Showing posts with label teaching. Show all posts
Showing posts with label teaching. Show all posts

05 August, 2016

Old Habits, New Projects

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end. - Seneca

The moving finger writes, and having written moves on. Nor all thy piety nor all thy wit, can cancel half a line of it. - Omar Khayyam


New paths are born out of old roads.
I liked being a journalist. There's something in my nature, the desire to be the one who pokes the sleeping bear with a stick, that naturally lended itself to  professional muckraking*. My love of a good story and the firm belief that truth is always stranger than fiction** helped me to frame the facts and rumors people already knew*** into articles with larger contexts and larger meaning beyond the column inch/ page content filler that mainstream journalism has become in this age of content over substance.
Besides that, I was good at it. And I was getting better.

But I am coming to terms with the fact that my stint in journalism, like my stint in higher education, is probably finished.  This story, and my refusal to write something like this that lets the Metro government, Mayor Fischer, and the LMPD off the hook and avoids any real journalistic critique of Metro's absence of actual compassion -- beyond platitudes and photo ops -- pretty much saw to that. It probably didn't help that I accused the then Managing Editor, now Publisher, of wanting seasonal homeless porn. It also probably didn't help that I had the temerity to ask for something more regular than freelance grunt wages while she was working her way into a higher paying position.^

When I'm being honest, though, I know it's probably not a bad thing that I'm not a paid journalist anymore. It took energy away from my poetry. It made me grouchy, and brought out some of the more negative aspects of my personality. I don't mind being an asshole^^, but it's damn exhausting being one all the time. It's exhausting for me and for the people closest to me.

I've been channeling that through my podcast, The Kentucky Muck Podcast. And it's fun. But I'm also struck with how there is no art to any of it. All I've really been doing to chasing other news sources for content because I have neither the money nor the resources to muckrake the way I want to. Besides that, the stories just bore the hell out of me. How many instances of Matt Bevin being a power hungry zealot can I really talk about before it turns into more of the same white noise? How many critiques of Trump and the rise of Fascism in America can I post before it's ignored like street corner preaching?

My obsession with narratives -- and with words --  are really the only thing that journalism, teaching, and the Muck Podcast have in common.  But none of them feed my spirit in the way poetry does. None of them fill my heart the way a good narrative can. Where there is no food for the spirit or the heart, there is no Art. Where there is no Art, there is no Craft, no Style, and no Process. Where none of those things exist, there is no chance for Beauty or for Truth.

So I'm moving into other projects. I'm in pre-production on a new podcast that focuses on the stories of other people's lives.
Between this, my other writing, this blog, my various other interests and obligations, and the perpetual search for paying work, I'm going to be busy. But I'm also going to hitting the road soon to record for the new podcast and hopefully a gig or two. Sometimes new paths grow out of old roads. Maybe it was necessary for me to go back to teaching, go back to print journalism because I needed the leg to stand on moving into my new life. Maybe I needed to go back to things I knew in order to convince myself that I needed to push in a new direction. Maybe I'm just a slow learner.  Maybe I'm 43 and finally getting over the model of manhood/husbandry I was programmed to accept. Maybe I was so nervous about starting my new life on strong footing that I fell back into things I know in order to put my energy elsewhere.

Maybe I'm just making excuses.

But even if I am, excuses are done with. Teaching is done with. Journalism is done with.  Now is the time for Art. And Life. And Beauty. And Truth.

_________________________________________________________________
* Think Upton Sinclair, Ida B. Wells, and Ambrose Bierce. Good muckrakers that terrified people in positions off power. That's what journalism should be. Anything else is Public Relations. (George Orwell, paraphrased.)
** Mark Twain, paraphrased.
*** People don't read, listen, or watch news sources for facts. People generally have a grip on facts as they see it. What people look for is context, and a proper narrative.
^There's no profit in journalism, you see. Advertising based publications only thrive when they expand their advertising, and LEO can't grow into a larger market share without ceasing to be a Louisville-centric publication. 
^^Again, I'm pretty good at it.

If you like what you're reading here, I have work for sale on my amazon author page:
www.amazon.com/author/mickparsons
You can also leave a tip if you'd like. Thanks for reading!

