metablogging, ruminations

Some Days

Some days I have nothing planned for this site and start to worry about it far too much. In worrying about it far too much, almost every idea I have feels forced. The ideas feels forced because (1) they are a little forced, and (2) this pointless stress tends to make me hyper-aware of any possible imperfection that can seep into what I’m doing. It’s not until a deadline finally appears to really be approaching quickly that I begin to accept anything that seems the least bit feasible.

Some days, yes today is one of those some days, I like to try odd devices that I wouldn’t usually use. Repetition is a favorite. I start consecutive paragraphs with the same word or sentence. In school, I learned that authors sometimes use this to emphasize a point. I just use it because it makes it easier to start the next paragraph.

Some days starting that next paragraph is the only thought in my head. Though the hardest “next paragraph” is usually the first one, it’s sometimes the third. You see, with the faintest spark of an idea the first paragraph is probably already written before one begins writing. There’s usually at least enough extra from the spark that launched the first paragraph to fill up a second. But by the third paragraph, if that idea really was just a faint spark, it’s likely that the idea’s dead.

Some days I push through that difficult third paragraph. If I can manage to make a third paragraph that feels alright, there’s a good chance that the next paragraphs will all come out all right and I’ll be able to sew the thing up into a nice enough package that I’m satisfied.

But some days that third paragraph doesn’t come. Some days the idea I had really was only a two-paragraph idea. In my time writing I’ve at least learned that a two-paragraph idea doesn’t get better if you try to make it look like an eight-paragraph idea. When teachers gave you back papers with a C or below, there’s a good chance it was because you tried to write your whole paper with a few-paragraph idea. Teachers have a keen eye for ideas stretched too far.

Some days I wonder what a teacher would give me for this. This short essay whose sole excuse for over-stretching an idea is that that idea is what the whole thing is built on. From the title down through every paragraph you clearly see an idea being stretched and stretched and stretched. I think that some teachers would think it’s clever, this stretched-out idea. Others would probably give it a D and a curt note about trying harder next time.

Some day I’ll win those teachers over. Perhaps with a device like I just used there. I broke the repetition. Maybe now that teacher who gave me a D would say, “Oh, he knows he’s stretched this idea very thin. A+.”

Then again, maybe not.

american society, politics, ruminations

On the School Busing Ruling

Today the Roberts Court struck down the ability of school districts to use voluntary race-based busing policies to try to create greater diversity in their school (story here, opinion here [PDF]). That news reminded me of this encounter:

It was Martin Luther King Day. I was in downtown Denver that morning. Riding the shuttle to work.

A somewhat disheveled 20-something stood there with a sign. “End transportation discrimination.”

Seeing me looking at the sign, he proudly announced he was going to meet a civil-rights leader. That he wanted to make them aware of the fact that there were black children being bussed half-an-hour a get to school, even though they lived within 200 yards of a school that they could attend. He seemed genuinely concerned that this was an issue of fairness. That the black students were being mistreated.

There were a number of African Americans on the bus. A 55 year old grandmother, riding with her grandkids, didn’t take a stance when he told her. She said that it was interesting, but not much else.

A black man in a suit got on. He read the sign. He said that it was done so the district could create a diverse school environment, and to assure that all school were of similar quality.

The young man seemed only a little interested. He’d already made his sign and was one his way. He simply repeated his story to the man, who said little else.

A block later, the sign-carrier got off the bus. I was left wondering. I hadn’t realized that busing still occurred, and even where it wasn’t mandated. I didn’t know what its real effect was. I didn’t know if the kids he knew had been forced to go to a different school of if they’d volunteered.

And because I didn’t ask, I’ll never know.

Whether it was good or bad, they probably won’t be doing it anymore.

Maybe the sign-carrier did win.

american society, personal

Doubts About the Working World

About a month ago, I graduated from university with a BA in History. To no one’s surprise, I am still unemployed.

Six months prior to graduation, I couldn’t wait for it to arrive. Slogging through boring papers, tests, and classes, I looked so forward to being allowed out of the confines of the institution so I could take on and take over the world. I was ready to write great books, articles, anything. Raise money, consciousness, everything in order to fix the world problems.

