Category Archives: Living in the U.S.

coloured concrete start packs price…

WordPress has a stats page where you can check out how many people visit your blog, and where they come from, and in some cases why.

For some absolutely inexplicable reason, Dogpile ranked me #1 for the search string “coloured concrete start packs price.” Customers looking for the price of starter packs of colored concrete got to check out my holly bush entry of a week or so ago, a rather strange dream with a s*exual overtone. I don’t think any of the words in the search string are in it, although I haven’t really looked that hard to find out. They’re certainly not there in that order, and the word colored, if it is in there, will not be spelt with a U. That particular spelling was beaten out of me with low grades within a month or two of me starting school over here, as were all the other peculiar differences of spelling and punctuation between Ireland and the U.S.

More amazingly, Dogpile claims it is considered “#1 in customer satisfaction.” Hmmmm.


Sadie twitches. She’s curled up in my lap in a tight little ball, and periodically she kicks me with a hind leg, or flicks her front leg at me, or quivers her head. These little movements, involuntary but regular since her hospitalization for a massive Rimadyl overdose, are not related to the dream twitches so common in sleeping dogs. When Sadie is dreaming, she yipes and “runs” in her sleep. Her body is fully involved, and she’s fully asleep. Sadie’s little twitches are isolated, they occur when she’s awake or asleep, and they are striking because they remind me so much of my own involuntary movements as a result of adverse reactions to two different kinds of medication. One, eight years ago, was a reaction to Inapsine, an anti-nausea medicine given when I was hospitalized for Hepatitis A (and the cause, perhaps, of my heart arrhythmia, which developed after treatment with Inapsine. I discovered the drug was pulled from use because it causes heart problems!) My Inapsine movement disorder occurred in the face, with muscle spasms and tongue twitches (see page two of the linked website above. It claims those symptoms are a sign of overdose, so perhaps I should have sued the hospital!)

The second movement disorder problem, three years ago, was a reaction to anti-depressants (which I will never touch again in my life as they do NOT agree with my personal biochemistry on numerous levels). A rare side effect, extrapyramial symptoms are documented in a small subset of individuals taking anti-depressants, although they are for more common in those taking anti-psychotic medication. There are several different kinds of reactions, of which I had two: akathisia, and later Parkinsonianism. In addition, involuntary twitches of the face and limbs can develop weeks or months after starting treatment (tardive dyskinesia), and can be permanent.

My reactions, thank goodness, were temporary. Sadie’s, on the other hand, appear to be permanent. I think they are caused by the intense doses of metoclopramide and chlorpromazine she was given during her illness. That’s right. My Rimadyl-poisoned dog was given an IV anti-psychotic! Apparently the metoclopramide is an anti-emetic with the potential to cause tardive dyskinesia, and the chlorpromazine, AKA thorazine, also happens to be anti-emetic, but with the potential for tardive dyskinesia, although less so than other anti-psychotics.

So now I have a healthy, non-yellow, and very happy but rather twitchy dog. Luckily she doesn’t seem distressed by her random twitching, and it’s mild enough not to be bothersome. In fact it’s probably only notable by me, because I know her so well, and I know she didn’t kick me in the gut on regular occasions before she got sick! Luckily she’s only about 11 pounds, so her little kicks don’t do any damage. And, after all, she’s alive. I’ll take a little tardive dyskinesia for the joy of having her with me, thank you very much.

The Story of Stuff

Loren put the following link on his website a few days ago. I don’t know how to embed movies like some people do, so I’ll just give you the link and suggest you click on it. I’m planning on using it in class in the next week or two. Well worth the wait for it to load, and the 20 minutes of watching time.

Oh, and Loren’s heron entry and photograph from today are lovely.

Last day… loving students

I wrote the following on the last day of class. For some reason I never published it. So here it is, three weeks or so late!


