A Photograph of me without me in it

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

Monday, May 31, 2010

NL #30: Angels

NL #30: My Granddaddy M. always wore a hat. My mother tells the story of the time the family was going on vacation. Granddaddy and Grandmom were in the front seat with the kids in the back. Granddaddy, who was driving, kept turning around to say, "Where's my hat?" or, "Don't sit on my hat." As they approached a bridge, my exasperated grandmother finally said, "Gimme that hat," and she threw it out the window. I love that story.

Granddaddy was a big man when he died: six foot four and over three hundred pounds. I have a picture of him and Grandmom before they were married, both skinny. His ears stuck out from under his hat. He loved to have us when we were young stand in the palm of his hand as he would lift us high over his head. I admit that I hated that, but he was so amused that I'd hold my breath and do it anyway.

Granddaddy loved to grow vegetables in the back yard. Having only eaten store-bought tomatoes that tasted like cardboard, I refused to eat his tomatoes. He would always say to me, "Girl, you don't know what's good." He was right.

My favorite story about him is one he told on himself. Once, when the family returned from being away, the home had been burgled and everything was thrown out of drawers. While they awaited the police, Granddaddy took his gun and caught up with the burgler, who refused to stop walking. So Granddaddy followed him. Finally the burgler turned to this crazy man with the gun and said, "If you don't stop following me, I'm going to kill you." At this part of the story, my granddaddy would stop, repeat the line, and laugh in the way he did: his whole face laughing but the rest of him still.

My other grandfather died when I was three years old. Though I don't remember him well, I am the only grandchild who remembers him at all. He was prouder of me than I deserved. Once, when we were walking around the block, we came to some broken glass on the sidewalk. "Some bad boys did that, probably," I said. He was struck by my vocabulary and the conceptual understanding of probably.

Another time, he wanted me to go with him to "the farm," the home where my grandmother grew up and where great aunts and uncles still lived. Already somewhat bossy, I told him I would go only if he would drive the blue pickukp truck that he and Uncle Johnny used for the hardware store they owned. Apparently, he went to some trouble to get ahold of that pickup truck.

The only memory of my Grandfather E. that I know is mine because no one has told me about it is the memory of climbing up the bridge over the railroad tracks and trying to throw a penny on top of the train as it moved under us. Years later, I went to do this on my own, but it wasn't as fun as I had remembered. Probably because he wasn't there, and I wasn't three anymore.

I think of my grandfathers as my guardian angels, men who loved me and had fun with me and required little of me in return. I'd like to be a guardian angel for my nieces and nephews, but I wonder if I have to die first. If so, I'll pass for now. I'll just love them and enjoy them.


Friday, May 28, 2010

NL #29: Fiddlesticks

NL #29: Blast. Shoot. Darn. Darnit. Dang. Dangit. Snaps. Dadgum. Arrrggg. Oh, Man, Dagnabbit. Hooey. There are so many ways to say Fiddlesticks. I don't have to use the F word.

Yesterday was the first time I forgot to write in my blog. I worked a long day (7-3:30...that's long for me these days) and then, after we'd had dinner and dessert, our friend Rose and her daughter Nora brought over some Coconut Cream pie. I think the sugar knocked me out. After I'd gotten in to bed, I remembered that I hadn't written my blog, but only the threat of natural disasters (like fire, earthquake, the desperate need to go to the bathroom), have the power to resurrect me once in bed.

So please forgive my lapse. Another f word. Mary

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

NL #28: Do the best you can in the time you have

NL #28: Today was fun. I sat in a room with a couple of other adults, and we figured out how to provide college scholarships to a bunch of graduating seniors. Ann and I created a scholarship, "The World Citizen Scholarship," to which lots of folks who attended our wedding contributed. We are able to give four Muslim girls, each a refugee from Somalia, half of their first semester tuition at community college. As a group, the three of us in this room were also able to be creative so that we could distribute funds from other scholarships to help support another eight students going to college. Very exciting.

Yesterday I worked in the school's computer lab with about twelve students, mostly students who have immigrated to the US from other countries, to help them complete the application. Each of those students hopes to attend college, many to begin in a community college and then transfer to a four-year university. In some cases, college is also their parents' dream of a new life for their children. In others, girls struggle between a US concept that college and career can be for them and their parents' culture, which values girls who stay home to care for the younger children.

I don't get to work directly with students a lot now. I work more with their teachers, and I love that, too, but yesterday I experienced again the frenzy of working with teenagers when they don't understand something that they want to understand. Some slid out from under the radar, dodging me and avoiding facing what they did not understand, while others moved increasingly into my personal space to insist on the help they needed.

