Saturday, December 20, 2008

Terry Tempest Williams, Fear, Listening, and My Book

"Courage is moving beyond our fears to a place of engagement. If we dare to write the book that threatens to kill us, something holds us together beyond our personal terror. Fear is replaced by a purpose beyond ourselves. I trust the truth of my questions that allow me to write in the direction of all I do not know. It's the unlearned moment. It's trusting the unknown territory of the heart that has a wisdom all its own, shedding our conditioning in favor of the mysterious. I trust my instincts.

Listening honors the mysteries among us. We can respond openly, rather than simply imposing ourselves on the situation at hand. It certainly makes life more interesting if we embrace the questions rather than simply harboring answers. Listening, by its very nature, creates a space of transformation."

--Terry Tempest Williams, from an interview in Image (#58)

I am at the point in editing my manuscript where I MUST listen, or I'll get it wrong. It's instinct now, all instinct. In the above interview, Williams goes on to discuss how she organized her newest book, Finding Beauty in a Broken World, that she tore down conventional chapters and section breaks in order to create a mosaic effect, in order to mimic how we perceive and participate in the world--as broken fragments--and to highlight or impose the play of metaphor. Williams is keen on the power of story and metaphor to create spiritual, cultural, and social change, and this is something I am strongly drawn to. It's something we are losing in mass media, of course, but also at home, at the dinner table, in the garden, alone on the reading chair. But it's there. I might consider (de)organizing my book like this--if I have the right instincts.

I feel that in working on my book I confront chaos at every turn, and a sense of fear that comes from that. It is hard to hold so much in my head, to have faith in what I'm saying and how I'm saying it. I think about all the books that never get read and all the words that never get said, and somewhere inbetween is a great anguish and joy--the line between them is very thin.

To find coherence in 95,000 words is terrifying, just as I imagine classifying all the fauna in the world is, or preserving the vanishing language of a native people, or mapping the galaxy. Chaos is everywhere and consuming and frightening--it's beautiful, too, just as order can be. Language is both chaos and order, and therein is a powerful metaphor.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Seasonal Cartoons

Bienvenu, mes amies. FYI--it's 22, raining, and thundering. What's up?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

John Updike's "The Twelve Terrors of Christmas"

4. O Tannenbaum

Suppose it topples over under its weight of bomb-shaped baubles? Suppose it harbors wood-borers which will migrate to the furniture? There is something ghastly about a tree--its look of many-limbed paralysis, its shaggy and conscienceless aplomb--encountered in the open, let alone in the living room. At night, you can hear it rustling and slurping water out of the bucket.

7. The Carols

They boom and chime from the vaulted ceilings of supermarkets and discount malls--and yet the spirits keep sinking. Have our hearts grown so terribly heavy since childhood? What has happened to us? Why don't they ever play our favorites? What WERE our favorites? Tum-de-tum-tum, angels on high, something something, sky.

12. The Dark

Oh, how early it comes now! How creepy and green in the gills everyone looks, scrabbling along in drab winter wraps by the phosphorous light of department store windows full of Styrofoam snow, mockups of a factitious 1890, and beige mannequins posed with false jauntiness in plaid bathrobes. Is this Hell, or just an upturn in consumer confidence?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

How To Trim A Tree In 57 Seconds

Or, how to use an LED stick-light-thingy dealy you got at World Market.

Grad students have, on average, only 57 seconds to spare in any given day, so this worked out perfectly. Two quasi trees make one real tree, right? And do you ever watch those videos of fireplaces on cable access during the holidays, where all of a sudden an arm comes in, tosses a log on the fire, then it's another 20 minutes of flame? Let us pay homage through my short tribute video:

Fa la la la la, la la la la....

Saturday, December 13, 2008

My God, My God, My God

It's 51 right now. It was a bit warmer earlier.

It's supposed to be 1 tomorrow night. Yes. ONE. With windchills of -20 or more. I sure hope the plants are mulched good enough, especially with no snow forecasted.

The weather parallels the work of grading finals: essays, stories, poems. I am frozen, stuck at the kitchen table with papers everywhere.

And since I feel publically sorry for myself lately, why not go for the gold. I applied for just one teaching job, a local gig, since I'm staying in town the next few years. Didn't get it. Got that letter today. Also got rejections from Fugue and Orion (Orion says it's a sweet essay, but not right for them--sweet).

