e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


Day Labor in Virginia and Literacy Crisis On Listerv

Interesting story on NPR this morning about the community of Herndon, Virginia, debating the funding of a day-labor center that some there feel is encouraging illegal immigration. Local right-wing radio, apparently, buzzes with callers complaining about how "unsightly" are the people of color who gather to wait for work at the center. One critic of the worker center, concerned about the aesthetic effect of the center, comments, "It's time for all nationalities to learn to live like Americans. This means learn how to speak English, learn how to have good hygiene, and learn how to use appliances correctly in your homes." Same old xenophobia from the right...same thing said of Italians and Greeks and Poles a century ago (they're dirty, don't share our values, and will pollute the democratic ideals of the U.S., bla, bla, bla).

Striking how much of the criticism of this worker center is about how people of color look, which is, I guess, different. And by extension abhorrent.

Meantime, on a national e-mail listerv for teachers of writing, there rages intense discussion over all that the new Tommy Lee reality show reveals about the illiteracy of college students. They don't read, apparently. Smart criticism of the conversation has already gone on. Of course the issue is not that college students don't read--it's that they don't read the stuff that English teachers want them to read. They're not taking part in the cultures that English teachers most value.

What's the connection between these two stories? Aesthetics and belletrism, of course. Day laborers and Tommy Lee's television sidekicks lack what a community deems to be of high cultural value, whether that deficit involves standing around outside being brown-skinned, or not knowing how to use an appliance properly (where does that notion even come from?), or not speaking the "right" way, or not reading the right books, or choosing to listen to Motley Crue, or whatever. Both are also cases of a community expressing fear and loathing for that which is different. Yikes, they're brown. Oh jeepers, they're dirty. HELP ME...they're getting their news from blogs and yahoo instead of home delivery of the NYTimes. Ohmygod they haven't read as many "good" novels as me. It's about homogenization and the desire to make everyone the same, to obliterate class differences.


new vinyl finds

A post-YMCA stop at Goodwill and a crisp new dollar bill yielded:

* Harry Belafonte Sings the Blues. Great 1958 collection of bluesy nuggets sung by H.B. Highlights include a rendition of "God Bless the Child" as well as Ray Charles' "A Fool for You." Plus, on the sleeve a great essay by Nat Hentoff, later of the Village Voice, addressing how Belafonte draws aesthetically on Ray Charles.

* Oingo Boingo--Only a Lad. Ska-dance-pop-synth-novelty-punk band, led by Danny Elfman before he scored more movies than Randy Newman. From "Capitalism": "There's nothing wrong with making some profit / If you ask me I'll say it's just fine / There's nothing wrong with wanting to live nice / I'm so tired of hearing you whine / about the revolution."

* Bing Crosby--Hey Jude/Hey Bing! Horrible title, and a shaky concept (Crosby singing 60s pop songs) to boot, but worth it for his version of "Little Green Apples." I've got a record by Kate Smith--same exact concept--that's better. But Bing, as the liner notes indicate, is "a gas." A nice precursor to that creepy duet he later did with David Bowie.


tonight I'm cleaning out my closet

(Apologies to Eminem for the subject heading)

I spent two days last week going through files in my MUH office, doing some weeding and rearranging of papers, classroom handouts (some from as far back as my first year in graduate school: 1996), drafts of articles, drafts of diss chapters with Tilly Warnock's just-barely-legible questions scrawled in the margins of every single page (won't part with those), syllabi, seminar papers and notes from every single seminar and practicum I took at both Youngstown State and Arizona, student evaluations, yellowing print-outs of journal articles. Nine years worth of paper. Filled twelve boxes with books. Bubble-wrapped framed diplomas and Diego Rivera prints. Yesterday, I took all of it to a storage room in my building, where they'll sit for the next two weeks, awaiting the movers, awaiting the U of Michigan Dearborn, my new home.

Today's computer file day. Got to make some back-up discs of a boatload of files, save some back-up files to my hard disc space (which I'm told I can access 60 days after my departure), then delete all the personal files off of my (err, the state of Ohio's) computer. Today, I realize, is my last day at Miami University. And while for the most part, I can't wait to start fresh, I'm also a little blue. Three good years...my first academic job.

I'm thankful not to be leaving on a bad note of any sort. Miami's a great place in most respects, both the Oxford and Hamilton campuses, full of good people doing good work. Dearborn's a better fit for me--lighter teaching load, less toggling between what was becoming two jobs (one in Oxford, one in Hamilton), closer proximity to family and close friends, resources in working-class rhetorics for my writing and research, and a more pluralistic and diverse community. Glad to be making the move, but it's still a blue day.

Off to finish packing...



Sad news, the death of Cuban singer Ibrahim Ferrer. Ferrer stands out as one of the masters of the son, the uptempo folk song that grew trendy in the late 90s after the release of the Buena Vista Social Club film. Listen to "Bruca Manigua" or "Marieta" and you can't help but smile...you probably can't help but dance a bit, too.



It's been brought to my attention that my blog wasn't accepting comments. Sorry about that--not sure how that happened. I've turned on the comment switch. Comment away.

I'm taking a break from the writing to cook this afternoon (as I said in last post, won't have that luxury in a few weeks). A friend gave us some unprocessed whole wheat flour from a local mill. Made a dough with olive oil and dried basil. It's raising right now. The toppings are ready to go: spinach, slices of tomatoes, roasted garlic (in the oven right now), marinated mushrooms, and four-count-em-four types of cheese: ricotta, feta, provolone, and kaseri.

