Monthly Archives: April 2008

Reading for Pleasure Wednesday: J. E. Rivera

Really I reread The Vortex for class, but it was a true pleasure. Now we will sing the first line: “Antes que me hubiera apasionado por mujer alguna, jugué mi corazón al azar y me lo ganó la Violencia.”

*

Familiarity begins at the airport where you identify your gate from far off because everyone has a cardboard box tied with rope, and is already dressed as they would dress at the destination. You leave at night and fly for hour upon hour, watching the map as you traverse almost half the globe.

The stamp in your passport is large and once you have it, you walk out to old fashioned smells of diesel fuel and leaded gasoline that give way as you ride out of town to earth and fresh cheese. People wear somber colors in one language and brightly embroidered clothes in another.

Although it is a primitive point of view I still think of flights south as going downwards, curving with the earth, entering a secret dimension as they pass the Equator, going home.

Axé.

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¡Adentro!

Now the drums and charangos begin playing and someone shouts ¡adentro! just before the flutes come in with the melody. I am dreaming of summer on the altiplano and beginning to sing the huayno, “Mujer andina, te vengo a contar / mis penas y mis dolores.” I wrote some time ago:

“In this novel the characters suffer and express pain. Then the music rises and the mountains come into view. They characters feel exalted, and the world seems pure and beautiful. The deep rivers to which the title alludes represent and lead toward the non-Western, non-alienated world underlying the modern, colonized layer of reality. That is one explanation of the characters’ alternating states of dejection and joy. It is also the case that the narrator-hero is in a bad situation and yet keeps a purer self which comes alive and take wing in the moments it can. These moments are fleeting. They correspond to a deeper and truer reality but it is not the reality in which the character’s social being is allowed to live.”

After entering the thicket of Reeducation I became depressed and Reeducation said, of course, it was my true nature that I had only been hiding all these years. Reeducation said, furthermore, that my depression was “cyclical” – I would pull myself out of it and it would then flatten me again. I considered this.

Later my student explained that Arguedas’ novel was not about transculturation nearly as much as it was about emotional reactions to abuse. Just as the Ernesto character looks up to the sacred mountain peaks and inspires himself and feels purified, so did she lie in the sweet meadows of the Oregon Cascades thinking, ¡nadie es mi enemigo! ¡nadie!

And I realized that my “natural, cyclical” depression had disappeared when I escaped Reeducation. And saw it reappear when I began working at my current institution, which has a ‘reeducative’ style. And disappear when I began calling abuse, and abuses, by their name.

Before I learned to do that I was here like the Ernesto character in Deep Rivers – oppressed, dejected, and confused and/or embarrassed about it; making plans to improve matters or having an experience which momentarily elevated one; feeling elated at these moments (¡nadie es mi enemigo! ¡nadie!) and then finding myself pushed again beneath the waves.

It was very easy to believe I was permanently impaired. It was very difficult to see why the days were so difficult. Now without having changed a thing, without having won any victories, things are not this way any more because I no longer excuse people for their “frailties” when these are much more than just that.

Axé.

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On Defeating McCain

There is another primary tomorrow. I want a President who would do something about this:

The New York Times lectured Haiti on April 18 that “Haiti, its agriculture industry in shambles, needs to better feed itself.” Unfortunately, the article did not talk at all about one of the main causes of the shortages – the fact that the US and other international financial bodies destroyed Haitian rice farmers to create a major market for heavily subsidized rice from US farmers. This is not the only cause of hunger in Haiti and other poor countries, but it is a major force.

A friend is reading a book and sends this quotation:

From Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary: Reflections of Women Writers by Susan Morrison

Clinton’s career as a politician, rather than the wife of one, began more or less on July 7, 1999, when she announced she was forming a campaign to run for the US senate. She pronounced herself “very humble and more than a little surprised to be here.” “Why the Senate? Why New York? and “Why me?”. The same day she embarked on her famous “listening tour”.

It was hard to get a good view of Clinton, since most of the reporters from the risers were now crammed in one room, but every time she turned my way, it seemed, nodding emphatically, fairly radiating earnest concern. She was concerned about access to dental care and better markets for dairy products.

Half an hour into the ninety minute session, I counted three reporters fast asleep. I found the listening difficult to take, not just because it was sleep inducing. The truth of the campaign – already obvious at that early date – was that NY was just a vehicle for Clinton’s ambition.

