Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The best moment of the year

It's the middle of May in eastern Kentucky and white blossoms are everywhere. Wild roses (rosa multiflora) and blackberries spill from banks and hillsides perfuming the warm air, while field daisies and daisy fleabane (erigeron strigosus) march gaily along the roadsides and adorn the unmown yards and meadows.

Driving this week car windows down to smell the roses and blackberries, I found myself saying "now is my favorite moment of the year." Then I laughed to remember that just four weeks ago, when the purple redbud and lacy dogwood were in bloom, I had said the same thing: "my favorite moment of the year."  Moreover, a few weeks before that in mid-March I was sighing over the splashes of yellow daffodils, and exuberant forsythia everywhere, also thinking "best moment of the year."

Not long from now in June I'll be thinking the same thing when the first local blueberries come to the Letcher County Farmer's Market and the day lilies turn my hillside orange. The thought will come again in July when my first tomatoes get ripe and I eat them warm off the vine. I will also be thinking it when the jewel weed blooms its millions of tiny orange flowers that attract the hummingbirds to sup in September - also the moment when the Virgin's bower vines burst into delicate white blooms.

Then comes October and all the maples go scarlet and rose. Once again, I'm thinking "my favorite moment of the year."  One might think that was the end of it, but in November when all the leaves are gone the stately majesty of white limbed sycamores stand tall as the guardians of the winter forest causing me to once again think "this is it."

So it turns out that every moment in the mountains of eastern Kentucky is the best moment of the year.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Old Dogs (and Humans) Learn New Tricks

Eight years ago today (February 23, 2009)  I posted the following "25 Random Things About Myself" on Facebook:

In the last two days I've seen the 25 random things lists of two very different people (a fellow baby boomer poet and a 19 year old college student) which got me inspired to try. I'll bet I'd come up with 25 very different things a week from now.

25 random things about me: 
  1. The best portrait I ever drew was of my best college friend’s dad, George Porter – it was a tiny sketch that looked so perfectly like him it was almost as if some outside force had worked through my hands. 

