Thursday, September 28, 2006

Emerson quotes

Caroline inspired me to re-read my Ralph Waldo Emerson anthology. I started in the middle with Nature and Self-Reliance.

From The Best of Ralph Waldo Emerson, essays, poems, addresses. Published for the Classics Club by Walter J. Black, Inc., Roslyn, NY. 1941.


All science has one aim, namely, to find a theory of nature. (74)

Nature, in the common sense, refers to essences unchanged by man: space, the air, the river, the leaf. (74)

To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. (74)

The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other, who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood... In the presence of nature a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. (75-6)

The tradesman, the attorney, [the English instructor] comes out of the din and craft of the street and sees the sky and the woods and is a man again. In their eternal calm he finds himself. The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired so long as we can see far enough. (80)

"The winds and the waves," said Gibbon, "are always on the side of the ablest navigators." (82)

As we go back in history, language becomes more picturesque, until its infancy, when it is all poetry; or all spiritual facts are represented by natural symbols. (87)

We know more from nature than we can at will communicate. (88)

Nothing in nature is exhausted in its first use. When a thing has served an end to the uttermost, it is wholly new for an ulterior service. (94)

What is a farm but a mute gospel? (95)

Words are finite organs of the infinite mind. They cannot cover the dimensions of what is in truth. They break, chop and impoverish it. An action is the perfection and publication of thought. (97)

We are strangely affected by seeing the shore from a moving ship, from a balloon, or through the tints of an unusual sky. The least change in our point of view gives the whole world a pictorial air. (100)

I expand and live in the warm day like corn and melons. (105)

The poet finds something ridiculous in his delight until he is out of the sight of men. (109)

[T]he knowledge of man is an evening knowledge, vespertina cognitio, but that of God is a morning knowledge, matutina cognitio. (114)

The reason why the world lacks unity and lies broken in heaps is because man is disunited with himself. He cannot be a naturalist, until he satisfies all the demands of the spirit. (114)

Build, therefore, your own world. As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions. (116)


Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. (121)

Infancy conforms to nobody: all conform to it, so that one babe commonly makes four or five out of the adults who prattle and play to it. (121) [This quote rings true now more than ever!!]

The virtue in most request is conformity. (122)

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. (123)

I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions. (123)

I shun father and mother and wife and brother, when my genius calls me. I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim. (124)

My life is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady. (124)

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. (125)

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. (127)

To be great is to be misunderstood. (127)

Always scorn appearances, and you always may. The force of character is cumulative. (128)

These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time. (133) [This, friends, is the essence of Transcendentalism]

I like the silent church before the service begins better than any preaching. (135)

[T]he bold sensualist will use the name of philosophy to gild his crimes. (137) [Bullshitters abound!]

Traveling is a fool's paradise. (141)

The intellect is vagabond, and our system of education fosters restlessness. (141)

Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. (142)

And so the reliance on Property, including the reliance on governments which protect it, is the want of self-reliance. (145)

Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. (146)

You tube mountain fix

I'm a mountain addict. That's where I'm most at home. Yet I live in the Midwest to be close to family and be in school. But right now, especially right now, when the aspens are turning and there's a crispness in the air, good golly damn I long for vertical climes.

YouTube to the rescue. For those who wonder why I'm so enthralled with the thru-hiker lifestyle, check out these clips.

Tell it on the Mountain trailer

Tell it on the Mountain Billygoat segment (BG is a hiking buddy and one of the most inspirational hikers I've ever met.)

Walking the West (part 1) A longer documentary about a New Zealander and Irishman who hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

Part 2

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Kick ass lesson plan

My first year composition class read two articles this week. One is about reality TV and lists 10 reasons university students like reality dating programs.

From "Keeping it Real: Why We Like to Watch Reality Dating Television Shows," by Robert Samuels, pgs. 193-201 in Common Culture, Reading and Writing about American Popular Culture, fifth edition.

(pgs. 194-95) Top 10 reasons why university students like to watch reality dating programs:

1. It's fun to watch other people be rejected.
2. The people on these shows are just like us.
3. There are a lot of hot guys and girls on these shows.
4. You can learn a lot by watching other people's mistakes.
5. These shows are more real than other shows.
6. It's like going on a virtual date.
7. It's fun to guess who will be chosen.
8. You can see other people in an uncomfortable situation.
9. Everyone gets their fifteen minutes of fame.
10. These shows celebrate our narcissism and voyeurism.

For today's group exercise, I broke the class up into four groups. Each group had 15 minutes to develop a "pitch" for a reality television show. Their pitch had to appeal to at least two of the top 10 reasons listed above. The show did not necessarily have to be a dating show. They then had a minute or two to present their pitches and the class voted on which pitch they liked the best.

