Saturday, September 29, 2012

Webs and wings

I set off with the camera early this morning determined to locate the pileated woodpeckers that have been hanging around the area for the past few weeks, but I got distracted. First I followed a great blue heron flying upstream toward our neighbor's hay-meadow, and then I noticed dew sparkling on spider webs all over the meadow, always a more impressive web just a little farther up the hill. Before I knew it two hours had passed and I was heading back toward my own driveway.

And there were the pileated woodpeckers, two of 'em, pecking on a big sycamore right at the end of my driveway. One flew off right away with that peculiar rowing motion but I watched the other hunt and peck for a few minutes, snapping a shot whenever it became visible.

By that time the sun was fully risen. There were too many leaves and too much light, and the only way to get around to the other side of the tree would be to levitate over the creek. I finally decided to ease my way over toward the bridge, but the bird flew off the minute I moved.  

I heard them later up behind the house, taunting me. They always turn up on the wrong side of the creek from where I'm standing or on the other side of a barbed-wire fence.  They're free to fly unhindered by fences, roads, and property lines while I'm floundering in a web of my own making.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday poetry challenge: harvest celebration

O fig, where have you been all my life? Dried and tucked inside Newtons, you are dark, dense, and gritty, but it doesn't have to be that way. Suddenly the hardy fig trees we planted eight years ago are producing fruit, and I wouldn't give a fig for a Newton.

Why did I have to wait 50 years to finally taste fresh figs? And how can I describe the experience? The flesh is a tender creamy yellowy-white and the flavor is yellow as well, light and sunshiny like citrus or ripe bananas. And who knew figs could be so juicy? Newtons aren't juicy. Newtons, in fact, are the antithesis of juicy. A fresh fig--now, that's something to celebrate:

Red pendants dangle 
and drop, guarding golden flesh:
paradise on a plate. 

Now it's your turn: submit verse in any form celebrating harvest. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Super-Grader Strikes Again!

I read and responded to 20 student drafts yesterday and graded 9 freshman essays today--YES I'm on a roll--but I accomplished this remarkable feat by turning my back on the world, ignoring the demands of the body (lunch? what lunch?), and gluing my eyeballs to the computer screen, which may be why I awoke at 1 a.m. with a brutal headache. Now it's time to chill...until my next wave of papers rolls in tomorrow afternoon. But they can wait. There's always the weekend.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Saddling up with Dr. Guy

In an in-class paragraph development exercise (described here), a freshman writing student invented a quote (quite acceptable under the circumstances) and attributed it to "Dr. Guy-in-the-Back-of-the-Room," whom the student described as having played polo for Harvard. The student was half right: Dr. Guy-in-the-Back-of-the-Room is a Harvard graduate. But what was he doing in my class and why don't my students know who he is?

Last things first: they don't know who he is because they're beginning freshmen and Dr. Guy teaches upper-level management courses, and he's in my classroom representing the committee responsible for deciding whether I get promoted to full professor this year. 

I've been seeing various incarnations of Dr. Guy-in-the-Back-of-the-Room since last Friday, when the provost visited my postcolonial literature class and took my breath away. I was reading a piece of Derek Walcott's Omeros out loud and caught out of the corner of my eye the movement of the provost's pen scribbling madly across a notepad, and immediately an invisible hand grabbed hold of my throat and started squeezing.

A female Dr. Guy is visiting my African-American literature class all this week. She doesn't scribble but she has a very expressive face so that when I read that bit from Countee Cullen's "The Shroud of Color" where he describes himself quivering on the ground "like a flayed and bleeding thing," I had to look away. The Dr. Guy visiting my freshman writing class all week, on the other hand, just about has to sit on his hands to control his desire to say, "Ooh ooh! Pick me, pick me!"

I'll have some version of Dr. Guy in my classes all this week and then they'll be free to go back to the committee and decide whether I'm worthy to drop the "Associate" from my title. Meanwhile, my students and I are taking the various Dr. Guys on a pretty interesting ride--around the world via poetry and polo ponies.

Not another academic rant!

