Thursday, December 23, 2010

Year in Review (to be continued)

"All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery."
~ George Orwell

I'm not sure I'm ready to sum up 2010. No trips to Paris or Australia. My blogging rate has decreased dramatically. I quit a job. I didn't apply to any MFA programs. I look at 2010 and do a bit of head scratching. Did I accomplish what I wanted to?

I've always thought of writing as being both selfish and solitary, and as long as I've just been looking out for myself, I've been able to justify that selfishness; that right to write. When I'm alone, it's easier to decide, "I'm going to borrow a bunch of money so I can get a new degree that I'm not sure how I'll use."

But I'm not alone, and that's a good thing. It just changes how I think of things. It necessarily affects how I make decisions.

The holiday season posed a new challenge -- figuring out how to see my family and my boyfriend's. For each of us, that includes a mom in one house and a dad in another. Throw in step-parents, step-siblings, and ailing grandparents, and you get a crowded schedule. Christmas Eve we visited my grandfather at the "transitional" facility; from there we went to my mom and stepfather's for a lasagna dinner. The next morning we went to my boyfriend's mom and stepfather's for lunch; from there we went to my grandma's -- she just got her gull bladder removed, so my dad cooked the traditional pot roast and potatoes. The next morning we went to his dad and stepmom's.

I feel bigger, as my circle has widened. The number of people to whom I have to send "thank you" cards has tripled, which is wonderful. It's just a lot harder to be selfish now.
Here's us in Chicago a couple months ago, looking at the giant bean.

Edited to change "numbered" to "number."

Friday, December 17, 2010

On the Bright Side, I Get to Listen to a Lot of NPR.

In the morning, I leave with the swarms of suburbanites heading toward our jobs in the city. In the evening, I join them again.

I got off work at 6:00 this evening. I just got home. 6:45.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Angry, Angry Left

Like many of us on the Left, I was outraged over the Obama-Republican tax compromise. Outraged! As he said in his news conference, defending the deal, a majority of the public was in favor of letting the tax cuts for the rich expire. President Obama himself was in favor of letting the tax cuts for the rich expire. After all, if we're serious about reducing the deficit, how could we give further breaks to people who don't need it?

But in order to extend the tax cuts to the middle class, in order to extend unemployment benefits, in order to secure a reduction in the payroll tax, he negotiated a two-year extension of the tax cuts for the rich.

My outraged has diminished. Besides, I never really get angry, let alone outraged. But visit Daily Kos or some of the other liberal blogs. By their portrayal of the President, you'd think Obama ordered water torture or started two wars. They treat him at best like a corporatist, uncaring about the nation's poor, and at worst like an imbecile, bamboozled by the Right.

Ah, but the more the Left yells, the more centrist President Obama appears; the more he appeals to independents. The more he negotiates with the Right, the less scary or radical he appears to the Obama's a Secret Kenyan Muslim Socialist Society.

I don't care who he's in a room with, President Obama is the smartest person in it.

* This site makes me happy.
** My dad comes home Thursday! Here he writes about getting ready to leave Kenya again.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Finger Clippings

My grandfather fell last week. He was on a job (yes, that's right, he still works two or three days a week) and slipped, breaking his right hip. He went to the hospital, had surgery, and now is recovering in a place that specializes in "transitions." I visited him yesterday, his 95th birthday, and brought the nail clippers I'd promised to bring the previous day.

His fingernails were long and yellow. He struggled to squeeze the clippers enough to cut through the hard nails. I finally asked if I could do it. I took his left hand and set it in mine, palm down. Finger by finger, I trimmed his nails, careful to catch the clippings in my hand.

"Don't save those," he said. "Drop them on the floor. They'll sweep them up."

I did as ordered.

Both my mom's dad and my dad's mom still live in their own respective houses. I wonder if that's key to their longevity and mental acuity: while they get some help from their families and neighbors, they are still responsible for themselves. But every year--maybe every day--they give up some little piece of autonomy. My grandfather's fingernails looked like they hadn't been touched in months.

It's easy to think that because they're more dependent, because their physical self has changed so much, their mind and thoughts have likewise diminished. But surely this isn't the case. Grandpa got quite a few visitors yesterday. One asked if he was chasing all the nurses on the floor. He replied, smiling, "They're chasing me."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Public Speaking

When I started college as a freshman, we had the opportunity to give a speech to get out of a required public speaking course. "Great!" I had thought. "I can take another art class!" I'd also heard that it was almost impossible to fail.

Oh, but fail I did. I still remember clutching the text of my speech; my eyes were glued to it the entire time. The content was great - something about how we should be paying more attention to the oppression of women/destruction of art by the Taliban (this was 1998, mind you) - but I doubt those listening and judging could pay attention to any of it, given how much I was shaking and (probably) mumbling.

Tonight is a public reading at my writing class. I'm going to share the beginning part of my novel-in-progress. I'm psyched. I'm sure I'll be nervous, but it won't compare to that Taliban speech. Besides, my mom and best friend will be in the audience; also, I'm told there will be wine.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mental Illness

The taboo of mental illness still exists, but it's shrinking. My own bouts with depression in high school were neither long enough nor severe enough to warrant more than a few visits to a therapist (as opposed to a psychiatrist), but I wasn't embarrassed; if it were necessary, I wouldn't have been embarrassed to seek further treatment. Actually, though, more crippling and at times even devastating to me throughout my childhood and teen years was my shyness. As a *fully-functioning adult, now, I wonder how my story would change had my severe social anxiety been treated.

On the Diane Rehm show earlier this week (Katty Kay was guest hosting), the panel discussed anxiety disorders, their treatment, and their stigma. A mother called in to talk about her 10-year-old daughter who's been on medication since age six. She describes recognizing the symptoms early on:

...I noticed it when she was born, literally. I mean, she was my second child, and in the hospital -- I was in the hospital for three nights -- she would not go to sleep. And finally one of the nurses said to me, you know, why don't you put her next to you? And that immediately helped, and so it was this -- throughout her infancy and then as she became a toddler, severe sort of attachment issues. And then when she was three -- she was in preschool -- she actually developed selective mutism, where she literally did not say a word at school for two years. And so that's when we started the talk therapy, and we got her to the point -- when she transitioned from preschool to kindergarten, we got her to the point where she could speak in school and be a relatively normal student in school....

And she's continued needing occasional talk therapy, and we've even had her in a group therapy with other kids with anxiety disorders. So we continue to do, you know, whatever it is that she needs and try to give her as many tools as we can because I do suspect -- as has been, you know, said earlier in the show -- that this is probably a lifelong battle that she's going to have with this disorder.

I wonder. Were I born twenty years later, would I have been put in "talk therapy"? Would I have been on Prozac by age 6? My mom tells me stories about my sheer terror around crowds of people, about my unwillingness to be touched or held by anyone but a chosen few. And I still remember my own fear of new people and situations that stayed with me through all my years in school. It affected--limited, really--so many of my choices.

