April 2018

Friday, August 17, 2018


Listen and remember: Aretha sings R-E-S-P-E-C-T. 

Here are the lyrics in case you’d like to sing along

What you want
Baby, I got it
What you need
Do you know I got it
All I'm askin'
Is for a little respect when you get home (just a little bit)
Hey baby (just a little bit) when you get home
(just a little bit) mister (just a little bit)
I ain't gonna do you wrong while you're gone
Ain't gonna do you wrong cause I don't wanna
All I'm askin'
Is for a little respect when you come home (just a little bit)
Baby (just a little bit) when you get home (just a little bit)
Yeah (just a little bit)
I'm about to give you all of my money
And all I'm askin' in return, honey
Is to give me my propers
When you get home (just a, just a, just a, just a)
Yeah baby (just a, just a, just a, just a)
When you get home (just a little bit)
Yeah (just a little bit)
Ooo, your kisses
Sweeter than honey
And guess what?
So is my money
All I want you to do for me
Is give it to me when you get home (re, re, re ,re)
Yeah baby (re, re, re ,re)
Whip it to me (respect, just a little bit)
When you get home, now (just a little bit)
Find out what it means to me
Take care, TCB
Oh (sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me)
A little respect (sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me)
Whoa, babe (just a little bit)
A little respect (just a little bit)
I get tired (just a little bit)
Keep on tryin' (just a little bit)
You're runnin' out of fools (just a little bit)
And I ain't lyin' (just a little bit)
(re, re, re, re) When you come home
(re, re, re ,re) 'spect
Or you might walk in (respect, just a little bit)
And find out I'm gone (just a little bit)
I got to have (just a little bit)
A little respect (just a little bit)

I had planned to write a blog entry today about how Ann and I celebrated Wednesday night, the ninth anniversary of our commitment ceremony, but yesterday I heard Aretha Franklin died, and my head is full of Aretha Franklin’s voice. My heart is full of my stories where her voice sings the soundtrack.

A beautiful spring Friday. My first year of teaching. Dallas, Texas, 1987. I was 23 years old and sat outside the upper school building with three freshmen students: Luke, Joey, and Kate. Luke and Joey teased Kate in the way adolescent boys tease girls they like, poking her, pulling at her bra strap, and goading her with comments I can’t remember. 

Though I usually laughed along with these students, this time I was stern. “Don’t let them treat you like that,” I said to her. She just looked at me like she was used to it and calling attention to their antics would just make them worse.

I turned to the guys. “Don’t treat her like that,” I said.

Joey looked at me, a smile fading over his braces. “I thought you were our friend,” he said.

“No. I’m not your friend,” I responded. “I’m your teacher, and I’m telling you to show women of all ages respect.”

Joey nodded, and I left the group. The next Monday, when I entered our classroom, students were already there, and Aretha Franklin boomed from the boom box, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me.”Joey smiled, and Luke looked sheepish. This time, I laughed. They’d gotten my point, and there was still humor between us. I’ve always loved Aretha Franklin for that moment.

If you’re remembering, too, and want to hear that powerful voice some more, you can hear the whole album, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You.

Aretha…I just can’t call her Franklin. She’s Aretha like Ellen Degeneres is Ellen. In this case using her first name is an indication of respect. And affection…. Aretha recorded her first record, “I Grow Closer” 
in her father’s church in 1956 when she was 14 years old, like the 1987 Texas students I’d been scolding.  
For a full retrospective, click here

Written and sung by Otis Redding, this song needed a powerful woman’s voice, and Redding recognized it was no longer his when he heard Aretha recording the song in the studio.

This song was Aretha’s song. And mine. And anyone’s who has ever felt disrespected. So she sings on. Even after death. She sings on.

Sunday, August 5, 2018


I tried to take a nap this afternoon, but with the Navy and Marine jets flying overhead, I felt like I was in a war zone. This siege happens every year as part of Seattle’s annual Seafair weekend. 

