Monthly Archives: February 2013

Little Shot of Sunshine A.S.A.F.P.

I have a serious case of the Februaries (as my friend Jessica calls them). Tired of winter. Tired of dark. Tired of tired of tired of tired.

So you know how we sometimes say someone or something is a force of nature?

Well–the sun is THE force of nature, right?

So let’s MacGyver our moods, shall we? Borrow our myopic buddy’s glasses and make a prism to focus what little sun there is on whatever target needs it most.

BOOM! Fire! Explosion! And we’re free.

(That’s how it works on TV anyhow.)

Seriously. Give someone a compliment. Say thanks. Apologize. Tell a joke. Randomly shoot a thumbs-up when you see someone doing anything remotely thumbs-uppable. Do it now. Or As Soon As Freaking Possible.

I know I need it. I know I’m not alone.

And lest anyone mistake this for a Pollyanna moment (or, as someone near and dear to me is capable of, a Nucleanna moment)–I think there’s a poopload of bleakness and bad news around.

But a little shot of sunshine now and then, that makes the poop more bearable.

At least in theory.

My favorite color.

My favorite color.


{photo from flickr, Creative Commons, by Beau B–no real name given because he is apparently a high school student. Usage of this photo should not be construed as an endorsement of underage drinking, drinking to excess, or drinking in the workplace. It’s just pretty. And a pun.n Plus, if you know me, you know the acrylic nails just crack me up.]

Each Other’s Anodyne

I’m working today on the manuscript of a chapbook of poems about teaching and working as a professor. The working title is Each Other’s Anodyne, in which case this is the title poem.

I posted it as a note on Facebook two years ago. During Wisconsin’s Arab(esque) Spring.

The ice on our streets and sidewalks, the way the snow is crunchy, the way slush turned to gray iron–it would be so treacherous if we were protesting in Madison today. So I’m glad we’re not.

In general, the political turmoil is overall lower, and I am relieved–I felt wiped out emotionally and spiritually by that spring, and the failed recall didn’t help revive me. Other things have helped. The passage of time has helped.

Finding this poem again for the manuscript brings it all back, though, and I have to ask:

How much has changed, really?

This poem still resonates with me. (And I still need to revise the second sonnet to focus more on Firefly.)

(It’s a crown of sonnets, if you’re into form at all.)


The weary teacher lays his pen aside
And rubs his eyes, says to his wife, “All right,
I’ll come to bed.” They both know he will try
To grade some more in the morning. All through the night
Another teacher wakes up anxious, mad
At everyone. She yells at her husband and son,
But it’s not their fault. It’s not the teachers’ fault.
In a dark time, our hard work shines too bright.
We’re public target practice. We’re spittoons.
For a time, a shining time, we were solid
In the middle class, rewarded for working hard
To help synapses snap and shimmer in the light.
Tempus fugit, damn it, sad but true:
The best shows all get cancelled way too soon.

The best shows all get cancelled way too soon.
Post-modernly they hooked us and we swooned
At heroes rounding all the genres up
To drove them o’er the plains. Inspire us!
The hooker with the heart of brass blew up
The patriarchy, blam! The runt did chin-ups
Until he made the winning catch, two times.
The rocket rounded earth, accompanied by chimes
At midnight, and we, we got attached too fast
To what the larger corporate sponsor failed
To see a profit in. It couldn’t last,
But we had no idea the cruise ship had sailed.
We made a snack and snuggled, and watched the show.
The nights were longer then, with deeper snow.

The nights were longer then, and deeper snow
Made driving slower. Now darker days have come
Despite the later sunsets. We didn’t know
How sweet it was—our biggest worry was some
Stupid internet scam our students fell for—
An octopus living in trees. Like always, slow
In winter—we did our jobs, shoveled some more,
And then the Packers won the Super Bowl!
For Valentine’s, our governor went nuclear.
So far he’s systematic—everything
We care about, he wants to cut. Budget despair
Has set in hard. It will not ever be spring.
Thick fog, black scabs of snow, raw time, hard earth.
But up in the gray, three sand hill cranes, flying north.

