Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Artichokes and Beer

When I was a little girl, I was lucky to have three older sisters to blaze trails ahead of me. When I was 8, my older sisters would have to take me with them and I saw a lot of crazy teenager stuff. My sister Patti gave me my first beer. It was terrible and I poured it out. I didn't do much beyond watch, ever.
I remember sneaking out with one of my sisters on a school night and dragging her in just at dawn, only to shower and go to school. I didn't really drink, but I did make sure we were alright. I must've been about 13.

None of them complained about my presence so I must not have been a pain in the ass sort of sister. My sisters were so rebellious that I could've gotten away with murder. I ask them once in awhile if perhaps I've got it wrong, but no, they generally say that I wasn't wild in the least and that I was kind of a boring kid. I'm sure my former classmates would concur. I'm good with that. I spent many happy high school weekends reading books or riding horses with my friends or working at Ski Bluewood. I showed sheep in junior high and high school and was an officer in FFA. Hell, I was a state officer in FBLA. I was a Columbia County Fair Hostess and acted in the school play every year.

Honestly, I'm not sure how all that happened. It's not like I was a great student or that I had great motivations. I was just a kid. Mr. Moore, Mr. Hodgson and Mr. Markus (God rest his soul) were good teachers. They gave me a lot of leeway, which I needed because life as a teenager sucks. And let's face it, I often smelled like a sheep ranch.

I attribute a lot of my happy childhood memories to my sister, Patti. She's four years older than I am. She was my protector, mentor, sister and friend. Later, she was my doppleganger since people confused us. Sometimes my Grandma calls me "Patti" and I answer with a smile because Patti is one of my favorite people and probably the best friend I ever had. Within the same family, siblings can have radically different experiences growing up, and I'm sure she saw the brunt of what I glimpsed. But she never complained and just went on and did what needed to be done. If you think well of me, please know that I'm a poor imitation of her.
When we were little girls, I got very sick. My mom was at work and couldn't come home. I had a fever of 104. Patti ran a cool bath but I wouldn't get in. She went first, to get me to do it. When I was sick to my stomach some months later, she took Pepto Bismol (which she hates) to show me it would be ok. Then she lit a fire to warm our feet.

Patti showed me how to make my bed and fold my clothes. I still employ those simple lessons. She also pulled me out the cherry tree I was climbing and made me put on a bra. I hated that. I wanted to stay a little girl forever. And she showed me how to play chess and how to cook. We made potato salads, pies, cookies and grilled cheese sandwiches. She demonstrated moxie too. In high school, she was the homecoming princess for some reason or other. Maybe tenth grade. We lived in Quilcene, Washington. But she heard this guy she dated was doing her wrong. Now, I don't know how anyone else does it, but I've never seen anyone in my family back down from a fight. We're not that kind of people. Not a whole lot of turning the other cheek, if you know what I mean. I almost feel bad for that kid. The story goes that she slammed him up against some lockers and kneed him between the legs. I had strong role models. Thanks to her and to my other sister, Yvette, nobody ever, ever fucked with me.

And artichokes. Patti taught me to love artichokes. We would cut the stems and the sticker parts, steam them in the microwave and mix butter, garlic salt and lemon and feast like queens on the delicacy. I didn't like them at first, but I trusted my big sister when she told me it was an acquired taste. And if she liked them, then by God I'd like them too.

We talk about every week, for about an hour. Our lives are different but not particularly separate. I think that she lives a life I'd like to experience and she thinks I live a life she'd like, too. Patti finished a degree in system administration. She has two kids, 1.5 grand-kids and a husband who is a logger. They live on 9 acres with a huge garden. We talk and text and email. She keeps me up on family life in the Pacific Northwest and I fill her in on the single starving-dom of graduate school and red dirt living.

