Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Now




DEAR MR. EGGLESTON by Greg Bottoms

"I bet you take photographs—of a light bulb in a red ceiling, a dinner table just before people sit down to eat, an old man sitting on a bed . . . . To say This is, this right here is absolutely real in space and time, irreducible and ineluctable, and I witnessed it and I captured it; I lived deeply inside of this particular now.

And when I hold your photograph, as I am doing now, I’m looking at our car in the Sears parking lot in 1976, and time has collapsed, there is no now and then, only this transitive, shifting place of memory, and life and representation and what it can mean get mixed up, and everything is a little more real than real, and you’re helping me to hold my dead father’s hand, and I’m holding it tightly, holding it now, and he’s just let one rip, and it still hangs in the air in sound and smell, and our moment of heightened awareness crumbles into laughing, laughing until tears come, and this laughing, because of a fart, is the purest expression of our love I know, captured, transformed, transferred through time, sparked into a memory, and re-imagined into new life. I was there. You made a photograph. And I was there again. What magic is worth believing in if not that, Mr. Eggleston?"

[Cover of William Eggleston's book 2 1/2. "Born and raised in Mississippi and Tennessee, William Eggleston began taking pictures during the 1960s after seeing Henri Cartier-Bresson's The Decisive Moment. In 1966 he changed from black and white to color film, perhaps to make the medium more his own and less that of his esteemed predecessors. John Sarkowski, when he was curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, called Eggleston the "first color photographer," and certainly the world in which we consider a color photograph as art has changed because of Eggleston."]

Two of my favorites


From the Symphony of Science series (sorry about the stupid ad):





Wish I could tattoo this on my forehead

“One thing those of you who had secure or happy childhoods should understand about those of us who did not: we who control our feelings, who avoid conflicts at all costs or seem to seek them, who are hyper-sensitive, self-critical, compulsive, workaholic, and above all survivors – we’re not that way from perversity, and cannot just relax and let it go. We’ve learned to cope in ways you never had to,” – Piers Anthony.

Monday, February 18, 2013

This stuff makes me nuts


I did, in fact, like the movie Lincoln very much. I'm not a historian - I don't think I could qualify even as an "amateur historian," but I have been finding reading and listening to American history the past few years both exciting and rewarding. It started with Battle Cry of Freedom and the Civil War remains the part of our history that I keep returning to - it still seems to me the time that defines us. So I was a little sad to think of all of the important parts of the story that got left out, but the thing about movies is that they are very limited. Limited time means limits on what can be shown. But seriously, wtf? Is there any reason at all to actually falsify the historical record when that record is unambiguous?
Joe Courtney, a Democratic congressman from Connecticut, recently wrote to Steven Spielberg to complain that “Lincoln” falsely showed two of Connecticut’s House members voting “Nay” against the 13th Amendment for the abolition of slavery . . .

Courtney is pushing for Spielberg to acknowledge the falsity in the DVD, a quest that takes on more urgency now that Spielberg has agreed to provide a DVD to every middle and high school that requests it.

Tony Kushner . . . completely rejects the idea that he has defamed Connecticut, or the real lawmakers who voted “Aye.” He said that in historical movies, as opposed to history books where you go for “a blow-by-blow account,” it is completely acceptable to “manipulate a small detail in the service of a greater historical truth. History doesn’t always organize itself according to the rules of drama. It’s ridiculous . . .

Spielberg’s production people called the National Archives in 2011 to get a copy of the original voting roll and to plumb deeply into the details of the vote on one of America’s most searing moral battles, even asking whether the vote was recorded in a bound volume or on loose ledger forms. That roll shows that the first two votes cast were “Nays” by Democratic congressmen from Illinois, Lincoln’s own state. Wasn’t that enough to show the tension? . . .

Harold Holzer, a Lincoln historian attached to the film, pointed out the mistake to Spielberg and Kushner . . . But Kushner said the director left the scene unchanged because it gave the audience “place holders,” and it was “a rhythmic device” that was easier to follow than “a sea of names.” They gave fake names to the Connecticut legislators, who were, he said, “not significant players.”