Up in the gray, three sand hill cranes, flying north.
Inexorably, the seasons change. They do.
But broken-hearted, raw, beleaguered blue—
We cannot trust the calendar. It’s death
We see when we look around—dead trees, dead grass
Below the layered shale of sooty ice.
Just like “always winter and never Christmas,”
We long for a miraculous thaw or a looking glass.
Not knowing is the worst; at least we think
It is—we’ll think that until we learn the worst.
However far we’ve learned our hopes can sink,
they’ve sunk so far, and farther, and farthest.
We thought we had a thaw, but it froze again.
The ditches are full of ice. But it is thin.

The ditches are full of ice, but it’s too thin
For skating. It makes a satisfying crunch
When you stomp it. Let’s watch the two of them—
These women hiking, sharing a picnic lunch.
One’s tiny—she can almost walk across
The ice before it breaks. Almost. Not quite.
Crashing, they are each other’s anodyne.
One lover catches another and she laughs,
“You silly thing.” And just like that, the tears
come flying out, “I’m sorry I dragged you here.
I can’t even make you my wife. This stupid state
Is stupid. I hate it. Hate, hate, hate.”
“Please don’t hate on my account. Not ever.
We’ve made a home. Your students need you here.”

We’ve made a home where students need us. Here
In the trenches, in the cold and the muck of open admission,
We’re spinning plates for students, showing where
Centrifugal becomes centripetal
With just the right transitional phrase. They take
The plates away from us, they break the glass
Bell jars and ceilings, they celebrate the figures
That animate their dreams the night they made
The quadratic formula prove itself on threat
Of death, organismic, de dicto, real.
Whatever ivory tower there ever was,
It’s gone for good, and most of us are thrilled.
We may stay—we may move on—but we are sure—
If not Wisconsin, somewhere, someone will learn.

If not Wisconsin, somewhere, someone will learn
That when you titillate the lesser devils
Of our nature, when you go all Soviet
And wish my cow would die (you ate your own),
You’re just a toddler berserker tearing down
the walls, affronted when the ceiling lands.
America seemed like such a good idea.
I guess it’s possible it might again.
Uncertain of so much save that we stand,
The union of other and each, screaming
At the snow, we can keep each other warm.
We can be each other’s anodyne,
Inventing for each other a kind of summer
When weary teachers lay their pens aside.




This is what I remember from the protest. Unlike anti-war protests I’d been to in the past, so many of the protestors two years ago were older than me, middle class, looking for all the world like the mild-mannered sort of folk who’d never consider leaving home to protest. When I look at them now all I can think is “heroes.”

The good work goes on. Teachers are still teaching, and even though “Each Other’s Anodyne” is the title poem from my chapbook, it is not the end of the story. This is: “No One Can Stop Us.”

And even though we lost the recall, and the vast majority of the protesting is done, there are still voices out there that inspire me. Recently, Margaret Rozga accepted a Martin Luther King Jr. Award on behalf of her late husband, James Groppi. Her speech was terrific, and the video is inspiring to watch. Her poetry is terrific, and I’m so pleased for her at the attention it’s getting. But you know what else inspires me about Peggy? The years and years and years and years she taught.
[Photo from flickr, Creative Commons. Taken by Richard Hurd on February 19, 2011.]

“I see it . . . I see you”

In the yinny-yangy world of work, my last post, “Welcome to UW-Bitchland,” was a protest against a criticism I responded badly to–someone suggested that full-time faculty should be on campus five days a week. Since I’m not, I took it personally. I absolutely don’t agree. I’m VERY available to students in person when I’m on campus (four days a week), and on email when I’m not (I check email six days a week). Also this: “Relax! You’ll Be More Productive!” (I took their energy audit and I am officially only 20% energized. Sheesh. More on that another time.)

