Thursday, December 30, 2004

What is it?

Is it rain? Snow? Rain? Snow? I don't know but it looks like winter out there and sounds like summer. Today I am going to hole up with my cup of coffee, slippers, a blanket... and read Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse. It is another grey grey day out there. Perfect weather for the book I started last night. I want to read some of the books for next semester's class BEFORE I get stressed out with whatever will be expected of me. Yes, I want to enjoy them...leisurely. Anyway, Rita's got me inspired.

In this book there is a character named Lily. She is a painter. Was Woolf a painter? I think she was. She had to have been. There is no other way she would be able to write about globs of paint, color, and brush strokes the way she does. My favorite part so far is when Lily is walking down the road talking to a man when all of a sudden she sees the white wooden table of her father's in the crook of a tree. Just like that... things manifest them so strongly in her imagination that they appear as real as the silver bark of a tree. She gives no explanation. I think that is why her work is so difficult to read-- the lack of explanation for what she sees with her mind's eye. I like that about her. Why do we always walk around trying to explain ourselves? The mind is full of abstractions. Woolf allows those abstractions their full presence. This is why her stories are, at times, confusing. She travels great distances within even the ordinary. Maybe we'd all be crazy if we allowed ourselves this sight. But crazy is over-rated. It's a matter of where we allow our minds to go.
There is a line that she repeats:
"But what had happened?
Someone had blundered."

Ha! I love those parts. I have no idea what she is saying, but I have a feeling it is the parts that her mind spun out of control and was her only way of reeling back in. Someone had blundered. Stop. Take note. What is the question? Is it snow or is it rain? Something shifts. She is a strange one. I admire her for letting it show through. She hides nothing. She walks around in her novels with her mind split wide open. Yes, like Rita said... and egg split open with her insides spilled out. My guess is that her favorite color is green. The world unravels itself. This is the difficulty in holding it all together.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

jumping off into the unknown...

I haven't been blogging much because I've been writing long e-mails to friends... my long lost friends who I feel the need to share my time and energy and thoughts with. It feels good-- as though there is the possibility of regaining a sense of connection with the outside world. Yesterday I watched movies and ate potato chips until I went to bed feeling sick at 1 am. I won't need to do that anymore this break. I have all the movie and junk food time in that I needed to make up for from the past several months. However, I watched a very interesting movie: Angles in America. It was good. At moments offering incredible insight and wisdom. It was the kind of movie that made me feel like I could sit down and write page after page of thoughts with no end. But like I said- I did myself in and was only able to go to bed instead of recording any of the fleeting, insightful thoughts that I might have been having.

The last couple days I have been obsessing over finding a new house. I say obsessing because that is what it is. I have one of those obsessive natures that manifests itself in strange ways. As we drove around, Vinny reminded me that I don't have to figure all of this out right now-- not until we're actually ready. I was thankful for that. At that moment I put it to rest a little bit. This compulsive need to make a decision, to instigate change is a direct result of everything that has accumulated up until this point. It is a direct result of my inability to just relax. I guess my brain just had to rattle around for awhile before it could settle. Anyway, I'm not sure that any of the houses were right-- it will be there when the time comes. That is one thing that has always very apparent in my life. It is strange the way things fall into place when they are meant to. The right people, things, opportunities have always come to me when it was meant to be. Yesterday I was reminded of this... and felt comforted. I know I am lucky indeed to be blessed in this way. I feel like I need to quit worrying so much and just let the extraordinary fall into place. That is the only way I have ever gotten anything good out of life. And it has worked every time.

Last night I got an e-mail from my friend Nicole saying that she couldn't do the show-- our collaborative exhibition. I was relieved. I felt sad for her and wanted to give her a big hug because, like me, she is suffering from a much too hectic life. She doesn't have the energy to put into it... and neither do I. So now I have what I asked for-- time to experiment and play with my art. Time to go inside myself and not worry about what is produced or not produced. I told her about how hard this past semester has been for me too, that I understand where she is coming from. She graduated last year and is trying to find her place in the world being both an artist and a technical designer. I am trying to find my place in the world being both an artist and a writer. I am trying to find a place in the world and in myself where those two aspects of myself can exist together. I constantly feel like I'm being ripped in two directions. But it doesn't seem like I should have to-- but it is not easy. I told Nicole that I too am trying to find my footing. And it is taking more energy that I ever thought possible. I'm glad Nicole is in my life. I imagine us inspiring each other to keep painting far into our lives. Even if that means deciding together that we need to approach it from a different angle-- not always pushing so damn hard.

So now I have the time to get those big canvases built that I've been thinking about-- the size of an entire wall... to do abstract. Wordless paintings to journey through... to search for myself inside color. I am thankful for all the artists in my life, writers and painters, who have carried me to this place in life-- where the only where left to go is to jump off into the unknown. This is the territory I have always felt most comfortable with-- most alive. The unknown is tugging at me... in wordless, figureless landscapes of pure soul. It is always a hard place to travel to, with many detours along the way... but those times in the past that I have gotten there, have been the most important and memorable of my life. Here I go.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

feeling relief...

Right now I am drinking the best cup of hot chocolate in the world. It has real vanilla from Madagascar, natural processed cocoa from South America, cinnamon from China, and a little bit of sugar. My sister treats me well. Yum, a box of spices that elevate the sensations of my tastebuds, making me feel like I've traveled the world... all in one little cup. Warming my winter bones. I am already a coffee snob... my sister is turning me into a spice snob as well. These expensive tastes could grow on a person. But, mmmm, it tastes so good. She gave Vinny some fat lil' vanilla beans to cook who-knows-what with. I am looking forward to breakfast.

But now I am ready for sleep. Tiredness has finally caught up with me. The kind of tired that I can enjoy, because I have time to.

