.

Best Musical: Across the Universe
The director manages to weave together the music of the Beatles so as to create a story of two lovers. The cinematography is often surreal and recreates the allusions to LSD in some of the music. Look for the hand of Uncle Sam reaching out of a poster to grab young men for the war in Vietnam.

Best Family/Children’s Movie: The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep
The character development in this story, combined with the mythic elements and the Scottish setting, sustains one’s interest throughout the movie and prevents this movie from simply being another one in which the characters talk to imaginary creatures.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

3:10 to Yuma

One of my favorite movies from 2007 is 3:10 to Yuma. Not having seen the 1957 movie with Van Heflin and Glenn Ford, and not having that frame of reference in which to compare the two movies initially, I was attracted to this movie because of the trailers on TV. The trailers reminded me of how much I liked some of the other recent westerns, a genre that has been reinvigorated by the scholarship of western historians like Patricia Limerick and Anne Butler.

I can now say, having seen both versions of 3:10 to Yuma, that the current version is much better. This new version’s plot is more detailed and presents more opportunities for what in literature is referred to as a complication/crisis in the midst of the plot's rising action. Whereas the climax in the earlier version was anti-climactic (precisely because the most action occurs at the hotel instead of when Dan Evans escorts Ben Wade to the train), that problem no longer exists in the updated version.

Most of all, the current version of 3:10 to Yuma contains more character development and the addition of more characters who add to the story, such as the doctor, the Pinkerton (Peter Fonda), and the teenaged boy whose fascination with pulp fiction alters his perception of Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and causes him to underestimate his father. Both Ben Wade and Dan Evans (Christian Bale) become round characters; the viewer comes to learn of Dan Evans’ motivation for getting Ben Wade to the train, despite all odds, and learns of Ben Wade’s reason for pursuing a life of crime. It wasn't revealed in the previous version exactly why Dan Evans thought it was so important to do what no one else would do. Even Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), Ben Wade’s senior accomplice, plays a larger role in the updated version of the story and appears more menacing.

I recommend seeing 3:10 to Yuma at a movie theater, preferable one with a good sound system. The music and sound effects add to the suspense and the events leading up to the climax and make the climatic scenes that much more spectacular.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

End-of-the-Year Rituals

These holidays at the end of the year seem to me as end-of-the year rituals. Thanksgiving, which is my favorite holiday because it involves the least amount of fuss, is a time of giving thanks for those good things that occurred throughout the year, such as maintaining one’s job and continuing to have the health of one's family and one’s own health. Christmas is the giving of presents to friends and family as a way of acknowledging their importance. New Year’s is a time to reflect on what occurred during the previous year and to consider what one wants to have happen during the upcoming year.

When I was single, I often used to write in my journal on New Year’s Eve. I didn’t always have someone significant in my life and didn’t seek out many friends, so I celebrated the end of the previous year and the start of the upcoming one by writing about what happened and what actions I planned to put into play. I eventually ended up watching one or two late movies on TV before going to bed.

Of all of the holidays, Christmas is my least favorite. Too much importance is placed on it in American culture. My wife and I, during the past few years, have been setting limits on what we spend on each other. We have also been buying a llama, for example, through Heifer International instead of giving our relatives individual presents. This year we also bought a Christmas basket for a family through the Southwestern Indian Foundation and bought what a 12-year-old girl in the community had asked for on the tag she filled out and placed on an Angel tree sponsored by the Salvation Army. There were many tags that hadn’t been taken off of the tree by December 23. We would have done more if we could. As someone who puts together a full-time teaching schedule by teaching part-time for two institutions, I won’t be paid again until mid-February and have to anticipate the continuing collapse of our economy.

I think I would enjoy Christmas more if I had more family living nearby. Even after twenty years, I’m not close to my wife’s family. Although they seem to have accepted me, we don’t have much to say to each other. My wife would say that I’m not a talker; actually, I am when I have something to say and when we share something that we can make conversation about. Several of her relatives are fanatical Christians and seek to convert everyone else they come into contact with. My own belief system is not something that I openly practice in front of others. Poetry, music, and nature are what give my life meaning and what sustain me during the dark times. The equivalent of a pagan, I find meaning in these yearly holidays in some ways similar and in some ways different from others.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Stressed and Exhausted

My classes this semester have come to an end. As I was napping in front of the TV today, I was dreaming that I had to stay awake for yet another night to slog through a set of essays and to compile the final grades for one more class. That dream is a sure sign you’re stressed, my wife says. Earlier in the morning, she told me that I had only recently started to notice things around me again, after having been consumed by my classes since Thanksgiving.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Ice Storm Photos

I'll be adding text to this entry when I can. Grading essays is consuming my life at the moment. Losing electricity earlier in the week because of the ice storm put my grading on hold temporarily, and now I'm desperately trying to get through stacks and stacks of essays.

Despite how pretty the ice storm appears in these pictures, it caused a lot of damage in northeastern Kansas, starting a few miles north of Kansas City. Many of the trees in my area were damaged. One large tree fell on a neighbor’s detached garage, splitting the roof in half and destroying the garage.

I had been typing up grading comments for my students’ essays early that Tuesday morning. Between essays, I checked the weather and news on the Internet and after learning of the power outages to the south, I decided to shut down my desktop and switch to the laptop that my wife had handed down to me when she upgraded to a newer model last summer. Soon after, I began hearing the electrical transformers to the north exploding. A couple of transformers to the east exploded next, causing the lights to blacken before the power returned. After the third explosion, the lights went out and remained out, only briefly returning again a couple of hours later for about thirty minutes. Afterwards, we remained in the dark for the next fourteen hours. We were lucky because some people were without power for a lot longer. Our gas fireplace kept a portion of our house warm. My wife even managed to heat water for coffee in the fireplace and grilled ham sandwiches for dinner. Our lights were out a lot longer a few summers ago after a severe thunderstorm, and the accompanying high winds in what seemed like a gust front, snapped some of the telephone poles in half.

When the tree trimmers were in the area last summer and working to reduce the number of limbs threatening the electrical lines, I mentioned to one of them how I think the electrical lines need to be buried. The kind of weather here merits burying the lines.

I think the weather in this part of the country also necessitates altering how houses are constructed. When several tornadoes cut a path through Wyandotte County in Kansas and Platte County and Clay County in Missouri, parts of the Kansas City metro area, in 2003, it was the brick houses that remained intact. The houses made of plywood were easily demolished by winds reaching speeds of 260 mph. Just as construction of single-family homes and office space must meet certain building codes in earthquake prone areas like San Francisco, the houses made in areas threatened by tornadoes and severe thunderstorms need to adhere to building codes, too.

If were in the position to build my own home, I would not only use those building materials that would make the house less prone to damage during our storm seasons but would also add a room made of steel in the basement just in case the house were ever in the path of a tornado. This room would serve as a place of refuge if we ever had to seek shelter during a storm.

