Friday, January 18, 2019

Torn between two places

I want to make an angel-food cake, but the mixer and ingredients are in one house while the recipe and cake pan are in the other.

Thank-you cards are in one house; stamps are in the other. Exercise class is in Jackson; workout clothes are back home--or perfect hiking conditions appear back home, but hiking shoes are in Jackson.

Living in two houses has only become more complicated since I started my sabbatical. I'm spending more time in Jackson and engaging in a wider range of activities, so I need more stuff, but I'm back at my other house two days a week so I need stuff there too, and the stuff I need isn't always in the place where I need it.

I finally moved my big stand mixer to Jackson, but every time I use it, I wish I were back in my home kitchen where work space is more abundant. In Jackson I long for the big picture window where I can watch all the birds at the feeders, but then I get back home and have to deal with filling those feeders and disposing of dead mice and filling the wood-burner and I want to be back in Jackson, where it's easier to clean because the water doesn't turn everything orange. 

At home I can sit by the big window and watch the birds while working on my laptop, but then when I need to find something online, I struggle with a slow and unreliable internet service. In Jackson I enjoy the fast, reliable internet connection but feel cut off from birds and everything that's beautiful about my woods. 

Living in two houses means I'm always aware of the absence of the other, the lack of a place I love. I can't live in two places at once, so I suppose I need to focus on living in the moment, making do with what I have, and ignoring the call of my other place. Angel-food cake can wait, but this minute right here in this particular spot will never come my way again. 


Thursday, January 17, 2019

A CFP for people who care about comedy

I know a lot of funny teachers, and I know teachers who don't consider themselves funny but know how to use funny texts to help students understand important concepts, and I'm sure there are many more out there whom I haven't met yet. But I want to hear from all of them--or a good number, at least, because it's going to take a bunch of people who care about comedy to make this project happen.

Yes: I'm excited to announce that I'm seeking essay submissions for a new volume on Teaching Comic Texts, part of MLA's Options for Teaching Series. Click here to read the full Call for Proposals and see how to submit, but meanwhile, here's an excerpt to whet your appetite:

When comedy dominates popular culture so thoroughly that it’s difficult to distinguish spoofs from truths, when identities and relationships form and fumble on a foundation of comic memes, and when the powerful and the powerless wield comedy alternately as weapon or shield, it’s time for the academy to take comedy seriously. Teaching Comic Texts, edited by Bev Hogue, will examine how comic texts of many types can be deployed in classrooms, either as a topic of literary or cultural study or as a window into understanding other fields. In addition to exploring historical and theoretical contexts, essays in the volume will provide practical insights for teaching comic texts in a variety of disciplines. As part of the MLA’s Options for Teaching series, the volume will appeal to beginning or experienced teachers in undergraduate and graduate programs in literature and language, rhetoric and composition, culture studies, media studies, communication, philosophy, creative writing, and other disciplines where comic texts might prove useful. 

A field that ranges from Aristophanes to The Onion by way of Shakespeare, Charlie Chaplin, and The Simpsons offers a wide range of areas for inquiry open to a variety of methodologies. Comic texts may illuminate moments in history or the lives of others, offer models for rhetorical methods, challenge students to practice critical thinking skills, examine aspects of the human condition, and more. Students studying comedy might engage with plays, novels, and poetry alongside films, memes, and live stand-up performances, and they need a wide range of tools and activities to equip them to exist in a comedy-heavy media environment. Essays describing specific methods that can be adapted across disciplines are especially welcome, and the volume will conclude with a collection of lesson plans, assignments, and other practical resources.
Now don't you want to be a part of this project? Or maybe you know someone who needs to know about this--please share! I'm eager to see the proposals come pouring in from funny (or  unfunny) people who want to take comedy pedagogy seriously. Just click here to get started. Can't wait to hear from you!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Of vandals and volunteers

For those of us working at the campground, the day after a long weekend or holiday was always the worst. I would step out of a cramped 18-foot travel trailer, ride my bike to the public rest room, and brace myself for chaos. One morning I found the shower curtain in the women's rest room cut into ribbons, as if someone had gone after it with a straight razor. Who gets pleasure out of that kind of destruction?

