Thursday, December 31, 2009

Decade in Review

I started the year of 2000 working in Atlanta as a freelance theatre electrician. I ended it as the production master electrician of The Joseph Papp Public Theatre/Shakespeare in the Park. I rang in 2001 in Times Square, almost got trambled by a mounted policeman and never got close enough to see the ball drop.
I ended 2001 as a New York City teacher.
2002 saw me in the worst, most unhealthy relationship ever. But I managed to escape with my sanity (barely) and got another tattoo (#4).
2003 saw me in my first New York apartment on my own.
2004 saw me in the move of death from Brooklyn to NC, a theatre teacher in NC, living with Mom and Dad again. It also saw me get my Masters of Science in Education.
2005 got me another tattoo, this one courtesy of my students (#5).
2006 saw me switch to teaching English only. I also drove cross country by myself for the first time, attended Bread Loaf: Santa Fe and got to see Alcatraz.
2007 was my second summer of Bread Loaf: Santa Fe, another tattoo (#6), a trip to Monterey and another cross country trip.
2008 was my first Bread Loaf: Vermont summer, yet another tattoo (#7) and a year of house hunting.
2009 saw me buy my first house, get a puppy, go to Hawaii, another trip to Monterey and achieve my National Board Certification.

What will 2010 hold? Well I can hope:
-North Carolina gives us our salary increase
-my last summer at Bread Loaf
-someone will actually start reading this blog
-an adjunct position at the local community college
-the first stamp in my passport (they stamp it if you go to Canada right?)
-a fully landscaped yard
-health and happiness

College Dreams and Other Things

When I was little, I was as determined as I am now. I had my whole life planned out. I would graduate with my degree in Nautical Archaeology in 1998, my PhD in 2004, married that same year, teaching at a university a year later. I even had my divorce scheduled in there.
I could imagine no better life than to spend part of my time in the field diving and the rest of it teaching and researching in dusty libraries.
I even had a timeline drawn out to remind me of what I should accomplish when.

It didn't quite happen that way.

I went to East Carolina to study marine archaeology but they canceled the undergrad program my freshman year. And I wandered off into theatre. I graduated in 4 years (no small task at ECU). Then I went off to work in Atlanta, New York City. In 2001 I got a little tired of the politics and decided to apply to the New York City Teaching Fellows. It wasn't nautical archaeology, and it wasn't college, but it was teaching, and I figured it was a good step. I got in, but because of shortages, was not assigned history, but English.
Hey- I like to read, that should work.
I went through a whirlwind training that involved overloading me on grad school classes and student teaching over 6 weeks and in September was assigned my school and started teaching in September 2001. My first year of teaching will forever be tied to the events of September 11th as I watched the towers fall from my school and then dealt with the aftermath with my students. I graduated with my Masters of Science in Education in 2004.
When Mom started getting really sick I applied for, and got a job here at the beach teaching. This is my 6th year teaching here, my 9th year teaching in general.

I love my job, I love my kids, I love seeing that look on their face, I love finding new things to teach them. But I do admit to being a little bored. I've been teaching the same grade for 9 years. The same required texts. And there's only so much innovation you can do. Only so many new projects, writing assignments, tests, debates when you're dealing with the same material. While I've advanced with a lot of things at school (committees, presenting at conferences, creating curriculum, running professional development) I feel a little bored with my teaching.

For the last couple of years, I've thought about applying to the local community college as an adjunct professor. But I kept putting it off. I'd wait until I got my Master of Arts in English Literature from Bread Loaf. The application was dismal to look at. I'd wait one more year to see if I was given a more challenging course load at school. I kept thinking of reasons why NOT to. I didn't have a PhD. I already had enough on my plate. They currently weren't hiring English. And then, over this break, as I researched more about community colleges, and teaching in them, the more I started to think that it would be a good fit. I may not have a PhD, but I'll soon have two masters (in areas that would fit with a community college), I know the students in this area, I know this community, I love coming up with ways to make material accessible. So, even though I could make up a million reasons why I shouldn't, I've decided to go ahead and throw my hat in the ring. They may not be hiring now, but I wanted to get everything together and put it in so that when they do, I'm top on the list.
I've crafted my cover letter, revamped my resume, gathered my transcripts. It was kind of fun to look at my grades from undergrad and grad school. How did I get an A in Physics Lab and a D in the class?

So maybe I didn't end up where I thought I would. But then again, who does?

To me, the coolest thing about this decision was that when I posted it on Facebook, not only an ex-student, but adult friends posted how exciting it would be if I was one of their professors. And as a teacher, there is just nothing cooler.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Flashback/Flash Forward

The holidays always make me think of a million different things. Christmas used to be so magical in my house. It was actual magic. The way the tree went up, the way we painted the windows with window wax cleaner. The smell of evergreen in the house, the silver polished and china out as we dressed up for dinner. The luminarios that lined the driveway. The tiny, creepy dolls that decorated the table.
Christmas is different now. A lot of the carrying on of tradition has fallen to me. Mom can't do it anymore, so I do it. And it's simpler than it used to be. The creepy dolls stay in their box. We don't dress for dinner. In fact, we tend to grab our plates, eat and scatter. It rarely seems to focus on family being together, but rather the rapid unwrapping of gifts (some thought out and some not) and then *poof*. All gone.
Part of me wonders whether it's because we're all grown up. Part of me wonders if it's because I'm carrying on someone else's traditions. I had a conversation the other day with a friend about what our idea of Christmas was like. I don't know what my idea of Christmas is like, because I've never had it. I wondered what it would be like if I did Christmas my way.
It would be simpler for one. The tree would probably still go up after Thanksgiving. The Charlie Brown lights would still go out. But I would want it to be about family and friends. I would want it to be about the people around me.
I don't know if we'll ever have normal holidays again. I don't know if I'll ever have my own holidays.

I don't know if I won't always feel slightly disappointed in the holidays. In the friends that don't come to visit me. The magic that seems to be missing. In the fact that our family seems so small these days. In the gifts where I want to look at the person and ask "Do you know me?".
Also, because it's the only time of year where we're all together anymore, the holidays for years have also been about drama, this year both more and less than usual. Hiding in the grotto is a wonderful thing. And yet it wasn't. I had peace and quiet. But I also think I wasn't really missed either. I spent the holidays ostracized both due to mono and the fact the I hadn't the energy to deal with Nehi and the cats upstairs. And I think that sums up a lot of my feelings lately- of wanting to have my own life, but still be seen as part of others. And I don't know what the balance is. I don't know if in our situation, there is a balance.
So less drama. Which is good. But it also seems as though every year that goes by is a little less magical, a little less special. And I don't know if that's something I can fix. Add it to the long list of things I can't fix these days.
I guess being who I am though, I will continue to make lists of the things I can fix and work on checking them off one thing at a time. Because that's the only way to keep on going.

Nehi's Tired and I got hornswaggled

Nehi is fast asleep on the floor. I occassionaly lean over to see if she's still breathing and I flash back to "Terms of Endearment". It appears as though I finally found the thing that tires the Energizer bunny out- the bike.
I had it on my list to do over break to get my bike inner tubes refilled/replaced as they had been dead since early fall. The dog leash attachment was also on my list. I disliked all the ones I found online, but figured that I could at least get the bike up and running.
The gods were not smiling on us today, or perhaps Loki was. At first the bike place was closed. So we went to the vet and the bank. Then tried calling the bike place again. Still not open. So we drove up to Kitty Hawk to the other bike place, only to discover that they were closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the off season. Great. One last ditch call to the closed bike shop, and low and behold! Open. So we head back down the beach. Nehi was considerate enough not to eat the truck while I went inside (after waiting 15 minutes outside in the cold and wind. Turns out having your own business in the off season allows you to do whatever you want.)
What happened next baffles me, as I am not one to be hornswaggled easily. The guy told me my bike was crap (in of so many words) but I would love for anyone to point out a beach bike that's under $400 that doesn't look like a rist bucket. He offered to sell me a newer-used version of my bike to me for $60 dollars. Then it was $55. Then he switched gears (no pun intended) and walked me over to the seats and explained that what I really needed was a more comfortable seat (which I did actually). But at this point I began to think the reason that he had opened the shop late was because he was hungover, or as I began to think as this strange visit went on- still drunk.
I asked him if he had the dog leash attachment. He did not but was immediately able to get on the phone with his dealer/retailer and get me one, for cheaper than I had found it.
He then tried explaining how I needed other things for my bike. At this point, I began to think that I was in a weird, alternate reality, and if I didn't escape soon things could get very weird!
I explained that I didn't have a lot of money when he tried to get me to buy a $500 bike. And then flipped back to the earlier conversation when he told me my bike would be $20 for the new tubes and $50 to tune up (which it needed, I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to have to spray WD-40 on everything before every ride). So the $55 bike he was offering me was actually a deal.
Except the bike seat was $32 and change. So now we're up to $87 and change.
Still, I'm a little excited at this point to have a newish bike. I have a garage now, so can probably hold off on this becoming a complete rust bucket. And Nehi did enjoy the bike this summer. He puts the bike up and tunes it, and looks very professional. He explaines that if the brakes are too soft, or I need the seat adjusted, just bring it by and he'll take care of it- no problem. Somewhere in there he tries to convince me that I need a different handlebar attachment to make it taller for me so as not to strain my lumbar region. And I realize I am excited. He has me ride it around the parking lot to see if he needs to adjust anything else and it's great. My ass doesn't hurt, it rides great, and the brakes are fine. He smiles and tells me to put it in my truck. Where Nehi is still very nice and not eating my truck, the seat or the XM radio.
Then he tells me that it'll be cash. Fine. I have my egg money (don't laugh, that's what I call it, I have a thing for "Little Women"). So he starts to add it up. And here's where I know that I'm in an alternate, mind control world.
The bike goes up to $70.
The seat rounds up to $33.
The dog attachment rounds up to $30.
He tells me to make it $140 even.
I don't have that kind of cash I tell him. He says that's fine, I can go get it. Let's remember, I already have the bike in my truck. So I said okay, and here's the mind control piece- I go to the ATM, get the money, come back, watch him freak out a couple of tourists. They wanted a double bike for the day, and he's doing a similar spiel with them- $50 a day, no $40. Keep it a couple of days. They start backing away. Make excuses- they're going to lunch first. Oh really? He pounces- where are you going? And then there's a long monologue about where they should go. And he sends them to one of the cheaper, crappier places on the beach that doesn't even sell local seafood, but uses frozen imports. It's almost comical to watch them try to wriggle out and flee before being sucked in EXCEPT that I can't escape until they're gone. At this point, I just want to pay him and leave.
I hand him the money, he counts it, and I walk (don't run) towards the exit.
He tells me as I'm leaving to call him Thursday or Friday because the dog leash should be in then.
Now don't get me wrong- it's not a bad deal. The seat I had gave me a pain in the ass- literally. The old bike slipped gears it was so rusted, and sometimes wouldn't reengage while I was riding (not something I recommend when holding the leash of a 65 pound dog). The old bike was crappy, and this is better. And as Nehi's snoring and impression of a dead dog since 430p can attest, well worth it.
However. I don't get hornswaggled. And I'm still a little unclear how it happened.