On August’s first weekend, hordes go to Lake Washington’s shores to sit on tin bleachers in a tin cage (Okay, it’s really metal fencing to keep out the freeloaders). The hordes watch speedboats making as much noise as possible as they race in a circle. Their race reminds me of one turkey I saw chase another around a bush in Michoacan, Mexico, only it’s louder. Apparently, the land-based hordes eat and drink a lot, as there are 23 places at the event to get food and/or drink. Some hordes watch from their own boats, I suppose so they can save money on food and drink.

As part of the weekend, the Blue Angels roar over our home. The first year we lived in this house, we didn’t know about this event. As the planes flew a few yards over our roof, the house shook, and scurried down from the ladder where she was painting our arbor. Then for a couple of years we tried the “If you can’t beat’em, join ‘em” tactic and went to a nearby park to watch them fly. Since then, we’ve gone to Mount Rainier’s Paradise for the weekend, where most hikers were from our neighborhood or China. 

Now that we have our puppy Dosey, who can’t stay at the Paradise Inn, we’ve stayed in town, and my partner Ann has taken Dosey to other parts of the city to walk and swim. Instead of going with them today, I went to bed to try napping through the siege.

Fortunately, the annual Blue Angels  siege has ended for this year. An opinion piece in today’s Seattle Times argued it’s time for the Blue Angels to retire from this event I agree, but I’m much less appreciative of all they’ve done than the writer. 

To me, The Blue Angels celebrate war in a way that displays power but doesn’t put us in danger. They terrify my dog, wake me from a much needed nap, and remind me with each roaring fly-over how much our country celebrates testosterone. 

Friday night, Ann and I saw powerful women on two WNBA teams play. Our Storm downed the Minnesota Lynx by 10 points. I love these games. Though there’s a lot of noise from the loud speaker and the fans (over 12,000 there Friday night), the noise stays in the arena for those who have chosen to participate in this event. Generally, the game and the crowd are family-friendly: no one’s obnoxiously drunk; people generally don’t boo the refs; and the crowd applauds great basketball from eith team (though there’s more applause for the Storm.) After the game, drivers exit politely from the garage, pausing to let another car into the stream.

Ann and I missed the stream Friday night because we got to have our photo taken with Breanna Stewart. “Stewie,” as she’s affectionately called, is talented, tall, and kind. She’s a shero.

At the end of October, 2017, she came out as a sexual abuse survivor. Her story, like her play on the court, is courageous. Unlike her presence on the court, she’s vulnerable. 

I know males and females who have been sexually abused. #MeToo is not just a women’s issue. To me, it does call into question our country’s, my city’s, celebration of predatory behavior, of power that overwhelms, of sky jets and speed boats.

Thursday, July 19, 2018


Our pastor asked Ann and me to write a paragraph about prayer. That’s impossible! I never write just one paragraph. Besides, I wasn’t sure what to say about prayer.
When I was very young, prayers were the words I used to delay going to bed. My parents remember I blessed Mommy and Daddy and every other person and thing I could think of. They’re probably right that I was stalling, but what if I really had been so grateful for every person and thing. That’s a lovely thought. 
As I grew up, and our family grew, my little sister put her hand on top of her head when we said grace over dinner. I suppose that makes as much sense as any gesture of prayer.
In my teenage years, prayers seemed endless. At Thanksgiving dinner, I remember Mom asking her brother Tommy to pray before we ate, and I remember Aunt Cindy yelling, “Keep it short!” He never did. I thought he was long-winded, but perhaps he was just so grateful for the food and the hands that made it that he couldn’t keep it short. (Kind of like me and my “paragraph” about prayer.
Every night before dinner, Ann and I say a prayer, a few words that Ann noticed in the liturgy twenty years ago, when Jim Head-Corliss was our minister. Those who visit our home know this prayer because we say it every night. “Oh God,” we say as we hold hands with each other and anyone else at our table, and close our eyes, “Remind me that all of life is grace. Let me respond in gratitude.” For us meal, and especially dinner, is a sacred time, a time of communion.
The only time in the last twenty years that I have not voiced that prayer was just after my brain tumor diagnosis. For a couple of dinners, Ann voiced the prayer, and we held hands. As I cried, I nodded so God might know I agreed but was in too much pain to say all of life was grace. 
We voiced other prayers in that time. One night before going to sleep, Ann asked, “Should we pray?” and again I wept as Ann voiced our prayer. Also, before I went into neurosurgery, our minister at the time, Jim Carter, said a prayer that settled my nerves and helped me enter this unknown with some peace about my lack of control.
In much of our lives, however, prayers have not been words to God with our heads bowed and eyes closed. These prayers have been in moments that we remember are sacred: practicing yoga, reading a well-loved poem, marching for justice, witnessing this area’s stunning beauty from a bike (or trike) seat or a hiking path or napping at the edge of a mountain lake on a warm rock any sunny day. 
When our pastor asked us to reflect on prayer, I thought first of a line that seems unconnected to the rest of Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day”: “I don’t know what a prayer is.” The line occurs at the middle of the poem, and the rest of the poem belies that claim:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Prayer, the poet seems to be saying, is slowing down to notice the world’s wonder. In that noticing we ask questions of creation, of living and dying, and about our wild and precious lives.

