Monday, December 30, 2013

Talisman #42: The Women's Occupation

When I was in college in the late 1970s I carried around a blue heavy hardcover edition of the Norton Modern anthology; that book was my education in poetry (I was a history major then). When someone told me that John Ashbery loved the work of Laura Riding, I was able to track her down in its thicket of thin print-clogged pages. That was before she renounced not just poetry, but also anthologies, refused further permission to put her work in the Norton. Or so I recall. That anthology, like so many teaching anthologies, was organized chronologically. The sense of history that emerged from its pages was like an old film-strip, a sequence of images that lurched across a tiny temporal space, and suggested the coherence that in fact eluded it. But what seemed most important about that book was that it was full of conversations. I was at the institution best known at that time for a theory of literary influence, but I'm not talking about that father-son family romance model so much as about a larger social space, where poets' words called out to each other. It was a big, messy neighborhood, that Norton. While later reading offered more neatness, tighter narratives, meaner-spirited arguments over poetics (oh, Laura Riding!), that one was the big event that drew me in, as if it were the slide show to introduce me to poetic time shares.

I thought about Laura Riding's rejection of anthologies, especially her distaste for all-women anthologies, when Lisa Bourbeau wrote to ask me for work several months back for a "women's section" in a forthcoming issue of Talisman. One of the best literary experiences I've ever had was a Russian-American poetry conference in Hoboken in the mid-90s, organized by Ed Foster in the spirit of his Talisman House Press and journal. The two or three days were full of cigarette smoke, drink, loud voices, men bonding over hearing gunfire in the streets of American and Russian cities, and poets who (in one instance) bounded over the backs of our chairs, and (in another) tried to walk out of his own reading. It featured animated arguments between Russians; I remember asking Lynn Hejinian at one point to tell me what was going on. But it almost didn't matter, there was so much energy in the room, and because so much of the poetry was performative. There was Forrest Gander standing on a desk reciting a poem, asking Michael Palmer to help him when he faltered. Looking back, this seems a model for the journal, albeit a very noisy one. Talisman has always, with a tremendous lack of assumptions, presented experimental work that matters. The plain covers, whose insides were covered with dense type, were decoys for anyone wanting flash with their poetry. Those of us happy with the pan itself got another poetry education in its pages.

But Talisman House has never published many women. In the 1990s, there was a Selected Poems by Alica Notley, which kicks a pebble in my mind, but otherwise not many. (Talisman published a chapbook version of my first Memory Cards before the full-length book came out.) I go now to their website and find, under their "new" section, a list of 20 new books. Of the books by a single author, which number 15, two are by women, one by the Turkish poet, Gulten Akm, and the other by Donna de la Perrière. Otherwise, there are books by Leonard Schwartz (his If is a terrific book, by the way), Joe Donahue, Brian Henry, John High, and the late William Bronk, among others.

So it seemed a good thing that Talisman was going to publish women. I suggested doing it without marking it as a "women's section," to see if anyone noticed. But that did not happen. Instead, the new issue (read it here) comes in several sections: a section of miscellany running from Artaud to Marjorie Perloff's fine interview of Hank Lazer, with photographs of William Bronk in the bundle; a section on gnostic poetry; "The Occupation: The First of Three Major Selections of Works by and about Women Writers Around the World"; "Poetry"; and then, finally, "Commentary." The subjects of the first section are men; the writers of the second are all men; the "Poetry" section is male, and the commentator is Thomas Fink. Islanded in the middle of this male sea is the "Occupation," a fulsome gathering of women's work from Alice Notley's introductory essay on dreams to poetry by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge . . . Anne Tardos, and many others. Just after this occupation by women poets who write in English there is a section on translation that features women poets with their both-gender translators.

"The Occupation": In New York City, the occupation resonates with the after-echoes of the Occupy movement of 2011, with people reclaiming public spaces, living in them, setting up tents, small villages engaging in direct democracy, places from which to speak out. That makes sense, this occupation at the center of Talisman's male space. "Wall Street" is not simply an economic hub; it's also, at least according to its name, walled off. It will keep you out. Occupying it forces you in. But as someone who's lived in Hawai`i for any length of time knows, "occupation" is primarily what colonizers do, what armies do. (In Hawai`i, the Occupy movement changed their name to "de-Occupy.") They take up space that is not their own, and they do it by force of weaponry or culture or economy. Israel occupies Palestine, we're reminded daily. The USA occupies the world's movie theaters and radio waves. The English language occupies a vast territory, across continents and oceans. And so, Thomas Fink, in the "Commentary" section of the issue, writes this about Paolo Javier's work: 

“English Is an Occupation,” the title of a poem in 60 lv bo(e)mbs, embodies a metaphor performing a metonymic linkage between the imposition of the English language on Filipinos during the nearly half-century U.S. occupation ( resulting in the devaluation of Tagalog and other local languages) and the occupation itself. However, confirming Cura’s notion of “mongrel identity,” it also reflects the job of an English teacher or professor and of the “polyglot” poet writing in English: “persevere      counter ardor mystic parables/ today Paolo occupies you, today Paolo occupies you” (7). In this poem and in the book as a whole, density of allusions and the syntactically unpredictable juxtaposition of fragmentary utterances make the critic’s “occupation” of “translation” challenging, (Fink)

Here, the poet occupies more and less than a public space; he occupies the reader himself or herself--"Paolo occupies you." Paolo is not an English word, and many of the words Javier uses are Tagalog, so the English-only reader is carted off to the margins of this public/private square (El Centro Paolo). Fink writes about Javier's as "immigrant" poetry. He's the guy from the occupied place who leaves it, only to occupy the imperial power's language, space. He's the guy who gets translated and now occupies those translations. He's the guy who causes discomfort. After all, he's living in a tent, and he might not be washing himself enough with imperial soap!

At the end of Fink's long, patient, cogent review of Forrest Gander, Paolo Javier, and Stephen Paul Miller under the concept of "(un)translatability," he makes a kind of apology. While he has written about a white guy steeped in Mexican culture, a Filipino guy who lives in Queens, and a Jewish poet who loves Meher Baba, he has not written about any women, as he admits here: 

In the early stages of developing this essay, I believed that the poems of Mei-mei Berssenbrugge would be especially suitable for it. My impression, it turned out, was based on a handful of fragmentary utterances in different poems, and each time I tried to read Berssenbrugge’s powerfully abstract yet imagistic, disjunctive yet meditative poetry in relation to (un)translatability, I found that the work’s particular flux disabled whatever generalizations I hoped to cull from it. (Fink)

In other words, her work was so untranslatable that it defeated his attempt to write about it. To critique a poem is to describe it, and if the poem cannot be described, put into context, or otherwise closely read, its "particular flux" defeats the writer. Fair enough. He notes that he has written about three male poets, notes the absence of women poets. But it's not that there are not women in the work of these three men, however: "My subjects are three men, the first of whom engages in ekphrastic conversation with the art of a woman and the second of whom deploys the persona of a woman." So he hopes for some work on "translatability" between men and women: "That fact reminds me that one possibility for future criticism in this vein is the area that psychologist Deborah Tannen has so compellingly investigated: cross-gender communication. How do men and women foreground their efforts to translate what they wish to communicate to the opposite gender? How do they think about translating the “language” of the opposite gender to themselves? And also, for transgendered poets, how are the complexities of translation enacted and absorbed?"

