Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Lost Soul Returns to Me

This week, my days have consisted of slogging through work feeling achey and poor, coming home to take a belt of generic Ny-Quil, and passing out ASAP. Last night, I changed that up a bit, as I sat on the sofa and watched the MD-VA basketball game (a nail-biter that should have been a blow out). Today, I am feeling passing fair, so I thought I would update the blog.

When I was cutting my teeth on the local music scene in B-more, one of my two favorite bands was Monkeyspank (the other was the highly theatrical, and totally ass-kicking, All Mighty Senators). Monkeyspank was a sight to see: a mop-haired, rail-thin, screeching singer and lead guitar player, channeling Jesus, the Devil, and Elvis through his voice and his guitar, lead a band that consisted of rhythm: multiple bass players and dummers. It was a screaming, driving, grab-you-by-the-core-and-make-you-pinball-around-with-total-strangers kind of sound. After a few years and a couple of albums: (Daemons Flew Out of My Mouth (a truly amazing piece of work) and Blue Mud), I guess the band realized they were all going in different directions, Monkeyspank existed no more. I saw Brian, the screeching guitarist, playing a guest appearance with a solo folky-chick at a bar in Fells Point, I heard him play with a roots-y kind of band, the Bolton Hillbillys, and then, as far as I could tell, he was gone.

On a whim this weekend, I was surfing around the internets, looking for any Monkeyspank info, when I heard that Brian was in Austin playing in a band called Combo Mahalo . No longer the screeching guitar god, Brian now plays with a Hawaiian band with an awesome sound. It's funny, when I heard him singing "Mystery Train" so many years ago, I should have seen this coming. But, I didn't.

By the way, I bought a CD--they sound awesome. Welcome back to the musical side of my life, Brian!

Friday, January 25, 2008

I Need to Get Paid

It's the last weekend in what seems like the longest month ever. For some reason--probably the way the holidays fell this year (all around the weekends)--I got paid around the 28th of last month. That, combined with the 31 days I must endure this month, the ridiculously cold temperatures that have inflated the heating bill, the outlandish price of cheese, the termination of the six-month introductory cable rate, and the dreaded Christmas charge card bills, have managed to leave me in my own little budget crisis (I think Monkey's experiencing one, too).

As it always happens, however, February is short (although longer than usual this year (Leap, baby!)). Doesn't that mean I'll have lots of money left over after next month? Doesn't it? Huh?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

This Train Goes All the Way to Romanticism

Writing with no topic in mind, with no clear purpose, is like performing a trapeze act without a net, like walking a tightrope across Niagara Falls, like sky diving without a parachute. Except for the fact that writing with no topic is not likely to result in your death. So, maybe it's not like that at all.

However, it is a bit thrilling, and a hell of a lot of fun, sometimes, to just sit down and bang away at the keyboard or push the pencil around and see what happens. You might end up with a really interesting tidbit here and there. You might end up with something close to a fully-developed, well-on-its-way-to-being-a-masterpiece first draft. You might end up with a turd.

For your sake, I am hoping for non-turd. But, maybe you'd like that. Who am I to judge?

I pause, staring at the keys. In the bedroom, Monkey's watch alarm goes off again. the second time in fifteen minutes (that makes sense). I hope it's nothing important she was trying to remind herself of, because she is not here. As a result, I am being repeatedly alarmed for no good reason. That is not good for the nervous system.

I am reading this book, lately: Sea of Glory. It's by Nathan Philbrick, who wrote Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea, about the whale ship Essex, the sinking of which inspired Melville to write Moby Dick. The story of this book focuses on the US Exploratory Expedition of c. 1840-something, an around-the-world naval mission to map Antarctica and some of the South Seas, and to generally gather knowledge and earn laurels for the relatively new US of A. The captain of the voyage (the commodore, I guess), named Wilkes, was quite the worker, and he spent many hours gathering scientific measurements and doing captain-y stuff, the burden and worry of which caused him to pass out after taking a well-earned sauna somewhere in Tierra del Fuego. This was early in the voyage--after setting sail from Norfolk, they sailed to Madeira Island, then back west and around Cape Horn. They hadn't been to sea but a matter of months, and here this command figure is having something like a nervous breakdown.