Merry Christmas everyone. And sweet dreams. The day is done. It feels good to be home.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

I used to like Christmas...

but I'm liking it less every year. I remember the first time I missed Christmas, I was in India, sitting on the dirt floor of my palm frond hut on the Arabian Sea. Who could complain about that? I sent christmas post cards home to all my friends and family with a picture of the cockroach I was living with. It was as big as an ornament. But cockroaches aside, I pulled out the christmas card my friend had given me before leaving... the one that said "DO NOT OPEN UNTIL CHRISTMAS!" I loved her for that. Because it turned out I needed it more than I thought I would. That night I slept on the beach, looking at stars, and realizing how much I missed everyone. I haven't talked to that friend in a long time. And family... well, that has gotten pretty complicated. Christmas plans have changed one to many times. But this year, Vinny and I will spend Christmas Eve alone. It will be wierd, but I am looking forward to that part of it. We'll eat cannolies (his specialty) and play scrabble by the fire and pretend we're in a country far away from everyone else's problems. We decided not to exchange gifts this year. That part feels good. But I can't help but buy a tennis ball for Abe. Yes, the dog loves opening presents. He loves tennis balls. He lives for them. It is how he expresses love. Snuggle? Tennis ball? Those are his favorite words. I wish other people could be as easily satisfied. I've always loved tradition. But it seems to be getting in the way these days. It's not about what it should be. Actually, it's turned into something that people cry and get upset over. Tonight my grandma called and started freaking out on me again. I tried explaining to her that, at that moment, Vinny and I were decorating the tree. In other words, couldn't it wait? I am wondering if there will ever be peace. Yea, I love tradition, but not unrealistic expectations. There's a difference. If only I could fix everyone's world. I would. I am trying hard to go with the flow. Just be there when I can, but know when to say enough is enough. It is never an easy task.

But on the positive side, yes, we finally got our tree up and decorated. I cleaned the basement which had turned into a disgusting hole and rearranged the bedroom. There was about an inch of dust on everything. And I won't mention how big the dog/cat hair balls were that lurked in the corners. I'm having a hard time coming down from all the work I've done in the past few weeks (months actually). I took it out on the house. I'm hoping that relaxation will find me soon. In the process, the house is a little bit nicer place to be.

Yesterday, I hung out at the studio most of the day. But I only painted for maybe a half hour. A block of hot pink, and a little red. A wall and a fire-hydrant. I wrote, and looked through books, and basically just putzed around. Putzing-- that's all I really wanted to do. At this rate I am wondering if I will actually be ready for the show I have planned at the end of January. I wonder also if my collaborative partner will be ready either. I haven't gotten far, she hasn't even started. Yesterday I just felt no desire to push myself any further. I find myself wanting to do abstract paintings instead. Wordless colors... merely emotional responses, nothing more. In my putz mode I also did a Tarot reading. It didn't help to motivate me, rather justified my lack of forward momentum. The card representing my past said that I have just finished a very stressful part of my life. The card for the present said that what I need to do now is sleep, to rest, and renew my energy. Well, that hit it right on. Unfortunately, I didn't understand the meaning of the card representing my future. Nothing except that I need to appreciate what I have. hmmm-- interesting. I don't hold full stock in what a tarot reading might say. I believe that we are responsible for our own past, present, and future. It is not dictated by what card may say. But it does provide a window of thought, a way of examining your life. And so yes, at face-value, I feel that I should use this time to relax. Not to feel guilty about what I am or am not doing. What I really want to do now is explore my art freely, without worrying that it will be hanging on gallery walls and that it will be seen and judged by others. I need to just go inside myself for awhile-- explore, experiment. And not worry about deadlines and reactions.

Sometimes I feel like my life is heading in a direction that I did not plan for. My art has played a big part in this. I feel the need to be open-- towards possibilites, towards the future. Pushing myself so hard has made me feel like I'm wearing blinders, like a beaten and submissive horse.

Today Vinny gave me a suitcase. It is old and brown. He didn't want it anymore. At the dinner table, I asked him-- if he was going to leave his life as he knows it now and he could only pack what fit in that suitcase... what would he bring? He got hung up on what the weather would be like where he was going and if I would fit in the case. Ok... but assuming that we'd be leaving together and that anything we might need along the way would be provided, what would you bring from your old life?
I decided that I would bring:
my photo albums
my old journals
what ever books that would fit (but which ones???)
and my little buddha for good luck.

that's all. I could easily walk away from the rest. Life is interesting that way. Why do we carry around so much baggage, collect so much junk, when in truth, most of it is of so little use?

Tonight I hope to dream of wild horses. Wild and free and living each spontanious moment as though there was nothing to weigh it down. I wonder where I would end up if I didn't bring the suitcase at all.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Water, words, and stars...

Today I moved into the new studio-- the corner one with two windows instead of one. Painted the walls white. White! I've never painted anything white before. I am a woman of bold colors. But I was feeling in need of white-- simple, like snow. But color got the best of me and I painted the pipes (it is an old building) orange and magenta. It felt good to get settled into the new space. I came home tired and Hungry. I slept good. Woke up once to stars bearing down on me through the cold sky. Was I dreaming, or was it really that surreal? Now that I am awake, I see that they really are that amazing. It must be the cold-- doing something to the atmosphere that brings the stars a little closer, making them shine brighter, bigger.

I was also dreaming of paintings. One was of water, one of words, and one of a Mexican woman wrapped in a red shawl. I am looking forward to the coming week. I have a feeling that Vinny is going to get lonely. It is all I can do to keep from driving back to town in the dark of morning to get my dreams down on canvas. But I will wait. I want to have breakfast with my husband. I want to lay around in the sun with the cats for a little while. I want to lounge and not move too fast. I'll go to the studio later. Listen to good music. Enjoy myself. Yes, life is feeling as surreal as the stars. I am enjoying getting used to it.

Monday, December 20, 2004

I'm done, I'm done, I'm done!

The "I'm done" song comes to you from the one and only Barb, the one who taught me this dance in the dark halls of Hagg-Sauer one quiet Sunday night. I am happy to say I can finally join along in the chorus.

Needless to say, my eyes are puffy and tired. The mirror does not lie-- I look like shit. But now-- oh-now... it is time for the best sleep I've had in forever. No clenched jaw. No biting of my lip... just a deeeeeeeeeeep peaceful sleep. And in the morning I will make a pot of coffee and head for the studio. Oh joy!

After my last class tonight I came home and rearranged the living room to make space for a christmas tree...which Vinny and I will adventure into the woods for tomorrow.

I'm floating. I think it's time for some sleep. I've done enough complaining for one semester.

