Confessions of a Fraud

Giant FDear reader:

I am a failure…a fraud. I claim to be a writer, but I did not finish my sabbatical project. I did write…not every day, but I wrote. Does that make it a success?

I tell my students that all they need to do is try. “Write something,” I say. Even if it’s awful, you can fix it later. I give them chance after chance to get it right. Some students take all of those chances, and they eventually get it right…or at least close enough. Some students stop trying, and that’s OK, too. They’ll find a time, hopefully, to try again.

Yet, I’m not as kind to myself. I only give myself one chance to get it right. I didn’t finish my 250-page memoir, and I’ve been beating myself up over it for nearly a year. So, it’s now time to come clean.

WritesomethingI didn’t finish my 250-page memoir, but I did start it.

I didn’t finish my 250-page memoir, but I did revitalize a 20-year-old novel I had been ignoring despite its loud voice in my head. I must finish it whether it’s publishable or not.

I didn’t finish my 250-page memoir, but I created a few teaching exercises used by hundreds, maybe even thousands, of students nationwide.

I didn’t finish my 250-page memoir, but I hiked miles and miles and took hundreds of photographs.

I didn’t finish my 250-page memoir, but I took a course on computer coding and remembered how hard it is to be a student.

I didn’t finish my 250-page memoir, but I learned that sometimes what you intend to write just doesn’t come out the way you want, but what does come out is what’s intended. So, I ask you: did I really fail?

I try to be open to lessons, but this particular failure has been hard to face. I’ve been waiting to be punished…to be confronted for this failure, but I’m afraid it isn’t this failure that will ultimately be my demise. Instead, it will be my failure to face failure that might just be my undoing.

Wish me luck, dear reader.

~ K

Did Harry Ever Really Meet Sally?

when harry met sally

My husband and I have had a long standing argument about When Harry Met Sally… that 1989 romantic comedy with Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. In it Harry Burns, Billy Crystal’s character continues to maintain that men and women can’t be friends because the sex always gets in the way, and the movie goes on to show sex getting in the way of Harry’s and Sally’s friendship. My husband maintains that this argument is correct. I have always contended that, while this is amusing, it is not honest, that men and women can and should be friends. In my own life I have many male friends with whom there is no sexual tension or even a hint of sexual interest. I also think that this idea is deeply dangerous to marriage. If men and women cannot be friends because the sex always gets in the way, then what does that say about marriage? What does that say about a relationship that is supposed to based on mutual respect, love and companionship? Sex is, of course, part of marriage, but it’s not everything, and if there’s no room for friendship, then what?

But the problem that I see in adhering so strongly to this belief is that it cuts off the possibility of friendship between half the human race. It segregates and ghettoizes the sexes, for a really antiquated reason. Given today’s work places, and fluid child care arrangements, men and women must work together in ways that they would not have during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Think about TV’s Mad Men, the roles of men and women that show are very clearly proscribed and even the professional women are not accorded the same status as the men. However, much, tho’ not all of that has changed in the last 60 or so years, and while, not perfect, there is more equality in the work place, and more parents are sharing child care responsibility. Labor is less divided along gender roles. If men and women cannot be friend in the work place, what does that do to working together on joint projects, working cooperatively, working as a team. To assume that men and women cannot be friends because sex always gets in the way is to assume that men are always sexual predators.

Harry and Sally spend a lot of time walking around New York, being friends, but when Harry wants to talk about something serious he has to resort to silly voices. He can’t take an emotional risks without slipping into “character.”  It is difficult to have a real friendship with someone whose does this, who takes on a “persona” when he wants to reach into emotional territory.

At the end of the movie, Harry runs across New York (and the movie is an homage to Manhattan) to find Sally at a New Year’s Eve dance because at one time, earlier in the movie they had promised each other that neither of them would let the other be alone on New Year’s Eve. He tells he loves her.. in words like “When you realize that you want to be with someone the rest of your life, then you have to start now” Sally’s response is, “I hate you, Harry Burns, I hate you.”

Her response has always chilled me on several levels. First of all, it’s not true and she could say “I love you,” back to him. She does love him in some weird way. But it also feels to me like a capitulation to a kind of 1950’s relationship. It seems to me that Sally sees that the only way for her to have a relationship with Harry is totally on his terms. We know that they will settle into a traditional marriage, as the little interviews with the older couples in the movie attest, and on some level, will never know each other.

After Harry and Sally have sex in the movie, and it messes up their friendship, they each call their best friends to talk about the situation. I wonder what would have happened if Harry had called Sally’s friend, Marie, and Sally had called Harry’s friend, Jess. They might have had a chance to learn something about each other and about the opposite sex instead of simply slipping into the old clichés about relationships.

The difficulty is that the old clichés about relationships don’t work. They leave partners wondering about how to talk to each other. They let partners turn to their same sex friends to reinforce the clichés. Opening up friendship to include friends of both sexes might actually provide a refreshing and less stale perspective on the world.




Dear Readers:

It may seem that we’re silent because we have nothing to say,  but in reality, there’s so much to say that a blog post seems insufficient.

