The Meadow of the World 1969

I was appalled. And bored. And “de”inspired. I whispered in Eddy’s ear, “This is awful. How can he do this? This isn’t poetry! Let’s leave.”
“OK, if you want. We can go.”
“I want to tell him this is awful, though. He shouldn’t write this.”
“I don’t know how you can do that. Write him a letter?”
“No. Let’s go out the back door.”

The back door of the chapel was BEHIND the stage. To get there, we had to walk OVER the stage. I wanted to do that. I wanted to make my statement, write my poem, show my contempt, that way. We got up, Eddy, a couple friends who’d met us there, and I and walked across the stage. We interrupted the reading of this “poem” and caused a mild disturbance but then we were gone and that ended that…


2005 my friend Denis Joseph Francis Callahan asked me to go with him to hear this poet read in La Jolla. I was stunned. “That guy’s still alive? He broke my heart.”
“You know him?”
“No, but…” And so I told him the story.
“So will you come then?” asked DJF

I went. A tall old man — resembling the middle aged man I’d seen some thirty years earlier — stood up with his new book and read to a bunch of us. His poems were good and he was nice. When he finished, a long line formed to buy the poems and get the autograph. Denis joined the line. “Are you getting a book?” he asked. Most of the poems were about New York, DJF’s home. I could appreciate the poems, but the strong local flavor gave them a certain elitist aspect. They were decent poems, but not my poems. They were vivid, lovely, verbal drawings, sketches, of a world I did not need to own.

“No. I liked the reading but I don’t need to own the book.”
“You want to go get something to eat? I can come back and do this. He’ll be here for an hour or so.”

I forgave Lawrence Ferlinghetti that night, not that he knew or even would have cared. He’d returned to poetry and I’d had a great time.





Daily Prompt The Wanderer Tell us about the top five places you’ve always wanted to visit. GO!

“Please get some new prompts, please, please, please…”
“Serve the task, Grasshopper.”
“I haven’t even seen Karate Kid.”
“Is that on your list of top places to go?”
“What is?”
“I don’t have a list like that. This is too much like the Bucket List prompt of two days ago, isn’t it? I’d write the same thing. A destination is just the place we have in mind when we start out. We don’t get there. The places I’d like most to go would involve time travel and maybe the power to be invisible.”
“Like where? What are the five places you’d time travel with invisible power?”
“Seriously? I don’t want to write this. It’s…enervating. It’s 5:42 am and my coffee pot didn’t work. My dogs wouldn’t get out from under me when I was trying to make a smoothie. I dunno.”
“Sounds like you need a VACATION. What are your five top vacation spots?”
“You’re not fooling me.”
“A voice in your head has to try, right? Cut me some slack.”
“OK. I’d time travel — not invisible but for real, with the idea of changing the future, to Black Forest Baptist Assembly in 1971. I’d have the same conversation with the GL (Great Love). BUT when I went home for the weekend, and told my mom about it, I wouldn’t believe her when she said, ‘He lives in another country. You’re only 19. He’ll forget about you’. I’d let that happen because he came back for me time after time after time, by which times I was married and complicated…”
“You had a GL?”
“Oh shut up. You don’t know the half about it. All you’re doing is trying to manipulate me into writing the Daily Prompt before I go to school. I’d also go about 3 months in the future, as a fly on the wall. I’m in limbo right now — not comfortable. It would help me make decisions now if I knew where I’m going. I could divert myself or relax.”
“So you want to control destiny.”
“You asked where I’d go. I can’t go to these places. I’m OK with being unable to control destiny. Don’t put words in my mouth.”
“Three more places and you can go teach!”
“You don’t give up.”
3013098658_2ee2d7acd1_m“Sigh. OK, I’d return to Zürich. Once there? Many places I would go. But, you know, for me the word ‘wander’ is kind of important. It’s on my license plate. It’s represented by a sign above my front door, a sign I ‘stole’ from a fallen tree in the forest on the boundary between the Canton of St. Gallen and the Canton of Zürich. To me wandering means not knowing where you will end up and it means to take a hike. That’s a very truthful word. We don’t know where we will end up, and, given that uncomfortable uncertainty, it’s always a good idea to take a hike — if you can. So if I’m going to wander, if I’m a wanderer, then I don’t have answers to this question. I don’t have five places.”



In the Ring (Classroom Confrontation)

Daily Prompt Showdown at Big Sky How do you handle conflict? Boldly and directly? Or, do you prefer a more subtle approach.