P.S. I also like Mary Oliver's poem "Praying," and "I was Just Standing," another her poems about prayer. And Rumi's quotation: “There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground” from this poem

Friday, July 13, 2018

Annabella at 98

Most weeks, my partner Ann and I visit Annabella, who used to live two houses down and now lives in a group home for assisted living.  She lived in her home until last year, her 97th. Some days, even moments, she’s agitated and confused and others she’s fairly lucid, appreciative of her daughters and the workers and place where she’s staying. On these days, she’s reflective and funny. I have always loved her sense of humor. Monday was a lucid day, a day of much gratitude, and I want to share it with you before it gets lost in some cluttered drawer in my memory.
When we arrived, a white-haired woman in her late fifties was talking with her mother in the garden, and Ann stepped into the shade with them to say hello.
When Ann said, “Vicky?” the younger woman’s chin dropped and she nearly skipped around to hug Ann. Vicky and Ann knew one another when Vicky was in her twenties and was a good friend of one of Ann’s previous students. 
After introductions, Vicky shared with us what a caring group home this has been for her mother and how caring the owner was when Vicky’s partner’s mother had lived here and had to move to a group home in Canada for insurance reasons. The owner even flew with this woman to Canada!
As Ann and Vicky reconnected, I went inside to see Annabella. I wanted to be sure to catch her before her afternoon nap. (Ann and I have arrived too late twice and watched Annabella sleep in that green lazy boy chair in front of the mesmerizing television video of colorful fish swimming in and out of coral.)
Monday, Annabella sat at the first table I came to when I entered. She said she knew who I was immediately, but she worried about Ann. I tried to tell her about Vicky, but that was too complicated, so we agreed Ann was parking the car. 
When Ann joined us, Annabella told us how beautiful the flowers in the garden are. There were also blue and pink hydrangea blossoms on the table. “Beautiful,” she kept saying.
She also told us how nice it was to have four friends visit yesterday, and she agreed that her hair, which was short and curly, looks real nice. “I have good hair,” she said, something she’s said across the 22 years we’ve known her.
She told us about the women getting her up in the mornings for breakfast. She says, “Let me sleep a little longer!” but they lift her legs and make her rise. She was being funny about how stubborn she is in the mornings, and I heard the women in the kitchen talking and laughing about her rendition of their mornings.
At one point, Vicky walked behind Annabella and mouthed to Ann, “She’s a character.” Yes, she is. 
Another week a woman who’s 103 was sitting close to the television where we were. Annabella nodded her head towards this woman and said, “She’s been dead two days.” Another time she had gotten her hair done and thought she was at the beauty parlor. She looked at a bald man who sat in the room watching the fish swim, and she said, “I don’t know why he’s here. He doesn’t have any hair.”
She is definitely a character, and it is so nice to see her in these grateful, easy moments. Of course, it’s anyone’s guess what she’ll be like next week, but this week was lovely.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Fourth of July

I don't like the 4th of July: all that boisterous banging and war games rattles me, reminds me of how many kind and loving people love the bang of power. I also don't like the banging on New Year's Eve or the booming when the blue angels fly and refly over our home again and again at Seattle's Seafair. (My puppy doesn't like them either. I'm angry. She shivers.)

