Saturday, June 9, 2018


Retirement is not going the way I intended. I feel lost, often sad, and fighting through a fog much of the time.

I am not writing novels or poetry, not doing new research, not getting articles published, not blogging regularly,  not painting dozens of paintings, nor drawing every day (not even every month). I'm not even cleaning my house every week, not planting a big garden, not walking every day, not doing yoga regularly, and instead of losing weight I have gained 20 pounds. I'm not volunteering at a dozen worthy causes - or even one. I'm not even sitting and reading all the serious non-fiction books that I bought over the last 20 years with the idea that someday I'd find the time to get to them. But I've played lots of Candy Crush Jelly, spent lots of hours on Facebook, and watched a lot of hours of Netflix and Hulu. Sure I like doing those things, but they're not productive, not what I promised myself to do with retirement.

Every time I start to write about this I end up stopping before I get very far. It feels like whining, and I hate whining. And again, I almost stopped and tossed this post out too. I have so much to be grateful for, so many things that many of the people living here in my community, my county do not have, and I am indeed grateful for them. I practice gratitude every day for all my many blessings. But I still feel lost, and often very alone.

I do not regret retiring - the last several years of my job were so stressful and I was anxious all the time. The stress and the anxiety are gone, but they've left this huge open space in my life that I that struggle with daily. There are many days, maybe even most days when I don't want to get out of bed at all. I feel tired in the morning - even after being on nighttime oxygen for two months. I do get up every morning for one simple reason, no one else will remember to feed my outdoor kitty, Jake. John's good about feeding the dogs and the indoor cats, but he doesn't remember about Jake, and I know Jake depends on me. Some days other things help motivate me, but I feel sad that some days the only thing getting me out of bed is this one little orange and white cat that would go hungry without me.

I haven't spoken or written about this to anyone. As I write this, I have to keep stopping and browsing elsewhere on the internet because it is so difficult to think about, much less write about. Yet the fact that I am writing, despite having to walk away and do other things to deal with the intensity, says to me that I'm a little better at this moment than I was during the past winter.

Sometimes the obstacles to the life I think I should be living in retirement seem insurmountable. The days when I feel like I've done the most worthwhile things - when I've been physically active, taken care of my house and garden, done things out in the world where I'm with people, or am artistically creative, are also the days that I find myself in the most pain at the end of the day. This past ten days I did a number of things (either with my husband or alone) that make my heart sing - attending outdoor music events, going to the farmers market, being with and talking to people, planting a rose bush, caring for my tomato plants. But by the end of each of those active days, I could bearly walk, just picking up my feet for one more step, much less getting up and down the steps to my home was overwhelming. I fell into bed in exhaustion not even feeling up to my usual evening reading before sleep. It's like the words of Shannon McNally's song Banshee Moan: "well you're damned if you do/damned if you don't/trouble if you will/double if you won't/so you watch you say/watch what you do/" (we heard Shannon McNally on Thursday night in Whitesburg at the Levitt AMP concert). Now that really feels like whining. I know so many people who have so much more pain than I do, people who've actually had to have surgery on their backs, hips, and/or knees.

Then there's the problem of friends, or rather the lack of them. My yoga teacher suggested to me a month or so ago that I should get together a group of friends for a morning yoga class. Only I don't have any friends to ask to do a weekday morning yoga class with me.  I do have two best friends that I talk to often and can tell just about anything (except this, I haven't talked about all this with anyone) but one is in Nevada and the other is in Oregon.  I love them and they love me, but they aren't here, I can't ask them to join me in a yoga class as much as they might like to do so. We can't just go to a movie together or out for coffee - and with the time difference and their busy lives I can't even just pick up a phone and know they'll be there.  My husband is wonderful, there are lots of things we like to do together, and we talk all the time. But one person can't be your whole world - it's too hard on them - and my husband is sad and lonely too. There are many people here locally that I like and admire, most of whom I think like me too. But there's no one that I feel like I can call to do things with or just sit around and hang out.

When I was teaching I felt so busy all the time between work and home life that I didn't make any real effort to "make friends" the way I did when I was single. Almost everyone I know is so connected to this region, they all have families, their children and grandchildren, parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles, and this fills up their lives as it should. There was a colleague who retired when I did that I think of as a friend, and we said we'd have lunch often and stay in touch.  I've tried three or four times in the first six months of retirement to get together for lunch, and every time she had things she had to do with her family, so I gave up.

