Monday, February 29, 2016


Students tell me clearly that they hate writing that is disconnected from them, from what they want to say and how they want to say it. Yet writing program administrators insist on forging ahead with curricula divorced from student interest and experience and agency. I don't get it. But I do get that I am not doing that any more. What I am doing is getting ready for a foray into the woods of wonder. Before I jump ship, though, I need to think about where it is I'm going to land. That means a long haul of getting my house in order. I need to sell cars, sever ties, cancel memberships, find replacements, clean out clutter. But more than all that, it's time to prep the mind. I'm off to the jungle and will need to travel light, think fast, write what I want to write. A plan. I need a plan. Actions too.

End Game. Leap Day.

After a day spent grading papers, an open hour sits between me and heading to the next thing. It's a leap day too, rarest of combinations: free time and extra day. When I get a chance like this to take a breath, I open into reveries of what this life is all about. What do I hope to accomplish before it's all over? The short answer is that I forget. But this is the extra day, so I will slip the gears of routine and remember. For one thing, I am sure there are two worlds. One is the world of getting and taking, of winners and losers. Let's call that the fear (or Trump) world, and it is run by angry children. The other world is about giving and filling in and being. Let's call that the heart world, or the love world. Love isn't diminished if you give it away. It grows. Of course, operating from the heart world will leave one open to rip-off and exploitation by the angry, broken ones. That's one of the prices you pay for what you get in the heart realms. So, what is the end game here? It's to feel, share, imagine, and create. My work is to remember to take from these quiet reminders an image of where I am going. Now, if I can only remember that there is no place to go. If my mind gets clear, I'm already there. Now that's a cooked noodle. Good thing these days only come once every four years. Or not. As if I could get what I want by doing the same old things. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Navigation (One of Those Affirmation Things)

In the bath of noise, chaos, and distraction that is this life, it helps to find stars by which to navigate. The funny thing is that I have to put those stars up there in my little mental sky. If I don't pin joy, creativity, and responsibility for my own happiness up there in the indigo cosmos, I might never find where the hell it is I want to go. It's all terra incognita from here on out if I am honest with myself. The old rules don't apply. So I have begun to gather the necessary nuggets to throw into the furnace of star building and have lit the flame of the forge. My cannon for firing the illuminated balls of fusion is waiting. The fire will be in the hole as soon as some of the results of living a vision show up, as soon as actions begin to bear fruit, as soon as the old shit of self-imposed limitation recedes in my rear-view mirror. This life is a fragile, crazy burning verb that will eventually kill me. As the inmates say, "life is a terminal disease." I might as well enjoy every step I take in that inevitable direction, the only ordained outcome. The story of what life looks like between here and there is still waiting to be written. The only limits lay in the words that might light the way. It feels odd to take hold of the helm, to squint into the blankness, to impose on the indifference a course heretofore unimagined. I stoop and fumble, awkward at first, in the darkness, feeling for the words I might piece together, words that live on long after I am gone, words that might guide actions, themselves the destination, right here, right now. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

A Blank Slate

The day stretches before me, as open and empty as the Bonneville Salt Flats. The white under the morning sun shimmers. I can't turn away from the invitation to gaze at its immensity, its untenanted innocence, the loveliness of its nothing. More than all the scribblings, more than the sum of natterings, more than most beautiful of somethings out there in the libraries, museums, and sacred vaults of human striving, the nothing awakens me to the immediacy of what might happen next. The day doesn't care what I do and howls with laughter that I expect it to smile or frown. The moon chuckles as it slips below the the breast of a ridge to the west. Silly man. Silly man. As if it mattered to me what you wanted. No, the blank slate offers no help, only the suggestion that I might make the most of a beating heart, a drawn breath, a generous mortality.

Friday, February 12, 2016

You Never Know

As you wend your way along your circuitous path of chance going first this way then that, you never know when you will be struck as if by thunder and have your heart splayed open like a steamed clam. You never know when the fever will end or how high it will rise or where your crazed feet will carry you as consider ways to quell the ache of openness, the helplessness of no defense. You may long for the quiet numbness of the days before you were blessed, but you know that the fires will dim soon enough. While they burn you witness your gifts being peeled away one by one and surrender to a tender hunger. All that you have you leave at the altar, the monument to your having passed by this way some time ago, long before you were old enough to remember. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Old School

I am in trouble.

