strike a pose

Look around everywhere you turn it’s heartache.  It’s everywhere that you go.

When you’re a reader it’s not just books that fascinate you.  You read everything, and I mean everything.  The Chinese ladies outside the vegetable markets in San Francisco who push each other out of the way to board the bus, holding those pink plastic bags full of offerings they’ll leave on their front steps with a stick of incense.  The way your daughters lit the candles during Mass, one struggling to reach each wick and the other looking down at her when it was all through as she blew out the taper.  Everything is a story to the reader.

I recently spent the evening with a friend who told me she never reads much into anything, that she was blessed with a bad memory and just let’s it all go.  I wish I was like that!  If you’re an artistic contemplative over-thinking-type reader like me, you just can’t do that.  No, you’ve got to enter into every story, get behind the characters, and feel what they feel, wonder at what they’re doing, go where they go.  It’s exhausting.  And while it’s easy to put down a novel whose characters you don’t like or whose plot repels you for whatever reason, we don’t have this luxury with life.  That’s a story we simply can’t put down.  And I don’t know about you but it’s been a pretty dismal read lately.  A barrage of bad news in the world, in my community and family, in my own heart.  I tell myself all things are passing, but underneath it all it just sounds like Dorothy clicking her heels. [Read more…]

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deliver me from these papers!

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

~ Max Ehrmann “Desiderata,” a poem my Freshman Comp students read this summer

As I mentioned in a previous post (the examined life), I jumped off a cliff this summer when I decided at the last minute to accept an offer to teach a class that required a major curricular overhaul — I had taught this class for many many years but had specifically left it gasping for breath by the roadside before the dean up and decided he wanted me to teach it this summer.  I prayed, any course but that one.  Please not that one.  But low and behold, the wait lists for that course swelled and he created a new section for me.  I was forced to go back after all this time and look at my old class, wheezing and nearly gone by now, and I thought, maybe I can just pick her up and shake her a bit, or maybe just push her out there into the road with some crutches and hope for the best.  But when I realized what I really wanted to do was kick her further into the ditch — it would only take a gentle nudge, really — I had to do something.  Something drastic.   A total transformation of phoenix proportions.  It was even an online section, which meant not only would I have to come up with a new idea and pull all my readings and writing assignments together, but I had to build the virtual brick and mortar, too!  Reach for your Xanax and call me crazy, but one thing you should know about me is that I have great faith in possibility, and, I guess, no worries about failure because it only took me about two seconds to hop in the bulldozer and drive right over her.  All will be well.  There, there. Now, now.  Don’t you worry.  Leap and build your wings on the way down.

Well, I’m flying away . . . with Etta James and a choir of angels clapping and swaying as I knock out these remaining final papers.  You’ve got to have good grading music, and this is perfect today!  I’m looking at these wings and thinking about what I wrote in the examined life.  How I worried over this new idea — would the students hate it?  Would the men, as my friend Kozo warned, trample each other for the exit doors?  My emphasis on compassion and well-being might just kill them in the water.  Whelp, the angels must be watching over me because after the usual shuffling in and out during the first week of classes, I’ve had zero attrition.  No one dropped.  To be honest I usually do pretty well retaining students but inevitably some do abandon ship for various reasons.  It happens.  But a summer quarter distance learning class comprised of stragglers who were late registering or otherwise left hopelessly waiting on a list for someone else’s class?  And I even made them write a paper every week!  I guess they were thirsty after all, and not for me or anything I did, but for hope and the promise of something better.

I’ll make it alright.  I’ll make it alright.  ~ gospel lyric sung by Etta James



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i’ve got dreams to remember

When you sing gospel you have a feeling there is a cure for what’s wrong.

~ Mahalia Jackson

If you don’t die of thirst, there are blessings in the desert.  You can be pulled into limitlessness, which we all yearn for, or you can do the beauty of minutiae, the scrimshaw of tiny and precise.  The sky is your ocean, and the crystal silence will uplift you like great gospel music.

~ Anne Lamott

In another life I raised the roof.  Closed my eyes, clenched my hands, and sang so people cried.  For some reason I can’t seem to do it anymore, but there’s an echo somewhere inside me that remembers, and so I listen and sway and feel it deep in my bones.  I sing in the car without a care who sees me dancing in my seat–yes I am that crazy lady who will wave at you if you laugh and then dance some more.  And I’m absolutely convinced that should I ever sink to the depths of despair, I could rest my head on James Taylor’s chest for just one song and all would disappear into the vibration and soulful hum of his voice.   Music is God’s energy in its most beautiful form, and I couldn’t imagine living without it.

So I was intrigued by this short documentary 20 Feet from Stardom currently showing in our local indie movie house.  It tells the story of several unknown female recording artists who made their living singing backup on studio records and touring with legendary rock and roll bands like The Rolling Stones and R & B artists like Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson.  Biggest love and I caught an afternoon matinee today and we loved it.  So much joy despite some obvious heartbreak in their stories.  Singing like church on Sunday in the South.  I even danced a little in my seat!

Check if it’s playing in your area.

Read “A Documentary to Sing About” from Ty Burr of the Boston Globe

Somebody just gave me a shower radio. Thanks a lot. Do you really want music in the shower? I guess there’s no better place to dance than a slick surface next to a glass door.

~ Jerry Seinfeld

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