Thursday, February 19, 2004

Another poem by Steve

This one is called "Personal at the Podium". It appeared in Poetry Daily: Poetry Archive

In Memory of Steven Barza

A colleague died this week. He'd only been sick for a few weeks, and none of us knew how sick he was. So his death comes as a shock.

Here's a poem he wrote that I like a lot:

Just Up

When we awaken there is a moment
before we remember
the burdens we bear,
that yesterday we lost or won
a fortune or a battle or a love
or that today we must go
to work or to court or to hospital
or we have nowhere to go,
before we start piecing together
who we have been or who we will be,
and in that moment we are simply
consciousness, sensation,
appetite not yet linked to
memory or will.
I like the way we are
in that naked moment
before we are defined,
in that briefest moment
before we don ourselves.

This appeared in the Utne Reader in Jan/Feb 2003, reprinted from Crab Creek Review, Spring/Summer 2002.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Up Too Early

If things seem a little off-kilter here today it's United Airlines' fault. That's right. They were somehow unable to get a plane from Chicago to here on time last night, which meant my sister and her delightful family were unable to make a connection on time, which meant they spent another night with us (which was fine) and had to catch a very early flight this morning (not so fine). The killer for me was my sister's report that the gate agent told her if she really needed to be somewhere on time, she shouldn't book on the last flight of the day. That is, you've got to expect that flights won't run, will be cancelled, will be late, and it's your problem to deal with that.


OK, enough of that. They (my sis & bro-in-law) can write their own letter to United. But all I'm saying is I was up too early.

On to better things. I've added a few books and movies lately to the reading/viewing lists, but I have little to say about them right now. I'm feeling exhausted and depleted, though mostly in a good way. It was my birthday yesterday (thus the family visit!) and I raked in all sorts of new and interesting books, so maybe there will be more fun reports soon. I'd also like to mention that I have two new cookbooks, a lovely new necklace, funky boots, and a check to spend on myself. I have never quite gotten over the love of birthdays, I must say.

It looks like the inside of a snowglobe out my window right now and I am half-way hoping for a snow day tomorrow, even though I don't teach and I'd still probably come in to the office to meet with students and try to get some work done. I have been thinking of snow days as pure annoyance for the last several years and today something just snapped and I'm back in kid mode--a free day off! Snow to play in! I think it's because this snow is just so lovely right now--big fluffy flakes wafting gently downwards.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Literary mama in the news! | Literary Mama seeks the 'empowered' mom

new comment feature

OK, now I've got comments by Haloscan. Check 'em out.

What I'm reading now

During the academic year, most of my reading is re-reading. I always get the feeling that there are other teachers out there who know their books cold, who can recite poetry from memory in the classroom, who stand in front of their classes and wow them with their amazing recall. I am not that teacher.

But as I reread I learn new things, every time. This semester I'm teaching books I read as a child, books I've read to my kids, and even so I am learning them anew. That's one of the reasons I teach, in fact. Things are new, even when (as so often in my classes) they are more than 100 years old.

Yesterday I taught two books I love, in two different classes. In my children's literature class we were talking about Charlotte's Web, perhaps one of the most perfect novels ever written. This simple story of a pig and a spider never fails to touch me, perhaps because it seems to me essentially a fable about the strength of maternal love. Charlotte sacrifices herself for her surrogate child, Wilbur, knowing she'll never meet her own children, the spiders whose eggs she deposits carefully in their egg sac in the last creative act of her life. My eyes always swell with tears as I read of her death, and Wilbur's careful guarding of her eggs until they hatch the next spring.

In my other class, an upper-division course for English majors, I was teaching a far less well-known book, The Princess and the Goblin, though it's one that I read and loved as a kid. Published in 1872 by a renegade Congregationalist minister, George MacDonald, the novel tells the story of the princess Irene, her great-great-grandmother, and the miner boy, Curdie, who encounters them both. Strangely, though, it's also a maternal story, a story of a (great-great-grand) mother who watches over a child, whose love protects even when she herself is out of reach.

