Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mining 101

For better or for worse, Niaz and I have decided to start a blog about our first year of teaching, mostly because we thought it was cool that we graduated together, will be doing our first year at the same time, and we'll both be teaching Spanish. We recognize that we are at least partially insane for even considering such an undertaking during what is widely known as the most hectic time of a teacher's life. We're hoping, though, that it will be a good tool for us: a place to reflect, to compare notes, and maybe even to get some feedback. Who knows. It might actually help us make it through the year.

It's called Mining 101, and there is a handy little link to it in the sidebar. We're going ahead and getting started because, after all, we do have to prepare ourselves in advance for this adventure of being first year teachers in Kentucky schools. So we'll be chronicling our experiences, developments, and general teacherliness, hopefully with some regularity. Even if you're not a teacher, it might be interesting to watch us flounder around. And if you are a teacher, help! We'd love to have some of your insight.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Two tales.


I counted twenty-four rings from the center to the sappy edge of the stump. Thinking of the boy in the Giving Tree sitting there bent and wrinkled, I laid a hand on the felled trunk and patted it the way you do the cooling fingers of a loved one newly passed away. This mulberry -- a mulberry because of the little green clumps in her hair -- was twenty-four years old this morning when Dad put a notch and a wedge in the base and pulled her to the ground with a chain and his truck. She was disfigured, he said, from the January icestorm, but Mom and I, driving past in the afternoons, had both mentioned that we liked the way she lifted her jointy arms into the air. Now they are in pieces at her sides. The exposed interior is yellow and solid, not like the hollowed white stump of catalpa keeping vigil several yards away. Grabbing onto a tiny arm, I rock a small section of the trunk toward me. Dad warns me that it'd crush my toes were it to slip, so I push it back and ask if we can take it to the house. Not questioning my motive, which is good because I'm still not sure of it myself, he backs the truck alongside the tree, rolls the little log away from the rest, and lays it in the bed. When we get home, he adds it to a row of wizened chunks of trees past lined up beside the garage. I'm not sure if this is a memorial for fallen trees or if it is a monument of remorse, but this new piece looks out-of-place at the end, with her twenty-four fully-intact rings, same as me.


"Might as well look at the road if you're going to drive."

Dad was taking turns looking at the fields of yellow-tops out to the left and glancing at the road. I was getting tired of my side of the truck getting near the weeds in the ditch and then whipping back into the road. We had been watching yet another pile of brushwood burn when he decided we should go to Sebree. "Let's go get a bite to eat," he suggested. "How about that?" So there we went.

He sat in the Subway parking lot while I ran in, twenty dollar bill in hand. The familiar Subway smell smelled unfamiliar in Sebree. The restaurant is only a few weeks old here, and I am unused to seeing national chains in the area. With Mom out-of-town for the week, I went ahead and ordered a Five-Dollar Footlong for each of us, figuring it might last us a few meals. Chicken breast for me, and meatball for Dad. (True to form, when I ordered his, I requested a football.) I took the sandwiches and Dad's change back to the truck, and we headed for the Dairy Bar.

This was more like it. The Dairy Bar has been in Sebree for longer than my memory. We went through the drive-through and ordered vanilla ice cream cones to eat before supper. Mine small, his medium. Before we could get across the railroad tracks to go home, we heard a train whistle drawing close. We were the first to stop at the crossing with the red-and-white-striped arms and flashing red lights, and we both saw this as an opportunity for Dad to eat on the ice cream before having to contend with it and the steering wheel. Waiting for the train to come, I heard a car rev up behind us and pass us. I figured it was going to turn onto the street parallel to the tracks, but instead, it zoomed straight ahead, zig-zagged through protected arms, and trailed up Main Street only a few seconds before the train crossed the car's path.

For about three minutes, railroad car after railroad car flickered past as Dad neglected his ice cream cone to gripe about the idiocy of that car's driver. I'd finished mine, cone and all, by the time the lights stopped flashing and the arms raised again. Coming up Main, we saw the sky light up pink with rattlesnake lightning.

As we passed out of Sebree, it started to rain. Juggling the barely-eaten ice cream and the barely-functioning windshield wipers, Dad grew anxious. He worked on the ice cream and jumped just a little each time lightning streaked the sky. By the time he offered me the last bit of cone, which I turned down, it was raining steady.