Similarly, I think every new house made in this area should come equipped with the means to generate electrical energy so that this energy can be stored in batteries for when the power companies experience outages. Each house would be the equivalent of a diesel submarine that is able to remain submerged while running on its own batteries. Maybe solar panels could be added to the roof, for example, for those kinds of occasions. Perhaps, eventually, it would be possible for every new house to be self-sufficient and never need to pay for electricity again.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Squaw Creek

On Buy Nothing Day, what is otherwise known as Black Friday to the merchants, I drove about an hour north to Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge . The refuge reported in its weekly count that about 130,000 snow geese were laying over in their migration south. This week, however, the population of snow geese has swollen to 470,000. At least forty-three trumpeter swans have been observed, too.

This past Tuesday would have been a perfect day to spend at the refuge. Unlike my earlier visit in November, when most of the water was frozen and when the wind required that we wear four or more layers of clothing in an attempt to repel its gusts, this past Tuesday was much warmer, with the temperature reaching 58 degrees Fahrenheit; in fact, it will prove to have been our last warm day in what is supposed to be a warmer than normal winter.

Many people I talk to think that teaching online means it is possible to go anywhere. There are usually so many essays to grade that the prospect of getting away from them seems remote indeed. I would have loved spending last Tuesday outside with the birds.

Two artifacts from my last visit appear below:

Saving Books

Wednesday night, after a dinner partially made up of rice concoction, a recipe calling for brown rice, fried potatoes, eggs, and cheese and one that I acquired during my first semester of college so many years ago, I started watching TV with my wife. As I was watching the characters in The Day After Tomorrow keep themselves warm by burning books in the New York Public Library, I realized that the first book I would attempt to save, if I were in a similar situation, would be Elizabeth Bishop's The Complete Poems . My second choice, if it were possible to have a second choice, would be Robert Lowell's Life Studies . These books wouldn’t have to be first editions. What book or books would someone reading this blog want to save in a similar situation?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

An Untapped Market

As I mentioned once before in a previous posting, many people who come to this blog have been searching for information about particular musicians. Lately, there have been several hits from people looking for information about Michal Urbaniak and Urszula Dudziak, two jazz musicians whose work is under-represented on CD.

Urszula Dudziak has not yet had Urszula (Arista 4065), Newborn Light (Columbia) and Future Talk (Inner City 1066) released on CD, three albums in which she serves as a leader after having achieved recognition for her vocal work as a member of Michal Urbaniak’s band. Columbia has released Michal Urbaniak’s Fusion on CD, but both Atma and Fusion III remain available only on vinyl. Once Urbaniak left the Columbia label, he recorded several other albums for different labels, including Body English (Arista 4086), Facts of Life (Love Records), Serenade for the City (Motown), Daybreak (Pausa 7114), and Urbaniak (Inner City 1036). Together, Michal Urbaniak and Urszula Dudziak recorded Tribute to Komeda (MPS 21657).

Of all these albums, the ones that would probably attract the largest audience if they were released on CD are Urszula Dudziak’s Future Talk (which features Zbigniew Namyslowski and Michal Urbaniak), Michal Urbaniak’s Atma, Fusion III, Daybreak, and Urbaniak (which features Zbigniew Namyslowski, too), and Michal Urbaniak and Urszula Dudziak's Tribute to Komeda (which features Tomasz Stanko and Zbigniew Seifert).

Zbigniew Namyslowski’s output as a leader is also under-represented outside of Poland because neither Namyslowski (Inner City 1048) nor Air Condition (Affinity, AFF83) is available on CD.

There is an untapped market out there waiting for someone who is able to purchase the master tapes and the rights from, say, Inner City or Columbia.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Pilot Pencil

Quinn at Project for a New Mythology recently described his favorite writing instrument and added a picture of one after he was able to locate a box of twelve to replenish his supply. My own favorite writing instrument is a Pilot Pencil #2, 0.7 mm, with the addition of a rubber grip to cushion my fingers and a replacement eraser, one that is longer and more secure than the eraser supplied with the pencil.

I started using this pencil when I was working on my terminal degree, having found the first one at a bookstore near Eskimo Joe's . I liked how the pencil resembled a regular #2 pencil and once I saw an office worker using a rubber grip on her pencil, I decided to add one to mine because the amount of writing was leaving a deep indentation in my middle finger. This off campus bookstore eventually stopped carrying them, so I had to special order them from a Christian bookstore in Oklahoma City before it, too, stopped carrying them. I have so many now because I have made it a point to stock up whenever the opportunity has presented itself.

Having been spoiled for nearly fifteen years now, I cannot conceive of using any other pencil for most of my writing needs when I'm not using the keyboard. As a person with simple needs, this pencil qualifies as my equivalent of a Montblanc .

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Manu Katche and Playground

For those of you looking for new music, I recommend Manu Katche’s Playground. A French drummer, Manu Katche is known for backing up musicians like Jan Garbarek and Sting. Primarily a jazz drummer, he has now released two jazz albums under his name on the ECM label. Playground, his new CD, was released in September.

Someone picking up a CD in which the drummer is the leader would probably expect to hear an emphasis on the drumming and several drum solos; Katche, on the other hand, seems similar to other contemporary jazz musicians in Europe who prefer not to solo. Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim , in describing his own attitude against soloing, and who appears on Playground, says, “I don’t find soloing in the traditional manner particularly interesting; so often it’s more about showing off.” Seim also recognizes the difference between American and European jazz musicians by saying that “in the American tradition, the music always seems to be more about showing how well you can play — impressing the musicians on stage with you, or the people in the audience.” What you will find on Playground, which is composed of Katche’s own compositions, is an emphasis on the group dynamic, i.e., piano, trumpet, bass, saxophone, and drums, with many interesting and haunting rhythms supplied by Katche, as on the tracks titled "Motion" and "Inside Game." I have actually been listening more to Playground than Katche’s Neighborhood, which appeared in 2005 and which I only recently purchased. I give Playground a high recommendation.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Boone Pickens and the Ogallala Aquifer

Boone Pickens, a wealthy oil tycoon who has donated $165 million to Oklahoma State, admitted recently that he sees the validity in Peak Oil and recognizes that demand far exceeds the declining world supply of oil when he was interviewed during the Oklahoma State versus Kansas football game last weekend. Ironically, when asked about a water crisis in Texas, Boone Pickens says he foresees the construction of a massive pipeline bringing water from the Texas panhandle to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and other cities in Texas. The only water located in the Texas panhandle lies underground in the Ogallala aquifer, which extends from Nebraska to Texas.