Reading final papers is always interesting. It’s the moment when I get a sense of whether or not what I’ve done over the quarter has been worthwhile. In my 70 class, which is two classes below collegel level, I tried a different approach, and wasn’t so happy. I don’t think the final papers were as good as I’d have liked them to be, but a couple of students wrote well, and as always I learned something. One student, working on his draft, wrote the following sentence about a fire that had almost destroyed his home:

“Then the police officer took me to the back of my house. There he found a graffiti that read F*** You Scrap 187 with a seventeen being crossed out. Scrap is a word used to insult the set we claimed. By crossing out the 17 is how the rivals disrespect your numbers.”

He was a former gang member. (OK, for some inexplicable reason WordPress has changed my font, and I don’t know how to change it back!) The fire, set by rivals, which came close to killing family members, had been targeted at him personally (17 was his gang number). At the moment he saw the words on the back of his gutted house, he realized how destructive his life style was. Now he is back in school, sitting quietly in the back of the class, taking notes, smiling shyly when I call on him to read. He tells me he read Monster by Walter Dean Myers, and that it changed his life. (It’s now on my list to read. I love to learn more about my students.)

Given where I live, his story is not uncommon. In the developmental classes, where I ask for more personal writing, I hear stories of gang membership, drive by shootings, initiation rituals. I’ve seen scars from bullet wounds, met the babies of young girls who left the gangs when they found out they were pregnant, read one paper that began, “Most people have firefighters or police officers as their heroes, and if that’s what their dads are, they’re proud. I was proud of my dad too, but he wasn’t a fire fighter. He was the leader of one of the biggest gangs in L.A., and I wanted to be just like him.”

Sometimes I see these students for one quarter, and then they disappear into other English classes, or they drop out, or they transfer. Sometimes I follow them as they pass through some or all of my classes, and watch them mature and change, and eventually graduate. When I read their stories, I feel privileged to know that I’ve been a small part of what gave them the courage and confidence to continue in the face of the odds that would have stopped many less determined people.

All day it snowed…

All day. I woke to five or six inches of white on the ground. Zeke’s school was delayed, and so were the home school district schools and a local university. I figured my institution would be delayed too, since it usually follows the home school district, and has done so ever since the then-new president canceled classes for 1/2 inch of snow, got into trouble, then didn’t cancel for 18 inches or the flood that followed a few weeks later! I kept waiting for the announcement that the first hour or two of classes had been canceled. I didn’t want to get up and go to work to find school was delayed or closed, so I kept an ear out in my warm comfy bed …. until I fell back asleep, and slept hard for two hours after a week of mild sleep deprivation.

When I woke, it was half an hour before my first class (conferences, actually, this week). I called a couple of colleagues to find out if I needed to go in, but got no answers. Were they in class? Or at home? There was no information ANYWHERE, about the status of my institution. All the local schools and the local university were delayed by two hours, so it made sense that my place of work would be too, but making sense and reality are not the same things where I work.

After 20 minutes, a colleague called back to tell me that, “Yes, classes are in session.” So I had to hustle and I arrived late to find my first two conference kids waiting.

“How was your drive?” I asked them.

“My little Honda slid all over the freeway,” one of them said. His words threw me back 16 years to the time I walked into a meeting on a dismally dark October day, and left an hour later to find four inches of snow on the ground. It was my first term at the college. It was my birthday. And I had a 35-mile drive home. It took me almost three hours, and I walked in the front door to tell my then-husband, “We’re moving!” My rear-wheel drive Toyota Starlet with the 3/4 bald graduate students tires had skated home like roller-blades on an ice rink. One guy in a 4X pick up tailgated me till he got tired of my slow speed and then zoomed past on the median of the freeway. Two miles later I saw his truck upside down in the median, and him standing by it, looking cold. I could hear sirens in the distance, heading to his truck perhaps, or to one of the other multiple accidents that littered that freeway that day.