After reading about this, my first thought was, "Does this kind of thing happen anymore?" You know, this melodramatic swooning after a heavy labor. Do people do this? Or is this some Romanticized nineteenth-century PR? I don't know, but, in my estimation, these Dickensian, Bronte-like, Austenian reactions to stress are just so two centuries ago.

Of course, nowadays, look at what we do have: pop stars and movie men making the headlines. Oh, Britney, was that a good old fashioned swoon we witnessed two weeks ago? Oh, Heath, is this the post-modern version of fainting into the arms of your second?

Please, Muses, ye Gods that make folly of literature and life, bring back the Romance! Bring back the cravat and the petticoat! O, but we need a Romantic revival!! Yet, please, I have had enough of the Gothic. Thank you.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

One Man's Valentines

Friday night, braving the brisk wind and single digits, Monkey and I headed down to a local bookstore to hear a reading by former Poet Laureate, the famously diminutive Ted Kooser. He has recently published a slim volume of poems that he had composed as valentines and sent out over the years to a list of recipients that eventually grew, according to Mr. Kooser to over 2000 people (all but two of them women). The book, appropriately, is called Valentines, and it is illustrated by a friend of Kooser's who lives two doors down from the Monkey House. Yes, it is a small world.

I have been a fan of Kooser's for some time, and I have enjoyed reading and teaching his poems, and hearing his thoughts on poetry and such in his less poetic writings. So, it was an excellent opportunity to hear him read.

It was a short reading, about a half an hour, but, it was great nonetheless. To hear him talk about his poems, and to hear him read, was a treat (and how often do you find yourself eight feet from a former Poet Laureate?). Monkey and I also got a couple of books signed, but that was a bit perfunctory (there were many people waiting). Of course, I most likely would have held a rather poor conversation with him had I the opportunity, anyway. It would have gone something like this:

Me: "Uh.... Hi."
TK: Hello."
Me: "Um.... You know that one poem you wrote? About your grandmother? 'Dishwater?'"
TK: "Yes."
Me: "Yeah. Um...wasn't that great?"
(TED KOOSER walks away.)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Only ________ Guy In The Room

I stand in front of my American Literature class, staring out at thirty faces that all look the same. Sure, some of them are female faces and some of them are male faces. Some of them have blue eyes. Some of them have brown eyes. The noises are different. The mouths. But, for the most part, they are all the same. The faces of young white middle class Americans.

And, here I am, an old white middle class American, leading a discussion on diction in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. And, I'm thinking, as we discuss the southern black dialect that Hurston captured so magnificently in her novel, "What the hell am I doing?" As I talk to them about playing the dozens, and the affinity of Hurston's characters for poetic imagery and euphemism, I'm mumbling to myself, "What an empty conversation."

At the same time, I am not thinking, "Gee, I wish we had some black kids in this class so we could really talk about this." It is a weird situation, for me, because I think, if I were them, I would be looking at this old white guy, thinking, "What the hell does he know?"

I mean, I have been in this generally homogeneous school and I have been at more heterogeneous schools, and, I have found that the discussion, the sharing, the learning, and the understanding is far more possible when it comes from a group of many kinds of people giving and taking, in an informed manner, in a conversation. I just don't feel that this conversation is as rich as it could be, here, but, I also feel that, as much as I try to do, I can't change anyone.

I don't know. Maybe this is an essentially unenlightened attitude on my part. And, don't think that I have given up on the concept of teaching for tolerance and social justice. But, it is hard sometimes to feel like anything is making a difference. I don't know why I am writing about this today, because I did have a pretty good day; when I sat down, this is what popped into my head.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Sloth (But, You Know, Not In A Deadly Sin Kind of Way)

So the end of first semester brings a pseudo-three-day weekend. Monday is a workday, but I'll have no new students until Tuesday. I have to go in to finish some grading and get prepared for next semester. Tuesday will be like the start of a new school year. I'll have all new students, a different schedule; we start over from square one. This semester, I'll have only one section of American Lit and two sections of English 10. I am hoping and planning to have a better time with my 10th graders this semester. I'll be better prepared for them on all fronts, and they'll be different kids, so, they will be completely not the kids I just had...that has to be better. Oooo, maybe I shouldn't say that. You know, anything can happen. I'm just going to keep my fingers crossed.

