Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Selection of Jazz From 2009

While I admit having heard only a limited number of the Jazz CD's that were released in 2009, my selections for the best releases appear below.

Eberhard Weber's reissue is particularly important because it brings together those recordings when Weber was involved with the group named Colours. This reissue contains three titles, Yellow Fields (1975), Silent Feet(1977), and Little Movements (1980). If you didn't purchase these albums when they were first released or weren't alive when they were released, I recommend getting them now. These albums are all essential recordings. Prior to this reissue, Yellow Fields was particularly hard to find on CD in this country. I ended up having to order my copy a few years ago directly from Europe.

Like the bassist Eberhard Weber, Jan Garbarek, who plays tenor and soprano saxophone, is another jazz artist who is considered a virtuoso of his instrument and a major contributor to jazz during the past thirty-five years or so; some of his albums are considered essential recordings for anyone who wishes to assemble a jazz library. A previous post of mine goes into more depth about Jan Garbarek.

Vassilis Tsabropoulos is a Greek pianist who trained to play classical music and who has made the crossover to jazz. The Promise is his solo recording.

Anouar Brahem is considered a master of the oud. I have mentioned his album Le Pas du Chat Noir in a previous post. The Astounding Eyes of Rita is less contemplative and less melancholy than that album.

Lars Danielsson, the Swedist bassist, has been gaining more critical attention since the release of Pasodoble in 2007. A thorough sampling of his work can be found at YouTube.

Diego Barber is a young guitarist who has only recorded this one CD as a leader. This CD also features the members of Fly, that is, Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier, and Jeff Ballard. Both Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard make up the new Brad Mehldau trio.

One way to test the validity of my selections is to compare them with the other best of lists that will be appearing at other websites like Jazz Breakfast , AllAboutJazz , and JazzAfterHours .

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Review of Aqua Shock: The Water Crisis in America

Susan J. Marks’ Aqua Shock: The Water Crisis in America certainly addresses an important topic, one that has been receiving attention in the Great Plains for at least the past fifteen to twenty years and one that has recently been receiving attention nationwide. The book itself presents the information about this dwindling resource but largely seems to be a compendium of what can be found on the Internet about the topic. One thing the book lacks is a strong narrative. It isn’t necessary to include anecdotes from the author’s experience, but as a reader I would like to see the author relating her impressions and observations as she travels to those various locations that are representative of the water crisis in this country. The inclusion of bulleted information quickly becomes tiring and frustrating. In including quotations from various authorities, Marks gives the impression of having interviewed people like “Bill Waldrop, a Tennessee-based hydrologist who has been studying water and environmental quality issues since the early 1970’s” or “Hugh Hurlow, senior geologist for the Utah Geological Survey.” The Chapter Notes, however, don’t reference these interviews and are simply a list of Internet sites, which causes one to believe that Marks has pulled these quotes from those links without having picked up the phone or having made a trip away from her computer. I have to wonder, too, what audience Marks is addressing. Early in the book, she defines words like aquifer as “underground water supplies,” peninsula, “meaning that it is surrounded on three sides by water,” and brackish, “salty,” but doesn’t define a word like desalination, which I suspect needs to be defined if the intended audience isn’t familiar with a word as common as peninsula. Perhaps Aqua Shock: The Water Crisis in America is meant only for libraries so that someone needing the research can pull information from one or two chapters to satisfy a school assignment.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Is insomnia unique to each person? For me, when suffering from insomnia, I cannot relax enough to fall asleep in my bed. Just the thought of going to bed makes me anxious. Having the weight of the blankets on my feet or experiencing labored breathing from my asthma causes me to climb out of bed as I have to stand up and move my limbs. Once I calm down, I am able to sit on the edge of the bed but cannot actually lie back and relax. Sometimes when sitting on the edge of the bed, I am able to fall asleep while practicing creative visualization. One morning I woke up and found myself stretched out in the bed. That was a great feeling. More often, I end up getting a few hours of sleep sitting up in front of the television or in my office chair. My office is that place of last resort because once I shut the door and recline in my chair, I am usually able to sleep for a couple of hours. I have thought of getting the equivalent of a hospital bed so that I can sleep while sitting up, but finding the money for such a purchase isn’t easy.

I had thought that I recently overcame the bout of insomnia described in my previous post. My insomnia has returned for some reason, and I don’t know why. It’s not like that I have any serious worries. I have a job and, with my wife’s income, we are able to survive from one month to another. Some people are far worse off than we are. Everyone in my family is relatively healthy. Some students of mine from last semester were dissatisfied with their grades because of problems that they created for themselves. Other students expressed how much they enjoyed my class and how much they learned over the course of the semester. I can’t say that worrying about my students is keeping me awake. There isn’t anything that I can do about those unhappy students because of winter break.