The logic of the exercise was circular, or in its maddening topology, perhaps more like a Mobius strip. She argued that she was justified in running from a state that she had never lived in because what mattered was “where you stand not where you are from.” But when asked where she stood, she kept on insisting that she had come to New York to listen. “All I can say is, I care deeply about the issues that are important in this state that I’ve been learning about,” is how she put it, absurdly.

Now one could come up with similar things to say about Obama, and many more critical things to say about both. One can even come up with the ways in which both candidates are more closely aligned with McCain than a real opposition would be. Still at this point I think it would be advantageous to defeat McCain. I am not one of those who believes it has to get still worse before it gets better. To the contrary, I think that if it gets still worse, it could then get worse yet. We might as well do what we can to turn things around now.

Axé.

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HB 179 – Louisiana

If you are Louisiana faculty and you have not received the following e-mail (from ALFS and AAUP), please read it now and then act. I am sending one e-mail to one member of the House Education Committee each day, until I have e-mailed them all. I strongly suggest everyone else do the same.

The e-mail:

“House Bill 179 by Representative Carter has been introduced in the Legislature, apparently at the request of LSU administrators. The stated intent is to curb abuses, but the practical effect for faculty is that it takes a current faculty fringe benefit (of which we all know there are way too few) that is ‘written in stone’ and puts it under institutional control, making it very iffy at best. This is a bill that we should all be very concerned about.

“Below is a question and answer section that gives more information on the bill as well as some observations on the bill from faculty member Michael Matthews. After that I have inserted information on the members of the House Education Committee who will be considering the bill. Please use this information to contact members of this Committee by email or phone as soon and as often as possible. It would be helpful if individual senates and AAUP chapters could take formal action and communicate the action to the Committee.”

“If we fail to act, this may become new policy which we will all have to live with.”

Questions and Answers concerning HB 179 (2008 Regular Session)

1. If HB 179 becomes law will all Higher Education faculty lose the right to Unlimited accrual of Annual and Sick leave? Ans. YES (HCR223 proposed law will have PAID TIME OFF leave; no Annual or Sick leave will exist).

2. If HB 179 becomes law will I lose all of my accrued Annual and Sick Leave? Ans. YES. HCR 223 states “All sick and annual leave shall be combined into a Paid Time Off bank” (all accrued leave will be called PTO).

3. If HB 179 becomes law will I lose the right to unlimited accrual of leave? Ans. YES. HB 179 states “Accrual of leave, including limits on maximum accrual, shall be as defined by each public postsecondary education institution.”

4. If HB 179 becomes law could I lose the right to take leave if I’m sick? Ans. YES. HB179 states: “Leave accrued in the Paid Time Off bank may be used for the purpose of rest, relaxation, vacation, or personal or family illness and needs as defined by each public postsecondary education institution.” Current law defines reasons for usage.

5. If HB 179 becomes law will I lose my current right to sell up to 500 hours of Annual and Sick leave upon death or retirement? Ans. HB 179 states “Accrued leave in a Paid Time Off bank for which unclassified and academic personnel may be paid upon separation from employment shall not exceed three hundred hours.” Current law allows for 25 days sick leave (200hrs) and 37 ½ annual leave (300hrs) upon death or retirement. The proposed law does not spell out how or how much you would receive when you die or retire.

Comments by Michael Matthews:

“Upon separation from employment, maximum payment of leave would be capped at 300 hours. HB 179 does not provide for a “grandfather clause” which would allow currently employed faculty to retain their leave.

“Maximum accrual of leave would be defined by each individual institution. Because HB 179 caps payment of leave at 300 hours, it is logical to assume that any institution would limit annual accrual of leave at an approximate level.

“Remember that 300 hours is only six weeks of leave, and that serious illnesses such as cancer, or major surgery may require much more time.

“HB 179 does provide for ‘an extended sick leave bank’, but gives the institution the option to control how the extended sick leave bank will be used, and for what purposes. Under such a policy, faculty members may be told that their illnesses do not meet proper standards for the use of extended sick leave.

“The bottom line, of course, is that our accrual of sick and annual leave is provided by state law, and HB 179 would give governing boards and university administrations that authority. Under HB 179, leave policies would be established according to administrative needs. These policies could also change from year to year, depending on political or financial expediencies.”

