Saturday, June 29, 2013

Klinkenborg: Decline and Fall of the English Major; Baseball; Bicycle races


The Decline and Fall of the English Major

Rebecca Bird
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In the past few years, I’ve taught nonfiction writing to undergraduates and graduate students at Harvard, Yale, Bard, Pomona, Sarah Lawrence and Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. Each semester I hope, and fear, that I will have nothing to teach my students because they already know how to write. And each semester I discover, again, that they don’t.

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They can assemble strings of jargon and generate clots of ventriloquistic syntax. They can meta-metastasize any thematic or ideological notion they happen upon. And they get good grades for doing just that. But as for writing clearly, simply, with attention and openness to their own thoughts and emotions and the world around them — no.
That kind of writing — clear, direct, humane — and the reading on which it is based are the very root of the humanities, a set of disciplines that is ultimately an attempt to examine and comprehend the cultural, social and historical activity of our species through the medium of language.
The teaching of the humanities has fallen on hard times. So says a new report on the state of the humanities by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and so says the experience of nearly everyone who teaches at a college or university. Undergraduates will tell you that they’re under pressure — from their parents, from the burden of debt they incur, from society at large — to choose majors they believe will lead as directly as possible to good jobs. Too often, that means skipping the humanities.
In other words, there is a new and narrowing vocational emphasis in the way students and their parents think about what to study in college. As the American Academy report notes, this is the consequence of a number of things, including an overall decline in the experience of literacy, the kind of thing you absorbed, for instance, if your parents read aloud to you as a child. The result is that the number of students graduating in the humanities has fallen sharply. At Pomona College (my alma mater) this spring, 16 students graduated with an English major out of a student body of 1,560, a terribly small number.
In 1991, 165 students graduated from Yale with a B.A. in English literature. By 2012, that number was 62. In 1991, the top two majors at Yale were history and English. In 2013, they were economics and political science. At Pomona this year, they were economics and mathematics.
Parents have always worried when their children become English majors. What is an English major good for? In a way, the best answer has always been, wait and see — an answer that satisfies no one. And yet it is a real answer, one that reflects the versatility of thought and language that comes from studying literature. Former English majors turn up almost anywhere, in almost any career, and they nearly always bring with them a rich sense of the possibilities of language, literary and otherwise.
The canon — the books and writers we agree are worth studying — used to seem like a given, an unspoken consensus of sorts. But the canon has always been shifting, and it is now vastly more inclusive than it was 40 years ago. That’s a good thing. What’s less clear now is what we study the canon for and why we choose the tools we employ in doing so.
A technical narrowness, the kind of specialization and theoretical emphasis you might find in a graduate course, has crept into the undergraduate curriculum. That narrowness sometimes reflects the tight focus of a professor’s research, but it can also reflect a persistent doubt about the humanistic enterprise. It often leaves undergraduates wondering, as I know from my conversations with them, just what they’ve been studying and why.
STUDYING the humanities should be like standing among colleagues and students on the open deck of a ship moving along the endless coastline of human experience. Instead, now it feels as though people have retreated to tiny cabins in the bowels of the ship, from which they peep out on a small fragment of what may be a coastline or a fog bank or the back of a spouting whale.
There is a certain literal-mindedness in the recent shift away from the humanities. It suggests a number of things. One, the rush to make education pay off presupposes that only the most immediately applicable skills are worth acquiring (though that doesn’t explain the current popularity of political science). Two, the humanities often do a bad job of explaining why the humanities matter. And three, the humanities often do a bad job of teaching the humanities. You don’t have to choose only one of these explanations. All three apply.
What many undergraduates do not know — and what so many of their professors have been unable to tell them — is how valuable the most fundamental gift of the humanities will turn out to be. That gift is clear thinking, clear writing and a lifelong engagement with literature.
Maybe it takes some living to find out this truth. Whenever I teach older students, whether they’re undergraduates, graduate students or junior faculty, I find a vivid, pressing sense of how much they need the skill they didn’t acquire earlier in life. They don’t call that skill the humanities. They don’t call it literature. They call it writing — the ability to distribute their thinking in the kinds of sentences that have a merit, even a literary merit, of their own.
Writing well used to be a fundamental principle of the humanities, as essential as the knowledge of mathematics and statistics in the sciences. But writing well isn’t merely a utilitarian skill. It is about developing a rational grace and energy in your conversation with the world around you.
No one has found a way to put a dollar sign on this kind of literacy, and I doubt anyone ever will. But everyone who possesses it — no matter how or when it was acquired — knows that it is a rare and precious inheritance.


Teacher/English major Leland Dix, and
University Archivist Erin Dix, and
Professional letter writer, etc. -  Dee Dix
at a Brewer game


It looks easy from a distance,
easy and lazy, even,
until you stand up to the plate
and see the fastball sailing inside,
an inch from your chin,
or circle in the outfield
straining to get a bead
on a small black dot
a city block or more high,
a dark star that could fall
on your head like a leaden meteor.

The grass, the dirt, the deadly hops
between your feet and overeager glove:
football can be learned,
and basketball finessed, but
there is no hiding from baseball
the fact that some are chosen
and some are not—those whose mitts
feel too left-handed,
who are scared at third base
of the pulled line drive,
and at first base are scared
of the shortstop's wild throw
that stretches you out like a gutted deer.

There is nowhere to hide when the ball's
spotlight swivels your way,
and the chatter around you falls still,
and the mothers on the sidelines,
your own among them, hold their breaths,
and you whiff on a terrible pitch
or in the infield achieve
something with the ball so
ridiculous you blush for years.
It's easy to do. Baseball was
invented in America, where beneath
the good cheer and sly jazz the chance
of failure is everybody's right,
beginning with baseball.

"Baseball" by John Updike, from Endpoint. © Knopf, 2009

Actual worn baseball now housed at the Odd Fellows hall
inscribed with motto:  " KEEP HITTIN' "
 signed by Babe Ruth allegedly


 Bicycle races

This was John last week
- untypical raccoon reader -
when I came out of the Odd Fellows door

to have breakfast at Dave's
and then take some street-level
pictures of the bike races

John strode over to me from
where he was on duty as an
auxiliary policeman
and said,
"I bet you don't recognize me!"

I did not, immediately.
Then he told me his name
and how we knew each other.

He used to be for a short time
the custodian at the Congregational church.
He drove the Zamboni floor machine
around an imaginary track
in the all-purpose room.

Racing is in his blood.

John has through diligent exercise and
careful diet reduced his weight
and that is really why I did not
recognize him.

He is the man who sent the raccoon this:
(on a good dog)

Photo out the Odd Fellows window
last year, pre-KD Cat

at this year's races
John by the Estberg's door monitoring
the hairpin turn onto Grand off of Main
There were some spills there


Coming next week

King Koon returns


the cat and her step-dad will play

It has been a long time since we pulled a bank job:
KD Cat has many stashed toys about the house
and they are pretty much all over the place
but we hadn't seen her Zepata holster
and pearl-handled Mexican revolver before be cont'd

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Hulda and John; Rev.Leroy and Amelapay; Dancing the night away; Distance and a certain light; Raccoon walk

A preacher loves his chicken
Hulda by name
they've appeared here before
see footnote

The loyal mascot patrols the
nicely landscaped double-wide
perusing garden and flower beds
attempting to keep them bug-free
and herself nourished

She has eluded invading predators
(ferrets may be the culprits)
who have divested Hulda of 
her two feathered friends
coop-mates not to be forever

Extra steps have been taken
by the caring husband-man
to double-batten Hulda's hatches
and she continues to
lay eggs, wary, most likely

but feeling safer
and a contributor
a work-mate for John

The minister's fierce brushes with
a sometimes harsh world
  his life long shows in this image
he sent 

And he holds Hulda just as
he has held babies for years
at his altars of baptism.

The kindness possessed
has shown around the eyes.
from a young man, a runner, a
 comforter when we met him
to now.

Adam and John Helt, David Dix, David VandeVusse at Al's Run circa 1982, Milw., WI

John and Hulda start garden, Colgate WI 2012

Bonding, recent


We went out to see Pam
last Saturday a Crossroads restaurant north of Waukesha where she now works part time,
having retired from Dave's at the Five Points after 18 years of good service.

Pam looked good, served us well at a nice new place.

The Reverend is a tool and die maker semi-retired and working part-time as a truck driver
for Peterbuilt.  He has been a friend for many years, and his parents
long ago presented us with Festoon the Fox, a stuffed animal we'd first sold them
but which Eugene, Leroy's father, wanted to give back when Eugene was approaching final exit.

Leroy saw to we that we got it.  We still exchange the Polish greeting, to each other
and toward that distant grave:


The Rev.'s political views and philosophies are not the same as ours but allowances are made
for each other.  Pam's views are also divergent.  Being from Waukesha, we all get along.