Perhaps indirectly, though, it also shaped my world view. Would I have spent so much time observing others, watching their habits, trying to understand them, if I wasn't so scared of approaching them? Would I have as much empathy as I do?

*at least, I try to be one!

Quick note

There's been a dearth of posts, lately. But in a couple weeks, my writing group is having a "public readaround" in which we share with the rest of the class--as well as invited guests--what we've been working on all term. I've alternated between revising a short story I wrote in August and sharing my longer will-be novel (my short story is 3900 words while I only have about 5000 in the longer piece). In my small group, I have received the perfect balance of praise and criticism; enough encouragement to keep going as well as specific points I can improve or clarify.

Also, I have survived my first week in the suburbs. So far so good.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

...where they cut down all the trees and name streets after them...

~Alfred E. Neuman

In the next few weeks, I'll be moving out to the suburbs. I'm doing a lot of self-talk, trying to combat this prejudice I have against any zip code outside the city boundaries: Neither of my parents grew up in the city, and they turned out ok!

If I'm being honest, I have to acknowledge my self-satisfaction over having grown up in such a racially and economically diverse neighborhood (my bike was stolen a bunch of times! our house was broken into! we went to Cincinnati Public Schools!) I'm proud of having worn hand-me-downs, of not having cable, of growing up in a modest house. My values were shaped in that neighborhood, and I don't know how they would be the same had I been raised somewhere else.

And so the 'burbs. Thirty minutes--not five--from downtown. We'll see how my need for chaos (stacked papers, three pairs of shoes surrounding my chair at this very moment, two empty glasses) translates outside of the city. I think it will be good for my writing and focus (besides, there are nearby Starbucks!) though my commute to the library won't be fun.

On an unrelated note, I am psyched for the new movie with James Franco, 127 Hours. Based on a true story, it comes out in Cincy next Friday. The second song in the trailer is Funeral, by the awesomely named band, Band of Horses.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mid-term Reaction

As disappointed as I am with the results, on a national level, I'm not despairing. I think we'll be ok -- better this wave come now than in 2012. Timothy Egan had a great article in the New York Times. Its premise was that Obama and his actions saved capitalism, and now he's paying the price politically. Obama seems serious about governing and tackling our nation's problems while the rest come across as foolish. I am sad that Nancy Pelosi is losing that leadership position; I think history will treat her better than our news media.

I'm more worried about what this red tide means on the local level. Republicans swept both state houses and the governorship here in Ohio. Our outgoing governor, Ted Strickland, was a good smart man. He cares about unions and was well-tuned to needs of Appalachian regions of the state. But Ohio's been hit especially hard--unemployment is above the national average. The governor-elect wants to reject the $400 federal subsidy to build high-speed rails from Cincy to Columbus to Cleveland. It strikes me as ridiculous; this is something that would create jobs. He actually said that killing this program is is #1 priority.

So while a part of me still rails against the right-wing media and the manipulation of the public, that obviously wasn't the only thing going on in this election. It wasn't biased reporting that determined the results. There's something larger going on, and I'm trying to figure out what it is; a feeling that we were moving too fast on so many fronts and yet unemployment rose. I think there's a racial element, but that can only account for so much. The youth vote was horrendous; something like 8%. Had they voted at the same rate as the Medicare crowd, maybe results around the country would have been different.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

"To me, the point of a novel is to take you to a still place..."

"...You can multitask with a lot of things, but you can't really multitask reading a book. You're either reading a book or you're not. To me, the world of books is the quiet alternative, an even more desperately needed alternative."

~ Jonathan Franzen, via The Atlantic

I had actually written that quote--by hand!--when I first came across it a couple months ago. And it seems even more appropriate now that I've finished his latest novel, "Freedom." It took me about a week to finish the 500-page book, and I was reading during any and all free moments; it was a true gift to enter the "still place" of its world.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Quick hits

This weekend I went on a quick trip to Chicago. I've been to the city probably four times, now, but never for more than three consecutive days, and thus have never gotten to do everything (and see everyone) I've wanted to! Probably my favorite part was the Architectural Boat Tour; we went up and down the Chicago River while learning about the different buildings. I don't think I'll look at a city skyline the same way again (thanks, Kristi, for the recommendation!) The other bright spot? Seeing Rahm Emmanuel in a little breakfast joint, and also being seated near a couple of old guys ranting about the tea party and the intellectual dishonesty of today's Republican Party.

Now I'm back home, trying to prepare a four-minute piece for writing class tomorrow. I'm tempted to recycle an old blog entry, but methinks that defeats the purpose.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Here and There

I left my laptop at work yesterday. This meant, when I got home from writing class Wednesday night, I couldn't watch Tuesday's episode of "Glee" on Hulu. Otherwise, I wasn't too disconnected.

This morning, I stepped out of my house with the intention of driving to work and picking up my computer, but it was so beautiful out; instead I just kept walking, all the way to work (the benefit of living less than two miles away from your job!) Then I took my laptop across the street to a coffee shop and sat and wrote and revised for the next hour. Now I'm back home, contemplating the leftover pizza in my refrigerator.

Today is the first day off I've had in a while. This is good, because days when I work are days I make money. But it's nice enjoying the weather and solitude for a bit.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How Far We've Come

Yesterday, the twelve-year anniversary of Matthew Shepard's death, was a reminder of how far we've come and how far we have to go.

My mom still tells the story. I was seven or eight years old. I cut off all the blond hair of my Barbie. I showed it to her and said, "Look, mom - my Barbie's a lesbian!" And I married her off to the brunette, with long and luxurious hair. Surely, I wasn't taking a political stance; I didn't have any Ken dolls because their hair was hard and plastic. Still -- in my sphere of knowledge were men marrying women, men divorcing women, and women partnering with women. All three were viable options.

A few years later, when I was an adolescent who showed absolutely no interest in boys, my mom said to me, "You know it's ok if you don't like boys. I just want you to be happy." It turns out that I was just a late bloomer (intellectually I'm on par; socially, I've always felt 5-10 years behind!) Still, I've always known since a very young age from BOTH my parents that I will be accepted no matter what. No matter who I am, no matter who I love, I will always be loved.

Monday was National Coming Out Day. I wish that every child--gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or straight--could have parents as well as a society that accept them for who they are and whom they love. In the mean time, adults are recording youtube videos for high school students who may be struggling in their current family/community situation with the simple but powerful message, "It gets better."

Edited to correct the date of Matthew Shepard's death.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I Don't Want to Talk About It

Sometimes Nana and I would talk about religion. Her faith, she said, is God's greatest gift to her. I mostly listened. I enjoyed hearing about her experience visiting my parents' church, full of young people worshiping, singing, and even speaking in tongue. I mostly listened. I nodded. I said, "Oh?"