11 February, 2016

The cold settles in: more on activism, Quixotism, and the drive for a better life

and I ran back to that hollow again
the moon was just a sliver back then
and I ached for my heart like some tin man
when it came oh it beat and it boiled and it rang..it’s ringing

ring like crazy, ring like hell
turn me back into that wild haired gale
ring like silver, ring like gold
turn these diamonds straight back into coal. 

- Gregory Alan Iskov, "The Stable Song"




Every place I've lived, regardless of the general climate, is home to the same joke:

"If you want the weather to change, wait five minutes."

Given that River City was enjoying some comfortable daytime temperatures last week, the re-emergence of winter-like weather this week is yet another reminder that Ohio River Valley Weather will find a way to refuse a more optimistic seasonal categorization.  

Now, before you think I'm complaining, Dear Friends and Readers, please know that my memories of #ZOMBIESNOWPOCALYPSE2015 are still fresh.The truth is this winter has been, so far, a fairly typical winter. It would be easy to call it too cold (because right now, it sure as hell feels like it), but given Metro Louisville's inability to handle any kind of inclement weather with any aplomb it is difficult to see the winter as anything but a catastrophe waiting to happen.

I love it for all it's follies and foibles, though. Louisville has embraced me as much as any place can embrace an itchy-footed, semi-domesticated, rarely-do-well with a better than average vocabulary.

Wherever home happens to be, it's perfectly normal to find attributes about the place that make it special to you. For example, I call Louisville home. It helps that my wife lives here, and that I'm close to family. The thing I love about Louisville besides that is that it's still basically a small town... or, at least, it behaves like one. For the most part, people here do too, though anyone who hasn't been to a city that knows its a city and behaves like one would maintain that a large population and a few tall buildings are all that is required to make a city.

This is untrue.

A city has a different heart and a different soul. Not better. Different. Cities move fast and leave the past buried in dust -- at least, until it can be resurrected to turn a greasy buck for some carpetbagging capitalist. *

Louisville still has that small town heart. It's true that the carpetbaggers are at the door -- Omni Hotel, Google Fiber -- but it's difficult to not let them in after you've already invited them in and allowed them to shit all over the furniture.** I love it hear because in spite of the efforts of people to polish it, the underbelly of the city is still -- well, a turd. River towns are always a little grimy, and they need to be. All manner of things come up and down river and are deposited here. People. Goods. Art. Pollution. A sacred connection to something older, deeper, more meaningful, and fundamentally human*** that you simply don't find in other places. Yes, there is humanity in other places. Yes, there is a way to the sacred and the divine in other places.

But a river is an ancient artery that records every age. As a matter of fact, where I sit right now is nothing more than a long dry riverbed. Waters move and cut and focus the geography, leave behind something for people to use and live and take care of. The riverbed is a living thing, recording and remembering the history we don't take time to notice.

It will be this history that sits in judgement over us long after we have become the very fossils we ignore in the name of profit.

Lately I've been trying to figure out ways to leave a positive mark on the rocks instead of a negative one. Some plans have fallen through -- working to organize local adjuncts to demand better from their masters has lost serious momentum^. Working to maintain a radical labor union has also proven nearly impossible, as I am apparently too caustic and hurt people's feels^^. This has caused me to have rethink my relationships with people and remember that most relationships are transitory. But as long  as my marriage is good and my close family still embraces me, life is good.


If you like what you read, please consider helping support the author. Thanks for reading!







__________________________
*Read: locally, the "Democratic" mayor and metro council's clear disregard for working people by allowing Omni Hotel developers to not hire union carpenters. Read also the vote in metro council tonight that, if it goes through will go against a standing union contract to bring Google Fiber to town. Yes, this town still has a small town heart and a small town soul... but Mayor Fischer and his "economic development team" are trying really hard to murder it.
**Read: 4th Street Live
*** To be human is to be of the dirt. We are a grimy bunch. And there's something sacred in that, too.
^Everyone agrees that change is necessary, but they're waiting for someone else to do the lifting... which never works. It's all of us or none of us.
^^It's true. As eloquent as I can be, I'm also an asshole sometimes. But don't mistake that admission for an apology. Having a difficult personality and being wrong are two different things. And I'm not wrong.