Primarily used for agriculture, the aquifer loses several feet of water every year, most of which isn’t replenished. Parts of the aquifer have already dropped so much that independent farmers can no longer afford the fuel costs to pump out the water. Rivers and streams in western Kansas, particularly Wallace County, run dry during much of the year now. The Smoky Hill River, which once ran adjacent to Fort Wallace, has so little water now that Cedar Bluff Reservoir, located south of WaKeeney, has experienced a significant reduction in size. Experts foresee the aquifer running dry throughout the Great Plains in twenty years.

If Boone plans on pumping massive quantities of water from the aquifer, it will run dry at a much more alarming rate. Efforts in Texas have been undertaken to thwart Boone’s outlandish and irresponsible plan to deplete the aquifer. See the following link for more information.

Any one who lives in this area should be outraged by schemes that allow someone to profit from the limited natural resources in this area. The Great Plains is so fragile an ecosystem that it cannot sustain life and renew itself annually if its water is drained for profit and if its ground is polluted by the pesticides applied to corn and wheat and the huge feedlots owned and operated by corporations indifferent to the land and the quality of life in this region.

Those people living in eastern Kansas believe that the Flint Hills are absolutely beautiful while the remainder of the state to the west of, say, Junction City, is flat and lacking in natural beauty. That same ignorance and misconception is applied to the whole of the Great Plains. It takes a keen eye to appreciate the area west of the 98th meridian. Some of us know its mystery and would prefer that others either learn to appreciate its subtle beauty and its fragility or go elsewhere. I still think that Frank and Deborah Popper have a good idea in wanting to designate a portion of the Great Plains as a buffalo commons because it would keep people like Boone Pickens from profiting by exploiting what lies below the land.

Fall Color at Its Peak in Eastern Kansas

Fall color in eastern Kansas reached its peak last week. A few trees are still displaying shades of orange and red; many others have lost their leaves. Even this partially colorblind person can appreciate the autumn color present in the pictures appearing below. Click on each image to increase its size.

The bridge linking Kansas and Missouri is present in one of the pictures below. Officially known as the Centennial Bridge, this bridge is known by the locals as the Blue Bridge. The Vh1 biography of Melissa Etheridge, who was born and raised in Leavenworth, features her crossing the bridge in her move to California. In actuality, she would have either taken K-7 south to I-70 or K-192 west, neither of which would have been as dramatic.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Beginnings of Fall Color

Although often thought of as treeless, Kansas actually has a lot of trees. It’s true that farther to the west, outside of the cities and towns, the trees tend to congregate along the creeks and rivers. This part of eastern Kansas, on the other hand, is much more heavily wooded. We are now beginning to see more evidence of fall color. In the pictures provided below, notice the trees in one of the local parks. Despite having about fifty essays to grade, I need to find a way to get outside in the afternoon so that I can enjoy this part of the year. There are few other pleasures than enjoying an autumn afternoon.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Weather & Politics

Unlike other parts of the country, eastern Kansas has been getting a lot of rain lately, between three and five inches so far in October. The Missouri River was above flood stage earlier this week and damaged soybeans about to be harvested in Missouri because of the inability of the Army Corps of Engineers to repair the levees that were breached by the flooding last spring. Presumably, the federal money that could have been spent on repairing the levees in Missouri had been reallocated to the war in Iraq. It’s just another instance of how the infrastructure in this country has been neglected.

I’ve provided pictures of the swollen Missouri River where it’s possible to see some of the debris that has been picked up and taken downstream by the current. Clicking on these pictures will enlarge them.

Gary Lezak, a weather forecaster for KSHB-TV in Kansas City, believes that the weather pattern that we’re experiencing now in eastern Kansas/western Missouri will begin repeating itself every 45 to 61 days. His theory is explained more thoroughly in the weather blog that can be reached at the station link provided above. It looks like this winter will either be very snowy or at least very rainy if the precipitation isn’t accompanied by below freezing temperatures. Lezak discounts the long-term predictions made by the federal government and the Farmer’s Almanac, who have been calling for a dry winter with higher than normal temperatures. We’ll have to see what happens. Other areas of the country, I realize, could use the rain that we've been having here; this part of the country has been suffering a prolonged drought, too, with below average rainfalls both this year and last year.

Peg Britton at KansasPrairie recently provided a link to the Select a Candidate Quiz , which allows the participant to input his/her views on fifteen issues so as to find the presidential candidate who best represents the participant's view on those issues. My candidate is Dennis Kucinich, which makes me one of those liberals scorned by the media and conservatives. I was beginning to think that I wasn’t going to vote in the next presidential election unless I wrote in someone’s name.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Emulating John Milton's Career--By Necessity

Most of the people who come to my blog via a Google search, come in search of information about particular musicians or albums. My blog hasn’t yet been listed among academic blogs, probably because I don’t delve into composition theory or describe my daily experiences as an online instructor. A few of the literary blogs include mine in their blogroll; more of them, particularly ones devoted to poetry, might include me if I were to devote more attention to my poems and poetry in general.

Although I have had intentions of writing poetry more often, that desire hasn’t been fulfilled. Like every semester, this one has been incredibly busy and requires that I devote a lot of attention to grading. Institutions of higher learning, I think, should set a maximum limit on how many students can be taught by any one writing instructor. That limit should be set at sixty students, or three sections of twenty students each, while ensuring that the instructor earns a full-time salary with benefits for that kind of teaching load. Education suffers when one is burdened with ninety or more students at the start of the semester.

In actuality, institutions of higher learning in this country set a trend by choosing to hire part-time employees in a field like composition, beginning in the 1970’s. That hiring practice was adopted in business and remains in effect for a good number of the jobs that remain in this country. When the profit margin takes precedence over the quality of education and over the commitment of any one institution to its employees, it stands to reason that part-time employees are more attractive because of the ease with which they can be fired, the absence of benefits, and the wretched salaries for which they work.

I have come to realize that my poems aren’t going to help me in securing a tenure-track job within the near future. Maybe I should be angry at not having my poems accepted by the better journals, and at not having my book accepted, and react by writing more and more poems. One of my writing teachers once recommended that kind of behavior. Instead, I have been turning away from poetry. As of this month, ten years have now passed since I defended my creative dissertation.

I foresee a time when I will be able to devote more attention to my poetry. Like John Milton, who prepared for his writing by earning two degrees at Cambridge, by reading extensively in several different languages when he returned to his father’s estate, and by touring the Continent for several years afterwards, I have prepared myself for that time in my life when it will be possible to devote myself exclusively to my craft. When that time will arrive is not known as of yet.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Pumpkins at Red Barn Farm

I have added my favorite pictures from a late Saturday afternoon outing to Red Barn Farm in Missouri when I should have been inside grading essays. For those of you who may access this blog from other countries, pumpkins are a traditional sign of autumn and harvest in America and something for which we have to thank the indigenous people of this country.

