29 January 2006

Yikes, I've been tagged by Scrapgeek!
Here’s my “penalty” for being tagged. LOL

Four jobs you’ve had in your life:
Dog Walker
Navy parachute rigger
Technical writer

Four movies you would watch over and over:
Well movies I HAVE watched over and over are:
The Birds
Smoke (indy film with a great cast: William Hurt, Harvey Keitel, Forest Whitaker, Stockard Channing, Ashley Judd)
The Tingler (kitschy 1950s Vincent Price horror flick)

Four places you have lived:
Southern California
South Carolina

Four TV shows you love to watch:
Commander in Chief
Boston Legal
Family Guy
The Sopranos

Four places you have been on vacation:
Nova Scotia
Rosarita Beach, Mexico

Four websites you visit daily:
(Arts & Letters Daily—highly recommended)

Four of your favorite foods:
A good outdoor-grilled hamburger
Mexican food
Did I mention shrimp?

Four places you would rather be right now:
A tropical beach drinking a glass of cold white wine
In Juneau, AK with my brother and his family
Kayaking on a broad, slow river
At the movies

Four bloggers you are tagging:
Hmm - do I know 4 bloggers to tag?


(Hope you guys don't mind.:))
OK, so that's only two. Deal with it.

28 January 2006

Chocolate Shadow

Cocoa is currently our only son. And I use the term "our" loosely, since he's mainly my dog. In the spring of 2000, we went to a friend's house for a Memorial Day party, and found a young chocolate lab tied to a tree in the front yard when we arrived. Mr.Y and I both love dogs, so of course we went over to meet this young lad immediately. He was fairly calm for a young male dog, and extremely friendly. Eventually Mr. Friend came out and told us his sad story: two young women had been taking the dog to the animal shelter because they had unwisely taken him into their home when they already had two adult rottweilers, who mercilessly beat up this poor chocolate guy pretty much every day--ahh, so that was the source of the spots on his head and neck where the hair was missing! Anyway, when our friend heard this tale, and recognized a good dog when he saw one, he said "I'll take him!" Unfortunately, when he got home, Mrs. Friend said, "No, you won't!" Did I mention that this is a couple who lives half the year in Florida and the other half the year in North Carolina, where they run a little lodge with rental cabins for tourists? Not the ideal kind of life to share with a big dog.

So of course when Mr. Friend had the law laid down for him, he thought of his buddies, good ol' Mr. and Mrs. Y, who just love dogs. I left the decision up to Mr.Y, because we already had one dog, who was mainly my responsibility and I didn't think I wanted to have to walk two dogs, bathe two dogs, take two dogs for vet visits, referee between two dogs (I was sure Solita, our chow/lab mix, wouldn't be crazy about Mr. ChocolateLab, and I was right). Not to bore you with the details of the day, Mr. Y finally decided, and we took Cocoa--don't blame ME for the inane name--home with us that very night.

Long story short: I did indeed end up walking two dogs, bathing two dogs, etc. etc. etc. And Solita did indeed hate his guts, and it was only through the most diligent supervision that I taught her to get along with him at all. To her dying day (we lost her in 2002, but she had a good, full, long life), she had little use for Cocoa and always made it her business to get between him and me when she could.

But, Solita notwithstanding, Cocoa has been my loyal companion since the evening we brought him home. The original intent was that he would be more Mr.Y's dog than mine, but it was not to be. He barely makes a move without me, and only recently, since Mr.Y retired and is at home more of the time, has Coke consented to take occasional walks with him.

When I was a child, my version of the imaginary friend was a large, white dog whom I called White Shadow. (If you're old enough to remember the old "Mickey Mouse Club" on TV, you might remember the original White Shadow, a white German Shepherd who belonged to one of the girls on the show.) Cocoa became almost instantly my real and grownup version of that long-ago imaginary dog. White Shadow was the loyal friend of my childhood, and his presence nursed me through many a childhood drama. But now, in middle age, I have his spirit right here with me in the shape of Cocoa. No one could ask for a sweeter, more accommodating, more protective, more humorous, and just plain cuddly chocolate shadow.

20 January 2006

Advice to Writing Students

Many English teachers are familiar with Jamaica Kincaid’s very short story “Girl” and its enactment of a primarily one-sided discussion, with the empowered party handing down non-negotiable imperatives of many kinds to the powerless.
Here’s a link to the story:

My version of the story, presented with great reverence for Kincaid’s original, arose from my recognition of myself as someone behaving much like the main speaker in “Girl,” posing—in every sense of the word—as the empowered repository of all writing knowledge to be dispensed, with the good intent of a parent yet with the iron hand of a tyrant, to the powerless and unenfranchised composition student.

