Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Monday, August 26, 2013

student debt under the lights

General Electric (CNBC) takes time out from lighting the world to swoop in late and sell advertising off the student-loan bubble. When I watched, I saw race (three white people with white-collar jobs in a report on a black family with significant intergenerational student-loan debt), and I thought that it would be disingenuous not to share that aspect of it with you. The show's anchor, like our President, is the perfectly middling-hued gent Melville waxed utopian about in the middle of Moby Dick, so no doubt, despite the segment's visual rhetoric of a race-to-obligation correlation, we are rowing toward a greater America than ever before. Or, at least increasing our collective debt. . . on your oars, ladies and gents!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

the most in over a year

Yesterday evening, I swam 36 lengths, or a half mile, slowly with breaks over 30 minutes. But this was the most swimming I'd done in at least a year, nearly tripling my largest lap number of the summer, and so it makes me certain I'll be swimming a slow mile again soon.

So forget any aforementioned failure. I'm a big success.

In other news, I've seen Mark Edmundson's name popping up in The Chronicle of Higher Education and The New York Times, and I wanted to mention that his memoir Teacher: The One Who Made the Difference was also a book I'd read that led me to write my own version of teaching although my setting, of course, would be the adjunct scene of urban higher education.

Like some of my all-time favorites, Edmundson's memoir was one I chanced upon while browsing in a brick-and-mortar bookstore, and I enjoyed his writing about a favorite twelfth-grade instructor, a passionate fellow who dared Mark and his classmates to resist conformity (but soon after that year ditched teaching for law school). It was a nice complement to Boston Public and the testimony of various friends and family members caught up in the K-to-12 teaching life as well as Felicity and my own teaching and tutoring schedule. With television and work, what else could I need?

Following up on the coincidence angle, it was of course Wes-MOOC President Michael S. Roth who wrote The New York Times review of Edmundson's book.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


In the basement stacks, I chance upon Jillian Weise's The Amputee's Guide to Sex and the first poem I turn to, "The Scar On Her Neck," mentions the year 1909 in its fourth two-line stanza: "Appolinaire was held captive/ in 1909, on suspicions he stole/ the Mona Lisa."

I don't recall F. D. Reeve mentioning this tidbit in his 1909 course, but I'm sure he would have appreciated it.

Anyway, I was down there, at the bottom of Cooper Library where literature is known to dwell, trying to hunt down some of Reeve's writing as well as the Harry Mathews novel he'd recommended to me twenty-two years ago. As it turned out, Clemson doesn't own a copy of The Sinking of Odradek Stadium or the Reeve I was most interested in, his Robert Frost in Russia, but I did find a Reeve edited Great Soviet Short Stories as well as Harry Mathews's far more recent My Life in CIA. It all came full circle when it turned out the only slim volume of Harry Mathews criticism on the shelf had as it series editor Clemson's own Frank Day, a professor whose status was "emeritus" when I shared an office with him for half a semester during in the spring of 2008, my second semester in the South.

Alas, now it's time to leave poetry and fiction writing and get back to the basic business of business writing. My life in general ed. . .

Monday, August 19, 2013

F. D. Reeve

The spectacular intellectual as polyglot and bricoleur, Professor F. D. Reeve, passed away this summer. He was one of my favorite professors and personalities at Wesleyan University, and in the spring of 1991, I was fortunate enough to be enrolled in his 1909 class. Against the common catalog of course titles such as "classical philosophy," "modern poetry," and "Soviet literature," this was probably the most creative idea for a class I'd ever encountered.

The conceit of the seminar was that everything assigned, and there was too much good stuff to list here, was either written in 1909 or concerned that year or its neighbors, the turn of the century, etc. A main theme of the class was that despite American and French revolutions that had occurred over 100 years previously, the turn of the century was when class boundaries truly began to dissolve and the "Western world" moved into a distinctly more egalitarian period. Of course, Professor Reeve had a sense of humor about such sweeping period divisions, and his humor was partly why the once-a-week seminar was fun to attend.