If you ever thought of me as a mentor, friend or good person, now you know where such things come from. I wouldn't say every good attribute is from my sister, but many of them are, including the idea of self-discipline and a strong belief in myself. I'm really just a facsimile of her own compassion. All of my sisters contributed to my upbringing in their own ways, but whenever I see an artichoke, I certainly think of her. And now, I hope you do too.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Luke moved out today. He'd slowly been moving stuff over the last week or so and today he took the last two loads of stuff. I don't like the ends of relationships- so awkward. I think that Luke was planning to stay until October but just sort of changed his mind. The last thing he took was his dog, Mia. That's the only point at which I felt like crying.
I'd planned to spend the day working on a presentation for Curriculum Theory class over Henry Giroux. He is responsible for the idea of radical pedagogy, is still living and was a contemporary of my hero, Paulo Freire. I ended up rescheduling. What I did instead was call and text my girlfriends. Cathy came over, of course, and she brought her dogs and we all went to the dog park and hiked the three miles and sorted through issues of life, the universe and everything together. I called my sister Patti too, and my mom and other good friends just to ask for a little moral support. And they have given generously of their time and energy today. Much love, friends. <3
I spent the rest of today cleaning house. I mean dinging and slinging and throwing stuff out and moving furniture and vacuuming and generally sweeping and mopping and caring for my home. I was caring for me too. I took a scrubber to the inside of my eyes, sprayed Windex in my ears and cleaned out some of my psychic muck. I took on the living room, two bedrooms, the carpets and the front porch. I also swept out my feelings and allowed a few moments to just slump in a chair, have a cup of coffee and be quiet. I fed myself and worked myself out from the tight winding of the last few weeks of living in the same domicile with an ex and I feel both physically tired and emotionally unwound.
This is a good thing; it's not healthy to keep things bottled inside. The season is changing and we begin our descent from sweltering days to harvest and turning leaves towards winter, the time of the defiant. I have much to do this semester. We're five weeks in and I have another 11 to go if I'm to stay on track and graduate in the Spring. I'm still not sure how I'm going to break after that, but my opportunities have opened up. My head space and my living space are less cluttered and I am lucky once again. This time it's because the relationship ended on a "no harm, no foul" note.
Tomorrow I will get back on track. I'm resisting the urge to feel guilty. Soon, I will pull out my warm sweaters and hunker down for the winter to wait for a time of renewal and growth. Until then, I'll just sit still and lick my wounds.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


My head spin sometimes with all of the work and obligations and pleasurable things I want to do in a day. Right now I'm pretty tired. I went to work, then mowed the lawn, then went to class until 10 tonight. Tomorrow I'll get up at 5 and do it again before lining up my work for the weekend.

I'm tired and I've got a lot to do before mid-December. I don't have time to go to a chiropractor for my neck. I need to find a roommate before I'm left eating top ramen for the next four months. Yes, being a professor-for-hire doesn't pay as well as you might think. I have 5 pages due Wednesday that I've not started. I hope my advisor isn't reading this. I need to sell that Miata so I can pay my tuition. I'm using this weekend to grade papers. Again. I should be preparing for general exams.

Frankly, I'm not entirely certain that I can pull this off. So, I am giving myself a little pep talk. It always works, always. All I have to do is think of things for which I am grateful.

I thank the moon and stars above for the solace and sanity of my friends. Old and new, male and female, they are the ones jumping over the edge to catch me. Sometimes they shake me a little and say "quit being so uptight. It's just a deadline." I scoff but relax a little in my uptight little shell. They also have problems and call me for a bit of sanity so we have to make it up as we go along. I like that part too.

I'm grateful for Michael Jackson because he makes me feel normal. Really normal and really fucking boring. I like that too.

I'm grateful for health- for me for my family and friends and for their families. I may not have time for a doctor but at least right now I have insurance! Two people I care about have family members in the hospital right now and I'm pulling for them too. The good thing about love is that it's not just restricted to people you know well. It's like Facebook; friends of friends can have some too. I'm glad that it also works both ways. My grandpa died this time last year. That anniversary is coming up quickly. I remember the outpouring of love and support and grace given to me by my friends and their loved ones. I found that accepting the care and love of another person is terribly comforting. Don't laugh; it's not in my nature to expose emotional needs to anyone. But I've been learning and I hope to remain open and not closed to kindness and care for myself. That's a blessing in itself.

The list goes on; my car works, my cat is fine and doesn't puke a whole lot these days; I have a roof over my head. One niece had a baby this year and another just got married and is pregnant. Another niece got married too. And pretty much everyone is doing fine. None of my teeth have fallen out and I've got a great day of teaching planned for tomorrow. I'm going to use Jimi Hendrix and the Dixie Chicks to discuss the use of rhetoric. I'm employed, I'm a student (which is what I hope to always be) and I live in America.

I love being an American. My brothers and sisters go out and fight and die and keep me safe. My freedom of speech is protected through the efforts of others. And I've never had to seriously question it. This is not to say that I've never royally stuck my food in my mouth. Because I have, at least twice today. But thank God for grace because I'm still standing.

Not a bad night. Now, speaking of lesson plans and nights, I have to get up in five hours. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I want comfort today. It rained last night and made me sleep really well. I love rain. I've loved rain since my days in the Pacific Northwest. I love the rain smell. It reminds me of simplicity and happiness and not having perfect hair or make up. I slid my feet into my slippers this morning for office hours and had eight students come see me for discussion of their papers. It was normal and relaxing.

I want comfort food. I made my favorite pesto and pasta for dinner. I had lemon tea with a friend. It's good to have a good friend to talk to; better than a snuggie or a warm fire. The only thing that could be better is if it were raining and there was a fire, some tea and a snuggie and good company like that. Yeah.