I want to think about the difference between "cross-gender" and "transgender." To cross genders means to move back and forth between them, for men to communicate with women and vice versa. To be transgender means a crossing over, a leaving behind, a movement from one to another place. Both posit difference as the most important feature of communication. (And who am I to disagree?) But given that most of the essays and poems in this issue where there is cross-gender communication involve men writing about women (Gander, yes, but also the gnostic critics writing about Dickinson and Notley) that's like a Chris Christie bridge. You can cross it only one way. 

Thus far, I've left the women poets out of this conversation, as I engage with the men who seem walled off from them. Does Fink's notion of Berssenbrugge's "flux" and untranslatability apply to the women's section? Is that why it's walled off, lest it flood the other more masculine boroughs? In 2013 do we still need special sections devoted to women's writing? What IS women's writing? I'm loathe to say it's got flux, while the men do not; after all, gnosticism seems to reside in brokenness, which is a non-state of flux. (What new gnosticism is is still vague to me, even after reading much of the section.) There's no sense given by Bourbeau or Ed Foster of what they mean by "women's writing," so I'm going to the first essay of the "Occupation" by Alice Notley for clues. And here I find what Fink might call a cross-gender moment, or is it trans-? The essay is about dreaming, how poems emerge from dreams, how communication occurs (about the past and the future) during dreaming. And it's also about how Alice Notley becomes Allen Ginsberg:

"In 1997, after I had been informed that Allen Ginsberg had died, I became afraid for him in death. I wanted -- because he was my friend -- to be sure that in death he was safe. I dreamed that night that my stepdaughter Kate, who is deceased and in dreams is often my messenger from the world of the dead, came for me, in a rich dark blue skirt and sweater, to take me to the ‘second world.’ I gathered that this second world was an afterlife with an active artistic component, for there was a professor there who was trying to achieve an intense enough red for the second world’s mosaics. Then, my name became Ellen Goodman (yes like the columnist), so I knew that I was Allen, the good man, and I waited in a small apartment to die."

The woman poet becomes a "good man," who occupies a small apartment in his dying. Notley's dream-life is all flux, all symbol, all transformation. Dreaming reshapes the world; it is the world. Is this women's work? I don't think this "occupation" answers that question, nor do I think it really even poses it. But what it does is to open a space in a journal that has welcomed some of the best experimental writers now alive--especially those with spiritual affinities toward gnosticism--for women writers, however you define them. To define is to wall in and wall out, as Robert Frost would say, but the act of definition can also mend differences by creating a space where they can exist gently. Frost's wall was of uneven stones, not the barbed wire of many an occupation. To "disobey" is what Notley has often said she does. Next time, I hope Talisman disobeys its own categorical imperative and admits the company of men, women, transgender people, people of color, to the gathering. It might feel like the mob around security in the Madrid Airport, but things sort themselves out, we "translate" ourselves elsewhere, occupying our languages, ourselves.

A final digression that is not one. I'm about to embark on a course in small press publishing on the graduate level; it scares me, as I know so little about the subject. I collect poems, I even sometimes edit them a bit, but mostly I glory in the designs of others who are more talented than I am visually, and work the tired mill of publicity. But I do know that I will emphasize the need for a small press to have a mission, for young editors to find gaps that need to be filled, and to fill them. I will also ask them to consider that there is a difference between collecting poems and curating them. This issue of Talisman has collected some of the best poems I've seen in a long time. But the issue's curation is what troubles me. To collect marvelous poems by women, which is what Bourbeau has done, is one thing. But to organize an issue in which those women "occupy" a central and yet highly marked place, is problematic. Why is the last section, called "Poetry," composed only of poems by men? Why is the gnostic section composed only of men (even if it's based on a panel at a conference--another problem)? Why are there so few poets of color within the category of "women," and how do white women fit with international women poets with American "immigrant" poets like Eileen Tabios? This is not to say they do not, but to occupy those questions is where Talisman might move next--or we. Most of all, there's a difference between counting how many men and how many women are published (an activity that's telling, to put it mildly, as Spahr and Young have shown in "Numbers Trouble") and organizing a public/private square where they are not blocked off from one another in groups of apparent same. 

My own contribution to the new issue is here. It's a long prose poem in sections about baseball for my son on his 14th birthday. In other words, it's a long poem by a woman for a young man and about young men.

An after-thought: a diagram could at least be made of some of the crossings in this issue. Gnostic men joined by gnostic women (Notley, F. Howe, DuPlessis); gnostic women joined by members of the Talisman "poetry section," and so forth. A flow chart to suggest flux, rather than a group of isolated groups, in other words.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

"Thinking like an Asian": an interview on Jee Yoon Lee's blog

The cognitive hiccup involved in seeing that title and my face (photo by Anne Kennedy) together is part of what Tinfish is about, so I'm very pleased to be here. Joon-Young's sister, J. Vera Lee, is author of 2013's second book, Diary of Use.

So have a look at the interview, and also at Jee Yoon's blog more generally.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

JACK LONDON IS DEAD launch now available at PennSound

For a recording of the launch of Jack London is Dead: Euro-American Poetry (and some stories), go to PennSound, here.

This anthology is an important intervention in Hawai`i's literary politics, and offers a fine selection of poetry, as well as statements by the writers on what it means to be a Euro-American writer in Hawai`i in the 21st century.

To buy the book, go to our website, here.

You can also buy this book along with three others published during this past year. See our website for details of the sale.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The dream course I neglected to send: Literature of Alzheimer's

Curious that I hadn't heard a verdict on the graduate course proposal I thought I'd put in several months ago, I was told that I'd not sent it in.  Found it in my "drafts" folder, unsent.  The course is on Alzheimer's and literature. Might re-tool it for an honors course next year, or simply frame it. Posting it here, in case anyone might want to cannibalize it for their own purposes. Courses like this one are needed, at every level and in many departments.

Graduate Course Proposal
Prof. Susan M. Schultz
October, 2013
Literature of Alzheimer's

According to the Alzheimer's Association, five million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease or other dementia. One in three seniors dies with the disease. By 2050, the disease will cost the USA (alone) over one trillion dollars a year. Recognition of Alzheimer's as a disease has inspired a literature of and about it, including novels, poetry, and memoirs. But it also provokes the reader of Modernist and Postmodernist literature to reconsider works of literature by Gertrude Stein, Samuel Beckett and other writers whose use of language often resembles that of someone suffering early to mid-Alzheimer's. It asks readers to consider how different cultures approach the disease. It provokes the consumer of popular culture to take a close look at television shows, movies, and advertising that engages with Alzheimer's. It demands that the citizen look at parallels between the ways in which Alzheimer's sufferers and “illegal aliens” are described in similar terms, and similarly (in some ways, if not others) are put in “homes” for their and society's “safety,” and to prevent them from “wandering” across “borders.” It asks questions of the scholar of life writing about how best to write about the illness. And it asks questions of all of us about identity issues: what makes us human? Is there a point beyond which we are no longer ourselves? Why are most of us so afraid of acquiring Alzheimer's? Are we the sum total of our memories, or are there another bases to our being human?

This course will address these issues by engaging with literature (and film) of and about Alzheimer's. Students of literary history and creative writing will be invited either to work toward a final critical project on literary works, or toward a creative project (poetry, fiction, memoir) that uses Alzheimer's either as content, as theme, or as manifested in language use. We will have visitors from Gerontology and Disability Studies, as well as a field trip to an Alzheimer's home. There will be a final project of 20 pages of writing, as well as blog posts every week, and a significant amount of reading. Students will be asked to lead discussions and to report on Alzheimer's related writing they find in the mainstream media and on-line.