"Guess it's raining on the garden," he said. Today, it was cucumbers, squash, and cantaloupe seeds and more tomato sets in the ground. Indeed, they were getting a soaking.

The rain had slowed when we pulled up the long gravel drive beside the house, but the lightning had grown more frequent. He parked around back, turned the key in the ignition, and squinted out the window. "I don't know." There was a bit of distance and a hickory nut tree between us and the locked back door.

"I don't know," he repeated. "They say not to open windows because the electricity can travel." He rolled down his window.

Lightning behind us flashed and turned the building in front of us pink for a split second. Dad was counting under his breath, the fastest seconds I ever heard, waiting for the thunder. When it rolled, it was apparently far enough away to satisify him. I gathered up all our belongings, Subway included, and made him sort out which was the back door key before we made a run for it. Just as we scurried through the door, there was another flash, but we were safe.

"Don't you think it'd be nice to eat on the front porch," he suggested. I couldn't help but laugh. I nodded and took our sandwiches out through the front door to the rocking chairs, and he went to the basement after two cans of Pepsi. While I rocked and waited for him, I watched the hills across the road disappear into nightfall. Except for those few seconds every now and then when the whole sky would be strange daylight before dimming again and rumbling away.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Restaurant.

I knew that I was taking advantage of the waitress when I ordered the salad bar. When Dad asked how much it would cost to add the bar to his burger and chili, she accidently said two bucks rather than the actual $2.99 that's printed in the menu, the one updated with newer, slightly higher prices to compensate for the economy. I told her, "I think it's $2.99," but she said that since she'd said it wrong, she'd give us that price. I wasn't even going to get the salad bar because, though this new little feature of the Restaurant has made eating there two or three times a week bearable, I was a sort of burnt out and just wanted a burger and fries. But a dollar off? Why not, I said. So at 4:30 in the afternoon, I had a bigger supper than I could handle.

Mom had late meetings and a dinner at work tonight, so it was just Dad and me. There's been a lot of just him and me lately, if you couldn't tell, but it's good. To hear Mom tell it, he's spent the last six years missing me. I'd say he's spent the past six years missing keeping an insanely watchful eye over me. However you cut it, he's glad I'm home these days, and I'm trying to make the most of this year that I've decided to spend here.

Whether anyone wants to read it or not, it's got me writing. Almost too much, because I find myself already drafting paragraphs while I'm still in the experience. For instance, while I whittled away at my too-big meal, I was taking mental notes about the constant drone of FOX News in the background, about the way carrots was misspelled with two Ts on the daily specials board, about how specials had an unnecessary apostrophe in it, about how Dad was alternating between a conversation with me about undergraduate and graduate degrees and a conversation with a guy at the next table (the old man coffee-drinking table for regulars) about how many tons a certain tractor might weigh.

But really, there isn't anything that insightful to write. It was supper with Dad. It was normal and pretty cheap. And that's interesting enough for me.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Dad Chronicles continue.

Maybe I'm just swept up in the fever of the fad, but I'm trying to be green. Ish. I'm buying all the canvas totes at WalMart and IGA so that I don't use any more plastic bags. Of course, I love that the bags are cute and under two dollars, and I keeping carrying my knitting in them instead of groceries. Oops. Anyway, I'm also attempting to compile a compost heap, which so far only consists of a lot green onions, a smattering of eggshells, and one ground-filled coffee filter. Oh, and I'm trying to garden. Trying.

My first feeble attempt is this "egg" plant I have in my bedroom window. I'm trying to get a pansy seedling to pop up in a pre-fab eggshell. Easter marketing, go figure. Still no sign of green despite the daily sunshine and water that I make sure it gets.

And right outside that window, our garden is visible. I can see the tomato plants Dad set last week. I was going to help with that, but I'm still working on my priorities. Last night, however, I did not miss out on the sowing of the carrot and radish seeds. Dad raked out the first trench for the carrot seeds, sprinkled them along, and pushed the soil back over top of them. I dropped the tiny carrot seeds in the second row. Then, I dug, dropped, and threw dirt over a row of future radishes -- hopefully.