Having survived the 4th, I need to clear my mind, so I'm cleaning my desk. (I can now see the wood in one corner--I've been working on this about eight hours.)

I've come across some lovely quotations and poems in the process. They calm me. Maybe they will calm you, too:

“There are some things we learn on a stormy sea that we never learn on calm, smooth waters.”—Danny L. Deube

 "If you want to walk on water, you've got to get out of the boat."  --John Ortberg, Jr.  

Raise your words, not your voice.
It is rain that grows flowers,
Not thunder.

Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough. – Ernest Hemingway

“Let today be a day where you take nothing for granted.
For life is fleeting, fragile and precious and can change on a whim.
Say all the things you really want to say to your loved ones today,
say the things you would regret should they pass on and your words remain unspoken. Rejoice, for you and they are alive today …
and should you or them pass on to unknown shores,
rejoice even more for you have a wonderful love story to tell.”
– Jackson Kiddard
 “Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.” 
--Yoda in Attack of the Clones

“Luminous beings are we…not this crude matter.” 
--Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back

Thursday, June 28, 2018

I Sleep to Wake

Our puppy Dosey got me up at 6:30 yesterday morning and took me for a walk at 7 (a.m.!) I’ve never been a morning person, and this was the first time since brain surgery I’d seen the early side of the morning. It was lovely.

The sun had that soft morning glow, slanting over the horizon. The world smelled like dew. More bicyclists than cars went down the road. We walked for an hour but only passed three homes. This neighborhood wakes to sleep and takes its waking slow, like the poet Theodore Roethke and I do . 

I haven’t seen such a morning—or any morning—in such a long time. In the years before my first brain tumor, I set my alarm for 4 a.m. so I could be at the gym by 5:30, swim or lift weights, do a rushed yoga (not really the idea of yoga), and take a shower before heading to the high school where the first class I taught began at 7:25. I had to be there by 7 a.m. I drove fast. I never noticed the morning glow.

I sometimes experienced the morning after an all-nighter in college. I would write all night in Chambers, Davidson's central building, at a large table across from some guy with a day’s stubble drinking a giant Mountain Dew (I never needed any stimulant beyond my home-brewed anxiety). I generally finished my writing by dawn and walked across the small and lovely  campus as the morning’s pinks turned golden and birds sang from the trees, invisible to me but sweet in their serenades.

Except for these quiet mornings, from birth to brain tumors I was always busy, always moving fast. I remember saying there would be plenty of time for sleep after I died. In high school, one of they first poems I wrote in Ms. Smisson’s Creative Writing class was, “Too much to do and too little time: the complaint of a day, a year, a life.” 

As a teacher, I was always running around campus with papers to grade and class materials to Xerox. Sometimes, especially in the months before my first tumor was diagnosed, I would fall, snatching the papers, falling like leaves in the rain, and running on. 

In this post-brain tumor life, I have slowed down. Though my losses from these tumors have been hard, this slowing down has been one of the gifts. On yesterday's walk, Dosey and I would move forward a few steps as she sniffed the ground. Sometimes, a neighbor stopped to adore her (never me, mind you), and they’d continue quickly down the sidewalk. 

Dosey would sit in the sun, watching them go, checking out a big dog across the street or a bicyclist moving by, or wiggling her nose in the passing breeze. She would sit and I would stand with her for ten minutes at a stop before moving a few yards on. 

Never before my brain tumors would I have moved so slowly, not only because I was too busy but also because such slowing down is a different way of living altogether. Before these tumors, in some ways I would always wake to sleep. I still wake to sleep (After yesterday's walk, Ann took Dosey to the dog park, and I took a nap), but I also sleep to wake.

