Do you ever write fiction?: notes on reading #njpoet

A lot of the people I write about, ex-girlfriends, or random lovers, or former employers are often, are usually fictional mash-ups of several real-life people. Indeed, some situations, even relationships, are also amalgamations—fictional literary representations of several experiences that share a common, unifying theme.

This is how I’ve learned to avoid angry phone calls and emails from old friends, especially ex-girlfriends and random lovers, who insist—usually while screaming—that I delete a story about our shared memories, right now! Or how I’ve learned to avoid being called in for meetings with University Provosts, Deans of Students, or Directors of Writing Departments.

“The students are reading your writing. This is not good.”

“Tell all the truth,” advised Emily Dickinson, “but tell it slant.” Word.

So, often I write about a character, or as a character, named Sammy—a more compassionate, relaxed, often heart-achingly perplexed version of my real-life self. He is my Buddha-Nature, if you will, adrift in a rising ocean of American Samsara. I make Sammy do what I wish I’d done in the past, what I hope I’ll do in the future.

I also write about, or as a character named Tom, or Tommy. He doesn’t come around often, but he’s still there, channeling the worst of me, amplified and influenced by Vonnegut, Bukowski, and meditations about what my father would do.

Please do remember that this is a literary website, and not a strict diary. My aim as a poet is to polish and present the important themes, the relevant social and political issues that have shaped my past, and therefore my life. And my ultimate goal, following what I learned from Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams, is always to produce a narrative that is interesting, easily digested, emotionally memorable, and worthy of sharing with others.

So, as you read, analyze, and obsessively pick through my writing, keep the astute literary analysis of my working-class mother in mind. After she read my poem about her miscarriage, about my childhood memories of the still birth of my first sister, my mom remarked:

“That was beautiful, Charlie, but that’s not exactly how it happened.”

 

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On the Phone w/ #njpoet

At a lecture, presentation, orientation, whatever, quietly speed tapping notes into a word-processing app on my phone. The speaker, or doctor, or professor mentions a book, an author, a seminal work, that heavily influenced whatever. Google search the title and bookmark for review, just as the powerpoint changes to a quote, some long dead genius gushing over the value of education, or art, or poetry, or whatever—not a bad quote. So, tweet, and back to notes, to the next slide, to bullet-points, but a text interrupts—a Twitter DM:

“Hi! I want to make a donation to your blog. I love it! Is there a donation link you can send me?”

Copy link. Paste. Reply:

 ”Thank you so much! And thank you for reading along!”

Send.

Bullet-points copied, another book mentioned, another author even more groundbreaking in the study of whatever.

Google search, book found, and, what’s this?—a lecture series given by the author, recorded at Yale, uploaded to YouTube, and bookmarked for after dinner. Word.

Three more slides. One more quote. Not as good. Not worth a tweet.

“And we’re done.” Exhale. “Thank you for coming. Enjoy your lunch. Thank you. Thank  you.”

On the way to the buffet table, a text from gmail—Paypal donation received. Notes synched, bookmarks synched—saved to my computer at home. Thank you, cloud.

And when I finally sit down with my colleagues, ready to relax, ready to eat my complimentary lunch, someone almost always blurts out something like this:

“I know this is none of my business,” they start off so strong, “but I think it was very rude of you to spend that entire presentation playing on your phone.”

 

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Phil Donahue Gave Me Writer’s Block

Originally Published by NJ Peace Blog:
March 5, 2010

I walked into the NJ Peace Action annual dinner, a notebook in my hand, my head full of activism. I wanted to talk about the things I’ve noticed in America. “I’m a trained cultural theorist,” I boasted to my own mind. “I have important analyses to offer.”

It’s true; I do, as do some of the people I met there. The discussion at my table was lively. We talked about the US culture of war. We shared video clips on our camcorders and our iPhones. We ate our salmon, or chicken, or ratatouille. We listened to folk music. I felt righteous. I felt like I knew what was up. I’m no fool, I thought. I’m one of the good people.

Then Phil Donahue spoke. His tone was easy. He was self-deprecating and humble. He took himself to task for taking so long to speak out, while he praised the bravery of others—the activists who’ve been struggling since Vietnam, or earlier.