“Would it be a sufficient post if I just write, ‘Not well‘?”
“No. I don’t think so. I think you have to write about what ‘Not well’ means and then why and all that stuff.”
“It depends, right? Isn’t that true for everyone? I don’t like to get angry and I avoid it. It’s when I’m pressed or cornered or the situation doesn’t improve after discussion and negotiation that I lose it. I have a lot of confrontation in my job. I had one yesterday. A student didn’t like the grade he earned on his midterm. He was more interested in getting me to listen to him (and he had nothing to say) than he was in learning how he could have done better. He wasn’t interested at all in learning how he could have done better, actually. He wanted to be ‘right’ and could not see how his position was completely illogical. He cursed me, with the “F” word and retreated.”
“Such behavior in the Academy!”
“The Academy has always been a violent kind of place, Socrates. You should know that better than anyone.”
“What did he do after cursing you?”
“He came back. I knew it was hopeless to try to help him. He was even angrier. Very aggressively, he attempted to defend his answers. He didn’t see that I’d already read his responses carefully and commented with care and provided a very detailed rubric to help him further. His work displayed all the problems I’d been trying to help him with since the beginning of the semester. He hadn’t taken that in and applied it to his work, so, when his writing was finally assessed, it was simply ‘OK.’ He hadn’t even failed.”
“What was his grade?”
“Yeah but don’t people write with their own voice and all that?”
“Of course, sure, but this is business communication and problems have right answers. His answers were not wrong, but they were structured incorrectly, and one of them was very difficult to figure out. His audience wouldn’t have gotten the point. That’s the gold standard for successful business communication. Your reader knows what you mean. I think that’s a pretty good standard, period, actually.”
“You’re wandering. So what happened?”
“Oh, he kept at it taking time and opportunity from students who truly did want help. I asked him what he wanted, if he wanted his grade changed or what. He said, ‘I just want you to see what I meant,’ and I said, ‘I do, that’s why you didn’t fail, but this kind of writing isn’t about what you mean; it’s about what you say.‘ He persisted, getting angrier and angrier, and finally I said — this is where I lost it — ‘The thing is, I don’t care’. It was true. I didn’t care. By cursing me — I saw — he’d abdicated his right to my interest.”
“What was the prompt, exactly?”
“Oh, they had to take the role of a professor and write an email refusing to write a student a letter of recommendation because the student had poor grades, a poor attitude and poor attendance. The ‘No’ had to be based on the student’s performance, something like, ‘Based on your record in my class, I cannot write you a letter recommending you’.”
“What did he write?”
“Something like, ‘I cannot give you the context you wish’. I seriously do not know what that means. I know what it is MEANT to mean, but as for what it actually means? It means nothing. I gave him a passing grade him on what he MEANT to mean.”
“So you cut him slack?”
“I did.”
“And he cursed you?”
“He did.”
“What now?”
“Oh, I emailed him apologizing for getting frustrated and invited him to come talk to me.”
“Do you want him to?”
“No. He doesn’t exist in my world at all any more. That’s what happens when I get pushed against a wall like that by students or friends. The person who pushes — no matter how much they might have meant to me until that moment — no longer exists for me. People — some people — will just do that, keep pushing and pushing until the next step, for me, will be physical. I don’t want to go there. I believe I deserve to be heard when I say, ‘Stop.’ Isn’t that what boundaries are?”
“Does this happen a lot with your students?”
“It is a common problem. Not just my students. Yeah. I have scripts in my mind I use for dealing with most of these situations but I can be knocked off balance. Like in this case, it was a student I like and with whom I felt I have a rapport. That could be why he figured he could do that. I’ve had students LITERALLY pin me against a wall because they were unhappy with their grades. I had a kid physically threaten me because he got an A-. Some guy last night  got an A- actually asked  me why, and then said, ‘Is the minus just because you don’t want to give A’s?’ That floored me. The student-teacher relationship is fraught with peril. The ‘minus’ was because he did not use paragraphs so his work was difficult to read.”
“Has this gotten worse in recent years?”
“Not really. There’s just so much pressure on students for grades. Getting into upper division classes depends on their grades. Some of them don’t have the grades they need so they’re pressed to get grades as high as possible. They’re kids and might not know that they are not in a world where mommy and daddy are going to protect them from consequences. It’s tiring, though. I’m tired for fighting with them. My goal is that they learn. Their goal is a grade. The two do not always mesh. The teacher is caught in the middle.”


You Can’t Get There From Here

Writing Challenge Great Expectations For this week’s writing challenge, we want you to ponder your best, and worst, expectations.

Long long ago in the town of Chugwater, Wyoming, a young man with a pretty wife and two kids asked an old guy manning the gas pumps how to get to Hell’s Half Acre. The man figured that there should be a road straight out from Chugwater across the prairie to this interesting geological anomaly of the Powder River. He was wrong. There was no dirt road or anything. We’d have to go up to Casper. “The thing is, sir. You can’t get there from here. Check the oil?”