House Education Committee email addresses, 2008:

Carter, Stephen <carters@legis.state.la.us>;

Trahan, Donald M <larep031@legis.state.la.us>;

Badon, Austin <larep100@legis.state.la.us>;

Armes, James K. <armesj@legis.state.la.us>;

Aubert, Elton <auberte@legis.state.la.us>;

Carmody, Thomas <carmodyt@legis.state.la.us>;

Chandler, Billy R. <larep022@legis.state.la.us>;

Chaney, Charles R. <chaneyb@legis.state.la.us>;

Dixon, Herbert B. <dixonh@legis.state.la.us>;

Downs, Hollis <larep012@legis.state.la.us>;

Edwards, John Bel <edwardsj@legis.state.la.us>;

Hardy, Rickey <hardyr@legis.state.la.us>;

Hoffmann, Frank A. <hoffmanf@legis.state.la.us>;

Leger, Walt III <legerw@legis.state.la.us>;

Richardson, Clifton R. <richardc@legis.state.la.us>;

Ritchie, Harold L. <larep075@legis.state.la.us>;

Smith, Patricia Haynes <smithp@legis.state.la.us>.

Axé.

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Here we can read FDR’s first inaugural address, delivered March 4, 1933, and hear him take the oath of office. All current candidates, and especially the Democratic ones, ought to study this text very closely.

Richard Parker’s piece on FDR is very much worth reading at the present juncture in our national history. I would also like the administrators at my university to study and imitate his leadership style, as described by Parker:

“Few historians today think FDR had a finely tuned policy agenda in the back of his mind at any point during his twelve years in the White House. What he did have, though, was worth far more. Eliot Janeway, looking at FDR’s oft-criticized record in preparing the nation for war–and for what became the swiftest, most enormous and most complex expansion of the economy and the government in America’s history–named what was essential.

“Roosevelt’s critics have said–and say–he organized Washington into…a comptroller’s hell, into a jungle of confusion…. They are right. He did. And yet this irresponsibility–so disastrous on the face of it–did not result in disaster…. To Roosevelt, the important question was the participation of the nation in its own defense, not the administrative planning for this participation…. So long as the home front was big at the base, Roosevelt was willing to bet he could let it be confused at the top–and he and he alone had the power, the genius, the dramatic instinct, and above all the daring to make it as big outside Washington and as amorphous inside Washington as he pleased.

“It’s those qualities – his ability to project a sense of trust in people’s ability to rise to common needs and dreams, plus his capacity as democratic leader to help them find the means needed to triumph – that defined Roosevelt’s genius. And it’s crucial for us to recognize why his style of “democratic leadership” was and is more challenging than “leadership of a democracy” or of business leadership or military leadership or most kinds of political leadership touted as “what we need today.” Crucial among the gifts of a true democratic leader, as FDR clearly was, is the ability to share not so much policies but stories, parables that incorporate moral and ethical vision, narratives of who we are and where we came from, and why we are together and where we can go, and what we can achieve if we work together.”

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That was about university politics. On Presidential politics, consider:

That was Barack Obama talking about being talked about as elitist because of having said that regular Americans were pushed by circumstances and rhetoric into reaction when really their actual sentiments and interests may well be more progressive than they are able to see.

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Also in Presidential politics and presidencies, there is a great deal of new and revolting news about Bush, the Bush administration, and torture. It is nothing we did not know in general terms, but the details – about the administration’s attitude and its manipulativeness – are truly nauseating. What I most dislike is that they know their rhetoric is false, but that it will convince some people and discourage others so much that with so many either convinced or discouraged, there will be insufficient information and less opposition. It is all so exploitative, and so demeaning – to the people of this country and of the world at large. And then people say Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright are the “mean” and “offensive” ones.

Axé.

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Soon One Morning, Toreá por Bulerías

It is the weekend, so we will sing! The best musics are cante jondo and blues. In blues this weekend, Stephen Bess leads us to an amazing rendition of Soon One Morning. I, meanwhile, have discovered a toreá por bulerías that has real duende. It is for Servetus and Meia Oito, although it is not necessarily what they were expecting. Listen to the brilliant cantaor, whom I wish I could identify. The matador is Joaquín Díaz, the “Cuqui de Utrera.”