But I didn't like talking about my own beliefs. I'd rather her assume the best in me (as I know she'd never assume the worst). When she started challenging me directly about those beliefs--and "challenging" is too strong a word, but it's how I felt--instead of standing up for them, engaging in a debate, I started to say, "I don't want to talk about it." I was rather snippy and left no room for argument.

I've used this line a few times with her, regarding religion, politics, and other "controversial" subjects: "I don't want to talk about this." I've used it with others, as well, from my mom to friends: I shut down conversations because I'm uncomfortable. In my mind, I'm protecting people I care about. I don't think they want to hear what I have to say, so I don't say it. I'd rather withhold than lie or create an awkward situation.

This can't be healthy. In fact, it drives my grandmother crazy; she said she's even spoken to my dad about this! This habit of mine--withholding to "protect"--may have cost me a friendship.

Now that I'm aware of this, maybe I can do better. Back to the Reds' game. As for the Bengals, I don't want to talk about it.

Forest for the Trees.

Me, hugging a really big tree.

I enjoy getting lost just for the feeling of eventually finding my way.

Yesterday after work, a couple of us hiked around an area park, venturing past a "path closed until October 10" sign. I had some vague memory of nearby train tracks, and I wanted to find them. So we kept walking even as I became less and less sure we were heading in the right direction. By the time I realized I had no idea where we were, the sky was cornflower blue, and the woods were dark. But it seemed best to keep walking.

An hour later, the sky navy, we emerged at the other end of the park feeling exhilarated that we hadn't been eaten by squirrels.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


A dearth of posts, lately, for a variety of reasons.

On the specific side, first of all, I'm trying to clean and organize. With my reduced income, I can only stay in my (wonderfully awesome) apartment for so much longer. When the time comes to move, I need to be ready. Secondly, there's a new boyfriend (I hate that term; I usually only refer to someone as that after we've broken up and it follows "ex-") who has normal working hours and doesn't live far away... Those evenings when I would have been perusing articles about the midterm elections, we're out eating Thai food. When I might have been pondering the beginning of the universe and my place in that universe, we're seeing a movie (by the way, I really recommend "The Social Network").

More abstractly, I've felt quite scattered, my attention in a dozen different directions. What kind of writer do I want to be? How, exactly, am I going to make it a part of my life? It's the same questions I've been asking for the past three years. Really, I think it's plain old Doubt. Nagging me. That stupid Ego convinced me to leave a well-paying job during a recession? Who does it think I am?!

I wish the writing group met three times a week instead of once. It's centering and affirming. Luckily, we meet again tomorrow.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I See Shoes

Last night, I attended my first Women Writing for (a) Change class. I was characteristically nervous and tense, sitting in that circle, waiting for the seats to fill, until we were able to write--"fast write," it's called here, like the "free write" I used with my own students, an uncensored stream-of-consciousness. Here's mine:

I see shoes. All these women, different ages, different sizes, so intimidating that I want to curl up, I look at their shoes and remember their just like me. Sneakers. Flip flops. Slip-ons. Comfy shoes, mostly. Me, I'm wearing boots. They're a little snug in the toes, and I wish the heels were more comfortable. But these women--this space, so "sacred" with its bouquet of flowers in the middle and candle and tissues reminding us YOU WILL CRY!--aren't so scary when I focus on the shoes. We all walked different paths to get here, and no one's judging my path, just as I'm not judging theirs.

Humbling, though, to think about where all these shoes have been.

I'm excited. There's an energy that comes from writing in a group; I had lost some of that ever since I stopped teaching. I don't think I realized how much I was drawing from people around me.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"May the Odds Be Ever In Your Favor"

The past couple weeks I've torn through Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games" trilogy. Classified as teen fiction, these three books are different from the character-driven pieces I usually read. Set in a dystopian future in which the United States no longer exist, replaced by a central government that controls and exploits twelve surrounding "districts," the books follow teenager Katniss Everdeen as she fights for survival. To remind the districts of its power, the Capitol stages yearly "Hunger Games" -- each district supplies one boy and one girl (ages 12-18) to compete for their lives, all while being televised. At the end of each Games, there is to be only one victor standing.

As sickening as that idea is, Collins said she came up with it while flipping through tv channels years ago. On one channel, "reality" tv. You know, like "Survivor," "The Bachelor," etc. On others were Iraq war footage:

The images blurred in her mind. She wondered whether other viewers could tell them apart.

"We have so much programming coming at us all the time," she says. "Is it too much? Are we becoming desensitized to the entire experience? ... I can't believe a certain amount of that isn't happening."

I highly recommend these books. They are immensely readable and take you away to another place while at the same time giving you pause about today's society. In the districts, as the people scrape for every ounce of food and those in the rich Capitol are ridiculed for being wasteful, even dying their skin shades of green and purple for the sake of fashion, you can't help but think of the disconnect between our own so-called leaders in Washington and the real-life struggles of most citizens.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ok, Let's Do This Thing

I last saw Marianne and Daniel in London, 2008. She’s returned to the states (and Daniel is making his first visit!) to tour and visit old friends. Yesterday I drove up to Denison to meet her and some of our friends from the Columbus area. We marveled at how normal it felt to be there on campus; it didn’t feel like eight years had passed since we graduated and walked for hours asking each other, Remember when?! (More often than not, we did).

Today, three of us are writers. One has finished novels and has sent out queries. Another has heaps of stories, some published, some not; some under a pen name, some under her own. And then there’s me.

I’m still stuttering a bit but refusing to fall backwards. I enrolled last week for the fall semester of Woman Writing for (a) Change. The group describes its mission as

Empowering individuals from all walks of life to develop their voices and celebrate their stories, through the art of writing and the creation of community.

The class I will be taking meets weekly, and I look forward to being part of this community. It is for women looking for a creative outlet as well as for ones, like me, who want accountability and feedback as they write.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Most Trusted Man in America?

New York Magazine's feature story this month ("America is a Joke") is on Jon Stewart, that most excellent host of The Daily Show. The article describes a typical day as Stewart and his staff write, rewrite, and edit a 30-minute show (it looks as fun and stressful as you'd imagine!)

Those of us who watch Stewart know him as a (hilarious) voice of reason during a time when the media seem to be pushing narrative over truth. We thought that the election of Obama would dull his comic edge, but quite the opposite has happened. The show is more relevant than ever:

His comedy is counterprogramming—postmodern entertainment but with a political purpose. As truth has been overrun by truthiness and facts trampled by lies, he and The Daily Show have become an invaluable corrective—he’s Cronkite, the most trusted man in America, although in keeping with the fragmented culture, he’s trusted by many fewer people, about 1.8 million viewers each night.

