n. infantile pattern of suckle-swallow movement in which the tongue is placed between incisor teeth or between alveolar ridges during initial stage of swallowing (if persistent can lead to various dental abnormalities) v. [content removed due to Bush campaign to clean up the internet] n. act of nyah-nyah v. pursuing with relentless abandon the need to masticate and thrust the world into every bodily incarnation in order to transform it, via the act of salivation, into nutritive agency

Monday, November 28, 2005

fiction VI: Swallow

okay, i've decided to head back to this piece, which i want to make. you know. it's still just a random freeflow outline thingamajig that i like coming back to.

but a note: this story is shaping up to have the following dedications / acknowledgements, among many others. thank-you to Sarah, Selah, and Tahina for the stories I have robbed and blatantly bastardized for my own fictional ends. If you mind, tell me and I'll mull it over. (hugses)

(it is thundering outside... a strange break from the snow)

This section is back to narrator 2, Sparrow.

Six and a half days left, and I have locked myself in to put it to words. Clear and needful articulation.

Inside, the myelin has been under attack. I can feel it in the slow acts of balance. I spend my time looking for a form of coordination.

I take a twig of chalk, a twig broken from ground with assurance of other soils to root in. The root of this strange language, the root of all words and drawings and acts that which will lift us on up past primordial stupor. I take the twig and mark a line on the floor of my hostel. This side, that side, me in the middle like a drunk trying to convince someone. Trying to fool.

On one side: the history.

On the other: the spider that still crawls from corner to corner; my skin, numb on the thigh; my tummy all full and round from the salad I heaped high with tomatoes and tuna fish and four squeezed cubes of lime; the cat hairs that float around the room from the breeze that drifts under my door and carries scent of the mad hostel woman with her five cats that prowl and strip the walls of mice and spiders; the thrum in my uterus, somehow excited by the fever that carries me along; the sound out the window—at night, brawling crescendos of prostitutes and johns, and during the day, the cry of cars as they turn corners; the scent of things ripe, dusty tuna full and the kilo of strawberries I bought at the open market, heating next to the window, and escaping their bag.

On one side: health.

On the other: demyelination, or the stripping of callous from the innards of me; the memory of then and stichings and all the fallings apart, like my life is a patchquilt always incomplete.

On one side: my family.

On the other: that moment when I realized I could do no more, that I had no more to give, that everything had run dry and echo and full of fossilized desire; the solitude of me as I make my way again through the foreign-open to find gift in just the slightest of smiles on a dark African’s face; my choices, my self-help; embracing drunkenness from my wine bottle as I make my own.

I walk down the line, toe-heel, toe-heel.

I will find balance again, even with my body warring with itself, the internal mechanisms of safety turning on the very objects that coordinate this body. How many diseases exist where the body hates itself. How many, let us count.

My brother Gustafo, the eldest, has a disease the negative of my own. Whereas mine is overprotective and self-loathing, his is underprotective and indifferent. If only we could have inoculated ourselves against the mechanisms of our bodies.

How could we have fallen this way, this huge beast of burden our parents have flogged around the world like gypsy ramblers without the solidarity of mysticism? Couldn’t we have been birthed from the channels of those who carry violins and fabrics and wheels on their cars?

Gustafo would answer, we are what we are. He has to cling to that, because for him it is true. He cannot go back and instead must embrace what came of his own indifferent actions. The oldest brother is never like the oldest daughter.

I am not the oldest daughter in years. The oldest sister, Cedra—who is older technically by four years and older technically by many lives and younger technically by capacity—lives in a string universe, one with no umbilical cords to wrap around a fetus’s throat. In our universe, she gathers socks in her room, knots them into balls, and then snips out the interims with her scissors. When they open like webbed feet in the air, we all admire but wonder. What is it about absence that obsesses her? Her paintings speak for her, the paintings of faces she has seen. Green stretches like wastelands, purple sockets like violets. They speckle our houses with the innocent replay of time itself. Sometimes I wonder if she’ll ever be able to live outside the strange foreplay of our family’s boudoir.

But it all came down to this fact: Gustafo and I were the eldest—he the eldest brother, and I the eldest sister.

I miss his unique sensitivity.
I miss so much about him.
I feel estranged and full of a hatred I could only call guilt.

“I can’t,” I told him. “I just can’t do it.”

In other words, I stranded him. I let him down. I abandoned him when he needed me most. I am a betrayer, and my body speaks this truth.

Once—I believe it was in Belize—we were playing dolls by the river.

“And she’ll wear this gown,” Gustafo told me.

The dress should have been white but was splotched with brown refuse and a little spritz of decomposed leaf. At the time, I wanted to believe that weddings were pure, a signal of the great interaction. The one. A great sweeping gown full of wedding. The one great interaction. But really, the dress spoke for itself.

“No,” I told him. “She should be naked. Just like Eve.”

He thought about it. This was visible on his face.

He was a boy with religion inside him. He liked the idea of things not falling, of apples unplucked. For a second, I thought he really must be a boy. The things I had noticed weren’t really true. If he could embrace the wedding of a nude barbie doll, an Eve of plastic asexuality (I had drawn a bush on her hips just because I knew she was old enough, but this didn’t really change her forlorn reality), then maybe he was male afterall. Surely only a man could believe in a life where the apple wasn’t meant to be eaten. Although I had protested, I still believed the soiled white gown was meant to be worn. It spoke for itself.

“No,” he told me. Full of knowledge, the truth of himself. The apple meant to be eaten because it was rich and ripe and bittersweet and red (oh, thank god for red apples). “She needs the dress. We can accessorize with a flower.”

He didn’t really say accessorize, but I imagine it that way. He was who he is.

I was still unable to deal with his reality. I couldn’t accept that he had to fit into the words spoken by so many prickish judging pundits on the radio. It wasn’t fair. I wanted him perfect and male and not the oldest sister, but the oldest brother. I didn’t want him sick. I needed him. I couldn’t take more than I had already taken, or so I believed. I didn’t want a gay brother with an immune disorder that would lead to his death. I wanted him to defy everything, everything we had ever been given. Everything that fell down, everything that was plucked, everything. I wanted him alive and with me. I wanted him to accessorize me, to carry me around with him like the shine on his diamonds. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t accept.

