e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu



Made with my dad over the weekend, a quick version of the Italian pastry (pronounced "sfoy-yah-TELL"). You need a toast-tite sandwich iron, suitable for open fires or stove-top burners.

Filling: 3 egg yolks, 1/2 C sugar, 2 tsp lemon extract, dash of salt, 1 1/2 C milk, and 4 TBSP cream of wheat

Cook filling over medium heat until thick and smooth. Let it cool. Butter day-old Italian bread like you're making grilled cheese sandwiches. Place one side in the iron, top with a heaping TBSP of filling, and then the other piece of bread. Close iron, trim away excess bread, and lay on a burner at about medium heat. Cook both sides until lightly brown. Makes about ten "sandwiches."

Let them cool, cut in half, sprinkle generously with powdered sugar. For lemon lovers only.

(One of many ways my grandmother and Italians of her generation combined traditional Italian cooking with the ethos of the gadget-happy '50s kitchen.)


special workplaces

Last Sunday, Detroit Free Press columnist Susan Ager wrote about a departing Henry Ford/Greenfield Village exec. and mentioned he knew by name even "those lowest on the ladder, the ones who sweep the droppings of Greenfield Village horses." Ager got some flack for the "lowest on the ladder" comment and today did some backpeddling, declaring that "The only way to hose the poop from my boots is to apologize, and give these folks a voice." (Essayist literacy in the house!)

So she goes on to quote a teacher who used to do the job, and a real estate appraiser who does the job on the side because he loves history, and the Henry Ford's v.p. who, err, doesn't do that particular job.

I like the end of the column:

I was wrong to write "lowest on the ladder" and I am sorry.
In some special workplaces, there is no ladder. Everybody's essential.

I can't seem to get a read on whether or not she's being sarcastic ("isn't that special"?). An ironic reference to Ford's announcement two days ago that they'll eliminate 30,000 factory jobs, a sobering stat in conjunction with Ager's feel-good vibe. Belletrism's struggle with a moment of conflict, a moment of tension, a moment of material reality.


what's Detroit's food?

Anticipating the Detroit-hosted Super Bowl in two weeks, Derek over at EarthWideMoth asks an important question:
So, as we approach the Detroit Superbowl, I need your help...What's Detroit's
marquee food?
Derek suggests venison, Mackinac Island fudge, and coneys. Yeah, coneys make the most sense, especially with regard to appropriate fare at a Super Bowl party, but arguably (and I know I'm going out on a limb here), the shawerma sandwich has become thee Detroit food. Or am I just being Dearborn-centric here?

My Comp 106 students just read Jerry Herron's essay "Niki's Window: Detroit and the Humiliation of History," wherein Herron suggests Detroit continually denies/obscures/revises its own history. He uses the word "humiliation" to refer to the vague version of pastness that places like Greektown (a geographical locale that probably ought to be "Potowatamie-town," or "Frenchtown," or "Germantown," or "African-Americantown" in terms of who actually populated the place)--a pastness that erases material realities in favor of a marketable and presentable and ultimately generic version of nostalgia.

I think of Herron's piece in several Super Bowl contexts. First, the food issue that Derek brings up. Like I said, I think the sharerma sandwich is Detroit's food, and that dynamic came about because of a very recent population explosion among various middle-eastern cultures in the D. Re-invention and re-vision of Detroit's identity. And the food reflects that of course. As my students pointed out, in their responses to Herron, these metro Detroit re-visions ought not always be characterized as humiliations. Sometimes the revisions are ethical and productive, after all.

And of course I also think of Herron's piece in the context of the well-publicized attempts to create fake facades for Detroit's abandoned buildings. The attempt to--literally--mask blight. Now THAT's the humiliation of history.

Thanks to Derek for the generative post...


shuffle, vol. 1

13 tunes from the i-pod whilst working out this a.m.
  • "Everything is Good For You" Crowded Houses (Recurring Dream)
  • "Dreaming of You" Selena (Dreaming of You)
  • "Turn You Inside Out (Live)" REM (Aural Pleasure bootleg 1995, disc 1)
  • "My Only Love" Roxy Music (Flesh & Blood)
  • "Subterranean Homesick Blues" Bob Dylan (Bringing It All Back Home)
  • "The Roar of the Masses Could Be Farts" Minutemen (Double Nickles on the Dime)
  • "Born as Ghosts" Rage Against the Machine (Battle of Los Angeles)
  • "Human Nature" Michael Jackson (Thriller)
  • "Pick up the Change" Wilco (A.M.)
  • "Fall In Love With Me" Iggy Pop (Lust for Life)
  • "Class War" The Dils (Dils Dils Dils compilation)
  • "Bed Bug Blues" Tommy Settlers and His Blues Moaner (American Primitive Vol. 2)
  • "Can't Catch Up With You" The Gories (Outta Here)