The first picture seemingly comes with a face already carved into one of the pumpkins. The horse of corn stalks is reminiscent of a sculpture of chrome bumpers named Grandfather Horse on display at Wichita State University.

Clicking on any one picture will increase its size. If you should decide to use one or more of these pictures for your wallpaper, please let me know.

I'm currently using the last one of these pictures as the wallpaper on my computer. The four rows of pumpkins provide a strong sense of contrast to the white house and the cloudy sky. My eye sees the pumpkins first before it is drawn up to the tree and the sky.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

"There's a Snake in My Car!" and Gourds

After about ten days, I managed to catch the snake that had gotten into my car. It started when I made two trips hauling limbs to the local site where the city shreds tree limbs into wood chips. My wife had bundled together some of the tree limbs earlier in the week. When I finally hauled them away in the trunk of my Toyota, enough time had elapsed for a snake to make itself at home among the limbs. I didn’t become aware of the snake until a couple of days later when I opened the driver’s door and saw what looked like a black shoelace on the floor near the pedals. When I got closer, it slithered into the wiring below the dash before I could catch it.

Initially, I thought that pulling the car out of the garage and parking it outside would cause the snake to seek the sunlight and would make it easy to catch. That ploy didn’t work. I ended up leaving the car in the garage while occasionally shining in a flashlight to see whether the snake was visible. I had concocted a plan of getting the snake into a plastic bag with a gloved hand before releasing the snake in the yard. After days of not seeing any sign of the snake, I began to think it was safe to use my car again. As I was about to get inside, I shined the flashlight inside once again and saw the snake react to the light from its bed in the back seat. Much more sluggish this time, the snake didn’t react as fast when I scooped it up and placed it in the plastic bag. It also didn’t move very fast after I shook out the bag below the magnolia in the side yard. Apparently, it hadn’t found much to eat during its imprisonment and was weak from hunger. Although I have tried to identify the snake, I haven’t had any luck as of yet. It was dark green with flecks of gold mixed within the green. We have about two or three in the yard and see them usually when mowing. I’m hoping that there aren’t any more snakes in my car.

I’m enclosing a few pictures of pumpkins and other seasonal squash. One thing my mother misses from this country is pumpkin. None of the stores in Ireland carry cans of pumpkin. Apparently, the Irish haven’t discovered how wonderful pumpkin can taste. The recipe for pumpkin pie that I use doesn’t require baking; instead, the pumpkin is mixed with gelatin, evaporated milk, butter, and cinnamon and other spices and is refrigerated until it solidifies. I find that adding the spices separately results in a better flavor than using pumpkin spice. This pie is tasty enough to have for breakfast on the morning after Thanksgiving, for example.

The gourds in the last two pictures, my wife says, are used for birdhouses. Maybe I should have bought one.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Respite From Grading

For those of you who have been visiting my blog and looking for a current update, I have to say that my life of late has largely been spent inside and in front of my computer. Except for a few late assignments, I have finally graded the first assignment in the five sections of English that I’m teaching this semester. Now I need to get to work grading the next assignment.

When the semester first started, I had ninety-four students enrolled in my classes. The number of students dropping my classes at one institution has been fairly steady, with nine students choosing to withdraw. I suspect the grades from this first assignment will cause a few students to withdraw from my classes at both institutions.

Despite the recent autumnal equinox signaling the official end of summer, the weather here in northeastern Kansas has been slow to change. Until I upload a few recent pictures of pumpkins at Red Barn Farm in Missouri, I am adding this picture of the long shadows of late afternoon stretching across the land. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to experience these peaceful scenes in nature just a few minutes drive from where I live. Sometime soon, I plan on heading down a country road just to discover where it goes and what scenes await me on each side of the road.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Jack Kerouac

Someone at LibraryThing recently found fault with my praise of Jack Kerouac, particularly the novels On the Road and The Dharma Bums. This person finds fault with Kerouac’s writing partly because of the drunken lifestyle that Kerouac seemingly glorifies. Having known that lifestyle intimately, the writer thinks that anyone who writes in praise of substance abuse needs to be ignored and dealt with harshly. For both this reason and Kerouac’s inability to edit his writing, the writer believes that the reality of life outweighs a PhD’s praise for Kerouac because of the assumption that PhD’s are divorced from the world and cannot distinguish good prose from bad prose and cannot recognize what damage the description of substance abuse can do to others.

I don’t recall Kerouac ever recommending to his readers that they pursue the life that his characters have known in his novels. Instead, Kerouac sought to describe experiences he has had either alone or with others and people he has known during his experiences. His characters in his prose often drink excessively, smoke marijuana, take amphetamines, and inject heroin. These substances were part of the lifestyle among many of the jazz musicians that Kerouac admired and among those friends and acquaintances of Kerouac’s who refused to conform to the corporate career and the suburban life in postwar America.

In examining Kerouac’s own life, it becomes clear that his heavy drinking toward the end of his life was not something to be admired. No one could possibly admire someone who drank fourteen boiler makers in an hour. Kerouac was in the midst of shortening his life, having been misunderstood by so many Americans, including the literary society in New York. Kerouac was thought to be the stereotypical beatnik and couldn’t be conceptualized in any other way by magazine editors and the reading public when his prose and his own personal life are much more complex. Kerouac in his novels (particularly On the Road and The Dharma Bums) is in a search for meaning, which he pursues in his companionship with his friends, in his drinking and substance abuse, in his pursuit of jazz, in his failed attempts with women, and in his exploration of Buddhism.

Kerouac wasn’t taught in those American literature survey courses or those seminars of American literature that I once had. His work may be taught at institutions other than the Naropa School of Disembodied Poetics, where his prose and poetry are revered. If I were teaching On the Road, I would approach it as a picaresque novel, that is, a novel focusing on the adventures of a vagabond, with the aim of having the students recognize in what ways the novel comments on postwar America.

Within his prose, Kerouac sought to imitate a jazz musician soloing for an extended period of time. On the Road was written long before John Coltrane created his own band and outgrew the Quartet (Jimmy Garrison, McCoy Tyner, and Elvin Jones) in his exploration of pure sound in which his solos often lasted for thirty or forty minutes. Even so, Kerouac in his own way was looking forward to that time in his prose as he pursued his own internal rhythms and his exploration of prose that qualified as music and deserved to be read aloud.

When I read On the Road for the first time, I responded to the descriptions of Sal’s travels through this country and the description of jazz. Not having discovered jazz previously, I wanted to know more about the music that Kerouac described so lovingly and with so much enthusiasm. I certainly don’t blame Kerouac for my own substance abuse that ended up spanning two decades and that started a few years before I picked up Kerouac's On the Road.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Last Summer Weekend

Despite the absence of people in these pictures, Lake Shawnee in Topeka was quite busy on Saturday. One of my relatives attributed the crowd to the long holiday and the traditional end of the summer season. Many people were making an effort to get outside and enjoy the warm weather. Riding a paddleboat was especially fun, even when getting rocked by the waves generated by the powerboats.