Readings will include books (or selections) by Daniel Schacter on how memory works and files; Jesse Ballenger on the history of Alzheimer's in the United States; Gertrude Stein (and an essay on her work by Michael D. Snediker); Samuel Beckett's Rockaby; Don DeLillo's Falling Man; Thomas DeBaggio's Losing My Mind (a rare memoir by a journalist who had Alzheimer's); David Chariandy's Soucouyant; Lawrence Cohen's No Aging in India: Alzheimer's, the Bad Family, and Other Modern Things; Poetry/Shi (Korean film with Alzheimer's theme) and other video projects; B. S. Johnson's experimental novel, House Mother Normal; Catherine Malabou's philosophical projects, The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage and What Should We Do With Our Brain? While, as a rule I do not teach my own work, I would consider asking students to read one of the volumes of my two volume mixed genre series, Dementia Blog.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Rancière's questionnaire

In my last post about education, I said I wanted to ask my students why they're in college. I intended only to ask my freshmen and to lead from that to a discussion of intellectual honesty, as there's been an outbreak of plagiarism in that class. But I ended up asking all of my students yesterday, using the prompt: "I am in college in order to ______________." The overwhelming answer was "to get a job." Other answers included, "to get the piece of paper"; "to find a husband"; "to make a stable life for myself"; "to appease my parents"; "I don't want to be here"; "to learn about the universe . . . student debt is putting my life into a box," and so forth. While completing a sentence like this only tells me so much--my students are, after all, interesting, talented people--I was struck by the level of instrumentality in their answers. One of my freshmen erupted with a counter-argument that only proved the point he was arguing against: "Everyone here has it wrong," he declaimed. "You don't need to go to college to get a good job--my father has one--nor do you need money to be happy." I was hoping for the idealistic follow-up, "but you go to school for other reasons."  That was not forthcoming. "It's the economy, stupid," I could hear someone stage-whisper to me, and there's no time or money for mental luxury.

Rancière writes about people who don't think they're worthy of knowledge, which reminds me that Booker T. Washington thought nothing so sad as a poor black person studying French. The sense that we ought to do something practical is very strong in my students, and that "ought to" includes job, financial security, and--in many cases--seemingly little else. There was an allusion in one student's response to courses that "aren't necessary," with a smiley face after it, by which I gathered that s/he considers Freshman Composition to be an unnecessary course. This belief seems to me wrong in two very different ways. First, if you want a job, English 100 will provide you the skills to communicate and do the job that's out there, if there is one in this "post-employment economy." It will help you go through the interviews, organize your thoughts, analyze data, and it will even help you write memos, the coin of our realm if there ever was one. If you need to invent your own job--create a website to offer services, for example--this course will help you do that, even if each assigned essay does not. If you need funding for your website, you'll have to write grant proposals. And second, if we want to have any pleasure in this life, thinking is surely primary among them, as we spend more time with our thoughts than with anything, or anyone, else. I look at their tired faces and realize that pleasure is far from their minds. The frequent in-class exercise, geared toward activity and, yes, fun, seems a blip in their otherwise grim days of attending classes, working a job or two, and then getting up to do it again.

Getting pedantic about joy seems backwards, too. But Rancière's "emancipation" narrative requires a field of possibility before it can take place, before "stultification" cedes to movement and ignorance to learning. This is what is at stake in Rancière, the how-to of teaching someone to teach herself. His notion that the teacher should also be ignorant seems helpful in some classrooms, if not others (Calculus, anyone?). But the university system enforces hierarchies, just as it currently enforces the ideology of practicality. That my department is cutting poetry courses only makes us complicit in this reduction to the god of non-fiction that seems to be occurring more generally in literary studies. Give them facts, contemporary Gradgrinds ordain. The playfulness of language is an ornament. Insofar as we listen, it's to poetry that tries hard to make something happen. That's good, but surely not all there is. Sometimes something has happened: a death, a loss, a work of art. Our responses to those stimuli need time, too.

And time is the biggest problem. My students don't have it. What they have of it they spend trying desperately to relax, by way of iPods and iPads and iPhones (the I might seem lyrical if it did not encourage passivity). These are instruments of liberation, too, with immediate access to knowledge--Google as godsend--but they aren't often enough used as such. "I'm looking something up," is a rare moment in my classroom, when I chide a student for appearing to send a text message. As a teacher, I can offer students 50 minutes or an hour of creative time, but I cannot give them more time than that. Once they leave the classroom, they're back in the world where what matters is the "piece of paper," as one student put it. I'm tempted to ask, "what else can you do with a piece of paper?" Here's a xeroxed diploma, now write or draw all over it!

The head of my son's school for dyslexic kids, Paul Singer, recently wrote an essay in the Huffington Post about making learning "relevant" to children. He added, "The great educational philosopher John Dewey believed that the school curriculum should grow out of the needs and interests of the learner." This may work best when college students don't have such fixed notions of what their "needs" are. When "needs" revolve around stability, income, job, and nothing else (though one student wrote that he "just wants to study music," with the "just" hanging out there to dry). I can't tell them they don't need to pay off their student loans, don't need to be employed, don't need to get that degree as a step along the way to adulthood, but perhaps I can suggest that there are adventures to be had beyond the job, that there are forms of insecurity to court, too, those that are not financial but artistic. It's a hard sell, I know.

That metaphor (that of "the hard sell") gives away the store, doesn't it?


My son's school is Assets in Honolulu.  Have a look at their website. 

Eric Parker, via facebook, sends a good link for students to consider, both in terms of job prospects and the relevance of their liberal arts courses.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"There is nothing to understand": Jacques Rancière & November's weary pedagogue

It's the time of year, as one Michael Nye writes, when teachers and students are sick of one another, and are mostly just tired (often also sick). It's also the time of year when, especially in my lower-level classes, I wonder if I've done any good work at all. Writing problems begin to seem intractable, and what to do in each next class starts to become more of a mystery. Time speeds up, but the mind slows. And it's not just in classes that these effects occur. Department meetings seem pre-scripted, the silences in the halls all too predictable, and the work to be done in navigating the academic life too difficult. But Jacques Rancière's The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation arrived in the mail this week. After I posted several links to articles about adjunct labor in the academy, John Bloomberg-Rissman recommended the book to me. Then UHM philosophy professor, Joseph Tanke, spoke about Rancière's work, and my colleague John Zuern, responded to him, at a International Cultural Studies talk I couldn't attend, but listened to via podcast.The series is organized by another colleague, Ruth Hsu.

It arrived at a moment of crisis, if feeling fed up can live up to that word. I don't know if I'll have time, but tomorrow I'd like to present my students--at least those in English 100--with the following prompt: "I am in college because . . . " There's been a rash of plagiarism in that one class, some of it involving ideas borrowed but not cited, some the "total recall" method of cut-and-paste from the internet. Students in my honors class ask me every week what they should write about on the class blog, until yesterday I told them I hoped they would find something that interested them in the reading, or in the course more generally, and write about that! My middle class, which suffers both my indulgence and sometimes my neglect, is full of bright, creative students who never google anything they don't know. So, opening up Rancière to Chapter One's title, "An Intellectual Adventure," feels like a step back into that before-time of wanting to teach because you could have intellectual conversations all the time and enjoy "the life of the mind." Ha!

