e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


seen / heard

Oddities I saw on power walk through Royal Oak this morning:
  • House with manicured front lawn including flower beds with brightly colored bowling balls forming a border around the beds.
  • The bulldozer of a garbage truck scooping trash. A single, hardcover book fell out of the dozer and almost nailed me in the head. The book: Treasure Island.
  • A sign posted on a telephone pole advertising an Insect Zoo. Price of admission: 50 cents.
  • Man with a cigar who appeared to be 95 wearing a white tank top and no shoes giving me the evil eye.
I-pod on shuffle, playing lots and lots of 70s:
  • "Another World" Richard Hell
  • "Damaged Goods" Gang of Four
  • "She Sells" Roxy Music
  • "Raw Power" Rocket from the Tombs
  • "$1,000 Wedding" Gram Parsons
  • "All Apologies (Unplugged)" Nirvana
  • "Zealots" The Fugees
  • "Standing in the Way of Control" The Gossip
  • "Retreat" Minutemen
  • "Lakini's Juice" Live
  • "Joe's Garage" Frank Zappa
  • "The Boy Looked at Johnny" Libertines
  • "One PM Again" Yo La Tengo
  • "All World Cowboy Romance" Mission of Burma
  • "Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing" Minutemen
  • "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" Springsteen


Clerks II

In his profane, often hilarious View Askew films, writer-director Kevin Smith plays Silent Bob. It’s telling that Smith opts to play the role of the guy who doesn’t speak, suggesting perhaps a philosophy that art shouldn’t preach, that art should just shut up and give audiences images, stories, and characters. No need to clean things up. No need to put on a shiny bow. Just the grimy, mundane, boring, funny, and perverted. Then again, it’s also telling that Silent Bob always ends up saying something philosophical and abstract.

Clerks II revels in this paradox. On one hand, the film doesn’t do much cleaning up. Smith tosses plenty of dirt at viewers. A spectacle involving a donkey that’s usually reserved for Tijuana. Fast food workers doing gross things to the food of the customers. Silent Bob’s partner-in-crime Jay (Jason Mewes) doing a spot-on imitation of Buffalo Bill’s creepy “Silence of the Lambs” dance. On the other hand, the film gets quite poignant, placing everyman hero/Clerks protagonist Dante (Brian O’Halloran) at the corner of a love triangle and, more importantly, allowing the slackers of the View Askew-niverse to confront their own difficulties with adulthood and responsibility.

Smith manages to walk this line between profane and profound. The story involves a day-in-the-life of Dante and Randal (Jeff Anderson), presently fast food workers, formerly (in the oringial Clerks, that is) employees of convenience and video stores, respectively. Dante’s engaged to the overbearing Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach) but pines for his cute and funny burger-joint-manager Becky (Rosario Dawson, who turns in a great performance). This admittedly thin and not-very-original plot gives Clerks II a framework in which to be laugh-out loud funny, especially scenes in which Randal berates and debates a goody two-shoes co-worker (Trevor Fehrman) about the co-worker’s devotion to Transformers, his mother, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. And Jay’s Buffalo Bill dance is something you need to see in order to believe.

But Smith also pulls off the poignancy. Dante and Becky are believable as two people who love each other’s company and appreciate each other’s eccentricities. In a nod to real-life, Silent Bob supports Jay’s sobriety (Smith stood by Mewes through the latter’s years of addiction). And of course the best chemistry of all is between Dante and Randal, the slacker Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.

One misfire was the film’s soundtrack. The original Clerks featured grungy tunes (Bad Religion, Alice in Chains, Love Among Freaks) that sounded like they were being played by dudes Dante and Randall went to high school with. The sequel has glossy tunes from Alanis Morissette and the Talking Heads that seem too serious and self-important for the proceedings.

But overall, a funny piece of work. Kevin Smith junkies and pop culture obsessives will love it. Casual fans of Smith’s work will appreciate the simultaneous maturity and immaturity. And, apparently, Joel Siegel will hate it.


cooking indian

Indian restaurants in Metro Detroit leave something to be desired, ranging from bad (Passage to India in Berkley) to mediocre (Star of India in Ferndale) to good but sort of pricey (Priya in Troy). Indian food's better made at home anyway. And the leftovers always taste better than the first time around. Dinner tonight...

Peppery chickpeas, one of my all-time favorites. Onion, lemon, cayenne, coriander, turmeric, and lots of black pepper. In the pan until the peas start to pop. Usually I garnish this dish with cilantro, but the parsley outside's going wild, so I made a substitute. Not bad.

The chicken marinates in a masala of cumin, coriander, turmeric, garlic, and ginger. Later, sauteed with coconut milk, lemon, and a couple chiles. Garnished with cashews.

Cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and a couple dried chiles hang out in some olive oil until the smell of the seeds fills the kitchen. This is the base for the veggies (today I added carrots, cabbage, and potatoes), pictured below...

You could substitute most any kinds of veggies in this dish.

Spices at the ready in the handy masala dabba. L-R, starting at top: turmeric, coriander, cayenne, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and ground cumin. Ground ginger in the middle. All available on the cheap down in

Dosas on the griddle. This is the first time I've made these. Nicole loves them. Basically a pancake made of several kinds of flour and ground up cumin and sesame seeds.

Here's everything on the table:

new Belle&Sebastian video

Thank goodness for YouTube and other sites featuring home-spun videos juxtaposed with found, stolen, and forgotten 'professional' clips. The weaving together of do-it-yourself aesthetics, fandom, and reverence for the weird. Among other by-products of YouTube, a rennaisance in my own appreciation for the artform of the music video. I haven't really kept up with the form since junior high. Of course in the early and mid-1980s MTV created (much like YouTube is doing right now) another artistic moment characterized by bizarre juxtaposition: epic storytelling (Duran Duran), avant garde iconography (Devo), on-the-cheap found clips (Donnie Iris), kitsch (Toni Basil or ZZ Top), and the triumph of image for its own sake (Talking Heads).

Who knows what the by-products of YouTube will be? Who knows what musical movements, fads, fashions, logics, poetics, and rhetorics will come about as kids grow up with YouTube? Already my nieces and nephews have filmed their own series of horror films (Insanity Man--sorry, no link, not yet available online). In some ways, the descendents of backyard plays for the neighborhood, but more than that too.

Anyway, that's all set-up for a link to a great new video from one of my favorite bands, the great and eclectic Scottish twee-pop collective, Belle&Sebastian. The song is White Collar Boy. The music takes what Pulp did in the 90s with working-class narrative (a la Common People) and applies the formula to middle-class professionalism. Part Sex Lies and Videotape, part Bridget Jones, part The Office. A follow-up to the white-collar sequence begun on their last album (with songs like "Step Into My Office Baby"). The video itself incorporates slapstick, sexual politics, and, of course, the bizarre. Enjoy.


missing may

No, the title of this post does not refer to the desire for it still to be the beginning of summer.

Instead, Missing May is the title of a moving short novel by young adult writer Cynthia Rylant, which I read on the recommendation of one of my Writing Project students this summer (each year participants in the program turn me on to at least a few books that I end up loving--all of which tend to be books I'd never pick up without their suggestion).

Missing May tells the story of young Summer--perpetually bounced from relative to relative--and her Uncle Ob who are grieving the death of Aunt May, a person responsible for much of what is good in both Summer and Ob. A sad but redemptive story. But two other characters make the book resonate. First, Summer's quirky and good-hearted chum, Cletus, who has a passion for found art. Second, the West Virginia landscape, which becomes a living, breathing person in Rylant's world.


other publishing news

Waiting for me back in Detroit when I got home from Ohio yesterday, the new issue of Community College Journal of Research and Practice, featuring my article "Community Colleges, the Media, and the Rhetoric of Inevitability." Rejection letters and harsh peer reviews still sting, but successfully placing a piece still feels very, very good.

Open Words

The inaugural issue of Open Words is now available online and in print. Hat tip to the new journal's editors, John Tassoni and Bill Thelin, for the vision and also the tenacity to get the publication up and running. Open Words will focus on issues of literacy, social class, and educational access, attending to the teaching of writing in open-access environments. Kind of a Journal of Basic Writing or TETYC with closer attention to critical theories. This looks to be an interesting venue for scholarship. Information on submissions available on the website above, as is contact info. for John and Bill. While you're checking out the site, take a look at the last article, by yours truly, "Why Basic Writing Professionals on Regional Campuses Need to Know Their Histories."


southern (Ohio) cooking

Tomorrow the Writing Project four-week comes to a close. Participants have the afternoon off to work on their final portfolios, due bright and early tomorrow. I hosted the class this afternoon in dorm, where I cooked some good old-fashioned southen eats. Macaroni and cheese from scratch, with four different cheeses. Real simple collard greens, prepared with garlic, a dash of vinegar, salt, and cayenne pepper. Crusty bread. Alright, I wimped out on the latter and went with store-bought, whaddaya gonna do? Good teachers. I'll miss 'em.


freedom summer

My temporary home this summer is just a few steps away from Miami University's Freedom Summer memorial, pictured above. The memorial takes the form of an outdoor ampitheatre, an open-air performance space. Upwards of 1,000 volunteers--including large numbers of college students--took part in non-violence training here at what was then called Western College (a small women's liberal arts college that eventually merged with adjacent Miami U).

