World Literature, Week 1

I’m teaching World Lit this semester both online and in person. We’ve switched to Blackboard 9 at school; Blackboard 9, how I loathe you.

In addition to reviewing the syllabus and expectations for the course, the first week we look at work from Edwidge Danticat and Junot Diaz, as well as excerpts from South American writer Eduardo Galeano’s collection Mirrors.

Here’s a taste of it!

World Literature, Week 1        

  1. Background materials:
    1. Review a map of the Caribbean, noting of course the location of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
    2. Listen to “A Look at Haiti’s Political History” (National Public Radio, 18 January 2010) and read over “Haiti’s History: Revolution, Subjugation” (CBS Sunday Morning, 18 January 2010).
    3. Watch at least an excerpt from Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates’ documentary “Haiti and the Dominican Republic: An Island Divided.”
  2. READ/REVIEW the following:
    1. “A Little While” (Edwidge Danticat)
    2. “A Year and a Day” (Edwidge Danticat)
    3. LISTEN to >> “Unspoken” (Junot Diaz reads “Water Child” by Edwidge Danticat)
    4. PDF >> “Wildwood” (Junot Diaz). Unfortunately, you’ll need a
      New Yorker account to read this text.
  3. READ the excerpts from South American writer Eduardo Galeano’s collection Mirrors (translated by Mark Fried), a collection of descriptive vignettes that seek to encapsulate the entire story of the human race: see the New York Times review for more; two additional Galeano stories from Mirrorshere.
  4. Many of Galeano’s vignettes are “origin stories:” his creative interpretation of how certain aspects of our culture and human psyche first came into being. Taking a cue from Galeano, post a short (2-4 paragraph) origin story of you: “Where did you come from? Who are you? Where are you going?” and anything else you’d like to include. Feel free to write in either the first-person (“I” pronoun) or even the third-person (“she/he” pronoun). Post your response in the comments section below: see my example.
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An Excuse.

I remember, too; my first year teaching. One of my students told a fellow teacher-friend that, “I would marry a man like Mr. Russell.” That was, too: such a thing to say. Would not marry me, necessarily, but someone like me…

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Lovely.

After the ceremony, after oysters & champagne, we made our way down to the tidal pool to frolic with starfish. The rocks were glittered with them.

Here my friend Anne poses for her 19th century British novel.

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A Lovely Excuse for Sandwiches.

When Anne and Tommy asked me to officiate, I told them I didn’t think I was allowed to do that. But I realized later that I had done it already. I remembered the two of them coming to visit me in Ocean City a few years ago. We woke up one morning and went down to the beach. They said that they wanted to go into the Atlantic, but I declined, favoring a stay on the sand. I remember: watching these two pale figures wade out into the surf, hand in hand. Wasn’t that as much a ceremony, and for me to witness, as this?

What does one say about marriage anymore? My dad has been marrying & divorcing people for 40 years now: for about as long as he’s been married to my mom. I understand the practical reasons why marry still; but why else? I don’t know why; or why an irrational part of me still wants to get married just as one gets sick or gets a new car.

So Anne & Tommy asked me to marry them, and I said yes back in May, but waited until August 12, 2012, to receive my minister’s license, ordained through the Internet, and then waited even longer to think of a proper definition that I could provide for marriage; an appropriate welcoming and framework for the ceremony.

I showed a sketch of my remarks to Zach, a film/philosophy student at NYU, who said, “It could use something ‘more’ but I can’t place what it is;” then admitting, “I just think I’m too pessimistic for weddings in general.”

I read a draft to Robbie as we waited in a smokey casino bar for Alanis on Wednesday. After I had finished, and was spelling out my own litany of concerns about the text, Robbie quietly offered, “You’re usually so eloquent,” which was such a somewhat stinging yet astute thing to say. So last Thursday, in a post-Alanis haze, I was beside myself; fretting over what would be the final summons. My friend Emily stopped over for a moment to pick up a book for class; we sat out on my back deck & talked of love (how our own hearts fill up with the fluid still) & then of marriage, and of her own first marriage. She said, “I remember my husband saying that he realized that my hand was the one he would be holding when our parents died;” and she said she had thought of that recently and was so sad that it wasn’t going to be true, having divorced two years ago. But that is why; that is what I want too, still. But my mom said the other day, when I had returned from the wedding, “All I wanted was for you & your sister to find significant others who would appreciate you. But I’ve given up thinking that will happen.” And that, too, was––such a thing to say.

But we gather here today so that we can offer our love and support to these two. To remind ourselves that we find a sanctuary in each other as human beings.

And my dad, when we were out to dinner the night before I caught my plane to the west coast, said, “Just relax. Relax and have fun. They obviously love you a lot to ask you to do this.” And it must be true; and isn’t that another sort of sanctuary there?