I want these things because Luke and I broke up a few weeks ago and I'm still sort of getting used to that idea. I mean, he hasn't left the house yet, but we've established our own spaces and routine over the last month and are taking time so that it's not overly traumatic.

Sound weird? I guess so. It's not a dramatic break up. I don't do drama anymore. In the grand scheme of things, drama lies pretty low at the end of the spectrum of things I'm willing to spend energy on. I like Luke. We get on well. I love his family~ they're all good people who have treated me very well. I'm going to to miss them and that part is painful. And the dog. Mia is so sweet. And so I'm not just mourning a relationship; I'm mourning the loss of several things simultaneously. I just hope they aren't angry with me.

It's a good reason for a break up though. His career and family are centered in Oklahoma City and my circumstances and interests lie outside of the area. Not much of a remedy for that. So we're calling it good without dragging things out. You hit a wall, you find a way around or turn and go in another direction.

So I've sought comfort in friends and solace in work and familiarity in routine. Eleanor has become much more affectionate. She keeps waking me up in the middle of the night, wanting attention. I've got scratches on my arms and one on the back of my neck. Silly cat. I know that anyone else would toss the kitty off the bed, but she really means well. She sleeps on the other pillow now too. And lately I want the things that are gentle and loving and bring me back to the here and now so I don't slip too deep into contemplation.

I don't often ask for anything from anybody. I've leaned on my girlfriends a lot lately to distract or to tell me things will be ok. Fact is that they will be ok. I'm alright being alone. I'm good at it. I need a roommate, so let me know if you think of anyone good. Or even ok, as long as they aren't slobs. :-)

I do have a question for my readers: what do you do for comfort? Do you cook, clean and read a good book or write maudlin poetry? Do you drink, party and get a pedicure? Tell me; I'd like to know.

Take care,

Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11, 2001/ September 11, 2010

September 11, 2001
I wake up and go to work at Oklahoma State University. I teach an organic chemistry class and it doesn't start until 9:30. Before class I always go in my office and put on loud rock music to wake up. I don't have cable at my house. We don't watch it. I'm married and we live in Stillwater. Life is rather easy. I teach, run the chemistry store room and on some days, teach aerobics at the local gym. My husband works in Tulsa and leaves the house at 6.
I get to work and someone directs me to a news website. We switch on a television. I watch the second plane hit and nausea and vertigo overcome me and everyone around us. It's a cartoon; it has to be. But no, the world has just tilted off of its axis. All flights are grounded and my friend Karla and Art cannot get out of Oklahoma to get to Poland like they'd planned. Classes at OSU are not canceled. Doesn't matter- we don't do anything in them except huddle and watch tv. I don't take attendance. We feel like gravity has shifted and the world isn't under our feet the way it once was. I gather my international friends to my home. Anyone who looks "vaguely ethnic" because this is the land of rednecks and when the Oklahoma City bombing took place, some yahoos shot up the local mosque- the one with the playground on the side of it. The world mourns with us. Outpourings of support come in from the world and from true Muslim leaders. The news outlets also report a few radicals who celebrate. The word "terrorism" enters our vocabulary in a way I would have never thought possible. I worry about overreaction. I was right to worry. We enter a war with unknown assailants and attack Iraq under vague pretenses. It is very expensive and we will pay for this for a long time. The Patriot Act is passed. The voices of minority dissent are ignored and eventually threatened. We are not silent.
Eventually, My students leave for Fall break and on the way back, one of my O-chem students is stopped by airport security because her textbook contains the symbols for trinitrotoulene- dynamite. She is held and stripped by two men and interrogated for days, and is probably beaten, but is eventually released. Her dad, a lawyer, settles for enough money to pay for anything she needs practically forever. She is not allowed to talk of the details.

September 11, 2003
My marriage is in shambles. We have moved to Norman and sold our house. Karla has committed suicide and Art and I attend her funeral in the same church where they had planned their wedding. Airport security is ridiculous and we now have to remove our shoes prior to boarding. I am searched every time I cross the threshold. Once, they find a pen recycled from an eating utensil and mistake it for a shank. I am almost held over. A scan of my bag reveals a pear and I am scolded and told not to bring such things to the airport. I tell the TSA that I am an American citizen, but she doesn't hear me. She asks about the Chinese symbol on my shoulder. I tell her it s a peace symbol. That's a lie. Hatred and racism against non-white persons is high and corruption and extremism in America becomes far more transparent. I begin celebrating Ramadan with my Muslim friends in order to understand the spiritual and peaceful aspects of Islam. They celebrate Thanksgiving with me. I still worry about them.