  2. I hate asparagus – if I even attempt to eat them I start gagging. 
  3. The most thrilling experience I ever had was riding as a passenger on pilot check rides, where the pilots did touch and go landings at Half Moon Bay airport. Once at sunset, a pilot made the sun “set” and then “rise” by swooping down and then up above the fog bank. 
  4. My favorite city to visit is Boston – I love the MBTA and I always had the right change to get back off. The best hot fudge sundae I ever had was at Bailey’s in Boston (long since gone out of business). 
  5. I never spent a night alone in the house I grew up in until I was 19 years old, and found I was unable to sleep listening for every little noise. 
  6. My favorite book in childhood was Little Women, and my favorite character in the book was “Beth” – the one who dies before adulthood. My favorite book in adulthood is Beauty by Sherri Tepper in which she blends fantasy and science fiction in a moral tale about the destruction of beauty in the world, and really made me think about the choices we make. 
  7. As long as I have a nice warm house and no place I have to drive, the best weather is what I can see out my window right now – deep fluffy snow. The world simplifies down to the stark basics of white and black. 
  8. The person I enjoy talking to most in the whole world is my husband, John. 
  9. I love Cinderella stories. My favorites are Eleanor Farjeon’s book The Glass Slipper and the movie Ever After with Drew Barrymore, but I’m also found of the movie The Glass Slipper with Leslie Caron, the Rogers and Hammerstein television version from the 1960’s with Leslie Ann Warren (and her crooked smile), and movie musical The Slipper and the Rose from 1976 with Richard Chamberlain as the Prince. But I will read and watch any version of the story at least once.
  10. I cannot go to sleep unless I read first. My preferred bedtime reading is mysteries, especially police procedurals, detective fiction, and legal thrillers. 
  11. I’m not sure I was really “in love” with my first husband, although I certainly loved him. 
  12. Until I was in high school and was earning my own money, I had only three “store bought” dresses. All my clothes were hand me downs from older cousins, from rummage sales, and thrift shops or hand made by one of my aunts. I learned to sew at age 10 in self-defense and made most of the dresses I wore from fifth grade on. By the time I was in my twenties I was an excellent tailor, and made the wool suits that I did my job interviewing. 
  13. I haven’t sewn a dress or skirt or blouse since 1988 when I discovered credit cards and catalogs. 
  14. I never went on a date in high school. My best friend wanted me to come to the junior prom with her and her boyfriend, so she set me up with an old friend from junior high school (who went to a different school). I was so anxious about the date, that I worked myself into illness (supposedly strep throat but I don’t think that was diagnosed by a doctor) and cancelled out on the whole event. I never finished sewing the evening gown for the event. 
  15. My first kiss was at 16 from a college boy who was a counselor at a day camp where I volunteered. I was so terrified by the sexual feelings that were evoked that I actually blanked out the experience completely for more than twenty years. If you’d asked me at age 20, I would have said my first kiss came in college at age 18. 
  16. I hate grading essays. It’s the one thing that I really dislike about being a college professor. But nonetheless I think that students learn more from having to synthesize ideas from various sources into an essay, so I persist on assigning multiple essays in every class, every semester. 
  17. The only thing that makes being “pre-diabetic” tolerable is Russell Stover sugar free mint patties in dark chocolate. The thought that I might never be able to eat another box of See’s Candies dark Bordeaux chocolates is almost unbearable.
  18. I have not made any new close friends in fifteen years – a fact that I very much regret, but don’t quite know how to over come, as everyone I know locally these days has their life sewn up with children, grandchildren and other family ties. 
  19. Most of my interaction with people (other than my husband), including students is over the Internet or by long distance telephone, which I value but still miss the face-to-face connections. 
  20. In the winter, I’m obsessed with looking for sycamore trees, with their white limbs standing out against the brown of the forest. In the spring, my obsession is daffodils. In college, we could buy huge bunches of daffodils for 50 cents at the local grocery store. In graduate school, unable to find any to buy I would go out at night during spring break and steal daffodils from Fraternity row. 
  21. Currently my favorite color for clothing, flowers, and household stuff is yellow. But giving me a bright fire engine red car any day. 
  22. I don’t know which I regret more, the things I did do that I should not have, or the things I did not do that I should have. What I do know is that I try not to spend too much time regretting either thing – it detracts from living.
  23. People’s faces I can draw with ease, but I can’t draw a cat worth a darn. Their bodies always seemed distorted and too long and narrow. I’ve never tried drawing my dog. 
  24. During my senior year in high school, while working in the city library, I saw a girl I’d never seen before on the far side of the library’s main floor – more than 100 feet away, and knew instantly without a doubt that her name was the same as mine. I walked across the room, and asked her “are you Sue Greer?” and she said “yes.” So I said “hi, my name is Sue Greer, too.” She went to a different high school at the other end of the city, and was two years behind me. We were not related in any way. The only way I could have know who she was, was some form of extrasensory perception.
  25. I love television. I love sitcoms, dramas, movies, soap operas, 24 hour news channels, home improvement shows, the Weather Channel, even commercials, although I don’t watch as much as I once did. Nonetheless, my evening doesn’t seem quite complete if I don’t watch some TV.
What I find fascinating is that quite unexpectedly a number of those have changed in just 8 years.
#2 I've actually eaten and loved locally grown asparagus, turns out it all depends upon the quality of the food and the cooking!
#7 I have become much more active out of necessity to stay healthy and now don't much care for snow or cold weather (which mess with my asthma), now my favorite weather is anything above 50 degrees where I can be outside and moving - doesn't matter if its sunny or drizzly as long as I can walk, I'm happy.
#13 I've been doing more sewing in recent years, including making a skirt this past fall.
#17 Turns out sugarless candies give me gas. I did develop diabetes - now well under control - and it turns out I didn't have to give up See's dark bordeaux chocolates completely. What I did have to give up was being a couch potato and that is more of a gain than a loss.
#23 Gotten a lot better at drawing cats, and have done drawings of dogs.
#25 I don't care for television as much now that I am more active, and there are now many days during that the television does not get turned on at all. When I do watch it something specific that I share with my husband.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What is Romantic?

Apparently two years ago, my Valentine's Day must have been similar to yesterday, because I began this blog post exactly two years ago - and here I am wanting to write about the exact same thing. 