But as a result: Where was he? What was he left with? A city, a place full of not-family, of people who would give him pills tested in Africa, but only if he could keep going and find money, and I was the eldest daughter.

Surely I was destined to be beside him.

I walk the line I draw on the ground of this fine but barren hostel. The breeze comes in through the window and under the door and my pet spider scurries along to keep me malaria-free. I don’t think malaria exists in this country, but just in case, I keep my friend the spider.

Sometimes when I walk from the north wall to the south, I stumble. That’s just the truth of where my muscles are right now. They don’t know themselves, or maybe they know themselves too familiarly. It’s hard to see whether the result is from one or the other. Or maybe neither; maybe it’s just me telling stories, speaking too much, seeing patterns where none exist.

If I’m to become a self-help guru, surely this is something I should know.

When I get tired of the line, I make it a few. Crissity-cross and I toss a piece of the crumbling wall along the brick and play hopscotch. I remember playing hopscotch with Neecie, my baby.

She’s not really my baby, but she’s one of the two that knows me. Not even Gustafo knows me. Neecie knows me, and so does Arshwin. I try not to think of Arshwin, he who was to me as I was to Gustafo. He is not real, anyways.

Neecie and I used to play hopscotch whenever we found ourselves in a city. We’d take a break from the camper and go outside and draw lines on the ground. Neecie would play along for a few minutes before she’d get bored and start writing. I could never interest her in playing out the game; she’d always become obsessed with the lines.

Crossing lines, drawing lines, writing across lines, writing on one side of lines, I miss her.

She was a wretched storyteller. Not wretched in the sense that she was bad, but wretched in that it became too easy to believe. She always had a framework to re-interpret, and I wasn’t sure this was a good thing or a bad thing. At night, she would come over to my cot and hover over me sometimes. I always woke up as soon as she moved, something suspicious or aware in me, but I never let her know. So, she’d hover for a long time and maybe she was dreaming, but then she’d climb into bed with me. And we’d wrap into each other.

When everything changes all around you, all the time, it becomes impossible to live without story.

That’s what scared me about her not playing hopscotch, but taking twig of chalk and writing all over the lines. Sometimes her words seemed more real that what seemed real.

Excavation, she wrote.

What’s the name of this city, she wrote. And who is my new imaginary friend?

Sparrow doesn’t look like me, she wrote. That’s because I’m adopted.

But she wasn’t adopted. She is from us. We are from her. My family really is the way it is, and even if I’m far away in a hostel, trying to coordinate between the moments when I work around these new towns, explain English words to people who want to brutalize it with business, and the moments when I work as an itinerant field worker, I am still from my history. I am still who I am.

Self-help rule: find the root.
Self-help rule: inside us lies time.
Self-help rule: we are what came before.

I walk the line, I try to find balance. I’m not sure I can go there, to this side or that side. Finding yourself in decision (indecision) is the most perfect horror of all.

But I am happy here. In this hostel, walking this line. I am safe with white twig in hand. There is no safety in memory, no safety in what came before. But nevertheless, I think I can find something here. I feel like I can. I feel like… even if what came before contains fragments and half-truths, it still can come together. That’s the other truth of my disease: what is stripped from my axons can be rebuilt. Not always, but sometimes. I might find balance again, but then again maybe not.

But I am here. I am here in this place and my tummy is warm and the strawberries are on the sill and I have all the time in the world, six days, to get coordinated and to gather before the next move.

Friday, November 25, 2005

angelitos de nieve

day after giving thanks

chicago tundra snow

огромные спасибо

me-snowfor the new, for the old, for the time, for the rush, for the balance, for the warm tummy, for the heated dance, for the snow outside, for the right choices, for the metafiction, for the animal cookies, for the goodjob, for the family, for the multitudes of friends, for the collaborations, for the learnings, for the laughing, for the soft sifting, for cameras, for Fuji-cuddles, for colors, for…

ahem. Let’s consider the way I’ve been running around so fast that I’ve hardly had time to articulate the waltz itself.

So much going on, and most of it is wonderfully unexpected, and some of it I barelydared hope for, and some of it is quiet—maybe a little sad sometimes—and some of it is a noisy bulge—luscious like fruitflowing—and here I go.

Wine night has been going smashingly. Not literally, no broken glasses lately, just lots of energy and excitement, a new SAIC journal produced by tw (maybe soon to be at This Site), santa cd-mixes coming up, newmusic, funny stories and tattoos (check out "(…)"), and lots of books and pictures and furniture to snoop over at each new person’s house.

Last Monday, we were all standing around talking about mixed cd’s and I was drunk enough that anything that fell out of my mouth sounded a little silly, so I was just admiring everyone else’s sassy. Not to mention that last week, while perfectly sober, I managed to fall through a door while attempting to illustrate the fact that the door was quite locked. It was locked for the first three thumps of my body, but on the fourth (the magical fourth), I went whump on my butt and then tried to regain my composure with a bunch of folks grinning, teasing, and attempting to not hurt my littlepride. At least I didn’t spill the wine. So, this last time, I knew to be semi-quiet and docile and not make too much of a fool of myself. Instead I just admired this roughly transcribed conversation between m and tw:

M: “I always put Superfreak on my mixes. It’s my signature.”
T: “Oh, I don’t know about that. I’m not sure how I’d react to Superfreak on a mixed CD.”
M: “It’s great. You’d have to dance, because I mix it in perfectly.”
T: “Ah, I see. I wouldn’t be able to help dancing.”
Here’s where tw starts dancing a little. That is, his arm starts dancing.
T: “My body would just take over…”
tw’s arm does a little wave. His hips skitter a little.
T: “while my head would be saying, I don’t quite know what to make of this…”
And tw breaks a little move.

Ah, yes, this is winenight incarnate.

Dancing. I went sashaying about the town last weekend with sp’s sister b. We went to the lovely Excalibur, chockablock full with shimmering knights and lusting dragoons, and the spot was quite wretchedly horrible, but fascinating in its own way, and I ended up having a wonderful time despite, or maybe because of, the cheese.