I'm not depressed. I don't need to be cheered up. I spent two hours working on an essay after the mail came, and it's hard to get the flow right in its 15 pages. I'm angry. Maybe I'm bitter. Even if I work hard, it's futile: the writing, the teaching. It feels like the same thing over and over, spinning wheels. I see why people cut corners in life, why older professors get so jaded, why writers become dictionary salesmen. Of course, you can't please everyone, but who wants to please? I want to affect, cause change, create deep reflection and resonance. It's not happening. Perhaps my standards are too high. Or I'm naive. After 9 years I want tenure. A sabbatical.

Here's a confession: I wasn't as good a teacher this term as I usually am, in large part due to the pull I felt from the dissertation. One day I was writing, the next I was lesson planning / grading / conferencing. Writing. Teaching. Writing. Teaching. Is this what I want? I can't give 20% to this, 20% to that, and do anything as good as I'd like. There's no balance in this profession, and by the time you make it to the promised land--summer--it takes those two or three months just to get back to par because you're so drained (I can't imagine working full time all year, so maybe I ought to just shut up).

So now I'll go eat dinner. Have some chocolate. Grade some more. Watch some TV. Sleep. Wake up. Try again. Fail better.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

EPA's Most Wanted

I'd host the TV show!

Here's the fugitive list:

"The launch of the most-wanted list comes as EPA's criminal enforcement has ebbed. In fiscal 2008, the EPA opened 319 criminal enforcement cases, down from 425 in fiscal 2004. And criminal prosecutors charged only 176 defendants with environmental crimes, the fewest in five years.

But Walter D. James III, an environmental attorney based in Grapevine, Texas, says the EPA is critically understaffed to investigate environmental crimes. While the budget for the division has increased by $11 million since 2000, there are still only 185 criminal investigators. Congress authorized the EPA to hire 200 investigators in 1990."

Here's the article:

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Other People's Rejection Letters

An interesting project from the author of Other People's Love Letters.

"Other People's Rejection Letters will feature reproductions of all kinds of rejection letters. Whether typed form letters or handwritten in a fit of rage, whether sent by text message, email, or scrawled in crayon, any kind of rejection is fair game: You didn't get the job or the loan or the membership; you're not the right fit for our dentistry school; you're my son but I never want to see you again; your restaurant failed its health inspection; your parole has been denied; we had a good time together but you cheated on me so this is goodbye."

And in good cheer I give you what woke me up in the middle of the night and made me scramble for a pencil. Seriously. Ready?

R emember to schedule that duck transplant for your back
E veryone hates you
J ust kidding
E veryone hates you but your cat
C ould be worse
T achinid flies could lay eggs in you like in monarchs
I ncomplete satisfaction over and over but you fake happiness so no one worries
O (see I)
N aughty thoughts get you through the day (it worked in high school)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cigar Supply is Running Very Low

I also considered "You Almost Sunk My Battleship." Anyway, here's a list of (non) writing related news over the last few months:

--Finalist, Spring Garden Press Robert Watson Poetry Chapbook Award.
--Runner Up (1 of 3), The Journal Flash Prose Writing Contest (creative nonfiction).
--Semi finalist, Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award
--Top 50 / 1,000 for Tupelo Press summer open reading period for poetry manuscripts.
--Note from Ronald Wallace at the University of Wisconsin Press with their fine poety book prize series: "Sorry--it's a very strong manuscript."
--Orion seems to like my nonfiction, at least enough to produce a hand-scribbled note.
--Ditto for Missouri Review on the nonfiction.
--America Magazine thinks I'm competent, but my poetry might be too prosey (I should maybe stop working in two genres at once)
--The Chattahoochee Review, Hudson Review, and Mid American Review all seem to like my prose, given their hand written notes of a few lines, but I didn't win anyone over.

There are several levels to rejection, as writers know, but if you don't and care to know:

Level 1: Your work didn't click with whoever happened to be reading this today / by golly you are just awful. Typed form rejection slip on small paper.

Level 2: We respect your work / you have some talent so keep working at it. Typed form rejection slip on small paper with someone's initials or the words "Thanks" or "Best."

Level 3: You're fairly skilled at this, but.... Rejection slip on small sheet or letterhead, with a few words typed or written "Thanks, please try us again" or "We liked x or x."

Level 4: We just don't have enough room and you didn't knock our socks off, but you've got skills. Hand-written notes on personal stationary, specific sentence or two on what worked or didn't in a poem or piece of prose, suggestions for further reading on topics similar to your own submission's.

