Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sickness of various sorts

On Thursday, I found my notes from a creative writing class I took during my first year of college, taught by Myung Mi Kim, a poet. Ching-In had recently seen her speak at a panel at AWP, and was completely blown away. She keeps reminding me how lucky I am to have taken class with Kim. I was overwhelmed by what I uncovered: 1. random notes from a Surrealism class I took the semester afterwards, where I had tons of notes on language, including quotes from Octavio Paz. I read Octavio Paz when I was 18?! 2. my journal entries and poetry from class and 3. Myung Mi Kim's notes and feedback. I'm sad that I was too young and insecure to take advantage of the incredible, supportive teacher who was visiting that semester. She was slightly reviled by the class b/c they hated the poetry we were studying, by Susan Howe. Their frustration with the material, which I recall was quite difficult, was taken out on the woman standing in the front of the lecture hall. My forceful and outspoken roommate who quickly fell into bossing me around, took the class as pass/fail b/c she didn't want to hurt her GPA. Being easily bossed around, I decided to do the same, which was a shame: I would have gotten an A. The next semester, I swore I'd never do that again, and ended up with a C in Economics (I had never before and have never since gotten such a bad grade).

Anyhow, the notes dovetail perfectly with all the inner work I have been doing (which is why I've been crying so much). I came out of a specific family experience, went to Ohio at age 17, and was completely dumbfounded by a professor and well-established poet who offered mentorship and guidance. Who offered support that was completely positive, without trap doors of guilt. It took several rounds of her making amazing comments on the backs of my poems, asking me to come talk to her, for me to finally visit during office hours. But I was so scared of offering myself up as a student that I don't think I visited more than once. In a different universe, I would have taken up her generous offers in a second, and in a different universe, I would have become a poet.

It makes me wonder about being a teacher, and how difficult it must be to have promising students who are still not ready to let you in. It's bad enough to have a classroom full of cranky kids who hate you b/c you challenge every notion of reading and writing that they have. I was depressed yesterday while staying home and resting because I read an editorial about how school shootings will never stop b/c it's now just a basic part of this country's fabric. And that gun control is impossible, so we just need to learn to plug our ears and run once we hear gunshots, again. Then, I felt even more depressed this morning while staying home and resting because I read an article about how dumb Americans are and their pride in their stupidity. I suppose I should just be happy that I still read print media, since apparently that's not standard American behavior. It reminds me of how radical books still are, and that reading will perhaps always be an act of resistance.

I traveled on residencies for about a year and a half after grad school, and though I am thankful for many aspects of that lifestyle, I am contantly thankful for the opportunity to have met so many writers. They have taught me so much about the writing life, which has everything to do with the reading life. They helped me renew my old reading habits - my most recurrent childhood memory is of laying on the living room sofa, buried in a book. My parents would take me to the bookstore and I'd come out of the shelves with piles of teetering books. One Christmas, I opened a gift box that would normally house clothing, to find it chock full of books. And I was delighted.

I am moving through the illness (had lots of C, Sambucol, and Serbian potion - ginger, garlic, lemon, honey, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and goldenseal), and thankful to have the forced rest so that I can crack open my Julio Cortazar book.


  1. It makes me wonder about being a teacher, and how difficult it must be to have promising students who are still not ready to let you in.

    That difficulty is something you have to accept, particularly at the undergraduate level; and though you accept it, you continue to try your best to reach them. Good teaching does NOT end when the class does! This is a fact that can buoy up your spirits: knowing that those students may very well have an epiphany a few years down the road, when things you've said suddenly become clear to them. Often, they will get in touch with you to tell you so, and that is just a wonderful experience.

    Feel better soon!

  2. dearest

    which book of Cortázar is leading you to healing?
    l was writing you a long email and...pafffff!!!! disappeared!
    l hope your sickness do the same..

    and, it makes me wonder about how things come to us, they are there for us to see....prepared or not.


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