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, October 28, 2018


This morning at our church, the Wallingford trio sang in beautiful harmony a hymn to which I wrote the words and Nan Beth Walton wrote the music. 

Though I wrote the words 15 months ago, today it seems again appropriate. I ache for the Squirrel Hill community and all who are affected by violence. Here are the hymn's words. A women's singing group in Pittsburgh has asked to sing the hymn, which is a prayer. I hope it brings some small measure of solace to their great pain. 

O God of beauty and of breath
(Please) Ease my ache with loveliness.
(Please) Slow me down that I might see
All the gifts you’ve given me.

Slow my stride that I might see
A leaf in all its symmetry.
A snowflake’s drift from clouds of white
A full moon on a cloudy night.

O God of beauty and of breath
(Please) Ease my ache with loveliness.
(Please) Slow me down that I might see
All the gifts you’ve given me.

Slow my days that I might feel
Notice Kindness that might heal.
A prayer for love, a hand of peace,
A hope that caring would increase.

O God of beauty and of breath
(Please) Ease my ache with loveliness.
(Please) Slow me down that I might see
All the gifts you’ve given me.

O God of beauty and of breath.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Speaking Australian

Ann and I returned from our Australian adventure last week. Though many Americans and Aussies speak English, our ways of speaking are in some ways so different.

Australians (or Aussies) shorten words whenever they can. This doesn’t seem to be caused by a national habit of hurrying, quite the opposite. Maybe they’re just too laid back to say whole words. There’s Mellie (a person from Melbourne), brekkie (breakfast), Footy (Aussie football, sort of a cross between rugby and soccer), and so forth (choccie, Chrissie , specco, Tazzie… See vocabulary list below.) 

We watched the penguin parade, an event on Phillip’s Island where hundreds of penguins come on shore to breed and chirp each night. You might think Aussies would call these little penguins “pennies”, but they don’t. Oddly, they call them “little penguins.” When I first heard an Aussie used the phrase “little penguins,” I thought she was being affectionate. She wasn’t. The penguins were about a foot tall.

Aussies also like TLAs (three letter acronyms). The MCG, also abbreviated to “The ‘G 
(The Melbourne Cricket Ground) is Mellie’s giant footy stadium. The NGV is the National Gallery of Victoria, and the CBD is the Central Business District, where we stayed. (The NGV is in Mellie's CBD. The MCG is not far away.)

Then there are just different ways of saying and doing things. “Rockets” are arugula; “Give way” means yield. “Take away” is take out. Look both ways before crossing the street, and note they drive on the left. Also, if you’re riding your push bike, dismount and push it if the hill is too steep.

If someone apologizes, don’t say, “No problem.” Say, “No worries,” so they’ll understand you. Actually, say “No worries” no matter what they say. Then you’ll fit in. 

Vocabulary List (I’d love your additions.)
Aussie = Australian
Mellie = a person from Melbourne 
Footy = Australian rules football
Brekkie = Breakfast
Chrissie = Christmas 
“No worries” = You’re welcome, no problem, Don’t worry about it 
Take away = Take out
Choccie = chocolate
Rockets = arugula 
The MCG = the Melbourne Australian rules footy stadium 
Give Way=Yield
Little penguins = Little penguins
NGV = National Gallery of Victoria
Specco = spectacular
Push bike= bike you pedal
Tazie = Tasmania 
Melb = Another Melbourne abbreviation
Take away = Take out
Cattle station = Ranch 
Costume = bathing suit
Jackaroo = 
a young man working on a sheep or cattle station to gain experience
Jillaroo = a young woman working on a sheep or cattle station to gain experience
Billabong= water hole
In the munga = In the boonies
Swag = a hobo’s roll (blanket rolled up)
Stuffie= Stuffed toy
Pokies = slot machines 
Spondooley = money (I think)
Zushy = swanky (sounds like Suchi)
Rabbit = a fool (I think)
The Big Smoke= Sydney (as a result of pollution during industrialization in the 1800s)
CBD = Central Business District (downtown)
“Yeah”= uh
Silver tails= richies = rich people
Jumbuck = sheep
Grub = booze
Grubs = worms eaten in the bush
Footpath = sidewalk
Banana hammock= men’s Speedo

Monday, October 15, 2018

Out of the Closet Down Under and Up Here

Note: Thursday was National Coming Out Day in the US. I was coming home from Australia. This is the first of several blog entries inspired by my trip.

Walking down the street in Cairns, Australia, I notice a sign, “Out of the Closet.” This is the first I’ve seen of anything gay in Australia, so I’m curious and walk towards it. When I get there, I see vintage clothing and the shop’s subtitle. This closet was your grandma’s closet. She might have been a lesbian, but that’s not the idea here.

I continue to an art gallery where I am the only customer. When I mention Ann to the salesperson, he shows me a photo of himself with another man. It takes me a few moments to realize he’s just come out to me as a gay man. 

We chat about our partners until another customer enters the shop. I’m about to continue the conversation, but he gives me a panicked look, his finger over his lips in a “shhh” gesture. 

I’m so accustomed to being around people who love Ann and me as a couple that I’ve almost forgotten being out isn’t safe for everyone. When I first came out to myself, I was quickly schooled by the district superintendent being gay wasn’t safe. 