Level 5: The clouds part and a ray of sunlight shines forth upon you as the sound of trumpets and chariots echo across the prairie, and I say unto you ye shall enter the promised land after 7 years of tribulation, milk and honey shall flow from the bosom of the earth, for we have accepted your writing and the multitudes cry out in ecstatic song, go forth and multiply, this is good, so it is written, so it shall be paid in a contributor's copy perhaps with your name listed on the back cover.

Then the next day you get a level 1 rejection note from some other place and the cycle begins anew.

I'm twistedly happy (I guess) that I've been floundering around in level 4 a lot the last year or two, but it's still simply a case of close, but no cigar. Will it always be like this? Is it just part of the infinite dance?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

New Zealand Maori Haka Dance

In the interest of intercultural exchange and understanding, I will surprise my wife with this dance when she gets home tonight (maybe even the words, too). Scroll ahead to see the fine young men performing with their lively eyes and enchanting tongues. Maybe this is also something to do on the first day of class?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Moss Garden

The Moss Garden

Somewhere outside Kyoto’s line, she said,
they stumbled across the famous garden of moss,
the smallish sign so plain it could have been
overlooked. No temple, only moss.
So they entered the walkway with little expectation,
the silence creeping in, much like expectation.

Instead of leading them to the garden directly,
two monks had led them to a different task,
requested they copy three hundred characters,
the ink and paper set down for the task.
And this, too, was a practiced form of prayer,
left behind for those who had forgotten prayer.

The monks left brushes, ink, and bowls of water.
They asked the seekers to write, to pray. But prayer,
any prayer, wasn’t easy. The brush and ink,
the doubting hand, made not for simple prayer.
And even as I write this, I do not want to pray.
This story changes nothing; I do not want to pray.

--C. Dale Young

Monday, November 24, 2008

Garden Master 3 Video Game

Well, it's actually an ad for GameStop insinuating that gardening is quite boring. I WAS INSULTED. I get insulted a lot, that's my own blessing, but I choose this to be especially insulted about today.

And why not check out the Sims 2 expansion pack, Mansion and Garden Stuff, where you can create wondrous gardens and improve the interior decor of your house. Now THAT sounds boring.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bamboo Torture

You can torture someone by growing bamboo into them (something that apparently happened in WWII). I love me my Mythbusters on the Discovery channel. They proved that within only 3 days, pointy, piercing shoots can grow many inches into a human torso. After a few weeks, a 12 foot stalk will be high above you.

I've always wanted to find a way to meld my horticultural interests with my slightly therapeutic / illegal fantasies.

Fall = 63 / 13

63 today, 13 tomorrow night. I'm not even sure what day, month, year it is anyway, and Nebraska goes and does this to me. It's fall, see:

'Golden Spirit' smokebush is a rainbow of color.

Amsonia, surrounding the still young 'Black Lace' elderberry.

'Brilliantissima' red chokeberry is quite red, and the berries are still there.

'Little Henry' itea looks much like its slightly bigger brother 'Garnet.'

Weeping bald cypress making me weep.

For some reason this just dead morning glory from a few weeks ago makes me think victorian. Or gothic. Or grandmotherly.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Possible About Many Theory Clock Arranged Mice

--Reading 90 application files for a search committee looking to hire a new English prof.
--Grading 44 creative nonfiction essays.
--Wondering when I will write / outline a presentation for a conference I attend next weekend.
--Wishing I didn't have to fly again.
--Saying no to something I wish I could say yes to.
--Choosing books for two classes next term. Book orders due soon, but at least I got the classes I asked for in my last term as a grad student. LAST TERM! Oh praise all the various deities (which very well might be the same one).
--Thinking about my dissertation, but unable to work on it. 270 pages in stasis.
--Knowing I've not sent out any poems to literary journals this fall (this is equivalant to a squirrel not packing away food for the winter--I may have a dead year publication wise which is, in this business, career suicide. But at least I have essays out).
--Observing the last of the potted annuals die. Die. Die. Die.
--Waiting, praying, for two big things to swing our way. Actually three things. A house. An essay. A job.
--Wasting time whining here into digital oblivion.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

October--Mary Oliver

Not all of it, but most of it, lineated incorrectly....


There’s this shape, black as the entrance to a cave.
A longing wells up in its throat
like a blossom
as it breathes slowly.