I have a wonderful husband.  He is kind and considerate, loving and caring. He cleans up after himself and after the cats and dogs and me at times. He does dishes, scoops kitty litter boxes, does laundry, does grocery shopping. But the best thing about him is that he is a wonderful conversational partner. Talking to John is the greatest thing in my life. He's knowledgeable and interested in the world, and very funny. We share many interests and points of view from our career paths (we're both sociologists and college instructors) to our social and political views. He is from my point of view just about perfect in every way.  

In fact the only flaw I see in him is that he absolutely refuses to accept that he is wonderful, and persists in believing that some how he is inadequate, and that I "deserve" someone "better." 

When I was a child my ideas of love and romance were influenced by what I saw happening between my parents and all the schmaltzy romantic movies that my mother loved and shared with me.  My parents had a pretty typical 1950's style marriage. My dad went to work everyday, earned a paycheck, brought it home, kissed my mom, ate dinner, watched TV and did yard work and worked on stuff in the garage. My mom did everything else. My father always remembered her birthday, Valentine's Day and their anniversary with flowers, cards, candy, and sometimes  sexy nightgowns. Each night they slept together in a cozy double bed. However, my father was also a petty tyrant who at times treated both my mother and us children as his subjects to be bullied and belittled. 

I grew up thinking that a husband had to do all those things to show his affection. And I have to admit that it took me a while to let go of all that external symbolic stuff. But let it go I did, because I'd far rather have the true romance of shared life and companionable equality, than a "romantic" tyrant. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Working Life - Part 1

As I begin thinking seriously about retirement I have been reflecting back over all the jobs that I have done in my life time. I've done a lot of different things and learned a lot in the process. 

My mother started me in the working life at age 11 by arranging for me to babysit the next door neighbors' infant while they went out for an evening each week. Her intention was to enhance my childcare and nurturing skills, but what she did was created the desire in me to earn money and be financially independent. By the time I was 13, I had multiple regular babysitting gigs that kept me occupied and earning money every weekend. I continued to do babysitting work until I was 30 years old, although in latter years it was primarily only for good friends who were single parents and needed the occasional release time. 

In junior high school (grades 7 and 8) I added five day a week employment in the school cafeteria. The cafeteria paid in free meals, but my parents said that they'd give me the money they would have had to spend on my meals: 35 cents per day.  I worked a total of 2 and a half hours a week and earned $1.75 each week. I also earned small amounts of cash working in the school library filing book cards. 

On my 16th birthday I applied for and received my social security number...this was long before numbers were routinely distributed at birth...and began working for the high school library. The summer between sophomore and junior year, I had my first regular job in the high school library with a time card to punch, minimum wage, taxes and a bi-weekly pay check. I spent my time typing the pockets and cards that went into books for circulation. 

My earning capacity as a babysitter increased after age 16, as I became capable of driving myself to jobs. I had been sewing almost all my own clothes from age 12, now I was able to pay for the fabric and patterns myself, and to purchase other clothing items such as a camel hair coat that were beyond my sewing skills. 

At 17 during the summer between junior and senior year in high school I got a paid position at a two week summer day camp for disabled children at a local park.  It was difficult and stressful, but interesting.

At age 18 I began working for the San Mateo Public Library after school and on weekends. As a "page" I reshelved returned books, and kept the books orderly in my assigned area (the 600's and 700's of the Dewey Decimal system).  I spent 8 months working in the public library until I left home for Oberlin College in Ohio. 

Part of my financial aid package was a part-time job working for the college...we didn't call it "work-study" back then, but that's what it was. I was assigned to be a waitress in a large dining hall that still served "family" style meals where the food had to be carried out to tables, coffee and tea fetched for diners, and dirty plates and glasses removed from the tables.  I was a disaster as a waitress. The first night I worked I dropped two different filled trays of dishes and glasses, breaking nearly everything.  I survived four more months of that job without breaking anything, but it was nerve wracking. I was so pleased when the dining hall shifted to cafeteria style service after Christmas, and I was shifted to stocking and maintaining the salad bar. I continued in the job of "salad girl" in my sophomore year as well. 

I also eagerly substituted for other student workers "sitting bells" which involved answering the central dorm phone and ringing students rooms to alert them to a phone call. I also worked in other cafeterias and other shifts than my own substituting for other students who got sick or had conflicts. I also typed other people's papers for 10 cents a page. My freshman dorm directors were a young couple with a five year old, and I became a regular babysitter for them, plus two other families associated with the college that lived within walking distance of my dorm.  I earned all of my own spending money for books, long distance telephone calls, clothing, laundry and entertainment. In the four years that I was in college I never asked my parents for any money other than the lump sum the college required them to contribute (about $700) at the beginning of year and in my senior year, I actually paid my parents share myself. 