06 January, 2016

Don't get no respect: back to school, wobbly-style

 I'm heading back to campus today to line up the last bit of what I need to do in order to teach on Thursday. Between the usual decline in course offerings and my separation from the local alternative dining and concert guide*, this winter, like most every, will be a tight one. I'm always on the look for more work, and I'm going to be diving into some projects and working on my poetry and fiction. I'm uncharacteristically prepared for the semester to begin, actually... primarily because I'm simplifying my teaching methods and focusing on what's really important in a writing class.

Practice.

People ask me all the time what I teach. When they're kind, or when they know I write poetry, they immediately ask if I teach creative writing**. I have to, for the sake of conversation, clarify that I teach academic writing***, tossing in some scholarly research methods and some interesting stories and little known history. I've been using Labor History the last few years as the subject matter for my Intermediate classes; I think it's important try and highlight little known facts of history that get overlooked in the narrative of manifest destiny.

This semester, I'm trying something a bit different because what I find in teaching labor history is that many of my students are incredibly disconnected from the events I wanted to talk about and the stories I wanted to tell.  I also found that in my attempts to ensure I was doing my job that I lost some the fundamental elements of my teaching style that made it fun and interesting.

One of the things I'm doing is simply changing research topics, for a while. My classes are going to be examining some events from local history: the 1855 Bloody Monday Election Riots, The 1937 Ohio River Flood, and river stories and myths. We're going to talk about how these narratives -- and the narratives of more current events -- impact ourselves as individuals, as a city, and as a larger culture.

So basically -- I'm going to tell stories, read and talk about essay drafts, and focus the important stuff.

And, you know, take attendance. Can't escape the all the tedium.

But I am grateful to have some kind of work
 _________________________
*The latest article of important was about how Louisvillians in their 20's move to Germantown, where the rent is cheap. You know... like they have for the past 20 years.
**I have written before about how the term "creative writing" annoys me because it implies that some kinds of writing isn't creative or part of a creative process.
*** Academic writing, apparently, has no creative process. Don't get me started.


If you like what you read, please consider helping support the author. Thanks for reading!



04 August, 2015

A Baboon In An Ivory Tower (Or, The Gig Life, Part 2)

The beginning of August means one thing -- the academic year is about to start. And while I am still persona non grata at KCTCS -- Kentucky Cutthroats, Thieves, Cabbage-heads and Stinkbugs -- I do have some scheduled classes at the larger university down the street.  I'm going to be teaching and maintaining my newspaper gig... I'm happy doing both, like them both.

It's like dating two people except that neither one likes me enough to claim me exclusively.

Getting back in the classroom requires some prep. Each class has a blackboard module I am 
The game is: How the Hell Do I Turn in a Paper?
bound by expectation to use. It does cut down on the number of papers I carry around, since students turn things in online most of the time. It does simplify communications and makes handouts more accessible.  If the interface wasn't so non-intuitive and the overall design wasn't such a hold over from the 1980's movie Wargames,  I probably wouldn't hate it so much.

Some of my more experienced (READ: older) colleagues also hate Blackboard. Like me, they remember when teaching meant walking in with a syllabus and a piece of chalk -- yes, real chalk. We sometimes pine and talk about the days when teaching was as much a community building activity as it was an educational one. We talk about being able to circle up, talk about writing (in my case) and break down the conventional modules of institutional education that we matriculated through.

Then this funny thing happened. The conventional module of institutional education broke down.

From the time I accepted that technology would play some role in my role as teacher, I have looked tried to look at digital space as ... well... space. Students define it as a kind of space. After all a significant portion of their lives are spent in and out of digital space. The executive admins at colleges and universities see it as space, because they try to jam pack it as much as they can.  As a teacher, I have to see this ethereal space as a  kind of space where community occurs and where education can happen. My other option is to close myself off to the educational possibilities, not to mention closing myself out of potential work.

