Friday, June 25, 2010

What Does Hollywood Have to do with Norman, Oklahoma?

I'm working on a research article about teaching in prison. Spent the afternoon puttering around OU and talking to my qualitative research professor. She's pretty amazing, having taught at the university for 27 years, written several books and generally been a successful woman despite what she called her resistance to the soriority world by becoming a GDL during her first year in college. GDL means Goddamnliberal. And snubbing her affluent roots, turning her back on the small Oklahoma high society cost her dearly in terms of friendships and support, but paid off in the long run for her sanity and self-actualization.

I had to go get a transcript too, so I went to the records office. I was third in line, and as soon as the guy in front of me left, the blonde haired, blue-eyed young lady with very white teeth turned to the carbon copy of herself at the next window and said: "Did you see that cute guy that was just in here? He was totally checking me out. I looked at the carbon copy's customer. She looked at me. We shared this "do they realize we can hear them?" moment- silently- because they could hear us too. The records clerk went on to talk about the guy for another 30 seconds, ignoring me standing right in front of her, the IT guy standing behind her waiting to fix her computer, and apparently, the rest of the world.

A word to the wise: be careful about what you say in public. You never know when it will end up in someone's blog.

It was a long hot day, and I needed to cool off. I'd ridden my little 150cc red, zebra-striped scooter all over in the heat. So I grabbed Luke and we went to the OU pool to jump in the water and swim laps in the sun. Very refreshing. Fun. And too much sun. Too much heat. By the time we got home, I had a little heat exhaustion. Had to drink fluids and nap for about half an hour. I was cranky for the rest of the day.

I noticed the people at the pool, in all stages of life and in all sorts and sizes and shapes of bodies. An older man in medium shape wore long swim trunks that covered from his waist to the knees. They were speedo trunks because he was there to exercise, swim laps and have a low-impact work out. I've seen men with far heavier, decrepit bodies wear far less (think thong speedo) out there working it, but thankfully not today. I saw a couple of moms with typical mom bodies, and they had some cellulite. Still attractive, I say, even if my younger self would object and argue to hide that stuff. I think after the reality of turning 30, just being grateful that all the body parts still work (me, I've got a few physical challenges) and that you can have fun in the sun is more important than the mythological Hollywood image forced upon American women.

Speaking of Hollywood, there was a young woman, maybe 18. She was very thin, and wearing the latest in gold two-piece attire. She was so skinny that her vertebrae stuck out. She weighed may 90 pounds. Lots of women are naturally that thin, but her highly blonded hair was also dull and her entire aspect was one of being simultaneously angry, proud and not wanting to be looked at, despite her repeated walking to and fro around the pool for no apparent reason. It made me feel sad and I hope that she doesn't suffer from an eating disorder the way that 40% of college women do.

Peaches Geldorf is sort of a normal sized woman. She's got some curves and a little going on in the rump section. An English subject, she was visiting in LA and hanging out by the pool, when photos were taken (unflattering ones, of course) and printed in the rags. London's Daily Mail printed some of the photos- both flattering and unflattering- and defended her for her resistance to "beauty" standards- and commended her on her beautiful body and healthy self-image. I've posted a photo so you can judge for yourself.

Yesterday I wore a two-piece swimsuit. For a long time I wouldn't go out in public wearing shorts or a swimsuit or anything that wasn't very flattering. I'm still a little that way. I like to cover things up. But now I do it because something hidden is more tantalizing that just putting things out for the world to see. And I've got some good stuff going on. It's just not for public consumption.

So what did we do? Went to Tarahumaras for Mexican food. And later, much later because we were so stuffed, we went to Sonic for ice cream.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Basically Unemployable

I wanted to write a quick addendum as to why someone would go to graduate school.

As an undergrad, I studied English. I couldn't really get a job outside of advertising. Newspapers didn't want me and editing was out because there is little or no call for an editor in Oklahoma. I could sell insurance but I don't like people that much and couldn't sell ice cubes in hell.

And Walmart won't hire me. Just won't. I was basically unemployable and was actually managing the organic chemistry teaching labs and teaching in the labs at OSU. Yes, that's what everyone does with a degree in English. Besides drink and smoke pot. My (now ex) got a great job in Noble, and I needed something to do when we moved to Norman. So I decided on English Education. I could teach English on the college level with a master's degree.

Once I got to the end of the degree program, I found that they will only let you do that if you have 18 graduate credit hours in English. Allll of my stuff was English Ed- how to teach English.

So, I ran a Communications Lab at a community college for a couple of years and taught for them. Good enough to teach part time, but not good enough to teach full time. I was passed over for positions in developmental education and in English at that college. I was even the President of the Oklahoma Association for Developmental Education.

Fuck it. I moved back to Washington to be near my grandparents and taught in a prison. They hated me. Not the inmates, the administration. Article forthcoming. See my older blogs. I concluded that if I was to do anything in the world, I'd need a PhD.