I wish I could send all of those students, those who didn't show up, those who avoided me and those who pressed for help, to college. If I had more money, that's what I'd do. Maybe you have more money, and you could do that. For now I'm remembering the mantra of the late Paul Raymond, a founder of Ann's school with whom I shared a room in the intensive care unit after my brain surgery: "Do the best you can in the time you have." It's a good mantra.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

NL #27: Sounds like home

NL #27: In my dreams, I am a 25 year-old African-American man running gracefully by walkers struggling to drag their tired bodies through an endless series of white arches. I fly above a sea or a river, able to see someone I love in trouble below me but unable to help them. I walk across a dessert, through a nest of snakes, realizing that though they may bite me, they will not harm me. When I awake, I am often confused. Where am I? Who am I?

My dreams seem to be silent, so the sounds of the world around me help me locate myself in place and time. I love the sounds of my Seattle block. Old Cadillacs thump and bump themselves down the street. Tennagers returning from the park bounce their basketballs up the sidewalk andyounger ones pedal their big wheels, the sounds of their wheels scratching on the asphault. A three year-old stops the adults ccompanying him to announce: "I want to play...[footstomp]. Now." Songbirds take their places on the scale, and crows make that knocking sound with their throats. Antique planes fly overhead. The drone of commercial planes sounds more distant.

If I'm in our suburban home in Raleigh, NC, where I grew up, the birds try to outdo one another singing, and the crickets have their own chirping contest. It's the natural world of the Southern piney woods, and it's loud.

If I'm in El Salvador, I hear the six others in the room with me, the children mumbling in their sleep and the adluts breathing through their mouths. Roosters crow. (I don't know who created the myth about roosters crowing at dawn. In my experience, they crow all night. Right outside my window.) I hear the tinny trill of Mexican music on a tape player; the slap, slap,slap of women making papusas.

If I'm in Michoacan, I hear bicycles on a gravel road and a barking dog chasing a flying pig, the steam of tortillas on the grill.

And at the beach in NC, I hear the continuous thrum of the ocean touching the shore, the bass drum of thunder, the high pitched squeals of children running from the waves' foam.

The world sounds me back to my self and my home, and I am glad to be here. Mary

Monday, May 24, 2010

NL #26: Middle School

NL #26: For me, middle school was miserable. Except for a few friendships, I felt insecure, alone, insufficient, and I thought I might always be. I was tall, skinny and awkward. Custodians, thinking I was a boy, stopped me from going in to the girls' bathroom. I was a public school geek in a private school. I blushed so deeply that peers would say, "Look how red she is," whenever I answered role. My voice cracked like an adolescent boy's does as it changes; that made me blush. I was much more interested in sports than in boys, and I was not at all interested in gossip about our teachers' sex lives. I had my first beer in eighth grade, late for my generation.

Now I spend every other Monday afternoon working with a middle school teacher, Victoria, and her eighth grade class. Before radiation, when I was hobbling down the "hall" (really an asphalt driveway) one day, a student named Andrew from her class stepped into the hall to tell me that he doesn't know how to concentrate. We talked about some strategies, including communicating with his teachers. Then I was out for two months. When I returned, he asked me one day why I said I thought he has potential, why all the adults he knows say that. When I asked why he thought adults say he has potential, he said, "Because they feel sorry for me." In a later conversation, he told me that he had applied for an alternative school for next year, but that he didn't think he'd in get in because he thinks he isn't as smart as his peers, and he doesn't "deserve an education." The next time I went to the middle school, he'd been expelled for the rest of the year. Breaks my heart. How can you think you don't deserve an education in eighth grade?

Today I was at the middle school again. Victoria's students wrote about barriers they had faced in their lives and how they had responded to those barriers. This very chatty class wrote solemnly for ten silent minutes (that's a lot of silence in eighth grade.) When they shared their thinking, Fatima talked about how she had been afraid to climb the rope in her gym class, but she finally gained courage and did it. A mild-mannered Laurente talked about how he bullied students in fifth grade until he bullied a new student who beat him up after school. Everyone laughed about Lorente being a bully. Then Jesse talked about all the deaths he's faced in his family recently, and the class built from one student to the next on stories of loss, many connected to a far-away place some still think of as home.

I wanted to tell them that for me middle school was the worst and that life got significantly better over the years. They don't need to hear this from me. They need to believe that life right now will get better soon. They need to tell their stories and ache to have someone hear them. That's the power of Victoria's teaching: these students believe she hears them.

Today's toast is to all the eighth grade students and the adults--teachers, parents, mentors, coaches...--who stick with them. Thanks from one of those kids who needed you.


Friday, May 21, 2010

NL #25: Babies

NL #25: Ann and I saw the movie Babies last night. I highly recommend you see it. The film follows four babies in four countries (USA, Japan, Mongolia, Namibia) from birth to two years old. There's no narration, though there is a little music. It's hilarious.