What does the world
mean to you if you can’t
trust it
to go on shining when you’re

not there? And there’s
a tree, long-fallen; once
the bees flew to it, like a procession
of messengers, and filled it
with honey.

Look, hasn’t my body already felt
like the body of a flower?

Look, I want to love this world
as though it’s the last chance I’m ever going to get
to be alive
and know it.

Sometimes in late summer I won’t touch anything, not
the flowers, not the blackberries
brimming in the thickets; I won’t drink
from the pond; I won’t name the birds or the trees;
I won’t whisper my own name.

One morning
the fox came down the hill, glittering and confident,
and didn’t see me—and I thought:

so this is the world.
I’m not in it.
It is beautiful.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Nature is a Fractal--And I Feel Fractured

Most everything in the natural world can be seen as a fractal. What's a fractal?

A fractal is generally "a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole," a property called self-similarity. The term was coined by BenoƮt Mandelbrot in 1975 and was derived from the Latin fractus meaning "broken" or "fractured." A mathematical fractal is based on an equation that undergoes iteration, a form of feedback based on recursion. (Wikipedia)

What's really a fractal? Trees. Ferns. Coneflowers. Rivers. Mountains. Coastlines. Clouds. Snowflakes. Broccoli. Blood vessels. These things can be modeled and hypothetically extended on the computer via mathematical equations.

This knowledge can potentially heal us in several ways:

1) The tiny blood vessels that form with cancer cells are nearly impossible to see with a microscope. By using ultrasound, however, we can see them as fractals, and by using fractal algorithms we can possibly predict if these blood vessels will lead to cancer formation.

2) Heartbeats can be mapped as fractals, and could possibly lead us to help identify heart attack risk.

3) By studying one tree in the forest, an example of fractal formation, scientists can predict the growth of the larger forest and calculate how much oxygen they are producing and how much carbon they are sequestering.

4) Larger animals / plants more efficiently use energy than smaller ones. Why? Internal wiring within the genetic code is fractal based.

More? Cell phones, needing to be small and transmit / receive many differnet sorts of signals, use fractal-shaped antennas.

I find it both disturbing and transcendent to think of our natural world as a fractal. To think we can mathematically map and predict the world takes away the awe, maybe the soul in some respects. If we can put nature on a computer screen, what bounds does our hubris have? If we know where we are going, what does matter where we've been or what we're doing now?

And yet, to know is to heal, but so often our knowing destroys our bodies and souls, so it's easy to distrust this knowledge, easy to want to fight against it. I think I begin to understand the enlightenment more, or at least the struggles of belief and faith, past and present, the destruction of our various global cultures and ecosystems of both human and animal / plant.

*My thanks go to PBS's Nova series for the above info on fractals.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Memoir Abstract--Would You read This?

Below is a brief description of my book, so far at around 270 pages. I hope it's done by January, or February at the latest, as I'll need to "defend" it for my PhD soon after. I'm almost done with school! Happy thoughts....

Morning Glory: A Story of Family and Culture in the Garden

My book manuscript is part memoir, part cultural exploration on the history of gardening, and part environmental treatise. At the core of the book is my time spent growing up gardening with my mother, how this has lead to us being closer in adulthood, and culminated in my discovery of the lineage of fear, distrust, and forced solitude within my family that I innately exhibit. This darker side of my mom’s family—of poverty, religious fundamentalism, and an abusive stepfather—is paralleled with an exploration of global culture in the natural world, specifically, through gardening.

By looking at our attitudes toward nature, manifested by its exploitation, manipulation, and our artistic interpretation of it, I compare this outward struggle with our humanity to an inward struggle with violence, loss, confusion, self-doubt, isolation, and longing. Through the lens of global religions, philosophies, and cultural histories in gardens, as well as poetry and seminal ecological works, Morning Glory shows the fine line we walk as mediators, and how our violence toward the environment comes from the same root as our violence toward ourselves and each other.

Many nature writers and critics suggest we need to recreate or find a metaphor that links culture to the natural world, that the answer to our ecological and social crises is to get more culture into our relation to the earth; through the personal story of my family and the exploration of garden history, this book does that.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Final Planting List

Does a plant list say the same thing about a person as a movie or music list? Books on the shelf? Clothes in the closet? A mad rush to plant mail orders in the last weeks before autumn gets serious has made me tuckerd out. Autumn has been toying with us here in Nebraska, flirting, or, more precisely, starting with feather tickling torture before the electrodes get brought in. Yeah. That's it. Snow showers on Thursday the overly excited young man on channel 8 says (he commonly runs out of breath and trips on his own words--he must be just out of weather school). 4-6" of snow just a few hours west of here Wednesday night.