Yes, I need a doctoral degree.
Because even though I'm jaded,
even though I gripe,
even though I buck the system
and complain about whitebread students
with no legitimate complaint in the world

and teach and teach and teach
for little or no money
and haven't been to a dentist in three years
and don't have health insurance
and live somewhere near the edge of poverty and ruin,

I can I must I will
make a positive difference in the world.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I was asked a question recently about being a graduate student. I became a grad student in 2002 and have pretty much lived in that mode ever since. Did I have any wisdom about living this life? Did I have something to pass on? The implicit question was much more like "how do you live on next to nothing and still concentrate on studying with an empty stomach and the threat of not having a place to live the next month?"

First a disclaimer: I'm not wise. Yeah, no. I run around most of the time finding the parameters of my world by bumping into things, stubbing my toes and occasionally, unknowingly, breaking glass ceilings. I think that last part is imaginary or wishful but hey, it's my blog.

But I do have some reflections on being a graduate student, if you'd like that. I'm getting pretty good at it. And by now I owe the government more than I could possibly pay back. The writing is worth something though.

First, you have to pick a profession. If you're doing a master's, you can be sort of fast and loose. Professional writing is close to English is close to English Education. At the master's level, much can be forgiven. And it's easy to take cross-curricular courses. Take things you like along with things you have to take. And don't be a morning person. Nobody likes a sunny bitch. I try to never be anywhere before 10 a.m. For the first year of my doctoral degree, I taught late in the mornings and then took my grad classes at night- the last one got out at 10 p.m. If this doesn't sound like fun, you may be an overachiever.

Make sure you look at the gradweb website- this is the line in the sand for the graduate college. The graduate college is run by people outside of your discipline who enforce rules set down by someone else outside of your discipline. Pleading, threatening and bribery don't work: I suggest you pick a strong advisor and sick them on the college. And meet every single deadline, or else.

Coffee is my friend. I've been sucking bean since I was 11 years old. I can still remember the shaking in my hands and the pulsing of caffeine through my body and every nerve ending sang an electric Bob Marley Star-Spangled wail. There was nothing like that feeling. It helps me to contextualize my studies. If I'm drinking coffee when I read or write or discuss a particular topic, it's likely that I'll remember it later when I need to; and it's likely that I'll be drinking coffee then too. For instance, I took a thermos of fresh-roasted nicaraguan with a bright high taste to every one of my statistics lecutres. I had a cup this morning when we met as a group to work on our final project. I would argue that smell and taste memory helped my recall as much as having my friend Tracy sitting next to me while we worked. Of course, this means that I can never give it up. Ever. EVER.

Poverty is as cultural as it is economic. This is true. Most of my students think I'm a middle class white chick. Some who have little or no experience in the world think I might come from a well-educated Northeastern family. It's hard to tell that I grew up very poor and that I continue to live a slightly lower middle class existance. I had to teach myself the culture and lifestyles of the middle class in order to assimilate. For instance, where I'm from, we say "Did you get enough to eat?" and that's a hallmark of a poverty-class family. Getting enough to eat means there has been bounty- either in hunting, fishing, gardening or from just plain hard work for money. In the middle class, you might be asked how something tasted. There will be more detail on quality and spices than on quantity since it's more often taken for granted that there *will* be something for supper. In affluent classes, the empahsis is on presentation and style- do the settings look right and was there a visual component that appealed to the diner?

The culture of a graduate student is one who exists often between those classes. We appear one way- as aspiring intellectuals who eschew worldly concerns like paying bills and tending to the care of our families, homes and lives. These things are rarely if ever drawn into conversation with one's professors and even among other graduate students. Funny how the person with whom you take so many classes never told you that they have children, or that they had to move because they couldn't afford the rent where they lived anymore or that because there is little available in the way of health insurance, they can't go to a chiropractor and that their teeth are slowly rotting out of their head. But at home and with families, the shroud of mystery surrounds and alienates the student. We have to fill our other roles as providers, housecleaners, dog walkers, child nose-blowers, and care givers to our families regardless of their composition. And we worry. We worry constantly about money, about schedules about paying bills and paying student loans and if we're ever going to to on vacation again. Our significant others may wonder when the economic nightmare is going to end even if they are completely supportive of your ideals. It just takes a toll after awhile. You become schizophrenic- swarming any seminar on campus that gives away free pizza during the week and then being expected to whip out some specialized vocabulary and insight into solving the world's problems at dinner parties on the weekends. My strategy is to find a sugar daddy who can afford to take you out to dinner once in awhile. I'll let you know how that works out. In the meantime, it's top ramen half of the time and greek yogurt when I can afford it.

