The bala haunts me.
I mean the bala shark I wrote about last week. For twenty years he has resided in our living room fish tank. Twenty years. Back and forth (or, in a daring reversal, forth and back; actually he just hangs still, mostly). Think what has happened in that time. Four presidential administrations. The fall of the Berlin Wall. 9/11. Our two kids’ growing up, suffering through their adolescence, and leaving the nest. And still the bala just hung in there, staring glumly. A cloistered monk is a cosmopolite compared to poor Bala.
Along my current running route in the Rio Grande bosque, not far from where Borghi, our late cat, rests, is a modest little stump. A foot and a half high, perhaps, and maybe seven inches across. It is not even cut cleanly through: though it definitely was sawed, the sawyer seems to have got discouraged at some point and tried again from one angle and again from another. I assume it is the stump of a young cottonwood.
Lately I have been thinking about fish. Maybe you should too. We pay too little attention, I think, to what goes on in the deep blue sea and even in the aquarium and the fish pond. On the other hand, what goes on may be little more exciting than watching algae grow.
A friend died last week.
The Longsuffering Diana and I spent last weekend staying with friends in Roswell, New Mexico. We breezed through Roswell many years ago, but this time we discovered a little city with a lot to offer. Roswell is home to the venerable New Mexico Military Institute and to the Roswell Industrial Air Center. It boasts the Roswell Museum and Art Centre, and the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art. (Don Anderson, a capable artist in his own right, and his brother Robert founded the Atlantic Richfield Oil Company.
One of the best things to happen to my teaching has been my wonking. I said last week that a writing teacher should be a writing practitioner. I don’t delude myself that my weekly wonks are high art, but I like to think they show care and craft, things that I can pass on to my students. It has given me a valuable lesson in humility, too. Try as I may, a couple of typos inevitably slip through (“Matt, can you PLEASE change ‘chose’ to ‘choose’ in the second paragraph? Sorry. Again.”). This has made me a lot more understanding than I once was.
I first stood on the other side of the lectern, the teacher’s side, close to a half-century ago. You will agree, I hope, that that constitutes a long ride—Lord knows how much chalk I have gone through in almost five decades—and it ain’t over yet. So, with your indulgence, perhaps the time has come for old Shea to wax profound and expansive, at least for one wonk.
In all that time, what have I learned?
A couple of weeks ago Leslie Linthicum, one of my favorite Albuquerque Journal writers, did a touching piece about Spanish first names—“given” names, Baptismal names— in northern New Mexico. You are probably thinking Carlos or Juan or Miguel, but you would be wrong. No, these are names that I had no idea existed until I settled in New Mexico: Eustaquio, Dionicia, Epifanio, Procopio, Estanislao, Tranquilino, and a host of others. Why especially in the mountains of northern New Mexico?
Interesting word, “shift.” Or perhaps I should say a word with interesting variations and connotations. “Shift for yourself” connotes a hardy resourcefulness. On the other hand, “shiftless” connotes laziness. The entry takes up over three column inches in my dictionary. “Makeshift” suggests crudeness but also ingenuity. Day shift. Graveyard shift. Shifts and stratagems. And certainly to describe someone as shifty is not a compliment. (Shift as camisole can’t possibly have the same etymology [can it?] but it is right in there with the other definitions.)
I’m driving through my neighborhood the other day and come upon an old Honda hatchback with these cautionary words soaped on the back window: