Monday, November 24, 2014

Follow Up

Okay, the decision has been released, and here's my follow-up.

I trust the Grand Jury. I trust that they, as our peers, and as the peers of Officer Wilson and Michael Brown, did the very best they could with the evidence they were given. I trust that our justice system worked exactly as it was designed.

Is there injustice in America? Yep. Do awful, tragic things happen every day? Absolutely.

But let's not make the actions of this young man (this young man who stole, assaulted a store clerk, then assaulted a police officer) the poster child for racial injustice. If we want to talk about consequences, we should also look very carefully at the consequences of his own actions. He made some bad decisions, and he paid the ultimate price. What do the protesters think Officer Wilson should have done? Do they think he should have stood by and let himself be injured or possibly killed himself? I mean it. I want that question answered. A police officer faced a threatening, angry, extremely large man (I don't care about his color) was he supposed to respond? I had to leave Facebook, because the sheer idiocy I see unfolding there is infuriating.

And now they're burning Ferguson, building by building. What will that solve? If anything, these actions will only make racial tension worse.

Please, I beg of you, anyone who is reading this, please pray or send good juju or whatever you do to make this universe good and kind and safe. And show love to anyone and everyone you meet. It's the only way we'll make it through.

Questions and Fears

I think what frightens me most, what probably frightens everyone most, is that we don't know just how bad it will be.

We know the decision will come down – indict or don't indict – and either way people are going to be upset. Either way, something will happen.

There are some people who think that it will largely be confined to Ferguson, and maybe the courthouse in Clayton. Some folks feel it may spread to other, larger targets such as corporations and public venues like museums. Two malls have closed, a Target, and multiple other businesses and organizations. There are still others who fear for their safety in areas that shouldn't, by all reason, come close to being affected.

The whole thing has set the city on edge, far worse than racial tensions over the decades.

I think that a lot of people are missing that there are two sides to every story, that there are injustices everywhere, all the time, and that we are all responsible for correcting those and becoming better people, better neighbors.

Blacks have it rough. Cops have it rough. This, no one can deny. What I can't figure out is why we haven't been able to come together as reasonable human beings and discuss how we can make this better. Is the magic bullet education? Is it letting go of old prejudices? And how do we do that? Is it realizing, as a collective society, that not all cops are arrogant assholes and not all blacks with sagging pants are thugs? A badge doesn't denote a person's moral integrity any more than a sartorial statement through blue jeans.

It all comes down to this: stop judging. Stop judging people based on what they wear, what they do for a living, how they speak, what kind of music they like. Stop assuming that every police officer's beat is like something out of Mayberry, and recognize that their families fear for the lives of their loved ones every single time they put on the uniform and walk out the door. Stop assuming that a guy with a gun and a badge is on some kind of power trip. The police officers I know are good, kind people, called to serve the public in this very special way. Thank goodness someone answers that call; I know I don't have the courage to do it.

At the same time, stop assuming that all black people are ignorant, lazy, and hate white people. Instead of judging people, reach out to them. Get to know them. It's really hard to hate someone you know well. Think about that. If you can't get out to meet people of other races, pick up a book. Read. Learn about what many black children face in economically challenged areas. Realize that it's a terrible cycle that most kids find unable to break. Saying "they need to be better parents" about black adults doesn't fix anything. Figure out that the cycle repeats itself, over and over again, because no one steps in to help, to say wait, there's a different way, a better way. It's a pretty simple outcome that's easily predictable: a child grows up in a community ravaged by violence and drugs. The child doesn't know any better, doesn't know that there's a different way to live, or if he does, how to live that way. The child grows up, learning survival and self-preservation on the streets. His first thoughts are to find food and shelter, every day, and to keep from being shot. It's not education. Gradually, he grows up and, to support himself (i.e. to keep finding food and shelter and protection) he turns to the only thing he's ever known: drugs and violence. And then his children grow up the same way, and his grandchildren, and his great grandchildren. What on earth will stop that cycle? It sure as hell isn't judging and condemning and saying, "They ought to just change." No child on earth is born thinking he wants to grow up to commit crimes or be a drug addict. We are all, for better or for worse, products of our environment.

I read threads online, people on both sides hurling insults and accusations at each other. I see a lot of "they," which is a convenient way to condemn an entire race of people in one sentence. "They don't want to work." "They all hate blacks." It's ridiculous. It's like me judging every child in the world by my own, instead of recognizing her own individual strengths and talents and yes, weaknesses. Doesn't she deserve more than that? So, by extension, don't we all deserve more than that?

Look, I realize that being judgmental is a very human, very natural thing to do. I'm not saying I don't do it myself. It's easy to fall into that trap. But what's amazing is that every time I have caught myself judging someone, and I've made an effort to get to know that person, I have learned things that I never, ever would have realized on my own. I have learned what motivates someone to do what she does, to say what he says. And when you understand someone's motivations, you understand that they are coming from a place of hurt, or a place of love, or a place of suffering. And I can't condemn someone for hurting, or loving, or suffering. Can you?

Yes, I have expressed frustration by all the illogical violence and looting that has taken place. It makes no sense to me why people would want to destroy their own community, only we've learned that a lot of those people aren't even from Ferguson. Okay, so strike judging the people of Ferguson off your list. Now, do we judge the outsiders who come in and loot and rob and steal and threaten? Who incite violence? That's the easy way out. It's easy to Monday-morning quarterback and tsk tsk and say, "Those people are awful. They should all be shot." The harder question is this: why are they doing this? What in their own lives, their own childhood, have pushed them to the point of behaving this way? Until we figure that out, and address it, there will never be peace in Ferguson or anywhere. There will always be a flashpoint waiting to happen.

I'm sad that my beloved city is serving as the touchstone for this, a new kind of ground zero. I, like most people here, prefer to go about our business and cheer on the Cardinals and gripe about the Rams and visit our world-class zoo and art museum and drink our Budweiser (all while complaining about InBev, which has become a St. Louis past-time). But we'll never be that again. Things may settle down, but we'll always carry the scars of what is happening right now, right here.

History is being made, and my question is this: will we learn from it?

An early Christmas gift from me to you

It's that time of the year: time to start stressing out about buying Christmas presents. It's a wonderful time of anxiety and, as we near the actual holiday, panic. In my humble opinion, the Christmas season would be a lot more enjoyable if every person I knew had an Amazon wish list.

My child has made it somewhat easier on Santa this year by posting her wish list on the giant piece of tempered glass that serves as our write-erase board between the great room and the mudroom. Only she asks for things that either she will never get with her current father (a chicken, a puppy) or are unfortunately impossible for anyone, even Santa, to provide (world peace, the end of illness). There are a few gems on there that I'm sure Santa will bring.

In an attempt to help some of you, dear readers, I will share a Christmas gift idea for kids six and over.

Sometime in the last year, I stumbled across a website called The Rumpus. It's got a mix of articles, book reviews, advice columns, author interviews, and writing tips. I love it because it's quirky and unpredictable. While poking around on it one day, I discovered a program they offer called Letters for Kids. Twice a month, a children's book author drafts a letter aimed towards children, and the good people at The Rumpus make copies and mail them out to subscribers. The benefit here is two-fold: a.) kids get their very own mail (who doesn't remember being totally stoked to get your OWN mail when you were a kid?) and b.) kids get a peek into the minds and lives of actual authors.

It sounded like a great idea, but the site doesn't post any samples so I didn't really know what to expect. I read the reviews of a few subscribers (parents, and aunts) and they were glowing. Huh. Finally, a couple months ago, I pulled the trigger and signed up Zozo. I figured it was 58 bucks and if I didn't like the letters I just wouldn't give them to her.

Holy. Crap.