At any rate, it is a stress-free weekend, and we need that. We can spend some time together, run some errands, do some individual things, and, generally take it easy. At the moment, after dropping off the Christmas tree at the mulching sight, grocery shopping, and a lunch of Grateful Bread soup, Monkey is on the phone with a COMO acquaintance, and I am watching Green Bay put the pedal to the metal after falling behind 14-0 to the Seahawks. Brett Favre has managed to pull off one of his patented "Did he just do that?" under-handed-flip-while-stumbling-away-from-pressure-before-falling-on-his-face completions, as he lead his team down the field to take a 28-17 lead into the locker room at halftime. Whatever might the second half hold? Oh, and an added bonus: it's snowing up there! You gotta love a playoff football game in the Wisconsin snow!

And, now, as the second half gets under way, I will take my leave to continue this wonderfully slothful portion of my easy-going weekend.

Friday, January 11, 2008

If a Westbound Train Leaves Denver at 3pm Traveling at 65 MPH....

I had to get this out of my head before I went to work, because if I wait, I'll forget about it, most likely. In the paper this morning, three articles that made me question what the cultural dynamic is up here in PoP.

The first: a state senator has drafted a bill that would ban smoking IN CARS, when children under the age of 16 are present. The Libertarian in me raised his hackles at this ridiculousness. Seat belts, helmets, you can't do this here, or that there. We are all used to this by now, but this is a bill too far. At least some of the senator's colleagues agree, but this was front page stuff, baby.

The second: another state senator wants to increase the penalty for possession of one ounce to one pound of marijuana. The fine would increase about 500%, and the miscreant would receive up to two years (I believe) in jail. For an ounce? REALLY? I don't like this idea, but what really makes this a head-scratcher is....

The third: another senator wants to decrease the amount of time a minor can be incarcerated for murder. In addition, the young ne'er-do-well would have to pay no bond for his/her bail. Uh-huh.

So let me get this straight: we want INCREASE drug penalties and DECREASE murder penalties. What, is it 1985?

Answer this disturbing word problem: a stoned 17 year old is smoking a cigarette in a car with her 10 year old brother. She has an ounce of pot in her purse. She has an accident that kills her brother. Which of the myriad laws that she has violated would she spend the most time serving a prison term for?

Please post your answer in the comments section.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Reality of the Situation Dawns on the Fourth Estate

I remember traffic jams
Motor boys and girls with tans
Nearly was and almost rans
I remember this

History is made
History is made to seem unfair
--REM, "I Remember California"

After the recent New Hampshire primary, I was surprised and irked to read in the AP story in the morning's Journal-Star that Hillary Clinton's victory over Barack Obama was a "startling comeback." An upset victory in the second primary? Is Iowa really that powerful? The piece went on to say that the polling numbers showed before the primary that Clinton was behind significantly in all of the important demographic groups. The article made it seem completely startling that those numbers didn't hold. What, the article asked, did Clinton do to reverse her disastrous position with the voters? Hmmmm.

Maybe, she didn't do too much. I imagine that some of her tactics (emotional openness in speeches (the sincerity of which the article slyly and slightly questioned), spending a lot of time in town hall-type meetings with actual voters, etc.) had something to do with it, but maybe, just maybe, the media's "polls" were wrong. Sure, they are conducted "scientifically," and people pay a lot of money for professional pollsters to do their stuff. But, isn't it slightly possible that, in a small state, during a primary, that the numbers just might not have been worth much?

At any rate, miracle of reversed numbers or not, since when did anybody really think that this was a one horse race? After Iowa's caucus (IOWA, people), Obama was practically anointed. That is wrong. And maybe it shows, a little bit, just how much the media want to see Ol' Hill go down in flames. That's sad.