I save money on groceries and things in a number of ways. Some even help the environment. It's way cheaper to roast your own coffee than to buy it in the store. I shop the farmer's markets and am growing my own garden- this experiment might be good or bad. I'll keep you posted. I buy frozen rather than canned food for the nutritional value and the cost. I cook at home a lot and eat out less- never eating fast food. Fast food is gross. Eww... but that's a post for another day. Plus, I'm becoming a decent cook. Poor Luke isn't a vegetarian so he's stuck living off of salsa and avocados. I do offer to try meat but I make this yuckyface when I eat meat and I think he finds it unpleasant. Oh well, tofu-bacon it is. There are free days for lots of activities, like the Okc Museum, Fred Jones Museum of Art, the zoo and many other places. If you're cute, you can also talk your way in for free. I hear.

Oh, and if you are lucky enough to get a graduate assistantship that teaches, be careful. They make assumptions about my salary, my position at the university, about who I might be (sometimes that's the red-haired bride of Satan), and how they hell they can get the best grade out of me. I'm lucky to be a teacher of some years. I don't run into the same problems as my younger and less experienced counterparts. Although I do very much like to bounce my student challenges off on others. Don't get me wrong; I get stumped just as often as anyone else. They're just more technologically and intrinsically stupider difficulties with teaching.

There are a lot of distractions at home. First off, lose the cable bill. I haven't had cable for 13 years now. I like television. No, I love television. When Luke moved in, he brought a 56" big screen television. We use it from time to time to watch Netflix. If I have cable, I won't do my homework. But I know I shouldn't bring my homework home anyway because there are too many lovely distractions here. I have to clean the cat box. I need to walk the dogs. The garden won't weed itself. The dishes are dirty; I can't possibly do that research paper while dust gathers in the inner corner of the liquor cabinet! Augh!

Oh yeah, and about summer and winter breaks: you don't get paid during them if you're a grad assistant. It sucks, but put back money and be regimented about it. I'm lucky to get a summer class to teach. Of course, I'm crazy enough to take 3 classes and teach 5 and take three in the summers. For the spring semester my load was equivalent to about 24 hours. The norm for English students is 12. And I still got all A's. However, I wouldn't recommend this to anyone who has a significant other of any kind. Luke would help me with things just to be able to spend time with me. Once he wrote out all of my household bills and I just signed the checks. I have no idea if they were right but everything got paid on time.

One of the most important parts of grad school is having a hobby, preferably related to physical activity. Seems counter-intuitive to engage in activities not pertinent to adcademe, but believe me, this will save your sanity. I run and do yoga. I walk my dog. I keep a blog and am writing to my grandma every week since she's in a nursing home. Training a mind in only one direction may seem like a good thing, but it's the diversity of existance that will ensure survival when the insanity of end of semester work kicks in. And walk away for a week every semester to clear your head and rejuvenate, even if it's just to go camping. Just trust me on this one.

The best thing a new graduate student can do is find balance. Balance between interesting studies and a personal life separate from work. Balance between starvation and overabundance. Between giving everything you've got to your studies and everything you've got to your other obligations and finding time for yourself. Balance between chateau briand and buttered rice. Between friends who understand exactly the context of what you say when you're discussing the intricacies of progressive era politics and education a possible future for teaching in the U.S. And before you know it, you'll be standing in a silly, floppy hat with a diploma, wondering what the hell you're going to do next.

Hey, got a question? Some topic you'd like me to write about? Shoot me a text at

Friday, June 18, 2010

Photos From Here and There

I'm uploading a few recent photos from this week. The first is the Cohen's D effect discussion from my stats class in the context of an SPSS discussion of a t-test.
The next is me from last night. It was 10 p.m., and I'd just gotten done on the garden. Just call me the yard warrior. I totally need a shower. But I also don't believe in only putting up pictures of me that look like Barbie. I'm not a barbie, I'm a real person. Plus, you can see my uncle's shirt (see the blog post marked "Obsession", then it'll make sense).
Speaking of gardens, the next two are finished products from last night. Today I'll go plant a tree and finish staking out the other two.
Finally is a shot of Mia (left) and Big on a walk around OU. You can see the library tower in the foreground.

Sorry about the poor organization- I'm still working on how to manipulate this site for maximum ease.

Father's Day

I always equated Father's day with the word "lack". I'm glad it falls in the summer because in school, I would've spent every one of those holidays thinking about a dad that I didn't have or drawing fake pictures to frame and throw away on the way home.

My dad was killed by a drunk driver when my mom was about 2 weeks pregnant with me. He worked in a logging camp for two weeks as the choker setter and then drove home for a time, then went back on out. My mom never had the opportunity to tell him about me. This is not my tragedy, it's my mothers. The accident left my mom alone with all those children, one on the way, a high school diploma and no discernible skills beyond "housewife". Really, in the grand scheme of things, I feel worst for her.