When I got there, two mc’s were yapping up on the stage, trying to get a few slutty girls from the crowd to come up and give a lap dance. A poor bloke who had to qualify for lapdancing by having not been laid in a long time got the honors. The three woman: an older blonde who seems half-sloshed & half-cracked on something else, a cheerleadery blond chick who managed to whack it like a pony as she shimmied on the fellow, and a large black woman with megaboobs and a rhythm and beat alllllll her own. Of course, the last one won. And after this, I took over the floor (my job, heehee), and was ruthlessly dominating of all the little puppydogs, which included flirting wantonly and then prancing away.

At one point, I had a troop of groovers starting to slide their little paws onto my hips, and I was working it, and the music was working it, and b was working it, and mooshing and gyring and slippywalking and bendying and sliding my fingers along the outside of arms, but hey baby, I’m not into that for too long, and so I slid off the stage down a large man’s bod and into his arms, lipping “that’s the way, uh huh,” and I thought he was going to pass out. I sent him back for b, who got a spin off the stage, and then the three of us, and then some others, and one of the stage-fellows hadn’t gotten enough, and so I had to take his groping little arms and wrap them around a tall sexy fratboy, who didn’t seem too happy about the move, and I like making people embarrassed when they deserve it, and then b and I went downstairs and danced with pool cues and lamented the “out of order” state of the air hockey, and then we dodged out of the place and went to Clarks for a late-night dinner and then I got home at the appropriate time: 5:30am. How time flies.

And then there’s the movies and the plays and the studio-walks and the classes and the bumpings into people on the subway and getting to talk. Mmmmmm.

For Thanksgiving food, I decided to stay home and give thanks by eating enchiladas and drinking hot chocolate and trying to get back into the writingrut, but I ended up joining roomie ll to go to the SAIC ballroom dinner, where the school had cooked up a feast for all the international students and folks stuck in town. It was a good move on my part, because I hit turkey rupture rapture and then rolled home with a plate of leftovers, which I picked at for the rest of the day. And I chatted with a few of the internationals that I knew… Romania, Greece, an American fellow who mimicked the sound of a koala (wwwwwwraaaaaaaahhh), which I think qualifies him for international status.

And then there’s the temples (Baha’i) and the library and the emails from lovelylovelylovely folks and the conversations on telephone:

The fam was all moving into their newy new house and carrying the fridge, and washing the fridge, and peeling the potatoes, and dealing with the “tofurky emergency,” and telling me strange stories about diversification, which sis sorta suggested indicate that we are all just tamed monkeys (an interesting thanksgiving conversation), and saying hellow to friends, and getting drunk, and…

al & sp & nm & all seem to be doing exciting things-all related via long phone conversations that made me happy.

And then there are the evenings out and visits to Trader Joes (which included a mean run-in with a bastard parking-lot thief who ticked my friend off until she followed him around in tj’s attempting to guilt him into the run, which eventually worked) and drinks with friends and making omelets and…

My turtle bit the head off his last non-feeder fish. So, I cleaned his aquarium.

And the funny little roly-poly woman on the subway who was sitting on the bench near me, and all of a sudden started muttering, and then shouting about “Speak English!” This originally startled me until I noticed a crew of three short borachitos in black leather coats wandering drunkenly about the station and singing, “P’que todo tienen q’sufriiiiiiir? L’amor, l’amor…” I found them quite pleasantly amusing, but roly-poly woman (It actually took me awhile to determine whether she was a woman. She looked like a truncated version of Fat Albert with a little orange condom-hat on her head. She was carting around two bags, one of which was full of socks and the other of which appeared to have groceries. She wore baggy 80’s tie-stained jeans and black rebocks with her heels sticking out where she hadn’t bothered to put them in all the way, despite the freeeeeeeezing weather. [Which explains the bag of socks]. I finally realized that for sure she was a woman when she said, “how’d you like to get karate chopped by a woman?”) started wanting to fuck something up.

Apparently she had “karate chopped a policeman this very day” and was going to “open a can a’whumpass” on those drunkards singing their suffering-songs. “C’mon over,” she invited, and I looked over to see if the Mexicans were going to oblige. Apparently not. However, they were not oblivious, and raised their voices. But they seemed to be having goodfun with the situation. The ante got upped as their train pulled in to the opposite tunnel, and the woman felt like they needed to take that moment, that very one, to select whether they were going to “flee” or “face her like men, and come get their karate chops.” I wondered for a second if these would be like porkchops. “Why aincha comin over,” she asked, “you all great big pussies?” At this one of the leather coated men took a few steps over and then backed up again, saying, “I ain gonna waste time con una mujer loca.”

Well, they all got their metaphorical chop as roly-woman lifted her middle finger and affirmationally sliced through the air as they climbed onto their train.

Ahhhh, the subway, the subway, the subway. I feel a little rush of “here I am. Here in the city, here in this city, this Chicago, with the echoing burrows and trains and rush and whoosh and breeze before the storm, and wind and heated trains and wait-stations with heat lamps, and people clicking through turnstiles and winging their ways, and folks of all colors and styles and hairstyles and clothes and loud conversations and iPod bopping of heads and homeless shakings and little kids invisible in parka/boots and musicians down at the Washington redline stop, and sleeping folks and wired folks, and me dancing my way (‘cause I can’t help dancing all the time these days)."

And what else is there to mention? the snow, the history riding softer on me as I sort through the time /rush /moment /sweet /crazy /painful /intense /live /flushed moments I wish to claim as I run and rush and dodge and connect and love and smile and everything that I’m feeling these days.

All in all, much to be thankful for, including a mess of things I haven’t had a chance to write about yet.

tooth fairy in blizzard

Saturday, November 19, 2005


-hellow, blog.


-ah, blog, entonces hablas espanol?

-si, a veces soy un espacio espanola.

-dale, hoy fue a pilsen, y camine mirando mirando. the world has been good to me lately, blog.