Today I have a four-wheel drive car with top-of-the-line tires for my frequent drives over the mountain pass to my dad’s house. The anti-lock brakes kick on at the slightest sign of a skid, and the beast plows through six inches of snow as though it’s on a summer road. Still, I’m cautious. And when I hear my students talk of their hair-raising drives in their little cars with bald tires, of skidding into the ditch or fishtailing across intersections and praying that no one is coming,  I remember those days. “Don’t risk an accident trying to get to class on a day like today,” I tell them. “It’s not worth it.”

The snow has slowed down, and the temperature has lifted a little. Maybe tomorrow will be clear. But I’d prefer that it snows all night and we wake to five feet and wind-created snow sculptures like I did in Ireland in the winter of 1982. It’s unlikely, but I long for it anyway.

It snowded…it snowded!

When Zeke was 20 months old or so, we woke to a white world. She ran outside, crying out, “It snowded, it snowded.” She wanted to stay home from daycare and play in the snow, and although I was overwhelmed with papers at work and hated canceling classes, I decided the occasion of her first big snow was worth celebrating. We made snow people and threw snow balls and rolled around in the wild white world till we froze, and then we drank hot chocolate with marshmallows in it while our hands and feet fizzed back to life.

Today she doesn’t remember. She’s a finicky teenager who says, “yuuk,” when she sees the frosty light of a snowy day. She’s girly, not the tomboy of her earlier years. Something switched in her a few years ago, the thing that happens when you’re growing up and trying not to be like your mother, I suppose. My mother liked looking good and wearing the right clothes, while I fought her attempts to tame my wild hair and polish me up. Now Zeke, the incorrigible tomboy, has to have perfect nails, wear carefully chosen clothes, and spend an hour a day straightening the wild mass of hair she inherited from me.

When she was tiny, though, still young enough to love snow days for the pure joy of playing in the snow, she gave a hint at what she would grow into. I remember her, way back when she was two or three, picking out her clothes every night before “school.” It wasn’t a habit I taught her, or even suggested. It was just what she started doing one evening. I was getting her ready for bed, and she dragged a bunch of clothes out of her drawers and arranged them on the floor. She tried three or four different combinations of tops and bottoms before settling on the outfit she wanted (at the time a rather wild mixture that my mother would not have approved of). From then on, her evening routine included picking out her clothes and arranging them on the floor, so that one might be forgiven for thinking, in the dim glow of her nightlight, that a flat little person was lying on the floor. Sometimes her choices were interesting, but woe betide anyone who suggested she wear something different than what she had chosen. Even as a tiny child, her strong personality and absolute determination were obvious.

“That kind of personality is hard for you now,” her pediatrician told me. “But it’s good later on. Nobody’ll be able to convince her to do what she doesn’t want to do. And that includes drugs and drinking, if she’s set against it.”

Zeke has no interest in drugs or drinking, and she resists peer pressure, just as her long-ago doctor predicted. She still chooses her clothes and arranges them on the floor the night before school. And today, when she saw the world covered in white, she said rather nostalgically: “Maybe they’ll cancel school tomorrow and I can go play in the snow.”

I hope so. If she plays, I’ll play too.

If you’re not with us…

Not about the classroom, not really, my dream. It’s about now, today, living in the U.S., in a world where we must be guarded against terror at all times. Classrooms are supposed to be safe, secure. We shouldn’t fear for our lives in a classroom. Same with being alive here, in this historically powerful and allegedly peaceful country. But not anymore. Now it’s a world of “Orange Alert,” of “War Against Terror,” of bifurcation: “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” I guess that makes me with the terrorists. But I’m a pacifist. And I dream of a bodyguard in my classroom, a murdered bodyguard — and in the end my dream’s not about education at all, but about the state of the nation — a world in which we accept living in a place where the administration strips us of rights in the name of protection, where if we’re not fearful, we are automatically on the side of the enemy.

