blank'/> Mirth, Melancholy, and the Mundane: 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Merry Whatmas?


This is not a blog about the name of the holiday, despite the title.  That’s a can of worms that I have little desire to open.  People should say what their hearts tell them to say and the listeners should accept the messages for what they are – heartfelt wishes for happiness.

No, this blog is a continuation of one I did last year.  Sometime around now, I wrote a blog about lyrics to Christmas songs that made me do a double-take for whatever reason.  I over-think them because I spend so much time listening to carols at this time of the year.  It’s soothing and familiar in a time when the stacks of work seem insurmountable.  And yet, I spend valuable energy analyzing lyrics.  Go figure.

This year, I have a new list.

“Bells Will Be Ringing” – this bluesy little song is a tribute to all the folks who are alone or who are separated from their loved ones.  Something worth addressing, as it reflects that not all of us are surrounded by love and warm memories at this time of year.  I talked about it last year because of the rapid turnaround of friends that the singer has, but this time I’m focusing on another line.  The lyric that gets me is ‘Oh, what a Christmas to have the blues’.  What bothers me is that it implies that there is something special about THIS Christmas that makes it harder to have the blues.  I would think that ANY Christmas is a bad one to have the blues.  It’s the equivalent of “Of all the days to have a flat tire…” – except it’s marking one Christmas as different from all the others with no particular reason why.

I told you I think too much.

“Mary Did You Know” – this one is a list of questions for Mary, mother of Christ.  The singer wants to know if she was aware of all the amazing things her son would do when he grew up a bit as she held his tiny form shortly after his birth.  My logical mind says – I would think she knew SOMETHING, seeing as how angels came down and told her about the baby and who he was…and the whole virgin birth thing.  I would imagine she kind of knew her baby was special.  Then again, don’t all mothers know their babies are special?

“My Favorite Things” – why is this a Christmas song?  Other than “snowflakes that stay on your nose and eyelashes” and “silver white winters that melt into springs,” I’m not really sure what makes it a holiday song.  In fact, in the sound of Music, Maria sings it to the children to comfort them during a thunderstorm.  That’s what I think of when I hear the song, and it’s always felt a little off to only hear it at Christmas.  That said, however, I would LOVE some “crisp apple strudel.”

In this year’s Faintly Disturbing category (last year held firmly by “Baby It’s Cold Outside”) is the Jackson Five’s version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”  From what we know of Joe Jackson, it frightens me to think about little Michael going to tell his father ANYTHING even remotely controversial.   And then the rest of the boys tell Michael to “shut up” in a holiday spirit and loving fashion.  Talk about tainting a cute little song, huh?

“It’s beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” is a catchy little song that celebrates the snow and the bluster and joy that comes when the snow falls and the lights come on (those magic Christmas lights that you never see anyone put up).  The line that is interesting to me is the one where the singer talks about the tree in the park and the Grand Hotel.  What amuses me is that the tree in the park is described as ‘the sturdy kind that doesn’t mind the snow’ - pray tell, what pine trees AREN'T sturdy?  They are, after all, evergreen.

I’m not even going to get into the slew of songs that make me cry EVERY SINGLE TIME.  Something about shoes, something about harps, something about someone missing.  Oof.

Maybe next time I’ll write about the songs I truly love and why I love them.  The magic and joy of Christmas.  I’m not as cynical and bitter as I perhaps sound.  I adore this season with all of my ample heart.




Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Shoes...



Yesterday afternoon, when my long day of conferences had ended itself satisfactorily, I headed to the mall to run an errand or two. I wanted to exchange a shirt J had gotten for his birthday (he is just “& Tall” without the “Big” part and that can make sizing interesting) and I wanted to get the gifts for the Angel I took off the Angel Tree at school. It’s not often I get to shop for a little girl and it seemed like a nice soothing way to spend an hour or two. Down time.


I wandered around looking at all sorts of things and ended up picking two pants and jacket sets that were made of the same kind of fuzzy material as my favorite blankets. I also found a stuffed Clarice from Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer – complete with the little bow on her ear. When I took my items up to the cash register, I struck up a conversation with the young lady who was ringing up my purchases. It was the sort of throw-away conversation we often have in such situations. She commented on how one of the fuzzy outfits was adorable and I agreed, adding that it also looked warm and cozy. I said that if the little girl was poor, she could probably use some warm clothes. And I explained who I was buying for and why. She nodded and made sympathetic noises. Up until that point, it was just the sort of casual conversation you have with the people who briefly pass into your life as you briefly pass into theirs.


Except then it wasn’t anymore.


She mentioned that a school had asked if she would like to be ON their tree and she declined. She said that they were on Food Stamps, but they weren’t poor, they just needed a little help. She wanted to save the space on the Tree for the people who really needed it. Then she smiled a little and said “I’ve got three boys, see.” All the while, her hands were moving, folding little clothes and ringing up my sale. That casual moment of small-talk politeness turned into a heart-felt conversation about the necessity of helping those who are less fortunate that we are and, then, in a moment or two, I was walking away, her attention already diverted to a woman who kept saying “boys slippers?” in the middle of our transaction. I was still thinking about her words as I made my way out into the chill air and on to a hot meal and a warm house. I just kept thinking about how she didn’t want to take more than she needed, and all she needed was a little help.


So many of us could learn from this woman’s quiet wisdom. She seemed to think nothing of discussing with a stranger that she is careful to not take more than she needs, even as she is clearly working hard to make life better for her three boys. Her simple statement of appreciation for what she has is something that I wish everyone would stop and realize about their own lives. We should all look at life this way – acknowledging blessings, being thankful, taking only what we need, helping those who have it worse. We should all strive to create a world where this conversation wouldn’t be so remarkable. We can do this – we can start with our own hearts, start by being generous, being kind, being helpful, being humble, being joyful, and being thankful. We can make the world a better place.