-por que?

here, blog, here is a good quote that i found. well, it's not so much a quote as it is a section of a Coover story i read called Briar Rose:

She dreams, as she has often dreamt, of abandonment and betrayal, of lost hope, of the self gone astray from the body, the body forsaking the unlikely self. She feels like a once-proud castle whose walls have collapsed, her halls and towers invaded, not by marauding armies, but by humbler creatures, bats, birds, cats, cattle, her departed self an unkempt army marauding elsewhere in a scatter of confused intentions. Her longing for integrity is, in her spellbound innocence, all she knows of rage and lust, but this longing is itself fragmented and wayward, felt not so much as a monstrous gnawing at the core as more like the restless scurry of vermin in the rubble of her remote defenses, long since fallen and benumbed. What, if anything, can make her whole again? And what is "whole"?
Whole, yes what a good question: what is whole, anyway?

fryoureflectionWhole prancing, listening to the musicality of voices speaking with inclusion of this one, this one person composed of jaggeframents, of bits, and little furs that float about after the flurry.

"Tiene una tarjeta buena para llamar a alemania? porque quiero hablar con un amiga en alemania." And the boy sitting sprawled out on a chair, a chair in the middle of the tienda I stumble into, the one with the sign on the outside speaking of discounts. A man at the counter tells me of his father's friend who goes to Germany to buy cars and resell them in the Middle East. "Si, alemania tiene una industria cresendo." Is crecendo la palabra correcta? For some reason, I think not, but that's okay, because the boy sitting in the chair with his legs stretched out in front of him and his black hat pulled down low stands up and walks me over to the door, and we bend down, very close together and place our fingers on the chart that measures how much time I will have to talk to my friend. "78 minutes, no I mean 178 minutes." "That sounds good, I think." And we have a moment together, the little moments pressed up nextogether.

It snowed the other day. Snow, snow, snow, and biting cold. I brought out my silly Ecuador hat, the one with so many colors that simply looking at it makes me happy. And I wore it and went on walks with new friends, my cheeks all frozen and the snow slumping down to drift into the ventilator shafts, the sewers, the cracks in concrete, and disappear. The snow.

A wind that rubs. A wind that makes my mouth go all cold, from the inside out.

A roommate who smiles all the time. Her face a framed oval, the way her lips pout out when she is thinking about something, when she tells me about the boy she had a crush on who turned out to be a player.


Ah, well, to play is a game. And she paints, and she works long hours, and I call her up and say, "have you eaten?" and she says she was just going to get to it. How i love, how i feel good, how i want to make everyone happy and everyone good and let everyone know how their words--thrown down from the rising structions, not ob-, not de-, not -in, but "con" as in con gente yo hablo, con el mundo perfecto, con un pes en mi mano. con as in with. with as in carry, with as in notabsent--touch me.

i love listening, bathing in, floating on, speaking to, hearing, comforting, music.

So much attention lately. So much connection and awakening. The dream that has fractured, has pinned me to pieces, ruptured sinew and stretched me along the rack of you, and she, and me, and it, and wasn't it, and couldn't it, and didn't it, and how many dreams, and how many languages spoken roughly. The dream that leaves me as the earth wakens in this snowy spring of barhoppings and dancings and films and emails sent and laughed over and elevators and tears and kitties and cleanings and temples and plays and paintings and so many, so many (re)acts of creation, and i chew to the center of the word till i'm swallowing, cr-eat-ing everything into my channels and floodrivers and osmosised borders.

we, here in this place, this large canvas written and re-written and spoken for, we dream, we wake, all is in order.

i'm all out of castles, a woman in rags walking the paths trodden and untrodden and seen again. there is no rubble, i use all the crumbs to make. for this, my chest inflates, for this i turn back the clock, i sit in cafes, knowing i should be working, knowing i should be in class or on the subway. but more than that, knowing that i should be here. this very seat. with this very rootbeer. with this very story. with this very.

telling myself i'm not going to mess up, because everything is arrangement met by released energy, and that is not something the world cannot hold.

because i am in love with awake. awake has been dream, and the dream a wakening, and the snow a warmth, and whole a construction. whole is and will be nothing more than illusions woven together, knitted into the mittens i wear on my hands as the first Chicago snow disappears even as it clusters around walks and tall buildings and ornate balustrades. i know new words like biafora, triafora, dove-tailed and brick. the arcaded morning open for business.

i can't seem to construct a narrative for this anymore. story seems so illspent, it unravels as i spend it, and i will build and tear down and piece together, and we will laugh at the pretty mismatchings that occur in the interum.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

blog ballyhoo on teaching:

Ranting, Semi-Ranting, and some Meditating, Ignore Me if You Please

Teaching is an undeniable position of power. Why else would this country, among others, be cracking down so hard on the goings-on of the classroom? Why else would governmental and parental regulations of the classroom and a No-Child-Left-Behind(-Should-Get-Funding) type programming be proliferating? Why push all these tests of knowledge, tests of teacher adequacy, mandated curriculums and mandated formats and mandated everything like nation-crack boiled on the spoons we feed our learners?

Hello, my name is Me
Before I begin, I want to lay out my spartan credentials, the where’s of my background. Why? Afterall, this is my blog, and my semi-rant, and why would I need to be all pompous and say, hey, look at where I’ve been? Well, truthfully I feel like I get up on my high horse too frequently and thrash my arms around without sufficiently stating that “I’m still learning too.” But I also know that I have a base of knowledge, and I appreciate that base and feel somewhat confident - vulnerable, but confidant – in what I do and don’t know about teaching. So, even while blog-pulpitizing, shouldn’t I put everything out there just for the kicks and cracks and ballyhoo? Yes, I have a reason for this.

So… my informal credentials include a love for students, a love for the possibilities that learning and teaching and the mixture that those states of being offer, and a passion for writing and communication in a world with so much miscommunication and eased-along silence.

My formal credentials include only an MA in English, one pedagogy class, and three years of teaching writing. Some details:

My first two years of teaching were as a TA in charge of one classroom per quarter of Freshman Composition. The first year of teaching, the first quarter in particular, was spent under the guidance of a fabulous diehard Director, who pushed us to experiment, learn the theory, and constantly put ourselves on the line for the real cause (students). What this generated was an odd assortment of TA’s working near 60-hours during one quarter to learn, process and help each other through the hell that teaching can be. We constantly got together and talked about writing, griped about student papers and how hard it was to grade, and commiserated on the pains of standing with great insecurity in front of twenty-four students primed to ignore us and hate writing, and try to help them move words on paper. I learned ten thousand worlds that first quarter, and most importantly, I learned that teaching should be a collaborative effort if we are to remain honest, creative, and humble with the power given us.