ten miscelaneous things on Saturday night

  • Last week, I posted about Hillary Clinton's pandering. Yesterday, Molly Ivins took on the same topic and said it better. Her column here.
  • Black Cherry Vanilla Diet Coke. Not so good. Could they add a few more flavors to this concoction?
  • Spicy tofu rolls from Noble Fish in Clawson. Very, very good.
  • Movies I hope to see get lots of Oscar nods: Munich, Brokeback Mountain, Murderball. All three are amazing.
  • Got together with old pals today and went down to 6-Mile and Livernois to see the old alma mater beat up on Illinois-Chicago, followed by pizza at Buddy's (pies are half off when U of D wins!). Must make time to see a few more home games this year.
  • First the funeral of Rosa Parks. Last week the Auto Show. Plus the Eminem nuptials. In two weeks the Super Bowl. Detroit's gotten more national media exposure during the past two months than during the four years I previously lived here.
  • What's up with the weather? Spring one day, winter the next. A little snow, a boatload of rain. No pattern.
  • New Pornographers opening up for Belle&Sebastian this Spring, but no Detroit dates. Travesty.
  • Clap Your Hands Say Yeah also touring and there IS an Ann Arbor date. Excellent.
  • Karl Rove continues to urge the GOP to capitalize on the nation's deepest fears. And while he's in the midst of an ethics probe. Nice.


I was somewhat underwhelmed by "Transamerica," which we just saw down the street at the Main. I admired the performance of Felicity Huffman, as "Bree," a pre-op transsexual who is certain she wants to be a woman but not always certain what version of "woman" she wants to put forth to the world. So she acts like a school marm, and she speaks no slang, and she dresses like a tucked-in grandmother, and she seeks out decorum at every turn. Bree tip-toes around, physically and emotionally fragile, worried she might break in two. Huffman's performance is incredible. And yet the story probably relies too heavily on arthouse tropes like the meandering roadtrip, the dysfunctional family, a loathing for "the midwest" (cinematic shorthand: geography stands in for class) and a self-congratulatory attitude toward transgression. But Huffman's achievement goes a long way--the film is well-worth seeing.



Idea nicked from the Ohio Writing Project last summer. When teaching point-of-view, persona, and voice, give students a list of familiar writers, celebrities, politicians, and historical figures. Have students answer the question "Why did the chicken cross the road" in the 'voice' of each individual. On Tuesday, I did this with my creative writing class, using Eminem, Freud, Jerry Seinfeld, Homer Simpson, Colonel Sanders, and Dr. Seuss. A fun diversion, but above all a neat way to contextualize some important writerly concerns. Early in the term, got students comfortable with reading their own words out loud to the rest of us.


3-4:15 Comp II
4:35-5:50 Creative Writing
6:10-9:00 Investigating Academic Literacies (the grad class)


dissent, or lack thereof?

From CNN:
Sen. Hillary Clinton on Monday blasted the Bush administration as "one of the worst" in U.S. history and compared the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to a plantation where dissenting voices are squelched.
How does she know? Did Dennis Kucinich or Maxine Waters *tell her* that dissenting voices are squelched? Probably not, since Clinton likely sees having a conversation with legitimate progressives as being too great a political liability.

At any rate, interesting that Clinton is limiting her remarks to the status of dissent in the *House*, because she certainly can't make claims about what it's like to be a dissenter in the *Senate*. Has she dissented on any major issues? Certainly not Iraq, a subject about which she's towed the (GOP) party line. I had profound respect for Hillary Clinton in '92-93, when she told the truth, loudly, about the health care crisis in this country. A few years later she had the courage to call a right-wing conspiracy a right-wing conspiracy. But since her election to the Senate, she's bravely spoken out on...violence in video games.

Clinton will probably be the next "democratic" presidential nominee, a prospect that would have thrilled me ten years ago. But today, such a prospect seems ho-hum. The Kerry nomination proved the dems are too myopic to go after disenfranchised non-voters. The Kerry loss proved you can't out-republican the republicans. In 2008 the dems will probably learn those two lessons again.
RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said: "On a day when Americans are focused on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Hillary Clinton is focused on the legacy of Hillary Clinton."

I wonder what the H. Clinton legacy will look like. Early years, growing up in a conservative community with a conservative family...she's a conservative. Academic years, enmeshed in leftist youth culture at elite institutions, she becomes a leftist. Family years, married to a moderate, she becomes a moderate. Post 9/11 years, building a political career during years of conservative restoration, she moves farther and farther to the right. And she's speaking about dissent?!