She did the best she could. My grandparents didn't believe in offering much beyond moral support, and Mom didn't have a lot of resources since she got married at the age of 18 and was a widow by the age of 26. I've had a slew of step-dads. My mom married 5 more times. Some were ok; some were awful. I think of my uncomfortable childhood, fraught with hand-me-downs from my sisters and wondering where we were going to live next week. I was incredibly lucky- I liked my sisters' clothes and made friends wherever I went. I was often shielded from the worst and sometimes from the best.

The only constant men in my life were my Grandpa and my Uncle Steve- my mom's brother. I've written a lot about my Grandad, but little about Steve, whom we called "Uncle TB" since we were tots. Steve and my Aunt Karla let me come stay with them for a few days or a week every summer. Awesome fun because I would go from being the youngest to the oldest, and a help to my Aunt (or so she said). I loved playing with my younger cousins, who have grown into some of my favorite people. I felt special because I was the only one who got to go- my other sisters never spent time in Pomeroy or Reardan the way I did. My aunt and uncle probably don't realize what that time meant to me- a reprieve from the oppressiveness of my house and order and cooperation and rules that were expected and enforced. As an adult, I've moved around a lot and have only reconnected with that part of my family in the last five years. They're pretty awesome people and the still hang together.

This will be my first Father's day without my Grandpa. I usually call and send him a card. He'd call me "peanut" (nobody else ever called me that) and ask about the weather in Oklahoma and whether or not I'd ever get a good job with the government. And before we'd hang up, just like he did with all of his granddaughters, we'd say that we loved each other. With my Grandma in a nursing home, for the first time, there won't be someone to answer when I dial 509-382-4063, the way there has been for the last 60 years (I remember that they had a party line up until the 1980's). It makes me sad, of course. But life is about resilience and getting on with getting on. Maybe I'll give my uncle a call. Maybe I'll give my mom a call too, just to chat and see how she's doing.

I'm not sure that I feel a lack of anything today. I've been fortunate these last few years for good friends and -especially this last year- in love. Luke left with his dad yesterday to go to Lake Texhoma for the night just to hang out together at the summer house and fix some doodad on the boat down there. His dad is very affectionate towards him, which I didn't expect given the self-proclaimed rampant redneck-idiness. It's pretty neat to watch.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


I sometimes get on a kick. This kick may last awhile. For example, I like to eat the same foods often. If you've known me for more than say, five minutes, you know I'm obsessed with coffee and protein bars. My current protein bar "kick" is peanut butter flavored ones with lots of protein. It's almost like the two dimensional food mentioned in Microserfs. If you haven't read that book, it's an older one but full of great wisdom and a discussion of a fat skinny guy.

I've been on a kick lately about my yard. Just so you know, I'm substituting the word "kick" for "obsession". It just sounds happier and more energetic. Such an ugly word, so misunderstood. Don't people know we have ocd for a reason? But I digress. Ahem. My yard, yes. Since this Spring, I've been slowly putting in a small orchard. Five years ago when I bought my house, I planted an apple tree. It lived and I was happy. Some of my happiest memories are of orchards and fruit trees and fresh air and, well, apple pies, apple sauce and apple butter. And apples. There was an apple tree by the side of our half mile driveway when I lived up Roger's Gulch in Dayton. Those green summer apples tasted so tangy and bright and I always ate too many of them and ended up paying for it later. I eat apples almost every day of my life. And protein bars and coffee. But in those days, it was all apples and the strawberry fields that grew wild on our property.

In February of 2008, my great uncle Vernon Marll died. He was pretty old- in his late 80's. I was lucky to spend the end of his life with him. It was a beautiful thing for me, to be able to read to him from the bible that he loved so much and to see that spark in his eyes even when he couldn't speak. He was such a good, kind, gentle man. I loved him so much. Everyone did, so I can't claim some unique connection because he wasn't just my uncle. The whole town and county showed up at his funeral- there was standing room only and people filed out the door. He had thousands of acres of farmland and was a county commissioner for 20 years and served as the head of commissioners for Washington State for a term or two. And he was a deacon in our family church. The same church that has a lighted cross behind the pulpit in his mother's honor. Even to this day, nobody sits in Uncle Vernon's seat. The church was heartbroken when he died. So was my grandpa, his best friend the pastor, the town and so was I. He gave me my first and only bible and inscribed it for me.

Uncle Vernon had an orchard, about 12 acres worth. He supplied our family and many others for years as an act of service and love to his fellow man. We would can his applesauce every year and make pies and just eat them- yellow and red delicious apples, apricots, and some peaches. When he died, I tried to buy the property, but just couldn't.

All of this brings me back to Spring. I sort of coerced Luke into helping me plant another apple tree in the back yard. He seemed to like the idea of more fruit trees. I'd like to add a cherry tree next year. I think about it. My grandpa died last September at the age of 93. Lately, to this, I've added a pear and a dwarf plum. And today, I added a red delicious tree. Can't help it. My Aunt Dorothy was the executor of his will and she asked me if there was anything I wanted of his. Though I am not religious, I asked for one of his bibles. A few paintings and most important to me, one of his orchard work shirts.