Boy, this really feels like whining. I'm not saying "poor me, nobody likes me."  I'm saying that I didn't make much of an effort for the first 20 years I lived here to be an active friend to the people around me, and now that I have the time most of the people that I know have their own lives and families, and I'm clueless as to how to become more connected to others.  This is why I spend so much time on Facebook - at least that way I feel a little bit connected to other people and a little less isolated. But it's a catch 22 because time spent at the computer is not spent trying to be out in the world where people are.

So I go on struggling, feeling lost and sad. It feels a little like the identity crisis of my early twenties. I got started on this today because of reading something that someone I know shared on Facebook:
"Living in this skin is hard and painful, most of the time, because I never volunteered to take this on. The daily sacrifice of heart over mind, the forever ongoing task of explaining this and that, and why I don’t want to look like this and be like that but still here I am and if this is the body I’ve been given, I’m sure as hell gonna make it work."  ~Charlotte Eriksson
I'd never heard of Charlotte Eriksson before this morning, so of course, I googled her (disclaimer I didn't actually use "Google" but rather a search engine called Ecosia that plants trees for so many searches). I read some bits and pieces of Eriksson's work and thought - yes! But I also thought this is how young people feel who are just starting out, trying to find themselves. How can I be feeling all this at sixty-seven, I'm not supposed to be having an identity crisis at my age, yet here I am.

This is what linguist Deborah Tannen called "troubles talk" that thing that women (and many men too) do when they just want to let something out. I'm not looking for someone to give me solutions, I'm just finally getting it out there, talking about it for the first time, putting some light on the darker thoughts that have been going around my brain for the past year. Maybe to feel a little more connected.

I have ideas, know the things I should be doing. So I will go on trying to find a way.

Monday, May 21, 2018

My Past Year's Reading

Someone recently asked me about what I was reading now that I had more time as a retired person, and I could only think of the one book that I read in paper format during the daytime – Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But I read every night for anywhere from an hour to four hours from my Kindle, because I can’t hold a paper book for long without my hands going completely numb and becoming too painful to bear.  So I was curious and looked at my Amazon Kindle content list to see what I really had read in the last 12 months. I may have missed one or two. In addition to reading new books, I also have reread books for several reasons – such as wanting to reread a book read years ago before seeing a movie or TV version, or seeing an article about a previously read book that reminds me of something I liked about it, or just wanting to savor really good writing (like that of Patrick Rothfuss and Laurie King) again. The list has lots of mysteries and science fiction and some fantasy. At this particular moment in time I am rereading Greg Bear’s Moving Mars a science fiction book that has a lot to do with cutting-edge theoretical physics.

New reads (not in order of reading)

