Some changes

With muchos gracias to Grettir the Strong, the updates to my blog are complete, or close to complete.

The URL www.toddpetersen.org (which I've been keeping under my pillow for months now) is all ready to roll now, and should be able to service your Todd Petersen needs for the forseeable future. I'm just coming on a crazy semester of five courses and five preps, and I don't wanna do that anymore. I sort of feel like I have to sometimes because I don't have the power to crush people's skulls between my open palms. So instead I just do extra work, which makes me feel as if I am really necessary. I might not be -- heaven forbid I'm not -- but it only matters if I think that I am indespensible. What others think is irrelevant really, right? 

But seriously folks, it's strange to be thinking about how to get out of so much work. Being a college professor can eat your lunch. There is so much a body can get into that has nothing really to do with the thing that makes a person want to be an academic in the first place. What follows is a list of the things at work I want to give up for Lent (I know it's months away, but who cares):

1. Bitching about money. I'm never going to be rich, so who cares? "Rich" and "cool" are almost never synonymous.

2. Getting mad at other people who can't be bothered to [fill in the blank]. I'm never going to get them to change by reasoning with them. Plus: they'll get more upset if I ignore them.

3. Spending time grading work that students have obviously treated with disdain or depraved indifference. Believe it or not, some students seem not to care if they do a good job. Normally these papers take a really long time to grade in relation to ones written by conscientious students, which strikes me as patently unfair to the students who work hard. They deserve my time, not the lazy wiseacres, who couldn't care if they were in my class or lying in the gravel somewhere.

4. Doing more creative projects just for the joy of it. I've been doing so much lately just because it might have some potential career benefit, and I'm thinking that one of the benefits of tenure is that I can let my attentions wander a little. My primary professional responsibility is to be creative, and not in any particular field of endeavor. In fact the work I should be doing should be outside of the box of my discipline.

I'm also going to put more effort in to writing and sending that writing out into the world. This blog is a good way to do that. Keep your eyes peeled for new posts, which I should be sending out through social media channels and the like. If you're part of my Facebook Crew, Google+ Posse, or TwitterHood, you should know when something has been flung into the world. 

Recently Heard on NPR

This poem says a lot about how I teach and live my life right now. Overland to the Islands Denise Levertov

Let's go—much as that dog goes, intently haphazard. The Mexican light on a day that ‘smells like autumn in Connecticut’ makes iris ripples on his black gleaming fur—and that too is as one would desire—a radiance consorting with the dance. Under his feet rocks and mud, his imagination, sniffing, engaged in its perceptions—dancing edgeways, there's nothing the dog disdains on his way, nevertheless he keeps moving, changing pace and approach but not direction—‘every step an arrival.’

My Doctor is Five

I will be the first to admit that this kid is a little obsessed right now with Doctor Who, but given all the possible things in this world a little boy could become obsessed about, I am okay with a hero who doesn't like guns or things military, who gives every creature in the universe a choice and a chance, who thinks that human beings are "brilliant." And, he could totally be the Doctor if they ever needed a five-year-old blonde version.

The thing is, this stuff (hair, screwdriver, etc.) is pretty much all his idea. Even the pose here was 100% his. He got all set up like this and marched off to church, gaining all kinds of attention, mostly from old ladies who wanted to gobble him up and lick the sweetness off their fingers.

More photos from the shoot at Facebook.

Back from Denali

Just spent the last week or so in Denali National Park, taking students on a pretty amazing experience through an absolutely unbelievable place. I had encounters with fox, grizzly bear, wolves, caribou, moose, bald eagles, golden eagles, Dall's sheep, and the mountain itself.

I'll post something more fully about the trip later. It was full of sublimity and absurdity, often at the same time.

My Letter from Santa

One of my favorite new traditions (other than Rickrolled for the Holidays) is the Father Christmas letter, which I write after everything has been sent up, and the incriminating evidence burned. It is completely coercive and really, really fun to write. You'll notice a certain Snickety tone to the letter, a liberty I have taken because the children are very into the tales of the Baudelaire children right now. So, with about one minute left of Christmas Eve, and with my apologies to Mr. D. Handler, I submit to you, dear readers, Santa's letter from me to my credulous (but not for very much longer) children. Dear Zoë and Isaac,

I got the note from your father about Isaac and his rough day. I hear this kind of thing all the time. It’s difficult to be cooped up in the house when it’s cold outside. “Cooped up” means being kept inside a small building, like the ones used to keep chickens or rats. Usually school is a break from all that cooping, so I understand how hard the holidays can be for kids. Just so you know, the elves have put Isaac on the check-twice list for next year. He has twelve months to be good, especially to his mother.