In the article, Stewart talks about his encounters with people in the media after the presidential election in 2000:

The more we got to meet people [in the media], it was—‘Oh! You’re f&@ing retarded! You don’t care!’ The pettiness of it, the strange lack of passion for any kind of moral or editorial authority, always struck me as weird. We felt like, we’re serious people doing an unserious thing, and they’re unserious people doing a very serious thing.

The article is a bit long, but it's definitely worth reading.

Plodding Along.

I had a rather quiet high school experience. Except for that whole getting-hit-by-a-car thing in the ninth grade, my days were marked by slouching down in my chair, hoping not to get called on and holding my stomach, hoping no one would hear my stomach growl. I was scared of and intimidated by the other students, so talented and smart and pretty, and I tried my best to stay invisible. In high school, this is surprisingly easy to do!

I find myself drifting back to that time lately. I don't think about specific memories or classes or teachers; in fact, a lot of that time is rather blurry. While I can remember so many details about my accident and even my first week of college, high school was an endurance race. What I drift back to are the feelings I had. This constant anxiety and frustration over trying to be invisible and yet wanting to be seen. Over refusing to connect, yet desperately wanting to.

During times of change, we hold onto what we know. Once again, I have this pit of anxiety and frustration. Then as in now, there's little logic to it. And so I think about that quiet high school experience, slouching in my chair, hiding. I hold that experience close to me, now, because in the end those daily struggles didn't define me and my life.

So, yes, I'm still plodding.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Running with Cheetahs

This past Sunday, I joined more than a thousand others for the 31st Cheetah Run (I write about last year's experience here). Hard-core marathoners, moms and dads with strollers, and occasional joggers (that's my category) sprinted through and around the Cincinnati Zoo. I came in 578th out of 911 females (the results were divided by gender).

In other news, my 95-year-old grandfather is recovering from a fall. He's out of the hospital and into a rehab facility, the same one my aunt stayed in for a month after her near-death experience last Christmas. For various reasons, he's been taking care of her--his daughter--for the past few years. With the positions reversed, if only temporarily, I wonder how this will affect each of them.

It looks like a beautiful day outside. I think I'll pick out some comfortable shoes and walk to work.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Stupid is as stupid does

When I taught younger children, transitions were always the toughest. We would have a great activity, like a story, a song, or a show-and-tell, and that activity would conclude. Then we would have to get to the next task, whether lunch, nap, or free choice. The trick would be coming up with a good transition that would guide children from one activity to the next without ensuing chaos. It could be something simple: "Put your hands on your head. Put them in the air. Drop them to your sides. Finger on your mouth." Other times the transition could become an activity unto itself, whether it involved counting or silently lining up in order of height.

But sometimes I dropped the ball. I tried to go straight from one activity to the next without thinking of the transition. I shouldn't have been surprised when children were unfocused and noisy, and I would have to spend an extra five minutes or so getting them settled.

Here I am in my own transition. Undisciplined. Unfocused. Being a bit stupid. Yearning for someone to tell me what to do, both in my writing life and personal life, while knowing that I -- no one else -- am responsible for my choices and the consequences of those choices.

Edited to add: Sorry for the string of self-indulgent blog posts. I'm working through some stuff! Meanwhile, I write.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Summer Vacation

This too shall pass. Of course. It always does. Stripped of my position as "Teacher"--or, more accurately, now that I've relinquished my title of "Teacher"--I'm struggling. Mood-wise, I'm fine. Happy as a clam. Friends are awesome. Family's awesome. But the future, near-term and long-term, is fuzzy. I feel listless.

Maybe it's like that first month of summer vacation. You know, all school year you're working your studying you're constantly accountable to others. You have all these ideas of what you'll do when school ends and your responsibilities shrink. But then, absent the regiment of alarm clocks and classes, you drift for a few weeks. Decompress? Then, after a month or so, bored of doing nothing, you find a new rhythm. Set goals; meet goals. So... my excuse is that I'm in that decompression period.

And I'm starting to feel the disillusionment about the democratic party and the administration that I bet progressives have been experiencing for a while. I don't like that feeling. I don't want to write about it either!

Of course, there's also that anxiety about my savings drying up while I figure out how to make writing a central part of my life. Whine, whine. If this were a tweet, it would include the hash tag #firstworldproblem.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Slight Vent; Not Really

Lately I've felt like I could stay in bed all day and still feel tired. I love the library, but my schedule's been such that I've worked many days in a row with only Sunday off. I find myself wondering if I should look for other part-time jobs, or more actively commit to going back to school full-time. A part of me is frustrated about my job; staying motivated, despite how little I make, despite how little I'll ever make there, regardless of how many "extra" things I do.

And so I remind myself of why I made the choices I did: I worked this job and taught for the past three years; I was perpetually tired--energy was the exception; I had a pang of stress and anxiety that was with me always. Writing propelled me then, and I will continue to let it do so.

I've just been so tired lately. Need to work on that.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Cost of Ignorance

Timothy Egan had a piece in yesterday's New York Times that addresses the epidemic of ignorance among Americans today. He cites the large number of republicans--and people in general--who believe Obama's a Muslim. He mentions how many think that Obama was responsible for the bank bailout. From climate change to Michelle's trip to Spain, he says, we are being fed misinformation; lies are promulgated.

While "it would be nice to dismiss the stupid things Americans believe as harmless, the price of large, messy democracy," Egan asserts that ignorance has a price:
False belief in weapons of mass-destruction led the United States to a trillion-dollar war. And trust in rising home value as a truism as reliable as a sunrise was a major contributor to the catastrophic collapse of the economy. At its worst extreme, a culture of misinformation can produce something like Iran, which is led by a Holocaust denier.
It's enough to make me want to pull out my hair. How do you combat this? CNN, MSNBC, Fox News -- their primary responsibility is to their shareholders; not to us, not to the government, not to the truth. Their aim is to make money, not to make us smarter.

Maybe it's just another ugly August news cycle. Last year it was the town hall debacles. This year, the Mosques. And maybe, come September, the debate will be elevated.

(Actually, I'm pretty sure it won't be; I'll just have to find a better way to deal with my frustrations than pulling out my hair!)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Novel Ideas

I have always loved books about writing. One of my favorites, William Zinsser's "On Writing Well,"helped shape my nonfiction writing style. I also adore Annie Dillard's "The Writing Life": she discusses not the craft of writing but the process; the writer's journey and struggles. She writes,

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.

From Natalie Goldberg ("Long Quiet Highway" and "Writing Down the Bones") to Anne Lamott ("Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life"), I can't get enough of writers on writing.

