Monday, April 28, 2008

National Poetry Month: More Money than Time

And any time I have more money than time, I'm in serious trouble.

Expect much radio silence from these corners for the next 7-10 days. I have a zillion things to grade, many of them poetry explications, 500 jillion calculations to make, and a very fixed deadline.

Enjoy this until I return and think gentle thoughts of me, because this is pretty much what I'll be reading.*

Taylor Mali, take it away...

*In truth, many of my students are excellent writers. But far too many do write exactly like this -- they have no idea that the words they've put on the page are not the words they intend. It's scary, but it's also evidence of just how far we've gone down the road toward once again becoming an oral culture.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Lost: The Shape of Things to Come

...and they won't be pretty.

My unscientific sampling suggests that at 10:58 Eastern Standard Time, millions of Lost fans were moaning the same thing: "Nooooo, not Penny!!!" I base this on the fact that not only is that what I was saying, but several minutes later when I called my daughter, that, not hello, was the first thing she said to me.

It's pretty clear at this point -- to me, anyway -- that time travel (in body and not just mind) from the island is possible, though not easy, and last night Ben pulled it off, jumping from (probably) late 2003 to 2005. Apparently the desert is the arrival point (hence the "ancient" polar bear remains with the Dharma charm previously found in mid-desert).

One suspects that this is Ben's first such trip. Witness his glee at confirming that yes, of course, it's 2005 (Michael Emerson so rocks):

The big mystery is the nature of the Ben/Widmore rivalry. The game of Risk played by the men in the early scene serves as metaphor for the rest of the episode. But how? When Widmore tells Ben to go ahead and kill him, Ben says, "You know I can't do that." Yet Ben is earlier stunned to find that Widmore has "changed the rules" (NOT "violated" them). That Ben "can't" kill Widmore suggests that there's something going on beyond a pissing match between these two men, some larger force that restrains him.


Oh, and now we know how Ben manipulated Sayid into being his personal assassin. (This leads us to wonder who really killed Nadia.)

Of late, I've been inclined to believe that Ben was being truthful all those times that he has said, "We're the good guys." Despite the fact that many of his actions have had heinous effects on individuals, he seems to subscribe to utilitarianism as his worldview.

But threatening Penny? That's clearly just personal. And mean.

(The splendid screencaps come from here.)

Thursday, April 24, 2008




Wednesday, April 23, 2008

National Poetry Month: Sonnet 130

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

Is Will just being sarcastic?
Standing the tired old Italian sonnet on its head?
Or is this a pure and honest expression of love?

(Happy birthday, Will!)

Star and Al: Over

According to the AP:

Three years after tying the knot in a spectacular, over-the-top affair that caused some backlash, Star Jones has decided to end her marriage to banker Al Reynolds.

No one could have predicted this would happen.

Odd synchronicity

Two obituaries juxtaposed on CNN, literally on the same line of the opening page:

Soul singer Al Wilson, best known for the song "Show and Tell," has died at age 68. Wilson was born in Meridian, Mississippi.

Soft rocker Paul Davis, best known for the song "I Go Crazy" has died at age 60. Although CNN doesn't mention his place of birth, Wikipedia reports that Davis too was born in Meridian, Mississippi, where he also died.

(If you're of the right age, I'll bet at least one of those songs is in your head right now.)

My daughter lived for a while in Meridian and was married there.* It's kind of at the ends of the earth, frankly. Yet quite a few other famous people arose from that earth, including Sela Ward, Jimmie Rodgers, Diane Ladd...and the infamous Fred Phelps.

*Fun fact: she was married less than two months before her 21st birthday, but I had to give notarized permission for her to apply for the marriage license since parental permission is required for anyone under 21 to marry. This was not how you thought of Mississippi, was it?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Go, Speed Racer!

The answer to the question, So if Danica Patrick's a real racer, when is she going to win a race? has an answer: today.

Patrick took the lead in the Indy Japan in lap 198 of 200.
"This is the best day of my life," [her father] T.J. said. "I've dreamt about it. I'm so proud of her. For all the grief she has gotten over it, she proved she can win races and she is going to win a lot more."

