A Photograph of me without me in it

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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Connecting in the Freezing Drizzle

Walking to the bus in Seattle's freezing drizzle today, I thought about the conversation that my yoga teacher Anna and I just had.

I was telling Anna about the way that public interactions with African-Americans whom I don't know has changed since my tumors.

As a white middle-class woman, I must have looked like a person of privilege before these tumors--and I was. I still am. But perhaps now I look like a person of privilege who has had a hard time.

I was telling Anna that, for whatever reason,  our interactions have changed so much since these tumors. African-Americans are the most likely to greet me, to ask me how I am, and to bless me as I walk through the neighborhood now.

As I thought about this, a tall African-American man walking towards me waved his cane at me. I waved back. When we got closer, he said to me, "Stroke?"

I said, "No. Brain tumors. You?"

He nodded to acknowledge the brain tumors and said, "Stroke." Then he raised his left arm, in a cast: "It's broke," he said.

It seemed that he wanted to say more, so I waited. He finally grimmaced a little, showing his missing front teeth, and said, "I can't hardly talk anymore."

I nodded as he had and said, "I hope you're going somewhere to get warm. It's too cold out here."

By way of saying good-bye, he said, "See you soon."

I hope so.


My colleague Alanah keeps a vacuum cleaner in her classroom. It's an old and heavy blue upright model just like the one that I used to keep in my classroom, so I commented on it.

"We have about five more at home," she said. I don't imagine Alanah as a woman who spends a lot of money on anything, especially vacuum cleaners, so I was surprised. I must have betrayed my surprise because she explained, "My husband collects vacuum cleaners."

Strange but true. The next day, she told me about Robo-Vac.

"Robo-Vac was a computerized vacuum cleaner. Mark was especially proud of it. It was low and flat, like a disc, and we could program it to vacuum the house, which it did each morning at 6:30 when we left. "

Alanah and Mark have two dogs and a cat, so it was great to have the carpets vacuumed every day. Robo-Vac would make happy R2D2 sounds when it vacuumed. It would go forward until it hit a wall or a chair leg, and then it would back up. In this way, it would map the room, and because it was so flat, it could vacuum under chairs and tables, so it was thorough.

One Saturday morning, Mark woke up, looked into the hall, and slammed the bedroom door. "Don't go out there," he said. "I have to think."
One of the dogs had gotten sick during the night and had diarrhea in the hall. Robo-Vac, in doing its Saturday morning vacuuming, spread the feces over every inch of the house.

Mark and Alanah spent the weekend mopping (yes, mopping) and re-mopping their carpets.

Robo-Vac died.

Wouldn't you?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


I often witness surprising misunderstandings in high schools.

A teacher in an affluent, conservative area, a teacher who is loved and also lives in the area, got a furious call from a parent who had heard that her child was learning how to have orgies in her health class.

What had really happened? The teacher had taped off a shape the size of a bed on the classroom carpet. She had two students step onto the bed, symbolizing the idea that the two had had sex. Then, in the simulation, each had two more students step into the bed, symbolizing that each had had sex with one of the partners in the past. They all stayed in the taped off square in this simiulation of how AIDS can spread, as more students entered the simulation. I think the point was anti-orgy, but the point seems to have been lost on the student or at least on the parent.

In another school, a very sweet young teacher asked her class on the first day of the school year to write on their index card their favorite pet. Students handed in their cards and this sweet young teacher read the cards aloud, one at a time. She directed all of the students to stand up and then sit down if that card didn't apply to them, and they all would learn something new about one of their classmates. What fun!

This sweet young teacher, not recognizing the slang term for penis, read aloud. "One-eyed snake. Now that's interesting! Who has a one-eyed snake?" No student would confess to it, though several giggled. "What's so funny?" she asked. "Really. Who has a one-eyed snake." She perservered, but no student ever confessed. As the students left class on that first day, their sweet teacher said again, "I really want to know who has a one-eyed snake."

In another class, a teacher had not previewed the statistics from Harper's magazine that she would use to start class that day, and to begin class, she began reading off the statistics. Towards the bottom of the page, she read, "This percentage of people are vajazzled." After she read, she tried to move quickly forward, but several students asked, "What's vajazzled?" She didn't know. "I know! I know!"went up the eager hands of some students. "It's when a woman has her vagina embedded with jewels, so that they sparkle."

Well, I"ll be. She didn't asked vajazzled students to stand and be recognized. She just went right on and hoped that this moment might be forgotten.

Another teacher told me that when she was student teaching, during a “Walk your Talk” activity (a pre-reading activity before delving into the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson). it became clear that most students believed that if a girl starts making out with a guy then the guy can assume she wants to have sex. So, she stopped the activity, and the class had a conversation about consent. One student said something, using very inappropriate slang for “oral sex." The student teacher explained that, no, even if this is happening the girl still needs to give consent. "And the correct term is fellatio."

A parent phoned the student teacher after school to ask why this student teacher was “teaching her son how to have oral sex."

That same teacher has another story that I've forgotten now. I remember that it has to do with pole-dancing. How could you forget that? I'll be it wasn't on the test, though.

The fun things never are.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love Story--Valentine's Day #2

I asked my colleague Alanah about her husband recently, and she beamed. She always beams when she talks about him, not in a schoolgirl giddy way, but in a my soul sparkles way. Really. I'm not lying.