And so it is that I have a strong desire to go out and buy more books about writing. There's the "Portable MFA in Creative Writing" -- why pay upwards of $20,000 for more schooling when I could get a book? There's the "Idiot's Guide to Writing a Novel"--I don't think I'm an idiot, so the book should make it really easy to write a novel! Oh, and there's"How to Write a (Damn) Good Novel"--it has "Damn" in the title, so I know it must be excellent.

But sometimes I think that reading these books is just another way for me to procrastinate. So I'll go for some time on my own. I spent four hours at a bookstore today sketching out the plot and characters of a novel. Just like the Ronald & Cynthia story, I've had the idea for this one in my head the past year or so. And while staring at my notes, I realized I had to eliminate one of the characters altogether. She had been a major character; in fact, she was possibly going to narrate! But once I got rid of her, things made so much more sense and the story began to come together.

I'm excited. After I had decided not to jump in immediately to an MFA program, I felt a little lost: What should I be doing? But this gives me direction and an achievable goal.

And as for "Ronald and Cynthia," I've finished the draft; I think a lot of it works, but I need some distance from it before revision.

(Cross-posted at wordpress)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Small Things

I received the kindest note from one of my former students the other day after I'd posted a link to the Writing Insight interview. She said she had really enjoyed my class and that I was "inspiring if at times misunderstood." This made me smile and laugh.

My grandma was tickled pink after receiving a call from her nephew; Tuesday he's going to take her to the casino. She'd left her home in California for Ohio more than sixty years ago. Her four siblings have all died. But her nephew (temporarily here for business) is the son of her favorite brother, Leo. When she hears her nephew's voice, she hears Leo. I wonder if her nephew knows how happy he's made her.

Last, the Reds won again. After being swept by the Cardinals--and looking absolutely awful in the process--we've won 8 of our last 9. Even the national press is starting to notice!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Colliding Worlds

There's an episode of Seinfeld where George's fiancée, Susan, has a short-lived friendship with Elaine. George doesn't like this. From his view, the two women are part of two different worlds, and he relates to them in two different ways. Around Susan, he is "Relationship George"; around Elaine, he is "Independent George." But if Susan and Elaine are friends, his worlds collide ("Relationship George," he says, "will kill Independent George!")

I was thinking of this today as a couple of my worlds collide. This morning I was featured on Writing Insight, a website dedicated to supporting new and aspiring authors. With my permission, my real name was used. When I was teaching, I was uncomfortable linking my real name to my blog or twitter stream for obvious reasons. In the same breath I might complain about conservative pundits and "it's"/"its" confusion.

I like this better, though: standing behind my own words and ideas; being the same person among my friends as I am among my family as I am among my colleagues. I've been faulted (complimented?) for being too honest, and I used to laugh at that idea. Maybe I thought that because I'm quiet, I withhold more than I share, and isn't that dishonest? But as my various circles collide--through wine tastings, through library functions, through the internet--I feel this great big world, the one we all share, finally coming into view.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

This Writing Life

For some reason, I thought this shift from non-fiction back to fiction would be natural. I have been writing so much the past few years, from entries to my own blog about politics, my life, my family, my teaching, to contributions to the library blog, to lessons and examples for my students. I feel comfortable writing what I know and doing research to write about what I don't know. It's as natural as breathing. I inhale -- think -- and exhale -- write. In, out, think, write.

But fiction is its own beast, isn't it? To make stuff up! Invent! Create people, settings, situations! This isn't quite breathing to me yet.

And so I practice.

Ronald and Cynthia, they're still figuring things out. A couple thousand words in, I felt like Ronald's point-of-view (even third person, slightly detached) was too creepy; I inserted scenes that were more removed from him to give the reader (and me) a break. I'm not sure how successful those breaks are and what, ultimately, it means for the story. But I'll try to finish the draft today and move onto something else tomorrow.

(Cross-posted at wordpress)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cold Dose of Reality

Today I work at the library, where I feel we're at the front lines of the recession. The branch I work at is relatively affluent; at the same time, we have people come in to use our computers for job searches and resume-building. Some are very skilled at computers and simply don't have access at home; others struggle to attach a document to an email or to write a simple reply to a job request. I love talking about books and helping people find the types of books that they're looking for, whether for a school project or their own interest. But this isn't my favorite part of the job.

What I'm best at, I think, is helping that gentleman who lost his job five weeks ago get to that website he needs to connect to job possibilities; it's informing him about all the resources the library has to offer. It's empowering him by not doing everything for him but by sitting with him, patiently explaining what to do. One man thanked me, saying, "It's like I'm learning to ride a bike. You're giving me my training wheels so I can practice until I can do it on my own."

Since finishing my teaching job, I've been scrambling to put together a good application package before the September 1 deadline. I've written and revised my application essay, built a website to house stories as well as some of my favorite posts, and--for the first time in years--I've written some new fiction. I've thought, "This is perfect: finish one job, ready for the next!"

But of course, life doesn't follow a straight path, and I'm putting on the breaks to my own bicycle before I lose my way. It isn't feasible to put together a satisfactory application by September 1, complete with samples, recommendations, and essays. I've been writing feverishly, and I will continue to do so.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Quick hits

  • My dad came to five after five! The food and wine samples were ok--they've definitely been better--but it was awesome having him there with my friends, seeing how I spend my Friday nights.
  • The Reds, after getting mauled by the Cardinals last week in three straight games, swept the Marlins this weekend to regain first place. Take that, St. Louis!
  • Finally, I'm having a quiet night at home. Tomorrow, write write write.

Edited to add that I put my senior writing project on the wordpress site. I read the stories now and think of them as practice for bigger and better things!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I spent last night at my grandma's. I came home after watching the Reds lose (again) to the St. Louis Cardinals and found my downstairs neighbor, beer in hand, telling me "power's out." My bedroom's in the attic; the temperature midday gets to 99 degrees with the fan on. Without packing so much as a toothbrush, I got back in my car and drove the 30 minutes east of my apartment. It was worth it to sleep in an air-conditioned house, watch The Daily Show, and eat bacon and eggs for breakfast.

The wordpress site is coming together. I have a nonfiction page with a selection of posts from the past two years. I thought they were ones that could stand without context. I also have a "works in progress" page, where I'm posting pieces of a story as I write it. Of course, a story will get changed a hundred times--in ways big and small--before it's finished.

It's incredibly scary putting stuff out there: admitting, this is what I'm doing, this is who I am. It's just a start; I've got a long way to go. But I need to start somewhere.

Monday, August 9, 2010


On Sundays, as we wait for Reds pregame to start, my dad, grandmother and I often watch Fareed Zakariah and GPS on CNN. It's one of the few things we can watch on cable that doesn't seem to propagandize or make us less intelligent. He has on interesting guests with divergent points of view, and he asks very insightful questions. This past Sunday, he started his show by talking about the debate over the proposed Muslim cultural center.

"I can't believe they want to build a Mosque at Ground Zero," Nana said.