Yet The Wall Street Journal noted, “The actual Connecticut representatives at the time braved political attacks and personal hardships to support the 13th Amendment.” One, the New London Republican Augustus Brandegee, was a respected abolitionist and a friend of Lincoln. The other, the New Haven Democrat James English, considered slavery “a monstrous injustice” and left his ill wife to vote. When he said “Aye,” applause began and the tide turned . . . .

I think Spielberg should refilm the scene or dub in “Illinois” for “Connecticut” before he sends out his DVDs and leaves students everywhere thinking the Nutmeg State is nutty.

Kushner says that won’t happen, because this is a “made-up issue” and a matter of “principle.” But as Congressman Courtney notes: “It was Lincoln who said. ‘Truth is generally the best vindication against slander.’ ”
The part that makes me nuts is, why do we teach our children lies about American history? Why do we teach our children lies about anything, actually? I'm a strong believer that children, depending on their age, are better off with some things simply not discussed until they are older, but flat out lying to them? Nope. A parent commenting on this column said it best,
My son started junior high in the autumn of 1999. For the first time, he studied history in some depth. He'd long had a keen interest in history. In the Spring of 2000, he asked, "Were New Englanders in history really so heroic?

The momentous Vermont Civil Unions debate was unfolding. Rutland Herald was one of the few newspapers on-line at the time. My son liked going to my office when I taught night classes, complete his homework, and surf the web. I showed him the Rutland Herald, told him to watch the story develop, think about the risks pro-vote legislators took, and they'd answer his question for him. Three times a week we talked about it on the drive home. Then the bill passed and Gov. Dean signed it.

He also knew about the threat of the mob to democracy and read how Terry Randall's attempt at mob bullying was thwarted when the Vermont hearings limited testimony to Vermont residents. My son talked about the threats to vote out of office those who voted yes.

In November of 2000, after the Bush theater, I looked up how many Vermont legislators lost their seats. It was 30+. After my son read that, I asked if he understood why New Englanders are considered heroic. He said it was like watching the courage in the Revolutionary War time.

That's what Spielberg and Kushner are stealing with their lazy dishonesty - the courage of a region's culture and the real courage of two Americans - and stealing from each child's parents the lesson that honesty is a foremost value. - Liam Jumper, South Carolina

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The best Superbowl ad ever

I loved this one so much that the year it ran I brought the videotape (!) of the game to school and showed it to all my classes. More than once. The repeats were by popular demand.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Anita





April 28, 1964

Jackie,

To increase the sentimental value of this card, I hereby discourse –

My poet friend, my goodest buddy – I hope that our friendship will never cease to exist, or that the ideals, "opinions," and beliefs that we now share may never falter, and allow us to become prudes.

for posterity, may we always retain our love for God in beauty.

Anita Anderson

on the occasion of receiving these holy cards from Chicago!

Hiccups, LSD, migraines

When I was little my grandmother taught me how to get rid of the hiccups. You hold your breath and say (silently, in your head, because you're holding your breath) "Hiccups, stickups, straightups. Nine sips of water will cure my hiccups." Then, still holding that same breath, you take nine separate sips of water. The separate thing is key, You can't just go glugglugglugglugglugglugglugglugglugglug. You have to sip, move the glass away from your mouth, swallow, then sip, etc. Always worked for me.

Good.

But sometime after I got grown I learned another trick. I learned how to feel that first little spasm of the diaphragm, that beginning of something deep in my throat right before the first hiccup. And then, that if I did something I can't really describe with breathing and swallowing just so, that the first hiccup never happened. Hiccup program aborted.

Better.

When I was a teenager, I started getting killer migraines. I mean the throwing up, beat your head against the cinder block walls because then the pain on the outside of your head will distract you from the pain on the inside of your head, which is worse, type migraines. There was nothing to be done except curl up into a fetal position in a bed in a dark room and wait it out. Which, of course, seemed to take eons.