The film groups growth into categories and you see the four growing children from that lens: toys, food, siblings, pets, baths, learning to walk and so on. You notice the categories, but it's not tedious.

On of my favorite scenes is of the Japanese child who gets frustrated when she figures out how to get a stick through a hole in a disk, but then the disk slides down the stick and it's off again. She is beside herself. She tries again--unsuccessfully--to get that disk to stay on the stick, then throws her body back in frustration and kicks to the sides and wails. She tries again and throws herself back again. And so on. The film moves on but keeps cutting back to her tantrum.

In the USA, a little blond-haired and blue-eyed child is playing by herself when she hears someone come in the front door. "Mommy?" she asks timidly. Then, "Papa?" and her excitement grows to the point that she runs out of the room: "Papa! Papa! Papa! "

Another favorite scene is of the Mongolian child who's taking a bath when a goat comes up to drink from his tub. When we watch this child stand on his own for the first time, the music and the camera angle are reminiscent of Rocky running up the congressional staircase.

My other favorite scenes are of siblings, and they reminded me of how lucky I am to have been born first. The Mongolian brothers, one a one year-old or so with his older brother of around four, are hilarious. In one scene older brother is swatting younger brother with a towel and younger brother begins to sob until his elder gets in trouble. Younger brother stops sobbing, seeming to listen to his older brother getting chastened, and, when the mother begins to relent, the younger brother starts again to howl. In another scene, we see older brother dragging the stroller in which younger brother is sitting from its place by the door out to the cow pasture to bother the cows. Older brother's clearly had enough of this intruder.

In Namibia, there seems to be about a year, if that, between two brothers. The film starts with the younger brother trying to take some sort of drumming tool from his older sibling. When younger brother is rebuffed, he starts crying giant tears that course down his stomach. Bless his heart.

I have two younger siblings, but I was always loving with them, like my nephew Sam who, when his younger brother was still so young that he was lying around. Sam used to stop playing to come over and pat Willie on the head. "So cute," Sam would coo at Willie. I was just like that.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

NL #24: Fun with Grammar

NL #24 Who says grammar isn’t fun? Remember Mad Libs? Here’s one to try: respond to each of the prompts at the beginning of this entry. Then fill in the blanks with your answers in the second part. Voila! Instant art and grammar review. What fun!

Part One: Directions: Provide an example of each part of speech as indicated. For example, for participle you might write: running.
Paragraph One:
(plural noun)
(animal, vegetable, mineral)
(juice drink or alcoholic drink)
Paragraph Two
(mode of transportation)
(action verb—past tense)
(animal, vegetable, mineral)
(juice drink or alcoholic drink)
Paragraph Three
(infinitive verb)
(past tense action verb)
(plural noun)
(infinitive verb)

Part Two: Directions: Use your answers to part one to fill in the blanks in part two. Then read your story aloud.
As my feet hit the floor this morning, I exclaimed, “(interjection) _________________! It’s going to be a (adjective) _________________ day.” I could hear the (plural noun) _________________singing and the (noun) _________________ coming through the window. For breakfast, I had (animal, vegetable, mineral) _________________; to drink, I had (juice drink or alcoholic drink) _________________ like I always do.
I drove my (mode of transportation) _________________ to work, where I (action verb—past tense) _________________ all day. At the end of the work day, I was (adjective) _________________, so I went home for a snack: (animal, vegetable, mineral) _________________ to eat and to drink, I had (juice drink or alcoholic drink) _________________.
(Infinitive verb) _________________ at the end of the day, I (past tense action verb) _________________ and then I put the (plural noun) _________________ to bed. I went (infinitive verb) _________________ to get ready for a new day.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

NL #23: Say ahh...owwww.

NL #23: I've just returned from a two-hour dentist appointment: some people's idea of hell, but not nearly as bad as eye surgery or brain surgery. Fortunately, I can say that most things aren't as bad as my surgeries. So far, the piggy flu is the only contestant. May it ever be.

I've done better with pain than I might have guessed, especially since I'm something of a wimp. When David Sedaris and I were in first grade together and I was playing kickball while he made clover necklaces in the field, I took the kickball between my ankles when I was running home and slid on the gravel. My legs looked like hamburger meat. I missed two weeks of school. My legs looked a lot like my hands looked when I slipped on a sidewalk a few years back. By then I was a teacher and went to school. Fortunately, a student's parent with whom I had a conference was a nurse and she told me how to heal myself.

When I was in junior high school, I sprained my ankle playing soccer and the coaches had me put my leg in an ice whirlpool. Once my leg went numb, it wasn't so painful, but going in and especially emerging ranked up there, not with surgeries, but with headaches after brain surgery.