Once again, the students really got into this activity and seemed to have a lot of fun. Also, on a subliminal (i.e. subversive) level, they maybe learned a little about writing to an audience and expressed some creativity to boot.

Voting results from group activity on 9/27/06, re: reality television pitch ideas.

The executives at NBC (NIU Broadcasting Channel) have chosen Group number two, "The Jackass Apprentice," as the best reality TV show. Once the lawyers hammer out all the liability issues, it should be inserted into the mid-winter line-up.

Voting results:

Group 2 (Abby, Katherine, Jill, Becky)-- 29 points (5-1st, 4-2nd, 6-3rd)
Group 1 (Allison, Jen, Ashley, Matt, Audrey) "Sweet" -- 25 points (6-1st, 2-2nd, 3-3rd)
Group 4 (Tanis, Jenny, Lisa, Eric, Patrick) "Jailhouse Love" -- 25 points (5-1st, 3-2nd, 4-3rd)
Group 3 (Jennifer, Maryann, Harrison, Brittany) "Beer Pong Island" -- 24 points (2-1st, 7-2nd, 4-3rd)

Group two gets a check-plus participation grade for the day. Everybody else is transported to eastern Europe. You all get a Czech. (ha, ha attempt at lame humor). Note: First place votes are worth 3 points, 2nd -2, 3rd-1.

I originally graded the rankings by check-plus, check, check-minus, and no credit for the lowest ranked group, but they groused something fierce at that set-up.

Teaching is all about adaptation, baby!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Lesson reflection

My lab lesson went well, except for one student who couldn't log in to webboard. And a few students did not follow the directions as explicitly as I hoped. Still, most of the students were able to do the assignment in class, so my time management skills were up to par.

The "Network" clip is a powerful speech to the power of television, and it fit in nicely with the debate we've had all week about the pros and cons of the idiot box.

Today I'm off to the NIU-Indiana State football game then to Chicago to see my brother Ken. I'm not going to grade one essay or do any class-related activities or readings, so there!! But tomorrow....

Ma Beasleys

On Tuesdays I drive to Rockford to observe in the classroom for my ILAS 301 class. I have to observe 50 hours total this semester, 25 at Auburn High School and 25 at Rockford Environmental Science Academy.

I got an hour and a half lunch break and went to see an old drum corps buddy, Andy, who owns and lives in his childhood home about a minute from Auburn. I hadn't seen him in over a year and have seen him only once since being in his wedding in April 2005. He and his wife have a son, Bryant, who is just a couple months younger than Jon.

The visit with Andy was brief -- less than 15 minutes -- because he wanted to go to a union meeting, and I only saw his son for a minute because Bryant, like most babies (but not Jon) cries in the presence of strangers. But he's a cute kid, looks a lot like Andy, and has a lot of hair already. Lucy, Andy's Peruvian-born wife, stayed in another room. I never saw her.

So, I was on my own for lunch. I wanted to get some barbecue or soul food of some kind, and went to the best barbecue I remembered from when I lived in Rockford, a rib joint at the corner of Main and Springfield on the far south side of town. Alas, it was closed. I drove the main streets on the west side looking for a soul food joint. As I drove down West State Street, I saw on a side street a fish, ribs, and chicken place. The building looked like an old gas station -- sandstone bricks, a small glass front entrance with a counter, and a large corner parking lot. Three middle-aged black men stood out front. One had a huge knife in his hand that he sharpened on a dry stone pressed against his chest. Another was eating a bologna sandwich. This didn't bode well for my lunchtime plans.

The knife guy said they didn't serve lunch, but they had live fish for sale, and we was willing to clean one on the spot for me. I went inside and saw catfish, bass and carp in a tank. Where do you get these fish? I asked. Knife guy said the Rock River, Mississippi and "area waters," whatever that means.

I told them I was looking for some good soul food, but that I couldn't travel far. By this time, I only had about 45 minutes left before I had to be back at Auburn. All three of them got to talking -- jiving, disagreeing, back and forth, about what was the best soul food place in town. No no man, Box's closed a year ago. Dammit, Weezy's ain't open on Tuesdays. They only fire up the coals on the weekends.

Knife guy came to the rescue. There's this place called Ma Beasley's. It's on the right hand side on West State, just before you get to Central. I thanked them and was on my way.

Ma Beasley's was easy to find, but there is no sign out front, no welcome mat, come on in, visa stickers, or anything. It is an old storefront with a small Open sign in the window, faded curtains, and a poster of a black child that says Stop The Killing. I stepped inside to typical diner layout -- counter on the left, booths on the right. A cornrowed, beaded young man with baggy Fubu wear and spotless white Adidas shoes, stood behind the counter watching a small TV. One other customer (note this was the noon hour) sat in a booth. He never so much as looked up when I came in.

