e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


Thursday Miscelaneous

Tonight we do the walk-through of our new house, in anticipation of tomorrow's closing. What a long process. And the paperwork, ay caramba. The pessimist in me is waiting to learn of a new glitch or to hear that we forgot to sign something. But hopefully twenty-seven hours from now we'll have the key to our place. Hopefully.

Shout out to Anna, who is recuperating quickly. Be well! Luckily you ARE the only member of our family who can tolerate pain.

Having a great experience teaching Laurie Halse Anderson's Twisted in my advanced exposition class. Great discussion today. I'm ready for the great writing I know is going to follow. The civic engagement class is starting to show some fatigue (it's midterm time, so I'll try to understand why discussion was a bit sluggish this week), but the projects are exciting.

Much stuff going on. With any luck, this weekend will be all about cleaning and painting AND staying caught up with the schoolwork.


Van Halen Review

Last night's big (big as in over the top, big as in capital-A Arena rock, big as in the corny hats David Lee Roth cycled through during his costume changes) reunion show disappointed exactly nobody in attendance at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Van Halen included in the two-hour-plus set every big single they released during Roth's '77-'84 tenure with the band: "Pretty Woman," "Panama," "Dance the Night Away." The fiftysomething Van Halen brothers, Eddie and Alex, did big guitar and drum solos, respectively.

Pacing was one of the show's strong suits. Roth kept the banter to a minimum and mostly let one hit fade into the next. Essentially, the band has no ballads ("I'll Wait" is a possible exception) so the high energy sustained itself for over two sweaty, high-impact hours. The shirtless Eddie looked like he spends most of his waking hours with a personal trainer. Gone, it appears, are the VH riders calling for booze and the infamous M&Ms in their dressing rooms and tour buses.

Eddie's 16-year-old son Wolfgang played bass guitar. He sauntered on the stage's catwalks a few times, notably during the bassline intro to "Running with the Devil," and bought some funk-influenced style to his playing. You can tell he's grown up not only with the records his dad made in the decade before his birth but also with the rap-rock hybrids of the last decade. The youngest member of the band also assumed most of the backing vocals, flawlessly, and essentially turned "Pretty Woman" into a duet with David Lee Roth.

Low points? Few far and between. Roth missed a couple vocals on the verses of show opener "You Really Got Me," a song whose lyrics are known by most folks who have ever listened to classic rock radio in their lives. And his extended (err, rambling) introduction to "Ice Cream Man"--delivered while strumming on an acoustic guitar--was a bit surreal. In a Woddy-Guthrie-via-hair-metal flourish, Roth talked about the band's days as a garage band in suburbs where the streets are all named for trees that have been torn down.

Usually when it comes to concerts I'm a Yo La Tengo or Bloc party guy, but you can't beat a hard rock show for good times. The crowd's more concerned with rocking out than looking cool. I've never seen so many Def Leppard t-shirts in my life. Sorry Pink Floyd and Megadeath, Def Leppard is now the band that sells more shirts than records. I overheard *multiple* conversations about Def Leppard t-shirts ("is that the Pyromania tour, third leg, shirt?"..."did you get that at the Joe Louis show in '88?"). And while I applaud the Palace's vigilance, asking for I.D. at the beer stand was completely unnecessary. There was one teen-ager on stage and about two in the audience.


on wimping out

No easy way to say this. I punked out a few days ago in a big way. I took the wimpy, quiet route and regret it. Someone spouted the vilest, most cartoonish and extreme hatefulness I've heard in some time and, though I expressed displeasure, I stoppped short of saying "That is ignorant and I reject every premise, every piece of garbage and hate that just came from your mouth." That is what I should have said. That is what I am saying now, too late.

Calling out racist hate is an obligation. This time I failed.

What did the hate speech sound like? Unrepeatable (not in the least clever) terms that referenced Barack Obama. References to his support of gay rights that talked about his love of "perverts." Maybe the worst part was the praise of Ann Coulter, who has made a career out of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism. She offers NOTHING to political discourse except racism. She's not smart. She's not original. She has no redeeming qualities. I can think of no explanation for her celebrity aside from her racism: the (sublimely inaccurate) suggestion that "all terrorists are Muslims," the free and unrestricted use of terms like "raghead," etc.

These laudatory comments about Coulter were made in front of people who happen to be Arabic and Muslim, and should have been challenged more strenuously. Not cool. And maybe they were said in part to get a rise out of me. If so, then I regret that I in any way inspired such sentiment. I only see the person who said these horrible, horrible things once a year or so, but I see good people who are black, gay, Arab, or Muslim every day. Not cool.


