Hello? Is it me you’re looking for?


To my students, the “real world” sits just beyond the classroom. It is a space in flux, moving and changing much more quickly than academia. In education, there is a creative tension between an established body of knowledge and the real world; this tension can help fuel teaching.

For the past two years, I have taught a series of literary publishing courses where students produce a regional literary arts magazine called Scribendi. Throughout the year, Scribendi students begin to master the skills necessary for small press production, including graphic design, desktop publishing software, arts and literature assessment, copyediting, and small business management and marketing.

Most of the students who enroll in Scribendi are English majors who are thinking about applying to law school. Even though they are “digital natives,” their skills are not as technologically robust as most adults believe. While many more of the students are entering the class with previous experience using Word’s track changes functions, about half of the students are still just as intimidated by Excel as they are by InDesign. In addition to being nervous about becoming proficient enough at InDesign to create a successful flyer, brochure, or magazine layout, many of these students are terrified of being judged on their creative or artisitic ability. They are, after all, mostly English majors.

To reassure students that they could learn graphic design, and to begin introducing the graphic design component, one of my first lessons discusses the difference between art and design. The students are expected to have come to class already having read certain chapters in Denise Bosler’s Mastering Type and are ready for a design discussion. In the past, I have drawn a Venn diagram on the board with the headings “Design” and “Art” to discuss the differences and similarities of the two. Then we look at some gig posters, book jackets, and advertisements to practice talking about design, and finally, we critique the previous year’s issue of the magazine.

The morning of that lesson last fall, while walking to campus, I ran across a flyer stapled to a telephone pole. Typically flyers in my neighborhood advertise pets lost and found, couches for sale, or upcoming gigs by the Vassar Bastards or Let ‘Em Grow, but this one was different. Across the top of the paper it read, “Hello? ” below which was a photo of Lionel Richie, then the words “Is it me you’re looking for?” At the bottom were tear-tabs, where one typically might pull off a phone number or e-mail address of a student looking for a roommate. These tabs had other lyrics to Richie’s song “Hello.” Someone had already plucked off one “I love you.” Read more »

Two Cool Projects for Students

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 10.08.05 AM1. Transcribe a document for the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian is looking for help transcribing original, handwritten texts to improve their readability and searchability. They say:

Our goal with this project is to make our collections more accessible and useful to curators, researchers, and anyone with a curious spirit. Because computers have a hard time understanding handwriting, many of our collections still hold many secrets and hidden knowledge inside their pages. With your help, we can bring that knowledge to life.

Volunteer at https://transcription.si.edu/.


Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 10.15.03 AM2. Record a poem at Harriet Headquarters.

We’ve created the Record-a-Poem group where we invite everyone to post audio recordings of their favorite poems. People can upload recordings they have on their computers, or use SoundCloud to upload audio files directly to the group using the Upload button here.

To get started listening, here are a few of our faves:

Susie Asado” by Gertrude Stein, read by Fred & August Sasaki.

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” by Robert Herrick, read by
Garrison Keillor.

Hipster Hiking

About a year ago, I started a photo project called the “Hipster Hiking Series.” I began this series because I take many photos and my mother was asking to see more with me in them. The rules were simple: the camera had to be balanced somewhere, on the ten-second self-timer, or handed to someone so unfamiliar with cameras that the chances of them getting the autofocus to work would be less than twenty percent. Also, because I am not one to model, I had to make fun of myself by adding “hipster elements,” including a logo, light leaks, and hue shifts.  They had to be taken while I was hiking or camping. The process has led me to many questions–beginning with the question, “are these selfies?”

What makes a selfie? Is it any self-portrait? When Van Gogh painted himself, bandaged after cutting his ear, was it a selfie? Or must it be a photograph? Must it be more ephemeral than a painting, more off the cuff?


White Sands National Missile Range, 2014

Read more »

I Saw You

Some years ago, while reading the Kokinshu for the first time, I was struck by a thought that many of the love poems read like I Saw You ads in the local alternative weekly newspaper. In the Kokinshu, seasons follow arcs—there is the first hint of green with herbs breaking through snow, then the kaleidoscope of flowers, seventy poems about cherry blossoms, then summer comes a we listen to the nightingale for a season. Love and grief also follow arcs—with love, there’s a giddy first hint, then getting to know all about one another, and finally, breaking up. In the beginning of the love section, a poet might glimpse a beauty across the fields of Kasuga and become instantly entranced.

An I Saw You ad, in case you have never heard of one, is a record of a missed opportunity. You might have a conversation with a gorgeous stranger in the frozen food aisle at the grocery and go home kicking yourself for not having asked for a name or a phone number or a date. Or you might make eye contact at a stoplight and want something more. All you would have to do is phone the alternative paper (here call the Alibi) and place an ad with some details about your moment.

