A Photograph of me without me in it

A Photograph of me without me in it
A photograph of me without me in it

Sunday, December 19, 2010

P. S. 20 The Principal's Office

Yesterday I spent twenty minutes in the high school principal's office for a meeting. (I wasn't in trouble.) In that time, one student was taken away in handcuffs in an ambulence, a teacher submitted a referral because a student set off a fire-cracker during class, and two boys received their sentences for vandalising the boys' bathroom.

Last week two students were sent home for having sex in the hall. Apparently, the students were out of class without a pass. This is unacceptable.

A friend, a previous princpal, told me of another day in the principa'ls office in a school where the security officers had chided the school administrators for their clumsiness with students using drugs. The officers brought in a student whom they had captured with his bong. As one security officer further scolded the administrators for their ineptitude, the student slipped away, somehow recapturing his bong before he left.

The year after my surgery, I completed the university program for school administrators. I'm guessing I won't ever get to be a principal, but I admire them.

What do principals do all day? In addition to managing surprising situations like those above, they are the school's visionary, a manager, and a go-between. And they have to think about what they're wearing when they go to the grocery store. Wow.

P. S. 21 Hocus Pocus Act Two

During hocus pocus (my name for the naturopathic allergy treatment I'm going through), my eating is severely curtailed. I can't eat or be within ten feet of the allergen or its relatives for 25 hours after treatment.

Yesterday I was treated for B complex, so for breakfast this morning I had rice with salt and pepper, and for lunch I'll have spaghetti noodles with salt and pepper. To drink: purified water. We put all five leaves in the table and sat at opposite ends so that Ann could eat something more hearty and still be in the same room. We looked kind of like Incrediboy and his sexy woman in The Incredibles. I have to avoid plants, flowers, and walking through the garden. Fortunately, no one sent me roses today like they usually do.

In the upcoming week, I'll be treated for sugar. Eating shouldn't be too bad, but I can't use my toothpaste. I ca't even go into a room with toothpaste. Fair warning.

Fortunately, I won't have to be treated for minerals. For 25 hours someone being treated for minerals can't eat meat, tofu, fish, chicken, vegetables, fruits, or grains to name a few things. They must wash their hair with purified water. I don't know if they can use soap or shampoo. Probably not.

A few weeks ago I was treated for egg allergies. I couldn't eat eggs or anything with eggs in them, and I couldn't eat or touch anything from the egg family, like chicken or feathers. Feather pillows were stacked in the back room: off-limits.

Last week I was treated for iron, which meant I had to wear gloves to hold onto our wrought-iron handrail, and I couldn't sit on our leather furniture or wear my leather coat, gloves, shoes or belts. Since I've lost so much weight, my britches were falling down all day: sagging, and not in that good way. I finally folded over the waistband to hold my britches up: geeky in an appropriately adult way.

These treatments, in combination with severe allergies to garlic, chocolate and cheddar, are for sure keeping my weight down. If you're interested in this diet, I think you'll need to have the piggy flu, pneumonia, and radiation simultaneously. Then you'll need to avoid essential foods like chocolate and cheetos and anything you can get off the menu in any restaurant. It'll be a blast.

The thing is, this hocus pocus seems to be working. If you're interested in finding out about it, other people call it NAET. I've forgtten what it stands for. Maybe Naturopathic Allergen Eradication Treatment.

Even if you don't have allergies, you could just choose some basic ingredient like salt or water to imagine you can't eat or drink. Avoid them. Tell waiters and waitresses in restaurants that you'll get violently ill if you ingest either one of them. You'll get to talk to the chef. They may make you something special, or they may feed you very dry, saltless food. I feel pretty sure you'll lose weight.

I hear that people who publish diets that become fads make a lot of money. Perhaps this diet beginning with piggy flu, pneumonia and radiation could fund my retirement. That would be yet another benefit of brain tumors. Those benefits just keep piling up.

P. S. 22 Tumor Humor

The online ependymoma support group that I belong to is generally not a humorous place to be, but every now and then it is.

Today, our leader Bruce posted a note about his anxiety about new symptoms and an upcoming MRI. One well-wisher reminded him not to do any welding. This may be an inside joke.  "Are you a welder?" is a question the technicians always ask before they'll do an MRI. Apparently, welders tend to get metal fragments in their heads, and those of us getting MRIs can't even wear a bra with clasps or a pair of earrings. (Somehow I suspect those limitations don't affect Bruce.) Metal in the head is definitely against the rules. I"m not sure if we'd catch on fire, but maybe. I"m imagining alluminum foil in the microwave.

Bruce is also struggling with his memory, so today he told this story: "Friday was my 28th wedding anniversary (Thanks!). I bought and presented my wife with a nice gold heart shaped necklace with small diamonds.She thanked me for it - then told me I had given her the same thing three years ago!!! I'll probably give her the same thing next year."

Another writer, Amy, is also having memory issues, so she's going  to make herself some shirts in honor of her short term memory issue, one shirt for every day:

1) And you are...?
2) Don't ask. I won't know.
3) Someone tell me how to get home so I can write it on my hand.
4) Wait. What?
5) It was so nice. I'll do it twice.
6) Let's see 2009, 2010...?
7) Don't tell me you forget things, too, whomever you are.

Amy also posted that she is now taking four new medications, noting, "That's annoying." I think of fleas and yippee attack dogs as annoying. I've never thought of my brain tumors or their inconveniences as annoying. I like that: a much more understated description than "tragic" or "terrifying."

In case you don't know and would like to know, tumors being "annoying is an example of a litote, the opposite of hyperbole. That's the sort of thing us English majors know. (If you were an English major, or if you are an English teacher, you will also understand the grammar humor here.) In fact, any time there's an error in this blog, it's really a joke that you just don't get yet. Sort of like Joyce's missing passages in Ulysses. Actually, just like that.

Mary, right?

P. S. 23 Extra Ordinary

One great gift of teaching high school for so many years is that I have gotten to know some extraordinary young people and have watched some  take on stunning challenges with elegance and grace. These students inspire me. I'm going to briefly share their stories here so that you can be inspired, too, but I'm going to make up names for  them so that I don't accidentally reveal something that might make trouble for them.

Delphia came to my ninth grade English class intermittently. When she was there, she was polite and seemed engaged, and she was clearly smart. Because she missed school so often, however, I worried about whether she was in fact engaged in the class and about what might be keeping her from class.

I called Delpia's mom, who came immediately to the school. Delphia's mom speaks no English and my Spanish isn't so good, but we muddlied through the conversation. At some point, Delphia came into the office where her mom and I were talking and was clearly angry that I had called her mom. I blanked on the word "worried" and asked Delphia how to say it. "I don't speak Spanish," she told me.

As the year continued, Dellphia began to see education as a way to have a different life than her mother had, and I got to know her better. I learned about her previous schooling. Delpia had received good grades but had sporadic attendance in middle school, and while in middle school she got involved in drugs and gangs. Sometimes in high school when she came to school quite late in the day, a cute boy in a green Chevrolet four-door dropped her off.

Delphia's mom, who was clearly quite smart and driven to care for her children, had a second grade education in Mexico and worked menial jobs in the United States. Depending on men to support her, she had been married three times and had been abused but had felt trapped in those relationships.

Delphia met a mentor, a student who had been much like her and was now starting college. Delphia's grades slowly rose from Fs and Ds to As and Bs. During high school, she became politically active in Latina education at the state level and in leadership, especially for Latino students and their families, at the school. Delphia began to see her own future as a college graduate, a lawyer working on behalf of immigrants. She received a full undergraduate scholarship to the University, where she is now.

Another student, Herman, attended a suburban high school of generally economically priviledged students. In my sophomore English class, Herman was more cynical than any sophomore I had previously met. (That's saying a lot.) He never engaged in his education that year or saw any reason for hope. At home, his stepfather had kicked him out of the house, and Herman lived in a trailer in the yard. I don't think he had heat. He often came to school wrinkled and weary. I sought help from counselors  and social workers for him, but nothing really helped. He dropped out, and I lost touch with him.

Years later, walking down a Seattle sidewalk, I saw Herman begging for money to get some drugs to celebrate his twenty-first birthday. I tried not to catch his eye--I told myself that I didn't want to embarrass him. In another few years I saw him on that street again, this time already high. Eyes bloodshot and hyper, he seemed delighted when he saw me, exclaiming, "I know you! I never forget a face!"

Fastforward another few years to the last two times I saw him on that same sidewalk. These times, however, he was clean and walked with purpose. He slowed to tell me his story. He had gotten clearn and sober and was now in college getting As and Bs.

Though I had been unable to serve this student, he had survived a tough life, and it seemed was on a much better path now. It seems he found his way. I have again lost touch with him. He seems to no longer frequent that sidewalk.

Ann's student Michael attended high school in that same suburb. One of the "lost boys" of the Sudan, he had walked across the Sudan twice, seeking refuge from the violence of the civil war and the wild animals and brutal landscape that killed his family and many of his friends. Adopted by a middle-class family in this mostly white suburb, Michael took on a new journey, learning English and learning how to do school and finding through his charm and kindness the resources he needed to succeed, in the end attending college as well.

Ann's current student, Agituu, a high school junior from Oroma in Southern Ethopia came to the United States when she was in sixth grade. She spoke no English and had never been to school, though a family friend and taught her to read and write in Oromo. A volunteer at her public middle school noticed her drive and her brilliance  and helped her apply for a scholarship to a private school where she could get the support she needed to fulfill a dream of college success. She's learned to speak English fluently and along with her classmates reads and writes about classic texts like The Odyssey.  Through her determination, she seeks out teachers who will support her learning. She is going to graduate from this challenging school and head on to college with the skills and determination to be successful in her dream of helping other children who are like she was: perhaps being a doctor who returns to her childhood home in Southern Ethiopia to serve children who are as in need as she was or educating "one thousand children."

The final student I'll tell you about, Hermione, grew up in an upper middle-class home in that same suburb. When I taught her as a junior, her writing was not as strong as she wanted it to be. For months after her Scarlet Letter essay had been returned with its grade, she revised the essay not for a grade but so that she would learn to write as well as she wished. She was (and is) beautiful, socially graceful, musically and academically talented.