Today I turn 34. How to spend a birthday? Well, for the past four hours I've scored placement essays for our writing program. Now I've got two hours to eat my Lean Cuisine and comment on mini-papers from my Civic Literacy class. Then across campus for a Civic Engagement Project steering committee meeting. Then, go home, eat a quick dinner, and head to Auburn Hills to see Van Halen's big reunion show at the Palace. Cheesier evening? Impossible.

Just a few years ago, I used to get a lot of "You seem too young to be a professor." I hear that less and less. For the first few years out of grad school, colleagues thought it was okay to ask my age (and it WAS okay...I didn't, and don't, mind). I get that question less and less.

I wonder what year 34 will bring. At 4, I learned to read and, at least once that I remember, walked to Catone's fruit market up the street to watch my brother and sister get off the bus; the nuns at my pre-school had Italian accents so thick that I used to pronounce the sign of the cross "In a-da-name-a-da Father..." At 14, I left home to enter seminary; a lot of the priests were Italian but by then the white-kid-from-Ohio accent was in FULL effect. At 24, I got engaged, spent part of the summer in the U.K., bought a truck, and moved 2,000 miles away to get my Ph.D.

Old. Or, at least, older. And the list of things I'm thankful for is longer than that decade-old drive from Youngstown to Tucson. Glad to be in love. Glad my dog Hyatt is so cool. Glad to work a job that pays me to write. Glad to work, period. Glad to be less lonely than I was at 4, 14, or 24. Glad to have pretty good health care. Glad to have friends that like to do stuff like play cards and go see Van Halen that have abso-friggin-lutely nothing to do with their jobs. Glad to go to Gesu Church. Glad to teach. Glad to have ears that can hear rock and roll music. Glad to be a home-owner in four short days. Glad that Alice Sebold has a new novel out. Glad that George W. Bush only has another year in office.

Yesterday, downtown at Crossroads Soup Kitchen, I ate lunch with a woman with no legs who lives on the streets in a rickety wheelchair, and who took more joy from her bologna sandwich and her electronic yahtzee game than I've seen people take from sushi and lives of the comfiest comfort. I wish I'd had extra batteries to give to her. I hope I remember her for the next year. I hope I remember all the things on my list for the next year. Disclosure: I also kinda hope I get the "you seem too young to be a prof" line sometime during the next year.


pumpkin pasta

For five or six years, this has been our definitive fall dinner. In the summer we plant sage in the yard expressly for use in pumpkin pasta. We only make it in October, not only because that's when pumpkins are available, but also because the dish becomes that much more special due to anticipation.

1. Peel and cut a small pumpkin (about 3#) into small cubes. Keep the seeds from the pumpkin, spread on a cookie sheet, and sprinkle with kosher salt; dry them in the oven: about 375 for five minutes, then shut off and leave them until dry.

2. Sautee in big dutch oven about 8-10 slices of diced bacon (I like the low-fat turkey version), a medium diced onion, and a good handful of fresh sage cut into ribbons; drain fat if using regular bacon. Add a can of chicken or vegetable stock and a dash of black pepper and a generous dash of allspice and bring to a boil; lower heat, add about 1/4 cup of heavy cream, and let simmer uncovered, on low-medium flame, for about 20 minutes. Here's the bacon, sage, onion, and pumpkin:

3. Boil water and cook a # of rigatoni or your favorite pasta al dente. Drain and add to pumpkin mixture. Add about a cut of good, shredded parmesan cheese. Add the dried pumpkin seeds. Stir well. Add more stock or cream if needed.

4. Enjoy:

a memory, and another, both with postscripts

Memory 1
Winter. 1990 or so. A diner in the middle of rural Wisconsin. I'm about 17. The temperature hovers right around zero degrees. I'm eating pancakes with about ten classmates, most of whom are first-generation Vietnamese-Americans, and one of the priests from our seminary, who is driving us back to school after Christmas break. Our waitress blows a bubble, re-fills Fr. Francis's coffee, scans the table, and says, "So, like are you guys a math team or something?"

(Quick-witted but vaguely creepy clergyperson) Postscript: I would tell this story to another priest at the seminary, who would then tell me that the same waitress once asked him if a group of a dozen students he was eating with were all brothers...winking at the waitress, this priest responded with something like "yes, they're all brothers, but they have different moms."

Memory 2
About a year later, another diner. Somewhere between Youngstown, Ohio, and Detroit, where I'll be catching up with the carpool back to Wisconsin. My older brother, a friend of his, me, and one of my classmates, who had spent the holiday at my family's house. Again, on our way back to seminary. My classmate is Mup, a nickname that means something like "Chubby" or "Fat" in Vietnamese. Mup is one tough guy, plays on the seminary's football team, more stocky than anything. Mup's been in maybe two or three "American" restaurants in his whole life. He scans the menu, reading its words without a firm grip on the syntax of diner lingo. When the waitress asks what he wants, he says, "Two eggs, any style." Waitress: "How do you want your eggs?" Mup: "Any style."