I replied that during the commercial break, I'd refute her.

"What did she say? Did she say that she'd refute me?"

(I certainly didn't say I'd refudiate her.)

But GPS, instead of going straight to commercial, went to its first two guests: former secretaries of the treasury Robert Rubin and Paul O'Neill. They discussed how difficult and complex economic recovery is, and while they disagreed what the correct course of action should be, there seemed to be some common ground. By the time the show went to commercial break, my dad said, "Are you sure you want to do this?"

Nana was asleep in her chair. Even if she'd been awake, I would have let it go.

I see fear and ignorance and emotion as the biggest enemies to progress. Because when we leave those things out of the discussion, the right answer seems clearer. I may be biased, but I believe truth has a liberal slant.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Drinking Locally

My grocery store had a beer tasting Friday night with a local theme: all beers and food served were brewed and produced here in the Cincinnati area. One girl joined us who was in the midst of a round-the-world journey. She's from Melbourne, Australia, and drove from Alaska, across the Canadian Rockies, and back down into the states. What did she think of Cincinnati, I asked? Diplomatically, she said she loves the outdoors and isn't too fond of cities. Up next for her is Scotland and Israel.

Station One:
  • Mild Wild Ale - this was a pretty dark beer to start out with, but it's described as "an English session ale with a nice malty flavor which is meant to be drank in large quantities" (of course, we only had 2 oz).
  • Ratatouille - eggplant, local zucchini, etc; I skipped it.
Station Two:
  • No. 42 Cream Ale - this was yummy; made with corn!
  • Sloppy Joes - these weren't so sloppy, but they were still delicious.
Station Three:
  • Smoked Bock Beer - this supposedly had "a great smoky bacon flavor and who doesn't love bacon!!!" (I love bacon, but not in my beer)
  • Italian Beef Sandwiches - small but thick slice of beef was served in a pita.
Station Four:
  • 186,000 MPS Craft Malt Liquor - the server made sure to point out this was 10% alcohol, twice the amount of other samples. Good thing are portions are so small.
  • Baked Zucchini Fries - skipped
Station Five:
  • Enter the Beagle IPA - this was my favorite of the night, just a classic IPA, not too heavy but still flavorful.
  • Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese - small cubes of local cheese paired with roasted almonds; these were awesome together.
We went to Buca Di Bepo for dinner where my awesome friends paid for my share of the food and wine. Two other tables were celebrating birthdays; as the staff joined in a second rendition of "Happy happy birthday" I made everyone promise not to tell them it was mine also: they obliged.

The Reds are fifteen games over .500--this is a great time to be a fan, or a great time to jump on the bandwagon. After so many years of disappointment, I think much of the city is still skeptical. But I say just enjoy it; winning seasons don't come around that often, even if we don't ultimately win the pennant.

Friday, August 6, 2010


After about a day of self-doubt, I finished my application essay to Warren Wilson, wrote another 500 words of a story, and started the transition to a new website to house fiction and non-fiction. While I love blogspot for adding entries short and long, I really like wordpress and how stream-lined it is. I became comfortable creating and linking to pages while maintaining a site for my class.

The new one,, doesn't have much yet, just a couple brief samples. But I like the professional look to it. I plan to use this one the same way I have been while wordpress will be "cleaner," for lack of a better word.

Regardless of what happens with grad school, exciting things are on the horizon. I'm amazed and blessed by the support of my family and friends. Also amazing is the incredible community I've found online: writers from all parts of the country (world) in every genre, all with a passion for words or expressing themselves or creating or sharing or entertaining or connecting, or all of the above!

I'm still 30. No new wrinkles or aches; in fact, I ran Wednesday and didn't feel any effects Thursday. We'll try again Monday. Repetition creates habit.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Thirty feels like twenty-nine. Great day with my family. Wondering if my second thoughts about grad school are based on logic or fear...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Anger Management (or, "People Are Weird")

"You never get angry," a friend teased. "I want to see you blow up. Yell."

"I don't get angry," I said. "Or if I do, you'll never know it."

What's there to get angry about? I have a job, great family, friends. Even during the worst of times--running into an ex-boyfriend and his date? paying $10 to see a movie then falling asleep during the middle? coworkers not asking if I want anything for lunch before they order out?--I may get annoyed or embarrassed. But never angry.

"I'll keep working on it," the friend said.

"You do that."

Slowly Beginning This Writer's Life

I went running yesterday morning for the first time in months. My friend (the conservative one!) and I are planning to meet twice a week and run for a couple miles. Or at least I hope to build to that. This morning I woke up, legs like jello, muscles I didn't know existed aching. I don't remember this happening before!

Tomorrow we'll run again. I suspect it will be a little easier making it up that first hill, and hopefully the next day I'll hurt a little less.


Slowly beginning this writer's life. Thinking (and rethinking) the importance of going back to school. In the mean time, I run, I drink coffee, and I write.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Saturday Night Musing

I really like the idea of meeting new people and expanding my circle of friends. In fact, if I hadn't indulged in that idea the past couple years, I wouldn't have some of my closest friends. It's good to be open, friendly, receptive to new people and experiences!

But I'm fiercely loyal. And sometimes it's so nice to be surrounded by people you love and trust and who love and trust you back. To be yourself and know that it's good enough? Man, there's nothing better.

Friday, July 30, 2010

D, All of the Above

When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one. The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can't be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate.

~ Flannery O'Connor, from Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

When I was a kid, I loved standardized tests. Twice a year, we took the California Achievement Test, and I relished the chance to fill in those bubbles, to have the answer to a question simplified to one of four answers. (In the Montessori classroom, answers were never multiple-choice; tests never required us to color in tiny circles using #2 pencils). I did pretty well on these tests, too, scoring in the top 5% of my age group.

The exception? Reading comprehension. I never scored nearly as well in reading comprehension as I did in math or language. The question read, "What is the author's purpose?" and the answer was supposed to be "to entertain," "to persuade," or "to inform." It had to be one of them. How was I to know the author's purpose? Couldn't he have more than one aim? What if I were both entertained and informed by her passage? I felt like I was missing some kind of trick.

The same thing happened when I tried to identify the theme of a story or fiction excerpt. How could I sum up the meaning of a story in one phrase, apart from the elements of that story? Give me three-hundred words, I'll tell you what we can take from a story, how you can pull meaning from it, but don't boil it down to one of four choices, none of which are adequate.

So imagine my excitement when I discovered Flannery O'Connor in college. Her characters, her settings, her plots are so ripe with meaning. For her to acknowledge that theme and story are inseparable validates my suspicion: standardized tests are bunk!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Another School Dream this Morning

Instead of the rather corporate classroom, with its long rows of tables, white board in the front and windows in the back, we were in a traditional classroom with chairs that did not roll. I had the students move their chairs into a circle and asked them to stand on top of them.