Rancière is telling me what I already know, but what the ordeal of a long semester causes me to forget: that learning is an activity; that I am not a conveyor belt of knowledge but a goad to it; that my job is to create the possibilities for knowledge, rather than offer neat packages of knowledge as fact. There is no before and after in Rancière, no moment before you learn and no moment after I have have taught you something. There is no sequel, in which you now know something I've taught you, but still lack the knowledge to know that next thing I will spring on you later!  His ideas, by way of Joseph Jacotot, whose intellectual biography he writes, remind me why I love to teach writing more than almost anything else. It's an activity, not a pit stop.

And it's an activity that depends not on "understanding" (as in, "I don't understand poetry," or "I don't understand how to analyze") but on letting go of that word in favor of other words, like "enjoyment" or "thinking" or "attention." Rancière is especially good on that last word, one that I find myself using more and more. "Power cannot be divided up," he notes; "There is only one power, that of saying and speaking, of paying attention to what one sees and says." The good teacher does not interrogate, like Socrates, asking questions that lead to an inevitable answer; instead, she points to a text, asks students to read it (even if it's in a language that she herself does not know). The teacher models the search, not the discovery. "Whoever looks always finds. He doesn't necessarily find what he is looking for, and even less what he was supposed to find. But he finds something new to relate to that thing he already knows." Finding relation is the intelligence he celebrates, and anyone can do that.

Those who embark on what he and his subject, Jacotot, call "universal teaching" realize that "it is a question of observing, comparing, and combining, of making and noticing how one has done it. What is possible is reflection." The other day I entered my Introduction to Creative Writing class and talked to the students about how to make a chapbook, since their final project is to make one for their semester's work. Then I handed out pieces of paper and stacks of newspapers, a few scissors, and some glue sticks. They formed teams of two and began immediately to cut and paste and arrange bits of paper on the table. I hadn't given them directions; had simply provided the means for an exercise that they recognized as they started to do it. "We've been well trained," laughed one student when I remarked on my own lack of directions. I take that as a pleasant irony, that training toward taking command of the exercise at hand.

So on the good days, I see the voyaging happening in my classrooms, that eager combination of social event with intellectual or creative activity. The sense of "I can't understand" gets replaced with "I am making something." But it's a struggle. As I get older, I'm inclined to talk more in my classes, to try to convey knowledge rather than feed the hunger that demands it. I get more impatient with what I see as pedagogy that demands affiliation rather than opening unexpected connections. I grow more doctrinaire in my desire to rid my department of doctrine. I get more frustrated with my students' apparent passivity, forgetting that I once let assignments drop, plugged myself in (in an awkward 1970s way). If only "an emancipated person" can be "an emancipator," then self-emancipation is not an easy task.

It's been valuable then, on a day away from teaching, to indulge in this book, and to be reminded of the truth of Rancière's perception that we are the "being" who "examines what he sees," and that the real question to ask is "what do you think about it?" Or, "what do you notice?" Or, "how can you make something of this, whatever 'this' might be?"

Sunday, November 10, 2013

My coda to Tony's coda to the Spirit & World Series conversation

Aloha Tony--

As I begin to write my coda to our Spirit & Series dialogue, it feels as if the statue of limitations has run out. Or, perhaps not: my life's time-line includes many years that I don't remember well (at least not as themselves), but those years during which the Cardinals won or lost the World Series seem better punctuated than most. The punctuation I'm now most deeply immersed in, as a teacher of English composition, is the semi-colon, but there's also the exclamation point (the one I'm reminded was a single quote, backspace, period on a manual typewriter). The Cards were in the series twice in the late 60s, when I was a child, three times in the 1980s, when I was in graduate school, then four times again since I've lived in Hawai`i. These Series gather other memories together, like snowballs (though where I live there's a snowball's chance in hell that there are snowballs), fleshing out my various lives, re-casting me in places where I watched games, re-joining me to friends from each era. I'm reminded of the ways in which my emotional lives have changed; the intensity of the losses and the wins is lesser now than it was, though I do confess to losing a couple of days to this most recent loss, catching up on needed sleep while luxuriating in my grump. Insofar as there are real continuities to our emotional lives, I've carried these emotions, attached to this team, to every place I've lived since I was an 8 year old in Virginia. When the emotions revive I'm in a restaurant in Charlottesville watching one of those old projection televisions, or I'm in my car asking my son to call the game for me, or I'm in the living room sharing the joy and sadness with my family.

While the Series was going on, I was teaching a unit in my Honors class on the Khmer Rouge. We read Chanrithy Him's memoir, When Broken Glass Floats, and had a guest speaker, Hongly Khuy, come talk to us about his own experiences during the genocide of the 1970s in Cambodia. One of my students in that class is also a Cardinals fan--by way of his grandfather--and we would attend to the grim task of talking about genocide until class ended. Then, in ritual fashion, I (sans smart phone) would ask him quickly what the score was. After the Series ended, we talked briefly about how odd it was to move between these two subjects, their relative weights so utterly different in our minds. He noted that part of the reason he got over the loss so quickly was the comparison he made between these two events.

Something moves me to look up a poem I remember reading, though the content escapes my memory. It's William Carlos Williams's "At the Ballgame." Written in the late 1930s, this poem directly addresses the conflict between game and genocide. But Williams doesn't address it as opposition, rather as part and parcel of the same phenomenon, that of the crowd.  His poem can be found here, but I'll quote some of it now. After describing the baseball crowd, its "spirit of uselessness," its attention to detail, its excitement, Williams makes a horrifying turn:

The crowd at the ball game
is moved uniformly

by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them—

He warns against the very beauty he sees before him, not as he sees it, but as it reminds him of 
another crowd.

The Jew gets it straight— it
is deadly, terrifying— 

It is the Inquisition, the

It is beauty itself
that lives

day by day in them

Like the Adrienne Rich poem we read in class on Friday, "Eastern War Time," Williams juxtaposes two scenes, the one in the United States (where a girl goes to school, a crowd to the ball game), with one of genocide, holocaust. He isn't interested in evil--the evil our guest Hongly said was in all of us--but  in spectatorship as a lack of thought:

It is summer, it is the solstice
the crowd is

cheering, the crowd is laughing
in detail

permanently, seriously
without thought 

The ballgame might take an afternoon, but the crowd is permanent. Just as our emotional lives are permanent in their own ways, the human tendency to look on, even to look for beauty (what is purity
but a perfect totalitarian desire), to look on as others suffer and die.

This is getting far more grim than I'd intended. So let me, for now, suggest that while Williams noticed a permanence across the continuum from sporting event to totalitarianism, we can also imagine a disjunction between them. We are discontinuous, as well as consistent, characters. If we know, or can imagine, the differences between these polar similarities, we can create lives for ourselves that combine joy with ethical fitness. In whatever small way, our discussion of the Series has struck me as an extended reading of this poem I'm ending with. We choose the beauty, even the 
grief, of the Series, but we also aim to refuse the apparent beauty of ideological purity. Baseball is not an ideological sport, but one that depends on chance events, on knowing that identities are not bound up in your last action on the field, that a loss can be as good for you as a win, no matter how awful that feels.

