Monday, April 29, 2013


I just read an article on prisoners who rate prisons and jails on Yelp.

If you didn't know, the difference between prison and jail is that jail is for up to one year; prison is anything longer than that time.  For longer sentences, inmates tend to prefer prison- less frustrating and people who have been in longer know the rules and culture better than short timers who sometimes behave like complete idiots.

I think rating these places on Yelp and other social sites is a great idea. It gets information out to the public and can bring to light any serious offenses, as well as commend those who protect them (i.e. correctional officers). 

However, in the comments were really hateful stuff, such as Catalyst247s "they are prisoners, they need a nice warm cup of STFU" and Reality201s thought that "I think that prisoners should work for their food digging ditches, picking fruit and other "jobs Americans do not want to do". No work = no food."

Having taught in a men's prison, I can tell you that the people who are posting these comments have never been to one. Prisons are not a fun place where people relax, watch tv, eat and work out nonstop. Public opinion is so poor that often the food is spoiled, the work - at 23 cents per hour- is hard and it's often unsafe to go to sleep.

Here is what I wish I could say to each person who put up a negative comment:

a) people do get out of jail and prison after serving their time.
b) you obviously have never been in a prison if you think it's club med.
c) how society treats those on the fringes is a good way to judge that society. yes, I am glad that prisons and jails are being reviewed on Yelp. I am also sad at the proudly ignorant responses.

Ah well.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My Finest!

When I first entered grad school, I met my friend Janis.  She was the co-director of the Oklahoma Writing Project, a National Writing Project site and a place where teachers teach other teachers to teach writing.  It's an amazing, wonderful and awesome organization, filled with thoughtful teachers, mentors and now, my friends.
We even went to Nashville, Tennessee together to the National Council of the Teachers of English (NCTE) annual meeting.  It was wonderful.  Janis and I and our other friend Shelly stuck together like glue and decided to go on a writing marathon one afternoon.  What a hoot that Janis got a tattoo that day! Would you like to know where it is? Because we hung out in a dusty old bar called "Tootsies" and wound up picking out tats together.  I got mine about a year later, but Janis is a trooper and got hers  on the spot. Shelly, well, she's a little more of a shy-away-from-bodyart sorta girl. That's good too. I was the "not today" girl.

And wouldn't you know it? Janis wrote a book. And in that book is a story called "You Go First"- featuring Janis, Shelly and yours truly.

Shelly and Elvis
Shelly and Janis

I think I might've taken that picture too

Janis asked her friends to write a review of "My Finest" and post it to Amazon.  Since I bought the book on Kindle and had already read it, I wrote a review. 

Damned if she didn't use it for the back cover.  

And there it is- a book review by a crazy redhead Wild Okie! 

She even sent me an inscribed copy.

And she signed it too! 
You can get your very own copy of her book at Amazon by clicking here

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Well, the Boston Marathon was bombed yesterday. There were two small explosive devices that went off within a minute of each other. Three killed, lots hurt. People losing limbs. You can see a time lapse video of it here. And here is one in real time. I really like the second one.  It doesn't show any gory stuff. Well, I don't like it, like it, and I am appalled at the atrocity that's been caught on film by a person who got up that morning with the only intention of filming the Boston Marathon on a bright and clear day.

I don't think I'll link any other other pictures I saw.  Too sensational.

What I'd like to concentrate on instead is something I saw in the second video.  As soon as those bombs detonated, police just sort of swung into action.  There isn't time for fear in a situation like this; I doubt they even had time to pause for such a thing as personal feelings.  At the 1:46 mark, you'll see a military service person who has taken it upon himself to go help too.  And civilians. And just people. Going to help others. 

Within hours, there were places for people to go to check in with their loved ones. The Red Cross was on hand. Support poured in from all parts of the U.S. and the world, and nurses, medical personnel and doctors rushed to the Boston hospitals to help.

It also didn't take long for the crazy to start. Conspiracy theories abound, the Westboro Baptist Church is going to picket the funerals of those killed, citing this as an example of God's distaste for tolerance of homosexuality in the U.S.  I'm not linking that site. Too hateful.

It also didn't take much time for the warmongers to start beating the drums.  I have an acquaintance who is in the reserves.  He put this up on his status message:

Hope my fellow brothers in arms are ready to go back war because its about to go down. And I for one am all for it. Don't bring that crap to my country.

I asked what he would think if it was domestic terrorism. I mean, this did happen on tax day and the bombs were small and probably improvised. And it's not such a far-fetched idea. After all, right in Oklahoma was the manifestation of hatred by Timothy McVeigh- a former Army serviceman. The attacks on September 11, 2001 were well orchestrated and on a large scale. That's what terrorism looks like so far in the U.S.  It's fear and racism that wants to separate "us" from "them".  To whom would go to war with, anyway? Nobody has claimed responsibility (furthering my hypothesis). An organized group would use the opportunity to promote their cause. Right? So before we go rain down oppression justice on the heads of civilians "the enemy and their people", perhaps we can take a moment and consider the nature of violence.

That's it. There's too much hate in the world. There is too much suffering and reactionary lashing out. When I was a kid, my sister Yvette and I would fight.  She'll tell you that I pack a mean punch.  She does too.  It took us until adulthood and beyond to learn to hash out our problems with words rather than violence. 

Yes, the world is violent.

Yes, we probably have the largest capacity for violence in the world.

Big fucking whoop.