During the two summers after Freshman year and Sophomore year, I returned to California and my parents home, and found a job as a field hand in the commercial horticulture industry growing chrysanthemum plants (not the flowers, just the plants).  For three months each summer, I spent 8 hours a day in steaming, hot greenhouses, picking and planting, getting muddy, and (unfortunately) becoming heavily exposed to pesticides. I learned that the minimum wage for agricultural work was lower than the minimum wage for office/factory work, AND that the minimum wage for female agricultural workers was lower than that for male agricultural workers. My first real awareness of systemic, institutional, and, at that time, legal sexism. I also learned to speak Spanish fluently, as my coworkers were almost all immigrants (both legal and illegal) from Central America and Mexico. 

My junior year in college I became a "floor counselor" (what most schools call an RA or resident adviser), a paid position that was challenging and interesting. I was the sympathetic ear for freshman on my floor and helped settle roommate disputes. I was awaken in the middle of the night for personal crises.  I still did cafeteria work, that year in German House where I picked up a bit of basic German, and I continued regular babysitting jobs for two families that I had been working for since Freshman year. I  also had the opportunity to work as an artist on a mathematics faculty member's project.  The mathematician was attempting to enter what had not yet been labeled "distance learning" by filming his lectures and needed clear, crisp diagrams and equations that would show well on a screen.  It was interesting and it provided me with my first marvelous Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph pens that became my favorite tool for pen and ink drawings for many years. 

Summer after Junior year, I accepted a job as a nanny with a wealthy family in Greenwich, Connecticut, giving me the chance to see a whole new part of the country, and the whole different lifestyle from what I'd grown up within. The job was hard, 12 hour days of child care, and more housework than I had expected. The pay $100 a week plus room and board. I had several opportunities to go into New York City, where I spent almost all my time in art museums and Central Park...NYC was a great place for a person with no money to entertain themselves. 

My final year in college, my employment was as "senior resident", the student head of a college dormitory, who was suppose to be responsible primarily for activity programming and counseling. But due to the last minute retirement of the paid, non-student dorm director, I ended up with management responsibilities that were overwhelming. I stuck it out for five months, then resigned and demanded that the college replace me with two students, so that no one would be stuck with the 24/7 responsibility that had nearly done me in.  

By this point I had such substantial savings so that between my babysitting, substituting for other students in cafeterias and sitting bells I did not need to have another formal work-study job, but I did find informal jobs in the college anyway. I didn't like not working. I spent some time working as a lab assistant for friend who was doing an honors research on the effect of learning on RNA in rats. The research itself was interesting, and it was useful to learn about the various measurement tools and centrifuge. 

My plan for post-graduation was a graduate program in College Student Personnel Administration which carried with it a paid assistantship working in a university student services area such as housing, financial aid, etc. But just before graduation that plan fell through when that university's state legislature cut their funding for assistantships (recession of 1973). So instead I went home to San Mateo, California, and looked for work. Despite the recession, it took only two weeks of looking to land a secretarial position with a small charter airline. They were a do-everything type of operation called a fixed-based operator: their primary business was flying charter flights, but they also sold aviation fuel, had a maintenance operation, a flying school, a parachute school, , and a plane sales division. I started out typing letters and answering phones.  Economic times got tighter, and many employees were let go, but my job expanded.  I learned to do the company's bookkeeping and some accounting work on payroll and taxes.  I learned to wash planes and fuel them. After nine months however, the recession took its toll and the company closed down. 

During this period I took a number of the pen and ink drawings that I had made with my Rapidograph pen and found a printer who would turn those drawings into cards.  Most of the pictures were of buildings at Oberlin College and I entered into an arrangement to sell my cards in the Oberlin College bookstore. I didn't make a lot of money selling the cards, but enjoyed the feeling of being an artistic entrepreneur. 