Old trick
Hold fish toward the camera
fish look bigger

The Rev. lights a cigar on one of our leisurely strolls along the Fox River.
Cigars are prevalent there.  See below subject we photoed.


up and coming

Mature gentleman sings karaoke-style
in tent in front of spaghetti joint
while children dance 
only slightly self-consciously

- we shoot with only cam we had, the cell -

littler child on left feels the music, itches for action

They've seen grown-ups 

- Garrison Keillor -

Distance and a Certain Light

and a certain light
makes anything artistic—
it doesn't matter what.

From an airplane, all
that rigid splatter of the Bronx
becomes organic, logical
as web or beehive. Chunks

of decayed cars in junkyards,
garbage scows (nimble roaches
on the Harlem), herds of stalled
manure-yellow boxes on twisting reaches

of rails, are punched clean and sharp
as ingots in the ignition of the sun.
Rubbish becomes engaging shape—
you only have to get a bead on it,

the right light filling the corridor
of your view—a gob of spit
under a microscope, fastidious
in structure as a crystal. No contortion

without intention, and nothing ugly.
In any random, sprawling, decomposing thing
is the charming string
of its history—and what it will be next.

"Distance and a Certain Light" by May Swenson, from Collected Poems. © The Library of America, 2013


'Raccoons' walk
around downtown in the evening 7 PM

After a repast at the Cup 
Dee points out as we head to the riverwalk
at Clinton and Broadway that
one can see the rooftop umbrellas 
shielding diners
at Peoples Park restaurant

Have not been up there yet

A feathery shrub graces the beautiful riverwalk........

Dee reaches and examines it's softness

The Kendal Lofts continue to take shape
Walkway closed during construction 
so cut over to Main St.
across from Studebaker garage

A park bench awaited us at Veterans Park
 a good site to rest bones 
 survey the W. Main Street progress.
We'd imagined these buildings
were torn down for the project......

Looks like balconies are being added
  Those are sliding doors we see
The workmen were winding up their day's work  
A fork-lift arranged materials
for the night behind a construction fence

A jogger smiles rounding the bend 
where we sit

Back home,

Dee surprises with a strawberry-rhubarb pie she'd baked
Expression -


A hill of transport
ambos go up and down
night and day
sirens of warning blare
one cannot complain
 last-minute flowers bloom


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Gingko revisited; Fathers Day; TIME; Guthrie, guitartown 2013; Municipal parking ramp; Bees and morning glories; Plant brackets


We know from our own experience that there is just too much to read these days.  With only ink-printed matter it was true as Gutenberg’s press invention took communication to the stars.  Now with the burgeoning internet, there is just too much that crosses our paths.  Minds are boggled.

It is perhaps rude of me to toss the Saturday Raccoon on your teetering pile, but for the happy fact that we all do overlook and forget a lot, and now we can delete things -  a keystroke is just a very slight effort, all that is needed.  SO, this presumptuous so-called editor, who himself loathes heavy lifting, passes on to you this end of a frontispiece in a beloved book, WASHINGTON ISLAND 1836 -1876 (a partial history published as a revised edition by Conan Bryant Eaton, 1980):

“Should anyone, upon perusal, find in (this tome) nothing which he did not know before, let him lay it aside quietly, and remember that it was not written for him, but for the less informed.”  C.B.E., Washington Island, June 1972.

That book lies here before me, those words underlined. With apology, it is also our word from the raccoon to you.  

Delete at will.

                           Revolutionizing the way people conceive and describe the world they live in, and ushering in the period of modernity.


after one(+) full week of greenness
on the loft ledge in front of me.

Smiles at world
through war-torn Waukesha milieu;
hard news gets learned
with the good

Father's Day 2013
John Means
father of Denise Means

John Means with daughters Donna and Denise

John Means as beloved Fire Chief
Pleasant Valley Volunteer Fire Department
(In white chief's coat)

Receives hall of fame citation
Maryland Firefighters Annual Convention
to which he hopes to return imminently
with other family members and Jean
in Ocean City on the eastern shore.

In a reflective moment around the dining room table
at Means Rest, Pleasant Valley, Md.

Gramaw and Poppy in the barn
(photo by Emily Means)

60th Anniversary with Jean

Leslie V. Dix
father of SRN ed.

LVD ibid
Dad is 2nd left shaking his boss LBJ's hand firmly

LVD, ibid
enters Arlington National Cemetery
we were there, 1998


you may wish to hear this

hanging on in quiet desperation
is the English way....