But this acceptance of digital space as educational space comes at a cost. A friend of mine recently told me an online class she is set to teach is capped at 35.*  That cap is brought to by greedy cutthroats, thieves, cabbage-heads and stinkbugs. Not only will that strain my friend, who is an excellent instructor, but it will negatively impact the educational experience of students.

Academic Deans, Provosts, and College/University Presidents who insist upon and create this kind of  institution do not care about the excessive and exploitative work loads they create or about the educational lives of students. They care about dollars. They care about the prestige of their own position. They care about how close they are to retirement so they get out of the education game and wax nostalgic about the days when paddling was an acceptable form of student crowd control.


I'm pretty excited about getting back into the classroom. There's work to be done.



 _________________________________________________________________________________________
*Just to give you some background: the optimum class size for a writing class is 18. One teacher for 18 students provides the best teacher-student interaction in and outside of class.

23 July, 2015

Superstition and Tradition

Pictured left is my second round of drinks as a paid freelance journalist in Louisville.

Nothing fancy. Just my usual round of Miller Lite and Maker's Mark. This combination has been my bar drink of choice for longer than my second marriage lasted. My older brother, whose tastes are far more refined but who can drink with the best of them when the mood strikes him, is always a little sickened by my choice of combinations.

I was feeling a little squirrelly last night after a days of spending my days in the basement, sitting at the desk, working. I love the solitude, love the pace of the work I do -- gig based and sporadic as it feels at the moment -- but sometimes I need to get out. As Amanda understands and is extraordinarily patient about, it's not even about being social. Unless I'm meeting friends, I don't even socialize all that much.

The best way I know how to explain it is that sometimes I just need to swim around in a reasonable crowd of normal people who are not me, my books, my stringed instruments, the dog, or the cat. And sometimes I need a good bar with an uncomplicated air to find the ground. I need a place where I can be quiet and still feel like I've socialized.


I've established myself in a neighborhood watering hole that meets all the requirements set forth my pre-established Rules For Not At Home Drinking*.  And although I don't see the inside of a bar as much these days thanks to "the gig life" and the general financial burden that is summer (Thanks engrained academic schedule!), I felt it was important to go and have a  round or three out of the first check I earned as freelance journalist here in River City.

This was as much about wanting to see the inside of a familiar bar as it was superstition. In my last gig as a freelance muckraker -- with the The Prairie-Advocate out of Lanark, Illinois -- the first thing I did when I got paid was walk up to the local watering hole (there were two at the time and I was strongly discouraged by my  now ex-wife from walking in to one...  she called it, not incorrectly, "the redneck meat market") and have a beer and a shot. Bourbon is hard to find that far north, so I made do with a shot of Jack** and stuck to beer after that.

Drinking to inaugurate a new gig is something I see as crucial to the success of that gig. I did the same with first checks from teaching gigs in my 30's and still do in my 40's. I did the same from checks from day labor and factory/warehouse gigs in my 20's.  I will admit to a certain superstitious bent, but that's only because once money rolls in on the regular or semi-regular, it is immediately gobbled up in that bottomless pit called Bills and Other Unsavory Obligations.***

I had more reason to celebrate this gig check, though. When Amanda and I were first talking about me moving to River City and setting down some roots, I wasn't planning on going back to teaching. My Plan was to try and wow some of the local media with my portfolio of news writing. My Plan was that maybe I'd wiggle my way into some freelance work, and start building a fresh portfolio upon which I could build a livelihood out of writing. I don't really consider myself hampered by the fact that I don't have a degree in journalism (I did minor in it once upon a time). But I did find, on first pass, that not having a journalism degree in a medium-sized market as problematic as not having an MFA when you're applying for creative grants.

Sometimes editors, publishers take the absence of a specific degree personally. So my foray into the Louisville journalism scene didn't pan out. Initially.

But, as I am often reminded, everything is about timing.

Talking with Amanda about moving here and writing for LEO was the beginning of  this new and happier chapter in my life. In case you didn't know this about me, in addition to being somewhat superstitious, I'm also a touch sentimental about certain important things. Although I know that this gig is only prelude to something else and life moves forward, it reminds that 1) I really do like writing about news and think good, researched journalism matters, and 2) the Universe is sometimes very kind to me... and even looks out for me from time to time.