One of the aviation company's clients immediately hired me to take over as accounts receivable bookkeeper in his small manufacturing business (March 1974). I learned double entry bookkeeping on the job. And learned about the business of headers for automobiles and motorcycles. Not only did I keep the accounts, but I ran the order desk, as car and bike shops around the country called us to order headers. I finally learned what that "duce coup" the Beach Boys sang about really was!

After 6 months of deepening recession, that business too felt the bite.  I moved both on and back to work for the San Mateo Public Library, but this time in the circulation department, where I had the fun of interacting with everyone who checked out books. I was hired as a part-time worker, but because I was hired late in the year (August) they could actually let me work full-time, because I wouldn't accumulate more than the maximum number of hours by December 31. 

And that is all the paid jobs that I did between the age of 11 and 23!  More in future installments. 

The All But Not Quite Most


I  have been a college teacher for 36 years. It has, for the most part, been a very rewarding career. Seeing the faces of students when they "get" something is the biggest "high" in life. Continuing interaction with students in and out of the classroom is very gratifying. Some of my students even became life-long friends. As rewarding as the experience has always been I have still hankered after some formal recognition. I occasionally wished that at least once I could receive a teaching award.  Every college I've worked at has given teaching or faculty awards, and every few years I'd think it would be nice to receive one.  About six months ago, I finally made peace with the idea that I was never going to get a plaque or a certificate and that the only teaching reward I really needed was the intrinsic  positive value that comes from making a true connection with a student. 

Then suddenly a month ago I got an e-mail telling me that my college president wanted to nominate me for a prestigious, state-wide teaching award, one that came with not only a plaque but a significant size check. The downside was that there was a lot of work to be done on the applications - two different essays to write and a detailed accounting of everything I'd done for the past 20 years to demonstrate my commitment to teaching and to life-long learning. I was thrilled just to be nominated. It didn't matter than I was going to be one of a dozen nominees. Just to know that my own college administration acknowledged my contributions was enough. It took me six days to pull together all the materials for the nomination, but once I did, I set the entire matter aside and did not think of it; being nominated was more than enough. 

A couple of weeks later, out of the blue, I receive an e-mail from my college dean issuing me congratulations on winning the teaching award.  Not only did he send these congratulations to me, but he copied them to every single person in our entire five campus college organization.  His congratulations incorporated an entire e-mail conversation from the community college system office and the leadership from other colleges.  As I read over the previous e-mails, it seemed to me that my dean was incorrect, that I had merely been chosen as the community college system's nominee to be forwarded to the state-wide selection committee, not an actual winner of the award. 

I sent some queries back up the hierarchy, wondering if perhaps I was merely a nominee rather than a winner. What I got back restated that I was the "winner" of the award.  I still didn't trust this fully, as the information I had received about the award said in several places that one requirement of a "winner" was to be physically present at the awards ceremony in September, which suggested that the final decision was not announced until that ceremony.  But over the next ten days I was barraged with congratulatory messages from colleagues who had received the initial e-mail. I slowly began to think of myself as a "winner" rather than a nominee - a shift in expectations - and even began to think about ways that we could use the prize money. 

I was still cautious enough not to accept an invitation to do an interview about the award. I explained to the reporter that the award was not official, and that I was uncomfortable doing publicity until I was officially notified. I copied my e-mail to the reporter to the chair of the selection committee in hopes that I might get some clarification of the time table. 

The word I got back was that my caution was warranted. I was indeed a "nominee" for the award - I was my community college system's top nominee, but they were required to send three names to the state organization making the final selection.  So I carefully began to dial back my expectations. By the time that the final decision was made, selecting the third ranked nominee because she taught in a "technical" field, I no longer expected to win. But I was still having to deal with dozens of congratulations from work colleagues as the misinformation of the original announcement spread after the semester started. 

In my personal life catalog 2015 will go down as the year that I almost, maybe, not quite, did not win the teaching award that I had craved for my entire career.

The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible

It resonates so strongly for me.

The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible - Charles Eisenstein.

What happens when...

I do not think that the complex, capitalist, industrial society in which we Americans now live is sustainable - neither environmentally, nor socially. Moreover, I believe that it will not be sustained, and that it is already in the process of collapsing (I have been documenting elements of that collapse in my blog Sociological Stew under the heading "Zombie America" for several years). I do not know how long it will take, whether I will live to see a total breakdown in political and economic systems, or whether those will occur more than 25 years from now.

