Tuesday, December 23, 2008
We're staying at my parents' house in KC, which means being around my dad who is pretty much bonkers. He's entertaining and infuriating, at times terrifying. He is frequently inappropriate--really inappropriate. He's been downstairs opening and closing doors for 15 minutes. We don't know what he's doing and discuss the possibilities. Oleg suggests that he's rearranging the basement or building a safe-room in which to hide from birds. Yesterday, Oleg and I saw a tornado room in one of the houses we viewed--it was a tiny space with one open side and three, three-foot-thick concrete walls and ceiling--so he's got that on his mind. My mom has no guess and simply says, "who knows" and continues her game of spider solitaire--but then supposes he's looking for something. My guess is that he's killing a bug. He's made a lot of noise killing a bug before, so this isn't as stupid as it may seem. Neither is Oleg's idea about the birds, since my dad is terrified of birds and there were two or three thousand of them sitting on the roof of the house earlier in the day. We would hear nothing for five or six minutes, and then the birds would scrabble around, making a sound like the frozen tree branches that scrape our roof in Vermillion on windy nights. Then, all at once, the birds would lift silently and, in a body, pass flickering across the sunlight coming through the windows, settling finally in the limbs of the hackberry trees that line the yard. The trees used to act as a windbreak for the farm field behind the houses on my parents' street. In the summer, starlings gather in the same trees and laugh at us. My mom shoots them with a pellet gun because she claims that otherwise they poop on her new deck. All of this causes my dad distress. He suffered some kind of childhood trauma that involved his mother and an aggressive goose, so he has a true phobia of birds--totally loses his mind when birds fly around near his head. Screeches and whimpers. As it happens, he was not building a shelter from the birds, though, or killing bugs. When he came upstairs later, he said he was looking for something, but nothing in particular--just looking around. That seems reasonable to me, since I like looking around, too.
Today, my brother's kids are here. My mom watches them once or twice a week. They're nine, four, and two. She just gave the younger two a bath and supervised the shower of the nine-year old. Like my dad, the presence of these children puts me in a state verging on catatonia, a deep-seated exhaustion that precedes any effort at entertaining--or bathing--them. It's 11:00, and Oleg is still in bed, evidence of the fact that he experiences an extreme version of the same uneasiness. Plus, he has a cold. Mom has been jumping from room-to-room, running baths, drying hair, putting green or pink frosting on waffles (uh, gross), playing alphabet games, finding socks. All I've done of any note all morning is send the four-year-old girl into hysterics by freaking about her putting a plastic bag on her head. I was trying to find a picture of a cicada on Google Images to scare the two-year-old with, and I look up, and Maggie has a plastic bag over her head. I very sternly told her NEVER to put a plastic bag on her head. Told her about six times in a deep, booming voice with blue fire shooting out of my nose and sharp claws poking out of my fingertips. Her very-large-to-begin-with eyes got bigger and bigger, and I could feel exactly how she felt--frozen with fear and mortification and not knowing why this big person suddenly doesn't like me. But my adult brain, feeble at best, I was thinking, "at least she'll remember not to put a bag on her head. I may be saving her life!" But then the walls crack and it's heartbreak and she's four and I'm her Aunt Mandy and there are tears and we "want GRANDMA!!!" Now, she totally hates me. She's standing on the steps staring down at me. I say, "you have Winnie the Poo on your shirt!" and she goes back up the steps, starts crying, and says quietly to my mom, "I don't want to wear these pants." My mom says, "Why? why are you crying?" And she says, "I don't like Winnie the Poo." Winnie the Poo is on her shirt, not her pants, which my mom points out, and then they change her clothes. After the drama, Mom asks what she wants for lunch, and she says, "birthday cake." The two-year old has poked a head-sized hole in his blanket and is walking around like Pig Pen in Charlie Brown, with the blanket trailing after him. The nine-year old is sick and bored. I have a headache that knows no bounds.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Speaking of things that end well, the Shakespeare reading group in which I participate held its last monthly meeting of the semester last week. We meet for 3-4 hours to read a Shakespeare play aloud. I LOVE it. Our hostess is a Shakespeare scholar who brings key info and insights to the material but never seems to be "teaching." I go for the language, the sensuous pleasure of speaking Shakespeare's lines--feeling them on the tongue and hearing them spoken. I like, I guess, the kinesthetics of the tongue, the way saying links to understanding--the song and the sense. I read aloud to myself sometimes; I particularly like to read Hopkins, Yeats, cummings, and Melville--and perhaps oddly, Edward Taylor. Disparate, but they share a lot (besides being all Anglo guys!)--the first and the last, along with Shakespeare, for example, have a great deal of sound play, and all seem to me exemplary of a rich suggestiveness of language, signification that glances off big meanings. I like poems with enough mystery to hold me up--negative capability I think Keats called it. I like to feel on the threshold of an idea. The sound of the line is integral to that enjoyment for me. And plus Shakespeare's words are lovely in the mouth. So, we've been reading the comedies, which are my least favorite Shakespeare works, but I'm not complaining--they're still splendid. I prefer the tragedies. Lear. And I like to teach the sonnets.
