Music Monday: Reflections on the Genius of Dwight Yoakam

English: Dwight Yoakam

English: Dwight Yoakam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Visiting Newark, New Jersey and participating in Philip Roth’s 80th birthday celebration has had a seismic effect on how I relate to his fiction.

Seeing the place from which all that great art erupted was an ecstatic experience, but one that also filled me with a sense of profound loss. Roth’s career has been in many ways a project of re-constructing lost Jewish Newark, his childhood home, and this, it occurs to me, is why I find it all so moving. Roth has done something with his tragi-comic art that I am unable to do in my serio-farcical life.

I feel as though I come from nowhere.

I was born in Cleveland to two wonderful parents who participated in a great migration north from Appalachia. About half my family remained and about half moved to the Northeast Ohio region. This migration was altogether called-for, as the coal mining industry that was the region’s economic base had become highly mechanized and work was difficult to come by. My parents moving to Ohio with a few of their brothers and sisters was a difficult decision, but a necessary one. I am to this day in awe of their bravery and thankful for the life they made possible for me.

Yet all of this comes with a cost, doesn’t it?

The roots of tradition, culture, and family were necessarily cut off from me and I was left to cobble my own identity together from Spider-Man comics, Sherlock Holmes stories, and Elvis Costello. All good things, but so specifically mine.

What I’ve always longed for was a place to bestow on me a collective cultural memory. I’ve always wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. This is certainly the root of my attraction to Roth’s fiction and probably the reason I’ve chosen the liberal arts as my career. It also probably explains a mania I have about getting my kids settled in a place as soon as possible. (Relax Anderson! Just let it happen…). I’m a bit of a “community” fetishist.

A quick shout out to the internet is due here: Thanks to the advent of Facebook, I’ve been able to reconnect with much of my extended West Virginia family, and I hope to keep that connection active through family reunions in the future (if any of you are reading this, please lets get this done).

So what does all of this have to do with the great Dwight Yoakam?

Well, Yoakam is, in my opinion, a singular American Genius. His ability to absorb a huge variety of cultural influences and hone them into a sound that is authentically and unmistakably hillbilly is unparalleled. In addition, his songwriting, at its best, captures small details about life that communicates the vastness, wonder, joy, and pain of living.

I described above a cultural de-rooting that has been my legacy, and I fear that I cannot find words to due it justice. My description is, I’m sure, very trite. Yoakam’s song “Readin’, Writin’, and Route 23” is a far greater emotional document of the experience. Please enjoy and share!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Hi-Five Friday, Philip Roth Edition

Comic face made by author, Philip Roth, while standing near Jewish center and Hebrew school he probably attended as a boy.  (Photo by Bob Peterson//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Ok, so this photo isn’t technically of a high-five, but hey! I met the man himself this week, so give me a break alright?

This incredible experience will be the subject of my next full post, but in the meantime, take a look at these articles and let me know what you think! Have a great weekend.

1). The New Yorker’s Re-Cap of Roth’s Birtday Bash.

I still can’t believe I was there. It feels like a dream.

2). Goodbye Newark, The Place Roth Never Left.

The New York Times’ account of the bash.

3). “Give Him Your Lips.”

From the fabulous website How to Be a Retronaught, an incredible visual collection of our society’s craziness. Must be seen to be believed. Oddly appropriate for the Roth edition, I think…

4). Article about Urban Hipsters (Con).

5). Article about Urban Hipsters (Pro).

Next up: My first-hand account of a historical moment: Roth’s 80th birthday!

Happy reading.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Music Monday – Ian Dury Edition

 

Cover of

Cover of New Boots & Panties

 

I have no idea how this one came back to me, but Ian Dury gets my vote as the world’s coolest polio victim (my apologies to FDR).

Dury was a kind of elder statesman among the British Punks, having long paid his dues in the “pub rock” scene of the early to mid-70’s. He and his band, the Blockheads, put out a few spectacular, disco-tinged punk albums in the late 70’s, including my personal favorite, New Boots and Panties.

“Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” is an infectious, weird, dance-able punk song that bludgeons the listener with rhythm. Best line? “Hit me with your rhythm stick, it’s nice to be a lunatic! Hit me, hit me, hit me!!!”

Enjoy and let me know what you think!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Tweaching Ethics

thinkerRethought-04

The Thinker, blown-up and under construction (photo courtesy of Clevelandart.org)

This past week, I continued my classroom-Twitter-alchemy-experiments. It led to some interesting results, so I thought I’d share, since many of my readers have expressed interest in the process I began blogging about here.

Using the hashtag #EthicsInComp, my classes threw their conceptions of plagiarism and academic integrity into the Twittersphere and we used those responses to open our discussion.

