Summer Grades, and the Drinking’s Easy

At lunchtime squirting and stirring the purple energy concentrate into the ice water from breakfast, having woken up too early thanks to the housebroken though leaky diapered beagle pup (we suffer his rare condition despite the studies that say the surgery’s so expensive and unreliable you might as well put the dog down), I feel the first kick of that mindset so treasured among chronic graders of papers: the wired, heady resolve to blast through the payload–a mere near-week after the deadline–while knowing dead-certain this effort will last the weekend–and then, bless it, starts two weeks of summer camp for the littlun. By which point who knows, maybe I’ll have dispatched the assignments and can throw my highlighted rubrics at every single discussion post just a day or two late while receiving definitely fewer than a dozen student inquiries about asterisks in their gradebooks and then BAM–I can write another blog post and practice German. “Die Welt ist voller Widerspruch.”


So what was this lice infestation about? Recognizing that you’re never safe, not even on summer break. 

Word Germs 

What is essential in the weeks to come is that I establish the context of my poetry (which is prose) as outside the gates of self-censorship and well within academic precedent: I did indeed study both modernism and German, just not so much together as I intend to do now. But I’m 7 years out of grad school and so will approach the study just as I did before grad school, independently pursuing a haunted aesthetic of irony and hope–for alternate worlds and literary forms. How glad I am that I opened up NYbooks’s website tonight and landed on a review of Marjorie Perloff’s Edge of Irony: Modernism in the Shadow of the Habsburg Empire. The Kindle sample is fantastic, promising precisely what I need to read right this minute…


There must be some reason it’s so rare I sit through my recorded drumming sessions in search of bites for my blog. Because I’ve already had that experience and don’t feel it’s necessary to relive it. It won’t be anything like what I experienced; it’ll be a shoddy representation. You weren’t in my head in that moment, you didn’t hear it as I did. Which isn’t to say it will suck, but it won’t pop. It’ll just be fast and spastic but mostly unsurprising; recorded drums without a live audience or video have this thing to overcome: the speedy humdrum. That is far from the issue with the experience itself, where I throw out so many beats and fills in such a short space and then repeat the exercise in a new and more radical combination than the previous, until I am cruising on endorphins and realize I’m running out of ideas even if I still am energized–and so it is just that, exercise. Might as well hop on a treadmill. So if it’s that, then ramp up the speed and spend all the energy, wind down until clever again. Likely I’ll forget that trajectory when I listen to the recording weeks, months later. I won’t know what’s going on because I’m not actively listening anymore, I’m grading, so with all the witless thrashing I might as well have just, yes, jumped on a treadmill. (There is one in the next room, after all, plus a rowing machine and a stepping machine that I think I paid 80 bucks for: thanks, Craigslist, for providing this house with decent equipment that we reject in favor of what they’ve got at the gym 15 minutes down the rushed and harried road to Columbia, at a gym we pay a fortune to guilt ourselves into staying more or less constant with.) But what’s missing from this scene are the days when I do not record: they are, in fact, vital. Never play an instrument only to be recorded; it causes that old conflict of interest of ends and means and what justifies what. One day, I will listen regularly to these tracks with discretion and compassion. I will cut and paste the moments and internalize the injunction I so frequently make while editing: Stop hitting things every few minutes or measures, it makes for an easier cut! Hell, sniff out the decay of that giant ride cymbal, that betrayer of all interstitial subtly, announcing the connectedness of every single moment–nothing was planned or executed with a view towards permanence, was it, it was all for the fleeting ephemeral. And if I don’t make good on that promise to keep it episodic, I have these moments that might not be easily extracted but which all speak of spontaneous playful rage. Everything, in short, that I have just described, is a virtue. None of this is cause for regret. Except the diction.


After our beagle burst back inside from barking at those mean old thorny bushes again, he dug right into and upended the fabric bin that Allie had filled with every rope and bone she’d extracted from under the couches. This tidying up had served as her final act during the ending credits of a temper tantrum, filed under Kid 2’s Greatest Fits, over an ice cream trip to McDonald’s that no one had mentioned yet had popped so persuasively into her brain. Since she was already flat on the floor she could see just where to train the broomstick Mama must’ve handed her for just this purpose.

Some of the things she said during this fit, a minute of which was filmed for kicks: “I’m gonna get rid of Oliver and I’m gonna get rid of Mama.” “I’m gonna tape your mouth shut.” That puts the little note she left for me this morning into a rather different context…

Nah, she’s a sweet kid. She unleashes her Heavenly Creatures id and moves on with her life, taking her shower and brushing her chompers for Mama without complaint while I host my Comp II seminar downstairs. Students from Baltimore to East Texas overhear not shouting and slamming but laughing and rambling.


Those little things, not one of them recurring, but I am reminded of them–does that mean they recur? Am I putting them back into circulation…do they need autonomy to qualify as recurring…

I need to feel this soft little nostalgic pain over a place I’ve never been. Or a cold antipathy for a place that’s stuck in its request at the last minute.


Sunday Aimless Sunday

And here opens up a Sunday without a purpose. Excited? You know that Sunday I spent with a Moleskin at Goose Park scratching out notes for a critical essay on Wuthering Heights while Kid 1 was in daycare now characterizes the later years of my academic study of literature: spirited and reckless. Writing just as much to get away with every weird point that sprung upon my overread brain as to penetrate the mysteries of the centerless text. So today what has happened is that I woke up thinking about the latest trio of discussion boards I am contractually bound to say hello to while instead just diving with my coffee into a new novel before getting up to whack the weeds while Kid 2 swung under a tree in the opposite yard. But wait, it couldn’t have been a Sunday at Goose Park because what daycare is open on a Sunday? Still, the feeling is real; thus a Sunday it was.

I was going to say something about why the space in which I wrote after our first life in Ann Arbor, A Hideous Title, only survived the two or three years that we spent in Lansing…and how that space was the next and final step in that literary tomfoolery…but then Kid 1 asked if she could cook up some Mac N Cheese. This hallowed dish that she used to pronounce with a toddler emphasis bordering on the sinister (MAC N CHEESE) she is now (finally) able to make for herself without catching its box on fire. So while that train of thought started up, Kid 1, waiting for the water to boil, stood around in the kitchen making her random noises in response to whatever the hell was on her phone.

Generally, this honor’s-roll 12-year-old has two modes while at home: Grumpy-Butt and Random-Chaos. While one assumes her emotional range is rich and her mental state complex, her outward bipolarity can have the effect of renewing the old philosophical question: How can I be certain that another being, separate from myself and distinctly beyond the reach of my own subjectivity, does in fact experience pain or joy like I know I do? Though it is heartening to know that she does not require a smartphone or tablet to go full-tilt rando.

She will, on a Saturday night, audibly narrate in her quiet bedroom something about which I have zero knowledge but to which I can compare the performances I have myself made, such as when I brought some literary theory (Chaucer and the Subject of History) to my dad’s house between five and ten years ago. The way he yelled upstairs to ask if I’d figured out how to turn on the jets of the new tub I was sitting in convinced me he wanted me to shut the hell up. In my late twenties I was too old for such stentorian gibber-jabber; I’d forgotten to respect the other’s headspace. But now my daughter, blurting out a bunch of bunk in the kitchen, announces that she’s shutting the door. Headspace restored.