Axé.

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What Rough Beast

One of the things I now do to protect my sanity is spend time at a ceramics studio. I cannot really afford this, but it is essential to mental health and I think cheaper than some more traditional but less interesting alternatives.

This ceramics studio is run by a couple who are not really experts, although they try. We understand this. The teachers are experts but they are not empowered to do certain things, like make sure firing is done in a professional way. The students are excellent and it is because of them, and the facts that it is ceramics, and that it is in biking distance from my house, that I go.

I started last summer, after a hiatus in which I really could not afford it, because an old teacher of mine called me up to say she was giving a class in this studio. She was in conflict with the owners, though, over their lack of expertise. There were issues with waxing and glazing. She vented her frustrations at me and I felt angry at the owners for her sake and yet also manipulated into a conflict that was not mine. It was stressful. It got smoothed out.

Still I have some trouble working in there because of the owner. He is a well meaning person but under stress. He likes me and he needles me. He goes on about how I carry my things: if I balance a tray on my head and carry the rest in my arms, I can move clay, tools, and pieces in progress in only one load, but this is exotic and it must be commented upon constantly. I only did it once and I have been careful to avoid it since, but the comments do not end. He wants to talk and talk but I have paid for time.

I always feel strangely invaded and I appear to have accepted that this is what one must accept if one is to work at this studio. I resent it because I am already being tolerant of poor firing skills. I feel as though I must cajole the owner somehow, yet I am not sure how he elicits this reaction in me.

*

I have missed classes and make-up sessions because of work. Sometimes I miss class or makeup sessions just because at work I have already dealt with enough invasive personalities for one day, and I cannot face another. I am not getting my money’s worth, but I like the teachers and love the students, so I would like to make this work.

I found out from the university that I was going to have to miss two days of ceramics. I e-mailed ceramics ahead of time to ask whether I could make those up on two other days. The answer said yes, and that it was good of me to e-mail because this showed I was coming through on my intention to be more reliable. The tone was snotty and I e-mailed back, thank you for letting me make up classes but please do not speak to me in this snotty tone.

I arrived to the studio this morning to find that my divine Japanese tea set had been misfired. I know they will say this is my fault but the thing is that I have been doing ceramics intermittently, but rather steadily for 13 years and I have not had these problems before. I flashed back to the first conflict I had had with this couple, in the fall, when my original teacher had been involved. I knew I would be shamed again and it would be my fault again and I would be needled about this incident for weeks to come, again.

I also knew I would be tolerant of this behavior because it is all of our policy to be tolerant of the foibles of these owners, who are having a hard time starting up their studio rental business and are putting a great deal of time into it, as well as money they do not have. The first class I took, I took primarily to help my old ceramics teacher out financially, and the one I am in now, I took to help the studio out financially. This means that of four eight week blocs of studio time, I have only bought two for my own sake. There is something wrong with this – there is too much coercion and too much guilt in the air.

*

I never cry, and I always surprise myself if I do. But I started to cry. One image I had was, I wanted to take the extruder – a large metal object – off the wall and beat the owner’s head in. I imagined enjoying that and this worried me. A more realistic image I had was, I wanted to crush my Japanese tea set.

As I was crying and saying “I know it is all my fault, and I know they will make fun of my tea set and what happened to it, and I cannot face their doing this to me again,” another student came up to me. “I notice the same undercurrent,” she said, and gave a few examples from her experience. “He’s just arrived,” she said. “You have to talk to him. You are quite right, he had no reason to write you in the tone he did, you are not a third grader.”

I went to talk to him, through my teeth. He said he his thought his “banter” was fun and he had thought it was all right with me. I repeated that I had formerly accepted that it was what I would have to put up with if I wanted to work in this studio, but that I could accept it no longer. He said I would have to explain to him in detail exactly what was wrong with his tone and why. Teach him. I said I was not interested. I said I was not interested in training pushy, power-tripping Yankees like him to be human beings, and that I the reason I was not interested in his banter was that I had work to do and I was just not that interested in what white guys have to say, anyway.

These things were mean and destructive, for one thing, and naturally, he did not understand anyway. He repeated that we needed to talk, he needed to talk, and I said it was my class time and I was not in a state to talk, if I had to talk now I would be destructive. Then I went and did my work and tried to catch the positive vibes off the students. I made two Chinese jars with beautiful lids.

