Friday, September 25, 2009

Peter Rabbit and Higher Education

My institution of higher learning has two classrooms; my kitchen and my car. I imagine there are those erudite professors who might shake their head at the inadequacy of such an environment dedicated to my education. But this is where a mother spends most of her time, and this is where I have opportunity to listen to public radio. Granted, their are distractions; one six-years-old, one four, and one just over a year.

Surprisingly my children are very accepting of the constant flow of information that comes from the radio. On occasion-but not often-I will grant them an "Itsy Bitsy Spider", but their main auditory diet consists more of Steve Inskeep, Diane Rehm, and Neal Conan than the beloved little contrary Mary who grows a garden on cockle shells. Although we recently listened to an interview with an author that compiled a book of all the nursery rhymes he could discover. Mary was mentioned that day.

I began my University experience as an eighteen-year-old freshman at the University of Utah in 1994. I remember the thrill of a clean notebook and a new syllabus evolving into tattered pages filled with my quick scrawl about Dionysus' indulgence, or the rate of rotaion of the moon on its own axis combined with its rate of revolution around the Earth resulting in our only ever seeing one side of the satellite.

My notebook today is a Peter Rabbit shopping list with a magnet on the back that keeps it fixed to the refrigerator. My note taking is most often done while I am either cooking or washing dishes. Inevitably the picture of Peter is smeared with tomato sauce or oil, or wrinkled from the dishwater that drips from my gloves as I try to write the name of someone or some book before I forget. This is a snapshot of my notes as they stand today:


Ibu Patel

The Foreigner's Gift- Frada Jami

Erin McKean - Dictionary Evangelist

kalamata olives
curry powder

American Theocracy - Ken Phillips

Last Child in the Woods - Richard Louv

It is a shopping list for my kitchen and my enlightenment. Sometimes when I am not in my kitchen I forage for scraps of paper on which to quickly record these bits of information that will turn into trips to the library, an internet search, or a conversation with my husband. Periodically I make a sweep of car, diaper bag, desktop, and any other liable, cluttered corner, to collect all the scraps and save each gem in a file on my computer. Otherwise what might have been instructive, or even revelatory becomes merely clutter and then just gone.

I am not done with universities. But until I return as a "mature" student, I'll keep the radio on and send my meager offering during the public radio fund drive. After all, it's the cheapest tuition I've yet paid.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Slow Like Mo-lasses

Yeats has gone posing this fundamental question: "Perfection of the LIFE or of the WORK?"
(Question mark added)
My husband has gone borrowing the question- embedded in the text of an entire poem on this theme- and placing it in my bag where I will discover it in the first months of our marriage. I will be at work that morning while he is still in bed, yet to start his day at University. I will feel sick to my stomach because it is early, and I am allergic to early. I will loathe where I am because it is perfection of nothing. But there are dollars to be had at the end of the day, and we are in great need of dollars.

We are ten years on from my discovery of Yeats' poem in a frame in my bag. I kept it in view during every hour I ever worked for pay. I could rest my fingertips on the keyboard at my desk, close my eyes and see the words speaking to me, insisting that the choice is living, it demands deliberateness.

The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it takes the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
When all that story's finished, what's the news?
In luck or out the toil has left its mark:
That old perplexity an empty purse,
Or the day's vanity, the night's remorse.
W.B. Yeats

Well, I am no fan of remorse. Neither was Yeats, and he published his own choice through the image of a good many of his poems. Here is the one that paints my picture-my choice.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and waddles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavement gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
W.B. Yeats

So.....obviously the new fundamental question becomes - what is the address of the "bee-loud glade"?
I am confident I am not allergic to early in this place.

Is Yeats testing me? Is my husband testing me? I could sell all and seek the "purple glow" in a little corner of Ireland. But surely, perfection of the life can be had in my back yard. I don't have a cabin-I have a home of bricks and mortar made. I don't have nine bean rows-I have five. I don't live alone-I live with love, from husband and three children.


This is not the beginning of a poem. This is my admission to family, the world, and these witnesses, that my peace does, indeed, come dropping slow. Slow like mo-lasses. Slow like a big old oak tree. Slow like a three-year-old putting their shoes on. My peace comes dropping so slow that the last detectable drop was in 2003 before that first child came to my Innisfree.
Yeats had peace, I have children. Would I trade? No. He paints a pretty picture, but it's a bit of a lonely pretty picture.

Mine may be a children-loud glade, but my glade is is perfection-of-the-life-good.