Wednesday, March 31, 2010

“Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers.” --César Chávez

Today is César Chávez Day. Chávez was a farm worker, labor leader, and civil rights activist. He got his own stamp in 2003 and eight states officially recognize today, his birthday, as a holiday. Wisconsin is one of them because his work in the western part of the US led to the founding of Obreros Unidos, an independent agricultural labor union in Wisconsin.


Tracy ChapmanYesterday was Tracy Chapman's birthday. If you aren't familiar with her work, she's the lady who sings "Give Me One Reason." She's known for the political messages in her songs and has been quoted as calling herself a "hopeful cynic." I sometimes feel that way too, if you haven't noticed.


What Is the What (Vintage)My current obsession with Dave Eggers has led me to his book, What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, which tells the story of a Sudanese man, Valentino, from his early days in Sudan to his time as a refugee in Ethiopia and finally his life in Atlanta. It is at the same time fictional and nonfictional, and though Eggers wrote it, Valentino is the speaker.

The nonfiction novel has become my favorite almost overnight (or at least as quickly as it turned from gray Farch [the ugly time between snowy February and sunny March] into full blown Spring). I love that this is a true story, yet creative license has been taken to streamline unimportant events while highlighting others. A lot of my writing has little by little crept into nonfiction territory over the past year, which either means my imagination is failing me or my real life has suddenly become way more interesting.


As soon as I have $1,000 that I don't owe to St. Norbert College, my landlady, or the government, there is a program guaranteed to make my life more interesting. VaughanTown is a week-long immersion program in Spain, except it's the Spaniards who are being immersed in English, not the other way around. They need native English speakers to be conversation partners and in exchange, room and board IN SPAIN is taken care of.

I have the travel bug again, so this is looking very attractive. I remember Holy Week in was crowded with tourists, but by that time I felt more like a local and people were asking me for directions. I miss waking up in a foreign country with an entire day to lay out on my balcony and contemplate the fact of being in a foreign country with an entire day to lay out on my balcony.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Faster Than a Cannonball

[I wrote this short story several years ago, but only recently submitted it to Graphos. It was in the Fall 09 (last semester's) issue.]

My guitar sat in the corner of my already crowded room, untouched, for the first week after I got it. It was a birthday present from my mom, who thought I would want my dad’s first guitar as some sort of memento thing. I mean, don’t get me wrong—it was a beauty: an acoustic with cherry wood finish worn smooth from use, ivory inlays, and brand new strings. But it wasn’t an iPod (what I really wanted), and even more importantly, I wasn’t a musician (what my mother really wanted).

When I announced two years ago that I would be dropping band class in order to pursue a more suitable hobby (painting), my mother’s only comfort was that she wouldn’t have to pretend to enjoy my saxophone playing anymore. I inherited none of Dad’s musical genes, to Mom’s disappointment, and all of his bad hair genes, to my disappointment. I also inherited his name, Terrence Baxter Glenn (again to my disappointment), but usually stuck to Baxter, for obvious reasons.

“Why don’t you play something Terrence?” Mom asked when she first gave it to me.

“Well, I don’t want to break it, or…”

“Oh, come on, just a bit. Please? For me?”

“Okay, fine. Just don’t hate me. Here goes.”

I picked up the guitar, took a deep breath, and probably killed any small animals in the vicinity by strumming. It was that bad.

“Well, we can’t all be Jimi Hendrix,” Mom said, swallowing hard and not meeting my gaze, “maybe we’ll get you some lessons.”

But we both knew that wouldn’t be happening anytime soon, not with Mom’s paycheck from Merriam’s Supper Club, where she played hostess, waitress, and bus girl. (Don’t be confused by the name. Merriam’s was no more a “club” than I was a musician, and Merriam himself was a recovering narcotic whose burgers just so happened to be adequate, if not at least filling.)

Instead, I used the guitar as a sort of ultramodern art deco statement in my room. As in, it sat in its stand right next to my easel and held my Dodgers baseball cap. That is, until yesterday, when Dinkman came over.