It's over! :) :)

Thursday, December 16, 2004

It's snowing!

I want snow. I want a dark day to ease the strain on these eyes of mine that I tired and hurt from staring at this computer screen for so long. I feel like I got lost on Mango Street somewhere. Took a turn down a dark alley. Yes, it's hard to believe that it would snow in a place called Mango Street... but it is Chicago after all. I am such a slow writer. Shoveling words at this point. My head is floating. My eyeballs feel like separate entities. I can only hope that this cup of coffee-- strong and in a favorite cup of mine, will put my thoughts back in place. The paper is due today, and I must admit, I have enjoyed writing it.

I have stumbled upon something else that feels good this semester... and that is writing by hand. With paper and a pen. Writing becomes a physical act, not just a mental one. When I write on paper, I can feel my mind keeping time with the ink moving across the surface of my thoughts. I feel as though I am actively participating with the words on the page... something that sitting at a computer sometimes lacks. Yes, I have come to appreciate this form of writing, longhand, very much. I have a stack of old journals 3 feet high. But writing on paper feels different now... better.

This has been the hardest semester in my life. And I never want it to be this way again. Writing, pen on paper, might be the only thing that saved me.

4 more days and it will be over. I hope for lots of snow. I look forward to going into the woods in search of a Christmas tree. I look forward to moments of peace. To creativity. To having a little bit of my life back.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

eating mangos and feeling sneaky...

or at least like time is sneaking away from me. I should be working on my paper... not blogging. But just quickly, I need to make a mark saying, yes, I still exist.
The last couple of days I have been working diligently on a critical essay on Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street. I never in my life would have thought I would enjoy this kind of writing-- but I am! There is something about her language that absolutely sweeps me away. I stop occassionally to let Spanish words swell, turn into satin, then slip smoothly off my tongue to land here and there. Silvery threads. I say the name, Esperanza, out loud and let the letter "r" roll around in my mouth before it falls to the page.
I am amazed by Cisneros' ability to take such simple language and with it create level upon level of meaning... a house of cards-- fragile, and multi-layered. A world both internal and external, both beautiful and ugly. And lil' ol' me, well obviously, I am inspired.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

A blizzard of noisy dreams...

This wind is going to drive me nuts today. It is about ready to rip the screens out of the windows and pull the roof right off. I'm hearing some shifting creaking sounds coming from places where silence would be preferable. The things on the porch are knocking around and wolfie's locked up in V.'s room. The cat's are smartly in the basement. And I'm sitting next to my window freezing to death like an idiot tied to the computer.

On the other hand I wish this wind would whisk me up and send me flying back to India. Swoop-- she's gone. Last night I had a dream that I was back on Chandni Chowk in the Old City of Delhi. Oh- the chaos was blissful. The smells, the broken down shops, the samosas... and best of all the graffiti written a cement wall and shards of corrugated steel. I wrote back to this graffiti which is when it happened... when I found my words again. I couldn't stop. A feeling of elation. Is that where I have to go to get that part of my brain back? Yes, I want to go back. It felt so good to return... if even just for a dream. Someday I am going to go back. And I promise I will not come back the same.

Sometimes I feel like my college education is turning me into something I'm not. Or maybe it is just the expectations surrounding it. Before I went to school I decided to travel the world. I knew I had nothing to teach until I learned something about myself. And what I found I consider to be the best part of me. Now I spend more time thinking about where and how and if I'll get a job. I feel like a drone, a cog in the machine at times. There's something about India that has always felt like it could save me from that. Yes, someday I will return. And I look forward to that day. In life I am not willing to settle for anything less than the extraordinary. I have a great fear of living a "normal" life, of slipping into a homogenized comatose.

Let the wind blow this house down. Fuck it. I'm ready to wear words, bold colors, and an uncertainty of tomorrow. India, I miss you. This place rattles too much in the wrong ways. One of these days soon it is going to be time to move on...

Saturday, December 11, 2004

I'll write for old times sake...

This blogging thing is going down the tubes. So much for doing it everyday. Anyway, I've noticed that my creative writing muscles have turned to absolute mush. I'm a bit dismayed. I wonder what I will have to do in order to get that part of me back. All I wanted to do today was watch TV. It's a good thing we don't get any channels out here.
Instead I have successfully waded through about 50 pounds of portfolios and journals. It took me three times longer than I thought it would (becoming the case always). But now I can (briefly) celebrate (with a glass of water and some sleep). It's done.
And now I no longer have a brain of my own. I am capable of only gibberish. I have V. for a witness.

* * * * * * * * *

This morning I woke up early. It was still dark out when I made coffee. But as the light shifted I was able to make out the forms of several deer moving slowly across the field. They looked dark dark green against the snow. Color is an amazing thing. Our minds try to trick us out of seeing the way things really are. Anu (the wolf) didn't even see them. She was too busy hunting mice. Even so, she surprises me. When she notices the deer, she likes to just watch them. A couple years ago she even befriended an adolescent fawn.
Yes, life is peaceful out here. The woodstove has once again kept us warm through another winter day.
Tomorrow I think I will get up early again. This time to journey into the world of Latin America. On to the next subject of my endeavors.

...Until then I can only hope that sleep will repair this brain of mine.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

I am a glutton for punishment...

Reading student essays. These are about art. I told myself I wasn't going to spend as much time on these. But I find them intriguing. They pull me in and I can't help but write them long notes at the end of each essay. Now I know why Carol spent such long hours in the painting studio, writing responses to our artwork. She couldn't help herself! And neither can I. Some students put so much energy into their essays... I can't help but give a little back. Unfortunately it is going to eat into my precious BIRTHDAY time tomorrow. Oh well, art is a good thing. I'm glad to see my students have an appreciation for it. I am amazed by some of the connections they make. Yes, they amaze me all the time.

But now... it is time for bed. To dream about my own art-- the stuff I am too busy to make.
Maybe I'll float around in Van Gogh's starry night. Talia's essay blew me away.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

It is cold...

inside and out. It's cold. I am sitting in my flannel pajamas, slippers, and wrapped in a blanket. Too lazy to fire up the woodstove. Grey light falls through the window, leading outwards to wind and ice. We live in a field. The combination of conditions creates a broad expanse of mind that today I am going to try to use to my benefit.

