Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Skepticism is a learned trait

When I was seven or eight, late December, I discovered a stash of presents hidden in a closet. I gladly believed my mom's explanation that some of my Christmas gifts were from Santa, and some were from Mom and Dad. 

Unwrapping presents on Christmas day, I asked, "Is this from you or from Santa?" This went on for a couple more years. I held onto a belief in a chimney-jumping fat man for much longer than my own logic could sustain, and once I let go, many other things went with it.

I wonder if children still believe in Santa, if the adults are still working to keep up the charade, and if the charade is a good thing. My sense is, yes:  The more we can crystallize childhood experiences into something positive, the better the foundation we provide for children's future success. 

But maybe the challenge is dispelling the charade at the appropriate time. I remember the horror I felt (the kind only a fourth-grader can experience) when I raised my hand following an informal, peer-led poll of "Who still believes in Santa Claus?" and then realized I was the only one to do so.

Anyway, I'm excited this Christmas. My dad's back, I'm making Mac'n'cheese (not from the box) for Christmas Eve dinner, and I have three days off in a row from work. Things are good.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Quote of the day...

How can I know what I think until I see what I say?

- E.M. Forster

Sunday, December 7, 2008

French toast, hash browns, and scrambled eggs

I went out for breakfast this morning with my mom and my grandfather - today is his 93rd birthday. He still drives and he still works two or three days each week. 

After breakfast, I went to see my grandmother on my dad's side. She's 87, lives on her own, and goes line dancing twice a week. She wants to have a big party when she turns 90.

I'll stop complaining about feeling old. It's ridiculous, really.  

I think about the books I read and the books I don't read. For an English major, I'm not the most patient reader. If I'm not engaged by the third page, whether it's by a character, a plot, or the quality of writing, I put down the book. I close it and leave its world without a second thought.  I want the author to get on with the story and not waste my time.  

I just want to get on with my own story. I'm in chapter three and the main character's still fumbling around. While there are still many pages to go, I'm getting impatient. I wish I could flip ahead to see what's coming. 

(To be clear, I'm speaking metaphorically).

Friday, December 5, 2008

Perfect Symmetry

Today is the fourteen year anniversary of my accident; I was fourteen years old when it happened. I had often measured my life in relation to that accident, and BEFORE was always greater than AFTER. Now they're equal (I'm ignoring the four months after my birthday), and starting tomorrow, AFTER will be greater than BEFORE.  

This makes me feel older than turning 28 did.

Nice people

Yesterday, a woman, mid-seventies, came into the library wearing the loviest purple hat I had ever seen. She was petite and dressed in black, making the hat stand out even more. 

Customers check out their own books and movies, now, with the library workers close by if any problems arise. We're more free to walk around the library, taking people directly to that Rachael Ray cookbook at 641.555 qR264b instead of writing down a call number and pointing to an aisle. 

Sometimes I feel awkward, standing behind the desk while a 75-yr-old woman scans her Beverly Lewis novel. But yesterday, as the lady in the purple hat fished for her library card, I approached her and asked, "Are you familiar with our check out system?" 

She replied, with a suddenly giant grin, "Oh yes!" 

I smiled back and told her what a lovely hat she was wearing.

She laughed and said that her husband had told her it was too fancy for a regular outting. But she didn't want to wear her black hat because it was so plain. Then she added, "I like your necklace."

I touched my hand to my neck, reminding myself which I was wearing - it was my "fancy" one, with over a dozen strands of small beads, in all shades of purple.

Thinking about the whole exchange makes me smile.

(credit the picture to - I found it by putting "purple kentucky derby hat" in Google Image)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Full Spectrum

I read a fascinating article in the New York Times last week: In a Novel Theory of Mental Disorders, Parents' Genes Are in Competition. The theory describes an "evolutionary tug of war" between maternal and paternal genes that determines, basically, where a child falls on a  spectrum, with autism and schizophrenia being at opposite ends.  

According to the article, while many of the researchers' details are likely to be wrong, the broad idea provides a new framework for thinking about mental illness:

Emotional problems like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, seen through this lens, appear on Mom's side of the teeter-totter, with schizophrenia, while Asperger's syndrome and other social deficits are on Dad's.