 I'm now back to watching the off-season news.  What can the Cards do about the shortstop position?  Will Matt Carpenter play third, while Kolten Wong plays second? Does that mean that 2011's hero, David Freese, will be moving elsewhere? What pitcher can we do without? Which must we hold onto? These are not rhetorical questions; they're real ones that members of my Cardinals hui are mulling over, just as we once thought hard about the Albert Pujols question.

So, Tony, good luck to your Sox next year, but watch out for the Cardinals!  Young pitching, lots of talent in the field, and we might just have another contender. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tony Trigilio's coda to our Spirit & Series conversation

I'll be writing my own coda soon.

Hi Susan--
As giddy as I am after Sox’s World Series victory, I’m sorry the Cardinals were the team they beat.  I would’ve much rather seen them win against at a group of ballplayers I disdain.  I could’ve seen ex-Sox villains like Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett moping in the Dodgers’ dugout, and the schadenfreude would’ve been more satisfying than seeing Yadier Molina consoling Michael Wacha after he was leaving the mound after the Sox had blown open the game.  How can a fan not like Wacha, or Molina, a backstop maestro?  Even as I write this opening paragraph, it’s clear to me that baseball is still a space where I allow myself to revel in attachment.  My remarks on Gonzalez, Crawford, and Beckett were literal, not metaphoric, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I really would’ve taken pleasure in their misery, as I did watching A-Rod’s face after Pokey Reese scooped up the final out of the 2004 ALCS and A-Rod realized the Sox had just come back from a 3-0 series deficit and the Yankees had completed the most profound choke in the history of baseball’s postseason.  But, of course, ballplayers are millionaires in Ayn Rand’s America, and they don’t really feel something as strong as “misery,” I think, when they lose.
This baseball fandom—at its worst, it’s like jingoism, and I understand that, at a spiritual level, it can be as obscene as fetishizing a national flag.  Writing about it, though, helps me understand the need to channel our desires rather than try to avoid them.  What happens if I take this desire and, like you did with the giving and receiving of Tonglen practice, turn it into something that is communal rather than divisive.  Putting myself in front of my laptop after every game and writing about my spiritual and psychological reactions—rather than just clicking my heels at a Sox win, or cursing the Sox when they lost (OK, but I’m still holding a grudge against Saltalamacchia)—helped me see, however temporarily, how the energy of my sports fanaticism can be redirected.
I’m sad to see our Spirit & Series exchange ending.  The back-and-forth of our emails helped me avoid a total, unmitigated attachment/addiction to the Sox during their high moments, and prevented the displaced, out-of-body aversion that comes when they look more like WoeSox than Bosox.  But I have a long way to go.  Our cats, Simon and Schuster, kept a wary distance from me during games (all those unpredictable, jerky movements I make during a game—all my shouting when someone hits a homer or obstructs another player from running to home plate—and all they ever want is a little pinch of catnip to smooth the rough edges of the day).  Shimmy was a paranoiac—who could blame her, when G.W. Bush used to break into her litterbox and bury her copy of the Constitution in the sand and clumps of waste—and she had no patience for my postseason clapping and hollering.  She hid under the bed after each game's first clap and shout.  Thank you, by the way, for mentioning her in your recent posting.  Shimmy’s ashes looked down on me with disappointment, I’m sure, that I couldn’t stop cussing when the Sox swung and missed. 
I’m grateful that our exchange spurred me to root around in my imagination—the creative imagination and the spiritual imagination—to try to make peace with baseball attachments while in the act of experiencing them.  After Game 6 ended, Fox showed an image from behind home plate of the final out.  I thought about how often I would sneak into the behind-home-plate seats at Fenway during blowouts or at the end of rain-delayed games—in short, anytime the more well-heeled paying customers had already left.  I remember one time in particular, early 1989, with my dear friend Mitch (who, bless his heart, texted me Saturday from the Sox’s victory parade), when we slid into seats two rows from the backstop in the ninth inning of a Sox/A’s game.  The start of the game had been delayed by rain.  The Sox were up 2-1 in the top of the ninth, and closer Lee Smith was trying to end it.  Dave Parker, instead, bashed a gigantic, game-tying home run over the Wall—one of the most impressive homers I’ve ever seen, and it landed somewhere in western Massachusetts later that morning.  Fox's camera Wednesday showed the same view, behind the plate at Fenway, in their replay of Koji’s final strikeout.  Seeing the Sox jump like giddy children after the final out, feeling the camera shake slightly from the crowd reaction, I realized that I never once envisioned the Sox winning a World Series at Fenway.  No matter how rich my imagination might be, I never thought to imagine what a Series-clinching game would look like at Fenway.  I never visualized what it would be like to see the Sox’s shortstop leap into the air after the final out, with the Wall behind him in left, staid and stoic yet drunkenly eccentric, towering now 37 feet above a World Series win.  All the games I’ve seen at Fenway—and, as I mentioned earlier, all the papers I’ve graded at Fenway—and I never pretended to envision what a World Series clinching win would look like there.  Blake once wrote that “what is now proved was once only imagined.”  But this final shot of Koji reminded me, humbly, that sometimes what is true (in this case, a Sox championship clinched at Fenway) was once absolutely unimaginable. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Will Caron interviews Tinfish Editor in

Will Caron has an exciting new on-line journal.  Please check it out.  Here's an interview he did with me about Tinfish Press. Check out the e-chapbook format, which is really lovely.

I remember reading to Will when he was about four years old, a story that reminded me of none other than Gertrude Stein. He's now a young man, doing good work in the community.

Friday, November 1, 2013

An Out of Order Tony Trigilio contribution to our dialogue on Spirit & the World Series

 The World Series is over, so what is "order," anyway?

Hi Susan--

As you say, regarding Game 3’s final play, motivation means everything in Buddhism and nothing in Major League Baseball’s rule book.  No place for karmic intent.  Game 3 will always end with Middlebrooks as the rule book’s archetypal infielder who “dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground.”  Game 4 will always end, too, with Kolten Wong—whom Sox fans in Hawaii definitely are noticing now—continuing to lie on the ground after Mike Napoli’s sweep tag on his arm.  Saturday, we were treated to the first World Series game to end with a walk-off obstruction call; Sunday, we saw the first World Series game to end with a pick-off.  Tonight’s game should end with David Lynch on the pitcher’s mound describing his Quinoa recipe. 

Everything’s tied—the series, 2-2, and the number of strange walk-off endings, 1-1.  Fitting, I agree, to talk about how attachment leads to connection.  I’m fascinated by the communal ties that are created by baseball fandom.  Your Cardinals Hui sounds like a real joy—the equivalent of finding a Cardinals’ fan bar where you live, but without having to deal with the clangy-loud “bar” aspect of it all.  During the 2004 and 2007 World Series, I rent my garments with other Sox fans on electronic bulletin boards, and this helped share the communal angst.  But very few folks on these boards were actually writers by profession.  I think it’d be therapeutic, for instance, to complain about AWP between innings.  If I see Saltalamacchia behind the plate tonight, I’ll get that feeling of first looking into the new AWP Conference Program every year and recognizing endless variations of the same panels I avoided the previous year.