Although I usually don’t drink, I have tried drinking wine to get sleepy. I have also tried taking a melatonin. Even these things don’t work. Sometimes it’s the simplest of things—like sleeping—that create the most problems.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Exhausted but Awake

I have been absent from this blog because of the grading that characterizes the end of every semester of college teaching. Many things are pushed aside as the emphasis is placed on reading essays and compiling grades. The final two days of the semester I was awake until almost noon before I finally collapsed into bed and got about five or six hours of sleep. Now my sleeping schedule is terribly out of whack because of the changes to my internal clock. I don't know when I'll be able to get to bed earlier in the morning, say, before 2:00 a.m. Anymore, I am most comfortable sleeping when the sun is up because of the pattern that was established during the semester. There were a few weeks when I had the schedule of a normal person, that is, getting up at 6:30 a.m. and remaining awake during the day. That routine didn't usually allow me to get much work done. It was too easy to take a walk or to run errands when I should have been reading through my students' essays or typing up comments. Once the essays started to back up, I began staying awake through the night so that I would concentrate on the grading. After my kid got up at 6:30 a.m., I got his breakfast and took him to school before I went to bed for about six hours. This pattern changed on weekends. Even so, the pattern has become so engrained that it may take another week before my sleeping schedule changes radically.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Buying Nothing

I certainly wouldn't spend the day after Thanksgiving shopping even if I had lots of money to spend. My day will be spent grading essays with that time broken up by a walk in the afternoon before I come back home and start cooking barbecue for dinner. My stomach hasn't let me digest food cooked outside on a barbecue grill for about ten years now. An alternative I discovered is baking pork ribs in the oven at 350 degrees for a couple of hours after having let them marinate in barbecue sauce for a day or two. Beef ribs are equally tasty. My own homemade ribs are as good as what you can get at many of the barbecue restaurants in Kansas City. My wife agrees.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Stephan Bormann Band

Each year more jazz CD’s are released than can be reviewed. As a result, it is not a surprise that the Stephan Bormann Band's Songs From a Small Room received very little critical attention when it was released in 2005 on the Ozella label, an independent company in Germany. A professor of guitar at Dresden’s University of Music, Bormann is currently a member of the duo Hands on Strings, which has released three CD’s in Germany and which also features Thomas Fellow. Songs From a Small Room is Bormann’s third recording as a leader.

Composed of Stephan Bormann on electric and acoustic guitar, Volker Schlott on alto and soprano saxophone, Mohi Buschendorf on double and electric bass, and Jens Dohle on drums, the Stephan Bormann Band performs original material created by Stephan Bormann.

There are a range of styles on this CD, such as chamber jazz and elements of mid-1970’s jazz fusion. Even so, the music remains unique because of its adoption of several different styles, none of which dominate the album as a whole. Some of the details to listen for are the short guitar solo at the close of “Signals,” the saxophone solo on “(song from a) Small Room,” the call and response between guitar and saxophone on “(song from a) Small Room,” the saxophone solo in “Come With Me,” the bass solo and the special effects in “Journey into the Past,” and the bass solo on “Two Old People in a Maize Field.”

Although short at nearly 50 minutes, when some CD's now contain 60 or 70 minutes of music, this CD serves as an excellent introduction to these musicians. It’s unfortunate that this debut effort has not been supplemented with a more recent recording.

I discovered this CD at CD Baby when I was looking for something else, and eventually downloaded the CD from Amazon. It's music that can provide a capstone to an evening or that can break the monotony of a lengthy crosscountry drive. Of late, it’s the music that makes it possible to start writing up my grading comments for student essays.

Track Listing: Nordic Sky, Signals, Taste of Summer, Come With Me, (song from a) Small Room, five 4 two, Journey into the Past, Beyond the Horizon, Two Old People in a Maize Field.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Fall Color in Northeastern Kansas

With each passing year, I am becoming more reluctant to give up the summer. Autumn in northeastern Kansas came much too soon this year. I was enjoying the warm late summer nights and the incessant singing of the frogs, katydids, and crickets, announcing how much they enjoyed living their lives at that moment,when our weather drastically changed.

When I was in Manhattan, Kansas in mid-October for the festival of high school marching bands, I ended up wearing five layers because of the cold and strong wind. It took as many layers to remain warm the next day when I was at the Renaissance Festival in Kansas City.

I may have mentioned before that the Kansas City area is particularly pretty in the fall because of the changing leaves and in the spring because of the colorful blossoms from the magnolias, redbuds, and pear trees. This part of Kansas (and Missouri), which can get up to 40 inches of rain in a year, has more trees than are found farther to the west.