We just need a little help. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tiny Vignettes... (200 words)

This is a list of some things I have seen in my travels that were lost and now found.  I am sharing them finally because I just relocated them buried in a folder on my flash drive.  As I read each one, I smiled as the instant snapshot popped into my head.  That is reason enough to share....a reminder of the importance of the little things in the crazy-busy world around us.  Life is full of vignettes and these are some which included me as an observer turned flash storyteller.  Enjoy.

A man who was not a teenager waiting at the busiest intersection in Farmington dancing and twirling his closed umbrella.  He wore no earbuds that I could see, but that umbrella had moves...

A pirate walking down a quiet city street in San Diego talking on his cell phone...

A student sitting cross-legged on the dusty floor texting with a worn copy of Mona Lisa Overdrive perched precariously on his knee...

A United States Marine Corps sticker proudly displayed on a silvery Turbo Fit...

A couple in their 70’s walking hand in hand...and they were the same height and the same shape... 

Remember to look, listen, live, and laugh.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful...

Every day I struggle to accept the darkness of the world and to somehow make sense of the cruelties and craziness. It is a struggle to stay optimistic sometimes, in the light of such things.

But on some days – like this day – I am surrounded by family and friends, by good food and memories in the making. On days like this, it is easier to forget the sadness of the world – for I am face to face with the things which fill my life with joy and happiness. My family and my dear ones are what keep the madness at bay and I ‘m forever thankful that the only tears I shed today will be born from laughter and from the lingering sadness of missing my grandparents, my aunt. I can feel them with us at every turn, though.



And so…for you, and them, and me, and all, I write this:



The world is dark and dangerous,

The days are long and bleak,

And so my eyes stay close to home

For the Thursday of this week.



A day of thanks for all I have

Though I feel it every day

The rays of color in my life

That keep back shades of grey.



Friend and family lines are blurred

As we lay the table fair

And in these bustling moments,

I lay my soul to bare.



I love you if you’re reading this,

My life you’ve wreathed in light

May you find all that you’re looking for,

Be it here or gone from sight.



May each memory you have not made

And those of days now past,

Bring you peace and joy unbound

And love to everlast.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Practical Musings...

I probably shouldn't be writing this right now.  I'm at the point in the semester when I have so many things to do and I'm well aware of the fact that time is running out.  I did very little school work over the weekend.  I carry around the guilt of this like a good Catholic -- though I'm not one.  It's funny, I sometimes miss the days of working in an office.  My job now is one where there is never NOTHING to do.  There's always something I should be grading or commenting on or a class to be preparing for.  So, during those times when I take the time to address other parts of my life, I have guilt.  I really am married to my job....so it's a good thing that I like it.  J. assuaged (or at least tried) my guilt by telling me that I will get it done, just like I always do.  I suspect he's right.

It doesn't help that I've been fighting a cold, had company over the weekend, two birthdays to arrange for, and we're still working on helping our new dog adjust.  All in all, my life is pretty busy and crazy.  And I don't even have kids.  I don't think I would have time for them.  But that's another post...and one that's been discussed elsewhere.

I sat down to this blog with no real idea of what I was going to write.  sometimes, that's all I've got.  Just give me a blank screen and a keyboard and see what happens.  I have to reach that 4-post mark somehow.  I think I'll make a list of things that I'm excited about and use that as a place to find energy in the next weeks.

I'm going camping with my parents and various other important people not once, but TWICE next summer.   Thanksgiving is only a few days away and I love this holiday of taking time to be thankful for family and friends and health.  More on that later this week, I expect.  I managed to make a small difference in the MMO I play -- something that will be fixed in March.  Nice to know that my attention to detail (which has much less pleasant names depending on who you're talking to).  The Cone of Power is alive and well -- and needs a blog about it soon.  I have great friends who still seem to be there, no matter how busy and prickly I might get.  I got to play Arkham Horror yesterday and we actually won.  My family is wonderful, as always.  My household is full of crazy happiness -- two dogs and two cats and a gerbil (not going to dwell on the one who left us this week).  My car should be fixed soon.  I have some great ideas for gifts for Christmas presents -- and some of my hardest shopping is done.  My Q-rosters are done.  I have an interesting schedule next semester with some fun classes in it.  The conference I helped organize went really well and the conversation was amazing.  My presentation seemed pretty good, too.

All in all, life is pretty good, despite bad days and weeks full of things that threaten to shake my tenuous hold on happiness, inner calm, and organized productivity.  Now, I just need to keep holding on and celebrating the good.  The bad can stuff it.  I have things to do.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Beautiful Strangers...

One day last week I was sitting at a table providing information to students who were looking for their advisers. It is early November and already our eyes are looking towards a new semester. Being early November, however, also meant that Veteran’s Day was near upon us. Across the lobby area where I was sitting, there was an easel with a poster propped on it about the annual event being held on campus in honor of that day. I don’t remember what was written on the poster, but I remember that the center of it boasted a waving American Flag. Several people stopped and read it in the hour I was there; one of these has stayed with me. He was a youngish looking student, hair cropped close to his head and a backpack slung over one shoulder. He stood there for several moments, clearly reading the poster and internally filing the details. Then he turned, as the others who had read the poster did, and he began to walk away. As he did, his hand reached out and touched the flag. He moved towards the nearby doorway slowly, his fingers trailing across the stars and stripes. The gesture was reverent, loving, gentle, and lingering. I wondered about his story, and filed the moment away to think about later, when the bustle of the world around me slowly faded into a quiet evening. The image has returned to me at random moments since, and knew that I wanted to write about it. What I did not know was what I would say. I wasn’t sure if I could capture this singularly beautiful moment in an otherwise typical day. I was not sure if I could convey it with the justice it deserves. It reminded me – and still does – of the tiny moments of profound beauty that are all around us, if we can but see them. I know that I must often miss them. But when I am observant enough or lucky enough, I catch one of these treasures and they give me hope for this world.