The community is now happening for me through text and email—of course, in our exchanges on your blog, but also in the electronic messages I’m getting from friends around the country, not all Sox fans, sending notes of encouragement or, just as often, sending texts with the words “Salty” and “third base” in the same sentence just to see what kind of apoplectic reply they’ll get from me.  Yesterday, I texted the URL of our dialogue to an old friend, a journalist who enjoys sports but has no emotional attachments to baseball teams.  He replied: “Oh, the angst.  Forget about you and your friend with all your tributes to the serenity of baseball.  It’s like fandom everywhere—pure unadulterated angst.”  I texted him back in the middle of Sunday’s game.  First reply: “I agree re: angst . . . then Gomes comes up w/runners on 1st & 2nd, and I start freaking out.”  I didn’t have much time to reflect on the panic, though.  As I was writing the text, Gomes hit the three-run homer that eventually won the game.  I know that we can’t get into much emotional and intellectual nuance in a text message, but I was trying to understand the boundary between serenity and angst—a boundary so important to everything you and I have been writing during the World series—and before I could form a sensible sentence in my head, Gomes walloped Maness’s hanging sinker. 

The stress never quite went away, though.  To stay within myself—this is my new koan, by the way, to stay within myself—I read student work between innings last night.  This brought back Fenway nostalgia for me, countless memories of walking to the ballpark after my late-afternoon class and buying a bleacher ticket (such an innocent time, when ordinary folk without corporate bar codes tattooed on their foreheads could just walk up to the ticket window and buy one for less than $10).  I’d take my backpack into the game, find a good seat in the bleachers and, along with other grievance-collecting Sox fans, bask in our communal anxieties.  Between innings, I’d relax by grading my students’ composition and technical writing essays.  I usually could finish two or three long essays during the course of a nine-inning game.  Strange to think that the mediocre Sox teams of the mid-1990s could produce anxiety, but you know how it is, once you’re at the ballpark, you feed off each other’s catastrophizing, even when we knew that beyond Roger Clemens, Mo Vaughn, and John Valentin, the team was mostly a bore.

These questions of community—virtual and real—are a part of how I became a Sox fan.  I didn’t spend my childhood in Boston, and I agree with Leonard Schwartz that our baseball partisanship “is an identity issue” more than a question of the cities we live in.  I actually spent part of my childhood as a Mets fan.  You can imagine how this made the 1986 World Series utterly debilitating for me, since, by then, I followed the Sox fanatically.  One of my brothers (I’m the youngest) used to hit me every time I rooted against the Mets.  I had a great impetus as a child, then, to wish the Mets all the success in the world, and to do so loudly in front of my brother.  After a time, I developed a version of Stockholm Syndrome, adopting the Mets full-bore as my team.  As I started to play baseball myself, and to gravitate toward pitching, Tom Seaver became an unequivocal hero.  But the whole time, I was secretly interested in the Red Sox.  Everything they did was unorthodox.  Their asymmetrical stadium was reflected in quirky personalities like Bill Lee and Luis Tiant—much of this coming to my knowledge during the riveting 1975 World Series, which made televised baseball feel as important to me as rock concerts.  Once the Mets traded Seaver to the Reds (an organization that forbade its players from wearing long hair or facial hair—I think Bill Lee once called this rule “fascist,” which only endeared him more to me), I expressed my Sox fandom more openly.  By then, the brother who used to hit me was nearly 20 and didn’t care much for baseball anymore.  He wasn’t going to punch my shoulder if I rooted for another team.  My oldest brother was a Yankees’ fan.  Rooting for the Sox, then, was a perfect metaphor for the unstable communities of my childhood: one brother used to hit me if I rooted against his team, and my other brother was stereotypically loud and brash in his allegiance to my team’s Satanic Majesty enemy, the nefarious Yanquis.  Thank goodness my mother hated Nixon and Reagan, or I would’ve been even lonelier growing up.

I loved how you put it—that “we create sanghas of a sort around this game.”  Our partisan ties to ballclubs are only barely geographic, I think.  This seems a self-evident statement; yet most people I talk with are surprised that I spent my childhood in Pennsylvania but wasn’t a Pirates or Phillies fan.  But these teams did nothing for me—and I found their artificial-turf ballparks repugnant.  The Sox of the ‘70s possessed an aesthetic, I guess, that appealed to me as much as their strange ballpark did.  I never could’ve rooted for, say, Sparky Anderson’s close-shaven Reds, who ran to first base on ball four and who played All-Star exhibition games like they were the seventh game of the World Series.  (I detested Pete Rose, who always reminded me of the uncle who wanted me to take up boxing as a way to get tougher, when I just wanted to read books and play in bands.  Ironically, this uncle was a Sox fan.) My affinities were with pitchers like El Tiante, turning his back to the batter during his windup, and Bill Lee, who once said, “Sparky Anderson says Don Gullett is going to the Hall of Fame after the World Series. I'm going to the Eliot Lounge.”

My initial fandom began with connection—an effort to connect with quirky players, once I didn’t have to worry about my brother hitting me, and once the Mets yanked Seaver from my life—but then it grew into attachment.  I want to find my way back from attachment to connection.  I don’t know if it’s possible.  It might be easier if David Ross starts tonight instead of Saltalamacchia, or if every time Saltalamacchia looks like he’s about to throw to third, Farrell would shout, “Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little Solitaire,” and, like a good Manchurian Candidate, Salty would hold on to the ball, let the runner slide into third, and trust his pitching staff to get out of the inning.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tinfish Press Sale: Our 2013 Collection!

Please go to our website--here--and find the sales offer.  20% off this year's four titles, gorgeous books all: Jack London is Dead: Euro-American Poetry of Hawai`i (and some prose), edited by Susan M. Schultz; Diary of Use, by J. Vera Lee; The Arc of the Day / The Imperfectionist, by Steve Shrader; and A Bell Made of Stones, by Lehua Taitano.

Spirit & World Series: Dialogue with Tony Trigilio, Instance #4

Here is the utility room off the main English department office in Kuykendall Hall, where I've spent many hours--days--during the months of October in recent years. It's the only place I can find a television to myself; oddly, there's cable in this room. In the foreground, you can see my iPad (with red keyboard), this year's addition to the arsenal of the fan. I use it to talk to the Cardinals Hui on facebook before, during, and after games. Occasionally, the department secretary will come in for a visit. She's a Dodgers fan who is now rooting for the Red Sox--as indeed everyone seems to be. Yesterday, the husband of a colleague came in to use one of the hand trucks and managed to say "go Red Sox" on his way out.

I confess to a feeling of dispiritedness today. It's been a long October of adrenaline and the end seems near, probably not the ending I wanted, but the end nevertheless. Of course baseball's history is at once linear and cyclical, but right now I'm feeling the blunt linearity of it. My Cardinals, who won so many games because they hit consistently with runners in scoring position (the lovely acronym is RISP), now strike out more than they hit. Hot hitters like Matt Carpenter have been tamed. Our best hitter, Allen Craig, when he plays, is operating on one foot as the other was injured two months ago.  The bottom of our order (Jay, Kozma, the pitcher) is mostly hapless. In the meantime, we're watching one of the greatest displays of post-season hitting ever. David Ortiz fails ever to not make contact with the ball, and his World Series batting average soars over .700. Why we don't walk him every time, I don't know. But that's simply another of the mysteries of this series; our second year manager has made some odd decisions, as has your new manager.

