"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

State of Mind: Post-Election and Week 12 Meltdown

A lot of things are on my mind, place-related, this morning, some of them pedagogical, some political, some personal--and some food-related.

My 150 students and I are not connecting well with each other right now and I'm supremely disappointed in them, for several reasons. The last straw was yesterday, when we went to Morrill Hall, the natural history museum on campus, to get some ideas for our third Writing Project, and when I asked them what they found, if they learned anything new, they just stared at me. Even "what was the weirdest thing you saw?" elicited blank stares. There will probably be a come to Jesus meeting with them tomorrow if this continues. Guess how much I'm looking forward to that. As a result, there is much stress in the Babine household today--and I'm going to cook my way out of it. Roast chicken, chicken stock, baked oatmeal, carrot ginger soup, and chocolate chip cookies.

My 252 is continuing to discuss Kent Krueger's Iron Lake and Andrea Barrett's Servants of the Map. They're loving both books, for different reasons, and that just makes me happy. We discussed the middle section of Iron Lake last night and I love how discussing a book with students helps me to see things I never noticed before. The discussions last night of how many ways place and landscape and weather are active participants in the plot were spectacular. Next week, Antonya Nelson and Robert Boswell are visiting campus and their reading is during our class time, so we're going to go hear them read. Should be a good time.

On a completely separate place-related note: at the grocery store this morning, the produce is displayed so it's the first thing you see. It's still apple season, so the apples are front and center. I am an apple nerd. Not an expert, but a nerd. My grandparents managed an apple orchard in New Ulm, MN in the 1950s and I've learned quite a lot about Minnesota apples. Earlier in the fall, Hy-Vee was selling Haralsons--and it's been years since I've had a Haralson, let alone seen them anywhere outside Minnesota. And then today, there were Firesides. It's been even more years since I've had a Fireside. I was so excited that I had to call my mother.

"Don't get the green ones," she said.

"I know," I said, "or it'll taste like a potato."

"Your grandmother will be so proud that you remembered," she said, laughing. Firesides are late apples and they have to ripen fully on the tree or they have no flavor at all.

The depths of my apple nerd-ity were also confirmed as I was watching ABC's new show Once Upon a Time. The evil queen--in her mayoral persona--was telling Emma that she has her own special apple tree, of Honeycrisps, though the link to the poisoned apple is obvious. However, the apples she has in her basket--and the ones that are on the tree in later scenes, are absolutely not Honeycrisps. They're not the right color or the right shape. The evil apples are Red Delicious, which in my own apple snobbery, seems about right.

I am a nerd.

But I'm also conscious of politics this morning and what it means to live in a place at a certain time. Yesterday, Ohio overturned SB5, which severely limited collective bargaining power. And Mississippi failed to pass its Personhood initiative, which would legislate that a fertilized egg is a person, with all the legal rights guaranteed to a person who has been born (except, as I saw one article say, a woman of childbearing age...). Dear students, if you don't think that place influences you, you only have to look at how different places define what it means to live there, or not live there, or the living conditions you are entitled to--or not--while you live there.

I hope Thursday's discussion in my 150 can convince them that the bubble they think they live in doesn't exist--and the world's a lot more interesting out here than it is in that bubble.

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