Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dona Nobis Pacem

A few years ago a remarkable woman by the name of Mimi Lennox had a simple idea, what if at least one day a year millions of people all over the world could focus on just one thought, the thought of peace throughout the world, that perhaps slowly more people would think about peace every day, write about peace, talk about peace and work for peace. Thus was born the Blog Blast for Peace

Has it made any difference in the world? I don't know, but it has made some small difference in my own actions. I don't keep quiet when it comes to issues of war and peace, I make sure that people with the power to make decisions know my thoughts. Does that make a difference to the does if enough people speak up. 

So here is my one day reminder, my little mental "tug" to myself for the rest of the year that speaking up for peace in the world is important. That if enough little voices speak up, they become one big voice. 

(I'm posting a little early because I'm too sleepy to stay up till midnight!)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Live Each Day

Dropped in on Facebook this morning to find a lot of my younger friends were wishing their lives away:  "How I wish this day were over;" "If only this day would end;" "Pray for this day to be over."  I thought, how sad this is.  When you get to my age time moves so swiftly...reminds me of a song lyric from Eric Anderson in the 1970's "Time like a freight train..." Days, weeks, months, even years are gone before I realize it.

Whether one is faced with the problem of moments that drag or moments that vanish to quickly the solution is the same: work on being in the moment, noticing and experiencing life as it is happening to you. Not that this is at all easy. But it does not mean working all the time or being "on" all the time. Some times the best way to be in the moment is to relax, practice deep breathing, a quiet moment of reflection, a brief walk to the window or door, even take a nap (albeit few people have the luxury to nap at work).

{time out for a stroll to the mail box and a lawn mowing break and the sweet, sweet smell of morning grass, mixed with the pungent odor of gasoline from the mower; unaccustomed muscle use, sweat, and heart rate elevation!}

 I wanted to extend this thought to several people I know in a gentle non-judgmental way. I know their work is not always full-filling, their days often tiresome. I've noticed that people often respond to what I call "bumper stickers" on Facebook--images with meaningful statements on them--much more readily than direct advice. So I crafted the message above and floated it out into Facebook land.  I'm happy that it seemed to reverberate with a number of people, and has been "shared" repeatedly. I know I've going to post it prominently somewhere to remind myself of one of my better thoughts and try to put it into practice more often.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Musings on the Changing Nature of Friendship in My Life

This evening the Facebook page Humans of New York (HONY) had a picture of a man about my age, sitting on a stoop and the quote was the following:
"Back in Greece, your circle of friends grows larger and larger as you go through life. In America, the circle mostly shrinks or stays the same size."
"Why do you think that is?"
"Time. Nobody has time here. It seems that every time you make a new friend, another friend has grown too busy or moved away."
I always like HONY's pictures and quotes (if you haven't discovered this young man's incredible portraits in photo and words, you really should); all of them speak to me in some way, but this particular quote hit very close to home. I know that I am ultimately responsible for the lack of friends in my daily life, but I'm not entirely sure how to change the situation after all these years.

When I was a teenager I spent my time outside of school alone. I had good friends at school, some of whom I am still in touch with today (especially thanks to tools like Facebook). In high school most of my friends lived miles away; I had no car, neither did they, so our interactions generally ended with the school day. I was lonely, but also liked having space and time to read, write, draw and paint, dream and sing on my own.

College was amazing to me. There were people to talk to, to do things with any time of the day or night. People with whom to sit and listen to music, to go to a movie, have a meal or drink, to discuss the nature of reality or plan the revolution. Graduate school was more of the same: there was always someone with whom to talk, to share things, to laugh or cry. Even my first college teaching job involved intense friendship networks. The college faculty was mostly very young, and mostly a long ways from their family and kin networks, so there were Wednesday "seminars" at local watering holes where intellectual and political ideas could be debated, frequent potluck parties, and other singles with whom to have meals, go to movies, shopping, or just hanging out.  

During those decades from college to first teaching job I tried very hard to make and keep friends. I reached out to others, gave parties, made an effort, because as much as I loved the intensity and the wide ranging nature of the friendships of those years, I am at heart an introvert who loves people, not an extrovert. I still needed plenty of alone time for recharging.

When I failed to get tenure at my first teaching job, and had to leave that intense friendship network, I found it difficult to put energy into a whole new set of friendship ties. The whole process was made so much more difficult because my second job (like my current one) was at a school where almost everyone on the faculty and staff was local and most were older; they all ready had extensive networks of family, kin and friends.  They were friendly and pleasant, but few people invited me to their home, or had social events at which I could get to know my colleagues the way I had known those at my first job. What I should have done was make more of an effort, not less of one. But as the new person I didn't know how to reach out to those already in place.

A few years later when a large new crop of faculty were hired at one time, I saw it as an opportunity.  I volunteered to be on the welcoming committee. I reached out in dozens of ways: providing both  a young married couple and a single mom with a large family with temporary beds, bedding and other furnishings while they waited for their own to arrive, doing the apartment hunting for another incoming colleague, and even offering my guest room to one new faculty who was having difficulty finding a place to live. I did my best to mentor the new people in a way that I had not been mentored. Well you know what they say, "no good deed goes unpunished." A new female faculty member decided that I was a controlling, dominating bitch that had to go if she was going to rise in power and position (she literally said that if I got tenure she would be forced to leave...I didn't get tenure and she left anyway). A new male faculty member decided that my offers of assistance (as part of an official new faculty welcoming committee) were sexual harassment and that I was responsible for all his difficulties with students in the classroom.

I made a couple of friends among colleagues, one of them my husband, John.  Getting married changed the dynamics of my life and provided for the first time a best friend who was available all the time.

Failing to get tenure again, I found a new job at a community college, where people were even more tightly integrated into family, kin and community networks. They were kind and welcoming, but had their own lives, and I was afraid to invest too much energy into building friendships - my last efforts having backfired so badly.  There are people here that I care very much about, whose parents I've met and whose children I know (many of whom end up in my classroom). But our friendships end at the edge of the campus (with the exception of Facebook in recent years).  I have only once been to the home of some one from work and that meant so much to me to be invited. 

I know that I'm responsible for my lack of friendship ties.  I have not invited anyone to my home (while I love my cats and dogs I am somewhat embarrassed by the constant chaos and smell). I have not made a point of issuing any invitations of my own, to dinner or movies or a "night out with the girls." First blogging and then Facebook have come along to fill some of the spaces and needs that local friendships used to meet.  The Internet has introduced me to some wonderful new people, especially women my age who are talented and interested in similar issues (thank you, Deb, Chris, Beth, Geraldine, and Mimi) and to some young women who've helped me understand the next generation (thanks, Susan and Gwen); the Internet has also brought me back in daily touch with the friends of my adolescence and childhood, and the occasional friend from college, grad school and earlier jobs. My life seems overwhelmingly busy between work, house work, caring for animals, Facebook, writing, and I don't even seem to have enough time to spend with my wonderful husband...yet I miss the face-to-face and voice-to-voice friendships of colleagues - women especially. 

So I wonder how do I go about changing things, and do I still have the energy to do so?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Fictional Drama and Real Life

Over the last six months, I have heard several different friends make similar comments to me about no longer being interested in reading or viewing certain types of fictional drama, because of the drama in their own lives. Each of these friends had very different types of drama playing out in their own lives and different types of fiction that they eschewed (while continuing to embrace other forms of fictional entertainment).

 It is important that people act in ways that are true to their values  and when some form of entertainment is counter to their values, or causes distress in their lives, they should remove it from their lives. I commend my friends for excising things from their lives that were not contributing to their well-being.

 The problem I have with these pronouncements is that whether consciously intended as such or not they have come across to me as a form of condescension, not to me so much as to other people generally. It seemed to me that  these friends were saying  that anyone who witnessed or knew real tragedy, death, pain, drama would not wish to immerse themselves in the fictional kind whether it be movies, TV or books;  the corollary of that (never spoken but implicit) was that people who did immerse themselves in fictional drama did not really know real tragedy, death, pain or drama--something not only condescending, but demonstrably false.

Friday, July 5, 2013

An twenty-four year old environmental puzzle

The second blog post I ever made (back in 2005) concerned an environmental puzzle that I had observed for some 15 years. It is now eight years later, and I am no closer to having a real answer to my question.

Since 1989, when I moved into this part of central Appalachia, I have been observing a trend with the Ohio Buckeye tree.  These lovely trees can be seen all over eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and northeast Tennessee. They have large hand shaped pinnate leaves in groups of five.  They seem to like moist areas and are often seen along creeks and rivers (and the roads that run along creeks and rivers).

Guides to eastern trees speak of the gorgeous pumpkin orange color of Ohio Buckeye trees in the autumn.  However, my environmental puzzle concerns why the Ohio Buckeye has been showing fall color earlier and earlier each year for the past twenty-four years.

 When I first arrived in the region, the Ohio Buckeye changed color at the beginning of the normal autumn season in late September or early October. Between 1989 and 2005 I observed the Ohio Buckeye beginning to show it's brilliant color earlier and earlier.  In my 2005 post, I observed by early to mid-August. Since 2005, the color change has moved even earlier. This year, the color change began last week - the first week in July. The images here were taken today, July 5, 2013 in Kingsport, Tennessee along Reedy Creek from the Kingsport Greenbelt pathway.

