Professor J's Place

01 July, 2012

A Meditation on Tacos

In the late 1980's, I was living in Omaha, Nebraska.

There are many things to make Omaha a lovely place to live, not the least of which is its proximity to many beautiful state parks in Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri.

In the summer of 1989, not long before I left Nebraska, I went camping with about a dozen other women. We all brought food, and some of us were in charge of a specific meal. I had Saturday breakfast.

I decided to give my friends a treat--chorizo and egg tacos. Take it from me, it was not easy to find chorizo in Omaha in the 80's. It took me two days of calling around to different meat markets and grocery stores before I found a little bodega on the south side.

But that wasn't the end of the learning experience. My friends were baffled by my menu.

Breakfast tacos? What's a breakfast taco? Who has tacos for breakfast?

When I presented the first of the tacos there was some relief.

Oh, it's a burrito!

No, I explained, the tortilla is much smaller, and it isn't rolled up, and it doesn't have beans in it. This, chicas,  is a breakfast taco.

A taco? In a flour tortilla? Huh?

But the taste won them over, I assure you.

I don't think we have those regional differences any more. Oh yes, we do things a bit differently region to region. For instance, my midwestern friends put cheese and sour cream on a chorizo and egg taco (?).  But I can buy sour dough bread at any bakery--I don't have to wait until I travel to San Francisco. And it is much easier to find chorizo--not to mention a good tex-mex restaurant--in Omaha these days.

I love the fact that I can find most anything I want wherever I am. But I must say, I miss the thrill of introducing people to something new-- and of being introduced to something new.

Yes, my friends, a taco. for. breakfast.

So, this morning, when I was cooking chorizo for breakfast, I remembered to give thanks for the joy of new things. Of introducing and being introduced.

Pass the salsa, please.

28 June, 2012

Writing Workshop

This morning at Upward Bound, we were doing revision workshops on the personal statements my students are writing. One of the young women began to read her essay.

I stopped her.

You need to speak louder and read slower. Your words are gold.

She looked at me quizzically.

You need to read as though what you have to say is important, precious--not "this is just some shit I wrote."

And then I remembered.

High School. 

These kids are in high school and I'm talking like a sailor. Of course, R--, the boy who wants to become a writer, giggled and said, "I love you Miss Jensen." But I should behave.

Back to the girl. Her words were gold. Her story inspiring. And she could barely read for the fear and the shame.

Gah! The return of the fear! I don't know how to teach against the fear. Except to keep saying, "your words are gold, they are precious; you have something to say."

Lucy Calkins is talking to children in this video. Let's sit cross-legged on the floor and listen in.

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27 June, 2012


617 N. St. Mary's Ave

Yesterday, the wonderful Joy Harjo posted this on Facebook:

Yesterday I hosted my fears. I allowed them to eat everything in the house, fart and burp and take over the tv control. When I finally saw them for who they were, I told them to get out. They blew into nothing, disappeared.

Joy Harjo

Today, my wonderful friend Bluebird posted this on her blog:

Before you start climbing down that first hill, I want you to halt, sit down and listen.
I know you have jobs/responsibilities/children/health issues/money problems and I know that you aren’t sure what to do next/are feeling as though you’re shirking your “real” responsibilities/are hitting that point where self-doubt has got you by the neck and is asking you, with stinky cheese breath— “How DARE you?”
And you’re tired.
And you don’t know where this leads.
And it was more work than you thought it would be.
And you don’t know if your stuff is any good.

I have been writing on and off since I was sixteen. 

More off than on. 

More fear than work. 

The other day I ran into an old friend. She is both a friend I have known for many years, and an old woman—I don’t think she’d mind me saying. 

This woman is a firebrand. A radical. An inspiration. But the other day? 

Her skin had the translucent glow of the old. Her frame looked especially delicate.

I asked, “How are you?” And like the friend she is, S— did not say “fine.” And “Hot enough for you?” 

She said, “I’m okay. I mean, things happen.”

 I thought, oh no, S— is ill, or her husband is ill. Somebody has died.

“It’s just, I’m worried about this world. I’m trying not to let it ruin my life, but it is hard. I’m glad to see you, though,” she said, “I’ll save you a seat inside.”

She walked away, still old and frail.

These are hard times. 


My friends the poets acknowledge my fear. And they ask, “How dare you give in? Who are you to not write? To not take photos? To refuse to shine a light on what you know and feel and see?”
Okay, sisters. Okay. 

 (photo from


Come here, Fear, 
I am alive!
And you are so afraid
of Dying.