So, Sláinte ^ , Dear Friends and Readers.

________________________________________________________________
* Rules For Not At Home Drinking, codified and approved 2004, Cincinnati, OH. 1) Do not drink more than stumbling distance or not more than a 30 minute bus ride (no transfers) from home without having a ride. 2) Do not drink more than 5 shots of bourbon in a two hour period, regardless of how good or how empty the mood. 3.) Hydrate regularly. 4.) Eat properly 5.) Be safe.
** Any drinking rules I have get altered when Jack Daniels gets involved. Say what you will, but different liquors hit me differently... and the last time I went on a Jack induced bender I ended up getting hit... and hitting other people. Something in that Tennessee swill raises the temperature of my blood to an unpleasant degree. I take this as proof that I am, at least physiologically, in the right state now.
*Or, THE DEVIL INCARNATE
^ Gaelic for 'Good Health' or 'Last one to drink is a Protestant Tory.'

03 June, 2015

Solidarity Along the Dirty, Sacred, River: The Virtue of Proportional Response

I had an entirely different blog entry planned.

The blog I was going write was going to regale you, dear friends and readers, with the terrible tale of #respondent53 -- a scab of the worst sort who was sneakily trying to undermine the attempts of myself and others to improve the work conditions at one of the places I taught here in River City.

The blog I was going to write was going to talk about adjunct activism and how I see it as a natural extension of the class war that is destroying unions, has decimated the middle class, and has demonized the poor and under-employed.

Instead, however, I find myself writing about how I got fired.

When I began even thinking about getting involved in adjunct activism, I knew there were risks. Kentucky is an anti-labor, anti-union state. The culture of fear and apathy among educational workers is pervasive.  I say among educational workers, but in fact, that culture of fear and apathy -- fear of reprisal and apathy that things can ever get any better -- is just as pervasive in any other segment of the work force.  That educational workers are not exempt from these feelings -- including adjunct instructors -- is part of what forced me to speak up. Everyone knows what the problems are and has pretty good ideas on what, specifically, needs to be changed.

But people are scared -- for every legitimate reason in the world.  No one wants to lose their spot at the table, or risk seeing their families suffer the impact of extended unemployment. We have so much to lose -- homes, position, respect -- that to stand up and demand reasonable change feels impossible.

Yet that is what I and others have done.

Some of you might recall this article in LEO about The Louisville Teach-In. The attention was generally good and did foster some not entirely bad results. One institution flat out called us liars and the other called for a committee to examine and make recommendations regarding the issue of adjunct labor. Not only was I named to the committee, I was elected one of the three co-chairs of the committee. My first action was to forward a recommendation that would give adjunct the same status and voting privileges as full time faculty. This was met with resistance and with interest, but I knew it was only a matter of time. One colleague in particular objected because voting was something full time people get paid for. Her solution was a lump sum pay increase.

After a cursory look at the annual budget summary, however, it became clear that there was no money for such an increase -- which made my voting proposal start to look even better since, on the face of it, it was what the bean counters call "budget neutral."

When I was on the way back from my honey moon, someone from human resources called to set up a meeting with the Academic Dean. I was told that the purpose of the meeting was "budgetary."

Walking into the meeting, I was bushwacked by the Academic Dean, the Provost and the Head of  Human Resources, who informed me that the TRUE nature of the meeting was a disciplinary one. It was brought to their attention  that I'd made comments on Facebook that they chose to interpret as problematic. They claim I violated a student's FERPA rights even though
  1. I never mentioned a student's name, and
  2. there was no mention of specific grades.
I was complaining about a hypothetical student's refusal to follow directions. This is something that a lot of teachers do, especially in the throes of a grading frenzy.

The thing about FERPA is that there are no two institutions that interpret it the same way. In places it is so vaguely worded that it is unclear whether instructors are allowed to discuss grades with students via email or whether that in and of itself constitutes a violation.

Another thing about FERPA is this: generally FERPA violations are handled with a stern warning and some in house "counseling."  Not only was I fired, but I have been barred from employment at all KCTCS campuses -- all 64 of them across the state.