This is how it begins a small branch or two of each tree turns brilliant color, then more do, and then the leaves turn yellow and brown and fall off - MONTHS before any of the other trees in the forest. Each year the process of turning color and losing leaves gets earlier.  A tree that once turned color in late September early October, now begins turning color in June and July and has lost all its green leaves by August. At some point in time, if this continues, the tree will not have green leaves long enough to provide the energy it needs to keep on living.

What is going on? Why is this happening? There does not seem to be any pest involved. Is it changing climate? If so what is it about the climate?  Central Appalachia is getting both measurably warmer, but also wetter.  We've just completed one of the wettest Junes on record.

Anyone out there know someone with an answer?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day Thoughts

Father's day is a difficult day for me to spend time on Facebook.  On Facebook it seems like everyone I know has or had the perfect father, whom they love unreservedly, and if deceased miss whole-heartedly. Reading all these posts makes me feel weird and a little crazy, and jealous of these people with their wonderful fathers. The cynic in me also wonders a little how much embellishment of reality is taking place.

I never particularly liked Father's Day while my father was alive.  It was an annual obligation. As a child there had to be a gift, as an adult a card and a phone call. These were rote duties that must be performed, or my mother would be upset with me.

Father's day is even worse since he died because my feelings do not fit into some nice acceptable "oh I miss my dad" box. Fact is that I don't really miss my father. I didn't really have much of a relationship with him for nearly 20 years before he died as his profound deafness made telephone interaction with him impossible. My relationship in him in childhood, adolescence and young adulthood was very conflicted relationship. Which leaves about 15 years in the middle when I had a reasonably comfortable albeit long distance and sporadic connection with him.

My feelings about my father were ambivalent as long as I can remember. There are many good things I can say about him.  First of all I loved him, simply because he was my father. He made sure there was a roof over my head and food on the table. Of course he always made sure we knew that the roof and everything under that roof was his and only his, and everything under his roof had to be done his way.

He was a very intelligent and creatively very talented, but he had not gotten education after high school as a young man like his brother and sisters because he had the bad timing to graduate in 1930 seven months after the stock market crashed.  He frequently spoke at home of the ignorance of the men who were his supervisors. They had more formal education than he did but he expressed low opinions of their mental abilities and talents. He spent most of my childhood attending night classes at the local community college until he finally completed his degree, and was granted the advancement to management that he had always craved.

His diligence at his studies was a good example. Both he and my mother were adamant that me and my brothers would get a college education, and good grades were the primary achievements lauded in our household. But, when a man who works 40+ hours a week goes to night school two nights a week and studies at his desk many of the other nights of the week, it makes it difficult for his children to connect to him. He was either gone or very busy, and when he was studying we had to be very quiet.  The only conversations that I can remember from childhood were primarily related to school work, when I took homework (mostly math) to his desk to ask him a question.

Meal times were particularly difficult. My father would come home from work, around four, at which point the TV that we children were watching was immediately shut off. There were the occasionally really good days, especially in spring and summer when after he got home, my dad would take us outside or to the local park to play softball or tennis. Or he'd go out to the garage to help us with some project - a race car, scooter, or other such thing.

More often however, were the days when after work my father would begin to complain about his day. He would rant about whatever slights he felt had occurred at work, and about the stupidity of the men with which he worked. He would pick up the evening paper and look at the headlines, and then shift into that evenings political rant. His political rants would last through supper which went fairly quickly.  We children said nothing. Our opinions were of no consequence. On the rare occasion that my mother offered an opinion, especially on those occasions where she suggested that perhaps there might be some other interpretation to events, she was loudly berated and shouted down by my father. No other thoughts or opinions were tolerated other than my fathers at the dinner table, and no other conversation other than his nightly discourse on his work, American politics, world affairs or the economy were acceptable.

My father was a liberal, a hard-core union man who gave me a copy of the Communist Manifesto when I was about 11 or 12, and who believed in political equality for blacks and women (but not equality in the home when it came to housework), and all though registered Republican he voted for Kennedy and Johnson and  most adamantly against Nixon and Reagan.  I agreed with his political values then, and still agree with them, but did not enjoy his tyrannical control over all conversation at the table. I was afraid of my father, who frequently bellowed and yelled and bullied and intimidated his family verbally. 