In college, Hermione first wanted to major in social work. Her father disapproved:. something more financially rewarding was more what he had in mind. She graduated from college a decade ago with an education degree and has been working in a charter school for students who struggle, most of whom are poor and African-American. Next year, she's hoping to go to graduate school to learn more about literacy.

Hermione wants to help students who struggle learn the key skill of reading. In her, I see much of my younger self, someone who grew up in privilege and uses that privilege to work for those without such advantages. She is joyful and committed and is making, I feel sure, a real difference in the lives of students who need someone like her to believe that they are important.

I have a whole list of students in my mind. I could tell you inspiring stories all day. The great gift of teaching such students is the gift of being a witness to such determination, spirit, and hope.

In these budget crisis days, I hope that we won't cut off this important source of our hope. These students need us, and we need them. Mary

P. S. 24 Everyday Poetry

I first went to Ireland twenty-five years ago because I had read James Joyce and had been to quite a few poetry readings at my small-town college, and most of the poets were from Ireland. I wondered if people spoke poetry on Dublin's street corners. They do.

In North Carolina where I'm from, and in Dallas, where I once lived, poetry with an accent is shouted from  from the front porches.

Even here in grey Seattle, where folks think they don't have an accent, everyday poetry is everywhere. Poetry, I"m concluding, its sensibility and grace and delight in the word and in the world, must be part of the human spirit, part of the essence of what it means to be human. I'll share with you some of the poetry I've heard lately, and you'll have to agree:

"Being nekkid is okay when it's your toes, but it's another thing when it's your hooha" (my naturopath to me when I asked about the blinds being closed. Please note that it was neither my toes nor my hooha that were being referenced).
"You never spoke about me the way you spoke about mountains" (a colleague to her husband).
"Sometimes you're the pigeon and sometimes you're the statue" (faculty restroom door).
"So sometimes your hand just goes catyywompus?" (my nurse practitioner about the tremor in my hand).
"He's clean" (one hip high school freshman, commenting admiringly on another not-so-hip student's new purple shoes).
"His swag is old school" (one high school student commenting on an 18th century writer's style. My colleague Sarah G. taught me that "swagger," a noun, is teenspeak for "style," and that swagger goes beyond clothes to envelop concepts of originality, personality, and confidence.)

There's poetry in everyday speech, in teenspeak (which is different than everyday speech), in the mountains, in roses, and in graffiti. There's poetry everywhere, so long as we stop and notice, which is what poetry is about. It's not so much about words. It's about slowing down and noticing.

Thus ends today's lesson from the Blog of Mary.

P. S. 25 The Climax

I don't know what you're expecting, but this blog is g-rated, and this entry is about eating a chocolate chip cookie after nine months of avoiding chocolate because of food allergies.

Last night I had my first taste of chocolate in nine months, and I didn't get sick. Hocus Pocus seems to be working. I had one of Ann's chocolate chip cookies. What did it taste like? Like the earliest hillsides of avalance lillies in the spring. Like the first pounding rain of El Salvador's rainy season. Like a baby's first smile. I was going to say like a rose in the winter, but it's not so cliche as that. More like fireworks. Or like a daffodil blooming in the snow.

Really. It was that good.

I hope the treatments for garlic and cheddar work as well. I'm looking forward to ordering off the menu again and to licking that orange Cheeto powder off of my fingers. Finger-lickin'good.


P. S. 26 The Winter Solstice

Every year we celebrate light in the darkness with a solstice party. We decorate our home with lights and candles and the season's religious symbols from various faiths, and we invite the same twelve people every year to join us.

The celebration is sort of like the movie Same Time Next Year except that there is no Alan Alda and as far as I know there is no sex. Our friends who see one another only this once a year quickly move into in-depth conversations about the state of their lives and their spirits.

We are a mix of faiths, occupations, gay and straight, ranging in age from 44 to 66. We are a diverse group in some ways, but last night ten of the twelve of us were wearing the same brand of socks: Smart Wool. Two pairs of those who attended wore matching patterns.

I think SmartWool socks also tend to be worn by those who are politically liberal. I'm pretty sure no one there is a Republican or a Tea Party member. In some ways, we are a diverse crowd, but in others not so much. We mostly wear the same socks, for example. Each of us would describe ourselves as politically liberal. We are all women, and I'm pretty sure we all listen to NPR.

I think it's important to understand perspectives of people much different than I am, but I don't often seek them out. When I lived in Dallas, I would watch tele-evangelists on the t.v. from time to time, usually after "This Week with David Brinkley." I realize I still generally seek out other perspectives when it's safe and convenient.

Today in the doctor's office I read an article in People magazine about the Palins. This is my somewhat weak attempt to understand popular culture, but both People magazine and the public's apparent fascination with Sarah Palin astonish me. I feel more befuddled after reading the article than I did before.

Sarah Palin shoots a gun and teaches her daughter to shoot one. The magazine had photographs of this, and this I understand. She's aligning herself with the NRA, and at the same time she's challenging the perception that those who shoot guns are men. Besides, shooting a gun with accuracy is fun. Back in the day, I shot at targets. I was a pretty good shot.

Where the Sarah Palin phenomenon gets a little weird to me, is where she and her family are on a reality t.v. show: she, her husband, and all of their kids, including one who has Down's syndrome, and adding in a grandchild. Her family's on display. I understand that much of popular culture watches these reality shows, but doesn't the whole drama seem a bit undignified? And does it not it appeal to voyeurism? Somehow I associate prudishness with the right, so this gaudy self-revelation doeswn't fit my understanding of the right.

The Palins take ten percent tithing literally and identify as Christians, but Sarah Palin never attended a specific church. Now, mind you, I admire her tithing, and the lack of a specific church affilation seems lonely but doesn't bother me. Still, I'm surprised her religious independence plays well with the right.

I certainly acknowledge that my research has been shallow. I'm not sure how to understand this Palin phenenon. The conservative journalist George Will I understand, and I always hated it that the most intellectual voice on This Week was the Republican's voice, but at least he helped me understand and respect another perspective. He and I have similar values in some ways. We both value informed opinions, articulate logic, and a respectful sense that one is listening to those who disagree.

George Will has always seemed like someone with an informed and considered opinion. Sarah Palin, on the other hand, seems to argue  that being informed isn't important for public officials. Being one of the guys, especially a beautiful one with spunk and a good shot, seems to be what's important. It's not so much that I don't understand Sarah Palin. It's that I don't understand those who follow her.

I am more perplexed about the Sarah Palin phenomenon now than I was before reading that People magazine article. I want to understand, but I doubt next year's Solstiec Party wsill include anyone wearing Tea Party socks. I wonder if people in the Tea Party wear a common sock: maybe red, white and blue with a made in the U.S.A. tag. That would reaffirm my apparently uninformed stereotype.


P. S. 27 You have termites in your smile.

The Grinch, Dr. Seuss's story of a lonely abusive monster whose heart grows three sizes when he learns that money is not at the heart of Christmas, is on pay-per-view. Do you find this as ironic as I do?

Mahalia Jackson, The Grinch, and egg nog have been for me central to preparing for Christmas for as long as I can remember--until The Grinch went pay-per-view last year. The irony overwhelms me. On principle, I just cannot pay for The Grinch. I purchased the movie on VHS and again on DVD, but that was for my convenience. I and all the children in the country could at that time still watch the classic for free on t.v. The decision to go pay-per-view with this movie seems so wrong to me.

Fortunately, even in the corporate world of cartoons, miracles still happen. When we couldn't record The Grinch because we hadn't paid for it, we watched the high school drama"Glee" instead--the episode in which Sue plays the grinch. Thus we saw the little Cindy Lou Who and heard the Whos singing despite the shinnanigans of corporate types.

Back to Joyful, Joyful.


P.S. 28 Do not mail list

I would like legislation for a Do Not Mail list akin to the Do Not Call legislation. I just entered the information on 94 catalogs--that I received in the mail--into a website designed to allow a person to request not to receive a catalog.

Isn't there a recession and don't these catalogs cost a lot to make and mail? Isn't there a lot of talk about needing to protect the environment? According to the website, catalogchoice.com, I saved four trees today. Really, those companies wasted four trees by sending me catalogs I didn't want and didn't ask for.

If men went through the mail as much as women do, we'd have a Do Not Mail list. Okay, women. This is a bi-partison issue we can take on. Let's do it. mary

P. S. 29 Rough Year

In one of my favorite scenes in the movie Arthur, the young and somewhat drunken Arthur enters the study of his powerful, wealthy father-in-law not-to-be and waits in a dark, manly study. Mounted heads of elk and moose adorn the walls, and Arthur says, almost to himself, "Rough room." Then, as if he's been rude to the moose head hovering over him, he says almost apologetically, "I guess I don't have to tell you that."

In my community, it's been a rough year: one broken clavicle, one punctured lung, seven broken ribs (clavicle, lung and ribs all belong to our neighbor Andrew), one broken hip, three separations and two divorces, three new tumors, three deaths; six women have moved their mothers into assisted living, and an older friend of ours has moved in and out of assisted living. Rough year.

It has in some ways been a year of loss. Kari, Katie F., Pea, my new friend Toby and I have lost a combined 160 pounds. I, along with others being treated for tumors or just those who are aging , lost a bit of hair. My eyes are more crossed; my balance is worse; I have a new tremor in my left hand and a different one in my right hand. There has been the grief in loss of people we love and ways of being in the world that are no longer. There is with me a new sense of vulnerability.

My naturopath told me yesterday that I seem to be one of those "the glass is half-full" people. Actually, I may be more along the lines of "my cup runneth over but the water source may run dry any minute now." In this time of loss and in the, perhaps ironic, sense of gratitude that I've had through this whole experience with tumors, I have found a soulmate in the Romantic poet William Wordsworth.

