As the trial of Bradley Manning continues, Edward Snowden comes out as the NSA whistleblower who revealed the secret massive surveillance state. Comedian Lee Camp comments.
Someday, after I’m long dead, some super fan will dig into my external hard drive and edit a collection of my letters to student loan debt collectors. Thanks to my country’s moronic commodification of education, this is how I spend a good deal of my writing time. So, while you wait for that future collection—The #njpoet Debt Letters—to finally be published, I leave you with this sample.
Dear Mr. ____________:
Enclosed please find a photocopy of my W2 for the 2012 year—gross income: $3,800—along with a copy of my last pay statement for the Spring semester, 2013.
I am now unemployed until September—pending new course assignments—and I am not eligible for unemployment benefits.
I have no tax papers for 2011, as I was unemployed for the entire year, and am ineligible for unemployment benefits.
Last week I received a notice from the State of New Jersey Division of Revenue that read as such:
Dear Taxpayer: We have calculated your 2012 Gross Income Tax Overpayment to be $385. However, the agency listed below—NJ Higher Education Student Assistance Authority—has requested that $385 of this amount be held because of a delinquent account.
Since the lender you represent just effectively seized over 10% of my total income from last year, and since this amount far exceeds the $220 per month your client is demanding, I was just wondering if the lender would please give my family a break, and accept our original offer of $100 per month toward this student loan debt. Because that would just be super.
Please do let me know. Thank you.
Economist Richard Wolff joins Bill Moyers to shine light on the disaster left behind in capitalism’s wake, and discusses how to battle for economic justice. A noted professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and now visiting professor at Manhattan’s New School, Wolff has written many books on the effects of rampant capitalism, including Capitalism Hits the Fan.
This post if for all my current students.
First, many of you have gotten back to me with stories of good luck, and near-misses, during Hurricane Sandy. Let me just say, before going any further, that I am relieved and grateful that you’re all safe.
Those of you who have not responded to my original call for a head count, I do hope this is only because your power and your Internet are still out, leaving you with no way to access your University email account.
They really should have an app for that.
Anyway, I’m hoping that those of you without power and Internet will regain it shortly, and find this email waiting for you. I’m hoping your families, and friends, and neighbors were able to come together, to get through this storm—which, I can tell you, is like nothing I’ve seen in the 40 years I’ve been alive in New Jersey.
Some of you have expressed deep anxiety, some of you just a heightened concern, about the next essay coming due—the drafts of which you handed in just before everything went Sandy crazy.
I’ll be the first one to acknowledge that those drafts were the furthest thing from my mind last week. And, by now, they’ve been swallowed up by a flood of incoming emails from concerned friends and family, charitable organizations desperate for money, and the mailing list for local relief effort volunteers—not to mention the shocking distraction of that line of people at the end of my street [standing!] waiting for a few gallons of gas.
It’s been a stressful week. So, we’re all on the same page, more or less.
Today’s class was canceled, as I emailed you last night. The University has encouraged me to use “electronic means” to teach, and I welcome the opportunity.
As it stands, I doubt we’ll be having a class on Friday. I just can’t make you drive to campus, not while there’s gas rationing. Some of you, I know, may need that gas to get to work. If the rationing ends before Friday, we’ll reconsider our options.
As for the assigned essays, I will spend this week reviewing your drafts: making comments, offering guidance, or model sentences, and asking questions to help spur your ideas. Mostly, I’ll try to keep you calm and amused through your writing process.
Once I email you with comments, your assignment is to revise your draft, using my comments as a guide, and then email the draft back to me [asap, or within two days] for another review.
It’s important to note that at the heart of the word “revise” is re-vision, or a re-thinking. So, don’t approach my comments looking for mistakes in you essay that need to be “fixed”—although, I will make sure you have your punctuation straight, of course—but rather, think of my comments as questions and/or requests from your reader.
Anticipate questions like: “What do you mean when you say ‘______’?,” and requests like: “Can you express this more clearly, using different words?”
My goal is to teach you how to use writing, not just for presenting ideas in the most precise words possible, but also as a tool for either getting ideas straight in your head, or generating new ideas when you’re completely lost.
