Teaching Creative Nonfiction in Pandemic

Three weeks into my own, two week's into my daughter's isolation, I am teaching a class on Creative Nonfiction. We are nine weeks into the semester. Over Spring Break, everything in the world changed. The students "returned" tonight. I have been teaching in class in Zoom basically since I was told about Zoom. For me, it was the perfect solution to what then were my life's problems. I hated traffic. Zoom. I am deaf and require hearing aids, and listening in rooms of people is impossible. Zoom. I like to teach without interruptions. Zoom. Also, because I live in the mountains of Western North Carolina, often some students can't make it to class. They would Zoom. Some nights, none of us could come to class. We Zoomed. All of us. And that was the end of teaching in a classroom. I still carried the slight stigma of being an "online professor." It held a similar stink that "online dating" used to before everybody did it. It wasn't a "

The Hauntings of Internment, with job descriptions for working with interned children at the border

An aerial photo of immigrant children at a recently opened facility in Tornillo, Texas. (Reuters/Mike Blake) Courtyard of the Happy Way 樂道院 (le dao yuan) –  picture and corresponding map – courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings From the job description to work for Southwest Key:  Must be prepared and physically able to respond with appropriate protocol in a variety of dynamic supervision situations with clients of 0-17 years in age. In a sudden or emergency event. Several letters from the British Crown urged him to return to England from China. My grandfather had been living in Hong Kong, Swatow, and Tianjin since the early 1930s, working as a physician for the Kailan Mining Administration. News of Japan's seizure of Nanking and Shanghai in 1937 did not motivate him to leave. During the bombings of neighboring Swatow, he worked with locals to build makeshift hospitals in the streets to treat the wounded, and still he did not leave China. His colleagues had boarded th

Summer Reading: or, My Daughter's Modeling Gig, with Auschwitz Survivor, Henri Landwirth

As with many parents, I have always tried to let my daughter know that I'll listen to her wishes. In keeping with this, I submitted her photograph to a modeling agency when, at age 7, she said she wanted to be a model. By sending one photo I'd taken of her at Niagara Falls, I felt I was keeping my promise while also not being quite so dogged about it as to lead anyone to think I actually wanted this path for her. Within two months of submitting the photograph, I got a call. Someone wanted her to pose for a statue. Yes, fully clothed, holding a stuffed animal, the agent replied. As a poet and artist, I felt this was as good a modeling job as I could wish for. I accompanied her to the location where I was informed of the nature of the assignment: she would hold her teddy bear (named Oatmeal) and smile at a man. The man was Henri Landwirth. While a photographer took pictures for the sculptor to use, Mr. Landwirth's assistant told me his boss's story of how as a te

The Suicide Push

In the two days that presented us with celebrity suicides, I have been quiet. I saw the posts and acknowledged the tragedies. The fame and fortune of both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain--and also the charm each possessed--nestled in with the personal notes from friends and relatives to script fragments of stories together that will never be whole. Like the poems of Sappho salvaged from ancient ruins, this is all we are left with. I had nothing to say, and I'm often one who can say something. My silence indicated to me that it wasn't a reflection of not feeling anything or not having anything to contribute to the communal grieving and raising of awareness. It indicated that there was a block in me. I was blocking the grief and even the witness. Back in the 1990s, I was engaged to Tom Andrews, the beautiful poet. The story I tell most often about this fait-incomplit  of an engagement is that at his memorial service a friend of his turned around in his chair and asked me

"We Don't Give Bad News On Friday"

Thank you, friends, for asking about my trip yesterday to Hope Breast Cancer Center. It is timely that this happened as I was gazing at a deadline for a grant for a conference on Narrative Healthcare--because these past three days have been vexed by an experience that shows me just how badly we need narrative training for doctors. In the end: I'm fine. It is, as I suspected an infected spider bite or an infected blister from a Canon camera strap. Because some bites can be very poisonous, I went to a GP on Friday afternoon to get some nice antibiotics so I didn't slip into a coma in my sleep as the worst stories go. I left with a worse worst story. My regular GP wasn't available so I went to another. Seeing the infected bite, she was taken aback and immediately said it could be inflammatory breast cancer then left the room to make an appointment for ultrasound and mammography, leaving me there with my phone which I immediately googled IBC on: presents at stage III

About Poetry in Times Like These

(I tried to find the artist of this. If you know, please tell me.) At an AWP conference in Chicago, I encountered a vast ballroom filled with writers and poets. They were listening to one poet, Marie Ponsot, whose talk, a sign by the door announced, was entitled "The Poet's Responsibility." When I had seen the title in the conference schedule I had shuddered. I wouldn't go, I told myself. Why go when I know I don't fulfill my responsibility? Why go when I know it will leave me feeling utterly and profoundly irresponsible. Yet, I had stumbled into the very ballroom I'd vowed to avoid (those who go to AWP's perhaps know this form of disorientation). Rather than lambast us for not doing enough, though, Ms. Ponsot said this: "A poet's job is to pay attention and to write good poems." She repeated this. "A poet's job is to pay attention and to write good poems." I ponder it still because I paid very close attention

How Asheville Can Win The Battle of Busk

When a friend asked me while we dined on salads what I thought of the busking situation in Asheville, I almost choked on my salad.  "We have a busking situation?" He told me he'd seen the article in the New York Times . Again: almost choking, "New York Times is writing about buskers in Asheville?" I love this so much for so many reasons. The fact that we are in the 9th most food insecure city in America, the fact that people can walk around this town and not know we have a large African-American population scuttled away on the outskirts as a result of demolishing 2000 homes in the city center, the fact that we don't have affordable housing in town, all this aside: we make the Times for our "busking situation." This is why I love Asheville. This is why you really should move here: we have a busking situation. We have music everywhere. We have music outside t-shirt shops that print quotes by great songwriters on their organic cotton and