Dinkman is my best friend, by default. Both plagued with embarrassing names (Dinkman is his last name. His first is even more repulsive, and he would kill my hypothetical firstborn if I even hinted at it.) and a less-than-stellar reputation with the ladies, we immediately bonded upon meeting each other in the second grade. If there is a difference between Dinkman and myself, it’s that Dinkman is a better liar. He can, and does, fool himself into thinking he’s great at anything—cooking, sports, brain surgery—no matter how dreadful the outcome of his overconfident actions, whereas I accept myself for the pathetic artist that I am. So when he picked up my guitar yesterday, even I wanted to give him a wedgie.

“Dinkman, what are you doing?”

“Well, I’m about to melt your face off, if you have to know.”

“You look ridiculous. You aren’t a guitar player anymore than I am. See the name carved into the back of the fret board?” Dinkman looked, nodded. “T. Glenn. That’s my dad, the only person who should play that guitar. As a matter of public safety.”

“Whatever, Bax,” Dinkman said. Then, taking a deep breath, he played the opening chords of “Champagne Supernova.” It sounded a bit strange, but only because it was Dinkman, strumming away. He didn’t look like any guitar player I had ever known, with his two-inches-too-short khakis and ketchup-stained polo, sitting on my bed, head bent over the guitar, tongue out in determination. But he was playing as if he’d been taught by Noel Gallagher himself.

“Um…do you want to explain what just happened?” I asked once he had finished.

“That. That just happened,” Dinkman replied.

“No, Dinkman. You don’t play guitar. That could not have just happened.”

“I know, right? I’m amazing.”

Of course, I had to try. I was sure I was going to be horrible, and sure enough, Dinkman actually cringed.

“You’re doing it all wrong, man.” This from the guy who falls up the stairs.

“What do I do? I just want to play some chords. Anything to prove that I’m worthy of owning this thing.”

“Just…hear it in your head. And play it.”

“You have got to be kidding. Who are you, Ghandi for the aspiring guitar player? Maybe I just need to warm up,” I strummed tentatively, but nothing. Dinkman smiled.

“Not so easy for the starving artist I guess,” he said. “Want to go to my house and play Halo?”

“What? Are you kidding? You played the guitar. Maybe you could teach me. We should start a band or something,” I said, ideas for band names already forming.

“Bax, let’s be serious here for just a minute. Do you know the percentage of musicians who actually make it to the big time?”

“Probably the same percentage of girls interested in us, which is to say not a big enough percentage to even mention.”

“Yes. Wait, what? Speak for yourself, Bax, I’ve got tons of girls interested in me. Now let’s go play video games and drink Mountain Dew in my basement.”

That kid is going to do great things some day.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The grass is finally growing and it shows in my Earth-friendly reading list.

What happens when people are confronted by world issues? They typically enter one of the following cycles:

Cycle of Cynicism:

1. Finding out about a problem
2. Wanting to do something to help
3. Not seeing how you can help
4. Not doing anything about it
5. Feeling sad, powerless, angry
6. Deciding that nothing can be done
7. Beginning to shut down
8. Wanting to know less about problems
(repeat to apathy)

Cycle of Hope:

1. Taking personal responsibility for being a good person
2. Creating a vision of a better world based on your values
3. Seeking out quality information about the world's problems
4. Discovering practical options for actions
5. Acting in line with your values
6. Recognizing you can't do everything
(repeat to better world)

Sleeping Naked Is Green: How an Eco-Cynic Unplugged Her Fridge, Sold Her Car, and Found Love in 366 DaysThe Better World Handbook: Small Changes That Make A Big Difference[From The Better World Handbook: Small Changes That Make a Big Difference, quoted in Sleeping Naked is Green.]

Clearly I tend towards cynicism and need to make a conscious effort to break into the cycle of hope. I recently picked up Sleeping Naked is Green at the Kress Family Library during one of my weekend bike rides (I'll be okay if winter never comes again) and I like it because:
a) The author, Vanessa Farquharson, pays homage to No Impact Man .
b) She admits and expects failure at some levels during her year-long green experiment.
c) She starts off highly skeptical of this whole green movement, the flakish/cultish characteristics of its members and the reality of its impact.