Danica's husband, Paul Hospenthal, is a professional physical therapist who works with athletes in MLB, professional tennis and golf.

"Female aside, she's just a hard competitor," Hospenthal said. "She never asked to be the female in the male sport; she just wants to work hard. With any race car driver, coming to the lead and winning like this and showing a little patience is fantastic."

At times, that patience was tested. For the first 49 races of her career, she was constantly hounded by the questions, "When are you going to win a race?" or "Are you ever going to win a race?" She became the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 in 2005 and was in front with seven laps to go before fading to a fourth-place finish that year.

But in her 50th start, Patrick finally answered those questions and lived up to her billing off the track.

"I'm so happy for her, so proud of her," said team owner Michael Andretti. "It's always been a matter of when, not if when she was going to win. I'm so proud of her the way she did it. She stuck to her numbers and her speed. I love this girl. I'm so happy for her the monkey is off her back.

"There will be more of this to come."
Helio Castroneves, the man she edged out at the end, was gracious:

"With five laps to go, I was saving fuel," Castroneves said. "When Danica passed me, I realized she was the leader. She did a great job, passed me fair and square and that shows you how competitive our series is."
I see that everyone quoted in these stories is male -- it would have been nice at least to hear her mother's reaction -- but I suppose it's tough to turn to the female experts for comment when Patrick is in a class by herself: at 26, the first woman ever to win an IndyCar race.

Edit: Litbrit has an eloquent and personal post on Patrick's win here.

Worth the Wait

July 1, 2008: the day Mad Men's first season releases on DVD. How quickly did I preorder after discovering this? Well, how quickly do you think I can click-click-click-click and click?

As I waited impatiently these past months to hear something on the DVD release, I presumed that the reason it was taking so long was so the producers could put together a nice special features pack. I should say so:

“MAD MEN Series Commentary” – audio commentaries on all 13 episodes
“Establishing MAD MEN” – featurette exploring the world of MAD MEN
“Advertising the American Dream” – featurette on the 1960’s creative revolution in media
“Pictures of Elegance” – Photo Gallery with Commentaries from the Costume, Hair and Production Designers
“Scoring MAD MEN” – A One-on-One Discussion with Composer David Carbonara
MAD MEN Music Sampler
Commentary on all thirteen eps? Be still, my heart.

AMC's official description of the show doesn't do it justice, but I get all finger-tied when I try to write about it, so cribbing the official description is the best I can do:
Set in 1960 New York, MAD MEN reveals the lives of the ruthlessly competitive men and women of Madison Avenue’s “Golden Age”, where key players make the art of the sell while their private lives get sold. And no one plays the game better than Don Draper (Golden Globe®-winner Jon Hamm), the biggest ad man – and ladies man in the business. As Don makes the plays in the boardroom and the bedroom, he struggles to stay a step ahead of the rapidly changing times and the young executives nipping at his heels.
It's so much more than that. Oh, is it so much more!

The show's pedigree: created by Matthew Weiner, one of the producer/writers on The Sopranos (a show I could never get into, but maybe someday I'll try again). In fact, he submitted the pilot for Mad Men as his writing sample when he applied for the Sopranos job. Even though I could never embrace The Sopranos, I could appreciate its complexity and moral ambiguity, and the same features fuel Mad Men.

If you have cable or satellite and haven't seen this show (airing on AMC), why? Why?

National Poetry Month: Did I Miss Anything?

One of my favorites:

Did I Miss Anything?
--Tom Wayman

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 percent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 percent
Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring the good news to all people
on earth.
Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human experience
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

but it was one place

And you weren’t here

Saturday, April 19, 2008

You Could At Least Act Like You Care

I was solicited by e-mail to take a survey about a tv show that I watch. I decided to go ahead.

First question: your gender? (male or female)
Second question: your age? (offering at least 10 different ranges to choose from)

Upon my truthfully answering the second question I got this message:

This concludes this survey. Thank you for participating.

Obviously, due to my "advanced" age, my opinion does not matter.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Life Requires VISA, or, Cashierin' is a Hard Thing to Do

Our campus Starbucks operates not unlike this ad. Regardless of the length of the line, it moves quite quickly and smoothly. And like most of the patrons in the ad, I usually use my VISA check card to pay for my purchases.