That day began normally, rising at 6 am to do yoga and rushing with stacks of graded papers in my arms to the high school where I taught, spending my day with my 180 favorite students. After school, things changed. 

Walking down the outdoor hall at the school (the outdoor halls in this wet climate are from a time when our legislature didn’t fund indoor school hallways), I rounded the corner and saw a student I knew well. She was usually a bright-eyed and soulful student, but this day she looked pale and shaken. She did not look me in the eye, and uncharacteristically, she did not smile. Whereas she was usually warm, she seemed absent, distracted. I asked, “Is everything okay?” 

She responded, “Something really weird just happened. I’m going home.”

I could see she didn’t want to talk about it, so I told her to take care continued to the office to do some Xeroxing for my classes the next day. As I headed to the Xerox machine, the principal told me he needed to talk with me, so I followed him into his office. 

He was a kind man, fair and compassionate. Somehow he was friends with the bigoted superintendent. He closed the door, took off his glasses, and rubbed his eyes and his balding head. He did this when he was stressed.

He said, “Someone has reported that you are grooming a student, and the district is conducting an investigation.” 

I could see this was serious, but I had no idea what “grooming” was, so I asked.

The principal explained: “Preparing to molest someone. The district has contacted your student’s parents, and I have talked with her.” 

I was stunned. I thought of her expression as I had rounded the corner a few moments before, and I was angry that this homophobic investigation was happening. I was also angry my student and her parents were being drawn into this harassment. 

I said very little. What was there to say? This harassment seemed unreal, but it wasn’t. I hadn’t been a target since middle school. I had thought I was beyond that.

After the principal and I met, I told my closest colleagues what the principal had said, and they advised me to contact the union immediately. I did and talked with a supportive investigator who said this district and this school had a history of harassing gay and lesbian people. She would look into it. In the meantime, I should do exactly as she told me. 

After the phone call, I went home exhausted, lay down on the bed and fell into a deep sleep. The phone rang, jarring me awake. Half-conscious, I answered and listened as I woke up. 

“Hello, Mary. This is the superintendent. I know your principal talked with you today, and I want to follow up with you about the report.” He sounded professional. 

“I received an anonymous call in my office, charging you with preparing to molest a student. This is a serious allegation, and we are investigating.”

He continued in his emotionless baritone: “The call came directly into my office rather than going through my secretary as most calls do because it was after hours, and she was away from her desk. Therefore, I talked with the informant directly, but I don’t know the person’s identity.”

I startled awake. This detail was an odd one to explain. I thought, “He’s lying. He knows who ‘the anonymous caller’ is, and he and the caller are harassing me together. They are trying to end my career.”

The next day, I called my representative at the union after second period (because we started early, and I had taught seventy students before most people went to work.) I told her about the conversation. She advised me, “If he calls again, don’t talk to him. Don’t talk to anyone. This has gone too far. I will call him right now.”

Half an hour later, the principal summoned me to his office to talk with him and the superintendent. When I arrived, the principal said, “The investigation is over.” He was standing, and the superintendent sat rumpled in a chair that was too small for him. He did not look at me, but sat mutely in his dark coat and superintendent tie looking at his hands.

The principal continued, “The district has agreed to end its history of harassing gay and lesbian people in the schools. I will announce the district’s determination to the faculty, but I won’t use your name.” The superintendent still did not speak or meet my eye. 
I was relieved, but I was still angry. I considered a lawsuit, but the superintendent was already being investigated for harassing his lover’s husband, had a restraining order so couldn’t enter one of the district’s elementary schools, and it looked like he was on his way out anyway. I also didn’t want to involve me or my student in an ugly trial. 

Years later, when I went to a different district, I was cautious about being out with staff and never came out to students, though some of them knew. I suspect my being closeted among students didn’t help those who were struggling. After a gay teacher in another school told one student I was gay, the student came to me in disbelief. “I can’t believe I told you all about myself and you just sat there with your secret,” he said to me.

(By the way, coming out for someone else is against the gay code of ethics.)

I opened my mouth to share my experience, but closed it, realizing he didn’t need to hear this story. He was a poor, black young man out as gay in a high school. I knew he’d been harassed. I closed my mouth, then opened it again to say, “I’m sorry I disappointed you.”

I met another gay Aussie in Sydney, and when I asked her to describe what it was like to be a lesbian in Australia, she said, “Australia’s a progressive place. Especially the cities. No problem here.”

I said, “That surprises me.”

“Because we legalized gay marriage so late?” I nodded in response to her question, and she continued. “The population here is much more progressive than the government. A referendum passed in every precinct but two throughout the country.”

As one of our guides often said, “That’s Australia for you.”

So Australia isn’t why the salesman didn’t come out. Maybe it isn’t good for business, but there’s probably some reason I can’t guess. I can’t judge him. I don’t know what he’s been through or what he fears. 

In the last years of my teaching life, I was out to everyone but my students. Probably I was chicken, but maybe I was having the wisdom to know the difference between the things I could and things I could not change. No, I’m pretty sure I was chicken, but I was doing the best I could at the time, and that’s the best any of us can do. Actually, I believe we all do the best we can at the time, but that’s another blog entry.

I conclude from this experience that Australia is much like the US. Lots of folks are supportive, but some aren’t and a few are dangerous. We just never know with whom we’re dealing. Maybe that’s the US and Australia, or maybe the unknown threat is everywhere. 

Maybe that’s just being human.