Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hits and misses

I sat giggling in the middle of Creative Nonfiction class today as a student gleefully mangled the pronunciation of one word after another, and I thought, I'm going to miss this class. I'll miss their willingness to jump with both feet into the murkiest waters--peculiar reading assignments, persnickety writing assignments, peripatetic class activities--but mostly I'll miss all the ways they tossed lifelines to their struggling classmates.  The intimacy that arises in a writing workshop creates a sense of community often absent from other classes, so it will be awfully quiet here when that community disperses.

The semester comes to an end with finals next week followed by Commencement, which means the last two students who made the long trek to California with me in 2011 will be moving on, taking all our private jokes with them. I wish them well, but I'll miss their frequent reminders of that joyful and instructive time.

Other times I'd happily forget. I won't miss the student who, on every writing assignment, demonstrated exquisite skill at reaching the required word count without actually saying anything, and I won't miss the Random Excuse Generator masquerading as a student in one of my literature classes. (And really, she missed so many classes that I didn't get to know her enough to miss her. Miss who? Miss Better-things-to-do-than-come-to-class, I won't miss you!)

I'm just fooling myself, though, if I think I'll never see her again, for she is legion. Every new class produces its own problem children, but every class also produces its own stars. And that, I suppose, is what keeps me doing this year after year: the delicious suspense of watching to see who will step into the spotlight and make my heart sing.    

Monday, April 21, 2014

A sure sign

Blue-gray gnatcatcher

In the early-morning quiet, the Kroger wetland feels like a lost world remote from the concerns of urban life--especially if you block out the sounds of traffic barreling past on the nearby interstate. (Pretend it's wind. Loud, growling, diesel wind.) It's just you and the birds, not a human soul in sight as you circumnavigate the central pond, a silent mirror for the tree swallows twittering and swirling above. You could be in the heart of the Amazon until you look at the photos later and notice how civilization intrudes even there.
Robin carrying nesting material
Where did that sign come from?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Adjectiving through the verbiage

While slashing my way through an overgrown jungle of student drafts, I encountered a mutant species of verbiage: an adjective masquerading as a verb, and a transitive one at that! The word is inert used as disempower or emasculate, as in the witch inerts her victims or the victims are inerted by the witch.

Yes I know it's wrong and bad and very very dreadful, but that long lonely trek through the jungle has left me limp and powerless, utterly inerted by the demands of swinging a machete through stubborn vines of solecism while swatting off pesky infelicities. So why not? Adjective as verb? Let's give it a go:

If your prose limpids past
picturesquing its way,
then I'll caustic it up
in my red-pencil way.

If it turgids and softs
and egregiouses error,
then I'll bellicose you,
'cause my pen is a terror.

If it dowdies and lazies
or if it even mundanes,
better hit the delete key
or I'll bilious your brain.  

If it irksomes or fretfuls
or parts of speech are inverted, 

you'd better brush up your vocab
before your prof gets inerted.

There. That feels better. Now let's get back to lugubriousing our way through the verdant verbings, shall we? Scary on!  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Trilliums triumphant

Dutchman's breeches

Our endlessly recurring winter does not seem to have discouraged the early-spring wildflowers suddenly blooming all over our woods. Yesterday we picked our way up a slope covered with the feathery leaves of dutchman's breeches--it'll be a sight to see when they all bloom. Trilliums triumph on the steep wooded slopes and bloodroot blossoms poke their tiny heads above dry leaves, but the rue anemone blooms so visible last week have faded to insignificance. Meanwhile, plump pink buckeye buds revel in their annual strip-tease all over the woods. This is why I love where I live. (Please remind me next time I gripe about the weather.) 
Rue anemone

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

April showers (of papers)

Okay, so now my dungeon is an island. The best thing about living in the basement has always been the colleague in the next office, but this morning she moved to the great big corner office to serve as department chair, so until some new hires arrive this summer, I'm surrounded by empty offices. Great. Fine. I'll just sit over here in the corner and molder away all by myself. (Can you hear the tiny violin?)

I shouldn't say this out loud but I'm actually caught up--on everything. Well, everything capable of being caught up on. (Caught-up-on-able?) But I can't leave because I'm showing a film this evening, so I need to stick around campus all day long. I would go out and enjoy the lovely spring weather--except that's SO last weekend. Yes, it's snowing. And cold. And gray, damp, and dungeonlike, even outside.

