A Photograph of me without me in it

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

Sunday, November 28, 2010

P.S. 19 Giving Thanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 22, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

P.S. 17 Words, words, words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


P.S. 16 Whirled Peas

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

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

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

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

Kill 'em with kindness. Mary

P. S. 15 World Enough and Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 7, 2010

P. S. 14 Nicknames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gotta go. Ann has fixed lunch. Mary

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

P.S. 13 Throwing money at it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


P.S. 12 Eighty-six synonyms for complain

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

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

Eighty-six synonms for complain and 12 antonyms.


P. S. 11 Hocus Pocus

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

P.S. 10 No news is good news.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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