The closing of Wordsworth's "Intimations of Immortality" reminds me of the miracle that remains, of the joy in living even in--and maybe especially in--times of loss, the power of natural beauty to overwhelm me with a sense of this miracle that is living. Wordsworth writes:

The innocent brightness of a new-born Day
Is lovely yet; The clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober colouring from an eye
That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

In this new year, I'll resolve to keep crying about mean flowers. You do too.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

P.S. 19 Giving Thanks

Ann and I spent Thanksgiving with "The Nitwits" in a kind of cross between "Eight is Enough" and The Big Chill. Initiated, as I understand, by three college friends from Iowa, the group--from Seattle and Chicago and Santa Fe and San Francisco and so forth, has been celebrating their changing lives together for about 25 years.

This year there were 22 of us around a large table for dinner in The Big House (on Big House Road) in Cle Ellem, Washington, just down the road from Rosyln, where "Northern Exposure" was filmed. Most folks were in their fifties, I'd guess, though Bucky and his friend David are teenagers. At 46 years of age, I got called "Kid" a few times. I liked that.

After our drive across a snowy pass, we arrived at The Big House, and I went directly to sit by the fire, where fortunately Pat noticed that I was smoking, or at least my leather coat was. Now my coat's left shoulder has that wrinkled newspaper look that I love. Character. Ann will make me get a new one--also called a Christmas gift. She doesn't like the fact that the lining is coming out or that the back seam has unravelled either.

For the weekend, as far as I could tell, there weren't really assignments, but everyone pitched in to help. There was always someone eating and someone cleaning, always a group playing a game like Dominoes or Taboo and someone pretending to read on the couch, generally someone was in the hottub and someone was on a walk in the winter wonderland. I was doing an experiment and not taking my adrenelaine stimulant, so I was generally napping, but I don't think I was the only one.

Between naps, my new friend Toby and I talked a lot about life after tumors and surgeries and radiation. He had chemo, too, which I didn't have. My first tumor, in the fourth ventrical of my brain, was diagosed about three years ago and my second, also in my fourth ventrical, was diagnosed last year. Toby's first tumor, in his throat, was diagnosed two years ago, and, about six weeks after surgery, he had fifteen more throat tumors. That's a significant tumor to throat ratio. I haven't talked with anyone else who has had a similar experience, so his openness to me was a real gift.

Toby looks great. If you didn't know he had been so sick, you wouldn't guess it. He's running a couple of miles a day now and looks fit. His longish hair is pulled into a ponytail and his skin has the look of someone who has spent some days at his ranch riding horses. We've had some similar struggles, though. He talked about how tired he has been, about losing sixty pounds, about hand tremors, and about learning about what he called "the new normal."

This Thanksgiving, I am as always grateful for my partner and family, long-time friends, my work, my spiritual community and my online community (viewers like you). I am also thankful for new friends and the new normal, whatever it may be.


Monday, November 22, 2010

P.S. 18 My Mom Wouldn't Like It

My sister, my partner and my mother have all been absorbed in the popular novels about the girl who got a tattoo of a hornet and then kicked the bucket. I thought about reading them, but my sister says they're too mainstream for me. I suppose my streams are tributaries. I know they're not creeks, but I guess they'r not rivers either.
Children's Books:
Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham: Pure poetry. I love everything about this book, but especially that the narrator never has a name and that Sam is called "Sam-I-Am." My mom's nickname is Sam. I'll bet she likes this book.
Williams' Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Hillarious. This dramatic pigeon really wants to drive a school bus, but the driver has denied the pigeon's dream. My favorite line: "Pigeons have dreams, too." The drawings are hilarious, too. My seven year-old niece Lucie prefers its sequel, The Pigeon Gets a Puppy because there are two characters featured.

As I draft my fiction list, I realize that plot is not central for me. Action and adventure is not my genre. I'm drawn to themes and concepts, to lyrical and humorous styles, to multiple perspectives. Mom does not like any of the books I read, and you might not either, so if your taste runs more in her direction, I've noted from time to time her take on a work.
Melville's Moby Dick: Some people say this novel is a lot of pages about a whale, but it's beautifully lyrical, and it's really about perception and madness. And whaling. My favorite scene is the scene where Pip is thrown from the boat and realizes his smallness as he waits in the ocean's wide expanse, hoping that his ship will return for him. My mom would not like this book.
Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible: In this story of a mother and her girls who follow their crazy father-figure into Africa as missionaries, the family is doomed in their mission from the start. Chapters rotate through a series of narrators, each a different, wholly unique voice. My mom might like this book, as it is the saga of family, but she probably would not like it as there are a lot of narrators.
Vargas Llosa's The Storyteller Vargos Llosa's lyrical novel tells the story of a Peruvian ex-patriot imagining the life of a childhood friend, whose picture as a tribal storyteller now hangs in an Italian art museum. About the mythical role of the story teller in this Peruvian tribe, the story is itself masterfully told. The storyteller's line, "That, anyway, is what I have learned" weaves through the storyteller's sections much like Vonnegut's "And so it goes." My mom really didn't like this book.
O'Brien's The Things They Carried: This semi-autobiographical novel tells stories of the character Tim O'Brien's experiences before, during, and after the Vietnam War, so it's a war story, but it's also a story that explores the tangled relationship between life and art. I suspect Mom wouldn't like this one either.

In nonfiction, I prefer a narrative that, much like cultural travel, introduces me to a world new to me and the perspectives of those who live there.
Ambrose's Undaunted Courage: What would it have been like to cross this North American continent without maps or guides but armed only with a vision and the the nineteenth-century mythology of "the American west?" This question fascinates me (partly because I'm quite sure I would have stayed on the East Coast, or in England, by the fire), so I loved Androse's narrative about Meriwether Lewis's journey to and from the Pacific Ocean. Mom might even like it. 
Feinberg'a Eighty-Sixed: The first book I read about the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic in America and those affected at that time, this book placed me in the land of disease, a land I really knew little about, in my own country and in my own time.
Thorpe's Just Like Us: Thorpe, a journalist and wife of the then mayor of Denver, follows four Latina girls, bright best friends, through their high school and college years, seeking to understand the different experiences between the two girls who are legal citizens and the two who are not. Thorpe restrains herself from making an argument and instead asks tough questions about policy concerning illegal immigrants to the United States as she writes a compassionate narrative.
Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea: Mortenson humbly tells his journey of a small Pakistani village that saved him when he got lost descending K2 and of his own journey to build schools first in that village and then throughout Pakistan. It's a story of building peace by building schools. Mom would like this one.
Sedaris's Me Talk Pretty One Day: I read much of this book on a plane, and I'm pretty sure my fellow passengers found me annoying and perhaps a little crazy as I hee-hawed my way, delighted, through Sedaris's essays. Everybody likes David Sedaris.
Rodriguez's Always Running: Rodriguez began this memoir when he was a teenager deeply entwined in gang life and finished it when his own son got involved in gangs. Though Rodriguez was unable to convince his son, who is now in prison for life for murder, to leave the gang life, many of my Latino teenagers read it, at least one freshman with teary eyes, explaining, "I want to learn how he got out."

JK Rowling's Harry Potter series: The reader narrates the voices and the magic of Harry Potter's world in a voice that I adopt as my own internal reader. My mom likes these books, and the action and adventure narrative helps me follow the story aurally.
Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love: Gilbert narrates her own memoir, which chronicles her journey through three countries that begin with I, Italy ("Eat"), India ("Pray"), and Indonesia ("Love"), a journey of re-discovering herself and of healing from a divorce. A favorite line is from a Texas friend she meets at the Ashram in India who calls her, "Groceries."

In poetry, I am a Romantic, not so much of the kiss-kiss type, but of the "birds and leaves stir my soul."

Mary Oliver's New and Selected Poems: A contemporary Romantic, Mary Oliver explores the spirit through her connection to nature. Her poetry is lyrical, humorous, and accessible. Mom might even like her poetry.
Toomer's Cane : Every Southerner or person who finds the American South's culture compelling should read this collection of poems, character sketches and vignettes. Written in 1923, the novel influenced Southern Renaissance writers. It's not really a novel and not completely a collection of poems, but in its lyricism, its unifying theme rather than plot and rich imagery it is poem-like.
T.S. Elliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock": In addition to the poem's many quotable lines, ("Let us go then, you and I" and "I shall wear white flannel trousers / and walk upon the beach."), this poem is a character study of a man entering middle age who struggles with a kind of emotional paralysis, a sense of being lost in the world. My high school juniors and seniors tended to connect with this poem.
Donne's "The Sun Rising": A lovely poem in which a man first insults the sun, which wakens him from his sleep with the woman he loves, and then feels a compassion for the sun's age and work in a world where the narrator gets to experience such tremendous love.
ee cummings' "Somewhere I Have Never Travelled, Beyond" and "One Leaf Falls": Some literary types criticize cummings for what they say is his gimmicky use of punctuation, but I find his images compelling. In "Somewhere I Have Never Travelled, Beyond," a lyrical love poem to an infant, cummings writes, "Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands." Long Ago, a student introduced me to this poem. In "One Leaf Falls," the words divide into repetions of "one" and the poem falls vertically as a leaf, both visual images of loneliness, as  the poems few words describe.
Whitman's "Song of Myself", a poem where, in section six, a child comes to the narrator with a handfull of grass, asking, "What is the grass?" and the narrator explores the question through a series of hypotheses, concluding, "Death is different than anyone supposed--and luckier."
Dickenson's "I Felt a Funeral in My Brain": Some literary textbook writers who don't know enough about the expansive nature of poetry interpret this poem as the story of a bad headache, or of a fall into madness, which is closer, but it's really the story of a narrator falling into wisdom, into a new world of understanding: "And then a plank in reason broke, / And I fell down and down./ And hit a world at every turn,/ And finished knowing--then--"

I love music lyrical in its words and harmonic in its sounds.
Simon and Garfunkel, especially the album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme and the tracks, "Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall" and "Feelin' Groovy."
James Taylor, especially the album J.T. and the tracks "Fire and Rain," "Damn This Traffic Jam," and "Gone to Carolina in my Mind."
The Dixie Chicks, especially the albums Wide Open Spaces and Top of the World and the tracks "Thank Heavens for Dale Evans" (from the oringinal Dixie Chicks), "Wide Open Spaces," and "Not Ready to Make Nice."
The Indigo Girls, especially the album Nomads, Indians, Saints and the tracks "Southland in the Springtime" and "Power of Two."

