Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Heal This Nation

I know, I know... it's another Obama "ad," but for me it's more. In these 30 seconds I find an emotionally charged turn into hope, a willingness to believe that a nation with united purpose might once again arise, that my children might know for themselves the nation I taught them to believe was possible, the nation I believe myself to have known: the United States of America.

Yes, We Can.

Monday, October 27, 2008

What Is a Family?

With thoughts toward my children:

What is a family? Is it just a genetic shain, parents and offspring, people like me? Or is it a social construct, an economic unit, optimal for child rearing and divisions of labor? Or is it something else entirely: a store of shared memories, say? An ambit of love? A reach across the void?

I could list various possibilities. But I'd never arrived at a definite answer ... Instead, I drew a series of circles around myself, with borders that shifted as time passed and faces changed but that nevertheless offered the illusion of control. An inner circle, where love was constant and claims unquestioned. Then a second circle, a realm of negotiated love, commitments freely chosen. And then a circle for colleagues, acquaintances; the cheerful gray-haired lady who rang up my groceries ... the circle finally widened to embrace a nation or a race, or a particular moral course, and the commitments were no longer tied to a face or a name but were actually commitments I'd made to myself.

At first I reacted to all this attention like a child to its mother's bosom, full of simple, unquestioning gratitude ... an obvious contrast to the growing isolation of American life, a contrast I understood, not in racial, but in cultural terms. A measure of what we sacrificed for technology and mobility ... the insistent pleasure of other peopl's company, the joy of human warmth.

As the days wore on, though my joy became tempered with tension and doubt .... Now I was family, I reminded myself; now I had responsibilities. But what did that mean exactly? ... I'd been able to translate these feelings into politics, organizing, a certain self-denial ... [but] faith in participatory democracy couldn't buy Jane a new set of sheets. For the first time in my life, I found myself thinking deeply about money: my own lack of it, the pursuit of it, the crude but undeniable peace it could buy ....

But, of course, wealth involved trade-offs for those who weren't born to it .... the same perverse survivor's guilt that I could expect to experience if I ever did try to make money and had to pass the throngs of young black men on the corner as I made my way to a downtown office. Without power for the group, a group larger, even, than an extended family, our success always threatened to leave other behind. And perhaps that was that fact that left me so unsettled - the fact that the same maddening patterns still held sway; that on one here could tell me what my blood ties demanded or how those demands could be reconciled with some larger idea of human association. It was as if we are all making it up as we went along.


I remember a conversation I had once in Chicago when I was still organizing. It was with a woman who'd grown up in a big family in rural Georgia. Five brothers and three sisters, she had told me, all crowded under a single roof. She told me about her father's ultimately futile efforts to farm his small plot of land, her mother's vegetable graden, the two pigs they kept penned out in the yrard, and the trips with her siblings to fish the murky waters of a river nearlby. Listening to her speak, I began to realize that two of the three sisters she'd mentioned had actually died at birth, but that in this woman's mind they had remained with her always, spirits with names and ages and characters, two sisters who accompanied her while she walked to school or did chores, who soothed her cries and colmed her feaars. For this woman, family had never been a vessel just for the living. The dead, too, had their claims, their voices sshaping the course of her dreams.

So now it was for me.

Obama, Barack. Dreams from My Father. New York: Random House, 2004. (327-338).

Writing Ourselves Into the World

At the beginning of each semester, I challenge young writers to reconsider their more as a billboard about themselves than a paper about something else: "You are writing yourself into the world," I tell them, "... how you see the world, what you believe to be important, who you are ... you are writing yourself every time you write."

This bit of affirmation comes alongside my thinking from Dreams From My Father (Obama 2004):

He held up a copy of Heart of Darkness, evidence for the court. I reached over to snatch it out of his hands. "See there," Marcus said. "Makes you embarrassed, don't it - just being seen with a book like this. I'm telling you, man, this stuff will poison your mind." ....