These ideas of decline and collapse form the backdrop to my life these days, and I often find myself worrying about little things;  such as how will we take temperatures of our ill when all the batteries have run down and there are no more factories to make the compact batteries in digital thermometers?  I wonder if anyone have preserved some glass and mercury thermometers somewhere that can be distributed to healers? Will the knowledge of how to make glass and fluid thermometers be retained somewhere.

I understand why people might prefer digital thermometers (less ambiguous to interpret, less risk of breakage and poisoning), but it makes me nervous that one can no longer find mercury and glass thermometers in the stores in my area. It's a technology that, if protected from breakage, can last and continue to be accurate for decades without any energy input.

It's often the smallest things that matter in the long run...



Sunday, July 5, 2015

In Memory of Friends Long Gone

Twice in the week I've had reason to think a former student and long time friend Bradford Clay Jones who died twenty years ago this spring. First when the Supreme Court announced their decision on same sex marriage last Friday and  then again on Monday when I learned that the community college system that I serve (KCTCS) had nominated me for a state-wide teaching award (my academic dean says I've "won" it, but officially I've only been nominated, and I like to hold off celebration until things are official).  Both times when I heard the news I thought of Clay and wished that he had lived to see it. 

Clay was a student in my SOC 101 Introductory Sociology course at the University of Kentucky in the spring term of 1981. Clay had come to UK from Russellville, Kentucky a small farming community in the western part of the state. He came with his best friend, a red headed freckled young farmer, whose name I sadly can no longer remember although I can see his face as clear as it was yesterday. They joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity together, took their general education classes together including sociology, but had different majors and different career/life paths. Clay was brilliant, articulate, wild, crazy, daring, fun, charming. He was clearly a leader among his fraternity brothers.   Clay got his degree in education from the University of Kentucky's department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion.


After graduation Clay entered the Air Force  as a 1st Lieutenant and began corresponding regularly with me. He wrote long chatty letters about work and life. He loved serving his country and was posted on first at Dover, Delaware and then near Kansas City. His job involved providing healthy exercise and activity programs for people stationed at the AF Bases. 


Clay also had an active personal life outside work. He participated with local community theater groups in the communities near the AF bases where he was stationed. I remember how much fun he had with a production of Oklahoma! Although Clay had explored and experimented with his sexual identity in college, it was not until more than a year after graduation that Clay finally "came out" to himself and to friends and family, but not of course to the USAF. This was well before "Don't ask, Don't tell."


While stationed near Kansas City, Clay met the love of his life Gene and entered into a committed relationship. A local minister officiated at Clay and Gene's vows which they considered just as binding as if they had been legal. Rather than face being separated from Gene by the Air Force posting him outside the U.S. Clay allowed the Air Force to learn of his sexual orientation and discharge him in 1984. 


Clay entered the Master of Public Administration in Nonprofit Management at the University Missouri, Kansas City and received his MPA in 1986.  In 1989 he became the Executive director Kansas division American Cancer Society.


Diagnosed as HIV positive in the late 1980's Clay maintained his health for a number of years.  He advocated for AIDS research as a board member of the Kansas City AIDS Research Consortium. In the early 1990's his HIV infection became full-blown AIDS. He suffered among other things from a histoplasmosis infection that spread from his lungs throughout his body. In June of 1995 I received the sad news from Clay's spouse Gene that AIDS had taken its toll and Clay died May 1, 1995. 


I wish that Clay had lived to see same sex marriage legalized across the nation; for him and Gene to have had the full legal rights of married couples. They were married for a decade before Clay's death and yet Gene received none of the benefits a married person should have on the death of his spouse. 


I also wish that Clay could have lived to see me receive this state-wide teaching award for "inspiring" Kentucky students to become contributing members of society. Clay was one of the earliest and most enthusiastic supporters of my teaching career.  I met him while I was still an "apprentice" graduate student instructor, and his friendship over the next 14 years was very influential in my development as a teacher.  By no means the last student to become a life-long friend, Clay was the first. 


Thanks for the memories, Clay. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Nostalgia for the way things never were

Have you ever noticed how you can hold two sets of facts, or two types of knowledge about a person in your head at the same time for years, even decades, without ever noticing the contradictions or the connections between them? 