In high school I remember getting leg cramps during a soccer tournament. I was eating at IHOP with my second family, the Whites. Not generally one to make a scene, I threw my legs out under the table and rolled around, hollering, while the White girls massaged out the cramps. No one in the restaurant even looked up from their newspapers.

My friend Katie F. and I used to have a bruise club. You had to have evidence of a really good bruise to be part of the club and had to renew your membership with a good new bruise three times a year. We were the only members. Contests weren't really fair because Katie was always falling and bruising herself. Since then, we've both had major surgeries and both now have footlong scars extending from our necks to our heads, so we're not so impressed with our bruises anymore. Maybe we should start a scar club.

Wanna join? Mary

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

NL #22: Tuckered

NL #22: I"m tuckered. After not working any last week, except in my attempts to open my jaw, I worked all day yesterday and today. That's a crazy thing to do. No wonder our nation is at risk. Too much sugar, caffeine and work. Tomorrow I see a specialist--about the jaw, not the nation. More tomorrow. Mary

Monday, May 17, 2010

NL #21: Give it to the Postman.

NL #21: I am not tidy. If I walk into a tidy room, it somehow turns messy around me. Messy must be my aura. When I was living at home in Raleigh, neighborhood children would bring their friends to see our rooms (my siblings also have this aura.) I had a yellow shag carpet, but most people never saw it. Once I saw a smudge in the carpet near the door, and I started to lean down and wipe it. Instead, I got a broom, and when I touched that smudge, it rose like some monster from the deep: a big, brown, hairy wolf-spider. Egads. I suspect I did the same thing then that I do now when I see a spider: left the room and closed the door. I'm surprised I ever went back in.

My mother is tidy, so when my parents built the house I grew up in, they put the kids' bedrooms along a hall, with a door at the end that connects to the rest of the house so that Mom could just close off our mess. She called that hall "the zoo."

In college, my freshman roommate Angelique and I were equivalently messy. We were both out of town for Valentine's Day and the boys we were dating broke into our room, cleaned it up and decorated it. I'm still impressed.

I worked for several years at a brand new school and served as department chair for much of that time. Since we had no books our first year, I had about forty Literature and Social Studies text books stacked on my office floor, along with a pile of student papers for each class I was teaching. My office became part of the official tour. My officemate Sally tolerated the mess. Bless her.

Now at home, Ann is tidy, and she has created places where I can be messy in a way that doesn't bother her. It works, but no one visits to see my mess since it is hidden. Did I say Ann is tidy? A few years ago, when my parents were visiting, Ann bought Dad some oatmeal for his breakfast. He didn't eat any the first day and left it on the counter. She gave it to the postman for the annual food collection for the food banks the next day. More recently, a carpenter Sailor has been remodelling our downstairs bathroom so that it will be more accessible for me. Sailor put some extra tiles and plumbing parts in an old trashcan and moved it to the basement to get it out of the way. Ann emptied the trashcan when she was straightening the basement and our parts were driven to the dump during trash pickup the next morning. Oops.

Sometimes it pays to be messy. So throw your things down and flop on the nearest couch--or wallow,as my mom would call it--and read a good book. Leave your shoes by the couch when you leave. Don't make your bed in the morning or hang up your clothes at night. That's a start. Mary

Friday, May 14, 2010

NL #20: False alarms

NL #20: Spring brings blooming flowers in the world and false fire alarms in large high schools. Alarms go off so often that we're all pretty casual about them. When Ann and I were teaching at a suburban school, a colleague, interrupted during her planning period for the second time that week, hid under her desk instead of evacuating. The firepeople took longer than usual for the all-clear and finally the marshall escorted Laura out.

After my sister's brain surgery (no tumor: head meets asphault), she used henna to dye her hair. Like our Grandmother E., she's turning white early. When we were in the kitchen that morning, I looked up to see thick red trickling from her ear. I asked her to sit down and told her she was bleeding from her ear. I was pale. She laughed. I didn't have breakfast that morning as I felt sick to my stomach.

When I was recovering from my own brain surgery in the ICU, I was hooked to some tube that didn't like me to bend my arm. I was also attached to a machine that did a panicked beeping whenever I bent my arm, which was every time I started to fall asleep. Finally, a nurse told me how to turn the alarm off and told me not to tell anyone she had told me. When I was out of the ICU, but still recovering, I shared a room with a very sick, elderly church lady who was attached to one of those alarms. Every time she tried to stand up, which was often, the alarm went off and she got a lecture. "Shit," she'd say. I sympathized.

My father, who feared that his children would get into serious trouble, tended to overstate dangers. When I moved from NC to TX, he told me that if I didn't change my licence plates immediately, those cowboy police in Dallas would "throw you in jail. They'll throw you under the jail." My department chair, impressed by how quickly I changed my plates, said that I had gotten new plates sooner than anyone she had ever seen.

