Saturday, February 23, 2008

time run like a freight train

At the end of last week, another professor at my small college campus died as the result of injuries sustained in a crash. It was a single vehicle accident (witnessed by one of his students), possibly the result of a seizure that caused him to loose control of the vehicle, run off the road into a river. There was a family funeral earlier this week in the next county. Friday we had a small, simple memorial service for faculty, staff and students.

I didn't know Ken very well. Very few of us did. He was very quiet, and kept to himself. At the memorial service it was reassuring to learn that he did have a few very good friends among at the college, people with whom he was open and sharing.

I regret that I didn't make more of an effort to know him, because I really liked what I did know. Some years ago, I drew Ken's name in our annual Christmas gift exchange. I had to do quite a bit of digging to get ideas. The woman who shared an office with him was able to tell me that Ken did stain glass work, and was quite good at it. I got him some patterns and some specialty glass. Now, I wish I'd followed up and found out what he'd done with my gift. One of the people who did know him well had seen his work, and said that it was beautiful.

Ken came to several professional development workshops I gave. He always asked good questions, had a subtle sense of humor, and made comments worth remembering. He was a large bear of a man, who always wore the same type of woven, white shirt, with no tie, no jacket winter and summer. He always seemed to be smiling.

I think many of us came away from the memorial service thinking the same thing -- that we have to make time to know people, to share with them, to be with them. College's are greedy institutions, they suck up faculty's time, the more you give, the more college's will take. Sometimes you just have to say "no" to work, and reach out to others.

After the memorial, another faculty member and I sat down and visited for nearly and hour. Mostly we talked about how stressed we were by work, but for once, instead of allowing that stress to cause us to part after a few hasty words, we relaxed for a while and caught up on each others' lives.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

five o'clock shadows

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of my favorite writers was columnist Herb Caen, who probably isn't much known outside the region. He was a practitioner of what he called "three dot journalism." His columns were a whole series of small nuggets and occasional gems of observations about "The City," "Baghdad by the Bay," its places, people, and events all strung together with three dots.

I thought of Herb Caen's three dot journalism as I replayed my first 24 hours of comments on the little tape recorder Betti sent me. Observations of a frosted paper-cut moon in the pale blue sky...the price of gasoline ($3.09 yesterday, and $3.14 today in the same places...the move of local gas stations from the old fashion plastic numbers, to high tech LED readouts to cope with the rapidly changing prices of the last few years...a particularly large, gleaming white sycamore leaping out of the five o'clock shadows behind the new Dollar General store ...the disappearance of a nice trailer from its hilltop location of the last five years, the deck and porches missing too...what message does the disappearing home communicate about the economy...Gladys (a 40 something student with grown children) has fuzzy dice in her battered van, utterly out of character.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

reading and blogging

Every night before falling asleep I read. In fact, I no longer seem to be able to fall asleep unless I do read. My bed time reading is frivolous. I only read fiction, and my preferences are for mysteries and science fiction.

When I was in college and graduate school, I had so much reading that I had to do, that I never read for pleasure because it generated too much guilt -- if I had time to read, then I ought to be reading one of the many required books or articles. In 1988, I was denied tenure on my first teaching post, and my friend Sharon sent me a mystery by "Amanda Cross" (aka Carolyn Heilbrun). It was called Death in a Tenured Position. It was exactly the right antidote for my feelings at that time. Sharon sent me other things, an early Sara Paretsky mystery for one. I began reading every night for 30 minutes to an hour before going to sleep, and the habit stuck. Now I keep basket of books under the nightstand.

