Hedwig and the Angry Inch is one of my favorite films, and I found myself watching it again this evening (after letting it sit on a shelf for far too long). And while I knew I’d love it as much as I ever have, I didn’t expect to find it as new and fresh as I did today.
While I could recall the plot off the top of my head, there had been enough time between viewings that I forgot a lot of specifics — like the role that my current state of Kansas plays in the story.
Hedwig is taken to the United States by an Army Sergeant. They shack up in Junction City, KS, a town populated by the residents of Fort Riley ( and, naturally, the area where I currently live). This detail never stuck with me because I had no knowledge of the area, and no reason to familiarize myself with Junction City.
But the town and fort are a particularly apt choices for Hedwig’s story. Like her, the small city is populated by in-betweeners. Nothing is settled, but merely searching for settling.
This is never clearer than the excellent “Wicked Little Town,” where the city itself is name-checked, along with area-specific details like the rolling Flint Hills and the burning winter winds. Hedwig sings:
And then you’re someone you are not
And Junction City ain’t the spot
Remember Mrs. Lot and when she turned around
And if you’ve got no other choice
You know you can follow my voice
Through the dark turns and noise
Of this wicked little town
This is a lovely and crucial song, which is later revised by Hedwig’s admirer and eventual thief Tommy Gnosis. But it was remarkable to not just return it for a familiar kick, but to climb into it and learn something new about it and about here.
If you thought I had lost the blogging bug, I wouldn’t blame you. I’ve been scarce for the past 10 days, but I’m happy to announce that I didn’t lose interest in blogging. Nope. Not at all. Instead, I simply went on the worst trip in my lifetime.
Rachael and I went to Philadelphia last week. She needed to take an important test for her job, and figured it would be most comfortable in her hometown. I got to tag along for moral support and general gallivanting. Everything about it seemed perfect, but by the time we flew home Monday, I was half-expecting to see Michael Nutter flipping us off from the runway.
The problems began the night before our departing flight, when I felt achey. All of my my colds start this way. And they often start before trips or anticipated events — I’m not sure if this is an actual fact, or just a narrative I’ve strung together, but I mention it because none of what was happening to me was surprising. The travel day unfolded with increasing misery, but by the time we reached a comfortable bed, I wasn’t too hung up about it. I could kick the cold, and still make the most of the trip.
Thus, rather than meeting up with friends or cruising around town, I dedicated myself to getting better. I hunkered down in our hotel room with pillows and tea and pills. I stuck to a schedule. I wanted to be better by the time Rachael’s test was over, for then I could not only salvage half the trip, but we could salvage it together.
But when we woke up on Friday morning, ready to seize our obligation-free weekend, my voice was gone. And hilariously, our big plans to celebrate that evening involved a private karaoke room with friends.
Undeterred, I stepped up my game. I became a soup ninja. I doubled my tea intake. I gargled salt water. I downed honey straight from the hotel-issued packets. My body was feeling better, but my voice was betraying me. I went into radio silence for the final pre-karaoke hours., frustrating a wife who couldn’t make sense of my improvised sign language.
And it worked. My voice came back. We went to karaoke. And about two hours into the night, Rachael tripped and fell. We’d find out 12 hours later that she broke her foot. I woke up with my voice gone for good, sacrificed for the sake of three hours at karaoke (worth it!).
That Saturday night, our family visited us. Rachael stayed fixed to one chair, while I spent most of the time upstairs in bed, feeling a new misery wash over me. By the end of the night, I was gasping for breath after the simplest of tasks. Less than twelve hours later, we’d continue our tour of emergency rooms in the Delaware Valley. I was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia.
I could keep piling on. I haven’t yet mentioned that our dog, Neko, hurt herself before the trip, and is currently recovering from knee surgery at a nearby veterinary clinic. Her absence from the home this week has given me a lot of time to think about our trip, and how terrible it was. And it’s tempting to just think about everything bad that has happened, and allow it to make me even more miserable. And I’m not perfect: I’ve certainly succumbed to such thoughts.
But since moving to Kansas, I’ve made a very conscious effort to look for two sides to everything that’s happened to us. It would be too easy to dwell on that which we don’t want, and couldn’t choose. It’s far more difficult — but also more beneficial — to look for the hidden rewards.
There are so many things I wanted to do and people I wanted to see last week. And I hardly got to tick any of it off of my list. That’s a shame, and certainly not something to be happy about. But it certainly made it easy to come home to a place that’s hard to call home.
If every trip goes like this, I won’t be this pragmatic. But sometimes getting the double bird from your hometown is a good reminder that you can go home again, but you might break some bones and get a lung infection along the way.
I had the opportunity this week to see Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein give a lecture on “Demystifying Academic Writing,” and even more fortunate to have the chance to ask them a question during a discussion afterwards.
I was interested in an issue they raised during their lecture, as it’s something I’ve encountered in my own teaching. In They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter In Academic Writing, Graff and Birkenstein provide many templates for argumentative movement. They encourage student writers to use these templates as needed in their own work — word for word, even.
But in suggesting this, we each run into a number of students who resist even considering such an approach. They worry that using templates is an affront to their own creativity and individualism.
I asked Graff and Birkenstein why they think students have these negative reactions to very practical and helpful approaches to writing, considering that we, the teachers, are providing a sort of cheat sheet for what we like to see in academic writing. Is there a problem in the way we teach genius and creativity, or are these conversations natural to have at the University-level?
In replying, Cathy thought it had broader cultural links to our ideas of American exceptionalism. But in arriving there, I thought she struck on a very simple parallel I hope to use in my own classrooms: Cathy talked about how students, when learning an instrument or sport (among other things), never object to finger drills on a violin, or dribbling drills at a soccer practice.
Frankly, I was disappointed that such a direct and relatable parallel had never occurred to me before. I don’t think it’s such a stretch to imagine that a majority of students will have some sort of history with a sport, class, hobby or lesson that they consider creative, but is only grasped through the mimicry and interpretation of previous work.
We don’t use templates to avoid creating something new, but to find what it is we wish to build.
I now live in a college football town.
This is noteworthy because I’ve attended two schools which proudly sold “Undefeated in Football” t-shirts because, well, they didn’t have a football program. To then live in a town that would suffer without such a program has come as a tremendous shock.
I live a few minutes from Bill Snyder Family Stadium, where the Kansas State Wildcats play. They are currently undefeated, and are now ranked in the top ten thanks to a victory over their talented conference rivals at Oklahoma. I’ve thrown myself into the team as best I could: Rachael and I have attended a game, and headed to a popular bar to take in the latest victory.
Coming from Philadelphia, I’m not unfamiliar with sports fanaticism. But I was caught off guard by the consistent, unabashed and at times extreme pride that this town had for its college football team. I came to Manhattan unaware of the Kansas State football team. I assumed this was a basketball school. Four weeks into their season, though, and I’ve already absorbed a good deal of the team history, and not even by choice. I soak it all up just by making my way around town.
What I do identify with, though, is the joy in being recognized. The KSU-Oklahoma game was broadcast in primetime across the nation on Fox. Even though it was a road game for the Wildcats, there was plenty of talk, and some shots, of the Little Apple during the broadcast, as well as on subsequent college football wrap-up shows.
The town seems to thrive on such recognition. And for someone who worried about falling off the map as he became swallowed by the middle of it, I wonder if my new neighbors share those same fears, or if we’ve simply found different ways to arrive at the same feeling.
I’m not sure, but I’ll continue to learn: each and every Saturday.