September 11, 2010
It's been nine years. I've made a conscious effort in my teaching practice to instill a sense of social justice and tolerance. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I sometimes perform in "The Vagina Monologues" and take the part that Karla used to play. My performances are dedicated to her and I send the playbills to her parents. They never write back. I've gotten another tattoo, of a yin yang, but it's in black and red. One of my students in class yesterday said he thought the war in Iraq was completely justified. I'm tired of fighting. I want the wars to end. All of them. My students know that Bill Clinton had and affair with Monica Lewinsky and that he probably inhaled pot, but have no idea of this Nobel Peace Prize. In Oklahoma City, it's popular opinion that a gathering of the KKK at the Ford Center is preferable to one of the local Satanic group. My friend Brent went to see Deepak Chopra at the Civic Center. I wonder if any of my students know who he is. Perhaps they would think he's a heretic. Perhaps I am jaded and am still searching for peace.
A Florida pastor named Terry Jones first vows to hold a Quran burning, then calls it off because it will most definitely incite greater recruitment into AlQaeda and also place our troops in greater danger than they already face. President Obama himself has to call and talk sense into him. Perhaps the heat and humidity has soaked through Jones' hypocritical brain. Others declare today to be "buy a Quran" day. It's the one day a year I think to sit and pray and meditate on peace and cry for our country and for all people of the world, especially for those with anger and discontent in their hearts.

On this day, may you love those who hate you. May you not strike back but offer a hand in friendship. May you heal yourself. May you be a blessing to those around you and all who would hear you.

If we can make war and destroy the world, then we can most certainly find the energy for peace.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sunset in the Rearview

Hi Everyone-
Thought I'd repost an old poem from around 2006. I wrote it on the road, driving from the beautiful Pacific Northwest back to Oklahoma. It was 2:45 am in a stanky motel in Laramie, Wyoming. I had eaten nothing but apricots from Uncle Vernon's orchard and had driven 16 hours, with another 12 or so to go. Needless to say, I missed my ocean. Read on:

Sunset in the Rearview

Sometimes the ocean calls to me and I can hear its waves beating against Pacific shores- “Mermaid, come back to the water”. I can hear it amid the humid mirages in Oklahoma and catch a puff of pungent sea salt smell lightly lingering. A surprise, a reminder, a voice carried on seagull wings. And I know in my heart that my legs are fins, cold and scaled and meant for the icy climes and rhythms of the bottomless depths, blue, green, black.

Far off in a dream my ocean calls and I ask my friends if they can hear it but of course they can’t because their ears are landlocked and only faint traces of our sea creature ancestry lingers in their pulses. Once in a while one will cock her head to the side and say yes that she hears it too. Maybe her grandmother was just like me. I sigh because I need him, and then make plans to visit.

Always the same greeting we give each other. Waves laughing at my feet and siren song lapping my toes. Summer, winter regardless of the temperature, I remove my shoes (provided I’d worn any at all) and run, skim along the waves edge and we play chase with him running to catch me and soak the bottoms of my trousers, birds scattering pell-mell and crabs sideways stepping. Later I sit on a friendly log and listen to the wisdom of my father the ocean and sometimes cry and sometimes laugh and sometimes shake my fist and ask why. Other times we engage in the conversations of the water and gulls and clams in the sand and all of the skittering pelagic ones who skim with me and swim with me and build up my mermaid soul because eventually I must leave, salty tears and all, for my subtropical life in Oklahoma with its snakes and lizards and flying biting things.

Last I stop by the grave of my father, my real one, who rests atop a grassy knoll with other of his kin and some who died as sailors and all of them interred before I was born. When he passed on he entrusted me to the ocean as the strength I would lean on and to whom I would look for guidance and care. I tell him I love him and carefully make my way back to the car where my fins fall off and turn back into legs and my scales turn to keratin hair.

The ocean swells in my eyes and I go back to Oklahoma to wait for the call of my father and always heed, for he has something to tell me when he says “Mermaid, Mermaid, come back to the water”, whispered to the wind and carried thousands of lonely miles on the back of a seagull.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Literacy changed my life, you know. I don't mean the kind of literacy where you learn to read and write. I knew that from a very young age. I read Galileo in the 7th grade and worked my way through a chemistry textbook in junior high. I read novels by 4th grade and spent most of my nights during high school staying up late reading a book. Skipped lots of days at school doing the same thing. Pepsi, sunflower seeds and Stephen King. That was the life, but the definition of literacy is too narrow.

No, I'm talking about a different kind of literacy. I'm talking my last semester of course work at OU. After December, I will have taken every single class offered through the doctoral program. There just isn't another curriculum offered for my discipline. I went beyond my plan of study. Of course, any other major opens a plethora of new doors, but for this particular path, this is the end of the line. It's terminal. If I pass my general exams, these classes and successfully defend my dissertation, I will be considered an expert in something. Not an Ed.D. which carries its own merit, but a philosophy doctorate. I will be qualified to ask questions and wonder what just happened. I've practically made an art form out of being lost.

