Happy Thanksgiving

We had our annual Thanksgiving pot luck dinner last night. Along with the traditional turkey, stuffing, cranberry relish, and pumpkin pie, we had Polish mushroom rolls and potato salad, smoked salmon sushi, Mexican bread pudding, and two Taiwanese dishes: a sweet bean dessert and beef viscera.

Calls to Conscience and Action

Varda, as much an essayist as filmmaker, explores gleaning as a hypertext of ideas: gleaning is an alternate economy; at times it’s a moral choice, at others a lamentable necessity; it’s both transgressive and communal; and, finally, it’s a metaphor for the artistic process itself.

Haruki Murakami

The fall semester of my ESL class kicked off last night, and we began with a discussion of Haruki Murakami’s “The Elephant Vanishes,” which is, quite frankly, one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read.

So We Beat On . . .

I love how, despite his disgust and anger, Nick is still moved by the vision — how he is unable to ignore its beauty while also acknowledging the human misery that now populates the land. This one paragraph, in both tone and theme, is the entire novel in concentrated form. Amazing.

What Are We Talking About?

I got the sense that this guy was accustomed to being the most knowledgeable (or at least the loudest) guy in the room, so I was content to let him talk until he ran out of steam, hoping all the while that Joanna would wander back in our direction or that a meteor would destroy the apartment complex across the street. Anything that would give us an excuse to change the subject.

Notes on “Sonny’s Blues”

Like a soloist, Baldwin introduces an idea, a phrase, then he explores it, explodes it, develops it until he finds something new, something more precise or melodic. Baldwin accomplishes in his story what Sonny accomplishes in that jazz club. And, really, isn’t this just the most beautiful “vanishing evocation” (as the narrator describes music) of what art is capable of doing?

Some Kind of Perspective

And then one of my Mexican students reminded us of the 1968 Olympics that were held in Mexico City, where only ten days before the games opened 267 students were gunned down and more than 1,000 were wounded during a protest at the Plaza of Three Cultures. And then two of my South Korean students told us of their government’s secret decision to send troops to Vietnam despite the public’s protest against such a move. And then one of my Chinese students, a remarkable young woman who exudes joy like no one I’ve ever known, said, “Yes. The same in China. During the Cultural Revolution.”


When I asked my ESL students last night about the great literatures of their native language, one of the Iranians told me about the Arab conquest of Persia. In their effort to erase all evidence of Persian culture, the ancient Arabs outlawed the speaking of Farsi, which, of course, only served to inspire a new generation of writers.

Trying to Understand It All

I’ve become interested in Iran lately. For personal reasons. I have a new student in my ESL class who arrived recently in America by way of Switzerland and Tehran.

Independence Day

I was startled by one woman’s face in particular. She looked, in a word, ecstatic. When the first Chinese song ended, she began another, sailing into one of those lilting melodic lines that so mesmerized Debussy a century ago.

Different Perspectives

Last night I gathered with my English as a Second Language students for our final class of the semester. Before digging into another dry reading comprehension exercise, we just sat and talked, which, to be honest, is the main reason that Thursday night is often the highlight of my week.