Ticking away the moments 
That make up a dull day 
Fritter and waste the hours 
In an off-hand way 

Kicking around on a piece of ground 
In your home town 
Waiting for someone or something 
To show you the way 

Tired of lying in the sunshine 
Staying home to watch the rain 
You are young and life is long 
And there is time to kill today 

And then the one day you find 
Ten years have got behind you 
No one told you when to run 
You missed the starting gun 


And you run and you run 
To catch up with the sun 
But it's sinking 

Racing around 
To come up behind you again 

The sun is the same 
In a relative way 
But you're older 

Shorter of breath 
And one day closer to death 

Every year is getting shorter 
Never seem to find the time 

Plans that either come to naught 
Or half a page of scribbled lines 

Hanging on in quiet desperation 
Is the English way 

The time is gone 
The song is over 
Thought I'd something more to say 

Home again 
I like to be here 
When I can 

When I come home 
Cold and tired 
It's good to warm my bones 
Beside the fire 

Far away 
Across the field 
Tolling on the iron bell 
Calls the faithful to their knees 
To hear the softly spoken magic spell...

Sunday 6-9-13 NYTimes

Wis Guthrie, Waukesha Guitartown 2013

Our friend Wis was set up again this year right below our 3rd floor windows.
His son and art team Guthrie member, Jim, had his back in the Guitartown T shirt and his wide-brim tan hat.

On ground level, we joined the throng of photo-takers.  The Guthries chose a LOG theme for their second effort.  Wis for years had been saving an actual log in his art inreddients for later doing something with.  And since Les Paul sometimes called his guitar his 'log', it fit right in.

Wis had liked the knot hole and other features of his log, and was glad to incorporate this wood from his old woodpile. 

The back side of the guitar has the log continuing.

Other found ingredients are included in the Guthrie guitar this year, as last.
Above, see the electronics simulating Paul's invention that appear in the knothole.
Old radio dials are the controls on the front of the 10 foot guitar. Between frets find Les Paul print artifacts.

Wasting not, the Guthries used the other end of the
wood stove grate plate removers that they attached
in the 2012 model. Those ends of the stove tool had coils
to dissipate the heat of the stove.  That suggested to the Guthries
that Les Paul's music was sometimes hot.

The tool ends used this year are the working 'screwdriver'
finials.  Again, an apt reference to Paul, the inventor.

In the background is the Clarke restaurant, currently vacant
and in need its own 'tune-up'.

Wis reposed for three hours next to his guitar, reveling like the retired
art professor from Carroll that he is, teaching all interested parties
in the thought that went into this Guthrie team guitar.

He sat more comfortably this year in a recycled electric scooter with
padded seats.  He got it from a woman at the Avalon who lost her resident husband.
The husband loved to speed around the bldg and  the downtown and gathered a 
swift reputation.  

Wis is acclimating to the machine and drives it still a bit tenuously,
but has high hopes of often taking the thing to church, the Congo,
with pedestrian ramps all the way, and if the Waukesha authorities
allow, there will be a control traffic light at East Terrace making Wis's 
and many other handicapped travelers way, at that locus, safer.
(That is to be determined.  The alderman is working on it.
Result to be announced;  city has denied this request twice.)

The Guthrie 2013 guitar will sit in the lobby of the Avalon Square
where Wis lives for two weeks. He holds forth at intervals with the guitar at his side,
explaining its features to his encouraged fellow residents.

After two weeks Wis's guitar will head out to the Les Paul Parkway bypass
where it will be put on a pedestal and illuminated weather-safe case, courtesy of
an industrial sponsor.

This photo was shot with zoom from the vacant 4th floor of the
municipal parking ramp across from the Rotunda.

The guitar will be at the Avalon Square for a while longer, so
anyone wanting to see it up close who missed it at the Five Points
has only to request permission through the intercom
and the desk manager will buzz you in.

This photo sits next to the guitar in the lobby.
Wis is shown with son Jim and team-mate grandson, Ryan.

Historian John Schoenknecht sent us this picture taken of him
next to the Central Middle School art class guitar project.
John is a friend of the art teacher there, being a retired art teacher himself,
and was asked for some Waukesha-based product labels from his
vast collection of local memorabilia.
The students then could improvise representations as they painted their guitar.
It turned out great.

For info on how so see the various guitars

A side benefit from ground level inspection of the 
Guitartown scene was a rare opportunity to see the
interior of another but often-closed Five Point
point of interestin the former First National Bank.

Peering inside with our camera, we got a shot of the
uncovered architectural dig, the old Waukesha City Seal 
done in terrazzo, previously buried in concrete.  This revelation was 
thanks to Alan Huelsman, one of the bldg owners.