The Road, Cormac McCarthy
Traitor Born (Secondborn Series Book 2) Amy A. Bartol
Secondborn (Secondborn Series Book 1) Amy A. Bartol
Extinct (Extracted Trilogy Book 3) RR Haywood
Executed (Extracted Trilogy Book 2)  RR Haywood
Look for Me (D. D. Warren) Lisa Gardner
Take Out, Margaret Maron
Fugitive Colors (A Sigrid Harald Mystery Book 8) Margaret Maron
Past Imperfect (A Sigrid Harald Mystery Book 7) Margaret Maron
Corpus Christmas (A Sigrid Harald Mystery Book 6) Margaret Maron
Baby Doll Games (A Sigrid Harald Mystery Book 5) Margaret Maron
The Right Jack (A Sigrid Harald Mystery Book 4) Margaret Maron
Roar of the Storm (The Fracture Worlds Book 2) Adam Burch
Song of Edmon (The Fracture Worlds Book 1) Adam Burch
Only the Rain, Randall Silvis
The Birthday of the World: And Other Stories, Ursula Le Guin
Before We Were Yours: A Novel, Lisa Wingate
Duel to the Death (Ali Reynolds Book 13) J.A. Jance
Still Dead: A J.P. Beaumont Novella, J. A. Jance
Proof of Life: A J. P. Beaumont Novel (J. P. Beaumont Mysteries) J. A. Jance
Man Overboard: An Ali Reynolds Novel (Ali Reynolds Series Book 12) J.A. Jance
Glass Houses: A Novel (Chief Inspector Gamache Novel) Louise Penny
Y is for Yesterday (A Kinsey Millhone Novel) Sue Grafton
Excise (Dr. Schwartzman Series Book 2) Danielle Girard
Fast Falls the Night: A Bell Elkins Novel (Bell Elkins Novels) Julia Keller
Sh*t My President Says: The Illustrated Tweets of Donald J. Trump Shannon Wheeler
The Color of Fear (A Sharon McCone Mystery) Marcia Muller
All the Little Children, Jo Furniss
Our Roots Run Deep as Ironweed: Appalachian Women and the Fight for Environmental Justice, Shannon Elizabeth Bell
Death in Blue Folders (A Sigrid Harald Mystery Book 3)  Margaret Maron
Death of a Butterfly (A Sigrid Harald Mystery Book 2)  Margaret Maron
One Coffee With (A Sigrid Harald Mystery Book 1) Margaret Maron          
The Sparrow: A Novel (The Sparrow series) Mary Doria Russell
The Star (The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke Book 3)  Arthur C. Clarke
The Perfect Girl: A Novel  Gilly Macmillan
Lockdown: A Novel of Suspense  Laurie R. King
What She Knew: A Novel  Gilly Macmillan
The Wiregrass: A Novel,  Pam Webber
Lost in Arcadia: A Novel,  Sean Gandert
The Fall: A Dark Victorian Crime Novel (Anna Kronberg Mysteries) Annelie Wendeberg
The Lion's Courtship: A Dark Victorian Crime Novel (Anna Kronberg Mysteries Book 1) Annelie Wendeberg
Silent Witnesses: A Dark Victorian Crime Novel (Anna Kronberg Mysteries) Annelie Wendeberg
The Devil's Grin: A Dark Victorian Crime Novel (Anna Kronberg Mysteries) Annelie Wendeberg
Into the Forest Jean Hegland
The Good Samaritan John Marrs
Collapse Annelie Wendeberg
Ice (The 1/2986 Series Book 3) Annelie Wendeberg
Fog (1/2986) Annelie Wendeberg
Cut (1/2986)  Annelie Wendeberg
Terminal Event, Robert Vaughan
A Tangled Mercy: A Novel Joy Jordan-Lake
Into the Still Blue (Under the Never Sky Book 3)  Veronica Rossi
Through the Ever Night (Under the Never Sky Book 2) Veronica Rossi
Cold Days (The Dresden Files, Book 14)  Jim Butcher
Ghost Story (The Dresden Files, Book 13) Jim Butcher
All the Lies We Tell (Quarry Book 1)  Megan Hart
The Last Chance Olive Ranch (China Bayles Mystery)  Susan Wittig Albert
The Last Chance Matinee: A Book Club Recommendation! (The Hudson Sisters Series 1) Mariah Stewart
The Mutual Admiration Society: A Novel, Lesley Kagen
Ocean of Storms, Christopher Mari

The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss
The Slow Regard of Silent Things, Patrick Rothfuss
Three-Day Town (A Deborah Knott Mystery Book 17) Margaret Maron
A Wrinkle in Time (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet Book 1) Madeleine L'Engle
B is for Burglar: A Kinsey Millhone Mystery Sue Grafton
A is for Alibi: A Kinsey Millhone Mystery Sue Grafton (after Grafton died it seemed necessary to go through the series again)
Glory Season, David Brin
Keeping Watch, Laurie R. King
Moving Mars, Greg Bear
Lord Peter Views the Body: A Collection of Mysteries (The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries Book 4) Dorothy L. Sayers
Folly, Laurie R. King
The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
The Sound of Broken Absolutes (Heaven's Vault Book 2), Peter Orullian
Trial of Intentions (Vault of Heaven Book 2), Peter Orullian
The Unremembered (Vault of Heaven Book 1) Peter Orullian

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Secret Language of Families

I was in college when Patty Hearst was kidnapped - she and I were about the same age. I vividly remember an opinion piece in a newspaper commenting on the fact that when she had a chance to communicate with her family Hearst had no secret family phrases to use to indicate she was okay or not okay. The writer seemed to think that this indicated an impoverished family life among the Hearsts. At the time I thought that the writer was being absurd - my family didn't have any private language, any unique and secret phrases with which to communicate to each other, and my family life was just fine.  