So, a day that ended with a nice, unexpected surprise, but definitely one that was strange and unusual. And frankly, I'm a little trepidatious about returning at the end of the week for my part. Since I did not get a receipt (yet seemingly paid for it) I can only hope that he remembers in his drunken little memory who I am, that I ordered the part and already paid him and that he does not try to charge me for the dog leash attachment.
More to come, I'm sure.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Thoughts on Christmas

I am a New York Times junkie, and came across a post that was not riveting, but had a poem that I loved:
I asked for strength and God gave me difficulties to make me strong
I asked for wisdom and God gave me problems to solve
I asked for prosperity and God gave me a brain and brawn to work
I asked for courage and God gave me dangers to overcome
I asked for love and God gave me people to help
I asked for favors and God gave me opportunities
I received nothing I wanted
I received everything I needed.

for the full post:

May we all remember the gifts we're given, even if we don't recognize them as gifts at the time

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dear Santa

I think you may need to flip a coin on me before you try to squeeze down my wood stove pipe. In my defense, it's been a rough year. So here's the list, and you figure out where I fell short:

I bought a house and fixed it up (Nice)
I did not volunteer in soup kitchens, homeless shelters, missions or other helpful causes (Naughty)
I lost my temper a lot (Naughty)
I remained involved in my church (Nice)
I often let my inner monologue criticize the tackily dressed, hypocritical, should have been barred at the door, people in church (Naughty)
I got a puppy from the shelter, whom I love (Nice)
I did not get around to curing cancer or organizing world peace (Naughty, or is it negligent?)
I did not get off my tail to try and get published, but I started a blog (your call)
I did not learn to ride a horse, although I have a friend who offered to teach me (no idea where that falls)
I killed as many plants as I grew (your call, but in my defense, I didn't really kill them, but rather Nehi ate them. So maybe this one should go on her Naughty/Nice list)
I read a lot of books (Nice, literacy is nice right?)
I lost a couple of friends. Not like "Oops, where did I put them?" but more like "I got tired of being the only one to call or email and not getting any response so I gave the frak up" (Probably Naughty. I used frak so that's gotta be naughty right?)
I did however make up with an old friend (Nice)
I only started recycling this year (Naughty)
But I also started composting (Nice)
I prayed for strength and patience daily (Nice)
I rarely had aforementioned patience (Naughty)
I sent out tacky Christmas cards to all my friends (not sure where that one falls either)
I sent care packages to seminarians (Nice)
But never on time for whatever holiday they were for (Again, Naughty or negligent?)

So there it is, the year in review. Do as you will. There will be cookies for you and carrots for the reindeer regardless.


This is the Continental Ironworks in Greenpoint Brooklyn where the Monitor was built.

Old buildings fascinate me. I think it's one of the reasons that I loved living in New York, and Greenpoint in particular. They give a concrete glimpse into the past. I would walk past the now abandoned Continental Ironworks and wonder what it must have been like 150 years ago when it was in its heyday. What did it look like? How was the neighborhood different? What was daily life like?
Much of my writing starts with a picture, whether one of my own, or something I've found, usually the former (which is part of the reason I am missing having a camera right now).
While I think pictures can tell their own stories, I usually find myself writing about the story behind the picture. What led up to this moment? What stories took place right before it was shot?
When I don't have a camera on me, my writer's notebook takes it place, as I jot down images and impressions. I never write stories in them, instead I just try to capture the moment, the feeling. Like what it felt like to walk through College of Staten Island's CUNY campus late at night, knowing that it was once Willowbrook State School, a place that Geraldo Rivera exposed for its cruelty to children and adults that were mentally challenged. ()

What The Public Theatre was like when it was the Astor Library. When the columns were braced with bookcases, and filled with books. When the skylights weren't blacked out and sunlight streamed through it. When the soft swish of bookcarts and heels echoed on the marble floors.

What is was like on Alcatraz, not just for the prisoners, but the guard families that lived there, the soldiers stationed there. What is was like to stand out there at night and look out on the water.

Being single, with no one to take pictures of me in the frame, just about every picture I take is of buildings or places without any people in them. Maybe part of this is because I see each picture as potential story, and it makes it easier for me to set the story without someone else's characters cluttering up my frame.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Solstice come and gone, and summer's coming because the Burpee seed catalog arrived

I think the seasons mean less here on the beach. We rarely have a change of seasons- the heat and humidity of summer quickly turns into the nor'easters of winter with barely a bump of fall. And then the storms turn into the heat of summer with barely a nod to spring.
We rarely get snow and don't have to worry about frost, because we have sand, and it doesn't freeze. Plants can go in the ground at the beginning of March and grow until November or Decemeber. It's a long growing season where your biggest concern is how protected your garden is from the sea salt that the wind always carries.
I love the idea of gardens because they are an impartial measuring stick.
When we moved into the house in March, the back yard was a bare thing, full of sand and pine straw

It took shape, bit by bit. First I added the raised beds, as I became obsessed with square foot gardening:

Then came the puppy, and the need for a fence (that I designed):

It was a season of hits and misses. Due mainly to the fact that I had never grown anything outside of a window box, and Nehi enjoyed ripping up half the plants when I went back to school. But there is still a big difference between the starting line and now. As I flipped through the Burpee catalog, more and more ideas took shape. This fall's nor'easters have shown me that I really need to install rain gardens on the left side of the yard, as it floods with runoff. The raised beds got moved now that the fence is in, and I know where the property line is and wanted to open up the yard. A split fence will go in to separate the raised beds from the rest of the yard (and provide a deterent to Nehi!). Fruit trees will go in on the side. The rain and flooding loosed the mortor and I managed to rip up the ugly concrete patio in the back and discovered that while the concrete on top was horrible, the bricks underneath were a great find, and I plan on using them to make a rock herb wall out front. Climbing plants (roses, sweet pea, honeysuckle, morning glories) will get planted along the fence, and I'll replace the jasmine, although to Nehi proof it, I may add some evergreen bushes to anchor them. I want a maple tree in the front yard, a marker to measure the years we've been here and something to change colors with the seasons. It may be the only way to mark the season change here!

