Category Archives: Politics

Faithless Delegate, Brokered Heart

Being a battleground state is exhausting.
My red counties, my blue counties,
my precincts, my wards–they spar and spit
at each other, they tally slights, they want revenge.

The answer to Rodney King’s question is simply we can’t
get along. We don’t even all
get to vote, and still the turnout is huger
than it has been since the early 70s. But

when it comes right down to the chad of it,
my brain and all my good habits
don’t stand a fucking chance against
the power of illogic. This panic attack

is a faithless delegate on the convention floor,
voting for whomever he pleases,
my heart littered with campaign trash. I won’t
demand a recount. I just want everything quiet again.


Translated into Chinese!!!!!!

I was wrong about which blog post it was, but I’m STILL freaking excited that my colleague at UW-Richland, Faye Peng, translated some of my writing into Chinese!

It’s the post previous to this, “Here’s What It’s Like” (which is, as of this moment, up to 228 views).

She didn’t translate the whole thing so I’ll just say that I know budget cuts aren’t really like the things I described. Oh–also–not sure how the movie references play in translation–there are references to The Titanic (which I’ve never actually seen), Seven (which I have seen), and Sophie’s Choice (which I’ve seen a LOT).

Here’s how I was wrong. I first thought that my found poem using all direct quotes from the amazing TV show The Wire), “Contemplating the Declining Percentage of Investment in Higher Education and in Particular Legislators and Governors who Nevertheless Cheer Hard for their Sports Teams, While Also Mulling the Curious Maneuvers of University Leadership that May or May Not Yield Good Results for Those of Us in the Trenches, So to Speak,”  had been translated into Chinese.








Pedagogy Stew: October 2013

Picture an eighth-grade boy in the late 1970s. Sort of a cross between Richie Cunningham and Shaun Cassidy. Watch him as he jams a little nubbin of a pencil so far into an electric pencil sharpener that it runs continuously, leaving the not-too-bright teacher to puzzle over the mystery of it all.

Don’t worry about that boy. He’ll grow up to be an aeronautics engineer.

The teacher? He’ll get fired. He had so little control in the classroom, we looked like one of those inspiring hero-teacher movies BEFORE the hero shows up.

That’s the closest I ever came to being homeschooled, when this teacher was in the process of being fired. My Dad was on the school board, and when the teacher accused me of crying to my parents about how mean he was (I complained, but I don’t remember crying), they pulled me out of school. But it wasn’t really homeschooling. I just sat in a lawn chair in the corner of my Grandma Roane’s lawn (which was kitty-cornered to the school) and waved at everyone when they were at recess. Soon enough a hunky-hero teacher showed up and I went back to school.

I was lucky enough to spend an evening with many of my eighth grade friends in early August this past summer, and it was terrific seeing all these folks again. What we went through in grade school bonds us in deep ways.

We caught up on all kinds of things. We agreed the hunky-hero teacher still looks pretty great, thirty-plus years on.

We chose to get together this summer.

But the time we spent together back then wasn’t out of choice. Not ours, and not our parents’.

We went to school where we went to school because there wasn’t an alternative.

Since most of us were from staunch Baptist or Methodist or Pentecostal families, the Catholic school in the next town would never have seemed like an alternative, though it occurs to me now that it was.

I don’t think any of us had ever heard of homeschooling.

Homeschooling is but one of many, many alternatives now. School choice in Wisconsin means my husband and I can send our son to any local elementary school, including our choice, the Studio School, which is a public school/charter school/school within a school. Next year, there may be a STEM school (focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in Arena we could send him to. School vouchers in Wisconsin mean we could send him to a private school and get some state money for it (wait—really? That can’t be right. Maybe I dreamed that).

Our two main criteria for deciding how to school our son are these: is he happy? Is he learning?

I’m glad to have alternatives. I’m glad we get to have criteria beyond “if the teacher is horrible, we’ll try to get him fired.”

But it’s not just nostalgia when I miss the simplicity of how I went to school.

(This column originally appeared in Voice of the River Valley.)

The problem isn’t teachers.

for Heather, and so, so many more

The gritty nasty easy complaints take root
even when we try to weed them out.
The problem isn’t teachers. It isn’t you,

not if you’re teaching, it’s sure not.
We know what it’s all about
when gritty nasty easy complaints take root

in public discourse. Money is the root,
the square root, when we hear how
the problem is teachers. It isn’t you,

no, not you, rich man, you tell the truth
about those lazy public employees. Shout
those gritty nasty easy complaints! The root

is poverty, and unearned self-esteem, and too,
too much testing and less learning, but
the problem isn’t teachers. It isn’t you

my friend, my hero, my diligent compatriot.
Teaching well is about telling the truth.
Gritty nasty easy complaints may take root,
but the problem isn’t teachers. It isn’t you.

If I'd made one bale every semester I taught....

If I’d made one bale every semester I taught….

WTF Wisconsin

Well, o.k., I’ll admit it. I haven’t gotten too riled up about the Solidarity Singers getting arrested.  Sorry.