Hope that is found in a young man feeding bagel crumbs to a seagull, or another young man in a completely different place in his life paying tribute to a flag, an idea, a lost comrade, a friend, a memory, an experience.

I have no doubt that this student has served and perhaps still does. I know that I can never hope to understand what he went through – what any veteran has gone through. My father, my grandfathers, many of my in-laws, my friend, my great uncle, and the line goes on and on. We take this special day to thank them for their service and their sacrifice. We thank the men and women who gave more than we can ever really understand – regardless of how we may judge the systems that placed and continue to place them in harm’s way. We don’t limit our gratitude to this day; for we walk the mirrored black wall to see the names, we tread amongst monuments and marble, we wave flags and tie ribbons. But on this day, our hearts are too full and they surge around us – paying tribute, making amends, showing support and honor in any way we can.

So, thank you. Thank you for the moments of beauty born from fathomless suffering. Thank you for all you have given and still give. Thank you for being brave and strong and doing what needed to be done. Even when you felt afraid and weak and doubtful. Thank you for standing in a place I can never understand and being someone I can never really know because your experience is so alien to the peace and freedom I enjoy. You are my father, my grandfather, my brother-in-law, my friend. You are known to me and loved by me – but a part of you will always be a stranger. And for that, my gratitude knows no end.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Teeth in the darkness....

The Test of the Wine Taster


They sat together in the beautiful room,
as they had so many times before.
The goblet moved smoothly in her hand
as she swirled its contents.
She held it up to the dim light
and breathed in its aroma.
Finally, drinking deeply and leaning back,
she closed her eyes for just a moment...
. . . and then spoke.

This is truly a challenge, my friend,
For it is indeed a unique drink.
Its hue is dark and somber,
Darker than most reds .. .
The fragrance is sharp and sweet,
A strong bouquet with a hint of spice.
It has a full-bodied taste,
Rich, bold, and full of life.
The vibrancy contrasts sharply
With the darkness of its hue.
The contrast brings an excitement
And a hint of the mysterious.
It has the freshness of a young vintage,
But the dignity of an aged wine.
It is unlike any I have ever known,
And yet seems strangely familiar.
I cannot place the label, origin, or year,
And must therefore admit defeat.

She set the goblet throughtfully on the table
as her host templed his long fingers.
She smiled at him across the candlelit table,
admiring his handsome pale features.
His blue eyes gazed at her, touched by her beauty
as he leaned forward in his heavy chair
Then he grinned at her and she gasped in surprise.
Sharp teeth glistened as he reached out...
…and took her hand.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Gonna buy us a dog...

So, we bought a new dog.

It occurs to me that much of what J. and do must seem really random and spontaneous to people.  It does rather seem sudden that we traded in cars, bought a new house, got pets.  Sometimes it is, I suppose; we never intended to move from one house to another just down the street.  Life has a way of making things happen, though.  That's another blog altogether.  Often, however, we have talked about whatever it is for a long time.  We just don't inflict those conversations onto others.  My dad and J.'s mom get to hear more than enough about some isssues that we try to spare them giving input on every single event in our lives.  I'm sure MomBee is still scarred from the Ford Fusion discussions and I am fairly certain that dad doesn't really find our mortgage all that interesting.  But both give us their patient input and the wisdom they've gained over the years and so we try not to take advantage of that.  I'm not really sure why we dont talk to others as much.  I suppose it might be because we know that we take forever to decide anything so we want to spare people the agony that we put ourselves through.

In other words, we have been talking about getting another pet for probably close to a yeat, on and off.  We came close a few times, but it never worked out.  But we kept checking the website of the place where we got Stupiddog, waiting for the perfect pet.  Sometimes it was a cat, sometimes a dog.  A cat seemed good as they are lower maintenance - but then there was the incidents of Lucycat and Oz,  We weren't sure that Fatcat would really warm up to another feline.  Not that her and the dog warmed up, but they don't fight across my bed and they've actually been known to nap together.  I know, craziness.

So, we watched and waited.  And then we saw Cora.  Her name will probably change - J. likes it, but he hasn't met her yet.  I have and I don't think it fits.  She's a rescue from Georgia - a BostonTerrier /Chihuahua mix.  She looks like a puppy, but really is full grown at 13 or so pounds.  I love her already and while it makes sense to let them fix her before we bring her home, I still don't want to be waiting to bring her home.

It may have taken us a long time to decide, and find, and decide to get her.  Several phone calls, a discussion while sitting in the car, a flurry of texts when my work obligations were over and I was free to go meet her.  Knowing that meeting her meant buying her.  When the decision was finally made, however, it meant we were ready to throw our all into this little bundle of cute that someone had thrown away.

Then we can share the results of our private summit-level debates, knowong that we must look like spontaneous, go-lucky people when we are, in fact, just the opposite.  We act on impulse only becuase if we do not ambush ourselves with DOING, we will spend all our days just talking ourselves into and out of actually living.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Do as we say...

Attending professional teaching / education conferences is always fascinating.  For one thing, teachers are notoriously bad at doing the things we ask of our students.  As we file into a room to listen to a keynote speaker, we gravitate to the back of the room.  We critique the speakers while they are speaking, we resist hands-on group activities, and the list goes on.  In fact, even as I type this, two of my colleagues are passing notes.  I am not at a point where I am positioned to discuss this, but it is something of note nonetheless.

The other thing that fascinates me is the level of exhaustion that comes from sitting all day and listening to speakers.  It makes me wonder what we are asking of our students when they take a full day of classes that are largely lecture.  It is no wonder that they, too, are counting the minutes to lunch, regardless of how interesting or active our classes might be.