I don’t accept any of it. Not the fear of strangers or muggers or rapists. Certainly not the fear of terrorists. I walk my dogs alone in the Canyon. Several of my friends won’t walk there at all, let alone alone. I walk my dogs on the dark walkway behind my condo at night and early in the morning, when the path is lit by starlight only, or so shadowed by the sun’s absence that I have to feel my way in certain spots. I can’t see the gang graffiti at night, and if I could, I would ignore it.

I will not eulogize those who think they must protect us from threats, whatever those threats are. I rode my horse over big cross country fences for years, knowing that the wrong jump, a tilt in balance at the wrong time, could leave me like Christopher Reeves, or could kill me. I did it anyway. I don’t need protection from my own willingness to take risks. Nor do I need it from terrorists. And yet I conceded in my dream. Is that what’s happening to me, giving up, simply accepting the country’s plunge into f*scism?

Dang. It’s been a hard week, and I’m tired, and I have to drive three hours across a mountain pass. I’ll focus on something I can do something about, like driving carefully, and forget about my dream. That’s what we do, these days, isn’t it?

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Changing the dream two

Continued from here:

None of this, of course, is a complaint against my mother. She simply did what everyone did back then, made an association between maths and Latin and getting into vet school. It’s false, at least in this country, at least now. But back then, if you wanted to get into vet school in Ireland, you got high grades in everything, including (especially) maths and Latin. She was saving me grief, saving me from a dream I could never have realized.

But her not believing in me, and my dad’s view of me as not too bright, colored everything. When I told Mum I won the English prize, she told me not to lie. It was impossible, in her world, for someone to get C’s in both the exams (composition and literature), and win the English prize. She only believed me when the picture came out in the Irish Times, me holding the certificate and the check, with two of my friends flanking me. Why didn’t I show her the certificate? Because by the time I had evidence, she had denounced me as a liar. It didn’t seem worth it.

But it’s not that bad, really. A few years later, when I was in college in America and made effortless As in every class I took except English 101 (hah! What irony…), I realized that she was just operating under perfectly reasonable assumptions. No one in the U.S. who got C’s in a class would win an award for that class. C’s aren’t very good grades. A B is OK. A’s, well, even those are often barely deserved. So it made all the sense in the world for her to assume that I couldn’t possibly, ever, under any circumstances, win an award when I’d received C’s in my exams. And when I realized that fact, everything else fell into place too. No wonder I was never good enough. My perfectly reasonable Irish grades looked like failures to her. And because I couldn’t please her, I gave up.

Dad, on the other hand, knew better. Why did he never say anything to convince her differently? I suppose because he went to Trinity and Oxford and worked at CERN and found maths and science easy, because he truly believed “Anyone can do English. It’s a soft option.” Because he was scathing of what I loved. In the end, I gave up trying for him, too. Early on, oh so early on, I simply gave up dreaming.

It’s easy, looking back, to realize how own’s right-meaning and perfectly loving parents (and they were), were simply shaped by what they understood of the world. In Dad’s world, everyone knew that English was a soft option that any moron could do. There was no point being proud of getting a good grade on an English essay, of winning the prize for English. Anyone can do that. Splitting the atom. Probing the mystery of the nutrino. Those are worthy goals.

In Mum’s world, grades of C were tantamount to failure. It’s just the way things were. A “B” elicited, “Is that all?” She didn’t mean to be discouraging. It’s just what she knew of the world, in the same way that she knew me going to a little regional university for my MA in English was a waste of time because it wouldn’t “mean anything.” She had high expectations because she came from a world in which everyone overachieved. Just being normal wasn’t good enough. It didn’t mean she didn’t love me. In fact it was a mark of her love.

It’s easy to say, “Just change the dream.” It’s not easy to do it. Others have changed my dream for me all my life. When I did leave home at 17, and eventually came to the States and went to college, I pursued my own dream, such as it was. Now, in many ways, I have realized what is a perfectly reasonable dream. I have a job I like, my own place, a loving daughter. The dream I can’t change is my family. I love them. It’s true I want to be able to smash the walls down, to assert myself, to say, “Things will be different now.” Some days I make progress towards that vision. But some days I don’t. I can’t beat myself up for not changing the dream because part of the problem is that I’ve always beaten myself up for it. I just have to accept what happened, whatever failure I brought upon myself — once again — and try to move forward.