Iris 'Alida'
Iris pseudacorus 'Berlin Tiger'
Eupatroium 'Baby Joe'
Caryopteris incana 'Sunshine Blue'
Eupatorium masculatum 'Purple Bush'
Cassia hebecarpa (Wild Senna)
Echinacea pallida (Pale Purple Coneflower)
Mimulus ringens (Monkeyflower)
Monarda fistulosa (Wild Bergamot)
Thalictrum dioicum (Early Meadowrue)
Verbena hastata (Blue Vervain)
Asclepias sullivantii (Sullivant's Milkweed)
Liatris squarrosa (Scaly Blazingstar)
Liatris spicata (Dense Blazingstar)
Liatris pycnostachya (Prairie Blazingstar)
Gentiana andrewsii (Bottle Gentian)
Spiraea tomentosa (Steeplebush)
Aster puniceus 'Eric's Big Blue'
Aster tataricus
Aster tataricus 'Jindai'
Pycnanthumum virginianum (Mountain Mint)
Liatris cylindracea (Dwarf Blazingstar)
Iris fulva (Copper Iris)
Dodecatheon meadia (Midland Shooting Star)
Arisaema triphyllum (Jack-in-the-Pulpit)
Angelica atropurpurea (Angelica)
Amorpha nana (Frgrant False Indigo)
Amorpha canescens (Lead Plant)
More drumstick and globe master alliums
More white and black tulips
Some shasta daisies (I give in)
Some various coreopsis cultivars (WAY on sale)

A well deserved rest awaits, methinks. Spring will be, well, stunning.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

It's Cow Farts, Not Car Exhaust

Bill Nye told me that cow farts, comprised of a lot of methane (much more potent than CO2), contribute to 20% of total greenhouse gases each year.

But if we fed cows garlic, we could cut their emissions by 50% (garlic reduces methane-causing bacteria in the stomach).

I like my once per month filet mignon, so please, feed them garlic--it's better to stink on one end than both. That's what my mom always said growing up.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


from A Cushion For Your Head

Just sit there right now
Don't do a thing
Just rest.

For your separation from God,
From love,

Is the hardest work
In this


Courtesy of Mary Rose O'Reilley
The Garden At Night: Burnout & Breakdown in the Teaching Life

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Video of Monarch Coming Out Party

The last two monarchs came out this afternoon, both male. 11 days ago they formed chrysalides within 2 hours of each other, and today emerged about 30 minutes apart. Yesterday two females emerged who also went on the same day 11 days before that, again, within hours of each other going in and coming out. Our 2 dozen or so monarchs mostly emerged at 11 days, a few at 10--very dependable.

I apologize for the grainy, shakey video--don't watch if you're feeling a bit tipsy. I wasn't ready, and so I only had my digital camera at hand, not video camera.

Such a sad day. The last of the monarchs are off. The weather forecast calls for a 20-25 degree drop in temps for tomorrow down to 55ish, with rain and 20mph north winds. With today's gusts to 40, many of the trees are now bare. I had no idea trees were turning, but that's Nebraska, brown and done, sometimes even green and done.

Goodbye summer. I am deserted, suddenly. (I wish I was desserted with my mom's chocolate pie, or chocolate velvet cake--hear that, mom? When you visit this week bring dessert!)

Cats and Morning Glories About to Glory Themselves

The beautiful spiral pre bloom of a morning glory, and the awkward dance of two cats vying for sunlight.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Take On Me: Literal Video Version

I love this song, I love satire, I love this video. I love all of you, too. But not you.

Speaking in Tongues

Speaking In Tongues
by Mary Rose O'Reilley

I go to church every Sunday
though I don’t believe a word of it,
because the longing for God
is a prayer said in the bones.

When people call on Jesus
I move to a place in the body
where such words rise,
one of the valleys
where hope pins itself to desire;
we have so much landscape like that
you’d think we were made
to sustain a cry.

When the old men around me
lift their hands
as though someone has cornered them,
giving it all away,
I remember a dock on the estuary,
watching a heron get airborne against the odds.
It’s the transitional moment that baffles me—
how she composes her rickety
grocery cart of a body
to make that flight.