A back and forth collaboration—an email/chat/text/face-to-face dialogue—between a writer and a trusted reader, several trusted readers, ideally, is the best way, I’ve found, to teach and learn these skills.
So, for now, relax, catch your breath, hug everyone you love, thank whatever you believe that they’re safe, and wait for your reviewed drafts to arrive in your Inbox. Then, get busy re-thinking, re-drafting, revising. All writing is re-writing, they say.
I will also send along some guides and explanations: how to do a proper textual analysis, etc.—for those who still find themselves somewhat confused.
I think I’ve covered all the bases. Any questions? Email me back. I’m here.
P.S. If any of you are in need of assistance, I’ve been coordinating and organizing with a few relief organizations using social media. If you are in dire need of anything—water, food, dry clothing, diapers, batteries, or something else entirely—please email, call, or text me. I’ll do everything I can to get you some help.
Now, everyone stay safe. Staying safe is part of your homework, and it will definitely be graded.
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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 work. 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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Seriously, I called my mom. No joke. Mom doesn’t get Twitter, but she gets the New York Times. Suddenly, I’m her son the writer, for real. But I’m sure that’s unfair to mom. She’s always been proud.
Anyway, so this famous professor starts to retweet me more often, right? And so does my favorite radio show, and the host of my favorite TV show, and my favorite hip-hop artist, and his record company, and the local news channel, etc. etc.
So, things were getting surreal, right?
Ok. So then, the Columbia University New York Times professor sends me a Facebook friend request—accepted, duh—and there she is: smiling, and friendly, and warm, and holding hands with the Dalai Lama in her Facebook cover photo.
Let’s stop right here and review, shall we?
I’m a poor kid from Bloomfield, New Jersey—the oldest child of a beautician mom and a carpenter/traumatized Vietnam vet dad.
The day after I graduated from my Jr. High, the school was condemned. We were poor.
I got my BA on a Pell Grant from a state school in Paterson, and my MA from Rutgers-Newark. I missed my PhD by a dissertation. I couldn’t psychologically justify more student loans. I left my program, ABD: All But Dissertation, in 2011.
I’m still poor. I map my days out in dollars and cents—money for gas and a morning coffee for me and my wife. Maintaining one luxury, they say, is important.
We go to a food bank every other Thursday. We don’t have health insurance. I’m being sued over a State of New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority loan: no deferment program available. Sorry. Default.
But I also have a new Facebook friend. And she has shared a moment with the Dalai Lama. And I’m a Buddhist.
Somehow, on Social Media, I found a niche as a radical lefty, Buddhist, atheist, poet, writer, professor guy. It just kinda happened. Good karma, I suppose.
I’m still a mess. I’m still damaged. My student loans will still render me a financial failure for the rest of my life. The End.
All of that is true.
But at least I’m honest. That still matters to me as an American poet. As a mishmash of competing, contradicting ideologies—practicing a radical honesty with myself and others is how I maintain my sanity. For lack of a better word, it’s my Religion.
And since this rambling late night freewriting blog post is suffering from a blurry thesis, let me close with this: I don’t really know what I believe in anymore, but I think it’s time for me to start believing in myself, just a little bit.
And to Hell with those who still don’t get it—dinosaurs.
Rutgers University’s most distinguished alumnus was born April 9, 1898, at Princeton. Paul Bustill Robeson was a man of many talents: scholar, actor, lawyer, singer and athlete. He received world acclaim for performances in Othello, The Emperor Jones, Show Boat and many others. Robeson was the first black football player at Rutgers and a two time All-American. But, even more than that, Robeson was a leader in the movement against racial discrimination. Robeson was the first black man to be valedictorian of his graduating class. He was also the recipient of numerous honors throughout his life, including the Springarn Medal of the NAACP, the Stalin Peace Prize in 1952, which also (1958), the Abraham Lincoln Medal, the Donaldson Award for “the best acting performance in 1944″ and the 1944 Gold Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Robeson also was named an honorary professor at the Moscow Conservatory of Music.
Paul Robeson Campus Center is the heart of student life through its many student organizations and boards, venues for performances and conferences, free public art galleries, and leadership programs. And it wouldn’t be a student center without its lounge, game room, Raider Mart convenience store, and eateries.