A Photograph of me without me in it

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

Friday, April 30, 2010

NL #10: Like a Mother?

Mycutefriendsean is an outstanding teacher. He’s one of my favorite colleagues. Heck, he’s one of my favorite people. I think of him like a younger brother. Like my younger brother, he’s smart, amusing and charming.

At a meeting this week, he described our working together when he was first teaching. I only heard one part of the conversation: “She was like a mother to me.” A MOTHER! I can see a big sister, an older cousin, even an aunt or a goddess. But a MOTHER?

Carol Burnett convinced me long ago not to have children. In her monologue, she explained pregrancy and birthing to those who had not been pregnant or given birth. Imagine pregancy: take your bottom lip and stretch it over your head. Imagine giving birth: blow a bowling ball out of your nostril.

Other than the fact that I would have had Sean when I was 14 years old or so, I’m not sure why I found this so shocking. It’s not the age thing: birthdays have never bothered me (or really excited me); my partner is closer to my mother’s age than to mine and my youngest aunt is closer to my age than to my mother’s. And I love my mother. So why such a shocker?

I wonder if it has something to do with my vision of myself in the world. Nurture isn’t really my strongest characteristic. That’s how I think of mothers: nurturing. I’m not real strong with self-sacrifice when it comes to things like sleep either. I don’t like cleaning up other people’s vomit or wiping their butts, though I’ve done both. I also don’t like cooking for people who won’t eat my food, though I’ve done that, too.

I think of myself as an adventurer, an explorer more than someone who keeps the home fires burning. I think of my relationship to my colleagues as one in which we’re on a journey together, each stumbling on a worthwhile attempt to reach and teach our students.

Then again, Mother’s Day is next weekend. I wonder if I’ll get a card. Or flowers. Or maybe even a nice bottle of wine.


Thursday, April 29, 2010


I, like Northern Ireland, am having troubles. I edited two previous blogs and now they're at the top and I can't figure out how to move them back into position, so scroll down a couple for today's blog while I ask Pea to help me figure this out. Mary

NL #6: Please don't pick my brain

NL #6: "I'd like to pick your brain about something." This expression, which I hear often in my work as a consultant, gives me the willies. The surgeons, after all, did pick my brain and thank heavens they took out the tumor but I've seen the video and it's not pretty (though it is amazing.)

"Peel your eyes," having had two eye muscle surgeries, also gives me the shivers. It's hard not to think literally about it. For some reason, crows come to mind. And oranges.

Though as a general rule, I appreciate a good drink, please don't offer me a "bloody Mary." As a Mary who has been through brain surgery and puberty, I really hate this drink. I realize it was named for Mary Queen of Scots and not me, but my 7th grade social studies teacher called me Mary Queen of Scots (I think he was insulting me--I found him juvenile.) Either way, I take it personally.

NL #10: “I’m fine thanks. You?”

NL #10: It was a few months into recovery from surgery to remove a tumor from the middle of my brain that I finally realized what I had long known: When someone asks, “How are you?”, in general, that person doesn’t want to know. The correct response is, “Fine. How are you?” I had known this in casual social interactions for years, but now I learned that acquaintances as well as the people who most wanted or needed to know—my doctors, my family, my close friends, my partner—really wanted to be encouraged, to hear, “I’m fine.”

At first, rudely, I would give those who asked an honest answer: “My head hurts.” Or “I have no energy.” Or “I feel frustrated.” My Grandmother E. did this in her later years. "How are you, Grandmother?" I would ask. "I can't walk," she would respond, as if my question were ridiculous. When I left and said goodbye, for thirty years she would say, "The next time you come, I'll be dead." She stopped saying this around the age of 93.

I thought having had a brain tumor was kind of interesting, a bit exotic, and surely others would want an original answer. Not just, "I'm fine." I was not only wrong, but socially inappropriate.

I have learned that I am to be encouraging. I can step out of the “I’m fine” dialogue with variations, but the essence should be that I am, in fact, fine—or going to be. When people ask now, I say, “Better than I was” Or “My energy is really improving” Or “At least I don’t have that knocking sound in my ears all the time anymore.” Or “I’m so glad that you are here.” All of these are true and more socially appropriate.

I’m glad you are here. This may be what we’re both really saying anyway. The exchange isn’t about information, I’m learning. It’s about confirming a connection. Kind of like, “Are you there?” on a cell phone. And to confirm the connection, I am learning to stay on cue. “I’m fine. I’m glad you are here.” And that’s the truth.

Thanks for being here. Mary

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

NL #9: Big Wet Boogers and Other Threats

NL #9: Today, during a social studies teacher's planning period, the high school had a lockdown drill. An announcement, then a horrble alarm (that sounded much like the horns during an MRI but went on much longer), rang out. Susan, the teacher, turned off the lights; a student put down the shades; we were all very quiet and got under our tables. We do these drills in case someone in the community, including another student, goes bonkers and tries to kill us all. We seem to prepare for the last catastrophe: in this case, the shootings at Columbine.

A few years ago I worked in a poor school that looked like a poor school. The window in my classroom--sidewalk-level--had  been broken out for some time. We had a lockdown because there was concern about the possibility of a gunman on campus (turned out not to be true.) We turned out the lights, locked the doors and huddled absurdly under the tables, knowing that anyone who wanted to could just crawl--or shoot--through the missing window.

So today in schools we're afraid of one another. Afraid of our neighbors. Afraid of our students. Afraid of our teachers.

Before we were afraid of each other, I think we were more afraid of natural disasters: fire, earthquake, tornado and hurricane drills reigned. I remember getting under my desk when I was in high school. I was long and didn't fit too well under that small desk that was attached to the chair. I squeezed under and looked up to the bottom of the desktop to see a huge wet booger--a kind of stalagmite (or is it stalactite?) booger-- hanging dangerously close to my head. I think I was more afraid of that booger than of natural disasters. I still think about that booger every time I have to get under a desk. If you work in schools, you know that's prettty often.

Before the natural disaster focus (I'm not sure which disaster that was in response to), my parents ducked their heads in school hallways and hid in underground caves (called bomb shelters) from the communists. I remember a state department official from Reagan's administration visiting our college to talk about preparedness for the Cold War turning hot: nuclear war. If a bomb went off and I was in the car, I was to get out of my car, dig a hole (I suppose I was to have a shovel with me), get in the hole, and cover the hole over me with a car door. (I suppose I was also to have handy some sort of wrench for removing the car door.) I was to do this quickly. I'm not sure when I could come out from the hole. The state department didn't explain that part.

I wonder what we will fear next. Whatever it is, we as a society will have to choose to pay for the protection: less than a shovel and a wrench. It seems like we've decided that drills won't help with terrorists, so my imagination stretches at it. What will be the next disaster? In what new way will we frighten children by having them experience the fear of a threat and the pitiful plan we have in place?

Admit it: you're still thinking about that booger, aren't you? Mary

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

NL #8: How to piss off a pirate

NL #8: Two years ago, when I was wearing an eye-patch fulltime, I visited a school whose mascot was the pirate. My role there was to observe teachers and students, but all I could think about was what an enthusiastic visitor, dressed like the mascot and all, I must have seemed. I even happened to be wearing my Vans (shoes) that day with a skull and cross bone and spider design. I felt relieved that no one made fun of me. I thought of plenty of cracks in my own mind: “Nice to meet you. How ARRRGH you?” and such.

In the three years since my surgery, students in schools have made fun of me only once, when a struggling student yelled "crip" at me as I walked down the hall by his classroom. Other than recognizing that the voice was male, I had no idea who it was. A few days later, I went to talk with the class about the experience and told them why I walked with a cane. I asked what they thought about how I should respond to "Crip!" The consensus seemed to be that anyone who would yell out so obnoxiously wasn't worth my time. But honestly, teenagers are always worth my time. A few weeks later a student I didn't recognize approached me in the hall with a most gracious apology. I have gotten to know him somewhat in a class that I'm now working with. I know that he struggles and he knows, in an interesting twist, that I am an advocate for him.

Even the students I don’t know are kind. Before my disabilities, I thought teenagers in public spaces didn’t notice me because I was always dodging them and their stuff. Now I know that they saw me; they just ignored me. For these past three years, teens in school halls have moved themselves and their friends out of my way; they’ve gone out of their way to open doors for me; they’ve helped me around obstacles like their backpacks.

One afternoon, walking downtown wearing my patch and carrying my cane, I walked past a group of teenage skateboarders. A couple of boys got into yelling “Arrgghh” at me. I wanted to flip them off, but I was afraid I’d fall, so I didn’t. I tried to think of what a pirate might do, but I blanked. I’m sure those teenagers would have found me cool if they’d noticed my theme-appropriate Vans.

Another time, riding the Metro bus home (in a front seat with other people with disabilities), a well-dressed man in his fifties boarded with three plastic bags from Rite Aid, talking away on his cell phone. He dropped his bags in the middle of the aisle and people with disabilities had trouble getting by. A woman with disabilities needed a seat and asked him to move his bags and to give up a seat for her. He interrupted his cell phone conversation to say, “You’re evil. That’s why you are the way you are.” I can still see him jiggling his penny-loafered foot as he continued his phone conversation. I really think it was one of the meanest things I’ve ever seen.

