Friday, February 22, 2008

Snowy Prospect

February 22

Snowed in! Well, not really. That's Prospect Street from our house on the third floor with my Christmas camera set for bright-when-it's bright out.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Inspiration from Grace and more

February 21

Well, we’ve cancelled writers group for tonight because of few people and one member having a serious illness in the family. I was disappointed at first, because I look forward to writers group, which is really just for me, but of course I'm also thrilled not to have to go to NYC again immediately after teaching last night.

I had soup with Ingrid at Round the Clock, a wooden floored place very near Cooper Square where I teach. She is all excited about her daughter Stasha nearing term with pregnancy, and she talked about the inspiration she got from a memorial reading for Grace Paley, also things Grace said at a workshop once: First, tell the truth, in reference to memoir and not pulling your punches. Second, Tell the truth in reference to fiction, which I interpret to mean use that as a guide–what is the truth for this character, this situation,this plot? Grace also recommended going back in imagination (is that the same as "getting in touch with?") the voices of the community of your childhood. For Grace, New York immigrants, for me, West Virginia. But Ingrid grew up in various American overseas posts (Greece, Saigon) and wonders what her voices were.

We talked inevitably about the hundreds of thousands of people studying writing and hoping for glory if not money and also at the same time wanting to participate in this world of literature, of seeking the truth through stories.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kevin Scanlon's photos

Great photos of West Virginia mining towns, steel mills, and much more at
Kevin Scanlon's site-- and an exhibit in Grafton, WV--
AND-- you are invited to the opening reception! Click here!

Friday, February 15, 2008

E.P. Thompson

Feb 15

E.P. Thompson talks about what amounts to the “soft bigotry of low expectations” in the context of social class in academia, which in early twentieth century Britain had enough similarities to race in U.S. to be of special interest now. Not the same thing, I hasten to add, but class lines then, marked by easily identifiable accent and dialect, were extremely sharp:

....The pure in heart may indeed be blessed: but they may also offer themselves as a fertile pastureland upon which the demagogue and the careerist may safely graze. It may be true and important to insist that we value men not by their class or educational attributes but my their moral worth: but if men – and especially if educationally-disadvantaged men – begin to value themselves too complacently in this way it can serve too easily as an excuse for the giving up of intellectual effort. My fellow tutors here will, I suspect, make the point: they know, only too well, the student to whom I refer. They may also know the tutor who has made himself accomplice to the giving-up, and who has been happy to accept the moral wort of his students in place of their essays. They may even have seen him, as I have, late i the evening, in the mirror. (E.P. Thompson, “Education and Experience,” The Romantics, New York: The New Press, 1997, p. 25.)

There’s another passage in the second lecture where Thompson, writing about Wordsworth and Coleridge and others, distinguishes between disenchantment and apostasy. The context here is the end of the 18th century and the very early 19th century when people like the Romantic poets were first enchanted with the French revolution, then to varying degrees horrified by its excesses, then often(and this is the part we rarely read) in serious political jeopardy in England for being Jacobins. There was major political repression as war broke out between France and England. Anyhow, Thompson makes some really interesting observations about how the honest changing of your mind due to historical events is one things, but denigrating your younger mind for its previous views is another thing altogether:

The theme of this lecture is apostasy and disenchantment. There is a difference between the two. My argument is: the creative impulse came out of the heart of this conflict. There is a tension between a boundless aspiration – for liberty, reason, √©galit√©, perfectibility – and a peculiarly harsh and unregenerate reality. So long as that tension persists, the creative impulse can be felt. But once the tension slackens, the creative impulse fails also. There is nothing in disenchantment inimical to art. But when aspiration is actively denied, we are at the edges of apostasy and apostasy is a moral failure, and an imaginative failure....because it involves forgetting – or manipulating improperly – the authenticity of experience: a mutilation of the writers’s own previous existential being. (E.P. Thompson, “Disenchantment or Default?” The Romantics, New York: The New Press, 1997, p. 37-38.)

This is what I always feel about people who reject their entire past, whether they are poets like Coleridge or political figures like some of the neoconservatives. Wordsworth, Thompson makes the case, was a much more nuanced thinker, whose views changed gradually over many years.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hidden Fortress, Maternal Hi Jinx

Feb 13

Last night I stayed up later than I would have wanted because Andy turned on the t.v. and the whole wide screen tv was filled with sharp black and white Japanese images, big crowd scenes, vaguely medieval setting, two shlumpy peasant guys going crazy over finding gold, appearance of large handsome samurai without armor or sword-- anyhow, it turned out to be Toshiro Mifune in the 1958 Kurosawa flick Hidden Fortress, complete with a long spear duel and a princess in short pants with a bizarre screeching high voice and lots of heavy handed humor and amazing last minute escapes and stylized acting, and I really liked it!

February 12

California Dreamers! I wish I had been there! Left to right, Goro Kato, Christine Willis,
Sarah Zakowski, Joel Weinberger, Alex Kato-Willis, and in front, Lucille Willis
(More pix from Joel's visit to San Luis Obispo)

Friday, February 08, 2008

February 8

So it's late Friday afternoon, and , I did a little writing, a quick prep for the Jump Start Your Novel workshop tomorrow, went to have my ears cleaned and checked, and had my afternoon meeting at CCR cancelled, and I’m glad– went to Costco with Andy instead. Secret delight in pushing the cart until it seems to stop of its own accord, and I stared stupefied at the ranks of blue flat screens, the acres of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, the free samples of pork barbecue, frozen cheesecake, and shrimp salad, the stacked cases of water, the supersized bags of everything. I get mentally bloated, and somehow that relaxes me. It’s like my mind goes dull, and then I can start over. Bought a roasted chicken for dinner, will watch a movie probably. Could use more of the same.

February 4

I'm having one of my super busy weeks: five days of teaching, with meetings in the evenings. Still thinking about Joel and Sarah visiting my mother and my sister, still thinking about the AWP and the 7,000 writers and poets scrambling for fame and fortune, but meanwhile it's Super Bowl last night and Super Tuesday tomorrow, both of which events have been treated pretty much in the same way by the news media.

I'm doing three days with third graders in Butler, New Jersey. I had been expecting my new Fiction I class would not run, but it seems to have ten people and be up and at 'em. So that's Wednesday night, and Saturday I have the four hour Jump Start Your novel class, with Making Your Novel Happen starting next Monday! Whew! Altogether too busy this week, a meeting tomorrow night and Writers' group Thursday and I've been doing a lot of web site work for the Hamilton Stone Review which has a new issue coming up, and lots of ideas and actions, and tomorrow it's Hillary versus Obama. Just a little too much this week, although the following one seems to have a few more spaces for writing, which would be nice.