One of my students put a book, a gift, in my mailbox yesterday. It's a 1908 copy of Shakespeare's stories--not plays--but stories distilled from the plays and rendered in prose for children. They're wonderfully illustrated, too, with pen drawings of little Kewpie-(Cupie-?) looking children dressed for different scenes of the plays, mainly the comedies and romances. I haven't had a chance to do more than poke around in the book, but it's a quirky, cool gift.
I am feeling disappointed by the blogging experience. I find that much of what I really want to blog about I don't have the guts to write online. A reasonable reservedness or out-of-date fear of transparency? I'm thinking of getting a new, more anonymous blog.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
- This morning I observed a beautiful sunrise and that my fingernails are growing at significantly different rates, something that has never before been the case.
- I've had several peculiar dreams lately. Last night I dreamt that I masturbated and had an orgasm, which was pleasant but also disturbing, since I do not like being uncertain about what my body is up to while I am asleep. I also dreamt that I was in a big house and had a distinct feeling that the house should have something peculiar or hidden in it. I spent a long time in silent distress because I could find nothing mysterious. I kept trying to call my mom, who was also supposed to be there, but the buttons on the phone were so tiny I couldn't dial the right ones and had to start over and over. Several nights ago, I dreamt that I was a nanny and was trying to get some children to make their bed. I caught their attention by pointing out how most things in a home are in the shape of a square or rectangle.
Since the dream, I have been unaccountably preoccupied by the banal thought that so many things are squarish in shape--I pondered it through the whole of my one-hour drive to the therapist's office Monday morning, for instance. It's not even very interesting but I cannot get it out of my head.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
While in KC, Oleg and I also went house hunting. He has convinced a friend in Russia to buy a house in the US as an investment. We will live in it for three years and then sell the house--making a profit of some sort for the friend and providing ourselves with a place to live. (I don't even want to get started on all the nightmare scenarios that come to mind in relation to this little scheme.) Anyway, while looking at houses, I kept forgetting what we were doing. I kept thinking about whether I would want to live in the house forever, and I would forget to think about whether someone else would want to buy the house from me later. Apparently, no one else would want any of the houses I like, and all the houses I picked out have now been rejected. So, I've lost interest in the search and am working on reconciling myself to the prospect of living in exactly the kind of house I never wanted to live in, likely located in a neighborhood of the sort I so hated and longed to escape as an adolescent. Life seems such a let-down.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
When I was in junior high, some 25 years ago, I used to play indoor soccer 5 times a week. We'd have games starting as late as 11:30 at night. I played soccer until I was 19 and then didn't play again until I was 25. I stopped again and didn't start again until I was 33. I hate the way my body has gotten slower. Even when I'm in shape, I don't have the speed and quickness today at 38 that I had even at 33. When I was 33, I played indoor on three teams and was always getting hurt, which should have told me something. But I played with a 45-year-old woman who could run circles around the women in their twenties and I figured I should be able to do as well as she. During that period, I went to the emergency room for concussions on two different occasions, one of which came from hitting my head on the wall and the other from catching a shot on goal in the face. The second hit me so hard that I couldn't fully open or close my jaw for two days. The other time I went to the hospital was for my collarbone, which I thought I might have cracked. There is still a hard lump there. My legs are relatively short and muscular, which is why I think I have never had problems with my knees and ankles. When I trained for a marathon in 2005, I did have some illiotibial band tightness and pain, but I managed.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Monday, November 3, 2008
What does that mean? I know what ersatz means (although I'm not entirely sure the caller did), but what kind of "view" is that? Did this guy call up his radio station to share this opinion? Is it just me, or does it seem like we are so caught up in the notion that everyone should have an opportunity to say what they think that we've lost sight of the thinking that should precede the saying? Is it true that everyone's thoughts should be heard?
I have similar questions about student evaluations. Students are not experts in the subjects they take in school, and they are not pedagogical experts either; for the most part, they have never taught, and despite what they would claim, they do not even have that much experience in the classroom--at least not compared to the person teaching them. They don't know what is effective in a broad sense. All they know is what they "like." We are so committed to giving everyone a "say" and making everyone feel as though his or her opinion is valuable, no matter what, that nobody dares to ask whether every opinion really is significant. There don't seem to be many people who have informed reasons for liking, disliking, supporting or not supporting things. And it is scary that, on the basis of whatever whim or dyspepsia or arbitrary bad association, everybody gets to vote, evaluate, and speak out. If I were running for office, I would endorse a public service campaign to promote more thinking and less speaking out.