Sophie's Choice: My introduction to the young Meryl Streep through the painful life of a Jewish mother in Nazi Germany, who must choose between her two children as she enters a concentration camp. My dad, in an attempt to convince me and my siblings that he loves us all equally, says he would have to say, "Take 'em all! I can't choose!" I think this was meant to be comforting to us.
Innocent Voices: This visually luscious memoir reveals El Salvador in war from the perspective of a child who survived it. It's beautiful and painful and disempowers abstract arguments for war in the unfolding of war's effects on a child.
Monry Python and the Holy Grail: A series of British comedy skits woven around the theme of the search for the holy grail. The classic lines, "She's a witch!", "Run away!", and "I'm not dead yet!" might be funny to you if you get in the spirit of this classic. My mom did not like this movie, which she calls, "That silly movie with the coconuts."
Cold Comfort Farm: This satire on the myth of rural innocence tells the story of a young (and beautiful, of couse) orphan--a city girl--who arrives at her adoptive relatives' rural home and is corrupted by the new country life. My favorite line in this movie: "There's something nasty in the woodshed."
Apocalypse Now: Conrad's Heart of Darkness set in the Vietnam War, this movie, like Conrad's story, explores the darkness of invaders as well as inhabitants. It's not cheerful, but it's powerful.
The Incredibles: This animated film is witty. You might mistake it for an action and adventure piece, and maybe it is, but it's the characters, their imaginative superpowers, and their clever lines that make this film a favorite.
O Brother Where Art Thou? Homer's Odyssey set in the 1930s, featuring three men who escape from prison and the music of Alison Krauss. The best line, "We thought you was a toad!"
Run, Lola, Run: This movie replays the same scene again and again, where a chance encounter, like a car entering the street from an alley, changes lives. The movie is about the randomness of our lives, the little control we have over our own context.

This feast of art is making me hungry. Off to lunch. Mary

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

P.S. 17 Words, words, words

Sarah Palin coined "refudiate," the 2010 word of the year. I wonder if she knows the word "malaprop." Oxford University Press has defined the word refudiate as a verb “used loosely to mean ‘reject’.” Somehow, I suspect she meant "repudiate." Just one letter off, after all. She probAbly confused repudiate with a similar Russian word, which she heard frrom her front porch.

I like some of the other contenders better. Waywordradio.org reports that "mama grizzly", "starwhacker", "vuvuzela" and "meme" were other possibilities. I like "immappacy", which is formed by analogy with “innumeracy,” and means the inability to understand maps. I wonder what the word for the tendency to get lost even with a map is.

You may not know that "Mama Grizzly" is the name of Sarah Palin's reality t.v. show. According to newsweek.com, "A mama grizzly is a conservative woman with 'common sense,' as Sarah Palin puts it, someone who 'rises up' to protect her children when she sees them endangered by bad policies in Washington. She is fearless, and that, in combination with her femaleness, makes her scary—a new kind of political predator. She will take on any foe and, the implication is, rip him or her to shreds."

I can't figure out what a starwhacker is, but I found contexts on the innernets that suggest that it has to do with computers, private body parts, and violence. There's a whole site called "Starwhacker," and all the people there seem to know what it is, but I don't want to spend my time there.

"Vuvuzela", the famous South African blowing horn, seems to be a more g-rated andl lyrical word.

Grant Barrett on his site livejournal.com explains that the word "meme" was coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. The word seems to mean Internet phenomena like viral videos, image macros, catchphrases, and web celebs. Or maybe starwhackers.

Grant talks about another “Word of the Year” contender, "Obamacare". I am guessing the word has a negative connotation, which reminds me of the first Bush's ability to turn the word "do-gooder" into an insult. This seemed ironic to me since he also hallucinated about "a thousand points of light." I think those thousand points of light were do-gooders. I would like to be a do-gooder, and I appreciate "Obamacare."

I love words. Some of my favorites are "balloon" (a very happy word), "conundrum" (I remeber fondly the Dublin cabdriver who used "conundrum" repeatedly in our ride from the airport--he was a poet and a philosopher), and "dappled" (my favorite word in 9th grade--I haven't grown up much, I guess). I also like the word "Oregano", which is why it was our dog Tripper's middle name. (He was called Tripper because as a puppy he would hump our legs, tripping us as we walked. Not so poetic, maybe. ) I also like the words "nasty" and "tasty".

I've been asking friends about this, and they roll their eyes, then immediately know a word or two. Pea likes "damper", an excellent word. Chris has two good ones: "petticoat" and "blink". Jane has a lot of good ones, like "expeditious", "cacophony", "purple", "Oskaloosa" (her home town) and "lavender". She also like words that make her laugh, like "rubber" and "trick" (she says she was thinking of bridge.) Carrie likes "yogurt", "sunshine", "beep", "doodle", and "ostensibly", all excellent words. My mom likes "fiddlesticks", which is her favorite four-letter word and "abide" as in "I cannot abide that man."

There are also nasty words, like "puce" (that's the worst) and "vomit" (nasty word even if you didn't know what it meant.) Carrie dislikes "slacks", "backpack", "chick", and "felt". I dare you to write a sentence with all those nasty words in it.

Jane says she doesn't like words that have unpleasant sounds like "petunia" or "wash".

Jane also thought of a new category: names. She wrote, "There are some names that I won’t say I don’t like, exactly, but that I sure am glad my parents didn’t name me: Donald, Matilda, Geoffrey (though I do like Jeffrey), Lois, Myrtle !!, Gertrude !!!, George, Celia, Petunia, Candy, Penny, Theodora, Gordon (which was ALMOST the name of my youngest grandson, but I saved him from that fate eight days after he was born, two hours before his bris. Someday he will be properly grateful.) I want any readers to know that none of my prejudices about names were formed by knowing someone by that name. I just don’t like the sound. I have known people I liked a lot by most of those names."

I would add "Dick" to that list of undesirable names. It just makes me uncomfortable.

"Smegma" made Jane's list of words she likes AND words she doesn't like. "Smegma" seems to be on her mind. When I was first teaching,  a group of freshman boys kept calling each other "Smegma." I made them look it up in the dictionary. After that, they came in from lunch every day to look words up. I think they all ended up going to Harvard. Inquiring minds.

Last night at at the UW women's volleyball match against Stanford, it occurred to me how accurate the word "ponytail" is. All those women have long hair pulled back in a band, and their hair does in fact look like a pony's tail. I started thinking of other words that are perfectly accurate: jump rope, for example. In this category, my friend Jane likes "shellfish", "stargazer", and "bluebird".

When the dog bites
When I step in turds
When I'm feeling mad,
I simply remember
My favorite words
And then I don't feel
So bad.


P.S. 16 Whirled Peas

Bumper stickers are the haikus of our culture and time. My favorite bumper stickers have been: "Visualize whirled peas," "I believe in cheeses, "White Center [a South Seattle community that is largely made up of Latino people and white liberals] is neither," and "What if the hokey pokey really is what it's all about?"

My friend Pea mentioned one she saw on a Texas pickup truck: "Tits on a Ritz: Good Cracker." Crude, but delightfully stereotypical. Carrie saw one that said, ""My whippet makes your honors student look slow and awkward." That's a good one.

I don't like "I heart my anything" or "Baby on Board." The latter seems to me to suggest that I shouldn't hit this car because of the baby, but otherwise it would be okay.

Our bumpersticker isn't quite so clever, but we love it anyway: "Storm National Champions 2004." A friend's friend is making a "Storm National Champions 2010" sticker since sales ran out of them in the first twenty minutes after the championship game, so we'll add that one soon. We also have a "Peace is Patriotic" bumper sticker from W's era that somehow never makes it to the bumper. I wish it were passe, but I think it's time we pull it out and paste it on.

Kill 'em with kindness. Mary

P. S. 15 World Enough and Time

Yesterday I visited two colleagues' office and was overwhelmed by the amount of stuff.

Lest I sound like a neatnick, which would be ironic, I should confess that when I was a child, neighborhood children and cousins always wanted to visit my bedroom and my siblings' rooms, as other children with less patient mothers were so impressed by our mess. Not only could a person not see the floor or any other surface in our rooms, but one would have to dig through layers to find a surface.  When I got into bed, I would simply crawl in under the covers and all the stuff. As a college freshman, I (and my roommate Angelique) kept the room so delightfully messy that our boyfriends broke into the room when we were out of town and straightened it up for Valentime's Day. That was love. As an adult, when I was chair for the Humanities department in a new school, I kept so many textbooks and papers (yet to be graded, I'm sure) on the floor that the office became a part of  the unofficial tour. Guests came to marvel at the mess.

In the home where I grew up, my father's study  is as cluttered as my bedroom was when I was a child. My sister and brother  had similarly messy rooms. Clutter is in my genes.

I have such a long history of clutter and such a genetic disposition towards clutter that impressing me with disorder is difficult, but yesterday, when I visited two colleagues' office, I was impressed. The office is at most four square yards. In that space are two desks, two office chairs, one tall filing cabinet, two computers, two tall bookshelves, and twenty-three boxes (You have to look down--under the desks where most people would put their feet--and up--on top of file cabinets and bookshelves-- to find them all.) . There are seven piles of paper with approximately 800 pieces of paper in each one, 18 files that are not in the filing cabinet, 15 three-ring binders, 727 books, and six giant post-its with 23 smaller post-its on them. There is the cozy feel of home: one Mexican rug, one art hanging from India, and eight children's drawings. You can find the word "To Do" thirteen times: once on a box, once on a scrap of paper, once on a folder, four times on the giant post-its, and so forth.

This place has the feel of too much to do and too little time. Other colleagues step in for a moment just to grab some resource as they run by. One colleague's backpack is tossed on the floor. The other totes her stuff in one of those suitcases that airline attendants pull through the airports. People scurry by, looking neither left nor right. In the nearby conference room, teachers meet to write curriculum. They'll need to rush back to their schools at the end of the day to see how their classes went with substitutes.

