Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Meantime

One year ago today, I talked Grey into coming to Norman to meet me.  It didn't take much, just a photograph of some blueberry pancakes up on Facebook. 

The rest is history. Happy history. And so happy anniversary, Grey.  It's been the best year of my life.

In the meantime, people struggle.  I have several friends and family members who are just having a hard time right now.  My mom is recovering after some surgery.  She is doing much better but this wans't a simple procedure.  My dandilion is having a rough time of it financially as it is impossible to pay the bills with only one full time job.  In Norman, it's also just about impossible to find a job that is full time anyway, so he is just doing the best he can.  His church and friends help, but he is also recovering from a bike/car collision a couple of months ago. Others are fighting the regular fight- not enough day at the end of the day and too many things to do just to stay afloat or get a bit ahead of the curve.  Some are in school, or home schooling or figuring out how long-term medical care for dependents.  One friend just had a hysterectomy.  Another is still undergoing a long recovery from a surgery this summer to allow him to walk much farther without his wheelchair.  Charlotte's asthma is more or less under control but she has some mysterious blood iron deficiency.  Cathy's mother-in-law is in the hospital.  Wildfires have been burning, even within 5 miles of town, for the last month outside of Ellensburg. Things are falling apart. I struggle too. It is terrifying to think that since we moved, neither of us will have significant paycheck for another 2 weeks. We planned well but we are being conservative until things even out. 

I am reminded of something I learned in Al-Anon.  I was totally broke, living alone in a small prison town.  No friends around and without any real support except for the huge amounts of phone calls and online chatting.  And I was lonely.  I went to the grocery store every day just to be around free people. I had Eleanor, who despite being a cat, helped me keep it together.  My Uncle Vernon died.  I went to work every day in a place that was designed to punish people.  I called a friend, neck-deep in pain, but I also regularly indulged in self-pity.

"I am sorry you have to go through this." she said. "Things will get better.  But in the meantime, you'll do mean time."

She advised me to go do something nice for someone else and to quit feeling so sorry for myself.  I also made a list of things for which I am grateful. I did do something nice for someone else and I felt a little better.

I am doing that today.  Because you know what? I could use a little gratitude. Here are five things I am grateful for.

1. Cool weather. I sleep so well in cold weather and am loving the slow ascent to autumn.  I'm sure that should be "descent", but I like to think we are ramping up for winter, not sliding into it.  I love to walk to work in the brisk morning air and walk home smelling the warm breeze.
2. Grey. I don't know what I would do without him catching my back, cheering me on and just being there the talk to.  What a great friend; what a wonderfu partner.
3. Friends.  I talk to my friends every other day and usually much more often through text message. 
4. Health. It's been very smokey here since there are wildfires almost completely out of control.  Yesterday, they were about 10% contained.  There are many days when people are advised to stay inside and not breathe the air.  Others walk around wtih face masks.  Desipte this, there are clear days when the wind blows and I can even go jogging.  Most days, Grey and I go for a walk.  It feels wonderful to have my health and to take deep breaths of air. We still haven't even used half a tank of gas in three weeks.
5. Water.  The water quality here is excellent.  I am willing to drink tap water, as it beats even the filtered water in Oklahoma.  On top of that, my office has a community drinking fountain with filtered water and a special part for water bottles.  I will never have to buy water as long as we live here. 

We all do mean time, I think.  It is a part of the human condition.  I have been leaning lately on others, and in some measure have been there for support. 

Once upon a time, my friend Charlotte was in the hospital pretty frequently.  Youself Kazemi, one of my beloved former employees, gently took her hand in his, encompassing all of her small hand in warmth.  He said "When you need me, just close your eyes and imagine I am holding your hand, and I will be."  It is one of her favorite gifts, and one we have shared many more times that I can even remember. So if you are having a hard time right now, know that I am thinking of you and holding your hand too. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Keep Calm And Teach On

The most important news is that I have finally figured out what Gangnam Style is.  It's a video by PSY, a hippy-hipster from S. Korea.  I have to warn you though, once you hear this catchy tune, you won't be able to get it out of your head.

It's a little bit of political satire mixed with slightly off-color lyrics and hot, hot, HOT dance moves.  I might bust them out in the shower tomorrow.  Wait, knowing me, I'll slip and bust my butt.  I'll try them in the privacy of my own bedroom instead.  My poor husband (shakes head sadly).  Anyway, the video is not in English but that's totally not a barrier to understanding it.