But today, I’m really, truly feeling the love. A colleague who’s probably 15 years younger than me checked in through email–someone had criticized me in a way she thought was simply not true, and she just wanted to check in.

Driving to work I was thinking how lucky I am to have worked in a place with people ahead of me and behind me (chronologically) who supported me.

It’s more than support. I truly feel that I have a solid cohort of folks who see me, who get me, who appreciate me.

So of course, I was reminded of Bradley Cooper.

In multiple interviews, he relates this story, how he had “taped an audition scene with his mother, hoping to land a role as De Niro’s son in 2009’s ‘Everybody’s Fine.’ A hotel meeting ensued, Cooper remembers, that was typically short and pointed.’He looked at me,’ Cooper says, ‘and he said, “Yeah, you’re not gonna get it [Sam Rockwell did], but I see it . . . I see you . . . I see you . . . oh, uh, who was reading the other role, your mother? Yeah, I thought that.'”

What you see when you watch a lot of Bradley Cooper interviews is how over-the-moon he has been and still is about Robert DeNiro. It’s unabashed. And apparently, it’s mutual–Mr. DeNiro also gushed on Katie Couric’s show.

So here’s me gushing: I’m celebrating love of colleagues this Valentine’s Day. I’m not saying I love every single one of my colleagues (what are the odds of that even being possible?), but I am saying thank-you to people who have said to me in so many ways over the years, “I see it…I see you.”

I want to try harder than ever to say it back, to seek out those people and those moments and say it loud and proud: “I see it…I see you.” I love you.


Valentines in the window of the British Heart Foundation Charity Shop - Uxbridge

Valentines in the window of the British Heart Foundation Charity Shop – Uxbridge

(photo from flickr creative commons by Spixey)

Welcome to UW-Bitchland

On further reflection we have removed the timeclocks
We asked you to use to punch in and out every day.
We were never pleased with the level of compliance
among certain faculty members who shall be unnamed,
and we recently learned student workers were employed
to clock in and out, being notified by email and text.
And even after the reasonable minimum had been set,
there were those who insisted 40 hours qualified
as full-time. Oh really? Since when? Well, nevermind.
The purchase of GPS ankle bracelets has been authorized
and yours will arrive sometime this week. As you can see,
they are unobtrusive. They match everything.

We’ll now know every minute you’re on campus.
Actual productivity means much less to us.
(timeclock pic from flickr, creative commons, posted by Philo Nordlund. Ankle bracelet from Wikipedia, Wikipedia commons.)

This post should probably always be paired with the next one, “I see it…I see you.”

Pretty Bleak

UPDATE! ENG 203 students helped me revise.  We put in “bleeding” instead of “blue-gray” in line five, AND we’re contemplating using a verb/gerund in the last line, something along the lines of dancing/prancing like a gas (based on the heaving and skipping preceding it).


for Alayne


Unremittingly gray and beige and white,

The forecast should have called for headache weather.

This must be what arthritis looks like

From inside the land of pain. Frozen virus showers.

Bleeding  pewter, slate, graphite, gray.

Dirty snow. Even pine trees look more black than green.

Oh, February. Oh, Wisconsin. Oh.

I would flush this bleakness like shit if I could.

Another month at least of scraping the windshield.

Of all plans depending on what the weather pretties say.

I almost don’t believe in hot and humid,

In a day when there is zero percent chance of snow.

And yet, just that fast, the snow’s subliming,

Heaving from solid, skipping liquid, free as a gas.


Snow in Italy (NASA Goddard Photo and Video NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Snow in Italy (NASA Goddard Photo and Video NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

We know it snows in Italy.  Here’s proof.

But that’s not what we think of when we think of Italy. Here’s to a sunny day, sitting on a stone veranda, drinking a chewy wine out of one of those little water glasses.  Cheers!