Concerns about whatever might happen in the near future nationally and internationally, such as impending war with yet another country and the economic collapse of this country, remained far away on Saturday.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Desert Island Picks

If there came a time when I knew I would be stranded for an indefinite period of time, and if it were possible to choose the music that I could bring along, and if I could be assured of having a stereo to play this music on, my choices would be the titles that appear below:

Jazz (& World Music)

Gene Ammons—Blue Gene
Anouar Brahem—Thimar
Gary Burton—The New Quartet
Gary Burton—Ring
John Coltrane—Coltrane’s Sound
John Coltrane—Crescent
John Coltrane—Giant Steps
John Coltrane—Ole
John Coltrane—Lush Life
John Coltrane—Plays the Blues
John Coltrane—Traneing In
Miles Davis—Big Fun
Miles Davis—Filles de Kilimanjaro
Miles Davis, Get Up With It
Miles Davis—Kind of Blue
Miles Davis—Miles Smiles
Urszula Dudziak—Future Talk
Jan Garbarek—Dis
Jan Garbarek—It’s OK to Listen to the Gray Voice
Jan Garbarek—Madar
Jan Garbarek—Places
Jan Garbarek Group—Photo With…
Jan Garbarek—Ragas and Sagas
Joe Henderson—So Near, So Far
Dexter Gordon—Go
Dexter Gordon—Our Man in Paris
Keith Jarrett—My Song
Stephen Micus—Twilight Fields
Gerry Mulligan & Chet Baker—Carnegie Hall Concert
Charles Mingus—Mingus Ah Um
Charles Mingus—Mingus at Antibes
Thelonious Monk—5 by Monk by 5
Thelonious Monk—Misterioso
Mike Nock—Ondas
Old and New Dreams—Playing
Art Pepper—Roadgame
L. Shankar— Song for Everyone
L. Shankar—Vision
John Surman—Upon Reflection
Michal Urbaniak—Atma
Michal Urbaniak—Fusion
Michal Urbaniak—Urbaniak
Eberhard Weber—Little Movements
Eberhard Weber—Yellow Fields


Frank Zappa—Grand Wazoo
Frank Zappa—Hot Rats
Frank Zappa—Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar
Frank Zappa—Waka/Jawaka

Irish Music

Matt Molloy—Heathery Breeze
Matt Molloy—Stony Steps
Matt Molloy & Sean Keane—Contentment Is Wealth
Seamus Connolly—Notes From my Mind
Seamus Connolly—Here and There
Martin Mulhaire, Seamus Connolly, Jack Coen—Warming Up
Kevin Burke—Up Close
Bothy Band—First Album
Bothy Band—Old Hag You Have Killed Me
Celtic Music Festival—The Celtic Fiddle Festival
Celtic Fiddle Festival—Encore
Celtic Fiddle Festival—Play On
Altan—Angel Island
Altan—Horse With a Heart
Altan—The Red Crow
Lunasa—The Merry Sisters of Fate
Lunasa—The Kinnitty Sessions
Liz Carroll & John Doyle—In Play
Liz Carroll—Lost in the Loop
Liz Carroll—Lake Effect
Kevin Crawford—In Good Company

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Music and Stress

One of my ways to endure and overcome stress is to place greater emphasis on music. It’s music that helped me survive a period of unemployment when I was living in Connecticut. I was listening to Frank Zappa’s Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar, the complete set, at the time and found that music defiant and high in energy—the things I needed to overcome losing a job in insurance and to scrape together a couple of part-time jobs.

While in graduate school, I distanced myself from my professors and from my graduate program by studying jazz discographies. Finding out which Chet Baker CD’s deserve attention proved to be more satisfying than reading another play or more critical theory in preparation for my doctoral exams.

Lately, I have been listening to Anouar Brahem’s Thimar. Brahem plays the oud and is accompanied by John Surman on soprano saxophone and bass clarinet and Dave Holland on double-bass. This music fascinates me with its strong presence of the double-bass, creating what the critics would refer to as a drone. A sample appears at this link: Kashf .

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Potpourri & A Compendium of Scholarship

One of the goats at the county fair last week wanted my attention as I was passing through the exhibit building. He started by sniffing my pants leg before he jumped up onto the railing to get closer.

Some of my classes have already started; others will be starting next week. Those of us who teach online have to spend more time preparing for the start of classes because of what we have to make available to the students on the first day of class, that is, the syllabus, the first assignment, the supplemental information, and the calendar entries. I stayed up late last night preparing one of my classes and discovered how much easier it is adjusting classes in Angel instead of Blackboard CE. Blackboard CE requires that I re-add many of the pages in Learning Modules each semester because the formatting changes if I attempt to edit pages online. That problem, I’m happy to discover, doesn’t occur in Angel.

Except for not adding books related to my teaching, my LibraryThing account is current and contains 674 titles. These are books that I own, most of which are kept in one room, the same room that holds my computer. It will probably be a few months before I acquire any more books. There are some I’ve haven’t read or haven’t finished and have stacked on my nightstand and dresser.

Moving around my books to input the ISBN numbers aggravated my allergy to dust, making it difficult to breathe and giving me a sinus infection. It’s ironic that the things that I love, while seemingly benign, can lead to poor health. It’s probably a good thing that I haven’t been working in libraries verifying the text of particular poems because it would require leafing through the dusty volumes at places like Oxford and Cambridge. Not all scholars in English write criticism; in fact, it is possible to specialize in bibliographic studies of a particular author and/or the textual analysis of his/her work. Others of us who choose a career in English pursue teaching (and sometimes writing depending on one's teaching load or one's employment status). Spending one’s days in a library working with previous editions or the manuscript pages of an author’s oeuvre typify that romantic view of a scholar.

I have added a link to a g-mail account on my profile page for those of you who may want to contact me at some point in the future.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Movies & Photography

After thinking about Pan’s Labyrinth, I have to say that the movie is well worth seeing and more deserving of attention than some movies. Its images remain with the viewer long after seeing the movie. Not always pleasant to watch, the movie contains vivid imagery and imaginative depictions of the wonder and the horror present in a child’s point-of-view. It’s not entertainment meant for a hot summer day when one seeks to relax in air-conditioned comfort.