This summer will be a little odd, as (hopefully) Nehi and I will be up in Vermont. So it won't be a heavy vegetable year as Dad is too busy to tend it. However, it also offers an opportunity for me to do a lot of early, foundation planting, and then not have to worry about Nehi ripping it up.

The yard already looks so different. And I look forward to seeing it fill out. Last year was really about just putting SOMETHING in the ground, not wanting it to look so bare, and wanting to play in the dirt. This year, the structure and plan of the garden should start to become more apparent.
Perhaps it seems silly that I would become so enamoured with the idea of planting my tiny square of dirt. But I never had dirt of my very own. I never had anything of my very own. And I've found that there is nothing that beats sitting in a garden that you've literally built from scratch and enjoying all of your hard work.

So, for my northern friends- you may be buried in snow and ice, but I am watching the tomato plants continue to grow and imagining the garden in bloom.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Oversharing, bypassing the filter in your head and just plain common sense

It used to be that if you overshared the details of your life, you were considered immature or unprofessional. It used to be that if you said whatever popped into your head, you lacked tact. It used to be that if you publicized that you weren't going to work because you were drunk, you were an idiot.
No more.
Now, the latest technology encourages us to do all of the above. Twitter, Facebook: the ability to update from anywhere. This is great if you're famous or cool, and we care. However, I do not need to know what you're making breakfast. I do not need to know that you're doing laundry. I do not need to know that you're cleaning out your basement.
I know- let me stop your objection before you voice it. Yes, I use my Facebook postings to detail the antics of Nehi. Hell, I have a whole blog dedicated to her viewpoint. But I would argue that there's a major difference between me and the twits. I THINK before I post. I CRAFT responses. There are days when I search for the best, witty, allusions I could make. This sense of common sense, seems to be what is lacking the most in this use of technology.
I think part of the problem is that people use the technology without understanding it. They think that they are sinply sharing the intimate details of their life with their 300 closest friends. But you're not. Even if your profile is set to private, there are still details that people can pull off of it. It's also out there forever. It's the Internet and it doesn't just disappear when it no longer appears on your screen. And as Murphy would have it, it's always the stuff you don't want seen.
-Inappropriate postings
-Drunk pictures
-Inappropriate comments left by friends
Postscript: Also stupid, posting that you're applying for a job somewhere else. Even if you've let your current boss know, that just seems, well, tacky. And embarassing if you don't get it.

All things that reflect badly on you. Because the second part of this is that you need to learn to police your profile as well as you do what you put on it. Delete that comment that your numbskull friend posted. Untag that picture (or better yet, as your friend to delete it). What other people put on your profile reflects on you as much as your updates do.
This technology is wonderful, and makes a whole new world accessible. But that is part of the problem. People don't think about the consequences, they just get caught up in the fun of it.
Maybe it's my 90 year old peeking through, but I don't think that you should post that you didn't go to work because you drank too much last night. I also don't think it's a great idea to have every other post on your profile to be about drinking. I don't think you should post inappropriate pictures. I don't think you should let friends post things that others would find offensive or foul. Some things should remaing private.
Maybe I have a different opinion because I'm a teacher. I have a twisted sense of humor, but always stop and think, because parents, bosses and students might not get it. I think of everything in terms of "Assume everyone will see this." Maybe I'm just not a fun person. I don't go out and get trashed (let alone have people take pictures of it), I don't act inappropriately; I live a life that revolves around my dog, my books, my job and my family. Not a lot of R rating material (unless you consider my language).

So the point of this long ramble is this- the lack of common sense in the world is something that constantly surprises me (as stupidity always does) and there are days when I marvel at the stupidity. Today, as I read a post about someone getting their tubes tied (eww) it just got the brain gears rolling.
So there, those are my curmudgeon thoughts for the day!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why I Won't Be Surviving the Apocalypse

I was looking out my back kitchen door into the garden this morning as I waited for the coffee to finish and realized that I would not be surviving the apocalypse. My tomato plants are dropping almost to the ground due to all the monsoon weather we've had lately. Weeds have taken over the other two raised beds. There were no fall crops. Now, granted, this is the first time ever I've tried to grow anything other than flowers. But I think if my survival depended on my food growing skills I'm a dead one.
S.M Stirling writes a great series about what life is like after the apocalypse. A worldwide EM pulse ruins all technology and gunpowder. The people who survive are funny enough, all the RenFaire, SCA types who know how to weave, farm, make their own tools. It's a neat series for the most part, and I always thought how cool that was. Well, not the 80% of the population dying part but the rest. I realize now though, I'd be part of that 80%.
My favorite books growing up were ones like "Little House on the Prairie" and "Gone with the Wind". I always believed that I was more than capable of living that life. But as much as I might want that to be a set of skills that I have, and as much as now that I have a house, I'm slowly learning, I don't know if I'll ever be capable of surviving the apocalypse.
But perhaps there's hope. I'm smart. I pick up things quickly. So maybe if I just associate myself with people with these skills that I lack I increase my chances.

Maybe not.

Of course, I'm a reader, so if anyone has any books they can recommend on how to survive the apocalypse, leave a comment and let me know!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Dear Government Officials:

I have a few suggestions for you. Since normally these ideas are reserved for friends who purposely set me off on a rant, you should make sure you pay attention.