The menu is on a signboard. Some of the letters are missing. No prices listed. Below the menu and through a small window with a stainless steel counter stood a big black woman chopping celery at another steel table. Must be Ma Beasley. I asked Fubu cornrow what the lunch specials were. He said the only thing they had were chicken wings, which would take a while to fry up, hamburgers (i.e. not soul food) and oxtail with all the fixings. Bingo. He put the order in, laid out bottles of hot sauce and vinegar along with a glass of water and silverware , and within five minutes I had a steaming plate of vittles -- three ox tail segments, corn bread, collard greens, pork and red beans. The ox tail reminded me a lot of pot roast -- long, stringy pieces of meat -- but a little fattier. That didn't impress me as much as the side dishes. The greens and red beans were awesome.

I'm glad I went. I wish I could afford to explore more Rockford west side cuisine. I wonder if the Vietnamese place on 7th Street and the Laotian place nearby are still open. The Rockford Register Star has a dining/ eating out section where they review one new restaurant a week. None of these hidden, west side ethnic places, have been featured. Certainly not the non-descript soul food mecca, Ma Beasley's.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Techno wiz TV fun

The theme this week in my First Year Comp class is television. Tomorrow is computer lab day, and I devised the following lesson. Again, all this is available on my webboard at:

Watch this clip from the movie "Network" (more about this movie at

This movie was made more than 30 years ago. What parts of the message in this clip, if any, remain true? What do you agree with? Why? What do you disagree with? Why? Paraphrase specific statements and explain their significance. Post your response as a reply to this post.

Go to or your favorite search engine and do a search of your favorite current or past television show. Find a fan site that has a discussion board and post a comment on any topic that interests you. Reply to this post and put a link to the discussion board. Paste your comments below the link.

After doing this, answer the following questions:

Why did you choose to comment on this television show?

If this is your favorite show, what about it appeals to you and how faithful a viewer are you? For example, do you own any seasons on DVD? Do you Tivo or tape it if you can't be there to watch it?

What new things did you learn from this site? If you wish, cut and paste the new facts you learned, but be sure to use quotations and a link to the page.

What is the most surprising fact you learned from this site about the television show, and why is it so surprising?

Do you think you will come back to this fan site again? Explain why or why not?

What do you think of fan sites in general? What features of this site were most helpful to you?

The Douglas Hall computer lab where this lesson will take place has a projection monitor. I will show the clip from "Network" (about four minutes long) and have them do the freewrite prompt. Then they will work on their own finding the fan sites and commenting. My only concern is time management. Is it too much or too little to ask of them in a 50-minute class?

I'll post my answers to the questions (I believe a teacher should participate as much as possible in the work they assign) and give a report on how it went...

Goldangit, lesson planning can be such fun.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Webboard fun and first year composition reflection

Here's the computer lab assignment for today at my class' Webboard, available at:

"Go to and browse around the site. Find a blog that interests you and write a paragraph about why it interests you, what drew you to it, its subject matter. Or, pick a topic in the blog and write a paragraph about that topic, quoting the blog on the topic. Post this paragraph along with a link to the blog as a reply to this topic. DO NOT create a new topic. "

Here is my reply:
What I'm writing about is actually a link from the filter-style blog above. The article I read is at:

I scanned through You Tube recently at my parent's house and saw Lonelygirl15 as one of the most popular videos on the site. Though I didn't check it out, I remember seeing it. The Chicago Tribune article points out that LonelyGirl15 is a hoax, a creation of some Los Angeles production company, and LonelyGirl is neither 15 or lonely. She's really:

"Jessica Rose, a New Zealand native living in the Los Angeles area. She was outed in a cascading series of revelations, beginning with a publicly posted note from "The Creators" of LonelyGirl admitting it wasn't real and claiming they'd invented a "new art form. Our intention from the outset has been to tell a story, a story that could only be told using the medium of video blogs and the distribution power of the Internet."

I think it is fascinating how people are using video streaming technology to create their own reality-style TV shows. The article claims that this style might become as popular as the serial novels of Charles Dickens in the 19th century. It is compared to these serial novels because the video clips people post on YouTube are short, usually less than three minutes.


The instructions for this assignment were too vague for some in the classroom who desire much more specificity, i.e. handholding. Even though specificity would reduce the number of queries, I also feel it would diminish the variety of responses. My students have a difficult time with abstract thinking. They tend to focus more on grades and outcomes, rather than processes and creativity. I hope to instill in them that inquiry, debate, disagreement, vagueness, are all challenges writers face. There is no ONE way to write an essay.

In the reflection on their first essay, many of the students, after receiving my first marks on their papers, wrote something along the lines of, "Now I know what you expect in our writing." Yes, one must consider their intended audience, but, no, don't pander to teacher expectations. I want them to find their own voices as writers and in that process of discovery I will guide them through the many pitfalls of grammar and style that plague beginning writers.

