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Placing the Academy

Placing the Academy: Essays on Landscape, Work, and Identity

Jennifer Sinor
Rona Kaufman
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Placing the Academy
    Book Description:

    A set of creative writers here responds to the call for literature that addresses who we are by understanding where we are-where, for each of them, being somehow part of the academy. Their personal essays delineate the diverse, sometimes unexpected roles of place in shaping them, as writers and teachers in varied environments, through unique experiences and distinctive worldviews-in reconfiguring their conjunctions of identity and setting, here, there, everywhere, and in between. Offering creative comments on place, identity, and academic work are authors Charles Bergman, Mary Clearman Blew, Jayne Brim Box, Jeffrey M. Buchanan, Norma Elia Cantú, Katherine Fischer, Kathryn T. Flannery, Diana Garcia, Janice M. Gould, Seán W. Henne, Rona Kaufman, Deborah A. Miranda, Erin E. Moore, Kathleen Dean Moore, Robert Michael Pyle, Jennifer Sinor, Scott Slovic, Michael Sowder, Lee Torda, Charles Waugh, and Mitsuye Yamada.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-549-6
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. I. Introduction

    • 1 Writing Place
      (pp. 3-24)
      Jennifer Sinor

      When I was nine, my family moved from Seattle where we had lived less than a year. It rained almost daily those nine months, causing mildew to grow on the bathroom tiles and in shoes that were not worn every day. The morning we left, the car was packed tightly, the last-minute pile of possessions having grown immeasurably overnight. While my parents worried about where my brothers and I were going to sit for the long drive, my babysitter stood with me in the driveway saying good-bye. I cannot see her face and no longer know her name, but she...

  2. II. Here

    • 2 Six Kinds of Rain: Searching for a Place in the Academy
      (pp. 27-38)
      Kathleen Dean Moore and Erin E. Moore

      On January 10, my college town wakes up to a silver thaw. All through the day, oak limbs thunder to earth in a flurry of ice and robins. Ice coats every laurel leaf, every branch of every oak and bundle of mistletoe, every stop sign and sidewalk. The whole world shines. “Warm rain is falling through cold air,” the radio announces, and the university is closed. It’s too dangerous to drive, even if people could open their car doors through a half inch of ice. I pull on a parka and skid out to see. Rain continues to fall building...

    • 3 The Work the Landscape Calls Us To
      (pp. 39-51)
      Michael Sowder

      May 2003. I’m sitting on “Winter-Tea Rock,” looking down on the Cub River canyon as it descends into Cache Valley. In the distance, the Wellsville Mountains rise steeply into sheer, vertical peaks and ridges, Teton-like, blue and snow draped, forming the western rim of the valley where Jennifer, my wife, and I live and teach. At an elevation of 4,700 feet, Cache Valley sits between the Bear Mountains on the east, a range of 9,000 foot peaks, where I now sit, and the Wellsvilles to the west, a spur of the Wasatch range, which separates our valley from that of...

    • 4 Valley Language
      (pp. 52-64)
      Diana Garcia

      What do I remember, and why do I choose to remember it? I am in my senior year of high school, waiting for word on whether and where I will go to college. A heavy fug of manure and alfalfa drifts through the windows. Sweaty adolescents strain to follow algebraic logic. Or is it chemistry? If it is chemistry and memory betrays me, it is for good reason. I never mastered the slide rule. Less than fifty yards away, on the other side of a fence, the water company’s cattle chew alfalfa and sprawl on native grasses. Their deep lows...

    • 5 What I Learned from the Campus Plumber
      (pp. 65-82)
      Charles Bergman

      Gawking and awkward, we shuffled across the concrete floor between two huge metal tanks. One was a metallic blue, the other silver, and each connected to color-coded pipes that disappeared into the ceiling. We were in a room below the basement of the University Center. We had descended to the guts of the campus, and the tanks reminded me vaguely of two enormous, artificial kidneys.

      Ross Winters was waiting in the space between the tanks. Beneath his Fu Manchu mustache, he grinned with a self-conscious smile. Ross is the campus plumber, a trade he learned during his stint in the...