Each day she takes one more environmentally friendly step, which makes it manageable. I appreciate that fact that I've already incorporated some of her steps into my life, like turning down the thermostat and pulling out more socks and blankets, switching to electronic bills/bank statements, unplugging electronics when not in use, recycling, cutting down on meat consumption, picking up litter...all little things that require no real sacrifice yet are a step in the right direction.

Friday, March 26, 2010


After another lengthy bike ride this afternoon, I still don't know what to do with this funk.I don't want to be angry, especially since my anger will be misdirected. That's half the problem--I don't know who to be angry with. Here's the deal:

We now have 3D televisions. Cool. Also, nearly one billion people in this world still don't have access to clean water. Today. In 2010.

One Billion People.

The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About ItIt's not your fault any more than it's my fault, but (to quote someone smarter than me) it's all of our problems. Why?
Because, "A cesspool of misery next to a world of growing prosperity is both terrible for those in the cesspool and dangerous for those who live next to it" (Paul Collier, The Bottom Billion).
Because, "In this age of blurring borders and interdependence, human suffering anywhere poses risks to stability everywhere" (Climate Change & Global Poverty).
 If these reasons seem selfish, it's because they are. Helping others is helping ourselves because a developed world would mean less health problems worldwide, more available trade markets, better educated citizens, happier citizens...the list goes on. Global development is only as complete as our least developed regions.

Besides our own benefits, though, we should help others because it was just under 250 years ago that we, America, were a developing country. Now, we've traveled to the moon and can surf the web while talking on the phone. M&M's come in every color imaginable. Shouldn't we be able to make sure people have access to clean water? We've been blessed, so shouldn't we be a blessing to others?

It's not hard to convince people to help others--we all want a better world for everyone. The hard part is knowing what to do. America has money, yes, but that's not enough. Aid to foreign countries, while able to do awesome things, can also be corrupted and mismanaged. Time, resources and technical assistance for development programs are greatly needed, but America seems to have less of these things. Many of our own issues need attention as well. It's easy to feel overwhelmed and give up trying.

I don't have answers or great ideas for this one daunting task (clean water is just one thing many people need, and it's only part of the greater problem of development). I don't know all the history, I don't know the politics, I don't know the mathematic and scientific details. Right now, all I can do is educate myself and inform others. Sure, parts I learn in class, but if I really care, I can keep searching for more information, looking for a way to help. I can shamelessly use my blog as a platform to make sure everyone I know has access to the information as well. And I can pray to a God bigger than all of this, a God who created the clean water everyone should have access to.

So please, check out the links. Even if you do nothing else, at least you'll know what's going on in our world and I'll know I've done something worthwhile on a Friday night.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I'm still here, somewhere

Dear Faithful Readers (and unfaithful readers, if you decided to tune in today),

I have to apologize for going MIA for a little while there. I've been in a funky mood lately, a kind of cynical one, and I find that it's best for me to lay low during those times. I think because when I get cynical it's too easy for me to get caught up in the world's problems and start ranting and we all know that doesn't solve anything. Instead I have to take a few breathers (or go on a 12-mile bike ride, which is how I de-stressed on Monday) and put everything back into perspective.

At this point in the game (I graduate in less than two months holy crap), it's extremely difficult to finish homework, or even put forth any effort in homework, but I also have a hard time thinking about what happens after graduation. If I know nothing else, I do know that for the first time in my self-aware life I won't be headed to school come next fall.

My way of coping with anxious/nervous/excited feelings has been to take more naps, check out all the books by Dave Eggers in the Mulva Library and hang out in the Writing Center after hours, eating the M&M's we always have there and discussing the differences between men and women with my coworkers. So if you've been wondering where I've been lately, there you go. And if you haven't noticed my absence, then I hope you enjoyed your random creeping.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

the daily grind, for real

I wasn't sure if I was going to make it through the day today, but it's almost 4:30 and I'm going strong. When my phone went off at 10 til 6 I was sure it was playing a joke on me. There was no way it was time to get up already. Then I smelt the coffee I had preset to brew right as I woke up and I gave in. After a hearty breakfast of Girl Scout cookies and Kix and with my mug filled with four cups of the best part of waking up, I was set to go to work.

Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, it's still a little dark when I head down to the retirement community and I'm reminded by my residents (still) of how changing one hour throws off the whole week. Once I got into the flow of the morning and successfully brought my hall to breakfast, I was feeling a lot better about being awake so early.

I find that the rest of the day goes by pretty quickly, what with manicures and meds to keep me busy. Even when I haven't been to work in a while it's fairly easy to jump back into the routine of working the floor.  Everyone loves the sunny weather we've been having lately and things go much smoother when we're all in cheery moods.

When my shift was over, I got to walk the several blocks home in the cool breeze and now I have dinner, grocery shopping and my Thursday night comedy to look forward to!

Monday, March 15, 2010

the daily grind, more or less

This is what a typical day might look like if I were a professional writer. (At least, this is sort of how I imagine it.)

Let's pretend I have a deadline at 5 PM on this imaginary day.

6:00 AM Wake up, go to the bathroom, go back to bed.

9:56 The birds are chirping and the sun is in my eyes...wake up for real. Find clean clothes. Cereal, coffee, leftover mac and cheese for breakfast.

10:16 Realize I have no car. Walk to the bank to cash tax refund check.

10:45 Detour at thrift store on the way home. Find heels in coral, but also size 7.5. Lament huge feet.

11:10 Detour at Gma and Gpa's house, still on the way home. Drink cappuccino and read newspaper from 1950.

12:15 Pizza Hut lunch buffet with Gma.

1:40 Finally make it home. Turn on laptop and gather several books. Type a few sentences.

2:00 America's Next Top Model is on. Forget what I was supposed to do while I watch.

2:37 Type a sentence.

3:00 Turn off TV and promise to get something written. Erase previously typed sentence.

3:30 Inspiration strikes. Write for fifteen minutes straight.

4:00 Fill out March Madness basketball brackets. Choose Kansas to go all the way.

4:34 Reorganize several paragraphs. Erase them. Undo erase. Shuffle more sentences. Cut. Paste.

4:42 Send in work, early even. Celebrate with leftover fajitas and pudding.

Alright, so it probably isn't exactly like this, but this is more or less what my actual day today looked like. I got exponentially more productive at about 6 PM, when I decided to reorganize my parents' spice cupboard, pantry, refrigerator, and bookshelves. Simultaneously.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

happy planet, devils, dust

I still can't seem to eke out a paper worth anything, but these guys have their creative juices flowing (maybe that's my problem--I see my creative juices as deadlines spreading to the carpet instead of an overflow of ideas and images). Anyway, I thought these blog posts were worth sharing:

Check out this simple list from No Impact Man for anyone wondering why it makes sense to make less impact and why we should care about the environment and a culture less obsessed with consumerism in the first place.

Here, singer-songwriter John Mark McMillan presents an effective way to tell someone something--make them think about it and draw them into the conversation.

And don't think you are missing out on things I'm writing...anything from me would look something like this today.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

clean up on aisle my life

I kind of have a lot to say, but I'm going to refrain until I've had time to sleep and catch up with my crazy schedule. Deadlines keep creeping like that spilled fruit punch on the linoleum headed for the white carpet, though I always seem to find just enough paper toweling to save myself.

Friday, March 5, 2010

If you only read one thing this month...

How We Are HungryRead How We Are Hungry by Dave Eggers. I don't think the short story gets enough attention by book readers, so if you're hesitant to pick up a collection start here.

You Are Not a Stranger Here: StoriesIf you have time to read two things, next you should try out Adam Haslett's You Are Not a Stranger Here, another collection of short stories.

The collections are similar in their insightful details and accurate portrayals of humanity. They don't take themselves too seriously, but still manage not to be obnoxious.

Back to How We Are Hungry, as I make my way through this collection, treating it like that piece of chocolate cake you both want to devour and savor, I have to wonder how he does it. Where do these characters, these situations, these images come from? The more I read the more I want to hang out with Dave Eggers, hope that his creativity rubs off on me. Instead, I did the next best thing. I Googled him. And found my dream job.