That couple over there is in their 90s, someone told me. They’ve been activists all their lives.

It was a lesson in perspective. Donahue was a man against whom I’ve measured my own activism. When he spoke out against the Iraq War on MSNBC, my friends and I cheered him on. “Yeah. Tell those Hawks what’s up, Phil!” When he slapped down Bill O’Reilly, I stood up in my living room and applauded. “Loud doesn’t mean right, Billy.” I quote that line often.

Yet here he was, feeling late to the struggle, expressing true remorse, and sharing the story of his difficult road to activism. I felt my own inaction and my own political silence sharply. It was painful and inspiring.

After this dinner, I told myself, I’m going to type my fingers raw. I’m going to howl against the Iraq War. I was already typing notes on my iPhone.

Then the film clips started. Donahue’s new documentary, Body of War, is the story of Tomas Young, a disabled Iraq War veteran paralyzed from the nipples down. The film documents his struggles with impotence, pain, humiliation, and ultimately divorce—all the direct result of a bullet to the spine delivered just one week after he had arrived in Iraq.

Tomas’ story is heartbreaking enough, but Body of War is more than a personal narrative. Juxtaposed and interspersed throughout runs the congressional debate that ultimately led to the war. Legislator after legislator regurgitates Neo-Con talking points and scoffingly disregards any peaceful opposition. In the end, only twenty-three Senators voted against sending people like Tomas to war.

The film was an emotional metronome. I was swung between Tomas struggling to achieve an erection and senators barking about weapons of mass destruction. Tomas sat in his bed, ran through his daily medications; politicians repeated W. Bush’s mushroom cloud sound bite. It was disgusting.

When Senator Robert Byrd finally appeared on the screen, pointed his finger at the American media audience, and told us—with a voice cracked with emotion—to fight for the sanity of our country, my stomach dropped. I sobbed into my napkin. Those poor soldiers. Those poor families. Those poor children, I thought.

After the film, I limped up to Donahue, my eyes bloodshot and watery. I shook his hand, introduced myself as a doctoral candidate in Modern History and Literature, and told him my father is a psychologically-disabled Vietnam vet. I told him I admired his efforts and wanted to help. He asked me for my card. Thankfully, I had some.

As I left, I told him about NJ Peace Blog, and that I would be writing about his talk. He said he would be watching for it.

But now I’m stuck. I’m blocked because Body of War was a visceral experience that words cannot approach; it has to be felt in the gut to be grasped. I’m blocked by the impact of Phil Donahue, a powerful voice of reason and ordinary human compassion amid a storm of corporate media whores—that means you, Billy.

I am blocked because I realize that I’m just a poet who grew up in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. My father’s spirit died in the jungle; his body came home and conceived me. I am the son of a human shell—a child of war. These horrors require new metaphors, but I am too shaken to coin them.

So, for now, I’ll take solace in the belief that the most profound response is a stunned silence, and the best review of a film is a nod of appreciation and action for change.  Body of War and Phil Donahue inspire all this.  They rattled me to my foot soles. I’m wide awake in the United States. I can see the Iraq War and my government with crystal clarity: the war machine has eaten too many children; war trauma has swallowed generations of families; and the drum beats on. I, for one, am tired of it. I’m outraged and  grief-stricken to silence, sure, but I will not stay silent much longer.

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Poet For Hire, ABD #njpoet

VLADIMIR: “You should have been a poet.”
ESTRAGON: “I was.” (Gesture towards his rags.)
“Isn’t that obvious?”

~Waiting for Godot

All my life I’ve been told not to be a poet. My working class parents—for fear of my assured poverty, homelessness, and starvation—encouraged me to learn a trade, a real skill, and it would be clear to you that I half followed their advice if you ever reviewed my alternate resume, or if you ever saw me clean and filet a fish or trim a cut of beef. Much of my non-academic employment history has been back-breaking and bloody, or mind-numbingly boring.

Through it all, though, I’ve always read and wrote and loved poetry. I always have for as long as I can rememeber. I learned to appreciate the literary beauty of novels and, more so, short stories in college and professor school, sure, but I always had a notebook in my pocket that I slowly filled with poetic observations, images, bits of conversation. Walt Whitman was my first teacher. Buddha and Lao Tzu taught me how to be mindful, pay attention, listen, focus.