The oaks have lost most of their leaves already; they were the first trees to change color this year. I am adding a few pictures that I have taken over the past few weeks. Clicking on each picture will enlarge it.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Caught in the Middle: A Review

Richard C. Longworth in Caught in the Middle examines the decline of the Midwest and what the region can do to counteract the effects of globalism. Beginning in the 19th century, the Midwest served as the country’s industrial heartland. Since the 1970’s, however, many of the factories in this region have either reduced their workforce or have closed down entirely and moved their production lines overseas. These closings have devastated the region, causing many towns to lose their only major employer. Some of these towns, Longworth says, won’t survive much longer except as bedroom communities for those people willing to commute long distances. Only a few cities and towns have managed to thrive. Kalamazoo, for example, has seen new growth since the city, thanks to private donations, has financed a college education for its local high school graduates. Warsaw, Indiana, has survived by becoming the home for orthopedic manufacturers, something Longworth refers to as “clustering.” These success stories are exceptions. In some cases, a city or town looking to replace its industrial base attracts a meatpacking plant, which, instead of hiring the local population for a living wage, brings in immigrants from Mexico who are willing to work long hours for very little money. This influx of immigrants creates a whole series of financial problems for communities forced to provide essential services.

Longworth believes that certain changes will allow the states that make up this region to survive. He foresees a great deal of potential in biotech, particularly the production of ethanol, and biosciences, both of which involve “turning plants and animals into products that go far beyond food.” “Already,” he says, “about one quarter of the Midwest’s corn crop goes for ethanol production.” More than likely, at least half of the corn crop will be turned into ethanol, he adds. Longworth also believes that the biosciences, which has lead to major centers of research in cities like Chicago, Ann Arbor, and St. Louis, will continue to grow and will lead to new lines of production by major corporations like Cargill, Monsanto, and Eli Lilly. For the region to renew itself, Longworth believes that the region needs an educated workforce. The research and manufacturing he foresees will require advanced degrees and if the young people in this region don’t pursue a higher education, the workforce will be imported into the region. Longworth also foresees major growth in the region’s cities if they can attract what Longworth refers to as the “creative class,” the highly educated people who can create the new ideas needed by the region. These cities will need to lose their provincialism and embrace diversity and open-mindedness, things that the region has not previously promoted. This shift to an educated workforce will create large pockets of poverty in the region, causing those who formally held minimum wage jobs to flounder. Ultimately, Longworth advocates more cooperation among the states, including the elimination of individual states in favor of smaller regions that cross existing state lines. Longworth also exhibits a strong bias toward the Big Ten schools, believing that those institutions hold more hope for the region. He also advocates the elimination of duplicate college programs, believing that specialization is the only hope for the major educational institutions.

Longworth’s examination of this region would have been more complete if he had considered the ecological problems that the region will face. Increasing the amount of corn harvested to fuel the demand for ethanol will be accompanied with a greater reliance on pesticides. What consequences will occur when the soil will no longer sustain the yields that corporations like Cargill require? What will happen when the water becomes more heavily polluted? Longworth’s attitude toward water as something to be sold is revealed when he says that “water is the resource of the future, and the Great Lakes states need to be ready to exploit it.” This attitude will only result in another period of bust and one of more serious consequences when the land will not sustain the population and when the water has been polluted beyond hope or sold to cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix.

Ultimately, Longworth’s book is an important one because of its relatively thorough examination of one particular region. The Great Plains states need a similar study because they offer less hope and will experience more widespread devastation in the coming years.

Saturday, October 03, 2009


That entry devoted to a reclining nude, not the Lucian Freud painting itself but the links to Giorgione, Titan, and Manet, has been generating a lot of traffic. When I did an image search on Google for Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus, my blog doesn’t appear anywhere on the first fifteen pages. When I created that post, I expressed surprise at the money that Lucian Freud’s painting went for at auction, examined briefly the meaning behind the image, and articulated the convention of the reclining nude female in painting. Perhaps I should be pleased at the traffic that I'm getting. In researching this post, I have now realized that Google places my blog second in an image search for "reclining supervisor" and the image that accompanies the post is, ironically, Giorgione's Sleeping Venus. That error explains this mystery.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Drugs & Doctors

Since losing my health insurance more than a year ago, I have been ordering my prescription medicine from overseas. As an asthmatic, I have come to rely on an inhaled corticosteroid although I admit that I need to try and wean myself, after having used this corticosteroid for about three years now, or I need to switch to a less powerful medicine than the inhaled powder that I have been using. Instead of Advair Diskus, I was forced to switch to a generic form of this drug, one made by the same company and only found outside of the US, once I began ordering my medicine from overseas. When I had health insurance, I could get a package of 60 blisters for a co-pay of $30. Without health insurance, this same drug costs $400. at Wal-Mart. Overseas, the generic form is available for $75.

Over the summer, when I experienced a cash flow problem and couldn’t make my usual bimonthly order (my original prescription called for two inhalations per day; I can control my asthma by administering only one inhalation per day), I ended up having to visit the doctor that used to treat my asthma and allergies. For the cost of an office visit, I managed to get enough free samples to last me until I could place another order overseas and wait the two weeks for delivery. Many doctors, I’ve found, are fairly easy to manipulate so that it is possible to get what one wants, at least when it comes to getting a prescription and/or free samples. This doctor’s most pressing concern was getting paid. Apparently, he thought that I wouldn’t be able to pay him as quickly as he wanted.