But this is it, the last time I look to masters in the field for guidance. This is the last time I get to say "I don't know, please show me." This is my last chance to just enjoy the luxury of being a student. And it's scary. I will no longer wear the cloak of ignorance. I will no longer have an excuse for acting stupid.

All of my adult life I've wanted to be a student. I hated high school and couldn't wait to be done and out the door, into a glamorous life of work and money and living the high life, whatever that was. And I did that. And I was poor. Really poor. And I hated it. And there wasn't a way out that I could find. Men couldn't save me, my family couldn't help and I just didn't see a way to college. So my highest paying job up until 1996 was making $6.50 an hour as the night manager of a Red Lion Hotel. Adjusting for inflation, that's $9.14 per hour in today's terms. Which is pathetic.

My literacies were highly specialized and included where to buy the cheapest cigarettes, how to up-sell hotel rooms, how to make it look like I wasn't poor and figuring out how many apples I could steal from the hotel to help me make it from one paycheck to the other. I knew the foods that had the highest calories for the buck- peanut butter- and that top ramen would always have a place on the shelf. I volunteered for evening manager duties because it came with dinner from the hotel's restaurant.

I learned about recreation and about reading. I had a tennis racket and would play at the park with a friend. I went jogging a lot because it was free and I could move around and there wasn't any specialized equipment needed. I checked out books from the library and even read "The Iliad" because someone told me that this is what college students read. I dreamed about what college must be like- students studying hard at a campus library, furiously scribbling notes from some bespectacled professor with a lovely foreign accent, wisdom passing from one generation to another and somehow, through the process of attendance to an ivory tower, that college students became better people than the rest of us.

That last part came from my work place. Those who had college degrees acted as though they came from another world, one with fancy apartments and tanning beds, bills that miraculously paid for themselves and vacations that didn't involve their grandparents. And for some reason, they never had acne and always had their clothes dry cleaned. Of course, they talked down to us. It made me mad. I don't like people talking down to me. These were the same people that would have me edit their grammar before sending out memos.

One time, I didn't have any money, and didn't wear pantyhose to work because my last pair had gotten a really bad runner in them. Pantyhose are their own literacy, in case you didn't know. I always preferred the kind that were control top and that were really tight on the legs. If they're too loose, they end up around your ankles by the end of the day. The problem with the ones I bought were that any little thing caused them to run. So I kept a bottle of nail polish close by for runners. Anyway, this day, a manager named Lori walked into the office. I was behind the counter, checking in a guest. I was only visible from the waist up, for what it's worth. She was the director of marketing or something like that. Busty, dark hair, mid-thirties, lots of make up and a reputation for doing whatever it takes to move up in our company. That was Lori. She seemed to enjoy throwing her weight around. I just stayed out of the way, lest she see me as a human being.
As soon as the guest left, Lori told me to put on some nylons. Um, ok. Not only did I not have money to buy a pair but it's not like I could just leave and go to the store. Lori did not care; she said if I didn't have them by the end of the day that she would "write me up". Being written up meant that a letter of reprimand would go in my permanent file for the next time I had a review. I had several complimentary write ups done by guests of the hotel and one from one of the managers for cashing a bad check from another manager. Did I mention that most evenings, my manager was in the basement watching porn? Or that he often harassed me for filing a sexual harassment complaint against his buddy in banquets?

I didn't get pantyhose by the end of the day. Lori did the write-up and blamed me for my own non-compliance. She wasn't even in my department. This is how I developed an understanding of oppression. I didn't sit back and think "how oppressive!", I thought about how unfair it was that I worked hard and did a good job and that there were many, many people like me just in that hotel. The women who didn't speak English cleaned rooms and were taken advantage of by the managers. Once, a man who often stayed in the hotel gave a $50 bonus to his housekeeper because she always did a good job. He actually asked me to take their picture. I guess it was so he could look back and reflect on his own act of charity. Perhaps he masturbated to his own perceived goodness. Perhaps Lori did the same thing to the thought of her own power.

So I moved to Las Vegas and went to college and it was nothing like what I thought it would be. I had always seen myself as an English major and for a time I did major in English. That part lived up to my expectations. I loved reading literature and writing about it. I loved talking about things we'd read as a class and interacting with professors who were experts and who had more experience with text than I did. I couldn't wait to get new books and read them and think deeply. I just didn't know what I'd do when I graduated. I wanted badly to be something great, something greater than an English teacher so that my ex-husband would look at me as an equal. His ex-wife was a physician's assistant so I knew I'd have to be a doctor of something. So I applied for vet school and was accepted there in the top three of over 300 applicants. I didn't even have to interview. It was the essay I'd written, apparently.