Yesterday I had a good conversation with a professor. I, for the most part, spent most of the conversation fumbling with my thoughts. But I walked out of his office and into my classroom feeling better about this process of becoming a teacher. It was one of the best classes yet. I felt present. My students were present. We spent the entire hour really talking. I saw a side of them that they had not shared before. And they in turn saw a side of me they had never seen. It was good. It felt like what teaching and learning is really about.

Today I am going to write the paper I've been struggling with for the past two weeks. I'm going to get it done. And this time I am going to try to approach it differently-- not to try to solve the "Great Inequities" of the teaching/ learning process, but simply to explore a few ideas that I have found comfort in. This semester has been hard. But it has made me all the more thankful for those that have helped make it a bit easier.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

I should be doing a million other things...

like writing the content for Web Design, taking notes for Rhetorical Theory, or writing about Sandra Cisneros. But first just a moment of writing for myself. And even though I don't have much to say... it feels good.

I got to my office this morning and checked my e-mail. There was one from a student with the title "Guess What!" I was so happy for her I that I got a bit misty eyed walking down the hall with a big beaming smile to show Vinny-- she got an editorial published in her hometown newpaper that she sent in for a class assignment. There is something exciting about seeing your words in print-- and I'm excited for her.

Today my pant cuffs and socks are wet from all the snow we got last night. I wish I had my big fuzzy blanket here in the office to snuggle into. I slept good last night. Today I feel like accomplishing things.

... and believe it or not, I'm even looking forward to writing that 20 page paper on Cisneros. It's what I've been wanting to do for some time now. Interesting, the ways I've changed.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

I was on a mission to write for this blog every day-- but it is becoming difficult. My brain is full of everything that needs to be done. Today I worked in my office, with the lights low. It was quiet in the hallways. Everyone is working hard on thier end-of-the-semester business. I feel a sense of accomplishment after writing 2 assignments and planning my class through to the end of the semester. My to-do list is far from crossed off, but tonight I will concentrate on reading short stories and even though it is for class, it is a welcome break.
My wolfie scratches at the door. I feel bad. She's lonely, but it is always dark when I get home. No moon to go for a walk by the light of. Maybe tomorrow. Tonight it is snowing. There's a fire in the woodstove. My belly is full on a wonderful meal that Vinny made. I do love winter. It creates a certain kind of "hardship" that makes me appreciate all small things even more.
Making the tea taste especially good tonight.

Monday, November 29, 2004

365 Self-Portraits...

3 days ago I started doing self-portraits. I've done one everyday since... and so now I decided that I will keep doing them. One a day-- for a year. Every morning I get up and make coffee. My face is reflected back at me in the glass of the kitchen cabinets. Every morning I am surprised by how I look-- it is different every day. Some mornings I look haggard, some I look like a rock-star, sometimes I look feminine, sometimes I look old, sometimes I look young. As I wait for the water to boil for coffee I have been in the habit of drawing my portrait on notecards... old ones with writing on one side, but blank on the other. Lucky for you, I don't know how to up-load pictures yet. But I started to think about the title of this blog and thought it would be interesting to keep a journal of portraits for the next year. I am horrible at drawing myself. Last year I did an entire exhibit of portraits and I would venture to say that they could even be called "good". But when it comes to drawing myself it is another story. I have now drawn 3 pictures of me that look very different. It is interesting to see what happens at the crack of dawn, before I've had coffee, with a pen or pencil in my hand in front of a dark, somewhat obscured reflection of myself.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Dreaming of winter break...

Today I am fantasizing about winter break and hanging out at the studio, reading trashy books, making imperfect art. I would even read Virginia Woolf...without feeling crazy myself.
I have no thoughts left....................
................... ...

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Woke up early this morning...

with my dog licking me in the face telling me to either get up or move over so he could crawl in bed too. My sleeping husband was taking up the bed though so I decided to get up. Which led me outside. Today's the day... the first morning with real snow on the ground. It sounds like popcorn under my feet. The rest of the world is in white silence except for happy dogs and hungry cats. As I look out the window, the huge silver orb of moon slips behind morning clouds-- pink and lavender. Too bad Gauguin never painted winter skies. Or maybe it is impossible to capture the beauty anyway.

I remember standing in front of a painting of his in the Minneapolis Museum of Art. I fell in love with the blue dog. Later that day I stood in front of a Georgia O'Keefe painting. I saw flaws-- where bare white canvas shown through. It felt good to know that these masters of painting were real people-- human. It was those imperfections that made me love those paintings even more.

Today I didn't get out of bed until I knew what I was going to write about. Today I am going to write about growing and cooking. The rest will come when it's ready. Later on I might take a walk in the woods, eat snow, and drink hot chocolate. My blue dogs need some love. I'm going to write this paper and not let it get the best of me. I might even let some of the white show through.

Friday, November 26, 2004

in my next life i want to be a docile cow...

Life is disorderly. And so is the process of writing. The mind is raw, full of energy, alive, and hungry. It is also ill-mannered, defiant, and unruly. “What is natural in studying, learning, and teaching? And what are our assumptions about how the mind ought to function in learning and teaching?” asks Peter Elbow.

