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.