Category Archives: My day

Encouraged

Can’t say it. Don’t know how. Ghosts float about the room, not dead yet. I imagine them, my readers, what they might look like, how they might sit beside me and reach out to touch me. They might stand back, and purse their lips. They might turn away. I want to bat them off, chase them out. I want to open the windows and send them off to mingle with the clouds. Here it is again, that embroilment, that fear of being seen.

Push-pull. To expose. Not to expose. I could tell you that making l*v* hurts, that it always has, that there is a physiological reason for it, that if I can hold tight and let it happen, then let go, relax into the pain, let it fill me, there’s a place beyond it where bliss waits. Pain and ecstasy are inextricably entwined.

I can tell you that my life is mostly mundane, and it’s OK. I wake and eat breakfast and let out the dogs while I water my flowers and my lone yellow plum tomato plant, and then I go to work and teach for three and a half hours, and spent some time prepping for the next day’s class and reading papers (I say “reading,” not “grading,” for a reason). And I come home and eat lunch with Nada, and sometimes we play chess. And I drive Zeke here and there (or rather she drives me, because she’s in driver’s ed and has a permit, so I sit in luxury while she finds ways to go the long way to her friends’ houses, gas prices be damned). And when it cools down I go to Nada’s and we kick a soccer ball around for a while because he quite smoking eight weeks ago and he needs something to distract him when the cravings hit. I thought, at first, I was doing it for him, that I would hate kicking a soccer ball around because I’m ball-challenged, with no coordination, but actually it’s fun. I bought soccer shoes, and he’s showing me some tricks and drills, and I can’t do any of it well, but we laugh a lot, and sweat drips into my eyes and I run under the sprinklers to rescue the ball when I send it sideways into his brother’s yard, and the cool water challenges the heat, sends it away into the rich blue dome above, and I feel like a kid again, as if I’ve found something I knew once but forgot — or maybe I never really knew it.

When we’re tired we go inside and read. He reads cognitive psychology books, his current intellectual interest, and I read papers for work or scribble all over a manuscript for a future developmental writing book that I’m reviewing. Sometimes, if there’s time, we’ll read together for a few minutes, these days from Chuang Tzu’s Inner Chapters, and he’ll be happy. So will I. I don’t mean to exclude myself. I was going to write “we,” but I realized that he in particular loves being read to, and I love to read aloud — but it gets tiring, and there’s never enough time. So we read a little from the Inner Chapters, and then I have to rush out to pick up Zeke, and cook her and her friends something. There are always kids sleeping here: right now her friend J is in her room with her, and B is on the couch downstairs, so I’m writing in my bedroom, with Sadie and Bridji snuggled up against me.

And then, finally, it’s night. I open the windows and the wind blows through, carrying cool from the mountains. I water the plants on the patio again, beneath stars, and listen to the world hum. The ghosts gather again, and they don’t purse lips or turn away. They are friends. I can write to them.

Bomb threat again — one year later

Somebody scrabbles at the locked classroom door. It’s 9:00 o’clock, and I’m typing student questions on our latest reading into the computer for overhead viewing and discussion. “Someone’s trying to get in,” someone says. I turn towards the door as the scrabbling continues, and then the door opens. “I’m scared,” one of my students says mockingly, playing. “It could be a….”

It’s a security guard. “Campus is closed for the rest of the day and tonight,” he says. “You must evacuate the building immediately.”

“Are you kidding?” I say, even though I know it’s ridiculous to say it. Nobody would kid about a campus emergency that shuts the school down.

“No,” he says. “Get your stuff and leave quietly, now.”

The students are already packing. I grab my backpack, stuff my folders and books and a handful of student papers in it, and sling it over my shoulder. “Check the news,” I tell the students. “If I hear any more, I’ll let you know on WebCT.”

People are piling up on the stairs. Outside the window I see them below, on the lawn, milling about, not sure what to do. A security officer disperses them. If I go to my car now, I’ll be locked out. My keys and purse are in my office. I don’t know what to do. Finally, I head down the empty hallway, behind the guard, who is checking the offices. He doesn’t dissuade me as I unlock my office and grab my purse. In the hallway, everything is ominously quiet. I’m alone in here. I can’t believe how rapidly the building has emptied. I turn right and head for the back stairwell, go down in the echoing silence and out the back door. In the bright light outside, students pass up and down the pathway, heading for their cars, or looking for friends. I wave at the ones I know as I head for my Matrix. R.C. calls as I’m on the way, asking for a ride home, and we meet in the parking lot. By the time I’m in my car and have pulled out of my spot, the parking lot is at a standstill. Gridlock. For more than half an hour. I turn off the engine and get out of the car to join a group of faculty who are staring at the entrance of the lot. We’re sitting ducks for any real person with intent to hurt. It’s comfortably warm outside, and the sun is shining, and we wander around, waiting, lot, accusing each other of scheduling major exams for today, thus causing some student to plant a bomb threat to disrupt the day. Eventually campus security guards show up, and then someone calls the police. Finally someone starts directing traffic. Finally the line moves. I get back in the car, and R.C. and I leave. It’s 9:45.