The second year of TA-ing involved much more experimentation, including experimentation in alienating myself from the students and behaving like a bad teacher and not caring as much as I used to. Fortunately, it also included going to teaching conferences and giving a presentation on technology in the comp classroom (I focused on audience awareness and how to utilize mixed media to help students understand the rhetorical interactions they are establishing with an imagined group of people that is hopefully much wider than just their teacher).

The third year of teaching involved a shift to a community college, where I taught two classes for two quarters. I taught Principles of Writing for the first time, which is a bridge course into college writing, and involved far more basic writing than I had seen before. I learned quickly that the very basicness of this writing is a result of several factors, among them:

1. Very poor reading comprehension. I learned to slow down in the amount of reading I gave and take more time explaining active reading. Very few people are college literate, and this realization startled the dickens out of me.

2. Nervousness. Principles tended to gather a group of students who had: shitty assessments of their writing/intellectual capabilities from previous teachers ; other languages as their primarily discourse; complicated pasts and presents that messed with their ability to concentrate on the esoterics of classroom learning; or difficulty giving too much of a crap about writing except as a means to an end.

3. Previous education: which taught many of them that language is a basic formalized shell into which they have to shove a simplistic idea. The great and grand example of this is the 5-paragraph essay, which involves broad intro, broad thesis, broad and boringly repetitive examples to support the broad thesis, and broad conclusion that repeats the broad beginning. Ug.
In other words, I started learning more clearly what I was up against, and how many of these challenges are part of the political, cultural, and in particular, class issues of our current situation in America.

Simply/simplisticly put, students from middle-class white American families tend to have their grammar down. They have not, however, been taught to think too hard about things. The higher the students are on the social totem pole, the more their education seems to have pointed them towards critical thinking and formalized analysis, which to me, translates into giving rhetorical power to the students whose families have the political power. Bad news, in other words.

The good news is that although the students below middle class did not always demonstrate solid grammar, they more frequently* demonstrated an awareness of their tenuous position in the world, which meant that they were far more ready to fight fight fight at all costs, for whatever it was that they felt like fighting for. Sometimes this was for learning and language, and sometimes it was for ignorance and rejection. This means that while primed to perceive writing as torturous grammatical puzzle that they were doomed to fail at, they were also ready to perceive communication as something with real and true import. If, as a teacher, you want your students to take up the task of speaking their voices and changing the world, this is far more important than correct grammar.

*This little asterisk was a little note to self to temper above statement. Many of the lower class students were in this position (being aware), but many had instead succumbed to religious and/or cultural manipulation and instead of being aware of their own position, were instead more than willing to spout cliché’s taken right off the Bush campaign stickers. I want to instantly defend myself here as being open to conservative perspectives as potentially more complex than Sheer Evil – to not place myself as a liberal teacher trying to sway politics within the classroom – but I cannot deny that I saw many writing patterns that left bare the political nature of learning: unwillingness to engage alternate perspectives via analysis or critical thinking was very often connected to traditional or patriotic values, and I’m not going to back down from that observation.

Anyhow, back to my background. The time at the community college also left me intrigued by college politics. I.e. Interesting just how poorly paid most of the adjuncts are (most have at least one other job), interesting just how many adjuncts there are, and interesting how unwilling the government is to support more full time positions for college teachers. Why interesting? Well, we were all spending so much time scurrying around that there was very little time left over for us to get together and keep each other honest, creative and humble in our learning practices.

Interesting. Power at the community college level strikes me as extremely random – you win some, you lose some, and few of the teachers have sufficient time to communicate with each other about pedagogies that encourage inequalities or little critical awareness.

After two quarter of this, I went down to Ecuador, where I was paid less, taught more, and learned much. Down there I taught three classes for two quarters, and broadened my teaching out into the following classes: English Structure & Grammar, and Citation Practices.

Ah yes, grammar. In other words, I had to learn far more than I really wanted to learn, but it ended up being really good for me, because I got over my fear of grammar and learned how to set up some basic learning procedures, which I will talk about below. I also learned about teaching English in a foreign country, which carried even stronger feelings of conflict for someone like myself, who wants other countries to succeed, of course, but who also feels sad to see a country morph its younger generations into English-speaking business-gurus. The purpose of language down in Ecuador was far more utilitarian than anything I had taught before; it was less about critical thinking and more about business, and that was that.

Anyhow, I want to get on to my current thoughts and observations, the reason why I am writing this right now, posting on this bloggity with little hope of it meaning anything, but why I needed to get this out there.

Rant: Power the Art Institute Way?
Here I am at an art school – once again acting out the role of a graduate student. I feel very odd shifting back into the role of student, away from the role of teacher, which is a huge part of how I have constructed my identity for what feels like a long time now. Most of the time, I think of myself as a teacher taking a break. I miss teaching, but I recognize that the “teacher” part of me did not just leave because I am not practicing it right now. It’s also got me thinking about why I feel strange about not teaching, and has lead me to realize that teaching is power.

And I feel like I have much, much less of that power right now. But here’s where we get to the frustration. Teaching – power – is the ability to effect the way human beings are looking at the world, theorizing about the world, seeing themselves in the world, and very very importantly (just look at our Government horror right now), communicating about the world. I once had a grad school teacher who told us, his students, that “if you think teaching is a political action, you are fooling yourself. Going on a march, joining the government, feeding people, etc… these are political actions. What you can do in the classroom is far less than you’ll ever believe.” But I reserve the right to disagree. Arming students – all students, regardless of political background, class, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, asshole-qualities, etc – with the power to look through language, and to utilize language, is the most political act that I’m capable of.

And so, now I feel like I’m not doing too much to help the world out here. Frustration.

However, I am now working in a Tutoring Center, which is making my mind explode explode with new thoughts.

Did I mention that I’m at an art school now? All of you who read this blog probably already know that.