But not last night.

I had some cash, actual cash, in my pocket when I went to pay for my banana nut loaf, total $2.19. I handed over a ten and two dimes, and after punching a few buttons and pausing, the cashier went all funny on me. She got this weird this-is-funny-no-it's-not look on her face, ducked her head and turned to the guy next to her. After mumbling, she left the register and he stayed to deal with me.

"How much money did you give her?" he asked.

"A ten," I said, thinking that perhaps she forgot which denomination of bill I gave her.

"Was that all?" he asked.

"Two dimes."

"Okay," he said, "so you get..."

But the young woman returned and interrupted, giggling. "I figured it out."

"...eight dollars and one cent," the guy said, handing me my change.

Nuts to all that

Mustang Bobby at Shakesville brought an important issue to my attention this morning: the Florida legislature has debated the urgent matter of truck nuts, with the result that rednecks and other asses across the state can continue to exercise their constitutional right to use free speech to display what idiots they truly are.

This got me all riled up in the comments, and I decided to cross-post what I said here. Blood is going to be running in the halls next week as students face finals and final papers, and some face the fact that as they try to register for fall they not only aren't going to be able to get the schedule they want, but the schedule they need. The current worst job in the university right now has to be that of academic adviser, as these are the people who will take the brunt of the fury that rightfully belongs elsewhere.

The state's economy is rickety, and this is going to become very clear to our school's students and their parents this coming week when the students with late registration appointments try to register and can't put together a full schedule because the classes they need are not available, and no more are being added. (We have cut a lot of classes out of the schedule.) This is going to create some bad, bad consequences, not the least of which is that federal financial aid requires students to take a certain number of credit hours. Furthermore, some people in what they thought was their final semester will have to wait to graduate because the classes they need are either full or not being offered.

High school seniors who have worked diligently to get themselves into college are now receiving letters that they have a "deferred" acceptance, which seems to mean we'll let you in as soon as we know for sure we have classes for you.

But truck balls -- truck balls are the truly important issue facing our state, and I'm relieved to know that they are getting the attention they deserve.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Long Distance Phone Call

...from Iraq, this morning.

Marine Son is doing fine. He had a little downtime and thought he'd call his mother.

A nice boy, that one.

National Poetry Month: The Excrement Poem

Somehow I managed not to come across this one until last year:

The Excrement Poem
--Maxine Kumin

It is done by us all, as God disposes, from
the least cast of worm to must have been
in the case of the brontosaur, say, spoor
of considerable heft, something awesome.

We eat, we evacuate, survivors that we are.
I think these things each morning with shovel
and rake, drawing the risen brown buns
toward me, fresh from the horse oven, as it were,

or culling the alfalfa-green ones, expelled
in a state of ooze, through the sawdust bed
to take a serviceable form, as putty does,
so as to lift out entire from the stall.

And wheeling to it, storming up the slope,
I think of the angle of repose the manure
pile assumes, how sparrows come to pick
the redelivered grain, how inky-cap

coprinus mushrooms spring up in a downpour.
I think of what drops from us and must then
be moved to make way for the next and next.
However much we stain the world, spatter

it with our leavings, make stenches, defile
the great formal oceans with what leaks down,
trundling off today’s last barrowful,
I honor shit for saying: We go on.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

National Poetry Month: American Academy of Arts and Letters Edition

Just as it's hard to get a seat on the bench of the Supreme Court, the only way a prominent artist can become a member of the 250-member American Academy of Arts and Letters is if a, um, vacancy occurs.

Eight such vacancies apparently occurred over the past year. Newly elected members include humorist (and poet) Calvin Trillin, someone to whom I turn when I despair of the world in which I live. From Trillin's little gem of an anthology Obliviously On He Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme:

Cheney’s Head: An Explanation

One mystery I’ve tried to disentangle:
Why Cheney’s head is always at an angle.
He tries to come on straight, and yet I can’t
Help notice that his head is at a slant.
When Cheney’s questioned on the Sunday shows,
The Voice of Reason is his favorite pose.
He drones in monotones. He never smiles---
Explaining why some suspects don’t need trials,
Or why right now it simply stands to reason
That criticizing Bush amounts to treason,
Or which important precept it would spoil
To know who wrote our policy on oil,
Or why as CEO he wouldn’t know
What Halliburton’s books were meant to show.
And as he speaks I’ve kept a careful check
On when his head’s held crooked on his neck.
The code is broken, after years of trying:
He only cocks his head when he is lying.