My wife and I have been fortunate to find a really good pediatrician in this area. My wife refers to him as “the best doctor on the planet.” For me, I haven’t found a good doctor, that is, one who takes the time to listen to me and one who seems genuinely concerned about my health, since leaving Oklahoma eleven years ago.

When my sister came to visit us in Oklahoma and to see her nephew for the first time, she brought along a nasty cold that she passed along to us. Because of the exhaustion of caring for an infant, teaching two classes, and taking two classes as a graduate student, my body didn’t have the immunity that it needed. This cold eventually became bronchitis and then pneumonia. Once I got sick enough, I began seeing a doctor who had his own clinic and his own pharmacy. During the few months I saw him, he gave me enough erythromycin to last two weeks but never enough to cure me. It wasn’t until I went somewhere else that the doctor treated me with what seemed like a more powerful antibiotic along with albuterol and a corticosteroid. My pneumonia ended up lasting about six months before I was considered free of infection. This new doctor ended up treating me whenever I was ill during the four years that I remained in Oklahoma, and recognizing my financial straits, he often gave me free samples instead of a prescription requiring that much more money.

As a sidenote, I have to add that getting pneumonia made it that much easier to remain an ex-smoker, having quit when my wife was pregnant. My sixteen year anniversary of not smoking is coming up in January.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

No More Plastic Water Bottles

No longer buying plastic bottles of water is one benefit that has come from having very little extra money. Probably the three of us in my family averaged three bottles of water per day, sometimes more in the heat of the summer. Drinking that much water caused us to spend about $14.00 every ten days, even though we were drinking some of the cheaper brands. We have now attached a filter to the kitchen sink so as to filter the water that we use for drinking.

This charcoal filter is supposed to significantly reduce the amount of atrazine in the water, a chemical that has been found in our city water on a regular basis. The city says that the highest amount of atrazine detected in our water, which is drawn from wells below the Missouri River before it is purified, is 1.8 ppb, which, according to the EPA, is at an acceptable range. Recent news reports reveal that the amount of atrazine is actually much higher in many parts of Kansas, and these reports call into question the validity of these water tests conducted by certain municipalities. Filtering the water is safer than simply drinking water from the tap.

It is unknown whether the water we were purchasing in bottles had ever been tested for chemicals. Having more control over what we put in our bodies is another reason to make this switch to filtered city water.

Now instead of storing plastic bottles in the refrigerator, we have been refilling glass water bottles and keeping a glass milk jug filled with water in the refrigerator. We also have to make fewer trips to the recycling center to drop off our plastic waste. Although I had been aware of the hazards to the environment that plastic water bottles created, I once doubted that I could ever give up the practice of drinking water from a plastic bottle. I’m happy to say that I have made the transition to a more environmentally friendly practice.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

That Link to the World

This picture reveals where I spend a large part of my time. I'm not the kind of person who requires the latest technology; in fact, I prefer the conventional monitor to the flat screens currently available. I even have a spare monitor tucked away in a closet just in case something were to happen to the monitor that I have been using. Although much of my teaching is done on this desktop, I tend to use my laptop when typing up those comments that I return to my students with their grades. That laptop has been a blessing on nights when thunderstorms prevent me from working on my desktop or when an ice storm causes the transformers in the neighborhood to stop popping.

Monday, August 24, 2009

More Shadows

Here are a few more entries in my examination of shadows. These pictures were taken in the least used park in the city where I live. The peacefulness here may be changing because the city has come up with plans to change the park in some way. These plans won't be made public until later on this week or next.

I'm in that point in the semester where I'm able to live the life of a normal person. That will change when the grading starts right after Labor Day.

Clicking on any one of the pictures here will enlarge it.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Paul Zimmer and "Bach and My Father"

One poet I have been reading lately is Paul Zimmer, whose Crossing to Sunlight Revisited: New and Selected Poems was released two years ago. This collection contains twenty-five new poems in addition to fifty early poems. Personally, I would have preferred a more substantial collection of his poems, but I can console myself with the earlier and heftier version of Crossing to Sunlight, which appeared in 1996, and Family Reunion: Selected and New Poems, which appeared in 1983.

Instead of waiting for a subject, some poets have explored the same subjects, like ghosts or cats or drunkenness, in their poems. This approach allows one to write regularly.

Paul Zimmer in his poems has often used those characters he has created, such as Wanda, Cecil, Lester, and Zimmer, a mask for himself but still not the person who wrote the poem. These characters allow him to explore feelings and situations without simply recalling what he has known or observed. That woman who frustrates her suitors, Wanda is desired but resistant to the cravings of men. She appears in one poem as a stripper, often drinks to excess, and appears bored by the speaker’s interests but remains appealing, nonetheless.

Although not totally absent in Zimmer’s new poems, these characters appear less often. Zimmer now appears more confident in writing about where he lives and in recalling memories, sensations, and feelings while using first person.