But back to spiritual practice, if I can muster some detachment for a moment. The day before last, the game ended with the Cardinals down by two runs, a man on first (Allen Craig had a double, but could only hobble as far as first, was then replaced by the speedy Kolten Wong), and Carlos Beltran up. If anyone can reproduce the miracles of 2011 for us (those of Berkman and Freese), it would be Beltran, despite his rib injury. The camera was on the field when suddenly the Red Sox started leaping in the air and Carlos Beltran's face turned ashen, angry. Kolten Wong, leaning the wrong way, had been picked off first by Koji Uehara. Wong slammed his helmet into the ground, the game over. No guarantees that Beltran would have hit the ball, but the rookie's mistake took the prospect of a perfect ending away from us. (No, fb friend David Kellogg, this was not "karma" from the interference call.)

Several minutes later, a tweet came over my transom from Viva el birdos, a website clearly run by literary folk: "Mike Matheny is a big believer in getting guys right back on the field, which is why Kolten Wong will pitch to David Ortiz tomorrow." I laughed. Someone on that feed also advised us not to send tweets to Wong ourselves and provided a link to a John Cheever story, scanned at an angle, about a character's catastrophic turn (I didn't read it, just gleaned something of the poster's intent). But then when Wong tweeted an apology for his mistake to #CardinalNation, I did respond, in brief, to say we were still at 2-2, it was ok. It's not like he was the only Cardinal who'd made a mistake in the game.

I felt a tonglen moment over Wong, easier because I feel like I know the guy. I don't, but he went to my university for three years and I'm sure I saw him play baseball here. He looks like one of my students, and his earnest apology reflected what's best about Hawai`i, a sense of community that includes a responsibility to represent the best in it. He clearly was feeling his kuleana, and that he'd not lived up to it. Wong is a Hilo kid, from an outer island, small town, suddenly thrust on the large stage.  He'd just had his first good game in a long while, getting a hit and making a fantastic play in the field the night before. To make that last out on such a mistake was devastating. Reports had it that he was crying in the clubhouse. These are not the actions of a hardened professional athlete (like the older Shane Victorino, also once an outer island kid, possessed of a harder attitude), but of a young man who's feeling his private way onto this public stage.

In Tonglen practice, which I understand more than I practice (like so much in this spiritual field), you breathe in someone else's pain and release it. I could do that for Wong by the end of the evening, but of course the true practice would demand that I do it for members of the Red Sox and their fans, including the Johnny come lately's. Hahd fo do. Why do I find myself respecting only those Red Sox fans who have suffered (the pre-2004s, in other words)? What is it about suffering that garners my respect, when sheer joy does not? Why did I and my friends instinctively trust the Khmer Rouge survivor who spoke to our honors class in memory & forgetting, when we often do not trust ourselves? (Admittedly, I've jumped from the trivial to the truly awful here). Why do I trust my own suffering more than my own joy? I wonder. And why does this trivial space of baseball remind me of those times, as if the trivial were simply a spur to memories of what really mattered?

For what is a career in baseball fandom except a career in memory? I remember sitting in front of some older colleagues in 1988 (I think it was) when the Cardinals played the Padres at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu (the Padres stadium was under repair so they repaired here). These colleagues were talking story about their lives; this was true oral history unfolding. But they were telling their lives through baseball: the games they'd seen; their dads watching, one having a stroke during a game (as I recall); the catastrophe for that colleague when the Dodgers left Brooklyn and he lost the will to cheer for any particular team ever again. Their memories were layered--as I advise my writing students to bring subjects together via compressed metaphor--so that they were telling at least two stories at once. And now I find what I barely remembered, the 1991 review of The Baseball Encyclopedia by one of these former colleagues, Arnold Edelstein, the one whose father had a stroke during a game. He writes: "The numbers can provide unexpected dividends for biography if we can picture the readers of the Encyclopedia using them not as signs of the players or teams but as Proustian reminders of particular days within the general recurrence of the years." (Biography, vol. 14, no. 3, Summer 1991, 273), available through Project Muse.)

I am so enjoying this exchange, Tony, that I hope this Series goes to 11 games. And it's the layering that matters to me, the way in which baseball is not "just a sport," as so many in our intellectual tribe would have it, but a filtering system for living a life in the moment and then contemplating it for many thousands of moments after. I think I might have some time for my pillow this morning, so over and out for now. Thanks, as ever, for your perceptions. And, because I so admired your cat Shimmy, I'll now post a photo of our cat Tortilla, lying on a rally towel. The photo credit goes to my son, Sangha.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Spirit & Series: A continuing dialogue between Tinfish Editor & Tony Trigilio.

Game Three Thread:

Dear Tony--

I understand what you mean by wanting “the game to dissipate like a dream you can’t remember five minutes after you’ve awakened,” but one of the lessons I've taken from my blogging practice (funny phrase, that) is that writing in that moment before memory takes hold, before memory-as-interpretation alters the event, at the moment before dissipation, is as necessary as allowing things to sift out. I remember a Ph.D. poetry student saying at her defense that she wanted to wait for events in her life to sit for a while before she wrote about them, and realizing how much a part of our regime as poets that has been. Of course I understand that this particular moment was one you didn't want to write from! What fascinated me about The Play is that it hinged on action and not intention. That the third baseman Middlebrooks stuck his legs in the air, ever so briefly, as Allen Craig tried to navigate his way past third, running as if he needed a GPS, or at least a walker because of his bad foot, didn't matter in the least. My family and I were yelling “interference!” at the tops of our lungs in the living room, and then I remember saying, “the ump saw it! He saw it!” For a Buddhist, intention matters. If Middlebrooks's intention was pure—if he had not intended to trip Craig, as perhaps he did not—then that matters a great deal. But in baseball, it does not. (I love this comment in the FOX stream, from the twitter feed of one Old Hoss Radbourn: “If you can't trip a guy at third base then I weep for America.” Here's the rule:

The act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.
Comment: If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered "in the act of fielding a ball." It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the "act of fielding" the ball. For example: an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.
While the play still re-runs (or re-hobbles) in my mind—Allen Craig at third, Jose Oquendo, red hoodie down his back, windmilling for him to run home as the ball goes into the left field foul area (again!), Allen Craig trying to start running, but tripping over the third baseman, Allen Craig hobbling home, lying on the ground, his face blank, not knowing what had happened, the Cardinals running out to pick him up, gently—the rule has its own majesty. It's about action and judgment, like so much in baseball, about accident and result, about the moment and then the memory of that moment. (I mean to devote the better part of one of these epistles to the role of memory in our baseball lives.) My husband, Bryant, loves the random chance of baseball, especially when the teams are both so good. One foot, or inch, one way or the other and the play would have been made. But the rules do not mention accident; they only allude to what happened. In this case (“an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground”) the rule book called the play, even if the third baseman didn't have time to move away. McCarver and Buck could have called it no better than that!

You wanted to talk about our attachments to our teams; I want to tell you about mine, then open that conversation up to how our attachments to our teams lead to our connections to other people. To move from attachment to connection seems a step in the right direction. I became a Cards fan in 1967 (another Series between the Cards and the Red Sox) when I was on the cusp of turning nine years old. I don't know that I yet knew much about baseball, but I heard about the Series; because I'd been born in southern Illinois, I decided to cheer for the Cardinals. The first “word” I read was the TWA sign at St. Louis's airport, where we'd drive my dad, who traveled a lot since he was in the Air Force. So there's also a linguistic tie. When a friend said she'd made a bet on game seven that the score would we 7-3 and wouldn't I hope the Red Sox scored that third run so she'd win her bet, I said no, I wanted the score to remain lower. Oh my, the arrogance of youth!