I'm sick of it.  Even if this turns out to be a foreign threat- some radicals from another land- that does not give us the right or responsibility to go drop bombs on another populace.

Most people are moderate. Most people in the world want peace. Most people are not radical.  Most people do not support violence as a way of life.

Now let's all grow up, put down our weapons, and listen to our elders:

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. ~Mahatma Gandhi
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Maybe the world is crazy, but that doesn't mean I'm going to join them.

I suggest then, that we wait and let justice work itself out, that we give peace a chance and that we dial back on the testosterone a bit. The authorities will find the perpetrator.  It wasn't your neighbor who doesn't look, walk or talk like you. So if you just can't sit still, then go into action. Do something nice for someone. Help a friend in need. Help a stranger in need. Hug your kid. Plant flowers. Plant a garden.

Be kind. Hopefully, that's what we'll learn from Boston.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Good Day To-

Today I got my copy of Oklahoma English Journal in the mail. I have a new article in it on five books on teaching writing that I cannot do without. It came from a class I taught last quarter, a graduate seminar on composition theory. 

My friend Robin Murphy has another featured article and yet another friend, Eril Hughes, added a book review.

Tomorrow, I have been invited to give a keynote address for a conference on innovation.  I heavily considered calling it "Making shit up; hoping shit doesn't blow up", but ultimately I have discarded that idea. I will find a more appropriate title.

My classes are buzzing along and I am having a terribly busy quarter.  Teaching 4 classes back to back is exhausting but also keeps me on my toes. My students deserve the best I can give them, though by Friday it's much less wine and roses and much more top ramen and generic beer.

I'm off to grade and write that speech and then to work out and have some dinner with my partner and spend some time hanging out.  Ok, I'm pretty much going to torture him all night, asking his opinion on what to wear and how to inflect this observation and the wisdom of cracking this such joke.. poor Grey.

But for me, it's a good day to just be.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Best I Can Do

I'm teaching a multi-cultural literature class this quarter. It's a 200 level course and I have 26 students.  I didn't even think the class would fill up, but it has. It's overfilled! The students are an interesting group- many of them are white but seem to have this desire to learn about more than just the dominant culture they grew up in.  I asked what they wanted at the beginning and they answered (in so many words) that they crave history, real history, and truth.  They want to know more than what they see on television but don't know how to find it.  They suspect that there are cultures in the U.S. That have nothing to do with white culture and don't quite know how to begin.

I guess that's where I come in. I set a curriculum (lots of Native American literature), guide class discussion and check to make sure everyone has done their homework.  I talk about my experiences and try to augment the somewhat pathetic offerings that show up in the book.  I'm not a fan of Pearson, if you didn't notice. But that's the book the department wanted me to use. I just made photocopies of the other stuff for them.

One of my students the other day referred to me as an expert on Native American literature. We did begin with Native American Literature (also see: American Literature) and I admit that it is my favorite genre.  But an expert?

It made me acutely uncomfortable.  I am no expert on a particular type of literature and it feels like a white person appropriating someone elses culture to say that I am.  I can discuss characteristics of early Native American lit, talk about current authors and stereotypes and issues often discussed and warn about what is and is not appropriate to wear as a halloween costume. Hint: Bride of Frankenstein is ok. Wearing a headband, feathers and face paint doesn't make you a slutty Indian girl. It makes you an asshole. I can talk about blood quantam and ethnic versus cultural identity.
I can even tell you about the undercurrent (sometimes over-current) of anger at white people in general, and with good reason- both historically and currently. 
Yes, go ahead and appropriate this guy. It's ok; you have my permission.

What I cannot do is call myself an expert.  Yes, I have studied this literature quite a bit.  Lots of people do. I write about Sherman Alexie and attend cultural events from time to time.  But I am not a member of that community and there exists a separation between me and that culture.  Therefore, I am an outsider and not an expert. 

But that doesn't exactly translate in the classroom.  I think when my student said "expert", what he really meant was "you know more than we do, so it appears you know everything about this subject which you are so passionate about". 

I can dig that.

There is another aspect that comes up: white guilt.  I think many of my white students feel it; the weight of what our ancestors have done.  It's a normal part of becoming aware of white privilege. There are moments that sometimes happen when reading writing by people who did not experience the privilege of the dominant culture when one realizes that by dint of their birth they have had unfair advantage.  It's heavy.  It hangs around the neck and makes it difficult to look people in the eye.  It makes one feel outraged and a little bit fooled by the perpetuation of the myth that everyone is equal in the U.S. It's difficult- the sneaking realization, the denial, and probably the embrasure of truth.  Or more often, the discarding of these ideas simply because it's too uncomfortable to deal with effectively. 

So that's really what I'm an expert on.  I'm an expert on trying not to be a jerk.  And helping others to not be jerks too.  Can't we all just get along?

Sometimes I am very good; sometimes I fail miserably.  Just like most humans.

I prepared for this class years ago. I wrote about my discomfort at teaching multicultural literature, since I am a white person.  I talked to others in the field.  My academic credentials are fine; I am completely qualified.  And I do love literature.  And I can teach it.  That's the synthesis of the thing.


Every time I step to that podium, I am aware that I am white. I am aware that this gives me an advantage with my white students and that it can also be a turn off for students who identify as someone other than white.  I am doing my best to step out of the way, to highlight text, to ask questions but not necessarily to answer them.  To point out voices but let students wrestle with meaning.  To provide framework but not fill in the blanks.  In other words, I'm having the time of my life.

That really is the best I can do.