So I failed, on my birthday, to connect to dad. Norman is right. I’m sure he was thinking “Happy birthday.” He probably mumbled it. Even if he didn’t, we did celebrate my birthday the night before. He made me a chocolate cake using “Mum’s special recipe.” These things mean everything. It’s my own hopeless paralysis that kills me, time after time. But I shake free of it. I take another step. I commit to trying again. That’s what I’ve always done.

A’s in the U.S. don’t mean much to those raised in Ireland. But they mean a lot to me, because they got me here, to graduate school and beyond, to a tenure track job. OK, it’s “only” a community college, a real disappointment for my mother whose father was dean of the medical school at Vanderbilt, for my father who worked at CERN. But I love teaching community college students. I understand my students’ struggles, because they mirror mine — in some slantwise way.

Over the years, I’ve made my working life into my own dream, changed my parents’ dream to my own. It’s a start. Other dreams will follow, do follow, slow though the progress is.

Tapping the phone

In Ireland in the 70s and early 80s you could “tap” public phones if you knew how. I became an expert because I never seemed to have the 2p I needed to call home. (Tuppence. Was that all it was? Maybe by then it was 10p. Whatever it was, I never had it.)

The phones at my school in Dublin were in the lobby, two heavy rotary dial monstrosities on the wall. I’d tap out the eight, the six, the three, and the five of our phone number on the off-hook button, and then dial the 9 and the 1. If you kept the rhythm steady, with just the right time in between each tap of the off-hook button, you could dial any number free. Nines and ones rang through without having to be tapped, for some reason. I seem to remember 0s did too. I guess they’d have to, because it would be hard to tap a number that couldn’t be signified physically on the off-hook button. Since my phone number had a nine and a one at the end, I only had to tap four numbers, and getting through was fairly easy.

I remember tapping the phone the day I called my (step) dad by his given name for the first time. I called him just so that I could say, “Hello, Nathan. This is Adah.” I wanted to imagine his face, the hesitation in his response as he recognized the significance of my refusal to call him Dad. As I lifted the receiver and began tapping, my heart pounded so hard that I messed up the first tap and had to redo it. When he finally answered the phone and I said my piece, he didn’t hesitate. “Yes?” he said expectantly, waiting for me to explain to him why I had rung. I hadn’t thought through what I was going to say next, so I muttered something about a field trip and hung up.

I was 16 that day. I called him Nathan, his given name, for four or so years, until the night I got pallatic drunk the evening before I was supposed to fly back to the U.S. I’d been staying there for six months, having met my biological father, an American who was charming and cruel in equal measure. When I came back to Ireland for Christmas six months later, I didn’t want to go back to the U.S. I had to, though. Three months earlier, with the impetuousness of youth, and still enamored of the biological father who hadn’t at that time unleashed his venom, I had insisted that my mother ship my Jack Russell terrier dog, Betsy, to the U.S. I couldn’t bring her back to Ireland without a six-month quarantine, and I couldn’t force such a fate on her.

On my last night in Ireland, I got drunk unwittingly, desperate not to return to the States, helpless with the knowledge that I had to go because I couldn’t abandon my dog. That night, my dad came into my room, sat on my bed, told me about the first time he got drunk, and then said, with his usual reserve, “You always have a home here. If you don’t want to be there, you can always come back here.”

Somehow he knew the real reason why I’d drunk so much too much. I hadn’t said a word, but he knew.

I did go back to the States. I did stay, desperately homesick for years, but sustained by my little Jack Russel. And from that day on, I called my dad “Daddy” again. If I’d known how to tap American phones, I would have called home just to tell him that I loved him. Since I didn’t, I never did tell him. Maybe he knew anyway, just because I called him Dad.