It was Dr. Badcock who noticed that some problems associated with autism, like a failure to meet another's gaze, are direct contrasts to those found in people with schizophrenia, who often believe they are being watched. Where children with autism appear blind to others' thinking and intentions, people with schizophrenia see intention and meaning everywhere, in their delusions. The idea expands on the ''extreme male brain'' theory of autism proposed by Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge.

I think we all fall on this spectrum. If we're lucky, we fall somewhere in the middle: stable, adaptable, and emotionally competent. But I love the idea that sane/insane, balanced/imbalanced, etc. are false binaries (flashback to freshman english class, deconstructing the three sisters from King Lear!) Just like my politics, I'm slightly left-of-center: Socially awkward, better at analyzing than reacting emotionally in the present. 

Friday, November 7, 2008

The important stuff

I picked up a pair of pants from a consignment shop last week. They were brand name, still had the tags, and fit very well. (And they were cheap). I was quite proud of my purchase.

I wore them today for the first time.

Student #1: Those are some shiny pants!

Student #2: Are those Hannah Montana pants?

I laughed, but I probably won't wear them again to class.

(My newest addiction is Politico's post-election site, Politico44. It's all things Obama. I feel slightly fangirl-ish although, to my credit, I finally removed my "Obamarama" car air freshner.)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

First day of class

I wear a few different hats. In addition to my library work, I also teach English Composition to nursing students.  I begin each new quarter with a true story. Because I know it so well, I've always ad-libbed.  But this quarter, since my roster of students doubled, I finally thought to write the story (names are changed):

I went to high school downtown at George Washington School. Because it was downtown, we didn’t get the yellow buses to school; instead, we paid to take and ride the city metros. I lived in Pleasant Place at the time, and each morning my friend and I ran across four lanes of traffic to catch the 38 right in front of Maple Ridge Cemetery.  (Cars didn’t stop for metros; they didn’t have those red stop signs that swing out).

One morning, I was later told, I hesitated in the middle of the street; when I finally decided to run to the other side, I was struck by a police car.

I spent all of December and half of January at Children’s Hospital recovering from head injuries. While doctors came in and out of my room, briefing my parents about this and that, the nurses remained a source of comfort and consistency to me and my family. They were there in the morning and the middle of the night, on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Years later, I remember their faces and their kindness more than any of the doctors who worked on me.

I relate this to you for a few reasons:

First, I want you to know that whatever your reasons, you’re going into a great profession. You will each have the opportunity to have a positive impact on many people.

Second, I want you to think about your own story.  You each have experiences that helped shape the person you are and the choices you’ve made. On Friday I’ll give you the assignment sheet for your first paper, a reflective piece.

And third, I just love stories. They’re easier to grasp than “essays.” One of the most important concepts we’ll talk about this quarter is the idea of “subject, audience, and purpose” – considering and thinking about these before you start drafting each of your papers.  I’ll ask you to write compare/contrast essays, cause/effect essays, and persuasive essays, and before you write each essay, you’ll consider the subject, audience, and purpose.  

It might seem kind of abstract right now. Subject. Audience. Purpose. But think about the stories you tell. The stories you tell your young daughter before she goes to bed. The stories you tell your friends when you catch up over the phone. The stories you tell your coworkers or classmates or distant cousins.  You don’t use the same words, the same language for these different audiences.  You know how to shape your stories for different purposes.

As we go forward this quarter, we'll spend time on thesis statements, bias evidence, and logical fallacies. We'll spend time on the pieces that will help you write successfully at the college level. But I want you to keep in the back of your mind that idea of story and the bigger picture.

I'm not sure I communicate exactly what I want, here. But I think I get a little closer each quarter.  I tell my students to look for better words, words that are closer to what they mean. Part of their challenge is discovering what they mean to say, and that's a challenge we all face.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I just got back from voting.

I was in line when the precinct opened at 6:30am, and it took me about 45 minutes to go through the line and finish voting.

This election will be historic. My dad, living in Kenya, tells me the excitement there is palpable. The front page of every newspaper in East Africa is about Obama and this election.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I won't quote the whole book...