Because I know of persons with disabilities who can’t ride the bus because they can’t be guaranteed a seat, I wrote Metro to ask that they require drivers to require riders who are not disabled to move from “priority seating.” The current rule seems to be that drivers must ask but need not insist. The driver on my bus did neither. The response I received from Metro is that the situation does not require a revision of the rules. I still think it does.

Once, after a WNBA Storm game, a woman my age was rude. We were in a line for the one stall in the downstairs restroom when some people she knew got in line behind me. She went on with them about a party that was a great party even though she broke her ankle and tore "all the tendons and ligaments and had to get screws put in." I think she was high--probably both times. Even though she was quite loud, I mostly tuned her out. At some point she made some comment about "the blind leading the blind" and apologized to me, but she was too into herself for a real apology. I hate being singled out, especially for disabilities. She kept apologizing as she peed and finally said, "I think I should just stop talking." To her partner, I noted that this might be a good idea in general. As they left, they argued about whether her apology was adequate. It wasn't.

The only other times I have been treated rudely, even dangerously, have been at Town Hall and the symphony hall with large numbers of well-dressed elderly people. My theory is that they are so focused on getting themselves around that they don’t notice anyone with disabilities around them. Give me a crowded hall of teenagers any day over that.

I’m a nice pirate. Be nice to me. Arrgghh. Mary

Monday, April 26, 2010

NL #7: I Stand for Hope

NL #7: This weekend, I saw two films at the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival. They were great fun and very moving. As you know, I love experiencing cultures different than the one I grew up in, and seeing performances with an African American crowd is one of my favorite things to do because the experience—like church services-- is so different than seeing a performance with a white crowd: lively and interactive.

The first time I saw a film with a primarily black audience was during college, when I went to see The Color Purple at Crabtree Valley mall in Raleigh. The house was packed. Four of us were white; the rest black. Throughout the movie, the audience hollered out to the screen in a way that I had never experienced. I remember especially the moment in the film where Shug leans down slowly to kiss Celie. The audience was absolutely still and quiet. I’m not sure anyone exhaled. Finally, a man in the front right shouted, “Don’t do it! Don’t do it! Don’t do it! Oh, Lord, she did it!” and the tension broke into laughter.

Friday night my friend Chris and I went to Doubletime, an independent film focused on two double-dutch teams, one from Raleigh NC (my hometown) and another from Charlestown, SC, as they prepared for and then competed in the 2004 International Double Dutch championships at the Apollo in Harlem. Before the movie, two local double-dutch teams performed and encouraged young ones in the audience to perform. The theatre was packed and there was plenty of appreciative applause and laughter.

Throughout the film, as jumpers, their coaches and parents talked about their experiences, we got to know some of the competitors and watch them practice and perform: there was more applause and laughter and “Mmm. Hmmm.” At the end of the film, the directors ran a “Where are they now?” Tia made the honor role in middle school (everyone clapped); Erica delivered her Bat Mitzvah speech on strong women; Antoine was working in a beauty salon; and Tim, articulate and sweet with a Masaii leap and Obama ears, entered The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, studying electrical engineering and jump rope. For this, the mark of academic success, there was vigorous applause. I’m pretty sure we all left laughing and feeling hopeful.

Saturday night Ann and I went to a more sobering film, Soundtrack to a Revolution. The film told the story of the1960s Civil Rights movement through old film clips, interviews with those still living, and music. The film certainly showed the power of music to bring people together, but though I’ve seen them before, those images of dogs and fire hoses and batons tearing at young black people take my breath away, make me a bit sick to my stomach, even with the hopefulness of the music. This night, I left with more complex emotions: hope in the way that masses changed public policy and sadness at how much one human can hurt another.

Today, as I go into a remarkably diverse classroom, I remember how differently those of us from different cultures have experienced working with groups and learning, and I feel lucky to continue learning from this teacher and these students as they learn from me. Here, too, I can feel the complex emotions of hope and fear. But here, in middle school, I experience mostly hope.

What do you stand for? I stand for hope. Mary

Friday, April 23, 2010

NL #7: Degrees of Separation

DAR #7: I don’t get too excited about famous people. Mostly, probably, because I don’t recognize them. When, in my twenties, I worked for the United Way’s fall campaign, the other young women in the office came in very excited: “Jeff Bridges is outside! He touched my shirt!” The call to fame evacuated the place. I continued making phone calls from my desk. (I now know who Jeff Bridges is.)

I figure if someone is so famous, we probably won’t have much of a relationship, so why bother.

Ann’s and my siblings seem to be surrounded by famous people. They all have friends with private jets. I think that’s a sign of connection to fame. Sister Jenn mentioned that “George Clooney had a pig and he said they make terrible pets” and my brother-in-law Todd says, “Martha Stewart had a neighborhood party, so I went.” Ann’s brother Gene got us backstage tickets to see his client Lyle Lovett and Ann's sister-in-law seems to hobnob with Barbara Bush.

I guess I too have had my brushes with fame. I went to first grade at E.C. Brooks in Raleigh, NC with the humorist David Sedaris. (I don't remember him and I'm guessing he doesn't remember me.) In college, I had dinner with Elie Weisel, the holocaust survivor who wrote the famous memoir Night.

When I taught high school in Dallas, a colleague’s daughters—then in junior high school, were in a band called “Blue Light Express” that played at a nearby bar. They were good. When they got older, they formed a new band called “The Dixie Chicks” and my friend Rick (RIP) and I would go see them at a local Italian restaurant on Wednesday nights. Once, after playing at the opening of a Texas Ranger baseball game, the team’s owner, George W. Bush, sent 15 year-old Emily a note, wanting to set her up with his friend. She asked me what she should do, and I suggested she not respond but keep the note. I wonder if she did.

I taught both Dixie Chick sisters in their senior years and before I moved away from Dallas their band played at a party in the school’s library. Years later, I was channel surfing (not a common activity for me) and landed on the Grammy’s, where these sisters were accepting their first Grammy.

I would still recognize them and would be excited to see them again, but not really because they’re famous. Really because I liked them, and I wonder how they are.

I’d still like Hillary Swank to play me. I’m sure we’d get to be buds. Mary

Thursday, April 22, 2010

NL #6: Please don't pick my brain.

NL #6: "I'd like to pick your brain about something." This expression, which I hear often in my work as a consultant, gives me the willies. The surgeons, after all, did pick my brain and thank heavens they took out the tumor, but I've seen the video, and it's not pretty (though it is amazing.) The expression “give someone a piece of your mind” also makes me queasy and makes me wonder what the surgeons did with the parts they removed. I think somebody has a piece of my mind.

Having had two eye muscle surgeries, "Peel your eyes," also gives me the shivers. It's hard not to think literally about it. For some reason, crows come to mind. And oranges.

Though as a general rule, I appreciate a good drink, please don't offer me a "bloody Mary." As a Mary who has been through brain surgery and puberty, I really hate this drink. I realize it was named for Mary Queen of Scots and not me, but my 7th grade social studies teacher called me Mary Queen of Scots (I think he was insulting me--I found him juvenile.) Either way, I take it personally.

I’m guessing people who’ve had major heart surgery don’t like the expression, “My heart bleeds for you” and those who have had heart transplants (like my friend Terry) don’t like it when someone “wears their heart on their sleeve.” That’s just bad surgery. I’m guessing those who have had nose surgery know about paying through the nose and bleed at the expression “take a nosedive.”

Perhaps crows don’t like the expression “eat crow.” Perhaps birds find it irritating that something that’s worthless is “for the birds" and that a fool is a “bird brain.” They may also not like the plan to “kill two birds with one stone.” Perhaps chickens find it demeaning that poor pay is “chicken feed.”

I wonder if Adams feel the Adams’ apple irritating or if soldiers returning from any war zone flinch when a teenager calls them the ultimate compliment: “da bomb.” I wonder how the Van Gogh fan club feels about the expression “I’m all ears.” I wonder how doctors feel about their patients eating all those applies and how apples feel about bad apples.

Cats and dogs must hang around just to listen to us talk about them. Cats hear about getting folks’ tongues and about being fat. Dogs probably don’t like the doghouse (ours didn’t even though his house matched ours, without indoor plumbing) and they don’t like to be really sick. I’ll bet cats do like being let out of the bag and sleeping dogs would prefer to lie. I’m guessing that neither likes it when it rains cats and dogs. Perhaps, though, pigs like to wear lipstick and cows like being sacred.

I’ll bet frogs don’t like the idea of being in peoples’ throats, that monkeys don’t like being on peoples’ backs and that bulls don’t like being grabbed by the horns. I’m betting snow balls don’t like the idea of being in hell, that guinea pigs don’t like being guinea pigs, that horses don’t like being held and that cats don’t like being skinned in any way.

I wonder how the person who invented post-it notes feels about the expression, “the best thing since sliced bread.”

We’ll have to pick their brain about that one. Mary

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

NL #5: Warning: Do not try this at home.

NL #5: Teens are easily fooled, something they don't want you to know but once you know, fooling them can be great for their education.