The rumor is that a “credible and serious” threat in the form of a note mentioning a bomb blast and/or mayhem of some sort has been found in the women’s bathroom of the newest building. Last time this happened, a year ago, the note was found in the men’s bathroom of my building. Copycat, I think. I know the administration has to take such threats seriously, but I’m sickened at living in a world in which such precautions are necessary. And I can’t help wondering what would have happened if it had been a real emergency. Somebody better figure out a way to prevent parking lot gridlock, or we’re all doomed!

Snippets

  • I’ve been too busy to write, or even to read blogs.  My unread blogs are in the triple digits. I’m teaching 101 with a new text, which I didn’t finish reading over the break because I’d promised I’d read over a manuscript of poems for a friend before she submitted it to a local publishers, and that took up my spring break reading time. I know better than to try a new prep in a regular quarter. Why won’t I ever learn?
  • Someone stole the rainbow ribbon that said “support diversity” off the back of my car. When I bought it at the Vagina Monologues a few weeks ago, the pastor of the local Rainbow Cathedral said that it would probably be stolen. “I’m never able to keep one on my car for more than a few weeks,” she said. I’d had a pink “Breast cancer” ribbon, and a blue “Wage peace” ribbon on my car until both disintegrated in the rain and sun, so I had hopes my ribbon would stay where I put it. No such luck.
  • I’m finally back on track with visiting my dad, after months not getting across the pass. I’ve been to the beach to attend the Barber of Seville, then for Easter, then for Beethoven’s ninth on Saturday. He used to ask my sister to go, but she’s still breastfeeding, so now I’m his classical music concert and opera companion. Still, every time I’ve driven over the pass, I’ve missed being stopped for one reason or another. I can’t believe they’re still having to perform avalanche control this late in the season. When my daughter, her friend and I were on the way back yesterday, the westbound lanes were backed up miles because the traffic had been stopped. Luckily we were going east.
  • This weekend I finished cleaning out his planter boxes, and bought flowers, and filled the wooden containers up with splashes of color. I surreptitiously carried bags of garbage up the the dumpster at the top of the hill, too. Once I asked him if I brought an old pair of Birkenstocks over would he let me keep them in the porch so I wouldn’t have to put my hiking boots on and off every time I went in and out. “I never throw anything away,” he said. “If you put them in the porch, they’ll stay there forever.” Yep. A WWII child, he learned to conserve. “You’ll find a use for everything within seven years,” he always said. So his shop is so pilled up with bits and pieces of broken appliances, and wire, and string, and old newspapers and you name it that it’s hard to get into. And his house would be that way too, but I’m always quietly cleaning out the worst of the junk. If I told him I were taking it, he’d protest, and nobody would be able to get in the door.
  • All the trips up and down the hill I made have warped my calves into knots of stiffness. It horrified me how unfit I’ve become. I walk every day, but there are no hills to walk on around here. All the walking places are along level dirt lanes or narrow tracks between canyon walls. Sigh.

Houseful

The house is full of teenagers — Zeke’s friend, and their two boyfriends, and two gay friends — and they’re boiling eggs for Easter, and the TV is going, and the iPod is plugged into the speakers, and even though I’m up here in my bedroom with the door closed, I can hear the music and the movie voices, and the clink of spoons, and I can smell spaghetti cooking, and I’m trying to write, but I can’t. It occurs to me that I probably seem a bit flaky, switching from one thing to another, abandoning projects and picking them up again here and there. I haven’t abandoned my book on Esperanca, but I’ve run into a snag with it. She wants her name on it, her real name, and her real name is so unusual (and beautiful too) that it is distinctive. If I make the typo-free book available, I will expose her. So I’m trying to decide what to do with it.

Time for a confession: Nada fell asleep last week, while I read him a bit from my book about my mother and the heron.  And I stopped writing for several days. My mother always criticized my writing, and now any hint that what I’m working on is not good enough freezes me. How I finished my thesis (a creative one) is beyond me.