(End of Animal House-style) Postscript: Mup would drop out of the seminary a year after me, start composing music, get a degree in music composition, spend a few years tuning pianos in Detroit, and then get married and become a first-grade teacher.

(From the "awkward small talk" department) Postscript #2: During another vacation, Mup and his nephew Minh visit beautiful Youngstown, Ohio. A friend of my mom comes over for dinner and, meeting Mup and Minh, says, "So, yins are Vietnamese."



I can multitask. I can multitask. I can multitask.

That's the mantra for the next three weeks or so, the sanity-preserving mantra that is. We have bought a house--barring, that is, any eleventh-hour wierdness--and close on October 26th. Less than two weeks. Whole lot of packing to do between now and then.

This coming weekend would seem to be the obvious time to get much of the work done, right? Wrong. Friday night we leave for a quick trip to Ohio for the annual Apple Butter fiesta on Saturday (for readers not in the know: a yearly party at my parents' house that involves making a huge kettle of apple butter outside whilst food and beverages are consumed and hayrides are enjoyed). Can't leave until Friday night, as Nicole's in court in the morning and I've got three, count 'em three, meetings on campus that day anyway. Saturday night after the party, drive back to Detroit because our church runs a soup kitchen for the day on Sunday and Nicole and I ended up on the organizing committee. Still this week, donations to be fetched from various vendors around the city. Urgh.

Oh yeah, plus the normal work stuff: papers to grade (that's today's big task), revisions on a book chapter to finish (I think the deadline's mid-November, but I need to check), an NCTE committee to get organized for (I think that can wait until December, thank God), ongoing meetings of the Civic Engagement Project. And I think I'm cooking for my sister-in-law's rehearsal dinner next month, to be held in the aforementioned house that is 1) not yet in our posession, and 2) in need of paint (at least the room that's currently hot pink). I foresee drinking much beer at that wedding.

I know there's stuff going on in November that I'll probably miss. The Jesuit teach-in/protest at the SOA in Georgia. A nice Tegan & Sara and Northern State double-bill at Detroit's famed St. Andrews Hall.

Thank the stars (or the promotion and tenure committee) for this term's course release. Oh yeah, and for the cool house too. Pictures of said house will appear here around the turn of the month.


more on lists

As promised, my mom's top ten. One of the writers over at Stylus did this a few years back. Well, actually what she did was to have her mom actually make the list. And the Stylus list was cool for a lot of reasons, but mainly for highlighting how the thin the line between hipster and geek really is. The Stylus piece essentially said, here's my mom's definitive list of cool songs, and in doing so illustrated how completely awesome self-indulgent writing can be (a point Geoffrey Sirc makes in his article about Kurt Cobain's journals and the teaching of writing). Here's what I take to be my mom's top picks, with commentary:

--"Good Morning, Good Morning" by Judy Garland. Mom camps it up with a little Judy Garland. This has got to be first on the list, if for no other reason than the countless times she's probably sung it (only in the morning of course).
--"Walking After Midnight" by Patsy Cline. It's just a fine song.
--"We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister. Again with the androgyny. I don't know why this song has always resonated with mom. Maybe the "Animal House"-riffing video? Maybe the timeless theme of the lyrics?
--"It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" by REM. Wow. Four for four on the andorgynous singer trend so far. As Rory Cochrane says of Martha Washington in Dazed and Confused, "She's a hip, hip lady." Same can be said of mom.
--"Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens" by Louis Jordan. I've read Jordan was one controversial dude, what with some of his racier ditties and his wild stageshow. Mom's all about the controversial!
--"Beans and Cornbread" also by Louis Jordan. Gotta have one food-oriented song on the list, and she and my dad both dig this one.
--"Oh What a Beautiful Morning" from Oklahoma. Campy songs about the morning? She loves 'em.
--"King of the Road" by Roger Williams. Folky standard.
--"Guadalajara" by International Mariachi America. When I went to school in Arizona, my mom used to love to come visit and hit the local mariachi scene. Guadalajara's a good choice, but you could subtitute any of the other standards.
--"Ya Ya" by Buckwheat Zydeco. I can't explain her affinity for zydeco music, but she digs it. This is a good closer, too.



Usually I start my classes (creative writing, composition, anything) with a poem. Today I read Naomi Shihab Nye's "Kindness," which includes the following:

"Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth."

Here is a link to Nye's "Letter to Any Would-Be Terrorists."

and now for a serious post

Yesterday I'm working at Caribou Coffee: sipping a coffee, reading a stack of articles from JAC, taking notes. A balding, 60-ish African-American gentleman at the next table alternately makes business calls ("the Novi property has depreciated...I drafted the work order...pull up the spreadsheet") and punches data into a wireless device of some sort. Later, a younger guy--also dressed the part of a businessperson--joins him and they talk shop.

