Saturday, December 09, 2006

I generally read about 2 books a week. When school is very intense, the reading is lighter, true escape. I like international settings, sometimes history, mostly adventure/crime drama, but I'm interested in noticing how the plot pacing goes, whether the characters are fully developed, and is the resolution satisfying or what themes is the author working with. Every once in awhile a book comes along that is unforgettable.

So now it's Saturday morning, just after Finals week, and the book I can't forget is Chimamanda Adichie's Half of a Yellow Moon. This compelling story is set during the Biafran-Nigerian war and essentially tells the story of two Nigerian sisters and their experiences during the war. This book is not a fast read or an easy read. The writing is skillful and doesn't lay out all the ideas on the surface of the story. Relationships are developed through events, betrayals and kindnesses -- recreating our humanity in horrendous circumstance. Our television accustoms us to the images of violence and death, but still in a way we are distanced. This can't happen to us. In Half of a Yellow Moon, we become part of the family, shocked and betrayed and comforted in the unrelenting reality of a brutal war. The parallels to other wars we may be thinking of, or of colonial history lessons, provide another layer to this book.

Chimamanda Adichie is young, born in 1977, from Nigeria's newest generation of writers, and already acclaimed as a successor to Chinue Achibe, author of Things Fall Apart, the widely read book that traces the transition from tribal to colonial Africa. She certainly speaks to me.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Driving to work each morning still remains the best time to begin poems . . . so usually they are about what I see. This morning's observation:

Morning Moon

To the west, a round morning moon
floats as reminder of night, impossibly high
against a pale blue sky.
To the east, the sun fills up
the sky with pink and yellow.

Caught between light and dark,
we do not know what tides
pull us,
what brightest day,
what darkest night awaits.
Only the moon rises and falls,
a sliver of sun through the night.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Face-to-face with Xar. Last night at the Police Academy, they brought the dog. Xar, a trained, award winning police dog, 82 pounds, born and trained in Czechoslovakia (his trainer, Officer Jason Harvey, uses Czech for commands). Xar is just about 2 years old, still with some puppy characteristics. On a leash, he sat by his officer's feet with his toy, chewing it constantly. His coloring was a dark sable, as Jason Harvey explained, being bred in Europe, this color is more common than in the US. Also, training German Shepherds is a sport there. When Jason first went to the California kennel to select the dog, his team put about 30 dogs through the paces before selecting Xar, for courage, stability, and skill. So when this dog strolled over to me, put his toy on my lap, and "slimed" me, imagine how thrilled I was. He just came over to me, calmly looked at me, and allowed me to pet him for about 2-3 minutes, then returned to his owner. Wow.
Jason told us that Xar is a pack animal, and recognizes Jason as the alpha dog. Xar wouldn't recognize anyone else as alpha, even Jason's wife, as Xar is a 24-hour commitment, living at home in an outside kennel and considered part of the family. But Xar came back to me, looked me in the face for a few seconds, then put his front legs on my lap and kind of climbed up closer (which was fine with me). He stayed there looking at me calmly, until I decided I was a little more alpha than he and just clicked my fingers to command him to get down -- which he did promptly. What a beautiful animal, and very intelligent.
Then we went downstairs to see Xar in action. Here another police officer put on a black trench coat and arm guard for protection (we did see slides of dog bites; Xar is trained to "hold" but if the suspect resists, he will bite to hold his suspect). Here Xar is all attention. He loves his job and works for the reward, the arm guard is his toy. Xar's smelling skills allows him to find hidden suspects (primarily in building searches or out in the field) far more quickly and safely than a human officer; he often finds the suspect before the officer just by smell alone. It was a privilege to meet him.
For more info on Xar and Source of Photo, go to the Gazette Times archives at:  Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Most of the time, if we think of quilting, we think of it as beginning in Western Europe in the 17th or 18th Century. However, research in a fine paper by Kateryn de Develyn. writing on the history of quilting, talks about the very ancient practice of quilting, including several rare illustrations. Some information from her 61-page PDF format paper:
  • Romans used a type of quilt to sleep on (the traditional three layers of cloth, top, cover and filling), which accounts for the spread of the quilt really throughout all of Roman Britain.
  • Evidence of Chinese and Indian quilting came about as Buddhist monks pieced together scraps of cloth that we surmise today came from traveling pilgrims. One site is dated between the 6-9th Centuries at the Cave of 1,000 Buddhas in the Berinda region in India (along the Silk Road).
  • Egyptian sculptures have been discovered showing a pharoah wearing a quilted garment (@3,400 BCE) (though Cynthia is careful to point out that the garment could be woven). More directly relevant to the history of quilting is the discovery of a royal funeral canopy which is actually a quilt made of dyed gazelle skins in a variety of colors. Date 980 BCE.
  • That famous 14th Century shift to significantly colder weather prompted widespread use of quilts throughout Europe.
    Several articles talk about the Crusaders bringing back quilts from the Near East; however, Marco Polo did go to China and quilted armour was used by Chinese, Japanese, and Islamic warriors throughout the medieval period.
    Our humanities book by Gloria Fiero does cover quilting as a popular folkart, mentioning the famous Underground Railway quilts, coded to let runaway slaves know which houses were safe houses on their journey north to freedom and Canada. So, quilts have a very long history, both practical and beautiful. Sorry, no pictures. Kateryn's document has them in PDF.
  • Monday, September 11, 2006