The pine siskin, stalled on a windy coast,
remembers the woods
she will long for when needs arise; so
the boreal forest composes itself in my mind:
first as a rift, absence,
then in a tumble of words
undone from sense, like the stutter
you hear when somebody falls
over the cliff of language. Call it a gift.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Suddenly, Autumn

Is it here at the window where we truly see
the brown-leafed oaks, the drying grass,
the bulge of clouds that darkens asphalt roads?

Is it within a frame of measured faith and chosen
color, relief of temperatures in flux—the southern
wind that fishtails from the north in thirty minutes,

sun spots glancing blows through tattered canopies?
How everything is almost everything we feel?
Loosening cold clothes from our tired limbs,

the quick friction warming us against the air,
then against ourselves, between our knees, our
arms and torsos, bone and streaming lungs.

Is morning like hot tea gripping at your chest,
flooding down and through you like some
revelation, incantation of the perfect pitch,

choral song of waking, sparrow, passing cars?
Will emptiness feel as bold, will the space
our body’s voices leave be sacred words

that vision won’t speak, that sound won’t touch—
a place the mind can’t frame without such absence?

Appeared in Puerto del Sol (Volume 41, #1, Spring 2006)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

REAL Garden Art

Check out what I got at the Lincoln Arts Festival last weekend. I'd been searching for a long while for real art, but everything was way too expensive. I was overjoyed. Verklempt.

The artist, Shannon Hansen, dropped this off Monday. I had unknowingly been coveting his work for years as I drove by a local gallery almost every day, but those larger pieces were tres chere.

My piece is not in its permanent place in the garden (due to spring plant moving plans) nor is it perfectly straight, but you get the idea. Shannon is a cool, down to earth artist who teaches metal working / industrial welding at a local community college (and he was impressed with my disappearing fountain, so hey). The piece is carbon steel, coated in acrylic urethane, and is from his "flex" series. Go check out his work, I know there's much more I'd like to have.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sick Musings

In the delusion of illness, and this is just a head cold, it is amazing how much clearer things are in life. I am very angry about being sick, cancelling classes, losing productivity on my book, being unable to read, having a fever that almost made me vomit, but still, I think if a person can take some sort of illumination from sickness then it is a very good thing. Maybe even a designed, perfected thing in the end. I feel more in love with my writing, my garden, my wife--maybe not in that order.

This time allows me silence on the couch, silences I've either let go or refused over the years. These silences are deeply necessary and restorative, mentally, physically, psychologically. I know we all need them, but I feel DEAD without them, and I think I've felt dead for a long time now. Being sick is, for a few brief moments in the grossness and agony of it, healing.

I have more time to sit outside, walk the garden, feel this cool 70 degree autumn breeze clash with the still warm sun, and that battle is oddly balancing. I notice more birds than I thought we had left. I chase more squirrels from the feeder. I see spiders catching bumble bees and the preying mantis doing the same. There are plenty of bumble bees, even a very large one the size of my thumb working the now-closed blue morning glories. To heck with teaching and running around and responding to emails and....

My ears are ringing. My nose is runny. My body feels limp. I yearn to work on my book and see if I can't, somehow, someway, make the darn thing work like one cohesive narrative. But I also can appreciate this nothingness I am in, this halting the world has forced upon me, this warning, this awakening, this anguish.

"I consider not being able to write as a manifestation of grace; I think grace sometimes can be anguishing." (Christian Wiman)

Come at me grace, come at me and refill me and hold me under until I start to listen again and be what I need to be, what I'm supposed to be. I tried to edit some things this afternoon, but knew it'd be better to let that moment of inspiration go to a more useful area: out into thin air, recycled back to that which gives me sustenance.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Foggy Morn Avec Spider Web

The ONLY benefit to getting up at 8am every day (far, far too early for me), is feeling the cool morning air, and finding such treasures as fog in the fall garden--fog you could see sliding through the air and collecting on several spider webs. The droplets on the largest web mimicked the 'Prairie Jewel' eupatorium in the background, and the virgin's bower (native sweet autumn clematis) in its first season on the arbor. I strongly suggest clicking on pics to expand. I love it when a plan comes together (I miss the A-Team). Bonus: don't skip the hummingbird moth (white-lined sphinx) at the bottom, I almost did.