As always, there were a range of responses, from descriptive (what plagiarism is) to general philosophies about personal character and integrity. As each response appeared on the screen in front of us (pictured above – thanks to one of my students for the photo!), we elaborated and had a fairly productive discussion. There was also the humorous moment when one student, unable to contribute anything original, simply re-tweeted his neighbor’s submission. We had a laugh about this, but I quickly noted that what the student had, in fact, done was to provide a direct quote (with citation!). A few light bulbs seemed to flash and I was satisfied.

In all, I’m still not sure that Twitter represents a revolution in learning as much as a novel way to capture students’ attention for a short time. If the Tweeting continues too long, I notice a slow, but persistent process of students being sucked into their handheld devices and out of my classroom – it’s a truly metaphysical moment.

If, however, I can transition quickly enough into an actual old-fashioned classroom activity, then Tweaching has been a great way to grasp their attention (and maybe make them think I’m cooler than I actually am). If any reader has advice about how they use Twitter or electronic media in the classroom, I’d love to hear about it.

Ethics and Learning

Twitter encourages brevity and that is its strength and weakness. My students conception of ethics fit well in the Twittersphere since it was largely slogan-driven. “Don’t cheat, because you’re only cheating yourself” etc…

One thing I have become convinced of is that we do not spend near enough time talking about the depths of academic integrity. Instead, we satisfy ourselves with razor thin notions of right and wrong. With almost no exceptions, my students told me that plagiarism is as simple as copying material from someone else without citing it. This is the beginning and the end of their thinking on the issue and I think it’s a problem.

From this perspective, plagiarism is simply an ethical decision that good people obviously know they will never make. This viewpoint is inadequate because plagiarism and academic integrity are much more complicated than that.

Building on the vocabulary of ethics and morality that our tweeting provided, I posed a few scenarios for my students that sparked a tremendous discussion – I was proud of them.

1). Say that you find out that you are writing about the same short story as your friend. Is it alright to discuss the story in order to learn more about it?

2). Suppose that you go to your instructor to talk about your ideas. Is what he or she says in that meeting OK for you to use in your paper?

3). What do you do if your friends know that you have a better grasp of the assignment than they do and they ask to see your paper, to get ideas about how they might tackle the assignment.

None of these scenarios adhere to the simplicity that the “don’t steal” school of academic integrity suggests. In reality, very good people make bad decisions in each of these situations, and that is in large part due to their complexity. There is of course nothing wrong with talking about a story with your friends outside of class. In fact, your teachers would love that. There is a line that can’t be crossed, however, and the problem is that the line is ill-defined.

The problem is exacerbated when the line is not only ill-defined, but ill-considered. When we reduce cheating and integrity to simple truisms, we set ourselves up for failure. Life is complex and simple rules do not prepare one for living it.

An ethical life is not lived by rules. It is lived in ambiguity. Avoiding that ambiguity invites disaster.

Please share this if you have the notion. A conversation about ethics wouldn’t hurt anyone right now.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Hi-Five Friday, Ides of March Edition

byu high five

Hello again, sports fans.

Here’s your weekend reading.

1). “The Myth of the ‘Simple Reading of Scripture’” – TE Hanna.

An argument for challenging yourself as a reader. As an English teacher, I say yes.

2). “Danger of Secondhand Laptop Browsing” – Inside Higher Ed.

Very brief summary of a study that calls the technopia into question. Beware students. I’m coming for your laptops.

3). “Spider-Man Turns 50” – David Brothers

I’ve loved Spider-Man since I was a kid and this explains exactly why. A must read.

4). “The Delicate Architecture of Water Droplets” – Yohani Kamarudin

An incredibly beautiful photo essay that will take your breath away.

5). “Why Do People Use Nope Even Though No is Shorter?” – Marc Ettlinger

A fascinating explanation of our complex, beautiful minds. Do I believe this? Yup.

Please read, enjoy, and share your thoughts! 

Music Monday

3/11/13 – Marshall Crenshaw Edition

 

Marshall Crenshaw (album)

Marshall Crenshaw (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Today I’m trying out a new weekly feature – Music Mondays.

Scanning my mp3 player this morning, I stumbled across a lost classic that I hadn’t thought about in years. “Cynical Girl” by Marshall Crenshaw.

First off, Crenshaw was the post-punk new wave’s answer to Buddy Holly, not just due to his appearance, but mostly because of his amazing songwriting and pop sensibilities. This dude can write a catchy pop song.

This song is my personal favorite of his. It has a driving rhythm and a Holly-esque lead guitar, all organized around an infectiously bouncy bass line. In addition to its catchiness, the song’s lyrics capture an sweet, and hopeful angst that pretty much characterized my teenage years (heck, who am I kidding – I’m still that way). The song’s speaker is an anti-utopian utopianist. He idealizes a future love who is just as cynical as he is about the world, making his cynicism something hopeful and naïve. This is the stuff of a Shakespeare sonnet, I say.

Have a listen and don’t forget to dance!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Hi-Five Friday

AUSTRALIA-VATICAN-POPE

March 8, 2013

I’ve decided to try out a new weekly feature. A list of five examples of internet awesomeness that comes across my RSS feed each week. I got the idea from Derek Ouellette at Covenant of Love and decided to adapt it myself. If you have anything you think I should post, send it along! Enjoy!