Living and working in a state park campground for two summers during grad school brought me into contact with some wonderful people who loved the woods and the lake and the fishing and wanted to spend quiet time sleeping in a tent, cooking over a fire, and communing with nature, but then there were also the other people--the ones who burned everything that wasn't chained down, including the picnic tables; who drank too much and started fights, vandalized equipment, or left behind unspeakable messes. 

I have never understood these people, but in the years since we worked in the campground I have found evidence of them everywhere. They're the people who have been trashing national parks during the government shutdown, the ones who chopped down protected Joshua trees and left behind mounds of human waste (read it here). Meanwhile, other individuals and organizations are volunteering to keep some parks clean and accessible (click here), including concerned families, the Yosemite Climbing Association, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, one of whose leaders told CNN,
Service to our nation and cleanliness are important parts of Islam....We could not sit idly by as our national parks collected trash. We will lead by example and dispose of this garbage appropriately and invite all Americans to join us in these parks and others across the nation.
Another article (here) describes how private companies are paying to keep bathrooms cleaned and roads groomed in Yellowstone National Park because their businesses depend upon winter tourists. It's possible to look at their actions cynically and say they're just looking after their bottom line, but they reveal an important difference in values between those who work to preserve the parks and those who trash them.

What benefits, after all, do national parks provide? For businesses operating snowmobile tours, the bottom line is financial profit, but what about for the rest of us? If we can perceive how the parks provide intangible benefits to ourselves and future visitors, we will take care of them; if, on the other hand, we see the parks as mere playgrounds where the rules get in the way of our immediate pleasures, then we do what we want without regard for the future. It's the tragedy of the commons all over again.

This concept seems obvious to me, but then again I still don't understand what kind of pleasure anyone gets out of shredding a shower curtain. The person who destroyed it probably extracted all the pleasure (s)he could get out of the campground and then left behind a path of destruction, convinced that cleaning it up was someone else's problem. How can we convince these people that public spaces are not everybody's problem but everybody's resource and responsibility? How can we get them to see beyond immediate pleasure and perceive the benefits, both tangible and intangible, that accrue to a nation that preserves its fragile treasures? 

It's a small thing, a shower curtain--or a water bottle tossed carelessly along the trail, or a mound of human waste left in the path, or a tree cut down to make way for a new road. But when all those small things add up to a big mess, I'm thankful for the people who volunteer to clean it up, one small thing at a time.   

At Savannah National Wildlife Refuse, one of my favorite places.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Comedy, tragedy, and the start of my sabbatical

It's the first day of classes and my colleagues are busy teaching, but I'm in the library doing a little research. Yes: this is the official start of my spring semester sabbatical! Which is a good thing, because I would be totally unprepared to teach classes today since I only got back in the state yesterday.

Snow and gray skies met us as we crossed the mighty Ohio River, and I mourned the sunshine we left behind. It's not so much that I want to live in Florida full-time--I don't--but Ohio is not at its best in the bleak midwinter, when the dominant color is gray and the woods look cold and lifeless.

So I'm enjoying sitting in my favorite library under the sunny yellow light and pursuing the light of learning. I'm excited about my sabbatical projects, including one great opportunity that arose out of the blue. Here's what I'll be working on for the next six months:
  • Revise and resubmit the big garbage essay.
  • Research post-9/11 literature for two purposes: to expand a conference paper into a publishable article, and to prepare for the capstone class I'll teach on the topic next fall.
  • Take a research trip to New York!
  • Edit a collection of essays on Teaching Comic Texts, part of the MLA Options for Teaching series. 
That's a lot of work but I'm always happier when I'm busy, and the variety of projects will prevent me from becoming bored. I hadn't planned on doing the MLA collection but it arose at a good time and it fits in well with what I've done before and how could I say no to an opportunity to write and edit essays about comedy? (I'll be posting a link to the Call for Papers very soon--stay tuned!)