Before brain surgery, I filled the nooks and crannies of my days with too many to do lists and stacks of dusty papers. I rushed from my car to the classroom and ran to the restroom in any spare moment. I arose at 4 am, so that I could be at the gym by five to swim and lift and rush through my sun salutation before my work day began.

My physical spaces were as cluttered as my time. I had stacks of ungraded papers, revised and re-revised lesson plans, and unpaid bills. A couple of times, I fell racing about with stacks of papers in my arms. The papers fluttered into the rain until I jumped up and grabbed them and ran on.

Since brain surgery, I slow down and focus. I must. If I try to dash around like I did before, my head will hurt, and I will fall over stuff. This new way of living in space and time is a gift. I sold many of my books. I have a few folders in the filing drawer in my desk, but I only take a piece of paper if I really need it. There is not so much stuff around both because it's difficult for me to read paper and because I can't lift even a three-ring binder very easily. The space, I find, gives me mental and emotional space, too. Though I'm dealing with brain tumors and their after-effects, I'm more centered and spacious in my self than I was before.

My  time, too, has more room in it. I cannot rush from moment to moment or room to room so I do not rush. I plan my days so that I can complete my responsibilities in a way that doesn't require me to hurry. I leave early to be sure I'm at places on time. I say, "I'm sorry, but I'm busy then. Can we plan for another time?" I drive slowly.  I am no longer part of Merton's contemporary violence which is overwork.  I can stop to say hello. I can ask a friend how they are and wait to hear the answer. I can notice the wet smell of fall. I can get lost in the intricacies of a leaf's architecture. I can.

Gotta go so that I'll be early for hocus pocus. Mary

Sunday, November 7, 2010

P. S. 14 Nicknames

Ann calls me "Sweet Mary." Renee calls me "LMS" (Little Mary Sunshine). Alex calls me "Goldie" because when she was being my chaffeur, she thought I was particular about the heat level and music loudness in the car. Truly, it was generally to cold and the music was generally too loud, but every now and then it was too hot and I could hardly hear the music. Pea, who is more succinct, calls me "eM."

My sister used to call me "Auntie Fun" because I loved playing with her kids. She just sent a great picture of the five of us making brownies. Willie, the youngest, is covered in chocolate, as any child making brownies should be.

Students through the years have called me "Miss Mary", "Eds" and "Super B--", to name a few. I'm sure there are names I don't know about. One student called me, "Woman who walks barefoot through tall grass." A bit unwieldy, the name never caught on, but I loved coming to the room to find my name and her artwork on my whiteboard. In truth, I would never walk barefoot through tall grass, partly because I'm allergic to grass but mostly because there might be snakes or dog doo-doo in there. Still, the nickname made me feel brave.

My junior high basketball team called me, "Casper" because of how white I would get when I was about to faint. My high school boyfriend, who liked to talk backwards, called me "Yram," pronouced Urammie, rhymes with Miami.

When I was young, my dad called me "Lucy" after the peanuts character because he thought I was bossy when I demanded  he say, "please," when he asked me to pass him the butter. I still require him to say please, but now he calls me names that I can't print here when I make such a reasonable demand. When I hit junior high school, he also called me Merv, which I thought was not my most attractive name. I think maybe my basketball team called me that, too.

My given name is Mary Adele Edwards. I like the name. Both my maternal and fraternal grandmothers were Mary, and they each left a legacy in a name.

My mother's mother grew up in a poor Southern farming family during the depression. Her mother died when grandmother was five years old. Her aunt hanged herself from the rafters in the family barn when grandmother was a child. Her beloved "Papa", who sold the family cow so that grandmother could have a winter coat, died when grandmother was a teenager. Grandmother was the second of four children and put her siblings through college, though she wasn't able to attend college herself. She was a tough woman. She raised five kids of her own and her oldest, my mother, went to Duke on full scholarship and married a doctor: a sure sign that grandmother had been successful. Mom's three sisters say Mom was the favorite, but Mom denies it. Mom was a beauty queen and married a doctor. I suspect they're right.

My father's mother also grew up in rural North Carolina, but she was an adult when the Depression hit. She and my grandfather grew up on adjacent tobacco farms and knew each other from childhood, but didn't marry until after grandmother finished her degree at the teacher's college and had a couple of years to work. She had her first child, my dad, when she was 27. I interviewed her once about the role of women in society and in the family. She believed a woman should establish her independence but that once she became a mother, a woman should stay home to take care of the kids. My aunt says my dad was grandmother's favorite. Dad was not a beauty queen and did not marry a doctor, but my aunt's probably right.

Just like my parents, I am my parents' favorite child. My siblings don't believe this. I think they're in denial.

There are, of course, the Biblical Marys. I've always identified with Martha's sister, Mary Magdelene, who talked to Jesus instead of fixing dinner. That's always been my role: talking, or watching. I like to call myself a manager, but really I'm just a watcher. I like to watch people work, though sometimes it wears me out a little.

Gotta go. Ann has fixed lunch. Mary

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

P.S. 13 Throwing money at it

I"m taking an online course to learn more about the experiences of and resources for those living in poverty in my community. The midterm required me to learn about and visit organizations that poor people often need to access.

I struggled with this midterm. Because I am disabled (imbalance, vision problems, and fatigue), getting information and getting to places was especially difficult. Last Wednesday, my morning meeting was cancelled, so I didn’t go in to work in the morning and could visit the local food bank and the Welfare Office. I also needed to make some doctors’ appointments for current medical issues related to my tumors, something that's hard to do when I'm at work, so there was a lot to get done.

Because of my disabilities, I can only drive to familiar locations with dependable disabled parking, so I decided to take the bus to the food bank and the Welfare Office. When I went to the bus stop, a twenty minute walk, the bus stop had moved since this summer when I last took this bus, and as I tried to hurry over broken sidewalks to the new location, the bus passed me by. I waited a half hour for the next bus and took it to the Welfare Office since the food bank had already closed for the day. Unfortunately, I had not scrolled down the web page far enough to see that the office is open every weekday except Wednesday. My only day to go, of course, was Wednesday. Therefore, I had used my morning and paid my 75 cents to ride the bus to the office, walk to the office, and then return to the bus stop to wait for the next bus. When I got home, I lay down to rest before heading to work.

The experience was frustrating, and I thought about how much more difficult this would have been if I were living in poverty and had children with me. Finding information about the office, the food bank, and the bus schedule would have required a separate trip to a library to use a computer. I would almost certainly need to take time off from an inflexible work schedule. I would be managing children as I tried to move to and from the bus stop. The fatigue would be worse, but I would have difficulty taking a nap after my failed trip because I would be caring for children. My children and I would be hungry, and probably cold and wet since the Northwest is now in the rainy season. I would almost certainly be in a wheelchair, instead of walking with a cane, because of my need to have more energy and balance for the children and because my level of fatigue would be even higher. I would have more health problems since I would be spending so much time in a wheelchair.

Additionally, often in exploring resources, I slipped into information about people with disabilities. Since I am concerned about my own health, I found it interesting—and anxiety-producing—to think about myself in addition to the fictional characters I was imagining. I’ve also provided some college scholarships at a school where I used to teach, and these students often call for help. Last year’s four Somali freshmen girls all called in the last two weeks, so as I researched colleges I was also trying to learn about supporting these real students and other students in need.

Today, on this day after the mid-term elections, in the midst of these weeks of media reports on what Americans think, I am constantly surprised by the number of people who still talk about "not throwing money at the problem." Some problems need funding to address, and supporting people, including children, living in poverty and providing a decent education so that the American myth of mobility might still have some truth to it are both causes that need to be supported through public funding. That's not "throwing money." That's just funding.

I am also surprised by the number of people with cars and homes who kvetch about how high their taxes are. I do not think that Americans are bad people, so there must be another reason. I recently read that Americans overestimate economic mobility in this country and underestimate the degree of inequity. This is not about goodness or badness but about awareness--or a lack of awareness.

Though I am generally somewhat cynical about the relationships between elections and big money, I have been stunned to see how many candidates have spent millions of their own money to run. Why do so many people running have their own millions? What might our social services and public education systems do if we threw that money their way?


P.S. 12 Eighty-six synonyms for complain

Synonyms: "criticize, grumble, whine, whinge, carp, find fault, nitpick, nag, moan, murmur, object, knock, protest " (encarta.msn), "recoil, plain, quetch, give up, kick, strike up, kick back, animadvert, speak out, sound off, opine, speak up' (synonyms.net), "beef, bellyache, bemoan, bewail, bleat, carp, deplore, find fault, fuss, grieve, gripe" (dictionary.reverso.net), "accuse, ascribe, attack, bemoan, bewail, bitch, carp, cavil, charge, contravene, defy, demur, denounce, deplore, deprecate, differ, disagree, disapprove, dissent, expostulate, find fault, fret, fuss, gainsay, grieve, groan, grouse, growl, grumble, impute, indict, kick up a fuss, lament, lay, look askance, make a fuss, nag, object, oppose, protest, refute, remonstrate, repine, reproach, snivel, take exception to, wail, whimper, whine, yammer" (thesaurus.com).

Antonyms: "applaud, approve, be content, be happy, commend, praise, recommend, sanction" (thesaurus.com), "praise" (encarta.msn), "chirk up, cheer up, cheer" (synonym.net),

Eighty-six synonms for complain and 12 antonyms.


P. S. 11 Hocus Pocus

Wednesday afternoons I go to the naturopath for hocus pocus. I leave my watch and any other electronics in the car. This is how treatment goes: I go into a small room with a massage table covered with that paper they have in doctor's offices, take my shoes off and sit on the crinkly paper on the table. I cross my ankles, and the doctor reminds me to uncross them.

First, the doctor tests for allergies not yet treated. In my left hand, the doctor has me hold a vial of what looks like clear liquid but is in fact something like vitamin C or calcium.  I cross my ankles, and the doctor reminds me to uncross them. I hold my right arm out parallel to the ground, thumb down.  I again cross my ankles, and the doctor again reminds me to uncross them. She's very patient. The doctor puts her hand on my shoulder and pushes gently down. Nothing happens. Then she puts her thumb in the middle of my forehead and pushes down. My arm goes down. I am allergic to the substance in this vial. I seem to be allergic to almost every substance. In this way she tests several basic allergens.