Yet both of these fables of maternal love are actually of surrogate maternity. Charlotte is not actually Wilbur's mother (the mind boggles!), and the princess Irene's own mother is dead (or is the great-great-grandmother actually her ghost? it's not entirely clear…)

As I cast my mind back over my favorite books for children, indeed, I find that mothers are strangely lacking even as their love is extolled, and I worry about what this means for me. Just think about it: in so many of our favorite books, the heroes and heroines are orphans, motherless children, or perhaps even abandoned children. The pattern begins in fairy tales: Hansel and Gretel, abandoned in the woods by their parents (the mother is sometimes called a stepmother, to soften the blow a bit); Snow White, whose mother dies in childbirth; Cinderella, oppressed by a stepmother and an ineffectual father…the list goes on. In picture books, children are often simply on their own: Peter Rabbit in Mr. Macgregor's garden, Max from Where the Wild Things Are, off in his dream-boat, Frog and Toad, Ruby and Max. As we discussed in my children's literature class today, parents get in the way of a good story. Who wants to read about a well-adjusted kid staying home with his or her parents, after all?

Well, I do. And they do exist: think of Bread and Jam for Frances, for example, or Blueberries for Sal (well, even there, Sal gets separated from her mother and starts following around a bear mama instead, but you get the picture). Still, it seems to me that overwhelmingly our literature for children is about independence and separation from parents, not about connection.

So I'm torn as I reread The Princess and the Goblin once again. Do I want to read it to Nick? In the novel I'm reading aloud to him right now, The Magician's Nephew, the main character's mother is dying, and I stumble over the words as I read them to him, hoping he's not really paying attention to that part, wanting him to focus on the adventure rather than the reason for it.

Children's literature means all new things to me as I read it as a mother. I find myself removed, left out, rejected. Stepmothers fare worse--Snow White's kills herself dancing in red-hot shoes at the wedding ball--but the impulse is the same. And in case you think this is all yesterday's news, that today's stories for kids don't do this, just think of Finding Nemo (dead mother), or The Lion King (dead father). It's everywhere.

In The Princess and the Goblin, as in Charlotte's Web, maternal love is miraculous. It protects and saves without smothering or over-protecting. It reaches beyond physical boundaries and blood ties; it partakes, quite literally, of the divine. Charlotte's miraculous web, and the magic string that leads Irene out of the mine, both represent the invisible ties mothers weave from their children to themselves, binding them in a web of love and sacrifice. Perhaps to attribute such things to real mothers would be too overwhelming, too much of a reminder of the ways in which mothers can truly bind and suffocate their children. Perhaps. All I know is, I'm looking for a fun, adventurous mother in the next book I read.

Monday, February 02, 2004

comments gone

Sorry, BlogOut's down and I don't have comments anymore. I'll look into a replacement when I get the chance.

That SuperBowl thing...

OK, Lizbeth pretty much says it all for me here:MOM & Pop Culture. The whole Janet Jackson breast thing: who cares? I saw it (yes, I was actually watching the SuperBowl) and frankly it didn't even look like a blunder to me. The woman I was watching with turned to me and said "She had a pastie on, right?" and we both agreed that yes, probably, she did, and that was that.

Frankly the old man beating up his aged wife to get at a bag of chips was far more offensive. In fact so many ads seemed to be about how American men hate their wives that I stopped counting. Oh, and the farting horse. I mean, ick! I'm hardly a prude, but that was such lowest common denominator humor. Ick, ick, ick.

On the other hand I did like the one where the dog bites the guy in the crotch to get the beer. So sue me.

Another thing--how many people really suffer from erectile dysfunction? And do we really need quite so many ads about drugs to combat it? Am I missing something, or is this really a big social problem that I am just not aware of?

OK, rant over. I'm trying to work on a column about teenagers and letting go and it's just so much easier to rant!