Saturday, October 05, 2002

Community College

Not long ago, no more than 16 years, I was in a writing class at the community college. It went tremendously bad, from the very beginning. The teacher introduced herself as a 'published writer, and first time teacher,' passed around the syllabus and jumped in to her 'thing.' She talked about her favorite writers, and what makes 'good' literature.

Next to me another student leaned in and asked, "Wha'd she say?" In a whisper,
I repeated her comment on the 'genius of Gertrude Stein.'

Her lecture complete, she excused the class, but singled me out with her finger and said, "You stay here." The room was still crowded when she said, "I heard what you called me. I won't take that kind of remark in my classroom." I stared blankly, a true sophomore. "You called me a 'bitch,' and I think you should know that I heard you." She was clearly determined not to let her first teaching job get the best of her, and all I could do was say, "I didn't say bitch, I said 'Gertrude Stein.'" And politely, but still confused, I added, "Sorry."

Our first assignment was an essay on any personal experience. 'Write about something you know, ' she encouraged.

Back home I sat at my typewriter and tapped out a first, and second, draft on the garden I had started. I wrote about collecting seeds, sorting them and the prospect of planting more seeds in the future. I kept the seeds in a shoe box, in the laundry room. I was sincere, descriptive and proud of my personal, reflective essay. I was anxious to demonstrate that I was not the sort of person to call someone a 'bitch.'

My paper was returned to me heavily red inked. She did not merely correct occasional typos or grammar errors; she rewrote sentences. She took my expressions and words, crossed them out completely and replaced them with her own. Finally at the very end she asked if 'the flower box was a metaphor for all my lost hopes or a tragic secret, or something?'

"Your essay has no point. What is your point?" And she underlined this.

Our second assignment was to take a stand on an issue, and for my sake she added, "Be sure you make a strong point."

I wrote about the lack of quality television programming for children. I felt strongly about the issue, and wrote about what I felt were the consequences of violence in television, and corporate irresponsibility and greed.

There were fewer typos, but she was no more impressed with my effort. Her remarks suggested I choose a more controversial, or serious subject. She wrote in thick red ink, "Why not write about abortion?"

Yes, abortion is certainly an 'issue' and one couldn't very well write about it without making a point. I had to ask, "Why do you assign us writing exercises where we choose our own subject, if you have a subject in my mind for us already?" She did not like my 'attitude' was her reply. She sighed, and determined to try again: "You need to take a stand when you write. Writing has to be about something, and it has to have a point. Your writing is without a point."

The next week she held up a news magazine with Garrison Keillor on the cover. We had recently read an essay of his about baseball. She was very pleased. She talked about him like he was a student of hers; she loved him, or at least she liked that he was on a magazine cover and in her syllabus. I could barely muster the slightest interest in anything she found worthwhile. She had me completely turned off of writing, personal expression, Gertrude Stein, and baseball essays.

At home, dejected, sprawled out on our couch, I found the same news magazine, Time or Newsweek, and Garrison smiling broadly with a caption that read: 'My writing doesn't have a point,' or something like that. Inside he talked about the pointlessness of his stories, and the value of story telling that simply presents an event or idea, without drawing conclusions or dissecting the meaning. Of course I am only paraphrasing; I have searched for the article, unsuccessfully.

I regret that I can't recall the specifics, but what I gained from his remarks filled me with pure delight. I was affirmed, and perhaps not so very pointless after all. The article, his perspective, changed me forever. I don't remember anything else about that writing class, my grade or that bitch. I do remember regaining my sense of pleasure from writing, about anything. I write about pointless things all the time, and all of the pointless thoughts, moments, insights, events and beliefs I write about, make up a little bit of the world I live in. I have read some of Garrison's books and essays, and I love listening to "A Prairie Home Companion." I even lived in Minnesota for a year, partly in awe of "Lake Wobegon."

The world is full of issues, controversy and hardship. There is no end to suffering, regret and cause for rage. And it's not as though I have lived a life so untouched by difficulty that I am left unblemished. I still garden. I still keep seeds in boxes, collect and sort them. They are hope and renewal; some of them are sterile, some will be eaten or wither in the heat, but some of them will blossom and make new seeds. That's all. It just helps to know there are more seeds out there.

Friday, October 04, 2002

Halloween Mood

The boys have released Halloween and all the Fall decorations. Our cranberry sconce candles have been replaced by candy corn candles. There are pumpkins and a scarecrow in the dining room. We hung an autumn wreath by the front door. And in the living room a ceramic haunted barn is glowing and flickering a seasonal light.

I nearly baked a pumpkin pie. Our pantry is very well stocked, but I am short on crust ingredients. It's just as well. We can't have all our fun in one day. I am still delighting in the recollection of the carrot cake Janice brought us on Sunday. We will bake pumpkin pie this Sunday, after our visit to the pumpkin farm with Holly, Rich and Nicholas. If this weather remains until our harvest adventure, cold and drizzly, it will be an ideal day. I wonder when we can squeeze in apple picking.

The boys finished their homework early. They are in the living room debating which is the most appropriate October 1st movie to watch. They are eager to find something to match their Halloween mood; a little bit scary. "Meet Me in St. Louis" has a great Halloween scene with Margaret O' Brien. It captures the suspense of All Hallow's Eve, as well as the freedom children could enjoy in times past. Too bad we don't have it, or an animated Sleepy Hollow, or even a Laurel and Hardy short. William, Alex and Max are trying to choose between "Wallace and Gromit" and "Mary Poppins."

Sunday, September 29, 2002

Making The Plan

Plan K. I have researched and charted 11 different possible travel itineraries for our Big Rancho Road Trip. I dub myself: The Nat-vigator, Queen of the Compass. I love maps. I love anticipating the fork in the road. I love bleak desert horizons, and lush green valleys. I love buttes, mesas, canyons, ridges, arroyos and moraines. I love 'mooing' at cows in the pasture, and speculating on the lives of people in remote and strange places. I like to know the roads, and I love to get turned around and dropped in a new part of town.

I want to see The Crazy Horse Monument, and The Grand Canyon, Parfrey's Glen, and The Giant Redwoods of coastal California. I want to sit in our vehicle and wait out a rainstorm, and drive at sunrise to a really good breakfast diner. I want to wear my favorite wool socks and rest my feet on the dash while we sing "She'll be coming 'round the mountain," with all our improvised verses. I want to see ducks, deer, quail, foxes and rabbits, buffalo and geese, Fall color, roadside stands and giant monuments to bass, lumberjacks and moose. I'll keep an eye out for lawn ornaments, early Christmas lights, pig farms and scarecrows. I want to sit in a forest, with my family, and smell a rich, humus, pine and smoky fragrance, and all around us will be trees, ferns, mist and God.

I will chart and prepare, anticipate and speculate, and then we will pack and load and check our lists. Once we leave the driveway I will submit to moods and weather. We will see and do things we could never plan or anticipate. I want to see the things and places, that I did not find in my books or maps, but that we will recall fondly for the rest of our lives.