It took my dearly departed novelist/artist best friend, Sang Lee, years to convince me to ditch the pocket notebooks for Twitter, and to start a blog about the life I’ve lived, the history I’ve lived through, and the ways I’ve managed to survive as an American artist—all written in my unique poetic, historical, political, Street Buddhist Monk from New Jersey sort of way. That was the vision.

And The Life and Mind of Charles Bivona was born, named by the man who loved to frame his poet best friend with low self-esteem as a strutting, arrogant bastard. Like Bill Hicks.

“For practice,” Sang said, about the blog title that made me cringe when he first showed me the header he’d designed. He wanted me to take my stories seriously. And with his pushing, and the constant encouragement and love and talented assistance of Luz Costa, I did.

By April of 2009, I was freewriting, editing, several conscious attempts at a prose poetry memoir. I was publishing several times daily on what was then only charlesbivona.com.

That was when the story turned tragic in waves of disaster. The undergrads at the university where I was teaching and studying for my PhD, they found my blog and it started spreading around the student body like a virus: imagine. The deans were not pleased. I was ordered to stop immediately. I made some noise about freedom of speech, and I was not re-hired to teach the following semester.

When you get fired in academia, no one even notices. It’s completely silent.

We were poised to find a lawyer, fight a legal battle, when Sang suddenly died of a heart attack in early January of 2010.

My only living grandparent, my grandma, died a month after that.

I wrote and delivered two eulogies, and, with no resources or emotional energy left for a legal battle, I limped back to blogging and got busy grieving through writing.

After a few months, I managed to network a gig as the managing editor of an important scholarly journal. It would be a life-preserver for my academic career, and a meticulous, meditation-like work to keep my grieving mind busy—just what I needed, until my good friend from the PhD program used the two recent deaths in my family to leverage the job away from me. True story.

“He tells me these two deaths have hit you very hard and that you may not be up to this editing position.” The boss had already decided to give him the job instead when she emailed this. That’s the nature U.S. Academia: indirect, scummy, and passive aggressive.

I quit the PhD program in disgust—All But Dissertation, ABD—a year later, after I aced my last doctoral exam.

We started using the njpoet.com url—a redirect to charlesbivona.com—because it was more memorable, and before long #njpoet took off on Twitter. Our San Francisco artist friend, Chewstroke, dashed off the sketch of the little boy in our logo—“took me five minutes”—a seemingly accidental likeness of me as a little boy that evokes a comment from my mother whenever she sees it.

“Are you sure he didn’t sketch that from one of your baby pictures?”

He swears he did not.

All along I’ve been trying to stick to the idea of a prose poetry memoir, poetic impressions of what it feels like to live through the cultural aftermath of Vietnam, The Cold War, and 9/11—the original vision.

I abondoned line breaks for this poetic project because they turn too many readers off, make them realize that they’re reading poetry and subsequently shut down. I’ve come to to the same conclusions regarding rhyme, though, outside of underground hip-hop artists, I’ve always fucking hated rhyming poetry. Except maybe Auden, but that’s another blog post.

Anyway, the point of this off-the-cuff entry that I have no intention of editing for more than spelling, punctuation, and typos is this: Everyone told me NOT to be a poet, even other writers. Especially other writers, and professors, and academics, and scholars, and business people, and lawyers, and family members. Write a novel! Write a scrrenplay! Write a sitcom! There’s no money in poetry! Nobody cares about poetry! Nobody buys poetry! People hate poets!

But I can’t change who I am.

Eventually, a few people supported me, helped me. Eventually strangers and new friends cheered me on. Eventually more and more naysayers came around to the idea. Poetry is important. The world needs poets.

“What do you mean you’re just a poet?!” said more than one person at Zuccotti Park. Awakening.

And then this week past week, Jackie Martling referred to me as #njpoet almost a dozen times on the Howard Stern Network, SiriusXM: National Satellite Radio.

I’ve already been hired by a few performers as a private teacher. It seems that actors, especially, see the value in learning how to read and write poetry. They understand that the ability to read, analyze, recite, and write poetry will help them write and/or perform just about anything better. They even think it’s worth paying a succesful poetic writer $25-$50 an hour for private poetry lessons–especially when he’s also worked as a professor for ten years.