My favorite part of conferences, oddly, has nothing to do with the content - though that is interesting as well.  No, what I like about conferences is the ability to interact with people that I dont get to see or spend time with during the regular workday.  The conversations seem easy, even the ackowledgement that we don't know a name or a department.  We share laughter and stories - sometimes of teaching, sometimes not.  We, in short, are given the chance to build the community that we so value in what we do.

So, if we don't behave precisely as we should, perhaps we can be forgiven...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Tuppence a bag...

I spent the other morning working at Tim Horton’s. They have food there, internet when I need it, and nice tables. People come and go in a constant flux of coffee-seekers and bagel-eaters. It’s a relaxing and productive place to work and there are always people to watch when I raise my head from the papers in front of me and look around. This particular morning, a youngish man approached the restaurant pushing a shopping cart that contained two suitcases and a coat. He was rather dirty looking, and barefoot. He rummaged around behind the suitcases for a few minutes and pulled out a pair of ratty looking shoes and slipped them on his feet. Then he sat down at the mesh table and pulled out some grungy dollar bills. He seemed to count them for a few minutes and then came inside and bought a bagel and a bottle of orange juice, which he took with him back outside. Sometime later, he came in and got a small soda or maybe some water. Then he took off his shirt and, using it as a pillow, rested his head on the table, basking in the warm October sun that always feel so comfortable and fleeting. For awhile, nothing else happened.

I looked up again after reading a paper or two and saw an older man come out of Tim Horton’s and hand the young man a bagel. I could not hear what words were exchanged, but the young man looked as if he were going to cry and I could tell by his body language that he thanked his benefactor several times. The two parted ways. I watched as the young man sat back down, gingerly unwrapped the sandwich, and slowly began to eat. I also watched as he picked off a few pieces of bagel and fed them to the seagulls that constantly hover around that particular Tim Horton’s. I smiled. It was a lovely moment – man being kind to man, and that kindness being passed forward. And then the moment was ruined. An older man inside Tim Horton’s turned to me and began to complain that the young man was feeding the birds. “Isn’t that something,” he said, “a man gives him a bagel and he feeds it to the freaking birds.” I shrugged and did not answer. His cynicism made me sad but it was not, to use a phrase I heard the other day, a hill I wanted to die on. So, I did not argue.

I was relaying the story later to J, who understood my frustration. It was not as if the young man threw all the food away and it is not as if he had not been clearly grateful for the kindness bestowed on him. Rather, as J said, he understood what it meant to be hungry – and even in his own need and dire straits, he shared that kindness with other living beings around him. As I walked away from Tim Horton’s, I should have been touched by the beauty of the moment, but instead I was saddened by how much others feel they need to judge situations and events that they only watch from afar and never truly understand. That young man had little – but he still shared what he had. Others could learn something from him – but instead, the only other one who observed chose to judge him for not valuing a gift in a way that aligned with some arbitrary moral code. I, for one, would rather live in a world of warm sunshine and birds in flight than sit by the garbage can in Tim Horton’s making judgments.

So, feed the birds, young man. Feed the birds.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give” – Winston Churchill

Friday, September 30, 2011

"Most Unspeakable of Crimes"

The above quote was spoken by Medea in Euripides' play of the same name.  In this play, he tells the tale of Medea -- who, for love of Jason, betrayed her family and did them violence to help him steal the Golden Fleece.  Then, when she had wed him and borne him two children, he spurned her for her foreignness and married the daughter of Creon.  In her rage, she killed his new wife, her father, and the two sons she had borne him.  Hell hath no fury indeed...

Some time ago I wrote about a dream catalog of courses I would someday like to teach. The fun thing about where I work is that we are often encouraged and supported to reach for those dreams and make them come true. So, it is with pleasure that I’m currently spending the fall semester planning for a course that will come this spring. Its unofficial name is “Women Who Kill” and it will be co-taught with a friend of mine in the psychology department. I know it sounds weird, but bear with me.

My side of the class will be primarily steeped in mythology and literature. My colleague will be focusing on real life cases of women who feel they have no other choice but to kill. We are still working out the details of what we will be covering, but the thing that bridges the real with the story can be summed up with a snippet from The Power of Myth. This was the title of an interview that took place at the George Lucas residence Skywalker Ranch wherein veteran journalist Bill Moyers spoke at length with Joseph Campbell – one of the leading scholars on mythology. Campbell told us that “[t]he myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth” (40). Here is the overlap of her world and mine. I have been studying mythology and archetypes for a very long time, and the way these things intertwine with what is called (for lack of a better term) the ‘real world’ is fascinating. Much of what we do not consciously know shows up in our dreams and myths and they are reflections of all the things we value and fear as human beings. So, when someone deviates from what we understand to be sane and normal, we react in a way that belies these almost primal concerns. The roots of this acidity lie in the Magna Mater – the Great Mother. The Great Goddess.

The female has long been given a rather limited and yet powerful status in a world largely controlled by men. Their power comes from within in a lot of ways – rather than outward power given to them by society and the ruling strata. The power of women often lies in beauty and sexuality/fertility – and this is echoed in the myths we tell of women and the sway they hold over men. A woman wronged – or locked into a situation from which she cannot easily escape – responds in ways that chill us to the bone. We are filled with vitriol and condemnation, for her spilling of blood seems to violate our most basic image of nurturing feminine power. We have, in our society, forgotten that the female, at its core, contained three facets – the maiden, the mother, and the crone. Before the patriarchal world in which we live, these were three powerful and intertwined facets revered and valued. A three-sided Great Goddess who was formed in the figure of the earth which gave life at its coupling with the sky. She is the heavens, the earth, and the underworld. She represents birth, death, and regeneration. As time plodded on, the three facets split and became, more often than not, the virgin / the wife / the whore. Her role became defined through its relationship with the male. She would never really recover from this and her darker side became a monster rather than a natural part of life. We are faced with such grim visages as Medusa, Kali, and Lilith. When we turn from ancient tales of ancient peoples to what we face in our own world, we see this same demonizing of the feminine – and the same vitriol poured upon those whom we have determined as violators of the sacred role of the female, the most sacred bonds of love and motherhood. Andrea Yates, Susan Smith, Casey Anthony, Aileen Wuornos. Statistically less common, the female killer fascinates and repels in equal measure and begs questions we hope to explore. Is what drives these women to kill (or be judged as killers) the same thing that drives men to kill? What is the psychological reality of the mythological and literary rendering of the woman who ends life when we value her as the one who creates it? Are her beauty and her sexuality at the core of the woman who kills – or is she just another human, a symptom of her environment? Murder is always about control – but the nature of that control changes with she or he who wields it and therein lies our exploration. Not to celebrate or to glorify – but to examine and to study. Not to demonize men, but rather to ‘undemonize’ the woman in the hopes that, in rendering her once again a woman, we can understand her as a human being who was broken, damaged, psychologically fractured.