I realized many years later that I was wrong. My assessment that my family was "just fine" may have glossed over many issues, and my family did have its own secret language. First, my mother taught us to use many expressions and phrases from her rural Virginia childhood that were not known to the families around us. If we asked a question about something that she thought was none of our business, she told us it was a "larose". We would respond "What's a larose?" and my mother would reply "Laroses catch meddlers make fiddlers bite."   Also my brothers and I created extensive store of idiosyncratic phrases and terms we used among ourselves. 

One of the first things that I noticed about both of my husbands' families was the language quirks and unique phrases that they used. Often trivial things like everyone in Russell's family referring to the local grocery chain as the "Giant Beagle" rather than "Giant Eagle" that helped build a secret family language code that bolstered family cohesion, or John's family using phrases like "round by Rheinhart's" (Rheinhart's was a store in a remote area of Greene County, TN where John grew up) to indicate going out of one's way.  

In the nearly 25 years that John and I have been together as a couple, we have developed our own family language. Each of us has brought things from our own childhood - John understands the "larose" call and response pattern, and when I have to take a round about route I call it going "round by Rheinhart's".  We've also built a huge store of unique words and phrases out of our own experience as a couple. 

Some of these come from absurd things said or done by our students. John had student many years ago who persistently misspelled abdominal crunches as "churches", so we both now refer to that exercise activity as doing churches. My first year at Southeast, I had a student from Seco - a very small town I drove past every day on the way to work - who turned a class essay into a misogynist rant against the young ladies of his town who wore dresses that were so scanty as "might as well have not bothered to wear".  From that day forward, John and I refer to any dress that leaves a lot of bare skin as a "Seco dress". 

Early in our relationship John and I were talking about accents, and how neither of us grew up speaking a "standard" English dialect.  We were joked about whether anyone in real life grew up speaking like network newscasters speak, and I said: "yeah, some guys I know who grew up in Columbus, Ohio talk like that!"  From that moment on we started calling that bland newscaster accent "Columbian" in contrast to "English" which John swears is only spoken by folks in northeast Tennessee (where he's from) or neighboring southwest Virginia (where my dad is from). 

I don't know if this habit of coining unique words and phrases used only within the family is universal, but it is certainly quite common. 

June 19, 2018

I'm so excited.  I finally found several references to my mother's favorite phrase to deflect our inquiries as children: "larovers to catch medlers" and "layovers for meddlers"  are varients of what my mother would say.
 I'd never found anything before because I always included her full phrase which included "make fiddlers bite." But for once I thought, let's just look for the initial phrase and viola - many articles appeared! 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

How my life has been enriched by "mansplaining"

These days one frequently finds complaints by women about "mansplaining" - especially those truly annoying experiences where a man with little knowledge explains (often inaccurately) something to a woman who is a verified, recognized authority and expert in that very subject.  This is especially likely to happen to women who are authorities and experts in fields viewed by the backward among us as "masculine" like technology, science, medicine, engineering, politics, and many others. Women are also understandably and reasonably annoyed when men start to lecture them about the nature of women, women's biology, psychology or life experiences, especially when the man's ideas are contradicted by women's lived experiences. So just to be clear, I'm not denying the reality of the problem of "mansplaining" as experienced by all too many women today.

However, an enormous amount of the knowledge and skill I have today comes from being a willing listener to many men, who over the years liked telling women about some interest or passion they had. Sometimes the things men told me were things I already knew, but if I hadn't sat through that part of the explanation I never would have gained the additional knowledge or skill that they had to impart that I did not already know.

It started with my father. Sometimes I would take one of my math homework problems to him, even though I already knew how to work the problem because after he had explained my assignment to me, he would go on and show me something from his college homework. As a result, I learned about powers, roots, and logs at an age when my peers had just learned long division. If I went to him with a question about geography he might start telling me things about air travel and aircraft and the airline industry.