I guess you don't have to be a card-carrying Derridean to know that this blog needs to end immediately.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
It's a beautiful day in South Dakota--windy, as usual, but warm and bright. My husband is catching walleye at a nearby lake. The phone call came this morning from a friend of his. They had caught four "keepers" in an hour of fishing. The husband was out of bed and gone in a flash.
I am inside looking out my office window. I've been composing a job recommendation letter for a graduate student with whom I work. He's a great guy and a promising scholar. Just received email from another student. She's finished next week's reading early and wants to get a start on her next paper. We won't be discussing the book until Tuesday, but she wants me to email my thoughts on the characters and events to her, so she can begin work. Earlier today I wrote a long blog about my graduate student years and erased the whole thing with one click. I felt awful for having wasted an hour writing when I could have been working. Working?
Have I mentioned that "It's a beautiful day in South Dakota--windy, as usual, but warm and bright." It's Saturday. I feel guilty for not working. I want to reply to my student: "Sorry, I don't work on Saturday." Or: "I am only teaching that book in class--not once to you in email over the weekend and then again in class next week." It's nice that she's so committed. An "exceeds expectations" teacher would probably meet her for coffee this afternoon and have a discussion about the book. Before I got the email, I was reading the "balancing life and work" forum thread in the Higher Chronicle. This is the thread where some faculty go to complain about their jobs and support one another in trying to muster the gumption to quit. One writer says that she has already quit and now feels much, much better. I have already quit, too, but I really don't feel that much better. I still feel manacled to the computer and guilty when I'm not doing something job-related. I constantly have to remind myself that I can relax, find something enjoyable to do, keep the work contained within certain hours. I don't need any more lines on my cv.
I'll be voting on Tuesday. I'm afraid my parents are both voting for McCain, and just thinking about it makes my heart race. I was mulling over whether I might be a Federalist in the car the other day, and Thoreau's words on voting kept coming to mind. He wrote that to vote is pretty much a game of craps, that no choice of moral importance can be made in such a way--at least not for people who feel deeply invested in a question. Thoreau writes, "All voting is a sort of gaming, like chequers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voter is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men" ("Resistance to Civil Government" Thoreau).
What Thoreau says about the character of the voter's not being staked is true. In some sense, we are not supposed to care too much about the outcome of a vote; after casting our ballots, we are encouraged to let go of an issue and let the process do its work. The vote substitutes for my continuing identification with a stance or my moral connection to a decision. I put my preference in the vote and send it out to join the other votes, punchcards. My vote goes into a box and separates from me. Hours later, a decision emerges. The social contract which impels/implies my consent dictates that the decision, the output, be accepted as my law, even if, as Thoreau points out, that output is morally repugnant to me. As a citizen in a republic, I agree to respect the system that allots power to a majority. But the republican form adheres to the majority decision not because the majority is right or wise or moral, but because the system of accepting its decisions is expedient. I wonder if voting itself may be worse than amoral and, in truth, immoral, since it forces a buffer between my knowledge of what is morally right and my ability to live out that knowledge. "Cast your whole vote," Thoreau writes, "not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight." These are brave words, but it's difficult to conceive of what they would look like in action. I've read and seen movies about the people in this country who won't pay their income taxes because, as they argue, the federal government has no jurisdiction to collect taxes on individual income. Nothing ever seems to come of the claim or the resistance--except jail time for the tax-evading individuals. When the Patriot Act passed, one might have expected to see a movement of some sort, but nothing significant emerged. Elections are sometimes called quiet or peaceful revolutions, and certainly they can bring about changes. But I think Thoreau is right to recognize that the changes are morally neutral in as much as they reflect no decision of right and wrong and may be immoral in that they separate decision making from moral responsibility. I will vote, but I am not very excited about it.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
I don't blame my dad for his behavior, even though I did grow up feeling weird about having friends over and sort of nervous about when he might start flipping out. The really bad thing is that I either inherited or learned his rage--or both. I don't usually throw things, but I certainly get so mad that I can't hear or see, and then I act impulsively and say and do things that most people would never do. Once in Rhode Island during the peak of the shopping season--mid-to-late December, I found myself driving around and around in a shopping center parking lot with a bunch of other cars playing a tense kind of duck-duck-goose game. I stopped when I saw a woman approach and get in a car and start the engine. She didn't move and she didn't move, and she didn't move. I could see her. She was on her phone. She pulled down her sunvisor and put on some lipstick. She lit a cigarette, opened her window a bit. I waited. Finally, I put my car in park, got out, and approached her driver's side. She looks at me. Blows smoke out the window. Are you leaving? I ask. When I'm ready, I'll leave, she says to me, holding her cell phone down from her mouth a bit. I was heart-thumping mad when I got out of my car. Now, for a split second, I cannot see, and there's no specific sound in my head but I cannot hear anything around me either. A dizzy pulsing in my brain, and then it passes. I turn and get back in my car and very slowly roll forward to park directly behind her, so that my passenger's door is pressed up flush against her back bumper. She's still jabbering. She doesn't even notice. I get out and walk about half a soccerfield's length across the parking lot before she realizes she's been blocked in. All of a sudden I hear screaming and turn to see her waving her arms, her face red. I wait as she runs across the parking lot. Ready to leave, now? I say. People are smiling as they walk by. Squawk! Squawk! Squawk! I walk back, get in my car, and go home. I feel good, really good, like I've solved an important social problem, not at all like I am a social problem. I don't know if my dad ever felt like that when he propelled cheap, poorly designed appliances and other household goods into the back yard, but I do sense an affinity between us. All of us face the world with so few weapons; it reminds me of Ahab telling Starbuck of his need to punch through the mask--hit back at the big, dumb uncooperative universe of contrary people and things that defy and withstand our will! Hi-yah!