At the ceremony, which will not only include induction of new members but also the awarding of many awards, "Academician Wallace Shawn will deliver the Blashfield Foundation Address, titled The Unobtrusives." And I do believe we're talking about that Wallace Shawn.

Edit: Looking over a list of members, living and dead, I spy at least one of those who has recently given up his seat at the table: Kurt Vonnegut. It feels sort of right for Trillin to have taken his place.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Update on Marine Son

I haven't said much about Marine Son, because I don't know much, and some of what I know I must keep to myself. However, I can say this: he's actually based in Kuwait (unless that has changed), flying in and out of Iraq. (He's a back-of-the-helicopter guy, not the pilot.) I am led to understand that he has a roof rather than a tent over his head when he's on base and access to shopping for the basics, like razors and snacks. I have most of my info from his wife, Indian Princess.

Soon (I forget when she said), he will be allowed to teleconference with Indian Princess for ten minutes.

He's working 16-hour days, with one day off a month. Apparently, even though he's only supposed to be there for 6 months, they plan to get a year's worth of work out of him.

No more complaining from me about my workload.

My side yard

I just had an itch to take a photo today. Everything is so green and I'd like to be out in it...but I have grading. My side yard is the largest part of the yard -- the other parts of the yard are more "normal" sized for a subdivision. This yard is a luxury -- except at mowing time.

I'm thinking about a bench somewhere among those trees, but most commercial benches have too much metal in them for my tastes. This is Florida, people! And metal conducts heat to our tender skin. By the end of the summer, if the economy doesn't completely freefall, I may put a shed in the far corner. It's hard to see where the fences are, but the beige shed on the left of the photo is my neighbors', and mine would nestle up near it, like a little trailer park -- I hope a classy one. I've lived in this house for 32 years with no shed or basement, and with a small attic with no easy access, so it too is useless for storage. Tall Son has left a lot of things behind and keeps bringing more for me to store. In the storage room, in addition to the usual kinds of things that one accumulates, I have a sink and kitchen cabinets to be sanded and primed and sanded and painted and installed ... someday. No wonder my house is bursting with Stuff.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


From the online records of my bank account:

Monthly car insurance premium -- $49.09
My last fill-up -- $48.60

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Language of Life: Some Rambling Words for National Poetry Month

I have two degrees in English, a BA and an MA.

Yet I was late, very late, coming around to poetry. I think it's safe to say I never got completely comfortable with it until I had to teach it, and even then it took a while.

I'm not sure why. The wrong professors? The wrong poems? The wrong method of teaching (used on me)? The wrong method of teaching (used by me)?

I think it began with self-recrimination: I don't get it, I thought. I'm too stupid to get it. And more than a few professors did have a (I believe unintentional) bad habit of dismissing comments with a wave of the hand and saying, "no, that's not it." As a teacher, I try very hard to give most interpretations a fair hearing -- I'm a BIG believer in multiple interpretations. I try very hard not to wave the hand, but instead ask for further explanation. Sometimes I'm eventually convinced of the validity of the student's idea. Often, if the interpretation is way off base (I think that necklace is a symbol for a space alien), another student will chime in and help set her peer straight.

In fact, I think I've only come across one poem (not that I've read them all, not hardly) for which I would argue that truly, there's only one interpretation. Here it is:


I'm a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf's big with its yeasty rising.
Money's new-minted in this fat purse.
I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I've eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there's no getting off.

Sylvia Plath

If it's not obvious to you right away, that's ok. Let me help. The poem has NINE lines. Each line has NINE syllables. Here are some of its images: elephant, ponderous house, melon, fruit, loaf...rising, new-minted in ... fat purse -- well, etc. Every line, all NINE of them. With NINE syllables. Did I mention the importance of NINE?

