Monday, October 29, 2007

Costumes, costumes, costumes

1. Cora in her new snow bib and jacket - both a little too big for her right now. Our little marshmallow girl! (Her other recent passion - digging up little jackets that no longer fit her and insisting on wearing them. With the zipper up and the hood on, effectively rendering her a neckless baby.)

2. Cora in the famous squirrel dress - there's a little stuffed squirrel tethered to the front pocket. Add in the matching shirt, the sweet ruffle, and the black shoes, and it really is too cute for anyone to stand.

3. Our Halloween giraffe in a pre-Halloween fitting session. She was much happier at the costume party last Saturday - she wore her black shoes for hooves, never took off her cap, and carried her bag of "Giraffe Snax" (cheerios, froot loops, little cookies, and goldfish) all around our friends' home, smiling at everyone.

Maudlin much?

Before ever thinking of having a child, even while pregnant with Cora, I was never more resistent to an idea than I was to that often heard cliche: "Having a baby will totally change you!" On the one hand, I would think, "Duh!" and on the other I would think, "Oh, come on, I'll still be me!"

Me, but me with a part of me loose in the world, sometimes out of sight, sometimes just far enough out of reach that I can't prevent the bumped head. Many times a day that line from Louise Gluck's Demeter poem (in her book Averno) runs through my head, the question the mother asks the daughter: "What are you doing outside of my body?"

This semester I have had new opportunities to observe what has changed. My class and I read The Handmaid's Tale. Still an amazing book, even reading it for what has to be the tenth time at least. But, for the first time it gave me bad dreams, all of which could be directly traced back to the narrator's memory of her daughter being carried away from her, growing smaller and smaller as she is carried farther away. There were many parts of the book I had to read with my eyes very wide open, very quickly, while holding my breath. Like the narrator, I feared falling too far into that pit of emotion. Now we are reading Beloved. I know! What was I thinking! Sheesh! And, again, still I am so in love with the story, the language, and yet do not want to fall too far in. Not now. Not in the middle of class prep!

But, really, the last straw came this evening, reading on line, in the New York Times, Dorothy Allison's essay on (are you ready?) GRAVY. It's called "Panacea" and it's in the Food & Wine section, and it is a lovely essay (I'll use it in class when we get to memoir). Go read it! But, I'm reading it online and getting all...maudlin. Teary. Who knew gravy could be so evocative? (Everyone but me.)

Tonight, what I see as having changed, is that I used to be able to kind of separate my reading, or rather my response as a reader. If I read for pleasure and was in the right kind of space (i.e. alone), I would indeed give in to the emotional pull and depth of what I read. But, if I was reading for class, reading just to pass time, reading with an eye towards future text possibilities, I could hold all that in abeyance. But now, that's harder.

And I have to admit - as a reader, a writer, a teacher and yes a mother - that is not really a bad thing. Not at all.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Days Off: or, why feminism will never be irrelevant

Hello! It is the year 2007 and in one of the many many many many papers I graded this past week, I came across the following two ideas:

1. The student's mother only worked part-time so that on her days off she could clean the house and make hot meals for the family.

2. Dads like to teach us hands-on things like how to fix things or do yard work, while Moms teach us other kinds of things like cooking and how to do laundry.

Where to begin? Clearly, in the first instance there should be some ironic quotation marks ("days off"). And, um, I find cooking to be very hands on. I find laundry to be very hands off, though, because my beloved husband takes care of the laundry for our family (hi, honey!). Though I did do my own laundry for many years, and my beloved mom did indeed teach me how to do it (hi, Momma!).

And yet, my students, by and large, continue to see feminism as something completely outside their lives, with no practical application in the enlightened world we live in today. Many of them see racism the same way, believing that the Civil Rights Movement cleaned up the very few vestiges of racial conflict left over after the South surrendured. Whenever that was. A sense of history seems to be largely absent in 80% of the freshmen I encounter these days. Often it feels as if every novel, memoir, poem and play needs to also be accompanied by a short lesson in historical context. I don't mind a little blurring of the disciplinary boundaries; I just wish I felt like there was some kind of foundation I was adding to, instead of building from scratch.

I feel this especially as we get closer to starting Toni Morrison's Beloved, a novel at the crossroads of many race and gender issues. Can I have one semester without hearing the argument that as they were fed and sheltered, the slaves really didn't have it so bad? Pure outrage, though in some respects the proper response to this argument, does not a learning atmosphere make. I'm launching a pre-emptive strike this semester and using some excerpts from slave narratives to try to provide the context my students otherwise lack. But sometimes I wish we could really focus on the literature and take for granted that everyone has a passing familiarity with the facts. I suppose this is why so many professors really prefer to only teach upper level or graduate courses. You can assume more in the way of basic knowledge.

This is the wish I wish tonight.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

October, Part One: A Photo Essay

This is kind of how I feel. Like someone stuck a camera with a bright flash right up in my sleepy face and just when I was trying to figure out what was going on SNAP!

The first weeks of October have flown by. I feel like I sort of catch my breath on Sunday afternoons, and then Monday goes by at a pretty even pace, but once Tuesday starts... WHOOOOOOSH! There goes the week! As I sit here with 16 papers graded and 45 left to go, 25 of which really need to be ready to hand back on Tuesday, and a half million other tasks that need to be accomplished this weekend, plus, please, a little fun, too, I feel...well...I feel too crazed and busy to actually know how I feel. I hate when that happens.

But, of course, it isn't all bad stuff. Not at all. Classes are going pretty well. A former student emailed me this week to say that not only did my classes last year convince him he actually liked reading, but over the summer he read several books and attended a play! And he wanted to thank me! Sometimes students thank me at the end of the semester, as they hand in their final, but no one has ever emailed me months later. And another good thing: Cora continues to be almost unbearably cute.

And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Cora has real potential for a future as a cult leader, I believe. She has all the preschool girls at her daycare under her sway. One day when I went to pick her up, the girls were ined up waiting their turn for the bathroom and the drinking fountain and I carried Cora past them to a high-pitched chorus of "She's so cute!" "I really like her!" "You're so lucky to have her!" And one girl stepped out of line to introduce herself, very proudly, as the one who gets to rub Cora's back at naptime to help her sleep. Did the other little girls look jealous daggers at her? You know they did.

Of course, despite all my complaining about the lack of time, the grading, and so on, I still managed to make chocolate chip cookies two weeks ago. And so Cora met her first homemade, warm from the oven, chocolate chip cookie. She approved.