Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I Stand By My Longstanding Position

"Peggy Sue Got Married" is the essential overlooked Buddy Holly song. It never shows up on the compilation albums. I haven't heard it in so long that sometimes I feel like I have only imagined its existence.

A Teaching Exercise for Ernest Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”

I run my short story unit as a discussion class where we collaboratively come up with a close critical reading of the story at hand, which seems to be an effective, largely enjoyable approach. Nonetheless, the students really get a boost of energy when there is a bit of variation in the read-discuss pattern. For example, with Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Gimpel the Fool,” I divide the class in half, and hold a debate on whether Gimpel is a fool or not. There is plenty of evidence for both sides, and without exception the kids have gotten behind their positions, searching through the texts for passages to support their claims, and often continuing the discussion off and on throughout the semester.

With Ernest Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” I have had success dividing students into small groups (say threes), and having them come up with slogans for each of the three main characters, Francis, his wife, and Wilson, the hunting guide. In coming up with a catchy motto for each character the students have to understand their behavior and motivation, their fears and goals. I have been quite impressed with the identifying phrases the students (10th graders) have come up with, and the way they have explained them. It’s also for them a lengthy story with a narrative chronology that is somewhat hard to follow, and this exercise gives them clear entrée to the characters and their inner lives, which then allows us to look at the narrative with a fair understanding of the story already under our belts, rather than starting out by tripping over the order of the events.

Here is a sampling:

Flip-Flop Francis
The first kill is always the hardest
A boy to a man
Too little, too late
In like a lamb, out like a lion
Man up
The brave coward

Red face, black heart
Wilson: friend or foe?
Bravery gets results
What can killing do for you?
The great white hunter
Hunt, kill, sleep with someone's wife
Wilson: standing his ground no matter what.

Margaret Macomber
Beauty begets betrayal
Kiss and kill
Murder is (not) my middle name
Easy and sleazy
I shot my husband but I did not shoot the buffalo
(I’m) in it for the money
Money > Love

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


If ever there were a word whose reputation was deserving of rehabilitation it would have to be dilettante. The connotations with it are usually negative. A dilettante is a dabbler, one who lacks commitment, perhaps a step above a ne’er-do-well. A quick glance at the OED shows that was not always the case.

1. A lover of the fine arts; originally one who cultivates them for the love of them rather than professionally, and so = amateur as opposed to professional; but in later use generally applied more or less depreciatively to one who interests himself in an art or science merely as a pastime and without serious aim or study (‘a mere dilettante’).

I find it interesting that the OED uses the term amateur there, for that is another word that is often used near disdainfully, but its roots are in the Latin word for love. An amateur is someone who does something out of passion rather than for recompense. And think about it, if you apply that to the act of love, who wouldn’t want to be an amateur? The OED identifies dilettante as coming from the Latin word delectare (to delight). Again, what a wonderful quality!

When George Plimpton died, Rachel Blount wrote in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, “What athletes created through muscle and reflex, Plimpton translated with wit and keen observation. In that gift, he remains unsurpassed. Plimpton himself said, “There are people who would perhaps call me a dilettante, because it looks as though I’m having too much fun. I have never been convinced there’s anything inherently wrong in having fun.”

Through his writing, editing, publishing, and participation in the pleasures of life Plimpton made this world a richer, more interesting place. If you doubt this, simply watch When We Were Kings, the documentary about Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s “Rumble in the Jungle.” Plimpton’s pleasure and energy become ours, and in his role of interpreter he gives meaning and order to the film.

It’s enough to make me hope someone someday might call me a dilettante.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Against Bestsellers

"If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking."
—from Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Twice-Cooked Food

When I fire up the grill, it doesn’t seem worth cooking just one meal, so I usually put on something for another day as well. Twice this spring while cooking up traditional grilling fare like burgers, dogs, and brats, I’ve thrown on a salmon filet or two afterward to use at a later time.