The class is going really well. I do not have any discipline problems and my lesson plans, for the most part, have gone off well. My students are all freshmen, 18 or 19, and brand new to Northern Illinois University. My class meets at 9 a.m. MWF. This means that for most of them, the first class was literally their very first college class.

My teaching style is very informal and conversational. I can be their friends, unlike my experiences as a high school and middle school teacher. My authority is establlished by my mastery of the subject matter, not some artificial power trip. I spend a lot of time and energy preparing lessons, grading papers and staying a couple steps ahead on the readings. Students can tell if you're not on top of your game.

Wednesday, during the group exericse, there was a palpable energy in the classroom. The students argued, laughed, and worked together on a difficult group task. It made me feel all fuzzy inside that my lesson went off so well and they embraced it enthusiastically. Moments before, a brainstorming idea I tried backfired. I posed a question and got crickets and tumbleweeds in response. This worked out, though, because they needed the entire rest of the period to do the group exercise.

So far, this first year composition experience validates my career-changing decision to become a teacher. God, it's hard work. I'm overwhelmed. But it's worth it. My colleagues are a great support network, and many have become friends. I feel part of a community again.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Horse farm abuses

I wrote an article in 2001 about Sharon Wolfersheim and alleged abuses on her horse farm. I got an e-mail today from someone who works at another horse farm who somehow found out about this article from my blog and gave me an update on the infamous Wolfersheim.

Here is some text from the e-mail. The writer and who they are associated with remain anonymous, pending consent.

"She[Wolfersheim] is in the news again.

I was looking for information because Ms Wolfersheim is parading around the Internet as a "horse rescuer". I had seen her place back in 2001 (even signed a petition to testify against her) but nothing happened other then her $100 fine. I was hoping maybe you had some of the information/articles online and or had some connections to get this out in the news again. She is one bad apple who nobody seems willing to stop."

Here is a link to my original article:

Horse lovers have very little legal recourse for alleged abuses because so few laws protect the treatment of livestock. This reminds me of a quote:

“He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”
Immanuel Kant (German Philosopher, one of the foremost thinkers of the Enlightenment. 1724-1804)

I hope Ms. Wolfersheim is stopped, but doubtful she will be. I remember the day I visited her farm and saw horse carcasses in a pit, and live horses standing, skinny, skeletal, their haunches nothing but bone and skin. And how the people at the Humane Society said there was nothing they could do...

I love animal by staying out of their way and doing no harm. I don't believe in anthropomorphization. I don't necessarily believe in animal rights. Livestock is a commodity, but needs to be treated humanely. We've got it so ass-backwards. Our pets get better care than most people. We spend more on animal health care in this country than is spent on people health care in the majority of other countries. I stock cat breath fresheners at Jewel.

But we give no regard to the care of the food we eat. It's just tasty cuts wrapped in plastic. No thought is given to its origins. And I'm just as guilty as the next carnivore.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Faces, birds, rain drops, cool moments

Early morning along the bike path. A blue heron takes off into flight. I watch its slow rise and see its shadow ahead of me. Two ancient, stooped women turn to watch as well. I see their wizened, wrinkled, beautiful faces for just a second as they look up to follow the bird.


Sunday morning at the tracks on First Street, waiting for the train to pass. A boy runs to me, excited. He looks familiar. I've substitute taught for his class, but can't remember his name. He's maybe 9 or 10. I say good morning and he reaches out to slap me five. We go through this elaborate high five routine -- MY ROUTINE -- that I must have taught him. He is elated to see me -- it's rather embarrassing -- and he speaks so fast his words tumble over each other and he has to catch his breath to continue.

His mother appears. Her face is imploded -- nose, eyes, mouth all bunched together, an inbred, Appalachian face, ugly by conventional standards, but fascinating, durable. She's built like a man. Crewcut. Broad shoulders.

We talk. The train's slow, and another passes, also going slow, the other way. She says she remembers me. She's an aide at the school her son goes to. The boy interrupts... "Do you remember when you filled in for the music teacher? How you said you liked that song I made up?" "Yes, of course," I lie. "Do you remember the song? Let's hear it." He sings a little melody, yelling to overcome the clackity train.

He finishes just as the last car passes. The guard comes up.

"Race you to the corner," the boy yells, and takes off running. I give him a head start, but pass him just before I get to my place.


An early evening walk in the rain, a gentle rain, the rain after a furious storm. The lagoon is flooded, water up to and beyond the sidewalk and fire pit. The green forest beyond seems greener and is a cacophony of birdsong, as if the birds are checking up on each other.

When I reach Founders the sun appears below the clouds and darkness is replaced by bright, golden reflection. The change is sudden, blinding. The rain drops look like golden halos in the brilliance.