Dad's always been the star gardener, and now we're going to see what I can come up with. I'll be watching.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


We went fishing yesterday, Dad and I, at a dead man's lake. It was almost eerie standing, fishing rod in hand, in the short grass of his lawn, well-maintained by his son over a year after the accident, while Dad sorted out lures in the tackle box and lit a cigarette, explaining that we'd need the yellow rope called a stringer to bring the caught fish home. I almost felt like we were trespassing.

But I also felt welcome there. I knew the man. I had been at this same house many years ago for a Christmas party. This was the guy who, in front of the gas station/bus stop, gave me the first fig I'd ever eaten that wasn't in a Fig Newton. He had fished with Dad in his lake just days before the accident, had told him to come whenever he wanted and take as many fish with him as he could. After, his son had renewed the offer. So off we took yesterday, in Dad's white third-hand pickup bouncing down the backroads, which I recognized from my old bus route when I was in high school.

There in the yard, I held my rod and reel, fishing line already prepped with hook and neon pink rubber worm wiggling in the breeze, and I watched Dad, cigarette dangling, hunkered over the telescoping box with its three tiers reaching up, offering every type of sure-fire lure imaginable: worms, crickets, minnows, centipedes. All species, all colors, all synthetic materials represented. He selected his first bait of choice, a white underdeveloped-looking grub, and clicked it onto the line, and together, we headed for the weeds. The grass around the bank of the water had not, apparently, been a landscaping priority for the son, as it had been for the father.

As we tromped around the lake's perimeter, looking for a nice starting point, I just followed Dad and watched my feet as they lay down little walls of weeds with each step, like how one cable television show that I once saw described the making of crop circles. We saw a mud turtle, making her own crop cirlces, apparently laying her eggs, Dad said. I wouldn't know. We found a spot that was close enough to some cattails -- "structure is good," he explained -- and far enough away from the shallow edge so that I wouldn't spend the afternoon dragging up hookful after hookful of algae.

Now, I'm no angler, but it seems to me that I go fishing to cast the line and that Dad goes fishing to change the lures. Essentially, I have no idea what I'm doing, but if I have any theory at all about the catching of fish, it is to stay in the same spot, to use the same lure, and to throw it out there over and over. Let the fish come to me if they want to be caught. If I don't get a bite after three casts, no problem. Keep casting until something happens. Wait and see, as foolish as it might be, works for me.

Not Dad, though. I think he used fifteen different lures in the two hours we were there. He was, of course, just trying to figure out what the fish wanted. I, on the other hand, am able to convince myself that if I keep giving my set-up second chances, it'll work out. Either that, or I'm just too lazy to try new things. That's more likely. But let me put it this way, I caught four fish, two of them just as we were giving up on our spot, two of them while Dad was picking out a new spinny, shiny contraption to tempt the fish with, all four of them with that unrealistically pink version of an earthworm. Dad caught one. We threw all of them back and watched as each one happily wove itself back into the lake water.

Right after my fourth bass, Mom called to see if we wanted to meet her and Wade and Day to eat. I told her yeah, that I was getting tired of catching fish. Dad laughed and told me not to tell anyone that I put a hurt on him. He threw out three more casts just in case, and I wished that he'd get something. He didn't, but I knew he was as happy for me as if he'd caught a hundred himself.

We went back through the weeds and up the hill, and I let him put my fishing rod, with the half-eaten worm with the Eagle Eye hook poking through its rubber belly, in the bed of the truck, next to the empty bucket for bringing fish home. Dad put the stringer, still in its package, back in the tackle box. I slid in the passenger side and popped open the half-hot can of Mountain Dew that he put in the truck for me before we left the house, when it was still cold. As we navigated the blind curves and hilltops on our way to Dixon to meet Mom, I pointed out all the houses and who lived in them, names I still remembered from riding the bus to school, and Dad drove and smoked and listened with the windows rolled down.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

¡a leer!

I have the following: a teaching job that will officially begin in the fall, a long list of books that I want to read, and quite a bit of time. I shouldn't feel guilty about sitting around reading for a month or so, should I? Okay, good.

