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.