I am not doing what I am supposed to be doing, at least in the classroom.

What I am doing is inviting first-year writing students to tell some of the story of who they are and to reflect on how and why it is they got to be that way.

They seem to like it. They seem to like the writing they do that expresses some of this to the community that the class becomes once everyone in class in in the same boat.

I'm not supposed to be doing this.

The higher-ups think students telling stories about their uses of language and how that affects their identities is too "touchy feely," too personal, insufficiently "rigorous."

I find that students are more interested in the strategies they can use to improve their writing when they are interested and engaged in what they are writing. I bring the rigor and the techniques and the purposes, audience, and rhetorical situation to the discussion once it means something to the students, once these abstractions have some relevance to what they are writing.

And yes, I teach them terms related to writing processes. I talk about invention, looping, focusing, developing, arranging, dividing, organizing. I talk about tone, audience, persona, voice. I talk about sentences, active verbs, sensory detail, specificity, and precision.

I want them to use these terms when they talk to each other about about peer writing. I want them to talk like writers, like teachers even.

I also want them to be agents of their own language, shapers of discourse, critics of accepted norms.

I do not teach them mere technique or how to use language with no thought to the consequences of misinforming, misleading, or misrepresenting. I hope I teach them respect for words and for what words mean.

All of this, to the modern academy, is quaint, if not vaguely indecent.

I am an anachronism among my colleagues. All of those who think as I do have moved on.

Oh, well. So be it.

I walk to class carrying the banner of a bygone set of values, values that, to me, are as rippling with vitality as the undying embers of true love.

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Man's Work

At the end of the day
At the end of a life
When the heavy lifting
Of providing
Is done
The real work remains

Beneath the clutter
Of complaint
And sting of being
Overlooked targeted misunderstood
You see it is not
About deserving or fair or redemption

You give up licking old wounds

You no longer wait to be saved
But begin the work of resurrecting yourself

You sharpen your gaze
And do not look away

You want your soul
More than fame or love or comfort

You remember the assignment given at birth

Your work is to desire that which endures
To step forward
With every tool
You have crafted from the stones
Of your questions
To meet the fear
Unlock the gate
The obstacle blocking you from
Your joy
Your grief
The thrill of your
Divine inheritance 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Read 'Em and Weep

Every word rang true. They pulled the covers off his secrets with a cruel grace. Though he was alone, he felt eyes watching, eyes that now knew more than he wanted to reveal. How could these simple words work the magic that they did? The worst of it was the realization that someone had gotten here before him, had unearthed the treasure he had spent a lifetime searching for, and held it up for the world to see. He knew now that he was, in the stroke of a computer key, an also-ran. His days on the trail, hacking away at the branches that blocked his progress, the dreams that visited him carrying amends he needed to make, demons he needed to meet, sins for which to atone, had all been for naught. The story he thought would save him, he realized, was an old one, one that readers already knew. His hopes of salvation, of something that might redeem him, went up in so much smoke. It was with some relief that he turned away from the need to be special and took up the mantle of ordinary. Art had left him for a better deal, so he took up with Anonymity, who treated him well enough, maybe even learned over the years to love him.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


The house was deep in sleep when the water bottle burped. Air pressure equalized at that precise moment the cat sprung through her door and the silence was disrupted. An owl called into the darkness from the other side of the big mesquite, outside the fence. The confluence of sound woke him from a reverie of consummation that would never happen in his working life. He was unhappy about rousing like that in the middle of the night out of the only real happiness he knew. That said, being awake wasn't so bad. He saw things clearly, in simple, direct language at this time of night. He could be utterly honest with himself and mainly saw his part in his own failures. The cat jumped up on the bed and greeted him with a request for food. He heard a car go by on the road up the hill behind the house. It would be many hours until first light. His was an easy and boring life, one which, when done, would be remembered by no one. He wondered if he would ever take the chance that might send the trajectory of his days spinning off in a new direction, a billiard ball sent careening off course down a wide, green felt of possibility.