Yes, of course the poem is about pregnancy. Plath warns us right up front that it's a riddle, and riddles generally only have one right answer. And to argue it's about space aliens or famine or man's alienation in the post-modern era is -- well, stretching it.

However, most poems open their arms wide to allow readers their own intimacy with them. Just as each person's relationships with different people are different relationships, so is each poem's relationship different with different people. My favorite poem may be one on which you wrote the tenth grade paper that earned you your first D. Your favorite poem may remind me of a friend who betrayed me. I may see optimism in a poem that for you signifies the end of the world. I may think that red hat symbolizes courage, while you see shame. And there's a good, good chance we're both "right," which is a relative term anyway.

Prior to the Modern Brit Poetry graduate class that I unintentionally took (a story all of its own), poetry for me was mysteries and math: no, I have no idea what the teacher thinks this poem means, and is da-DAH an iamb or a trochee and why do I care again, exactly? In this class, however, we sat in a circle and discussed the poems! The students, as a group, talked more than the professor! Sometimes he admitted he didn't know how to pronounce a word, or what the poet might have meant by "peanut butter"! This might well have been the first time I was exposed to the idea of multiple meanings in poetry. Remember again that this was a graduate class!

Later, but not much later I'd guess, I stumbled upon Bill Moyers' series The Language of Life on PBS, and it, more than anything, changed my view of poetry. (Ever since, I've wanted to go to the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, a biennial affair that should be on again this fall.) I found the show mid-series, and as far as I know, it has never run again. Too damn bad. I recorded the last few episodes, which are somewhere among my things and not very sharp. The rest I have never seen. Now and then (including just before I started this post), I Googled the series, but I don't see any "news." No hope that it'll be released on DVD or run on PBS again. Not yet. (Its entry on has no message board! So sad! On the other hand, it's so very out of print...) I could, however, buy the VHS set from an entrepreneur on Amazon for $350.00 or more... I do, however, have the book and a few years ago bought the cassette set on eBay brand new for far less than Amazon sellers want for it now.

Anyway, this series, more than anything ever, made me see poetry as something dynamic. Poets read in intimate rooms with Moyers, under tents to crowds, in circles with students. Reading Jimmy Santiago Baca's poetry is one experience; hearing him read it is another experience entirely, another relationship.

So, way to go, Bill Moyers.

This post has gone on almost long enough, so I'll start wrapping it up. I did eventually figure out how to teach poetry, and very few students walk away unable to discuss on paper a poem of their choice (among my choices) with a reasonable level of intelligence. (Note I said nothing about writing skill, just thinking. Another matter entirely.)

And the point, which I'm finally getting to, is that here's the truth about poetry: a person's relationship with poetry is not an either/or proposition: we don't have merely two choices -- (a) like and "get" it all or (b) be a poetry neanderthal. We should give ourselves permission to have a different relationship with each poem. If we like a particular poem, we should like it. If we love a particular poem, we should love it. If we don't understand a particular poem, we should slow down and get to know it a little better. And if after a few tries things are just not working out, we should tell it goodbye and try another.

I'll end the rambling with one of Naomi Shihab Nye's best-known poems, one which works just fine as my own credo:

--Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Haiku: A Challenge Met

Sir Robin requests the pleasure of our haiku. If you write one, send it to him.

I went for "traditional" flavor first time out, invoking the season of the haiku's creation. I couldn't decide on punctuation, so this became three haiku. I wasn't sure what the plural is, but the Tubes seem to be in agreement that it's haiku.

Spring Haiku 1:
Spring brings a soft breeze
A backyard of red flowers
Yard work, endless, joy.

Spring Haiku 2:
Spring brings a soft breeze
A backyard of red flowers
Yard work, endless. Joy.

Spring Haiku 3:
Spring brings a soft breeze
A backyard of red flowers
Yard work. Endless joy.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Just Shoot Me Now

Because it's coming to that:

TALLAHASSEE, Florida - Most Florida residents would be allowed to take guns to work under a measure passed by Florida lawmakers on Wednesday.

The bill, allowing workers to keep guns in their cars for self-protection, was approved by the Florida Senate by a vote of 26-13. It now goes to Republican Gov. Charlie Crist to sign into law.