I had my first day of class on Wednesday (yesterday).  I have made some changes- I am trying to not cuss at all, which is very difficult. And uh, yeah, that's the biggest change.  There are precious few non-white students at the school and in my classes I feel like I'm teaching just about as homogenous of a group as I ever have.  But this is not the fault of my students and they do seem amenable and fun.  We will commence ta' learnin' just as soon as I can figure out what to do next.

Hello, Students! 
My office is pretty uniquely situated.  I am the only English professor whose office is not housed in the Language and Literature building.  Since I am only half English and half Student Services (I am the PI of a neat little grant), SS ponied up the office space.  By "uniquely situated", I mean that I am right smack dab in the middle of a dorm.  See that little overhang on the right side by the bicycle dude? That's the entrance to my office.

The major advantage is that I am right there if students need me. The bad news is that I'm always right there. Of course, of the 3,000 or so freshmen, I only teach 75, so it's cool. I only bother about 200 of the students.

Did I mention that this is a brand-spanking-new building? See the yellow tape? That means the grass has just been laid. The office dimensions are pretty generous, the computer and desk and chair and bookshelves and everything are brand new and the facilities director hooked me UP.  There is a KITCHEN in there.  And the water fountains have filtered water- one has a special sensor for water bottles.  Yes, free, chilled water for my water bottle whenever I want.  And there is a little sign with my name on it with "Dr." at the beginning.

I keep waiting for the campus police to come escort me off. "We have reports that you're impersonating a real live professor. Please come with us."  For some reason I still have possession of my karate manuals and I'm keeping them in the office.  Just. In. Case. They are going to have to take that office from my cold, dead, bloody hands.

What I really need to do- besides create curriculum for classes, write and publish some amazing stuff and find a secure job for next year- is to find a way to work Gangnam Style into my teaching this year. Keep calm and teach on.


Sunday, September 16, 2012


Did you hear that? That was the sound of me falling on my ass.

The honeymoon is over.

You know what's stressful? Moving. Across the country. After getting married three months earlier.

Grey had not been to Washington before we moved.  He just said that yes, he would quit his job and support me as I followed a dream.  Nicest guy ever.

And so we packed.  We gave away and sold almost all of our stuff.  We decided to ship books and records.  We had a hitch put on the car and rented a Uhaul trailer for a 4-cylinder Hyundai.  We made it work.  It was a wonderful spirit of cooperation.  Grey did most of the driving and I did the kitty-cat care.

We are settling into life here in Ellensburg, but it's not without challenges.  It's a small town to be sure.  There are not the advantages of a big city, though we have little perks like late pizza delivery, free public science lectures and great local coffee shops. There is a local farmer's market and cheap produce and there are no parking meters- it's all free throughout the city.  Plus there is a free bus that takes people where they need to go.  But no opera or thriving centers with great music or acclaimed art museums.  Not as much...culture..as in a place like Seattle or Portland.  That's kind of a strain.

Grey gets mad at inanimate objects, saying the rudest things to trash cans, cars and occasionally coffee cups and pairs of shoes. I hadn't noticed this before.  When I finally did, I took it personally.  I mean, who in their right mind says such choice profane words to muffins baking in the oven?  I put on my psychology hat.  Surely it must be some sort of anger he harbored towards me that he was just channeling into a safe area.  Yeah, I'm pretty dense sometimes.  And I started taking things personally.

We ordered a kitchen island, pub-style kitchen table and a couch for the house.  The island came in, as did the kitchen table. Grey set to work on the island, with the understanding that I would jump in when he asked.  I sort of drifted off and played around on my phone, while he cussed out the instruction book and the always-falling-apart pieces.  The instruction book, as it turns out, had two parts and one of them had the correct instructions.  Guess which one was on top and got used and guess which one was at the bottom of the box and found the next day?

The Infernal Kitchen Island
To make a long and loud story short, it took over 5 hours to put together the island.  Which he did entirely alone. I was not helpful because I took every crash to mean that he was mad at me.  I retreated to the front porch and listened to music.