So it's with some irony then, that for financial reasons, concerning money, if not class exactly, I had to graduate in seven semesters and shove almost seven course credits (equivalent to twenty-one credits at most schools) into that final season of Wes. For this reason, I certainly couldn't read every three- to five-hundred pager included on his book-a-week syllabus, but Professor Reeve did say all kind of unusual things when we'd meet, and a couple readings I enjoyed were Carl Schorske's Fin-De-Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture and Roger Shattuck's The Banquet Years.

F. D. Reeve was indeed Superman's father, or I should say that the actor Christopher Reeve was his son. Reeve Sr. was a larger than life figure and the kind of prolific talent who wrote novels, poetry, criticism, and then did translation in his spare time. Yes, quantity and range of publication should not be seen as everything, but with all overworked adjunct issues aside, Dr. Reeve was the sort of fellow who could make the rest of us walking into classrooms and calling ourselves "professors" feel somewhat like we're merely pretending, and our ranks are no doubt full of folks too scared or dishonest to admit as much. (This is one reason I always tell students to call me "Alex" unless that makes them uncomfortable.)

Around the time I was in Reeve's class, most likely summer of 1990 or 1991, he appeared at the Borders Book Shop in Philadelphia, the old one at 1727 Walnut Street off Rittenhouse Square and gave on-the-spot translation of a famous Russian poet. That Borders would be where I first worked after college, and those bookselling years were when I did my most substantial drafting of Cartoon Bubbles from a City Underwater, at the time titled The Appendix on Spark Park Poops (indeed!). Although I was reading a lot of fiction by John Barth, T.C. Boyle, and Don Delillo, I'd also dabble in philosophy, "critical theory," history, and the rest of it, so I enjoyed the fact that the old Borders had a copy of Reeve's The White Monk: an essay on Dostoevsky and Melville on the shelf. The policy soon changed, but when I worked there in the early nineties, Borders would procure a single copy of thousands of academic books, not merely the Michel Foucaults as Vintage paperbacks or Simon Schamas with glossy pages and photos, and the store was its own incredible contemporary library.

Before I drift too far from Reeve, I wanted to mention that Professor Licht from The Betrayal of Times of Peace and Prosperity is not Professor Reeve (and the Ward campus is not Wesleyan), but if I'm not mistaken, Superman's dad did bring a bottle of white wine and Dixie cups to our last seminar meeting, and so he is in a way an inspiration for my fictional character although he didn't say or do anything that Herr Licht does or says in my story.

I took reading courses almost exclusively as an undergrad, mainly history, political philosophy, and literature, and I handed in fiction three times for assignments, and he is one of two professors to be quite encouraging with his comments (the third fellow regretted that I wasn't funny). Anyone who has had me as a teacher, read me as a blogger, or spoken to me on the phone might appreciate that although Reeve's comments were generally positive, he suggested I hold off on the "ramblin'" and also that I read The Sinking of The Odradek Stadium by Harry Matthews. For whatever reason, I never read the book, but in honor of Reeve's passing, I'll try to do so this school year.

I hope I return to this and clean it up, maybe make the words conform more to the mood or moment of obituary, but for now, here is more information about Professor Reeve's life and work, and here is a Wesleyan Connection notice and writing from Wesleyan's current king of the MOOC, I mean president. (Roth's course on "The Modern and the Postmodern" seemed to be a free, fantastic online course I toyed with enrolling in even as I wondered about its negative economic impact on the rest of us knowledge cogs.) I learned of Reeve's passing somewhere on the homepage of The New York Times, but at the time of this writing I was unable to find that obituary.

Thank you, F. D. Reeve.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Another thing I liked about Dan Fante's Point Doom is that the narrator is 44 years old when the action takes place. It made me feel like a bit less of a failure, reading about this other 44-year-old who can barely stay sober and off his mom's couch. (It should be noted that I'm writing this from a soft chair in my mother's living-room area although that isn't my permanent residence.)

Also, I'm almost certain there was a 44-year-old lurking in the shadows of the next novel I read, Dave Newman's excellent Pittsburgh novel, Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children, but I don't think it was Richard, a background character and officemate who I could relate to somewhat in his sensitivity to the meanness of an aggressive student (I should say, thankfully, no student has ever thrust a pen at my head). I also just found this great review of that book that mentioned Fante and his buddy Mark SaFranko in the first paragraph.

My daughter knows I'm 44, and for fun, she told a 66-year-old that I was 88.

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