So if you cry, "Danger!" don't be surprised if I finish my blog before I waddle out. I've had too much practice with false alarms.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

NL #19: Where I'm From

NL #18: My friend Miss Marion says that my writing is getting increasingly Southern. Not a surprise. Right after brain surgery, friends said that my Southern accent got much stronger (maybe that was because my parents were there or maybe the doctors triggered something in my brainstem.) When I returned home after surgery, I craved the foods of my childhood: spaghetti (my first word), “pineapple delight” (a kind of green Jell-o fruit, nut and marshmallow concoction), a banana and mayonnaise sandwich on Wonder Bread and chocolate milk. After radiation, I craved banana and mayonnaise sandwiches, only we don’t have that tasty Wonder Bread, so I have to make do with a flaxseed muffin, which doesn’t squeeze into a tasty dough ball like Wonder Bread does, but it’s adequate.

I find that for most people in the Northwest, the South is an unknown and uninteresting collection of red states, bigotry, and chauvinism. While there is some truth to the stereotype, the area is of course much more complex than that.

My final year of teaching, I opened the year teaching freshmen a unit on reading and writing poetry. I borrowed heavily from Linda Christenson’s excellent book, Reading, Writing and Rising Up, and we studied George Lyons’ poem “Where I’m From,” using this poem as a model to write our own. As usual, I wrote with the students, modeling my process and, in this instance, seeking their input for my revision. In the flurry of cleaning out my classroom before my brain surgery, I lost that poem, but I’ve written a similar one below.

In the poem I wrote for that class, I attempted to articulate something more complex about the South for this group of students, most of whom had never been to the Southern United States but many of whom had grown up in places in Africa and Latin America and knew plenty about stereotypes of homes they have left. Students helped me revise that first poem, so it was much better than this one.

Here and There

Grits and fried chicken, pulled pork barbeque sandwiches, fried okra—
Fried anything really:
The foods of my childhood.
White steepled churches in every block,
A white and a black part of town,
The A & P and Piggly Wiggly:
The images of my childhood.

“Yes, Ma’am” and “No, Sir” and “I’d know you anywhere.”
“Ya’ll come back now, ya hear?”
White sandy beaches, hot enough in summer to blister my feet and
Rolling mountains painted swaths of autumn greens, reds and golds.
Winter snows on Christmas lawn displays,
Spring’s blooming dogwoods and daffodils,
Summer thunderstorms, electric over the graying ocean.

“Amazing Grace,” “Over the River and Through the Woods, to Grandmother’s House We Go,”
And “In My Mind, I’ve Gone to Carolina”:
The music of my youth.

Here in Seattle, my second home,
We eat tofu and organic greens,
Ride our bikes miles to our church,
Shop at the Pike Place Market,
Nod our heads to say hello.

A season of wet and
A season of dry,
Tulips and crocuses drooping in the rain.
Christmas trees frocked with the white of real snow,
Still growing in the winter woods.

Tourists clog downtown sidewalks, studying their maps,
They ride the elevator to the top of the Space Needle
And ride the Ducks, two layered amphibious carts,
Around town, blowing their kazoos.

Here and There I sing,
“What a Wonderful World.”

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

NL #18: The Things I Carry

NL #18: I have never carried a purse. They're so impractical: too small to carry the things I need; too large to carry comfortably on one shoulder. For a while I carried one of those purses I could strap to my waist. That way, I kept my wallet and keys with me and didn't really notice it was there. There's a picture of me digging a large hole for a french drain in our front yard. I'm dirty, wielding a shovel, and look tough except for the purse at my waist.

This fall, I tried to carry a purse, what my colleague Jenn referred to as my "training purse," but it just didn't work for me, so I went back to my backpack, which my colleague Kate says gives me a "jaunty" look. I like that.

In my backpack, I carry three pair of glasses (and wear a fourth), toothpaste and toothbrush (I still remember my 7th grade science teacher who got food stuck in his braces), a wallet (red, so I can find it), pens, a magnifiying glass, a quart of water, lunch in a new, brightly dotted lunch bag, journals for each of the four places that I work, a seldom charged cell phone, a luna bar for emergencies, and so on.

I carry frustration, for the things I can no longer do and the things that are difficult now, for this world as it is and as it could be--but I carry frustration more in my shoulders and neck than in my backpack. I carry fears of what I have lost and what I have to lose. Like Pandora in her box, I carry hope in my backpack, but unlike Pandora, I let hope out as often as possible. Ann and others think my backpack too heavy, but hope lightens the load. And I certainly wouldn't want to go in to work with a teacher without my own writing utensil. I would get a dirty look, for sure.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

NL #17: If it's not one thing, it's two.