Recently I discovered some new writers. I've been a member of the Mystery Book Club for years, but recently I've gotten lax about remembering to cancel the automatic shipments. So about six months ago I ended up with two boxes of books I had not really wanted. On the rare occasions that happened previously I would send them back unopened. But this time, I said, "what the heck" and decided to see what was there. As a result I had the chance to read a book by J.A. Jance. It was one of her mysteries featuring career homicide officer J.P. Beaumont; and I loved it. Got on and went back to the beginning of the series and ordered several more that were just as good. Then a few months later, I was in the grocery store and noticed a book by Jance that was NOT part of that series, called Web of Evil, and was introduced to former broadcaster and blogger "Ali". Another great character and story, so again I went back and got the first book in the series, and the most recent book.

Reading Jance's series about Ali have made me want to spend even more time blogging. The fictional Ali's blog "cutloose" is inspiring. Does anyone (ordinary person) have that kind of blog experience, where they develop a large readership and engage in real "conversation" in their forums/comments?

I've become part of a group blog Blue Island Almanack that has generated wonderful discussion, at least among the members of the group (and hopefully over time with a wider group of readers). But, Blue Island Almanack deals with important issues (environment, education, economy, etc.) and because of that it doesn't entirely fulfill all my needs for expression and interaction on-line. I'm still trying to figure out what kind of a blogger I want to be.

white sentinels

I just love sycamores in winter. The rest of the year they are such ordinary trees. But the moment that the leaves come down, the sycamores stand forth as the stark white sentinels of the forest.

In the mountains here, most of the roads follow the rivers and steams, and sycamores like the water. Huge sycamores stand between the road and the dull brown hillsides. In the early evening just before sunset when I'm on my way home from work, the sycamores stand in dramatic contrast to the darker hillsides.

One evening I remember, a moment, just as I drove around a curve, where a single huge, old sycamore was visible against a darkening violet sky, and a nearly full moon was tangled in its branches. How, I would have loved to have stopped to appreciate that, but there was a huge coal truck on my tail, and no place to pull off the road. Thank, G-d for memory.

There's a fairly large sycamore, just across the river from my office, I can see its polished fingers reaching skyward if I just turn my head slightly from the computer. I am worried, that the construction crew that is building a pedestrian bridge across the river (to connect the two parts of our small campus) may have to take down this tree.

I keep trying to write poems that convey how sycamores in winter make me feel, but nothing has ever quite captured the essence.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

aid to memory

My best friend of the past 45 years, after reading my blog sent me a little present -- a tiny voice recorder for my car. Now when I have those brilliant ideas I can grab it and gab. Can't wait to try it out.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

We like it warm...

Oscar (front left) and progeny Tigger (back) and James (right).

At least some one likes laundry day!

Friday, February 8, 2008

ruminations on seeing

Post-cataract surgery on my right eye, I am struggling with adapting to my changing vision, and wondering how long it will be before I can get the new glasses that will let me read again with ease. Physically I feel great, but emotionally this is far more challenging than I expected. I can already tell that in the long run my vision will be far superior to anything I've experienced since the age of 9, but the short run, with classes to teach and papers to grade is very daunting. The experience has reminded me of childhood events that had lay in the dusty back rooms of my memory for some time.

When I was a child (between the ages of 10 and 14) I was inordinately fascinated with Helen Keller. At ten I read a biography of her life written specifically for children, that had at the end of it a chart of the letters of the alphabet in sign language. I promptly memorized all the letters and practiced finger spelling often. At a slightly older age, I read Helen's own autobiography, and the play "The Miracle Worker," and saw the movie version starring Patty Duke and Ann Bancroft.

I spent a lot of time wondering what it would be like to be deaf or blind (but never both), and concluded that if I could choose (it never occurred to me to think about the fact that one does not get to choose these things) it would be preferable to lose my sight, because one could substitute reading with ones eyes with reading Braille, but one could not substitute hearing music with anything else.

The junior high school I attended, was paired with an elementary school, and was the location for the districts program for blind children. This was many decades before ADA and no one talked about children having "visual impairments." They were blind, and that was that. There were two girls my age, Barbara and Susan, who were part of that program and they each shared several classes with me. This was long before the term "mainstreaming" was introduced into the educational vocabulary. The younger children in the program spent more of their time in the programs classroom, while Barbara and Susan only went there for home room, lunch, and one other period during the day.