Backed by the National Rifle Association and some labor unions, the so-called "take-your-guns-to-work" measure would prohibit business owners from banning guns kept locked in motor vehicles on their private property.

The measure applies to employees, customers and those invited to the business establishment as long as they have a permit to carry the weapon.

Backers say the measure upholds the vision of the authors of the U.S. Constitution, who made the right to bear arms part of the Bill of Rights.

"The second thing they wrote about in that constitution was the right to bear arms," said Sen. Durell Peaden, a Republican from Crestview, Florida. "It was what was dear in their hearts."

Well, I had a few comments, but really, I'm rendered speechless.

I think I'll go run a few errands now while the likelihood of a shootout in the parking lot of the Ok Grocery Store is still somewhat unlikely.

Somewhere, Charlton Heston is smiling.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Water, Water Everywhere


In Jacksonville, Florida, the local TV station ran a story about the city's plans to strictly enforce watering rules because as those who are paying attention know, water is in some places a scarce commodity and is headed toward that for the rest of us.

A city official explains the need for getting serious about water conservation:

"We want to hold off as long as we can and have our water supply last as long as possible as clean as possible," said Vincent Seibold with the city's Environmental Quality Division.

The online text story closes with a drop-down menu for viewers to peruse the top consumers of water in the county, both residential and commercial. Several prominent names appear under residential, including those of a head football coach and an owner of an upscale auto dealership. However, the most amusing name appears in the business section:

The City of Jacksonville.

Carl Sandburg, Redux, Or, Happy Poetry Month!

While I was visiting at Sir Robin's place, he reminded us all that this is National Poetry Month. I knew this. I just didn't actually acknowledge it, not even when I was teaching poetry, not even when I invited a poet to visit my classroom next week. Talk about being too close to the trees to see the forest...

This made me think about The Official Poet of Bitty's Back Porch, Carl Sandburg. It's not every blog that has an Official Poet, I don't suppose, but this one does. Because I am One Busy Person, I'm going to honor NPM for now by rerunning a Sandburg post. I've never rerun anything before, but Law & Order does it to great effect, so why not me, too? Here goes, from March 31, 2006:

Some weeks back, I waxed, um, poetic about Carl Sandburg, favorite son of our mutual natal state, Illinois. At the time, I bemoaned the cost of the used Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg as out of my reach.


I found a less expensive copy.

Over the past five years -- and only AFTER finishing my formal education, I might add -- I've come to appreciate poetry. For years it intimidated me, but once I realized the obvious, that it is ok not to like or understand it all, just as it is ok not to like or understand all prose, poetry and I became good friends.

Poetry must be read slowly, carefully. If not, one might as well be reading the back of a Tylenol bottle.

And so, a week or so ago, slowly grazing in my new/old Sandburg book, I confirmed two things:

(1) Lefties, Carl is for sure one of us.
(2) I can get overstimulated quickly by poetry. Reading too much Sandburg produces the same dazed mental state in me as eating too much canned icing.

I offer two Sandburg poems today because one just isn't enough. The first is a prose poem that shows us two things: although he worked mostly in traditional forms, Sandburg wasn't a slave to tradition. Secondly, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

From Good Morning, America (originally copyrighted in 1928):


When the charge of election bribery was brought against an Illinois senator, he replied, "I read the Bible and believe it from cover to cover."

When his accusers specified five hundred dollars of corruption money was paid in a St. Louis hotel bathroom, his friends answered, "He is faithful to his wife and always kind to his children."

When he was ousted from the national senate and the doors of his bank were closed by government receivers and a grand jury indicted him, he took the vows of an old established church.

When a jury acquitted him of guilt as a bank wrecker, following the testimony of prominent citizens that he was an honest man, he issued a statement to the public for the newspapers, proclaiming he knew beforehand no jury would darken the future of an honest man with an unjust verdict.