I have never in my life experienced this much difficulty in writing a paper. It feels as thought I have hit a wall—a thick, tall, wide, concrete wall. With no footing, no handholds, no way to go forward or to turn back. I first came across Peter Elbow in the early weeks of Pedagogy, but I did not become excited about what he had to say until my husband brought home a stack of books from the library—one of which was titled Writing without Teachers. The title is what first caught my interest. I had been spending the weeks preceding that moment listening to a bunch of teachers expound on the notion that their students do not care about writing. Am I just lucky to have a class that is proving them wrong? Am I just na├»ve? Occasionally someone would say something that really bothered me. In a flare of annoyance I would open my mouth in defense of the students--trying to make a point about something that I truly believe—it is our attitude as teachers that are reflected in the attitude of our students.
Granted, I have been a lover of words even before I could read. They held mystery to me—strange symbols that I could not wait to unravel the meaning behind. Eventually I became a writer. I never decided to—it just happened. Language held a power over me that I could not ignore. And so, it is not surprising that I decided that I wanted to teach—but even this wasn’t a decision. It was simply what I wanted to do all along. And to be honest, I don’t care if my students walked into my class the first day with the feeling that they hated to write. What mattered was that they leave the class, at the end of the semester, with the willingness to give it a chance. I knew from the beginning that the majority of them were not there to become writers. But what they were there for was to learn. What, I thought do I have to teach? Nothing, but an absolute love of language.
And I am asking myself—why is this paper so hard for me to write? I do not know the answer except that I am in no position, as a first year G.A. to give my opinion. Or am I?
Writing is hard. It can be downright painful at times. So why is it that we write anyway? To learn, to grow, to discover? To put ourselves through unnecessary mental anguish? I don’t know and to be honest I don’t even care. All I know is that I do it because I can’t stop myself—and it is that energy that I wish to share. And maybe that is a big difference—I am not there to teach, I am there to share. (please hold the cynicism) This is all bullshit. Why the fuck am I doing any of this anyway? Oh yeah—to discover. Just keep writing. Maybe, just maybe something will become of it. The mind does not act the way we were taught to act—well-mannered and obedient. No, it is anything but. It is a wild horse. Unpredictable, erratic, fickle. Not unlike writing. How then do we teach something that bucks at the first sight of threat?
So why is this paper so hard to write? Because I have not been teaching long enough to offer a valid opinion. Because I am just trying to sort out up from down… but already I am under pressure to have it all worked out, neatly organized, and ready to offer up in a tidy package. The problem is that I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING! And I can read forever, but until I experience it all for myself—I don’t have anything to say! I am about an inch away from giving up completely. I am so close—it has brought me to tears. The kind of tears that seem to have no end in sight.

good god... no wonder students are so afraid of writing. and by the way, my friends and fellow co-workers, do not take offense in anything i say. you get me thinking and i love you for that.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

I am feeling fat...

But that is what Thanksgiving is for-- to celebrate complete and utter gluttony.

Over dinner my grandpa made a comment that we need to send all the Mungs back to where they came from. When I returned home I read a letter to the editor that my cousin wrote-- something about right-wing conservative blah blah blah. Sorry if you ever read this Pete-- but I don't agree!

I'm finding myself wrestling with the notion that I am related to a bunch of racist, homophobic, anti-feminist, religious zealot NUTS!!

Uh-- I can't wait for Christmas... then we can celebrate capitalism too!

Some one please tell me I'm adopted.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

I wonder what would happen if I took acid...

...ok, I'm just kidding. I wouldn't dare. My brain molecules are mutating. Here's a poem instead:

Keeping Things Whole
In the field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

Today I have been dreaming about the studio. I imagine myself painting the bluish-grey-green of a building whose bare canvas is waiting to be filled in. Instead, I am still reading. And I am coming to the conclusion that the more I read, the more disjointed and confused I am becoming. I've come to the conclusion that, in the end, you can never know if what you're doing is the right thing. I'm speaking in terms of teaching writing... but I suppose that goes for just about everything.
I've been alternating between laying in bed and sitting in a chair all day. I'm beginning to feel like a muscle-less lump. I'm not even sure if I constitute a lump anymore. I can feel my muscles atrophying. Rita, I hear ya. I'd say we should walk around the lake, but I'm afraid we wouldn't make it very far.

I think I'll stand on my head, do jumping jacks, and then revel in light-headedness for awhile... if only I had the energy. Maybe I'll drink kool-aid instead... and wait for the sugar to kick in.

black birds verses song birds...

I woke up in a blanket of books. I don't even know what time I fell asleep. All I know is that it is almost 1am and I woke up feeling ready to go to the coffee shop and (surprise) do more reading. I haven't been dreaming lately. I wonder what that means. Usually I'm a very vivid dreamer. Nothing but cold and wind tonight. My dog just stole my spot in bed. I wonder what it was in the last book I picked up that put me to sleep. My head is swimming in a swirling tide of evaluating verses grading, authority verses anti-authority, creative uncontrolled free-writing verses critical controlled writing...oh yeah, that is what I was reading-- about someone who didn't agree with anything. Maybe that's why I chose to sleep.

One thing that I am realizing is that Peter Elbow was very fortunate to have taught in Universities that were very supportive of new approaches in teaching. What was it like to be surrounded by such open-mindedness? Well, academics have come a long way since then. But I think my Catholic school upbringing is finally starting to get the best of me. Yes, I have issues. I feel defensive. I feel like an outsider. I'm feeling anti-academic (ee-gads, don't tell anyone). If academics are so open minded why do I feel like this? I wish I never would have found those old grade school report cards. They are reeking havoc on my insecurities. ok... maybe I just need more sleep... and to get something done. Mental rest verses productivity. I'm experiencing discontinuity. I get excited about a concept in teaching and then realize that I will most likely have to argue my point. Maybe I'm paranoid.

But here... on another note:
"I think, to a poet, the human community is like the community of birds to a bird, singing to each other. Love is one of the reasons we are singing to one another, love of the language itself, love of sound, love of singing itself, and love of the other birds" ~S. Olds.

And yes, even crows argue. Maybe just because they like the sound of their own voices. But these days, I would like to be in the presence of song birds... small and quiet, except when inspired to sing.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

made myself another cup of coffee...

Vinny calls it "Italy coffee"-- otherwise known as "instant coffee". I didn't know what he was talking about at first, but then I added the boiling water to those dark brown "flavor crystals", the smell rose to my nose and I was accosted by a memory of sitting in the breakfast room in a hotel in Florence. Yes folks, believe it if you will... they serve instant coffee in Italy. Strong though... to give the impression of esspresso. We drank our coffee with stale croisants, strange breakfast toast like crackers and soft cheese. Thus began our days of walking the old streets and alleyways of Italy.

Tonight however I am preparing myself to tackle the big stack of books I brought home from the library today. This, I can tell, is going to require my utmost attention and focus.

ok... but I will admit, I got 6 rhetorical theory books and 3 ART books. I feel myself venturing off into surrealism, modernism, and graffetti-ism. This is to keep my world balanced, to keep it from tilting out of order. I need this as I prepare my defence for Peter Elbow-ism and the land of alternative learning. Off I go... into the garden of notecards.