I was commiserating last night with an old friend who wonders why she's not seeing rewards for all her hard work, and I was reminded of the First Law of Academe: If you work really hard, jump through all the right hoops, and bite your tongue when you'd rather complain,  you'll be rewarded...with more hard work, more hoops, and more reasons to bite your tongue.

I don't recall which cartoonist said it, but this is certainly true here: "Accomplish the impossible once and they'll add it to your job description." Be nice, get along, comply with rules, accept responsibility above and beyond requirements, and you'll get to sit, exhausted, on the sidelines applauding while brash, obnoxious, demanding people run off with all the medals (and tread on your toes as they pass by).

It doesn't have to be that way--or at least that's what I like to tell myself. We have a new administration and we're embarking on a new self-study, so we have a rare opportunity for reflection, re-evaluation, and change. I've often said that if we all knew and followed our guiding documents, half of our campus problems would dissipate overnight--and many others could be cleared up by means of effective communication at all levels.

But that takes work. It's much easier to just muddle along rewarding complainers while allowing the compliant to accomplish the impossible over and over and over again without recognition and without reward. A retired administrator used to say that we're really good at hiring brilliant, energetic, creative young faculty members and then shooting them in the kneecaps. Maybe it's time to put down the guns, strap on the knee-pads, and get to work.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Field trip follies

As I look back over my weekend, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Despite the initial chaos that kicked off my class's field trip, everything turned out okay in the end--well, mostly--and the whole incident is well on its way to becoming a thigh-slappingly funny campus anecdote. 

But it's not there yet. 

So maybe we should talk about something that doesn't make me want to decapitate someone, like the weather, which appears to be quite pleasant today, or the wonderful pasta dish I made yesterday using the last of the zucchini and summer squash from our garden along with golden tomatoes so beautiful they fill the kitchen with sunshine.

Nah. Let's talk about my field trip.

I will be the first to admit that Mistakes Were Made. (Never mind by whom. I'm not in the business of public shaming.) Actually, only one mistake was made, a fairly minor one on the Hangnail-to-Holocaust Continuum of Horrors, but the result was this: two faculty members, 10 students, 10 lunches, a cooler full of bottled water, and two plates of home-made chocolate chip cookies were all set to leave for our field trip early Saturday morning but we had no vans.

We had reserved vans. We had been told when and where to pick up vans. No vans were forthcoming, and I'd better change the topic quickly before my blood pressure rises to the nuclear zone.

No vans and no human beings available on campus with the authority or the ability to help us figure out what happened to the vans or suggest a solution for the lack of vans or give us official permission to transport students in faculty members' private cars. What could we do--cancel the field trip and send the students back to their beds? We'd never get them out there at 8 a.m. on a Saturday again!

So we opted for private cars, except we didn't have enough seat belts to buckle everyone in. For the sake of safety, it looked as if someone would have to stay behind. I'd done most of the planning for the field trip but my colleague was responsible for delivering a talk about the geology of southern Ohio, a topic on which I am unqualified to orate. I'm happy to talk about the poetry of southern Ohio, but geology falls outside my bailiwick.

So I handed my car over to the oldest and most responsible student and I stayed behind to wave goodbye to my class, my car, my lunch, my chocolate-chip cookies, and even my department's credit card.

They had a great time hiking Hocking Hills, the loveliest and most relaxing place in Ohio, while I frittered away the day doing miscellaneous stuff on campus. (What was I going to do--walk the 20 miles to my house?) I tried not to think too much about what might happen if my battered 18-year-old car suddenly decided to disassemble itself in some godforsaken outpost of Appalachia or if, for instance, that groaning front wheel should detach itself from the axle while the car was traveling at highway speed, which means I didn't get as much work done as you might expect. I mostly waited.

It was a lovely day. Sunshine, blue skies, a pleasant breeze. A great day for hiking. Not so great for waiting.

But in the end, nothing bad happened. The students enjoyed their hike and my car did not fall apart. No human beings were damaged in the creation of this enriching educational activity. Except for me. 