I am teaching a freshman humanities course (a “legacy course”) that in part follows the influence of ancient Japanese (the Kokinshu and Basho) and Chinese (Han Shan) poetry on the Beat Generation (Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac) and our contemporary world. The “legacy courses” strive to provide students with knowledge of works and ideas from earlier cultures that have played and continue to play significant roles in understanding the contemporary culture in which we live.

So, my class is also looking at questions such as why does Albuquerque have an annual haiku contest, Japanese botanical gardens, a Zen meditation center, an Asian grocery store, a bunch of anime lovers and martial arts enthusiasts, etc.

In my attempt to bridge the ancient text with our lives, I thought I would bring in some I Saw Ad clippings, have the students write waka (a poem with a 5-7-5-7-7) using the information in the ads, then compare our poems with the those of the ancients. Here are some examples:

Girl at Casino (8/11/14)

I saw you on Monday at Santa Ana Star Casino, near the back area by “The Stage” around 1:30–2:30pm. You were wearing glasses and with a woman I assume was your mother. I was walking up to a machine when we made eye contact for a split second before I looked away … I wanted to talk to you but wasn’t thinking. You are beautiful and I can’t stop thinking about you! If you see this please respond; maybe we can go out to a casino or have dinner sometime and get to know each other :)

Spinning slots at the
Santa Ana Casino
you must be lucky
trying to win money
and winning my heart as well

Read more »

Stage Fright

School is about to start, which means I am fiddling with my syllabi. One class is brand new, and I believe that I could mess with a new syllabus for all of eternity, tweaking phrases, adding and erasing assignments, rearranging scheduled activities. This perpetual revising tick will continue until the class begins, which is probably why I have the following anxiety dream:

 It is the first day of the class and once I walk into the classroom, I realize that I have forgotten to bring the name cards that I make for my students each semester. Not only do I not have their name cards, but I don’t have the class list. Also, danggit, I have forgotten to bring copies of the syllabus. I think that I can bring it up on the projector, but of course, the computer is not working. I struggle to remember anything from the syllabus and cannot. I determine that I can assign a get-to-know-you freewrite while I run to print out copies, which is when I realize that actually, I never made a syllabus. It is the first day and I am unprepared.

My first days of classes have mostly been smooth. The typical hiccup is the AV equipment either malfunctioning or not working at all. Other people are not so lucky. Last year, a worried freshman approached my office, saying, “My professor has not shown up. We don’t know what to do.” The professor in question was not the kind of person to miss the first day unless barred by a major accident. I tried to call the professor, but her phone was off. I met with the students, collected their information, explained that this kind of thing was very rare, and the professor would contact them as soon as possible. It soon came to light that the class had been cancelled, and while the professor had been notified of the change, the students had not.

Another colleague, long since retired, once walked into a class, introduced himself, passed out the syllabus, and discussed at length the course’s objectives and philosophical context before realizing that he was in the wrong classroom.

Due to flooding, this semester, I have lost one, maybe two, of the classrooms I was scheduled to use. Classes do not begin for another week, so I remain hopeful that a new classroom or a tent will be located and reserved, that everyone will be notified, and, if I dare to dream, there will be AV equipment.

None of these examples of first day “oops” compare, of course, to the recent headline on Gawker, “Oklahoma Teacher Shows Up Drunk and Pantsless to Her First Day of Work.” At least it was not the first day of class and no students were subjected to her disorientation, frailty, and alcoholism. It could not have been worse for this woman if it were a dream.

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What about your bad first days? Does your department have a legendary worst first class? Do you still get nervous and do your dreams reflect it?


Enchanted Watermelon Seeking Art Submissions

Enchanted Watermelon is seeking art submissions for a Loteria-themed coloring book.

A portion of the proceeds from each coloring book will benefit an Albuquerque nonprofit organization that help children in situations of domestic violence, poverty, or homelessness.

The coloring book will not only showcase artists’ work, but since children are the target market for the book, it provides a unique, plausible way for children to help children.

A series of community artist workshops will be scheduled once the coloring book is in production.

How to Submit:

1. Select an image from the list of cards and interpret it with your own style and imagination. Your image will be printed in black and white, so please consider high contrast drawing materials/media.

2. Develop a fun rhyme or verse to accompany your image. *The rhyme does not have to be in Spanish.* Here are some examples from the original deck:

EL DIABLITO (The Little Devil): “Pórtate bien cuatito, si no te lleva el coloradito.”   “Be good, or you will meet the little red guy.”

LA PERA (The Pear) “El que espera, desespera.”  “He who waits, despairs.”

3. Please use our Loteria template to ensure that your ratio is accurate and that you have enough space for the title of your image and a whimsical rhyme or verse!