My friend Colleen, a science teacher, told me last week that she has a frog stuck in her walls. From time to time it ribbits. (I would say "croaks", but I don't want you to think I'm writing about a resurrecting frog). Colleen told her students that this frog came to talk to her. It's there, it told her, because it wants to learn about freshmen, but it's shy and afraid, so it stays in the wall. Some don't believe her, but others nod knowingly each time it ribbits.

I learned the most about fooling teenagers from my colleague Don. When we were teaching an American Studies course together, our class was discussing Ben Franklin's "How to Make a Great Nation into a Small One." To experience the frustration and sense of powerlessness Franklin was discussing, we orchestrated a little trick so that students might experience similar emotions. We were in a new school, one that had separated from the historical high school, and these juniors were frustrated with a sense that they were powerless in the school (the "hat rule," stating they were not allowed to wear hats, was the symbol of this powerlessness for them.)

Before class, Don and I wrote a letter on school letterhead, signed by the principal, saying that there would no longer be reserved student parking for upperclassmen. We promised the gun-shy principal that we wold not let the letters escape the room. The principal, a good sport, came into the class with the letters, placed them with evident exasperation on a table, and told us to pass them out. "What's it about?" we asked. "Just do it. I'm sick of this," she demanded and sort of slammed the door as she stomped out. The students laughed a nervous laugh and angled for the letters.

Don and I acted as though we would distribute the letters at the end of the class, but students got ahold of them and passed them around. A ripple of fury went through the class. They ranted. Finally, one student (Andy, who was particularly fond of his duct-taped hat), sort of yelled, "This is just what Ben Franklin was talking about. We don't have the power to make decisions that affect us!" Don smirked. I was guarding the door both to insure that students did not run after the principal and to make sure that I didn't give the hoax away.

Don said to them, "You [pause] have been duped." The room got very quiet. Finally, Maya asked, "What's duped?"

Teenagers may seem skeptical, but this skepticism is an act of self-preservation. They really don't know what to believe, so they're guarding themselves with doubt--sometimes with doubt cloaked in surety. Maybe that 's something we never grow out of, protecting ourselves from our own sense of vulnerability.

Warning: Do not try this at home. Teenagers can be unpredictable and such tricks should only be applied by a professional.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

NL #5: And the envelope please...

NL #5: How do you prepare for brain tumors? Come out as a lesbian--though coming out, for me, was in many ways harder.

Saturday night Ann and I celebrated our 15th U-Haul anniversary (anniversary of living together.) That means that it was also about 15 years ago that I came out to everyone I knew. It was a hard time.

The hardest part of coming out, for me, was coming out to myself. I’ve never believed in a God who creates beings to hate, so I never had the religious struggles that many gay people have. The fact that some others thought this meant I was “condemned”, I found ridiculous. Clearly, we understood the messages of the old and new testaments, the ways of the spirit and of God, differently. I thank God and the church of my youth for that hippie upbringing and the radical notion that all people are created to be loved.

Still, the notion that I had lived with myself for so many years and had not realized I was gay was hard for me. The realization made so many things clear: why I could not marry the first person I fell in love with, why I always found girls walking down the sidewalk more attractive than guys, why I felt so attached to so many female coaches and teachers, why I was so afraid that I would always feel lonely, not alone, but lonely.

I remember the only line in the final Ellen Degeneres sitcom that I really liked. Coming out to her parents, Ellen says, “Mom, Dad, I know you’ve always wanted me to be honest with you.” Her mom interrupts her to say, “No dear, that’s what you always wanted. We don’t need you to be honest.” Perhaps I was the one who needed to be honest, but I felt I couldn’t really be in relationship with these people if I was hiding an essential part of my life.

I decided that letters would be better than phone calls or in-person conversations. That way, family and friends could deal with their initial reactions and could decide what they wanted to say to me. I mailed individual letters to all of my family on the same day and then mailed letters to everyone I knew. I didn’t want any more pretending; I didn’t want to wonder who knew and who did not; I didn’t want to worry about a hierarchy of who knew first. As my letters travelled east, I received letters from both my mother and my sister asking what was going on. Each wrote that she no longer felt the closeness we had once had. This is especially remarkable in that members of our family do not as a general rule write letters to one another. Though I thought I was just hiding a part of me they didn’t want to see, I couldn’t be close to my family if I wasn’t being honest with them about who I was.

Reactions ranged: my mom called immediately and then came to visit. Not that she was comfortable with it, but she wanted to communicate clearly that her love was stronger than anything else. My dad and I wrote letters back and forth for over a year, dealing with our lives over the years in the context of dealing with my coming out--a different way of living his love. My sister was immediately joyful as she had never really liked my husband. My brother was also supportive, writing a letter saying that he understood that since I could not be with him, he being my brother and all, of course I couldn’t find happiness with any other man. Both my sister and my brother helped my parents come around and helped them to see that if I was going to be part of their lives, Ann would be, too.

Telling my family about my tumors was not so hard as coming out because I could better predict that they would be supportive. While I fell from the Christmas card lists of a couple of childhood friends after coming out, no one said “they didn’t understand” or judged me in any way when they learned I had a tumor.

When I was first coming out to myself, before I came out to everyone I knew, I felt alone with my anguish. With my tumors, without hesitation or explanation, I came out immediately to my family and my community and they embraced me. When I was first coming out to myself, my emotional system was so upset with me that I punished myself: I exercised endlessly, slept little, lost a lot of weight. With my tumors, I took care of myself and so did my partner, my family, colleagues, my community. I felt scared sometimes, but I never felt alone.

After coming out, I eventually came to trust myself and my place in the world and to believe that I could make a positive difference here. I also learned through coming out that I could face a very dark time and emerge from the darkness. I learned that I could struggle and be okay.  I came to believe that, though I could not know the future, I would not be lonely.

This trust and belief, in myself and in my community, has sustained me in this difficult time. I have been stronger in the face of both life and death than I would have suspected.

For your companionship, for this community, for being with me through it all, thank you. That's mostly what I feel: grateful. Mary

Monday, April 19, 2010

NL #4: Everything I need to know about auctions I learned from basketball

NL #4: High school basketball prepared me for auctioning. Friday night we attended our annual church auction. I’m competitive by nature, not necessarily a strength in competitive bidding. Some things I learned from playing high school basketball prepared me for auctioning (now a verb):

1) The one with the biggest number wins. Though I didn't win in basketball very often, I do "win" a lot of times in auctions.

2) If I’m not in the game, I can’t steal or score. This was an especially painful lesson as I sat on the bench for most high school games. When we played weak teams in high school, my coach would say, “We gon’ kill a gnat with a sledgehammah.” I loved the expression, but it’s not really practical. In reality, killing a gnat with a sledgehammah often means you spend a lot of energy, damage walls, but miss the gnat. On our basketball team it meant that our strongest players (not me) always played pretty much the whole game. And some gnats got away. A soft tissue is probably more practical in gnat warfare, and in basketball strategy. I finally quit.
 As in basketball, if I’m not in the bidding war, I can’t win. Even though I’m a lovah not a fightah, I love bidding wars. Sometimes, I bid just to start a war. Years ago, Ann left me at the table with the bidding card while she went to socialize. Lewis had donated two beautiful antique chairs that did not fit in our home in terms of color or size, but the chairs were about to go for a pitifully low price. Bid card up. Ann ran across the room, a kind of OJ Simpson through the airports run (before the days of the slow chase), and ripped the bidder number from me. Someone else won those chairs at about four times the original price. I felt like a good person.

3) It’s important to box out for highly coveted items: in basketball, of course, the ball. In auctioning something more like a framed autographed cartoon of WNBA Seattle Storm players Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. In high school, this was hard for me. I was tall, somewhat willowy (some often mentioned a long stick) and a little off-balance. Once, when I was walking past a table of boys in the school library, the whole table got quiet. Finally, I overheard one say to the others: “That girl ain’t got no butt!” When walking down the street once, some fellow leaned out the car window to holler: “You don’t even make a shadow!” Yes, I was thin, skinny, which meant that I got knocked around under the boards. Since I have my cane now, I’m wider at the silent auction table, I have a weapon, and I have an excuse to write my name and number slowly.

4) Teamwork is important: Once my friend Jerry and I were bidding on a vacation that we intended to take together (with our partners, of course). We were bidding against each other until we finally realized that we were just raising the price for ourselves. I think alcohol was involved. I’m pretty sure. Maybe I would have had a more illustrious basketball career if alcohol had been involved.

5) As in basketball, the last few seconds of an auction can determine the difference between winning and losing. If I start a silent auction bidding war too early, the price just goes way up, so I am learning to enter the fray as a spoiler. I don’t bid for anything I really want until the end of the bidding period. When the auctioneer starts counting down, I take the final five seconds to sign my name. That way I "win."

6) In basketball, I had to learn when to quit. This was a hard lesson for me and not one that I have yet applied to auctioning.

I have been more successful with auctioning that I was with basketball. Evidence is all around our home: four-foot high Appalachian dolls that I call Grandma and Grandpa and that all the older ladies stop to talk to: “Hey girl. How are you?”, a large blown-glass dish that reflects the summer sun onto the den wall in pinks and purples (Ignore the inscription on the back—must have been someone’s wedding gift), photographs and memories of dinners and trips with friends, Grandma and Grandpa. The evidence of my basketball success is here, too: pictures of other people who play.

Of course, in the end it’s always all for a good cause and a good time. That’s what I say. But to be honest, it’s about winning.


Friday, April 16, 2010

NL #3: You, too, can be an A+ Student!

NL#3: You have choices in how you will take today’s test. Each of you, like Diana, should be able to score 100 percent. You may choose to look at the list of allusions and see which ones you can identify OR You can look at the list of allusions and the works that follow to see if you can match the quotation with its source OR You can look below at the answers right away. Have fun! Yes, I am a geek, and yes, I often told my students to have fun when they took a test and yes, I often had fun taking tests.

I take my waking slow.
Mary E and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Birthday
All means all.
With feathers
Excuse me, while I kiss the sky.
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
The world’s grace is, of course, still with me.
"Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens"
"The Lord called the donkey a fool."
Call me Mary.
What a piece of work is man...and woman, too.
Not dead yet.
“Deep in my heart, I still believe, that we shall overcome some day,”
"Not Waving but Drowning"
"Twas a rough night."
"Run away!"
I'm a lovah, not a fightah.
Sometimes you're the windshield. Sometimes you're the bug.

Matching: Match the artist and the artwork to the allusion above.
MacBeth in Shakespeare’s play, MacBeth.
Song by The Kinks.
Theodore Roethke poem “I Wake to Sleep and Take my Waking Slow”
Skit “Bring Out Your Dead” in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
George W. Bush
Judith Viorst’s children’s book, Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
Education maxim.
Gollum in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, The Hobbit.
Emily Dickenson’s poem, “Hope is the Thing with Feathers.”
Charles Tindley’s gospel song, “We Will Overcome.”
Jimi Hendrix’s song, “Purple Haze.”
William Wordsworth’s poem, “Intimations of Immortality”
Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Peace of Wild Things.”
“The Giant Rabbit” skit in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Stevie Smith’s poem, “Not Waving but Drowning.”
Common expression. Origin unknown.
Rabbit in Walt Disney’s movie Bambi.
Louis Jordan’s song “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens.”
Hamlet in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.
Mary Chapin Carpenter’s country song, “The Bug” (Also sung by Dire Straits)
My Grandmother M.
“Ishmael” in Herman Melville’s novel, Moby Dick.
One of the ten plagues of Egypt in Exodus.
The kind of creature who is the hirsute character Chewbacca, best friend to Hans Solo in the movie Star Wars

I take my waking slow. Theodore Roethke poem “I Wake to Sleep and Take my Waking Slow”
Mary E and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Birthday. Judith Viorst’s children’s book, Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
All means all. Education maxim.
With feathers. Emily Dickenson’s poem, “Hope is the Thing with Feathers.”
Excuse me, while I kiss the sky. Jimi Hendrix’s song, “Purple Haze.”
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
William Wordsworth’s poem, “Intimations of Immortality”
The world’s grace is, of course, still with me. Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Peace of Wild Things.”
"Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens." Louis Jordan’s song “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens.”
"The Lord called the donkey a fool." My Grandmother M.
Call me Mary. “Ishmael” in Herman Melville’s novel, Moby Dick.
"Precioussss." Gollum in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit.
"Thumper." Rabbit in Walt Disney’s movie Bambi.
“What a piece of work is man.” Hamlet in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.
Not dead yet. Skit “Bring Out Your Dead” in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
“Deep in my heart, I still believe, that we shall overcome some day,” Charles Tindley’s gospel song, “We Will Overcome.”
"Not Waving but Drowning" Stevie Smith’s poem, “Not Waving but Drowning.”
"Twas a rough night." MacBeth in Shakespeare’s play, MacBeth.
"Run away!" “The Giant Rabbit” skit in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Wookie: the kind of creature who is the hirsute Star Wars character, best friend to Hans Solo, Chewbacca, in the movie Star Wars.
I'm a lovah, not a fightah. Song by The Kinks.
Innernets: George W. Bush
Locusts: One of the ten plagues of Egypt in Exodus.
Sometimes you're the windshield. Sometimes you're the bug. Mary Chapin Carperner’s country song, “The Bug” (Also sung by Dire Straits)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

NL #2: I take my waking slow

NL #2 : Ann wakes in the morning like a superheroine. Her alarm makes a teenie noise as the radio is about to turn on. She hears it; her eyes pop open; she rips the tape off of her mouth and shuts off the radio before it's had a chanced to say anything; and she leaps to her feet, ready to rid the world of all bad things and to grow goodness in the world. (I have to imagine much of this as I never have opened my eyes before her feet hit the floor.) Even in her yoga, she takes on the world with warrior pose after warrior pose.

I, in contrast, take my waking slow. My first alarm turns on the radio and I give it a nasty stare. I stretch. I yawn. I moan. I try to cheer myself out of bed, but I've never been much of a cheerleader: "Rise and Shine!," I try, using the encouraging voice of the Camp Seafarer morning greeting. "Up, up, up, up," I say to myself, like a child watching a helium balloon ascend into the clouds. I might follow lack of success here with a more sporty, "Up and at 'em!" This doesn't work either, so I try philosophy: "No time like the present." This is the point where, if I have risen to my elbows, I lie my head back down on the pillow and moan from the strain of it all.

Next, I try music: First, a slightly revised version of Neil Sedaka's "Waking Up is Hard to Do," but I find the down dooby doo down down takes me further into the pillow. Then I try a camp song, which ends with the sun coming up and the dew falling away, "'Good morning, Good morning,' the little birds say." This usually does it. Magically I rise and head to the yoga mat, not to do warrior pose but a gentle stretch: cat-cow. I don't meow or moo.

A daily miracle.

Test  tomorrow. Don't oversleep. Mary

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

DAR #30: Mary E and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Birthday

DAR #30: Mary E and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Birthday

Please note: You will have a test Friday on literary (used broadly) references and allusions in this blog. I imagine that English majors may be at an advantage. One example: To what children's book does the title of this entry allude? Open note, open blog, open innernets.

Two years ago, I had the worst birthday ever. I was almost a year from brain surgery, unable to work, and beginning to learn which disabilities were probably permanent. In my year on medical leave, I participated in a university program for administrative certification. Kathy, the leader of the program, is a visionary, a compassionate person, who made adjustments to help me get through. When she asked at the end of the summer what I needed and I told her I needed a cot because it took too much energy to sit up so long, she arranged for a cot to be in the room where we took classes. Apparently ,though students often sleep in class, providing a cot was unusual.

I planned not to attend class on my birthday because an environmental education group was leading the seminar, and I suspected I would not be able to participate without hurting myself, but Kathy talked with them about my disabilities and said they would plan activities so that I could participate. I was skeptical, but agreed to try it.

For an opening activity, the thirty or so of us sat auditorium style. At the front of the seating was a piece of rolled up newspaper. I don’t really remember the details, but the objective was hit someone with the newspaper and that person had to run to the front and try to get back to their seat before you took their seat. Aside from not seeming like much of an activity to prepare me to be a school leader, I could hardly walk steadily and my only option in participating was to opt out, which I did by making it clear with my body language that I did not wish to be hit. My friend Keisha sat beside me and asked me how I felt: “Irritated.”

Debriefing the activity as a group, Keisha asked me to share my thoughts, and from that point forward the class was about me, something I didn’t feel comfortable about, though I did think the class should be about serving people with disabilities, me being the current example. Finally, my friend Angela offered to take me home. A relief. I’d had enough.

The next day, I wrote an essay about the experience to share with fellow students the next week. I couldn’t really see just re-entering as if nothing had happened, and I wanted my peers, who were exceptionally kind people, to think about working with folks with disabilities. I wanted to be clear that I thought an “opt out” option was not an adequate alternative. So the next week I shared this essay:

Living with Disabilities: Reflections on Teaching and Leading

Ten months ago I had surgery to remove a tumor from my brainstem. During that surgery I had a stroke. This surgery left me unable to walk or to use both of my eyes at the same time. Now I’m walking with a cane and wearing a patch so that I can function with double vision. Formerly an athlete, an avid walker, biker and hiker, I am now a person learning to live with my disabilities.

My primary emotional response since the diagnosis has been gratitude: for a loving partner-a rock in my life, a family generous with care and support, communities and circles of friends and colleagues who seek to help me use my skills and experience meaningfully, professional care-givers, health and disability insurance, the flexibility of administrators and directors in helping me continue my education and work in schools as I recover, and a faith that cradles me and gives me hope.

I am participating in an administrative internship at the state university and working in an internship in my previous district—at a small high school—while I am on medical leave. I have been working for eight years in schools with large percentages of students with disabilities—physical, emotional, and behavioral—and with students and their families otherwise struggling in this world: poverty, violence, jail, gangs, drugs, immigration, learning English. Though of course I thought about inclusion before my surgery, my disabilities and my continuing roles in education have me thinking differently about inclusion and education for all.

Please don’t single me out.