Next she treats me for one allergy. So far, I've been treated for BBF (brain-body formula), eggs and today calcium. We begin again, in much the same way. I cross my ankles, and the doctor reminds me to uncross them. I hold my right arm out parallel to the ground, thumb down. I hold a vial of today's allergen in my left hand. The doctor puts her hand on my shoulder and pushes gently down, "Does Mary need to avoid calcium (or whatever) for more than 25 hours after treatment?" She pushes downward on my outstretched arm. If the arm stays steady, I only need to stay away from the offensive item for 25 hours. If my arm goes down, we have to test again to see how long I have to stay away.

I do mean stay away. After treatment, I can't eat anything with the offensive item in it or be within ten feet of it. This means that I cannot go in our kitchen at home or into the staff lunchroom at work, which is also where the printer is. When I was being treated for eggs, I couldn't be near feathers, so Ann moved our feather pillows into the back room. At school, I have to avoid the faculty lunch room. I eat in an empty classroom by myself. I suspect this seems weird.

After consulting my body about the hours, the doctor goes behind me, has me sit up and uses a gentle jack hammer up and down my spine four times. The first time I inhale and hold my breath. The next time I exhale. The third time I pant like a puppy. I keep looking for the hidden camera, but everyone stays serious. Finally, I breathe normally. The doctor directs me to lie down and to uncross my ankles. She massages accupuncture points in a counterclockwise motion around my body. Afterwards, she covers me in a blanket, and I rest for twenty minutes. I am very good at this part. I don't even cross my ankles.

After twenty minutes, the doctor and her protege return. I sit up. Again, I hold a vial of the allergen in my left hand, and she pushes down on my extended right arm. This time, my arm doesn't doesn't go down.Shazzam. It's magic. I'm cured as long as I stay ten feet from the offending substance for at least 25 hours. Next week: sugar.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

P.S. 10 No news is good news.

I grew up in a suburb called, "No News is Good News." It's menacingly close to a larger city, "Doom, Despair and Agony, Oh Me!" We just called the city Doom for short.

Being from "No News is Good News," I figure one should avoid bad news, so when my doctor left a message after my CAT scan a few years ago asking me to call her back, I did not call back. When she called again the next day, I was too busy. The following day was beautifully sunny, not a day to ruin with bad news. When she called on the weekend and left me her home phone number, Ann and I went to the spa and then had cosmopolitans on the deck. Still no news.

When I recently told my friend Rose this story, she was surprised. She didn't take me for someone who would be in such denial. I thought about her surprise. I was not in denial. I knew from my time growing up near Doom that news would be bad, so I stuck with good news, which was no news. Where's the denial in that?


P.S. 9 Rufus the Bobcat attacks Brutus the Nut.

Friday morning, as I ascended the high school stairs, a tall, athletic looking African-American male faced me. He was wearing a chicken suit. Head to claw. My colleague Todd lost a bet of sorts and wore a rat costume all day. By the time I saw him, he had removed the head with its bouncing  buck teeth and just had on a padded middle grey furry thing that gave him big hips and a tale. I didn't notice the tale at first, so I thought he was dressed as a middle-aged woman. The best costume at our door Sunday night was a kid wearing a carved pumpkin on her head. Not a plastic one, mind you. I hope she washed her hair.

School mascots are kind of like Halloween all year, so when our friend Tim visited last week we discussed our favorite mascots. Ann's school doesn't have a mascot; they merely mock mascots. They wear a picture of the school on their uniforms, so other teams call them "the house." I like that. Last year there was brief enthusiasm for "the fighting salmon," but those students graduated. My high school, in Raleigh, NC, was "the capitols." Come to think of it, I don't know why it was plural. We should have been more like the Stanford Cardinal, which is the color red and therefore singular. When people cheered at my high school games, they yelled, "Go Caps!"

Tim went to Ohio State, where the mascot is the Buckeye, which is apparently a kind of nut. Their mascot is a guy who wears a nut-like thing on his head. This fall when Ohio State played it's instate rival, Ohio, Ohio University's mascot Rufus the Bobcat decided to attack Ohio State's Brutus the Buckeye as he ran on the field. It's true. You can read about it on the innernets.

There are so many fine mascots: The Orphans, the Ducks and the Geoduck to name a few. A Geoduck, an obscenely large, phallic-looking oyster in the Northwest, is Evergreen College's mascot. I think it's tongue in cheek.

A decade or so ago, when Ann and I helped open a new suburban high school, Skyline, I hoped the students would choose something clever, like Thunder. I thought Skyline Thunder would would provide lots of opportunities for good sounds. The students, liking alliteration and wanting something that could run around, chose The Spartan, an ironic mascot for a lovely school on the hill with a view of the Cascades. When the student council sponsor received Sparky the Spartan's outfit in the mail, she though Sparky's smile a bit menacing, so she turned that frown upside down. Sparky looked drunk, so she turned that grin back again.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

P.S. 8 What symptoms led to my diagnosis?

I'm in an online support group for adults with ependymomas (the rare brain tumor I had), and there's been a lot of talk lately about symptoms people had before diagnosis.

One person had ongoing hiccoughs so badly that he couldn't eat and finally had to go to the ermergency room, where he was diagnosed.  In fact, quite a few folks were diagnosed in the emergency room, gnerally after a fall or a seizure or a migraine.

I didn't have hiccoghs, but for a long time I had a lot of symptoms that were similar to others (headaches, balance issues, fatigue, thyroid problems.) My surgeon guessed that my ependymoma started in utero. I started seeing doctors for symptoms when I was twelve. The ependymoma was diagnosed when I was 43.

In elementary school I first noticed slight balance issues that seemed a little weird, especially since in general I thought I was a strong athlete. In first grade, I thought of myself as really good at kickball, but one time I sprained an ankle when running off the end of a sidewalk. This seemed strange to me, that a sidewalk might trip me up: my first lesson in humility.

In my teens, I blacked out and fainted from time to time. My junior high basketball teammate nicknamed me "Casper" because I turned so white. I had slight balance problems, so that getting my high school skinny self to rebound was unsuccessful. My coach would yell, "Stick your butt out!" and I would yell back, "Coach, I ain't got no butt!" This seemed to be elucidating the obvious. I was an athlete and was also unusually tall and thin, so my doctors and I thought my skinniness explained the fainting. I was much stronger on my right side than on my left, now I know a symptom of ependymomas. In soccer, I just stuck to the right side of the field so that I could use my more coordinated right side. Teenage-hood is also the era in which I started my period, a bizarre misery that causes all sorts of strange pains, so the relatively subtle symptoms from the ependymoma seemed to fit in.

Once  when my friend Kim and I spent the day at a racketball club, we played racketball and then alternated between the jacuzzi and the sauna. I got very weak and lost my vision for about half an hour. A nap and a coca-cola revived me.

In my senior year of high school, I had mono, which I now suspect was related to the fatigue from the tumor. I was often too tired to eat. I lost a lot of weight, and my dad thought I was anorexic, a diagnosis that I know parents often miss, so I give him a lot of credit for noticing. Anorexia was more likely than a brain tumor, but in this case inaccurate.

In my early twenties, I fainted while giving a talk to a large group of Southern Baptists. Though some people say that a large group of Southern Baptists is likely to make anyone faint, my dramatic collapse led to a CAT scan, which--acording to the doctor--didn't reveal any concern. The doctor said I would probably grow out of the fainting.

The year or two before diagnosis, now in my forties, I continued experiencing fatigue, and the headaches and dizziness got worse. I also found I often was slightly off-balance, grazing a door frame as I walked through or swaying slightly onto Ann's side of the sidewalk when we walked. I started having double vision when I biked and then having double-vision and the spins when I was teaching. I thought I was very clever to manage the double-vision by closing one eye. Ann was not so impressed and told me that I should see my doctor. My doctor told me to drink more water. Thinking I might be experiencing vision problems, as I was in my forties, I saw an opthamologist who also told me to drink more water.

Several months later, I emailed my doctor again, putting all of the symptoms together, and she ordered a CAT scan. My tumor was by this time the size of a plum, in my fourth ventrical and attached to my brainstem. I had neurosurgery within the month.

Doctors estimated that it would take me four to six weeks to recover from neurosurgery. I aksed my primary physician what "recover" meant in this context: Did it mean being able to go to the bathroom, being able to walk, or being able to hike. She replied that yes, it might mean any of these things. Or none of them. It took me a long time to recover from surgery. I was in rehab for three and a half weeks and then had home care until I could get to the hospital for rehab. Before the end of the year, I had learned to walk again with a cane. Facial nerves on the right side of my face also rejuvenated somewhat, so that I could close my right eye again and speak more clearly. Still, however, among other losses, I cannot whistle or drink out of a straw. These difficulties are more problematic than you might think.

Last December, two and a half years after surgery, an MRI revealed a second tumor, much smaller. Tumor boards debated what should be done: some thought surgery while others thought radiation and some thought both. I had six weeks of radiation. Radiation again jumbled my vision, affected my balance (and not in that good way), made a swath of my hair fall out, and made me very tired. In an especially cruel turn, I developed allergies to garlic, chocolate and cheddar.
I've learned to walk again, with a cane, though my balance is still pretty tipsy. I can see as long as I close one eye, so that the double vision doesn't distract me. Prism glasses help some. Fatigue is still an issue. I don't play basketball anymore. Now I'm a big fan.

My next MRI will be November 9, Veterans' Day. I'll let you know how it goes.

I"m hoping for the best--Mary

Sunday, October 17, 2010

P.S. 9 They put her mouth on crooked.

Bailey's in fourth grade now, and one of the teachers at her school had a stroke last year. When her mom Diana asked how the teacher seems to be doing, Bailey said, "Fine, I think. But they put her mouth on crooked."

I often wonder how other people see me. I know other people see me as disabled because they move to the far side of the walkway for me or--on a good day--open the door. Mothers pull their young children out of my path. People sitting at a table pull their chairs under when they see me coming. I appreciate all of these actions, but they do make me wonder what others see when they see me.