Imagine. Just like that, I’m a poet for hire. How’s that for self-esteem building? Sang Lee would be so proud.

SHOCK: On Sang Lee’s Death

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Overworked: a prose poem

And then we’re snapping at each other over something stupid, something insignificant and not worth the emotion, but we have to spit these emotions out. Swallowed emotion is a slow poison. So the first minor annoyance that crosses my path, or her path, opens a flood gate of frustration, fear, and exhaustion. We’ve learned to cut it off before it goes too far, before we say things we feel about our situation, displacing them onto each other, before we say things that can’t be unsaid. I retreat to the living room, to my pile of books. My first marriage, a bad one, taught me how to hide in scholarly work. She retreats to the shower. She’ll untangle and wash her hair, a mass of gorgeous tight curls, a task that usually takes an hour. After a few minutes, I’ll hear her softly crying, trying to be quiet, trying not to make me feel worse than she knows I already feel. But I can always hear her, and start crying a little myself as I walk toward the bathroom, shedding my clothes, to ask if I can join her in the shower. She whimpers softly, “Sure.” And I take her in my arms, she takes me in hers, and then she’s sobbing, and then I’m sobbing, and we’re both apologizing. And she says, “I’m just so tired.” And I say, “I know. Me, too.”

#njpoet

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Social Media Professor #njpoet

Although I no longer have a classroom, or a university to exploit me for my teaching labor, I’ve found that some of my former students are making it difficult for me to quit being a professor. In fact, since I announced my intention, my goal, to never work in academia again, some former students have taken it upon themselves to tweet, email, chat, and text. They intend to stay in touch.

They ask questions about the world, about life. They ask about books or poems that I think might help them cope with mounting disappointments. I feed them short stories and poetry and essays and articles about politics, history, philosophy, art. Then I fool them into writing every day, into challenging what they’ve been reading, in long chat or text conversations with me. My virtual “office hours” sometimes go on until 3AM with one student on text, another on IM, and another engaging me on Twitter or Facebook.

Two of them have already asked me to help them with their writing. They’ve always wanted to be writers, they say, but they never thought they were smart enough. And they have never told anyone but me that writing has always been their secret dream.

After all, how could they tell people that they are writers in their hearts, or worse, poets? How do they just announce that to the world? What if someone mocks them? What if people laugh at them? What if they just suck and always will suck? What if they just aren’t good enough to be real writers, real poets? What if? What if? What if?

And some of that probably will happen, to be honest—the mocking and laughing at least. It happened to me, still happens to me. But I’ve evolved  into a very thick skin. It was a painful adaptation, but I finally don’t give a shit who accepts that I’m a writer and a poet. I’m a writer and poet because I say I am.

As for teaching people how to write, I’ve only learned this much about writing in all my years: there’s no such thing as good enough or smart enough. There is only working hard at your active reading, every day, and trying to write something, every day, that you’d be afraid to let someone else read. Then you have to muster up all of your courage, and let someone read it.

And I’m not charging my former students for any of this,
so please check out:

3 Ways You Can Help #njpoet

Thank you.

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My Last Semester: a note for students and colleagues

Let me start by saying that I just taught the two best Literature courses of my career. I finally managed to pull together my life experiences and my knowledge, to be the focused, integrated, and sincerely honest voice that I’ve always wanted to be in front of a classroom. And I successfully related everything from Sophocles to Hamlet back to current events, world affairs, global politics—to things that could happen in any of our lives, many times enhanced by personal stories of how literature helped me navigate the darker roads of my life. I wanted to make my students feel the themes of the syllabus in their own experiences.

So, for example, if you just don’t get the bind that Antigone’s in when the new King forbids the burial of her slain brother, try this:

Imagine you’re at a peaceful demonstration against something awful—killing the environment, whatever. Your family is with you. It’s a nice day. You’re making a political picnic out of it.

Out of nowhere, there’s a raid on the demonstration. Seems the guy who owns the land you’re demonstrating on doesn’t agree with your politics.

Suddenly, a cop runs up and just starts smacking your mother with his nightstick. Over and over. Three or four times. Then he pepper sprays her in the face and starts dragging her away. It happens in seconds. Your mother is in shock. Injured. Sobbing. Reaching out. Calling your name.