But I was truly an English major and didn't go, even after we'd moved to Oklahoma for that reason. And I lost a lot then; my home and husband, and I'd already alienated my family with my holier-than-thou attitude. So I went to to graduate school, learned the word "literacy" and got a master's degree. I started teaching an emancipatory curriculum and focused on student learning and I figured out many of the mechanics of oppression and taught my students ways around it. I decided I wouldn't wear pantyhose on a daily basis. It still wasn't enough- there were still the "powers that be" who controlled things and who told me what I could and could not do in a classroom and even which classrooms I'd be welcome in. I wanted more, needed more.

So in the fall of 2008, I returned once again to an institution and began again in earnest. There was so much to learn, so many books and so much writing to do. I began to teach those who would go into positions in management and I hope that what I taught about equality, humanity and fairness stuck. Because there is a cycle somewhere; Lori learned it, my manager learned it and the patronizing hotel guest with $50 to burn on his own ego learned those behaviors somewhere. For that I can have compassion and I can recognize my own responsibility to offer an alternative to that cycle. So that's what I've been doing with literacy. I've been developing my own.

Along the road, I've repaired my relationships with family. I apologized and asked forgiveness for my part of things. I enjoy pretty good relations with my family these days. I get to do my part now. For instance, a few years ago, my little nephew said "Aunt Mindie, I think I need an apple pie." so his mom and he climbed an apple tree and shook it until the fruit fell. I picked it up and made the pie for him. He says I'm his favorite aunt. He's my favorite kid and his mom is one of my best friends. The language and literacy of family is one of my favorite kinds.

I'm not sure what I'll do next. Maybe move around the world; maybe stay in my own back yard. Maybe I'll drink Pepsi, eat apples and read trashy love stories on a Saturday night. Maybe I'll begin a new discipline and just keep going to school forever. I can tell you this much, though: I'll never work at a hotel again. I'll never let people get away with power games, and hopefully I will have the tools and confidence that I'll never have to play them myself.

And with that, I'm off to the library.


I've been at East Central University now for about a month. I like it, overall, and get to have all sorts of conversations with people from all over. My new colleagues on campus are drawn from Oklahoma and surrounding states and a few neighboring nations. This is the major advantage of academe: I get to meet the world in a four block radius.

We invariably turn to politics. Many people think the way I do, which is what I might term a liberal leaning, non-religious moderate. Some are far more liberal than I in their thinking and others range towards conservative. But there are few absolutists, few extremists. In fact, one of the major goals in my classroom- in all of our classrooms- is to educate people out of narrow perspectives enough so that they can hear and respect other viewpoints. Even if we don't agree, we can get along. That's the take home message. Yes, I'm an English teacher. But English is just the venue for modeling critical thought and tolerance. And there is a lot of intolerance out there. Where does it come from?

I can almost hear my students' parents' voices echoing in hatespeech. I see it in the unconscious racism and white entitlement. And I cringe whenever I have occasion to hear white elitism parroted through the bible. Jesus didn't speak English, folks. And he hung out with the "lower" classes. And he sure as fuck wasn't white. But I digress. Prejudice is learned in society and in the home. And it's spread from racism and religious intolerance to political party hatred. I think that should be a new category of "isms": racism, sexism, religious intolerance and party-ism. This schism has been growing in the last few years, but has widened with the election of a president of color. One in five Americans think he is Muslim, and that being so is bad. Our president has wonderful oratory skills and excellent relations in the international arena. His foreign policy has been carried through and every single domestic policy he has attempted has been thwarted or otherwise criticized unilaterally and propagandized and in many cases (*cough*sarahpalin*cough*) even denigrated by opponents, both political and social. I can tell you that no matter what he tries to do, it will be shot down if possible. Period. It's a power struggle, out and out. It's a political/media war.

What we have is a problem of trust. We no longer allow others to disagree with our viewpoints. If someone disagrees, then they must be a democrat/republican/socialist/communist/whatthefuckever. They must not know what they're talking about because if they paid attention they would see how badly my side is portrayed in the media and how awful their own representatives are screwing over the American public. That person must then become the enemy. They must be discounted not just on an academic level, but on a personal one. They may sympathize with those who bombed the twin towers. They must be silenced because their views are becoming dangerous. We must mistrust them and perhaps fear them and perhaps pre-emptively strike them and retreat to our own homes and block out our neighbors and listen only to our churches and our pastors. But the priests are molesting children, the Mormons won't allow black people, the Christians may want to cast out the Hispanics and the Muslims are all terrorists. "They" (whoever that is) have nothing in common with the rest of "us Americans" (whoever that is).