Here's to instant coffee.


Saturday, November 20, 2004

day 1 of the settling... making soup.

Now that I have less dust in my head, I've decided to make STONE(d) soup. Cabbage (poor man's food), potatoes, (poor man's food), celery (poor man's food), carrots (for color), onions (for taste), rock (for sake of story).

Friday, November 19, 2004

Preparing to settle in...

The first day of snow. Today is my favorite day. Although this year I will have two... because really, the best day of the year is when I wake up in the morning, look out the cold windows and see snow on the ground. Maybe tomorrow? It would be a good start to almost a whole week off. "Off" meaning time to finally focus on my rhetorical theory paper and presentation.

I spent the evening cleaning.... getting rid of all the dust that has settled in my space and mind. This is my ritual before writing. Unfortunately it hasn't happened in a long time. I even spent a good hour or two ironing clothes. Ironing! Yes, I can hear the response now-- "what the hell were you ironing for?" Yes, well it's new to me. And to be honest, I can't say as I like doing it. Life in the world of professionalism does not come naturally to me. Flannels and cargo pants don't need ironing... and that is what I will be wearing for the next 9 days. Well, that or my pajamas.

I'm actually looking forward to writing about the "teacherless classroom." The whole idea intrigued me from the moment I picked up the book by Peter Elbow. Authority bothers me. I think maybe it always has. And as a teacher, I don't want to take on the role. That doesn't mean that I don't expect respect-- but it's a two-way street. I think it's safe to say that my students respect me more when I respect them-- as human beings. We are equal. I have something to teach them-- but in reality, I am amazed by how much they teach me.

More on that later....
but my plans for the week:
read, read, read
write, think, write, write, think, write
take long bubble baths
drink good coffee-- careful not to drink too much
play with the dogs
take naps
maybe even write a few letters.

Oh bliss.
It's been a long, hard semester. I'm thankful for this break.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Eating songs in Paris...

I'm wanna jump...right out...outta my skin. As long as that song is in my head. oooooooh ooh ooooh.
Just ate my lunch for breakfast...mmm... a hunk of fresh baked bread and some cheese. Today I think I will pretend I am in France. I'll pretend that the coffee I'm drinking isn't burnt and weak. Instead it is smooth, so smooth, dark esspresso served in a tiny porcelain cup with a saucer. I'm drinking it in a cafe with open windows and waiters in shiny black shoes on the edge of the Red Light District, in the Muslim section of town. I write in my journal and a postcard to my cousin Pete... later I visit a museum. It's not the Louve, I haven't found that yet. I never did. What a pity. Instead I sat in the park and was accosted by Frenchmen till finally I decided just to leave the country, penniless. And yes, this is also a pity. It was so nice there, that is, except for the persistent Frenchmen.

Outside the birds are singing their crazy little songs while I sing mine indoors. You gotta dance when the spirit says sing. ooooh ooh ooooooh. whistle oooh whistle.

Waiting for snow in my reindeer sweater and snowflake socks. Oh yes, I remember where I am now. Burnt coffee, but blue skies. Rocks and crows.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Yesterday afternoon...

as I walked to the studio, I was reading something by Natalie Goldberg that hasn't left me since. It's long, but I'll share some of it.

How Poetry Saved My Life
"I was in my early twenties and knew nothing but a hunger, a wild restlessness, an unease. I had no landing place and no direction after I graduated from college with a BA in English and found no one who wanted to hire me for the sake of literature, the one thing I loved faithfully since ninth grade. No one even seemed to value it. I was bewildered and out on my own in the big, non-matriculated world.
Then one exquisite October afternoon, sitting on a futon in a communal house on the corner of Hill and Olivia in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1972, I experienced time collapse and space move into rivers. The wall exploded into a bath of black crows and electricity passed through my burning hand. No longer did I push words around on a page. A town, a bakery on a street, a friendship I once loved, all shimmered. A hold thing had happened. I had written my first true poem. Poetry was no longer relegated only to the realm of dead white men from the seventeenth century who had lived across the ocean and filled my classroom textbooks. Poetry was mine. A synapse had connected. I could write.
For the first time I noticed trees and flowers. I learned names: Russian olive, elm, oak, peony, geranium, petunia, marigold. Details mattered. Cracks on sidewalks, broken glass, worn stop signs, everything spoke to me. Rock, leaf, car. I rode rushes of thought with my cheap pen. I gripped a spiral notebook.
Poetry, I whispered, poetry.
My mind extended over clouds, insects, birds, small lost countries. I now had a purpose, a direction. My grandmother's soup exposed layers of possibility, my father's white starched shirt held my attention. Tomato soup, Brillo, World War II, ceiling paint, Ohio, this knee, that clock, his ring, all had weight and gravity. A kiss was no longer just a kiss-- let it crack open a line for me. Let my heart break. I knew nothing. I received all.
Before poetry, I was lost. Now loss had a smell, a color, a texture. A fast train could split its side. I held lost childhood, lost shoe, lost moment. They belonged to me and I was found.
There was nothing I couldn't speak about. My most mundane experience could take shape. If I peeled a grape, land slid in Caracas. If I bought a pair of pants, there was rain in the Sahara. Do you see it? A woman mattered. She had muscle and the force of storms."

I read that while walking. Walking and reading, walking and reading. Sometimes I feel like I could walk forever. This book, Top of My lungs, is a book of poems, paintings and this essay. This woman inspires me. A few years ago she helped me to break through in my own writing. I'm not sure how, except that I carried her words around inside of me. It was a mixture of many things. Tasha, Jonathan and I were talking about that yesterday. I remember the exact moment it happened-- that words took on a life of their own. The world split open like an egg, its insides spilling out. The same thing eventually happened with painting. Maybe the two most incredible moments of my life. Like crossing that high mountain pass in the Himalayas that I thought I might never reach, but did-- nothing but deep blue sky, snow, and silence. Strange moments--these things that lead you to the other side of existence, when time collapses, when breath and air become something other than expected. It is a falling-- deeply, deeply in love. With no way of turning back.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

birds and deer and ice and oxygen...