I stuck that shirt on this evening. It has plaid and red and pearl snaps and a western feel that's been worn over the years for it's intended use. I feel happy when I wear it, and as though I have something I can live up to; some work to carry on. Work that is fitting and proper and in my genes. Perhaps one of the things that is true about me is that I was made to make things grow. I know plants that are useful and some that are beautiful and they are all welcome in my little corner of the earth.

I had had every intention of just mowing the lawn. We're having a little get-together on Saturday (note to self: think about planting a vineyard). I want the lawn to look nice for my guests. The damn mower sits and mocks me from the shed. I wanted to go out and touch it, plug it in, and fire it up. Nope. I went to Lowes and bought some gardening stuff, planting a crepe myrtle, some boxwoods and a rhododendron. Then I weeded my garden and sprayed for insects and generally made sure that all was well and everything was growing the way it should. There is something very satisfying to me about a well-tended garden and a well-ordered back yard, even when it's overgrown with a little grass. The lifeless mower sat sullen in a dark corner of the yard while I messed around with weed fabric and mulch.

This is one obsession that I hope doesn't pass. I have harvested lots of apricots from an existing tree in the side yard and the tomatoes are starting to come in. Soon, we'll have peas and carrots and beats and cucumbers and I will forget all about protein bars and two dimensional foods in favor of whatever I can dig out of the earth that day. And you know what? This gives me a great feeling of peace.

For you, Uncle Vernon, wherever you are.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Not a Morning Person

It's ten o'clock and I'm wide awake. Ten at night. I could stay up until 1 or 2 and be happy about it. I only need 7.5 hours of sleep a night, so my natural cycle is to sleep from about 1 until about 8:30 and sometimes 9 a.m. I have always been this way.

I remember as a young girl always having trouble waking in the mornings and going to sleep at night. Maybe that's everyone; I don't know. I grew up without digital props. We played outside in the sunshine and rain and snow and tried to stay out of our mother's hair or there wasn't anyone home anyway, so we'd ride bikes in the afternoon. Or we'd hang out and talk or play games. My sisters taught me to play chess and card games and I read like a fiend. But mostly, I just played.

It was worse as a teenager because my mom was the night dispatcher at the local police department. She worked midnight to 8 a.m. and I left for school at 8:15. We'd have a cup of coffee after she came home and before I left for school. I would stay up very late at night and read books, sometimes so late that I'd skip school until noon the next day to catch up. Back in the day, school started promptly at 8:30 and we stayed until 3:25. It was difficult to stay awake during those morning classes. I don't remember anything that was said or taught until after lunch. Of course, after lunch was Ag shop, English and whatever business class Mr. Moore was teaching.

I took jobs that required my presence after 9 a.m.- a job as a telephone operator, a bartender, a desk clerk at a hotel. I've done a lot of crappy jobs. I did for awhile have to be at work at 7:30 in the morning when I worked as a secretary in Las Vegas. And later when I was at a veterinary hospital, it was 7:45. Who gets up that early?

If I have to be someplace before say, 9 a.m., there are a few things you can bank on. One is that I won't be beautiful unless I'm presenting or teaching something. So no makeup, no pretty hair and definitely not a lot of smiling. I'm pretty much a zombie until around 9. I'm lucky that my teeth get brushed and that I'm wearing clothes. The clothes don't always match. Just saying. I teach in the afternoons and evenings and take classes after 4:30 p.m. Sometimes my teaching and school day ends at 10 p.m. For some, that's a hardship. For me, that's life. I like it better in the summer because of the heat, but even in winter I like to sleep in, snuggled into warm quilts with an aging and mercurial cat to keep me warm.

Having said that, it must be quite entertaining for my statistics professor to deal with me these last few weeks. The class begins at 8. In the morning. And lasts until 1. Five hours of statistics is bad enough, but really? Five hours a day, five days a week for a month? Why did I sign up for kamikaze statistics? Because if I do this and also finish the qualitative research course, I can take my comprehensive exams in the Fall with my regularly scheduled six hours of classes and the 18 hours that I will be teaching. Because I'm sort of kamikaze as a student.

I roast my own coffee these days. A good guy named R.E. Davis gave me his old roaster so I can do so easily, and I buy green coffee beans locally. And this morning, I got up late and didn't get a chance to make coffee. Crazy because it only takes four minutes. One minute to burr grind and three to run water through the Bunn- I've got more money tied up in coffee than some people put into their cars. I corrected the kid at Starbucks counter the other day. Don't fuck with me, junior. I have been economically supporting this company since before you were born.
Anyway, I got up late and threw on some clothes and put a hat on my head and ran out the door. It's faster to ride my scooter because I can park closer to the building, so off I went. I mentally patted myself on the back for brushing my teeth. Come 8:45, I was nodding off. This has happened before, but I'm not usually on the front and center row with the good professor lecturing to me and my fellow compatriots in what sometimes seems like tongues. I could see his face clearly, there were words coming from lips and I'm sure I must've looked like I was on a bad acid trip from staring so hard, trying to figure out what the hell he was saying.

