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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Brain GPS

I have been totally off the mark this week, epistemologically speaking. I made two very basic errors of grammar in class this week that have led me to believe I might be forgetting how to put language together. If it is as Lev Vygotsky states that language “is a series of impressions,” then I think I have reached the limit of however many impressions my mind can carry. What’s interesting about all this is that my students have been the ones to notice, not me. I know, I know… with all of this about the move to the new house and all of that the errors might very well be excused. Furthermore, I am not one of those teachers who is easily irritated by students’ corrections. I just think that there is always room for the little error, the lack of presentmindedness that keeps a person on his or her proverbial toes. What a relief to recognize errors, no? Well, not exactly. I shouldn’t say this but I work with some people who are hyper-sensitive to any correction or criticism. Their contention seems to be that their wealth of knowledge is incorrigible, or better yet, as error-free as Our Lord and Savior. But I am getting off track. What I need the most is an error-tracking device—one of those GPS systems which will guide me through the confusing nautical region of knowledge process and pedagogical strata. Having one of those would be a delightful addition to my already crammed brain. But it would go a long way to helping me sort through basic information and avoid common mistakes. I can see it now: teaching as a kind of magical act in which information is presented so clearly to students that they just cannot help but learn. Ah, the perfect world.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A New Library for My Books...

I moved my books to the new house this past weekend. It was, as it always is, an adventure. I am reminded of the story I told in one of my essays, the story of “my box of books.” But at any rate, it was delightful to arrange my books in a new order (or I should say, disorder). That’s one thing about my library—I don’t have any specific order save for some authors that I jumble together. Like, for example, I put all my Hemingways and Fitzgeralds together. Likewise, I put the Paul Austers and the Haruki Murakamis together. I can already envision people visiting asking me what order my books are in. The truth is that I like to (dis)order them because it tests my memory of recalling where they are when the time comes to pull a volume off the shelve again. I adore my books. I am totally in love with the motley bunch of them. My new studio is a place where I can envision spending the hours, reading (of course after doing my chores). I really can’t wait to have my desk and computer there now. That’s the next step.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Battle Begins... again...

It has begun again. At full speed, I believe. The curtain fell again on another episode of my life. Surely, there will be those who might argue that this is perhaps the finest time in my life, and that I shouldn't let other things bother me. But the battle begins again and there's no alternative but to fight a good fight, however uncomfortable, and to realize that the rest of my life awaits with the same intensity and madness. This is uncontrollable. It reminds me of that famous passage from "Moby Dick." Ahab reflects:

"What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozzening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I."

This is hopeful, yet full of fear and anxiety. There is so much we cannot control. Leaving it to God might be the best alternative, really, but the human condition makes us believe we can do it on our own. What is it, really, that overtakes my brain with so much absoluteness? And much like Ahab's behavior, it commands me. When it comes like today it does its best damage. It binds me with unbreakable chains to the reality of not enjoying anything, a parallel reality nonetheless but one that affects me directly. I am tired of living like this; so much to be happy about and irreversably sad at the same time.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Early essay...

Why did Czeslaw Milozs include “Cogito sum: certum est quia impossibile…” in the preface to his book Road-side Dog? Any intellectual answer would do, the more complicated the better, the less comprehensible to the common person and the higher the discourse lingo the better. I put the quote on my screensaver in my computer, also I put it on a scrolling marquee on my website (one of three websites). And I think the reason I put it there—the reason why it caught my eye was the same reason I have for most of my actions in life: academic arrogance and pompousness. I know most of this is fake, vague at best, aside from the small part that actually is life-long learning; the single one pleasure I get when I finish a book in the privacy of my studio or lying in my bed is the only real value in all of this I call the intellectual endeavor. There are large questions, of course, related to this such as, knowing for a fact that I sacrificed my relationship with my father for this, how valuable is the fact that most of this is vague at best? Simply put, did my father go to his grave not understanding his son because his son wanted to be an intellectual? But I am not here to discuss this but rather to examine the writings of a Nobel Prize winner (issues with my father are in the process of being resolved even as we speak—45,000 words worth of resolution so far).
It is hard to imagine a more definitive challenge to one of the most famous intellectual tenet than that of the aforementioned quote. We recognize the self. We know that we are, stated Descartes because we think. Yet, the author of Milosz’ quote challenges the notion without offering a solution. If knowing that we are is impossible and we don’t know that we are, then would it really matter? All of this sounds circular in reasoning, true, but looking at it from the perspective of the value or vagueness of intellectualism brings about an interesting crux. Any variety of people would define themselves through the very thing which gives them freedom, significance or definition. Highly fulfilled parents point to their children as the meaning of their lives (incidentally, not their lives to own or rule). Religious people declare their relationship with God as the driving force in their definition of the self through salvation. A scientist having devoted his entire career to a single theory would likewise approach the matter of self through the validation of his work. But this leaves us in the same place and we are left to assume (by faith or any other means) that we are by default of this or that definition of self. If I validate myself by the measure of my work then intellectual pursuits are real. However, leaving no stone unturned, I look at the dissatisfaction intellectualism offers from time to time. Why is it? Have we created a monster of the so-called “intellectually enriched” life? When is enough, enough? Some of my academia friends offer long-winded explanations in favor of the cultivation of ideas, etc. Yet, we don’t cultivate to validate ourselves (first the idea and by means of it, ourselves) but to perpetuate the social mask of what intellectualism really means.
An academia friend of mine is getting a divorce after years and years of seemingly blissful marriage. I have heard his side of the story, which seems to be highly rational—a list of things he failed to see or overlooked, failure to understand the needs of his wife, etc. As for her, I heard her side of the story from a mutual friend. “She was just tired of the fact that he spent so much time in the office,” said our mutual friend, “he devoted so much time to research, grading papers and having conferences with students.” And immediately I recognized the problem. Of course, I immediately blamed it all on the “intellectual pursuit.” It is easy to see. While he was ready to admit the error of his ways, he did so with the proverbial intellectual, mind-numbing, zigzagging line of reasoning only academic (read intellectual) discourse can offer. Loaded phrases such as, “wife needs,” and “failure to understand” assert the vagueness of the over-intellectually charged mind at work. Her reasons were concrete and detailed—no space for interpretation needed. I “cogito…” you “cogito?”
When Gertrude Stein wrote down her famous “a rose is a rose is a rose” she was attempting to rescue and release the word from centuries (if not millennia) of intellectual captivity and cookie-cutting interpretation. Who knows what Descartes' purpose was, but what we do know (or I should say assume) is that there is something else “there”… and we live for the drive, the answer. Is intellectualism needed for this?