    I'd like to pull together a few writing resources to use for writing, and I liked this site for its inventiveness, along with a few others:

    Resources for Writing:
  • Crawford Kilian's Write A Novel site. I also like his site on writing in general
  • Check out this link for what looks like a daily writing prompt! E-WriteLife Today's prompt to write about the unexpected.

    Tomorrow is the first day of school, with the first half of the day an administrative overview at the college level and the second half of the day an administrative overview at the division level. Lunch happens in the middle, and we may have some time at the end of the day for students or preparing for classes.

    But what is unexpected about tomorrow? (Ah, the creeping writing prompt.) Jane said to approach each day with reverence, to recognize that each day will be the "last day" for me, in this last year of teaching, that I may not again teach certain classes or work with certain people. So, perhaps tomorrow will offer unexpected connections with colleagues I have so long respected and worked hard with. Seize the day! Celebrate the beginning of a new school year with anticipation! Goals! Energy! Hope!

    Summer brought unexpected changes. We were in the Canadian Rockies for a month long camping trip in August when Allen woke up one morning, his back painfully out, and we came home 2 weeks early. Perhaps we camped too close to the Columbia Icefields. I also saw millions of acres of pine trees in British Columbia destroyed by the pine beetle. Too many warm winters. Now stands of red and black dying trees cover mountains in every direction. That was unexpectedly sad for the scope of this natural disaster seems much larger than any one can prevent.
  • Sunday, September 10, 2006

    Women's Fiction with Attitude
    Up to my ears in setting up a good packet to send out to agents for Mothers Don't Die, doublechecking comments on line and was quite impressed with Wylie-Merrick's online presence, which led me to this blog on women and writing. Perseverance furthers! Writers write! Earlier I read about someone who writes every day between 4 and 7 am, and someone who writes for 2 hours and refuses to allow herself any reading time before completing the writing for the day. Yet I'm used to writing between, that is writing between classes, meetings, homework, all the intensity that comes with teaching full-time. And tomorrow school begins in earnest. But my characters are itching to go forward; I'm reading Norm Stamper's Breaking Rank, a memoir by a former police chief of the Seattle Police Dept. Sometimes his insights about the changes in police work break my heart because I was there in Seattle in the 1960s when prejudice against women and minorities was taken for granted. Ah, some change and not enough change. But I'll return this blog again -- for inspiration and a sense of community. Now, back to work!

    Sunday, August 20, 2006

    This morning I spent reading about Daoist painter and poet Chen Rong and his ink scroll painting called Nine Dragons Appearing Through Clouds and Waves, painted in 1244 and some 9 feet by 135 feet. It took me awhile to find his work online since I was remembering his name as Ronin, which means something entirely different, as I found out on Wikipedia, the mother of all these wikis (see below).

    I was thinking about the swirling mist of Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park we just visited in Canada. The way the mist swirls in circles in the second cascade reminded me of Chen Rong's painting, the dragons appearing and disappearing in clouds of mist, a symbol of Dao practice of meditation, with monks able to achieve meditation only fleetingly. Interestingly, the painting was made while he was drunk, a common practice to achieve higher levels of meditation, much like drinking strong tea. Critics today praise his spontaneous flow of lines.

    On Takakkawa Falls in Yoho National Park

    The Cree Indians say Takakkaw: "It is wonderful!"
    We watch as waters, fed by the Wapiti ice field 350 meters above,
    these waters cascade down,
    the first full surge a massive torrent,
    hitting the rocks so hard
    a second cascade flumes out in Chen Rong circles,
    swirling mist of chaos
    out of which dragons come.

    Note from Wikipedia:

    The word ronin literally means "wave man" - one who is tossed about, as on the waves in the sea. The term originated in the Nara and Heian periods, when it originally referred to serfs who had fled or deserted their master's land. It is also a term used for samurai who had lost their masters in wars.

    Read a little more on Chen Rong and to view Nine Dragons at the Boston Fine Arts Museum, you need to use the search feature there.