Now what? Do you bow to the authority of the cop, the King, or are there obligations that go way beyond all that? That’s what Sophocles is asking you. What do you think? Should Antigone bury her brother, or obey the King and let her brother’s corpse rot in the street? What would you do?

After that, everyone in the room had an opinion.

I was looking forward to honing these teaching techniques, my poetic pedagogy, in my one Lit course this Spring, but I’m suddenly unemployed this semester.

Your assignment for ENG 2403 is being cancelled because a full-time faculty member needs it.

That email was finally the last straw. No more adjunct professor work for me, thanks. I’m officially exploring other career options, something not so blatantly exploitative and flippantly disrespectful, please.

Teaching college has kept my mind young and sharp, and I will very much miss having access to curious young students, to classrooms for my literary rantings, but at least I went out on a teaching high—in my opinion—and not many academics can honestly say that. In the end, I’m proud of my ten years of college teaching, and I really think I did some good, but I also know when I’ve just had enough of something. End Chapter. Done. So, that’s that.

From now on I’ll just teach in my Twitter classroom. I’ll meet you there, my 21st Century Social savvy students. Word.

As for the rest of you, thank you for reading along. #njpoet

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The Pitch: from Chats with My New Marketing Friends #njpoet

for my most generous new patron,
Ms. Chiara DeLucia

MARKETING FRIEND: “So how would you define the #njpoet brand?”

ME: “I’m just trying to help my friends figure out ways to reach their goals, helping them in any way I can—letters, Twitter endorsement, all out social media campaigns, word-of-mouth networking. Whatever. Otherwise, I’m reading, tweeting, listening to alterantive media, producing my blog posts, and writing my first of hopefully several Kindle books.”

MARKETING FRIEND: “Ok. Ok. That works. That’s a pretty good pitch.”

ME: “It’s more of a Zen Buddhist approach to honestly engaging in social media and blogging, really. Kinda like a good karma network based on compassion, empathy, a good sense of humor, and a humble method of pratical teaching. It’s more of a social media life philosophy than a pitch. An attempt at Buddhist Right Livelihood, ya know?”

MARKETING FRIEND: “Jesus, they were right! You are fucking great at this! That’s a great pitch! Brilliant! Jesus, Charlie!”

ME: “Haha! Ok, then. Thank you. Thank you very much,  I always try my best when I pitch.”

 

The true poets must be truthful. ~Wilfred Owen

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Unemployed Professor: an update from inside @KeanUniversity #njpoet

I received a new email from my former student, and it seems the full-time professor described in last night’s post is indeed the full-time professor who needed my World Literature course at Kean University next semester.

Flashback to last Friday’s email:

Charles,

Your assignment for ENG 2403 is being cancelled because a full-time faculty member needs it.

Here’s what my former student had to say in his latest email:

Mainly it’s because his one class was cancelled. He failed to realize that level class requires students to apply for special permission…and basically nobody signed up for that.

Now he’s got the World Literature course, because he couldn’t fill his original class.

It’s happened before, a tenured professor makes a class up…and nobody signs up for it, so the class gets cancelled and that professor gets World Lit. 

Did you catch that, fellow citizens of our bogus meritocracy? He screwed up, so I lose.

That’s how it works, right?

I graded papers for 16 hours, with bronchitis and a fever, to get my grades in on time. I had to just keep working after last semester ended, after the paychecks stopped coming, because there was so much work to finish up.

Then this full-time professor accidentally made the registration for his course too difficult, so the students avoided it, so I lose my $3,750 salary for the semester. He failed to fill his own course with students, so they cancelled my course assignment and gave it to him. And he willl definitely be paid much more than $3,750 to teach it.

Seriously. This is my life.

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World Class Education and @KeanUniversity

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World Class Education and @KeanUniversity: adjunct professor edition #njpoet

Kean

for the adjuncts

For those who haven’t read about it on Twitter and/or Facebook, Kean University cancelled my employment contract for this semester. Ten days before the beginning of Spring classes, I received this email:

Charles,

Your assignment for ENG 2403 is being cancelled because a full-time faculty member needs it.