“How can we as a community help you to feel safe?” asked my instructor of the day. By nature a reserved person, unaccustomed to being the center of attention, I cringe when others dwell on my disabilities—even though I believe in their good intentions—especially when it seems an afterthought. If others don’t plan for me, I don’t want to be there. I wonder about students who must publicly explain why this class or this activity isn’t working for them and how to make it more effective for them. I especially wonder about students who are criticized or disciplined for not participating when they may be unable to participate. I wonder if this is especially difficult for students whose disabilities are not physical and therefore not obvious.

Inclusion doesn’t mean creating plans that create the alternative that allows a student to opt out.

In one of my university courses last week, a well-intentioned instructor said that some of the activities I could participate in, and when I needed to opt out I could. The first activity of the day included a type of tag where students run around and hit each other with a rolled up newspaper. My option was to put my hand on my head to indicate that I should not be hit. This class was not created for me. I needed the instructor to create real options for my learning, not just the option of opting out. How often have I had students who have not participated because I didn’t think of an option for them?

Holidays are stressful

Four years ago, I celebrated my 40th birthday with friends and family with a 60’s flashback party: disco ball, dancing, lava lamps, the Beatles, and peace signs. This year my birthday reminds me of the march of time, of how much I lost ten months ago and of how unsure I am about upcoming years. I know that some of our most struggling students have difficulties during the holidays. These days may be reminders of happier times, of how different their lives are than of those around them, of anxieties about the future. I wonder how often they feel fragile, like I do, and how hard they are working just to do the basics: get up in the morning, face each day, learn something, enter the community, keep it together. I wonder if in our joy we can notice their struggle.

Change is hard.

Simple changes can be hard for me to manage. A few months ago, I was in a district meeting that ended two hours early. This would usually be a cause of celebration, and was for most of the people in the room. For me, however, it meant that the transportation that I had arranged wouldn’t come for two hours and I would be alone in a building that was closing until they came. I thought it would get cold. Fortunately, a colleague took me home: relief except that I would be reprimanded by the city for not being there when my ride came.

Last week, during the state testing in my school, students not taking the test met together for community meetings to learn together and to address ways to improve the school. It was an exciting time for the community and for most students. I watched the stress level of students with disabilities, those who don’t speak English fluently and those who couldn’t find their space in the meetings (especially freshmen) go way up. I also worked with students—mostly seniors—who needed to be disciplined because they were disruptive during the meetings. “Am I in trouble?” many asked as they entered the room. They seemed so relieved when the discussion was more around how to help them participate responsibly than in telling them how bad they were. Because so many of us who are teaching and leading found these experiences exciting, I think we often mistake the difficulty of changing for disruptive behavior that should be punished. We have to plan carefully for those for whom change disrupts their carefully crafted methods of coping.

All means all—especially if “most” leaves me out.

The experiential education session may have worked for my colleagues, but it left me depressed and focused on how much I had lost. I was angry. I was not to be appeased on that day in spite of the good intentions of my colleagues and instructors. I left.

As an educator working hard to teach in meaningful ways, I sometimes felt relieved when a lesson engaged most of my students. I wonder now about students who have not been included all day—or all yea-- or most of their education. I wonder how often they are in the office because they’ve had it with not being served. I wonder how many of them are in the invisible statistics of those students who simply aren’t there anymore.

Laughter is a way of being part of the community.

I have always been a geek, delighted by learning: never the class clown. Friends and colleagues, however, have always commented on my dry sense of humor. Now, as a graduate student in class, I often use humor as a way to participate and to be someone other than just the student with disabilities. I really don’t like to cry or to share my struggles, so I’m more likely to try to make people laugh.

I think about class clowns, about how much they may be struggling and how much the humor allows them to be part of the community, even if the teacher disapproves. I think that the more compassionate students may be laughing because of their compassion rather than out of a desire to undermine the learning in the room, though as adults we often frame this collusion differently. We say, “Don’t encourage this bad behavior.”

What to do

I appreciate the fact that many teachers and colleagues want better to include me and struggling students in activities and to understand our experiences. Their compassion and want to understand is genuine.

Inclusion is hard and there is no magic answer, but I do have a few thoughts for teachers and leaders. 1) Make plans that emphasize inclusion in the community and in choices that include every student in the learning. Start by planning the lesson or schedule for students who struggle or for students with disabilities rather than trying to figure out how to include those with disabilities later. Then differentiate from there. In my current school, for example, the counselor hand scheduled each special education and ELL student before scheduling every other student. 2) Check in with students individually ahead of time (even right at the beginning of class or right before the activity) and not in front of the community in the moment about what will work for them. 3) Whether you are a teacher or an administrator, know that there may be a lot of pain under the surface of students and their families that you will never see and help them to make choices and to participate. Focus on student learning and wonder what behaviors might be saying about that student’s experience. 4) All of us with disabilities need to learn to advocate for ourselves and for our learning. I am not suggesting that we should not hold struggling students and students with disabilities to high academic and behavioral standards. I am saying that we should work to be truly inclusive.

NL #1: With Feathers

NL (New Life) #1: Like Homer's Odyssey, my story begins in medias res, so I have written an introduction for my blog book which I am sharing with you here:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.
--Emily Dickenson

“Emily Dickenson was wrong. Hope is not the thing with feathers. My nephew is….”
--Woody Allen, Without Feathers

Like climbers who ascend the world’s highest peaks, I am an adventurer. I have struggled through challenges most others don’t face; I have climbed to the top to see that the climb down is just as long and perhaps more arduous; I have seen the world from a perspective that others may imagine but few have experienced. Sure, my challenges have been differentthan theirs: big hair, a Southern upbringing, the Seattle transportation system, a brain tumor, brain surgery, radiation... Like the climbers, though, I appreciate the journey’s challenge. I, like those climbers, see the world and myself in a new way because of this journey. I have a story to tell.

When my doctor told me I had a brain tumor, I faced a challenge I had never before considered: how do I tell people I have a brain tumor? My first few efforts were abysmal: First, I went to tell the school counselor where I worked that I might not be able to proctor the statewide exams because I might need to have brain surgery instead: a little abrupt. Then a talented theatre teacher from Ann's school, whom I don’t know well, called. We had talked about combining immigration stories from my many recent immigrant and refugee students with her more affluent, less recent immigrants (like centuries ago) into a theatre production. When she called to discuss the idea further, I said, “I don’t think I can work on this right now. I just learned that I have a brain tumor.” Again, a bit abrupt.

So I started practicing. In the bathroom mirror I practiced the sentence, studying my face and placing the emphasis on different words. Was it, “I have a brain tumor” or “I have a brain tumor”? I made some phone calls, feeling that I needed to let folks know before prayers of concern at church on Sunday. When I walked into church Sunday morning, my friend Karen said, “My answering machine isn’t working too well. Did you leave a message saying that you have a brain tumor?” Apparently, that wasn’t too smooth either.

I thought about what my doctor had done. I had been to see her for almost a year about headaches, slight balance issues, vision problems. At first, she told me to drink more water. When that didn’t help, I went to an ophthalmologist. He told me to drink more water, too. As a high school teacher with few breaks in the day, all that water began affecting me at work. When I started seeing double while biking the next spring, I contacted my doctor again and told her I simply could not drink any more water. “I think it’s time for a CAT scan,” she said. I was nonchalant, feeling like this was a rule-out, like I was finally getting somewhere after years of blacking out, feeling faint, and struggling with fatigue.

I was not home the first day the doctor called, so she left a message, “Hi Mary. This is Dr. M. I need to talk with you, so please call back as soon as you get this message.” I suspected this wouldn’t be good news. Otherwise, she’d just leave the news on voice mail. I was on spring break from school and didn’t want to ruin it, so I was passive aggressive and didn’t return her increasingly assertive messages. Once, she left her home phone number. A really bad sign. I still didn’t call. My partner Ann and I went to a Korean bath for a “scrub” and then had cosmopolitans on the deck. No need to ruin the last moments before whatever this bad news was.

The next Monday, I arranged to use the principal’s office for a private phone call after school. When we connected, the first thing Dr. M said was, “I guess you already know this is going to be bad news.” My doctor had prepared me for bad news already. I thought, “I should do this, too.”

So I began to start my speech with comments like, “I have some bad news about my health that I need to talk with you about.” I eventually put the emphasis on brain, but not too exaggerated: “I have a brain tumor.” Although the announcement was still something of a shocker, folks seemed more prepared for the news.

Plans proceeded pretty fast, as this tumor was (according to my surgeon), “a big nasty tumor in a really bad place.” How big? At first he said it was the size of a grape. Then the size of a scuppernong and-- after surgery revealed its actual size--the size of a plum. (I don’t know why they always seem to compare tumors to fruits. A friend had a cyst “as big as an orange.”)

My father came into town to visit the neurosurgeon with me and my partner Ann. What would happen in the surgery? If surgery stories make you queasy, you should skip this part. Surgeons would cut out the back of my skull, split my cerebellum, use some fancy new video equipment to see the tumor and remove it from my fourth ventricle. Surgeons wouldn’t go into my brainstem, so I might need radiation afterwards in case they didn't get it all. There was five percent to 10 percent chance of lots of things going wrong: I could die or lose my ability to walk or swallow or breathe, for example. I might turn into a Republican, but that was unlikely. It would probably take me five to seven days of recovery in the hospital and six weeks at home to recover. I asked Dr. M, “What does ‘recovery’ mean? Does it mean I can sit up or go to the bathroom by myself or go on a ten mile hike?” Apparently, it might mean any of those things. Or none of them.