    • 6 M-I-Crooked Letter-Crooked Letter
      (pp. 83-97)
      Katherine Fischer

      As I write, my front yard is turning liquid. By next week, the basement will flood. Catfish carcasses, mud, rubber tires, and condoms left over from last summer’s season will drape the bottom step when the water recedes.

      Other springs, the river runs through my living room. Then, so much depends upon a dinghy tied to the back doorknob; it’s my only deliverance to higher ground. I live on a backwater slough that oxbows off the main channel of the Mississippi River. If there’s anything wild left of this engineered, locked-and-dammed river, it’s here in the backwaters where no dredge...

    • 7 On Frogs, Poems, and Teaching at a Rural Community College
      (pp. 98-106)
      Seán W. Henne

      My father grew up on a dairy farm along the Flint River in Michigan’s Lapeer County. His father raised and milked cattle, and his mother taught Longfellow and arithmetic in a succession of local schoolhouses. Those two rhythms—the particular, deliberate rhythm of country life and the equally organic cadence of community learning—form a strong, double-thudding heartbeat at the core of everything I do. Thinking of the Flint River now, I see the sugar shack my uncle built along its banks to house his evaporating pans for boiling off maple syrup and his huge cider press for the pressing...

  3. III. There

    • 8 Levittown Breeds Anarchists! Film at 11
      (pp. 109-124)
      Kathryn T. Flannery

      My mother-in-law used to joke that she needed a separate address book just for my husband and me. Married while still in college in the late 1960s, we have since moved from place to place to place, rarely staying in any one place more than a few years. From Ohio to upstate New York, New York to Virginia, Virginia to Massachusetts, Massachusetts to North Dakota, North Dakota to Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania to Indiana, and now back to Pennsylvania, we have been restless nomads, not content to stay put, and even when “settled” in one geographic locale, we’ve fixed up an apartment...

    • 9 Living in a Transformed Desert
      (pp. 125-138)
      Mitsuye Yamada

      I noticed in my peripheral vision from the passenger seat where I was sitting a yellow pillowcase wriggling on the backseat of the VW van. Flo, an environmental biologist, and I were carpooling to Cypress College where we worked.¹ Flo and I were both veteran teachers of more than ten years, I in the English department and she in biology.

      “What’s that in the pillowcase?” I asked her warily.

      “Oh, that’s a little snake I picked up in the Mojave Desert last week to show to my class. I have to return it this afternoon.”

      “Return it? Where?”

      “Don’t worry....

    • 10 A More Fortunate Destiny
      (pp. 139-151)
      Jayne Brim Box

      I work as a conservation biologist. In 1994, I found a single individual of an endangered species. It was a freshwater mussel. On the same bright summer day I found it, I killed it. No others have been found in the last decade, although I have spent hundreds of hours looking for more. Last year, while standing in the shower, I had a revelation, or more accurately, a sickening realization. What if I had snuffed out the last individual of an entire species?

      This realization led to an ugly session of self-confrontation. Was I a traitor to the saint whose...

    • 11 Imagined Vietnams
      (pp. 152-166)
      Charles Waugh

      Recently, I gave a reading on campus of some travel writing about my time spent living in Hanoi, Vietnam. Several of my students in attendance, upon hearing of a place of which they knew very little, approached afterwards and asked the simple question I hear most often about my work, from students and colleagues both: “Of all things, why Vietnam?”

      By nature I’m an easily rankled person, a disappointed optimist, I suppose—probably because I (however naively) believe in justice and, as George Packer has recently written, the twentieth century didn’t see much of it and probably because tied to...

  4. IV. Everywhere

    • 12 Teaching on Stolen Ground
      (pp. 169-187)
      Deborah A. Miranda

      It happens every year. This time one of my blond, blue-eyed male first-year students stomps into my classroom, saying to the group at large, “I’m changing my ethnicity to Native American so I can get free college tuition. They don’t have to prove anything, just check ‘Indian’ on the form, and it’s a free ride all the way.” As a Native American professor with $50,000 in student loans, who teaches in a university that—like all universities in North and South America—is built on Indian land, this student’s statement makes me a little crazy. This is where I teach...