You know how people sometimes say that you should never go to bed when you are having a fight?  I'm not sure I believe that.  I tend to be more emotional at night and more rational in the morning.  See, the thing is that I have been afraid that Grey doesn't like the area or the house or me in general and I have been looking for "proof" of that.  Hence, the cussing at inanimate objects and assembling faulty furniture provided as much as I needed.  In the morning I could see that a little more clearer.  Meanwhile, he thought I had lost my damn mind, reacting every time a noise was made in the house.

So we talked and I realized that it was a lot of fear on my part and nothing more.  There were reassurances and we made up.

The Damn Table
We have also visited a Unitarian Church here in the Burg.  They are nice people and we went to a sunrise service this morning to think about the coming of autumn and the equinox.  Grey made cheddar biscuits while I put together the pub table.  With much cussing, ordering him around in a surly fashion and power tools.  Oh, those things are complicated! Also, we can never move since the pub table is so huge it will never make it out the door unless we disassemble it.  And I am not doing it.  In all, it was sort of fun and a lot of work. I'll let you know how the couch assembly goes once it gets here.

Yes, the honeymoon is over.  If my husband ever thought I walked on water, I have disabused him of that notion.

Remember, friends: Keep your crazy to yourself as much as possible and dole it out sparingly.

It was a soft landing and we are still holding hands.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Idyll Wild

Everything Old is New Again
It's morning, bright and clear.  Ellensburg, our new and adopted town, is windy, so much so that there is a wind advisory on until tonight.  At 55 degrees, it feels like heaven.  Eleanor is purring to herself on my lap, as I sit with a cup of steaming hot coffee and a blank screen in front of me. This is my favorite way to write, not only because of the cat-coffee-computer arrangement, but because of the setting.

The Cavitt-Mobile
Ellensburg, Washington is the county seat of Kittitas County, incorporated in 1883, containing about 18,000 inhabitants and a small university devoted to teaching and some research.  It is ringed on all sides by hills and to the West, a mountain range which prevents the bulk of the Seattle rain from reaching town.  If you drive 20 miles to the south, you'll see the top of not only Mt. Rainier, but Mt. Adams and Baker too.  For some reason, we are spared not only the heat of Eastern Washington, but the drowning and webbed feet of Seattle.  Central Washington University began here as Washington State Normal School in 1891 as the booby prize for losing the capital seat to Olympia.

Barge Hall at CWU
After weeks of preparation, two households consolidated into a small pull-along trailer and four days of hard travel, we arrived in town with Eleanor and all of our hopes and dreams in a carpetbag on the doorstep of a two-story blue house set in the heart of the city.  And we have not been disappointed.

The house was built, according to the owners, in 1904 and has been renovated into a duplex.  The property management office takes half of the downstairs and our inhabitance takes up the other half of the downstairs and the entirety of the upstairs.  While the walls have been replaced with drywall and paint, and the rugs freshly laid, the wind whistles through and sometimes shakes the entire upstairs, as it is doing now.  There is no air conditioning, and really no need since the climate is such a temperate one.

Our Home
For myself, I have never slept better. Something in me coiled tightly when I left Washington state for Las Vegas back in 1996.  I lived in a third story apartment close to Las Vegas Boulevard in a necessarily gated community with street noise and neon pollution at all sides.  There was no relief even in the suburbs of that town and I only slept well or relaxed all the way when I visited my grandparents in the country in Eastern Washington.  Naturally, I idealized the place and when I moved to Oklahoma in late 1999, I heaved a sigh of relief to not be in Nevada.  Still, if I never go back there it will be too soon.  And after my marriage and divorce, I bought a small house in Norman and put down strong roots.  I have good friends there and many people who I am fortunate to say love me as dearly as I love them.  And nothing was wrong in the world.

No Garbage Disposal, Dishwasher or Counter Space
I moved back to Washington, briefly, in 2008 to look after my grandparents.  Grandpa was 91 and Grandma 11 years younger.  My Great Uncle Vernon was up there too at the age of 88 or 89, and Aunt Sarah pretended that she was still in her 70s.  I did not get on well in Connell, Washington.  The town has only 350 souls, besides the ones in the prison where I taught. While professionally, that stint became the impetus for my doctoral research and dissertation, personally I almost starved to death, living 70 miles and a world away from anyone who cared.  All I had was Eleanor and- thankfully- internet connection.  I made a few friends there, with whom I still have contact: the one who lived there moved away and the other lives in Seattle.  Seattle, 250 miles from Connell, became my haven and the place I would visit for solace and to be around people.  It was 35 miles to the nearest city, and I went twice weekly.  During this time, my Uncle Vernon died, and all hell broke loose in our family.  I became a raw vegan for a time and enjoyed the health benefits, but I had little to do and too much stress and by the time I packed it in, I was down from my usual size 8 - 10 to a size 4. When I told her I was unhappy in Connell, my Grandma put her hand on mine and said "Go home to Oklahoma, where people love you".  When I returned to Oklahoma I was told by more than one person never to leave again.  Grandma visited me once, and then she and Grandpa were gone.