Alas, I woke before I found out what happened. What was I going to ask the students to do once they were on the chairs? Would they have to share something? Would they answer a question? Would I stand on my own chair? Were we all going to jump off?

In the past seven or eight years, I've had countless "school dreams." While I've been in many different types of classrooms--Montessori preschool, traditional and parochial kindergarten and first grade, and for-profit college--my dreams about these schools are pretty similar: me, caring and interested, but feeling out of control.

This--leaving the classroom--might be harder than I'd thought.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Complicated and Uncomfortable

Nana turns 90 this December. She's lived alone in the same house my dad was raised in since her husband died over fifteen years ago. She prides herself on her independence; not only is she able to drive and take care of herself, she's still what she calls a "productive member of society," baking cookies and coffee cake for her friends and neighbors (and granddaughter), stuffing envelopes for her church.

This week she visited a friend of hers in Kentucky, "Sally," who now resides in one of those "assisted living" places. Here's Sally's typical day, according to Nana: in the morning she gets up and dressed, eats breakfast, plays cards, and returns to her room to freshen up; in the afternoon she has lunch, rests for a bit in the room, and then has cocktails (Sally likes cosmopolitans); finally she eats dinner, plays cards, then returns to the room to go to sleep. By "room" I mean something resembling an apartment, complete with a tiny kitchen, living room area, and separate bedroom. Nana says that someone comes in to clean and change the sheets: there's nothing left for Sally to do.

My grandmother could not live in one of these places. She tells me, "Don't let me go there - I'd die of a broken heart!"

We read an article in class about "slow medicine," the idea that instead of providing elderly (those 80 and older) with drastic, expensive, and invasive treatment, doctors and their patients should have a conversation much earlier about what kinds of life-saving action, if any, they want taken. The article compares quantity of life to quality of life but also makes the point that tests and life-saving measures in older patients often make things worse. I recently heard this referred to as extending death, rather than prolonging life.

Anyway, I love visiting her on Sundays. When my brothers and I were little, we spent the whole weekend there. Saturday evenings, we'd get our hair washed in the sink, we'd watch Lawrence Welk in the family room, and we'd sleep between our grandparents in their pushed-together full beds. Sunday mornings, we'd all go to their church (where I'd try to count past one-thousand without having to start over) and then our parents would come and we'd all eat brunch. I can't imagine visiting her for hours on Sundays at a nursing home. When she was in the hospital and then recovering at a nursing home, she was so feeble and depressed. She couldn't do anything for herself or for others, feeling at best useless and at worse a burden.

I have no insight or grand conclusions. This stuff is complicated and uncomfortable. But I told her that I wouldn't let her go into one of those homes if she doesn't want to go. Hopefully we never reach the point where that seems like the only option.

* * *

Since my last day teaching and since my last grade was turned in, I've now had four consecutive days off work. I reread some of my writing samples and added a couple sentences to my application essay, but besides that I've used this time to visit family and reconnect with friends. Starting tomorrow, I'll devise my plan for the next few weeks

Edited to change "quantify" to "quantity." It's never too late to proofread!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Agreeing to Disagree

I came of age when postmodernism was all the rage. You know, because we all see things from our own unique perspectives, we each have our own version of what's "true," and no "truth" is more valid than the next. It's an attractive philosophy, particularly when you've been taught one narrative your entire live; postmodernism challenges that narrative.

As I've written before, postmodernism was extremely attractive to me. But at some point, I found myself tearing apart things I believed to be true; what was the point but to become extremely skeptical and, ultimately, cynical?

But one of my least favorite phrases to come from this fad is "agree to disagree." You know, I think this, you think that, we'll never reach consensus so let's let it lie. We are each entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to our own truths. Then again, when we have fundamental disagreements about religion, higher powers, and the role of government, we can't expect to find consensus, can we?

I went out for drinks with my conservative friend. We tried and tried to stay away from politics but it seems we couldn't help ourselves. Oh how I wish I were smarter and knew more and could rebut quickly things I strongly suspect to be inaccurate. But instead I found myself saying, "Ooooooooooooh. New topic. No common ground."

Ah well, we had fun with our margaritas...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I thought I was smart, but then I played trivia.

My brothers, mom, and I played trivia at a local pizza place and ended up in fourth place. We missed questions about Wagner operas, the locations of forts, and the slogans of kitchen appliance companies. We also missed one about the various animals recorded to create the voice of Chewbacca (walrus and rabbit, among others). My brothers seemed particularly annoyed that I missed the questions in the literature and art categories (the answers, which I didn't know, were "Captain Flint" and "Stendhal Syndrome," respectfully).

This is us last Thanksgiving.

And just a quick note: I am sickened by the Shirley Sherrod incident. It epitomizes everything wrong with media today as well as illustrates something many have suspected for months while I resisted: that the Obama administration is too willing to concede to the Right and that it refuses to stand up for its own principles for fear of... what? whom?

But today, he signed into law sweeping financial reform. This is just one of many legislative victories achieved in a very short amount of time, ones of significant impact. So I'll continue to drink my kool-aide, thank you very much.

Monday, July 19, 2010

It's All About the Cardigan

My manager is encouraging me to get my Masters in Library Science and become a librarian. She says I was born to be a librarian, though I think my thick-rimmed glasses and fondness for cardigans has her biased. Actually, there are a lot of attractive things about the MLS degree, and they are many of the same things that attracted me to the education degree. They are unselfish degrees that allow me to gain and share knowledge, to help people access information. I strongly believe libraries remain a vital resource for our community, and I see us adapting to meet the needs of that community. But I see the role of the librarian changing significantly. I'm not sure what she or he will look like in twenty years.

Anyway, I had an awesome day at the branch today. Lots of friendly people, and no (loud) complaints about our checkout machine.

Got up at 5:30 this morning. I think I'll go to bed while the Reds are still playing, so I can listen to the rest of the game.

Edited to change "reds" to "rest."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Some Quick Hits

My last day went well. A few students told me how much they enjoyed the class on their way out, and I feel better about this last quarter than I did about any previous one. I was more organized, engaged, and responsive. Still, I don't have any regrets, and I can't wait to move on to what's next.

Last night, just three of us did the wine tasting. After dinner we met some more people to see "Inception," the latest thriller directed by Christopher Nolan. Most know him as the director of the last two Batman movies, but I remember him mostly for his 2000 film, "Memento." That movie followed a man who was unable to store new memories. He was constantly writing notes to himself for when he'd forget, just five minutes later. "Memento" illustrated how much our memories are tied to our identities; without memory, who are we? "Inception," likewise, explores the human mind by focusing on our minds and our dreams. Nolan is clearly fascinated by how we think, dream, create, and by the interplay of consciousness and subconsciousness. I also recommend one of his other lesser-known works, "Insomnia."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Next Quarter

My last classes meet on Thursday. Every once in a while I catch myself thinking, Oh next quarter I'll... or I should hang on to this! I can share it with... And the feeling is bittersweet when I realize that, no, next quarter I won't be teaching.