    Wednesday, July 05, 2006

    Office Meditation, Summer 2006 #1

    This morning stretches quiet before me.
    Now a scrub jay lands on our patio roof.
    I listen to clouds bump together in this early morning;
    The buzz of a motorbike hums through morning quiet,
    Then birdsong returns

    Out of what majestic sense of nature
    Did we ever begin to understand storms?
    Immense clouds building up,
    explained as swirling high pressure/low pressure patterns,
    Rumbling skies numbered and reduced to temperature.

    No wind here, the leaves hang still,
    Almost waiting, almost as if they were another illusion,
    Cherry leaves covering ripe fruit,
    Aspen leaves that tremble in the slightest sigh of wind,
    Just a few of their early summer leaves already yellow,
    Already falling to the ground.

    Image hosted by
    by bluenorther101

    Thursday, June 08, 2006

    So last night I previewed Graffiti Verite! for our last humanities class, a video that makes distinctions between tagging and graffiti art, interviews mixed with wall shots right out of L.A., ending with a plea that this community-based art, which is starting to move into museums and galleries, and people are buying, just to have a piece of this energy, that the artists say is all about "working the cans" and freedom of expression, right after this, not 2 minutes after I've hit the rewind button on the VCR, waiting for the tape to rewind, one of those Fox alerts comes on from Channel 10 news that says Eugene police are tracking down a group that painted graffiti at the college. Don't know more but then this came this morning from webshots, from one of my favorite photographers, Steve Axford. And today in class, we'll talk about the culture of the 21st Century. Hmmmmm.

    Image hosted by
    by steveaxford
    Graffiti in Eugene:
    Graffiti in Corvallis:

    Tuesday, June 06, 2006

    This week marks the end of the term. In Latin American literature we're reading two short stories for our last session: Jaime Manrique's "The Documentary Artist" (influenced by Bartleby) and Jorge Volpi's "Ars Poetica." So before tomorrow, we reread Pablo Neruda's "Ars Poetica" and just perhaps write an "Ars Poetica" of our own. Here's mine.

    Impressions: Ars Poetica

    A long afternoon,
    A singer without a song,
    Leaves trembling on the trees,
    A winged mermaid floats near the ceiling,
    White daisies bloom and fade,
    Voices murmur in the hall,
    Circling boxes and hidden rooms,
    Measured time turns backward while
    Letters unwritten and unread
    Begin to dance.

    More information:
    On Jorge Volpi:
    Wikipedia's definition of ars poetica:

    Thursday, May 11, 2006

    Yesterday I went to a Black Poets Society reading, my first poetry slam. Wow! What energy and rhythm, all hip-hop, performance, even a nice poem called I hate Justin Timberlake, and the style keeps echoing. So this morning's commuting poem came out a little differently. Read this one out loud with a rapper's beat.

    Commute #33

    I was driving to work this morning feeling pretty safe
    when I passed a logging truck doing 60 in his place,
    hauling old growth redwoods chopped out of what premordial forest hung with silence . . to be bark dust? a disgrace.

    Yesterday's image floated before my face,
    grass heavy fields as far as the eye can see.
    Both sides of the road,
    fence lines punctuated by bird song until I got to this place:
    White hooded plastic covered his face, a human spraying
    machine methodically back and forth, making the world safe
    from all kinds of creepy crawly things,
    road straight and narrow out of that place, and
    I ramped it, not spending one second in that space.

    Back to my papers, second-hand books, borrowed books, library books
    and pocket garden, safe,
    no gun carrying, sand-blasted patrol in my neighborhood,
    no night terrors, no police banging, banging at the door,
    no soldiers marching out on election day,
    no one tied up and left to the dogs,
    no people in the streets,
    no people in the streets,
    no people IN YOUR FACE.

    Wednesday, April 19, 2006

    Commuter poem #32

    Melon moon rising out of morning,
    half a moon glowing, dark mountain shadows below,
    not a bird flies across the sky,
    the sky gray to blue to pink, then full sun,
    while the moon,irridescent fingernail,
    still floats at the horizon.
    Overhead, fragile lines of Canada geese punctuate the sky,
    and the first spring green leaves unfurl.

