Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Austerity And The Art of Writing

There isn't a wisp of wind, and the snow spills briskly to the earth like flour sifted through a sieve; a pearly confection pasting the earth as thickly as the powdered sugar with which my daughter dusts her pancakes. She likes them that way. No maple syrup or jam. Just the sweet powder. Her densely sugared wheat cakes dehydrate so quickly that she has to cut them with a knife, whereas my cakes are sopped extravagantly with syrup, and better eaten with a spoon.

But the snow eventually turns to a steady drizzle, and our street begins to resemble the remains of our breakfast, a path cut clear down the center of the course, and sorrel, gritty granules dredged to the side. A muddy mess of slush and slop, and everyone scraping hard to clean it up.

It's all making me feel a little gloomy. Or maybe that's the lack of sleep. Or maybe it's the fact that I put on an extra ten this morning and I can't budge from my seat. Really, what it is, is that austerity sucks. And because it really, really sucks, I won't be taking a writing class this semester, thereby causing a bit of consternation (how will I stay focused?), and worse, thereby missing an opportunity to take a last workshop with Thomas Cobbword being that he's retiring from his teaching gig (or is it maybe that I'm retiring from my student gig?). But I don't wish to proliferate or perpetuate rumor. Word being, nothing more.

I've taken a lot of writing workshops, but I have to say, none better than the one taught by the affable and unassuming Dr. Cobb. Aside from the fact that the man is genius, Dr. Cobb gave me a gift that I sorely needed: a little faith in myself. To be clear, I once had faith, but it was long lost on daily grind and housekeeping, on a barren stretch of colorless convention. Dr. Cobb doesn't know this, but with his guidance and kindness, my wayward faith was restored. He taught me about McGuffin, and reminded me to read Carver and  Gardner and Bukowski. Without his encouragementsubtle, at that, I may even have misread it, in fact, perhaps just a jolly delusionI probably would have buried my little chimera (I've so many), certainly wouldn't have dared to blog (not that I should). I wouldn't have had the courage.

My rock-n-roll-n-trippin fifth grade teacher, Mr Sawyer, was the only other teacher (aside from my father, who also taught English) who ever encouraged me to write, and I never properly thanked him for it. I don't know if he's still alive, or if he's living somewhere in the hills of New York, but a thank you has always been in my heart, Mr. Sawyer.

And while I can, a warm thank you to Dr. Cobb, for helping me clean up my slop, and straighten my spine. Happy travels, or happy whatever-it-is-you-plan-to-do-with-all-that-free-time. Who knows, maybe I'm entirely wrong. Maybe I'm feeling all sad and forlorn for naught, and I'll be seeing you 'round campus whenever I can afford to get my pancake-enriched ass back there. In any event, I'll miss you this semester. I'll be thinking of that class. But I'll keep writing. I'll plod along, I damn well will.

The power of a teacher. They can sure widen, and brighten, the landscape.


  1. This is beautiful Jayne. A clever connection between breakfast and snow path drew me in. Then your heartfelt memories for writing teachers. I miss my third grade teacher, I own her a thanks or two.

  2. the description makes me smell fresh pancakes, hot in front of my eyes. i can almost taste the sugar, feel it's powdery texture. my mouth waters in anticipation. :)

    I'm glad that Dr. Cobb has given you that gift. we all need that. nothing will come out of talent if there's no belief in oneself. My Dr.Cobb is Marilyn Monroe and whenever i feel insecure i can hear her whispering to me, "Always always believe in yourself, because if you don't who else will sweetie?"

  3. A good teacher can be such an inspiration.

  4. It's funny. You mentioned that there was much you could relate to on my post, and now I'm feeling the same way as I read yours. It's been an austere time for me, too. The one good thing about austerity is that it forces you to hone down and zero in on what matters most. From reading your blog, I'm guessing you'll be just fine without Dr. Cobb. Your writing is vivid and beautiful. So glad to "meet" you.

  5. Lovely, Jayne! I know how much you'll miss his class but you are already so talented. Keep going. Love your work.

  6. It looks just as bloody cold there as it is here in Chicago. Great words:)

  7. "...and brighten, the landscape."

    Especially in those pants. ba-dum-crish.

    Seriously, though, having just read this post, I can render the opinion that you need no writing workshops. You evoke powerful imagery, and compel the reader onward. The vocabulary is present, but not pretentious.

    Also, I now want some pancakes.

    And lastly, yes, a good teacher is a wonderful thing. I have had some, I have been one, and I hope to have and be one again. It's one of our most potent forms of community.

  8. Shopgirl- Thanks much. You never forget the good ones, do you? Nor that bad ones, for that matter. My dad used to say that about his students, so it pays to be very good or very bad.

    Maria- It doesn't hurt to get a little encouragement now and then, but you're right, belief in yourself has a longer shelf-life.

    Michelle- Absolutely. ;)

    Sere- Glad to meet you, too. It's painful, but I'm choosing to believe that this austerity plan will have its rewards.

    LA- Sob. I will...

    ShowerBear- Welcome. Oh ya, bloody cold. Spent quite a bit of time in Chicago back in the day, so I know what the winters are like there. Still have friends/family in the city, and I much prefer to visit in the spring.

    DB- you can't miss the boy in those britches, eh? Keeps him out of trouble. Thanks for your kind words. Hope your teaching wishes pan out - I'll bet your students love you.
    Oh, and I make a mean pancake.

  9. I remain amazed at what can come out of us when we are encouraged, and what slogs to a halt when we aren't. Even those of us who are not particularly delicate are adrift on the breezes from others. Consider this a little zephyr from across the blogosphere, and happy writing.

  10. Jayne thats why they invented Scotch. Each glass equals one hour on the therapists couch. Your blog is as cool and unique as you are. Keep putting it out there and you will get find fulfillment or at least the truth.

  11. I hope your Chicago family is hunkered down good and tight because it's bitter cold this week.

    Also, from one lifelong student to another, sorry to hear about your teach. Carver and Bukowski are greats.

  12. I absolutely loved this Jayne. And like one of the other visitors who commented, I felt I could taste those pancakes.

    Your words are rich and descriptive and the whole piece
    was so engaging and moving.

    A stunning piece of writing.

  13. I still think about some of the teachers I had all those years ago. Some of them made a real difference.

  14. Murr- You're too sweet. I don't mind my hair getting blown out of place in that zephyr.

    Duke- I remember trying to like scotch in college. Would go to the Coastguard house w/friend and sip on it. It never took. Maybe I can handle it now? ;)

    ShowerBeer- And more of the white stuff blowing in tonight! Might as well be in Chicago.

    SF- I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'll tell ya, I think it's all about the pancakes!

    BL- We never forget the ones who make a difference.