Many of Zimmer’s poems contain references to music. Sometimes he places the character Zimmer among the jazz greats of the 1940’s and 1950’s in poems like “The Duke Ellington Dream” and “Diz’s Dream.” One of his new poems from Crossing to Sunlight Revisited: New and Selected Poems appears below:

Bach and My Father

Six days a week my father sold shoes
To support our family through depression and war,
Nursed his wife through years of Parkinson’s,
Loved nominal cigars, manhattans, long jokes,
Never kissed me, but always shook my hand.

Once he came to visit me when a Brandenburg
Was on the stereo. He listened with care—
Brisk melodies, symmetry, civility, and passion.
When it finished, he asked to hear it again,
Moving his right hand in time. He would have
Risen to dance if he had known how.

“Beautiful,” he said when it was done,
My father, who’d never heard a Brandenburg.
Eighty years old, bent, and scuffed all over,
Just in time he said, “That’s beautiful.”

Friday, July 31, 2009

Review of Waiting for Coyote's Call

Informed by the work of Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, and other naturalists, Jerry Wilson in Waiting for Coyote’s Call: An Eco-Memoir From the Missouri River Bluff describes his acquisition of acreage where, since the early 1980’s, he has created a home for himself and his family. Wilson devotes the initial chapters to his decision to buy land and build a home. These chapters offer memories of Wilson’s childhood in rural Oklahoma and contain anecdotes of Wilson’s interactions with the rural people who often offer assistance to Wilson and his wife in their construction of a geo-solar home. Portions of the middle chapters contain the history of the region and the history of both the native people and the settlers who have lived on the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River. Wilson mixes this history with his detailed study of meteor showers and the habits of those nocturnal creatures like raccoons and deer. These chapters also contain Wilson’s knowledge of trees and his vivid observations of birds along with the extremes of weather, including an entire chapter devoted to snow. Least satisfying are those final chapters when Wilson looks beyond the bluff where he has made a home to issues regarding the growth of corporate farming methods because it seems as if those issues belong in a subsequent book. Personally, I find the book to be an enjoyable read because of Wilson’s attention to detail and the clarity of his prose. Wilson reveals what he has “watch[ed], listen[ed], and learn[ed]” about a place during the past twenty-eight years and shows his own effort to manage the land where he has replanted native grasses and where he has seen a return of those native species that had not frequented that portion of South Dakota since the days of settlement. He ultimately makes the reader approach the outdoors with wonder and enthusiasm, regardless of where one lives. On a personal note, I originally got my review copy as a PDF file from which I printed out fifty pages at a time. I have since purchased a cloth copy of the book.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Evening Shadows on a Cottonwood

When I was at the river on Saturday, I managed to capture the shadows climbing up the trunks of these trees over the course of an hour. I find the afternoon and evening shadows especially fascinating and believe that every day can be different because of how the sun casts shadows.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Purple Coneflowers & Bees

Something I have been meaning to do is take pictures of the purple coneflowers growing in the front garden. My wife and I don't plant many flowers. Our problem is that the deer come into the yard and eat the blossoms. Last year we had a lot of luck in growing a mandeville flower and thought that the deer didn't like the flavor of the blooms; this year we bought two mandevilles, neither of which has kept its blooms very long because the deer eat them. One flower we have discovered that the deer don't eat is the purple coneflower, which is native to Kansas and related to the daisy. Linda Hasselstrom in her books stresses the virtue of growing only native plants, partly because the native plants are able to withstand the hot dry summers of the Great Plains. I suppose I need to consult the extension agent in my county to find out what other flowers will strive in this climate and won't become dinner for the large deer population.

Initially, I took about 350 pictures, using both memory cards in my camera. I'm the kind of photographer who believes in taking a lot of pictures and then culling through them to select the best ones after they have been downloaded to the computer. My camera allows rapid shooting so that I can get several shots in less than a minute. I chose these pictures of the bees because they reveal the amount of detail that can be captured with micro filters.

Clicking on each picture will enlarge it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

On the Road: The Original Scroll

More than a year ago, I bought a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: The Original Scroll. This version is the one that existed before he made the editing changes demanded by his publisher, including altering the original names of his characters. The scroll of Kerouac’s novel contains no paragraph breaks. I initially thought that reading the equivalent of a freshman essay would be difficult, but this stylistic and organizational strategy employed by Kerouac was only a distraction initially. I actually prefer the scroll to the edited version of the novel. It’s more gritty and honest and more in keeping with an extended jazz solo. I found myself bookmarking a number of passages as I was reading. Because of copyright restrictions, I’m not at liberty to include all of the passages that struck me as noteworthy. I’m limiting myself to these two examples:

“My whole wretched life swam before my weary eyes, and I realized no matter what you do it’s bound to be a waste of time in the end so you might as well go mad. All I wanted was to drown my soul in my wife’s soul and reach her through the tangle of shrouds which is flesh in bed. At the end of the American road is a man and a woman making love in a hotel room. That’s all I wanted” (278).