In no particular order…

Flannery O’Connor, Faith, and a Wooden Leg” – Kathleen Nielson

Having just taught O’Connor to a group of neophytes (from Georgia no less!), I just had to keep it rolling.

Why I Write For Free” – Stephanie Lucianovic

The pleasure and pain of writing just to write. A must for any blogger out there.

The 30 Best Places to Be if You Love Books” – Tanner Ringerud

A detailed description of my next 30 vacation destinations!

Imagine Sisyphus Happy: How Camus Helps Fay Weldon Keep on Writing” – Joe Fassler

This is a short, yet powerful manifesto about why the writer’s struggles are worth it.

Mumford and Sons, God, and the New Sincerity” – Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

An excellent and thought-provoking analysis of people taking themselves seriously at last. I have some qualms with the author’s under-thinking the term “sincerity,” but found the piece provocative.

If you get the time to read any of these, please let me know what you think. The point is JUST READ!

Preachin’ to the Choir

apollo with lyre

Digression

Three months into this blog, I’ve reached a strange crossroads. Looking back over the topics I cover, I see posts about teaching, religion, conspiracy theories, werewolves, and child rearing, among others. It’s a dizzying array of topics that I’m sure confuses my readers and makes it difficult to “build an audience” for my blog. In all honesty, this has bothered me too much, I think. The great blogger Bryan Daniels has inspired me to not care about numbers so much in this post on his blog, Chief of the Least.

Liberation! Wasn’t that easy?

Anyhow, as it turns out, the posts I like best are the ones that blur the distinctions between my topics. My recent post, “The Werewolf Priesthood,” is a good example of what I’m talking about. It’s about werewolves, yes. But it is also about faith. And teaching. And parenting. Is my confusion clear? Where are the lines at which one topic begins and the others end?

So this is how I will approach this blog for the time being. Numbers be darned.

Psst. But seriously, one or two shares or likes on Facebook or Google+ makes a huge difference to my fragile, pathetic self-esteem! 🙂

Oh, Original Sin. You fascinate me.

End Digression

This post will hopefully be focused on and applicable to a specific audience, to be consumed and distributed as they see fit. I do hope, however, that the broader intersections are apparent as well, because they are important to me.

 

English: the first of the Epistles to the Colo...

English: the first of the Epistles to the Colossians (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Sometimes, listening to the sermon in church pays off. I recently heard a sermon about the Epistle to the Colossians that opened my eyes to something I’d never known. Verses 15-20 of chapter 1 are apparently lyrics to a popular hymn in the proto-Christian era.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

(Colossians 1:15-20 ESV)

This was a revelation to me.

The Apostle Paul’s subsequent advice column was not simply information given to instruct the intellects of his readers. Instead, it organically erupted out of an engagement with art! Paul seems to know that his readers engage with the world through means that transcend mere rational logic. In fact, I argue that the logic of religion must engage the imagination as much as the brain. It could very well be that because I happen to teach English, I find this element of Colossians more exciting than anyone else does, but, nonetheless, it struck a chord with my inner poet.

The lyrics in this little ditty are certainly pedagogical in nature and they offer an essential vision of orthodox Christian theology. Yet they are innately poetic as well. Phrases like “image of the invisible God,” and “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” are not literal, but imaginative, and they offer the human reader an entryway into the supernatural, the Divine. Theologically,  they establish a theme in the first line about Jesus springing forth into history, directly from the central God. The theme is repeated (becoming a motif!) by the use of imagery that subsequently centralizes Jesus, making him the center around which the Christian life revolves. Whether one is a believer or not (I imagine many of my readers are not), there is an aesthetically pleasing poetic structure in these words that is admirable.

Paul, being the … ahem … great prose stylist that he is … cough cough … builds his instruction, or argument, upon this poetic beauty. Thank goodness!

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

(Colossians 1:21-23 ESV)

This snappy bit of prose (wink wink) makes even less sense if the reader does not understand Jesus as central to salvation. Given the supernatural and mystical nature of this belief, it is a concept much better conceived in the poetic than it is driven home in didactic form.

I have, as I’ve alluded to in the past, severe difficulty with contemporary Christian music (and culture in general). We’ve found a way to isolate the emotional and pedagogical elements of faith, assigning the former to music and the latter to sermons. This makes for bad poetry (“Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy, wet kiss” – ick) and, in my opinion, a degraded culture. This discovery about Colossians, which was new to me, was therefore exciting. Here is a model that insists we do better.

This discovery not only has theological ramifications, it also opens up yet another intersection, that between faith and literature. I’ve posted about this particular crossroad before; if you missed it here’s the link.

As an English professor, this discovery is not only exciting, it is a relief. Maybe I’m not Jekyll and Hyde after all.

Enhanced by Zemanta