If you have 25 minutes, watch this TED talk by Eggers. 826 Valencia sounds like an amazing work environment. Could you imagine? All day to write and then helping students after school? I would love to be an intern there. The original location is in San Francisco, which is awesome, but there is also one in Chicago, 826CHI. So you can bet I'll be checking that out.

Actually, I shouldn't say it that way, assuming I'm going to be in Chicago. It's just hard not to think about my future as figured out when I'm feeling so good about these volunteer programs. I haven't blogged about them much lately, for just that reason: I don't want to get my hopes up, I don't want to say it's going to happen and then have my plans change or not work out. These programs seem too good to be true--at least, for me. I've always known pantyhose and pants suits weren't my thing, but neither is manual labor.

Now with two interviews in Chicago next week and two other programs in the process of reviewing my applications, I'm starting to see myself there. So pray for my interviews and for discernment! I'm trusting that these good feelings, the right vibe I'm getting, is divinely inspired.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

One man's smut is actually just smut.

It's funny; February felt like the longest month this year. The snow, the cold, the days seemed to never end. But it's March now--no snow, sunshine--and even my homework and other stressors couldn't get me down this week.

A short segment on the news almost did. (Read the story here.) A group called Atheist Agenda ran its annual event, Smut for Smut, on the University of Texas-San Antonio campus on Monday. Hand in a religious text, get free porn. I'm not here to debate the existence of God or to complain about atheism. I believe in God and some people don't, but what really saddens me about this event is the misguided, uneducated air about it.

Even for atheists the Bible (along with the Qur'an, Torah, etc.) is not smut--it's a historical document, a cultural artifact, a literary text.On the other hand, even for atheists, porn is smut. I'll be the first to admit there are certainly racy passages in the Bible, but they aren't pornography. And again--a lot of atheists don't appreciate or support porn. I'm not sure what the point is. This isn't like trading your Pepsi for a Coke. It's like trading your bowl of chocolate pudding for a bowl of manure.

Atheists hoping this somehow gives them credibility or brings about some sort of awareness should know that they are offending believers of all creeds along with any self-respecting atheist. If they just wanted attention (even negative attention is attention) and confusion, well they got it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sometimes Forgotten

Last night Cru brought in a Keynote band, blue sky nine, for the simple enjoyment of listening and being with friends. The band members are all really chill so it was fun to have them come and play in the Knight Owl, an intimate, sometimes forgotten lounge on campus.

Part of blue sky nine's ministry, besides playing contemporary music at campuses, prisons, military bases, and schools around the world, is to share with the audience relevant, sometimes forgotten truths--like Jesus loves you.

This is something we've probably all heard from a young age, but for some reason I really needed to hear it last night. For the past several weeks I've been trying hard to please/impress a lot of people (professors, friends, coworkers, potential employers) that I forgot that impressing people isn't my job. We weren't created to show off or to make ourselves look cool, but to love.

Today I started reading the book of Hosea, and while I've read it before, this time the beginning chapters really clicked, maybe more so because I'm a woman. You see, God tells Hosea to marry a harlot, Gomer, which he does, and they have three children (the paternity of the youngest is questionable), who seem to have disaster written on their faces (or in their names: "Unloved," "Not Mine"). Then Hosea divorces Gomer for her infidelity, but God commands Hosea to take her back, which he also does.

These beginning chapters are an extended metaphor: Gomer is Israel and Hosea is God--not only that; I'm Gomer too. Gomer, Israel, Me: we're all unfaithful in our own ways. We've all been whoring, worshiping other gods, wandering around trying to love and be loved by everything but God. And just like Hosea takes Gomer back, God redeems Israel and takes me back when neither of us deserve it.