I had meant to see Downfall when it played in Kansas City a couple of years ago. The only theatre that shows lesser known foreign films is about an hour away from where I live. Downfall requires adopting a certain mindset before watching the movie because of the realism contained in the movie. Recreating the last ten days of the Third Reich, the movie reveals the other world of Hitler’s bunker, where Hitler blames his generals for their failure in keeping back the approaching Russian troops, expresses utter disregard for the German people and their suffering, and attempts to put into action counter offenses with troops that no longer exist; at the same time, the movie shows the brutality of war outside of the bunker where the few remaining troops face gut-wrenching medical treatment when wounded, where civilians attempt to find shelter, and where the Hitler youth attempt to defend the city and willingly take their own lives when they face capture by the Russians. Its realistic depiction of war reveals the fanaticism of those who adopted an ideology, the utter disregard for human life, and the utter cruelty to which we are capable of subjecting on others. Some critics have panned the movie for its portrait of Hitler as a human being. Like other politicians capable of mass murder, Hitler is still a human being. Ultimately, the movie succeeds because of his realism and serves as an excellent antiwar statement.

On another note, my thirteen-year-old won three purple ribbons for his pictures at the county fair. It’s going to be tough deciding which picture to send onto the state fair. Because of his age, he is allowed to send on only one picture. My wife, too, won a Grand Champion for one of her pictures in open class. I didn’t enter any of mine. None of mine were ready to show; it would have required deciding which one or two to enter and would have required printing them out. My wife didn’t decide to enter hers until the night before. I get satisfaction from knowing how positively the judge reacted to my son’s pictures. Several times, the judge expressed surprise at my son’s camera and the quality of the pictures. My kid only uses a Kodak P880, which isn’t a camera that the judge is familiar with.

I've enclosed one of my son's prize-winning pictures. My interpretation of the same scene at Rock City appears in June, 2007.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Summer Vacation: The Condensed Version

Some of my free time lately has been spent adding the titles of my books to my LibraryThing account, which I have finally paid for after having talked about it for nearly a year. At last count, I was up to something like 559. Maybe a couple of hundred remain to be added, counting the composition readers and rhetorics.

There are other ways to relax before the start of classes. I finally managed to see Pan’s Labyrinth over the weekend after renting the movie from Blockbuster. I haven’t yet decided whether I like the movie. It was certainly imaginative, but the graphic violence causes me to withhold my judgment at the moment. Ultimately, the young girl’s imaginative life becomes a premonition of death; the movie works on two levels—that is, the child’s view and the adult’s view. Considering the number of people who died a horrible death in 1944 and throughout the war years, beginning during the Spanish Civil War, the young girl’s vision of death was an attractive one and made death much less frightening.

I took my family to see a minor league baseball game on Saturday. The Kansas City T-Bones were playing a team from Winnipeg. It was the hottest day in this area since last October, with a high of 93 and a heat index of 100. For some reason, the wind moving the flags on the other side of the stadium didn’t make its way into the stands. We lasted for part of the game before my thirteen-year-old became restless and wanted to know how long we were staying. This game proved to be the longest nine-innings this season, three hours, fifty-three minutes. We left about midway when Kansas City was still losing to Canada and before they beat the Canadian team by one run. Maybe if the seats were closer to the field, I would have enjoyed the game more. I was hoping to give my kid a summer experience, something to tell his friends about when he returns to school. Even though I’m not much of a sports person, apart from Big XII basketball, it was sort of fun watching the game, but the number of people, the movement of people within the stands, the selling of cotton candy and snow cones and lemonade, the roaring loudspeakers above our heads when the T-Bones were up to bat, and the antics on the field between innings (such as throwing three steaks onto the grill or running around the bases carrying a pitcher of beer) proved to be sensory overload. I think baseball games would have been more relaxing thirty or forty years ago when the attention was on the game.

I have another movie rented from Blockbuster; it’s Downfall, an account of Hitler’s last days in the bunker. It has gotten almost as much attention from the critics as Pan’s Labyrinth.

The Leavenworth County Fair starts on Tuesday. My kid will be having his photographs judged on Tuesday morning. We’re hoping that he gets one or two purple ribbons so that he can show his photography at the State Fair in September. It’s going to be rough getting up early on Tuesday and again on Friday when his club works in the food booth. My wife and I report back to school this upcoming week, too. It was fun having a little bit of time off.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Addendum to My Previous Posting

I forgot to mention in my previous posting that I discovered both Ginseng Cola and Vojo Energy mints (with the ingredient guarana) during the summer when I was trying to get through my grading. Both stimulants gave me what I needed to read through my essays, many of which are incredibly boring because of the mistakes that appear frequently in student writing, and to type up my grading comments. Cups of black tea (with milk and sugar) and a daily B-150 vitamin (in addition to vitamin C, ginseng, bee pollen, lecithin and cranberry, saw palmetto, and lycophene) no longer provide enough of my energy needs. I admit that lycophene, saw palmetto, and cranberry have nothing to do with energy. I’m not trying to deceive anyone. Those three things are necessary for my prostate to function properly and make up my daily vitamin and herb regimen. Probably if I slept more, I wouldn’t need as many stimulates in my daily life.

This posting marks my 100th one. I would have reached this milestone earlier if I hadn’t deleted about five of my previous postings. I wasn’t happy with the postings for any number of reasons. The best of my previous postings remain for those of you who feel the need to go exploring.

I recently submitted my book of poems to another press. I also have been feeling the desire to start writing poems again. It has occurred to me that it would be possible to leave a poem open in Microsoft Word on my computer so that I can return to it whenever I have a few minutes to devote to it.

The composing process cannot occur in that short a period of time because I usually need at least an hour, but usually two hours or more, once I start the writing before I can get a somewhat decent draft. The more conscious I am of the poem during the composing process, the less time it takes for me to revise the poem afterwards. If I’m distracted or interrupted, revising the poem afterwards takes much more time. Sometimes I compose in pencil when I’m away from the computer. My favorite way is to type uninterruptedly on the computer, writing as fast as I can and not making any corrections. Instead of hitting the delete button, I copy and paste the lines that I like further down on the page and start from there, continuing the process until I am happy with what I have.

If I keep a file open and have something visible to work with, I won’t be as tempted to surf the Internet when I’m bored or when I'm trying to postpone the stack of grading on my desk.

The pictures of hay, incidentally, represent completion and preparation for a time in the future. Think of them as a poem.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Another Long Hard Slog

My summer classes finally came to an end over the weekend when I turned in my grades. It was a long hard slog. Every semester is hard, but this summer session seemed especially hard because of the constant round of grading. The amount of work required in teaching three classes, that is, the late nights and the long hours spent grading essays, makes the money earned that much more valuable and makes me more reluctant to let go of it very readily.

Already, there are students who want to know why the grade they earned isn’t as high as expected or hoped for or why the points awarded for a certain element of the course didn’t correspond with their expectations. I haven’t as yet answered any messages from students.

