Friday, December 05, 2008


i like these cold, overcast days in houston that follow thanksgiving because i know it means that, soon, the stacks of grading that have piled to the ceiling will, with steady toil, diminish in size, and i will eventually be hitting the "submit" button on my grade sheets (only to realize i have two or three days to get ready to head back to the northeast and i haven't done a thing to prepare). it's true that i have been a bit overwhelmed the past week by the sheer institutionality of my place of employment -- the weird, pepto-bismal pink walls on the tenth floor where i have my office, the beige metal desks, the smell of dry erase markers, and, always, the looming jailhouse just across the bayou.

this happens at the end of the semester, when the hundred and twenty students i've been working with from all four classes (from the student who, without irony, compared zora neale hurston to sarah palin to the one who told me, also without irony, that my class was tedious) have finally sapped me, when i just cannot take any more committee meetings, and when the antics of my coworkers seem less colorful or charming and more like a sign of the sheer insanity. do you experience this? institutional architecture and infrastructure just seem so much more . . . pronounced, vivid, articulated, material, stark, concrete, solid . . . thing-like.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

after mortification, the giggles

upon recently discovering that the neighbors have heard every god-awful note of my top-of-my-lungs singing of anything from bjork to yaz in the shower every single morning for the past three months, i resolve to continue.

Monday, October 27, 2008

protected only by the kindness of your nature

the secret is that sometimes i miss my sisters with all of my heart and i wonder what it would be like if i still lived nearby if i had not moved so many many years ago all the way down to texas to do this thing with my life about which of course i have no regrets but now that one of them my younger sister is pregnant and i mean really pregnant i feel the press of time more than usual i feel it sliding through the day the time that is not spent in her company like how i loved it when two of my houston friends got pregnant around the same time and i'd walk with them and smile it's what i want to do go for a walk with my sisters you'd think that with time one would become used to the distance and find closeness in spite of distance it is true that one certainly does but it is not a permanent state of being for all time the ache of missing comes back and i have to live with it these days i imagine a map of the u.s. by the gulf coast and picture little me just me so tiny walking down indiana street to la guadalupana for tres leches after dinner in my pajamas the sky carrot and gold the breeze just a little cool against my skin neighbors kids playing soccer in the yard the men outside the quik time food mart drinking cans of beer and then i think my sister is doing ? and i zoom out and think subway? cafe? apartment? cab? where is she now? so pregnant in her red and black stretch clothes i think cell phone email facebook blogosphere i just want to see my sisters both of them in the flesh i want to do that thing where we hug each other all three of us at once i have that antony and the johnsons song stuck in my head 'you are my sister' how does it go? you are my sister/and i love you//may all of your dreams come true.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

creature comforts

i'm sitting on the futon with the lights out, listening to the cicadas, thinking back over the past two weeks, from preparation for the hurricane to panic to hunkering down to nausea and exhaustion to adjustment and now, seemingly, back to normal, what with the return of the electricity late yesterday. i feel funny whenever i hear folks get really really riled up about the power loss, especially when said folks have a lot of good in their lives, because, while the loss of power was very annoying and a bit bewildering -- eleven days without it shook our sense of time -- things are actually pretty much okay for everyone i know who weathered IKE in the city, and those nearer to the coast really got slammed. last night, the buzz of air conditioners filled the air much like the cicadas, and i wondered why. it was a rather pleasant evening -- perhaps to make up for lost time? i was saddened when our twenty-something neighbor reported to us, after day number 3 without power, that she wanted to get a generator because she was bored and wanted to watch TV.

we've been lighting candles, reading, playing a lot of scrabble, visiting friends with power to do laundry and eat dinner. we went for walks, sat outside, rode bikes. i had long, spontaneous, and much needed conversations with people i consider to be closest to me. the yoga studio where i study was open, so i took a couple of extra classes to keep myself limber. still, i took a lot of naps last week -- i am unsure if it was the weather or the sheer exhaustion of disaster-area living that wiped me out.

classes resumed this week, and many of my students are in bad situations. some lost everything. others are just as bewildered and tired as the rest of us.

i think the news about the economy (which seemed so distant until about two days ago, since all i could find to listen to on the battery-powered radio were hurricane-related reports) has further freaked everyone out. that, and since no one -- and i mean NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON -- i know would even THINK about voting for mccain and palin in november, i've grown increasingly alarmed by reports of their political support. how could two people who so many of us find absolutely terrifying gain the support of our fellow citizens?

i have no way to wrap this up. except for maybe these two things:

1) since, after the hurricane, the weather has been coolest in the early mornings, i took to stepping outside to sit on the stoop out back to eat my cereal and yogurt. the first morning, i noticed what i thought was a locust buzzing around. upon further inspection, i realized a gorgeous hummingbird was flitting in perfect geometric patterns, quietly sipping nectar from the strawberry-colored flowers that bloom on a vine on the neighbor's fence.