My mother loved to read, and she loved movies. She shared both loves with me from an early age. The things that she liked reading and watching most were warm family based comedies, and stories that were gently romantic ending in domestic bliss. Among her favorites were the book Mama's Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes and the play/movie made from it "I Remember Mama" and Life with Father  by Clarence Day and the movie made from it. 
I noticed in reminding myself of the author's names that the movie Life with Father came out in 1947 and the movie "I Remember Mama" came out in 1948, both years that my mother was a school teacher living in boarding houses in towns away from her rural home. Meaning that she had more opportunity to go to movies in those years and more freedom to choose movies that pleased herself, than at any other time in her life.  
I duly noted my mother's love of these stories, and read the same books, saw the same movies. The original Dialing for Dollars movie was on an independent TV station in the San Francisco Bay Area and daily it brought  movies from the 1930's and 1940's  into our home. My mother talked about these stories as if they evoked fond memories of childhood. 

But I also knew, in other portions of my brain that my mother's actual childhood was nothing like these books and movies. I knew that my grandmother was frail and often ill, and her illnesses often precluded normal holiday celebrations and family activities.  I also knew that my grandmother had died shortly after her seventh child was born, just shortly before my mother's eighth birthday. I knew as well that my grandfather felt he could not raise a daughter and passed her off to his sister to raise, and that my mother often felt abandoned and unloved as a result. Most of my mothers stories about her actual childhood included included longing regrets for the connections that she did not have, and the sense of being a perpetual outsider in her own family. 

It has only been since my mother's death in 2012 that I noticed the contradiction between the warm nostalgia of the books and movies she shared with me and wounded and anxious memories of her own fractured family life. I realize now that she was trying to create a foundation on which to build her own family out of other people's memories. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

No regrets, no do-overs...

I am who I am today because of the all the choices I have made, all the actions I have taken, all the feelings I have had. Every moment, good and bad, wise and foolish, caring and uncaring, silly and serious, creates the unique pattern of my life. To regret even one action, to wish to undo even one choice is tantamount to saying I do not wish to be me, as I am today. 

Two things I've seen recently center around this theme of the inseparable threads of a person's life:  the movie "Wild" which we saw in the theater yesterday and one of my favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes (Season 6, episode 15 "Tapestry") viewed again just a few weeks ago.  Both carry this same message, that we are all a sum of every event, every second of our lives, and even the tiniest change would make us someone quite different. 

Some years ago I chanced to re-read a journal from my junior year in college and was disturbed by words I read. [I have learned from such re-readings that I was exceptionally  accurate in  chronicling events - like the sociologist/ethnologist I  later became, I  captured verbatim conversations, and the details of action and gesture of others within hours of their occurrence - even when I was unable to fully understand their meaning at that time.] 
It was painfully clear from the journal account that my younger self was blithely unaware that these actions caused pain and sadness to someone else. A budding relationship was ruptured and faltered because I unwittingly betrayed a trust I did not know I had.  

For some years I have obsessed over the hurt I had unknowingly caused. Until one day not long ago I finally asked myself the right question: If I could go back and change the past, would I do so? And the answer is no.  I regret the hurt I caused, I feel bad about causing pain, and I know that I cut short a very promising potential relationship.  However, my actions brought me some of the sweetest, most joy-filled memories I have from my college years of singing in the snow, laughter and tender kisses, and launched a different life-long friendship that brought many other good memories over the years. Moreover, had the relationship I short-circuited happened, my life almost certainly would have taken a very different path and I would be a very different person. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

When Did Kindness Come to Be for Special Occasions Only?

A dear old childhood friend (reconnected with on Facebook in recent years) posted a link to an idea for children leading up to the holidays: a calendar with suggested random acts of kindness.  This friend is a person who embodies kindness every day in every moment with everyone she meets; an exemplar of the cheerful goodness to which I aspire but only approximate on my best days.  She is the kind of person that does not need such a calendar to remind her to bestow kindness on those she meets. 
http://www.coffeecupsandcrayons.com/random-acts-christmas-kindness-printable-advent-calendar/
The heading on the graphic does not say that this is for children, but that is the intended audience. There are many admirable ideas on this calendar, that would be good for adults to follow through on as well: donating books to a public library or hospital, doing yard work for a neighbor, donating toys to a charity, calling a distant relative, donating food to a local food pantry, paying for a stranger's coffee, taking supplies to the local animal shelter, taking cookies to the fire station. 