Colleagues keep asking me what could possibly make up for this disappointing experience, and while it's true that I expect to be reimbursed for the costs of transporting students in my car and I would welcome an apology from the person responsible, what I really want is something no one will be able to give me:

I want my Saturday back. Please, can we hit the Reset button and start over?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday poetry challenge: Stump speech

In a cartoon in the current New Yorker, a man and woman sit on a sofa surrounded by cats, with cats in their laps and cats on the floor and cats climbing up the curtains and a cat-shaped clock on the wall. The woman turns to the man and says, "Neither party seems to be talking about cats."

So true, so true. How different this presidential campaign would be if Mitt Romney had tried to confine a cat to a carrier on the roof of his car--the facial scars alone would surely preclude a political career. Neither party is talking about cats or about many other pet peeves, like my students' insistence that they're saying something profound when they describe a work of literature as "relatable" or why we haven't devoted sufficient government funds to the development of a low-calorie ice cream that doesn't taste like plastic. Maybe it's time to junk the current candidates and start over with a clean slate:

If elected, I will first outlaw
"irregardless," then I'll pshaw
the evil plan to raise a tax
on artichokes, and I'll relax
restrictions on deducting fees
for South Pacific junkets. Please
support my plan to build a bridge
to Auckland. I'll install a fridge
inside the Oval Office, stocked
with ginger ale--I'll keep it locked,
protect my store of Haagen-Dazs.
That's what I'll do when I'm the Boss!

But it's not just me. Surely other potential presidential candidates lurk out there just waiting for a chance to toss a hat in the ring. Use the comments to give me your stump speech in any form of verse. Let's get the electorate talking about things that really matter!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Give "Miss" a miss

Every perpetrator of the Nigerian e-mail scam knows how to address total strangers with respect, but students I barely know can't be stopped from addressing me as "Hey, Bev!" Why is this?

And why, after four weeks of class, do I have students who insist on calling me "Miss Hogue" or, worse, "Miss Hog" or "Miss Hue"? We're not in high school, folks! It's not safe to assume that all female professors want to be called "Miss"! And for heaven's sake, my name is not that difficult to pronounce! If I can learn to distinguish between all the Chelseas and Kelsies and Dantes and Coles, there's no reason you can't figure out how to say Hogue!

I was sitting outside in the sunshine grading papers just now when a student walked past and cheerfully called out, "Hi Miss Hue!" At first I wanted to say "I miss you too," but I just saw him in class this morning so I really don't. 

I'd like to miss "Miss"--and "Hey" too, while we're at it. I'm waiting for someone to call out "Hey Miss Hue," to which there would be only one appropriate response: "Gesundheit!"


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Clothing optional

Some mornings I look in my closet and think, "I'm tired of clothes. Finding clothes, buying clothes, matching clothes, mending clothes, assembling clothes into a professional ensemble that doesn't need ironing--I hate clothes. Hate hate hate."

But of course it's not true: I don't hate clothes or I wouldn't waste so much time on the New York Times website looking at the new designer collections during fashion week. I'll never try on or buy or wear the milkmaid-fetish red vested dress by Meadham Kirchhoff or Jeremy Scott's hijab-meets-gogo-boots fantasia, so why do I spend so much time looking at the pictures?

These, of course, are purely theoretical clothes, clothes designed to embellish those whose lives are performance art. For a cranky academic struggling to create a professional wardrobe from the dregs of retail stores available in Appalachia, clothes are not so much art as aren't.

I bought a new suit last month at a local shop. The fit is good, it looks professional, and I like the color, but it's made entirely of petroleum-based polymers. I generally prefer the look and feel of natural fibers even though I hate ironing, but in local stores these days, natural fibers are as rare as fresh strawberries in Antarctica. So I tried on this great suit that looks good and feels comfortable and fits my budget, and I told myself, "So what if it's polyester? Plenty of my colleagues wear polyester all the time without complaining. If they can wear polyester every day, why can't I?"

Because I can't, that's why. I've worn my new polyester suit twice now and I really don't want to wear it ever again. It's fine for the first hour or so, but eventually I start to feel as if I'm trussed up tight in a Hefty trash bag sealed with duct tape. I can't breathe in here! Somebody let me out!

But of course I'm not interested in throwing off clothes entirely. One of the advantages of keeping one's clothes on is that one is unlikely to be splashed semi-nude all over the pages of European newspapers. (And one of the advantages of not being a British royal is that the paparazzi are so busy acting like idiots at the merest glimpse of a title that they tend to leave us commoners alone.)