1. Immigration- it's easy. Issue a 5 year work visa. Tax them. Give them ID cards. Track them. Make it so that families don't huddle in fear at the mention of INS. Done.
2. Healthcare- here's the deal. I'm a teacher with a master's degree. And I have to put off needed medical and dental care because I simply cannot afford it. I'm 33, and in pretty good health, so this is not an immediate problem. However, lacking preventative care is going to seriously affect me in the future. I am willing to pay more taxes if it would ensure that I wouldn't have to make these decisions. People who say they want healthcare but aren't willing to pay for it are stupid and you should stop listening to them.
3. Education- very simple. Adopt New York's Regent tests as mandatory for graduation nation wide. They're fair, a good assessment tool and don't require teachers to teach to the test. Everyone gets graded according to the same requirements. Then you supply the training teachers need. You nationally certify them instead of this state to state nonsense. And while you're at it, require ALL teachers to have an advanced degree. In some states you can teach with a bachelor's degree and it doesn't even have to be in the subject you teach, as long as you pass some pansy test that a trained monkey could pass. When you have trained professionals who are dedicated, you can accomplish anything with any child.
4. Lobbyist- make them illegal. They do no good, they corrupt the system and contribute nothing.
5.Gay marriage- is a civil rights issue. You are denying them a basic right. Government doesn't have the right to this any more than they had the right to deny the right to vote to minorities or women. If religions wish to deny people this right, then that is THEIR right. The government should have no say.
6. Abortion- see last two sentences of last suggestion. Done.
7.Military- it's necessary unless the entire world suddenly becomes Quakers. So pay for it, but remember that in the end we'll PAY for it. Use your resources wisely, realize that we will hold you accountable. Don't send in 20,000 troops when two Black Ops missions will do. And stop trying to recreate the world in our image. It won't work. When we all have healthcare, we have a 100% literacy rate and our prisons are empty and our streets aren't littered with homeless (read: when we have fixed ourselves) then feel free to hold ourselves up as a great society. Until then, you've got crap to do here.
8.Mandatory service- make it required that everyone serve their country. Americorp, the military, teaching/lawyering/doctoring in underserved communities, something that gives back to the communities we live in. One year. Not so long. Teach children that they need to be informed AND involved. Help our communities that need it most.
9. Higher education- make it so that everyone who wants it, gets it. See previous note about being willing to pay taxes. At the very least forgive the student loans of people who do their mandatory service. They've already given, why must they then pay?

All of the above ideas are common sense. Which practically guarantees that you won't do any of them. Congress and the legislative branch in general seem to be allergic to common sense. However, I felt the need, as a concerned, informed, involved citizen to tell you that some of us have noticed how easy the answers are and wonder why you aren't making any progress.
Some of us will be watching you. Try, just once, not to disappoint us.

What did Nehi eat?

Today as I tried to clean and decorate for the Christmas party, Nehi had other ideas.
She ate the stuffed snowmall and scattered styrofoam innards everywhere also one of those fake, decorative everygreen things.
Last night she ate my Return of the Jedi C3-PO and my Darth Vader wind up toy.

Since I've gotten her she has eaten or destroyed the following:
the footboard on my bed
the remote
buttons off of my sweaters and flannel shirts and pants
my sneakers
my high heels
the insoles on my clogs
her lead
stuffed animals
the laundry hamper (actually, she just rips the guts out of them and then plays with the dessicated corpse)
the couch pillows
my down pillows
the cord to the vaccum cleaner
my book for Advent
my lighter
my case for my Buffy DVDs
my cigarettes
my socks
any book she could reach
my corn plants
my tomato plants
my cantaloupe plants
my jasmine plants
my hybiscus plant
pinecones (number too numerous to keep track of!)
plastic planters
both doormats
the plastic rubber duckies that used to stick on my shower wall
the number 5 key on my laptop
magnets off the fridge
Mom's stuffed reindeer
a plastic piggy bank
a roll of wrapping paper

It seems like a long list of destruction. And yet, I wouldn't trade a single moment of her. I guess it's true that the best surprises come where you don't expect them.


Christmas has always been a national holiday in my house. The tree goes up the day after Thanksgiving. The house gets decorated then too. It looks like Christmas threw up all over my house.
There are snowmen in the bathroom.
Cookie tins on the walls.
Wax glass cleaner is used to decorate the windows and sliding glass doors.
Wreaths on the doors.
Charlie Brown Christmas lights outside.
The kitchen smells of cookies and gingerbread.
Handmade stockings hang in the house.
The cats try to knock down the lower ornaments and use them as cat toys so you find them all over the house.

Christmas seems better with family and friends around. Yet we seem to have an ever shrinking group. It used to be that we had a large extended family, but a casualty of Mom's illness seems to be that it's just us. Part of it also seems to be that after years of traveling, I am unaccustomed to rebuilding my own circle of friends.

Yet there is something magical about a house decorated for Christmas. As though, even as adults we try to recapture some of the magic we once held so dear as a child. Perhaps we are disappointed when it doesn't appear. Or perhaps we create the magic ourselves. Perhaps by going through the motions we force ourselves to believe.