On My New Commute To Work
I worked and threw myself into my studies.  I often had two or three jobs as an adjunct and also took 6-9 hours as a graduate student.  It seems that the more impossible things I ask of myself, the more I can do.  In my time as a doctoral student, I earned only one "B", with the rest being perfect scores.  That includes the six hours I took of graduate statistics one summer.  Then I finally graduated and was down to two jobs.  And I got married and found a fantastic opportunity here in Ellensburg.  Grey gave his consent- I wouldn't move anywhere without him- and even though he had never been to the Northwest before, we went.  Which brings me to now, and cool weather, bright days and quiet streets.

The Newest Washingtonian
We don't need the car much.  I sold my SUV before we left Oklahoma and so we are down to Grey's little Hyundai.  There are produce stands and a Fred Meyer (Kroger) close by, coffee shops in walking distance and a Starbucks and Safeway across the street.  I can walk to work and we walked to several restaurants downtown as well.  There is even a record store nearby that Grey thinks will work to replenish his record supply since we cast so much off when we moved.  And of course, we are less than two hours from Seattle.

Greetings From the Ellensburg Library
And me? I sleep like a rock.  There has been only one murder in the last six years. Most crime is property theft of bicycles and dorm room stuff.  We leave the windows open for the breeze. We even went to church on Sunday (also a short walk) to meet people and to begin joining this community.  I am fond of life here.

I will someday be down to just one job.

You might even say that I will be idle.

Living in an idyllic setting.

But I'm still wild, and still an Okie/Washingtonian.

For An Evening on the Porch
Maybe then, that makes me IdyllWild...

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Move

We have been in Ellensburg for a couple of days now, and I am still trying to catch up on exactly what day of the week it is.  It was a long trip, but we arrived safely.

The day before we moved, I cleaned the everloving hell out of his apartment.  It doesn't matter how long someone has lived in a home, cleaning when you move out is disgusting.  I scoured showers and mopped floors and cleaned the rugs, ceilings and baseboards.  The cabinets got a wipe down and the pantry was the recipient of a very tired once-over.  I felt bad, but there was a lot of stuff that couldn't go with us.  There just wasn't any room. Everything we could take with us had already gone to Norman in a truck and everything we could take would just have to fit in Grey's Hyundai. 

One thing I really like about Grey living in an apartment complex is that whenever I took an item (which I cleaned) to the dumpster, I would put a note on it like "free" or "works" or something like that and within an hour, someone would claim it for their own.  So the vacuum, kitchen table and bookshelves, a television, humidifier and a bunch of records all found a place to be that wasn't a landfill.  And my yoga mat.  The yoga mat hurt the most. 

Grey worked most of that day, then went to get the car serviced for the trip.  We had planned to get out of Tulsa and head for Norman early in the afternoon, but the car service was backed up and we didn't leave until almost 7 that night.  We didn't have time to pick up the trailer that night, but decided to go first thing in the morning as the store opened at 7 am.

I had experimented with medicating Eleanor.  I called my veterinarian for advice and he gave me some ideas beyond prescription medications.  Our first attempt at calming her down for car trips between Tulsa and Norman had no effect.  The natural kitty calm down stuff had no effect except perhaps to piss her off at the thought of having to take medicine she doesn't like.  I tried Benadryl next.  The liquid stuff made her foam at the mouth so on the next trip, I gave her half a pill.  The pill not only made her foam at the mouth, but she also threw up multiple times in Grey's nice new car.  One of the times she threw up (I caught it because I don't want it to get on his car) she puked so hard she also pooped on me.  Poor, poor kitty.  That was a tense, stinky ride.  I started to despair.  We tried just keeping her in her carrier.  She urinated.  Twice. I called my vet and he gave me acepromazine.  It's an antidepressant which mostly makes her sleepy enough that she doesn't care what's going on around her.  And this did the trick.  Once I figured out her dose, I learned her routine and made sure that she slept at my feet- where it was cool and where she couldn't see out the windows to freak out- for the majority of the trip. 