Zoë, you have asked a very good question about stores. You noticed some IKEA labels on your gifts from last year. Sometimes, when there is a perfect gift for kids that has already been made, I prefer to purchase it from a store and save the elves a little time re-tooling the factory. Re-tooling, means changing the factory from making one kind of thing to making a different kind of thing. It takes a lot of time to re-tool, especially at the North Pole, where is it so cold and windy that no one wants to tool anything in the first place.

I hope you enjoy your special gift, Zoë. I understand that you enjoy projects like this and do a very good job. Ike, I believe your special gift will be fun for you and someone else. There is also one special gift for sharing. It should make the rest of the vacation a little more fun.

I enjoyed the fudge. Thank you for sharing. While the reindeer and I were flying North, we saw Madi and Cal, your baby cousins. They were sleeping in the truck with their parents, safe and snug. I’m glad I got a Change-of-Christmas form for them in time. Their presents will be waiting for them in Montana.

Ho, ho, ho... Love, Santa

Getting the AML Marilyn Brown Novel Award

Once, when I was in college, my grandfather sent me a check for fifty bucks—maybe it was a hundred. I was really strapped for cash then and had even, a few months earlier, taken a cash advance then on a credit card to get groceries. But I was working a pretty good job, so I didn't have to worry about the present. I just had to take care of a couple of past things like a long distance bill or some equally boring but important nuisance.

So, when the money from Poppa Bob came in, I did what I thought was really, really responsible. I paid off some of those nuisances. Then I wrote him a thank you note, explaining myself, thinking that he'd consider me to be a model citizen and a perfect grandson.

Well, I did not hear back from him directly.

About two weeks later (this was way before e-mail) my mother called to tell me that my grandfather was furious. I was to call him and explain myself. I told her that I'd used the money responsibly (occasionally I wasn't responsible with money, and I thought this was a good time to feature my good behavior). She said she understood that, but I needed to call him and talk to him.

I did what anyone who knew they were in trouble would do: I put it off for a few days. That was a terrible choice. He called me, used my first and second name.

"Todd Robert," he said. Normally his voice boomed, but he was ill and didn't have much oomph in the diaphragm anymore. "Your mother tells me you used that money I sent you to pay bills."

I gulped. "Yeah, I did."

"Windfall is not for taking care of business," he said. "Doncha have some girl you can take out?"

I did not, actually, have one of those at the moment. So I lied, "Yeah, I suppose."

The conversation didn't get any better, but the end result was that I learned a major lesson. Windfall is not for taking care of business. You use it to do something you're not doing because you don't have the cash. Windfall relieves a person from the duty of being responsible with money all the time.

What he was saying to me was this: "You need to remember to live a little, or the world of taking care of business will chew you up and spit you out."

I have to remember that this advice came to me from a man you nearly lost his life in the Solomon Islands rescuing a crate of bourbon from a landing strip while under Japanese mortar fire. He'd spent months getting the requisition filled, and he knew the boys sweating it out there in the Pacific theater might need some relief from taking care of the business of the second world war.

So now, when I manage to win an award of some kind, I try to do something extravagant with it. It's become a kind of family rule. If you work for the money, its primary job is to take care of business. If someone just gives it to you, its job is to make life a little brighter. So, for example, when a royalty check for my first book comes in, we go out to dinner (That usually causes the sum to evaporate, but that's life in the world of niche publishing).

Recently, my next book, Rift, won the Association of Mormon Letters Marilyn Brown Unpublished Novel award, which is a real honor. The citation had lots of nice things to say about the book, including a comparison to Levi Peterson, which is welcome but undeserved. What's also nice is the fact that there was a cash award. A generous one, care of Marilyn Brown. It is about as much money as I have ever seen from my writing. I am very grateful, and I am acutely aware that I should not use it for business.

And that might just rouse the dead.

A New Term

Today on the phone with my friend Aaron Gwyn, I created a new term: Cheesecake Communist.

What, pray tell, is a Cheesecake Communist? It's one of those people who talk about Communism (add in socialism, Marxism, and so on) but they don't live it, really.