NL #17: "If it's not one thing, it's two." This is one of our ninety year-old neighbor Annabella's favorite expressions. She also likes, "Hey, girl!" (which is how she greets me and our disturbingly realistic Appalachian doll that I call Grandma). She's also prone to saying, "Get me a beer."

Yesterday, when I told Ann about my tmj (a jaw problem), she replied, "If it's not one thing, it's six." I do believe that I've been in all of the departments at Group Health except the maternity ward. I've been to see my primary physician, neurosurgeons (they had great halloween pumpkin carvings), opthamology, oncology, radiology, acupunture, physical therapy, the bowel specialist (not many folks will admit to that, but you and I don't keep secrets), the hearing specialist, x-rays, the records department (I now require two cds) and the list goes on.

This week I've added naturopathy, cranio-sacral therapy (following again in the footsteps of my younger sister), a tmj specialist, and a massage therapist. I can hardly wait for next week.

Before these brain tumors, I was unusually healthy. I averaged a trip to the hospital once a decade. The first time was at birth in Grady Hospital in Atlanta. (I ws born in the white wing and my parents used the white entrance. That was some time ago.) The second time I split my lip jumping on my parents bed in Wichita Falls, TX and had to get stitches. The third time I lost control of my limbs after waterskiing on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington and the fourth time, I broke my pinkie playing basketball in Seattle (I went to one session of PT for it. Other patients were in wheelchairs, wearing neck braces and such. I was too embarrassed about my pinkie, so I didn't ever go again.)

I know I seemed like a good bet when my insurance company first covered me, but I'm pretty sure they're losing money on me. I'm sorry about that, but I sure am lucky to have all these people who know something and seem to want me to feel better.


Monday, May 10, 2010

NL #16: Small Town Cool

My father grew up in the small NC town voted most like Andy Griffith’s Mayberry. His father and uncle owned a hardware store together in the downtown, and he went to school with most of the white kids in town and from the country. African American kids who lived, literally, on the other side of the tracks led separate lives.

Each summer, our family went to the beach with three house-loads of grandmothers, aunts (pronounced “aints”) , and first, second and third cousins once, twice and thrice removed. Uncle Don’s family and Aunt Sumner’s families both had ski boats, so we would take the boats to the sound and spend the day waterskiing while the older folks sat on the shady bank to eat watermelon and cheer us on. In the mornings, Uncle Jake and Jake, Jr. would go fishing in the surf and then, when the sun got strong, would haul their plentiful guts back up to the deck, drink Budweiser from a can, and gawk at bikinied girls through binoculars. Sometimes they would holler out. I knew even then that this was not cool--small town or otherwise.

My father recently suggested that I put a clothespin on the spoke of my "tricycle" so that I would make that thumping noise as I ride. This, he explained, is what he did as a child. This was small town cool. I pointed out that my "tricycle" is a trike--much cooler and adult.
I remember that when Dad got older, he and his friends drove around town in the summer heat with the windows rolled up so that folks would think they had air conditioning. (If you've not been in NC in the summer, it's about 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity.) This, too, was small town cool.

My theory is that some people just understand cool and others don't. My dad, like my siblings, probably would have been cool anywhere.

I grew up in suburban Raleigh and was never suburban cool: I didn’t smoke pot on the school bus (or anywhere else); I preferred the Rocky Horror Picture  Show to Friday the 13th part eight; I preferred James Taylor to Molly Hatchet; I preferred to curl up with a book than a boy.

Now I live in the city and I’m not city cool, either, but fortunately I’ve aged out of the importance of cool.


Friday, May 7, 2010

NL #15: Dear Mom—

NL #15: Dear Mom—

This mother’s day weekend I am thinking of you and of how grateful I am for all that you are to me. You gave me birth—that forty-five minute public bus ride to Grady Hospital in Atlanta must have been uncomfortable, as were the hours of labor to come. You raised me: those years that you drove around with the book How to Talk to Your Teenage Daughter in the front seat indicate that my teenage years weren’t too comfortable for you, either. Then, as an adult, I have needed your continuing love and support (sometimes literally), as I came out as a lesbian and then survived two brain tumors. I wonder if you know how much you mean to me.

Yesterday, as the naturopath quizzed me on all my ailments, she remarked that I must have a strong spirit to have made it through radiation, piggy flu, and pneumonia with only a little depression. Your strength and unconditional love have made my spirit strong.

When I went through the family slides last summer to create the photo book, I was struck by the number of pictures where you and I were laughing. I remember us laughing together. The time that stands out to me the most is the time we were playing ping pong and I kept trying to confuse you about the score.

I’ve never been so good as my siblings in celebrating you on Mothers’ Day: Jennifer and her flowers without baby’s breath and Matt and his Mother’s Day poetry (now forwarding films of bears in the wild that remind him of you.) I do, however, celebrate you every day, for supporting me in my toughest times and for laughing with me just because we enjoy one another.