Old Writings: Flight Time

Should have known the flight would be interesting when I pulled up to Norfolk Airport and realized that it had gone non-smoking. Fascist bastards.
At the gate I am plagued with babies- the screaming, annoying kind with the parents that say “not cool” when one hits another. Audience, meet the future generation of screw ups- it’s kids who had parents like that. Anyway, there seems to be no escaping the children and the noise, and of course this is the trip that my MP3 player decides not to work, so there you go.
On the plane, my choices are either the screaming children or a teenage dance squad. And it’s not a real dance squad. These are not girls with athletic talent or grace or beauty. It’s one of those dance squads where the mothers pay a lot of money for costumes and the owner of the company keeps telling them how talented their daughter is, and keeps suggesting more classes for her to take, and keeps cashing the checks. I chose the dance squad, mainly because teenagers ignore everyone around them and plug into their ipods and I thought I would be left alone. No such luck. Two ladies change seats, so I got stuck with a woman and her daughter. The mother asks if the daughter still feels sick to her stomach. Great, I’m sitting next to the one person who’s actually going to use the barf bag. And the daughter who is sitting right next to me is overweight, but she’s not as overweight as she acts. She’s taking up the whole seat and armchair as though she were three hundred pounds. Nudging me, and otherwise being a teenage pain in my ass. Turns out too, that the mother is a nervous flyer and blathers on about her fear for the entire taxi and take off. I’m pretty sure that if there were any people around us who were a little afraid, they were a lot afraid after her little spiel. Then the mother gets passed her son, who I guess other people were watching. Great, now I have a fat girl and a baby. But it got worse, the mother started to sing to the baby. As soon as one song ended, another began. The Barney song, one about riding in an airplane, one about manners. I really think if someone had given me a gun I would have strongly indulged my homicidal tendencies. Finally they make the announcement that you can take out your electronics and I almost break into prayerful song. Cause I’m pretty sure God has to put up with wankers too and can understand. So, revenge is mine at last. You see, there are few things that are better for annoying the shit out of people on an airplane then playing your collection of Nine Inch Nails, Orbital, Marilyn Manson, White Zombie, Rollins, Korn, etc. at full volume. Even with earphones, if you’re the one sitting next to me, your little iphone earbuds are just not going to cut it. You can keep hitting the volume button futilely, even though even I can see from a seat away that you’re already maxed out. You will be deeply distracted by the rumbling bass and semi-satanic lyrics and will find it hard to concentrate on your Jodi Picolt novel. Damn, that’s a real shame. And you know what? I’m grinning the whole time. You know why? Because the world is not designed for me. It is not designed for a smoker, who has the audacity to think that she should be able to have a fucking cigarette while she waits the required two hours of security time for her flight (maybe more than one!). It is not designed for someone that would like to wait for their flight, and then spend their flight in a little peace and quiet. Who don’t happen to think that your baby is so cute and should be allowed to run around and scream at the top of their lungs. Who thinks paying $3 for a Barq’s is stupid.
So I sprawled out at the gate, pulled my Grunden’s sweatshirt over me and slept in order to block out the two sets of two screaming kids and the baby next to me. I timed it perfectly- I woke up just in time to go to the bathroom and grab a drink. Boarding in lines always makes me think of cattle down the shute. Plus they’re doing surprise security inspections at the bottom of the ramp. Looking very serious with their blue gloves. When did latex gloves become blue? Is some governmental supply clerk a fan of Firefly?
At least the lead stewardess is funny- she said that the oxygen mask when it dropped down should be pulled over your head to muffle your screams. Sounds like a plan to me. Other wise tidbits on safety from her:
In the event of an emergency, oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling, for those traveling with children, or people acting like children, feel free to put your mask on and then leave them to fend for themselves.
In case of a water landing, on the way to Chicago, there is a life vest under your seat, place it around your neck and secure. Once in the water, either self inflate or hyperventilate trying to use the red straw. Also, in the event of a water landing, the bottom of your seat become a flotation device, but please remember that it is the bottom of your seat cushion, so keep it well away from your face.
Flight time to Chicago should be about two hours, but I’ve been told we need to make it in one hour and forty minutes, so we’ll be dropping out of the sky at that point.
I realize that above petty, mean spirited commentary is wrong. I know it’s wrong, and I do it anyway. But you know what? I’m okay with that, because these people have no concern for me. And really, I’m not being spiteful at all- I am honestly reporting the events as they happen. If people can’t handle the truth, well, I have no interest in you. After all, the twit next to me could care less about apologizing for getting her fat ass out of my way. The mother wouldn’t think of quieting her child on a crowded flight or not bouncing him up and down so the whole row of seats rocks? So why should I consider not playing my music at full volume? Why should I not grin like a maniacal lunatic in a Sunnydale shirt?
As for me, having a little Johnny Lee Miller moment as I rock out to Halycon On and On…

Old Writings: Dirt

I have always felt a fondness for that line in "Gone with the Wind" when Scarlett's father tells her how important Tara is, that land always matters.
I've always seen myself in a house I designed myself with lots of land and rich, thick dirt. Fruit trees and a garden and lots of flowers and all designed by me. The house I just bought sits on barely half an acre and is mostly sand. It is not my dream house but it is a huge step above where we were and it is a good situation for us.
But let me tell you what I love about it. The yard is bare. No landscaping, bushes, or trees (except a couple of pines on the back property line). It is a blank slate. It will become whatever I make it. I can literally make what is in my head appear. I built raised beds to grow vegetables in, planned where the compost is going to be, laid out where the rain barrels go and what sections they will feed. Raked pine straw until my hands bled. Planted azaleas and Indian hawthorne. In my head I also see the pavers laid out as a walkway, the arch and gate with confederate jasmine and moonglows. The lattice work with Virginia creeper and morning glories. The banana plant and tropical plants that will line the back fence. The back fence, high enough to contain a puppy but not so high that it looked uninviting. The water element.
I can see it all in my head, and I will have the pleasure of seeing it literally take shape before my very eyes as I make it what I want.
The parallel struck me. If only we were so secure in how we arranged and planned our lives. If we believed that what we saw in our heads could become a reality with a little hard work and time. There are times when I think how nice it would be to start over with a blank slate, all new. But here’s the thing, while my yard may appear blank, it is not. There are the knotty roots from the pine trees a friend took down for me that almost break my shovel as I dig down in the sand to secure the raised beds. There is pine straw that has composted in a pile into thick, rich dirt. There are cacti and these horrible green, thorny vine plants that make me bleed everytime I run into them and they are everywhere! Life teems in every corner, albeit sometimes beneath the surface.
So I think that even if we were able to wipe the slate clean, something would remain. People with amnesia often remember favorite songs or foods, and yet do not know family members and loved ones. I think that maybe there is something innately wired into our systems where we are a certain way.
I am a doer. I plan, I organize, and as a friend once told me, when all else fails I leap and go on faith. So I think my non existent garden and I are going to be a good fit. I will plan it all out, I will put in the time until it matches the picture in my head, put in the time, and when all else fails, follow my instincts.
As I play in the dirt I take great satisfaction in knowing I did this. I made this. I created this. It renews my sense of strength. And maybe, my garden will remind me to carry those feelings into the rest of my life.

Old Writings: St. Louis Abbey

I am out on my daily walk, and then suddenly there is an intrusion, a sound. The loud noise of death metal drifts over the wind. Incongruous with the surroundings. Two men have it blasting out of their truck as they work on constructing the fence around the baseball field. It is an intrusion of the real world, incongruous with the world I have inhabited the past few days. My days have been full of the routine of going to Divine Offices, celebrating Mass, and passing days mostly in silence. The radio reminds me that I will go home tomorrow, to a mass of things to be done; to the waiting to see whether I actually am buying a house; to all that goes with that- packing, planning, painting, moving; to greeting a whole new semester of students and working on improving this semester over last. It is a reminder however, that I leave behind. My second walk around the track, the music is off, and the faint sounds of their work doesn’t intrude as the radio did. The sounds of the geese and ducks from the pond drift on the wind instead, sounding like a cocktail party with its guests squabbling and talking about the issues of the day. The real world has retreated back beyond the borders of this place, and I am grateful to leave it behind for another day.

I imagine that there is great comfort in the routine here. Every day there is a plan for how the day is spent, time is bookended by the Divine Offices and days have meaning all on their own, without any input otherwise. The day is complete, from the moment you wake up because of what you will participate in. There is a comfort in just sitting in church and participating in this small part of their world. I can imagine that feeling if only intensified if this is your regular life. I am just an observer, a guest, a person flitting on the fringe. I am happy to be that. I am happy to just sit, and soak in and participate as I can. I fill my time in between this structured day by reading, and writing, and taking walks with my camera. Some of my reading is religious, as seems appropriate in this place. But I also read World War Z, on loan from my friend here, and Cobra Event, a book terrifying to someone who lived in New York before, during and after September 11th.
I felt, from the moment I sat in the airport at home, as though there were four million stories to be told, banging on my skull to get out. I have tried to write them down, parts, lines, character studies, as they come to me. I couldn’t possibly write them all now. I hope these scribbling in my book serve to remind me enough later to flesh them out and make them come to life. Some of it is the airport, there are so many people, who seem completely unconscious of how much they radiate their personalities as they stride down the gates or sit waiting for their flight. You can tell a lot from how people behave in places like this. Perhaps it’s how they react to large group of people, or situations that they have no control over, or just the fact that more people these days seem unable to sit and do nothing. To wait with patience for anything. During my stay here, there is a lot of quiet, and I relish it. No one asking questions, no one to talk to, no demands made of me. I know it bears no resemblance to the real world, but as this place exists outside of the mainstream of life, so I am able to hit pause and step outside of time’s stream for a bit and recharge in a place so far from home.

The monks here are very nice. Although my dad asked me what I thought they’d be- mean? They wouldn’t be monks then he said. While he’s joking (I didn’t expect them to be mean!) I am heartened and honored when they take time out of wherever they are going to stop and say a few words with me. After all, they are monks, and while they do have a guest house they do not run regular retreats. You are not entertained as you stay here. That actually, other than getting to visit my friend, is the appeal to me.
I do wonder what they think. These are men who live a cloistered life, run an all boys school. I wonder what they think of a woman coming to stay here. Is it an intrusion? A novelty? Not even something to take notice of? I, out of respect and my own selfish needs for a retreat, stay out of their way, which is surprisingly easy to do in the guest house of a monastery. But the conversations I do have are interesting. To date, I have been asked whether I like C.S Lewis and had a new book recommended about him, been asked if I have everything I need repeatedly, had a conversation about how closely essays and fantasy are related as styles of writing and had a long conversation about the abuse of the liturgy since Vatican II.
The writer in me sees a story in every single one of them. Some are retired military, and this twinning of careers makes perfect sense to me. Part of me would love to know why they are here, how that change happened and what stories are behind that. Part of me wants to know about the monk who is a convert, and whether that’s easier or harder. I want to know why some of them are brothers and some are fathers. I want to know why some of them put on their hoods and then shrug them off- does this motion have meaning? Is it simply a nervous habit they all have, like a woman playing with jewelry she constantly wears? Why was that monk wearing street clothes and dancing in the kitchen as I walked by yesterday? While the temptation of exploring these stories is, well, tempting, I do not dream of responding to it. I am content to answer their questions quietly, and respond to them simply. To do more would be an intrusion upon them, and while they are very friendly, and no one has said anything to me, I wish to make as small an impression as possible.
I so know this, somehow, this trip will be become a regular thing for me. Perhaps not in January next time, but these 5 days with the quiet, the break, the chance to simply be with no expectations is wonderful, and liberating in a way that my eight weeks of traveling in the summer never are. It is probably a good thing that this short break is so refreshing with everything that awaits me back home. But then again, my travel time in the airport tomorrow will give me plenty of time to acclimate back into the real world and take up my worries again.

