a pet peeve


{photo by zombiemouthwash}

When reading through a book for class, with my pencil in hand ready to underline significantly meaningful words and passages (or make comments, 🙂 , 🙁 , etc.), I thoroughly dislike it when a word I want to circle is cut off at the end of the line by a hyphen and continues on the next. If it’s a word I want to focus on, I feel disjointed with the two half circles I am forced to create.


I need to get over that.

Hangin’ With Uncle Walt

He was quite the dashing fellow back in the day!

So, up to this point in my life, my Walt Whitman experience has pretty much been limited to a section from 9th grade Honors English (a long time ago…) and several (!) viewings of Dead Poets Society (one of my all time favorite movies). The “barbaric yawp” scene between Robin Williams and a (teeny-tiny baby) Ethan Hawke still gives me shivers. Interestingly, said English class was taught by my own Mr. Keating of sorts, Mr. Bean. I haven’t watched the film in a while. I should. I have the video. This semester, for my 19th Century American Lit class, we read “Song of Myself” from Leaves of Grass (the original 1855 edition), including Whitman’s preface. Here now is very general, yet positive review: Amazing stuff!

For my response for class in January, I reflected on the lessons Uncle Walt (as Robin Williams called him in DPS) teaches us:

On the surface, what may seem to be self involved praise of himself and his profession as a poet, quickly dives into extremely inclusive territory. We are all poets. In the preface, he writes that we all have the power to think “thoughts [that] are the hymns of the praise of things” and that “the poet sees for a certainty how one not a great artist may be just as sacred and perfect as the greatest artist.”

Through poetry, he gives valuable life lessons. The preface passage which struck me most begins with “This is what you shall do.” He instructs us to “Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms….” Etc. He continues these lessons in the poem itself: “Have you reckoned a thousand acres much? Have you reckoned the earth much?” He tells us that embracing the great artist in all of us, “You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, You shall listen to all sides and filter them yourself.” And later: “I think I will do nothing for a long time but listen, And accrue what I hear into myself and let the sounds contribute toward me.” In some ways these lessons remind me of a 19th century version of Sark’s “How to be an Artist.” She writes, “Make friends with freedom and uncertainty. Look forward to dreams. Cry during movies.”

While I was drawn to the personal and artistic lessons, one of my classmates wrote about how Whitman reminds us that these individual freedoms and expressions are so much tied to what it means to be an American, what it is that makes our democracy what it is, and how poetry was Whitman’s perfect way of expressing it. Unfortunately, I’m not sure our democracy has ever reached the status of what it could & should be in the eyes of Whitman. Have we truly listened to Uncle Walt? Have we all embraced all classes, professions, and races as he does in the poem?

For my recent mid-term paper, I continued my investigations into the poem. The assignment was to basically do a close read of a primary source with light to no research. Just come up with an argument and prove it with evidence from the text. While some of my classmates thrive on the research, I found it refreshing to just bond with the poem. Just me and Uncle Walt. The images of rugged masculinity and sexuality run rampant throughout the work. I know this isn’t real news–the poem’s been around–but I guess I’m finally just getting around to knowing this. These lines in Section 24 make me swoon:

Divine am I inside and out, and make holy whatever I touch or am touched from;
The scent of these arm-pits is aroma finer than prayer,
This head is more than churches or bibles or creeds.

My paper covered the connection in the poem between homosexuality and the divine. I think I found some pretty solid evidence (though I just turned in the paper, so we’ll see if my prof agrees…. Hi, Jake!) Of course, I admit to being slightly biased and perhaps reading into things what I’m looking for with little research about the period’s views on sexuality. Perhaps I can incorporate all that into my final paper.

I like that grad school really lets one build something. There’s a through line. Not that there wasn’t in undergrad–but lawd that was a long time ago. I guess it’s the freedom to really find something that interests us and then run away with it.

It’s been fun hanging out with Uncle Walt. I feel a connection with a literary and personal past that doesn’t happen with every author. Good times. I’ll have to keep up with it. You know, along with everything else. But it’s a start. 🙂

Okay, so while looking for the linked scene above, I found this clip which edits together footage of the film into a video for Liz Phair’s “Why Can’t I Breathe?”

Anyone who wants more homo erotic subtext to the film may have it here. It’s a good clip–and I give props to those who have the editing skills, time, patience, etc. for all that.


UPDATE June 9, 2008: I’m seriously bummed that this video is no longer available. 🙁

UPDATE August 20, 2017: Looked for it again; no dice. 🙁

Mid Term Week

Very busy with school work this weekend and into the week.  Today’s goal is to get major work done on my paper for my American Lit class.  Will report back later….