One of the thing is, this school uses a credit-noncredit system. I initially saw this a miraculous wonder: teaching without the restraints of judgment. Wowsers, I thought of that as a chance to focus on what learning really is about: moving thought and knowledge and tools from generation to generation and back again. Discussing, allowing students the space to grow as they choose while utilizing knowledgeable guidance to ease that process along.

However, working in the Tutoring Center, I am seeing a different side of this. Most of the students I interact with are international students, and usually they come in because they are scared or lost or – and this is what really gets me – have been threatened with failure by their teachers. What I’m wondering right now: is the whole credit/noncredit thing allowing less discernment in process while promoting a black/white perception of the world – either you fail or you don’t fail, either you meet my demands or you don’t meet my demands? I thought a no-grade system would allow teachers to focus on process, rather than encourage temporary achievement, but it seems through my interactions with the students who come to me, that this process does not always find its way into the students' experience of themselves as learners at the Art Institute – at least with writing at the undergraduate level.

Interesting that it is the international students who bear the brunt of this. I’ve seen quite a bit of “you come to this school, this country, you should know the language” posturing, and maybe a little bit of it’s opposite: “you’re here to learn art, not so much communication.” I’m sorry, but both of these positions leave out the needs of the students. They are here, paying an extraordinary amount of money, and they happen to be a large part of the Art Institute’s financial base, but far too often they are not learning what they need to learn in terms of communicating.

They do not need to learn English because they are here, in our world, and have a moral necessity, but they do need to learn writing because it is in their interest to be able to communicate about art, their identity, and their perceptions. They need to be able to succeed in business, and to communicate with themselves and others their reasons for being here. They do not need to learn writing to pass/fail a class, but rather to learn what is within the class.

Why is it then that yesterday I saw more than one of my returning tutees with the following-type comments on their papers: “Grammar, grammar, grammar! Go to the tutoring center and get help! This paper, if you turned it in for a final grade, is a failing paper!” ????

Grammar, grammar, grammar? Who are they kidding? The papers have grammar errors, but that’s the way it’s going to be unless the students start plagiarizing, which already is a problem.

The disheartening part for me is that when I look at the papers, I’m not seeing as much grammatical error as the teachers seem to be seeing. Instead, I’m seeing inchoate ideas, stabs at analysis, attempts to integrate sources, and developing details that rarely leave the realm of abstracted confusion. But this is a starting point, and not a reason to scare young students with the assessment of “failure.” There comes a point when grammar becomes more of a teaching excuse than a teaching moment.

And who is punished for this? The students who are learning. The students who are taking risks. The students who have uprooted themselves to a place millions of miles away from safety. The students who are stuck in the mire of language acquisition, which is an incredibly difficult process that takes time, reading, and much writing. The students coming from poorer backgrounds who have much to say if they could just learn how to say it, and much to learn if they are going to help the world with their presence.

Interesting that a school full of progressive art-oriented folks who are pressing towards a postmodern pluralism and re-capturing of agency, among other visions, seems to have a regressive, highly traditional model of approaching writing, which promotes uniformity rather than experimentation and multiplicity. Is this just me?

I Backpedal: Why Teaching or TA-ing is Hard
And yet, I identify with many of these teachers or ta’s. What kind of time do they have? Should a 200-level art history teacher be responsible for mucking their way through an almost unreadable paper?

I have spent hours ranting and raving about papers. Worse than that, I have spent hours working on trying to understand a single paper, only to find myself completely exhausted and all out of coffee.

While teaching at community college, I had to establish the following rule for myself: don’t put more time into a paper than the student has put into it herself.

The problem is, as teachers and readers, we are fundamentally incapable of knowing exactly how much time and effort the student has invested, even though sometimes it looks obvious. We are also incapable of seeing exactly where the student went askew in their thinking. All this aside, it is very very hard sometimes to understand exactly what is going on in a paper, what patterns are forming, and what we should tackle in our limited time with a student.

And I’m sorry, but sending a student to the Tutoring Center is a start, but a limited start. There’s only so much tutors can do, and if we are constantly racking students over the grill with their grammar (in endeavor to get them up to their teacher’s pass standards), we are once again falling into the gully-rut of teaching students that writing is about form, and form alone.

For the majority, form is unbearably boring without content.

To go back to backpedaling: Teachers are also underpaid, underappreciated, undersupported, and overtaxxed with the power that is thrown at them. They don’t have enough time in the day, and for every paper that takes forty minutes to read instead of twenty minutes, they have just taken on twice the burden than they might have wanted to take on. In this world, grammar and form streamlines their day and makes things barely manageable, rather than “easy.”

Questions I have:
1. Are there enough forums for communication between teachers about how to deal with the teaching issues that come from being an institute with a high proportion of non-native speakers?

2. Are the teachers being asked to learn pedagogy as well as art?

3. Are the TA’s in the intro writing classes getting the training, support, and funding they need to be able to support the student’s learning process?

4. Is it a lack of funding that results in the inability to provide the support necessary?
These are not rhetorical questions on my part. I really don’t know the answers, partially because I have not been here for long enough, and partially because some communication lines seem shut down. But they are nonetheless questions that I have asked myself while working with students who are upset by the comments, or lack of comments, on their papers.

Solutions I have:
1. Open discussion of above questions
2. Administrative willingness to address above questions
As a baseline, students should not be able to move through their ESL or Writing Classes only to end up in a quagmire when they are in higher-level classes, or are ready to submit applications to grad school or jobs. Nor should they be threatened with failure because of grammar issues when their critical thinking and ability to tackle a project needs more attention.

Thoughts: 5 Things I Wish some Teachers at this School Knew about Writing

1. Grammar is important, but not in the way many people think it is.
Not teaching grammar, or noting grammar error in a student’s paper is much like refusing to describe the landscape to a foreigner asking for direction. It’s a limit on how accessible the world can become for others who do not have the knowledge that the insiders do.

Maybe there’s some sort of profound disheartenment we, the liberal intellectuals, might feel at always teaching English to all these other countries and immigrants when the vast majority of Americans know no other foreign language at all, and have hardly even lifted a finger to learn what language-acquisition actually entails for a human being (it’s hard). But nonetheless, we cannot stop teaching at our whim because we find accents charming, or grammar stifling, or vocabulary superficially incorporated. This is not our choice to make, but the choice of those who do or do not want to learn what we have to teach.

