Sunday, August 31, 2008

And the moment will come / When composure returns

As I write this, I'm at home--not home in my house in New Orleans, but home home in Iowa. When I first heard about the evacuation I had planned to leave really early Saturday morning and just go up to Memphis or the Delta, but given how long my school's supposed to be closed this little piggy drove all the way home. I also left Friday night with hopes of avoiding the traffic, but it still took hours to get out of Metairie and Kenner. Almost all the way up through St. Louis, most of the cars on 55 had Louisiana plates. People aren't taking chances. They are out of there.

Friday at school was a surreal day. A lot of the kids had already left, so we didn't teach academic content--in one class, my juniors, only 6 students out of 32 were there. People seemed to alternate between standard last-day-before-break activities and more philosophical speculation about the hurricane and what was going to happen. I remember at one point I was chatting with a couple of seniors at my desk while in the background one student was teaching another how to play a Lifehouse song on his guitar; in the meantime, another group was questioning one of my best students, who I suppose is quite religious, about how to reconcile the hurricane with belief in God. "If God wants to, He can always stop the hurricane," I heard him say. I made a mental note that we should read something about the problem of evil in class, assuming we're all back at that school soon. I know Wiesel's Night was on the honors reading list for the parish.

At the end of the day they made all the students who were still there go back to their homerooms and we had to hand their transcripts out in case they have to enroll in school in another district. Apparently the lack of records was a big issue after Katrina, but it still seemed pretty extreme. And then I went home, packed up what I could, and was off to Memphis, where I stayed with a friend of Aliza's mother for the night.

Despite the circumstances, the trip back was a nice break, and I always learn new things about the country when I'm driving. I'm one of the most non-overtly patriotic people I know--the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, and especially the song "Proud to be an American" don't really do it for me--but one thing that always makes me feel connected to the U.S. is driving long distances across it and seeing all the different kinds of land and people that exist in it.

This drive, too, made me realize how much I'm a part of the Midwest. I'm not sure if you've experienced this sensation, but somewhere around the Missouri-Arkansas border the geography just started to look normal. As I made my way on US-61 across Hannibal, the home of Mark Twain and of course Tom and Huck, I flipped through radio stations as a break from my iPod--country, Christian rock, and then, all of a sudden, a monotonous voice so familiar and unremarkable I skipped over it at first before realizing what it was and going back. "We thought the Reformation was a huge step forward for individual freedom," the voice said, stressing "forward" lingering over the m in "freedom." "But it just freed us to see how silly we look when we're having fun."

It was A Prairie Home Companion, the soundtrack of every Saturday afternoon in my house since I was 8. And just like that I was back in my other life, pre-hurricane, pre-teaching, pre-college even. As Garrison Keillor wrapped up his ruminations on how the differences between Catholics and Protestants were the root of the differences between Hispanic (and, probably, Francophone) America and Scandinavian America which were the root of the differences between the Southwest (and, probably, Louisiana) and the Midwest which were the root of the differences between festivals and state fairs, he moved onto a more serious subject. "I don't even know if I believe in free will anymore. So many things that are good happen to us by accident and so many bad things are our choice. I used to think of faith as a building block, something you could use to achieve great feats. Now I think it's more like surrender, a little bit like the feeling you get as you ride the Ferris Wheel at the state fair and go up through the trees and come down again. I've never tried wild grape wine but I imagine it's like the feeling you'd get from that. Going up and coming down. And the best thing you can do is to maintain hope--hope and some sort of gratitude."

It turned out that I shouldn't have taken I-61 through Hannibal at all--I had made a wrong turn 100 miles before, somewhere around Saint Louis. But soon enough, I was on roads I had driven on a hundred times, passing the University buildings and Czech village and downtown. And with hardly enough time to catch my breath and realize it, I was home.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

No Love's as Random... my love (for music).

My first-(and-a-halfth) week-of-teaching playlist:

The Smiths—Cemetry Gates
Agent Orange—Don't Kiss Me Goodbye
Wisin y Yandel—El TelĂ©fono
The Blow—Parentheses
Magnetic Fields—California Girls
Bob Dylan—Visions of Johanna
Fleet Foxes—White Winter Hymnal
Spiritualized—Soul on Fire
Sia—Breathe Me (featured on the last episode of my favorite show ever)
Miley Cyrus—7 Things I Hate About You (if you name it, I'll believe it)
Depeche Mode—Personal Jesus
The Weakerthans—Confessions of a Futon-Revolutionist
Wilco—I Can't Stand It

If you ever need to write a unit test on Beowulf, I recommend songza-ing the hell out of all of the above.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Items I must have as soon as I get paid (on 9/15)

Even though I've already been teaching a whole week (and doing professional development before then), the school district, in its wisdom, has decided t0 make me wait until September 15th to get paid. Of course I've fetishized that moment to the point that it's almost unrecognizable. On that glorious day, the following things will be mine. This is an ongoing list.

1. All Six Feet Under DVDs
2. Curtains

Also, since everyone else is making a food blog and eating is more or less my favorite thing in the world, I would recommend these blueberry pancakes as a Sunday morning breakfast. Last week I made a few extra (well, a lot extra before Sophie and Alexis ate some) so that I could heat some up Monday morning when I got up at 5 to make it a little less painful. Dessert makes my life, but I'm actually okay with the fact that these are a little less sweet—it really brings out the flavor of fresh blueberries and goes well with maple syrup. If that's not your thing, you could add a teaspoon more of sugar.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

(ama)zoned out

Another Internet entity that has failed me: Here are the book recommendations I got 3 days ago: Recommended for You has new recommendations for you based on items you purchased or told us you own.

Sacraments: Celebrating + Living + Believing The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (New Directions Paperbook) The Philosophy of History Sensation Seeking And Risky Behavior
Tales of Chekhov The Country of the Pointed Firs The Sea (Man Booker Prize) Calculus Gems (Spectrum)

- See More Recommendations

5 years of loyal customerhood and what I get is really Calculus Gems? Unless this means that I have acquired all possible knowledge in the universe and these 8 books represent all I have left to learn, I'm not happy.

Why I Made This Blog

So today's word of the day is "supernumerary," which I know for a fact has been the word of the day during a time in my memory. And it's not that I've been subscribed to for too long--it's only been a year. Given the number of words in English, I'm pretty disenchanted with the people. They didn't even offer the creepy Opus Dei-related definition of people who aren't quite committed enough to take vows of celibacy but are just fine wearing spiky chains around their thighs in secret; instead it was just "Exceeding the stated, standard, or prescribed number.", why have you forsaken me? There were months when you were there for me every day, throwing out gems like temerarious, lissom, and magniloquent that I could program Word to type in rotation into a document called "Thesis–really" while I tried to figure out if it was more efficient to take the extra time to fit four Mint Milanos in my mouth at once or if I should just do three, so as not to break my pace or anything. But now you've failed. And I thought the world should know, so I made this blog.

Now that it's fulfilled its purpose, I suppose I could just abandon it, leaving it forever to float in the wastelands of the Internet, always searching, never found, always longing, never fulfilled. Alternately, I could craft many ingenious entries of temerarious lissom magniloquent temerarious lissom magniloquent etc.

But I figure I'll just write in it, at least for a bit. I have many things to say.