I did the best I could to prepare my students for a new teacher and myself for the unknown. I made a list of family items I’d like to go to my nieces and nephews in case I died. I was in my early forties and in reasonably good shape. I ate at least one unit from all the food groups (vegetable, protein, fruit, beer) each day. I figured I’d be fine.

I wore my tangerine “Breathe” shirt with the “Life is Good” stick person sitting in the lotus position to the hospital. When the nurse called my name, I held up my arms in victory as if I’d just scored a touchdown. When the anesthesiologist jabbed the heck out of my right arm in an attempt to get a line in my dainty veins, I was good humored. When they wheeled me into the surgery room, the size of my bedroom with lots of folks in masks and surgical gowns looking professional, my lead neurosurgeon introduced me to everyone and I was Southern polite: “Nice to meet you. Thanks for being here…” The anesthesiologist lifted my gown, saw my trembling abdomen and said with surprise, “You’re nervous!” This was the closest I came to getting snippy: “Of course I am. All these nice people are going to cut open my brain.” She put me out.

When I came to, I was in the recovery room and Ann was saying, “Congratulations. You made it.” She told me she’d send in my parents in a minute so that they could see that I was okay and then other close friends would visit very shortly in ones and twos. Everyone, it seemed, needed to verify that I was still breathing. “Okay,” I said, “but tell Dad to be quiet.” My dad can be quite loud. Ann saw this as evidence that my sense of humor was still intact. I wasn’t kidding.

The rest follows in this book. There were complications. I had a small stroke and some damage to my 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th nerves. The right side of my face was paralyzed. I spent almost a month in recovery where I learned to walk (with a walker), to flush the toilet and to shower again. The following year, I had two eye muscle surgeries. Almost three years later, radiation to address a new tumor. I still have disabilities and much has been hard, but there have also been gifts along the way—the gift of a caring family and community and even, sometimes, strangers; the gift of living in the world in a new way, seeing the world differently, and having the world see me differently; the gift of seeing in myself faith, courage and humor that I did not know would carry on with me.

This book began as a blog during radiation, sharing my progress with family and friends, but it soon became my way of connecting with the world and reflecting on my journey. I share my story with you because I think it’s interesting and hopeful and I believe this world--and perhaps you--can use stories of hope. Thanks for joining my community. Mary

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Excuse me, while I kiss the sky

Champagne all round. The tumor is GONE. No mas. No more. Nada. The doctors anticipated it still being there with the hope that it would be shrinking over time, but it is just gone. Thanks for being with me, for your prayers and for crossing your fingers. Thanks especially to those who have been holding your breath.You can exhale now. I'm so elated I feel a little drunk. mary

DAR #29: Genesis

DAR #29: The Southern Baptist church where I grew up comprised an eclectic congregation of hippie Southern Baptists, professors from local colleges and universities, artists and young parents like mine who wanted to attend a church more liberal than they were. We were as likely to sing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” as any hymn and to read The Velveteen Rabbit as any Bible stories. The church took a stand against the Vietnam War and had a sister church, a storehouse church with a primarily black congregation. Today they also have a sister church in Cuba.

After I graduated, the church tussled with questions of rightness and then decided to ask the minister to perform a gay union ceremony. That was too far. The church was expelled from the Southern Baptist Convention and is now an American Baptist Church. Today, the church has two ministers: a straight man whose intellectual sermons would make many more traditional church-goers cringe and a lesbian who, just by being both a woman and a gay person, makes those same folks cringe.

It is, and always has been, a lively place of spiritual quest, passion for social justice, community. As many Southern churches are, it’s large with a downstairs sanctuary that seats maybe four hundred and three upstairs balconies where my friend Ande and I sat so that we could slip out when things got boring and go to the local park to swing on the swings. We always wore our bell-bottom blue jeans with peace sign patches to church, so we were appropriately dressed for both church and the park.

For such a large place, the sanctuary feels intimate. There are rich stained glass windows and hues of gold, purple and blue that make it seem—somehow—cozier. If you go there today, my dad will probably be sitting on the right as you enter, in the fourth row, behind the Corrells, and my mom will be the one who hits the high note in the choir

I didn’t realize the church was so unusual until I tried to find a home church in Dallas. I assumed Dallas churches would be similar to the church in which I had grown up, but with different people. I visited 17 churches and the closest I found was a Universalist congregation that met in a very brown room. It felt more like college than church, so I gave up on it.

Now Ann and I are part of a Methodist congregation, much smaller but in many respects similar to my first congregation. This congregation, at the forefront of the move to “reconcile” with GLBTQ persons, supports us as a couple and has been a tremendous support throughout our time with my tumors. I am guessing that they are praying for us today as we go to find out if this radiation has been successful and that they will be there for us no matter what comes next.

Feeling grateful and anxious to know the MRI report. I’ll let you know what we learn. Mary

Monday, April 12, 2010

DAR #28: Simply Extraordinary

DAR #28

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.
--William Wordsworth

I have never been hit by a car, but I have been hit by a squirrel. My college friend Laura and I were circumnavigating the tree lined path around our college campus, when I saw something out of my right eye just before a mass hit me square in the head. “What was that?” Both Laura and I looked left to see a squirrel poking its head out from the base of a tree to the left, several feet lower than he had intended to land, looking up at us with wide eyes that asked the same question: “What was that?”

I have neither climbed K2 (or any snow capped mountain) nor gone scuba diving off the Great Barrier Reef (or anywhere actually), but I have witnessed simpler extraordinary gifts of nature. I swam in Costa Rica’s turquoise waters and watched the monkeys play leapfrog (I don’t know if they call it that) through the trees as Macaws swooped by. I climbed to the “roof of the world,” a mountain overlooking Lalibela, Ethiopia, and listened to the monks’ chanting and drumming bounce off the mountain walls. I have witnessed avalanche lilies bloom from under their snowy blanket and the pink sunset glow on Mount Rainier. I watched giraffes gallop across the Serengeti and Masai men leap from standing still as high as NBA players running to dunk. With a Mayan family, I climbed the pyramids of Tikal and with a Salvadoran family I ate New Year’s tamales. I have witnessed teenagers move from apparent apathy to engagement, from preparing for gang life to readying themselves for college life.

Once when I was waterskiing in the NC Waterway (proving to myself that I could still ski at 40), I noticed a dolphin in the waters ahead and dropped the ski rope so that no dolphin would die in the motor’s blades for me. I slowly sank into the water and the dolphin came to me, lifted itself by its tail from the water, and smiled for a long moment before disappearing from me forever. The boat was turning around so no one else saw it. Just my moment with a dolphin.

When my friends Jack and Sandy visited decades ago, we went to Orcas Island for the weekend and were sitting on a bench watching stars from a meteor shower fall when I noticed the green and magenta glow of the Northern Lights on the horizon. Either that or Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind.

When I was 15 years old, my parents took me on a tour of “the west.” We took what looked like a shortcut on the map into Yellowstone National Park. The reason it looked like a short cut on the map, and the reason this route had not been recommended, was that we drove straight up and down a snowy mountain. Probably because I am my parents’ favorite child, I was sitting in the middle up front while my younger siblings squabbled in the back seat. I still remember coming around a bend and seeing the awesome landscape of mountains, rocks and snow below us. I gasped. It’s the first time I remember beauty taking my breath away.

More recently, my partner Ann and I were hiking early one spring morning at Crystal Mountain because we’d heard that elk gathered at the ridge of this trail in the mornings. I heard a rustle on the trail’s high side and paused so as not to frighten the elk. An adolescent grizzly stepped into the path just in front of me. I gasped, from fear and from the stunning closeness of such wildness, and the two of us stared at one another for a split second before he continued his tumble down the mountainside. Because I’m chicken, Ann led the rest of the way.

One winter, cross country skiing in the North Cascades, I took a quiet trail called “Red Fox Run.” I was alone. A black fox joined me just off the trail and ran along beside me for a quarter mile or so. That is the grace of the world.

I have rafted the Colorado River rapids and joined the Grand Canyon swim team. Ann and I watched a lightning storm dance above us as we sat on a rock by the river, the show as compelling as any 3D movie. In Alaska, we watched grizzlies fishing at the top of a small waterfall, trying not to cheer when they caught a salmon. In our own yard, spring brings crocus, then daffodils, now tulips and later roses to bloom.

Since it’s not so easy for me to get to out of the way places anymore, I feared that my days of such extraordinary visions were over. Then last summer Ann and I went to Paradise at Mount Rainier and left the inn early for a morning hike because the afternoon heat was too much. As we started up the paved trail, we gasped. A black fox was hunting for its morning snack just ahead of us. Pacing, looking into the blooming heather, staring and then pouncing: straight up and straight down. No catch. The world’s grace is, of course, still with me.

