Monday, December 28, 2009

Only in the Past

Run away to the seashore it doesn't matter anymore
Doesn't matter anymore
Words dry up and fly away with the passing of the days
Eventually you just let the stone fall

I dreamed that I saw you you were down at the corner store
You were looking through magazines and you flew out the door
I was trying to wave to you but you wouldn't wave back
Now you know I understand you're with me only in the past
Only in the past

My palms are not open they're closed --- they're closed
My palms are not open they're closed --- they're closed

Colors streak the sky, we laugh and we cry
And we dance in the cool grass with the
And we dance in the cool grass -- sunset birds
Sweet, sweet music swallows our words
You set sail and you left this town
Run away, run away, you're so far from me now
So far from me now

("Only in the Past," The Be Good Tanyas)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dirty Laundry

Image courtesy of

The McKinleyville laundromat is superior in so many ways to the Sunny Brae one, that it makes up for the fact that there's no coffee shop in its parking lot.

1. There's music playing over a PA system.
In fact, at one point the song was (and I'm not making this up) "Dirty Laundry" by Don Henley.

2. The washing machines do not smell as if something died in each of them.
In fact, the McK machines smell good and clean and soapy.

3. There is an attendant.
While I was there, she and her husband fixed two cool dryers and made them hot again.
She also taught me the trick of getting quarters out of the candy machine when you need less than a dollar's worth.
She was, however, hogging the folding tables.

4. There were cute guys there who were older than 20.
Of course, one was standing next to my dryer when one of my bras suddenly got stuck across the window like a frantic cat trying to get out. And when I swiftly stopped the dryer to remedy this, several pairs of panties escaped all over the floor. *

5. Making up for the lack of coffee shop, the parking lot sports a used book store.
In fact, the knowledgeable owner likes to talk such things as Scandinavian rhetorical structures. So just bring your own coffee, and you're good.

*yes, I know "delicates" aren't supposed to go in the dryer. I was in a hurry, ok?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Senses

These are scenes from my last trip to Old Town in Eureka. Things were looking beautiful to me that day. I post them here because I am psyching myself up for another foray into the great big world.

This time I doubt I will see anything that will pull my camera from my pocket.

Then again, maybe there is some beauty to be noticed at the laundromat, in line at the post office, or somewhere out there -- beauty of the stark, industrial kind. Shapely, poignant. The kind of beauty that loves black and white.

Too bad the camera can't capture the warm scent of the peppermint mocha I plan to fortify myself with.

Or the steady jingle of the Salvation Army donation collectors.

Or the strange balminess of the Humboldt winter air.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Night Campus

Teaching an evening class this semester, I have seen another side of the campus. From the pretty arched and paned window of the English Department office, I have seen amazing sunsets:
And walking out onto the darkened sidewalks after class, I've encountered the denizens of the night, the fat and brazen raccoons:
And I've discovered that creaky old Founders Hall, oldest building on campus, is not the least bit spooky after hours-- not a ghost in sight.

Instead, that pinnacle of the campus boasts incredible views -- of treetops, the distant sparkle of Arcata city lights and the sky reflected in the faraway bay.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Obstacle Courses & Course Obstacles

Even though I gave myself 45 minutes to get to the university from my apartment, I was still late for the portfolio reading.

I didn't waste any time either; I stopped for a latte but didn't dawdle.

But unfortunately, arriving at the university I made the mistake of turning down Harpst Street, which has temporarily become a one-way road while construction is going on.

On such a busy morning, at such a busy time, the construction crew in its wisdom decided to back a semi down that road to unload something, effectively trapping the cars in place for a full 15 minutes.

How frustrating to attend and work at a university with so little regard for the business that is actually supposed to be taking place there -- learning and teaching!
  • They are constructing new dorms in the site where once there was parking, so now there is even less parking than ever.

  • New dorms, when freshman and transfer admissions have been capped early and low for the spring.

  • New construction when teachers and all employees have been required to furlough all semester.
Today must have been the most well-attended day in the semester because there was no parking anywhere. I drove around looking for something, to no avail. I finally had to park waaaay down on 14th Street and hike the long, long uphill distance to Founders Hall.

I wasn't even all the way up B Street when I heard the bell tolling the hour.

Legs aching, face red with exertion, breathing hard --- and late; that is how I arrived to the portfolio reading.

This day we were to read our own students' portfolios, and assign scores from 0 to 6, based on a strict rubric. We were "normed" ahead of time through reading sample portfolios representing each of those scores. This was to ensure we agreed on a standard of university-level writing.

It was awful at first, but then I found my groove and it became just a task, like any task.