The young man — my dad — laughed. “That’s always true. You’ll learn that when you’re older, MAK.” I did, too. Expectations have the power to color the future. We see what we look for. If we don’t see what we’re looking for, we never arrive anywhere. Expectations blur our vision and imprison us in illusion. In many ways, I believe expectations are a trap.

There is the illusion of “empirical probability.” Yes, I know there’s something to this, but, at the same time, each event has almost a “right” to exist as itself. If it doesn’t, then we color the world with the past. In a bit, I’m going to be returning midterm exams. I expect that to be a drag, especially in one class where attendance is poor and performance matches that. I’m sure they’re going to challenge my grading, and I’ll get stressed and annoyed. I am truly unsure if it will be stressful and annoying because I expect it to be OR if it will be truly annoying and stressful in its own right.

I experienced it this morning on my long drive to school. First I was tailgated by a guy in a Chevy Suburban. I moved over so he could pass me. He did. Then he slowed down so I had to pass him. Then he stayed behind me, but kind of close. Then I pulled over into the right hand land. He pulled up beside me, looked at me and gestured. I had no idea what he was trying to say, but my EXPECTATION (based on my experience driving on the I-8 in the mornings) was that it was nothing good. He COULD have been telling me my blinker isn’t working or my back tire is low or he likes my license plate (WNDRWEG) but I didn’t EXPECT anything good from a freeway game of cat and mouse. Now, of course, I’m worried something is wrong with my car. I’m afraid to consider that, though, for fear expecting it will make it happen. P.S. When I left school tonight, I had a flat. The guy was trying to tell me that this morning.

And now? I’m at my office and it’s time for my MW nap, but when I entered my office, the lights were all on, and I noticed the bookshelves had been emptied. I realized my office mate has been cleaning out his stuff. I wanted a nap (I need one. I got up at 5 and  I have a long afternoon/evening ahead of me) but I couldn’t nap since I EXPECTED my office mate (an unfriendly fellow) to open the door and walk in unannounced even though I put a sign out saying, “Pls. knock. Conferences! Thx.” The reality is, he hasn’t been here. The staff cleaned out his shelves this morning so they wouldn’t bother me. Expectations vs. facts.

The most insidious expectations are those others have of us and those we have of others. We generally expect others to be somewhat like us; we are the gold standard with which we enter the world. Whatever our background, values, knowledge is what we assume — expect — of others. Everyone else goes out like that, too, completely blind to their “expectations.” There goes everyone’s expectation of whirled peas.

I did not really expect to have so much to say on this topic! I’ve exceeded my own expectations!




Fish of the Day

Because the Night Are you a night owl or are you the early bird? What’s your most productive time of day? When do you do your best work?

There was a time when I loved the nightlife, I loved to boogie, and I could boogie-oogie-oogie till I just couldn’t boogie no more (all night) but one Saturday morning I woke up at 11:00 and thought, “Damn! I’m missing the weekend, and I live for the weekend! I’m not doing this any more. I’m getting up at 8 on Saturday and Sunday from now on!” But even then I didn’t know why.  It was a couple of years before I realized I wanted to get up early on Saturday mornings and write. This discovery was aided by two factors. First, my boogie partner went to teach in Saudi Arabia and, two, I hated my job.

My best work, you ask? Apparently I don’t teach well from 5:30 to 6:40 pm because those classes are always dogs. I wish they were dogs, but usually they’re unmotivated students. Since I’m the ONE consistent element in this 5:30 nightmare, it has to be me. Godnose the world could not be FILLED with disaffected post-adolescents who only — wait, I remember now. One of them (a good one, a motivated one) told me last week that he isn’t even UP before 2 pm. OMIGOD, for some of them that could be an early morning class!!! From 1:00 – 3:00 pm my brain doesn’t work well and I can write words on the board with the letters completely out of order. So…

I’ve not had the luxury of choosing a time to work. I’ve wrapped my writing around my gainful employment. One idyllic summer I wrote in the morning, stopped at 1 or 2. Maybe took a nap, did chores and then headed up to the Lagunas for a hike as the afternoon cooled and the evening approached. It was wonderful. How good was my work? Pretty good, actually. Good enough that I was able to return to it five years later and finish it.

So here it is, 5 o’clock and morning has broken, and I’m trying to throw my arms around the world wordpress daily prompt. A nice looking heifer is grazing in the pasture across the road. My dogs snore at my feet. The sun is rising and soon I’ll be getting into teacher clothes and heading down the mountain for a very long day of teaching.