One month prior to the event, I had doubts. Not only was I uncertain that I would graduate, I was even less sure that I wanted to. People’s suggestion of staying around for another year seemed all the better. Where five months ago I scoffed at such an idea, now I was certain that it was better than my current plan.

Looking back on it though, I am glad I graduated. If only because I know, maybe better than most, that I would never have been ready to leave. I would never have had any great clarity because I never would have sought it without an urgent need for it.

Granted, even with a need only slightly less than urgent, I haven’t yet found it. I’m told all the time that this is a really great job market. That it’s a good time to have graduated, even if you just got an apparently worthless degree like I did. (I don’t feel that it’s worthless, but the world at large seems to be of that opinion.)

I would readily cede that the reason I don’t currently have a traditional job is not that I wouldn’t be able to get one if I tried. It’s rather that I haven’t yet found one that I actually want enough to apply for. What I see is not what I want. I don’t want a job selling things, making things, or analyzing things being bought and made.

Lloyd Dobler’s famous line says it better:

I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.

I recognize that to get a job in the traditional sense, I have to do something someone will pay me for. But right off the top of my head nothing I can think of seems worth doing.

And partially I’m just scared. Scared of taking on all that responsibility that comes with a job. Scared of how taking a job will change me.

I worry that if I take a job I don’t really like, I will be changed by it. That I may grow cynical, uninterested or useless. I realize that not all people with jobs are these things, but part of me thinks that I would be.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I should become a mailman. Or an insurance salesman. But right now, I don’t like the idea much.

personal, poetry

Meeting William Stafford

This is not about the time that I met the late and great poet William Stafford. Though we shared six years on this earth, I never got that chance. This is rather about the metaphorical meeting that great poetry can convince you you have had.

There are poems that you read which resonate. About which you say, “Yes, that’s exactly how I feel, or at least how I’d like to.” The first time this happened to me though, I was shocked.

My high school education included too much average poetry and too little that resonated with me, if anyone. We read Dickinson too early to understand her, and Plath too briefly to care. We surely read others, but they never stuck.

I became convinced that I hated poetry. It’s not that I hated the words, I hated the pressure that my education put on the form and the analysis.

First I learned how to write sonnets. Not that I would ever write a sonnet, but someone thought I should know how to.

And then I was forced to pull meaning out of Shakespeare. Or at least that’s what it felt like. Really we were simply looking for tricks that reinforced the poem’s meaning. But I was never told, so I became convinced that there was to be meaning attached to each slant rhyme, each sibilance, and god forbid, the hundreds of metaphors. This killed any innate love for poetry I may have ever had.

After that, I hated the form.

With time a few broke through. William Carlos Williams famous “so much depends…” got me once. Bukowoski, beaten over my head by a friend, seemed good enough.

William Stafford, though, he’s the one that snuck up on me. Surfing the internets [sic] one day I found this:

‘Any Morning’

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

I couldn’t look away. The poem was so simple, honest, and full of the simple joy of simple moments. And it made me do one thing nothing I’d not done in some long time: seek out a book of poems.

And there I found another:

Love in the Country

We live like this: no one but
some of the owls awake, and of them
only near ones really awake.

In the rain yesterday, puddles
on the walk to the barn sounded their
quick little drinks.

The edge of the haymow, all
soaked in moonlight,
dreams out there like silver music.

Are there farms like this where
no one likes to live?
And the sky going everywhere?

While the earth breaks the soft horizon
eastward, we study how to deserve
what has already been given us.

Again, same effect. Transfixed. The last stanza especially.

“…we study how to deserve/ what has already been given us.” I must have read it over at least ten times. I considered how much I truly owed the world. How much I’d been given, how much I had left to give.

I haven’t read any more Stafford recently, but these have kept me. Perhaps I should look for more, I’ve waited long enough.

In any case, there’s the story of how I met William Stafford. And how he helped me love poetry. And better understand the world. And my place within it.