Monday, October 27, 2008
Sunday, October 26, 2008
[ . . . ] If it were now to die,
'Twere now to be most happy; for, I fear,
My soul hath her content so absolute
That not another comfort like to this
Succeeds in unknown fate. (Othello 2.1.974-978)
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
I dream of the back yard of my childhood. Animals--wolves and deer and other fast-moving creatures--roam the space, trotting across a trimmed lawn and along the back fence. I watch them from the deck and dart inside when I sense they've noticed me. I am full of a nervous foreboding.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Having nothing at all to do with food, except maybe the grocery-store setting, here is one of the weirdest things that has happened to me in the past six months. In May, I was getting out of my car in a grocery store parking lot, when the wind yanked the door from my hand sending it crashing into the car sitting in the next spot. I wrote a note with an explanation, my name, and phone number and was walking around the car to stick it on the windshield, when a woman and man approached. I asked if the car belonged to them; it did, so I explained what had happened and gave them the note with my phone number. The next day while I was playing soccer, the answering machine took a message from a woman who identified herself as the person whose car I whacked and left a phone number. When I returned the call, I also got an answering machine, so I too left a message--this is the person who dented your car in the parking lot, I am home, call me, blah blah blah. A few hours after that, I get a phone call from a woman who tells me she called the number I gave her but it was the wrong number. I say, "I'm confused. I only gave you my number and you just called it." So, she says, "I mean the number that that guy you were with gave me--your husband, I think--the number he wrote down." This really confuses me. I tell her I wasn't with a guy, that I was completely alone. I start to think she's putting me on somehow and ask her where the incident she is talking about happened. She says it happened in a Walgreen's parking lot in Fargo, North Dakota, where she was visiting, but that she's now back in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Well, I'm in Vermillion, South Dakota, I say, and my accident happened at HyVee--here. We're both silent. I ask for her phone number and check it against the number I called. I had dialed a single wrong digit . The person whose car I hit with my door had the same phone number except one digit as this other person who had been involved in nearly the same series of events on the same day, and of the ten digits, I misdialed that one. This is so much more exciting if you believe we live in a random universe!
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Like many if not most children, there were periods of time when I was a child that I stayed with a babysitter during the day. These were mothers themselves who took in a number of small children and kept an eye on them for however many hours each day. As I recall, my babysitters were decent people who fed their charges healthy meals and kept them happy and entertained. I had one babysitter who shared my first and middle name. In addition to the name, I remember nothing about her person but her fingernails, which were a high-gloss, fire-engine red. While I cannot bring her face into mind's view, I have distinct memories of her fingernails tapping down rapidly one after another, again and again, on various hard surfaces: a kitchen counter, the metal lip of the kitchen sink, a coffee table in a TV room. With this image comes Helen Reddy singing, "I am Woman," although I can't be certain that the fingernails and the song actually ever met. Possibly "Reddy" and the red nails occupy the same space in my long-term memory.
This particular babysitter had her parents living with her. The older man and woman must have been occupied elsewhere during the day, since we never saw much of them. Or they may have avoided children. I remember the grandfather in particular, because one day when it rained and we were denied the yard, some of the children, including me, wandered down into the unfinished basement. I recall finding what appeared to me to be a very old man with a beard, sitting on a stool in a corner, painting a picture. Somehow, my memory has run the image together with the story of Rumpelstiltskin--maybe, the grandfather told me the story, or maybe he was painting a scene from the story. Or, maybe, my five-year-old mind combined the parts, adapted the scene: a princess (me? the grandfather?) in a dungeon creating something of beauty and value. The man had a long beard as I recall, like Rumplestiltskin's beard, or like the straw--or like Rapunzel's hair, whatever she has to do with it.
During that year or some other, after the grandmother smacked my little brother on the butt with a wooden spoon, we left that babysitter for another.