A Photograph of me without me in it

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

Sunday, December 19, 2010

P. S. 20 The Principal's Office

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

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

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

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

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

P. S. 21 Hocus Pocus Act Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P. S. 22 Tumor Humor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary, right?

P. S. 23 Extra Ordinary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P. S. 24 Everyday Poetry

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

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

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

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

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

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

P. S. 25 The Climax

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

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

Really. It was that good.

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


P. S. 26 The Winter Solstice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Back to Joyful, Joyful.


P.S. 28 Do not mail list

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

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

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

P. S. 29 Rough Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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