The section where Hosea takes Gomer back (Chapter 2) is a beautiful image:
 14 Therefore I am now going to allure her;
       I will lead her into the desert
       and speak tenderly to her.
 15 There I will give her back her vineyards,
       and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
       There she will sing as in the days of her youth,
       as in the day she came up out of Egypt.
After we've been out whoring, God wants to take us and court us again. He wants to turn our hurt into hope so that we remember how we felt when we first realized we were loved, when we escaped from our slavery (ie, Israel in Egypt). It's an image of forgiveness and redemption we tend to forget about. It's comparable to the story of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel of Luke, but this version is maybe more applicable to me, again, as a woman. So here's to recognizing the idolatry in my life and to remembering I am just as heaven intended.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

More thoughts on solidarity

 I saw this article on this morning and had to agree. Adding to it, I believe solidarity can help everyone prevail. Here's a passage talking about Chile's 1960 earthquake:
"Back in 1960, the whole nation came together to rebuild the country. I spent the month after the earthquake, like many university students, collecting money, food, blankets and mattresses that were sent down to the south in caravans filled with enthusiastic volunteers.
"It was a lesson in solidarity that I have never forgotten -- those who were most deprived gave so much, cared so much, sacrificed so much for their wounded compatriots. If Chile is more opulent now, it has also become a more egocentric and individualistic society where, instead of a vision of social justice for all, the citizenry is, for the most part, engaged in a frenzied race toward ever more consumption and subject, of course, to the accompanying stress and anomie."
 I believe you can replace Chile with America in that last sentence and it would make perfect sense--maybe we don't have an earthquake to recover from, but this sentiment applies even in daily life. We are barely citizens these days; instead we are labeled as consumers.

The good news is we don't have to accept that label. A growing economy does not mean good times for all and consumption for consumption's sake won't help anyone. Instead, we can reclaim citizenship with the help of solidarity, remembering that our own welfare is linked with the welfare of our neighbors and fellow citizens.

If you've been following my blog, you'll know I recommend Colin Beavan's approach (No Impact Man), but there are tons of people, resources, and philosophies to help you think through solidarity and simple living in your own life.

Monday, March 1, 2010

i film (films)

This post is devoted to the recent films I've seen, both in class and for fun.

The ApartmentRemember that movie about the bumbling, yet sweet guy (or innocent and naive girl) just doing his/her job when he/she gets mixed up in politics at work/finds obstacles on her course to pursue her dreams and suddenly has to choose between his/her job/dream or the woman/man he/she loves? Of course you do, it's a familiar Hollywood plot. Think The Proposal, The Devil Wears Prada, etc ad nauseum. There was once a time when this was fairly original, though, and that time was 1960, the film The Apartment directed by Billy Wilder.

I especially thought of The Proposal as I watched, but maybe because Ryan Reynolds must take his acting cues from Jack Lemmon. Either way, The Apartment was a classic romantic comedy--and the last entirely black and white film to win an Academy Award.

Cold Comfort FarmThe film Dr. Risden paired with Aurora Leigh for Film & Lit today was Cold Comfort Farm, based on the novel by Stella Gibbons. It's always funny how Dr. Risden doesn't just make us read books that have been made into novels--he selects a book and a movie that he finds more comparable than the actual pairing.

Another romantic comedy, this movie felt similar to the movies based off Jane Austen novels, yet it was much more funny and less stiff than any BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. Either way, the guys got the girls or vice versa.

Il PostinoFinally, this afternoon I watched a film I've been wanting to see for some time now, Il Postino (The Postman). It's in Italian with English subtitles and I loved hearing la bella lingua again. Il Postino is marketed as a romantic comedy, but I found it more of a dramatic film with lots of political and poetic undertones. I can't say I'm surprised--Italians are a dramatic people.

Atonement (Widescreen Edition)Other dramatic people: Keira Knightly & Co. Don't get me wrong, I think she's great--beautiful, talented, smart even--I just sometimes think she's pigeon-holed herself. Atonement is one of those films that makes me think that, though I did enjoy the film overall. Again, it's one of those movies based on a novel (there aren't many original films out there), but it was visually stunning and great thought was put into the lighting, music, and cinematography.

I'd recommend all of these films, but now that it's finally getting warmer maybe we won't have to stay inside all the time!