(photo from Flickr, Creative Commons)

Being Strategic About Lent

Convergence of the universe, February 10, 2013 example:

We’re heading into a week with Mardi Gras and Lent, and then Valentine’s Day, which will feature a visit to my campus from the UW Colleges Chancellor and Provost.

Really feels like the universe got its dates mixed up. Shouldn’t it be Mardi Gras, Valentine’s, and THEN Lent? I would say, in general, prolonged contact with administrators makes me feel Lenten. (I mean that in the sweetest possible way, of course.)

So take that week of big dates and mash it up with a book I’m reading, The Generals, by Thomas Ricks (“One of Ricks’s strengths is that his judgments are nuanced” says one reviewer. I’ll say. I bought two copies of the book as a “family book club” selection–my parents and my husband and I are making our way through it.)

So then take that book and those dates and layer them on top of my recent attempts to make good use of Things and a Sunday meeting, and here’s what we get:

I’m feeling the need to be my own General Patton, my own Ike, my own General George C. Marshall, and be strategic about how I’m spending my time, supremely allying my short-term goals with my long-term goals and the available hours.

Here are the quotes I’m finding stunning this morning:

According to Ricks, “Marshall understood that Eisenhower had a talent for implementing strategy. And that job, Marshall believed, was more difficult than designing it. ‘There’s nothing so profound in the logic of the thing….But the execution of it, that’s another matter.'”

Interestingly, until I typed it, I was misreading this as “nothing so profound AS the logic of the thing,” which is telling, since I LOVE, love, love designing plans, so of course I’d be biased in their favor.

When Marshall met with Eisenhower right after Pearl Harbor , he gave him a test, saying, “Look, there are two things we have got to do. We have to to do our best in the Pacific and we’ve got to win this whole war. Now, how are we going to do it? Now, that is going to be your problem.” Ricks presents the next part in an understated way that emphasizes the drama:

“‘Give me a few hours,’ Eisenhower requested.”

Can you imagine? Mind-blowing.

Ricks quotes Eisenhower repeatedly from Ike’s memoirs (which I now very much want to read), here matching a quote from Ike to the incredible test above, “I loved to do that kind of work” Ike wrote. “Practical problems have always been my equivalent of crossword puzzles.”

According to Ricks, the thing Ike was amazingly good at was prioritizing.

Which is something I’m amazingly bad at sometimes. So I want to learn from this:

“Prioritizing tends to be a forgotten aspect of strategy. The art of strategy is foremost not about how to do something but about what to do. In other words, the first problem is to determine what the real problem is. There are many aspects to any given problem, the strategist must sort through them and determine its essence, for there lies the key to its solution. Eisenhower clearly understood the need to separate the essential from the merely important.”

Wowie, zowie. That’s my task: separating the essential from the merely important. To some extent, this echoes other works I’ve read, such as Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which I read as a birthday present TO my father one year. I was broke since his birthday is in September (and academics don’t get their first paycheck until October–it took me a lot of years to figure out how NOT to be broke in September), so I pledged to read books he’d been recommending.  I was pleasantly surprised by Covey’s book.

But somehow reading about these things in the context of WWII seems really compelling to me right now, and wow–I had no idea how HUGE George Marshall was in effecting our success.

I enjoyed the chapter on Patton, about whom Ricks says, “The blustery Patton behaved in ways that would have gotten other officers relieved, but he was kept on because he was seen, accurately, as a man of unusual flaws and exceptional strengths.”  And I’m now on the chapter about Mark Clark, who, according to Ricks, “was perhaps, never quite bad enough to relieve but not quite good enough to admire.” That’s damning.

So I’m summoning my inner General Marshall to appoint my inner Ike to implement my plan and keep my inner Patton under control.

General Patton, from Flickr Creative Commons, attr. to clif1066

General Patton, from Flickr Creative Commons, attr. to clif1066

Forward, march!

Party on Mardi Gras.  Express love on Valentine’s Day. Give nothing up for Lent; instead add IN supreme focus on prioritizing.

Left-right-left-right-left-right (doo wah diddy diddy dum diddy doo).