Although I'm tempted to put more than a few paragraphs from Annie Dillard's The Writing Life in blockquotes. I'll stop at one:

The written word is weak. Many people prefer life to it. Life gets your blood going, and it smells good. Writing is mere writing, literature is mere. It appeals only to the subtlest senses--the imagination's vision, and the imagination's hearing--and the moral sense, and the intellect. This writing that you do, that so thrills you, that so rocks and exhilarates you, as if you were dancing next to the band, is barely audible to anyone else. the reader's ear must adjust down from loud life to the subtle, imaginary sounds of the written word. An ordinary reader picking up a book can't yet hear a thing; it will take half an hour to pick up the writing's modulations, its ups and downs and louds and softs.
Annie Dillard gets it, far better than I do.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Excuses, excuses

Stewie, from Family Guy:

How you uh, how you comin' on that novel you're working on? Huh? Gotta a big, uh, big stack of papers there? Gotta, gotta nice litte story you're working on there? Your big novel you've been working on for 3 years? Huh? Gotta, gotta compelling protaganist? Yeah? Gotta obstacle for him to overcome? Huh? Gotta story brewing there? Working on, working on that for quite some time? Huh? (voice getting higher pitched) Yea, talking about that 3 years ago. Been working on that the whole time? Nice little narrative? Beginning, middle, and end? Some friends become enemies, some enemies become friends? At the end your main character is richer from the experience? Yeah? Yeah? (voice returns to normal) No, no, you deserve some time off. 
Sometimes I think we're too clever for our own good. Most comedies are awful and unfunny because we've heard it all before.  It becomes very tiring. Family Guy may be self-referential at times, but it's much smarter about it and therefore hilarious.

One more quote:

[riding a circus elephant
Peter Griffin: Look Lois, the two symbols of the Republican Party: an elephant, and a big fat white guy who is threatened by change. 
It's funny because it's true.

Anyway, I'm procrastinating. 

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Those who write...

David Gessner, in the New York Times, writes about his experience as both a writer and a teacher of writing. He loves teaching, but he worries on the effect it has on his writing, which he had previously done full-time. Teaching, he says, 
provides a safety net above the abyss of facing the difficulty of creating every day, making an irrational thing feel more rational.
Yet no matter how much support you have, how many schedules you make or how many books you’ve written before, there remains the basic irrationality of the task: you are sitting by yourself trying to make something out of nothing, and you rarely know where you’re going next. Creating your own world is an invitation to solipsism, if not narcissism, and as well as being alone when we work, we are left, for the most part, to judge by ourselves if we have succeeded or failed in our tasks. (Three guesses in which direction we most often lean.)
I think many of us have this push/pull relationship with art, whether it's drawing, painting, writing, or performing, especially when that art is created in isolation for some imagined audience. And while a part of me is extremely attracted to the idea of shifting my life around to make room for "art," the other part of me notices that Mr. Gessner shifted point of view in that paragraph I quoted and that I'd really like to show that to my students.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Anne Frank wrote, "Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart."

I tend to agree with her, rationalizing the irrational, excusing the inexcuseable.

Is it November 4th yet?


Saturday, September 6, 2008


This task we all have of figuring out our lives is a difficult one. Without certain structures in place -- religion, marriage, etc. -- deciding how to make choices, let alone making those choices, becomes that much more challenging.

Two things do I know for sure: 1. I have the most incredible family, ever; and 2. Obama's going to be a wonderful leader for this country.

Everything else is a twisting narrative strand.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Two truths and a lie

I took my first creative writing course freshman year of college, and it was there that I first learned about the best ice breaker ever.

"Two truths and a lie" is a game in which each person says three things about him- or herself; two are true and one is a lie. Everyone else has to figure out which is which. By now, I'm a master at this game. I've played it so many times that I can spot the lie mid-sentence and can craft the best truths and lies.

Unfortunately, when I was 18, I didn't get it. Anything. I was very self-serious. While all the other students had anecdotes about Greek serenades, drinking misadventures, and curious rashes, I told of crashing cars, running away, and therapy. (The class quickly guessed my lie because one of its details was "five miles," and "five" is a fake-sounding number, apparently.)