The first letter came and it was awesome. It was laid out like a well-drawn comic strip and outlined the author's creative process (which, for her, involves a shit-ton of coffee). The second one was more of a traditional letter, complete with a beautiful line drawing of original art from one of her books. It touched on morality in a fun, warm manner. (If a kid finds a twenty in the classroom and keeps it until the teacher announces another student lost it, then turns it in, did he really do the right thing? Wouldn't it have been better for the finder to turn it in as soon as he found it? One should always attempt to do the right thing right off the bat…) She received her third letter this weekend, from an author who lives in Springfield, Missouri, and learned all about the woman's eclectic collections, which sparked a discussion about our own collections. Each of these letters asks the reader questions to consider, and each author encourages the reader to write back with his or her own answers by providing a snail mail address. How cool is that?

Zoe has gotten only three, but she's already so excited about the program that every time I bring in the mail and show her an envelope with her name and The Rumpus return address logo, she screams and immediately drops whatever she's doing to rip open the envelope and read her latest letter. To be honest, I'm just as excited as she is.

I read the first letter with her, prepared at any moment to rip it from her hands if I saw something inappropriate. The Rumpus doesn't post samples, so it was a leap of faith to sign up for this. No one I knew had a subscription, and you can't always trust internet reviews. So I sat there, practically on top of her, speed-reading with a hand poised like the censor on a televised awards show. I had nothing to worry about. It was completely appropriate (hello, CHILDREN'S book author…duh) and delightful.

I helped her open the second envelope and then let her read it by herself. I helped her open the envelope because she cannot, even at the age of 9, open an envelope without shredding it. I always worry that she'll inadvertently shred whatever is stuffed into the envelope, so I taught her to use a letter opener with the second letter. She didn't care…she just wanted the damn thing open so she could read it. She read it, then brought it to me and I read it, and then we talked about it.

When the third letter arrived this weekend, as she was shredding the envelope (by that point in the day I was too tired to get up and fetch the letter opener, and too tired to even care) and headed towards her room, she said, "Mama? Want to come snuggle and read it with me?" Hell, yeah. This one was a typed letter but also had lots of handwritten notes in the margin. The author's writing is bold and a little sloppy, and Zozo is still learning to decipher script, so I offered to help her should she get stuck on any words. She did not ask for help, but I saw her scowling over the part where the author shows a photo of her vintage, plastic King Kong figurine complete with one hand gripping a one-armed, one-legged Faye Wray and so attempted to explain.

Anyway, for those of you with a literary bent and with kids in your life over the age of six (Ping, I'm looking at you), I highly recommend this program. Since the letters come twice a month, it feels like she's getting them all the time, but they are spaced just far enough that she has time to really look forward to the next one.

Once again, I'm emailing this post in, so I can't embed a link (they really ought to fix that), so I'll just post it here:

Enjoy! (And when you get the Award of Coolest Gift Giver Ever, just be sure to give me credit. And maybe the good people at The Rumpus who thought of this whole brilliant program and make it happen twice monthly.)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Merry Printmas

M ordered my Christmas present yesterday. We researched and discussed features and options, and we even went out to a store to look over what we thought we wanted. (I'm a huge proponent of buying local, but when Amazon has the exact same thing for over a hundred dollars less, it's hard to pass it up.)

We ordered an HP color laser printer.

Our experience with home printers has not been good. We've had at least two that I can remember, and possibly a third that was so awful I have blocked it from memory. Although we are fully aware that printer companies aren't really in the business of selling printers – they're in the business of selling ink – we do feel that printers ought to work more than 25% of the time without having to re-set things, turn it off and turn it back on again, and not have to replace ink cartridges every time we want to print a single page. It seems we were stuck in the inkjet cesspool.

We were so frustrated with our last printer experience that we've essentially gone a couple of years without a printer. Oh sure, it's sitting out there in the media center, blue light glowing cheerily as if to say, "Hey there! Send your print job to me!" The fact that it's got a shit-ton of crap piled on it is the only reason it hasn't been tossed out the door into the front yard. When we want something printed, we send it up to the nearest FedEx Office or across the back yard to my MIL.

Now that I'm writing more and entering contests (!), I need to print fairly regularly. And now that Zoe has a school project due every 38 seconds, usually requiring photos and now with the option to turn in typed work, she needs to print fairly regularly. M's coaching work involves printing rosters, practice schedules and data. In short, it was time we welcomed another printer into the house.

We knew we did not want another inkjet. Oh sure, they lure you in by selling those pieces of shit for $45. "What a great deal!" we'd say. And we'd throw one in the cart at Sam's Club, bring it home, unpack it and plug it in. It'd work great for a short while, and then the honeymoon abruptly ended. This last one required a couple of calls to the manufacturer to get some sort of replacement part.Yes, it was covered under warranty, but it wasn't fun having to take time to trip through voiceprompt hell to find the right person, then wait for the new part to arrive, then dismantle the printer to install. By the time that happened, we hadn't used the printer in a couple of weeks. This inevitably led to clogged inkjet nozzles, and the only way to fix clogged inkjet nozzles is to blow a crapload of ink through them to unclog them. I can't tell you how many times I had to start a cleaning cycle, seething while I listened to my money blow through the nozzles and knowing I'd probably have to do two more cycles just to get the damn thing working properly. No sooner would we get them cleaned out than we'd get the "low ink" warning. Of course. At this point I would be so frustrated with the whole thing that I'd find alternative printing sources. I'd eventually run into a deadline that required printing at home which led me to discover…wait for it…clogged print nozzles.

I read an article one time that inkjet printer ink is the most expensive fluid in the world. It's way higher than gasoline, even when gas is off the charts. In fact, the author of the article took the amount of ink in one cartridge and calculated how much it would be if it were sold as a magnum of champagne. It was something like seventeen times higher than the world's most expensive champagne. This made me feel even better as I'd sit through yet another nozzle cleaning cycle.

Our last printer also boasted wireless connectivity. Once we put it on the network, we'd be able to print to it from any computer in the house! We could print from the other end of the house, actually, and saunter out at our leisure to pick up our document. We dreamed of printing delight, or at least of ease and convenience. I believe it took M about 79 hours, multiple diagnostic webpages, and a fair amount of expletives to get the damn thing set up to work wirelessly approximately 17% of the time. Plug & play was not in the cards for this printer. It also turned out that if you went even a couple of days without printing wirelessly, it'd lose the connection and he'd have to start the set-up process all over. I remember being desperate to print something one day and not telling him that it wasn't working. It was easier to pull the damn thing out of the media cabinet, including all the cords we carefully snaked through the back, take it into the dresser in the guest room (we were hidden from M's printer wrath in there), plug it in, and hardwire my laptop to the printer just to print a page. Well, I was able to print after I sat through multiple nozzle cleaning cycles, of course. My frustration level was as high as his, but I had not yet reached the point of wanting to chuck the printer into the yard. I knew if I went to him with yet another issue with this stupid piece of equipment, it'd be all over.

So we knew going into this new printer purchase that we didn't want an inkjet. Since dot matrix printers have fallen off the horizon of ever-advancing technology, this means we were looking at laser printers. Color or black and white? Color, definitely. Mostly for the child. So far this year she's done reports on owls and Mary, Queen of All Saints, plus a couple of book reports. All of these are enhanced by color images. Wireless? Yeah, since we have, at any given time, five different computers that we'll need to print from. Airprint? Yep…mobile devices numbering five as well. We decided we didn't need an all-in-one, as we have no need to fax (does anyone still fax any more?) and it's just as easy to snap a photo of something with our iPhones as it is to scan.

Armed with the knowledge of the printer we thought wanted, we visited a local store. We both went in with the thought that if the store was willing to negotiate, we'd pay a bit higher and buy the printer on the spot in exchange for the salesperson's knowledge. Nope. The store lost a sale yesterday and we saved over a hundred smackers.