I love you, Mom—


Thursday, May 6, 2010

NL #14: Hmmm.

NL #14: Today I made my first visit to a naturopath, but the visit was disappointingly normal. Before going, a colleague told me that his partner had gone to a naturopath and had been given a vial of water to hold over his head while chanting-- as a way of warding off egg allergies.

A few years ago, my friend Marie, struggling with fatigue, went to a different naturopath in the same institute I visited. Her naturopath was working with an intern. Marie described the conversation, which went something like this:

Intern: Do you like vegetables with stems, like brocolli or asperagus?
Marie: I guess so . Sure.
The intern looks up at the doctor, turns to a page in an official looking tome, scans the page and asks Marie a new question that seems to be spurred by the tome.
Intern: Do you fear having things around your neck, like scarves or turtlenecks?
Marie: Well, no. I"m not afraid, but I don't really like having things around my neck.
The intern looks at the article, scanning with her finger. Her eyebrows raise as she finds something of import on the page. She looks up at the doctor. They both say, "Hmmm," and the doctor nods in approval, as if the two have had some secret communication. The intern flips vigorously through the tome.
Intern: Are you a jealous person?
Marie: Well, I guess I can be jealous.
Again, the intern nods and raises her eyebrows. The intern makes eye contact with the doctor and they both nod. They have discovered something here. The intern scans the article, moving down the page with her finger. The intern's head and the doctor's head get closer as they read. They both say, "Hmmm," and the doctor nods in approval.
The dfoctor says, "I am prescribing snake venom. Drink it once a day."

Marie got better, started wearing turtlenecks, and gave up her jealousy. From time to time she slips out of her skin, but generally she's back to normal.

My prescription: Vitamin D, fish oil, gargling strong black tea. No snake venom. No chant. No tome.

I hope I get better. Mary

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

NL #13: Pshaw. I'm not cheap. Frugal, maybe...

NL #13: When my Grandmother E. was 96, her clothes dryer went on the blink. Dad suggested she get a new one, but she was frugal and said, "Pshaw." (that's a southern expression that discounts whatever you've said as ridiculous.) Dad countered, "Mom, you have the money. What are you saving it for?" Her response: "My old age." She laughed.

Like my Grandmother E., I’m frugal—I’m sure some would say cheap. I once heard my grandmother call someone with a lot of money who didn’t give any away “cheap.” My grandmother, like myself, admired frugal but not cheap. Cheap, maybe, is about the way we treat other people. Cheap people demand a lot of service and tip poorly if at all; like our landlord before we bought our own home, cheap people buy cheap paint for others to paint their home in a gazillion coats; cheap people bring Bud Light to a party and drink Redhook.

Frugal, in contrast to cheap, is about making the decision about how to spend money. I try to take a whole trip on one bus ticket, for example, so that I don’t have to pay the extra fifty cents on the return. It’s not the price. It’s the habit. Recently, I needed to buy extra underwear. When I went online I saw that the ones I wanted were on sale if I bought at least three pair and shipping was free if I bought at least ten pair. I now have ten new pair of undies. I love a deal. As someone who’s frugal, I don’t just think about monetary value. I think about cost. I’m more likely to eat organic foods, for example, because even though they cost more money, I hear they have less impact on the environment. Cheap people consider only monetary cost: other costs to justice and human labor and the environment do not figure into their calculations.

My siblings, in contrast to me, have always been a bit classier and freer with the cash than I am. When my brother first went to college, my dad had a talk with him about how much Brother Matt was spending. Matt seemed mystified. “I’m spending it on clothes.” When Dad pointed out that Brother Matt’s sartorial spending was twice Dad’s, Matt was unimpressed, “Yeah, but look at your clothes.”

The first time Sister Jenn—whose home includes a carriage house, tennis courts and swimming pool-- visited our home in Seattle, she walked in the front door, looked around, and said to herself with some surprise, “We could stay here.” When I went into teaching I had assumed that I would need to live in a storage shed. An old one. Apparently, she did, too.

I didn’t grow up poor. When I was in third grade, our family moved into the 4000 square foot ranch home that my parents designed. My parents still live in that home: each gets 2000 clearly demarcated square feet and, afraid to cross into enemy territory, they holler to one another from one part of the house to another. When I asked why they didn’t downsize, Dad said, “We’d get half the house for twice the money.”

I think it’s easier to be frugal when I’m someone who has options. I’ve noticed that cheap runs the socio-economic spectrum. So I’m sticking with frugal. When (and if) I’m in my nineties, I hope I’ll still think about what I’m going to buy and what can be left unbought.

Excuse me, now I need to do a little online shopping. Mary

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

NL #12: “How’s the weather?”

