Wednesday, September 30, 2009

word count

I am not a high-output fiction writer. Blame the poetry degree, if you'd like. I, much like one of my talented classmates in graduate school, "draft prose with the swiftness and grace of a tectonic plate." Teaching a full schedule, I have three chunks of time blocked out throughout the week in which I write. That's the goal, at least. Given that the first week of September I took off because I was getting classes settled and that I lost nearly another week from a cold, I'm happy to report that I wrote 25 pages in September. I'll be posting my page count at the end of each month. Celebrate the small stuff.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

blog of note

Wish you knew more about Tajikistan? Don't we all? Keep your eyes on the blog of my dear friend Bethany, who is spending a year in Tajikstan's capital Dushanbe teaching English (and teaching teachers how to teach English) through the state department.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Beloved on the Earth: a new anthology

I know that poetry reading isn't the most popular pastime in America, but one time when most people seem to turn to poetry is for funerals or for comfort in grief. Back in May I wrote about the pleasure of receiving my copy of Holy Cow! Press's fantastic new collection, Beloved on the Earth: 150 Poems of Grief and Gratitude. I want to come back to it now. I had the privilege of taking part in the publication reading at the Loft in Minneapolis on September 11th. Here is what surprised me, and here is why I'm recommending this book: you'd think that a reading of poems about death would be depressing. You'd think after an evening of hearing those poems of "grief and gratitude" read, you'd feel like you'd been stuck listening to the same notes for far too long. Not so. True, several of the poems by famous and lesser-known authors alike brought tears to my eyes. But the poems I heard read by my fellow poets that night were gracious, original, beautifully crafted, and ultimately life-affirming. Consider the note struck Ted Kooser's poem "Father:" "Today you would be ninety-seven/ if you ahd lieved, and we would all be/ miserable, you and your children..." Or how, pages later, Mary Oliver concludes her series of metaphors describing how death comes with the sudden and beautiful call to life, "I don't want to end up simply having visited this world." There was such a warm and loving feeling in the audience that evening, and it was a full house, too. A highly recommended anthology.

On a related note, here is the epitaph on Ruth Bell Graham (wife of Billy Graham)'s tombstone:

"End of construction. Thank you for your patience."

If we're all works-in-progress...

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I've just begun teaching Kao Kalia Yang's lovely memoir The Latehomecomer in my composition classes, and it's got me thinking about the act of storytelling. The Hmong language did not have an alphabet until the 1950s, and it remains a culture rooted in oral tradition. I found this when I taught orientation classes to new Hmong arrivals. I used all the pictures I could--so many of our handouts had writing on them, and so few of the adults in those particular classes could write in either language--but I found that the best way I could keep their attention through our 3 hour classes was through anecdotes. Health care, housing..."I have a story for you," I'd say, and they would listen.

And so, in attempt to get my students thinking about the forms that stories take, I told them a story in class. The Latehomecomer includes a story about a beautiful woman named Yer who is kidnapped by a tiger and later re-kidnapped by a handsome man in her village, to her chagrin. And so, I told the class the story of Beauty and the Beast--the late 1800 French version. None of them would say the last time they'd been told a story in that way, and I have to say it felt strange to me, too. It took me until the second class to get into a rhythm and let the story carry itself, and when I tripped over a word, I could feel the whole class thinking "hey, get back on rhythm." What a wonderful tradition, telling stories.

And yet, entertaining as they are, many of our old fairy tales served another important purpose that most of our bedtime books today do not: warning children. Even in Beauty and the Beast, which is remarkably tame when compared to, say, Hansel and Gretl or Cinderella, has a very stern warning about keeping promises. The beast allows the father to go home and bring one of his daughters to take his place; he must promise to return within a month or else be hunted down. Later, Beauty is allowed to return for two months to see her family, but she must promise the beast to return, lest he die. In the Disney version, on reflection, Belle charges off both times to save her father. In both versions, she is selfless, but in the Disney movie there are no promises made which carry consequences if broken.


If you'd like to read the original versions of some of these tales, with annotations, check out

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Book Recommendation

Thorin Tatge happens to be one of the smartest and most creative people I know. Matt met him when they taught chess together, and over the past few years we've encouraged each other on our own creative projects. Thorin's are substantial: song, poetry, fiction, drama--you name it. I'm proud to announce the publication of Thorin's first book!

What is Best? is an interactive novel, kind of like the choose-your-own-adventure books that you read in one sitting as a kid and then kept rereading for weeks. Except in this, the choices are more substantial, and Thorin's creativity as well as his background in philosophy are clear. The novel opens with the opening of your existance, and Creator gives you a choice about what form of existance you will take. No mere "do you choose to open the door?" here--you are tasked with choosing from among animal forms, with being given life on earth, and with trying to discover, through your choices, the meaning of life. If, that is, you even remember that you were given the assignment once life on earth gets rolling. This well written and imaginative novel, which allows for 80 different endings, is full of pleasant surprises, from problem-solving challenges to poetry. It'll keep you going back for another spin. Check it out here.

And, Thorin's already working on book two.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


I'm back to the blogging world after time away for vacation, brain-clearing and class-planning. Class is up and running, and experience assures me that soon, honest, I will adjust to waking up at 6 AM again.

In more important news: my sister is in two movies! Into Temptation is out now in select theaters and is getting good reviews for its complex characters. Steph plays the nurse who walks past Kristen Chynoweth in the hospital and gives her a funny look.

She's also in the trailer for the new Cohen brothers' movie A Serious Man. Freeze the screen on second 38 and look for my brunette sister sitting in between two brunettes to the left of the aisle. You can see the shoulders of her orange sweater.

Shucks, I'm so proud.