Saturday, January 29, 2011

78 Degrees

So nice today! So beautiful.  I can hardly bring myself to stay inside and do the things I need to do.
I rode my little red scooter to work out and will go do a bit of yard work before starting on the inside of the house and running all of the little errands of death that eat my time.  Really, 78 degrees on January 29th? I cannot believe it.  Of course, it's supposed to snow either Sunday or Monday and go back to being winter.  But for now, I have to go, I have to play, I have to find a warm breeze to lift the hair from the nape of my neck....

Monday, January 24, 2011

Outside the Fence

I drive through Byars, Oklahoma
Every day,
on my way to work.
The back roads are the fastest
unless you get behind farmer Dan.

I slow to 35,
glide past Gigi's grocery store and bar/restaurant.
Note the red dirt on the side of the road,
and play my favorite game.

What's outside of the fence today?

The dogs, laying in the street, catch rays
of sun that just don't feel the same from the safety of the porch.
And a bald-face calf, lowing for his mamma,
sprints up Main street on his way to nowhere.

One day a horse was out, with two ponies and a donkey
(My friend Greg says that whenever they would pass a donkey, his children would roll down the windows and holler "You ass!"),
not doing much, just seeing what was on the other side and if the grass was greener.

Once I saw a deer hung up on the porch,
tongue lolling, eyes dark,
lifeless and ready to become dinner.
I shuddered as I passed, crossed myself
(I'm not Catholic but it seemed an appropriate gesture)
and thought of small town horror movies.

I hit a bump and realize that I am past the town,
out with the roadrunners and armadillos
and sometimes the sly red dirt fox drifting through at sunrise,
Pull the wheel to make the curve
like a demented Speedracer on the track,
hoping I don't crash and bite my tongue.

I speed on for another day and hope
that when I come back
that only living things will greet me.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today marks the annual celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I could tell you of all his glorious achievements and tout his efforts towards peace. I could recite chapter and verse his impact on what we refer to "The Free World", which isn't so free after all and in which all minorities and women struggle every day.  This world is still a profoundly more free and more equitable place than it was a short 50 years ago because of Dr. King's efforts and the efforts of Coretta Scott King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  Change requires sacrifice and the involvement of the moderate majority.  Somehow, Dr. King's words moved a nation and we have yet to find a leader (though I still hold out hope for President Obama or Secretary of State Clinton) to propel us forward as he did.

I'd rather give you a personal story, for narratives are truly powerful.

In our Comp 2 class the other day, we spoke of this nation's history and our places within it.  Many of my white students express satisfaction with the state of racism in this country.  They report not feeling as though being white is touted as being superior to another race.  But I disagree. Many members of the dominant culture simply have no exposure to those of who are not, and lack of experience or discussion does not equal acceptance or lack or racism. Not having personally prejudiced feelings is a positive, don't get me wrong, but it is up to everyone to mix together, to reach for one another and learn and highlight our differing cultures.

One of my students commented that he thought if we lived back in the 1940s, '50s or 60's that we would have conformed to societal standards the way we unconsciously do now.  He thought this especially true if we had lived during the time of slavery.  But people made a difference back then too and it had to be someone who felt self-empowered and believed in things greater than themselves.  I think in the 1950's, I would have probably been shunned by "normal" society and that in early American history, had I lived then, I might have been burned at the stake as a witch or consort of the devil.  Heck, there are those today who think this should still happen.

Reading and discussing Dr. King's work, his life (hey man, we're all imperfect), his influences and the ideals for which he ultimately lost his life but not legacy, have had a profound impact on my growth as a self-actualized human being.  While we do not share a religious faith, he has shown me over the years a higher ideal and a belief in something greater than myself; the uplifting of all humankind.  Our fates are tied together; your success and my success are inexorably dependent on one another.  Dr. King taught me to love people who wish me ill.  Not like them, but love them.  And while I do sometimes wish my enemies would stub their toes as they make their way to the bathroom in the dark, I don't want them dead.

We can all learn to live together in the world, if we only we would.

I'm willing to and I do give up privilege so that others can have a chance at equality.  Don't think that this is all about sacrifice for me- I have the great satisfaction of knowing that in some way I am contributing to the greater good and I can be as sanctimonious as all blue hell. Really though, it feels good to have a positive purpose in the world.


