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My alma mater got a shout-out on Slate Magazine today. Gotta love the article title, "What Would Smith Do?", on the shrinking endowments of the wealthiest colleges, and how Smith's bucking the trend. It's nearly 4pm, and my brain is a bit fuzzy (that last drop of coffee consumed at least five hours ago...) but I have two, completely unrelated thoughts on this:
1. I would KILL to be the person at Slate who comes up with witty article titles and sub-captions. Some of my favorites from last week:
"Don't TNT me, Bro (The Moral Logic of Suicide Bombing)"
"The Pilgrim's Progressiveness (Does going to Mecca Make Muslims more Moderate?)"
"Gates Celebrates Dissent (The Generals Quash it)"
"Elizabeth Edward's Chutzpah (Plus - Obama, from Cling to Ping!)"
...so, Slate, call me!
And, 2. (actually related to the article): You don't actually have to have your own set of pearls to attend Smith, they have a pearl-lending program (just kidding). Four years at Smith was hardly a free ride, but I actually got a better deal financially than high school friends who headed off to good old University of Washington in Seattle (and, undoubtedly, I had more fun and got to live on a beautiful, Frat Row-less campus). As the article notes, more than 25% of Smith students qualify as low-income. (Dark Cloud Disclaimer: I probably won't be student loan free till 2015.) So my point is...well, anyway, check out the article.
"Sometimes I wonder if teaching is a political act. But I don't really care if it is political or not. I'm not much of a political guy. I do care about that students are influenced by what I bring to the class.And when they are moved by language, by poetry, oh man, then I am a pig in shit."- Matthew Lippman, on teaching poetry
At this stage in the game ("the game": a euphemism I like to use to refer to the unfathomable tragedy of the Bush Regime; sort of a cognitive Band-aid for Eden's brain) I don't make light of Bush's idiocy. The jokes feel pointless, like making a witty remark about Herman riding home on the short bus. Sure, it was witty, but - that's Herman, man, even if Herman does bite!
At lunch today I was reading Publisher's Weekly and saw something hard to ignore: [President Bush's proposed 2009 budget eliminates all funding for Reading is Fundamental's book distribution program, which since 1966 has provided more than 325 million books to more than 30 million underprivileged children. the program has funding through September 2009 but if eliminated, nearly five million kids will not receive some 16 million books in 2010. Visit www.RIF.org to send an email to Congress in support of the program.]
I know Bush as a case study shows that even the finest education in the country won't save some, but it's a start. I shutter to think that the RIF budget was slashed to provide us with a few more seconds of destruction in Iraq. As Bush himself warns, "Then you wake up...and find out that the illiteracy level of our children are appalling." Well put, Herman.
I've been completely negligent celebrating National Poetry Month - and it's already the 17th! Seriously, I book-marked poems, I had plans! So: apologies. Life happens. In lieu of a fancy post (things to do! people to see!) on all things poetic, let me plunk down this section of a poem, that moved me beyond words when I was sixteen and visiting France for the first time. We were in Lyon for a few days, I was terribly homesick for boring old eastern Washington (my homestay host pushed some suspicious congealed gel at me saying, "Yoplait! Yoplait!" and I started to cry). Only when you're that raw can you have spiritual experiences- like I did, at the Musee des Beaux Arts de Lyon.
Louis Janmot spent his entire life trying to complete the series Le poeme de l'ame (and the epic poem partnered with the paintings) but never did. Not to say he didn't try; by the time he died he completed 34 giant compositions accompanied by more than 2,800 verses. I read the entire poem in French, at the (unimpressive) climax of my French language skills. Sixteen, sheltered and in a foreign country, being exposed to works of art with no equivalent...little touches your soul more.
