cell phone self-portrait

cell phone self-portrait
things are looking up

Sunday, March 29, 2009

My Mother's Ring

I just discovered this sad but beautiful poem and wanted to post it here for reflection. I have some of my mother's rings: her engagement ring to my father, which I have worn since I was 16 -- though I haven't been wearing it as much since her death (think I'll put it back on tomorrow) --- and her high school class ring, which speaks to me of her accomplishments and how smart she was and how she wanted to be a teacher but never did do it.

The poet is Lyn Lifsin, whose work I am teaching tomorrow in Eng 102.


Once too tight
now it swivels on
her bony finger.
Only her knuckles
bulge. I can't
do it, my mother
says, a shriveled
bird in the stark
hospital bed. When
I saw the dead bird
in Morristown I
felt it was a sign.
In two weeks my
mother's mouth
is so dry it curls
as if full of wild
feathers. The ring
glitters, spits
out a yellow light,
not anywhere near
as pure as the
myth of its per-
fection my mother
spun of it like
whatever else
pleased her,
like me

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009

Practing Podcast

Trying out podcasting today. Don't know what I'm doing. I just recorded Steve Straight's poem "Punctuation" as a practice session. I guess it's okay. Let's see if I can get it to actually play.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Causal Arguments

Today I'm teaching a class about causal arguments ... creating a chain that shows how one thing caused another, which caused another, etc. Just now I was on Twitter, and someone wrote that he was on a bus. It made me think of Trisha Yearwood's "Bus to St. Cloud" (see below), which made me think of my friend David, who once dedicated the song to me ... and now I'm thinking I can use this song as a fun way to illustrate the causal chain.


On a bus to St. Cloud, Minnesota
I thought I saw you there
With the snow falling down around you
Like a silent prayer
And once on a street in New York City
With the jazz and the sin in the air
And once on a cold L.A. freeway
Going nowhere
And it's strange, but it's true
I was sure it was you
Just a face in the crowd
On a bus to St. Cloud

In a church in downtown New Orleans
I got down on my knees and prayed
And I wept in the arms of Jesus
For the choice you made
We were just gettin' to the good part
Just gettin' past the mystery
Oh, and it's just like you, it's just like you
To disagree
And it's strange but it's true
You just slipped out of view
Like a face in the crowd
On a bus to St. Cloud
And you chase me like a shadow
And you haunt me like a ghost
And I hate you some, and I love you some
But I miss you most...

On a bus to St. Cloud, Minnesota
I thought I saw you there
With the snow falling down around you
Like a silent prayer

The speaker's habit of seeing the old lover's face in a variety of places can be considered an example of immediate/remote causes. This is a concept that implies that every causal chain links backward indefinitely into the past. It appears that what triggers the reaction (the "seeing" or imagining of that old familiar face) is associated with something spiritual ("snow falling like a prayer, jazz and sin in the air, in a church in New Orleans, I got down on my knees and prayed, wept in the arms of Jesus for the choice you made) --- and there it is, the choice that the lover made. That, apparently, is the remote cause that still brings immediate reaction. By the way, if we are to break this down, is there evidence that the speaker is, in fact, addressing an old lover? Or could this be a friend or child or someone else?

We can also see in these circumstances an example of the fallacy of oversimplified cause: in other words, if we assume it was the lover's choice to leave that caused the failure of this relationship --- when in fact, there may have been a number of other precipitating/contributing factors (had it already failed before the lover left? did the failure, in fact, cause the leaving?) Was there preoccupation with their respective careers, disagreement about priorities, in-law problems, and so forth?)

Was there a constraint involved here? In other words, was there something in the way of the lover leaving that was suddenly removed? The presence of a constraint may keep a certain effect from occurring. For example, in a marriage, the presence of children in the home might be a constraint against divorce; as soon as the children graduate from high school or leave home, the marriage may dissolve.

Was there a necessary/sufficient cause? A necessary cause is one that has to be present for a given effect to occur. Did the lover suddenly leave because he finally saved up the bus fare? Lost his job? Got the courage? Found another lover?

All of these aspects of causal arguments can and should be considered if one is creating a causal argument that can stand up to examination.