"And now it comes to it at last. You will give me the One Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord, you will set up a Queen, and I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night. Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain...all shall love me and despair!" – Galadriel in JRR Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring

---
Campbell, Joseph.  The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers.  Ed.  Betty Sue Flowers.  New York:Doubleday, 1988.  Print.

Euripides.  "Medea."  Classical Mythology:  Images and Insights.  Eds. Stephen L. Harris and Gloria Platzner.  4th Ed.  Boston:  McGraw Hill, 2001.  761-799.  Print.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I Will Survive...

First, a disclaimer.  I don't know as I have all the facts just right in the following blog -- but I know the overall picture is accurate, and that is what matters most for what I'm trying to say.

For no particular reason, this blog is going to be about one of those people I consider a good friend; although, to be honest, I really do not know her that well. That being said, however, what I do know never ceases to amaze me. She is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and is the kind of person who would agree with, and not be offended by, that statement. For the purposes of this blog, I shall call her Rosie, after the iconic image of female strength, Rosie the Riveter.

Rosie has made mistakes in her life – as have we all. Her life is also, from the sounds of it, very different than mine. I had a very sheltered upbringing in a lot of ways. I knew there were wild youth around me, but I was not one of them. I knew that there were smokers and miscreants, but my life never really intersected with theirs. I’m not sure I ever thought about sex in any direct way, let alone experimented with it. But Rosie, well, Rose could have been a classic story of teen pregnancy had she been less of the woman she is. Her life was a rocky from what little I really know – her mother setting only by negative example what a good mother is, her father raising his daughters alone. Rosie almost seemed doomed to a life unfolding in dark places into which the successful do not peer. But, not really. Her family was a loving one, and while it is true that she herself had a child too young – it was by the grace of her own father that the father of her child was not jailed for his part in the events. The two of them had their child, a beautiful baby boy – but perhaps too beautiful to stay with us. Within 6 months, he was gone. His resting place is one I pass by often as I walk through the cemetery behind my house. Always I dream of what it must have been like to know him, to love him, and then to lose him. He is, in some ways, a representation of the child I will never have. 

Anyway, Rosie suffered, as would any mother. In fact, I think it near impossible for anyone who has not felt what she felt to ever truly know the keening agony she continues to endure even today, though perhaps muted by time and life and the miracles that both can bring us. She gained weight, took up smoking, and from there, I lose track of her story. The details don’t really matter, though. She appeared in my life some time later, a vivacious student with a ready smile and a streak of fire. A student. She was fixing her life by going to school and doing wonderfully at it – being one of those students that any dedicated teacher will not soon forget. She has since finished with us and is now working on her Bachelors while serving as a Home Health Aide. And all the while, she has been with the same beau, though they are both older and wiser and now betrothed to one another. She has toyed with vegetarianism, talked about gastric bypass, tried to quit smoking, tried again and is currently succeeding. She is watching what she eats and the weight is sliding off. As I’ve said, I was not in her life for the darker moments, for the most part, and so I have the unique joy of watching how, like a phoenix, she is rising from what could have been the ashes of her life. She has suffered while I have known her, it is true – the heart of another child that she did not know she was carrying stopped beating and began to slowly poison her, the loss of a beloved grandfather, the frustration of her fiancĂ©’s family not seeing her for the beautiful woman that she is. Any of these alone would be enough to at least temporarily bring even the strongest of people to their knees. But she has pulled through – sometimes raging against the world with language that would make a priest blush – but always she has pulled through.

I have not suffered as she has. I have not struggled as she has. I have my own demons, certainly, but they pale when I look at what she has endured. Her strength, her smile, and her sense of focus are amazing to me. Rosie the Riveter shows us her muscular arm, cocks one eyebrow defiantly and tells us that we can do it. And looking at my own Rosie, I believe it. She has told me countless times that I have touched her life and I have helped her by being a friend and a mentor. But I’m not sure she realizes just how much she has done for me. I don’t precisely admire her mistakes – I wish she had chosen different paths in her life – but, that does not for a moment diminish my respect for her strength to rise above them, to set her sights on a distant goal, and then work to achieve them, with a loving heart for most and a quick word full of vinegar for any who might stand in her way. Stand tall, my friend, despite your insecurities.  Rosie, this one’s for you.

“Just don't give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don't think you can go wrong.” – Ella Fitzgerald

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Days of Denim...