That was it. My needs, the needs of my family, don’t matter. Of course, this is ordinary. Now I’m supposed to just roll over and shut up, hope that they offer me a course next Fall. Shut up, or you’ll never be rehired again.

Welcome to U.S. Academia. Most of our professors live in a state of sustained economic terror, and it’s never anybody’s fault. Of course not! You can’t blame Dr. Yadda Yadda. It’s just the way the academic system works in Bless America.

So I was tweeting about this all weekend, because I really suck at just rolling over and shutting up, and a lot of people were retweeting. Some were even tweeting their own outrage, especially about the pathetic salary of $3,750 Kean planned on paying me to teach a World Lit course in the first place.

That figure makes most people audibly scoff, then almost vomit when I tell them that my students pay around $1,250 each to take my three credit course. With an average class size of about 30 students, that means Kean University makes roughly $37,500 from my labor, while I get $3,750, a little over $800 a month after taxes, until May. Then it’s no pay until September—if I’m rehired. And since this employment arrangement technically makes me an independent contractor, I can’t collect unemployment. I’ve plannned my financial life six months at a time, scraped together a life, for over ten years now. Every few years, the bottom falls out completely, just like it did last Friday.

Your assignment for ENG 2403 is being cancelled because a full-time faculty member needs it.

And I’m not alone. An estimated 75% of the professors in the United States live like this—the adjuncts, or “contigent faculty.” That sounds nicer. They treat us like disposable people.

Anyway, it was a great weekend on social media, sticking more to the positive points of this story. There were some friends from HuffPo and other publications retweeting, some popular radio personalities I know, a few radical journalists, and especially my friends and family who know damn near everybody in Northern New Jersey. They simply love to gossip. They’re word-of-mouth people.

KeanTweet

[Click on the Image to Add Your Retweet Now!]

Good times.

Many of my students from last semester were also out there tweeting and retweeting.

“This is bullshit!” and “Kean Sucks!” were some of my favorite moments from the storm.

This continued for almost 48 hours.

“That’s just criminal,” another former student responded.

Yeah, we made some noise. Not that the Union, New Jersey, university with the fraudulant, micro-managing President noticed. Not at all. But their Twitter presence is essentially dead, after all. This wouldn’t surprise you if you’d just spent three semesters listening to their full-time faculty discussing the Internet like intellectual refugees from the cutting edge of the 1990s. I’m sure more than one of them just now created a MySpace or nurtures anxious dreams of someday creating her very own website—maybe even one with a database! Or something….

Ridiculous.

But I suppose I shouldn’t pick on them for failing to keep up with the Internet, much less social media. After all, who has time to actually engage with the world when there are so many boring articles to be written about the world? They must be sure to keep a distance, to focus on this very important work. There’s rubrics to collect and quantify and pretend to interpret. I mean, someone has to publish something in those overpriced journals that no one reads. Just imagine what would happen to our world if most of those publications suddenly vanished. The horror. Dozens would feel the loss.

Back in 2014:

One of my former Kean University students, a bright young writer who kept in touch, emailed me detailed commentary, after each class, about his full-time English professor. Maybe it’s the same full-time professor who needed my course. Maybe it’s the same full-time professor who will now be paid a full-time wage for a course Kean was about to pay me only $3,750 to teach. I guess the course just has more earning power now that he’s teaching it. Who knows? I’m sure the official smart people have got it all figured out.

Let’s read what my former student had to say about this full-time faculty member, shall we?

“Our professor, DR. ___________, basically described “Song of Myself” to himself in class. He talked to himself, didn’t ask questions. He described the poem and Whitman as [a] libertarian approach to science and Industry, voyerism, engaging in the future through spirituality and materialism. He made the remark Whitman isn’t Buddhist because he isn’t passive but productive. And then he broke down each canto from 1 to 6, basically summarizing each one like he was giving a speech and trying to convince himself that what he was saying was right. It was a quiet class listening to a smart man tell himself he is smart.”

Now that’s a world class educator! Wow. What else can I say? It’s a good thing they replaced me.

P.S. This video is from February of 2012.
To date, President Fraud has not resigned,
nor has he been fired.
He’s probably gotten a raise since then.

Meanwhile,
everything on my résumé
is real.