That was the team of Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Orlando Cepeda and—I nearly always forget—of Roger Maris. A later iteration of the team included Willie McGee, who threw the ball out last night, a symbolic act that Fox chose not to carry. Sangha showed me this morning: the highlights from McGee's 1982 Series, when McGee and I were rookies (I in grad school), and then the rather older, but still very thin man walking to the mound and quietly lobbing the ball to Ozzie Smith, sporting a bright red jacket. Somehow my loyalty to this team has stayed with me, has strengthened. “Oh, it's an identity issue, is it?” Leonard Schwartz once put it to me. Yes, the nostalgia of origins—the nostalgia I generally am extremely skeptical of—has its place in me, too. When I'm asked what my home town is now, I sometimes say “Busch Stadium.” Whichever stadium happens to be there . . . I wrote more about my fandom, edited for that issue by Tim Denevi, a great baseball guy.

From attachment to connection: my (pre-)husband became a baseball fan the first time I took him to a UH game and he realized he could drink beer and talk to people. He's evolved into a maniacal Cardinals fan, though he won't admit it publically. Our son, Sangha (named for the spiritual community and—as it turns out—for being “handsome,” which is what the word means in Khmer), rivals me in his intensity about the Cardinals. At 14, he is not always patient with his parents; yesterday, when Bryant and I commented that Holliday had made a very dumb base-running play, he got angry with us, accused us of “hating on Holliday.” Another moment of judgment, another moment of being reminded that Holliday is one of our best players in this Series. When the Cardinals were playing game five against the Pirates the other week, I couldn't find the game anywhere (I do not have a smart phone). It was not on the radio (which was carrying a talk show about our hapless football team), nor could I use the orthodontist's wifi, as I waited for my daughter to get her bands tightened. So I called home on my rather prehistoric cell phone, and Sangha called the game for me. When Radhika and I got into the car to drive home I put the speaker on and Sangha kept calling the game for me. The 45 minute ride home brought home to me the ways in which we create sanghas of a sort around this game.

My other baseball community is on-line. Several years ago, after starting to collect writers who are also Cards fans at AWPs here and there (Aaron Belz and I found Kyle Semmel in Austin first by wearing our caps at the Tinfish table), I launched a Cardinals Hui (or group, in Hawaiian) on facebook. This time of year the Hui is very busy, sharing articles, photos, laments (the media hates our team!), predictions (one among us, Harold Anderson, called a walk two pitches before it happened during one game, and now gets frequent questions about “the future”), and play by play commentary. Community also rules in Hawai`i's baseball world; for the first time ever, there are two Hawaiian players in the Series, Shane Victorino, who got the Sox in with a grand slam, and Kolten Wong, who has been terrible since coming up in August for the Cardinals. But last night—oh my!--he had a great play in the field and he got a strong single to left. I'm hoping all those Sox fans here noticed.

On 10/27/13 4:05 AM, Tony Trigilio wrote:

Hi Susan—
I’m writing in the wake of another Sox loss—probably something I shouldn’t do.  I should allow the game to dissipate like a dream you can’t remember five minutes after you’ve awakened.  Saltalamacchia threw to third base again?  Or did he—I had a wild dream that he botched another throw, then I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and by the time I went back to bed, I’d forgotten everything.  This is where I should begin writing: start by forgetting what I was dreaming.

Earlier tonight, Liz and I watched the 1950 noir film Highway 301 with David Trinidad—lots of hoodlums talking trash in their postwar gangster-ese, complaining about “nosy dames” and telling getaway-car drivers to “shove off” at the first sound of police sirens.  Afterward, walking through the alley, the pavement damp with splotchy puddles glaring under receding rows of streetlights on either side, we felt like we had walked into a generic Warner Brothers noir set.  All we needed was a cop swinging his flashlight and a thug in double-breasted suit and fedora hiding behind a trashcan.

Then we went home and watched the Sox lose.

Like you, I want to write about the beauty of the game—those moments that are like Emerson stepping in a puddle, all mean egotism vanishing.  Actually, I don’t know if I feel right invoking Emerson.  If Emerson were alive today, he’d spend 20 pages arguing sabremetrics.  Wins-above-replacement are signs of natural facts; natural facts are signs of higher, spiritual Pythagorean Expectations.  I’m not saying that beauty in baseball only comes from the brush-cut grass and portly managers spitting chaw on the dugout steps.  I’m obsessive about numbers, and sometimes the combination of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage just gives me a sublime chill.  But I can’t find beauty in the deliberate evasiveness of sabremetrics. Sabremetric categories seem like ungainly closed systems—for instance, I just want someone to explain to me how “replacement” is defined in “wins-above-replacement.”  I love numbers, yet I’ve never been able to find a lucid explanation of how the phantasmic “replacement player” in the “wins-above-replacement” formula is defined.  While Emerson makes the game into mathesis universalis, Thoreau grows his beard and forbids anyone from washing his uniform.  Hawthorne makes an errant throw to third (probably the fault of his ancestor judge who served at the Salem witch trials).  Dickinson rewinds over and over the Fox super-slow-motion shots of the bat hitting the ball.  She pauses at the fiery red moment when you can see the vibration on contact traveling up the batter’s forearms.  She could stare at this for hours.

It doesn’t matter, though, because they’re all buried in New England and they would’ve been Sox fans and they’d be really disappointed tonight.

But what if I really could watch the Red Sox with a realization of no attainment and no non-attainment?  I loved what you wrote about Lance Berkman’s remarks on his clutch 11th-inning hit in 2011.  Berkman stayed inside himself, as baseball players always explain to reporters—a persistently inscrutable phrase, but maybe something clearer now, if, as you say, I think of it as a description of why we sit on our meditation cushions.  Tomorrow, I’ll go to the Zen temple, where the sangha will stay inside itself.  I don’t mean this phrase in a privatizing way that walls off the rest of the world—not Paul Ryan forcing everyone in his office to read Ayn Rand, not Rand Paul braying about the Voting Rights Act—but instead, “staying inside oneself” as a gesture of mindfulness, coming back to the breath 101 times after being distracted 100 times.  This is a thing of beauty—and maybe the pause between each pitch, like the pause between inhalation and exhalation, creates the conditions for this kind of beauty.  Each windup is the breath touching the nostrils as it enters the body; each thud of the ball in the catcher’s mitt is the tickle of the breath against the upper lip as the body exhales.  But maybe the breeze I felt coming from a few hundred miles south of me, in St. Louis (Saltalamacchia’s wild, flailing bat, swinging at a neck-level pitch)—maybe this is really the breath tickling my upper lip.  If so, I need to remember there’s beauty there, too, a beautiful mindfulness like in Williams’s poem, “Thursday,” which ends with the poet “feeling my clothes about me / the weight of my body in my shoes / the rim of my hat, air passing in and out / at my nose—and [I] decide to dream no more.”

I’d planned to write about why we have so much passion for our teams—why our friends and colleagues notice red iPads (odd coincidence, I sat through a meeting on curriculum changes this week, too), or why they text congratulations to us when our teams win, as if we played in the actual game ourselves.  I hope to get to this in my next email.  This one, now that I look back, really was an effort to continue the thread you started, about what makes the game beautiful.  It’s when Lance Berkman and William Carlos Williams stay inside themselves—equally aware of the materiality of the mind and body and the illusory self-presence of both—and decide to dream no more.