I had to do something; I wouldn't want him to think that I don't care about the class. I really do, which is a problem. I need to know the stuff he's teaching us. It helps with critical thinking skills and analyzing data from studies that I often read. If I don't comprehend this, I will take it over again. So I did what everyone does: I pretended I was sniffling and went to the bathroom to try to wake up.

I've got to make it through this week and two more just like it. If I ever hoped to be a morning person, this cures me of any notion that I will ever be so. Here it is, 10:45, and I am still awake and need to get up at 6:30 tomorrow. I've got the original vampire book, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and maybe I'll take a look at it for a bit before nodding off. And I'll roast up a small batch of Nicaraguan for unweldling my eyes tomorrow. Oh morning, why do you vex me so?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Civil Rights are Human Rights

I just got done watching both "Before Stonewall" and "After Stonewall". They are documentaries about gay and lesbian communities before and after the Stonewall riots of 1969. Interesting viewing, recommended to me by my friend R.E. Davis. He teaches a queer theory class at OU, if you're interested.

In case you were unaware, my brother is gay. Not only is he openly gay, but I am proud of the person he is and the person he has chosen to become in this day and age. He is an activist, and educator and a man who has lived with AIDS for over 20 years. He lives right now in Portland, Oregon.

These laws we have in the United States and in Oklahoma where I live that legislate against same sex marriage, they are unlawful. They are built on quasi-religious and bigoted values that say that if gays and lesbians are allowed to marry and thus become sanctioned and accepted by American society, then this would pull down the moral structure of the American way of life. "What's next?" decry the detractors, "Perhaps you can then marry your goat and all hell will break loose!"

I have one thing to say about that: bull (or ram, as the case may be). This is the same thing said by racists in the 1950's and 60's about inter-racial marriage. And also said by a Justice of the Peace in late 2009 when he refused to marry a white woman and a black man. Do us all a favor and go the way of the dinosaur.

I do predict that eventually, civil rights will prevail and all people, regardless of race or sexual orientation will be allowed to marry, settle down, pay taxes and make their neighborhoods more beautiful. This is exactly what I think will happen- not Armageddon.

You might not be ideologically aligned with my perspective. I respect that. This is the United States of America and you're allowed to have opinions that are different than mine. Moreover, you are not required to embrace all of my ideals in order to be my friend. But I would be lying to you if I didn't tell you this about myself: I am a friend to gays and lesbians. I am a friend to Black and White and Native American and Asian and Muslims and Hispanics and all of the colors of the rainbow. You need not have a DNA sample to make my acquaintance.

Having said that, I feel better. It's best you know the truth about me. Not only do I love my brother, but I am proud of him and support him ideologically and spiritually. If you cannot handle that about me, best you cut bait and run now. You don't even have to love him, just accept that he is who he is and that I love him and that there is not hing wrong with that. He doesn't hurt anyone. He helps people- people like me.

Thanks, Thorn. You give me hope. <3

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The World is Changing

When I was a little girl, I lived a life often coloured with uncertainty. We moved, we changed addresses, we left this state for that one; once in the middle of the night. Home was sand underneath my feet. It shifted and sometimes we sunk. I got really lucky though, in my mother's family. Specifically, my Grandmother's family were pretty neat people. Many summers, we'd go with my grandparents for a few weeks to fish, camp, swim, pick mushrooms and huckleberries and drive along the back country roads around Dayton, Washington. They were days shot with sepia lenses, faded and better looking as memories than what happened in real life.

If I close my eyes, I can still imagine what it was like to ride in the back of Grandpa's old white Ford truck. There were places where the paint had rubbed off and it was down to metal. There was always leftover hay or straw or weeds in the back and an old spare tire tossed in on its side. In the evenings, when the air still smelled warm and the dust from the day had begun to settle, we'd go for a ride over washboard gravel roads looking for deer and elk and other wildlife. Jeans and tee shirts and old tennis shoes were required, though sometimes we wore flip flops. But otherwise you'd get something stuck to your leg or butt or the sun beating down on the truck all day would make it burn you when you got in and sat for the first time. If I stood up and leaned over the cab while we were going full-bore, then the wind would steal my breath. Occasionally, a bug would smack my cheek or we'd drive right through a swarm of gnats. I inhaled one once and couldn't spit it out. It was stuck in my lungs and I could hear it drowning, beating against my wet lung with it's pitiful wings.