We got a late start on the first day. The Uhaul place didn't have the tow bar thingy that we needed, so we had to go to Autozone to get one.  For what it's worth, I absolutely detest going into a parts store.  They treat women like idiots and it usually takes me 10 minutes to get someone to listen to what I actually need.  As I was in a hurry, I dispensed with the charm and five minutes later, the dazed store manager got us what we needed and even put it on the car for me.  I sort of feel sorry for him, and I think that Grey gained some linguistic respect for my waspish tongue.  Anyway, we got the trailer, threw what was left of our meager possessions in the back, drugged the hell out of the cat and left by 11 in the morning. 

The whole trip took 4 days and it went like this:  At 55 miles per hour, we passed almost nobody.  People sped by and looked at us funny, since a 4-cylinder car should perhaps not be towing a trailer up and down the interstate and over hills.  Every single pull-through scraped the trailer on the ground.  We switched off driving and got used to turning with twice our regular length behind us.  On the mountain passes, where elevation was up to 6,300 feet, we often traveled with the air conditioner off and at 40 miles per hour.  We went through Kansas, West to Denver, then North to Buffalo and through Montana. Then over one more mountain pass in Idaho and home to Washington.  We learned that signs pointing out "chain up" areas meant that a 5-7% grade incline was coming up.  We slowed down and rooted for our car, Silver, to make it over the pass, praising lavishly at the crest of the hill. It became our favorite game. With that and the funny voice that Grey does for Eleanor (he sounds suspiciously like Edith from All in the Family), the trip was on the balance, not such a bad thing.

My hips and back started to hurt. I would sit for hours at a time and only get out to pump gas or run into to a rest stop.  To be sure, I would run, stretch and otherwise try to get blood flow going in those brief moments but it became somewhat grueling to just sit down.  Thank goodness that Grey didn't mind stopping frequently.  Well, he minded, but he did it without complaining.

Missoula, Montana was the highlight of the trip.  It was our last night and we had been on the road for three days.  Besides the breakfasts included in the hotels (thanks to Grey's wonderful pre-planning and reservations), there hadn't been a sit-down meal for the duration.  After driving over the stark beauty of the continental divide and testing out the strength of the car's engine, we were ready for a break. We checked in to the hotel (I highly recommend Ruby's in Missoula) and headed to a place in one of Grey's travel books called "Silk Road".  It's a tapas bar with international food.  You can also buy some of the spices.  We had Moroccan tapas, Mediterranean, Ethiopian.. oh it was good.  For road-weary travelers, hunger added its own flavor.  The people next to us were a young English major and her paramour.  She kept him in thrall with her plans to move to New York and maybe just get a crummy job doing copy editing for The New Yorker magazine while she waits for a book deal or some other such nonsense.  In the meantime, she encouraged the young man to just take a test to become an English teacher since it's a pretty simple job.

Good lord, we were also held in thrall!

The food was out of this world.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven when they brought us the cheese plate.  There was this cave-aged smoked Gouda that just sort of melted in my mouth. They only brought two slices of that so as I ate half of mine, I eyed Grey's.  He wisely guarded it as he tasted the Camembert.  There was a vegetarian stew with dates and eggplant and a fried ravioli with pesto sauce.  Delicious!  Like I said, we were tired and hungry and grateful not to be in a moving vehicle. 

Finally, after seven hours of driving the next day, crossing two time zones and several mountain ranges, we pulled into Ellensburg, Washington.  An idyllic little town of about 30,000 people, it is surrounded on all sides by small and large mountain ranges.  There is little wind despite the claims of the townspeople and plenty of sunshine.  Our house, a duplex of which the other side is the property management office, is a turn of the century two story Victorian with no air conditioning, is charming.  the town is charming and life here is.. charming. 

But more on that later.  For now, we walk to the grocery store, the university and the downtown area.  We have an upstairs and are settling in, ordering some furniture and trying to figure out how two grown-ass people used to having free reign of the house suddenly having to share and compromise.  So much more to do...

The Mighty Eleanor

Our New Digs

Everything We Own In The World
...and so many other adventures!