So I guess I'm in the midst of a love/hate relationship with clothes. It's cool this morning so I'm glad I have something (or a variety of somethings) to cover my flesh and keep me warm, but I'm annoyed at the limited options available in Appalachia for those of us who aren't in love with polyester. And don't even get me started on mail-order clothes, which rarely bear much resemblance to the photographs and descriptions available online. My most recent online purchase is a lovely fall sweater that looks great online and on a hanger, but on the body the thin fabric turns effectively transparent. 

Maybe a hijab isn't such a bad idea.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sounding the vague alarm

I'm having a vague problem, or perhaps my students are having a problem with my use of the word vague on the margins of their papers. Vague, I tell them, might sound like a soft, squishy little word, but it ought to flash and squeal like an air-raid warning--although of course they didn't spend their tender years diving for cover under wooden desks during air-raid drills so they don't know what I'm talking about. See what happens when I try to be specific? They miss my meaning entirely.

I should go back to being vague, like the word vague, which, according to the OED, comes to us from the French vague and, ultimately, the Latin vagus meaning "wandering, inconstant, uncertain, etc." (Is there anything more vague than etc.?) Students complain that my use of vague is itself vague, or, as the OED says, "couched in general or indefinite terms; not definitely or precisely expressed; deficient in details or particulars." How are they supposed to know what to do when they encounter vague in the margin?

The easy answer is "be specific," which could be expressed as "don't be vague," which is just a tad circular, and suddenly I'm reminded of a wonderful student who, years ago, came crying down the hallway near the English department kicking and throwing a paper in front of her. The problem? A professor in another department had marked the margins of the paper with her own private code for "Be Specific": B.S.

The student interpreted that abbreviation very specifically but, alas, not correctly.

Now I have a whole new group of students who are trying to learn what it means to be specific, to write without wandering uncertainly into the ether, and it's not easy. Vagueness beckons like a soft, comfy chair, and I'm the annoying prankster sneaking up behind them with an air-horn sounding the vague alarm. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Doing the Stumbling Snake

A correspondent, sympathizing with my inability to photograph pileated woodpeckers, offers advice: "when retrieving your camera, go more slowly in your 'ornithological glide': move like a stalking snake."

Clearly my correspondent doesn't know me very well.

I have spent enough time with genuine birders to know that they've got  a bit of snake DNA hidden deep within their genes just where I'm carrying the Keystone Kops Kromosome. If you've seen The Big Year, you may have absorbed the absurd notion that birders frantically race through the underbrush knocking over rivals and making an unearthly hullabaloo just to glimpse a sparrow's tail, but anybody who makes that much noise and fuss is unlikely to see anything at all.

I'm not (usually) as loud and ungainly as the guys in The Big Year, but it's not easy being serpentine, especially when the pileated woodpeckers show up while I'm sitting on the deck with a computer on my lap and cup of hot tea in my hand. The camera is inside the house. Between me and the camera are one door, two throw rugs, a vacuum cleaner trailing a power cord, and enough miscellaneous furniture to trip up an entire Korps of Keystone Kops. Perhaps a snake could maneuver the labyrinth without being noticed, but, as I think I've mentioned, I'm not a snake.

And then when I get back outside and try to stalk the woodpeckers down the hill, I still can't quite manage the 'ornithological glide.' Hopeful is dogging my steps and the hillside is covered with loose leaves, fallen buckeyes, and occasional mud pits, so I'm doing whatever it takes to prevent a non-ornithological slide down the slope on my butt. (Maybe that's what inspires the kingfisher's chuckling chatter!)

I took three years of tap and ballet classes when I was a wee tot, but I don't recall ever learning the Ornithological Glide or the Stalking Snake. Instead, I've mastered the Stumbling Snake, the Careening Klutz, and the Bumptious Birder. These steps don't get me close to reclusive woodpeckers, but at least they keep the kingfishers chuckling.         

