So early it’s still almost dark out.
I’m near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.
They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren’t saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other’s arm.
It’s early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn’t enter into this.
Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

-Raymond Carver

A Man May Change

As simply as a self-effacing bar of soap
escaping by indiscernible degrees in the wash water
is how a man may change
and still hour by hour continue in his job.
There in the mirror he appears to be on fire
but here at the office he is dust.
So long as there remains a little moisture in the stains,
he stands easily on the pavement
and moves fluidly through the corridors. If only one
cloud can be seen, it is enough to know of others,
and life stands on the brink. It rains
or it doesn’t, or it rains and it rains again.
But let it go on raining for forty days and nights
or let the sun bake the ground for as long,
and it isn’t life, just life, anymore, it’s living.
In the meantime, in the regular weather of ordinary days,
it sometimes happens that a man has changed
so slowly that he slips away
before anyone notices
and lives and dies before anyone can find out.

Marvin Bell, “A Man May Change” from Nightworks: Poems 1962-2000

No Man Is An Island

‘No Man is an Island’

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

John Donne

Looking forward to reengaging with the work of this blog soon. Between the semester work here at the university and the general election fog, I’ve been away. I plan to develop new posts and engage with the stories of friends again soon.

The Generalist Academy: One interesting thing every day

Check out The Generalist Academy for an interesting thing every day. I probably check in once or twice a week. Loved the recent post Rubble Moon. “The Martian moon Phobos is thought to be a pile of rubble that’s nearly a third empty space inside. It circles its planet twice a Martian day, and in a few million years it will disintegrate into rings.”

There’s also a brief mention of the nearly 300 foot tall monolith on the surface of Phobos.

Poem by Amy Lowell

September, 1918

This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight;
The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves;
The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves,
And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows.
Under a tree in the park,
Two little boys, lying flat on their faces,
Were carefully gathering red berries
To put in a pasteboard box.
Some day there will be no war,
Then I shall take out this afternoon
And turn it in my fingers,
And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate,
And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves.
To-day I can only gather it
And put it into my lunch-box,
For I have time for nothing
But the endeavour to balance myself
Upon a broken world.

Amy Lowell, “September, 1918” from The Complete Poetical Works of Amy Lowell.

Poem: “The Iceberg Theory”

The Iceberg Theory

all the food critics hate iceberg lettuce.
you’d think romaine was descended from
orpheus’s laurel wreath,
you’d think raw spinach had all the nutritional
benefits attributed to it by popeye,
not to mention aesthetic subtleties worthy of
veriaine and debussy.
they’ll even salivate over chopped red cabbage
just to disparage poor old mr. iceberg lettuce.

I guess the problem is
it’s just too common for them.
It doesn’t matter that it tastes good,
has a satisfying crunchy texture,
holds its freshness
and has crevices for the dressing,
whereas the darker, leafier varieties
are often bitter, gritty, and flat.
It just isn’t different enough and
it’s too goddamn american.

of course a critic has to criticize;
a critic has to have something to say
perhaps that’s why literary critics
purport to find interesting
so much contemporary poetry
that just bores the shit out of me.

at any rate, I really enjoy a salad
with plenty of chunky iceberg lettuce,
the more the merrier,
drenched in an Italian or roquefort dressing.
and the poems I enjoy are those I don’t have
to pretend that I’m enjoying.

by Gerald Locklin

SuAnne Big Crow

This from the newsletter of Alan Jacobs today:

“In Ian Frazier’s book On the Rez — excerpted here — he tells a story about a Lakota Sioux girl named SuAnne Big Crow, who lived on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. At age 14 she was already on her high school’s varsity basketball team, and when, in 1988, they played a game in Lead, South Dakota, they were faced with a profoundly hostile crowd, a gym full of people making mocking “Indian” noises. The Pine Ridge girls were frightened — but SuAnne was not frightened. She led her team out and made her way to center court, where to the astonishment of everyone she used her warmup jacket to perform, with great élan and perfect confidence, a traditional Sioux shawl dance.

It was, Frazier says, a form of counting coup — but not in any usual sense.

SuAnne’s coup strike was an offering, an invitation. It gave the hecklers the best interpretation, as if their silly, mocking chants were meant only in good will. It showed that their fake Indian songs were just that — fake — and that the real thing was better, as real things usually are. We Lakota have been dancing like this for centuries, the dance said; we’ve been doing the shawl dance since long before you came, before you got on the boat in Glasgow or Bremerhaven, before you stole this land, and we’re still doing it today. And isn’t it pretty, when you see how it’s supposed to be done? Because finally what SuAnne proposed was to invite us — us onlookers in the stands, namely the non-Lakota rest of this country — to dance too. She was in the Lead gym to play, and she invited us all to play. The symbol she used to include us was the warm-up jacket. Everyone in America has a warm-up jacket. I’ve got one, probably so do you, so did (no doubt) many of the fans at Lead. By using the warm-up jacket as a shawl in her impromptu shawl dance, she made Lakota relatives of us all.