Just as I had earlier become fascinated with finger spelling, my attention was riveted by Braille. In the program room there were machines that one "typed" out Braille on; the sighted women who ran the program on a daily basis spent much of their time, translating students homework assignments and lessons from print into Braille, and translating the students' Braille documents into text for their regular teachers. In the classroom, both girls used Braille slates to take notes.

I started spending all my break and lunch time in the program room learning Braille. I never progressed beyond "First Grade" level --advanced Braille depends upon many contractions to shorten the laborious process of producing Braille writing. Using a Braille slate, was very labor intensive as each letter (except for "a") involved multiple punches (for multiple dots).

At the time, I did think about working in education with blind students, but mostly I had strange, almost romantic notions about disabilities. Disabilities, in my mind, made people interesting and exotic, not plain and ordinary like myself. I purchased my own Braille slate, and would lie in bed at night with the slate on my belly writing notes to Susan and Barbara, or trying to read notes they had written me by touch.

Then junior high school was over, and Barbara and Susan, went off to other high schools, and Braille like finger spelling got set aside for other interests. The finger spelling became useful briefly in college, when students from Gallaudet University did a semester exchange with some Oberlin students, and two Gallaudet students ended up on the dormitory floor I was responsible for as a "floor counselor" (Oberlin speak for Resident Assistants). As for the Braille, every day on the elevator, I run my fingers over the Braille letters for each floor, and for "door open" and "door close." Possibly the only person on our campus who has ever done so with understanding.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

birthday wonderings

My birthday is coming up this week. I have big plans for my birthday, but not my usual type of plans -- this year I'm going to have cataract surgery at a eye clinic more than two hours from my home. So there will be fasting instead of cake and ice cream, and long distance travel and waiting rooms, instead of flowers and movies. But I'll have my husband with me, and the end result (we hope) will a significant improvement in vision!

As long as I can remember, I have given undue weight to birthdays. One of my favorite songs of the 1970's was a song by John Denver's that summed up the magical feeling I had about birthdays:
Today is the first day of the rest of my life,
I wake as a child to see the world begin.
On monarch wings and birthday wonderings,
I want to put on a face, and walk in the wet and cold.
And look forward to my growing old.
To grow is to change,
to change is to be new,
to be new is to be young again,
I barely remember when.

It is not the process of aging, not the passage of years though, that birthdays signify to me. My focus has always been on the celebration of the day itself. Unless one is a member of a multiple birth (twins, triplets, etc.), then generally speaking one's birthday is experienced as a unique moment in time. It seemed to me that remembering someone on his or her birthday (or being remembered) was an expression of interest and attention to that person as an individual -- as someone special.

There's a whole world of advertising and cultural convention that reminds people to remember others at Christmas, Valentine's day, Mother's and Father's days. But to remember someone's birthday requires some effort (even if it is programming it into Outlook so that a reminder pops up). As a result, since the age of 13 I've always made remembering people's birthdays a priority. Unfortunately, I also made the mistake of assuming that other people remembering my birthday was a measure of how much they cared about me. This, of course, set me up for many disappointments in life.

Year after year, I continued to remember with cards and lengthy letters to birthdays of more than three dozen family, friends and co-workers. Out of that group, a few people, Betti, Sharon, Andy, and of course my parents, never failed to remember and mark the day with calls and cards. In the last decade, I've come to realize that those disappointments resulted from my expectations, rather than from the failure of friends. My wonderful husband, John, has contributed to my changing view. A loving and caring man, who is always there day after day, with genuine support, John's record on remembering and marking "events" like birthdays and anniversaries is only so-so. Some years he goes all out with flowers, cards, gifts, and other years, they seem to slip his mind entirely. But his love is never wavering and has little to do with his ability to remember such conventional milestones as anniversaries.