Tomorrow everything will change, except maybe the weather. Thanks to an excess of really horrible planning, I'm requiring all of my students to turn in papers or drafts this week, which means that starting tomorrow I'll have to entirely give up sleep or else learn to respond to drafts while eating, driving, and showering. ("This paragraph is all washed up, but the soap-bubble thesis is a novel idea.") I wish I could use my entirely afternoon today to read some of those drafts, but I can't read 'em until students submit 'em.

If my poor syllabus planning is putting a squeeze on my schedule, it's positively brutalizing the student who is enrolled in three of my classes. She'll be writing papers for me while eating, driving, and showering, and sleep is just entirely out of the question. Two more weeks and this will all be over! Until next fall, of course, when I'll welcome a new colleague into the office next door. I'll probably still be grading papers by the time he arrives. I'll just hand him a stack and say, "Mind the soap. They're slippery."

Monday, April 14, 2014

I just like the word "detritus"

This was supposed to post on Saturday but something went screwy with the Internet, and now it feels outdated since we're now entering another round of winter weather, but for what it's worth, here's what our brief weekend of spring was like.
I was raking the random detritus of winter out of my front flower garden this morning, heaping up masses of dried leaves, rotting straw, and matted vines, when I spotted a speck of purple--a tiny intrepid grape hyacinth hidden beneath the rubbish. It spoke of hope: after a cold, gray, barren season, beauty survives.

The jury's still out on some of our plants. Two small rhododendrons on the near side of the driveway look fine, but the huge grandfather rhododendron on the other side looks blasted on top, all the leaves dry and drooping. One area underneath still shows glossy leaves, but the rest of the massive plant appears to have retired from active ser.

The little Japanese maple has a few buds--very few--and a lot of dead-looking branches, but the buckeye trees are budding out obscenely pink all over the woods. Up on the hill a few young fruit trees have been gnawed by deer, but only one looks like a total loss. 

After the raking and sweeping and window-washing and grill-cleaning, I paused for a drink on the bench out front and contemplated the glories of spring. Our garden still looks brown and barren, but in my bones I can feel the colors coming. In the end I was inspired to hunt down the hummingbird feeders and brew up some nectar. I don't know how this kind of harsh winter will impact the hummies, but if they're coming back, I intend to be prepared.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Mopping up a messy week

Looking back over the mess that was this week, I can't decide where to locate it on the continuum of messiness from aftermath of child's birthday party to zombie apocalypse. It makes a difference, because let's face it: the cleaning products that work on Play-Doh won't be much help when you're swabbing up entrails.

What kind of mess is this? I see bird droppings and dragged bones, flashing feathers that light up the sky, bright white rue anemone blossoms sprinkled around the woods, columbines popping up all over the front garden, pollen clogging my sinuses, roaches invading my bedroom, rain graying my days and thunder rumbling my slumber. 

I hear dogs yapping incessantly at 2 a.m., a great horned owl hooting at dawn, students reading their wonderful poetry to rounds of applause, a literature student saying "Maybe that's why my generation hates poetry," a writing student saying "I just don't like it" (about everything), an advisee insisting that he intends to take a particular course online even though it's not actually offered online ("I want to take it online," "But it's not an online course," "But I want to take it online," "But it's not offered online," "But I want to take it online," and so it goes, an infinite loop of illogic).

This week's mess smells of leftover pasta with chorizos, homemade ciabatta bread with hot-pepper jelly, droopy daffodils starting to rot in the vase, jelly beans, chocolate eggs, and the sour sanctimony of a colleague who thinks I'm a phoney (and makes me fear that it's true).

I see confetti everywhere, or maybe those are remnants of bills torn up and tossed aside in a huff, sprinkled amongst the random messages: invitation to my granddaughter's first birthday party (already?!), fan letter from distant scholar who thought my article was peachy-keen, message from a friend who's just earned tenure at another campus (hurrah!), massively multiplying e-mail chain regarding curricular issue only tangentially related to my work, sticky-note reminding me to contact the woodworking dude and the piano tuner and the faculty marshals and the Indian food truck, and right in the middle of it sits a big greasy chunk of broken tractor that will cost an arm and a leg to fix but with all this rain we'd better go ahead and fix it before the grass grows up to the eaves-troughs.

A year from now (or 10 or 20), what will matter from this mess? The students who read their marvelous poetry offset the students who hate poetry or literature or everything, and the fan mail and good news offset the snark and bureaucratic bumbling. That leaves the flickers and my friends' successes, and the fact that I refrained from strangling anyone, even those who may have deserved it. (Especially those who may have deserved it.) It's a middling sort of mess after all, and the good news is I won't need to mop up any entrails.