SuAnne Big Crow died in an auto accident at age seventeen, on February 9, 1992. She’s still a legend for the Sioux people. They made a movie about her.

Courage and leadership can be both confrontational and generous at the same time. Leadership can cause you to realize that you might be wrong (that you might even be acting shamefully) while inviting you to see another way.

Sunday Poem by Mark Irwin


(for Gerald Stern)

Everything stands wondrously multicolored
and at attention in the always Christmas air.
What scent lingers unrecognizably
between that of popcorn, grilled cheese sandwiches,

malted milkballs, and parakeets? Maybe you came here
in winter to buy your daughter a hamster
and were detained by the bin

of Multicolored Thongs, four pair
for a dollar. Maybe you came here to buy
some envelopes, the light blue par avion ones

with airplanes, but caught yourself, lost,
daydreaming, saying it’s too late over the glassy
diorama of cakes and pies. Maybe you came here

to buy a lampshade, the fake crimped
kind, and suddenly you remember
your grandmother, dead

twenty years, floating through the old
house like a curtain. Maybe you’re retired,
on Social Security, and came here for the Roast

Turkey Dinner, or the Liver and Onions,
or just to stare into a black circle
of coffee and to get warm. Or maybe

the big church down the street is closed
now during the day, and you’re homeless and poor,
or you’re rich, or it doesn’t matter what you are

with a little loose change jangling in your pocket,
begging to be spent, because you wandered in
and somewhere between the bin of animal crackers

and the little zoo in the back of the store
you lost something, and because you came here
not to forget, but to remember to live.

from Quick, Now, Always (1996)

Abandoned Things

In his most recent newsletter, Alan Jacobs mentions how much he admires the work of photographer Tony Cearns. Cearns’s site, How I See It, is absolutely worth your consideration and time. I was particularly struck by the section entitled Abandoned Things, which is photographed in North Dakota but forcefully reminds me of the abandoned places and homes and cars of Southeastern Ohio (only the flatness of the land cuts against the illusion that this is Jackson County).

Abandoned Farm, North Dakota, © Tony Cearns
Truck 2, North Dakota, © Tony Cearns

The News

I’ve had a number of conversations with friends recently about how I find and read news since I have no social media accounts (I don’t really count LinkedIn since I only use it to help former students who are trying to get jobs or promotions). I read lots of long form articles and essays from a variety of sources. From time to time, I plan to recommend these outlets here on What Work Is. But this is how I have approached news since I stopped getting it in my “news feed” on Facebook:

  1. Attempt to only look at news sites twice a day, in the morning and evening. *Once in a while I hear that there is some kind of breaking news and I’ll jump on to read.
  2. Avoid news agencies prone to sensationalism (clickbait titles, overlarge font for titles, overblown rhetoric, and so on).
  3. Find news sources that organize their articles, at least in part, based on categories of knowledge (National and International, Religious, Scientific, Cultural, Political, Entertainment, etc.).

I primarily read Reuters and NPR because they generally follow my guidelines (Plus NPR has Tiny Desk Concerts. I mean, come on.) I also read Knox Pages here in Mount Vernon, Ohio for my local news.

I want to be an informed citizen and a thoughtful, caring member of my community. Reading the news twice a day seems to allow me to be informed and give me the head space to consider what I’ve read or seen. I’ve come to view the inhuman pace of social media news feeds as harmful.

Sensationalism has been prevalent in U.S. news since the beginning. I want a news agency that will address me (as much as possible) in good faith. I don’t mind if the source has a particular bent. After all, we’re getting news from humans, not robots (or we should be, one more reason I don’t get my news from social media). I’m happy to decipher rhetoric as I read, I just don’t want a news source that obviously resorts to crazy headlines, bombastic rhetoric, and overt manipulation to keep me clicking. This is especially true if the information that they are giving me is something I want to be true. The temptation to check my mind at the door and be carried away by the tides of my wants is too great for me to fool around with.

Finally, the breakdown in categories of knowledge is deeply concerning to me. See my post on Content Collapse. The idea that everything is of equal weight and importance (Explosions in Lebanon, cat pictures, Black Lives Matter, and The Rock buying the XFL) is confusing and damaging to our communities. I once opened CNN.com and saw a headline proclaiming that John Mayer broke up with Jennifer Aniston by text message. Now I know that. It has somehow stuck in my head (I’m hoping that it mostly stays there because I use it as an object lesson but I’m afraid it is because the headline infected me). Why did I see it? Because it was one of the top headlines for that day, I assume. (Update: I had written “pure sensationalism” here, but I think it is banality instead)

My guidelines certainly wont work for everyone, but maybe this post will be helpful for some of you who are struggling with how to engage without being overwhelmed in the rising tide. Good luck to you.