However, the biggest confusion about grammar seems to me to be seeing it as “an ends to a means,” rather than a “means to an end.”

I used to think: gone, hopefully, are the days when we stand on the top of a pulpit with a translated book of stories and learnings in hand in order to lambaste the creatures of error with the idea that they are doomed to the pit of hell. Gone are the days of hanging on a thread over the pits of an inferno and looking down into the belching lava mire below us and thinking, “bad me, very very bad me.”

However, I’m starting to wonder if people perceive grammar like it is something that flew down from the sky on the tip of a lightening rod and smote the air acrid with the threat of sizzling lexical damnation.

Um, no.

Grammar is a system. For all those writing folks who (like myself) sometimes stand on the top of our couches, waving student papers or the New York Times + grammar error: think back to the last time you worked with math. Considering the amount of English-student backpedaling I see with the idea of sciences and mathematics, I think it might be surprising to point out that language, while certainly not equivalent to, is a form of mathematics. It is a system that constructs patterns and relations and deductions and additions and complex algorithmic approximations to… abstractions. Abstractions of our world. Grammar helps language by allowing us to construct equations that initially make sense, and then to deconstruct or play with the imaginary or add 7 to 66 to 667 to 7776 to 777777 to whatever smooth articulating dance we wish to create. Grammar is not unlike: +, -, ( ), ó.

Since grammar is a semi-mathematical system, grammatical error is likewise composed of pattern. Discerning the pattern is far more important than noting that the results of the formula are skewed. Mistakes come from proofreading, and are notable simply for their lack of pattern. Mistakes are a big “whoopsy do,” whereas errors (pattern) mark out the limits of an individual’s mathematical knowledge. As teachers, if we are confused by someone’s paper, it is our job to analyze the paper and note pattern. So:
1. 3 specific comments (pattern of preposition error!) is better than 5 general comments (grammar!).

2. 1 specific comment + examples and explanation (pattern of preposition error! Prepositions are “At, In, Out, About…,” etcetera. You most frequently mix up your prepositions at the beginning of a sentence. Here is an example:…!) is better than 3 specific comments.
Doing this allows the student to begin noticing their patterns in order to systematically change their process of writing. If you note mistake instead of error, the student is left with no means of approaching writing, only a means of following up on other people’s comments.

Also, by focusing narrowly on grammar, you let students know that it is the thinking that matters, and when they get their form down, their thinking becomes clear for their readers. That is, after all, more the point of writing than form alone is.

2. If it looks like the student is BS-ing, maybe they are. But maybe they just don’t know how to use the elements of thought… on paper.
In brief, all writing is composed of two basic elements:
1. information / facts / experience / history / data / stories / etc.

2. theories about how #1 function: explanation / analysis / implications / quotes from other theorists / etc.
Putting these two basic elements together in paper format is very, very hard. Very, very hard at each and every level of writing.

Genres and forms put these elements together differently. For example: A report uses #1 almost entirely and utilizes form to establish a minimum of #2. A philosophical treatise uses #2 almost entirely and utilizes #1 when they don’t want their audience to pee their pants in fear of their brilliant #2’s. Essays are the most difficult in some ways because they use a balance of #1/#2 in ways that vary and are put together in multitudes of dimensions depending on the topic.

In general, analytical essays and/or personal essays start very heavy with #1 and move to discussion of #2 and then tend to end with an emphasis of #2, particularly implications.

As previously noted, but worthy of repetition, this is very hard to do. As a result, you will frequently see students either doing what we like to call “bs-ing,” which means over-emphasizing #2 with little attention #1, which results in broad, broad oversimplification or obfuscation. Or, they might do what we call “regurgitating information,” which means over-emphasizing #1 with little attention to #2 and results in an over-abundance of description, facts shoved together, and quotes from other people who know better.

Encouraging students to find and explore that balance is more often a stronger starting point than just thinking the student is trying to blow smoke up your a**. They might be trying to slide something by you, and sometimes it is because they are lazy, but sometimes it’s because they don’t know any better.

3. Writing gets sloppier as the student learns, not less sloppy.
Counter-intuitive, huh? But frequently true. Whenever we experiment, whenever we discard a worn-out form, whenever we take risks, whenever we re-organize… we pass through a state of entropy, and then pull things back inwards slowly. This is a glory of life. And it must be noted: things are at their most fragile when they are at a stage of emergence. Thus, the double meaning of emergency.

Frequently, this is visible in writing. As a teachers of writing, I think folks should be attuned to the ways in which students are venturing. And also attuned to the ways of and reasons for why they might not be.

Whenever I see a disaster-paper, I always ask myself: what is this person trying out that is new, and can I offer suggestions on how to play with it?

Whenever I see a rigidly formal paper with little content, I always ask myself: why is this student scared? What could I use as a carrot to encourage this student out of the shell that hems them in and limits their growth?

It’s important to note that writing is thought and learning, and as a result, will sometimes demonstrate the most amazing potentialities - or amazing weaknesses - of the brain.

4. Writing Should Always Be a Dance, even when it’s serving a utilitarian purpose.
This is just a personal belief, but I’m going to put it out there like it’s an inevitable conclusion. My reasoning for this is that people rarely excel for a long period of time at something they detest. If writing can’t take on some of the joy of play, of self-discovery, and world-discovery, then it’s hardly worth anybody’s time, is it? If you can explain to me why it would, I’ll bake you some cookies, but that would just prove my point, so you have an uphill struggle.

5. Students are much larger and more complex than what we see in classrooms
They don’t have their whole life to give their teachers or classes. What is amazing is that sometimes they give something… that is amazing. Sometimes this takes place in a writing risk, sometimes in a conversation, and sometimes in a little sweet moment: how touching it is to receive a thank-you, or a flower, or a note, or a drawing, or a cd-copy, or a visit from a student… because the learning is about them and for them, and the fact that sometimes they perceive it as something they can give back to, is beautiful. Friggin beautiful.

In plentiful acknowledgement of their givings, shouldn’t we also make room for the students who draw lines in the sand, who decide that they can only learn so much this semester, who can only progress one foot instead of five?