My friend Bohn, who is ex-military and who now works as a prison guard (nearly 2.3 million people are behind bars which is greater than 1% of the U.S. population- an all-time high), talks a lot about the men and women he works with and their attitude towards inmates. He sees the common atrocities every day. Is not the measure of the "goodness" of a society dependent on how that society treats the worst and the least among them?
"Mindie," he says, "When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

The fact is that we can only pull apart and hate each other for so long. We must find new tools. We teachers must supply new tools for listening, for understanding and empathizing and for sewing our nation together again. "One nation, under God," does not specify the Christian or the Catholic or any particular mono- or polytheistic deity. It's also not "One nation, under single party control." However, "Religion is the single most important factor that drives American belief attitudes and behaviors," saysMichael Lindsay Assistant Director of the Center on Race, Religion and Urban Life at Rice University. "It is a powerful indicator of where America will end up on politics, culture, family life." And those factors all produce a student, sitting in a classroom, waiting to talk to me, to listen to me, to interact with those around them and hopefully, to share and find more tools.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My Life In Clothes

From my old blog, May of 2009:

My life in clothes

I have a lot of clothing. A lot. I’ve got a nice three bedroom house with extra storage room, pantry and good-sized back yard. Since I currently live alone, that means I have three closets to spread out my clothing. And a dresser. I have a dresser.

That covers the summer clothing.

My winter clothing is stored in bins in the storage area. I’d love to use that space for a weight room or maybe a meditation room. Yup, that would rock. But I have clothes. Now, twice a year, at the changing of the seasons (a day-long project), I weed out clothes and haul a trunkful down to Goodwill. Personally, I think those clothes are mating and making more clothes. I wonder if it would work for money. Or avocados.

Some of my clothes don’t trade out. Workout clothes, sweats, suits for work when I need them (not freakin’ often thank you God) and jeans. I even have a snowmobile suit from a trip in 2004.

How is this possible? On any given day, I wear my standard clothing choice: blue jeans, black top and slip-ons. Lately, it’s been a sun dress. I’ve discovered the freedom of dresses and while I’ve never been overly girlie, I like the commando comfort of skirts and dresses.

I think a person’s life can be summed up by their clothing. For instance, I remember when I was a little girl, I loved my yellow footie pajamas. They zipped all the way from the neck to the bottom of my left foot. I felt like every time I put them on, I was donning the skin of some wonderful fuzzy yellow happy animal. It made me happy and they were warm. I hated growing out of them, but by the time I got that tall, I’d worn the feets through and had toes sticking out.

I grew into Underoos. I had Wonder Woman. We didn’t have that many strong female role models in the 70’s, and Wonder Woman had not only an invisible jet, but the lasso of truth and bracelets to deflect bullets. Not to mention the red lipstick. I had a step-brother at the time and he had the Incredible Hulk. I’m just saying that Wonder Woman kicked Hulk’s ass most of the time. Then she did Barbie’s hair.

My mom could sew, and she had four girls, two years apart. Therefore, we each got polyester jumpsuits. Mine was pink. Yvette had yellow, Patti had green and Mickie had brown. Very 70’s prints too. With the leftover materials, my mom made pillows which we kept for a long long time after the jumpsuits went away in the 80’s.

Most younger siblings hated the thought of hand-me-down clothing. Not me. I loved being like my older sisters, especially Mickie because she was the oldest and I was the youngest. By the time I was in junior high, we were all roughly the same size and I got to wear their stuff. My sisters were incredibly tolerant of my clothing raids and I stole – excuse me- borrowed their concert teeshirts and Guess jeans and especially their favorite shoes. When Patti got married to a military man and moved to Germany, she came home to visit and let me have major pieces from her wardrobe.

In my family to this day, the clothing raid is tradition and ritualistic. We’ve passed it down to our children. When I go to visit, I take a suitcase full of clothes to give my nieces. I buy them clothes and once gave my niece the sweatshirt off of my back.

My sophomore year, I was a Columbia County Fair Hostess. My mom made me a big hoop dress in red paisley. We wore white gloves and red wide-brimmed hats. When we weren’t on the float, I wore tight (we’re talking surgical removal or spray paint) black Wranglers and red Ropers. I showed sheep in my FFA jacket and worked sheep pens in my Levis. On my sixteenth birthday, it was me that had to kiss the winner of the crash ‘em up derby.

My last few years of high school, I bought a blue suit. I was in the business club as a state officer and required something that looked business-y. My mom picked it out and it was polyester. We got it from Sears. I wore navy blue flats and had a light blouse with long sleeves that tied into a big bow around my neck. When I wasn’t doing that or FFA, I hung out in too baggy or too tight jeans with oversized shirts, trying to hide my body or distort it into something you’d see in Seventeen magazine. No matter what I did though, I never looked like Alyssa Milano or Winonna Ryder.