I asked her why she beams so, recently, and she told me the story of soulmates meeting.

Alanah and Mark met early in college and dated a couple of years. Figuring that they were too young to be so serious, they broke up and dated other people. Alanah married the next guy she dated, and Mark never married.

Alanah and her husband divorced.

Alanah and Mark remained friends, and met for coffee once every year until Mark finally said that he couldn't bear the pain of just seeing her once a year anymore. He decided to move to Antarctica for a construction project for the rest of his life, and Alanah grieved his leaving.

After Mark flew South, Alanah bought a ticket to New Zealand, where he was on furlough before heading back to Antarctica. She found him, said go home with me, and he did.

And now she sparkles, and this Christmas he gave her a custom-made bike, painted a custom pink. 

That's a great story. Don't you think she should submit it to This American Life?

Valentine's Day #1

We are sitting on the back deck, Ann and I. We've just finished eating our grilled salmon and peaches.

Because it's a blue sky, mid-August day in Seattle, we're wearing t-shirts. My black t-shirt has an image of a woman of the dead wering a hat with a flower for flourish. The script underneath reads "Frida's, Antigua, Guatemala." This shirt reminds me of tortilla soup in Antigua, another lovely dinner in another lovely place.

Ann's t-shirt is light pink with the soft white image of a glass of milk. The soft white inscription underneath reads "half full." This is how we see our lives. In tough times, we know that our glass is half full, and we know always that our lives are full.

As the sun dips to the western horizon, the air chills, but we ignore our goosebumps for this moment. The setting sun's slicing rays glint off of Ann's wine glass as she turns to me:

"I love our friends and family," she says, "but my favorite moments are those nights when it's just you and me sharing a simple supper on the deck."

I look at Ann to my left and scan the backyard to my right. Grapes ripen on the arbor. The surprising yellow of black-eyed Susans dip in the breeze and wink at me; our lavetera blooms pink and white.

"Mine, too." I say to her.

"Mine, too," I say again.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Junk eMail

My junk mail tells me that I am entering a new phase of life, a new age. Next month, (mark your calendars), on March 13, I will celebrate 48 years on this planet.

Somebody must have told the junk email gods that I am getting old. I get a lot of invitations from "Meet Senior Singles in your Area," and "Meet Christian Senior Singles." Though I do attend church, my church is awfully progressive, and I'm guessing I'm not really the Christian Singsles demographic.

For starters, I'm not a senior. Additionally, I'm not who "Christians" usually market to. Thanks to my cousin Lori, I once belonged to "Focus on the Family," but that was a long time ago, and I never renewed my subscription. Also, I'm not single. I have a partner, though since she's a she, maybe they don't count that.

I'm also getting email from Hospital Beds for Home, Motorized Wheelchairs, and the Walking Cane Store (well, I did order a cane from them.)

New on the list is the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). I can't even qualify for AARP until I'm 50 years old, and I won't qualify for retirment until I'm 65 years old. I think they're marketing a little early.

Maybe turning 48 years old is sort of like turning 17 years old, a wasteland of new priviledges. At sweet sixteen, I got my driver's licence. In my day, at 18 I could legally drink alcohol. At 17? I could go to an R rated movie, something I had been doing for years. Whoopee.

At 48, I get to...keep getting older. That's pretty good.

The Red Zone

Today, Ann and I are celebrating in the Brain Tumor Red Zone. Wednesday's MRI, my six-month check-up, showed a stable brain (no guffaws, please), meaning that I have no new tumor. Yea!

The most common time for this tumor to regrow is in the first three years after one is removed. This is year two, so the tumor is still within the ten yard line, but it hasn't scored yet, and it only has one down to go.

I'm hoping it doesn't even get a field goal.

Now, on from football season to basketball season...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Dead Animal

We got a lot of great Christmas gifts, but maybe the best conversation piece is the dead animal that Ann got in her stocking. It's not really a dead animal. It's really a furry throw from Restoratin Hardware, but it looks like a dead animal.

The night before Christmas Eve (Christmas Eve Eve?), when we were sleeping at Sister Jen's house, we heard the family dogs Ranger and Rosie barking up a fit and then we heard a high pitched wail.

The next day, when my brother-in-law Todd went out to the yard, he retreated quickly inside, "Oh, God! There's a dead animal out there! I don't know what it is. Maybe it's a possum playing possum."

Dad went outside to scoop up the dead animal and throw it over the fence. Todd trailed behind and hid himself behind Dad in case the carcass jumped back to life.

Dad explained that he didn't think it was a possum playing possum: "It didn't have a rat-like tail, and it didn't have a face anymore. I don't think it's coming back to life." Dad probably has such insight into life and death because of his years as a pediatrician, but Todd wasn't taking any chances. He stayed inside for the rest of the day.

Christmas morning, Ann opened her gift from Todd and Ranger and Rosie: a throw to keep her legs warmed that looks like the pelt of a giant squirrel.

Mostly, I must admit, Ann can't use the dead animal because I'm huddled under it in front of the fire. Last night, I forgot to put the dead animal away before our 91 year old neighbor Annabella came over for dinner.

When Annabella saw the pelt, he eyes opened wide behind her big glasses, and she said, "Good Lord!" Then she crossed herself, as any good Catholic woman would. "That's creepy."

She summed it up.