Friday, April 9, 2010

DAR #27: Another day, Another needle, Another mask

DAR #27: Yesterday I had an MRI to take pictures of my brain so that the doctors can tell whether or not the radiation worked and they can tell me and Ann. We’ll learn the results on Tuesday at 5 pm PST. If you’ve never had an MRI, this is how it works:

I go in to the waiting room (the same waiting room as my radiation: the Cheers receptionists looked befuddled.) A nurse from another room comes in to get me and to escort me back to the MRI machine. I lie on a palette much like the one for radiation. I wear several shirts and a sweatshirt, sweatpants, wool socks and my faux-UGGs because I know it will be cold. Nothing with metal, so I leave my suit of armor at home.

The nurse covers me with a warm blanket to make me feel all cozy and then tries to put a line in my vein for the contrast. This is not that big a deal except that my veins are very small (dainty, I like to think) and they don’t like to be poked. Last time I was here it took this same nurse two arms and seven pokes to get the line in. My arm was bruised like a banana for weeks. This time goes much better: only three pokes and one arm and a hand. No bruise.

The nurse puts earplugs in my ears and lowers a cage much like a football mask over my face. She tells tells me not to move. The palette slips into a large white machine that feels much like a wind tunnel. The nurse tells me how long each scan will take (18 seconds…4 minutes and 20 seconds…) and the process begins. It’s something like lying in a small tunnel where drummers, truckers, and jackhammerists have decided to start a percussion band. Some people find this very hard to take. I do not. Once, I fell asleep.

After a half an hour or so, the nurse pushes a button that pulls me on my palette back out. She tells me not to move, and she puts the contrast in my arm. I don’t feel much: just a cold sensation and the slight taste of metal in my mouth. I go back in the tube for another three scans and then I’m done.

The nurse bandages my hand as if I’ve been in an accident involving sharp blades and I return on my own to the waiting room, where Ann smiles and says that she has just finished grading this set of papers. We go home and, yes, I take a nap.

Have a good weekend and pray or cross your fingers or hold your breath or do whatever you do for Tuesday. Doing all three--Mary

Thursday, April 8, 2010

DAR #26: Pets are People Too

DAR #26: Sister Jenn mentioned that among my traumas were the deaths of Pepper, Sparky and Tripper, our dogs.

Pepper was our first dog, and I thought of him as my dog. He was a Spidoodle, which means that somehow a Spitz and a Poodle cojoined. He was white and mostly black (therefore "Pepper"), about the height of a large poodle but more filled out. Like me, his bangs always hung in his eyes. That may be why he got hit by that car.

Our second dog, Sparky, was a golden cocker spaniel and struggled with many of the issues brought on by too much in-breeding. He was a cheerful dog with a tuft of white-blond hair at the top of his head. If, while he was napping in the sun, I was standing ten yards to his left and called his name, he would bounce eagerly up, run to the right, and stop suddenly as if to say, "Hey, where are you?" Sister Jenn and I loved to watch him howl, so sometimes we would sit in the kitchen and howl. He would wag his tail as if to say, "What's happening here? I want to join the fun," and then he would howl. I loved the way he held back his head and his whole body trembled. It was if he forgot he was a dog in the kitchen who peed on newspaper and returned to his wolf roots. Mom paper-trained the poor dog so throughly that when he was outside he would run to the kitchen door, scratch and whimper. When we opened the door, he would race in to try to hit the paper, often falling over his own feet. He pretty much never made it to the paper and would hang his head in shame.

Our third dog was another cocker spaniel, Tripper, so named because as a puppy he would hump our legs so much that we would trip. He was a smart dog. When we played touch football, he knew the rules, so when he ran out of bounds with the ball, he knew to drop it.. When he was older, I was doing my homework when Sister Jenn and Brother Matt ran into my room in something of a panic. "Tripper and Taffy (our neighbors cocker spaniel) are stuck and we can't get them separated! We've tried cheese (our cocker loved cheese and hotdogs), but they don't move." I went outside, laughed a superior older sister laugh, and told them to leave the dogs alone. That fall, Taffy had five very cute cocker spaniel puppies. More in-breeding.

As adults, both Sister Jenn and Brother Matt have adopted dogs. Brother Matt and his at-the-time wife-to-be, Kristin, adopted Stella before wedlock. Matt and Kristin were visiting us before they went to pick up Stella and they had a phenomenally intense discussion about whether one or both of them would pick her up. As the discussion went on, Ann observed, "They're defininitely getting married." Sadly, Stella died just after Christmas this year. Matt cooked her a steak on her last night. She had a good life.

Sister Jenn's dogs are a more comic pair. Their golden retriever, Ranger, is a beautiful dog about the size of a horse who is afraid of their doggie door. Ranger prefers to stand on his hind legs and open the latch like any other self-respecting member of the family. Rosie, their bear-sized Burmese Mountain Dog, is not so sophisticated. She's not opposed to the doggie door and is just glad for the chance to sleep in the warmer mudroom (even if Ranger does get to sleep in the living room.) This Christmas, when Ann and I visited, we felt for Rosie, so we tromped through the snow to a bench in the front yard so that I could sit and talk with her without fear of being knocked over. Ann and I sat on the bench and talked with Rosie at our feet. She got so excited that she jumped up on the bench herself and slid behind Ann, knocking Ann to the ground.

Ann used to have asthsma (have her tell you about how the Buyteko method cured her). Animals, and especially cats and horses, triggered her asthma, sending her to the front of the line in the emergency room, so we've never gotten animals. Neighborhood cats generally adopt us in the summer, so we often still get the fun of pets without litter boxes and vet fees. Our favorite is our neighbor's cat Hector, an orange tabby so named, I assume, because he loves to hunt. As a kitten, he would crouch in his hunting position for hours, watching the birds in the lot across the street. He looked a lot like the lions we watched hunting zebras when we were in the Serengeti years later. The problem was that while there are few muscle cars in the Serengeti, there are lots of teenage boys racing their muscle cars here and Hector would hunt from the middle of the street. While we worked in the yard, Ann spent most of her time retrieving Hector from the road and lecturing him about the dangers of city life. The next summer, Hector took to stalking the birds at our birdfeeder. The feeder hung from an eave, and Hector would sit in the window well beneath them, watching for hours. The birds knew they were safe, and so was Hector. A classic win-win.

Our NIMBYs (Nighbors in my back yard), have two beautiful dogs named Sadie and Violet and had three chickens, All the Single Ladies, until Big Chicken died recently. When the chickens were chicks, they slept nights in the recycling bin while Andrew, an architect, built them a luxury hotel. They spent days pecking about their yard and then in the late afternoon Sayre and their natural herding dog Violet would herd them into their hotel so that the raccoons wouldn't get them at night. Sayre had to fire Violet from this responsibility when Violet started drooling at the sight of the chickens. Lately, sadly, the chickens are not well. All three started molting, Big Chicken died, and the other two are now eating their own eggs. In an attempt at chicken music therapy, I have sent them Louis Jordan's album with "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens" and "Barnyard Dance" to cheer them up, but it's not looking good for these chickens.

Love to you and your loved ones (your pets). Mary

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

DAR #25 Aarrrrhh

DAR #25: About a decade ago at a teachers’ lunch table, a proper Language Arts teacher for whom I have a lot of respect said, “I believe that the only people who curse are those without the vocabulary to express themselves more eloquently.” I told her that I used to think that, “but now I think that’s bullsh$t.” I actually think we’re often most creative with language when we curse, perhaps especially when we try to keep it G-rated.

"The Lord called the donkey a fool." My grandmother M. used to say this in response to something someone said or did that she thought was foolish. We still wonder what it means. I think it was her Southern Baptist lady way of calling someone an ass.
When my friend Declan’s first child was just beginning to babble, Declan was driving him around in the car. Another driver swerved and Declan exclaimed, “Oh, sh$t!” His son echoed, “Oh, sh$t Oh, sh$t Oh, sh$t…” and Declan, not wanting to upset his wife, had to drive to the end of the gas tank to get the child to repeat a different sound. Quality father-son bonding, I’m sure. I hope Declan’s told his wife about that.

One of my favorite expressions from teenagers that means, “Darn!” the last few years has been, “Aw snap” or “Snaps!” When I was working with students who struggled in reading, one in particular would say, “Snaps!” every time he got frustrated. I didn’t want him to get frustrated, but I did love that.

A previous student, more suburban, says, “Gosh!” When she was in college, I asked her what career she was considering, “Gosh, Miss Mary, there are so many things in the world I could work on. I just have to choose one I guess.” I loved her use of “Gosh” and her enthusiasm—especially since she’s gone into teaching secondary Language Arts.

My Uncle Tommy T. says, “Well, golly.” Golly has five syllables. Four are on the “gol” part. That “o” just keeps going. It's an expression of delight. In another version of that, Ann last night said, “Golly Pete.” I can’t remember what it was about. Must have been serious to elicit such a dramatic response, though. Ann's version, in conract to Uncle Tommy T's, is one of frustration.

Growing up, I knew when Mom had really had it: “Fiddlesticks!” she’d gasp. This was Mom's f-bomb. Lately I’ve been wondering, what exactly are fiddlesticks?

Back in the day before brain surgery (BITD BBS), I would say, “Dadgum” or “Blast.” When I started wearing an eye patch and small children mistook me for a pirate, I started saying “Arrhhh.” Very satisfying.