But I couldn’t stop writing it. I think it’s a way for me to make sense of what happened, of my role in it, and a way to find my way back to peace with my sisters. So I keep working on it, but when he calls and asks me what I’m doing, I lie. I tell him I’m reading, or just got back from walking the dogs, or doing laundry, because after he fell asleep all I could think about was that my ex-husband wouldn’t read the book my mother and I wrote about our breast cancer experience, and that my life has always been full of people who haven’t really liked anything I’ve ever written. It feels whiny to write what I’m writing, but I’ve sworn I’m going to stop censoring myself. I’ve been censoring myself for too long.

I’m in that strange transitional mood that happens when the quarter ends. It’s been a great quarter, with fun classes, but I’m a bit bummed out because I submitted grades that I know some students aren’t going to be happy with. But they have to learn somewhere, somehow, to read the assignment, to listen to me when I tell them that if they don’t include copies of their sources with their papers they’ll fail the paper — period. They have to learn to read and respond to their emails BEFORE the grades are in. One student didn’t send in her online quiz, and I emailed her twice about it, and then she emailed me after the grades were in and wrote, “If you didn’t get my quiz yet, please call me ASAP at 555-5555 and I’ll send it to you.” TOO LATE!!! Four minutes past the deadline for me to submit my grades. What was she thinking? And I like her. But I can’t — and won’t — change the grade for her even if she does have the quiz and does submit it. There’s some kind of insane epidemic of students who are fun and interesting and just nice to be around, but they don’t pay attention and don’t do the work and then they act hurt when their final grade isn’t what they expect. I’ve been warning them all quarter, but I think they’ve been trained in a high school system that warns them they’ll fail, and then passes them anyway. So that’s what they expect.

I read last night, for Holy Thursday. I wasn’t as nervous as I expected. I went for a walk beforehand, in the Canyon, one of my favorite places, and I felt the fierce, wild spirit of the rocks rising into the air around me. And it was something like the night before Anne Frank opened, when I saw Kuan Yin laughing in front of me, and knew it would be OK. I’m more used to it all now, and the Spanish reader was a former student of mine, so we had fun in the sacristy beforehand, catching up on news, and when it was time to process in, I was calm. It was moving, to be reminded of a year ago, when I was in the front row, getting my feet washed by the Bishop, and I remembered Nada in India, getting his feet washed by his friend, and there’s something about that story, about my memory of him telling me about it, that touches me every time. Afterwards, we processed out with the host to the chapel, and I walked right behind the Bishop as the choir sang hauntingly before us. In that moment the music and the clear sound of the bells brought back memories of China, of that dawn chanting and drumming that so captivated me, and I knew why I could have at home a shelf on which Kuan Yin sits beside St. Teresa, and the temple guardians watch over both of them.

I’m rambling. There’s nothing organized or meaningful about what I’ve written here, except perhaps as a way to capture a moment. I’ve jumped from idea to idea, and not edited or changed anything, though I guess I’ll proofread at least.

One of the lads downstairs has an astonishingly loud laugh, and it bursts out regularly, rising above the general cacaphony of music and food being prepared and kids talking. I’m tired but I probably couldn’t sleep, with all the excitement downstairs. Tomorrow I’m going to visit my dad for Easter, will get to see my little nephew again. Then it’s the break, for a week, and I’ll clean up my office and prepare for next quarter, and find a moment to do some yard work in the little garden. And then it’s spring quarter, and the days are long enough for evening walks, and the cold is gone so I can go outside without my chest constricting, and another year is drawing to a close. (I measure the year based on the academic calendar more than I do the Christian one!)

Three things: Long days; Zeke’s friends; the growing ability to recognize a mood as simply a passing moment, like ripples on the water, and therefore, for the moment, a resulting peace.

Tea time

Stella wrote: What I wish is to sit around a kitchen table with a small group of women, drinking tea, and have long discussions about just such things as you’ve posted about – I miss that so much – I suppose blog/comments exchanges are the next best thing.

Oh, that sounds so lovely. I think that’s what I like about blogging, the conversations that sometimes happen spontaneously over an idea thought through in a post. These days, though, I’m feeling guilty because I’ve hardly had a chance to read my favorite blogs. I drop in, then think I’ll come back and comment, and I don’t. I’ve been rushing, with a particularly busy quarter at work, and the Monologues (0ver now), and just trying to keep up with life.

I’m brain dead. This is one of those posts that says nothing, does nothing except give a glimpse into my life. I caught up on the laundry today, for the first time in weeks. I’ve been living out of piles of clothes tossed on the bed and then into the basket which is wedged in the corner, and then back onto the bed. The floor has been covered in dog hair and dust and tracked in mud. My car has been a disaster area. But yesterday I cleaned the car, and today I got a good run at the house, and tomorrow is a day I have to settle in and get caught up at work. I have a reference letter to write for a student, a college application paper to read for another student, the rest of my syllabus for Victorian and 20th Century lit to finish, an exam to write, and a report to write for the English department. And I have to finish reading the Virginia Woolf essays I assigned for this week, which I haven’t read since the last time I taught the class, something like 10 years ago.

And I’m tired after the energy expended on rehearsing for and performing in the Monologues. But I’ve managed to blog fairly regularly despite this difficult quarter, and doing so was one of my goals, so I’m happy.

Oh, and Stella’s comment reminded me of where I went to undergraduate school, an alternative hippie college without grades, where we studied in programs instead of individual classes, and learning was very much a time of talking over tea, of deep discussions in seminars, and then in individual cluster contracts, and because there were no grades, we never had to jump through hoops (at least, it never felt like it). I remember my first visit to the campus, when I walked into the women’s restroom and eavesdropped on a conversation about Dada and Nietzsche and war and nihilism, and thought, “This is it! This is where I’m going.” I was used to the loos in the community college I’d been attending: “Hey, are you going to so-and-so’s party tonight? God, I got so wasted last night. And did you hear, Dingbat’s pregnant again.” I wanted real conversations, literature, art, philosophy. I wanted to grapple with difficult ideas, to argue, to disagree and discover. And my undergraduate college gave me all that — and then some.

This post is going nowhere, and it’s OK. I’m not going to edit or shape it or press it into respectability. I do not wish to be respectable. I am thinking of confession again, and of my discomfort with it, of how hard it was to audition for the Monologues. (It took me seven years). I am thinking of how frustrated I am that Zeke gets away with texting in class in high school, and with doing math homework in global perspectives and global perspectives homework in choir. I am thinking of how I could NEVER be a high school teacher, because I would do inappropriate things like kick my students out of class if I caught them being so disrespectful. Yet I would feel continual nagging guilt as I watched them walk out: If I am not keeping their attention, their absence of interest is a failing in me rather than them.

One of my colleagues lets the students surf when they’re in the lab and she’s talking. I was observing her and the tic-tic of the keyboard, the click-click of the mouse, the flashes in my peripheral vision as a new website loaded — these all drove me nuts. I was distracted the whole class. “If I’m not holding their attention,” she said, “then that’s my problem.” But how can we? Really? They’re used to texting and talking and keyboarding and iPoding all at the same time. Their attention flicks from TV to computer to PDA to iPhone. They pull white earbuds out of one ear to respond to a parent’s question. Am I old-fashioned to insist on them turning off the technology and looking forward to the doc-cam where we are discussing the strengths of a student paper? Am I old-fashioned to insist on respect for each other? Not just me. Each other. Surely doing six different things at once is disrespectful. It is the opposite of sitting down at tea, and looking at each other, and really listening.

Snippets, because time just won’t stand still

  • It’s been crazy busy. Zeke and I are participating in my college’s performance of the Vagina Monologues next week, so we’ve been rushing off to rehearsal most evenings, or having all-girl sleepovers for practice (she and three of her friends are involved. Two of her friends are sharing “My Short Skirt” with her, and one is doing a piece for a companion monologue.)
  • I’ve been trying to childproof all my lower-level kitchen cabinets. Sadie, having been given a second chance at life, has decided to teach herself a new trick: open the cabinets and pull everything out, then tear up anything that might potentially contain food. Last weekend I screwed in a nice little spring-loaded child lock on the under-the-sink garbage cabinet. One of the many kids who’s been spilling in and out of the house recently promptly broke it. So as a stop gap measure this week I put a stool in front of the cabinet, which prompted Sadie to move to the next cabinet, containing the dog food, and open it and scatter dog food all over the kitchen. So now I have a packet of 14 locks, and none of my cabinets will be free from the attack of my cordless screwdriver.
  • I agreed to review a textbook manuscript. The deadline was a week ago, but I begged for a reprieve because it was taking me literally hours and I was running out of time. (I’ll never review a textbook manuscript again. The measly pittance they offered me worked out to barely minimum wage.) It doesn’t help that the book should never have been at the review stage anyway. Anyway, I finally got it done, and basically trashed it. I felt bad, but to my surprise the editor liked my comments, saying she’d suspected the writing suffered from some of the same problems I’d noted.
  • I haven’t seen my dad since the beginning of December. The pass has been nasty or closed the past few weeks. Over Christmas, when it was open, he was in Ireland. After he got back, the mountains got slammed with snow, and as far as I can tell the pass has been closed more than it’s been open for the past two weeks. I feel bad. I call him, check in on him, and wish I could rent a helicopter or something to go visit him. (I have decided against any kind of commercial plane flying unless I absolutely HAVE to.)
  • The Great Thaw has begun. We’ve been in a deep freeze her for weeks. Snow, ice, temporary almost-warmth, and then ice again. Then the temperatures rose and the far hills lost their blankets of white, and the snow in town drips and spreads and melts and suffuses, and the mud rises. I walked the dogs in a big field the other day, while I was waiting for Zeke’s friend to wash the dishes before we headed for VM rehearsals. Within a split second, both creatures were caked in mud, and so was I. Sticky nasty stuff, clinging to puppy pads and shoe bottoms, climbing up legs, gluey between fingers. With resignation, I opened the car door and let them in. What else could I do? Now I have a filthy car to clean…
  • It is now time for me to do taxi duty. Teenagers need to be run from one end of town to the other to meet various obligations. I wonder why I’ve always tended to be the parent who was willing to drive her kid’s friends anywhere, while the other parents call and say, “Have Sonia back by 7:00.” At least a couple of Zeke’s friends can drive themselves now! That will save on the price of fuel, and the wear and tear on my rapidly aging, not-so-long-ago new car.
  • Incidentely, there’s something rewarding about not having to try to organize one’s writing. These snippets are kind of fun. This was the quickest post I’ve written in a while!

Looking for Light

Winter has always been hard for me. I love light, waking at dawn to quiet illumination. I love long golden evenings, the sun setting on the tawny landscape of the valley where I live. The 5:30 a.m. blare of an alarm intruding on sleep-in-darkness irks me. My body resists the call to arise into the chill air of a tired black morning. Driving home in the dark, avoiding ice and snow, is wearing. I want to be up with the sun, whenever the sun arises.

About a year and half ago, I bought myself one of those alarm clocks that simulates dawn. It was a little one, with a clock radio paired with it, a little pricey compared to a plain radio alarm clock, but worth it, I thought, if it made waking easier. It was worthless. The light was too dim to wake me, and the radio quality was so poor it was unusable. After a few weeks of sleeping through the light and waking to static, I gave up and tossed it. In the meantime I’d done a little web research and discovered that others had the same problem as I did with that particular model, but that those others had gone on to purchase a bigger product from a different company, and they were happy with it. So I did the same, ordered my BioBrite dawn simulator and waited for it to arrive. When it did, I set it up, set the alarm, and waited for the next morning. The light came on gradually, and woke me eventually to a room filled with light. A few moments later, after I had showered and was getting dressed, the back-up beep went off, a horrendous sound that would have woken me if the light hadn’t — but in a foul mood. After a few mornings in which I woke unfailingly to the glow of what to my body appeared to be sunrise, I switched off the beep, and for more than a year have enjoyed waking the way my body wants me too. Even when I’m exhausted, the light coaxes me out of sleep, and I find myself wide-eyed at some time between 5:40 and 5:45.

Then, a week or so ago, the light didn’t come on. I didn’t wake till almost time to be in class, and I thought I’d slept through it. I was horrified, especially since Zeke’s friend was staying with us and I had to apologize for almost getting her late to class. The next morning I set the backup radio, and it woke me. The light hadn’t come on on my BioBrite. Assuming the bulb was out, I emailed the company and discovered that I could replace it with a common candalabra bulb. I did, and nothing worked. Now I’m waiting to hear back from the company. I ordered a floor lamp from them just a few days ago, and I’m ready to cancel the order if they don’t help me out. If they tell me the $130 light is out of warranty and unfixable, I’m going to be furious. (See The Story of Stuff for why, apart from the sheer cost in dollars to me.) But the email the guy sent about replacing the light bulb was friendly and funny — even if it did take him two days to respond, and I hope the company is a good one, one that I can endorse. The product is great, but only if it lasts longer than just over a year!

In the meantime, I’m back to waking to an angry alarm clock, hauling my grumpy self out of bed, and cursing the winter. Gads, life can be so frustrating sometimes. (I’ll update you re the company response, if you’re interested.)