2) similarly, one afternoon, a baby lizard (of which there are hundreds living under the house) about thiiiiiiisssss big wandered inside the house and lept up on a photograph H has of a pair of broken glasses. i was in the bedroom, cooling off with a glass of lemon-water and re-reading james baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, when H brought him in and gently placed the little guy and the photo next to me on the bedside table before heading off to work. the lizard sat perfectly still on the photograph for about twenty minutes when, suddenly, he cocked his head, spied a drop of water splashed from the glass, and, in one unbelievably graceful movement, leapt, bowed his head to the droplet, drank until it was gone, and looked back up, regally. after a moment, i very carefully coaxed him back onto the photograph, took him out back, and scooted him onto a long blade of grass. i watched him until he jumped and darted under the house.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

list (for ike)

fill containers with water

move plants and recycling inside

secure trashcans in garage

scrub bathtub and fill with water

make ice to fill a cooler

roast red potatoes, beets, and tofu

rent movies

check flashlights

charge phone

charge laptop

call friends

hunker down

Saturday, September 06, 2008

object lessons

the first two weeks of my first-year writing courses, i ask my students to summarize and respond to a few short articles on the atrocious conditions inside our local county jail. i read these pieces and pluck from them choice sentences that exemplify some of the most common grammatical mistakes first-year students make: subject/verb agreement, no apostrophe "s" to signify possessive, incorrect verb tense, misspellings, article choice, sentence fragments, run-ons, and colloquialisms, mostly. (yes, i know it might be surprising to some that a first-year college student -- one who has already passed the first part of the two-part writing sequence -- will make these mistakes, but it is true.) these sentences become an object lesson in grammar, and it gets a rise out of the students because they will more often than not find their own among those needing revision.

checking out one of the examples of colloquial writing on the page, a plucky young woman claimed "you can tell this sentence was written by a man. look at it!" the sentence in question began with "matter of fact" and continued in a very conversational way, including a "just sayin is all" near the end. i happened to know that, in fact, a woman wrote the sentence, so i asked the student who assumed the author's gender why she believed this. "you can just TELL!" she said, and read the sentence aloud in what most of us what call "a man's voice" and we all had a good laugh. when i told her it was written by a woman, many of the students did not believe me.

later, during the same class but after the grammar lesson was over, i was reviewing the short book i'm having students read this semester that has a chapter on gender and incarceration. "what's gender?" i asked, knowing exactly where the conversation would go. one student replied, "like if you're a man or a woman." not exactly, i countered, and began to outline the way that some theorists conceptualize the sex/gender binary, and briefly glossed the biological, medical, cultural, and social ways that these two terms function in the US, at least in the contemporary moment. i said "penis" and "labia" and "estrogen" and "vas deferens" and "ovaries" and "testicles" and "clitoral hood" much to the amusement of the students (students seem to love any direct reference to the body and its functions -- probably because they don't usually think of them as having any intellectual substance, so to speak), and then made a case for gender as a more socially mediated category (although we all might know that "sex" is just as discursive as "gender," but i am trying to introduce them to the subject, so we were only going this far) available to us through the slippery variations of masculinities and femininities. they seemed to get it, but still some puzzled looks.

i returned to the comment about the sentence that my student believed was written by a man (but that wasn't). "you wouldn't call the sentence 'male,' right?" i said, continuing, "it would be more accurate to describe it as masculine -- it's not like the sentence has a penis hanging off the end of it," i concluded, much to the great delight of my students, who seemed to fully grasp [grasp!?] the concept. thinking i had really knocked it out of the park, i turned to erase the board, and behind me the voice of a young man quipped, loudly, "yeah, but you have to admit -- that sentence DO have its period."

it's rare that i am so tickled by a student's joke that i laugh to the point of no return, but this unexpected, smart, hilarious joke sent me over the edge. i laughed so hard i had to sit down and pound my fist on the desk.

best. grammar. gender. pun. ever!!

Friday, August 29, 2008

start up

if i opened a hair salon called MULLET, would you come in for a cut?