Outside this thick brick building I hear the sounds of a train howling its way through town. As I walked across campus the loud honking of a lone goose flew above. Sometimes I miss my days of train hopping, but unlike the goose, today I am content to just be here. Here where I have to scrape ice off my windows in the morning, where I have to slow down for deer when driving and have the option of taking alternative routes down dirt roads, where I walk along the blue blue lake under dark green pines to get to this little windowless office where I can still hear the sounds of trains and geese and sometimes even rain if I listen hard enough. And in our yearning for change, do we sometimes forget what we do have? Things like fresh air and lungs to breath it with.

In 4 minutes without oxygen you pass out... in 8 or 9 minutes, you die. Despite frustrations. We breath.

My advise: Breath deeply.

Monday, November 15, 2004


Just a word that strikes my fancy today. When I say that word I imagine golden browns, raw umber, burnished orange, glowing yellows. I would be drinking a glass of wine, or maybe straight from the bottle. Venezuela-- I wipe my lips with my shirt sleeve as I set the bottle down and an old wooden table and continue painting the jungle outside my window. Are there jungles in Venezuela? Goes to show how much I know.

Last night I watched Basquiat-- a film about the Haitian-American graffiti artist. When I went to sleep I dreamed that I was in my studio hunched over my workbench making miniature Basquiat paintings. Thick layers of silver, grey, pink, with a window of white-- ink drawings of people--crude viniettes. After watching the film for the ump-teenth time I realized something about my own art-- how confined it is. I am inspired to experiment. I keep telling my students to "loosen up the reigns" in their writing. I think I need to take the same advise in my painting. Take the next step. Give up control. See where the color takes me.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Sunday mornings aren't always this nice...

The last day of deer hunting season. I got up and walked the field with the dogs, my hair wild from strange dreams. Following Anu's lead as she sniffed out deer beds. And it's good to see that they have found a peaceful place to sleep. Round, matted down beds, sometimes in groups of three. Distant sounds of gun shots, but no longer spots of orange perched in trees reminding me of red of cardinals in the distance. I am not used to sharing my privacy out here. I will be glad when it's over.
Getting up and going outside with the dogs has become a good habit though, which I think I will continue. I am amazed at how many beautiful little wonders are to be found. Everything covered in frost, sometimes just brown and bristling-- an earthy winter music. I feel my place in the world without having to take up much space. It is a good start to the day.

After returning indoors I made coffee and retreated to my canvas-- a large one that now holds the sketch for my next painting-- a landscape. I will block in the color today. Homework can wait. I have better things to do. As I worked on this drawing I felt my mind settle into a familiar comfortable-- into the part of the brain that rhetorical theory does not ues. This morning I will work in the studio, adding color to the skeleton image on my canvas. Today my daydreams have shifted away from babies and simply to my painting studio. I digress from yesterdays musings... strange hormonal occurrences that make me say strange things.

The chickadees are becoming so tame that they are almost willing to take perch on my hand. Anu takes an interest as well. She is a wolf on the outside, but a chickadee at heart. I am looking forward to this winter-- as I do every year. Something about the cold makes me feel more alive. Connected.

...and enough of these rambling thoughts. A bubble bath and then off to the studio. Maybe a bowl of oatmeal in between. Thank god for Sundays. ...or at least taking advantage of them.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

They call it a day off...

And I am drinking a cafe aule (sp?). What is it about filling your mug with warm milk along with that strong Italian coffee that makes the morning feel so luxurious? Well, maybe not luxurious, but real. Or maybe it's the cinnamon. It is Saturday and I am pretending to have a day off. Even though in reality I have a day full of homework ahead of me. I feel that rhetorical theory is stripping my mind dry. Where did the magic, the desire, the inspiration for teaching go? I am too mentally tired to get excited about anything. That is, except for this cup of coffee and seeing my little wolfie run circles of happiness when I went out to visit her this morning.
I have my slippers on. And if I could do anything today, I would write letters to the friends that will someday slip away from me if I don't give them time soon. Rita has infected my mind. I understand all too well how she feels-- how life isn't supposed to be this busy, taken over by things that don't truly matter.
But last night I took a break and spent some time working on ideas for my next painting. It will be a street painting. Los Gallos. The exotic of Minneapolis. I was trying to decide what colors to use. A day scene, or night? I like the idea of changing seafoam greens into bright Fuchsias. The red of a fire-hydrant set off with highlights of turquoise. The sidewalk blue. Golden yellow falling out of the windows. A street lights setting off the "nightness" of a mural of roosters. All of this takes place on East 27th street. With painting I can create the world as I imagine it. This imagination that is crying for attention.
Sometimes I think about dropping out of school. I can't help it. I like even the idea of it. I want to be a painter. I want a simpler life. I want to have babies. In my dream, Vinny gets a good job. And I am an artist. My paintings sell and I am able stay home and raise our babies and when they take naps, I work in my studio creating the colorful landscapes of my mind. However, I know that my life will always remain incomplete until I am a teacher also. I have always wanted that. I always will. But in my dream I become good at what I do. Along with painting I have the mental energy to keep writing. One day someone finds me and tells me that they have a teaching position that they think I am perfect for. It is not in an institution (university), but is a workshop where the people are inspired and energetic-- every one of them is there because they want to be there. We paint and we write. I'm not so much as teacher, as a catalyst. ok... well this is my dream. Rita dreams of opening a dog grooming service. She loves dogs. They make her happy. I think if our dreams came true we would be the happiest women alive. We would meet for coffee. Sometimes I would go to her dog place, sometimes she would come to my studio. And we would spend many hours laughing and talking and sharing our thoughts. We would have time to do this. Because in the world that I dream of-- we have time to be human beings.
Until then, I just keep dreaming. And as of now, I vow to keep writing... everyday. For myself. I will write and I will paint. And when I am finally done with this degree, I will emerge still human. Still sane. I am not willing to let myself be stripped of everything I love in exchange for a piece of paper that does not guarantee anything.
I will tell myself everyday-- Jessie, keep writing. Keep painting. Keep your world real.

...and the day begins. My cup is still half full.

Friday, September 24, 2004

This is ridiculous...