Some days are just jeans days. I am always thankful to work in an environment where I have the personal freedom to be who I am in the process of doing my job. I try not to overdo it, but I’m happy that my ink is not something that to be covered, I can wear 9 earrings, and (on days like today) I can wear jeans. It’s refreshing to work in surroundings where the powers that be realize that my outward accoutrements do not impact my ability to do my job and, in some ways, may actually enhance it. I have never felt judged or restricted because I’ve chosen these augmentations, nor did I back when I used to change my hair color every few months just for fun. There is an incident that comes to mind that speaks to this even more acutely. The President of the college was sitting with me at a conference table in the Academic Support Center of one of our campus centers and she tilted her head at me for a moment and said something to the effect that it was pleasant to sit and have an intellectual conversation with me to remind her that tattoos have nothing to do with our mental capacities or our abilities in any way. This was early in her career here, and I’ve always remembered that – not because I felt like she was judgmental or troubled by my ink, but just that she is human and she is not all that different from me in terms of our goals and our desires for this place and the students here. As a society, we are psychologically trained – especially dependent on our age – to look at tattoos through a particular lens. That is changing, and to have her say that felt like an affirmation of what I’ve known all along. For me, my ink is just the creative expression of a creative mind. I’ve designed my tattoos and each one means something to me. They are not indicators of rebellion or counterculture to me and it’s consistently invigorating to be able to just be me whether I’m at home or at work. I don’t have to hide. And more and more, my presence is perhaps a gentle reminder to people that they need to constantly question the lenses through which they view the world.

In counterpoint, there’s the situation of a friend of mine. He has more ink than I do and while I understand the reasoning at some level, it sometimes irks me that he must wear long sleeves every day, even on those rare days when Upstate New York is blessed or cursed with hazy, hot, and humid days. He is in security, so it kind of makes sense that he would need to present himself in a particular way. There are numerous arguments we can make from the fields of psychology and sociology, but suffice it to say that I get it at some level. The Bohemian in me, however, rails on his behalf because I know that he is the same security guard whether his arms are colored in or not. But, I digress.

Education, if occurring in the right place, is the passionate conveyance and exchange of knowledge and ideas. I am forever thankful that I work in a place where I’m allowed to foster that passion and share what I know and love with the students around me. I’m teaching a class in The Lord of the Rings this semester and, together, the students and I are playing a massively multiplayer game online. I’m contemplating teaching a Harry Potter course next spring, and I’ve had a course proposal accepted to co-teach a class in mythological, literary, and real women who feel that murder is their only option. At a community college. I’m not really sure where I am going with this – other than to be thankful to be supported and encouraged to be myself, to explore and share my interests, and to express who I am. I am allowed – even expected – to find that joyous nexus where my intellect, my passion, my creativity, and my individuality come together to augment, enhance, and celebrate my role as an educator.

And, on days like today, I can wear jeans.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Water Warmth (Freewrite)

Yesterday, I gave my Introduction to Literature class the following prompt:  When you're having a really bad day, what do you do / where do you go?  If money, time, and travel were not an issue, where would you go and why?

Below is an unedited transcription of what I wrote in class in response to that same prompt.
***

 When I have a bad day, I really don't go anywhere or do anything - I just fold myself into my games and my home, putting on comfy pants, getting some hot cocoa -- perhaps a  hot bath.  Warmth seems to be key today -- though that may be a result of fall coming.  I get lost in writing or gaming, a tv show, or a book.  Something to take my mind off whatever it is.  I often look for affirmation -- comfort from friends.  Sometimes I want to talk it out, sometimes I want to forget it.  IT all depends on what it is.  Comfort is key -- sometimes nature is key as well.

If I could go anywhere, I think I would go somewhere with water.  Camping.  Unplug and unwind.  A beach.  I'm just now realizing my association with water as a soothing element.  I wonder if this is because I'm usually closer to fire -- candles, campfires, heat, warmth.  Perhaps water is a counter to that -- baths, rivers, waterfalls, waves.  There is an allure there.  I even find comfort in a rain day on occasion.  It makes me want to retreat into that idea of comfort and warmth.

Water.
Warmth.
Comfort.

"Earth's the right place for live:  I don't know where it's likely to go better"

Monday, August 29, 2011

First Days... (300)

I love the first days of school. I always loved them growing up and now that I’ve become something of an adult, I love them still. The feeling is one of rebirths and fresh starts. I feel it even more strongly than the New Year, and I suspect I’m not alone. New notebooks and folders, fresh pens, blank 3x5 cards – it’s all part of the joy of autumn (spring, too, but the pull in fall is so much stronger). There’s a palpable energy in the air – sometimes fed by the thrill of coming or coming back, and sometimes fed by the fear of the days ahead. Often, it is a mixture of both, etched in nervous smiles and eyes that dance from folded squares of paper to room numbers. Hurried feet retrace recent paths to find an obscure room that is the other way down a hallway that looks the same as every other hallway. The mornings are chilly and the halls are bustling with new outfits, clean sneakers, and stiff book bags. Each classroom is near bursting with muted curiosity and intimidation, books are uselessly shuffled and eyes cast side-long glances at the other desks, wondering if the faces will be friends, or at least comrades-in-arms. Every newcomer in the room is secretly scrutinized, the perception and judgment shifting if he or she joins the students. All wonder who will fill the front of the room, and the expectation and trepidation keeps conversations hushed. It is in this moment that the tone for the weeks ahead is set – it is in this moment of first impressions and hopefully pleasant surprises unfold. A moment that cannot be replicated, cannot be rehearsed, and cannot be imagined. A moment when potential, optimism, and a little fear roll together and we are alive.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sore Pignals...

One of the first blogs I wrote was a rant against both fortune cookies and Sleep Number beds. I still feel strongly about both – in fact, I was thrilled to get an actual fortune the other day and also thrilled to find that there were real mattresses in this year’s room at the hotel where I first encountered Sleep Numbers. My life has strange highlights, and these were two of them. Notably, PF Chang’s still gave out one more cookie than there were people at the table.

Today, I want to talk about two other revolutionary products – only one of which I can actually remember. The first goes back a ways, to my honeymoon as a matter of fact. J. and I don’t have cable at home, so we tend to watch TV whenever we go anywhere that has it. Our honeymoon was no different. Although we spent many hours in the sun, at the beach, wandering around Bermuda, visiting sites, and generally enjoying the cruise – we also spent time in our stateroom watching a marathon of Law & Order: SVU. Romantic, I know. I still remember the occasional signal lost on the rolling ship and it wasn’t long before ‘Poor Signal’ turned into ‘Sore Pignals’ simply because it was amusing. We’re odd. This should surprise no one.

Anyway – during that marathon, there also seemed to be a marathon of infomercial ads for Aqua Globes. If you don’t know what an Aqua Globe is, it’s a glass ball on a tube that you fill with water. The idea is that the water slowly runs down the tube into your plants and waters them for you. It was only about the second time the infomercial came on that I began to deconstruct it. The rants relating to Aqua Globes left J. in tears, I’m fairly sure. The first issue I took with it is that if the people in the ad were truly as idiotic as it seemed they were, I don’t think I would trust them with any glass object, let alone one with a hollow glass tube that tapered into a point. These people were insane. They would tend to their plants with so much water that there’d be an inch-deep pond where their wooden end-table surface used to be. I kept waiting for the infomercial that sold end tables with the two-inch lipped edges to save your things from falling off or, in this case, water-damaging your carpet. If you put so much water in a plant that it completely saturated the soil and then created a reflecting pool on random surfaces in your domicile, then I’m not sure that Aqua Globes were going to solve your deeper problems. Just a thought. Also, if I cannot be trusted to water my plants every few days – so they wilt and die and turn my house into a black and white image from the Depression – then how am I going to remember to fill the Aqua Globe every two weeks? And how I earth will I manage to stop filling the Globe when it’s full, since I can’t seem to water a plant without rivaling the Great Flood?

The other item is the one I can’t remember, but it has something to do with shaving or, more accurately, unwanted hair removal. The only part of the ad I can remember is, of course, in black and white. It seems typical to cast one’s life in shades of grey when you don’t have whatever As-Seen-On-TV item they are selling at the moment. It’s like the ad industry’s version of the Wizard of Oz – though I’m fairly certain the ad execs have more drugs. Anyway, the woman in the commercial is sitting on the toilet in a robe with her foot up on the bathroom sink. She has about three inches of what seems to be men’s shaving cream slathered all over her leg and she’s dragging a dry razor up her shin bone with speeds rivaling an Ariel Atom V8 500 (I’ve been watching some Top Gear lately and that’s the car topping their leaderboard at the moment for Driving Really Fast Around the Test Track). The image then indicates somehow that the woman has cut herself. Every time I see this, I’m fairly certain this woman deserves to have her leg sliced up if this is how she’s choosing to shave it. I know they exaggerate these things for effect, but when it hurtles into the realm of absurdly comical, then it’s hard for me to take any of it seriously. In fact, this commercial sunk in so much that I cannot even remember what it’s for. All I can do is surmise that we are meant to feel smarter than these people and that if we see a small reflection of our own failings in them, maybe we’ll feel better about calling in the next 10 minutes and getting a second set at no extra cost.

The more I think about it, perhaps that woman is in such a hurry because she can hear water flooding her living room from the excess water she put in her hydrangea just minutes before going in to the bathroom to drive shave her leg with her husband’s Barbasol.

In any event, I need to go read a book or do something without advertisements because even thinking about these commercials is giving me sore pignals.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Unofficiant...

This is the ceremony I wrote for my brother and his wife's vow renewal.  I thought I would share.

***
Welcome.

Before we bear witness to this renewed pledge of love and companionship, we must first pause for a moment and reflect on just what it is we are celebrating.  Joined hand in hand, these two represent a confluence of wonder and joy.  For those who do not know, a confluence is the place where two rivers come together to make a new river – one whose renown and power are oft more pronounced than the two from which it was born.  So formed is the Amazon River, the Ohio River, the Ganges – each of these finds their source in the joining of other rivers, the swirling of waters that soon become inseparable from one another.

At the point of the joining, cities thrive and grow – tying their fates to the new river, a river strong and alive from the moment of its waking.

So, too, are Jim and Marie a confluence.  Behind them, in the years of their lives before they met, they carved out their paths, tumbling over obstacles or finding ways around them. They have brought with them, rolling along in the current of their existence, their experiences and their dreams, their hopes and fears, their families and their friends.  And into the headwaters of the new life they are building together, all of these things combine to form a powerful force – one that can carry them wherever they need to go.  From these moments onward, they will share their lives and face whatever the world lays before them.

And we, who are gathered here to celebrate the strength of what they have found together, will thrive in their abundance of love and joy.  For no matter which tributary we aligned ourselves with, we are now all part of the same river – and their love and joy will be ever stronger because we, too, have joined it, adding our own.

So, I stand here to officiate something that is already official and to give voice to that which we all already know and feel.  For my brother, I have pride and not a little relief.  I always knew you were a good man with a big heart, but I was never quite sure if you would ever find someone who could draw you out of your private world and, to return to the river metaphor, open the locks so you could show the world just how special you are.  I cannot express how pleased and honored I am to be here in this place with you.  For my new sister, I welcome you warmly into our circle of family and friends.  You’ve already been welcomed, and as you are still here, I know that you belong here.  I did not know if I would ever get the chance to welcome a sister in this way, and now that I am, I could not have asked for a better woman and friend.  I cannot express how pleased and honored I am to be here in this place with you.

To you both, I offer love and gifts in my words that I have no doubt echo, in some way, the hearts of all of those who have gathered here – and even those who could not be with us today.  I cannot truly express how pleased and honored we are to be here in this place with you both.

Each of us should well know that Jim and Marie have asked us to be here today to witness this celebration because each of us plays a vital part in their lives.  The friendship, guidance, support, encouragement, and love have made them who they are and have brought them to this place; truly, if we close our eyes and listen closely, we can even hear the heartbeats and laughter of those who are no longer with us.  Jim and Marie have already begun their lives together with hearts full of gratitude for the past, joy for the present, and hope for the future and now they wish to share it with those most dear to them.