So I spent a lot of time like that. Being very still in the dark, thinking about pain, while experiencing pain. And I found, eventually, that when I stopped fighting the pain, raging at the pain, and instead said to the pain, okay Pain, do your worst. I'm just going to fucking feel you, pain. I'm going to go where you are, all the way there, and feel the most pain I can. And if I really concentrated, if I totally immersed myself in pain . . . the pain was . . . suspended. Out there somewhere. I didn't really feel it any more. If my attention wandered, the pain slammed back. But as long as I could hold the focus, no pain. My goal became to hold that focus long enough to fall asleep, which worked, most of the time, once I figured out how to do it.

Dealing with depression was, for a long time, for me, about something outside of myself. Bad things are happening to me. Have happened to me. Life sucks. Lately I've been having better luck dealing with it by thinking of it as something like - someone slipped some LSD into my iced tea when I wasn't looking. And continues to do that at random, totally unpredictable intervals. When they do it seems to have no relation to what is actually happening in my life. It just happens for no apparent reason.

In my misspent youth when I did actual LSD, I spent most of those trips fascinated by how "reality" was changed by the introduction of a very small amount of a chemical into my brain. Because up until then, I had assumed that what I saw, heard, felt, etc was in fact, reality. LSD made it freakingly obvious that what I was calling reality was in fact my perception of reality. How my brain processed certain stimuli. And apply a little chemical to the neurons and my brain processed those stimuli in a different way. As the chemical slowly found its way to my brain and gradually started altering how I saw the world around me, when I was "coming on" as we used to say, as my awareness moved from sober to so stoned I couldn't talk or move (although sometimes I could laugh non-stop into total exhaustion) - that transition was the most interesting part. I thought.

Now if someone did, in fact, put some LSD in my tea without me knowing it, and if I'd never had the experience of a psychedelic drug, I could imagine that it would scare the crap out of me. To have the world gradually get very bizarre for no apparent reason. It would be hard to understand that the world hadn't actually changed, that I had changed. My brain had changed.

Winter


It was looking like we weren't going to have winter this year. I harvested my last tomatoes in mid-December before the first frost, more than a month after it should have come. No winter to speak of last year.

D.C. was cold. The temperatures were mostly in the 40's, at least one day in the 30's. Which wouldn't have been so bad except for the wind. Relentless wind. And rain - and cold, and wind - one day. Bundle up. Coat, scarf, hat, gloves. Brace yourself as you walk out the door. Walk quickly.


Since we got back, there has been winter, at least as Texans define it. This morning the sun rose into a sky so clear, so blue. The sunlight dazzled, the thin frost on the planks of the porch sparkling like glitter.


As much as I complain about how much I hate being cold - and I do - there's something I love about winter. I should say that I've never suffered through a real winter. I'm sure I would purely hate the endlessness of bone deep cold and wind and snow that piles up and just stays, lumpy and dirty, for days or weeks. I don't want to even think about having to spend an entire winter in Chicago or Ottawa.

But Texas winter, Pacific Northwest winter, that is something I can appreciate. When I lived out in the woods near Snohomish, Washington, my roommate and I lived in a vacation cabin with electric heat. Electricity was expensive, wood was cheap, so we bought a cord of wood so we could use the fireplace to stay warm. Melody told the guy we bought the wood from not to split it because she thought splitting wood would be "fun." Then she went back to Louisiana.

Where the cabin was

Every day I split wood. Probably not the way you're supposed to split wood. I'd balance the log on its end by smashing it into a puddle with a layer of ice on top of it. The ice and the mud would hold it upright while I swung the axe from overhead down onto it with a satisfying crash.

Every day I had a reason why I had to be outdoors, doing something, no matter how much I hate being cold. When I look back at those few months in the northwest woods, being outdoors in the cold, frozen puddles, sometimes an inch or two of snow, splitting wood under the towering Douglas firs are some of my best memories.

A few years later I was outside in the Texas hill country's winter cold, smashing wooden motorcycle crates apart for my wood stove. A golden field of winter's dead grasses stretching to the line of dark green cedars along the creekbed.

In recent years it's been dog walking that got me outside in the winter on a regular basis. It's always good to have a reason why I have to go out in the winter. Because I really do hate being cold, and I won't leave the warmth of indoors if I don't have to.