Anyway, my winning combination a couple months ago:
  • I've never had a pet for longer than 6 months
  • I was born at home.
  • I've never gone out of the country.

(Everyone guessed the last one; they obviously hadn't read this blog!)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Why I couldn't work behind a computer all day

Sudoku addicts halt drug trial:

Sydney District Court Judge Peter Zahra cancelled the trial of two men on drugs conspiracy charges after the jury foreperson admitted that four to five jurors had been playing the addictive number sequence game, local media reported. The judge was alerted after some of the jurors were observed writing their notes vertically, rather than horizontally.

The jury members claimed that it helped them pay attention. Sure it did.

I remember constantly doodling when I was in school. But I didn't draw cartoon characters or scenes. Instead I drew tight spirals, zooming closer and farther away. I drew 3d boxes and lines converging and diverging. Doodling didn't help me pay attention to the teacher, but it sure did help keep me from falling asleep!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

First person singular, first person plural, or third person singular?

If we listened better to our past selves, our current selves might have an easier time of things. I don't mean "past selves" in the I-was-a-seventeenth-century-slave-girl-Shirley-McClain sense; I mean, THAT GIRL we were yesterday, THAT GIRL ten years ago, or THAT GIRL in 1988. THAT GIRL had life experiences that should inform her current decision-making process.

We picked up cicadas, we swam in oceans without fearing sharks , and we dared to think we might become an architect, a paleontologist, or an inventor when we grew up. We fell, and we got back up; we tried things, we failed, and we tried more things. But we forget about our former selves. We let her ideas and dreams become pieces of nostalgia, and her lessons become quaint. Oh look, remember when... But that girl was brave, more than she realized then and more than we realize now.

Two years ago at this time, I was figuring out how to quit my job. Depressed, unsure of myself and any of the decisions I'd made (after all, my decisions had led me there), it was only after I gave myself permission to fail - to have failed - that I finally found some peace. Leaving that job was one of the hardest and best things I'd ever had to do. It's a lesson that I have to remind myself to carry with me: next time, I'll remember, the world doesn't end, and life won't crash to a halt.

We owe that girl to talk to her every once in a while. See what she has to say about our current state of affairs.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Restrictive clauses vs. Nonrestrictive clauses

I am a person who chooses her words carefully to avoid difficult conversations.

I, who choose my words carefully, avoid difficult conversations.

Even better, I could use an "-ing modifier":

Choosing my words carefully, I avoid difficult conversations.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Importance of Childhood Memories

Only an adult perspective, twenty years later, has taught me that a few of my family’s traditions were less than normal.

Take, for example, our October trips to the cemetery to go “buckeye hunting.” A couple weeks before each Halloween, my mom, my brothers, and I went across the street to Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, plastic bags in tow, and mapped out our path to the five “best” buckeye trees.

When we got to our first tree, we raced around with our backs hunched, examining the grass for those smooth, brown nuts. If we were too late, the buckeyes would be gnawed and rotted. If we were too early, most of the buckeyes would still be in the trees. Luckily, we were ready for those high-up buckeyes: with the right amount of force, a shoe could knock down a buckeye, still in its shell. My brothers and I took turns throwing our shoes into the tree, hoping to retrieve a perfectly intact buckeye. More than once, a shoe got stuck among the branches, and it took another deft toss to knock the shoe down. By the time we left the fifth tree, our bags were heavy and full.

Later, I’d bring my sack of buckeyes to school for show-and-tell. I’d never thought about the sight we must have been, three kids and their mom, shoeless, running around a graveyard.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Libraries are cool

Maybe that makes me cool by association, eh?

Homer: So, I realized that being with my family is more important than being cool.
Bart: Dad, what you just said was powerfully uncool.
Homer: You know what the song says: "It's hip to be square".
Lisa: That song is so lame.
Homer: So lame that it's... cool?
Bart+Lisa: No.
Marge: Am I cool, kids?
Bart+Lisa: No.
Marge: Good. I'm glad. And that's what makes me cool, not caring, right?
Bart+Lisa: No.
Marge: Well, how the hell do you be cool? I feel like we've tried everything here.
Homer: Wait, Marge. Maybe if you're truly cool, you don't need to be told you're cool.
Bart: Well, sure you do.
Lisa: How else would you know?