A screen normally hides that interior view when the tenant
is not open.

It was 'Mad-house City', the first Friday Night Live
of the 2013 season.  Artful guitars seemed everywhere.
A stage was erected at the Five Points for the live music
and ceremonial proceedings.

Men in blue were omnipresent also.
In a squad with tinted windows, a gendarme
spoke through the opaque glass to a
shirtless recumbent-riding spectator.

Thus concluded our circular tour of FFNL No 1.


There are many sights to be seen in downtown Waukesha.

Some are exquisitely pleasant, like this one.  It is little wonder
that the legendary subterranean raccoons choose as their
central meeting place the suspected catacombs beneath this old post office.
 (Now, present ground level incarnation - a site for celebations, weddings,
a focal surround for glitteratae:  "The Rotunda".)

A South Street Gingko tree on the Rotunda side
and a neighbor of ours happens to walk by....
Lsst year we watched the guitar gala from the top floor
of this structure......the

Municipal South St. parking ramp

THIS YEAR, as our way was wended up to the top of the ramp
where we've gone for higher elevation Waukesha photos,
we again noted that the entire 4th floor is void of parkers.

Yet, some people complain of a lack of downtown parking.
This is a huge facility.  We keep our still-running old
car parked here.  (The lower floors are covered from the elements.)

It occurs to us that there could be more use made
of these parking spaces.  The third floor on a regular day
in about half-used. Spaces to park throughout are numerous. Thus,
 the 4th rooftop level has been 'under-utilized' 
to say the least.

From up here you can see our residence,
the Putney/Odd Fellows building.  See the Waukesha-style
turret in the middle.

Masterful engineering was employed in creating this
downtown resource, built for an awaiting future.

The interior elevator spaces are heated
and decorative with the glass blocks and clear windows.
Here you can see at the right of the stairs
the soon-to-be-built Berg/Huelsman combo-
office, store and residential structure above the
present one-level indoor parking bldg on South St.

The plan shown in the Freeman has a skywalk
for those future renovation-occupying tenants to get to
the parking ramp, so there will be some probable increase 
in the ramp utilization, + resultant income to the city.
The rates currently are $2.00 per day, or for monthly
rental, $20.00.

Discussions are ongoing for perhaps waiving the daily
fee to encourage usage by the public.  There are pros
and cons; other undecided considerations.


Taken 6-14-13, a third growth morning glory buds out
on the volunteer vine reported here a year ago.
It is still growing from the little pot given us by Judith
Williams, peace activist of local renown, famous for
for acts of bravery and gentle kindness.  Ex.:  She recently took in a 
a cat that was destined for euthanasia, an 18 yr old cat
with distressing habits to a husband of a friend.
- The cat has to go! -

Our fragile morning glory is still wanly, small, yet strongly 
sending out it's blooming messages. We wonder how long it
can hold out in its foreign environment?
It's in a pot holding an intended cactus that kindly
tolerates its presence and the excessive watering, and does itself do well.

Bees and Morning Glories

Morning glories, pale as a mist drying,
fade from the heat of the day, but already
hunchback bees in pirate pants and with peg-leg
hooks have found and are boarding them.

This could do for the sack of the imaginary
fleet. The raiders loot the galleons even as they
one by one vanish and leave still real
only what has been snatched out of the spell.

I've never seen bees more purposeful except
when the hive is threatened. They know
the good of it must be grabbed and hauled
before the whole feast wisps off.

They swarm in light and, fast, dive in,
then drone out, slow, their pantaloons heavy
with gold and sunlight. The line of them,
like thin smoke, wafts over the hedge.

And back again to find the fleet gone.
Well, they got this day's good of it. Off
they cruise to what stays open longer.
Nothing green gives honey. And by now

you'd have to look twice to see more than green
where all those white sails trembled
when the world was misty and open
and the prize was there to be taken.

"Bees and Morning Glories" by John Ciardi, from The Collected Poems of John Ciardi.

(from Farmers Almanac)

A good idea from the farmers market

A friendly man is selling these brackets he makes.
$3.50 ea with two screws.

The clay flower pots are held by the precise shape
of the notch cut into the bracket, and the weight of gravity.
Plants are easily withdrawn for watering.  When you put
plant back the position may be varied 360 degrees.

Our three windows each got one of these clever brackets.
The Feng shui effect is to broaden the 18 foot
ceiling-ed room.  The vender's stand is found right across from
the Steaming Cup booth.


The End