I really need to start writing more here. I've had enough with letting my life be over-run by schedules and appointments. I'm here (being a teacher and student) because I am a writer. I'm here because I want to share my love of words. To share the power that words have over me... within me. And the sad thing is that I haven't even allowed myself the time to write. Oh-- and it feels so good to be doing it right now.
Maybe I need to organize my life better. Or start taking vitamins. Exercise is already using up valuable time. I need to center my life around what is most important. Nothing means anything without that.
I need to start doing the free-writes I ask my students to do. They are such an incredible bunch. Sometimes I wish I could be starting all over again. But then again, if I did, I wouldn't be here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

a trip to the city...

In Jerusalem I had my first cup of authentic Turkish coffee. Ok... so that was the name of a resteraunt somewhere down a side road of downtown Minneapolis. I drank it from a beautiful little cup-- white with triangular blue and gold patterning around its rim, with a saucer to match. I drank it with baklava and it was the most incredible experience my taste buds have had in a long time. There were 3 cardamom pods floating at its surface and it became gritty towards the bottom-- a frothy black sensation of pure beauty. And this I must remember to paint.

Paint the cup with its pretty little saucer and the Turkish serving thingamajig beside it. Remember this Jessie. Paint it.

I also came home with red hair. Color has got the best of me. I need to learn when to quit.

But one more thing: I decided to keep a journal of prompts for my painting. I have something in mind-- a painting of my inner psyche. The dreams and strange images the nestle themselves deep in my brain. The place where snakes of thought curl themselves and hide exept for odd moments. Full of color and life and dreamscape where nothing makes real sense but makes me who I am. I need a journal to help to capture these images long enough to make thier way to the canvas.
I am finally beginning to realize how writing and painting are a single entity for me... as the writing life slowly works its way back into my body and brain. Finally, I am beginning to feel whole once again.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Lots to love...

It's come to my attention that I will never ever accomplish all the things in my life that would like to.
This blog for instance. I don't know how to do anything other than what I'm doing right here. No links, no pictures, no nothing fancy frilly extras.
This is impossible. I think that when I quit my job I will have more time to learn and to do more obscure things... but I know that I am a dreamer-- I've been one all my life.

I had a daydream that if I practiced Spanish (with CD's) for one hour a day that I would learn it in a year. Of course, the first hang-up is actually DOING it. haha. And the other is: is it even remotely possible? The 3rd: do I really want to anyway?

Then there is the matter of letters that I would like to write to my long lost friends... the ones that are about to give up on me. Especially Isabelle. My dear sweet Isabelle. How do I explain my disappearance over the last TWO years!? I am a horrible friend and there isn't a day that goes by that it doesn't make me feel horribly sad.

This is ridiculous. At this rate I will need to be unemployed for the rest of my life to catch up with all the things I want to do. But then what of accomplishing my life-long goal of teaching? Oh yes, let's not forget about that. And please oh please, let's not forget how passionate I have always been about that one.

So why does my brain feel so frazzled? My mind is tired and my body too.

I call myself a writer... but what I really want to do these days is just read read read. Leave me along. I just want to read.

I need a break-- but I may never get one. So I might as well just get on with it. Let me outside. Stop raining. I need some sun. And a cool breeze. Maybe some tea... but let's not make this too complicated.

Ah! The space I need to create. Does it still exist? Wandering from place to place to place. All so peaceful... if only I could sit still long enough for that peace to catch up with me.

Tomorrow I work-- what a horrible waste of time.

There's a little pea-size piece of me somewhere back there in a shifting part of my brain. The clouds roll away and the mist moves in. Darkness falls.

It gets late and I must sleep. What a disappointment when it is really naps that I enjoy the most.
No worries. I love the world. This is my problem.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Survived the Writer's Conference

I told myself I would write everyday. So here I am-- although this is not exactly what I meant.
It was an intense week. And as you can see by my words... draining.
Incredible though.
I only experienced two major melt downs... and several smaller ones.
But it was worth it. Who would have known?
What do I want to do now? I want to hole up in my tent, which is set up out in the woods and read and write and read and write until my hearts content. Until my heart figures out, what, exactly it wants to say. I want to listen to the breeze blowing through leaves. I want to hear my own thoughts... then I want to write it.

Leave me alone.
I love you, but leave me alone. I need solitude.

So why am I traveling all the way to the Cities tomorrow for a wedding? Then back to work. Distractions.

All I want to do is write. Fall asleep and dream. Wake up and write some more.

Thank you Judith Ortiz Cofer and Robin Hemley... for giving me back this desire.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Sunday Things

Well, tomorrow begins the writer's conference. My husband has been hounding me to have something ready-- something that will wow our workshop teacher into submission of letting us into his school-- Iowa... The top. What I really think he means is that he needs to have something. I'm not worried about me. I'm doing this for fun. Or at least until there is enough pressure put on me and I can't remember why I am doing it... or for that matter, why I even write. Oh yeah-- because I love it. Because it is my passion. But I am going through painting withdrawals and am disappointed that life has not offered me enough time to do both.

Today my dad and I built a deck for a gazebo. It is Father's Day. And not to get all sentimental or anything-- but sometimes I am amazed at how well we get along, how good we work together. It wasn't always that way. But today was good-- remembering the times we had building my house. There is a confidence when we work together-- not needed to be proven. Oops, I'm getting sentimental. But really-- I love my dad. I really do.

As for writing... well, one thing at a time. It makes me appreciate the simplicity of Sunday construction. I don't know what to expect in the coming week-- and to be honest, I am a little scared. I've been away from it all. Off painting. Writing is a different way of explaining the world. And I am out of practice.

Friday, June 18, 2004

The brain of a painter-writer.

Three days until the writing conference and still no writing. I have forgotten how to use that side of the brain, having worked with paint brush and the visual for so long. It is proving difficult to turn that side of myself back on. Re-wire. Life is easier painting the faces of far away places. I'm a sentimental writer grown hard towards sentimentality. I just want the stuff underneath-- the guts. The real. Reluctant to enter the insides of what words I have not yet found.

What if I actually did all the things I promised myself I'd do?

A painting a day.
Long walks in the woods.
Three pages of journaling every morning.
15 minutes of Spanish.
Healthy eating.
Quit smoking.
No complaining.

...if only it stopped there.