When I first returned to working in high schools after my brain surgery, I worked at a school with a class of students with physical disabilities. I wore an eye-patch to help me manage the double-vision. One student named Jason always stopped when we passed, moved to stand directly in front of me, and looked, hard, at my face. Sometimes he felt my face, gently, with his hands. This made his teachers and the principal nervous. I figured in his more-than-a-decade of schooling, he may not have seen adults in the school dealing with disabilities that seemed similar to his. I felt he was seeking a connection he had not otherwise found.

I want to be a respectful person, but before my disabilities, I wasn't sure how to be respectful of persons with disabilities. Do I pretend I don't notice they're in a wheelchair and just nod my head hello, attempting to greet the person in passing like I would any other person? Maybe some people with disabilities prefer their disabilities be ignored, but it seems weird to me.

Kind of like, years ago, when I went with my second family the Whites to an IHOP for lunch between games during a soccer tournament. My right leg seized with a cramp, and I hollered and threw my leg out. The four Whites who were there helped massage the cramp out of my leg until I could bend it and sit up at the table. It was quite a scene, but no one in the restaurant looked up from their newspapers. I didn't want to draw attention, but the fact that no one seemed to notice my outburst was weird. It was like we were in different universes, and I was invisible to them.

That's how I feel now when people pretend they don't notice I have disabilities. How can a person not notice? I wear funny glasses, hold my head at an angle, and walk with a cane. If I"m with someone, I"m leaning on their arm. I'd rather you notice me with my dsabilities than feel invisible. After all, my disabilities are part of me now.


P.S. 8 Who will love me?

Last weekend a university student who graduated from a high school where I work committed suicide. Everywhere I go, whether folks knew her or not, people seem shaken by it. Like any high school teacher, I've seen too many teen deaths. My students have died in cars, in the water, and on the football field. Suicide, direct or through mental diseases like anorexia, feel the hardest to me.

An excellent teacher who works at the school, having difficulty elliciting any excitement from her students in one class, asked them to write her a letter. One student wrote, "Yesterday my friend's sister died. My mom has breast cancer and is really sick. My grandma can't remember anything anymore. If everyone dies, who will take care of me? Who will love me?"

A few years ago when I was teaching a class, near the beginning of the year, one of my freshmen asked me if I ever cried in class. I think maybe they were being exasperating and I suspect that at times they'd made their previous teacher cry. I thought about it and responded truthfully, "Only when a student dies." Several of them, incredulous, asked, "You've had a student die?" and I responded, truthfully (as is my nature) again, "Most years someone dies." They were quiet and didn't raise the subject again. I forgot about it.

At the end of first semester, students were brainstorming what we had to celebrate from first semester. Students said things like, "We are deeper writers" and "We know how to read harder texts." One student said, "We are like brothers and sisters for one another." Then another student said, "No one has died so far this year." They were all quiet and nodded. I added it to the list.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

P.S. 7 Who am I?

Who am I?

The too-early child of a nurse and a doctor,

I am from Grady hospital's white wing.
I am from a house on a hill,
from copperheads in the lawn,
from a cul-de-sac,
from a suburban acre
in the piney woods.

I am from
the magic word and
the golden rule,
from "Oh, I'd like to thank the Lord,"
from "Have you done your homework yet?" and
Mahalia at Christmas.

I am from
Yellow roses in a yellow room,
from the nighly stock report,
from Hotlips and Radar.

I am from
the backyard basketball court,
Sunday soccer games after church,
the volleyball gym.

And I am

a child of the seventies,
of Watergate and

I am
a woman in love
with a woman.

I am
of the Land of Starbucks,
the Mountain,
and the U.

I am
a teacher in schools
where brown rain falls through the ceiling.

I am
a survivor:
two brain tumors, three surgeries, six weeks of radiation.

I am the woman down the street
who walks with a cane.

I am a daughter,
a sister and a cousin,
a niece and an auntie,
a writer,
an adventurer,
a friend.

"I contain multitudes."

Mediocre in Spanish,
child of Senora Alissa Lopez,
Romero y Father Grande.

I aspire

to courage
and kindness
and right.

I aspire
to wander beyond the boundaries of
Who I am and
Where I am from.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

P.S. 6 I could have been a boy scout.

Yoga hs been one of the constancies on either side of the semi-colon in the sentence that is my life (not like a prison sentence--like nouns and verbas and lots of parentheses). Before brain surgery, I did a sun salutation every morning. Right after surgery, when I was still in the hospital bed, I did hospital bed yoga: any posture or stretch I could think of that I could do lying down was my daily exercise.

Now that I'm home and walking but still uneasy with my balance, I do lying down and sitting up yoga every morning. Mostly, I do a sun salutation minus tree pose (where a person stands like a tree on one leg--the way all trees stand), and minus triangle pose or anything else that might make me fall and bump my head. I've added to the routine poses that stretch my back and my neck, a kind of rehab yoga.

Not only does the yoga serve to stretch my body and to center me, but it also reminds of the calm within myself, a place that I can access when anxiety--about falling or about being unable to work or about dying--sets in.

I feel lucky to have found such a discipline before my brain tumors. So much was in place for me before brain tumors: a loving partner and family, a variety of experiences in my vocation, a supportive church community, an amazing group of friends, Storm allegiance and other past-times.

Of a paranoid imagination, I have always tried to prepare for hard times. Like the boy scouts, I have pledged to be prepared. Before surgery, I biked all over town, partly because I loved it, and partly because I knew a car battery would die in the event of a nuclear attack (I didn't go so far as to figure out the breathing part); I'd work to strenghten my upper body in case one day I couldn't use my legs; I've always saved as much as I can for retirmement, in case Social Security runs out (this, I don't think, is paranoid); I hiked up rocky trails with my teeth clenched, so that if I fell I would not bite off my tongue.
I know some Christians talk about preparing for the afterlife, but if nothing's gone really wrong for you yet, I'd suggest you prepare for the unknowns of this like. Yoga's a good place to start, for now and for later.

Of course, last weekend the local newspaper reported that the local minister of a megachurch said that doing yoga is like inviting in little demons. The minister's logic went like this: yoga's parent is Hinduism, a religion that, in this enlightened minister's opinion, worships many gods and is therefore pagan and ergo evil.  I wonder where journalists go to find and report such wisdom.


Monday, October 4, 2010

P.S. 5 Perspective

My chiropractor, Richard Bartlett, told me this excellent story about keeping loss in perspective. A few years ago, the Seattle Sonics (there was a men's NBA basketball team in Seattle then), played in the NBA finals. This year seemed to Dr. Bartlett the year this team should win. Sam Perkins, after all, was on the team along with other greats. Dr. Bartlett had season tickets with his son. This win would be a testosterone fest. (He didn't tell me that part. I inferred.)

The Sonics, however, lost. Dr. Bartlett was devastated. He couldn't eat. He couldn't sleep. For three weeks he couldn't shake the loss. Then, one day, he was riding the bus home from the office, tired from his full day of work healing people, and he looked out the window to see a large black man escorting a beautiful young woman into a limousine. That life looked good to Dr. Bartlett. That man looked happy. That man looked familiar. That man was Sam Perkins.

Sam Perkins the player was plenty happy. Dr. Bartlett the fan, who had no control over winning and losing, was grieving. This scenario, Dr. Barlett wisely noted, was ridiculous. This loss was not his to control, not his to grieve.

Deep. But if the Storm loses next year, don't even try this logic on me.

Having experienced losses beyond my control, I know that control is not the central issue in appropriate grieving (unless maybe we're talking sports, which we often are.) I have grieved my loss of balance, of clear vision, of a mouth that works the same on both sides. These losses were not under my control, but for sure they are mine.

A few years ago, my friend Jenny, a doctor who has herself been through struggle and loss from diabetes, told me that one day I might be thankful for my tumors. To be honest, I'm not there yet, and I don't know if I'll ever be. I am aware, however, that with loss I have gained a new perspective on what is important to me, and I align my days with what's important. I know that because of this new perspective my life has changed, in many ways for the better. Every minute now is different than it might have been.

I remember years ago a new minister promised the congregation, "Every time I look at you, I will look at you as a child of God." This is how I see more now, not because I try but because I do. I am every moment amazed by the people in my world, by the phenomenal beauty of fall leaves and sun breaks, by the gift of being here.

Glad to be here, and I'm so thankful you are, too. Mary

Saturday, October 2, 2010

PS4 who am i

Like many poetry-reading teenagers, I connected with Emily Dickenson's "Are you a nobody? I'm a nobody, too." When my sophomore English teacher Mrs. Smisson invited us to create a graphic symbol of ourselves, I cut out a large question mark. Today, I'm more of a semi-colon than a question mark, but the question still intrigues me: Who am I?

The too-early child of a nurse and a doctor,
I am from Grady hospital's white wing.
I am from a house on a hill,
from copperheads in the lawn,
from a cul-de-sac,
from a suburban acre
in the piney woods.

I am from
the magic word and
the golden rule,
from "Oh, I'd like to thank the Lord," and
Mahalia at Christmas.

I am from
Yellow roses in a yellow room,
from the nighly stock report,
from Hotlips and Radar.

I am from
the backyard basketball court,
Sunday soccer games after church,
the volleyball gym.

And I am
a child of the seventies,
of Watergate and

I am
a woman in love
with a woman.

I am
a teacher in schools
where brown rain falls through the ceiling.

I am
a survivor:
two brain tumors, three surgeries, six weeks of radiation.

I  am the woman down the street
who walks with a cane.

I am a daughter,
a sister and a cousin,
a niece and an aunt,
a writer,
an adventurer,
a friend.

"I contain multitudes."

Mediocre in Spanish,
child of Apparicio y Maria,
Romero y Father Grande.

I aspire
to courage
and kindness
and right.

I aspire to wander beyond the boundaries of
Who I am and
Where I am from.

PS3 I'm a big fan.

When my high school teachers attended my soccer, volleyball and basketball games, I thought it was weird. Other athletes seemed to appreciate these teachers' attendance, but it seemed to me that it would be more fun for them to play a sport themselves instead of watching me.