Regina smiled and shook her head .... I tossed the book into my backpack. "Actually, he's right," I said. "It is a racist book. The way Conrad sees it, Africa's the cesspool of the world, black folks are savages, and any contact with them breeds infection."

Regina blew on her coffee. "So why are you reading it?"

"Because it's assigned." I paused, not sure if I should go on. "And because .... because the book teaches me things, "I said. "About white people, I mean. See, the book's not really about Africa. Or black people. It's about the man who wrote it. The European. The American. A particular way of looking at the world. If you can keep your distance, it's all there, in what's said and what's left unsaid" (103).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

First Nations

Red Lake Nation
Leech Lake Nation
White Earth Nation

Barack Obama is committed to the interests of my tribal brothers and sisters. Anishinabe people, here is a man who will be president for us all.

Monday, October 20, 2008

In His Own Words

www.askobamanow.com is "[c]reated and modestly funded by Obama volunteers who simply believe that Barack Obama would make a fine president. [They] are independent of Obama for America, www.barackobama.com, and any other entity. Any shortcomings you see here are [theirs] alone."

I'm liking this site for the opportunity to hear the man himself speak to my interests and concerns. Maybe it will do something for you, too. And if anyone can point me to a similar site from John McCain, I'd like to post that information here as well.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


First semester studies at Purdue left me inundated by names of philosophers and ideas strange and unfamiliar to me. I helped myself remember with note cards filled with definitions and and photosheets printed with pictures that helped me to visualize the men and women I read. This image of Deleuze came to mind again for me when Vonnegut's Kilgore Trout (Breakfast of Champions) spoke of "leaks."

Trout did another thing which some people might have considered eccentric: he called mirrors leaks. It amused him to pretend that mirrors were holes between two universes.

If he saw a child near a mirror, he might wag his finger at a child warningly, and say with great solemnity, "Don't get too near that leak. You wouldn't want to wind up in the other universe, would you?"

... a fitting (re)consideration of Deleuze.

The Value of Freedom

In an interview attached to the audio book version of Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, long-time friend and attorney Donald C. Farber wrapped a closing comment in laughter, saying to Vonnegut, "You always manage to find something funny about something that isn't funny at all."

Here's one of my favorite examples:

Then [Kilgore Trout] thought about what Bill [his pet bird] might want. It was easy to guess. "Bill," he said, "I like you so much, and I am such a big shot in the Universe, that I will make your three biggest wishes come true." He opened the door of the cage, something Bill couldn't have done in a thousand years.

Bill flew over to the windowsill. He put his little sholder against the glass. There was just one layer of glass between Bill and the great out-of-doors ....

Your second wish is about to come true," said Trout, and he again did something which Bill could never have done. He opened the window. But the opening of the window was such an alarming business to the parakeet that he flew back to this cage and hopped inside.

Trout closed the door of the cage and latched it. "That's the most intelligent use of three wishes I ever heard of," he told the bird. "You made sure you'd still have something worht wishing for - to get out of the cage."
By my measure, November 4th is a day for getting out of the cage. The loss of freedom was never fair trade in exchange for the promise of a maybe tomorrow. Vote.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Thinking of Tommi in So Many Ways

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Margaret Mead
US anthropologist & popularizer of anthropology (1901 - 1978)

Rhetoric and Cultural Study

Wake a Sleeping Giant?

There might be better things to do in a fight.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Excellence in Teaching

Congratulations, Mary! You’ve won an Excellence in Teaching award!
Winners will be recognized at the next faculty meeting—October 15, STEW 202.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A True War Story

From How to Tell a True War Story (Tim O'Brien)

"You can tell a true war story if you just keep on telling it.

"In the end, of course, a true war story is never about war. It's about the special way that dawn spreads out on a river when you know you must cross the river and march into the mountains and do things you are afraid to do. It's about love and memory. It's about sorrow. It's about sisters who never write back and people who never listen."

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Register to Vote. Yes, YOU!

... or maybe not. OK, don't vote.

... unless America matters to you.