My time spent grading this summer has kept me from doing much reading. I’m still reading the book that I started in late May—Craig Miner’s Next Year Country: Dust to Dust in Western Kansas, 1890-1940. I generally managed to read a few pages once I climb into bed. This history text is a continuation of Craig Miner’s examination of western Kansas that he began in West of Wichita: Settling the High Plains of Kansas, 1865 to 1890. The years 1865 to 1890 are certainly more eventful in western Kansas. The years 1890 to 1940 are characterized by the emergence of a wheat culture and the people slowly adjusting their lifestyle and their farming practices to the climate on the other side of the 98th meridian. I suspect that this history of western Kansas will become Craig Miner’s lifework, with him completing the last volume before he retires from Wichita State University.

I think it’s important for a teacher of academic writing to read more nonfiction than fiction. As I read, I remain attuned to how the author integrates quotes and constructs his paragraphs, for example. Some of my quizzes use the material that I’ve been reading, such as when I ask the students to decide whether ten paragraphs taken from various works of nonfiction integrate quotes smoothly by naming the speaker and providing a signal verb instead of simply dropping in quotes without an explanation, forcing the reader to make the connection between the quote and the intended meaning. Ultimately, I want my students to recognize that the things I emphasize in my grading comments apply outside of the classroom and will improve their writing if they make a conscious effort to improve their prose.

Both my wife and son have managed to read the last Harry Potter—Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. The copy that we spent two and half hours in line for remains available now, but I haven’t been attracted enough to open it up. Since my wife wanted the book on disk, too, I have heard part of it while driving or riding in the car. After an hour or so, I get tired of having the reader talking at me. I think I heard all of the sixth book that way; even so, for some reason the details of that book escape me. Probably the sixth movie, when it comes out in November, 2008, will refresh my memory.

Once we got home at 3:00 a.m. after standing in line at Borders on the night Harry Potter’s seventh book was released, I had to return to my grading so as to get more of it done before sleeping.

We were present for the midnight showing of the fifth movie of Harry Potter, too. At my wife’s urging, we saw it a second time last weekend after I turned in my grades. The movie was better the second time. I especially enjoyed the music more during the second viewing.

Fall classes, unfortunately, start in two weeks. I’ll be spending some of this time growing more familiar with Angel as I get three online classes up and running for one of the schools that employs me. The other school requires Blackboard CE. Since these schools have changed textbooks, I need to select new essays for my students to read, too. Sometimes all I want to do is to get outside with my camera.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Last Stretch of Summer Teaching

Until I finish my grading this summer, I'll be absent from this blogging environment. At least another week remains of the summer session. One of my classes has ended; two others won't finish officially until next week. I'll have that weekend to finish the grading although I'm hoping to get through my essays earlier than Saturday or Sunday.

Those people with regular jobs know when to report to work and how long to remain at work. Online teachers like me have some flexibility in our schedules because it is possible to sleep till noon or work through the night. It is even possible to make time for family by going swimming or seeing a movie. Afterwards, no matter how late it might be, I still have to return to my computer if there are essays to grade and to return to my students.

It has been especially hard getting through my grading this summer. It seems like it never ends. After I have returned one set, I have a day off before I get another set to slog through. Unlike most semesters, fewer of my students dropped my classes. I expected a fifty percent attrition rate in two of my classes; the attrition rate was more like twenty percent.

If it is any consolation, I can say that I like my job sometimes. One benefit occurred on July 4th at the fireworks display on Fort Leavenworth. Arriving a few minutes before the fireworks started, my wife and son and I set up our chairs on a hill overlooking the lake. Just as I sat down, the person next to me told me that he was one of my students from a few years ago. He even called me by name. After all that time, one of my students still recognized me from when I used to teach onground. I love those moments of recognition. Another instance happened a couple of years ago when I encountered one of my former students at a game store. As he was ringing up my purchases, he found a way to give me a copy of the Hulk video game, either the first or second one, free of charge. He apparently liked me as a teacher. What more could a teacher want, other than a full-time job, of course?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Purple Coneflowers & Clematis Blossoms

Photography started as a hobby for me when I was in high school. My roommate my junior year of high school (it was a boarding school for military dependents) worked as a photographer for the school newspaper and got me interested in using a SLR. He also knew how to develop his own pictures, and I often used to watch him as he spent Saturday mornings in the base photo lab.

Eventually, my dad let me use his Voightlander, and I started making trips to the photo lab on my own. Photography helped to rein in the excessive drinking that characterized my weekends during the first few months of my senior year. Able to pass for a GI, I could buy beer on base. Sometimes I would hang out outside of the NCO club, occasionally with a young woman who liked me best when her boyfriend was off playing football or basketball for the school, and wait for a drunk GI, usually a young one, to come out. After talking to him and slipping him a dollar, he would return inside, buy a six-pack, and bring it back out to us. After one of our excursions, my drinking buddy got caught when she returned to the girl’s dorm. She admitted that I was with her and got suspended for three days, but I refused to confess because of what could happen if I had to return home to my folks.

It eventually proved more fun to wander around the school grounds and the airbase in search of photo opportunities. Once the weather station where I worked as a work study student in the afternoon sent me home early because of a snowstorm. The forecasters needed up-to-date information because of the jets on alert, ready to go airborne in a matter of minutes. Within the busy weather station, I proved in the way. Returning to the high school, I saw the other kids running around in the snow. By that time, I had fewer and fewer things in common with my peers. I opted to grab my camera and took pictures of the snow sticking to the trees in a quieter part of the high school grounds. Moments like those satisfied my creative impulse.

Anyone who been visiting this blog might have noticed that my pictures are seasonal. A recent discovery of mine has been the flowers in the yard and in a flowerbed near the municipal pool. Let me know your reactions to these pictures. As in my previous posts, clicking on the photograph will enlarge it.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Update on Previous Posting

My mother, I’m happy to report, has survived her surgery and is making a slow recovery. She’s currently administering morphine to herself to deal with the pain. I don’t know when she’ll be able to return home.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

News We Hate to Hear

I learned today that my mother (She appears in the back row in this picture. Grandmother McKimm, her father's mother, the woman who raised my mom after my mom's mother died from TB, appears on the right on the front row.) was rushed to the hospital and had to have emergency surgery to have her spleen and colon removed. She’s 80. From what I’ve been able to piece together, my mother started bleeding internally and externally during the night and at some time called for my father to come help. He is nearly completely deaf and didn’t hear her for the longest time. When he finally realized what was happening, he got their friends from across the street to help. My mother only had fifteen minutes to live when she either was found or when she reached the hospital, according to what I’ve learned. The next seventy-two hours are critical.

I’m reporting these things secondhand because I wasn’t there. My mother and father live in Northern Ireland. It had been their dream, after my dad retired from the Navy, to return to where my mother was born and where my mother and father first met. They left this country in 1973 and haven’t returned. As I was growing up and began hearing about my parents’ future ambition, it was always assumed that my sister and I would live nearby.