What concerns me is some of the other suggestions, things that I think should be happening many times a day every day, 365 days of the year with both adults and children: like smiling at everyone, giving compliments, picking up litter, feeding the birds.  

I am reminded of another occasion, a year or so ago when someone else I know (sadly no longer on my Facebook friends list), when given the task of engaging in a daily single random act of kindness, proudly announced on day one that she had smiled at someone she did not know well, and on day two that she had opened the door for someone else.  Two behaviors that I practice multiple times a day, every day and have since childhood.

I thought at that time, as I think today on seeing this list of ideas, how has it become that behaviors like smiling, being polite, being helpful, that should be part of every one's normal every day behavior, are now being treated as special events that have to have a special holiday designation or done as some random kindness project.  

It seems that kindness like grades has become inflated, one gets more credit than one is due for what should be common daily behavior. 


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Nuclear Nightmares

When I was growing up in a blue collar neighborhood in California I was aware that my experience of the world was very different than that of the children around me. I was preoccupied with issues and concerns to which most of my neighborhood playmates seemed oblivious.  A few decades ago I read Annie Dillard's An American Childhood, and was taken aback to discover that Dillard too had little awareness as a child of the international and national economic and political issues of the 1950's and early 1960's.  

One topic obsessed me more than any other between 1956 and 1963: nuclear war. My father possessed a huge volume of photographs collected by Life Magazine that included thousands of pictures of the death and destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (it also contained many photos of the horrors of the Holocaust in Europe but that's a story for another day).  The images of cities utterly flattened by atomic bombs, and picture after picture with piles of bodies haunted me day and night.  
http://records.photodharma.net/notices/the-bombing-of-hiroshima

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/atomic-bombing-hiroshima-nagasaki-69-years-gallery-1.1892958?pmSlide=1.1892944
Along side my father I watched dozens of television documentaries on the use of atomic weapons in World War II, the current testing of atomic weapons, and the future possibilities of nuclear weapons. Supper conversation often involved discussions about the cold war and the likelihood of nuclear weapon use.  Sometimes family Sunday drives in the late 1950's and early 1960's included visits to local bomb shelter retailers.

Every week when my parents took me to the public library, in addition to the children's fiction I checked out each week, I would sneak copies of all the pamphlets on the librarians desk about how to recognize the signs of nuclear attack, what to do in case of attack, and how to fashion a bomb shelter in your garage. I read each of these pamphlets repeatedly and memorized every smidgen of information they contained.  (I am grateful that I did not know as a child how absurd and futile such advice was). 

Each night, I would lie in bed awake, wondering if each plane that flew over head was an enemy bomber carrying nuclear weapons. Since my house was positioned near the landing approach for San Francisco International Airport, there were dozens of planes passing overhead every night.  I would freeze motionless, listen to the sound of the engines, trying to guess which one might be delivering death from above.  Any flashes of light, or distant rumbles made me imagine that a bomb had been dropped nearby. 

As I lay awake I thought my way through constructing shelters from lumber and plywood (which we had) and sandbags (which we did not).  Sometimes I would hunch in bed under the covers in the "duck and cover" position that we were taught in school during earthquake/bomb drills.  

At some point, after the nuclear scare of October 1962, the intensity of my fears faded.  The sleepless nights and nightmares slipped away. But I never lost my anti-nuclear, anti-war convictions, which translated in adulthood into political action and advocacy. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

finding center again

Objectively the summer of 2014 was perfectly fine...subjectively it was miserable...I could not seem to find my center...I went nearly the whole summer without writing anything new...poetry eluded me...no stories percolated.


Yesterday I accidentally hit upon the cause when I took a small table and my journal outside to write in the mellow late afternoon. Most of the summer had either been to glaringly hot, or pouring rain.

Suddenly the words just began to flow...and I realized that this was the first summer that I had not had a porch on which to write in the afternoons...our old house had a covered porch where I would frequently sit, even when it rained, to write...but last September we had the old house (which was a dangerous fire trap and health hazard) demolished and hauled away...leaving only an open yard...lacking shade (except in late afternoon) and cover from the rain. 

Now I know that before next summer my sanity requires the purchase of an outdoor umbrella so that I can find that calm center from which to write.