Friday, September 15, 2006

My start as a public speaker...

I remember the day so clearly every time I think about it I relive it. I was in third grade. Up to that point I had been painfully shy in every way. My social skills amounted to practically nothing. I had no friend, the teachers probably didn't even know I existed, and the chances of getting noticed by the administration were slim to practically none. I am almost certain that if I had continued my silence in class and out in the play yard I would most likely be one of those silent and mysterious people one cannot figure out; what most people refer to as "weird." One day, my third grade teacher, Ms. Figueroa, was reading to us from a children's book. It was the story of some ducks, all in a line, who had gotten into some mischief of some kind. I always paid attention in class; my lack of participation was not due to the proverbial day-dreaming activities of third graders. But that day something happened. It came at me so quick I could hardly recognize its significance until years later. The teacher asked, "What color are the ducks?" My comprehension of the question was immediate. Without hesitation and totally out of the control which had mastered me up until then, I raised my hand. "The ducks," I answered, "are yellow." That was the moment my life changed. Existentially speaking, that moment clinched a milestone in my life. It would have been significant as well if I had just plainly answered, "yellow." But no, I went all out--again without hesitation--and answered in a complete sentence. Jean Paul Sartre states that unquestionably, "[t]hings are exactly what they are and behind them there's nothing." I suppose that my third grade moment--my initiation into public speaking--can be summarized by Sartre's statement. The ducks were yellow. It was clear to me then as it is now. The teacher had turned the book toward us when she asked the question. I saw the moment as an opportunity but also as a catalyst of sorts. The ducks were indeed yellow and the answer flashed though my brain begging for an outlet from the sound chamber my skull represents. The answer was the exit. I could have internalized the moment, claim the answer to myself inside of myself. Now I make my living by standing in front of people and practically performing (I am a teacher) in front of others, often lecturing for over 30 minutes or even 80 minutes blocks of time. And it all began with that not-so-innocent answer. I say not-so-innocent because in the course of the years since that day in third grade I have--from time to time--spoken to fast, not thinking my answers through and hurting people unintentionally. The questions have, of course, changed, but could the answers be as simple as yellow ducklings? They remain yellow. Some answers do not change.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Hard to find...

What I am finding hard to find now is time to write anything, even in this blog. I still have one of my Moleskines waiting to be finished, 20 more pages and I am through filling another one of these magical journals. Yet, I don't find anything important to write about. I thought about writing a humorous essay about how the Japanese put just about anything that is English in the front of their t-shirts. This past summer I wrote down many of the things I saw people wearing on their t-shirts. Some of these were totally outrageous! Nevertheless, I ran out of time during the summer to make some headway on the essay. Similarly, the Dostoyevsky revision of a college essay I started this summer has also been put on hold. I think it is the anticipation of owning a home that is keeping me from writing. Frankly, I can't seem to be able to think about anything else these days. If we don't close soon I might just go out of my mind :-) School work just comes and goes and I am not concerned because despite the lapse last week, I am all caught up. I have three sets of tests to grade as of today, but other than that I am not really concerned. I should be able to put those away rather quickly. Having graded those I really think I should put pen to paper and finish the Moleskine. There are a million things to be discovered by writing about them and I am just postponing the inevitable. There are too many fine things in this world, and how could we not write about them. That's the attitude I will take as I tackle my writing self again.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Not writers' block...