4. To submit, visit: https://enchantedwatermelon.submittable.com/submit

I don’t know if you’ve seen my home in the news recently, but there currently extremely high rates of homelessness and violence in Albuquerque. Most recently, two homeless men were killed by three teenage boys. This kind of violence breeds more violence. One of the boys had been homeless himself only a couple years before.

This coloring book will provide a fun, lighthearted way to raise funds for shelters that take in children, and help give them extra resources to continue the powerful, difficult work they do.

Writing Horoscopes

Cancer (June 22 – July 22)
Set aside some time this week to watch people at the park, the café, or the doctor’s office waiting room. Go wherever your current tale is set. Pay attention to the movements, appearances, and conversations that make these people real. “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature,” Cancer Ernest Hemingway reminds us.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)
Leo, your comedic timing will be spot on this week. Make sure that every pun leaving your fingertips is working in service of its larger meaning this week. As lioness Dorothy Parker said, “Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.”

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)
Virgo Roald Dahl once said, “A writer of fiction lives in fear. Each new day demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not.” Don’t let that fear stall you this week, Virgo. Instead of opening your Word document and experiencing stage fright, tackle that electric white page like a gardener would as he tilled his spring beds. Seize the opportunity to plant, grow, weed, and nurture your ideas.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)
“I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil,” admitted fellow Libra Truman Capote. He was speaking of revision. Libra, this week the scales have tipped in favor of cutting, adding, and rewording rather than creating new material. Work through your past drafts dramatically on the first pass and judiciously on the second.
Read more »

The Sponsored and Sold Dictionary

All week I have been contending with Walter Mitty in my mailbox. Even words like o·nei·ric (/ōˈnīrik/ adj. formal 1. of or relating to dreams) have sponsored content, advertisements, and quotes from the movie.

It makes me want to see the box office bomb even less. I realize that the movie is based off of a James Thurber short story from the 1930s and features a copyeditor as the main character, two considerations that mean I may have eventually watched it. However, I’m not a fan of being a targeted market audience for quotes about living life to the fullest because in a moment of panic while studying for the GRE, I signed up for the word-a-day service.

I’d always been a fan of Merriam-Webster’s corporate history. When I was in grade school, I had a Webster’s dictionary that I began to realize was antisemitic.
Read more »

Riots around the Corner

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Photo from the ABQ Journal

According to the US Census’ 2012 data, about 555,417 people live in Albuquerque. That’s about a quarter of the population of New Mexico. It is a majority-minority town and state. The state often markets its tricultural harmony.

Nearly 18% of the people here live below the poverty line. Starting police salary, without differentials for overnight shifts, is about $35,000 a year.

Several years ago, there was TV show called COPS. The intro song went like this”Bad boys, bad boys. Watcha you gonna do, watcha you gonna do when they come for you. Bad boys, bad boys.”

The vague pronoun “they” appears to refer to the police. Does the ambiguous “bad boys” refer to the police or suspected lawbreakers?

The show had a little film crew who rode along with the police and taped them making arrests. The crime series aired on Fox for 25 years.

Albuquerque has a lot of drunks and homeless people. Many people come into town and go on benders.

Since I live close to the Route 66 and the university, I’m near a lot of bus stops and places where people are allowed to sit in public for free. Empty, inexpensive pints of vodka litter my neighborhood.

Homeless people are often entering the dorms on campus and trying to sleep in the warm buildings, out of the wind.

Walking to work one morning, I encountered a man weaving his way down the street on a bicycle. He appeared neither homeless nor housed. “You have nice eyebrows!” he said as he wobbled past.

The drunks here are mostly harmless. Every few days, some Native Americans will catcall me in Spanish. (I am white; I could be Hispanic or Anglo.) They are just as likely to say something vulgar, as they are to offer some potato chips or ask for a couple bucks to get another beverage.

Part of the energy with the COPS show when it filmed in Albuquerque was that racial dynamic between the police and the people being arrested. Part of it was that the combination of characteristics was foreign to the rest of the U.S. In one episode that residents have shown me multiple times to explain the popularity of COPS involves a drunk Native American crossdresser in trouble with the police. For most of the country, this is a bizarre combination. It is a reminder of some social problems that stem from 500 years of colonization.

The TV show started filming here all the time. Every time you watched COPS it was taking place in Albuquerque. The mayor finally banned COPS from filming here—the show was giving the town a bad reputation. We did not appear to be three cultures holding hands and singing kumbaya.

In the last two weeks, the police have shot and killed two men.

One had his hands up in the air and was agreeing to come peacefully. He was homeless; they were arresting him for sleeping in the foothills. Read more »

Ballad of a WiFi Hero


Great animated adaptation of “In Which I Fix My Girlfriend’s Grandparents’ WiFi and Am Hailed as a Conquering Hero,” by Mike Lacher, from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

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