Please stay tuned while we settle into a new semester and figure out how to pour these vast thoughts into this small medium.

Thanks for reading!


Walking on Air

luca walking on air

the best air-walker I know is nine.

The air is heavy in Sheridan County today. We cannot see our mountains through the smoke that has settled in the valley. Idaho is on fire and our horizon is missing. Their stoic grandeur usually feels solid and certain, directional; I feel lost without the mountains to my west.

The missing mountains upend me even more as I leave summer days behind for my office and curriculum planning. It’s not that I hate coming to work – I love my job and I am annoyingly fond of the starting school year. But I do not like trading fresh air and sunshine for inside time. I always feel a bit lost in my air conditioned office.

Yet today I was happy to work indoors, if only to escape the smoke. The fog I face in my brain is so similar to the veil hiding my mountains. I know where the peaks are, but when they aren’t in sight I feel disoriented. I know how to plan the semester, but I can’t see beyond the pile of work in front of me to the start of classes.

As I point out before the start of every semester, when my usual landmarks are missing, I go looking for words. Sometimes I search for class readings and lesson ideas, but more often I read poetry. The poet’s economy of words smooths the frayed edges of my back-to-school brain. This August, I keep going back to the epitaph that was just added to Seamus Heaney’s grave in Bellaghy, Co Derry, Ireland: “walk on air against your better judgement.”

Heaney has explained the line, from his poem The Gravel Walks, as a new understanding, a break from his “earth hugging” work that is so closely tied to the practical world. He said he began “to look up” and realize that “the marvelous was as permissible as the matter-of-fact.” Heaney reminds his readers to seek the in-between spaces. He has said that the space between the “dream world” and the “given world” is beautiful, even necessary. tumblr_mig2mijBIR1rrbaxho1_1280

When we cannot see clearly, we are forced to look up from the practical, “given,” world. Maybe the smoky veil obscuring the mountains forces me to seek new landmarks. And maybe the haze of the new school semester forces me to seek inspiration in unfamiliar places. Heaney’s recommendation “to walk on air” suggests an action rooted in something like faith. We cannot use our knowing brains to understand the “dream world” – we must extend our thinking and trust something other than what we can see in front of us. I feel ungrounded without my mountains, but that seems to be just what Heaney is suggesting: an un-grounding that will reveal the marvelous.

The smoky air makes it hard for me to breath and I will welcome the change in winds forecasted to move this air away from our valley. I will welcome clear skies and familiar landmarks. Likely the haze in the air will dissipate far more quickly than the haze in my head, but maybe I can take advantage of the change in perspective and find something spectacular for my upcoming classes.

~ Sarah

A New Semester


It’s August once again, and inevitably we begin thinking about the beginning of school. While many students in this country do not start until after Labor Day, most of us in the Rocky Mountain West start in late August. Our community college classes start on August 24, with faculty returning the week before. What spread out before me in May as a long and restful summer is coming to a crashing and busy end. But what I didn’t know when school ended in May was how my plans for the fall would change.

About a week ago, a friend of mine called and asked me if I would be interested in using her extensive research and material about American prisoners of war in WWII for a writing class, designing some way to help her begin to create curriculum to use the material she has collected over that last 20 years. All it took was one meeting with her to make me realize that I had just been given an incredible gift, a chance for students to work with primary source material, for them to learn history from letters, to learn about real people experiencing real hardship.

I have now rewritten the course outline for my English 1010 (college comp ) classes, designed a final project and decided on readings and on writing assignments. Luckily, I can do this easily, but what is important here, is not that I can do this, but that I should do this. As teachers, it is too easy to rely on the “same-old, same –old,” the tried and probably not so true material and techniques.   Writing texts are generally boring, generally not exciting, but going straight to a primary source, (in this case, letters from POWs) is fresh, is new and will fire the imaginations of students who are, for the most part, expecting school to be a not very exciting necessity.

The world is too rich a place for school to be dull, but school is dull if teachers are not excited about what they are doing. I am thrilled to have access to some new material even if it means a little extra work. I am lucky to have had this opportunity dumped in my lap. It is often too easy to say no, to come up with an excuse about not having time or not feeling comfortable trying something new at the last minute, but we miss out on so much unless we are willing to jump in, to take a chance, experiment. Writing can be taught in almost any context, and I, for one, do not want to read essays about what someone did on their summer vacation. I would rather read essays in which students struggle with new ideas that have been generated by reading things these students have never read before, generated by students grappling how others have coped with terrible experiences.

Besides the primary sources of the letters themselves, we will be reading two books, The Railway Man by Erik Lomax and Escape from Davao by John D. Lucas. The Lomax book is a first hand account of his imprisonment and torture by the Japanese during the war. Lomax ultimately, many years later, meets one of the men who tortured him. He comes to understand that the experience of torture is as damaging to the torturer as it is to the tortured. In this times when the United States has clearly engaged in torture of many people, this book will, I hope, provoke many conversations about the futility of war and of torture.

I cannot think of a more exciting way to begin my last year of teaching before I retire.