    • 13 The Blind Teaching the Blind: The Academic as Naturalist, or Not
      (pp. 188-201)
      Robert Michael Pyle

      I had just returned to Logan, Utah, from the Teton Science School in Wyoming’s Grand Tetons National Park. Though it was a Sunday in deep midwinter, I had a class to prepare for Monday, so I visited my cold office in the second story of the English department. The campus of Utah State University was deserted; a new storm had left three feet of snow on every surface, and more flakes were falling, like cabbage whites gone crazy in a cauliflower world. A different flicker of movement called my eyes away from the student manuscript claiming my attention. In a...

    • 14 Where Are You From?
      (pp. 202-214)
      Lee Torda

      Where are you from? Since beginning graduate work, first in Maine and then in North Carolina, this was the singular question I answered over and over. And it should have been entirely expected: if you choose to live an academic life, you are subject to a fickle job market and, thus, to a certain amount of moving around. In the academic life, the assumption is relocation. Few of us work and live in the place we grew up in. We can and often do end up anywhere. It is the individual who must decide if she can stand the anywhere...

  5. V. In Between

    • 15 Going Away to Think
      (pp. 217-232)
      Scott Slovic

      I find myself constantly impressed with how quickly the sensational world compresses itself into sameness and mundanity, how easily our species etches routine tedium into the structure of every day. Whatever it takes, I think to myself … whatever it takes to revivify experience, to bring my mind to life, may well be worth the cost.

      Like many people in the world, academics and artists chief among them, I delight in the life of the mind. In my love-hate relationship with the office, I find myself often seduced by the lure of my book-filled lair, knowing deeply the spell that...

    • 16 Fronteriza Consciousness: The Site and Language of the Academy and of Life
      (pp. 233-242)
      Norma Elia Cantú

      Geography is destiny. And my destiny has been the geography of the U.S./Mexico borderlands where I was born and raised, where I continue to live. In 1980, I returned to the border to teach at a small public university in Laredo, Texas; in 2000, I moved 150 miles north to San Antonio to teach at a much larger institution where I could work in the budding and innovative doctoral degree in English with a focus on U.S. Latino/a literature. The lessons of life on the border have served me well in the “geography” of academia, for I have always been...

    • 17 Bones of Summer
      (pp. 243-253)
      Mary Clearman Blew

      Landscape. What one can see in a single view. Drive west toward Seattle at seventy or eighty miles an hour on Interstate 90 and landscape will be a rolling gray blur of sagebrush through the insulation of the car window, the dammed and degraded Columbia River a brief glimpse of silver, a few raw towns bypassed, and then two double-lane highways unfurling upward through inky fringes of evergreens that hide the giant patches where timber is being harvested on the Cascade Range. Never mind the timber. From the warmth of the car, what is visible through a veil of rain...

    • 18 Singing, Speaking, and Seeing a World
      (pp. 254-268)
      Janice M. Gould

      I come from a people on my mother’s side, the Konkow Maidu, a California Indian tribe, whose stories of creation and of the land are rooted in time immemorial. My mother was born in 1912, and in her generation the children did not learn to speak “Indian,” or so my mother believed. Mom recalled her mother and grandmother speaking Konkow together and could remember a song her grandma taught her when they went to gather materials for making baskets. While the music and poetry that gave shape to our indigenous ancestral world must have been part of my mother’s earliest...

    • 19 Making Places Work: Felt Sense, Identity, and Teaching
      (pp. 269-284)
      Jeffrey M. Buchanan

      In late winter over spring break, I rearrange my office yet again. This is at least the third time I have done so since I arrived at Youngstown State University not quite two years ago. To rearrange, I have to pick up the piles of papers from the floor, I have to sort the stuff to keep from the stuff to throw away, and I have to make more files and actually file stuff away. I have to move bookcases that are now almost full of books. But I am willing; the space just isn’t working as well as I...

  6. VI. Coda

    • 20 Running in Place: The Personal at Work, in Motion, on Campus, and in the Neighborhood
      (pp. 287-302)
      Rona Kaufman

      I begin my run at the first seam in the sidewalk, the moment I turn left from the walkway that links the apartment building to the street. I have a block and a quarter of flat ground before I start to go uphill—a gentle uphill, at first, a leisurely grade that levels out for a few steps before it turns sharp. The hill eases some for a block, but it is still an incline, and this one feels more cruel than leisurely: I have survived the hard part but still have work to do. And then it levels out...