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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Desire to Write Transcends being Locked In

After viewing the incredible film The Diving Bell & The Butterfly and then reading the memoir of the same title, I wonder if I have anything to complain about...I mean really. Blinking out a memoir in 14 months one letter at a time with one eyelid?! Now that's a voice insisting to be heard and worthy of being listened to.

After teaching remedial writing this semester, I suggested my students all see the film, a testament to the victory of the human spirit and a profound commentary on the desire to write and be heard no matter what the cost.

By itself alone this story of Jean Dominique Bauby, (French) Elle's Editor in Chief, and quite the Bon Vivant
sharing his last words and reflections on his life should inspire all nascent writers to come forth and mark their place in history on paper, on a keyboard, on a blog or video but mark a place and share the story of their own lives, for themselves, for their children and grandchildren. I don't know if any of my students will see the film, many of the class members were born in 1988/1989 and the idea of writing in a journal with a regular old pen may seem archaic, but I did see one of my young female students showing off her vinyl bound journal the last day of class with white pages inside filled with her cursive and her life as she is living it now.

Our personal histories are so undervalued, but so important in the sum total of our lives. Even though we may just be ordinary and I am certainly first in line as an ordinary woman, but the students that I have the privilege of teaching will one day rule the world that I will be ageing (and hopefully sage-ing) in. It will be important for all of us in the years to come not to forget what we must remember and what books and films like that of Bauby's story demand we remember.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Family Pictures Shape Memory

An excerpt from my essay

"Family Pictures Shape Memory."

Chican@s in the Conversations

Eds. Elizabeth Rodriguez Kessler and Anne Perrin.
New York: Longman (2007).


Photographs of my intersection with self and history are images that have a profound impact on the way I remember my past. These images exist thankfully because of the photographs taken by my father (who made a career out of snapping the lives of others on film), and by photographers whose identities have long been erased from the memory of my family members: my elderly mother or my aunts and other uncles, repositories of my family history, some of whom are now frail, in their eighties, early nineties, or dead. Collected and stored by my mother--a woman who never throws anything away--thousands of pictures stuffed in albums, in envelopes, in dressers, and in boxes are now in my possession. The best I could gather over the past two decades line the walls of my home. These images of family members and friends, some long dead, some still alive, intrigue me. I wonder just who all these people and images I grew up with really were and what they were actually doing when the photographs were taken? Often there are no captions to inform the viewer of anything, so I wondered what had occurred just prior to the click of the shutter or just after. Why are the subjects in the snapshots positioned just so? What directions were the subjects receiving from the photographer? What responses were being directed back at the photographer? Were the subjects told to look just off-camera, put on lipstick, smooth a misplaced hair, or simply just told after a 1-2-3 count to “Smile? What did the photographs so masterfully composed not show or tell about the people or events captured? Was the attention centered on the picture=s real subject? What kind of statement was being made as a result? Was the photographer taking a kind of revenge on a particular subject or offering forgiveness?
During this looking and recalling, I had many discussions with my mother about the treasure trove of photographs she so lovingly and caringly saved along with her idealized and/or perceived memories. Mother's descriptions often suffered from an occasional fuzzy memory exacerbated by poor eyesight. It was then that I would discuss these photographs with aunts and uncles who often affirmed or contradicted Mother's (re)memories of the very same images. Within the contradictions misconceptions about memory arise, and although photographs evoke memories those memories do not simply spring out of the images themselves; they generate meaning-making, traces, suggestions of something else-disagreements within family culture.
Moreover, any references to my parent's ultimately unhappy marriage, lasting only eight years and ending in divorce, were also cause for conflicting narratives and, at times, distorting the topography of remembrance. Looking back on realities and ideals shared between us, fueled by countless 8x10 glossies, Mother (without realizing it) ended up assisting me in producing narrative complements or imagetexts, which allowed me to fill in what the pictures left out. . . . . . . .

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Deadliest Mass Murder in US History-at a university

Why? Why? Why?
As I watch the horror unfold on TV that occurred this morning at Virginia Tech--all I can wonder is why?
And the only answer that comes to me is . . . sadly . . . because. Because. Because the killer could. Because no one knows the horror that lives inside a determined killer's mind. Because the time, the place, the opportunity existed in the killer's mind and no one could possibly know what darkness shrouds, clouds, corrupts the mind of a killer. And so he killed because he could and no one stopped him.