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Glad I'm not stuck in a Hitchcock film

I've often said that my students seem to be better writers when I read their papers while sitting out on the deck on a beautiful day like today: 72 degrees, no humidity, sunshine and a pleasant breeze. The problem is that it's hard to concentrate on their paper when a pair of  big bold beautiful pileated woodpeckers keep pecking on trees along the fringe of the property, coming just close enough to inspire me to run inside and grab the camera and run down the hillside to get a closer shot, but I'm wearing shoes unmatched to the challenge posed by the swampy muddy spot so I have to back up and go around the long way so that I'm just in time to see the male pileated woodpecker fly off with that distinctive motion as if he's swimming across the sky, and then I'm back to work reading papers but alert for the sounds of the woodpeckers and I hear them downstream and then upstream, slow pecks and then that distinctive chattering, and then there's the female pecking on a tree just down the hill from me but the minute I pick up the camera she's gone again and then along comes a hawk and everything is still and quiet.

I know they're out there and I hope they'll come back, but I'm having a hard time reading student drafts while waiting. What will I tell my students? "Sorry, the birds ate your papers!"


Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday poetry challenge: surprising factoids

Assign a poem that refers to Mickey Mantle and the first question my students ask is "Who's he?" It's hard enough teaching them how poetry works and now I have to teach them baseball too? And in a poem by William Stafford called "Running," they puzzle over the phrase "whacking keds" because they don't recognize the word "keds." Is it some sort of sexual innuendo? Um, no...just a kid running. In sneakers. Like the kind I wore in my youth, back in the day when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

And don't even get me started about the students who assumed James Wright's poem "Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio" was written "during slavery times" and asked me to define the word "Polack."    

I don't know why any of this surprises me. After all, I am old--a lot older than my students, and aging by the minute. We old folks have to work really hard to keep up with the trends, like the fact that nobody wears Keds anymore (and at $45 a pair, I'm not surprised). I'm sure Mickey Mantle, whoever he was, never wore Keds, and if he did, they were probably produced by slave labor in Martins Ferry, Ohio--you know, back in slavery times. Whenever that was.

Oh brave new world
where slaves can drink
at bars with Polacks,
glasses clink-
ing smartly in
the autumn breeze
like whacking keds.
(That's dirty! Please
don't foul my mind
with sex--or worse!)
Say, Mickey Mantle:
who's on first?

Now it's your turn: entertain me by placing in the comments poetry of any sort on something that surprises you.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Stuff and nonsense

There ought to be a law against waking up with a nasty headache on the day students are submitting drafts. Sorry, students, I won't be reading your drafts today! I just don't feel like it! 

But no: I really need to read and respond to these drafts before the next round of student stuff comes in. So I'm doing all the anti-headache stuff I know (wait: too many uses of "stuff" in this paragraph...go back and revise) and waiting for someone to lift the anvil off the top of my skull before I actually start reading. Maybe this afternoon. After I teach two freshman classes back-to-back. With a headache.

Oh, stuff it.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ignorance, blitzed

Early this morning the river was shrouded by pink-tinted fog, like a massive bank of cotton candy or a wall of fluffy insulation. Was it a trick of the light or evidence of pollution? When I drive home in the evening and note the brilliant orange sky beyond the coal-fired power plant, I don't like to think about the airborne particulates responsible for that tint.

Too much knowledge might have polluted my aesthetic experience, so I chose ignorance--but then I came to campus and spent the morning stamping out ignorance. I made my students read a mess of poems and look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary and then write about what they'd learned. Right: no more reading right past the words you don't know. Get to know your language! Figure out how it works!

Then after spending an hour leading students through analysis of diction in poems, I put them to the test. "Take out a piece of paper and a writing implement," I said, to which a student responded, "I don't know what that means." I wanted to say "Look it up!" but we don't have a dictionary in the classroom.

As I often tell my colleagues, it's a good thing ignorance is a renewable resource. Otherwise, we'd all be out of a job.


Monday, September 10, 2012

A voice for the mountain, silenced

Some time ago--can it really be four years?--I wrote about visiting Kayford Mountain, West Virginia, to see up close how mountaintop removal mining devastates the landscape (read it here).  "Located a mere 45-minute drive from Charleston, West Virginia," I wrote, "Kayford Mountain might as well be on the dark side of the moon. Mountaintop removal mining is practiced far from the prying eyes of a public so addicted to coal power that we don't care that this method of mining recovers only a tiny percentage of the coal from the area--while transforming wilderness areas and inhabited hollows into land on which nothing can grow or live."