In school, I quickly figured out that boys and later men liked to show off to girls, to explain things to them, and that this became even more important in college with men explaining things to women. I only took one science in college - general biology - but I learned a lot about chemistry and physics from getting young men to explain and show things to me. I also learned about wine, gourmet food, about classical music, folk music, foreign films, motorcycles, race car driving, ten-speed bicycles, sports cars, fencing, the printing industry, modern art, audio equipment, electronics, broadcasting, existential philosophy, psychology, British culture, and a hell of a lot of other things. Many of the things that I learned from all these men eager to explain things to women helped me get and advance in jobs after college.

I became a safer, more skilled, driver because one of my boyfriends in college had been a race car driver, and I was a willing listener and student. I can get into and out of tight parking spots that flummox other drivers. I still, to this day, can out drive most people on windy mountain roads because of those lessons.

I'm not saying that everything a man every explained to me held information of value. Nor am I saying that I did not also learn much from women. What I am saying is that my life and my career as a sociologist and college professor, has been richer and held greater depth, because of many things I learned from men - boyfriends, friends, friends fathers, acquaintances, strangers at parties and many other places - who wanted to explain something to me.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Giving myself a C+ on Retirement

I wake up in the middle of the night and start thinking about things, things that seem important to me and that I wish I could write down – instead of just thinking around in circles about them – but to get up and go to the computer would probably disrupt the dogs and that would mean that John’s sleep would be disrupted so I just lie there and think and think and think. Then I wake up in the morning and I can’t remember anything that I thought about.  I suspect that those thoughts I have in the middle of the night are not as deep or relevant or worthy as I imagine them to be at 3 AM.

I am not doing as well with retirement as I am telling everyone. I tell everyone that I love retirement – and that is true, but it is not the whole story. I think I’ve been suffering from some depression – especially since the weather turned colder and I haven’t wanted to go outside as much.

 I have no desire to go back to work. Retiring was absolutely the right decision. I do not miss the anxiety, fear, and stress that were a part of my work life for the past three or four years. After B__ A___ retired as president of the college, things just went to hell-in-a-handbasket. But truthfully things had started going downhill even before that. The budgetary situation and the enrollment declines made things iffy. I never knew for certain that I would have enough students to make a full-load, and I was always anxious about what would happen if I didn’t. It always worked out, but not necessarily easily – often with a great deal of extra work for me. The lack of proper leadership on assessment was always a stressor.

My personal situation with my weight and my health (rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes 2, asthma) needed more time and attention than I had to give while teaching full-time (and often overloads). It’s very hard to be properly active when your work requires 10 hours a day at a computer. Even when it didn’t require 10 hours a day, the stress was such that instead of getting up and doing something active when I took a break I just slid into Facebook and online games. I am so happy to be rid of the stress and anxiety. 

My life feels so much more peaceful and calm. During the last four years, it felt like I was angry all the time. Fear makes me react with anger. I didn’t like the person that I was becoming: someone who was hateful and suspicious and fearful and angry.

Most of that is gone, just a few anxieties now about money, but nothing really bad. I had a moment of sheer panic this morning when it seemed that my husband’s health insurance had not been properly processed for 2018. But things seem to have worked out and the knot in my stomach went away pretty quickly. Anxiety and tension are no longer my default setting like it was for the last few years. I feel so much more relaxed and comfortable and actually happy most of the time. It shows up in the photos that people have taken of me in the last six months – I’m smiling like an idiot in all of them, because well – life is pretty good on a personal level. I also find myself singing – something I did all the time when I was younger but hadn’t done in years. Of course, on a not so personal level, on the level of my community, my state, my country, my planet life is shit and getting shittier with each passing day. But that is a post for a different day.

My problem is that I’m still spending a lot of time killing time on Facebook and with computer games, and not doing all the creative things that I’ve waited years to be able to do. Yes, I did one painting – which I’m less than satisfied with, so I can’t seem to move on to a new painting. Also while the weather was still nice (in late September and October) I started doing ink sketches outdoors. But I really haven’t done any writing: a smattering of letters, little journaling, fewer blog posts, no poetry, I’ve not touched the novels, nor started any short stories, and as for the academic writing, it sits languishing unattended. You can’t be a writer if you don’t write. This is my beginning on that. I have to stop waiting until I have something really significant to say and just start writing. I may never have anything significant to say, but not writing gives is like having soul constipation. I need to write to keep the spirit flowing.