“They didn't know that a bomb had come that could crack all our bridges and banks and reduce them to jumbles like the avalanche heap, and we would be as poor as them someday and stretching out our hands in the samesame way." (398).

After On the Road and The Dharma Bums were published, Kerouac was often consulted by the media when he was a private person, took no credit for what transpired in America during the 1950’s and 1960’s, and wanted the opportunity to write books for an appreciative and open-minded audience. I think it’s best to approach On the Road as a novel in reaction to the aftermath of the Second World War. Instead of embracing the militarism and jingoism present after the war, Kerouac wanted to escape into a life of sensation—jazz, women, marijuana, alcohol, and friendship, all of which is a reminder that one is a survivor and alive. The life itself may not be pleasant, but it still needs to be experienced on one's own terms.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bemoaning the Adjunct Life

After eight weeks, my summer classes have now come to an end. Whereas a full-time professor may only teach one or two sections in the summer as a means of earning additional money, while still having his/her salary spread out over twelve months, I am only paid when I teach as a part-time instructor. As a result, I taught four sections this summer, approximately seventy-six students. Some semesters the students tend to drift away after the first couple of assignments, perhaps because they find the assignments too structured or too intimidating. This semester more of the students remained in the class. I have also experienced more students desirous of higher grades than what they earned; it’s as if they took a class at a community college as a last ditch effort to maintain a scholarship. My classes are no different than when I used to teach at a four-year university. I make about forty percent of my online classes relatively easy if the students complete the quizzes, participate in the peer reviews, and remain active in the discussion forums; the other sixty percent is earned in writing the essays. For some reason, the students flub up the easy points. My own writing classes were not as well structured when I was an undergraduate. Sometimes the teacher had the class write immediately upon entering the class, without having introduced a topic or assisted the class in brainstorming ideas. These essays were then graded mostly for grammar. Twenty-seven years ago, the teaching of composition had not yet been improved through the research of scholars like Peter Elbow.

Teaching online and grading stacks of essays week after week has ruined my sleeping schedule this semester. After a pattern of not going to bed until after sunrise, I’m not even sure that I can get to sleep before 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. It is something that I need to work on over the next two weeks or so. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with the outdoors and plan on spending some time on Saturday walking along the river. I haven’t totally secluded myself away during these past eight weeks; the last three weeks, however, have been devoted exclusively to either reading essays or typing up my grading comments. It hasn’t helped that I began noticing some floaters in my left eye after watching the fireworks for Independence Day. I know that the two events are entirely coincidental; linking the two things would be a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. I’ve had to adjust the lighting when I read now because, otherwise, I would become more conscious of the black shapes moving back and forth. According to my research, these floaters will eventually fall before my line of sight, but I don’t know how long it will take. Not having health insurance, like so many Americans, I cannot visit an optometrist to have my eyes examined unless I can come up with the money.

Two weeks are available to rest and recuperate. I only wish that the money earned during the summer would last longer. The adjunct life requires a substantial amount of money in savings because so much time transpires between paychecks. Maybe I can find a way to conjure up just enough money to survive until mid-September. Adding a little extra money to pay off student loans, for instance, would be an unexpected bonus.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Weekend in Southcentral Kansas

I spent last weekend in Pratt, a town of about 6,000 people in southcentral Kansas where the wheat harvest had been delayed because of the rain. At one point, this developing storm looked like it would spawn a tornado. This cell, I believe, created the tornado that was spotted near Great Bend, located to the north of Pratt, about an hour later. The wheat is visible in these first two pictures.

I was lucky to get this shot of a double rainbow after the storm passed.

This last picture gives the appearance of Pratt containing a lot of water when it actually is a dry place with much less rain that what we get in the Kansas City area.

Clicking on these pictures will enlarge them.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Garage Sale Blues

I was reminded recently of how much I don’t like garage sales. As a way of getting rid of some of our junk, my wife and I decided to have a garage sale once classes ended in the spring and before my summer classes started. We spent about two weeks going through our closets and drawers. Probably what we found the most of were old vhs tapes. Not realizing that many of them only sell for one cent at Amazon, we had priced many of ours for $1.00 and some for $3.00. Finally, after pricing our items, creating an inventory, paying for a license from the city, placing the advertisement in the local newspapers, and cleaning the garage, we opened up our garage sale at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. The most number of people came during that first hour. Regardless of our prices, we had people offering five dollars less than what we had marked on some of the furniture. Some of them were brazen enough to only offer a portion of what we were selling the item for. Maybe if I had spent more time at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul when I was younger, I would have learned to refuse what someone had offered with only a movement of the head. If we ever have another garage sale, I’m either going to become more firm in getting my asking price or let someone else handle the negotiations during the first hour. After three hours, the number of people stopping to look slacked off considerably. What I enjoyed the most at that point was sitting in the garage and listening to Wolfert Brederode’s Currents . That music was the perfect accompaniment to a quiet late morning/early afternoon. All total, we ended up making about $100., about a third of what we had hoped to raise, which is about the average for each of the garage sales that we have had over the years. Almost none of the movies on vhs sold. Someone stole our dvd copy of Master of Disguise, which, according to the Internet Movie Database, is considered one of the worst movies ever but which we had priced for $1, I believe.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Irises, at least in this part of the world, are associated with Memorial Day, a day set aside for remembering the members of the military who lost their lives. Using a series of extension lens that add up to 7x allows me to get a closer shot than the flower setting on my camera. Just like the other pictures on this blog, clicking on the picture will enlarge it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