And if I don't go outside in the winter, there's so much I wouldn't see. The light is different in the winter. Sparkling crisp light like this morning's, or grey gloom other days, but always different from the light at any other time of year. Trees' bare limbs. Piles of brown leaves filling gardens. Squirrels and birds so easy to see in the leafless trees.

It's beauty I'd miss.


I love this movie. This scene . . . it's so hard to be so honest. It's hard to say something like this out loud for fear of being thought pretentious and sentimental. But we think these things, yes? The beauty of a plastic bag dancing in the wind  ". . . when it's minute away from snowing . . . ."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bo

Sweet.

He was more than anything a sweetheart.


He loved to meet other dogs on our walks, and if one got aggressive he'd defend himself, but I never heard him growl threateningly at any other being, not another dog, not a cat, not a human.

He was great for teaching the kids in the neighborhood how to pet a dog. "Oh look! A doggy! Can I pet him?" They'd come rushing up. I'd stop them. "Let me show you how to pet a dog . . . . don't run up behind him, come around to where he can see you coming. Don't run at him. Be sure the owner says it's okay. Now put your hand out and let him smell it. Now you can pet him." Bo stood patiently. The kids would beam, proud of their new dog-petting skill, as they petted him. The next time they saw us, they'd say, "Miss! Watch! I remember how!" And they'd show off for their friends, "This is how you pet a dog."


On Halloween, he helped me with the trick-or-treaters, letting me know they were coming up the walk before the doorbell rang. As I admired costumes and distributed candy, he was out on the porch collecting pets and attention. He had a great time.

I resisted adopting him at first. My daughter rescued him and his sister Mali, and when she tried to convince me I should take him, I stupidly listened to friends who said, "Don't let her talk you into taking that dog. You already have a dog, and cats. You don't need another pet." But I rediscovered my spine, quit listening to other people's opinions and he became my dog.

One of my friends who was absolutely adamant that I shouldn't adopt him was Melanie. I have no idea why she objected. She had always had dogs herself and was a huge animal lover, rescuing and fostering all kinds of needy pets over the years. I think she was convinced that my daughter had me wrapped around her little finger and that I needed to occasionally stand up to her just on principle.


Soon after I got him, I took him over to her house, which pissed her off. He was six months old at the time. "He'll chase my cats. Is he housebroken?" I told her not to worry, he could stay in her backyard while we visited. "He'll whine and bark and scratch at the door. I'm not in the mood to deal with a puppy." She was battling cancer, and was not having a particularly good day.

Bo sat on her patio just outside the sliding glass doors for two hours, content. Never scratched, barked, whined, or chased any cats. Just seemed to be enjoying the day, patiently waiting for me to come get him and take him for another ride in the car. By the time I left, she grudgingly admitted that maybe I was right to take him, that he really was the good dog I'd been telling her about. That my daughter was right. I needed this dog. He needed me.

I always called him "the doggiest dog." "The essence of dog." A very handsome boy.


He was never any trouble. His housebreaking never failed. He always came when he was called. Never chewed or damaged anything. He was never sick.

He chased my cat Penny full tilt across the yard and then skidded to a halt when she reached the porch, sat down, and turned to look at him like "Ha! Beat you!" Barked at squirrels and the possum who lives under the porch and who sometimes tries to steal a tomato. Danced and bucked like a pony with excitement when I got the pet foods out. Danced even more and squealed with even more excitement when I got out the shoes that meant we were going for a walk.


He loved the greenbelt and running free there.



He was usually right behind me when I went out to the backyard, but not always. Except when I headed out the door with a laundry basket. Then he had to go with me, every time. I never understood why he thought I always needed his help to hang clothes on the line, or to take them down. Some things will be forever a mystery, I suppose.


He had a great time when the new siding was being put up. The gate stayed open while they worked so he could roam freely from back yard to front yard, which he seemed to find a special bonus, supervising the work. I always let him out when I heard them drive up and he made them smile, being greeted by "such a good dog he is!" at the beginning of their work day. And of course, Dana always had a doggie treat in her pocket for him.