Another area where my retirement is not going the way I had hoped is with exercise and activity, diet and other healthy behaviors. I was doing much better with exercise and activity, moving more, walking more, and taking yoga class – until cold weather started. I can’t even get myself to get in the car and go to the gym to walk on the track when the outside temperature never gets about 25 degrees all day. Not sure what that is about because I can make myself go outdoors to take the trash, recycling or garbage out. Of course, sitting in a car waiting for it to warm up is a little different. My eating behavior is not the worst it’s ever been, but it is far from the best I can do.

At this point, I would give myself a C+ or maybe B- on retirement activity. I know this is really weird – people don’t earn grades on life. But I’m this achievement-oriented person and I somehow feel I owe the world more than I’m giving it. That I owe myself more than I’m doing. There are so many people that need to retire but cannot afford to do so. I feel like having had a career that allowed me to save adequately for retirement means that I have responsibilities to the universe to do more with my retirement than wash dishes, feed the animals, do housework and grocery shopping, pay bills, play Candy Crush Jelly on Facebook and watch Netflix. But so far I’m having trouble getting a handle on how to do that.

My plan is to write my way out of this. Writing has always worked in the past, so here’s hoping it will help me now. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Some thoughts on exercise/step monitors

A little over two years ago my primary physician read me the riot act. She told me to start moving more or die. I was 307 pounds, had type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.  I knew she was right in principle, but knew her blithe pronouncement that I should just start walking 20 minutes a day, at a time when I couldn't walk 5 minutes without getting out of breath, was unrealistic.

I already had a Fitbit One, though my use of it was irregularly and without much focus. I used the incomplete data I had to see roughly where I stood in terms of daily steps.  On the days I was using the Fitbit I was averaging about 900 steps a day. So I gave myself the goal of 1100 steps a day - a manageable goal.  Once I was doing that consistently (within a few weeks), I upped it to 1300 steps a day. Within another month I increased the goal again. Before long I was consistently recording 2000 or more steps a day. 

I lost 60 pounds. Which was great. And I felt so much better.  But a year and a half later I was a little frustrated. I didn't feel like the Fitbit One was accurately assessing the amount of effort that I put in.  I increased my overall activity level - both the intensity of my "exercise" but also my NEAT (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis) and it just wasn't showing up in my Fitbit record. I would struggle to add steps, but it didn't seem to make a difference in calories burned. Not to mention that activities that I did like house cleaning or yard work that made me sweat, pant and left me exhausted, were barely a blip in the record because not that many "steps" were taken in doing them. 

I can only speak for myself, but I suspect that others have the same experience: having rheumatoid arthritis and substantial osteoarthritis in back, knees, ankles, and feet makes movement challenging.  While pain is reduced by keeping moving, getting moving takes more effort. And when one is moving an obese body with painful joints the level of effort is even greater.  

When I retired this spring, I decided to try something else.  I got a Fitbit Alta HR which has a heart rate monitor in it, and that changed the way Fitbit recorded my exercise. My simple walks had the same number of steps (in the beginning) but the Fitbit now recognized that my effort was "cardio" and "peak" heart rates. When I added up and downhill on my walks the increased effort was noted. Calorie burn recorded increased. 

Having what I felt was a more accurate record of the effort that I was expending actually encouraged me to do more. I started in May with a 3,000 a day step goal and now have (and meet) a 7,000 a day step goal. Before May 2017, I had only 1 day with 10,000 steps a few years ago.  Now I have at least one day a week with 10,000 steps and hope that by spring 2018 I'll achieve a daily goal of 10,000 steps. 

This may not work for everyone, but for me, having what I feel is a more accurate record of the effort that I put into activity is rewarding and encourages me to set and achieve higher goals. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

I suck at Yoga and that's a wonderful feeling!

This is not bragging just a realistic assessment: I am a person with multiple intellectual and artistic talents. There are not many things that I have tried in life that I could not learn to do moderately well with a modicum of effort. 