No one stopped him after he murdered two students in their dorm room and no one stopped him after he murdered over 20 students more than two hours apart across campus while they sat in their German class?
What were the campus police thinking?
Maybe they weren't. It is hard to judge, I wasn't there.

"Why?" is what I hear in the CNN reports. So Anderson Cooper interviews a killer from another shooting years prior. The convicted killer speaks, "I had to do something to get everyone to leave me alone." So this kid was picked on unmercifully and his resolution was to shoot one by one at his list of abusers. He based this on watching video games. He never realized that a wounded or murdered person didn't get back up after being shot. That never happened in video games, so why wouldn't a murdered person get back up again. If only he'd known the reality. Now he is serving an over 200 year life sentence.

I guess somebody should have told him that his problems, just maybe, weren't that bad. Oh . . . he just said this himself.

I teach at a university. How can something like this be prevented or how can my university be prepared for such a horrible thing? How and why can any university be ready to avoid such a massacre?
Honestly, I don't think my campus can nor can any other campus.

But I have had a student become scarily aggressive and verbally abusive in class, so much so that I had to walk away quickly and report him to campus police. The result...he was told to write me a letter of apology by the VP of Student Affairs. He never did and remained in my class even after I had a campus police officer talk with him about his inappropriate behavior after class one day. I could not legally force the student to stop attending....after all--I was told--he paid his tuition--all I could do was fail him.

The ironic thing is that these kinds of events are creating cell phone journalists. Students using cell phone cameras are the primary reporters for this particular event. Jamal Albaughouti jumped into action as he was walking across campus to talk with his advisor...as a professor yelled at him and others to get the fuck away Jamal drew his phone and started recording at least 27 shots fired. And now he and other students are stringers for TGV and radio--paid nothing by the way--for their reports.

What do we call this new form of electonic journalism? Cellphojournalists? CPjournalists? Jamal is being interviewed all over the news. He and a slurry of other cellphojournalists or students who were eyewitnesses.
Jamal, now referred to as an eyenews reporter by Larry King, felt this event to be similar to what he, Jamal, was trying to escape from in the Middle East. Go figure. You don't have to be in the Middle East to risk being killed in a war zone....just come to the USA--any school.

Where is there a safe place to live?
Answer--Nowhere.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Finding an agent is so interesting

In the last year I have circulated my epistolary novel, around town and by town I am stretching the term to its pandemic meaning. Anyway, my query always generates lots of interest. Many agents and publishers have responded with Yes, send it. Over and Over. Then . . . I wait. Then rejections . . . contradicting each other.
"It is well written and we are moved by it . . . but can't take it on right now."
"Good luck with someone else."
"We find it interesting but in today's world of publishing there are too many books are out there and not enough readers. Good luck elsewhere."
"It is too short."
"It is too long."
"It is too multi layered."
"It is not layered enough."
"It is not poignant enough."
"It is too poignant."
"We just plain don't think it right for us, but some other agent/publisher may feel differently."
"Don't give up."
"It isn't chocolate mint chip enough!"
......bla bla bla.

It is all so funny to me.
Really. I have no doubt that the right person will finally "get it," and the novel will be published. It is just a matter of time. And the journey to that entity that agent/publisher is fraught with ups and downs, hopes and expectations, duels with words, and it is all part of the struggles and challenges of being a writer: Getting someone to believe in what one has written. This apparently is the only way to validate the writing at all.....Hmmm. It is all so amusing and ironic because what makes a writer more worthy than another says so much about "who" is doing the reading.

Apparently not enough people are out there doing much "reading." The act alone conjurs up too much work complain many of my students here at University. They don't like to read...they would rather IM or text or just plain watch a movie about a subject instead. Why read Herodotus when you can see 300?

Why read any history book about Native Americans and the U.S. goverment's genocidal treatment of them when you can view Disney's Pocohantas?

Yikes! Kill me now.

I see my challenge as an English professor, especially with incoming freshman, to make them want to put aside the Ipod, the laptop, the Shuffle, the Blackberry, and whatever else is still to be invented to cut short holding an actual book with printed paper and valued font on it in one's hands...if only for a little while and fall in love with the words on the page. Helping and guiding students to "get it" and by doing so "get" themselves and more of who they can be, will be, and what they can and should contribute to their world and that of succeeding generations. When they enter my classroom I don't greet them with "Enter future Masters and Mistresses of the Universe" for nothing. I know they will get it and they will conquer.