I think I can sometimes feel resentment written on my face when a student gives me a truly crappy work, or doesn’t revise, or ignores what I’ve painstakingly articulated. But that is their choice to make, and I just don’t think I should penalize them for denying me power.

That is, the teacher is in a unique position of power. Part of the humility and ethics of owning such power is giving it up when… well, when necessary, not always when demanded, but when we are faced with the question of our own limitations. I believe that I should never wield my power over the heads of people who need to find their own agency to make it in this world, nor do I acknowledge teachers in my own life who trespass this boundary into the complexity of my own separate and related life. Part of the responsibility of a teacher is handing our power over and saying “this is power for us to share in the world” and scraping up enough faith to believe that they, like you, will struggle to use that power to better the world and open up possibilities for everyone and not just themselves.


Are you a Reader?
If so, here ya go:

Zamel, Vivian and Ruth Spack, ed. Negotiating Academic Literacies: Teaching and Learning Across Languages and Cultures. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998.

Straub, Richard. The Practice of Response: Strategies for Commenting on Student Writing. New Jersey: Hampton Press, 2000.

Stephen, Jill and David Rosenwasser. Writing Analytically, 3rd ed. Boston: Thomson Heinle, 2003.

Rose, Mike. Lives on the Boundary. Penguin, 1990.

Sunday, November 13, 2005




Wednesday, November 09, 2005


chicago is brick and big and subway
all the prowl and moments bumped out of bags
next to you in the subway
reflections met, or spent, or met again

q: are they looking into eyes?
q: are they looking at the passing lights?
q: are the looking at you looking into eyes?
q: are they looking at you looking at passing lights?
q: does the sound of dance mean i'm at home here?

a lighter stolen and confessed
how dramatic, but i enjoyed having a little stolen second in hand

so many versions of thrive
I thrive trees in the interum thrive bags on the street
thrive, I

listen, reflection, hear

i'm allowed this passion
i'm allowed to breathe as myself as you as they as he as we

i'm allowed to love my mum, to miss
to wait for the snow and yet notwait but grow

rise the unexpected, rise the breath in bags, rise last leaf from the trees, rise brick from the street, rise words from the page, rise language shared, rise intuition and gut, rise reaction, rise the broken-fused light on the subway, rise questions, rise some answers, rise memory, rise kitty to the aquarium, rise time, rise grass and tree eye, rise screenplays without subtext, rise creatures i am afraid of and love, rise messages, rise trauma, rise hope, rise renewal and selflove, rise communing and community, rise moment, rise windows, rise hands to fall agented, rise what comes after, rise words of a wise girl, rise createdpeace, rise classroom murmors, rise beginnings, rise articulation and arbitration, rise whatever you make, rise tea in the mornings, rise facing, rise sadness, rise newmusic, rise i see you, rise

...my nose all chapped from the settingcold...
...my nose sniffling in the settingcold...
...my nose smelling new in the settingcold...

words sent spiral, you said
your words, your it's okay what feels, not always clear
to bring clarity, but alive, but you're alive, but we accept the alive
but every love miracles the color fresh

i think of family. of accepted family. of extended and accepted family.
histories fought for. gained. lost. gained.

i heard your stories, i heard the laughs of planets colliding nova

what we are here for, what we bond, what makes water or estrogen or sparkle or all the conglomerate moments of atoms who have nuetralized in past life and met back up someday sometime someway somehow some little fragmented mixture sparks

not too much makes sense, but
we like it that way
don't we?

i will accept like water into tide like rock into water like cloud into rain like what must come next
i will accept

thrive is the bestword

Saturday, November 05, 2005


happyThis is me super happy. Like, really really very happy. I have spent all day dreamy and lazy and sluffing around and writing emails and getting emails that make me laugh and/or blush and then make me laugh again. I went out last night and didn't get super-drunk just a little with two of my new friends, sb - who I think I'll refer to as DGSM sometimes because she too took yee old cupid test and is like me, but deliberate not random - and ww, who refuses to be gw and so will get the scrabble initial score of 8 instead of 6, which is probably a wise choice on her part, but which doesn't yet trump my 13. wonders. yeah. my life has been too good lately to even know how to talk about.

I got a ta-position for next semester, teaching underneath a fellow Bville-ster - we'll be in a class on Metafiction, which I've always wanted to learn more about and I'll be teaching, which I missed, and I'll be learning about teaching from another teacher, which I've also missed. Anyhow, I've been wriggling about it, and all.

And so, I went to a film from the queer film festival with sb. The films were three Korean shorts - about a half hour each. All of the films were on video and so had a shortage of color, and sometimes some really bad sound editing. The first one started with a man masturbating to a boxing match, and got much worse than that. It ended with two men having sex in their bedroom while the 7-year old daughter was in the bedroom with them - "sleeping" on a tatami mat nearby. It horrified me. The trauma. The film also had a great scene where the three characters were sitting on a bench together eating fudgecicles (dgsm pointed out to me that popsicles of some sort figured into all three films, a fact that I apparently wanted to leave buried in my subconscious). After the answer from one man that "he was happy in his marriage," the other man swallowed his whole fudgesicle and then jumped up and started to break-dance for the next few minutes (moonwalk and all). Yeah. The subtitles on that one looked like they needed a little help from ol' moi and sb from the learning center. The other two fortunately engaged in more psychological interpretations of queerdom. Better, much better.

And then sushi afterwards, followed by and including good conversation and beers and ww joining. and then afterwards driving home, listening to music. ww thought maybe I was drunk when she dropped me off and so waited until I got inside (ahhhh) and then called to make sure I hadn't fallen down the stairs, only to chastise me since I had slipped out of the house the second she left and went for a walk with all the light wind and leaves blowing. The trees here are almost bare and the gutters are mulching. I woke up this morning to see papers and bags strewn all over the streets - must've been a strong wind - but last night, the evening just walking around my home my neighborhood my place in this world, chatting with w-squared, who's an actress, fancy that - not being shy in front of a camera - and then falling falling to sleep.

lot's and lot's of buddies and friends and co-writers and co-artists and funny peoples and brave peoples and glow.

You know what? Sometimes things just come together.