So I get to spend a semester pursuing some of my deepest interests--how literature helps us make sense of garbage, trauma, violence, and disaster--and when that starts feeling too heavy, I can switch over to reading and writing about teaching comedy. (Tragedy and comedy have a lot more in common than you might think, but if I switch too quickly between the two, I'm likely to get whiplash.)

Artificial sunshine in the library

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

All the colors of the sunrise

This morning I kept trying to capture a certain shade of silvery green, a sheen that arose on the smooth surface of the water for a brief moment just before the wave transformed itself into a curling, swirling smash of silvery-white bubbles. 

I failed, of course. I took more than 100 photos but I can't find that hue in any of them. I see a multitude of greens and blues, some soft pale pinks and lavenders, and a sky on fire with orange and yellow, but that silvery-green color washed away, just as my memory of it will fade with time. Even now I feel it slipping back into the vast undifferentiated sea of sensation where the color will lurk, unnoticed and forgotten, awaiting the right moment to surge to the surface again.

The only way to find that transient shade, I think, is to keep going back to the beach, where the sunrise explodes into a riot of shifting colors. Who could possibly paint them all? 

Monday, January 07, 2019

If it's Monday, this must be Cocoa (or vice versa)

We've been on the road (and on the beach, on and off) for a week with another two and a half days to go, and my car shows it: sand on the floormats, random flotsam bouncing around the backseat, miles piling up. Likewise my brain: lots of impressions just don't seem to fit into any coherent narrative. Such as:
  • A rainy-day visit to a botanical garden revealed the existence of Road Kill Cactus, Jelly Bean Plant, Mouse Trap Tree, and Dragon Bones. Also moorhens! And a lovely purple blossom called Princess Plant.
  • That was the same day we took a drive up to Tarpon Springs, where we looked at sponge-fishing boats and watched a video showing historical methods by which Greek immigrants gathered and sheared sponges. Today the sponge docks exist to sponge and shear tourists. It was a fun and colorful way to spend a windy, gray day, and the Greek food made my taste buds sing. 
  • Later we sat on the observation deck at our hotel and ate rich desserts while watching a very impressive storm sweep in across the Gulf of Mexico. The first raindrops fell just as we ate the final bites. Perfect timing!
  • At today's lunch we sat on a different rooftop and watched an osprey fly by carrying a freshly caught fish. Here's an idea for a new restaurant chain: fresh seafood delivered by ospreys straight to your table. (Ignore the claw-marks.)
  • It is a tremendous luxury to have easy access to so much fresh seafood, one we will miss when we return to Appalachia. You'd better believe I'm taking advantage of every opportunity. Is it excessive to eat seafood four days in a row? 
  • I think I laughed for three solid hours yesterday while visiting with some old high school friends. We may be getting older, but we're definitely getting funnier. (Not funnier looking. Present company excepted.)
  • I've never spend much time on the Gulf coast, so last week in Clearwater I struggled to adjust to the fact that turning right on the beach took us north; now we're on the Atlantic coast and everything is back where it ought to be--right is south, left is north, and if we get up early enough we can see the sunrise over the water. 
And then we'll have to pack up our sandals and start heading up the highway toward the cold north, where fresh seafood is mythical and road kill is not a cactus. First, though, I've got to get some more sand in my shoes.

Colorful lichens

Jungly hike at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's house

Intersecting trees

I just like these roots

Princess flower


Road Kill Cactus

Felt Plant

Jelly Bean Plant

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Just beachy

"So what do you want to do with the rest of the day?"


"Sounds good to me."

So that's what we did:  sat in folding chairs under a bright yellow umbrella on Clearwater Beach, reading books and watching the waves come in and wandering up and down to search for shells and birds. On an early-morning walk we found shorebirds scavenging chunks of sponge and a snowy egret walking on snow-white sand, and later we ate lunch on the beach and did some more nothing until thick fog rolled in around 4 p.m. That's about as much nothing as I can handle--at least until tomorrow.

Chunk of conch encrusted with other shells.

Beautiful day!

And then the fog rolled in.

Our cute and cozy hotel.