Professor J's Place

10 December, 2014

happy birthday, Miss Dickinson. and thank you.

When I was an undergraduate, I read an essay by Adrienne Rich about Emily Dickinson. "Vesuvius at Home," the title taken from an ED poem, shattered the image of the shy, strange little woman sitting in her bedroom and hiding away from the world.

And I began to read Dickinson. Then I began to study Dickinson. Her syntax, her precise and startling use of words, her understanding of the human mind, of my mind, were sustenance to me.

And still, I think that there is no one who touches my heart as much as Dickinson.

On this day, the day after the congress released its report on torture, a day when racism and violence and lawlessness seem ever present, a day when I think that perhaps my country has lost its soul, I remember that Dickinson wrote the bulk of her poetry during the years of the civil war; another time when America was paying the price for its original sin.  It seems appropriate to share the best poem about grief I've ever read:

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –

J 372

Poem copied from

19 November, 2014

all goes onward and outward, nothing collapses

my dear departed Alice and Dinah--the old guard

Tomorrow will be a week since Alice died. It sometimes surprises me how deeply I feel the loss. It's probably because she was my last old girl--the last dog who knew my mother. But whatever the reason, it is a loss I sometimes experience as a pain in the chest. I first experienced that after Mom died. My therapist at the time said, "Why do you think they call it a broken heart?" And so I will grieve. As long as it takes.

But I know this. There is no death. There is no end to the energy and the love that was my mother, or Dinah, or Alice.

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is, any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer, designedly dropt,  95
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say, Whose?
Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.
Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic;
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white; 100
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
Tenderly will I use you, curling grass;
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men;
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them; 105
It may be you are from old people, and from women, and from offspring taken soon out of their mothers’ laps;
And here you are the mothers’ laps.
This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers;
Darker than the colorless beards of old men;
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths. 110
O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.
I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.
What do you think has become of the young and old men? 115
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death;
And if ever there was, it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d. 120
All goes onward and outward—nothing collapses;
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

"And to die is different from what any one supposed. . ."

It is odd that the more we learn about life--about the universe--about physics--the truer Whitman's words are. I have always known this to be the Truth--with a capital T-- the metaphorical truth-- the spiritual truth. But now we know that the universe continues to expand, that energy never dies, it only changes form. Science, spirituality, and poetry are not mutually exclusive. Thank you, Universe. 

14 November, 2014

goodbye sweetheart

10 November, 2014

walking toward health

juggling  is hard

I know I've recently alluded to health issues on this blog, and I've definitely whined about them on Facebook; now I will whine more specifically. I'm working on becoming healthy. And it's not working as well as I want it to. 

Recently, I discovered that the medicine I was taking for diabetes was making me sick. So we tried something new. Then added something else. Then increased the something else.  I've also been walking every day that it is not raining (so I missed two days) and eating much better. And? It's not working. So I imagine, though I do not know this for sure, that the next step is insulin. I will see the doctor Thursday. 
I am not thrilled about this. In some ways it feels like a failure. But a friend of mine who has two Type I children assures me that I will actually feel much better after my blood sugar stabilizes. And what the heck. 

The good part of all of this is the daily walk with my dog(s). That's been great. I think we are all feeling better emotionally because of the walks. And I've lost 8 pounds. That can't hurt. 

So I am writing about this mostly because of the struggle it is for me to work on my diet. I am proud of the steps I've taken, but I am also aware that I am often on the brink of saying "eff it" and eating a pound of chocolate. And, I haven't been too successful with these lifestyle changes. A month, two months, and then regression. So I am talking and thinking about this obsessively. 

So, if you have positive energy, send it my way. If you have success stories about lifestyle changes or diabetes, share them! 

I know I can do this. I am a former smoker with 15 years of non smoking. I am a recovering alcoholic with 4 years and 10 months of sobriety. I can do this. But I also know I need help. I cannot do it alone. So I guess I'm going to talk about it--and write about it. I will try to do so in moderation, though. 

Thanks for reading!

05 November, 2014

better to light one candle. . .