Hollywood Juggernaut Fatigue–and yet….

One week into 21 Days of Bradley Cooper and I might be done.

Not done with loving Silver Linings Playbook. I went to see the movie a second time today (how long has it been since I went to see a movie twice IN THE MOVIE THEATER?) and loved it again.

Here’s why:
+Amazing performances across the board.
+The movie has such a strong visual sense of itself. Every scene’s evocative.
+Wild & weird mashup of genres: it’s a family drama, and a personal-redemption-journey, and a romantic comedy, and a come-from-behind sports drama.
+It nails themes I truly believe in: redemption is possible, being authentic is messy but worth it, you should stand by the people you love, normal is boring.
+Bradley Cooper himself, of course. I was so startled at his performance. Who WAS that guy, I left the theater wondering. I knew he’d been “Sexiest Man Alive,” but barely–when he got that sobriquet, I had no idea who he was. After Silver Linings Playbook, I started getting some of his older movies from the library. Here’s how little I knew–I kept waiting for the time-traveling hot tub as I watched Hangover.

In his Oscar-nominated performance, he shows a range I haven’t seen yet in any of his other movies. There are hints of it in a lot of his movies, so if I’d been a fan before, I wouldn’t have been quite so surprised, but nothing with this much anger, affection, vulnerability, humor, bravado, coolness, sexiness, fear, courage…. What a part! And he nailed it.

But wow–one caption for this photo of Mr. Weinstein & Mr. Cooper after the Golden Globes said something like “What is Harvey telling Bradley he has to do?” I’ll tell you what he’s telling him. “Go on every, single talk show available between now and when people have to turn in their Oscar ballots.”

And spend some time on public service type appearances, because the movie genuinely does humanize mental illness, and genuinely does honor the supreme effort individuals and families have to make just to have a chance at doing regular stuff.

The cynic in me wonders just what this writer wondered about the meeting between Mr. Cooper, David O. Russell, and Vice President Joe Biden:

“In addition to shining a light on mental illness, Russell and Cooper — both Oscar nominees — could help the standing of ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ within the Academy as well. As’s Pete Hammond noted, the Best Picture nominee is often light-hearted, and shifting the conversation to its more serious aspects could help ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ gain traction within an awards body that doesn’t often reward romantic comedies.”

I suppose it’s possible that they’re all calculating and cynical out there in Hollywoodland.

I suppose it’s also possible that Mr. De Niro was acting when he cried on Katie Couric’s couch.

Could also be possible that Mr. Cooper was acting when he was overcome by emotion repeatedly on his own appearance on “Inside the Actor’s Studio.”

But you know what? I’m not that cynical. If the University of Montana (where I got my MFA) had cause to ask me to appear in front of a crowd, and my friends from grad school showed up, and my parents were there (and one parent were seriously ill), I think I’d be pretty gosh-darned verklempt myself.

As for the Hollywood Juggernaut of Promote-Promote-Promote, I think they’re all being good employees and promoting the movie like crazy. They do know where their paychecks come from, after all.

But I believe the movie meant something to them at every stage and still does and they’re just riding the wave of publicity for all its worth. I believe these folks when they say the movie was personal, and I believe them when they say they love it if the movie helps de-stigmatize mental illness.

But until Tuesday, February 19, when Oscar voters have to return their ballots to Price Waterhouse, I think my Bradley Cooper Google alert will be full to overflowing.

Mr. Cooper and Mr. Russell at the Mill Valley Film Festival last fall.

Mr. Cooper and Mr. Russell at the Mill Valley Film Festival last fall.

They looked tired, even then. Or maybe I’m projecting. I’m tired. And I’m not even promoting a movie.

However tired they might or might not be, there are only 10 days left before the voting is done. Only two weeks before the Oscar ceremony.

And then forever to keep talking about the best movie I’ve seen in a long, long time.

(picture from Flickr Creative commons, attributed to diginmag)