Emily also suggested I look at Shakespeare’s thoughts on marriage; or Jane Austen’s, though hers tend to prefer pragmatism, I find. Or how about: Anne of Green Gables?

Gilbert Blythe knows when he sees his own “long-sought” Anne, looking up at her with “adoring eyes”: “It was to him she was coming in the sweet surrender of the bride. Was he worthy of her? Could he make her as happy as he hoped? If he failed her––if he could not measure up to her standard of manhood––then, as she held out her hand, their eyes met and all doubt was swept away in a glad certainty. They belonged to each other; and, no matter what life might hold for them, it could never alter that. Their happiness was in each other’s keeping and both were unafraid.”

Be unafraid now. Be unafraid to say to this other person: “Ok.” To know that life is difficult, but that we all get through it––so why not together?––so long as you are both going in the same direction already. That you have found a common sympathy. Just as I watched you both do on that day as you waded out into the Atlantic, that you will take each other’s hands many times throughout these ensuing years: in times of celebration, of loss, times of uncertainty, but mostly in quiet moments.

“I plight thee my troth.”

Posted in Marriage & What It Is For, Summer & All | 2 Comments

Creative Writing, Week 1

I returned late Sunday from a wedding this weekend (more details soon) & have found myself a wee bit behind/distraite ever since. Plus, I’ve had Alanis in my head ever since Robbie & I went to her concert in AC last Wednesday. All of this is lovely, but…

All of this is just to say: Remember those free online classes that I promised you? Better a day late/dollar short than never, no?

World Lit will start on Monday, 9/10. Some of you may still be gathering your books anyhow.

I’ll try to get into the habit of posting World Lit on Mondays & Creative Writing on Tuesdays.

Here is some of what I generally assign to my Creative Writing bunnies in Week 1. Do feel free to post your Proust Questionnaire answers in the comments. But hold on to your Jean Stevens pieces for now.

Creative Writing, Week 1       

1. READ >> “No One Can Take a Bath for You: Why I Write” (Nancy Smith)
Click the link to access the article online. Because there isn’t a textbook for this class, all readings will be from online sources. I hope that you will feel free to suggest reading in the comments. I might use some of your links as required readings this semester or in the future.

2. DISCUSS >> “The Proust Questionnaire.” Answer the 21 questions listed below. Your answers to the questionnaire do not have to be in complete sentences. If you do not want to answer one of the questions (if you feel it’s too personal), write something else in that space. Please feel free to post your answers, or a few select answers, in the comments. These questions were first designed by the French writer Marcel Proust and have been adapted (somewhat) by moi. Begin responding to each other’s posts.

3. NOTE >> Begin working on your Writer’s Notebook.
Instructions: Here you will keep ideas/inspirations for your writing: lists, longings, names for characters, quotations from whatever you are reading, an idea for a story, a dream, possible titles for things, favorite words, overheard conversations, observations, and so on. You should contribute at least five items to your notebook each week, though more are of course encouraged. You can also post a link to an outside WordPress or tumblr account where you are keeping this notebook. OR you can also keep this notebook in a Word file or more traditional notebook. Usually I check notebooks throughout the semester. I’ll provide a time/space to share your notebook gems later in the semester.

4. WRITE >> First, read the article about Jean Stevens, who was discovered living with the corpses of her late husband and deceased twin sister last summer. (Yes, it is rather like something out of Faulkner.) Next, write a short creative piece based on the article. Length: 1-3 pages. You can choose any aspect of this article to respond to. It should go without saying that you need to use your imagination to fill in the gaps in the article’s reporting. For example: How did Jean Stevens get the bodies into her house? Did she have help? Who helped her? What condition were the bodies in? Did she talk to the corpses? Did she have tea parties with them? What kind of tea was served at these tea parties? These are questions you might address in your creative nonfiction piece, which we’ll return to next week.

HANDOUT
THE PROUST QUESTIONNAIRE

Answer all 21 questions.

1. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST FEAR?

2. WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT STATE OF MIND?

3. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE WAY OF SPENDING TIME?

4. WHAT HISTORICAL FIGURE DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY WITH?

5. WHICH LIVING PERSON DO YOU MOST ADMIRE?

6. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE FICTIONAL CHARACTER?

7. WHAT IS YOUR MOST TREASURED POSSESSION?

8. WHEN AND WHERE WERE/ARE YOU HAPPIEST?

9. WHAT IS YOUR MOST OBVIOUS CHARACTERISTIC?

10. WHAT IS THE TRAIT YOU DISLIKE THE MOST IN OTHERS?

11. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST EXTRAVAGANCE?

12. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE JOURNEY?

13. WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER THE MOST OVER-RATED VIRTUE?

14. WHICH WORDS OR PHRASES DO YOU MOST OVER-USE?

15. IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT YOURSELF, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

16. WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?

17. WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO LIVE?

18. WHAT IS THE QUALITY YOU MOST ADMIRE IN A MAN OR WOMAN?

19. WHAT DO YOU VALUE MOST IN YOUR FRIENDS?

20. WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO? (WORDS YOU LIVE BY OR THAT MEAN A LOT TO YOU)

21. WHO HAS BEEN THE GREATEST INFLUENCE ON YOU?

Posted in Creative Writing, Free Online Courses, Summer & All, World Literature | 5 Comments

Required texts: World Literature

For anyone who will be following along at home with World Literature this fall, in addition to a trove of free online resources that we’ll be drawing upon, you will need to locate the following six texts:

  1. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  2. Death and the Maiden by Ariel Dorfman
  3. Burma Chronicles by Guy DeLisle
  4. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
  5. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  6. Fasting, Feasting by Anita Desai

There is no required textbook for creative writing.

See you next week!

Posted in Creative Writing, Free Online Courses, World Literature | 2 Comments

Drove the Inferno Orange Car to Dante Hall Last Night.

I stopped to pick up Emily in Ventnor City, who asked, “Something to drink?” and just as I was articulating a no, I’m fine, her not-quite-two-year old son rushed over to me with a Budweiser. Hank handed me the bottle, which I set aside on the table; he talked to me about the planets. I think the last time I came to visit, Hank had mistaken the glowing ball on top of the new Revel casino for a bankrupt moon. (But maybe we all mistook it for that.)

Em & I wended through the streets of Ventnor to Dante Hall in Atlantic City for the first open mic/reading there hosted by the newly-formed South Jersey Poets Collective. My new friend Aubrey really is the galvanizing, inspirational force behind the group, which plans to meet once a month on the fourth Wednesday. (Make a note in your diaries. Program a recurring Google alert.)

Coming soon: A zine-swap! *squeal*
Also: brownies!

The open mic was already in session when we slipped in. After we both read, Winters was called up. His poetry never disappoints.

Winters invokes the muses.

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Open Mic/Reading Tonight––Dante Hall in Atlantic City.

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Free classes this fall: Creative Writing & World Literature!

I’ve gotten a wee bit o’erwhelmed this week in starting to plan for the fall term. I have to run out to the college tomorrow for a hot minute to drop off syllabi to be copied.

These next two weeks are going to be JAM-PACKED, what with preparing for the new semester (though I do so love the fall term; much moreso than the spring; although last spring was rather lovely––I feel last spring I learned more from my students than perhaps they did from me; it’s unfair, but that happens sometimes, it happens…), visiting my sister in Hudson next weekend for her birthday, and flying out to San Francisco over Labor Day to officiate the wedding of my friends Anne & Tommy (say whaatt?). Did I forget to mention that this week I became a minister? I can now get couples hitched, babies baptized, and sinners absolved! ––Step right up; queue forms to the right.

Anyway, I’ve decided that starting this fall I’m going to re-post what we did each week in an advanced section of Creative Writing I taught last spring, and also highlight what we’re working on in World Literature, in case any of you out there would like to follow along at home. I mean, you won’t get credits or anything; but for any hungry, hungry minds out there, I figure why not MOOC myself out?

I’m not really sure how it will all work just yet. In my “real” online classes we have weekly discussions. I might just allow discussion to take place in the comments area. Or if no one has anything to say (or if no one’s there), I’ll still just post up the resources for future reference; sound good?

I expect to start posting the agenda for each week when I return from San Fran; so, shall we say around September 3rd-ish?

Posted in Creative Writing, Free Online Courses, World Literature | 1 Comment

For the Week of August 12th

Saturday, August 11th: Into the city. Pick up free new-members mug from the museum (finally). Drinks at Talula’s Garden; dinner at Jones.

Sunday, August 12th: Breakfast at North End Beach Grill. Laundry.

Monday, August 13th: Fill in at the law office.

Tuesday, August 14th: Fill in at the law office.

Wednesday, August 15th: Chance of thunderstorms. Chance of Effie and the Cumberland Mall. Remember when you used to go to Dry Goods around this time of year for your winter coat when you were just a wee little binky.

Thursday, August 16th: You should be planning fall classes. Storm of ’62 lecture.

Friday, August 17th: You should be planning fall classes.
You didn’t do any planning this week, did you?

Saturday, August 18th: Karaoke and fondue at Caroline’s. Make that almond-avocado pudding you saw a recipe for this week.

Sunday, August 19th: The forecast calls for rain.
And you want it to.

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