As a child I was a big fan of Clarence Day's Life with Father and the play and the movie it inspired and did not really see the correspondence between that father and my own. However, when Archie Bunker hit the small screen, although I watched regularly with friends who loved the show, I never really cared for it, because despite having 180 degree opposite political views and being far more educated and articulate, my father was way too much like Archie for me to be really comfortable with laughing at that show.

I was afraid in other ways that I understand less clearly.  From a very young age, I was unable to sleep through an entire night without having to use the bathroom at least once. I was frightened of the dark (in my early 20's I came to realize that my night vision was dramatically poorer than most other people my age which accounts for some of my night fears). Every night, I would wake up and I would call out very softly to my mother: "mama, mama, I have to pee, mama." It was very important to me to wake her up and have her watch over me. However, I was absolutely terrified -with a deep cold dread- of waking-up my father. Waking my father was worse than getting up alone in the dark.

When I was about 12 or 13 my father injured his back (not the first time), and went into the hospital for an extended stay. I remember experiencing an enormous sense of release and freedom at his absence. It was as if an ominous cloud over our existence had been lifted briefly. I remember that my mom experimented with some foods that we kids wanted - in particular I remember her getting mint chocolate chip ice cream and spumoni with pistachio ice cream (my father forbid green ice cream in his house).  Life with him in the hospital was like a holiday.

In high school my relationship with my father went from bad to worse. I was painfully aware that my family dynamics were the exact opposite of nearly all my friends. Most of my teenage contemporaries did daily battle with their mothers and adored their fathers. I almost never fought with my mother, on the surface we were always in sync and often felt like we were comrades in an on-going war with my father, who bullied and terrorized me constantly. Home work was suppose to be a priority, but should my homework keep me up past the time my father wished to go to bed there would be yelling and threats.  Personal space was not respected, even in the bathroom for me as a teenage girl. My feelings of hatred were strong enough that they scared me; so much so that I sought out my high school "counselor" (a P.E. teacher who did academic advising) for advice.  I remember only that she had a hapless, bewildered look and no real advice to offer.

Ultimately I ran away from home to get away from my father. Yes, I went to college, 2500 miles away.  I was one of less than a dozen (out of 425) students from my high school class who left California to go to college (there were such great, tuition free public colleges and universities in California as well as outstanding private institutions that it was rare for students to leave the state in the 1960's and 1970's). It was my "great escape" and my mother encouraged me to begin planning  it when I was a sophomore in high school.

Our conflicts were never discussed, never openly examined, never resolved. Distance simply allowed me to move on with my life. However, I have come to realize since his death things buried in the psyche never really go away, they just influence you in ways you fail to recognized consciously.

While there are many things that I admire or appreciate about my father, and I loved him because he was my father, I cannot say that I miss him. I am not sorry that he is gone. He lived a long life (died just before his 98th birthday), and expressed a readiness to go for some months before he died. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013


One of the things that I most like about Facebook is how my very diverse group of friends bring such varied items to my attention - which often in serendipitous fashion form some type of gestalt.

This morning my attention was called to an interesting article in Mother Jones "The Problem with Men Explaining Things," by Rebecca Solnit. Solnit was complaining about the phenomenon of having to listen to men explain some technical or historical facts to her - men who knew little or nothing about the subject on which she was a recognized, published expert.

The article itself was very interesting, but as is often the case the comments had more to reveal than the article itself. A lengthy argument had broken out in the comments over whether or not women were equally guilty of "explaining things" to men as the reverse. Tempers flared, names got called. Little light was shed.

I have to say all my personal experiences of having sociological, technological and scientific things on which I have expertise "explained" to me by someone with less expertise have come from men. However, later this morning also on Facebook, I happened across some comments left by some female friends on a post I made yesterday, and realized that women do engage in a different type of "explaining" related to emotions.

My experience with women, beginning with my mother, is that many women presume to be experts not only on their own emotions, but on yours. When they hear or read the emotional statements of someone else, they translate them into their own emotional matrix, and then "explain" your feelings back to you. The intent is well-meaning. They are trying to be kind, sympathetic, and supportive, but since they have translated what you have said into their own emotional matrix, their interpretation of the meaning is often 180 degrees off - because not everyone feels the same things.

While it is pleasant to know that I am viewed by some as kind and nurturing, I do not feel any sense of loss for not having been a mother, and do not need to be reassured that I am "really" a mothers for having cared for others.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Indigo Bunting - Woven Dreams "Blue"

Indigo Bunting

More elusive than happiness,
more rare than desire,
seconds on a fence
engraved forever
in memory only,
Passerina cyanea,
bluest bluebird of all.

Sunday February 10, 2013
Photos by others

for more creativity on the theme of "Blue" check out Woven Dreams