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14 May, 2012

It's a blog carnival! About Poetry! It's a Poetry Carnival!

My darling friend Bluebird at Bluebird Blvd. was writing about poetry recently. It's something she often does, bless her heart. It got me thinking, as her posts are wont to do, and I wrote to her about the first poem I memorized. We decided it would be fun for both of us to write about the poems of our childhoods, so that's what we're doing today!
This is the book I grew up with. First published in 1959, The Golden Treasury of Poetry was compiled for an audience of children, but not once did it talk down to its audience. With delightful illustrations by Joan Walsh Anglund and poems that ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime, this book was my introduction to the joy and music in language.

When I teach poetry, which I seldom do, I talk about how we are hard wired for poetry. What do children like to read and have read to them? Poetry!

It's the heart beat, I think. The rhythm in our blood.  

I, like most children was first attracted to poems that rhyme. It's the rhyme that makes it playful.

The rhythm and the rhyme and patterns seep into your body and your brain. Ask any child. Go on. I'll wait.

All of the first several poems I memorized came from this book. And--this may come as some surprise--they all involved dogs, either as the theme or a character. Here's the early poem I always share with my students. It is by the wonderful Ogden Nash.

An Introduction to Dogs

The dog is man's best friend.
He has a tail on on end.
Up in front he has teeth.
And four legs underneath.

Dogs like to bark.
They like it best after dark.
They not only frighten prowlers away
But also hold the sandman away.

A dog that is indoors
To be let out implores.
You let him out and what then?
He wants back in again.

Dogs display reluctance and wrath
If you try to give him a bath.
They bury bones in hideaways
And half the time they trot sideways.

They cheer up people who are frowning,
And rescue people who are drowning.
They also track mud on beds,
And chew people's clothes to shreds.

Dogs in the country are fun.
They run and run and run.
But in the city this species
Is dragged around on leashes.

Dogs are upright as a steeple
And much more loyal than people.

I recite this poem to my students for two reasons: I want them to remember that poetry is fun, and I want them to remember that it does not always involve analysis to understand a poem. And I want to rhyme leashes with species and sideways with hideaways. Just say it. Leash-ies. Side a ways. You're smiling now, aren't you? You can't help it.

What else did I learn about poetry from "An Introduction to Dogs"? It tells the universal truth: there is nothing false about this poem, every line is true, and each truth speaks to all dog lovers. It uses precise and often surprising diction. "Dogs display reluctance and wrath / If you try to give them a bath." The words may be odd (reluctance and wrath), but after you read them, you couldn't imagine another word working better.

Another reason to love poetry? It impresses other people when you recite and/or read it. My mother was my first appreciative audience, moving on to teachers, girlfriends, and now students. Poetry is meant to be spoken. Even poetry that is meant to be seen on the page, like that of e. e. Cummings, needs to be read aloud by someone who does not fear poetry.

I would share some of the other poems I learned with you, but this post is already long. Let's make it another post at another time, shall we?

Now I invite you to head on over to Bluebird Ave and read about Reading Poetry in the Big Chief Years. I just know you're going to love Bluebird!

Also stop in to see my friend Robin over at Vitis Poema. Robin likes to write about poetry and wine. She takes life one poem and one glass at a time!

And we invite you to join us in this carnival. Just write about your childhood poem(s) and reply to this post or to Bluebird's post with the address of your blog. We'll add a link to your post!

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04 April, 2012

Invisible Woman

“She is survived by her three sons and her partner of thirty years,” the papers said.
Sometimes the braver periodicals even named her, this partner.
Did they own a bakery together?             A curio shop?
Partner is too small a word          pedestrian          business-like.

I used to like the word.
And what shall we call ourselves?
Lover at best is dated
Girlfriend dismissive, trivial
We are life partners, I would whisper in her ear,

For this lesbian poet who risked life and art and all to name her love
This warrior who did not fear the wrath of publishers or critics or scholars or college administrators
To hear it now, and often without a name or gender, evokes     
the closet

Undrape! You are not guilty to me, nor stale, nor discarded*
Nor invisible.

For  Adrienne Rich and Michelle Cliff
*Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"

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02 April, 2012

Returning to my place

Well, what do ya know?

I wasn't sure I'd ever come  back to the old place, but I kept it around to function as an archive of my old writing.

And here I am wanting to write again. And wanting to write about things that aren't necessarily photography related. So here I am.

Boy howdy, it's dusty in here. I'll be sweeping out some cobwebs and changing things here and there. Let me know if there's anything I can do to make you comfortable. Would you like something to drink? Water? Coffee?