(Homerpalooza episode)

Anyway. Check out this link for some unironically cool library pictures.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Gatwick/JFK Fun!

Here we are, Monday afternoon, waiting to get on a plane back to Ohio. The reason we look so happy here is because, at this point, we don't know that they won't let us on the plane. But soon after this picture is taken, we find out that while they can't get us to Ohio, they can get us to New York. (What will we do in New York? We don't know; nor, do they.) We got to New York Monday evening (there's a whole crew of us not wanting to be in New York) and wait and wait and wait for our luggage to arrive; it never does. We go to a ticket counter to try to get home. Apparently we'd "just missed" the last flight to Ohio for the night. We book the earliest flight out Tuesday morning, 6am, and decide to stay at the airport. There was food, bathrooms, and concrete floor. But, hey, it was free. Not the food, the floor.
This is how our trip, basically, ended (well, except for our bags not being in Ohio, but that's worked itself out by now). Even though the last two days were no fun, the trip as a whole couldn't be spoiled.

Quote of the Day

"In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart."
- Anne Frank

Sunday, March 16, 2008

London - Part 8

Sunday afternoon and evening we hung out with one of my best friends from college, Marianne, and her longtime boyfriend, Daniel. They came all the way down from Scotland to visit. We went to Covent Gardens where I bought chocolates to take back to work (alas they ended up soaked and icky in my bag that sat on the rainy runway at Gatwick before showing up two days late in Cincinnati...) and then to the South Bank for dinner and walking-around-fun.

After dinner we walked back across the Thames, took the subway back towards are respective hotels, and ended the evening with a night cap at a local pub.

Here we are outside my hotel Sunday. The pub closed before 11pm, so it wasn't too late. I've been home for about six days; can I go back yet??? Ok, maybe not. But it was wonderful having this brief change in routine and break from reality.

London - Part 7

One of the best parts about London was its subway system (the Underground). We bought all-day passes and easily went from here to there without any trouble. And it was fun being part of the crowd pushing and shoving its way up and down escalators and in and out of the subway cars.

Don't let the scowls fool you: my brothers weren't really angry, and they don't really hate me.

London - Part 6

Carnaby Street near Picadilly Circus - lots of sports stores.

On Saturday we visited the British Library - I was curious whether they used Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress. But I couldn't actually get to any books inside the library. Everything was kind of stacked away. Great for research and for scholars, tough for tourists! It is lovely inside, though - wide, open. They have a wonderful exhibition room with old manuscripts by the likes of Shakespeare and Austen, as well as original Bach, Beethoven, etc. Very cool!

These are pictures of the Tower of London. By the time we got there, it was 5pm (closed at 6pm) and it cost 16 pounds to enter - that's over 30usd! So I took pictures of the outside for free.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

London - Part 5

"When you traveled eight hours across the Atlantic, what did you do?"

"I found the coolest Starbucks ever!"

Tower Bridge on Friday afternoon

London fun - Part 4

These next four were taken inside in one of the London Eye pods. Heh. Eyepod.

Friday, March 14, 2008

London fun - Part 3

Big Ben!

That big circular contraption is called the London Eye. Or, as Jonah refers to it, the Joyless Wheel.

London fun - Part 2

Trafalgar Square was much prettier on Friday. I think we ended up back there four or five times throughout the long weekend!

The National Gallery has a great Van Gogh collection.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Fun times in London - part 1

From the balcony of the National Gallery, looking over Trafalgar Square. I'm not sure what was going on, but there were newscasters and well-dressed interviewees.

Brother standing near Nelson's Column at Trafalgar Square. We're descendents of Lord Nelson.

Pretty daffodils at St. James's Park (I don't see flowers like this blooming, yet, in the states!)

My brother, standing outside Buckingham Palace. It was quite crowded. There was a large group of French students (maybe 13, 14 years old) on a field trip, dressed way too fashionably. I kept looking at everyone's shoes.