Pleasant Dreams

Biologically driven or not, I hate to think the events of my life (other than those that are biologically driven) could ever be listed, checked off, “Been there, done that.” I reject the notion of a “bucket list.” One thing life has taught me is  I’m not in control of it. I might have some control over myself, but as soon as I step out into the world new doors opens, new roads appear. As an example, I never imagined I’d become a Swiss medievalist historian.

I remember hiking the Cinque Terre (something on the bucket list of many of my friends). I got lost on that hike and ended up on a high hike through vineyards. Since I was lost, I had to ask directions and my Italian was even stranger than it is now. I asked a man working in the vineyard, “Dove é Corniglia? Sono perdutto?” He actually laughed. Then once he calmed down he asked where I was trying to go. I told him and he said no, I wasn’t. I should just keep going and turn left at a church and head down hill. Why did he laugh? I’d asked him if I were damned, not if I were lost.

On that high trail I saw ruins of buildings that had been bombed in the war and found myself in a small walled town that now I wish I’d explored (but I was too concerned about my “plan” and the time I was supposed to be back for dinner). The town is Groppo. And knowing how “way leads on to way” I doubt I’ll be back, so, I missed it because it wasn’t on my list. BIG lesson learned.


I took a break on the cold stones in front of a tiny Romanesque church — THE church, actually. I got to Corniglia where I ate a pizza and listened to an American talk up the young Italian girl behind the cafe counter. He referred to Rick Steves, saying, “Rick Steves says if I talk to the locals I might find a pensione at a good price.”  Fu** Rick Steves and my countrymen wearing backpacks like marsupial pouches to protect themselves from the “numerous pick-pockets all over Italy.” I was disgusted. I finished my pizza and headed back out to the trail and motion, a thousand times more pure and beautiful and ancient.

William Cullen Bryant, “Thanatopsis” 1814


Saturday Night’s All Right for…

Daily Prompt Saturday Night S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y NIGHT! What’s your favorite way to spend Saturday night?

“I know.”
“I already wrote about the disco ball at the gay bar.”
“I think you did. But did you write about driving drunk and parking your car in the middle of the street?”
“Not sure. Not sure I’d want the world to know about that. Oh my.”
“Just answer the question, I guess, and get on with grading papers. How do you like to spend Saturday night?”
“Sleeping. Monday I have to get up at 5. I teach a 12 hour day. Same thing Wednesday. I try to get a little ahead over the weekend.”
“I think a lot of people do that but they don’t have your guts, your jutzpah, your fegato, your bold, brash and courageous ability to simply admit that. You’ve stunned me again.”




Hey, Baby…

I went along with it and made it easy on her. Twenty minute labor — of course, I only weighed 4 1/2 pounds. Definitely the upside of those days of maternal smoking. I scared her immediately, I guess, because of my littleness, but I was there nonetheless. My feet (I was told) were no longer than the first joint of her thumb. My grandma came. They prepared for my death, but I’m a tenacious creature and I was here to stay.

She was right about my dad. He fell in love with me immediately, but she? I’m afraid she never liked me much. I wasn’t easy to care for and I wasn’t cute. I cried for hours every day (out of boredom? acid reflux? resentment?) and as she was one of those “I’m the center of the universe” people, she took it as a reflection on her; on some level, she believed that I was critical of her mothering style. Well, we just don’t control other people and apparently I HAD to cry and she HAD to take things that way. So…that was the biggest chance I’ve taken in my life; attempting a relationship with my mom. And no, Daily Prompt, it never worked out.



Junk Food Junkie What’s your biggest junk food weakness? Tell us all about it in its sugary, salty, glory.

“Yep. And I had to SEARCH for it!!!”
“Yikes. So what is your biggest junk food weakness? Expiring minds want to know — desperately!”
“I don’t really have one — but for a period of time I think I was essentially living on Almond m&ms and raspberries.”
“That’s a nutritionally sound diet!”
“I know! Protein, anti-oxidants, vitamins, pretty colors and raspberries, too!”
“Raspberries aren’t junk food, sweet cheeks.”
“What does ‘junk food’ mean, anyway? Food that’s bad for people but in which they indulge, even knowing that?”
“I guess that would be junk food.”
“Well, raspberries are very bad for me.”
“Ah, I see what you’re saying here. Allergies?”
“Not exactly, but close enough. Whooo-HOOO! Daily prompt DONE!”
“I hope tomorrow we’ll get to write about our shoe size!”
“Sarcasm doesn’t win friends.”
“I know. I meant to be funny.”
“Let the audience judge, you facetious freak.”