Non-Academic Stuff I Read During Summer Vacation #8

Each year, right around the beginning of August, my dad--a teacher for thirty-five years--used to start coming in from his garden with a wistful look on his face, knowing his days in the garden were numbered. That's kind of how I am with pleasure reading. While school's in session, I make little time for reading novels, opting instead to focus on drafts of student work and keep up with scholarship...both 'reading pleasures' in and of themselves, don't get me wrong, but not the same as pouring through a stack of novels from the library, which I take great pleasure in doing during the summer. And I've enjoyed blogging some of my summer fun reading. But the days are numbered.

If you've been reading this series, you know Elmore Leonard's a favorite of mine. Nicole and I just finished his short story collection When the Women Come Out to Dance. I was somewhat disappointed, as the stories lacked the pulpy rhythm that Leonard sustains so well in his full-length novels. Leonard seems to be playing with genre here, and he works hard to develop thematic elements more eplicitly than in his novels, which are always driven forward by plot (and, of course, Leonard's noir-with-a-cheeky-sense-of-humor-like narration). His short stories are all *about* something--at times a bit moralistic, and this isn't what I expect from Leonard. But it's interesting how he uses the genre of the short story to explore marginal characters--wronged wives (one who seemingly has burned down her rich husband's mansion, one an ex-stripper fearful of her abusive spouse), an African-American army vet. in the old west. And Leonard fans like me will get a kick out of stories centering around familiar Leonard characters like Karen Sisco, and even one centering on the grandson of the protagonist, Carl Webster, from The Hot Kid.

Not his best, and not terribly consistent, but an engaging set.


The Dirtbombs

I've been working quite a bit on the Oxford campus as of late (several grad students' oral exams, research in the library, working with this year's MAT class as they finish their Teacher-as-Researcher projects), which has given me commute time in the car to enjoy the latest release from Detroit's own Dirtbombs. If You Don't Already Have a Look is a massive, 52-song set comprised of a disc of originals and a disc of covers, and the songs run the gamut from one-minute punk rave-ups a la The Minutemen to the garage-noise-art they're most known for to funk-soul remakes of Stevie Wonder ("Maybe Your Baby"), the Stones ("No Expectations), and bands you've never heard of (the rest of disc 2). The diversity is a blast--no surprise if you know their full-length records, one of which is a soul record, one of which is a punk record, etc.--and justifies the two-disc format. Oh, and the songs for the most part come from their 45s, which frontman Mick Collins explains in the liner notes is a format he prefers and hence places his best songs there. He ain't kidding. Good stuff, and a reminder of the great music that fills the town I'll call home in three short weeks. Side note re: Detroit music...I see upcoming shows from Sleater-Kinney and The Gossip slated for the motor city--both bands that regularly skip the 'Nati. Welcome back to motown!



Best film I've seen all year. "Murderball," a documentary about wheelchair rugby, shows the sport as an exciting, ultra-competitive, sometimes violent contest. Nicole and I want to find a venue that hosts matches. Part of the appeal lies in the unfamiliarity of the sport and viewers of the film get to learn much about the machinations, the equipment, and of course the players of the sport. The human interest element of the film never slips into sentimentality or pity, relying instead of a more genuine pathos--one that stems from multi-dimensional representation. We get to see these guys being jerks, and also being good citizens/semi-celebrities. We see a coach being a lousy dad, and also a caring dad. But make no mistake, there's also plenty to compell. A recently disabled motorcross enthusiast, at first depressed but later excited to learn about quad rugby. A tenuous and strained friendship between a guy thrown from a pick-up who sustains a spinal injury and the drunken driver/best friend who was driving the truck. I'll say no more. Highly, highly recommended. If there's any justice, this is going to be the year when a documentary receives a best picture nod.

Non-Academic Stuff I Read During Summer Vacation #7

Eric Goodman's Child of my Right Hand. Goodman, a colleague of mine (for about two more weeks) at Miami, does something extraordinary with the narration of this novel, shifting into a faux third-person objectivity for the bulk of the story in order to play with his protagonist's own struggles with his existence as a detached scientist. That protagonist professes the history of science at a fictional Ohio college that clearly draws on Miami for inspiration, and is also struggling with how both he and the conservative college town receive his out-of-the-closet son Simon. The narrator begins two new scholarly projects, one looking at the "gay gene" and its intellectual antecedents, and the other telling Simon's story (which the protagonist/Goodman do with a paradoxical sentimentality and scientific gaze). Simon becomes a compelling, funny, real, imperfect, infinitely likable character in Goodman's hands.

But what interested me most were the not-so-subtle critiques of SW Ohio imbedded in the narrative: the cross burnings, the hate crimes, the rampant anti-intellectualism, the loathing of public institutions. I picked up the book after hearing buzz from teachers in the Ohio Writing Project, ambivalent over the novel's representations of area schools (which don't smell like roses in the book). The book doesn't break any new ground regarding the familiar town-gown divide, which Miami exemplifies, but it's a sensitive and raw account of how lefty profs in these parts often feel, and holds a mirror up to local communities (AND the family culture of higher education) in all kinds of interesting ways. If I were staying at Miami, I'd love to use the book in undergraduate classes. The appeal might be limited for readers outside of college towns, but this is also a truthful look at all kinds of aspects of family life. Check it out...