For at least a few days, Grandpa would hitch the camper onto the truck and put my sister and I in the back. He'd pull us over the Hartsock grade to the Tucannon to go camping with my grandma's kin. Then he'd split for a few days and go fishing with his buddy Herb off somewhere else. He taught me to fish, though. Grandma's brothers and sisters and their families and we would bring our campers and trailers and hang out for a week. We'd go fishing and only half hope to catch something. I had to clean my own fish, which I didn't mind, but I did not like the way trout tasted. Grandma would bread and fry them sometimes over the campfire. They'd often keep their heads and skins on and I didn't like the work of dissecting my dinner before I could eat it.

There were other things to eat besides fish. Grandma brought us all the licorice we could eat, and sunflower seeds and snack foods and potato salad we could hold. We never had to eat something we didn't like around her. It was the rule and we knew it. She let us roast marshmallows and hotdogs over the fire; we even got to cut our own sticks with knives we often carried for gutting fish and getting into trouble. And we'd bathe in the crick (that's a creek, only said how Grandma called it) but made sure that our campspot was pretty close to the outhouses. Nobody wants to poop in the woods, though sometimes it was liberating to pee out there. Kinda difficult when it's ten at night and pitch black when you're way out there and the only light comes from your flashlight and the dying embers of the campfire. I'd be holding up my nightgown with one hand and leaning on the other one and hoping I'm on the correct side of the downhill slope and that I didn't hit my foot. If I did, I'd step on over into the crick for a minute.

In the evenings and sometimes in the middle of the day, Grandma and her sisters would get into a card game. Their dad, my great grandfather Abbot, would join in. I would watch at first and see how they played. Grandpa Abbot was a master pinochle player at the age of 86. You laid anything down and he knew what was in your hand. His head was mostly bald with a few nostalgic strands combed over age spots. He was old and hunched over and his wrinkles all but hid his sparkling eyes. Abbot's smile was the magical part though. The corners of his mouth didn't go up like normal; they went back towards his low-set ears and pulled smooth the skin from his face. The result was sort of beautiful because then you could see his blue watery eyes and that there was always something crafty going on behind them. In the evenings, he'd tell stories about the maul cat and how thunder came to the hills.

Pinochle and canasta games were the only times I ever heard my grandma swear, except for the whispered expletives behind my grandpa's back when he made her mad. My grandma's name is Verline. Her sisters Earline and Sis (Whose real name was Alberta), Teddy and brother Bill were the main people who came along and each treated me and all of the other kids running around as though we were interchangeably theirs. My cousins and I did a few chores together, went fishing and played and played and looked for snakes and periwinkles together. We always found plenty of them. When we got bored, we'd lay around and read. When it was too hot to fish, we'd just play in the water. That creek was fed by a melting mountain and even in the dead heat of August, the temperature held at about 12 degrees. It took some getting used to but we'd float down a ways in our swimsuits and flip flops and make friends with other kids coming to camp as well. Sometimes, a shoe would fly off and someone would have to make a dive for it before it floated off down the bend, never to be seen again. This happened pretty often and we got good at retrieving them. I don't think we ever lost one to the crick.

Our world has changed irrevocably since that time. Frankly, it scares me. A lot of my aunts and uncles have died. A few of those cousins are gone too, due to accident or illness. Great Grandpa Abbot and Grandpa are gone too. I'd never think of bathing in a creek; it pollutes the environment to put shampoo into the water. It isn't just a world evolving, it's also about our loss of American innocence and the birth of fear and anger in the wake of 9/11. America is a teenager. And now we have cell phones and blogs and I can't remember how to play canasta. I couldn't imagine a whole week of being disconnected from my technology. I become very frightened about what is happening to our environment, our laws, our fears for safety and the basic freedoms we seemed to enjoy when I was a kid. I wonder about the world I inherited and about the one we will give to our children. I worry about the exponential population growth. I wonder why we need bomb-sniffing dogs in our schools. I wonder when all this political jostling turned into racial, gender and sexual hatred. I wonder why I am so disconnected from the world I grew up in while I have the means to be more connected than ever.

I do things about it. I vote, I protest, I'm growing my own garden and ride my scooter and sometimes my bike to save gas and pollution. I mow with an electric mower even though a gas one would do much faster work. I teach tolerance and hope to open dialog that is meaningful and productive for my students and for me. Will the children in my family get sepia-colored, hay-smelling Kodak instant picture memories? I don't think so, and I mourn that. Sometimes I have to take a break from the news or panic will set in and I will become frantic and depressed.

I've made new memories in Oklahoma. I have experiences with red earth and hiking, coffee shops and friends and conversations about changing the world and the joy that we, collectively, can bring. We philosophize over steaming mugs of fresh roasted beans pressed through a sieve. I cup it in my hand any time of the day and inhale deeply the smell I associate with hope. I remember that even though my childhood is gone, I know people who know those place and who have brought their children up to enjoy and conserve them. People who ski in the winter every weekend and do back-breaking work in the summer on harvest jobs. It brings me back up. I remember that there are many advances in the face of our disasters.