 It’s lovely waking to sleep and taking my waking slow. It’s also lovely to sleep to wake, still taking my waking slow. Slow:that's the key.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Sunny Skies and the Shadow

Wednesday night, my partner Ann and I went to James Taylor’s sold-out concert at Seattle’s Key Arena. The first concert I ever went to was a James Taylor concert in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 35 years ago. A lot has changed since then, and some is the same. 
Wed. night, JT opened with his hit, “Carolina in my Mind,” the same song he sang to close that first concert. I remember the University of North Carolina crowd going bonkers for that song. I was a teenager, and many in the audience were college students at “Carolina.” 
Least week, the concert’s crowd was older than that first one, so it went bonkers in its more subdued fashion: bald heads and grey hairs clapping and whistling ‘til we needed to refill our oxygen tanks (just an expression—I’m not using an oxygen tank).
Time’s passage seemed to be on JT’s mind, too. When he sang the song, “Down on Copper Line,” a nostalgic song about the changes to a childhood area, the image of a rusted railroad bridge was projected on the screen behind him. As the song progressed, images of ivy gradually crept over the bridge.
Singer-songwriter Bonnie Raitt was supposed to have opened the show, but she cancelled due to surgery for an “undisclosed illness.” A few songs into his second set, JT held up his phone and conducted us in a communal shout: “We love you, Bonnie!”
This aging crowd, many of us within a generation of JT (he’s 15 years and one day older than I am), understand illness and surgery and cancelling commitments we don’t want to cancel.
         I remember a Saturday Night Live skit where they took really happy songs, like James Brown’s “I Feel Good” and sang them in JT’s style. Everything sounded sad.
         The producer (or whoever makes such decisions) didn’t try to make some of the sad songs, like “Fire and Rain” happy. However, while he sang "Sunny Skies,"  another song he wrote when he was being treated for drug addiction and severe depression, the producer made the song seem happy by showing images of JT with his puppy. The video implied “Sunny Skies” was a very cute pug. This happiness is so off the song's story that it's weird.
         Though the music is upbeat, the lyrics are not. I believe the music is intended to be ironic, perhaps the voice of a musician who isn’t acknowledging the darkness in his life. The happy tune just makes the song sadder. 
         Last night as Ann and I left the stadium talking about the concert, I said, “My biggest surprise is that Sunny Skies is a dog.” 
Ann reminded me that just because they’d used images of a dog doesn’t mean Sunny Skies was a dog. “Remember James Taylor saying ‘That’s entertainment for you, Seattle.”
I thought about it more, and though I could make a lot of lines match the dog presentation, I couldn’t make sense of the line, “Sunny Skies hasn’t a friend.” After all, dogs make human and dog friends. That’s dogness. And in the video, JT clearly loved this pug. I therefore did what any curious researcher would do: I googled it,
Wikipedia confirmed my understanding of the poem’s darkness.  So now the question is, why did the producer decide to make such a sad song seem so happy? I don’t think the producer misunderstood the song. Maybe he was trying to “take a sad song and make it better.” Maybe that producer is too much a part of this culture, too afraid to face the darkness.
I’ve been reading Francis Weller and Michael Lerner’s The Wild Edge of Sorrow and yesterday focused on “the second gate of grief.” This section includes the assertion, “It is important to look into the shadows of our lives and to see who lives there, tattered, withered, hungry, and alone.” This assertion runs counter to the puppy video.
In The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu discuss sadness and concur about its importance in our lives. The Archbishop Says, “I cry easily…. I suppose I love easily, too…. Shout out your sadness and your pain. This can bring you back to normal. It’s locking them up and pretending that they are not there that causes them to fester and become a wound." 
I have been thinking about sadness and my losses from brain tumors lately. I’m writing a memoir, and in the past month, my writing group has read the first two chapters. In those opening chapters, I receive my diagnosis and am surprised I don’t sink into depression. Instead, I feel especially grateful for the many gifts in my life. 
Group members who have responded are clear that, as one has said several times, “The lady doth protest too much.” One of their group members died from a brain tumor not long ago, before I joined them. Most of them are older than I am. Each of them must have experienced the shadow. Essentially, they tell me not to deny the shadow, but to look at it and write about it.
Perhaps they are right and I need to look at this darkness. Or perhaps in hearing the possibility of my own death, I also hear more distinctly my life’s gifts. 
I don’t know. The famous cartoon fish Nemo just had to “Keep swimmin’." Perhaps I just need to keep writin’ in order to discover what I think and feel, what I thought and felt.