Then, they headed down south where they registered close to 2,000 African-Americans to vote. Two of the volunteers became martyrs when the KKK murdered them in attempt to dissuade voter registration. Here's to the memory of those martyrs. May our teaching honor the justice work they begun.


those American Express ads

So my co-teacher this summer has this great writing prompt she uses with her junior high students and she brought the idea to our classroom yesterday. She uses those cloying American Express ads wherein celebrity endorsers fill in data about themselves. You've seen the ads in popular mags--Ken Watanabe, Ellen DeGeneris, etc. letting you know little tidbits about their personalities. Anyhoo, we used this writing prompt first thing in the a.m. and got some good stuff. I've had a character bouncing around in my head and used the prompt to get me working on a story, which I've been working at like crazy over the past two days. Here's the prompt that got me going:

Name: Myrna
Ambition: Become the next Shirley Jackson
Fondest Memory: Drive-in with her dad for monster movies
Soundtrack: Zeppelin records
Retreat: Toolshed with a book and a flashlight
Wildest Dream: Open a wax museum
Proudest Moment: Getting an adult library card
Biggest Challenge: Making conversation
Alarm Clock: None--wakes up on her own
Perfect Day: Snow day, stay in pajamas and read
First Job: None yet (she's 14), but in two summers she'll wash dishes at HoJo's
Indulgence: Pork rinds
Latest Purchase: Digital camera to start a photoblog
Favorite Movie: Anything Ed Wood
Inspiration: Dorothy Allison
My Life: Social Anxiety Disorder, undiagnosed
My Card: Library

I rarely write in bursts but quickly spun four pages of Myrna's story. Cool prompt. Thanks to awesome co-teacher.


images first

Yesterday we hosted a visit from Jane and Will Hillenbrand, children's author and illustrator respectively. The Hillenbrands collaborated on a beautiful story of friendship, What a Treasure, inspired by their son's love of moles and shovels.

Will showed us his journal, his "playground," which he carries around constantly, making thumbnail sketches of animals, objects, and people who strike his fancy. He quoted C.S. Lewis: "Images always come first," and encouraged writers in the audience to keep this insight in mind at all times. Lewis started with an image: a snowy landscape with a lamppost by a glen. The beginning of the Narnia books. The seed.

I was reminded of a story my advisor when I was an undergrad. told constantly about William Faulkner. He started The Sound and the Fury--one of my favorite novels--with an image of a little girl with muddy underwear climbing a tree. The beginning of the Compson books. Another seed.

What thumbnail sketches are bouncing around our heads? Which end up in our journals or on our blogs? Which images and seeds disappear like nighttime dreams that are gone forever by the time we step out of the shower?



Most 4ths of July I think back to Spring, 1989, ninth grade, and my school's production of 1776, an ideal show for our all-boy Catholic school. The musical centers on the signing of the Declaration of Independence, with catchy numbers about what the national bird should be, who should give up his weekend to write the declaration, and how hot Philadelphia in July could be centuries before air conditioning. I had a pretty good role, Robert Livingston, delegate representing New York at the Constitutional Convention. Even had a solo in which I offered an innuendo-laden set of excuses about why I should NOT be the one to write the declaration since my wife was waiting back in New York (something about "popping the cork," which I sung with a cracking, Greg-Brady-esque voice).

Kudos to the school for restoring the song "Cool Conservative Men" to the production. The track , which painted right-wingers as anti-democratic and pro-monarchy, was cut from the musical's film adaptation under pressure from the Nixon administration. But the lefty priests who ran the school adored the song's lyrics and included it. Alas the following year, the school modified the script of Sondheim's Sweeny Todd to cut out Judge Turpin raping Lucy Barker. If you're keeping score at home, I played Beadle Bamford in the latter show, and sang yet another song (this time with a notably deeper voice) full of innuendo, "Ladies in their Sensitivities," in which the Beadle gives love advice to his boss, the rapist Judge. A little irony from Mr. Sondheim.

Happy 4th.


a musical 4th of July weekend

Back home in the Motor City for a four-day weekend. Got in Friday night in time to head over to Hamtramck with my pal Jason to catch Low Water at The Belmont. Guitar-driven power pop, straight outta Brooklyn. Good band lyrically, too, with a Modern Lovers-esque fixation on brokenheartedness. Check out the band's attempt at slapstick over at YouTube.

Last night Nicole and I headed downtown to TasteFest...excuse me, Comerica (sigh) TasteFest, where I enjoyed some catfish and waffles, courtesy of the New Center Eatery's tent, followed by miscelaneous dessert-type selections from Sweet Potato Sensations. N. and I sat in the shadow of the Fisher Building and caught the Hard Lessons' performance. You've got to love a band made up of ex-schoolteachers. Actually, you probably DON'T have to do any such thing, but still. As usual the HL's rocked the joint, closing with a Neil Young cover as tasty as the Sweet Potato Pie we were munching on.

Good to be home.