Mantis Eating Bee

These are R rated photos, so click away now if you don't like seeing nature doing its thing. The mantis was hanging from a culver's root, 'Erin,' and has the bumblebee torn in two. At first the mantis had both halves in its clutches, but dropped the head--which was still very much alive, arms flailing, wings moving, and responsive to my breath. This does NOT make me morbid, it simply makes me interested in the affairs of the garden. Right? Click on pic to expand, if yee dare.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Lincoln, Nebraska Hates Flowers--A Rant

I drive Rosa Parks Way every day, twice--no, it's not Rosa Parks Parkway, which makes more sense to me. It used to be called Capital Parkway, which also made sense because it leads straight to the penis of the prairie, uh, capital building. I don't want to get in to too much trouble, so let me move along.

There were hundreds, if not thousands of sunflowers lining this four lane, 50mph, 3 mile stretch of road.

They are all gone now.

The city crews brought their big mowing tractors in and that's that. No more gorgeous yellow blooms in the twilight of summer. No more pollinator heaven. No more nature. I mean, who doesn't like flat, browning expanse? Oh, the migrating geese do like this spot....

These plants were far from the road, in fields and gullies, nowhere near sight lines or such that might imperil drivers. This just really @^^&**$^!~@#$$^ pisses me off. It's like the trees they cut down on campus to make room for building new dorms / unions, trees that stand at the FRONT of where these new buildings will be, not in the MIDDLE. Will they replace the trees? Hell yes. Will they be small and marooned in concrete planters like the union plaza? Indeed. Will they drop leaves early, stressed because their feeder roots are under 10,000 square feet of concrete sidewalks, like the many maples in front of the union? Hmm.

Anyway, back to the sunflowers that used to make my drive in to teach at 9am and my zombie like drive home at 2 delightfully bookended and uplifting--here's to you, helianthusized, euthanized, pulverized. May the sunflowers along Highway 77 remain untouched and find their seeds blown your way. Damn Lincoln.

It's Autumn, and I Just Made It Under Deadline

Today I'm headed to the post office to mail 19 envelopes--submissions to literary journals, some of which like me, but not enough yet. (Fall is the time to submit along with all the other lemmings, and hoepfully you get rejected in enough time to submit again in early spring.) 18 envelopes are essays, as I'm behind on poetry, and frankly because I've been doing 99% nonfiction for a while now. See, I've got this dissertation thing coming up, and I had an epiphany about it, which to other grad schoolees won't seem like one, but 'twas for me.

The only time anyone on my committee will read any meaningful, sizable chunk of it--and offer some comments--will be when I turn it in. And what I imagine will happen will be I'll get some praise, some minor suggestions, a slap on the back, and a degree. But I hope not. I really want to go through the gauntlet on this one. I want it to be as perfect as a first book of prose can be. But it's up to me, as it will be come May and until I die.

I think at this stage in the game--6th year of my PhD, after 3 in the MFA--it's assumed I have SOME idea I know what I'm doing (ha ha ha choke). I do, I think. I mean, yes, I do. I suppose. It's trial by fire--it's the only way a person can ever really be a writer, by diving in, doing it, failing and not. I know this, but never has it been on such a grand scale with so much seemingly at risk.

I can not tell you, whoever you are reading this, how hard it is to keep a whole 260 page manuscript in your head at once, to keep going back in and editing, making things less redundant, trying to make the essays and chapters flow together, to work as a whole, and trying to remember what you add so it isn't saying the same thing again, but knowing you sometimes have to say the same things again (if at least in a different way) to remind the reader (and yourself) what the heart of the narrative is, how it all connects--I learned when I first started teaching some call this sign posting.

Anyway, blog posts are less, and less meaningful as of late, and I predict this will be the case for a while. I've got some committee work coming up this fall--my first in 9 years of grad school, I almost made it--which will also be pulling at me.

I will say it helps to have things ground you in life, and right now it's the monarchs. We've got 7 pupating, and 4 cats left, one about to J it up. It's enthralling to watch them shed skin, to emerge, and to fly off. And my garden--is--so--wonderful right now. Sweet autumn clematis, eupatorium, helianthus, penstemon, agastache, sedum, buddleia, aster, turtlehead, goldenrod, milkweeed seed floating about, so much going on even with the first trees turning now.