End of Writing Block

Thanks to NaPoWriMo, my writing block has come to an end. I have managed to write regularly for part of the month before I had to stop (albeit temporarily, I hope) and devote nearly all of my time and energy to grading essays and preparing taxes. Even sleep has to be sacrificed when in the throes of grading.

None of the poems written recently are ready for public consumption. If anyone reading this blog wants to see older samples of my work, click on the following links: link , link , link , and link .

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Participating in NaPoWriMo

I haven’t been successful in fulfilling my resolution to write a new poem once a month. As a result, I have decided to participate in NaPoWriMo, which requires the writing of a new poem every day during the month of April. If anything can get me to write, it will be the necessity of producing a new poem every day. That kind of pressure will prevent me from stressing too much over what to say or how to say something. I wrote best in graduate school when I had to produce regularly and in short periods of time, sometimes only giving myself a couple of hours to write a new poem for that week’s workshop. I’ve decided that I waste enough time during the day in checking the news on the Internet or in watching TV and that that time can be better spent writing. I cannot guarantee that I will post my poems, but I will let my readers know about my progress as the month of April progresses.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Magnolia Blossoms

My annual photographs of magnolia blossoms appear below. Click on any image to enlarge it.

Unfortunately, this part of Kansas will be returning to winter during the weekend. We're under a winter storm warning for Saturday and may get up to eight inches of snow. The National Weather Service is even calling for thundersnow, which is something that I haven't heard since I was a kid and living in Istanbul during the early 1960's. The American military brought in trucks to take us home from school that day. It was quite exciting. Later during the storm, my dad hiked from the Fourth Levent to the American exchange facilities somewhere near Taksim Square and brought back groceries. We didn't buy much of our food locally. The military added bleach to the drinking water at the snack bar and encouraged Americans to rinse any produce bought locally with bleach water.

Now, I would prefer to have a sunny spring day when it is possible to enjoy the blossoms on the trees. Even the pear trees are in bloom now. What winter we have had this year has been marked by sudden shifts in temperature and very little moisture. I still think there is merit to having a climate where the days remain the same. There would be no uncertainty about what to expect from one day to the next.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

My History with Tea

Unlike my son, who says he hates the taste of tea, I acquired the tea habit as a child. Other families may have served a beverage like milk or juice or soda with their meals. For my mother, she served us tea. It was a habit that she acquired growing up in Northern Ireland.

Whenever we visited our Irish relatives, we were served tea from a pot of loose leaves. The tea was often poured at the same time as the milk, creating a beverage containing half tea, half milk. With experience, one learns not to drink the last inch or so because of the loose tea leaves. The tea remaining in the pot gets stronger as the second or third cup is served.

Offering a guest a cup of tea is a sign of courtesy in Ireland. Even if there aren’t any little cakes or cookies to go with the tea, offering someone a cup of tea is the slightest that one can do for someone coming inside the house. Not getting that courtesy is an insult that isn’t easily forgotten. Recalling the memory of someone can be summed up with the remark, “She wouldn’t even offer me a cup of tea.”

In this country, my mother usually only made a pot of tea with loose leaves when someone came to visit. More often, we brewed our tea individually with teabags, waiting to add the milk and sugar until we achieved the desired strength. My sister and I learned through practice to fish out the teabag with the spoon and to use the tab of the bag to squeeze out all of the liquid. Wrapping the string around the bag as it sits in the spoon is another option for squeezing out the liquid.

My mother gave me a Brown Betty when I left home. Most often when I was single, I used it to store my teabags. At times, however, when money was tight, I used loose tea instead of teabags and put this Brown Betty to use. To this day, thirty-five years later, I still have this Brown Betty and used it recently to brew a pot of tea using five bags of PG Tips. Having a potful of tea on the stove, covered with a tea cozy to keep it warm, makes it possible to grab a cup in the midst of grading or cleaning house.