Leftovers have a bad name; they’re second rate, like hand-me-downs. They aren’t something to offer guests other than close friends or family in very informal situations, but a twice-cooked dish seems to me a legitimate meal. A pot of chili, stew, or rice and beans can provide meals for me for a week, and in my youth I was fond of cold pizza for breakfast, but twice-cooked food takes on a form different than the original food. It isn’t mere leftovers. Not only that, the term lends it a certain legitimacy (or at least I like to think it does). A twice-cooked dish sounds more appealing than leftovers—after all, there are already twice-baked potatoes and double boilers. And, the salmon cakes I have been making, golden brown and crispy on the outside while tender and flavorful inside, are definitely guest-worthy if the occasion calls for it, but perhaps more importantly for me, they also please the palates of two young boys.

I use Ron Berg’s recipe from Northwoods Fish Cookery as a guide, though I have been substituting shallots for garlic with great satisfaction, which is saying something coming from a garlic lover. I make a simple dip for it by combining bay powder and mayonnaise. The truth is I don’t know which I like more, the salmon cakes or the zesty mayo.

Training Log: Slogging

For the third consecutive weekend I got in a run of over five miles, but none of them have been easy. I have yet to get in the groove on any of these outings. My ankles still feel tight and weak (each in its own way), and every mile has offered numerous tempting opportunities to give up. I’m just one week away from the beginning of my 18-week training program, and I’m glad I’ve got those runs in, but I would feel better about starting the official training schedule if I felt a little more at ease during at least some of my workouts.

Question of the Day

A few days short of his fifth birthday, Zen Master W challenges a widely used sportscasting statement: “In a game where the score is zero to zero, how come the announcers say, ‘There’s no score yet,’ when the score is zero to zero?”

Well, philosophers, linguists, and other honored guests, I do believe the boy has a point. Though neither team has scored, the game does indeed have a score. Chalk another one up for the little guys.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Chronicle of Minor Negligence and Irresponsibility (pt. 3)

Six Things I Didn’t Do Last Week:

• Clip my toenails.
• Dine with a Middle Eastern potentate.
• Dine with a scion of American industry.
• Take home a puppy from the humane society.
• Take vows of any kind.
• Sing along with The Everly Brothers in the car (though I do confess that I did sing along with Van Morrison’s Moondance, the album, not the track, which I skipped each time it came around).

Sunday, May 18, 2008

For English Teachers Only: Poems to Teach Alongside Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five

• “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen
• “why must itself up every of a park” by E.E. Cummings
• “next of course to god america i” by E.E. Cummings
• “i sing of Olaf glad and big” by E.E. Cummings
• “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” by Randall Jarrell
• “On Being Asked to Write a Poem Against the Vietnam War” by Hayden Carruth
• “Plague Victims Catapulted over Walls into Besieged City” by Thomas Lux
• "At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border" by William Stafford

Friday, May 16, 2008

Bipolar Runner’s Disorder

I mentioned recently how easily I can go from Walter Mitty heights of imagined glory to the equally convincing depths of unworthiness during a single run. Well, the same thing happens (perhaps not surprisingly) from day to day as well.

Last week I had a couple of very successful runs. On Thursday I finally broke the 30-minute barrier for the first time in 2008 with a four-mile run, then on Saturday I went six, my longest run since November 2007. I felt like I had broken out of my rut, and was on my way to being in good enough shape to really start my marathon training program.

Of course, the two runs after that were sluggish and disappointing. I barely made thirty minutes one day, and opted for twenty the other. The bad runs were followed by two days off, when I either didn’t have time to run, or didn’t make time. One of them I woke up early enough to sneak in a workout, but I couldn’t convince myself to get out of bed. Two bad runs followed by two days off had me questioning whether I had any right to be attempting a marathon. I certainly didn’t feel like a real runner.