"The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood." ~Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Life Lesson

On January 8th, the life of Christian Green and those of several others, was cut short by a mentally ill man at a small political gathering at a Safeway store in Tucson, Arizona.  Green was born on September 11, 2001.

In a most unselfish act, Christina's parents donated her organs to an anonymous little girl in Boston, Massachusetts.

"Asked whether he and his wife would like to meet the girl who received the organ one day if she were willing, John Green said, "Oh yes, and I'd give her a big hug.""

It's too much to ask of a family who lost their child so publicly and so tragically. Organs must be harvested immediately to be of any use to the recipient, so on the heels of the news of their daughter's death, the question might have come.  I imagine though, that it happened a different way.  Perhaps her parents talked it over and hoped that like a phoenix, a final good could come from their pain.  These parents made a decision that nobody should be asked to make. 

To a nation reeling with the consequences of poor mental health care, struggling to blame, to tighten restrictions when we ought to be looking at root causes, this simple act, the gift of life from death can teach us more than any law, any rhetoric or any penalty imposed on the gunman. 

Nobody would blame them for angry words or public statements.  In fact, many would agree with them. But they chose a peaceful and positive path in the face of a most heinous crime.  Mr. and Mrs. Green humble me and have restored a bit of my faith in humanity and the capacity for human kindness.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

When Good Men Do Nothing

My friend Jen posted a link to an opinion written in the Oklahoma State University's student newspaper, the Daily O'Collegian.  In it, the author discusses an assignment to find a place where cultures interact and observe, making a research report later on.  Michael Bradley, the author was floored by the amount of intolerance shown to those not appearing as members of the dominant ideology and who were subsequently subjected to racist and hateful remarks.  I read this and found it disheartening. However, it's not because racism, sexism and religious discrimination exist in the world, it's because we feel we have no voice to stop it.  Bradley's opening comment is "This is no call for political action."  Really? Why not?

I am reminded of Edmund Burke's words: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." We need to educate ourselves on the concept of speaking the hell up.  Perhaps the author might have said something to the thoughtless speakers, to address their words and actions.  Something as simple as "Your words and actions are unacceptable. Have you no compassion nor manners?" might help. This addresses the action and doesn't call anyone names, but still hopefully makes people ashamed of their own stupidity.

When people feel entitled to oppress others, they often do so without hesitation.  When it's a sure bet that they will be called to account for their behavior, those words die and maybe someday the attitude will die with them.  It's not that I enjoy shaming others, but our society (as we have seen exemplified in Arizona) needs to tone down it's hateful rhetoric and racism.  And by "tone down" I mean that our behaviors, words and actions need to be reassessed and changed.  If you and I don't say something when people are so blatantly out of line, why should they not step out?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Do These Make My Butt Look Big?

Since it's the beginning of the new semester, and I am sick, I decide I ought to buy a new pair of jeans.  I wear jeans once a week to work, but also on non-teaching days when I have to go in for meetings, office hours and general bullshit.

I don't want to wear the jeans I have because they fall into two categories: "work jeans" and "going out on da town so look at my ass" jeans. My work jeans have holes in them either in the butt, knees or both and they're pretty well falling apart.  A few pairs are older than my current students.  I use them for yard work and when I feel especially fat.  My hooker jeans are just too tight, especially since I went all crazy on the sugar cookies this Christmas. On the other hand, Lucky Brand jeans make my butt look great. This is advantageous for clubbing (which I never do) but not great for professional attire.  I need jeans that say "please don't look at me, I'm old enough to be your mom-like relative."  

Even though I'm sick and have an upper respiratory infection, maybe turning into bronchitis, maybe turning into pneumonia, maybe even bubonic plague, I go shopping.  I know, I hate it when I'm healthy as a horse (which is over 95% of the time, thanks), browsing through some retail dream heaven and am subjected to a cougher who wipes their nose on the sleeve of the shirt I was thinking of trying on.  It's disgusting to think about, the germs and assorted body fluids of the walking dead, zombies, goons and Walmart shoppers.  Fuck it; why shouldn't I donate back to the yuck pool?  Maybe my germs will help someone else become more disease resistant.  Or kill them.  Whatever. Getting sick is just a new excuse to skip work and watch old episodes of "Jersey Shore" anyway.  So in a way, I'm pretty sure I'm helping.