There is so much that I'll miss about it and probably foremost is, strangely, the accountability: I have to be prepared, I have to know my material, and I have to assess students fairly. I get to tell stories and listen to theirs. For twelve hours each week, I have a captive audience. This has been both exhilarating and daunting.

I'll return to teaching someday, whether as an adjunct in a community college or university or as a leader for an informal writing group of five-year-olds or fifty-year-olds.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Life is an unanswered question, but let's still believe in the dignity and importance of the question."

~ Tennessee Williams

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Common Ground

Last week, a friend responded to what I thought was a rather innocuous statement about wanting the country to "go a little faster" with what I thought was a reactionary, alarmist, tea bagger/Ayn Randian diatribe. This was a shock, to say the least, and judging by how much I've thought about it and replayed it, the whole exchange has me troubled.

My friend wept for me because I sound like I advocate revolution. I don't want an individualistic democracy where citizens pull themselves up by their bootstraps - I want socialism, she said. After all, progressives are really socialists. I want a dictator and loss of freedom. She asked me to explain myself. She wrote, I see the danger you don't see.

Normally I would have discounted such a reply. I would play it off to ignorance and fear. But me and her, we've known each other since our freshman years of high school, I've vacationed with her and her family, and I know she's smart and reasonable. I couldn't discard the reply.

I told her that I'm not calling for revolution. There's an on-going debate over the role the government plays in our lives, and it's the push and pull between the two sides that allows our country to change, adapt, and correct itself. I may not always like the direction it's going, but this is why we have elections. I thought this was a reasonable and even simplistic remark, but even this came off as radical.

This was not just a political debate between friends; rather, it illustrates one of the biggest problems our country seems to have--despite so much common ground and common goals between us, two distinct world views divide us. And because of the corrupting influences of money and power, our leaders are unwilling or impotent to bridge that gap.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

This is a test. I've connected my phone to the blog so I can update via text. Promise not to abuse it!

The End is in Sight...

The end of the quarter always brings excitement and anxiety, both on my part and the parts of the students. Most classes are structured (my own included) such that the last couple weeks are weighted heavily. Final papers, final exams, these things will count for upwards of 40% of the final grade. I get stressed, anxious, keeping track of assignments and grades, making sure I fairly account for all of the students' work. And students get stressed, anxious, turning in so many assignments that are worth so much while keeping up with their demanding core nursing classes.

This morning I went with my dad to the downtown library to use their grant resource center. One of their computers has access to myriad foundations that award grants to organizations such as my father's, a database that we can't get to from the branches or from home. It was exciting to get just a snapshot of how many philanthropic groups there are supporting non-profits, and it made me all the more anxious to finish the quarter and move onto the next stage.

Edited to fix the link to my dad's site!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Another Wedding...

I've written before about the rather counter-cultural community in which I grew up. We were Catholic, yet championed the rights of gays and lesbians; social justice (at least in my eyes) trumped church doctrine any day, including Sundays. And friendships I established twenty years ago still hold today.

Saturday night I watched one of those friends marry. Cocktails and appetizers outside in the afternoon; buffet dinner at seven; ceremony at dusk. It was a lovely evening, so fitting for my friend, her family, and her (now) husband.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Quick hits

Thursday I woke up at 2am (having gone to bed at 11pm) and could not fall back asleep. I was not a chipper zombie. Last night I went to bed at 7:30 - it was still light outside - without setting my alarm. I woke at 5:30, chipper as could be, and finished planning for today's classes.

Twelve hours later, I'd like to crash again. But I have beer to sample and appetizers to nibble.

Just two more weeks! I just ask for the discipline necessary, once the teaching ends, to do what I want to do.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

File This Under "You've Got to be Kidding Me"

Last year, President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, went through a farce of a confirmation hearing. Democrats, Republicans, everyone knew she would be confirmed. They knew she was qualified. But because she had called herself a "wise Latina," Republicans smelled blood, Newt Gingrich called her a racist, and Sotomayor was reduced to backtracking. She said, "I do not believe that any ethnic, racial, or gender group has an advantage in sound judgment."

She was confirmed, 68-31, but the Republican party continues to paint itself as the party of exclusion. This country is becoming more and more diverse, a trend that hurts the Republicans, and so their success is predicated on marginalizing and disenfranchising a large number of people. How can they think that, long-term, this is a) good strategy and b) moral?

Elena Kagan is the President's nominee to replace Justice Stevens, and hearings began yesterday. It is another farce, as Kagan is not allowed to give any real opinion. But knowing that it's a farce, I have to wonder why in the world the Republicans would focus their objections on Kagan's reverence for Thurgood Marshall? They repeatedly referred to him as an "activist judge" (now code for any hint of progressivism?), suggesting that the Supreme Court's first African-American judge was out of the "mainstream."

Just liked Sotomayor before her, Kagan will be confirmed. It will be along party lines, with a few Republicans crossing over. Perhaps the same farce probably would have taken place were both nominees white men; after all, they were nominated by a democratic president. But these hearings illustrate how out of touch they are and just who they are looking out for.

America is a living, breathing country. It adapts, slowly. It corrects mistakes, eventually. It bends toward justice. I'd like my America to go a little faster, but I can handle this pace: it's those who refuse to let it change at all that challenge me and my patience.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Food, Glorious Food

When I was seven or eight, I started giving up foods left and right. I developed lists in my mind of what I would and would not eat, and you can imagine which list was longer. Some foods I wouldn't eat because they looked weird or smelled weird or had a weird texture; others just because I hadn't eaten them before and didn't want anything unfamiliar in my mouth.

As with my shyness, I look back at this behavior and cringe. My poor parents struggled to find things I would eat; there were weeks where we probably alternated between macaroni & cheese (only Kraft brand) and chicken nuggets and fries. They thought I'd grow out of it, but I was terribly stubborn. It wasn't until college that I became slightly less neurotic, trying other brands of macaroni and cheese, and it was still years later that I began trying other kinds of food, like Indian and Thai cuisines.

I still have my lists, but the one of foods I will eat is longer now. Friday nights, as I sample baked salmon and gazpacho dishes I wouldn't have touched five years ago, I feel a sense of pride. Still, my bathroom scale tells me I need to eat some cheeseburgers and milkshakes, pronto.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Chipper Zombie (cont.)

I meant to post this yesterday. At the start of his play, "The Glass Menagerie," Tennessee Williams includes a line from the end of an e. e. cummings' poem: "nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands."

Here's the poem in full, "somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond":

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

 your slightest look will easily unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

 or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

 (i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands