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Felicidades, Spring Semester News y Mas----

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First-- Felicidades to our Ethnic Studies Graduate T.A., Leslie Martinez.  She received a Graduate Studies Honorable Mention this past week for the excellent work in Ethnic Studies she does. Leslie has been working with us and we've been so pleased to have her contributions to the Ethnic Studies curriculum and especially to the students who benefit for her expertise.  Gracias Leslie!

Leslie and me.jpg

Leslie Martinez y Amelia M.L. Montes at Graduate Studies Award Reception

Second:  I am teaching a fabulous group of graduate and undergraduate students in my American Novels class.  We are already deep into discussions of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, Dreiser's An American Tragedy, and Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God.  In teaching, two theorists of critical pedagogy I follow are educators bell hooks and Paulo Freire who write:

"Engaged pedagogy does not seek simply to empower students.  Any classroom that employs a holistic model of learning will also be a place where teachers grow, and are empowered by the process."  --bell hooks

"Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world." 
--Paulo Freire


Book list for American Novels class

I look forward to a full and rich semester of discussion!  And in addition to these novels (picture above) students will also be presenting on over 20 other American novels.  Much to consider for this semester!

Third:  A temperate Nebraska January gave way to a February that presented us with the first significant snowstorm of the season--gifting us with a foot of snow.  I took the picture below early as the snow was falling an inch an hour (about 6:30a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 4).

early snow.jpg
And then later in the day-- the job of digging out:

house snow.jpg

And now today (Sunday, Feb. 5) --we have brilliant sun and the sound of melting snow . . .

sun house.JPG

after snow.JPG

I am wishing all of you an excellent second week in February---
More soon . . . 

On the Plains, January 2010

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A close-up (below) of snow:  glittering jewels of crystals. I never played in this stuff during my childhood.  The closest comparison I have is the ocean sand that stuck to my ankles, that found itself in elbow creases and between toes.  Snow was not in my experience until adulthood and this winter, especially, I am having a good share of it.  Here in the Great Plains sand does exist but right now it is under translucent jeweled layers of cold.  


A good part of the rose bush (the one I photographed in a previous entry) in our front yard is buried.  The faded but hardy petaled bloom is nowhere to be found.  We've had over a foot of snow since my last entry and the temperatures continue to remain below freezing.  

rose bush.jpg

This geographic area feels still, like being inside a snow globe:  the earth and those in it forever contained.  When I am outside removing the snow from the walkways, the drive, the sound of my shovel against the pavement feels insolent--shattering the rules of winter silence. No loud dancing, festive sounds here but more of a monasterial contemplative air.  So I take intermittent breaks, take pictures, observe the plants in-between my rude snow shoveling. I imagine what it must be like in other parts of the world right now where it is summer and the people are barefoot, their bodies dancing in steamy fecund gardens, while I photograph the Milkweed (below).  Its pods once softly full with cotton-like filaments that attracted red and orange-winged Monarchs, now hang literally frozen from dead stems. The plant and crown are alive, but what you see here is dead.  

milkweed in winter.jpg

The sideoats grama (below) is also caught in a kind of time warp or embalmed state.  I am amazed when I see pictures of this same spot just a few months ago--knowing that by March, April, definitely May--all of this white and cold will transform into buds, green, blooms, dark earth opening.  Perhaps I once again write about this because I continue to marvel at the way this area of the world behaves, negotiates the seasons, even welcomes and seems so comfortable with these excessive changes in temperature. There is a beauty to this funereal viewing.  

sideoats gramma prairie grass.jpg

Below are two pictures of the same plant this past October and now:

spring show.jpg

winter show.jpg

Some of these plants will not return.  They are dead or will eventually die, their seeds taking up the places they have left behind.  I keep returning to the poet H.D., this time to her poem, 

"Wash of Cold River"  

Wash of cold river
in a glacial land,
Ionian water,
chill, snow-ribbed sand,
drift of rare flowers,
clear, with delicate shell-
like leaf enclosing
frozen lily-leaf, camellia texture,
colder than a rose;

that keeps the breath
of the north-wind--
these and none other;

intimate thoughts and kind
reach out to share 
the treasure of my mind,
intimate hands and dear
drawn garden-ward and sea-ward
all the sheer rapture
that I would take 
to mould a clear
and frigid statue;

rare, of pure texture,
beautiful space and line,
marble to grace
your inaccessible shrine.  

Sometimes Ya Gotta Jump Off The Train--

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Lincoln airport.jpg

I took this picture of the Lincoln, Nebraska airport yesterday morning. Notice the empty gate. A United airplane should have been there with me in it, ready to depart for Chicago.  I was on my way to the annual MLA (Modern Language Association) Conference in Philadelphia.  This is the annual conference for literary and language scholars.  Thousands of scholars (from across the nation as well as outside the U.S.) take up over 15 major hotels in the hosting city every year.  I've been going for almost fifteen years.  Not this year.

At the time I took this picture, the plane was still in Chicago.  The United clerk gave me the following scenario:  (1) Your plane is still in Chicago (2) Even if it gets here in the next half hour, when you get to Chicago, you will only have 15 minutes to get from Gate C to Gate F (if you know the gates at O'Hare--C to F is much longer than a football field) (3) You'll have to go standby if you can't connect to your Philadelphia flight because all other flights are overbooked. And tomorrow everything is booked too.  

I can't remember at which point (during his description) that I suddenly felt my body relax, my breathing deepen, heard my voice calmly say, "I'm getting off the train."  

He looked at me a little confused.  "It's a metaphor," I said.  "What I mean is--cancel my flight, reimburse me--I'm going home."  

He said, "Well, you'll make a lot of people who are currently on standby very happy."  

I turned around and saw one of my colleagues who had obviously arrived much earlier than I looking distraught and talking on the phone.  I thought about the graduate students who have a much more invested reason (job interviews at the conference) to run around miles of airport concourses to catch that flight because their professional lives depend upon it. 

I gathered up my packed bags, left the airport, but stopped on the way out to take said picture above.  

There are moments, gentle reader, when we have to just step back and say, "What is most important--what really matters?"  For me, it mattered to let go and stay home but not without feeling guilty and worried about the paper I was scheduled to give, the editor I had to see, the meetings to attend.  Lately, though, I've been making choices by thinking whether or not the "action" I decide to do or not do will have important consequences years from now.  I can meet up with the editor later, keep working on this paper, contact colleagues other ways.  I've also been thinking about "worry" in the same manner.  Does it really matter to "worry" about the possibility that you won't get to point B from where you are at point A.  This is nothing new, but lately it's been of much importance to me to breathe deeply, learn to relax more, and just get off the train. 

More soon . . . 

A Rose in Winter---

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My world is now one of snow and cold but in this world--as I was shoveling snow in our front yard a few days ago, I found a soft pastel blush catching my attention.  No not a fresh and lovely rose bloom--but color nonetheless.  It had stamina.  Yes, the one you see here!  I'm giving it credit for facing the major snowstorm, for holding on during the blizzard, for keeping to its pink hued petals at least as much as possible.  The artist Henri Matisse wrote, "There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted."  Agreed.  Perhaps in considering photography, the truly creative photographer is one who has forgotten other digital photo rose prints. And maybe there have been many photos of roses in snow, but since I'm a Los Angeleno, a Californiana--not endemic to this geographic location--a rose bloom in winter (even a faint one) is all new to me.  


I grew up in sun and warmth all year--with a mother who loved roses, who planted all kinds in our front and backyard.  She chose her roses not only by the color but by the name.  She loved roses whose names were in Spanish ('Granada') or were named after American musicals ('Singing in the Rain'), names that described emotion ('Passion') or were named after famous opera singers like 'Maria Callas.' She was also political in her choices, giving the rose 'John F. Kennedy' a special place in the rose bed.  I would assist her when she would take her blooms every May to the Rose Pageant at Rose Hills Cemetery in Whittier, which at the time I did not know was and still is the largest cemetery in the United States.  Because it is so large, there are many events held there which included this festival of roses. She would win prizes for her roses and would share her ideas regarding pruning and planting.  


This rose is called 'Nearly Wild' and is known for surviving harsh winters and it's also known to be immune to various rose diseases. Back in August, when this rose bush was filled with a myriad of blooms, I took the time one very hot afternoon to sit and prune those blossoms that had faded or were looking just like this one in the picture.  Now in this cold and snowy moment, there is no way I am going to mess with these petals. I think of all the "perfect" blossoms I saw at Rose Hills every year, but this one--this exact one of which I keep photographing--well, I consider it like no other: perfect in strength and durability, beautiful, magical, and powerful. I think of the poet H.D. (1886-1961) and her poem Sea Rose:

Rose, harsh rose
marred and with stint of petals,
meagre flower, thin,
sparse of leaf,

more precious
than a wet rose
single on a stem--
you are caught in the drift . . .