I also know that my neither my department chair nor division chair were notified or included in this process; the department chair wasn't told she needed to staff the class I was prepared to walk in and teach on the same day I was fired until AFTER I was fired.

That gave her about an hour to find a qualified person to step into my place.

My firing and banishment was ordered from on high, from the central office legal division -- where the true seat of power in any corporate structure sits. The person who filed the complaint against me -- another adjunct who I have alluded to in social media as #respondent53 -- turned me in to the system PUBLIC RELATIONS OFFICE. #Respondent53, I have on good authority, trolled my page for a good 6 months trying to find something on me to use.

I call this person #respondent53 because when my co-organizer Kate sent out an adjunct survey -- to begin getting a system wide idea of where people's concerns were -- this person used the survey to attack us personally.  Regardless of whatever political disagreements people have with me, the fact is that making fun of how I dress is not an appropriate critical approach. It's insipid and juvenile and rooted in the very rot that is killing higher education and murdering the intellectual and creative spirit of the country as a whole.

My response to this event is that I plan taking action on multiple levels, legal and public. The excuse is flimsy and I have no doubt that the action taken against me is retaliatory.  I've already begun the process of exploring possible appeals -- because this attempt to silence me is not really about me at all.

The real issue is that when adjuncts stand up and demand to be treated with respect, they are systematically retaliated against in order to keep everyone else in line. It's true that progress has been made in other places across the country; but that progress has been hard fought and not without sacrifice. We're going to move forward with our efforts to organize and to unionize and to fight for change. Adjuncts deserve better. Students deserve better than bean counters who don't care about whether there's someone to teach the class. The public deserves an educational system that allows people to grow into active, productive, critically-minded citizens.





29 November, 2014

The Puritans Never Did This, Part 1: Under an Overload, Loading in, and The Dirty River Press

1. Under and Overload, Loading In, and The Dirty River Press

It's been a while since I sat down to write about life here along the dirty, sacred river. This past academic semester has been doing a number on your humble narrator -- teaching 7 first year college writing classes is more than this fuzzy fella has done a while. I was (and am) grateful to have the work. After a long and interminable summer of not working, I took on what I knew was going to be entirely too much for two very important reasons:
  1. to catch up on the bills that had piled up over the summer, and
  2. because that nagging, annoying remainder of my socialized male ego told me I needed to in order to hold my head up.
The first of these is self-evident. Even in these, the crumbling days of Babylon, the utilities must be paid and the money My Own True Love brings in will only stretch so far... in spite of us being pretty good at rubbing pennies together.

The second of the above listed reasons for teaching entirely too much for too little pay is the one that has made this semester physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually draining.

While I know that I have perfected the Art of Loafing into... well, an Art... I have never minded working when I know what it is I'm working for. Even in the life of a matriculated conscientious malingerer,  sweat equity is a necessary component. It's impossible to be an anarchist and not recognize that life is a DIY process. Where I start to begrudge work is when I feel like it is NOT for me, or for things, people, and institutions I that I reject as having any place in my life. And while I love teaching -- and I expect that I always will, in some way, be teaching -- one of the couple of things this semester has reminded me of is that in order to actually ensure some future stability as well as my sanity, it's a bad idea to depend on teaching in the crumbling institution of higher yearning for anything more than a temporary stop gap between feast and famine.

And so, Dear Readers, Friends, and Fellow Travellers, I am set to announce The Dirty River Press:





I had been tossing around an old idea... that one being Iron Belly Press. I'd been carrying that idea around since the demise of The One-Legged Cow Press more than a few years ago. You'd think I would have learned my lesson then.

Well, I didn't. I also decided that if this was to be a new venture... Amanda, brave woman that she is, is undertaking this with me in full partnership and commiseration... and that if this was going to be emblematically, symbolically, and in actuality tied to my present and our future, then it must tied spiritually and ritualistically. It must be embodied of new myths and new stories. And here, Dear Readers, is where I find myself: sitting along the dirty sacred river, home of the Gator Men, dead sharks, polluted waters, abandoned pirate ships, and water buried towns.