He was my dog, and I was his human, for nine years. My faithful canine companion. I don't know how many times I told my daughter. "Thank you for talking me into taking Bo. He is the best dog."

The doggiest dog. The essence of dog.

It's hard to head to bed and not hear his patter up the stairs behind me. It's hard even to walk out my door to leave the house without going to pet him, telling him, "Be a good doggie. Guard the house. Take care of the kitties." How do you take a walk by yourself? Or hang laundry? Who will defend the tomatoes from the possum?

Saying goodbye to Bo

Bo had a lot of fun helping with the trick or treaters at Halloween. But after the kids had stopped coming and the porch light got turned off, he didn't want his supper. Very uncharacteristic, but then sometimes dogs go off their food for a day or so.

It was a little worrisome, because at treat time, he came into the kitchen but had trouble sitting up. His feet kept sliding out from under him. And he looked at the treat, but didn't want it.

After about 36 hours of no food and lethargy, I was about to take him to the vet, but all of a sudden he seemed his old self. Hungry, energetic. Anxious to go for a walk. Oh well, I thought, one of those GI viruses that lasts a day or two, I guess.

But over the next two weeks, there were a couple of more refusals to eat. More worry. Whatever this is, it's not entirely gone. . . .

Last Wednesday, he didn't want breakfast and he seemed weak again. Wobbly. I called the vet and made an appointment at the first time they had open. I left to teach my class and got home in time to take him to the vet.

When I came in the kitchen from the garage, he didn't come to greet me as he always did. "Bo?" I called. He came into the kitchen, but couldn't sit up. He collapsed onto the floor. I sat and petted him. "Poor baby. I sure hope the vet can fix you right up." After a few minutes, he went back to the couch and managed to get back up on it.

When it was time to leave for the vet, I got out the leash - a sure sign a walk is imminent in Bo's world - and he seemed excited and happy for a minute. He tried to leap off of the couch in his usual way, but slid and collapsed on the floor. I attached the leash and he struggled to his feet, headed for the door - "Going for a walk!" - but stumbled over the threshold, stumbled again over the small step down to the sidewalk and collapsed onto the grass. He was panting and seemed exhausted.

I picked him up to carry him to the car and then realized I had to put him down to open the car door. He lay on the concrete with his legs outstretched completely immobile. I got him into the car with some difficulty. He was heavy and couldn't help me at all.

At the vet's one of the techs carried him in while I filled out paperwork. Finally the vet came to talk to me. "His gums are so pale, I think he's bleeding internally. In Labs, and a few other breeds, in a dog his age . . . the usual reason for that is cancer of the spleen. Especially given what you told me about how he'd get better then worse again. That's how splenic cancer goes. It causes bleeding from the spleen, they feel bad, then it clots and the blood is reabsorbed and they feel better until the bleeding starts again. I'll do some X-rays and blood tests, but you should know . . . ."

She brought in the X-rays and the printout from the blood work. His RBC count, hemoglobin, etc were all less than half of what they should have been. His spleen on the X-ray was huge. There was no doubt.

"I can do surgery and remove his spleen. It's major surgery but we can do that if that's what you want to do. Generally, when you remove the spleen, the dog can live for about six more months."

No. Nope. No way. I've had major surgery. It hurts like hell. Even for a human with pain meds and when you know why this is happening to you and that it's worth it, it sucks. No way I'm putting the-best-dog-in-the-world through that. Pain and misery and nausea and me leaving him. Leaving him in the vet hospital, or as one fellow dog-lover described it from the dogs point of view, "the bright lights, fear-smelling, stick you with needles place."

No. Just no. For what? Six months? Six months of . . . ? It will be just as hard, just as "too soon" then as it is now. And in the meantime, pain and misery for Bo.

I sat trying to absorb what she was telling me. Just a few weeks ago, I said to my daughter, "When people ask me how old Bo is, I always say, "He's seven," but it occurs to me that I've been saying that for a long time now. How old are Bo and Mali really?" "They're nine," she said. And there was a little pang. Nine. Damn. That's getting old for a big dog. We don't have that much time left, Bo and I.