Sorry for the vitriol. There's so much hatred for Hillary Clinton, the vast majority of it rooted in the ugliest sexism the culture has to offer, so I hate to disparage her. But I can't help but look back with nostalgia on the early 90s, years when she represented hope that a progressive voice might someday lead.


MLK Day 2006

Lucky enough to honor Dr. King today by working at the Cass Community Service Center on Woodrow Wilson Street. Three professors and eight students from UM-Dearborn organized their food pantry, which was overrun with boxes of canned food and other donated goods. A day of sorting, stacking, cleaning, and learning about the services Cass provides, notably serving over 20,000 meals a week. The site on Woodrow Wilson also provides transitional housing for those who have found employment but can't yet afford deposit and a first month's rent.

As a commuter school, UMD provides too few opportunities for meaningful faculty-student interaction out of the classroom, so the day filled a needed gap--for both students and faculty members. The Martin Luther King Service Day was established in 1994. This year, upwards of 300 volunteers worked at fifteen sites around the D, refuting the notion that members of a commuter community want to take their classes, go home, and have little else to do with the institution.


New TETYC Editor

Congratulations to Jeff Sommers, my former Miami University colleague, who has been named new editor of Teaching English in the Two-Year College. Jeff has worked on MU's Middletown campus for 25 years, distinguishing himself as a leading voice in the areas of writing assessment and problem-based learning. Great news for the journal and for the field.


The "Four Things" Thing

Via Culture Cat...

Four Jobs You've Had In Your Life:
1. Toll booth operator, Ambassador Bridge (Detroit, MI)
2. Maintenance, YMCA (Youngstown, OH)
3. Intern, Automotive News (Detroit, MI)
4. Assistant Professor, Miami University (Hamilton and Oxford, OH)

Four Movies You Could Watch Over and Over:
1. Wonder Boys
2. The Godfather, Parts 1 and 2
3. Jackie Brown
4. Foul Play

Four Places You've Lived:
1. U.S. Regional Headquarters, PIME Missionaries (Detroit, MI)
2. Dorm Room, Peace&Justice Floor, UDM (Detroit, MI)
3. Wildflower Apartments (Tucson, AZ)
4. a big brick house on Emerson Ave. (Hamilton, OH)

Four TV Shows You Love to Watch:
1. Lost
2. West Wing
(I try to cut it off there)

Four Places You've Been On Vacation:
1. Assisi, Italy
2. Toronto
3. New Orleans
4. World's Longest Garage Sale, Rt. 127, Kentucky

Four Blogs You Visit Daily:
1. Detroit Blog
2. Motor City Rocks
3. Yellow Dog
4. Schenectady Synedoche

Four Favorite Foods:
1. Vegetarian Mole (err, "mo-lay," not the small animal which would negate the "vegetarian" part)
2. Wedding Soup
3. Sushi
4. Peppery Chickpeas

Four Places You'd Rather Be:
1. NYC
2. Caribou Coffee
3. Sabino Canyon (Tucson, AZ)
4. any seafood joint in New Orleans

Four Albums You Can't Live Without:
1. Detroit Cobras--Mink Rabbit or Rat
2. Pavement--Slanted and Enchanted
3. X-Ray Spex--Germ-Free Adolescents
4. Patti Smith--Horses
(Runners-Up: Aretha Franklin--Lady Soul, anything by Kraftwerk and Roxy Music, REM--New Adventures in Hi-Fi, Captain Beefheart--Safe as Milk)

Four Vehicles I've Owned:
1. year one of college: 1981 Toyota Tercel with a "Clergy" windshield sign
2. year two of college: 1985 Honda Civic originally owned by my Uncle Dean
3. year three of college: 1973 Ford LTD Station Wagon that was significantly bigger than my dorm room
4. year four of college: babyblue 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass with a Clinton/Gore bumper sticker

Four People To Be Tagged:
if you're reading this and you have a blog, DO IT.


American Primitive

The words "sprawling," "epic," and "revelatory" are neither inappropriate nor hyperbolic in describing the John Fahey-curated, fifty-song collection American Primitive Vol. 2. This two-CD anthology pulls together gospel, blues, country, and folk recordings from 1897-1939, years when the aforementioned genres were about to split from each other. The songs represented on the collection refuse to recognize any such distinctions. Most are secular and spiritual all at once, northern and southern, black and white (in fact, the curators of the collection don't know the race of some of the artists included). Favorites include:

*Walter Taylor's "Deal Rag." From 1930, one of the later recordings on the anthology, this blues number is pure boogie. The sound is dirty, zero polish, but the melody and attitude match anything on a Robert Johnson record.

*Mattie May Thomas's "Workhouse Blues." The most powerful voice on the collection. She was in prison when this and four other tracks on American Primitive were recorded over a two-day period. Yes, this is straight from the sewing room of the Mississippi State Penitentiary. Her voice is everything you'd expect it to be and more. Oh, and the lyrics...I've got to bring this and play it for my Creative Writing class this term. Check the lyrics: "In the empty belly, black man, in the year 19 and 9. I was a little young hobo, empty belly from all up and down the line. I rambled through the state, baby, all up and down the line. I wrassled with the lions, black man, with the lions on the mountains high. I pulled they hair out, black man, hair out strand by strand. Leaping spiders, lord, began to bite my poor heart. But let me tell you, baby they crawled away and died. I wrassled with the hounds, black man, hounds of hell all day. I squeeze them so tight, until they fade away. I swim the blue sea, with the mountains on my back. I mean, I conquered all the lions and I even turned they power back."

detroit memoir, part two

One of my projects this term is an examination of several recent memoirs written by Detroiters. I've been looking at and thinking about, for example, Down Through The Years by Erma Henderson, longtime president of Detroit City Council. I'm thinking about Henderson's version of intersectionality, about her consciousness that refuses to play hierarchy games when it comes to statements about her own identity, and her constant move to situate that consciousness in the realm of the spiritual. Here's Henderson's voice:

"It is important to be very careful when you make a statement that begins, 'I am.' As you read my story, pay careful attention to who I declare myself to be, using I am. When I ran for Detroit City Council in 1972, opponents tried to tell me who I was and why I would not win. They said I was poor, that I was African American, and that I was a woman. I replied to them that 'I may be poor, and I am African American, and I am a woman, ad I am goig to win this election.' So think carefully about who you say you are. Again, spiritually, you and I are alike. It is only in our thinking that we are different." (8)

What does this mean in light of Detroit's broader community identity? I think Henderson is instructive, for instance, in thinking about recent analyses of "white flight" and/or/vs. "green flight" as (competing) narratives for explaining the population drain. Race and class are facts for Henderson, material realities that she doesn't necessarily separate--and certainly doesn't shy away from critiquing. But is Henderson's critique of Detroit *materialist* in its orientation, given her emphasis on the spiritual?

"Leadership has nothing to do with one's formal education, one's wealth, one's race, or one's age. There is a leader within each of us, waiting to emerge."

Statements like this fill Henderson's narrative. As with much of the language that Henderson uses, it's easy to dismiss this statement as trite, as cliche, but here and elsewhere we see her seemless juxtaposition of identity markers. Intersectionality. She's not denying the realities of race, class, etc., in some kind of "we're all the same" fashion; rather, she's refusing to parse out identity.


work habits

Last term I usually spent four days a week on campus. Tuesdays and Thursdays were teaching days which pretty much meant that prepping, teaching, marking drafts of papers, working with students during office hours, and e-mailing occupied all of my time. Fridays were meeting and miscelaneous catch-up days: Humanities Department meetings, English Discipline meetings, junior faculty writing group meetings, more e-mailing, more marking papers, letters of recommendation, too much web surfing, some reading, a little bit of writing.

That left two writing days, one of which I would usually spend at home and one at the office. Not a bad system in terms of productivity. I wrote a full draft of an article and revised twice thanks to help from the aforementioned writing group. (Just about ready to mail it out.) Also wrote three encyclopedia entries and got them sent out. Worked on 4Cs presentation. Worked on planning two future writing projects: one article on representations of race and class in several recent Detroit memoirs (work done: lots of reading and note-taking, zero writing aside from a few blog posts), and one more extended research project centering on a Wayne State-run "freshmen/community college" initiative from the 30s (work done so far: located awesome archive, began planning out possible generative themes). Refereed several articles. Two writing days: one at home, one at school.

That's more output than most semesters back at Miami, but I never really found a groove in terms of weekly schedule. Also, I was told time and again by colleagues here at UM-D that they were surprised I spent so much time on campus. A common UM-D trope is: "we're a commuter school...that goes for students as well as faculty." The culture of the place fosters (nay, explicitly encourages) working at home. That was NOT the case at Miami. Not that I feel pressured to follow this trend necessarily, but I'd like to experiment with more working at home. Makes sense: I spend just over an hour each day on the commute, and more gas $$ that I'd care to admit. But I have to work against the urge to do laundry, take Hyatt on a few extra walks, and spend practically half the day cooking. So my new practice this term: two days at home, writing, Mondays and Wednesdays.