Am I a Cheesecake Communist? Well, I think I might be. I certainly can not claim not to be one. No, I can not.

The Road to Hell...

This morning as we were all getting ready for church we had a mid-level medical emergency. Alisa was in the shower, Zoë was taking her bath, I was getting breakfast ready, and Ike was pretty upset that he wasn't getting a chance to take his bath along with Zoë. So, he was circling around the tub, trying to get in. Alisa was warning him to stay back.

Out of nowhere, I heard a blood curdling scream, and I darted into the bathroom to find Ike standing by the toilet with a very concerned look on his face and Zoë screaming hysterically, a small line of blood squeezing from the outside corner of her right eye. It looked like something supernatural had attacked her.

We dried her off and took a closer look at the eyelid. There was a cut running parallel to her eyebrow, and it was deep, but it didn't look like it went through the eyelid. There was no damage to the eye that I could see.

All Zoë could say was, “Ikey cut me with his fingernails.” I asked him if it was true. He said it was. I told him he was a good boy for owning up.

We got her dried off, and cleaned the eyelid with a Q-tip and some rubbing alcohol, which made Zoë howl like someone undergoing a surgical procedure in the days of whiskey and four uncles holding your extremities. After that triage, it seemed evident that we were headed to the emergency room.

Note to self: don't get hurt on Sunday. Urgent Care isn't open.

Zoë didn't want to go, and we calmed her by saying that we though ther eye would be okay, but we wanted to hear it from a doctor,and we wanted to know how to take care of it. She agreed to that much, at least. So, we piled into the car and headed out to the hospital. I got Zoë checked in. They took her back with her mother. The Ikester and I hung around outside and watched all the other people come in with the misfortune to get sick on the sabbath. Most of them, it seemed, had some kind of urgent thoracic problem. Man, you gotta count your blessings.

While I was pacing around, I noticed that just behind the emergency room sign was a moment of extreme crassness. The second sign you notice when entering the emergency room is the sign for the cashier. If there's anything to make a person feel cynical on Sunday it's an arrangement like that. Super bad karma, I should think.

Emergency

I whipped out my camera phone and snapped a shot. The writing that says “cashier” isn't all that legible, but it's there. This re-kindled my anger— Michael Moore level anger—about the complete lack of Christianity in the health care business.

My only consolation is that these health care executives—not most of the people on the ground, nurses, for example, but the people who are getting rich off health care (and I do include doctors)— my only consolation is that they are going to have to sit down with Jesus and a conversation that I can only hope goes like this:

JESUS: Hello

HOSPITAL ADMINISTRATOR: Am I dead?

JESUS: Only to the people on the other side.

HOSPITAL ADMINISTRATOR: Where's everybody else?

JESUS: They're waiting. Can I see your proof of insurance?

HOSPITAL ADMINISTRATOR: (pats himself) Um, I don't have my wallet. There's not pockets in these robes.

JESUS: (shakes his head) That's too bad.

HOSPITAL ADMINISTRATOR: What does that mean? What's too bad?

JESUS: We'll have to send you along. I'm sure he has beds down there. We'll have someone drive you. They'll take you, don't worry. They take everybody.

THEN A LONG PAUSE and the HOSPITAL ADMINISTRATOR bursts into tears.

JESUS: Come on, I'm kidding.

HOSPITAL ADMINISTRATOR keeps weeping.

JESUS: It was just a joke. Seriously.

HOSPITAL ADMINISTRATOR wipes nose with forearm and looks up.

JESUS: You know, when I was healing people. I did it for free.

This is What Telling Them About Life in a Wheelchair Gets You

Right after my wife and I heard the monkey business going on in our room, we went in said we didn't think it was safe. They ignored us. I told them about how people who break their necks have to spend the rest of their lives in wheelchairs. My wife told them that sometimes people who break their necks do not have to spend the rest of their lives in wheel chairs, but sometimes they do have to big stainless steel screws fastened to their skulls that stay in for a year, at least. And then this happened...

Well, scare tactics don't seem to work. We might have to resort to spankings.

See What You Get

A few months ago, I posted an entry on Alisa and I breaking a wishbone and neither of us getting the central knob that means you get your wish.

Alisa's wish was for a baby boy. Mine was that my Intro to Creative Writing class would make.

Both of those things happened. Isaac "Ike" Oscar Petersen will be born on or around Cinco de Mayo. My Intro to Creative Writing course is MWF at 2:00.