It's pitiful, really, what I have tried to do with writing. Every piece I write seems so poor when compared to the most simple blog out there. I think I remember how it stopped, my facility for writing. I was writing like a maniac a couple of summers ago, filling in Moleskines like they were going out of style. Everything I wrote that summer was from hand to paper; that is to say, I wrote about everything that came to mind. Personal essays, short stories that went nowhere, paragraphs that ended for no particular reason as if standing in front of a cliff. That was the summer of my writing days. Now I am trying the best I can to keep this blog going. I can't think of anything to write. Perhaps I am thinking too much about it. I know I am not doing myself a favor by comparing my writing to what is going on out there, but I feel the need to believe that what I write is good, at least good by my standards. Lowering standards is not an issue with me. Some times I think I should just write one sentence a day so as not to be overwhelmed with the pressure of producing more. It's not writers' block. I think it is more that I want to write about so many things that I can't narrow it down. For example, I want to write some essays on Paul Auster's "Collected Prose," but I can't seem to narrow down on a single piece. I find myself dabbing at little pieces like the one on the poem but no more than that. Could my desk be the problem? My desk is a total mess. I don't feel comfortable at it anymore. One thing I have made up my mind to do is to de-clutter it to the way it was before when I lived in Lakewood. I have some pictures and wonder how it came to be the way it is now. I need to begin somewhere so that's where I will begin. With the move to the new house looming this coming week, I think this might be what I need to break this stoppage of work on my part.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Joyce

From James Joyce's "Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man:"

"Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race."

I loved this passage as an undergraduate and I love it still today. What a wonderful way to end a powerful story. Of course, the passage was setting it all up for what later became "Ulysses." Joyce toys with the idea of definition partly to evoke a yearning on the part of the reader. I always felt like I was being addressed directly, reminding me to seek out some part of my heritage which otherwise I wouldn't think of.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Auster One...

You who remain. And you
who are not there. Northermost word, scattered
in the white.

hours of the imageless world--

like a single word

the wind utters and destroys. -- Paul Auster (1976).

This is probably one of Paul Auster's coldest poems. By coldest I mean that which it attempts to scream from what the poet left purposely unsaid. The reader is the one who remains. The poet is inside and the reader outside; the word is simply a consequence of their separation. I often doubt what could really be said with a simple word, that which might constitute life altering, impressionistic change. One might be tempted to agree with Auster's equation of an imageless world and a single word. It is a great temptation, really, to see the path of this poem. Personally, I think the poem holds its meaning in the concept of the "single word." Since I have been haunted by a single word (irreducible) for more than a week now, this Auster poem had a particular interest to me. Auster reduces the word to something that can be destroyed by the speaker, something that is said and quickly forgotten. Could Auster be speaking of love, really? It is a matter of creating in order to destroy, the path love sometimes follow. In this case, the poet and the reader becomes lovers and one is doomed to be jilted. I cannot make a clear connection critically here, but this reminds me of a poem I read years ago by Roque Dalton. The poem is "Forgetting." It is irrevocably cold: "Last night I dreamed that someone told me: your love is dead. / Your love, the girl you loved when you were young, has died. / In a cold city in the South / where the parks are one huge dewdrop, / at the hour when the fog is still virgin / and the city turns its back / on the gaze of desperate souls. / And she died--they told me--without saying your name." Geographically, the poems aim at opposite ends; Auster speaks of North and Dalton of the South. Both, however, speak of something that has been said and carried away into the vanishing, something utterly transcendental. Dalton toys also with the unsaid--the dying lover not speaking his name. How fragile the idea that prevents the speaker from the vocable!

More on "Irreducible"

Poetry. There, I said it. That's where this infernal word came from. I am sure that it is deeply embedded in my consciousness. Something was left over from some distant reading and it is just now starting to come out. Other words pre-date it, of course, but none as powerful as this one. I found my past irreducible; my ponderings of times immemorial cannot be shortened or shrunk. This is the cause of the problem. In a life when the daily activities are marked by 80 minute blocks, it is impossible to shorten anything. Those are the limitations of what we have accepted in our lives, a complicated idea of commitable understanding.

I wrote something on my Moleskine regarding the word. I found it ironic that I was indeed trying to reduce the word to a mark on a page. It is impossible. There were instances this week when it all became an obssession of sorts--the word permeating everything in my brain, even invading my sentences, corroding the meaning of what I wanted to say.

I am off to read some more... perhaps the infernal word will cross my path on a random page.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Strange word...

For some reason the word 'irreducible' has been stuck in my head for the better part of this week. The word is just there; there's nothing associated to it. It pops up in my mind at the weirdest times. What can it be? Irreducible.