Yesterday, after the two days off, I went out slowly and had a relatively decent run. I was weary by the end, but I picked up my pace over the course of the run rather than flagging in the later stretches, and perhaps even more importantly, the ankle joints that have been extremely tight all winter and into the spring are loosening up, so I felt like I was running instead of just shuffling.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Chronicle of Minor Negligence and Irresponsibility (pt. 2)

Five things I didn’t do this week:

• Go to church.
• Swim laps at the Y.
• Spray chemicals on the lawn.
• Plan the ascent of a major peak requiring Sherpas and oxygen tanks.
• Go to a honky-tonk looking for trouble.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Good News!

The route I've been running that I estimated at around three miles is actually 3.5. That means I've been going a touch farther and a touch faster than I had been giving myself credit for. A nice boost on an off-day—added a couple miles to my weekly milage with a few clicks of the mouse.

Training Log: Bits & Pieces

Three runs in the last five days, which means five workouts in seven days. That’s right about on target. Off-days are important, but they always make me nervous. I’m afraid that things are going to come up immediately afterward, and all of a sudden I’m going to have three or four off-days in a row, and lose conditioning.

I haven’t gone over thirty minutes yet, and two days I only got in twenty minutes, one because of scheduling constraints, the other because I just didn’t have it in me. It’s amazing where the mind can go even during a short run. Within a mile or two, I can feel good enough to think I could set a time goal, and tear up the marathon course (at least by my personal mediocre middle-age standards), and before I know it, I’m feeling like the idea of even completing a marathon will be an impossible stretch, a set up for failure and embarrassment. Both mindsets are completely believable to me—within minutes of each other!

The best run of the last three was yesterday in a downpour, which was the best once since . . . the previous one in a downpour, which got me thinking about weather. Minnesota’s two marquee marathons, Grandma’s and Twin Cities, used to practically guarantee cool weather (ideal for 26.2 miles); however, in recent years, they have resembled long-distance saunas. When I ran Grandma’s in 2006 (my first and only marathon to this point), the humidity at the start was frighteningly close to triple digits, and by the time I hit Duluth, the sun was baking the streets of the town, with no shade anywhere. When I watched the 2006 & 2007 Twin Cities Marathons (both sunny, hot, and humid) I was happy to be on the sidelines cheering and had no desire whatsoever to participate. Part of the reason I decided to register this year was because it’s been such a cool, gray spring that I managed to convince myself that October 5, 2008 might actually be a traditional, cool autumn day. I’ll be crossing my fingers for the next five months on that issue.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Chronicle of Minor Negligence and Irresponsibility

Five Things I Didn't Do This Week:

• Change my oil.
• Iron my shirts.
• Cross the state line.
• Dance.
• Enter The New Yorker's Cartoon Caption Contest.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Training Log: Day Two

Gray, rainy, and windy all day, 40 degrees at 5:15 according to the State Farm agent’s about a mile into my run.

The trees are on the verge of leafing out, something they may be regretting tonight if we get snow as predicted. I got thirty minutes in the hard way this evening. It’s hardly inviting weather for a workout, but once I got the kinks worked out, it was my best run since . . . well, since the last time I ran in weather like this. At least until the last half-mile home stretch which was directly into the wind and rain.

Afterwards, apropos of nothing except perhaps his dad’s seemingly foolish run in the blustery weather, R. asked if I was ever going to run another marathon. When I told him I had just signed up for the Twin Cities, his face lit up, as did his younger brother’s, and they raised their palms to me for high fives. An unforeseen bonus! Great to have their enthusiastic support!

Training Log: Day One

A few weeks ago I started toying with the idea of signing up for the Twin Cities Marathon. I had all but decided not to enter when I learned that two friends had registered, so due to peer pressure and the idea of camaraderie and the other ideas (fitness, accomplishment, it's not going to be any easier to attempt such a thing a year or two down the road, etc.) that had me considering the marathon in the first place, I decided to go ahead with it. Buyer's remorse settled in pretty quickly, but 48 hours later I got my first training run in, so things are underway.

Made it 30 minutes without stopping today (with the exception of two brief red lights). Five months to add four hours of endurance. I think my weekly basketball game is wreaking havoc with my ankles. Only one more month of that. If I can make it through that without getting injured, I want to think the ankle joint tightness will ease up.