Then I went home for lunch, and then I went to my office hour. One student stood me up, but at least e-mailed, and the other came and we had a productive discussion. Then it was raining and I was tired and hungry again, so instead of going to do errands or going to the gym I came home and drank green tea and ate dense rye bread, balancing out my system. Now the sun is out again and the children are riding on skate boards and I am exhausted and disheartened.

*

If my tea set had not also been discovered to have been misfired on the same day as I got the snotty e-mail, events would not have accumulated and I would not have lost my cool. And part of this is my fault since I am under terrible stress of different kinds. But the ceramics studio is my favorite de-stressor and this is the reason I want it to work out. And it appears that it will not, and I feel it is my fault, and I can perhaps find another place to work, but I like the students who work in this place.

And now if I stay I will have to work it out with this guy but how do I get him to stop bothering me? Why is it that the men who work in the studio are left alone and treated with some respect but if you are a woman you have to cajole the owner to work there? And, is it real, or is the reason all of this bothers me to the degree it does that it reminds me as much as it does of what happens at work? And finally, is it all me?

In Reeducation it would be said that it was all me and what I needed to do was change my attitude, so that I will no longer perceive as bothersome what is bothersome. I disagree and I am also afraid even of entertaining such suggestions. I am afraid of what will happen in me, to me, if I say it is my fault or if I try to work it out in a heartfelt manner with this owner, which is what he wants. I am afraid that if I bend that far, stretch that far, accommodate that much, I will lose my grip on living.

All of today’s events are very symptomatic of much which happens in the local culture: everyone is pressing their limits, and at the same time trying to protect themselves against others who may be pressing their limits. It is exhausting. And I am afraid that I am coming down on this studio owner because I can, because I cannot, here, come down on someone like my chair or my dean the way a reasonable person would say I need to do.

And I know what people say about the entire situation: 1. You should leave, now! But I am too weak still, and I cannot afford it; or 2. You should accept things as they are and not try to travel so much, you cannot afford it! I am convinced, however, that there is a middle path. And yet I keep trying to take such a one, and it is always when I am succeeding, or have been succeeding for several days in a row, that something happens to smash me like that tea set. This is why for many years I simply remained in a broken state, because to mend only in order to be broken again seemed so impractical. Each broken piece had its own tranquillity and sang its own song.

*

And I am afraid that it is all true, what I was told when I was little and what Reeducation said when I was grown up, that there is something terribly wrong with me that I cannot see, and I need to accept more accusations and agree to be pressed upon more closely, because I am disappointing and immoral and to let vultures eat my flesh is the least I can do to start making up to the world the pain I have caused it.

And I do not like writing these ideas down because they are false poisons I would like to dislodge from myself, not allow to lodge yet more deeply. Yet I am writing them down so I can look at them and see clearly their poor logic.

One of the problems of coming from an abusive background is that one fears extreme violence will ensue not just in retribution for assertiveness or disagreement but for being a person. This causes very great tension since one must, of course, be a person in order to function even minimally. Another problem is that one can easily be convinced that one’s assertiveness is a form of abuse. A third problem is not knowing what behavior should or should not be tolerable to a “normal” person. A fourth problem is having had abuse modeled too often and assertiveness, not often enough. A fifth, related problem is how mean one can be, oneself.

Some of the things I do not say because I think they are mean, people tell me are not mean at all. Other things I do say because I think they need to be said, people tell me are mean. Still other ways I find of saying things, because it seems that only these ways get my point across, feel abusive even to say. I do not know at all how to assess any of the statements or situations alluded to in this paragraph.

*

I thought my life’s work was something else. In fact, I know it is also something else. I used to think that if I could continue to have the luck to avoid toxic atmospheres and abusive situations, I would slowly heal on my own and also be able to concentrate on my life’s work. But many days, especially now, I suspect that my life’s major project is recovery from abuse. I do not know if this is accurate. It seems all too small: many people do that and something else as well.

Perhaps it is that they integrate the two projects, incorporate the one with the other. But it seems to me still that some form of respite from the daily onslaughts would be in order. I try and try to find this in the current venue, but I am often failing at it – more seriously than I see until events such as those of today reveal the extent to which my good humor is put on with very great effort. Perhaps with too much effort.

Axé.

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