#njpoet

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Unemployed Professor: an update from inside @KeanUniversity 

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Fight Scene at the Train Station #njpoet

I stood with my back against the wall, waiting for a train. My eyes scanned from man to woman to child, checking body language, facial expressions, looking for any signs of agitation, aggression, anger, rage.

Then the man in overalls and a flannel suddenly called another man, a chubby commuter in a tight gray suit, a “motherfucker!” His big voice boomed and bounced off the tile walls. The commuter scurried off, and then the shouter caught me watching.

“What are you looking at, motherfucker?” he howled as he started marching toward me, bounding with a limp, his arms waving—his chest, kidneys, and throat fully exposed.

“Do you got a problem with me, motherfucker?”

He was only halfway across the station then, limping faster. I still had plenty of time to casually raise my forearm, to just stand there in a solid stance, lean forward, let his own momentum bash in his teeth. Over in seconds. I’d probably only be bruised for a week.

But then he slowed down, stood in my face just a little too close. All bark, really.

“Answer me, motherfucker!” he screamed, that sour acid stench of a starving stomach on his breath. “Is there a fucking problem?!”

And I acted as if I’d just then noticed that he was even talking to me.

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir,” I said. “My mind was on another planet, trying to figure out how I’m gonna pay my rent. Crazy world. What were you saying? Can I help you with something?”

He stepped back, startled a little, suspicious, then tilted his head and asked if I could please give him some money to buy something to eat. I gave him the $3.00 I had in my pocket. He grabbed it and ran off without saying thank you.

Every therapist I’ve ever sat with has pegged me as hyper-aware, hyper-conscious of my surroundings, always sizing up my environment, always braced and ready for violence.

“Think of it this way,” one particularly tactless mental health provider joked, “it’s like a superpower your father’s unpredictable violence gave you.”

And that’s kind of true, I suppose. The empathy and compassion I taught myself.

Happy New Year!

#njpoet

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From a World of Real Violence

I always know when I’m listening to someone who has never been the victim of real life violence. The untouched talk tough TV movie talk, so sure that they would do this or that if someone ever tried to blah blah blah, as if real life violence squares off and announces itself.

“You, there! You and me! Right now!” Choreographed fight scene commences.

Ridiculous. Too many movies.

I’ve been the victim of real life violence, and this is what I remember about it:

“What the fuck just happened?! What the FUCK just happened to me?!”

Real life violence comes out of nowhere, irrational, for no discernable reason. Real life violence makes no sense. It shocks you, overwhelms you, blind sides you. It’s unstoppably sudden. What you experience consciously is the dreamy immediate aftermath, the bewildered questioning, if you survive.

Just before the violence, in the fractured second before it explodes, you’re consumed with your own thoughts, your own desires, like we all are most of the time. In fact, I guarantee if we could somehow interview the deceased, ask them what their last thought was just before a mass shooter riddled them with freedom bullets, I’d bet my last dollar you’d hear common thoughts like:

“What am I gonna have for lunch?”

or

“I feel so fat in these jeans.”

or

“I’m so tired. I can’t believe how tired I am.”

We can only hope that more people than our jaded minds can imagine met their deaths thinking, “I can’t believe this. I’m really in love.” What a way to go.

And if you’re one who believes that a gun in the hand of a grade school child would make a real life difference, if you cling to these movie fantasies of rugged individualistic nonsense, you should strive to realize that the only way we have ever defended ourselves against real life violence is by forming and nurturing large interwoven communities based on love, mutual respect, empathy and compassion for others. The only way to save ourselves from real life violence is to render all violence absolutely culturally unacceptable, obscene.

But, of course, you could instead spend your life preparing, bracing, being ever vigilant, ever on guard and armed, always ready to defend yourself and your family against violence with more violence. You can think like that, living hyper-defensive, hyper-aware. That’s your right, but that’s also called PTSD, my friends, and you should really get some help for that.

3 Ways You Can Help #njpoet

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Scientific Models Now Showing Revolt Is Our Only Chance w/ @LeeCamp

A complex computer model by geophysicist Brad Werner seems to show that the earth will not be stable for humans unless there is widespread revolt soon. This is just one of the calls for revolt echoing through our culture recently. 

Read Naomi Klein’s Article

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