Finished with business, the older guy says the following: "You know what my next playlist is going to be? Songs that don't suck by bands that suck." Then he brainstorms titles for his mix, including Dokken's "Breakin' the Chains." I would have gone with "In My Dreams," but, hey, dowhatyalike. Plus, great conversation to overhear.

Not an easy list to make. I scan my memory for a Dave Matthews Band or Sheryl Crow song I like, but can't think of one. I try to avoid easy targets like the rap-rock hybrids of the late 90s. I come up with the following:

-"Talk" by Coldplay (Kraftwerk homage, 'nuff said. Plus, bonus points for smart lyrics about conversation as a technology.)
-"Somebody to Shove" by Soul Asylum (Another band that, to me, is boring and another entry that pays homage to an elder artist, this time Jefferson Airplane.)
-"Anyway You Want It" by Journey (I know, points deducted for shooting at an easy target. I would have gone for "Stone In Love" but this gets the nod due to Caddyshack).
-"Abacab" by post-Peter Gabriel Genesis (I have no explanation. I also have no clue what the lyrics mean. I have a vague memory of seeing this video on a snowday in like second grade.)
-"Photograph" by Def Leppard (Another blurry memory: a skating party in about third or fourth grade where a bunch of kids wore faux leather pants with bandanas tied around their legs in some kind of odd Punky Brewster-Joe Elliot mash-up.)
-"Taking the Long Way Home" by Dixie Chicks (Unlike about a billion people, I like their politics but their music, not so much. They seem really nice but they also seem like the result of record company focus groups. But this tune makes me like optimistic songs.)
-Other ideas? Use the comment section to add a title or refute one of mine.

Of course Stylus comes up with brilliant lists:
Songs Featurin' Present Participles or Gerunds with Dropped Gs.
People Who Should've Been Drafted into the Wu-Tang Clan.
Things I Hate About Top Ten Lists.
And, of course, My Mom's Top Ten Songs.

I'd like to tackle the latter topic and compile unlikely songs my mom used to always sing. And also, songs that made me really sad when I was little. Stay tuned for those.


interesting research project

I wonder what dates in the past ten years have seen the most individuals sign off of the wpa listserv. It would be interesting to get a list of those dates and then see what threads were active on those particular days.

Like many others, I tend to sign on and off periodically. I sign off as my interest in the discussions decreases, and then I sign back on (and lurk...I've probably only posted five or six times over the years) as I grow curious. I've talked to lots of others who do the same.

Back to this project...might be curious to see what threads seem to have caused people to lose interest. I pose this question as list activity once again gets busy. The discussion started as a conversation about the possibility of organizing child care services at 4Cs and has led to several sub-threads, including one about whether or not having kids is harmful or helpful to society at large. Kids are a) good, b) bad ... discuss.



In the service learning course this term, one of the first moments of direct contact at our work site consisted of the following comment: "Where did all the white girls come from?"

The students and I had car-pooled to the site for a tour and an orientation session. Naturally, the comment became part of our discussion during the subsequent class. The students and I observed that the comment struck a dischord for multiple reasons. The blunt articulation of identity markers just isn't part of "university talk." The marker "girls" potentially condescends and offends and has certain kinds of historical weight (male bosses calling adult women "girls").

How to approach such a comment? First, with an open discussion where we (not just, or even primarily, me) talk about the rhetorics (the multiple dimensions, the multiple contexts, the multiple uses--all of which are competing, contested, overlapping, and contradictory) of the comment. One of those rhetorics: our identities as outsiders who don't have the right to impose a certain kind of talk. Another: our human right to dignity. Another: the ways gender informs the comments' meaning. Another: the ways race informs the comments' meaning.

Were the young women in the class offended by the statement? If so, as women? As members of various racial and ethnic identities? Turns out, not at all. One Arab-American, muslim woman made the comment "Nobody's ever called me a white girl before," which brought levity to the discussion. The consensus was that these were adolescent guys responding to college women. The consensus was also that to pay too much attention to the comment would serve to reinforce racial stereotypes (young African-American males as threats) and a troubling hierarchy (outsiders/college-types coming into a setting and dictating the "rules" of how to talk).

Fair enough. As a learning moment, the discussion nicely highlighted the importance of contextualizing language and analyzing multi-valent meanings/contexts of discourse. And yet, I hope that we didn't gloss over the gender implications with a "boys will be boys"-esque trope.

(x-listed in the rhetoric of civic engagement)


I Heart First Drafts

I've probably blogged this thought seven or eight times before, but I'll say it again. Revision gives me little joy. I love composing and first draft writing, which almost always feel creative, new, fun, and energizing.

Revision, not so much. I love being done with revisions. But going back to a piece of writing and actually engaging in the work of revision seems, well, slower. Even when making big-time changes, I don't usually capture that feeling of newness.