Composition Student
(with apologies to Jamaica Kincaid)

Turn journals in on Tuesdays and make sure they are in pocket folders. Go to the Writing Lab by Thursday because Fridays it’s always crowded. Don’t use sources without documenting them. When choosing Internet sources make sure they are not from commercial sites because in that case they are only trying to sell you something. Is it true that you buy papers off the Internet? Always write in such a way that it won’t turn someone else’s stomach. Come up with your own ideas and arguments, like a scholar, not like the plagiarist I know you are so bent on becoming. This is how you read a sentence. This is how you read a paragraph. This is how you read a whole article. This is how you write a summary for the article you have just read. This is how you write an essay analyzing the article you have just read. This is how you add a Works Cited page to prevent you from looking like the plagiarist you are so bent on becoming. Don’t buy papers off the Internet. But I don’t buy papers off the Internet; I never buy papers at all. This is how to avoid comma splices. This is how to avoid dangling modifiers. This is how you write a book title so it doesn’t look like an article title. Don’t underline your own title. Never use anyone else’s work without documenting it. This is how you write a narrative. This is how you write a definition. This is how you write an argument. This is how you go to the library to do research. This is how to document your research to avoid behaving like the plagiarist I know you are so bent on becoming. This is how you behave in the library. This is how you behave in class. This is how you behave when class is over. This is when to come to my office. This is how to avoid coming to my office. This is how you write for your friends. This is how you write for yourself. This is how you write for your other professors so they won’t recognize immediately the plagiarist I have warned you against becoming. Be sure to write every day, even if it is just to email your classmates. Don’t use contractions—you’re not a middle school student. This is how you criticize your classmates’ writing. This is how your classmates criticize your writing. This is how to get good grades on your essays. This is how to drop the course before mid-semester so you can avoid getting an F. This is how to take the course again next semester. This is how to make sure you keep up with the reading assignments. Get reserved reading materials from the reserve desk at the library. Always evaluate your sources carefully and ask the librarian for help if you need it. But what if the librarian won’t help me? Do you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of student whom the librarian won’t let near the books?

16 January 2006


New Year's Resolutions. As if.

When I was a kid, we used to say to each other, "Rules are made to be broken." OK, technically they're made to be followed, but it's just the kind of thing kids say when they're daring each other to misbehave: think staying out after dark, soaping and egging windows on Mischief Night, trying your first cigarette. A few years older and the saying became "Laws are made to be broken": illegal parking, ditching school, trying marijuana for the first time.

So here's one for the older, wiser me: Resolutions are made to be broken. Again, technically they're made to be kept, but you get the idea. It's like when the guy in John Steinbeck's The Pearl finds a huge pearl in an oyster. He calls it the Pearl of the World and immediately begins making plans for the future--he and his wife, dirt-poor now, would get a house and their son would go to school. But, the narrator wisely warns us, when you make a plan, you're just asking for trouble. Robert Frost wrote "Something there is that doesn't love a wall," but Steinbeck opined that there's also something in the world that doesn't love a plan, and as soon as you make one, that thing sets to work to try to thwart and spoil your measly, wimpy, little plan.

So, having diligently read my Steinbeck and my Frost, here's my take on the New Year's Resolution: don't bother, because "Something there is that doesn't love a [plan]."

14 January 2006

Spurning the Sock

Just a little something I've been thinking about.

To explain the sense of the title of this post, I want to begin with a quotation from Rose Macaulay, a British author who wrote, among many other things, war poetry. If you’ve studied war poetry at all, chances are it was men’s war poetry--Wilfrid Owen, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon. In my Norton Anthology from my first undergrad poetry class, there isn’t a single woman listed in the section on “Poetry of World War I.” It’s only in the last couple of decades or so that women’s war poetry has been seriously studied, but that’s a whole other post, isn’t it?

For now, let’s look at a few lines from Rose Macaulay’s poem, “Many Sisters to Many Brothers”:

Oh, it’s you that have the luck, out there in the mud and muck
. . .
In a trench you are sitting, while I am knitting
A hopeless sock that never gets done.
(Scars Upon My Heart, xxv)

Now, there’s quite a bit going on in these few lines: it’s a miniature dramatization of the differences between male and female roles, especially in wartime, including a valorization of war in general and the male role in war in particular, and an acknowledgement of the irony in that valorization. I’m not going to try to explicate this passage entirely, but I want to focus on the “hopeless sock” in the last line.

The narrator is speaking to an imagined male listener, presumably a soldier embroiled in the fighting in the trenches, one of the defining features of World War I. And what she is saying, on the surface of it at least, is that she’d rather be where he is--in the mucky, ugly, dangerous, but presumably more exciting, more important, and even more hopeful trenches--than where she is--at home, safe, warm, dry, but confined to the dull and ultimately useless and ineffectual, even dare we say impotent, work of knitting a stocking. Yes, it’s safe work, and she can do it from the comfort of her home (although with the bombing of London, even the home isn't particularly safe); but it’s work that goes nowhere, does little, and denies her the satisfying feeling of a job that can actually at some point be completed. Her job, in fact, is unending, and not only unending, but insignificant. And this is why I’ve used it in my title.

The history of the military is the history of war, and the history of war, until quite recently, has been the history of men, and the other side of the history of men at war is women left at home, presumably left safe at home, expected to “keep the home fires burning” and reminded of how important that job is and how the men are out there fighting to keep them safe, while back at home they are often not really safe and the only action available to them is to doggedly attempt to maintain the status quo--which is really impossible during wartime, no matter where you are. They are, in effect, left to do an impossible job, even, Macaulay’s narrator suggests, a hopeless one, because even when the war ends, as all wars do, and the men come home, the woman’s work, as the old saying tells us, is never done. Furthermore, as noted critic Jane Marcus tells us, “all wars destroy women’s culture, returning women to the restricted roles of childbearing and nursing and only the work that helps the war effort. The struggle for women’s own political equality becomes almost treasonous in wartime” (129).