The National Museum of Brazil, September 2, 2018

There it goes. All of it.

Flames up and out, the roof

gone, history in ash.

An unquantifiable loss for

Brazil, for all of us,

and a reminder of our

total impermanence. I

don’t know what was lost.

It’s not a museum

I’ve ever visited.

Some bones, paintings, documents.

Proof of one thing

or another. Whatever

was stored there

is lost now forever.

And the paintings stolen

from the Isabella Stewart

Gardner museum—also gone,

perhaps destroyed, only

their empty frames

remain. The statues of Buddha

destroyed by the Taliban?

The books burned by Nazis

or marauding Vikings?

That painting your daughter

did in 3rd grade that you

accidentally dropped into

the recycling? You think

any art is safe? The universe

doesn’t need the Mona Lisa

or Declaration of Independence.

Even if those items last

ten million years, that’s

chump change to the universe.

The universe laughs

at ten million years.

Kid, I do ten million years

before I get up in the morning.

The universe does not

care what we preserve in

our wooden buildings.

That cold, infinite emptiness

is a cold, infinite emptiness.

So, there it goes.

All of it. The noise

of the loss is a vibration

(the bones, the documents,

all fuel, all gone,

no mercy, no farewell)

but heartache is brief.

I’m not saying you

should stow your

grief. I’m saying your

grief, no matter how wide

or deep, is temporary.

When the cold and infinite

emptiness comes calling,

the only human

response

is to

begin

again.

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Why is Clark Not Working?

I’m on leave for this fall semester. I can’t accurately call it a sabbatical because I’m not a tenure-track employee at the University of New Hampshire, but it amounts to the same thing. Many people ask me why I’m not tenure-track, or whether or not I can get tenure if I’m at UNH long enough, and the answer is that my position is contract based, contingent faculty, and I can’t get tenure because that’s a different employment trajectory. My official position is Principal Lecturer. I’ve been at UNH full time since 1999 when I started as a Lecturer; then I became a Senior Lecturer; then a Murkland Lecturer; now Principal. My duties in the classroom and to my students are the same as any teacher in a university setting, and most of my students refer to me a professor, but I since I was not hired tenure-track, I can’t officially be a Professor (note the lower/upper case P’s) at UNH, nor do I have the long-range security or higher salary of tenure-track and tenured faculty. On the plus side, I have to do less committee and university service work than I would if I was tenure track. Mostly, I get to concentrate on my students. I like that.

But I’m on leave.

I won’t be back in the classroom till January 2019.

What’s that all about?

Well, my Pedagogical Leave is a program built into our Lecturer contract (negotiated by UNHLU, my union) that allows long-serving lecturers the opportunity to pursue their work for a semester. The idea behind it is that it will benefit the lecturer, her students, and the entire university. There are four slots available each semester for lecturers that have served over six years. I applied last fall for consideration for this fall. My application was thorough, about a hundred pages long.

I was awarded the leave.

That’s why you may see me out and about when you might expect me to be in a classroom. You may find me scribbling in a notebook at a coffee shop, or attending readings, or riding around on our Vespa during regular work hours. I will also be spending a lot of time in yoga.

But I’m a writer, and the leave is mostly going to be about writing. I’ll be posting a few times a week here on my blog as a form of reporting on my experience. Already my “plans” for the leave have morphed into something new. But that’s for my next post. Until then, write on.

If We Had Known

 

Elise Juska’s fifth novel, If We Had Known, is a spare and elegant novel about characters as they live in the aftermath of a mass shooting in a mall. What’s most interesting about this story is that aside from the mother of the shooter, most of the characters only knew the killer or any of his victims from a distance. The central character is a teacher who once had the shooter in a class, four years before the shooting. She saw the student twice a week for fourteen weeks, and finds herself at the center or the unfolding turmoil. Another character, a former classmate, remembers a strange paper the shooter once wrote. Another character had her hair styled by one of the victims. What Juska does is show the ripples as they fan out from the shooting. She mostly avoids the perhaps more sensational stories of eye-witnesses to the violence or the more interior stories of grief from the victims’ loved ones. The novel’s power lies in the way Juska reveals the truly devastating effects not only for the victims of these shootings but for entire communities. One of the most viscerally related storylines centers around the daughter of the teacher. A young woman on the cusp of her college career, she’s already prone to anxiety and an eating disorder. Her struggles to maintain a sense of herself while studying, dating, dealing with social media, societal pressures, are all amplified by the swirling debris flowing outward from the shooting. Juska’s fifth novel is a powerful piece of work on many levels, and it should resonate with readers no matter where they stand on the issues concerning the proliferation of guns in America. The novel doesn’t demand any particular political stance from its readers. It only asks us to consider the aftermath of the all-too-frequent mass-shootings. In that regard, it could be the most important book you read all year.

 

On leave. Writing.

I’ll be disabling the Instagram photos that appear on this blog. I’ll be posting more updates about writing and creative subjects. These next six months will be the first really dedicated writing time I’ve had in my life. Stay tuned for details. This is my writing desk (although I’ll write anywhere) and my cat Lucy likes to support me, and my screen while I work.

Ruins

 

Each time he thought he was

finished, he was only at the beginning.

all of the people stood in a big

crowd waiting for the names

of the things and the names

for themselves and the names

that would help them understand

their own thinking

one man stood along the black

terrace and shouted, mercy, oh,

mercy, again and again

then cities

and boats

and neon

and prayer

and hands

it was crowded with words

and the people had no idea

what any of the words meant

they became a blanket woven

by a blind man, an empty

courtyard, an abandoned theater

a gathering of leaves,

cows, athletes, empty

baskets, totems, crusades,

invisible and visible chaos,

all of the words and the names

flew up and away

the people stood on the bridges,

mountains, concrete oceans

weeping, laughing, lusting,

they scraped away the old soil

to see the bones of the old cities

a man climbed into a tunnel,

a man was buried, an infant

came as foretold, the water

covered the fields, the cities

disappeared, a star died, a new

revolution changed the end of time,

when he woke, he was standing

next to a white bench

on which were perched

a stack of books

with empty pages

he was alone

in a white field

he could not remember

any of what had come

before, he was neither

new nor old

there were no names

and he wondered how

to begin

We said goodbye to Paul B. tonight at 3:51 AM. Friend, mentor, spiritual guide, sponsor, power of example, maybe the realest person I’ve ever met. His death was profound and peaceful. I felt honored to be there. When we left the hospital, @tattoo55 and I drove to the beach to see the sunrise. All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses.

from Instagram: https://ift.tt/2kaC1Pi