And, of course, we haven't even gotten into the media's spin on McCain, Huckabee, and Romney. But, let's say just a few more words about the Dems and the media. I don't want to sound like I am anti-Obama or pro-Hillary. To be honest, I have yet to make up my mind. Maybe, since I haven't committed, I am seeing more objectively the subtext of this recent reporting. I don't know. I will tell you one thing: aside from the biased media coverage, I think that the campaigns have, so far, been the most cordial we've had in a long time. This could change at any moment, of course, but let's keep our fingers crossed that it doesn't. Now, if we could get everybody to talk about real issues, instead of concepts like "experience" and "change," we might have ourselves a real live political debate in this country. Of course, the media might not report it as such, but a boy can dream, can't he?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

At The 1/52 Pole

After one week of 2008, I'm thinking it's gonna be a long one. All of Monkey's medical problems on top of my personal dissatisfaction with our recent relocation mixed with my (perhaps not unprecedented) dread of watching the last days of my thirties tick by have conspired to put me in a funk of epic proportions. I hope to find in a day or two that this is merely temporary.

Let me take a moment to try to turn my attitude around by counting a few (and by no means all) of the positives in my life:

1. Monkey is really in good shape. Thyroid cancer is one of the easiest cancers to treat. Her cancer was removed. The iodine is "precautionary." She will soon (a few months) be fine.

2. I have a great marriage. Our recent visitor and our recent stresses have helped to remind me how strong the Monkey bond is. Without getting maudlin, I am a lucky one.

3. First semester is coming to a close. This could be a double-edged sword. Next semester could be worse. But, at least, the passage of time puts me more at ease in my job.

4. I am pretty fit. Even as I approach a birthday (I know, it's a year away, but I can't stop thinking about it) that used to mark one's physical decline, I feel better now than I ever have.

Well, four will have to do, since I ought to get to work. Here's hoping today is the best day ever!

Friday, January 04, 2008

On Caucuses and Radioactive Iodine

Brand new year, same old trouble.
Stroke of midnight didn't change a thing.
--The Bottle Rockets, "Brand New Year"

This, our first post of 2008, is one in which we find ourselves contemplative on personal and national issues.

Last night, Iowa held its caucus, which primarily consists of people milling around until the music stops, after which they have to freeze next to a picture of a candidate. Party officials then draw chalk circles around the groups, using the candidate's pictures as a center. Each group is counted and each candidate is assigned a number of "delegates" (whoever they are), based on the crowds of people around their signs. Apparently, not many people were caught standing around Kucinich's or Biden's totems. Too bad for them. But Obama...they grouped around him in droves!

The paper today basically alerted all of America that everybody else running for the Dems nomination should just give up. And I haven't even gotten to the Republicans, who apparently gave nearly 15% of their support to a guy who basically said he didn't even want to be president, anyway! You just have to love this country. Because if I didn't, I would go even crazy than I already am.

On the personal (and much more pressing) side, Monkey is a bit better from her operation, but her voice is very reedy and a bit high pitched. Her doctors have told her that she may recover her regular voice in a month, or this might be her regular voice. She is not too happy to hear that.

More importantly, however, we discovered that her thyroid was cancerous, and that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. The surgery seems to have removed the cancer, but, in order to ensure a full recovery, and to drastically lower the possibility of a recurrence, Monkey will need to take radioactive iodine.

Literally, this means that after she takes a pill (about 8 weeks from now), she will be unable to be near another human being (except me) for about a week. We won't be able to sleep in the same bed (or room) and we will have to use separate bathrooms. She will, literally, be radioactive. This will wear off, and she should be free and clear of any bad cells.

The process will probably take two-three months, including the recovery time and the other medication adjustments. Monkey is very unhappy about the possibility of missing several conferences, having to figure out what, if anything, to do about teaching her classes, and missing True/False (which we are both hoping does not happen (it's all a matter of scheduling)).

Much of this is new news for us, and we will most likely have a clearer picture of the future in the future; however, feel free to ring Monkey up (or email her). I'm sure she'd be glad to hear from you.