I despise the mall with a blue hatred; the people everywhere, the perfume and body store that automatically induces a headache and asthma attack when I walk by, the girl selling hair straighteners chasing potential clients around with a 450 degree flat iron and the giant cookie store that screams my name even though nobody else can hear it- I save these treasures for Christmas shopping and keep my back to the walls.  Even my annual pilgrimage is minimal as I am able to either finagle friends with mad pottery skills to help me out or order online.  So today I am relegated to the strip malls with specialty shops.

I get a phone call from "Joe" (this is remembered and may actually be part of my delirium since I have a fever):
Joe: Whatcha doing?
Me: Shopping. I hate it.
Joe: Whatcha shopping for?
Me: Jeans for work.
Joe: Don't you own like a million pairs of jeans?
Me: Why do you know that? And yes, but they're too cute.
Joe: Oh, you need "Mom Jeans".  Go get a pair of Lee Easy Riders.

Now why would a guy know that and where the hell do I get a pair of Easy Riders?  Do they come with biker boots? Will I get into a soccer mom gang if I wear them?  It's all so vague and somewhat unsettling. I don't want to join a gang or get shot so I find a pair of Hydraulic jeans two sizes too big and try them on.

I have the same problem with jeans as everyone else on the plant. When something fits my butt, the waist is way too large.  I have 39-40" hips but only a 29" waist. It's a problem. Low rise jeans are too low to wear most of the blouses I wear for work.  The Hydraulic jeans fit loosely around my hips and I have enough material left over from the waistband to sew a sail.  I try on a few other pairs and get frustrated, vowing not to eat until I'm a size 4.  But I'm hungry and tired so I decide on the Hydraulics and get the hell out of there. Jersey Shore is going to start any minute and I need to keep up with the std transfer system they have going. It's a CDC experimental lab dream.

Friday, January 7, 2011


It was a long semester and I turned in my grades and heaved a sigh of relief. I had taught my five sections in a row, done the commute and passed my general exams, all with a smile on my face. Sometimes genuine, sometimes professionally pasted. I needed a break. I'd been torn between the need for rest and renewal and the driving urge to just finish what I had started in the busiest semester I'd ever had. For Christmas, I drove up to Washington from Oklahoma to see my family and also to have a little fun. It was a two-week trip and except for a few harrowing days here and there, I enjoyed myself. I love to drive and I love scenery and the beautiful and wild Western United States. New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Oregon (Southern Idaho is ugly as a four day binge hangover), and Washington just make me want to drive and drive and not stop until I see an ocean, so that's pretty much what I did. Beats flying anyway, but it's more expensive than flying and renting a car for a week.

The highlights read like a Burl Ives greeting card: I enjoyed a leisurely drive and spent a night in Evanston, Wyoming. I saw several people plugging their cars in to extension cords so that the engines would not freeze overnight. The next morning the temperature wasn't just cold, it was -2 Fahrenheit. That's not even a real temperature. My nose hairs froze as I stepped out to warm up my little SUV. I loved it, even if that sounds a little weird. We don't get long winters in Oklahoma and still have not seen snow this year. It's January and if it doesn't happen by February, it probably won't. So I relished the cold on the trip; there was no wind and the sun shone and the universe smiled on my Northern sojourn.

I made it to Dayton, Washington with no real troubles other than being overly caffeinated. Even I shouldn't hazard that much coffee. Even though it was 8:30 (10:30 my time) at night, I didn't stop anywhere but went immediately to see my grandma. She's in a nursing home and I miss her terribly. I write her letters and keep her updated on my life and ask about hers. She's declined in the last year, since my Grandpa's death. Incidentally, as I write this, today would have been his 95th birthday (Happy Birthday, Grandpa. I miss you). But I kissed Grandma and told her I love her. I could have gone back home after that and been h
appy with the whole trip. I sort of wanted to. Instead, I went to my sister's house and flopped down, absolutely dead.

I stayed in Dayton for a few days, attending church and enjoying the scenery. It's hard for me to visit the town where I grew up. Beautiful and nestled in the foothills of the Blue mountains, a ski resort lives only 20 miles north and the Touchet River winds its lazy way through the town. Lewis and Clark camped only a mile from my grandpa
rent's home out the Patit, and the Marll family (My Grandpa's name was Delbert Marll) has lived in Dayton since the early 1890's. My uncle Steve lives there now, in the same home were he was raised. There's something about Dayton that both pulls and repels me, so I visit and then go on my way.