Here's the list.
  • Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen -- I checked this book out from the public library and have only read thirteen pages. I am bound and determined to read the other four-hundred nine before the due date comes around. I have to earn my right to check out an unlimited number of books next time -- books I will check out, not read, and return late. And I want to be a librarian.
  • Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis -- I have, of course, already read this, but the movie comes out next week, and I feel obligated to re-read.
  • I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak -- I bought this book on a recent (small) B&N binge. I read his book The Book Thief while I was in Honduras, love it, recommend it, and can't wait to read more from where it came from.
  • Flash Fiction -- A compilation of short short stories, also purchased during the aforementioned bout of consumer therapy. I'm getting a feel for the form, reading a few pages at a time. Once, at four in the morning when I couldn't sleep.
  • Malinche by Laura Esquivel -- I bought this hardback at a mark-down-mark-down price at the mall. I wanted to buy it at that fancy-pantsed bookstore in Seattle, but it was just too pricey. Now I've had it for several months and haven't touched it.
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer -- I'm putting it on my library list. Allison, I blame you if I jump on the vampire wagon.

I'm going to pretend that putting this list on here will hold me accountable or something.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Honker Lee speaks again.

Twice I've seen a red-winged blackbird sitting on the tallest broken-down cornstalk in the acre, probably standing sentinel over its unborn. It is iconic. It is a poem already written, its existence now a cliche. Here I am, where life is like a poem rather than the poem reflecting life. So I can't write about it. Not allowed. I have to find the spin, the original thought worthy of verse, so I write about not being able to write about the bird who has been written about before. But I imagine that this dilemma, the desire to write about an oft-treated image, has already been bemoaned on the page.

So there it is. I've set up facing mirrors. The eternal picture of a picture, the repeating images, the question echoing back and forth in the dark of the rabbit hole, the portal out of time and into the place where we find an answer as plain and as perfect as a solitary blackbird on a stalk.

Alas, there is nothing left to be done.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Not home.

It has been a few months since I've had anything to procrastinate about. Now, I reckon that I am making up for lost time. I'm in Murray tonight because I'm giving some so-called presentations tomorrow to the Spanish classes at Calloway, and to think, I'm staying in a hotel. This Hampton Inn is snazzy, I tell you. I'm tempted to use this fast internet to put up a video, but I really do, at some point, have to plan what it is exactly that I'm going to say to these high school kids tomorrow. But here I am in a hotel room in the town that I lived in for five and a half years. I just couldn't help myself; I swung by Brentwood. But as it was too weird and I felt like a real creeper, I buzzed in and out of the lot before I could think too much about it. I was going to get some Jasmin to-go, but wouldn't you know that the one restaurant that I've really missed is closed on Sunday, so I grabbed some August Moon carry-out and came back here to the room to get my money's worth out of this hotel experience, watching all twenty-two Brotherhood videos I've missed out on. I caught up with Tessa at Culver's, which didn't even exist when I left town three months ago. It's like this isn't the same place, and I don't know how to be here anymore. I've closed the curtains because I've got work to do. I could be anywhere.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

checking the fire

I went with Dad last night to see how the brush pile was burning. The far corner of the farm was dark despite all the lights: parking lights, flashlights, cigarettes, embers, flames, and fireflies that were in a hurry to meet the stars.

As I stood near the fire, feeling like Earth at just the right distance from the sun neither to scorch nor to freeze, I would glance up to the sky, trying to catch a spark pretending to be a star. Like when you first look at a clock and the second hand seems to have stopped, and just as you convince yourself the clock has broken or time itself has really stood still, it clicks onward dutifully one second at a time. And so I watched orange stars shake loose from the sky and whisp into the night air.

I stood in silence between the fire and Dad as he carried out his winding monologue about the fire, its heat, its size, its smoke -- my only lines, "I guess," "I don't guess," and one hand movement indicating north because he asked me if I knew where it was. Something about wind direction. Then I continued my own monologue, internally, discussing the irrelevance of north, south, east, and west once you exit Earth's gravity. A compass, I imagine, doesn't help any in outerspace. You can't head east to Mars.

Just as I was hypothesizing that north and south might exist in the solar system, Dad broke in, said his science teacher told him that all fire is trapped sunlight accumulated over the years. I could see that. These hundred-year-old trees were giving off their lives' work of drinking in light, a final catharsis. "Nothing is created or destroyed," he then said, in agreement with that teacher. "It only changes form."

I clicked on my flashlight to light a path back to the pickup, and a chunk of burning tree trunk shifted in the pile, releasing a new generation of eager sparks.

"Can you count them?"

My eyes followed as they raced themselves out of the fire and into the sky, and I knew they weren't pretending, just reminiscing.