I mean–I did mention it at my 30th high school reunion over the weekend, that they were arresting old people in my state, but I’m pretty sure I shrugged my shoulders at some point each time I mentioned it.

Partly it’s me tending my own emotional acre–I’ve sort of made a rule for myself, in an ongoing attempt to be more sane, that if I don’t have time to DO SOMETHING about a particular issue, I can give myself a free pass not reading about it/getting worked up about it.

(NOTE: I see this disengagement as a temporary state. When I feel healthier, when I feel as though my own emotional acre is well-tended, I will peek farther again. When I have maintained my house for a few months of NOT feeling as though I were half a matchbook collection away from being an episode of Hoarders, I will re-engage.  Hell–maybe I’m there now, because….)

Wow am I pissed about Matt Rothschild getting arrested today.

It’s not that I was ever against the Solidarity Singers. I sang with them a couple times. I was proud to sing with them standing next to Margaret Rozga, now famous for speaking truth to power at  an MLK, Jr. event.

I think maybe I was just tired of protest. Spring 2011, Wisconsin’s Arab-esque spring, was wonderful and horrible. I took my son to march–he made a sign that had pictures of cats on it that said, “Hey Hey Meow Meow Walker Talk to Unions Now.”

I overcame my one bit of introversion–I don’t like to knock on people’s doors to ask them about politics (or Jesus, for that matter)–and gathered some signatures for the Recall.

But when the Recall failed, I just felt politically wiped out.  Tom Barrett? Really? Seems like a nice guy, but really? That’s all we could muster on behalf of half a million signatures?

So like a lot of other people, I’ve just hunkered down & tried to do my job and love my family and maybe just maybe work on de-cluttering my house in case I decide there’s a state I can move to where all this won’t happen. (Where is that? Vermont?)

And at first, when the not-cool, not Tubbs-cops, started arresting singers, I will admit that I was thinking “just apply for a permit already.” But here’s the thing. I really think if there were a group of people showing up every day at noon to sing songs in praise of Scott Walker, the Wisconsin Department of Administration would never have made the policy about requiring permits in the first place.

And after a few weeks of this, I’ve decided I agree–this is political speech set to music. If we have freedom of speech, if we want to honor the proud Wisconsin tradition of honoring dissent, then permits shouldn’t be required for protests in the Capitol Rotunda.

I’ll admit one other thing–I’ve been wondering if all my liberal friends who are outraged about this would be equally supportive if a pro-life protesters were to go to the Capitol (if we ever have a pro-choice governor again), and sing “Jesus Loves the Little Children” and hold up signs of dead babies. (That may not be equivalent, but it would all fall under the category of political speech, and now that I’m getting worked up, I’ll just go ahead and throw my wondering out there.)

But today–arresting a journalist for observing and calling it “obstruction?” I’m so angry and scared I can’t muster disengagement.

And yet, I don’t know what to do. Go to the Capitol and observe? Protest? Sing? Get arrested? I really don’t have time. I would totally have a panic attack. And what would that help?

I don’t know what to do, but I know what I need. Or at least what I wish for.

1. Examples of liberals supporting conservative speech at the Capitol, especially that which made them feel icky.

2. Famous people to come and sing and get arrested. Lots of folks are tweeting in support. That’s pretty much nothing. Even I’m doing that.

3. Famous journalists to come and observe and get arrested. I mean–I know who Matthew Rothschild is, but more people know who Jon Stewart is.  Isn’t that sabbatical of his about over?

4. I really need someone amazing to run against Walker in 2014. I don’t know if he could do it, but I’m most excited about Mahlon Mitchell.

5. Mostly I need someone to tell me what I might do to make any of this better. (I’ll ask Dale Schultz next time I see him in Richland Center.) Other than just being pissed and scared and feeling icky, I mean. Because I’m already doing that.



Update:  a friend reminds me that when Doyle was governor, pro-life protestors were on the square frequently, and we’re assuming they didn’t have to get a permit.

On the Enduring Appeal of Bureaucracy

A roller coaster isn’t scary because
The car’s attached to the rail (you hope it is),
However high you loop, you’re certain you will
End up right where you started. A reliable thrill.
A blanket. Mowed trails. Molded cafeteria tray.
We do it this way because we’ve always done it this way.
And if you want to make a radical change,
We’ll say no. Quickly. Firmly. Again and again.
“So rather than shift to what it needed to do,
The Army would continue doing what it knew
How to do, which is how bureaucracies act
When they lack strong leadership.” Thomas E. Ricks.
Of course it worked so well in Vietnam.
So we do what we do and thus stay safe and warm.


Cafeteria trays at the Googleplex

Cafeteria trays at the Googleplex

The cafeteria tray I had in mind was the kind that has spaces for your food–elementary school tray, of course. But aren’t these Googleplex trays pretty? Gosh. Might make you think it was possible to have a mix of the creative and the tried-and-true.

Also:  The Generals is just an amazing book. I applaud Tom Ricks once again.


(Picture from Creative Commons on flickr, taken by John “Pathfinder” Lester)

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.]