There were few options in this country other than Lipton thirty or forty years ago. Lipton, in fact, has been my tea of choice for most of my life. Occasionally, when I had to watch my money while living on my own, I resorted to using Tetley or Red Rose, but I switched back to Lipton whenever I could. A year or two ago, I bought some of the tea at a local store of imported English foodstuffs. Since then, I have grown more fastidious in my choice of tea. While I still use Lipton and Tetley sometimes, I have been trying some of the other tea available at the grocery store. Beginning with Bigelow English Breakfast and Twinings’ Irish Breakfast, my choices have also included Ahmad English Breakfast and Tazo Awake. Probably my current favorites, other than Tazo Awake and Ahmad English Breakfast, is, surprisingly, a generic blend of organic black tea that is distributed by the Associated Wholesale Grocers in Kansas City. A box of 24 bags sells for $2.34 at some stores. This tea actually seems much stronger than the other teas I’ve tried and gets my highest recommendation. When served with milk and sugar, it’s a bit of heaven at a reasonable price.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Money & Economic Collapse

Although the alternative press that I have been reading for the past few years predicted the economic collapse at least a year before it occurred, no one knew then how severe it would become. Economists and various other prognosticators predict that many more jobs will be lost in this country over the next twelve months. With the exception of the public schools, where school districts like Leavenworth have not been renewing the contracts of some of their teachers in the elementary and secondary schools, education is one of the few remaining careers with some degree of security. For so long as there are college students to teach, I can probably remain employed.

If I were to give advice to a young person leaving high school, I would recommend education and medicine as two careers with a future. There isn’t much else left in this country unless one has the money to go into business for oneself and even then one has to rely on those people with jobs, and with disposable income, for one’s livelihood.

I don’t know how much worse the economic woes affecting this country will become. Economists are stumped, too. One economist I saw quoted recently said, “It will get worse before it gets worse.” In other words, no one really knows what will happen. Without a manufacturing base and without a source of fuel that doesn’t have to be imported, this country may have to alter its entire economic system. Our consumer culture cannot continue when it is based almost entirely on credit.

When I was sick recently and relying on a year-old prescription of cough medicine to sleep through the night, I dreamt that aliens decided that we could no longer care for ourselves. Once they came to this planet, the first thing they did, besides crippling us by making us deaf, was stop our reliance on money. They initially made their presence known by sending messages across television screens and across windows. We were crippled physically so that we wouldn’t react in fear and attempt to fight back. In place of money, we were presented with the chance to devote our energy to bettering ourselves and given replicators to fulfill our immediate needs—i.e., food and clothing. While some of these ideas seem based on old episodes of Star Trek, I have to wonder whether the six billion people on this earth could ever stop worrying about having enough money. What would so many people do with themselves?

Music for a Postcoital Afternoon

In hunting for music that makes it possible to grade essays at the same time, I have discovered more of Anouar Brahem, particularly Le Pas Du Chat Noir . It’s such a beautiful album. While typing up my student comments, I find myself imaging that this music is meant for those postcoital afternoons in spring and summer when it’s warm enough to remain outside of the blankets.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

One Resolution for the New Year

One thing I have resolved to accomplish this year is to write more often; in fact, I have decided that I will write a poem at least once a month. Although I wrote a draft of a poem one evening while waiting in the car for my son to return from his music lesson, that draft remains unfinished. I haven’t written and polished a new poem in several years now. This period of silence comes after once having a more regular writing habit and after having completed a creative dissertation. More than ten years have now passed since I completed my degree. Whatever baggage I have carried with me as a result of my education has since been discarded, I believe. It seems as though I can now write without hearing the voices of my teachers in my head and without articulating their prejudices. Whatever they once had to say about my writing no longer matters anymore.

When I was teaching in the classroom and commuting, I thought about poetry more often and often composed poems in my head while driving to classes, writing them down once I reached my classroom. Once I finished teaching during any one day, I was usually too exhausted to return to those creative thoughts; most of my efforts were initially spent reviewing my classes, at least during the first twenty minutes of the commute; afterwards, during the remaining twenty minutes or so, it took all of my effort to remain awake. Extreme sleep deprivation made driving a struggle.

Teaching online has made it more difficult to compose poems in my head. I only have to walk down the hall to reach my home office, to switch on my computer, and to call up the Internet. Somehow I need to find the discipline that will let me focus on a poem when it is most quiet in my house—either before I start working on my classes or after completing that task. Writing, I decided, will prevent me from idling away my time surfing the Internet as a way of postponing having to look at my classes. I have been teaching the same classes for so long and have been teaching so many sections year after year that I approach the grading of essays with dread, often delaying the task much too long. It seems that fulfilling that creative impulse to write for myself will allow me to return to the demands of my job with a more positive outlook.

My wife thinks that these feelings regarding the grading of essays mean that it’s time to put teaching aside. Sometimes I wish I had fulfilled my original idea to gain secondary certification after completing my MA. If I had secured a teaching job afterwards, I would be at a point now where I could think about retiring, having completed twenty years of service.

My immediate goal now is to put together a full-length collection of poems and to get it published. There are about thirty poems of mine from the dissertation that I am happy with. I now need to write more so that I can put together a complete collection, possibly eliminating all of the poems that I wrote so long ago.

Only a week remains of January, and I have not yet fulfilled my quota for this month. I need to get busy. I cannot delay putting this resolution into play. The grading begins in February.