Actually, we created lives for ourselves in this country: My sister lives in Connecticut with her husband. I live in Kansas with my wife and son. Finding the time and the money to take a trip to Northern Ireland hasn’t always been possible. There has, in fact, been long lapses between visits—especially for me.

My mother and father choosing to live overseas has often been a sore spot with me, one that became most acute when my son was a baby. I would have loved for my parents to see their grandson when he was first born. At the time, both my wife and I were working toward our PhD’s and certainly didn’t have any extra money. As it was, we were living off student loans, credit cards, and our teaching assistantship salaries.

When I graduated from college each time, I invited my folks to graduation. My mother’s excuse was usually that my dad couldn’t travel because of his colostomy. Without my family present, there didn’t seem to be a reason to walk across the stage when I earned my BA. MA, and PhD. All of my wife’s family came down from Kansas to attend her graduation when she graduated with the PhD. None of my family came.

Even this past year, when my son was playing his alto saxophone in the middle school band, I thought to myself how wonderful it could have been to have his grandparents attend the school concerts. I looked around the gymnasium and saw what looked like grandparents and aunts and uncles. It’s true that some of the kids were there by themselves and ended up walking home alone afterwards. Some of the parents probably had to work the evening shift and couldn’t get the time off. That sense of absence, that loss, or what Lacan would call a lack, contributes to our personal pain. My son wrote in his journal at school this past year how much he would like to see his grandparents before they die.

Recently, when I was driving through Leavenworth, I noticed that one family was having a cookout on the front porch and had a yard full of family and friends mingling around, talking and laughing. That’s the kind of life I would like to have on holidays—father’s day, mother’s day, Memorial day, 4th of July. When I was single, I used to hate Christmas so much that I usually made a point of sleeping through much of it, having stayed up late watching movies on TV the night before, thus ensuring I wouldn’t have to face the day. When I was smoking marijuana, I made sure that I was fully supplied for the holiday so that it would largely pass in a haze. Maybe I should have volunteered at the Salvation Army, but I don’t know that I could have handled being sociable. This year on father’s day, I spent some time with Gregory Peck, the actor who most reminds me of my dad, particularly in On the Beach. His intonations and speech patterns are similar to my dad’s.

As I wait to hear about my mom, I’m reminded of the song Kilkelly , which appears on the CD recorded in Matt Molloy’s pub in Roscommon. So typical of my life would be discovering that my mother passed away from hearing a message left on the answering machine or from reading an e-mail message sent by my dad since he can’t hear well enough to talk to me over the phone.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


Land Mammal tagged everyone reading her blog to reveal eight things about themselves. My list appears below. Many somewhat more private things about me appear in my blog if you can get past the photographs and my attempts to make my blog less revealing or impersonal.

1) I was born in what was then called French Morocco, which technically makes me African-American. This foreign birth would prevent me from becoming president, assuming, of course, that I had the money to run for office. The idea of the average person becoming president is a myth.

2) I didn’t get my first driving license until I was 37. Before that point, I relied on public transportation and my own feet to get to where I wanted to go. Although I had driven my roommate’s car in the Air Force, I didn’t start driving again until I met my wife, fifteen years later.

3) I don’t usually eat meat for any meal except dinner. Bacon frying in the morning smells awful. I prefer my portion of grease later in the day; my wife, however, dislikes having bacon and eggs for dinner.

4) I have been stopped by the police for my driving on five occasions, three times for speeding, once for not stopping at a stop sign, and, most recently, for turning left on a green light when an oncoming car was approaching. The Lansing, Kansas policeman who stopped me said that I needed to wait for the green arrow and only gave me a warning because of my “spotless record.” I was driving my wife’s car at the time; it’s adorned with blue flashing lights attached to the tires’ valve stems, so the policeman probably thought that I was a kid or something. These five stops have only resulted in two tickets and a written warning.

5) I’ve never spent a night in jail. I was once mistaken for a trustee returning from funeral leave when I taught at the United States Disciplinary Barracks, the only maximum security prison for military prisoners. This case of mistaken identity only lasted for a few moments.

6) With the exception of socks, boxer shorts, and t-shirts, I tend to leave new clothes and shoes unworn for six months or a year before I dig them out of my closet. I’m trying to break this habit although I still have shoes I haven’t worn as of yet.

7) My chapbook of poems The Lights of Carrickfergus has been rejected twenty-six times. I’ve had positive feedback a couple of times and was once offered a contract as a runner-up if I could sell one hundred and fifty copies prior to the first printing. The twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth reactions to my chapbook have not yet been received.

8) I haven’t written a new poem in about two years. The majority of the poems I’ve written since earning my PhD have been left unfinished. I don’t know when I’ll write another poem. It was my poetry that got me through all three degrees. The voices of my teachers have long left my head, and I’m still not writing. I don’t know what it will take to get me writing poems again. The woman who read my tarot cards at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival said I need to take a writing class.

Those of you able to get through this list should consider yourself tagged.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Adjunct Teaching

My life of late has been spent working. Even though I thought that teaching three sections of English this summer instead of four sections would be less hectic, that assumption hasn't been the case. I am still as busy as I was before.

Most recently, I finished grading resumes and letters of application. I submitted my own letter of application earlier in June for a full-time teaching job. My wife and I are hoping that I get an interview at this particular institution this time. My previous applications came to naught. At one other time, as I discovered from an inside source, my application was rejected because of my age. The faculty on the hiring committee wanted someone young.

Sometimes I wish I had followed my intention to earn secondary certification after I had earned my MA in English. It would have required taking additional courses, including Advanced Composition and Educational Psychology. Instead, I got sucked into adjunct teaching at the University of Kansas. It has occurred to me that colleges and universities learned long before other industries what advantages come with hiring only part-time employees to fill an immediate need. Barbara Ehrenreich makes an excellent point in one of her posts about the plight of adjunct faculty. It should be a warning to anyone thinking of entering the academy after earning a graduate degree.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Fort Wallace

Since the end of May, I have been adding pictures from the four days I spent traveling across Kansas. Wallace (population 64), almost at the edge of Kansas, was the farthest I traveled. In reading about Fort Wallace and in having researched some of the soldiers who died outside of Fort Wallace and whose bodies are now interred at Fort Leavenworth, I have wanted to see the remnants of Fort Wallace and the general area for myself so that I have a frame of reference when reading about the Cheyenne and Frederick Wyllyams, for example.

The remnants of the fort itself are on private property and not visible to passersby. Only the former fort cemetery is open to visitors. Quite a good museum, with friendly volunteers, is located in the city of Wallace.

In the picture included here, the site of Fort Wallace is located on the other side of the trees. If the Smoky Hill River were flowing in that part of Kansas, still, it would have run next to the remnants of Fort Wallace; it was the source of water for the fort.

The clouds cast shadows on the hills in these pictures. A front moving in from Colorado was sending cumulous clouds out over the land.