Larry Gibson lived out his life on Kayford Mountain, devoting the past two decades to educating anyone who would listen about the value of the mountain ecosystem and the irreparable harm caused by mountaintop removal mining. He spoke for the felled trees, the polluted streams, and the birds that have lost their habitat, but he also spoke for the pain of people whose lives are displaced and their environments degraded by a disruptive and unnecessary mining method. 

Larry Gibson walked those hills and spoke for Kayford Mountain until he died there yesterday, age 66, of a heart attack (read about it here). His family's cemetery was destroyed by mining, but the mountain he so loved still stands as a monument to his work. 

For now.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Friday poetry challenge: by the numbers

My long, empty afternoons this week left me feeling as if my talents were being underutilized, but not today! I've just collected my first round of drafts in the Postcolonial Lit class, so I'll have my hands full this weekend: 

20 Lit drafts needing feedback, 
4 class preps (no two the same), 
2 vans full of rowdy students
traveling to a football game.

30 cucumbers in the kitchen
(or maybe more--I didn't count)
plus okra, squash, ripe red tomatoes
piling up in huge amounts.

2 church services on Sunday,
too few hours to sleep (boo-hoo!).
That's my weekend in a nutshell
by the numbers. How 'bout you?

Yes, it's time for the Friday Poetry Challenge to return from its long sabbatical! Leave a comment putting a number on your weekend tasks and making it into some sort of poetry. Who cares if it's good as long as it's fun?

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Fast-break fundamentals

It had to happen eventually: here we are in Sports Literature class talking today about a bunch of basketball poems when I mix my sports metaphors. Let's step up to the plate and tackle the poem "Slam, Dunk, and Hook," shall we? If nothing else, this course illuminates just how heavily we rely on sports metaphors even in analyzing literature.

And how is the class going? Well, I don't know about anyone else, but I'm having fun, although I often feel as if I've run a marathon by the end of class. Today we did an in-class activity I'm calling "Fast-Break Poetry Analysis," designed to give the students practice in identifying certain elements of poetic form. I've been working really hard to get them to move beyond the idea that a poem is either a story (" 'Old Men Shooting Baskets' is a poem about old men shooting baskets...") or a random outpouring of unfiltered emotion ("It means whatever you want it to mean...."). I want them to look at a poem and observe the tools the poets employ, such as  sound patterns, line lengths, rhyme, and rhythm, and then consider how those tools contribute to meaning. But first I have to help them know what to look for.

So we've been looking at poems both in class and out of class and taking note of what we see. Today I broke them into groups of three, assigned one poem to each group, gave them a few minutes to talk about what tools the poet chose to use, and then called out group numbers and gave each group 60 seconds to make a fast break to the whiteboard and write as many tools as they could identify in their particular poems.

It was a little chaotic at times, especially when the groups were cheering each other on, but I was pleased to see the groups competing to see who could identify the most poetic tools--even though I hadn't promised any prizes for the winner. When all the groups had finished, we used their notes on the board as the foundation for our discussion of the poems, which gave the groups a chance to explain their observations and provide examples from the poems and gave me a chance to say "You dunked it!" or "Three points!" 

I'm confident now that they can look at a poem and identify the more common elements of form, a fundamental skill we'll strengthen and develop in the coming weeks. Yes, my Sports Lit team is shaping up, and if we keep drilling on our fundamentals, we can step up to the plate and tackle any poem with a slam-dunk. 

(Ouch. My brain just exploded.)


Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Meadow madness

I wish I could show you what I saw tonight when the sun peeped out from behind a cloud and sent glints of golden light dancing across the fuzzy tops of the tall grasses in the meadow, transforming the flat monotonous green to undulating waves of rustygolden yellowgreen, and then those three tawny deer bursting into motion across the meadow, their white tails bouncing above the grasses and the dark shape of Hopeful dashing off in pursuit despite the fact that she hadn't any hope of catching them, and then the deer leaping above the spiky purple thistle blossoms and disappearing into the woods, and then the sun going back behind the cloud, taking along the glimmer and glisten and rustygolden yellowgreen. I wish I could show you but I can't so you'll just have to go out and see for yourself.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Who wants to chair the Complaint Department?