Rayons de soleil*
Dansez, dansez, troupe rieuse,
Avant que de ses rudes mains
La douleur ne touche et ne creuse
Vos fronts aujourd'hui si sereins
* I won't harass you with my translation, but my museum guide suggests that: "the text...lyrically invokes the ephemeral nature of 'innocence, youth, and love'." If you can't figure out the depressing autumn landscape behind them, I disown you. Giant, existentialist hint: Winter is coming.
Remember that episode of Friends, where Phoebe flings herself across Central Park, running like someone's chasing her ("the only way that's fun!") and Rachel refuses to be seen with her? Tonight I joined a dozen women in an elementary school gym in Northwest Portland - a gym where the lunch tables and benches fold up into the wall; where there's a fine layer of dust across the hardwood floors that as an adult, you don't see anymore but recall immediately. We jumped rope; we ran circles around the gym. We threw footballs and shrieked when poor aim ambushed our gym-mates. An overly eager 20-something body slammed an unsuspecting middle-aged pilates guru during a high stakes game of Octopus. We realized with sadness that our feet had a hard time remembering how to jump across a line, or skip a rope. The event was called Urban Recess. After replaying our childhoods for ninety minutes, we said goodbye. I came home and finished up my tax returns. But it's exciting, and feels deliciously rebellious to know that now Monday night won't just be the end of a long day - it'll be recess.
A dear friend lost her dad yesterday. It seems I've been here too many times, with too many friends. Dedicating a poem to him feels a little gimmicky, given my previous promotion of Poetry Month, but in truth poetry is where I go when nothing else makes sense. Poetry doesn't fix things (cancer obliterates dichotomies like broken/fixed), but it makes the pain more bearable. My favorite memories of Steve are him and B. dancing at her wedding, when we were younger and he would get home from work as the slumber parties were just winding down (or going to work just before they started to get crazy), and he was the only dad cool enough to have a (work-related) bundle of dynamite in the kitchen. B, T, and C...he will be missed, but not forgotten.
Nothing is Lost
Deep in our sub-conscious, we are told
Lie all our memories, lie all the notes
Of all the music we have ever heard
And all the phrases those we loved have spoken,
Sorrows and losses time has since consoled,
Family jokes, out-moded anecdotes
Each sentimental souvenir and token
Everything seen, experienced, each word
Addressed to us in infancy, before
Before we could even know or understand
The implications of our wonderland.
There they all are, the legendary lies
The birthday treats, the sights, the sounds, the tears
Forgotten debris of forgotten years
Waiting to be recalled, waiting to rise
Before our world dissolves before our eyes
Waiting for some small, intimate reminder,
A word, a tune, a known familiar scent
An echo from the past when, innocent
We looked upon the present with delight
And doubted not the future would be kinder
And never knew the loneliness of night.
Tonight I (and about 800 giddy, tipsy Portland women and ten duped husbands in the Schnitzer Auditorium) got to hear from Elizabeth Gilbert, one of my favorite, personally significant authors (I mean, I love Henry James, too, but have more in common with Daisy Miller than I ever will with James). She was as funny, irreverent and insightful as she is in her books. She debunked the urban legend that if you embark on a creative path, scary things (poverty, drug and alcohol abuse) will happen along the way. She also pointed out that people are equally worried for her and her crazy success with Eat, Pray, Love, an account of her year long journey around the world to find herself, which has been on the NYTimes bestseller list for like, a hundred years. She worries sometimes too, she said, but it helps to think of the whole creative endeavor as having a dialog with your genius - and making that the point of it all. Not embodying genius, not wild success or wild failure. Just keeping at it, and checking in. She ended the lecture and the Q&A section with a hugely personal (and I thought, random) question asked by a member of the audience. Had she reconsidered having children? She said...well, a lot of things that completely make sense. I couldn't believe that she was being so carefully considerate of her response, something that would've made me shout, "None of your business!" But that's what makes Gilbert so special to me - she dares to ask and answer the difficult questions. She empties out her heart to anyone who cares to listen, and says: As a mire thinking human, this is the best I can do. Bravo, Gilbert. We're impressed.