I am lucky today. Most of this is because I get to live the life of my choosing and that I feel I make a positive difference. I don't want children to be oppressed in Arizona, or for people of non-Caucasian origin to have to carry papers to prove their citizenship there. One of the major things I was proud of as an American is that we can go from sea to shining sea without papers. Check that- we used to be able to. I just don't want the national sand to shift, the oil to flow into the gulf or for people to be prevented from marrying because of their sexuality. It would just be better if we pulled up a stump by the campfire and poked at the embers and told stories as equals until deep into darkness.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Easy As Apple Pie

I imagine that my grandma is like any other American grandma. She did so much with her life, in the quiet ways, that don't often get recognized. She took people in and nurtured them, raised her family, worked full time and had supper on the table at 5 every night. She came from a family of 10 way up the Tucannon without electricity or indoor plumbing, and learned early on the pain of loss. Grandma and her identical twin sister live within 60 miles of each other and have their whole lives. Their summers were spent wearing flour sack dresses and running barefoot through the canyons. And since the early 1950's, she and my grandpa lived on the same 5 acres that I found so magical as a child and which never dims with my annual visits.

Every summer, she would take me and my sister for a couple of weeks. We'd go swimming and camping and fishing and blackberrying and sometimes mushroom hunting. She hates snakes. Hates them. And she taught me how to bake pies. Her apple pie, much like all of Grandma's "recipes" for things like making pickles and canning deer neck, are founded on experience rather than measurements. For apple pie, you have to have her big green bowl full of apples. You get the apples either from Uncle Vernon's orchard (he's since deceased), or from one of the roadside vendors. You heap the bowl full of apples and that will be enough for one pie. Core and slice the apples and mix them up with about this much flour (fills palm of hand- Grandma's hand, not mine), and about 2/3 cup of sugar.

In her later years, Grandma preferred Pillsbury pie crusts, but she used to make them from scratch with flour from the flour drawer, lard or Crisco, and some butter and salt with water sprinkled in. You know who makes the best pie crust in my family that I can remember? Uncle Steve. Yeah, he's the best. He also makes pretty good bread. Anyway, the trick with the pie crust is to let it rest and to not mess with it too much after you add the water. Roll it out on the bread board and poke holes in the bottom of the crust, add the mixture, crimp the top and cut a few holes, bake at 400 for about an hour (depending on your oven) and voila, apple pie.

I didn't think much about it when I was a kid. My summer days were spent eating cups of vanilla ice cream and ice cold watermelon on the back porch step with my cousin. My grandma is a lot like apple pie. Sweet and sometimes tart, crusty, lots of butter and encompassing of the ideals of the American Nuclear Family. She never fought in a war. She never marched on Washington or burned a bra or raised a ruckus. In fact, Grandma very much likes the status quo and going along to get along. She's the iron-willed peace-maker in our family and our beloved matriarch.

Each person, especially your author, is flawed and human. This is what makes us so interesting. Grandma, like those of her generation, is sometimes painfully and practically honest. She once told me- with the most helpful of intentions, I'm sure- that even though I wasn't as pretty as my sisters, I had nice childbearing hips. I was eleven. It's funny now, but during that fragile age of budding puberty, I was mortified. She just always says what she thinks- as long as it's in private. Grandma would never publicly criticize anyone. She wouldn't bring attention to herself that way. Because of this, people thought she didn't have political or social opinions. They are wrong. They were just said in the privacy of her kitchen, while my grandpa watched television in the front room. If this is the worst of my grandma, then so be it. I wish I were as good of a person on her worst day. I have watched her my whole life, taking care of others, giving of her time, energy, food and kind, supportive words. She has never been rude a day in her life and has never kicked anybody when they were down. She does not, and never has, drank alcohol.

Grandma also says that we reap what we sow. This is true. Her family loves and supports her. My grandpa died last September and it's been a decline for her ever since. Her whole life has been about the care and feeding of others- both literally and figuratively. She was a school lunch cook for over 20 years. She also cooked at several summer camps up at Camp Wooten over the years. There isn't anyone in our communities over the age of 25 that she hasn't touched in some way or another. The Dayton and Pomeroy communities do love her and they are filled with relatives and friends.

Grandma has recently moved from her home for the last 60 years to Booker Rest Home in Dayton. It's a difficult transition, made a bit easier by support from the community and our little family church. I wrote the pastor a note and asked him to pray especially for her. Pastor Greg, much like others in our town, is not shy about saying that he looks on Grandma as second mom. As for me, I write my blog and hope and tell my stories to others so they can know her too. I planted two apple trees in my back yard, to carry my uncle's tradition of orchard care, and to make apple pies for my grandma. It's the best I can do for today.