Padre Island Sunrise 2009

I have been depressed lately. Time change, health challenges, an election I was certain was going to end in heartache (and it did). But this morning on the commute to work, my comadre, Lindsay,  told me that she was inspired to work harder, to teach her students about global warming and the environment, to fight another day.

It helped. I don't feel that I have a lot of psychic energy left for the fight right now, but I will rally. I offer this photo of the ocean at 6:00 on a summer morning as a reminder that light returns. That beauty exists.

Oh, and here's a baby turtle!

So here's to the love we all share, to the beautiful planet that is our home, to the good people who are willing to fight. Here's to music, and dance, and art. We will survive. 

31 October, 2014

I am an old nerd

So, I am beginning the quantitative literacy project (called "Q" by those of us in the know) in my Comp I classes. I'm a little terrified and a little excited. I've recently become a convert to the importance of quantitative literacy in my own life and in the lives of my students, but numbers have not always been my friends. Hence, fear. So, I made this for my class website:

and none of my students got it. I thought it would help to lighten the mood. Oh well. 

28 October, 2014

about blogs and facebook

I was looking at the blog after I posted yesterday, and I realized I post once a year. That's just sad. I also realized, as I looked back at some old stuff, that I miss the women I used to read about and talk to in this format. Some of us are on Facebook together, but not all.

I'm bucking the trend, I know. Just last week Mrs. G said she was done with the Manor (sad sigh). But what the heck?

So I think I'm going to start writing and reading blog posts again. Who are you reading these days? Who should I add to that list over on the right hand side of the blog? Would you consider posting more, too, dear readers? Facebook is wonderful for the daily (all right several times a day) peeks into the lives and thoughts of my friends, but it is not enough. It is not a format for a real discussion of life and all its "hills and valleys" as Cheri said today. I want to know about the hills and valleys.

I know I'm always making promises to myself that I don't keep. "I am going to blog every day." "I am going to write a poem every day." So I won't be making any promises of that nature just yet. I just know I'm going to sweep out some of the cobwebs and see about settling into this place again for awhile.

And I really want those reading suggestions, okay?

27 October, 2014


my friend Heidi years ago (with two dear, lost companions)

Those of you who are my friends on Facebook know that I have begun a daily walking regimen. I started because I wasn't able to control my blood sugar, and I thought I'd give this diet and exercise thing a try.

So every morning before school, I lace up my kicks, put a reflective vest on my dog Judy, and hit the streets. Walking has had a somewhat surprising effect on my life: increased nostalgia.

Have you known me long enough to have heard of my dog St. Ursula? Here's a picture of her grinning at my mom. 
I adopted Ursula in 1989. For the first several years of her life, we lived in apartments, so Ursula and I walked. A Lot. And we walked in the dark early morning a lot. I had a Buick Skylark with bench seats at the time. When I drove with Ursie, she'd sit right next to me, and I'd put my arm around her shoulders. She was my constant companion and best friend for the first three years of her life. After that, she was "only" my best friend.

When Ursula was three,  I moved to San Antonio, where I had a back yard. I also had a broken humerus, so I got out of the habit of walking her so much. But we did walk in the neighborhood often. 

These mornings walking Judy (also a black lab) around the neighborhood at 0'dark thirty, I think of my walks with Ursula often. Never so much, though, as when we pass a particular house. It is a Craftsman, like my own (there are half a dozen or so in my neighborhood), except it has an extra bedroom and porch added on. And it has a wire fence. Back then, there was a little terrier who lived in a dog house behind that wire fence, and she and Ursula loved each other. Every day I'd have to cross the road with Ursula, so they could stand nose to nose for a few minutes, and then walk the length of the yard together. She never barked at Ursula. Only kisses.

Now, when Judy and I pass that house, I think of the little beige dog and how Ursula loved her. Saturday when we walked by the sun was up (later walks on the weekend, folks), and there was a little white terrier in the backyard! She must live inside at night. Anyway, I shall make sure to bring Judy over when we walk by and there are no people in the yard. Do you suppose they'll be friends? Wouldn't it be pretty? (apologies to Ernest Hemingway).