NL #12: My colleague Joanna stays dialed in to the weather channel. I’m not much of a weather buff myself, but I love how fascinated she is by weather, and her enthusiasm has me paying more attention. All the recent volcanoes and floods do make it seem a bit like Armageddon is on its way—or maybe it’s already here.

Today in Seattle we’re having all four seasons: Cloudy and cold with sun-breaks and some chance of thunderstorms and hail. Azaleas are blooming and we’re talking hail. Crazy.

My friends May and Paul first moved here one October, just as the rains began. They learned quickly to go outside at any sign of a shadow because a shadow indicates sun, or at least light. When the sun finally emerged in early July, May and Paul spent the long days outside, knowing that they had to appreciate the sun when it showed itself but not knowing that the sun would probably shine until October. They finally got sun-weary and went inside. They returned to the South.

When my sister planned her first trip to Seattle, I told her that July and August were pretty dependably sunny, so she scheduled a visit for late July. We went to Paradise, the blooming fields below Mt. Rainier. It was rainy, cloudy, foggy and cold. For a brief moment, the clouds parted. We raised our rain hats and glimpsed Mt. Rainier before it was again shrouded in clouds. I guess summers are generally dependable, but, well, it is the weather.

A few years back, Ann and I decided to risk a summer storm and an iffy weather forecast and went for a hike over a ridge to a mountain lake. The hike in was beautiful: the sun shone; there was a pleasant breeze; sunlight danced on the water. As we lay down beside the lake to enjoy our lunches and a nap in isolation, we congratulated ourselves on taking the risk that others had not braved. Just then, “Kaboom!” Thunder clouds rolled over the ridge and we raced back to the parking lot, slipping on wet snow and pausing to crouch when it seemed like the lightening was right on us. We weren’t so clever as we thought.

We love Seattle and we also love the countries we visit in Latin America. One similarity between Seattle and Latin American countries near the equator is that each has two seasons: wet and dry. Seattle’s wet season is generally Oct-June. That's a long wet season. There are so many differences—in Latin America most official business is in Spanish, it gets warm enough to swim, and color is in. In Seattle, not.

In North Carolina, where I grew up, there are four seasons: Winters it usually snows; Spring enters beautifully with dogwoods and daffodils blooming against a clear blue sky and golfers in their funny outfits enjoying the 70 degree, low humidity weather; Summers are hot and muggy with afternoon thunderstorms that will rattle your fillings; Fall reds and golds in the mountains look like swaths of paint across the landscape. There’s a kind of poetry about this dance of the seasons.

Seattle’s weather invites stand-up comedy more than poetry. This is a beautiful place: in what southerners call the spring, azaleas and tulips bloom in the rain; in the winter, rain falls as snow in the mountains; in the fall, rains water the evergreens and in the summer—ah, the summer—sunny blue skies show off the water and the mountains that surround us. Here, we live ten months for two. But even then, sometimes the weather rains on our parade and our two sunny months shrink to one.

How’s the weather out there? Mary

Monday, May 3, 2010

NL #11: I Feel Bad

NL #11: "I feel bad." That's what I say when I feel bad. When Ann and I were first together, she tried to get me to be more articulate about feeling bad, but she gave up. Now she asks, "Do you need to lie down or go to the emergency room?" Mostly I need to lie down, but every now and then I need to go to the emergency room.

The first time this happened, we had been waterskiing with Kim and Lynn on Lake Cushman. As I got off the boat and headed towards the cabin, I felt like I had sea legs until finally I lost muscle control of my arms and legs. Kim, a nurse, went with us to the island's emergency room. It was a slow day in the emergency room and the doctors did lots of tests, none of which revealed the cause (I now guess that my tumor had been disturbed.)

At one point, I told the nurse I needed something because I was going to be sick. She brought me a dainty little pink emesis basin, like something you might spit in at the dentist. I had time only to shake my head no. Like the guy in the Monty Python skit who couldn't eat another bite, I needed a bucket.

It seems odd that I'm so inarticulate about my health since my dad's a pediatrician an my mom's a nurse. As the child of medical professionals, however, I learned that the first course of action for almost anything is to walk it off. When I was five year old (almost six) and my sister was three years old, a neighbor on a bicycle ran over her leg. (Don't ask me exactly how he did that.) She felt bad. I had her walk it off, and she and I paraded around the field. When she still wasn't better, I ran home to get Dad. As he carried her home, I noticed that her foot was pointing the wrong way. She had broken two bones and was in a long cast when I returned from playing. My new baby brother was home from the hospital, too.

The last two weeks, with the adrenalaine of my excellent MRI report, I have worked full days most days. Friday, I felt bad so I stayed home and in bed. I did that Saturday and Sunday, too. And now, Monday. I feel bad. But I don't think I need to go to the emergency room. I'm a little queasy but I don't need a bucket.