I headed over the mountain for some fun in Seattle. Snoqualmie Pass was gorgeous, as it always is in winter. The roads once again were bare and a little damp, so traveling was easy as heck. I have a few favorite things to do in Seattle, such as bumming around Pike Place Market, where I had my picture taken at the first Starbucks and en
joyed entertainment from the many buskers. One fellow brings his piano and plays; another, named Emory, hula hoops while balancing a guitar on his chin, turning around and playing a second guitar. He's pretty talented and makes the crowd laugh. Few of the buskers suck, and for a long time on the second level there was a group of pipe flute players from Peru.

I love the Seattle Museum of Art. Well, most of it. In the lobby there are 1990's models of cars suspended from the ceiling on cables with some stupid lights sticking out of them. Pretty sure that's not art. But the Museum also has the traveling Picasso installment right now so I took time to go check it out. I usually thought of only ro
se and blue periods and painting and cubism when I thought of him, but he did so much more, including sculptures and a beautiful painting of his son, Paulo.
I know that Paulo was the apple of Picasso's eye. This is evident from the beautiful rendering of him in the harlequin outfit. It's the boy's expression that pulls emotion from me. He seems to know that he has to hold still and sit for his father, but he wants to be other places, exploring the world and playing games in street with his friends. The solemn look on Paulo's face shows depth and wisdom beyond his years. Was this a hi-fidelity portrait or a comment? I don't know, but I got lost there, staring at Paulo who is frozen in a museum. Eternally youthful and also trapped.

After the museum? Yeah, the Nutcracker. It was Christmas after all. And the Pacific Northwest Ballet has something nobody else has: Maurice Sendak sets. That's right, the creator and illustrator of "Where the Wild Things Are" did the beautiful and surreal sets for the ballet. Holy shit, it was great. I sat there in awe, having not seen ballet in several years, riveted through more than two hours of performance in high high heels and nosebleed seats. It mattered not one bit. They used almost 100 children in the production. The sets, the graceful movements, the flow and costuming- absolutely gorgeous.

Then there was the dirt biking. Hey man, you can't have Picasso without a little redneck fun to balance it out. Let me revise that; perhaps you may have Picasso sans redneck, but I don't wanna live without it.

I stayed in Quilcene with my sister and her family. It rained most of the time, ranging from light drizzle to steady downpour. And the light doesn't come until at least 7 and it's gone by 4. In addition to living in a town you have never heard of, they live close to the end of a very long road, 11 miles off the grid in the overgrown, lush, rainy patch of earth on Coyle road. You can't find it on Google maps. Too far "out there". They got their son, age 10, a dirt bike for Christmas and he texted me a picture of it at 4:00 Christmas morning. He didn't get to open presents until everyone was up. So at 5 a.m., I sat smiling with a cup of coffee and a warm blanket (everyone in this part of the country has wood heat) and enjoyed a bit of consumerism. My nephew was up on that bike most of the day. My sister said she would make him a reservation at the emergency room. They know him there, apparently. Pretty gung-ho kiddo. I played Wii games with him until my arms grew tired. During my brief visit to Quilcene, we cooked and ate all of the food in the entire world. Christmas eve dinner had a table full of hors d'oeuvres, a five gallon bouillabaisse with local seafood, an entire prime rib, a few hams and a plateful of something called "Angels on Horseback" which is really just some oysters wrapped in bacon and put under the broiler to scare away salmonella. Pretty sure everything was smeared with cream cheese and there must've been 30 people at my sister's in-laws house. I love those people. Our contribution was sugar cookies, dipped cookies, fudge and other delights. Pretty sure I ate my weight in those heavenly sumptuous frosted sugar cookies. It's the way my sister makes them and it's the only time I really go for sweets. I even had them for breakfast one morning. And lunch. Don't judge me. If I could cut them into a line snort them, I would've. Now you know why sweets don't live at my house.

In all, I headed home very full and ready for a new semester. I've got a full load this semester, what with the pesky dissertation writing thing I have to do. I'm commuting again, 72 miles one way, five days a week. Like Paulo, Picasso's son, I sit patiently for my cause, knowing that playing with my friends will come later and that my attention and energy are best spent staying in place. I just hope it isn't forever.