We don't have a website yet, but we have a space That's right, an actual space, located in The Mammoth an old paper warehouse located on S. 13th Street here in River City. Dirty River Press is sharing the space with fellow worker John Paul Wright and railroadmusic.org, as well as the Kentucky IWW. This is a collaborative space. A raw canvas if you will, full of artist studios and good ideas and powerful world creating energies.  I'm in the process of pricing used off-set printers and will be acquiring one soon. Our first run will hopefully happen around my 42nd birthday, February 20th, 2015. Dirty River Press will specialize in limited editions of hand made chapbooks, broadsides, and pamphlets. We'll publish a small catalog of work, including my own -- because being an anarchist means owning the means of production, even when you are producing art. We will also be setting up shop as a union printer in order to support the literary purpose of the press.

We also have a Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/dirtyriverpress

I'm pretty excited about this. You don't need to wait for a new life. Make a new life.

I have to sign off for now. But expect the forthcoming:

  1.  Part 2: Black Friday Protesting Along The Dirty Sacred, River
  2. An audio recording. Very Very Soon.
Thanks for reading, and for hanging around.

10 February, 2014

Regarding Gator Men

Jake The Alligator Man, Marsh's Free Museum, WA
I don't know if Gator Men actually exist. From a purely biological and ecological point of view, it's not outside the realm of possibility that alligators can live in the Ohio River. (See this report from the Portsmouth Daily Times about a gator found in the river.)

I've never seen a gator in the wild, and certainly nowhere around where I grew up. And I'm not entirely sure where the idea of Gator Men entered my subconscious. I was reading through a collection of old journals about the early wars between French trappers, British military, and Native American Tribes in the Ohio Valley and there was a short reference to them in an account by the journaler about a conversation with a flatboat operator.

Of course, it' significant to mention that I went looking for that reference to Gator Men.

I was sitting one day in the Part-Time Teacher's Dungeon in the Rhet and Comp Division at the University of Louisville. Office hours are mandatory and occasionally useful when you have a backup of student essays to read... and of course, we're supposed to be accessible to students in spite of the fact that 1) they will rarely stop by and 2) will more than likely shoot off a series of 10 separate emails with 20 different questions at 3 in the morning and then claim you never answered them when you don't respond by 7 when they pass out. In the absence of actual work or actual students, I read, I scribble, I day dream. On this particular day, after once again having to argue with cogs in la machina about whether or not I was really a real person and employee on the campus of That Other Kentucky University, I closed my eyes.

I allowed myself to drift -- not to sleep, but to relax. My colleagues, most of whom were doctoral students who eyed me with certain suspicion because I was not, ignored me (as was their custom) and when on complaining alternately about their students and their professors. And as I was drifting, the phrase echoed from the itchy back of  my brain, where all my better notions are born and where all my odd tendencies take root...

Gator Men live in the river....

I'm still looking for more evidence of them, the Gator Men. It's hard to tell because all accounts I've read thus far are historic and never first hand... always some British interloper writing about what he heard while on his way to murder Injuns.

I did get a poem out of it, though. I'll think of a title eventually.


Higher piles of learning and ennui stifle the city of Atlanta
and the snow is seventeen men deep in Carroll County, Illinois.
We do not mark time in that manner here.
Ohio Valley folk keep track, not by the high tide
or by the count of barges carrying coal westward
from gutted Appalachian hills.
Not anymore. Everyone exists elsewhere –
dreaming of a permanent summer sun,
imagining the right circumstances
under which we will leave this place,


our world view defined by a modern indifference
to locks and docks and the swelling of the tide.
In the absence of all-knowing and immortal river men,


we search the horizon for some fresh landscape, unspoiled by memory
where the Gator Men do not hunker down
in dank and murky dreams
waiting for us to slip beneath and sleep
so they can take us for a sweet death roll
and show us
where all our childhood treasures are buried
never to be rediscovered.


_________

By the way: if you think there's nothing living in the Ohio but 3-eyed muskies and catfish with an extra set of teeth (and there are..) check out this article about an octopus that was fished out of the Dirty, Sacred, River. Sweet Dreams.