After looking at the printers, we went to the ink cartridge aisle. A wall of boxes piled up, looming, with different codes depending on which printer they're used for. Apparently, when manufacturers make printers, they design whole new cartridge systems for each printer. Heaven forbid should multiple printers take the same cartridge. We found the ink cartridges for the printer we wanted, checking out page capacity and price. Laser printer cartridges are not cheap, but I figure we'll save money by not having to blow out the damn nozzles every time we want to print. This was when the sales guy decided to try to sell us an inkjet printer instead. "You can save a lot of money by buying an inkjet printer. Lasers are expensive!" he said cheerily. I patiently explained our issues with wasting ink, and said that our frustration with several different inkjet printers was now leading us to laser. He said, "Oh, no. They're much better now. Plus, this manufacturer has a program where, if you don't print something for three months, they figure something is wrong and they'll automatically ship you new ink cartridges! It's great!" He beamed. I stared at him. First of all…Big Brother? I don't want my printer manufacturer monitoring me every time I print. WTF. Also, I needed clarification. "For free? They'll send me new ink cartridges for free?" His smile fell. "Um, no. You have to buy them. But they know when to send them to you and the program only costs like $38 a year." So, let me get this straight: you're recommending a program where the manufacturer sells me even more ink that I will waste, and I have to pay to be in that program? Huh. Also, I don't want to sit around and wait for the new ink cartridges to arrive when I need something printed now. "Oh, they'll get to you in five to ten days." Yeah, that really helps when I need something printed NOW. They're called deadlines, asshole.

This is when we decided to have no guilt by purchasing from Amazon, which had neatly provided a long list of consumer reviews that gave us much more information than the in-store salesman.

I am so excited to have a printer again, one that works and that has good quality. We both have experience with HP lasers at our places of employment, and they are workhorses. They just continually crank out page after page with no issues. The one in my office is at least five years old, I think, and is awesome. I'm actually looking forward to cleaning out the media cabinet today, to make room for the new printer. I will have to hide the old inkjet, though, so that I can dispose of it properly instead of M taking it out to the yard with a sledgehammer, which is what I'm sure he wants to do more than anything. Think "PC Load Letter" scene from the movie Office Space.

Merry Christmas to me. It may not seem like the coolest gift, but trust me, it's exactly what I want.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Putting it out there

Today is kind of a big day for me. Not just because I'm going to see a friend's brother's Rolling Stones cover band at the Pageant (although that's pretty cool) and not just because we have a board of advisors meeting at work that promises to be interesting…but personally, today is kind of a big day for me.

This being NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I set some goals for myself. Most NaNo's adhere to a daily word count goal that results in something like 50,000 words (the average length of a novel) by the end of the month. I'm not ready to work on a novel yet. Hell, I might not ever be ready to work on a novel. I'm definitely more of an essayist. However, I wanted to somehow participate in this write-fest, and I read an article that encouraged writers to set lofty goals not tied to word count.

I decided that my goal would be to submit. I didn't plan what to submit, nor did I plan where. I've grown used to the idea that the universe knows what's going on, and that I'm where I am supposed to be, and that things will happen that are meant to happen. I mean, I do play an active part in determining my fate, but I can't control everything. I'm sure there is a fancy philosophical label for that, but I'm too lazy to go figure out what it is.

Earlier this month, at a St. Louis Writers Guild meeting, I picked up a flyer for the annual short story contest. 3000 words, original work of fiction, Tennessee Williams is a past winner, etc. I don't write fiction, but I had started on a little story that needed some polishing. My first fiction. It's strange to create something, someone, from scratch. I thought about sending it to a few people to read, but couldn't pull the trigger. I knew I'd never post it here. It just didn't feel right to post it here, as this isn't a fiction blog (although when I tell M stories he claims I embellish and that much of it is fictional – I assure you they are not…there's no way I could make up the shit he says and does that delights me so much…it's why I married him). I didn't do anything with the piece, letting it kind of languish in my Dropbox. When I picked up the flyer, though, I thought, "Aha! I could send that in!"

Here's the thing about submitting. It's scary as hell and exhilarating at the same time. Scary because I'm putting something out there about which I am wholly unsure. Having never drafted a fiction piece, who knows if it's any good? At the same time, who cares? The judge reviews works anonymously. The instructions say to paperclip a cover page with the author's name and contact info to the stapled manuscript. I assume that an administrative person goes through and codes the manuscript with the same number as the cover page, so they can match them up after the judge selects the winners. So it's not like the judge is sitting there reading my manuscript, saying, "Damn. Amy sucks as a writer. I need to let her know that she should stick with her day job." I presume that when my work is found lacking, it gets tossed in a shred pile with the rest of the crap other writers submit and no one is the wiser that I still cannot write fiction. So that's reassuring. I take comfort in that. My suckitude shall remain anonymous.

I read the directions 472 times and made sure I followed each one. There are a surprising amount of instructions that go with submitting a piece for a contest. Two copies of the manuscript, stapled. Cover page clipped to each. Page numbers in lower right corner. Use a standard font, like Times New Roman, and black ink. Double space. On the first page, type your title first, about halfway down the page. Start your story two lines under that. Type the title of your story on every page in the upper left corner. The list goes on. It reminded me of journalism school when I had a prof who insisted that the staple in the upper left corner be exactly one inch down and one inch over. She'd take a ruler to it and dock you points if you were off. That was the most stressful part of the class for me. I'm not good with estimating length and so all semester I'd cart around a small ruler and mark my first page one inch down and one inch over before lining the pages up in the stapler.

I worked a couple days polishing up my story. I still have no earthly idea if it's any good, but I finally reached the point where I was happy with it and ready to let it go. I printed it, and then it rode around in my bag for a couple days. Last night, I found a big envelope, addressed it, and stuffed my manuscript in. The hardest part was sealing it. As if I couldn't rip it open again and use another envelope, or simply not mail it to begin with. I want to follow through with this, though. I set my NaNoWriMo goal, dammit, and I will follow through.

I do not expect to win, or even to place. For me, I've already won. I have written something that I am submitting. The first of many, hopefully. I am putting my work out there, for better or for worse. This morning, after I gas up the car and have it washed, and then drive back down Manchester to the PO, then drop it into the slot at the post office, I will have won. Victory is mine, victory is mine, bring me the finest bagels in the land. (That's a quote from West Wing, The Greatest Show Ever Written.)

I found another contest that I plan to enter, too. This one is flash non-fiction, which is more up my alley. Limit is 300 words, which is harder than it sounds. I have to convey an awful lot in a mere 300 words. I started my piece and am somewhat pleased with it, although it definitely needs work. That'll give me something to take my mind off the drivel that I'll mail out this morning.

So my first NaNoWriMo experience is turning out to be pretty damn good. Writing most days, and two submissions. What more could a girl ask for?

(Just for kicks, at the end of the month, I might go back and tally up my word count for the blog posts and the two submissions. I know I'm fall short of the 50,000 NaNo goal, but I bet I wrote a lot more than I think.) (Yes, I realize this makes me a geek. Only writers get their kicks on word counts. I'm okay with that.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Feminism at an all-boys school

At the boys' college prep school where I work, I don't get to interact with the students very much. My old office there gave me a small glimpse into their daily lives, as it was near a main door and they passed by multiple times a day. I could hear their conversations, debates and sometimes, singing. Then we shuffled things around and now, in my new office, I'm almost completely removed from them (I'm tucked behind the faculty offices, in which the students aren't allowed). Although I like my office, I miss hearing the students.

A few weeks ago, one of the boys emailed a female faculty member and asked for her help. He was starting a new club and every club requires an adult moderator. She came to me with the email, grinning from ear to ear, and asking if I wanted to also be involved. The student wanted to start a feminism club. He had written something like, "Since we're at an all-boys school, we don't know very much about the opposite sex and the world they face. I'd like to start a club where we can discuss these issues, and hopefully better prepare ourselves for entering the co-ed world in college." It took me about five seconds to get on board.