Just as I turn back toward myself, relieved the first heavy batch of grading is done, and I now have a three week reprieve to write--oh to write, that divine miracle that burns, actually burns, in my arms and eyes and spine.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

More on the Drugs You're Drinking in City Water

U.S. hospitals and long-term care facilities annually flush millions of pounds of unused pharmaceuticals down the drain, pumping contaminants into America's drinking water, according to an ongoing Associated Press investigation.

These discarded medications are expired, spoiled, over-prescribed or unneeded. Some are simply unused because patients refuse to take them, can't tolerate them or die with nearly full 90-day supplies of multiple prescriptions on their nightstands.

Few of the country's 5,700 hospitals and 45,000 long-term care homes keep data on the pharmaceutical waste they generate. Based on a small sample, though, the AP was able to project an annual national estimate of at least 250 million pounds of pharmaceuticals and contaminated packaging, with no way to separate out the drug volume.

One thing is clear: The massive amount of pharmaceuticals being flushed by the health services industry is aggravating an emerging problem documented by a series of AP investigative stories — the commonplace presence of minute concentrations of pharmaceuticals in the nation's drinking water supplies, affecting at least 46 million Americans.

Researchers are finding evidence that even extremely diluted concentrations of pharmaceutical residues harm fish, frogs and other aquatic species in the wild. Also, researchers report that human cells fail to grow normally in the laboratory when exposed to trace concentrations of certain drugs....

Hospital waste is particularly laden with both germs and antibiotics, says microbiologist Thomas Schwartz at Karlsruhe Research Center in Germany.

The mix is a scary one.

In tests of wastewater retrieved near other European hospitals and one in Davis County, Utah, scientists were able to link drug dumping to virulent antibiotic-resistant germs and genetic mutations that may promote cancers, according to scientific studies reviewed by the AP.

Researchers have focused on cell-poisoning anticancer drugs and fluoroquinolone class antibiotics, like anthrax fighter ciprofloxacin.

Keep reading Tons of drugs dumped into wastewater: Discarded medications end up in drinking water, ongoing report finds.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Smurfy Garden, As of Whatever Today Is

Fourth school week is coming up and I feel like my head's an irrigation pivot. I imagine this blog will soon become partially neglected, so I'm front loading it now with two posts.

But the garden looks--interesting. I'm liking the wild way it looks, because it's starting to fill out and / or it's late in the season. I really have no idea what I'm doing this first full year. Plants which were supposed to be medium are huge, plants that should've bloomed haven't yet (but are working on it), and with 2.5" of rain Thursday and Friday, and cloudier days, everything is putting on tons of new growth. The monarda are on steroids, the filipendula rubra on half doses of steroids, and the helianthus is like a proton collider (see, I work in current events). BTW--pinch back your balloon flowers in July, they actually bloom again (first time this has ever worked for me).

Pinching back the geranium (behind the coreopsis) also produced a 2nd flush of blooms. Who knew this actually worked.

I LOVE my Eupatorium altissimum ‘Prairie Jewel.’ In the spring they emerge with golden foliage, which turns a mottled white and green, then these lovely white blooms come along which attract 2,437 bees, wasps, butterflies and other insects each minute. Only problem is all three are 4-5' tall by 4' wide, and the rain and wind have bowed them over to a 45 degree angle. Don't know what to do next year short of staking. I hate staking.

And do you see that Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' back there? It's three times as big as the 7' bald cypress behind it. Somebody's getting moved, but is it better to move the helianthus now, or in early spring, in order to ensure this massive flourish of blooms for next fall?

The copper rain chain seems to be doing its thing. Maybe not my dry stream bed.

We get many blue jays at a time here. One morning a few were perched atop some corn I'm stubbornly growing in a place it shouldn't be growing.

I found some smurfs. They were calling to me....

Monarchs, Monarchs, Monarchs

Come and get yer chrysalides, pupae, cats, eggs, and tachnid fly maggots. Get your monarch on, yo.

We've given birth to 3 males and one female, and at least four maggots. Come aboard, we're expecting you.... (You DID make a reservation, didn't you?)

The first six shots below show three fellows, two who've made it. Watch as one is in the "J", the other emerges and while still unfurling his wings, the "J" becomes a chrysalis. (Then we have tachnid fly maggot pics, and today's emergence of our first female (outside) and beneath the deck--look at her disproportionate wing / abdomen size only seconds after emerging.)

I love it when cats share a leaf. It's like those two cartoon dogs sharing spaghetti. Disney has ruined me. That's the best simile I could come up with?