They have already come through sickness and health, through richness and poorness, for better and for worse.  On a Sunday afternoon in May, over one year ago, they pledged themselves to one another.  And now, I ask if they  are ready to affirm, to their gathered friends and family, their commitment to one another.  Jim and Marie, are you ready to once again make the pledges to which you commit yourselves to each other in love?

Exchange of Vows
“I take you
to be no other than yourself
loving what I know of you
trusting what I do not yet know
with respect for who you are
and faith in your love for me
through all our years
and in all that life may bring us
with my earnest and complete devotion
I give you my love.”

Exchange of Rings
A circle is the symbol of the sun and of the earth, of life and of the universe. It is a symbol of wholeness and renewal, permanence and peace. The rings you gave, received, and now give again are symbols of the circle of shared love into which you entered together as husband and wife.

“With all that I am, and all that I have, I once more offer this ring as a sign of my renewed vow and a symbol of a love which knows no end.”

Pronouncement

May you bless each other in your marriage tomorrow as you did yesterday; may you comfort each other when comfort is needed, share in each other’s joys and laughter, help each other in all challenges and endeavors, and find fulfillment in all your married days together.  May you, today and every day,  be the living embodiment of these words:

The way is long -- let us go together
The way is difficult -- let us help each other
The way is joyful -- let us share it
The way is ours alone -- let us go in love
The way grows before us -- let us begin

You may now share the kiss that will begin your lives together from this day forward and begin the joint celebration of all your gathered loved ones.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mom and Me...

This past weekend, I took part in a new tradition that my mom and I began three years ago. Really, though, its roots were planted some 32 years ago when my grandmother casually asked what I wanted to collect so she’d have a better idea of what to buy me. Apparently, I chose miniatures and that answer led me to offer my mother a deal three years ago. Thus, a tradition was born.

From those early days of miniatures, I began a love for small figurines called Wades. My miniature collection became focused on these little porcelain animals – dense and glossy and always cool to the touch. Some of you may know them from Red Rose Tea. The ones I started with were small – no more than an inch high – small and swathed in earth tones and blue for the most part. Seals and beavers and mice and buffalo and something called a pine martin. The list goes on and on. There were nursery rhyme figures, too – and the longer I went, the more I realized that some of my pieces were fairly rare and that there was a whole world out there of pieces I’ve never heard of in shapes I’d never imagined. Pitchers and plates, decanters and vases. Buildings and egg coddlers, banks and dinnerware. The list seems never-ending and my collection seems ever-growing.

Sometime ago, perhaps 10 years now, I joined the Wade Collector’s Club – an international organization headquartered in England and very closely tied to Wade itself. I received a quarterly magazine and an exclusive piece every year. It was here that I started to realize that my collection was perhaps a bit more impressive than I had originally given it credit for being. Oh, I had nothing tremendously rare, but I had a lot of them. I also had a growing interest in the yearly convention they had in Camp Hill, PA. I never thought I would actually go, but one year – three years ago – I decided that I really wanted to see what it was all about. So, I made a deal with my mom. She has a few pieces herself and she also sells them. I made her a deal – I would pay for the hotel if she would buy our tickets in. We could go together on a road trip for the weekend and see what it was all about.

It was amazing. Friday night was an ice cream social, which we skipped the first year -- though we did go over and gather our goodie bags.  Saturday morning, we walked into the room in the convention center and I was floored. I thought I had a lot of Wades, but this was amazing. Wade upon Wade lay before me and it was a mad house. People everywhere haggling and ogling and my mom and I were right there with them. I spent a lot of money that first year and both years since. And it’s worth it. There were door prizes given out every hour and silent auctions were held to raise money for Parkinson’s research. Saturday night was a banquet where more Wades were given out, games were played, auctions were finished, a live auction was held, and we played English Bingo. Sunday, we went back into the convention room to see prices being cut, deals being made, and amateur sellers peddling their duplicates or liquidating their collections. A friend bought me the rarest Wade I have that first year – for a price that still surprises me because I brought it up as a joke and he was serious. A Mad Hatter advertising Guinness. Who knew?

The next year we had notes – we learned what to bring and what to look for. We knew better how it went. We brought our own food, packed amidst our clothes and my photo album of Wades. We brought bags to carry our purchases, and again, we played Yahtzee in the hotel and ribbed each other about finding better deals before the other. Again, I spent a good deal of money and came home with more Wades and more memories. And the friend bought me Supergirl and Batman and Alfred and Lois Lane. I came home and cataloged, numbered, photographed, and displayed my Wades and waited patiently for this year.

This year we had even better notes and better plans. My photos were better and my money was ready. We were first in line for the special Sunday sales and I came home again with more Wades and more memories.  The friend?  Pusser's Rum flask and the newest book of figurines and price trends.

I love my Wades...and I hope someday they will bring joy to another as they have brought to me. J. helps me with them and supports my collection, and maybe someday he'll go with me to the show.  He's helped me move them and organize them and kept me company as I’ve dusted them and told him stories about them.  He's urged me to make multiple copies of my database so I don't lose it -- for it would take a long time to rebuild the list as I have around 500 of them now.  And it is true that I love every one of them. But what I really value about this trip is not just the physical treasures I find but the time I spend with my mother. So many my age have lost their mothers or are not close to them and it’s so special to me to get to spend this time with mine. We laugh and plan, share and spend, celebrate and collaborate. We roll our Yahtzee dice, make our artistic nametags, and basically have a great time. My mother and I don’t always spend a lot of time together; we get along fine and go on shopping trips, but I tend to have more in common with my father. That makes these trips all the more special. The first year we went was right after my grandfather passed away and there was something profoundly healing in that first trip together. So, as I go to sleep tonight in my own bed, I will once again relive the weekend and smile at the two things that I brought home with me.

Whimsical Wades and mom memories.