We talked about the student's request and how the club should be moderated. Adult supervision should be light-handed; let the students run with this. We hoped that the boys who showed up for the first meeting were there to seriously debate issues, not smirk and make crude remarks. We discussed a new name for the club, as the word "feminism" sets so many people on edge. We settled on women's studies, the administration cleared it, and the boy who had requested it set the first meeting for yesterday.

At 12:10 p.m., three female faculty and one male faculty showed up, cautiously optimistic. The topic for the first meeting was the Rosetta space mission scientist who chose to wear a shirt depicting nude women for his international press conference. One of the math teachers knows a female scientist who wrote a paper regarding this man's sartorial statement, and what it means to women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). The paper had been copied and distributed before the meeting. I arrived a few minutes late, slipping in and sliding into a desk near the back of the classroom. 

Fourteen students were arranged in and on desks, and the debate was lively. Was the shirt appropriate? What were his motivations in choosing to wear that shirt on that particular day? Is it fair to judge a scientist with extraordinary accomplishments by his choice of fashion? Did his words (describing the spacecraft as "she" and continually referring to "her" as sexy, but not easy) compound the issue? One boy saw no issue with the shirt. "It's just a shirt. It doesn't define him, nor does it detract from his achievement. He landed a spacecraft on a comet…and everyone's in an uproar over his shirt? Isn't that not the shirt's fault, but rather the fault of the people who are choosing to perceive intentions through their own personal filters?" The rest of the boys intelligently debated him through many different levels. "Perception is important. What if the President of the United States held a press conference wearing that shirt. Would that be okay? What if your teacher came to class in something like that?" I was astounded when one boy asked, "If symbols aren't important, is it okay for you to wear a shirt with a swastika on it? Just as a joke? Would you expect people to not judge you for your choice to wear that symbol because your intentions weren't to promote discrimination?"

The debate raged on, both sides expressing themselves respectfully and intelligently. Is misogyny different from objectification? If you're objectifying a woman, doesn't that mean you love women? No, it means you love their bodies and what their bodies can do for you…you remove the human element altogether, which is really a form of hatred. I couldn't see one boy as he was obscured by several people, but I listened to him argue his point and thought that he sounded more intelligent than most adults.  I finally leaned way back in my chair to see him: he looks like a disheveled boy who would be more concerned with playing video games than debating women's rights. I was floored.

At one point during the discussion, a new boy arrived at the door. He poked his head in and made a joke (I couldn't hear it), but no one laughed. He was dismissed, and reprimanded. "Dude. We're trying to have a serious discussion here. You're interrupting. Go." The boy left, and the classroom resumed its debate. No faculty moderation necessary.

The time went by way too quickly and the bell rang for the next class. Both students and faculty bolted, and I returned to my hidden office thrilled and inspired, reaffirmed that the work I do there is important, that these students can truly grow up to make a difference in the world. 

One of the faculty stopped by my office in the afternoon. He was beaming. "Wasn't that fantastic?! Wasn't that incredible?" It was, I had to agree. He told me how, in his role as their teacher, he doesn't get to experience things like that very often. He teaches them science, about molecules and protons and neutrons, about chemical reactions. He loves what he does (and he's very good at it), but he usually doesn't get to know the students in-depth outside their ability to learn chemistry in his classroom. He was re-charged, just like I was.

The group is supposed to meet weekly, and I already can't wait for next Wednesday. I don't know what topic they will discuss, but I trust that it will be as timely and worthy of discussion as yesterday. And I will keep working to tell the good stories of this school, knowing that there are young minds being shaped that will leave our school and go out into the wider world, better prepared than many of their peers, and perhaps ready to fight for the rights of all human beings to enjoy equality and respect.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Where I've been (stateside)

Well, this is a fun page. Here's where I have been (many of them thanks to the Corvette, and quite a few thanks to work):

Create Your Own Visited States Map

Obviously I have a bit of traveling left to do...

My name is Amy, and I have LADD

I have literary attention deficit disorder. LADD. I don’t know if this is formally recognized by the psychiatric industry, but I am convinced that it’s real, and that I have it.

I didn’t used to be this way. Back in the day, I’d get a book and read it, then I’d get another book and read it. Life was simple. The pattern was clear: start – finish – start – finish – start –finish.

This is what I’m currently in the process of reading:

  • Daily Rituals, a book about the creative processes of famous writers, philosophers and composers. 
  • An Invisible Thread, the book for my book club that is just starting. This is the first book. We meet in January. It’s a dense book so I felt I had to start now in order to guarantee that I’d get through it in the rush of the holidays. 
  • 2015 Writer’s Market. To see if I can eventually sell any of this crap I churn out. 
  • The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, which got me churning out this crap on a daily basis. 
  • Bird by Bird, a book on writing by Ann Lamott. Because she’s awesome and I’ve wanted to read this forever. 
  • The Paris Review, a literary journal. 
  • The Missouri Review, another literary journal. 
  • A third literary journal, Ploughshares, is waiting in the wings, taunting me. 
  • Fast Company Magazine, which I read for work. I started it there, then stuffed it in my work bag to bring home and finish reading. I have carted it back and forth for two and a half weeks now. Things go in that bag, and they never make it out again. 
  • Two back issues of The New Yorker. This magazine is so tightly packed with good articles that it takes forever to get through one if you don’t have half a Saturday to burn. Note: I never have half a Saturday to burn. 
  • Various articles on writing, photography, parenting, living, etc. that I find on Facebook every day. 
  • A steady intake of website posts (news, writing, photography, blogs), which number around a dozen and include Brevity, The Rumpus, Brain Pickings, and The Bloggess, and sites where I go to dream, such as A Room of Her Own and Hedgebrook

Do I blame this new problem on the internet age? Am I so used to bouncing from article to article, site to site, that I find it difficult to sit down and read one book, one magazine at a time?

I think that’s part of it, but other reasons come into play, too. For instance, I was powering through Daily Rituals pretty well until it just pissed me off. Apparently, according to the daily rituals of most writers, I need to be independently wealthy and have a family who tiptoes around me while I’m writing. This will never happen in a million years. Well, there’s always a slight chance of becoming obscenely rich, but there’s no way in hell my family will ever leave me be while writing. I just had to stop this post to fetch a bathmat for M, as I did laundry last night and it was still in the washer (the last of five loads, I didn’t make it all the way to the end and apparently it’s impossible to end even a single shower without a bathmat…he’s using a towel I got from the linen closet). It wasn’t until I got to the Toni Morrison entry that a Daily Ritual seemed at all realistic. She was a single mom who worked full time, and she had to write in the “in between,” between work and family. She had to sacrifice something, so she sacrificed her social life. Which is just about as depressing as knowing that I’ll never have a small cabin in the woods to which my family will deliver meals and leave me be while I write. So I took a break from Daily Rituals for awhile

The Artist’s Way is just heavy, man. It’s a lot to take in. I read all the introductory stuff, all the touchy-feely stuff about how one mustn’t deny oneself as an artist, and how one should learn to tell the naysayers to go to hell. Then Cameron got on that kick with the Morning Pages, and I thought, “Whoa. This whole process will never work for me if I’m not willing to even do Step 1.” So I sat on it, then I started writing every morning, so then I waded through a bit more. It’s good, so I’m back into it, when I feel like reading about what I need to do to be a better writer and to get unstuck when I am stuck, which, it turns out, is a regular occurrence with writers. At least for those of us who have whole lives outside of our writing (work, laundry, family, meals…and nary a writing shed in sight).

The 2015 Writer’s Market is a two-inch thick directory with lots of helpful articles in the front on how to pitch your work, how to follow-up, etc. It is basically reading about a lot of work, and, while helpful, it’s not particularly inspiring. So I put that down after about five articles and flipped to something creative, something I’d classify as brain candy.