As a new teacher, I struggled with self-doubt-- about my judgment, my objectivity and my fairness. This task was so very different from my usual work of encouraging developing writers to improve, revise, go deeper, try harder; this was simply passing judgment on a final product.

After several hours, I had fulfilled my task of reading the 21 portfolios from my students, filled out all the forms, dotted Is and crossed Ts.

Then I asked the composition director how many there would be for us (all) to read tomorrow, when all the composition faculty will gather for a long and grueling day of reading.

About 700, she said. 700?!

Wish us luck.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Vistas & Venues

I've been waking up at the reasonable hour of 8:24 every day, as if there is a magical alarm clock in my body, set for that time. It's kind of nice actually, although I do miss the days when I was sure my bed was the warmest, coziest, most comfortable place in the world.

I spent the morning drinking coffee, tidying up my messy apartment and downloading music. Interesting turn the musical treasure hunt has taken: I've discovered an active country music scene in Scandinavia.
Image courtesy of

Which is kind of interesting when you think about it. Country & Western, like Hip-hop, is music that's culturally rooted in its history. So it is interesting when it springs up somewhere, free from all the emotional and political baggage. I imagine Jamaicans are equally surprised about the Reggae that pops up in the US.

Here is an example:

Translation: She is dreaming of Nashville, Tennessee.

After that, with my iPod all juiced up, I left to finish my rounds of newspaper delivery, feeling like I was in a movie with a cool soundtrack and great scenery.

Pacific Ocean
I can never take a picture to do justice to what my eyes see, especially while driving.

En route to Trinidad, I had that breathtaking experience I love, coming over the rise just north of the airport when the vista of the Pacific Ocean opens up before you. The sky was very blue today, so the sea was as well.

The Redwoods

Road to Fieldbrook, photo courtesy of Rambling Jack's Laboratory

I drove to Fieldbrook through the forests and saw more vistas, this time of jagged redwood-tops in hazy layers. I wondered, as I always do, why people in Northern California tend to secrete themselves away in these remote places.

It seems serene there in Fieldbrook, and I look around at the little houses for one-half a moment, then shake myself out of it. I want to travel, not settle.

Wild Mushrooms
These became an amazing pot of soup later...

I also delivered papers to this interesting little store on the Hammond Trail, Roger's Market at the end of School Road. On first glance, it's just a corner store, but in reality it's a little treasure house. All the unusual ingredients you might be searching for can be found there.

This time, there were all these beautiful knitted wool hats someone local had made. And best of all, two big flats of chanterelle mushrooms someone had gathered locally. I bought $3 worth, enough to make an amazing pot of soup for dinner.

Little Treasures

McKinleyville has lots of little treasures like that. People are out there dissing this town and writing it off as Hicksville or worse. I say, that's fine; it's fine with me if those people stay away.

When I moved here in 2008, I began an experiment to see how much of my business I could keep in McKinleyville. I rarely go anywhere else to buy anything, with a few exceptions. My eye doctor is still in Eureka, for example. And after awhile, you get tired of Mexican food and must venture out for sushi and the like.

There's a hardware store, auto parts store, a cool coffee shop, a well-stocked video store (with two whole shelves of Scandinavian films), and a bookstore that will order whatever you need including textbooks.

I've even heard there's a car wash, but I can't find it. And there's a farmer's market that lasts well into autumn.

The Senior Center

One Mack Town treasure I'd like to point out is the Senior Center. I won't even mention what a treasure it must be for lonely seniors, whose lives because of it are a hell of a lot more interesting than mine.

It's a shopping treasure for the rest of us. They have a gift shop there, where nice little old ladies have contributed their handiwork, proceeds from sales to go to the Center. Things are cheap! I bought a knitted hat and three really cute shopping bags to give to friends for Christmas.
I kept one of the really cute bags for myself and carried my lunch to work in it the next day.

While I browsed, I was soothed by listening to one little old lady telling a long oral history to two rapt cohorts. Memories are treasures too, lest we forget that right now -- while we're making our memories.

And, there is a new thrift store in town, a charity outfit for rescued animals. I bought a Woolrich sweater for $1.99. Having recently lost my favorite Woolrich sweater, and since local temps have recently dropped to freezing even on the coast, I know the value of that find.

Things Change

Delivering papers is my excuse to get out and explore. Without an exigency to drive around, I will hole up in my apartment and study or worry about studying. And now that I'm finally getting the hang of it, my delivery days are over. Jack and Kim will be back from their honeymoon this week, and business will return to usual.

Or will it? How will it be for Jack to return to his daily grind after three straight weeks of romance, ancient ruins and passionate Italian culture and food? If he's in anything like the shape I was in on my return from Sweden, he will have a little cultural adjustment to make when he gets home.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Outlaw Music

I have quite recently come to terms with my Southern roots and realized I have the power to filter out the bad country music and enjoy the good stuff.

However, I still think there should be two names, Country & Western for the crap that is impossibly stupid and something very cool for the stuff I like. "Alt Country" doesn't really describe it, since I don't like much of that either. Nor does Rockabilly quite cover it.

Maybe the division is in the term Country and Western. Maybe there's Country, where you sing about your tractor, and then there's Western where you sing (to strong bass) like an outlaw whose heart gets broken on a regular basis.

Whatever it's called in real life, I now have a playlist on my iPod.

It contains lots of Dwight Yoakam, and some Townes Van Zandt, Johnny Cash, Steve Earle, Lee Rocker, Cracker, Cowboy Junkies, Lucinda Williams, Dixie Chicks, Whiskeytown, Maria McKee, Chris Isaak, the Judds, Hank Williams and Travis Tritt.

It also has Credence Clearwater Revival, The Jayhawks, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

In addition, it contains country flavored songs from rock artists like Sheryl Crow, Neil Young, REM, and the Grateful Dead.

I love this playlist. It was the soundtrack for delivering the Press on this beautiful, bright, crisp day.

P.S. I found a whole treasure house of good music under the category "Bakersfield Sound." It all seems to have the sounds I'm looking for -- bass, dobro, steel pedal guitar, driving beats. Examples: Flying Burrito Brothers, the Desert Rose Band, the Mavericks, Brad Paisley and Marty Stuart.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Academic Road

I must be one of those people who thrives on high energy, because things have gotten very interesting in my class lately as we near portfolio time.

Maybe it is because I have worked very hard up until now, and after this my students' success is in their own hands. All I can really do is let go and wish them well.

Maybe it is because I've set aside the thesis project to take up at a later date. In its absence, everything else is manageable.

Or maybe it is because I have finally risen above the clouds in the heartbreak that has been dragging at my heels for three straight months.
Whatever it is, life is better -- at last.

There is still so much to do, but I have a vague sense of having survived something.

I have never, ever experienced a more difficult semester, and let me just put it out there that all my semesters of grad school except the first one have been dogged by personal drama. Every semester that I've made it through has felt like a miracle -- and this one was worst of all.

OK bits of news:

The international program had a drop in enrollment and doesn't need me to teach for them in the spring after all. So now, I have to think about what to do for a living come January. The joys of job-hunting.

Today my students filled out evaluation forms about me. Those completed forms went to the department office where they will be compiled in some way and made available to me later. What will my students say about me?

And today, I realized I am going to miss them and how lucky I was that I got to work closely with them, to read their work and their thoughts and opinions, to help them on their academic road.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


While the boss is out of town on his honeymoon, the production of the newspaper is in the hands of the printing company. My job during this three-week period is just to deliver the papers to the various newspaper boxes and stores.

I made the drive out to the printer's yesterday morning, out to the stark, golden island of Samoa -- a place that's remote and empty except for the strikingly horrible industrial buildings and factories that rise up out of the grassy dunes and mar the horizon.

To illustrate, here are some photos I took of Samoa in 2008.
I was feeling glad to be out on a non-intellectual errand like paper delivery, something straightforward and finite accompanied by my choice of music and a warm beverage-- a nice break from teaching and research.

I was listening to "Little Sister" by Dwight Yoakam, feeling good, determined, and capable, when I pulled into the industrial "park" where the paper gets printed. I pulled up to the back loading dock to grab the stack of newspapers.

Only to find this screaming headline, above the fold in all caps: "SHERRIFF'S SEIZE 17 POUNDS OF POT."

My heart sank in disappointment. Aside from the obvious misspelled word and the apostrophe inserted in a plural, there is only one sheriff in this county, and his minions are called deputies. These are mistakes a monkey would not have made.

It was such a humiliating experience delivering these papers all over three towns, filling up machines with them, walking into stores carrying an armload of them.

Nevermind that on the masthead inside, my name is listed as assistant editor.

I can't help but wonder: what sort of business allows people who are semi-literate to have anything to do with the publication of the written word?

I had to give myself the following pep talk about 20 times:

It's newspaper; it's fleeting; mistakes happen and if no one gets hurt by them, you just look forward to doing better next time. And if someone does get hurt, you just apologize or print a retraction. You don't dwell on mistakes in the newspaper business because they happen and that's just the way it is.

But it was appalling.

I (almost) hated to blare my loud alt country lest I seem like an illiterate hick (I did it anyway).

On the bright side, at the end of my appointed rounds, I was fortunate enough to see this sunset.