The Lord called the donkey a fool. Mary

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

DAR #24: Call me...

DAR #24: Call me Mary. Or Miss Mary. Or Ms. E., Sister Mary, Em. Don't call me Merv or Casper (junior high nicknames), Marybell (only my Dad can call me that), Sweet Mary (that's Ann), or Goldie (Alex seems to think that, like Goldilocks, I can be a bit particular about the temperature or music volume.) I am thinking about nicknames, how some are shorter than the given name and some are longer, and why we give them.

Several friends, like me, have one letter names: e, g, gangsta j and sistah j, eL,  em (that's me), and pea (not pee). This makes sense because in this world of TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) and FLAs (Four Letter Acronyms) we're always shortening words. When my parents were first dating, Dad (always ahead of the curve) called Mom "SAM" because those were her maiden initials. An older gentleman in the small town where Dad grew up did not approve: "What did your Dad call your Mom? Mike? Bill? Some man's name. That such a shame because she's such a beautiful lady."

Shortening names makes sense in this TLA culture, but then there are the nicknames that are longer than the person's name. Back in the day, my grandmother renamed my Great Aunt Ben, for example, (whose real name was Magnolia though no one called her that), for the cartoon character "Ben Puttin' It Off." Apparently, procrastination has been inthe family for some time, so I don't know why Dad hassles me about that Roth information. Obviously, procrastination's in my genes, and I have no control over it.

My Aunt Cindy for a while was "Flea Bitten Hound Dog." I don't know why. Later she became "Flea" or "Hound Dog." Many of you know that I call Ann "Ann-a-Plan." In the car one day, I was trying to create an expression that read the same forwards and backwards, like "A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama." Ann likes to make plans, so I started there: Ann a Plan. But backwards that reads Nalp a Nna, so instead I made her name a poem: "Ann-a-Plan; Eat a Bananna; Drink a Cherry Coke." Every now and then I call her "Eat a Bananna" or "Eating Banannas" and we get funny looks in the grocery store. I've never called her "Drink a Cherry Coke". That would be wrong.

We rename people and we name inanimate objects. Mom called her VW Rabbit, "Thumper." My friend Sean introduces his bike as "Heidi." We named a plant in the front yard "Precioussss" from Gollum in The Hobbit.

So back to the question: Why do we name and rename people and things?

Awaiting your wisdom. Mary

Monday, April 5, 2010

DAR #23: This Little Piggy...

DAR #23: Generally in the US, my interactions with pigs have been with a knife and fork. For Easter dinner yesterday, as with many Easters, we had tasty ham. Where do pigs picture in the resurrection story? Not so high, I think.

Growing up in NC, I loved NC barbeque: pulled pork in a vinegar sauce. Whenever I visited my grandmother in  a small town in Eastern Carolina, she took me to "The Grill" for a barbeque sandwich, hold the cold slaw, and a chocolate milk shake. This was what my grandmother would call "a good eat."

A couple of times I remember getting closer to the piglike qualities of pork with a pig roast: once at the medieval fair in the 8th grade and again at a fraternity pig roast (no. I was not in a fraternity. I just liked pig.) The whole apple in the pig's mouth seemed a bit grotesque to me.

In Latin America I had more interaction with the squealing kind of pig. When I first arrived in the jungled foothills of the Michoacan mountains in the small town of Camelote, (Mexico) for one summer, my three comrades and I were given directions to the sewing school where we would stay: "Take the main road to the corner where there's a pig and turn left, then right. The sewing school will be on your right." These are common directions in this small town, and I was afraid we might miss the pig, but there was no chance. This pig was as big as two kegs. Big Pig. We had pigs in the yard behind the school, but I never went there. I think Juan was the only one to go there, to bury Alex's soiled silken briefs--an unpleasant story.

One morning I was walking back from Seniora Alisa Lopez's home (she was teaching me to cook: my tortillas were thick and not round, but I understood the bean recipes--one slab of lard for whole beans, two for refried beans); as I was walking down the dirt road, I heard a racket ahead of me. That two-keg sized pig was flying across the road, chased by a dog. The pig hurdled the fence, and the do-- which could not--stood outside barking. That pig could fly. A few weeks later, I awoke to an awful squealing that went on all morning. Everyone in that little town had pork for a month.

When Ann and I visited our sister church in Guarjila, El Salvador at the century's turn, we heard a similar squealing one morning. When we had arrived, a young pig--perhaps even a piglet--was tied to a stake in the yard like one might tie up a dog. As the pig squealed for an hour or so, we worried that this family might be slaughtering its pig for us, but when we emerged the piglet was in the backyard, unfettered. When we asked why (remember that our Spanish is not too good, so this was a challenge), they laughed. The pig was new to them, and young pigs will return to their mothers, but if you run them around the house three times, they get confused and will stay at their new home. That must be where my parents got that idea and ran me around this Seattle home.


Friday, April 2, 2010

DAR #22: On my nerves

DAR #22: Today: a lesson on the brain. You may remember that just after surgery the right side of my face was paralyzed. It's about 75% back now. The reason it was paralyzed and then came back was that my 7th nerve was damaged during surgery, but because it was not destroyed at the root, it was able to heal over time. What a piece of work is man...and woman, too.

If you wnat to see a two-minute video of the kind of surgery I had, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bU9pXJohg8E (Yes, utube.) The surgery is actually quite a few hours, but this is condensed. It is a real surgery, so if that sort of thing grosses you out or makes you faint, skip it.

As I remember, there are 12 cranial nerves (nerves that control the muscles above my neck, so that I could do things like move my eyes and wiggle my ears and flare my nose, breathe, swallow, roll my tongue like a hot dog roll, etc.) Four of my nerves were damaged during surgery. The right side of my face was paralyzed; my eyes would not move side to side or (less drastically) up and down or diagonally; I could not move my lips on the right side. I still cannot whistle or roll my tongue like a hot dog roll or drink through a straw (I prefer my milkshakes too thick for straws anyway and who drinks a beer through a straw?)
Right after surgery, I had a lot of trouble eating and drinking like a grown up. Ann and I went to an outdoor concert (Indigo Girls: just to be clear that we do fit the stereotype in so many ways) with our friends Pam and Kari. There was a light shower, so I wore my raincoat. I had a sip of water and the water dribbled out the side of my mouth onto my jacket. Pea said, "Drinking problem?" and Ann said, "At least you dressed for the occasion." I still have a little trouble but not as much. Just so you know, if we eat together I'm likely to drop a little food from my mouth. Pretend you don't see it or say something funny.

As the nerves begin to regenerate, muscles twitch. This is a weird sensation. As my 7th nerve began to heal, my face would just start moving up and down. It didn't care where I was or with whom I might be speaking. This still happens when I get tired, but so far no student has made a crack about it. At least not that I could hear. Sometimes the saliva gland on the right side went bonkers, and it felt like a hydrant in my mouth had opened. I thought I might drown. My ears would knock from time to time. This was because my uvula (at the back of my throat) would start to twitch and the uvula's connected to the hammer in the eardrum, so my uvula would pull my hammer and start up a beat from the 70s. Irritating. My right eye still doesn't water too much, so when I cry (see entry from last week) only one side of my face gets wet.

Right after surgery the ring finger on my left hand would twitch. I asked the rehab doctor why. "It has something to do with your brain," she explained.

Got it. Everything does. mary

Thursday, April 1, 2010

DAR #21: There's something on your shirt.

DAR #21: Happy April Fools' Day! I was in a high school social studies class today when a counselor got on the intercom to explain the testing schedule for state testing: if you're testing, be here at 7:30 a.m. If you're not testing, school will start for you at 11 a.m. An incredulous student, proud of his cleverness, said, "It's April Fools' Day. The late start isn't for real. The testing is."

Mostly, April Fools jokes aren't that funny. At one high school where I taught, years ago, students released crickets into the building as a joke. Those crickets' descendents chirp in the roof all year long. At the school where I worked in Dallas, students turned the high school into a petting zoo with goats and sheep and chickens (do you pet chickens?) and such. It might have been funny the first year, but I found repeats unimaginative and a mess. The year the school burned down, seniors who had complained about inadequate student parking parked their cars on the new foundation. That made a point and was somewhat amusing. They still didn't get any more parking.

The most amusing and work intensive high school prank  that I've heard of was at a school that had a pond. Students had disassembled a friend's plane (with his permission--must have been a private school), and reassembled it in the lake to look like someone had crashed there. They fooled not only the school administration but also the local news media.

My best was not so good, but it was my best. My father had sent me money to invest in a Roth. I sent him a thank you note, saying that I had decided to use the money to pay off our new deck instead. He didn't scroll down far enough to see the "p.s. just kidding."

My friend Allison told us about her husband changing her cell phone ring to something obnoxious (maybe it was "Liet's just get drunk and screw" ) without telling her. He called when she was in an attorneys' meeting. She rolled her eyes when she heard someone's obnoxious ring and finally bashfully opened her purse to turn off the offensive noise when she realized that obnoxious sound was coming from her purse.

Oh, wait, there's something on your shirt...Mary