    Tuesday, April 18, 2006

    100 Words --- I finished the leftover buttermilk chicken from yesterday, ate the little salad, splashed ranch dressing on my glasses, and am half-way through the remainder of lunch, room temperature strawberry-flavored yogurt (with an emphasis on flavored), and I was amused at yesterday's random blog, 100 words on whatever. So caught between too many papers, too little time, patches of blue sky mixed with cloud outside my window, and the need for a mental lunch break, I poise over my 100 words. Could this be a long sentence linking impressions of students, hopes and anxieties, but steady progress? A preparation for getting all those critical projects done, including an annual self-appraisal I have little desire to write? A meditation on the meaning of Job (yes, the Biblical Job, which according to Wikipedia means "hostility"; there's a new take on the relationship between Job and God), or an understanding of Lord Byron (finally, a rationale to understand this man who offends me so deeply (a womanizer and brilliant poet who created his identity as the outsider, an ostracized and lonely creative genius), truly unloved yet perpetually seeking love, an entirely new category of Romantic, the Byronic hero, a very dark hero, mysterious, unknowable, and essentially dead at 37 of his own excessive lust. Or do I write the opening vignette for my next novel? Ah, I hit over 100 words. Time to go back to work. --Beth

    Monday, April 17, 2006

    A La Malinche/
    To Dona Marina

    Tu eras morena
    , you were brown,
    like the earth, humble,
    center of the universe in a quiet, isolated mountain,
    or passing, wrapped in rebozo, Madonna on any modern street,
    walking slowly under the sun on any dusty country road.

    Maligned, La Malinche, you were sold, used
    like a dictionary, stretched between Spanish and Nahuatl,
    the voice a bridge between cultures,
    like any worthy woman, bearer of sons,
    mistress to conquistadors,
    married off as the highlight to some drunken orgy
    on some midnight ship, a last joke of Cortez.

    Tu eras la luz
    , you were the light in any window,
    the voice that wakens children from sleep,
    safe from night terrors. Tu eras la violencia,
    you were the violence, the betrayer
    of secrets, the sister of the brother strangled
    in a room of gold, fleeing from palace to palace,
    from hacienda to hacienda, la cantinera,
    camp follower of any revolutionary
    in an age of horses, guns and trains.

    Tu eras placida
    , you were the center of all the paintings,
    rounded arms like leaves growing from the heart of the people,
    a flower and a poem floating legends, Xochimilco,
    strands of flowers woven together, boats rocking,
    I name you the flower, the flowers name you,
    I name you the woman, your womanliness names you,
    You are the flower, and you are the poem:
    We are your children.

    I wrote this poem in response to readings for Eng209 Latin American literature. The events described in this poem actually happened to a woman named Malintzin, first given to Cortez, who became his mistress, bore him a son and acted as a translator. She is credited with saving the Spaniards' lives by warning them of Aztec attacks on the "night of tears," yet the chronicles of that time show she was married to one of Cortez' lieutenants as part of a shipboard party. She was named Dona Marina by the Spaniards but called La Malinche by the Aztecs. Each generation has recreated her image as betrayer and betrayed. Since she remains such a powerful influence over the ages, the poem reflects the passage of time, and the little Spanish in the poem is translated immediately after the phrase. I also tried to echo the images and structure of Mesoamerican poetry here. Beth

    Source of image:

    Additional sources on La Malinche: Wikipedia at and

    Tuesday, March 28, 2006

    Road Signs

    Yesterday a blue heron flew low
    over the road, calm,
    leisurely sweeping across the four-lane highway,
    as if it were a forest, the cars a river, and the day not ending.

    This morning, fog gathered on the road,
    tiny pale yellow lights flashed,
    cars passed,
    pinpoints of light on a journey,
    trees shrouded, not even a tree line
    points at order.

    Fog as far as the eye can see begins to lift.
    Tree shadows line the fields.
    Birds sleep while I wait
    for the sun to burn the fog away with fiery pink and gold.
    Only a line of poplars flames yellow
    and promises sun.

    Image: Tim Barton, Webshots.

    Saturday, March 11, 2006

    Oregon gray sky:
    three Canada geese head north,
    while winter's dark trees
    burst with pink cherry blooms.

    Image: Stephen Matera, Webshots

    Monday, February 27, 2006

    The most interesting discovery this morning while eating breakfast before work, hunched over my computer. Petra has a theater. I knew this outpost was Roman, built at the site of an older Nabatean city, and an important stopping point along the Silk Road, but never had I seen pictures of the theater. The first picture shows the image we're most familiar with, used in Harrison Ford's Raiders of the Lost Ark (I think). It makes sense there would be a theater, but I'm used to seeing the theater as a central focus, at least for the Greeks. For example, at Delphi, the monumental Temple to Apollo is immediately next to the theater and the stadium, at the top of the hill, part of an overall religious complex, fusing body and spirit. But perhaps by Roman times, with urban planning sort of a cookie cutter approach, the elements were just placed -- temple, administration, baths, and theater for secular and religious purposes. Ah, always more research needed and no time. But, I haven't written in a long time and just swiped 15 minutes from reading student papers to do this. Beth
    Source of images:
    Great PDF document that tells a bit more of the history of Petra, earthquakes, and the newly discovered Petra scrolls:'Petra%20Roman%20outpost'