Btw, SNL not as good last night.  I didn’t quite make it to the end.  Although Amy Poehler in The Dakota Fanning Show is brilliant.   And is Hilliary Clinton the first intro announcer in the show’s history to pronounce the “is” in “It’s Saturday Night!”?  Just curious.  Either way, that was fun. 🙂

Workshopping “Guns”

This past Wednesday, the 20th, we workshopped my Creative Non-Fiction piece, Playing Guns. That, at least, is the working title. It’s not a very exciting one, I know. It’s a piece I’ve been working on off and on for a while now. It has its origins in the solo show class I took at Chicago Dramatists with the fabulous Arlene Malinowski in the fall of 2005. I started putting something together called The Sounds of Play, which included the sound effects for cars, Transformers, Dolly Pops (I had my gal pals too!), and of course, playing guns. Bang Bang Rat-a-tat-tat and all that.

I eventually took the guns part and paired it with my idea of writing about my grade school friend, Danny, whose hippie parents wouldn’t allow him to play guns. I’d wanted to write about Danny and this seemed like a perfect marriage.

From there, it evolved into musings on war and war stories and my own parents, especially my dad and grandfather (which may be part of the source for my pretty much neglecting the fact that girls played guns too, as pointed out in my class, but with no sisters and pretty much just my guy friends growing up participating, its a very male-centric piece, which I may or may not amend. We’ll see….) I did a major push on the piece this past summer in anticipation for this semester’s class. I was also in the middle of reading David Kenyon Webster’s Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper’s Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich. Webster was portrayed in the HBO film, Band of Brothers, and it was interesting to read moments and dialogue that made it directly into the film–and the liberties that the filmmakers took.

I talked to my dad and did a little fact-checking about the technicalities of his not being drafted into Vietnam. We also talked about his growing up post-WWII and how the family reacted to Vietnam. One of my other projects this summer involved transcribing a cassette tape discussion my brothers had with my grandparents a few years ago. My grandfather since passed away, and though I have some of the facts, I know there are things missing. That missing has made its way into the piece as well.

I eventually hit a wall with it. Couldn’t add or subtract a comma. I needed my class! We had a good discussion. I appreciated the comments and questions. One of the general topics we discuss is what is the piece About? I’m still not completely sure. It’s about a lot! It still needs some focus and shaping. I have all the response essays from my classmates, but I’m not quite ready (nor do I have the time!) to really go through them at the moment. Maybe over spring break (not that I won’t have other reading to do then!) I have my next piece to focus on for workshop #2. Thankfully, I had “Guns” under my belt, but one of the pieces has to come from one our three preliminary assignments. I spent a considerable amount of time this week living in 1994….

One of my classmates suspected the piece’s “performance” voice, and I was like You got me! I’ve struggled with Literary Voice vs. Performance Voice in the past. But the intention for “Guns” will be performance–but I do also want it to feel alive on the page, which I think it does. The plan is for it to be a part of my full length solo show, Battles With Boys, which will include many of the pieces listed on the Solo Performance page. That’s the plan anyway.

Hm, so my point to all this? I guess: Workshopping Good. 🙂 Seriously, though, I love this whole part of the process. I’ve had my solitary loner writing time, and this gets it out there a little, especially surrounded by cool peeps. The next one may be a little intense, I don’t know. It’s not due for a couple weeks. I have a draft done, but I can’t look at it right now. I need these couple weeks to be away from it before I turn it in–and I’m sure I’ll wince at a few things before I do so.

Alright, must get ready for work and read some of my classmates’ writings for next week…..

He’s a Writer AND a Fighter

Back on January 30, despite school being closed due to the lovely weather we’re been having here in the South Bend area (or “The SB” as Ernie and I call it) , the English Department went ahead with the planned visit by Sam Sheridan, author of this book:

Yeah, that’s him and his blood on the cover. We read the book for my Creative Non-Fiction class, and through various connections, we were able to get him to visit from his home in LA. It’s a pretty good read, but it was interesting to hear from Sam how there are parts he would love to rework. Goes to show that even if something is published–doesn’t necessarily mean it’s finished.

The week before the reading, my class discussed his more journalistic approach and the distance that sometimes entails. I appreciated that element, but of course still enjoyed the more personal sections. He got in the ring and wrote about the life, the people, the business, etc. He frighteningly covers dog & cockfighting in Asia, and waxes philosophical about masculinity, aggression, etc.

He was really cool and talked some about the writing and publishing, but also a lot about fighting. He also brought along one of his MMA (mixed martial arts) buddies, Rory, who’s 14-4 I think. You can tell he’s been beat up a few times.

So, um, dig the pic of me and Sam? He was like We have to do a fighting pose. Either a fist or the index finger. See how butch I’m trying to be? Ernie was like, You look so SMALL next to him. Seriously, his hands are as big as my head.

My prof, Kelcey, mused some in the following week’s class about fighters and writers, and how Sam’s discussion of the training–physical, mental, spiritual–could be paralleled with a writer’s life. I dig that. I’d like to think this whole grad school thing is a part of all that. 🙂

So when I get overwhelmed and discouraged, I should just picture myself in the ring and think either Do it! Or look like the cover of Sam’s book….