But I thought we had a few more years.

I suddenly realized - "I can't even take him home, can I?" I asked the vet. She said, "Of course you can. But you'll have to carry him when you get him home."

I thought of him stumbling and lurching off of the porch step and collapsing in the yard. No. No more of that for Bo.

And so, as they say, I had him "put to sleep." Some people resist that euphemism, as if it's weak or dishonest to put it that way. But really, that's what happens.

I called my daughter and she came to say goodbye. While we waited for her, we sat on a blanket on the floor, Bo and I. I petted him and stroked his ears. He had the softest ears I've ever felt on a dog and he loved to have them gently tugged and stroked. He leaned on my leg, the way dogs often do when they feel insecure or worried, but this time he had to lean on me lying down.

When my daughter got there, he lifted his head a little. He seemed tired and weak and like he just plain didn't feel good, but he seemed glad to see her, to enjoy the petting and attention anyway.

Finally, I called the vet in. She injected a sedative and he went to sleep as I stroked him. Then the other drug. Nothing seemed to happen. He still seemed the same, asleep. I asked her, "He's gone, isn't he?" She leaned over him with her stethoscope and then nodded.

I petted him a few more times, kissed the top of his head. "Bye, Bo, best dog in the world. I was so lucky to have you."

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Friday, September 28, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why I love teaching at a community college

Because students like this show up in my classroom. Sadly, I can't embed the video. But just as well - if you click through to Gizmondo, you get a really nifty Q & A as well as the video. OK, ready? Click!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

This explains a lot

. . . about, well, a lot.

http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/how_it_works.png

Determined

Last night I ran into a neighbor who mentioned that her husband is taking Calculus II this summer, and only that one class because calculus is hard, you know. I said, I know, I took it in summer school too, and only that one class so I could focus on just that. Because it was hard.

Which reminded me of a student who completely amazed me one summer. She worked for Dell and Dell was paying her tuition, but only if she got her degree within a certain time frame - I think that's how it went, why she was doing this. Anyway, she was going to St. Ed's working on a bachelor's in business and needed to graduate at the end of the summer.

Now if you haven't done summer school in college, this is the deal. You take a class that usually lasts four and a half months and cram it into 6 weeks. Full time students generally take five or six classes during the Fall or Spring semester, but you're not allowed to take more than two at a time in summer school. There's two six week sessions, so you can do four classes in a summer. I did it several times and I liked the intensity of it. For one summer, eat, sleep, go to class, study, and that's all.  I could do it because I had no job, no kids, all I had to do was school.

Anyway, this student needed eight classes to finish her degree. So she was taking 4 classes - two at St. Ed's, two at ACC - during the first six week session. And then 4 more - two at St. Ed's, two at ACC - during the second six week session. Oh, and there's no break between the two sessions. This summer, for example, the first session ends Friday July 6 and the second session begins Monday July 9.

She was a divorced single mom with three kids.

And a full time job at Dell.

She packed a suitcase for each of the three kids and delivered them to her ex-husband. "They're yours for the summer. I have to finish school. Love you, kids! I'll visit when I can."

There was still the full-time job.

She passed all her courses, got her degree that summer. She made a B in my class. I could tell from her work that she was usually an A student, but I thought a B was damn good, considering. [published on 5/21/12]

Teddy

Once upon a time in the dead of winter in the Dakota Territory, Theodore Roosevelt took off in a makeshift boat down the Little Missouri River in pursuit of a couple of thieves who had stolen his prized rowboat. After several days on the river, he caught up and got the draw on them with his trusty Winchester, at which point they surrendered. Then Roosevelt set off in a borrowed wagon to haul the thieves cross-country to justice. They headed across the snow-covered wastes of the Badlands to the railhead at Dickinson, and Roosevelt walked the whole way, the entire 40 miles. It was an astonishing feat, what might be called a defining moment in Roosevelt’s eventful life. But what makes it especially memorable is that during that time, he managed to read all of Anna Karenina. I often think of that when I hear people say they haven’t time to read. ― David McCullough


via [published on 5/21/12]