The second poem, also from Good Morning, America, I'm rather certain I've read before, long ago:

Money, Politics, Love and Glory

Who put up that cage?
Who hung it up with bars, doors?
Why do those on the inside want to get out?
Why do those outside want to get in?
What is this crying inside and out all the time?
What is this endless, useless beating of baffled wings at these bars, doors, this cage?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Bette Blackout Blues

According to Mustang Bobby, via Shakesville, Turner Classic Movies is running a "Bette-athon" to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Bette Davis' birth.

So I read this and wonder why it is I never watch Turner Classic Movies. I like classic movies.

I go look and discover that I don't get it with my service. Bummer.

This is one of the things I really, really, really, really, really don't understand about cable/satellite TV. Really. One would think that the various networks would be frantic to be on the "expanded basic" (or whatever your individual provider calls it) and would push hard/make concessions to be on that "tier." After all, the more viewers, the more commercial revenue, yes? But to get some of the channels that the cool kids watch, like TCM and MSNBC, I have to pay an additional $10-$20/month. So I don't.

Some time back when Phil was talking about Sarah Richardson's shows being on Fine Living (I watched her when she was featured prominently on HGTV), I considered upgrading, but in the end I couldn't justify an additional expense to view two or three additional desired channels when I don't have time to watch the desired channels I already have. So while I can't see the Bette-athon, Rachel Maddow, or any one of a zillion cool things on the National Geographic channel, in the end I don't think it's me who gets hurt. It's the stations who are stuck behind a economic firewall between them and me.

Dateline 15,000 BC?

Newsflash! Women do more housework once they get married. And when they have kids, they do even more! It must be true if a study says so.

Having a husband creates an extra seven hours of housework each week for women, according to a new study. For men, tying the knot saves an hour of weekly chores.

"It's a well-known pattern," said lead researcher Frank Stafford, an economist at University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. "Men tend to work more outside the home, while women take on more of the household labor."

He points out individual differences among households exist. But in general, marriage means more housework for women and less for men. "And the situation gets worse for women when they have children," Stafford said.

I'm speechless. Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster that a brave scientist took on the task of finding this out for us and a brave news organization put its corporate neck on the line to report it!

Seriously, I know there are plenty of men who do their fair share of work around the house, whether that's painting and mowing or baking and cleaning. And some men are the primary house-tender. But for the majority of women, it didn't take a study to prove what most of us have experienced since the beginning of marriage. And it's even odder that this is being reported as breathlessly as if it's the newest idea since, oh, I don't know -- kids like candy?

Irony? Karma?

I don't think I was gloating in my very recent post on a brush with the law, but Karma has apparently paid me a visit anyway.*

I rather expect to get a ticket in the mail this week. Rats!

Here's what happened: my least-favorite driving scenario is to be in a left-hand turning lane with someone immediately facing me trying to left-turn in the other direction, a green light but no left-turn arrow, people behind me, and traffic maybe coming at me/maybe not because I can't see through the vehicle facing me. And lucky me -- I got into that scenario tonight.

I was inching into the left turn because I wasn't absolutely sure that the way was clear. Once I could see that no one was coming, I took off across the intersection. Only after I got halfway across did I realize that the light must have turned when I was busy watching the traffic because now cars were coming into the intersection from my left.

I was embarrassed. I try really hard to be both a careful driver, while at the same time not being a problem driver (meaning not being so overly cautious that I cause trouble). I try very hard not to make driving mistakes, and I never intentionally run a light. My kids make fun of me because I sometimes stop for yellow lights if I think I can't make it through. (No one does that, Mom!) Anyway, I pulled into the parking lot, shopped, and came out to the car. As I was lined up at the light to get out of the parking lot and back on to the main road I noticed something hovering over each set of lights: cameras. Cameras pointing at the intersection at every angle, including the one I'd been traveling.

The cameras are new to my county. They've only been in place a few months and aren't everywhere. This light has only been in place for about a month. This will be my first ticket ever for a moving violation.

My only hope is that the cameras were on the fritz tonight. But I don't suppose I can be lucky twice in one week.

Sympathetic comments would be greatly appreciated.