I don't want to complain, but--wait a minute! Yes I do! I want very much to complain and gripe and whine and grumble because sometimes that's the only way stuff gets done! What I really don't want to do is to appear to complain, to develop a reputation as a constant whiner. So how can I complain under wraps, as it were?

And so here we are back in Passive-Aggressive-Land, where we motivate action through annoying indirection! What a dreary place, with everyone walking around weighed down by chips on shoulders and everyone withholding trust. Who wants to live here?

Maybe we need a Star Chamber where anyone can go whisper complaints into the ear of the Powers That Be without fear of repercussion or reprisal. But it's hard to follow up on anonymous complaints or to prevent people from pursuing personal vendettas. And then sometimes it matters who is making the complaint. If I've built up any credibility or force of character, I'd like to put that power firmly behind a cause that will do the most good.

So what do I do with this measly, gripey, fussy, petty little complaint that wears away at my spirit day after day? No one wants to lay claim to the problem or take responsibility, but I won't be able to get it off my back without dumping it on someone else's. 

Well rats. I do want to complain--but sometimes I simply don't know how.


Monday, September 03, 2012

Sureally speaking

The day has barely begun but I've already fulfilled my weekly quota for surreal moments, starting with arriving on campus to find my classroom building locked. I called campus police to complain and the helpful man at the desk said, "You can expect to find most campus buildings locked since it's a holiday."

"It may be a holiday for you," I said, "but not for me and my students. We have classes in this building starting in 15 minutes so the doors need to be unlocked."

"You should have submitted a request in advance specifying which doors you need to have unlocked," he said. 

The conversation did not go well from that point. He accused me of being rude, and he may have been correct. It's annoying enough to be required to teach on Labor Day, but how can I fulfill that requirement if my students can't get into the building?

But they did! And we had a fun class, in which my next surreal moment arrived during our discussion of The Lion and the Jewel by Wole Soyinka. We were discussing how the village chief, Baroka, felt when a magazine published two large photos of the village beauty but consigned poor Baroka to a tiny photo in the corner alongside the village outhouse. "Nobody puts Baroka in the corner!" I said, setting off a bizarre mental cross-fertilization between The Lion and the Jewel and Dirty Dancing until I was suggesting (out loud!) that it might be interesting to put Baroka and Baby in the same room for a conversation--after all, he is looking for a new wife!

Strange moment, but nobody walked out in disgust. I'd taken the precaution of locking all the doors. 

(Okay, I made up that last part. But not the rest!)

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Poppin' peppers

These cheery little peppers grow side-by-side in our garden but you wouldn't want to get them confused. The smooth one on the right is a dwarf sweet pepper, like a tiny orange pimento with just enough piquancy to remind you that it's a pepper. The wrinkly one on the left--the one that looks like it's smiling at you--is a ripe habanero, hot enough to make your hands tingle when you pick 'em. The one on the right would be great chopped in a salad, or you can just pop it into your mouth for a crunchy snack. If you tried that with the habanero, steam would come out of your ears and your lips would melt right off your face.
We plant the habanero every year but this is the first time for the dwarf sweet peppers, which suddenly produced a pile of peppers demanding attention. I've never stuffed a pepper that small but why not give it a try? So I sauteed some onions, garlic, one small chopped habanero, and one chopped pimento pepper, added ripe peeled tomatoes and seasonings, simmered until it got plenty saucy, and then combined it with cooked rice and browned sausage. I filled each pepper with a tiny spoonful of stuffing, topped 'em with parmesan cheese, and baked for 30 minutes at 350.

The result? They look cute as a button and taste cute too, if you know what I mean. They're much like ordinary stuffed peppers except you can pop 'em into your mouth whole--which could be a mistake if you don't let them cool a bit first. Best of all, they're still growing. I put the leftover stuffing in the freezer so that next time a pile of tiny orange peppers shows up in my kitchen, I'll be ready to roll.

Just as long as they're the right peppers. The wrong ones would hurt.