Now that I'm older and struggling with balance and vision as I recover from brain surgery and radiation, I'm a big fan. Ann and I attend all of the home games for the Storm, Seattle's WNBA team. When they're away we watch them on television if the game's available. We scour the newspaper for articles about them. Storm player bobbleheads of Lauren Jackson, Swin Cash, and Sue Bird grace our living room. In the back room, we have our "Title IX Shrine," posters of the original Seattle ABA team, The Reign, the Storm team the year Sheryl Swoops played, and a signed cartoon of Lauren and Sue (we're on a first name basis.)

Here's how to be a fan: On game day, wear your Storm gear. Also wear your Storm gear every other day. Make sure you have enough so that you aren't stanky. At church, if there are prayers of thanksgiving, be sure to pray in thanks for the Storm. Even if you can hardly walk, practice your layups on the court at the neighborhood park. Pretend you're Sue--as you practice layups and at all other times.

At the game (of course you'll go), stand up at the beginning of each half until a Storm player scores. Only then can you sit down. Yell and clap when directed by the booming voice. When the other team enters the arena for warm-ups, clap for them. When their starters are introduced, clap again. If there's a really good player on the other team or especially if there's a player who once wore a Storm uniform, clap a lot. We are good sports, we Storm fans, and we appreciate good basketball players, whether or not they play for us. When the game's underway, however, cheer only for the Storm. Some Storm fans boo the referees, but you should not do this. It's obnoxious. The refs, like everyone else out there, are doing their best.

Have a beer at the game. Vendors sell microbrews, and you can't buy ice-cream anymore, so you may as well have a beer. After the game, talk about each big play with your friends. Honk your horn joyfully. Drive like you cheer, politely. The next day look sadly at anyone who was not at the game. Nod your head as if that person who did not attend has a disease. Then tell them when the next game is as if you assume they want to know.

If you have an office, or even just a wall, hang Storm memorabilia for all to see. Do not take your memorabilia down in the off-season. This would be treasonous.

I'm a big fan. You can be, too. Mary

P.S. 2 A pink and a blue or two pinks or two blues?

I didn't come out to myself as a lesbian until I was 30 years old, so I'm not sure what it's like to come out as a school-child. When I did come out, I remembered unintended insults from the past, so now that I'm a grown-up (sort of), I think a lot about younger persons who may be GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer/questioning) and what they experience. Friends who came out when they were school-age have told me how hard that was.

I read an article a few years back that said that young children often may perceive themselves as GLBTQ before they start school, but quickly learn from their schoolmates that being GLBTQ is not okay, and they go underground for a while. According to this article, those children who start to imagine themselves as GLBTQ may start asking questions and struggling again around fourth, fifth, or sixth grade. I was thinking of things that might have helped me as a child, and I thought I'd share them with you in case you have young ones in your life.

As a child, I believe I would  have been interested in open images of myself in the future: language of a partner instead of a husband or wife and images of a "wedding" or "ceremony" that go beyond male/female. My siblings and several friends brought their children to Ann's and my wedding. What an amazing experience that would have been for me. One of my younger nieces is still trying to understand it all: "You're getting married? But you're girls!" Years ago, Ann and I were playing the game of Life with my sister's four children at the beach one day. When Willie landed on "Get Married", Isabella asked if he wanted two pinks, two blues, or a pink and a blue. She was proud of herself and so were we. And amused. I can't imagine having imagined that option as a child.

I rebelled against pink at an early age. Perhaps that was my subconscious way of claiming my difference. My parents were partially open to new gender roles. My sister and I played sports and were required to cut the grass, for example. I don't think my brother, however, was required to take on traditionally female roles. Well, once Sister Jennifer made him wash and put away the dishes, but he didn't rinse them, so Mom had to rewash all of the dishes. (No, neither Jennifer nor Matthew took that on, and I certainly didn't. I think I might have watched.) Last summer, my little brother (now old enough for a colonoscopy), put away dishes from the dishwasher, which would have been helpful except that the dishes were still dirty. Clearly,  he needed more guidance at a young age.

Similarly, I always believed I could have any occupation I sought (doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc.), but I'm not sure my brother believed he could have a traditionally female occupation, say a nurse or a kindergarten teacher.

In addition to chores and occupations, openness to style or fashion that goes against the gender-code: (pink for girls, blue or red for boys, dolls just for girls, math for boys, etc.) might have been helpful. I was in general not amused by dolls: only by one that was my size and would startle my mom when mom walked in the room and mistook the doll for her child. She would kind of jump and roll her eyes. I loved that. My brother loved dolls and our toy kitchen, but he had to trade them in for toy guns and holsters to ride on his rocking horse. He cried, terrified, the first day he rode that horse. Perhaps I should clarify here that as far as I know my brother is straight.

There was plenty of humor everywhere about gay people. In the seventies, we wore oxford shirts with "fag tags" on the back. We played "smear the queer." When our neighbor, Dr. King, came out as a gay man I heard him called, "Dr. Queen." I laughed. It was funny. But when I came out, I remembered the jokes and felt angry.

My friends and I make jokes still, but now we're explicitly on the inside together. Giving directions in the car, we avoid, "Go straight," and opt insted for "Go forward." When a male/ and female couple shows affection publically, we might say to one another, "It's okay for them to love each other, but do they have to put it in our faces?" At a poker game the other night, we decided that the best hand, beyond a royal flush, is a queer royal flush, one that wraps around from the Ace to the two.

For young ones though, whether they're GLBTQ or not, helping them find a safe place in the world for each person to be the one created for this world is serious. The struggles of GLBTQ youth, their likelihood to be bulllied or homeless or suicidal is well-documented, and these struggles are too serious for humor that might be misinterpreted.

No joke. Mary

P.S. All about me.

Ani Defranco forgot the words to the song she was singing at The Vancouver Folk Music Festival several years ago. Amusingly, she strummed her guitar and sang, "All about me. More about me. More about me." Likewise, when I went to Michoacan, Mexico as a volunteer for a health project in my twenties, I knew the adventure would be more about me than about the people I was going to help.

This is my way of saying I'd like to write again. I remmber now that this blog is not for you, really. It's for me. In my commitment to write a daily entry and in my delight at all the positive feedback, I had forgotten that the blog is really for me. It is of course also about you and this community and our connection. True. But I forgot that it was born from my need to put words to my experience and to send those words out to those who, graciously, listen.

After a fare-thee-well and a month's hiatus, I'd like to come back. I find myself writing entries in my head that only fade to black and I'm sorry to have lost them. So I'd like to write to you again, but this time I'll remember that the writing is as much about me as it is about us, and I'll ask your forbearance as I write when I feel compelled instead of each day.

Word? Mary

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer #23: One must know when to stop.

Summer #23 Two questions have compelled me throughout my life, and they are questions I have often often framed for my students: "Who am I?" and "What is my dream?" I remember that the essay question on Davidson College's application the year I applied was, "Who are you and why?" My response began confidently, "I am a child of the seventies...." A truer response, I think, was to the first assignment in my high school sophomore English class: "Create a symbol of yourself." My symbol, wisely I think now, was collage of photos formed into a large question mark. I thought then as I think now, "I contain multitudes." That question mark hung on the teacher's wall, forgotten by everyone but me I suppose, all year, and challenged me daily: Who am I and why is this question so impossible for me to answer?

I like Sandra Cisneros's metaphor of Esperanza's self as a series of wooden dolls that fit inside one another, each ourselves at one age, and each age still a part of who we are.

When I lived in Dallas, my friend George, who was a medical student then and I hear is a psychiatrist now, gave me a couple of riddles, of tests, designed to help a person know who they are. I don't remember them exactly, but they went something like this: Riddle #1 consisted of three questions to which a person needed to write an extended response. Each of the three questions was, "If you were an animal, what animal would you be?" As I remember, your first response is how you see yourself, the second how others see you and the third how you really are. Riddle #2 also comprised three questions: #1: If you were an animal, what animal would you be? #2: Descibe your favorite body of water and #3: Imagine that you are naked, in a white room. There is light in the room, but no clear source of that light. There are no windows and no doors, only four white walls, a white floor and a white ceiling. It is silent. Describe how you feel.

Try it and see what you discover.

If I were an animal, I would be a cat. Really, I am a cat. I like to nap in the sun and run around when I feel like it. Sometimes, I will allow you to pay attention to me, but only when I feel like it. Otherwise, I am preoccupied chasing butterflies and such. I, however, do not carry dead rodents in my mouth. And I do not pee in a litter box.

My favorite body of water is the ocean. It is deep, mysterious, and complex. The life that teems beneath the surface cannot be guessed at from a distance. It is strong and steady. Waves reach perpetually for the shore. At times it is playful, and at other times it is beautifully chaotic.

In this white room,  I breathe deeply. I rest. I feel at peace.

As I remember, the animal reveals how you see yourself. The water reveals how you feel about sex. Your feelings about the white room reveal how you feel about death. I don't know if any of this is true, but I find it interesting to think about: who am I, really?

Some of my favorite people are those who see in me what I want to be true about myself. On her sixieth birthday, my friend Rita wrote a kind of a "Who's who?" for the people at her party. About me, she said, "Mary lives her beliefs." I want that to be true of me.

My recent student Yessicaa wrote a note to me when she graduated: "You're very kind, helpful, caring and motivating. Thanks to your caring heart I realized that there are people out there who care for me and discovered how special teachers can be in a student's life." This I want to be true of me as well, and I am graced that someone has seen that in me and shown me to myself in such a kind mirror.

I think about whether these tumors have changed who I am. They have certainly changed my life. Who am I? I am a survivor, the disabled woman down the road, Ann's partner, my parents' child, a sister, an aunt, a cousin. I am a teacher, a writer, a friend, an adventurer, a child of grace.

Thanks for staying with me as I've shared myself in this blog. In the sharing, I am discovering, and in that discovering you have been a support, an ear (or an eye), a kind friend. As Lao Tsu wrote centuries ago, "One must know when to stop," and I think it's time to stop this blog now, but the questions and the life and the grace persist. With love. Mary