Once, my mom made my sister Yvette and I matching outfits in exotic floral prints. Yvette’s was pink. Mine was yellow. I quickly figured out that yellow isn’t my color. It makes me disappear into washout world. There was a skirt, a shirt and a headband, obviously designed for women far past their child-bearing years. We looked like whacked out bobsy twins. I think that was the last article of clothing my mom ever made me… well. There was another, but we’ll get to that.

I wore a uniform for awhile. It was navy blue. I wore it as a desk agent at a hotel before I moved “up” to assistant desk manager- same money, more work. But I got to wear my own clothes. And scrubs. I wore scrubs when I worked for a vet in Las Vegas. Friend of John Ensign’s too. I still have my wedding dress, size 12 thank you, my graduation robes and every teeshirt and tag from running in the Oklahoma City Memorial runs. I have slinky dresses I haven’t the guts to wear and a bright pink teeshirt screen printed by Rebecca Hutchens for the class of 1991 that we all signed in blue. I have a memorial shirt with Brent Wheatley’s picture on it. I even had a jean quilt made by my sister Yvette from all the old jeans in or family- baby jeans from the kids growing up and my jeans with paint splattered on them and her jeans and mom’s and my sister’s too. It’s heavy and backed with blue flannel and I couldn’t imagine my life without its comfort.

After I was in college for a time, I decided that wardrobe was an important consideration for my career. I don’t really like wearing dresses every day. I like jeans. I like casual. Mostly, I want freedom to dress for comfort. It’s important. In thinking of this and my propensity to curse like a sailor, I decided I’d ought to teach adults. I like grown ups and mostly grown ups, and I love teaching English. And I especially like being able to wear what I like. I’m not saying this was my only consideration. After all, English teachers are expected to drink ridiculous amounts of coffee. They’re expected to be creative and a little out there and especially, they’re expected to be unconventional. Voila.

Ok, so it’s been awhile since I’ve lived in Washington. My mom moved to Oregon and my sisters have settled in their respective communities in Washington. My mom still sews and occasionally we’ll ask her for home made Christmas gifts. My sisters and I are particularly fond of the pattern my mom has for aprons that fit my grandma. They go over the head and tie around the waist. They’re hilariously too big for all of us, since my grandma is basically four feet around and four feet tall. Though my sister Yvette is beginning filling that model- four children and genetics take their toll. Plus she’s only 5’3” tall. By contrast, I’m more like my grandpa’s side of the family. Almost 5’8” tall and strong jawed. But I love those aprons and count the one my mom made for me using Grandma’s pattern to be one of my favorite things in the world. It goes around me twice.

One Christmas, my mom decided to make us girls nightgowns made of comfy flannel and trimmed with lace. It was really cute. She used Yvette as a pattern. I held it up and sort of gauged how far up my thigh that thing was going to hit. All the way up.
“Go try it on” urged my grandma.
“Not sure I want to”. I started to feel like Ralphie from A Christmas Story, contemplating a giant pink bunny suit.
“Your mom made that for you. Go try it on.” Nevermind that I’m over 30. She’s my grandma. She wins. I put it on.

It fell off of my shoulders. The bottom hem was somewhere close to the uh, nether regions. I made sure my grandpa was out of the room before creeping back to the living room, hunched over. I stood up, my face flaming, glad I was wearing underwear.
“Oh My”, said Grandma. “That thing doesn’t even cover you girlie bits”. She didn’t say girlie bits. She said the “P”’ word. I just can’t say that in a public forum.
“What was she thinking?” said my grandma.
“That we’re all built like Yvette”. This is part of the peril of not living close to my mom. I can’t be the sewing dummy when she needs me. This is part of what I love about my family. We’re so thoughtful in such weird ways and it doesn’t always work well- but the heart, the important part- is in the right place. If it’s any consolation, my other sisters all got the same nightgown. Patti is built like me, but Mickie loved hers. I think this year I’ll ask my mom for another apron.

So I’m sitting cross legged today in my lab, wearing jeans and a black top. I rode my scooter today, which heavily influences my clothing choices. No short skirts- long skirts ok. My glasses perch on my nose because I ran out of time to put in my contacts. Yes, it only takes a minute but I was 20 minutes late. I had a proposal to present and it’s always good to look extra nerdy when talking nerd stuff. I even went the extra step and rolled down my pant legs. It went ok.

That’s my life in clothes. Maybe you should come over and dig out something to wear. Raid my closet if you don’t mind cat hair. I’m sure I have something you’ll like that I once wore or bought and changed my mind or that was my favorite ever for awhile. I wear a size 6-8, though I’ve got some size 10’s just in case.

Don’t worry about me running out. It’ll give me an excuse to go shopping for more.