There were two negative consequences to that: First, because I could do many things pretty well with a little bit of practice (like playing piano, or  understanding mathematics) with a few exceptions I rarely put in the kind of concerted, long term effort it takes to get really outstanding. I've been content with being above average on many things but not really excellent at anything.  Second, on the rare occasions that I encountered something at which I truly sucked (like playing guitar), I very quickly gave up. 

So yoga is a whole new experience for me.  I'm over Medicare age, morbidly obese, with extensive osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis; my disks are deteriorating, my rotator cuffs in both shoulders scarred from multiple injuries, and while my knees and hips aren't ready for surgery yet, it may not be long before they are. I haven't tried any exercise beyond walking since 1989. So I truly suck at yoga.  

My first yoga lesson (four weeks ago) was nearly my last. By the end of the first lesson, when I couldn't come near doing any of the exercises or postures - except for the breathing - I felt I had no right to take up space in a yoga class or the time of the yoga instructor. At the end of the class feeling depressed and humiliated I went up to the instructor to apologize for my miserable existence and say that I would not be back. But before I could get the first word out, the instructor (a truly amazing young woman) put her finger over my mouth and said "NO! Stop! You are NOT allowed to criticize yourself here." I don't remember everything she said next, but I left that room knowing that I would keep coming back and that it didn't matter if I continued to suck at yoga for years to come, as long as I got some benefit out of it. 

The incredible thing is that even though I still can't do anything at all the way it's suppose to be done, I can see tiny improvements and I feel so good at the end of each lesson, despite sucking so completely. It feels like a huge life victory to keep doing something even though I'm terrible at it.  

Saturday, June 3, 2017


As an academic, retirement has been a process, a series of "last" milestones.

April 25th was my last honors night, giving awards to my awesome, outstanding students...and getting a "standing ovation" from my colleagues.  April 27 was my last classroom day, and at the suggestion of the students we had a little party (after I crammed in one more 30 minutes of lecture!) - they gave me a lovely picture frame as a gift.  May 5th was my last graduation ceremony. Time to say good-bye to most of my teaching colleagues as well as this years' graduates. Then the last weekend of grading, and turning in my final set of grades on May 8th.

The rest of May was a mix of vacation days and days working in emptying out my office. I had 35 years of files - from previous teaching jobs as well as my current one - to sort through. A few things to keep, a lot to toss in recycling and even more that had to be run through a shredder (student confidentiality). There were lots of memories in there, lots of wonderful students, and some lousy experiences as well. On the days I wasn't in the office I was working on organizing my home office space so that there would be room for the few things I wanted to save. A lot of vacation days were also spent dealing with retirement paperwork..."who knew" there was so much paperwork involved with retirement?!

There were things that needed to be given away:  a huge treasure trove of craft materials were donated to a local Headstart program; my microwave went to Wendy in the office on one side of me, the refrigerator to Ariel in the office on the other side of me; Pricie in the office got huge piles of file folders, pens, pencils, scissors, tape, and other sundry office supplies; my multi-colored dry erase markers went to John; the Respiratory Therapy program gratefully accepted drawer organizers for their new classroom, and the Adult Ed program was glad to have all my stacking in/out boxes; books were donated to a variety of sources; the faculty secretary got my collection of coffee mugs, and sugar containers.

There was paperwork involved with tying up the committee I'd chaired for 2 years and making sure all the documents were available to be passed on to the next chairs.

This past Wednesday, May 31st was my very last day in that office. Everything (except two telephone books left for the next occupant) was gone except for the college's furnishings and college computer. My diplomas and awards and paintings had been taken down from the walls and carried home. At the end of the day, I took all the office keys - keys to the office door, the building front and back, the other building, and all the desk, cabinet and file keys - off my key ring and left them on the desk, leaving the door unlocked.

I had not realized how final that would feel. This is the first time in 42 years (since I started graduate school in January 1975) that I do not have a huge bundle of office keys and access to an office space away from my home.  I actually feel "retired" now (although my official retirement date is June 30 and last pay check two weeks after that).

Suddenly I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that. The earlier stuff, the end of actual teaching and grading and going to graduation felt good, felt like letting go of a huge burden. Letting go of my own personal office space and all that entails is much more sobering and scary.

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.