Which is what An Invisible Thread is supposed to be, and is, which is great except that I also want to savor the crap out of it and really, truly read it, so as to be able to discuss it with my friends in January. Given the sheer amount of words I am ingesting on a daily basis, I worry that it won’t stick, that I’ll get to January and look like I haven’t read the damn thing at all and am just showing up for the wine (which isn’t out of the realm of possibility for several of us, to be honest).

I need to either sit down and just plow through some of these things, one by one, to get them off my nightstand (and the end table next to my chair in the great room, and my desk in the project room, and out of my bag), or I need to quit my job so I can read and write all day and half the night.

Maybe I need to find and start reading a book on how to instantly become independently wealthy.

Eh, nevermind. I’d probably never finish it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Why there's no (real) post today

Some days…the writing…it just doesn't come.

I woke up at my (new) normal time and started my fire and booted up my iPad…and it just didn't come. I stared at the blank white page, cursor blinking at me. It's got a frustrating sense of expectation, that cursor. Write. Write. Write. Write.

For some reason, I couldn't get my brain engaged. Could not think of a topic on which to write. So I wrote some crappy drivel that I immediately knew would never get posted here. Because I care about you, internet reader, and I don't want to waste your time on words that mean nothing.

Which is pretty much what I'm doing right now. Sigh.

I closed the document after 15 minutes of fruitless typing and went back to bed to snuggle with a warm, sleepy Zo. That was a much better spend of that last 15 minutes of time, in my estimation. I will rise again tomorrow and tackle it again, or maybe I'll get a chance to write tonight. We will see.

This morning's lame attempt at writing left me sour and pissy. Nearly every driver on my short commute in today hacked me off. You there, asshole in the Jeep Patriot, way to use that turn lane to speed ahead of me and cut me off. And awesome job romping on the gas at every light, only to have me putter up right behind you at the next red light. Way to go, lady in the mini-van who cut the corner in the drop-off lane at school in order to get in front of me. Did it mean that much to you to try to get out of the lot one car earlier? Sorry it didn't work out for you, since you ended up waiting in the line to turn left while I coasted down the hill past you and turned right without hitting the brakes. Even my Starbucks this morning conspired against me. Every damn person in West County was waiting in line ahead of me.

Although I did get something out of it: the most beautiful man I've ever seen was waiting in line ahead of me. And by beautiful I mean just that: beautiful. Not handsome, not hot, but beautiful like traditionally how women are described. He has a delicacy, a feminine quality. I was fascinated by him. White hair tops a much younger face with dark eyebrows. Thick, curly lashes give the impression of eyeliner. Refined features. It didn't hurt that his hair looks styled, but effortlessly styled, like he rolled out of bed looking like that, lucky bastard. He is tall, much taller than his wife; he towers over their two small children. He's like a suburban rock star. I was intrigued, because I rarely see beautiful men.

I don't think I could be with a man who is prettier than I. I love my man just the way he is: manly. Rugged and scruffy when he lets his beard grow out. Lean and athletic and strong. Handsome and hot. A man's man. A guy who spends less time doing his hair in the morning than I.

Just a few observations from my morning. Hey, look at that, I ended up writing here anyway.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Hallux Valgus

The realization that one is aging is never pleasant, but when it's accompanied by an ailment one has always associated with old people it's even more disconcerting.

I'm talking about bunions, people. Bunions. The word practically screams geriatric.

About a decade ago, while hanging out sans shoes with my mother, she remarked, "Oooo. You have bunions. You should have those taken care of." I looked down at my feet, which looked pretty much like my feet have always looked, and blew her off. Whatever. Old people have bunions. I was in my early thirties, so, you know, there was no way I had bunions. I chalked it up to maternal worry.

Then, a couple weekends ago, while hanging out sans shoes with some girlfriends, one remarked, "Oooo. You have bunions." Shit. My friend went on to talk about how she had bunions, too, and had even undergone a bunionectomy. She botched her recovery by getting back on her feet too quickly, and warned me not to do the same. I couldn't chalk this up to anything, and looked ruefully at my feet with their bulging balls at the base of my big toes.

At my nephew's football game recently, I had a conversation with my sister's friend about shoes. "I have wide feet," she said. "I need shoes with a big toe-box." She had complimented me on my Keens and I highly recommended them. Super comfortable, and huge toe-boxes. I didn't give one thought to my bunions, mainly because I was still in a state of denial that I even had them which was easy to do because I don't look at my feet often.

Last night, I had to trade my beloved Keens (I have three pair of Mary Janes and two sandals) for actual Big Girl Shoes. We were going to the wake of a friend's mother, and I was wearing a skirt. I pulled on my boots, zipped them up, and we got on the road. I was driving, of course, because M's right leg is encased in a huge boot that would cause him to simultaneously hit both the gas and the brake if he tried to drive. About 15 minutes into the journey out to St. Charles, my bunions let me know that they were through being ignored. Especially the right one, which has now grown considerably larger than the left. Ow. Ow ow ow ow ow.

So I finally confessed, to myself and to my husband, that I have bunions. Even saying it makes me feel old. M said, "Well, you gotta get those fixed." Yeah. Uh huh. Because both of us in walking boots at the same time sounds like a fantastic idea.

I hobbled into the wake and we paid our respects, and after awhile all I could think about was getting those damn boots off and giving my feet peace once again. I longed for my Keens. 

After we got home, I googled "bunions." (Seriously. How ancient am I?) Turns out that there are a variety of reasons why one develops bunions, not the least of which is heredity. And I learned that bunions themselves aren't really the issue…it's the fact that they send your big toe careening towards your other toes which causes all sorts of other shit to get jacked up. Great. 

According to the article I read (thanks, Harvard), my hallux valgus (Latin for bunions, yo) are mild to moderate. I should avoid surgery if at all possible, because surgery means a hella long recovery period, sometimes a year or more. Ways to avoid surgery include losing weight (shit) and wearing shoes with large toe-boxes (yay Keens!). Basically, unless my bunions hurt or are causing foot issues because of those crazy-ass crooked big toes, I'm good. One should never, ever undergo a bunionectomy for cosmetic reasons. There are different procedures that very in degrees of severity, recovery time, etc. They go from shaving off part of the bunions (ew) to busting everything down and pinning shit back together (more ew). 

What I'm confused about is this: does the fact that I can no longer wear half the shoes in my wardrobe mean that my bunions have reached the "I need to do something" stage? Am I just delaying the inevitable by wearing only shoes that allow my bunions to flourish? While I do not relish the thought of foot surgery – which is impossible right now anyway given M's current condition – I also don't want to get to the point where I have to go in for a much bigger surgery than if I had done something earlier.

I guess I shouldn't be asking you, dear readers, but should instead be consulting a podiatrist. Which is yet another indication that I'm getting old. Between "I heard a story on NPR…" and "My bunions are aching…" and "My podiatrist says…" I might as well hang up my youth right now, alongside all those clothes that don't fit any more and over the shoes that are too painful to wear.

Time to get moving for the day. Now, where did I put those Keens?

Friday, November 14, 2014

An update on M

Took M to the sports medicine doctor yesterday. The doctor was recommended by another doctor friend of ours, whose daughter plays soccer and volleyball with Zoe. We got there early and filled out all the paperwork (why is there always so much paperwork?!) and the nurse called us promptly at M's appointment time. M crutched back to the exam room, where the nurse checked his blood pressure and asked more specific questions than those on the forms. She laughed at us, because M would answer her questions, and then I would fill in the missing pieces. He said, "I'm not lying!" and I said, "It's called the sin of omission, dude." And he cracked up which made the nurse bust out laughing. After a few minutes she left and the doctor came in. I liked him immediately, because he took one look at the crutches leaning up against the wall and said, "Are you on those? Yeah, we're getting you off those. Today." I almost hugged him right there. The crutches have been so hard on M, because he's so dependent on others with them. He can't carry things with them unless he messes with a backpack, and who wants to do that all the time? And there are some things that just can't go in a backpack. Like a cup of coffee.

The doctor examined M's leg, checking for strength and range of motion. It was very clear that M doesn't have much of either on that leg. He can't even get his foot to what would normally be a neutral position because of the pain. Within just a few minutes the doctor was able to determine that it's only the gastroc that's affected, not other calf muscles and not the achilles. He had M flip over on the table and the nurse wheeled an ultrasound machine to the side. The doctor positioned the screen so M could also see it, and then invited me to come around and look. I had watched M's doppler ultrasound when he was checked for blood clots, but the tech said nothing while she performed the procedure so I didn't have a clue what I was seeing on the screen. He started the procedure, and walked us through. We could see M's muscles and layers of fat, and a huge black area. "That's the tear," he said. I had seen that on the first ultrasound, but since the tech was silent and imparted a "shut up and don't ask questions" personality, I had no idea.

He measured the tear and talked about how large it is. "Yep, you pulled that right off," he said. Great. He told us that the tear is full of blood and debris (bits of muscle and other body stuff…gross) and that he could drain it. M looked pale. "How?" I started laughing because I already knew the answer, and I already knew that he wasn't going to react well. "Why, with a needle, of course!" M's eyes went wide and he just stared at the doctor. I couldn't help but laugh, but only because needles are not a big deal to me at all. The doc took pity on my husband, though, and said, "Well, because of all the debris I'd probably only get 5 cc's or so, which isn't a lot. I mean, it'd help relieve the pressure in there, but given your reaction I don't think it's worth it." This killed me, but only because I don't mind needles. I'd have jumped at the opportunity in a heartbeat. Get whatever you can out…anything to help. M was not of my opinion, so he was able to stay safely away from needles during the entire appointment.

The doc also explained that M would have to go to physical therapy two to three times per week to get everything back to normal. The therapy will help him build strength and regain range of motion, while helping the gastroc to heal. No volleyball, which is a bummer as M is scheduled to start a new league with friends in January. He then put him in a walking boot, which because of the size of M's foot looks like a huge NASA moon boot. We were both elated, as his will have much more mobility with the boot. I gladly broke down the crutches while the tech fitted the boot onto M's leg. She placed three pieces of foam in the heal of the boot, which lifted M's foot into a position where it didn't fire the gastroc as much when he walks. He hopped off the table and tried walking, with great uncertainty and caution. He explained, "I haven't walked on it in almost two weeks. I'm kinda afraid to put any pressure on it." I could understand his hesitancy.

They got the boot adjusted to M's foot and leg, and off we went. M headed out the door empty-handed, while I picked up my bag and purse, the plastic bag with his boot stuff (a pump, more foam pieces, instructions and paperwork, etc.) and the crutches. "Hey," I called. "You've got free hands now." He laughed, "Sorry. I'm not used to carrying anything any more." He took the crutches and hobbled out. We picked up the paperwork for therapy from the check-out desk and headed towards the elevator.

I drove him straight to the retreat house, where he was arriving hours late but in a much better position to help than if he were on crutches. I did most of the heavy lifting as he was still learning how to navigate with the boot. I worry that it throws of his gait so much, but hope that he'll get used to walking in it and will also do better as the tear heals. He changed his clothes and I got him situated in his room, and we headed back downstairs. I was leaving and he was joining his team. I hit the button on the elevator and he hesitated a moment and then hit the stairs. Oh boy. He put a hand on each railing and used his good foot to skip down the stairs five or six at a time. I couldn't keep up. When he made it to the ground floor, he took off. Well, I guess he's figured out walking in the boot!

He has a long, hard road of recovery ahead; the doc said normal wouldn't happen for four to six months. He'll get better, and things are already improved due to the walking boot. He'll start therapy next week, and goes back to the sports medicine guy in a month. I'm asking for prayers and good juju for him. Whatever you got, throw it out there to the universe.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A potpourri of thoughts

The point of Morning Pages is to just sit down and write, and don't worry about what pops into you head. I am just trying to explain why my topics today are so jumpy. You get a sneak peek into the maelstrom in my mind. You're welcome.

If dreams have meaning, I'd like to know what the hell it means that I dreamt that a group of friends and I broke into Paul McCartney's home yesterday. And then some of us (not me!) trashed a nursery. And then we ran and ran. Today, we came back to fix it all, hopefully before Mr. McCartney returned home, presumably from a world tour, and then he arrived and we hid and waited for him to discover the nursery and have us all arrested.

I can't even begin to explain that. Except to say that out of all the Beatles, Paul is my favorite and I would never, ever trash his house.

My cats are assholes. I think I've written about this before, or maybe it was only on Instaface. It used to be that pretty much only Max was an asshole, and he still is, but now Tachi is also an asshole. I say this because they got into a fight at 5:55 a.m. (couldn't wait til 6:05 when I was up, you little asshats?) and what woke me up was Tachi yelling at Max. Lately, Max is the one who has been waking me up shortly before 6. He's taken to dragging his water bowl around and eventually tipping it over, all over my hardwood floor. I can hear this from the bedroom, and I don't like the idea of water sitting on the floor, so naturally I get up and drag my sleepy ass out to the kitchen to clean it up immediately.

I do not know why he's doing this every day. For 15 years he never did this. Ever. Now it's like he's training for the water-bowl-tipping segment of the Cat Olympics. It comes down to this: the bowl he tips over is the one he's been drinking from, so it's usually only a quarter or half full. (Which is still a lot of water to clean up at 5:30 a.m.) I guess he figures he can get to it better if it's out of the bowl and on the floor. Hey, dumbass, you have another, full bowl of water right next to the one you are tipping. No need to tip. Just move over about five inches. M is as confounded as I am, and says things like, "He needs a bowl with a wider base so he can't tip it." But here's the thing, much like how M didn't want to put any money into the old house because we knew we were wrecking it, I'm not exactly keen on investing in a 15-year-old cat. Especially when this appears to be just another asshole phase. Plus, he needs to just stop doing it already. I've half a mind to get down one of my giant mixing bowls and using that for his water, in the hopes that with one giant bowl he won't "run out" each morning and feel the needs to tip. The only thing that's stopping me is that perhaps he is really that stupid and will simply tip the larger bowl, leaving me a larger mess to clean up.

We buried an uncle yesterday. We weren't close to Harvey, unfortunately, because he was a really great guy. He is of the Baha'i faith, which means that he eschewed embalming and was simply wrapped in a white shroud and buried in a simple hardwood box built by one of his brothers. The beauty and simplicity of this is so appealing. I have never understood the tradition of paying for an insanely expensive box that gets either lowered into the earth or stuffed into a tomb behind a stone wall. The pine box is much more appealing; ashes to ashes and all that. Well, what's really appealing is the way they do family tombs in New Orleans, but M says we don't have the sustained heat as New Orleans in St. Louis and therefore it would never work. Alas, I will not spend eternity with my remains mixing in with those I love.

Anyway, this was a funeral unlike any I have ever been to, and it was really incredible. We gathered at the gravesite where a woman, the Harvey's niece who is also of the Baha'i faith, led us in prayer. I'll have to look up the meaning behind it, but she said a few lines 19 times each. The prayers all had "verily" in them, so we heard "verily" a lot. A word that has fallen into disuse and should be brought back, much like how most people don't say "half past" any more. We were given flowers to lay upon his casket when we said goodbye. It was beautiful. 

After the hardwood box was lowered into the ground, strewn with purple flowers on bright green stalks, we gathered in the cemetary chapel for a service. There were photos and flowers, and different people spoke, and music was played. Some of the songs were in tribute to the Harvey's love of KSHE radio, so we had a Kansas tune and then we finished with ELO's "Fire on High" per his request. As the music, classic rock, pulsed through the chapel I cried, thinking, "This is how it should be. If you like rock music, then rock music should be played at your funeral. Not dirgey hymns that don't really make anyone else feel better." While I looked around at the weeping mourners, I also noticed they were smiling through their tears, remembering their loved one and celebrating his life. It was special. After the small reception that followed, M and I climbed into our car and played more Kansas, and REO Speed Wagon off our iPhones. Then, in true Harvey fashion, we blasted KSHE.

This, my friends, is how it should be. We should celebrate people in death for exactly who they are in life. If I follow Harvey's lead, though, someone will have to turn on NPR at my funeral, which will be a little disconcerting, especially if it's a straight news report and not something fun like Wait Wait Don't Tell Me.

So goodbye to Harvey. Carry on, my wayward son. There'll be peace when you are done. Lay your weary head to rest, don't you cry no more.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Open Mic

I read at my first open mic last night. The Saint Louis Writer's Guild hosts an open mic the second Tuesday of every month at the Kirkwood Train Station. All are welcome, not just Guild members. Sometimes there's a theme.

Last night was kind of a mash-up. October's open mic was canceled due to conflicts, so they took the Halloween theme and pushed it to last night, along with the regularly-scheduled Veteran's Day theme. Or, you can read anything you damn well please. This is my kind of organization.

I hadn't been able to make it to an open mic before last night, and I decided to not hang back in the shadows and lurk as I had planned. So I sat down the night before and wrote something. The only guidelines are that you get five minutes for poetry and seven for prose. Sweet. I can do that. Short essays are right in my wheelhouse. So I wrote and then yesterday afternoon I edited, and then I printed it out and stuck it in my bag and tried to not think about it any more. Because thinking about speaking in front of people makes me more nervous than actually speaking in front of people.

So there I was last night, scared to death on two levels: 1.) I'm not comfortable in front of crowds and 2.) I was gonna throw my writing out there for other people to spit on. I mean, I do that here regularly, but it's different. (By the way, my absence here the past few days does not mean I'm not writing. I have been writing every morning except on the weekend, but I haven't had a chance to edit before posting…and these puppies need edits.) When I post something here, it goes up and I don't have to see my audience's reaction. It's out there and I forget about it. Plus, my readers here are, by and large, readers. At the open mic my audience is, by and large, writers. And they've been doing open mic a helluva lot longer than I.

I confessed my fear to the Guild president, who reassured me that I was among friends and that I'd be fine. "Just don't sign up to go first," he said. "Go third or fourth." The notebook came around and I penciled my name into the four-spot. The first two readers were poets, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to them. Number three was prose, a retired man recounting some of his temporary gigs between teaching positions. Then it was my turn.

I took a deep breath and walked to the mic in a smattering of applause and encouraging smiles. The emcee had announced I was a first-time reader, and the small crowd showed enthusiasm and warmth. Although I didn't really know a soul in there, it somehow did feel like I was among friends. I took a deep breath and read my piece. I had timed it at just under four minutes. I finished to more applause and sat down, heart thumping and hands shaking, and then listened to about a dozen people come after me. It was fantastic. Three trains went by as we sat and listened, and that only added to the mood.

After the readings, four people came to tell me how much they enjoyed my piece. What incredible affirmation. Hey! I don't suck! It confirmed that I'm doing the right thing by writing my guts out, as if I needed external validation to confirm what my heart already knows.

After I came home, all jumpy and happy, and downloaded my experience to M, I posted on Facebook what I had done. Within minutes, a friend barraged me with insanely awesome text messages. She wasn't even there and she was so encouraging. She's insisting that I tell her when I'll be participating in the next open mic, so she and another friend can come. How cool is that? My very own fan section!

I'm glad I did this. I am glad that I did something that made me uncomfortable and therefore proved that I could do it. I'm glad that I found a safe venue to put my work out there, and trusted people to respond in an appropriate, encouraging and positive manner.

Note: I won't post what I read at the open mic here. It was specifically written for that event, for that audience of strangers. I'll just say it was a tribute to a man who took another tour of duty as a medevac chopper pilot in Vietnam to save his little brother, who was stationed in Korea awaiting deployment. Most of the little brother's platoon didn't make it home alive, so, to me, the man saved his little brother's life. The pilot is my uncle, and the little brother is my dad.

Friday, November 07, 2014


Yesterday Microsoft released, for free, Word for iPad. I was so excited that I immediately downloaded it. Well, I downloaded it after I updated the iPad's operating system, requested Apple send me a password code to allow me to change the password after I forgot for the millionth time, changed the actual password, logged in, agreed to Apple's new privacy policy, confirmed the iTunes account information, went through the set-up of the new operating system, got back into the App Store, found Word again and clicked the download button. (Damn you, Apple.)

So this morning's Morning Pages are being composed in a scaled-down version of Word, which is hella better than the iPad's Notes app I was using. Notes allows you to type and that's it. This Word app includes some basic editing features, the ability to insert tables, shapes, photos and links (among other things), layout goodies, and use track changes.

But the best part is, it syncs seamlessly with Dropbox. I have drafts going on several topics saved in my Dropbox. This means that if I'm on my laptop, the iPad, or my iMac, I can access those drafts and keep working. Or even if I'm on someone else's computer…all I have to do is log into Dropbox and there are all my Word documents. This is amazing.

Changed up the routine I started all of two days ago. No coffee this morning, and I'm on the ottoman in front of the fire instead of at the kitchen island. We have some iced coffee drink in the fridge and I think I'll fetch me some of that here in a moment, after I'm good and roasted from the fire.

Here's what I've figured out with this new morning thing. It's awesome. It's awesome because it is time I have alone, to myself, doing exactly what I want to do. This does not happen if I wait until some time later in the day. If I wait, I end up wearing too many hats and feeling completely drained and exhausted, and then pissed because I've given to everyone else all day and no one can sustain that for very long.

Yesterday, after work, I came home to fetch Zoe and M, and the three of us headed up to volleyball practice. Since M is on crutches, I filled in on the court. He had the whole practice planned, so all I had to do was run around and throw balls, essentially. He didn't sit in his chair enough to suit me or the other two parents helping, and at one point we taped him to the chair. It wasn't good tape, though, so he soon busted free, much to the delight of the 12 girls we were coaching. After practice, we came home and ate dinner, and I cleaned it all up. In the middle of this I fielded multiple requests from my family, and for the first time in forever and ever I didn't wind up aggravated and resentful. It's because I had started with a full tank, instead of being on empty when the evening came and then having to coast on fumes.

The fact that I knew I had my writing done for the day – or the writing I expected to finish on that given day – meant that I didn't mind my evening time being taken by those I love. This is not coming out well…for once I'm stumped for words. (I do know, however, that most mothers will understand this, however poorly I am expressing it.)

At this point, I have to show an enormous amount of gratitude for my MIL. All day yesterday I worried about dinner. How was I going to get dinner on the table? What do I have to make that's quick and easy and still fulfilling and reasonably healthy? And I knew that I'd be exhausted before I could even start making it. So then I considered where we could go get something, that didn't involve getting out of the car because a.) I'd be disgustingly sweaty from practice and b.) we didn't have time for even decent sit-down fast food since Zoe still had homework. I had pretty well resigned myself to nuking one frozen burrito and a few frozen tamales and calling it a day. Which is the crap meal of all crap meals. Zoe would be thrilled, and M would be understanding, but I didn't like the idea.

As I packed up the volleyballs and other materials from practice, changed M's shoe and helped him with his coat, and ensured we had all of Zoe's stuff, I checked my phone. There was a text message from my MIL letting us know that she had made dinner for us. All we had to do was call her when we got home. I almost cried. Sure enough, my FIL came trooping across the backyard with a tray shortly after we arrived. We had pork tenderloin, risotto, green bean casserole and apple sauce. It was delicious, and hot, ready, and an answer to a prayer. This beautiful act of kindness also helped me be a better wife and mother last night. I was so grateful, and so relieved, that helping my family was a privilege, not a chore.

Zozo's alarm tells me it's time for the shower. We have no plans for tonight, which makes my gratitude level spike even higher. I have to get the basement and house picked up as we are hosting the volleyball team for breakfast after our last game tomorrow, but that shouldn't take much and the house needs it anyway. And then it's the weekend. I'm not entirely sure how I'll be spending my "spare time," but I am looking forward to it, whatever it may be. I'm determined to get more writing in, as I have set certain goals this month that scare the snot out of me and give me hope all at the same time. Whatever we do, it'll be good.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Going Out

Day 2 of Morning Pages

Well, today didn't quite go as planned, either, but it's still good. M has to be at work at 7, so his ride is showing up at 6, so he had set his alarm for 5. I was out for a girls' night last night, so when his alarm went off we talked about the events of the evening and such. After that I was pretty well awake, so I helped him get ready for work, retrieving clothes and shoes so he didn't have to struggle with carrying things on crutches. Made his coffee thermos, put on his shoes, turned out the exterior lights and unlocked the door. I went back to bed for 10 minutes, where I found a snuggly daughter, and obediently got up 6 when my alarm went off.

The girls' night out was good, and interesting. I hadn't planned on going when I received the e-vite. Normally we have soccer practice on Wednesdays, and there was a Corvette Club meeting that had been pushed to that date due to the elections. M encouraged me to go with the women. It's interesting to me those times he knows what is better for me than I do. I changed my RSVP to "yes" and waited. We determined we weren't going to renew the club membership anyway, so it wasn't like we were going to miss a meeting, plus he's been so exhausted from being on crutches all day that even if we had renewed, we probably wouldn't have gone. So off I went.

The ladies on the list were mostly people with whom I have a passing acquaintance. I recognized names and faces, but they weren't people I'd make plans with to go have a drink. Until 30+ of us showed up last night and had drinks together. A few women who were retreatants on the last retreat came, along with a couple former team members. It was so nice to re-connect with them. I met a few more whom I recognized from church, and learned that they are just lovely. I saw women who looked pretty fantastic for 9 p.m. on a Wednesday night, while I proudly bore the signs of my day (smudged eye make-up, no blush left to speak of, wonky hair held precariously in place by a barrette) as time well-spent. Yesterday I wrote, I worked, I ran a Girl Scout meeting, and made dinner for my family. I may not have looked like Cindy Crawford by the time I hit the bar (or ever, really, come think of it), but my day had been pretty damn wonderful and no way was I going to apologize for that.

So now M is off to work, Zoe is dozing in my bed, the leaves are blowing wildly outside and Max the cat is crunching the food in his bowl. I have a fresh pot of coffee and time, precious quiet time to myself. It's nice to sit here and reflect on last night, which I hadn't necessarily wanted to do but am so glad I did. Sometimes I wonder if I wouldn't just shut myself up in my house and be a recluse if given the opportunity. It's good to get out, though, to meet new people and learn new stories.

Last night I met a woman with two little boys, both delivered via c-section. She had labored for 18 hours (!) and pushed for four hours (!!) until the doctor took the first one. She said, "I got the worst of both worlds." She scheduled the second one.

I met a woman with four children who moved here from Mexico.

I talked with someone who's mother-in-law recently had a stroke, and in the process of caring for her she and her husband realized that her father-in-law needed much help, too. He had never cooked for himself, so when his wife went into the hospital, he simply stopped eating. They are Filipino, and crave their own food. Her husband is now teaching himself to make traditional Filipino dishes. How cool is that?

I caught up with a friend who recently had a weekend romantic get-away with her husband. She shared photos of their picturesque cabin with a wood-burning fireplace and hilariously taxidermied animals, and we all talked about how important it is to carve out time with your beloved. I shared our summer experience of taking our car with two seats out west for two weeks.

I offered support and encouragement to a friend whose daughter is dealing with girl drama at school, wishing there was something I could do or say to make things better both for the daughter and the mother.

I commiserated with a friend whose husband is cut from the same cloth as my husband. They share a name, and the whole tall, dark and handsome thing, and their propensity to shake their heads at their out-of-control wives. We swapped stories and laughed our butts off and bonded over the role of being The Default Parent ( (I'm writing on the iPad this morning, so I can't embed a link. If I remember I'll go back and embed it once I'm on a laptop later.) This blog post is sweeping through our community, and has opened doors to conversations that needed to take place between women themselves, and between wives and husbands.

It was wonderful, and exciting, and hard to do at first (showing up at an event where I knew my usual support system wouldn't be in place...I'd have to - gasp - make new friends!). And it was confirmation that I need to continue to do things like this.

Zoe's alarm is going signal to get in the shower and start my "real" day. It's casual day at work, and Doughnut Thursday, and I got my Morning Pages in. Sweet.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

A new routine

I didn't hit snooze today. When the alarm went off at six, I slid my finger across the iPhone to stop it and then...I got up. This, my friends, is way more impressive than it sounds.

For the past several years - at least since I started using the iPhone as my alarm clock - I have not been only guilty of being a snoozer. It got to be way more complicated than that.

The night before, I would set two alarms on my phone. One was at 6, the other at 6:15 a.m. At first, I'd turn off the 6 alarm, then doze until the 6:15 went off. Then I might get up. After awhile, though, I started hitting snooze on the 6, which would silence it until 6:09. At 6:09, I'd hit snooze again. Then the 6:15 would go off, and I'd snooze that. Three minutes later, the twice-snoozed 6 would ring again, and six minutes after that the 6:15 came back around. Which means my alarm(s) would go off on this schedule:


This is not including M's alarms, which also went off with annoying regularity, sometimes in conjunction with mine and sometimes a minute or two off.

Just before 6:30, Zoe comes in and crashes our bed, snuggling until her own alarm goes off at 6:30. At this point, we all get up.

As ridiculous as this sounds, this has been our routine for at least a year now. Looking at that schedule, it's apparent that my dueling alarms and snoozefests weren't really giving me any adequate extra rest.

Yesterday I read an article about ten things you should do to start your day. They include things like making the bed, stretching, not checking your cell phone, etc. And of course, it instructed readers to avoid hitting the snooze button. That one stung. Snooze is my friend! I can't give it up!

Then I thought that maybe I COULD give it up, and maybe it really wouldn't be that hard. I gave myself an incentive: coffee. We rarely make coffee at home. We go in and out of the habit, but normally we are simply too rushed to make and enjoy a pot of coffee. It sounds so lovely, though. So I proposed, to myself, that in lieu of hitting snooze I'd get up and make/drink a pot of coffee. And write a bit. Those damn morning pages that "The Artist's Way" book recommended to me months ago. (I refuse to hand write them, though. Can't do it. So I'm compromising. I'm typing them, but I'm typing them on my iPad, not my computer.)

I deleted the 6:15 alarm from my phone last night, and resolved to get up at 6. And when the alarm went off, I got up.

My morning plans didn't quite turn out as expected, but close. When I came out to make the coffee I stepped in water. One of the cats has gotten on this kick of upturning his water bowl every night, splashing water all around the food area and, this morning, right in front of the coffee maker. I got that cleaned up, and started the coffee. In the process of filling the carafe, I noticed some dishes in the sink that were left from last night, and a soaking brownie pan. Dishes were loaded into the washer, and brownie pan was cleaned, dried and put away. Then I realized that I didn't quite know where the thermos was, and I had promised to thermos some of the coffee for M to take to work. He can't carry an open container with the crutches, so he needs a thermos. This will also help once he gets to his office, as he will be able to enjoy coffee throughout the morning (he can't fill his normal mug at the coffee machine and get it back to his office on crutches...or he could but make a tremendous mess and probably burn himself in the process). So I went on a search for the thermos, and found it.

By that point the coffee was finished and I made myself a cup (yummy caramel flavored creamer!) and sat down to write.

Holy hell, this is has been fantastic. I will definitely be doing this again.

Zoe's alarm just went off, which is my signal to hop in the shower and start my day. GOOD morning!