*When I do something good, why doesn't Karma reward me then? Why?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Fun With Demographics: another thing Wikipedia is good for

While I was making a comment on the Blue and Red Light Special post below, I did a quick search on the town of Waldo, Florida, a little bump in the road nationally famous for being a speed trap. I chose Wikipedia as my source and noticed that Wiki P. had quite a lot of demographic info posted for a town of 800, so I decided to check out my own Tiny Town. Since I'm not inclined to identify where I am, no links -- sorry. But I did learn lots of interesting stuff, based on the 2000 census (which means that the info is somewhat out of date, but still):

All by myself, I currently earn almost exactly the 2000 median income for families. Believe me, although I'm no longer destitute (have been in the past), I don't make a lot of scratch, so that's scary. In fact, while I currently make $22,000 more than the median income for women, in 2000, my income pretty much was the median income for women. I guess this explains why I'm able to pay my bills on time now!

In 2000, mine was one of the 10.3% female-headed households.

In 2000, 18.4% of households were non-families. Since that's such a high number, I wonder what that means. That is, of course we have the situations where platonic friends room together, but I'll bet that 18.4% includes a lot of same-sex couples and even hetero unmarried couples, both of whom probably see themselves as families, thank you very much. But the gubment doesn't. Perhaps they need to ask different questions on those census forms.

The most stunning thing to me, although I'm not sure why it stunned me, is that my town needs to be renamed Whiteyville: in 2000, 93% of us were white. Where I live is a subdivision in my town, which is cozied up against another, non-rural small town (from my mailbox I can look down the street and see mailboxes from this other town), which is next to a Big City. I live, in essence, in a bedroom community. This might be why my street defies the racial demographics of my town. For years it has been a little United Nations. Our cul-de-sac has seven houses. On the corner: white husband, white-hispanic wife (wife's recently deceased hispanic mother used to live there, too). Next to them: black family. Next to them: white husband, white wife. Next to them: white husband, Japanese wife. Next to them: white me. Next to me: white husband, white wife. Next to them, the other corner: black-hispanic husband, white-hispanic wife, hispanic kids. In other words, four out of seven homes are not just "white" or not white at all. So, yes, 93% surprised me. However, much of the rest of my small town actually covers a lot of unincorporated area and is extremely rural. I guess it makes sense that most of those folks living down those dirt roads, many of whom drive Confederate-flagged pickups, are white.

To put this in perspective, the Big City near my home, the place where I work, had a white population of just under 65% in 2000.

It'll be interesting to see what changes the 2010 census reports, but we'll all have to wait a while for that post.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Blue and Red Light Special

It's late: 11:30 pm. It's dark. I'm weary. Very weary. I'm on my way home from work. I'm on the long, winding road with the 35 mph speed limit.

Now, it's not that I don't like to drive fast, but I'm allergic to things that needlessly cost me money, like speeding tickets, so I tend to drive right at 5 mph over any posted speed limit, having bought into the folklore that the police won't bother me if I'm within that parameter.

Suddenly, aggressive blue and red flashing lights replace the darkness in my rearview mirror. I look down. 41. I'm guilty. This is it. My first speeding ticket. Ever. Where's the license? Did I ever put the new insurance card in the wallet? Will I ever find the registration in that rat's nest in the glove box?

I hit the turn signal and pull over, resigned to the increase in my insurance rates. Only then do I realize that a car was behind me, and it, trailed by the police car, passes me by. Both of them pull over just ahead of me.

I take a deep breath and pull back out on the winding road.

Tonight someone else got the blue and red light special, not me.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Oh, the places I won't go!

A good many things I'd like to blog, I don't. I have a fear that someday a family member will find the thing and then I'll have some 'splainin' to do.

Right now, for instance, there are a truckload of things I'd like to say about a certain person who needs to stop being so self-centered and controlling before it comes back to bite him or her, whichever the case may be, in the tush, as well as harm us all.

But for the sake of familial harmony, I'm keeping my mouth shut online and in person.

The best blog post I never wrote was about an event that I won't specifically allude to here and my enormous restraint throughout the event. Since this blog generally is not a place where I spill words to praise my own wonderfulness, I hope you will take my word for it when I say I was a saint in this situation.

Friend Alanna knows what I'm talking about and will vouch for me.

I'm dealing with a similar situation right now.

Sorry for being so frustratingly vague. Grrr!

Otherwise, I can't go there.