Old Writings: Judgmental

I recognize that I am single, and have no children. However, I am a teacher, and therefore feel perfectly confident in making judgment calls on children and their behavior.
Saturday was Easter Vigil at church, and a lovely ceremony, completed mostly in the dark, with just the Easter candle burning. For some obvious reasons, the members of the congregation didn't have candles, we hand out glowsticks. Very pretty and nice.
Here's my problem-
It's an 8p service and it goes for 2 hours and change. So why exactly did people feel the need to bring their screaming toddler to it? Or let their small children bang the hymnal against the pew, or run around the church, or wave mulitple glow sticks as though they were at a rave.?
I don't blame the kids, because they are well, kids. I blame the numbskull parents. What were they thinking? Leave them home. Children should be left at home until they are capable of sitting still for an hour or so. Do not bring them to church (or a restaurant, or a movie) and sit there next to them as they behave in a way that disturbs everyone around you.
This is a new trend that I notice everywhere. I see it in my classroom, the grocery store, the movies. Somewhere along the way it became acceptable for a child to scream and throw a tantrum while the parent just watched. What happened to parents disciplining their children? Punishing them? Raising them?
And this doesn't just stop when they're small.
Okay, so I recognize that I should not judge other people, that you should always consider their position, and the things going on that you have no idea about. I get that. But what exactly could be the hidden reason for why you brought your teenage daughter to church looking like a whore who had a rough night? A tank top that barely covers them, sweatpants with writing on their ass, midriff showing, hair messily swung on top of the head. This is CHURCH. Show a little respect. If you can't make the effort to show some respect then pull the covers back over your head and go back to sleep. Do not shame yourself and your family by showing up in public like that.
There is a demon child in our church. He is nasty, gross and a teenager, so you can't say he doesn't know better. I guess his grandmother is raising him, because that's who I always see him with. He picks his nose during Mass as though he were digging for gold. He sleeps through Mass. And every Sunday, he sits in the front row, where everyone can see him. What must his grandmother think as she sits there next to him? This is the same child you used his heelies to roll up and down the church aisles during our penance service during Advent. Who giggled and made faces in front of the whole church during his confirmation.
We don't do these children a favor by letting this behavior continue. They grow up, they continue to act like maroons who don't have to follow societal norms, and then they move out, get a job and suck at it because they don't recognize that there is a proper way to behave and that it's a way for people to judge you.
Then there's the many children whose parents bring toys to church, which the child proceeds to band against pews and other people. The race cars then go sliding down the pew. The girls who talk. The ones dressed in skirts too short, or boys with hats on, underwear showing, ratty clothes. And you know what? I'm tired of altar servers who wear skate shoes and jeans. I know we live at the beach, but can you really not put on a pair of dress shoes and slacks under your garment? Seriously?
I know I sound like a conservative eighty year old woman. I think the reason I am so adamant about this is because I see it in my classroom. Kids who think talking to adults like trash, or on an equal level is acceptable. Kids who don't take hats or hoods off inside because it is POLITE TO. Kids who don't know how to interact with other kids, or sit still, or behave as a proper audience during a production. What are these kids going to do when they graduate and have to act like a grown up? I'll tell you what I see with our graduates. They drop out of college because it's "too hard", the professor "isn't fair", there's "too much work". They didn't go. They didn't go on time, or turn assignments in on time. And here's the thing that kills me- none of it is their fault. Society and their own parents have conditioned them that nothing is ever their fault, it's always some outside source. And what happens is that you make it impossible for these kids to succeed. You cripple them. You create an entire generation who has no goals, strives for nothing and will work for minimum wage the rest of their life.
So, don't tell me that manners don't matter, they make a million differences that unfortunately, you don't see until it is too late to teach them.

Old Writings: Duckie

It’s a contradiction, I love the travels I have, the places I see and the people I meet. But I haven’t had a trip yet when I didn’t hug both my parents and cry because I was leaving home, even if it’s only for a little while.
It’s why I also travel with one single item, no matter what else I take. He is a small, yellow stuffed duck. He goes everywhere. When I drove down highway 666 through the Navajo reservation, he sat on the passenger seat so skinwalkers couldn’t get me. When I went to Key West, he was sitting on the bench watching the six toed cats. He’s been to the peaks of Santa Fe and the Pacific Ocean. He is the security blanket of this thirty three year old. He is my talisman against many things and my reminder of home. Laugh if you want, but when you travel alone most of the time, and there is no one to take your picture, it’s kind of fun to have multiple pictures of Duckie’s travels. My friends think it’s funny. I make no bones about the fact that I travel with a stuffed duck. Although I do wonder about the reaction if TSA ever decides to go through my backpack at security and I have to explain why a thirty two year old woman travels with a stuffed duck. Could make for an interesting story. But although his shape must come up on the x-ray machine, I have never once had anyone make an issue out of it. As I write this now, in the airport lounge waiting for my flight, he sits in my backpack tucked at my feet. Waiting on our next adventure.

Old Writings: Heritage Part II

I think heritage to me can be summed up with my mother’s story- she was adopted off the four corners reservation when she was just a few days old by an army chaplain and his wife, Robert and Marcelle Hall. Never to return to the reservation, never to know home. They then proceeded to take her all over the globe. Never really having a home or a past. Marcelle was a raging alcoholic, so her stories about her family heritage were not to be trusted. I think this is where my mother got her wanderlust from. We moved every six months or so when I was little with my mother pretty much just choosing a place on the map. Always looking for a better place, always looking for a place to belong. We grew up knowing she loved us but not really knowing where we came from, or who our family was.
Years later, when my stepfather came around, of course he would be the only Japanese man in existence who didn’t talk to his family for twenty years. So, no help there.
Two immensely rich heritages- Navajo and Japanese, and no chance to take advantage of either. Too bad, I would have made a great Indian Princess or ninja.
Last year, when I first came out here, and I drove through the reservation, part of me thought I would be stopped and told that I looked just like so and so and I would suddenly have this huge family, this past, this history to embrace. It didn’t happen, but Dad, well Mom, finally contacted Grandpappa Hank and Grandma Janet, and am now obviously related to all of Hawaii, and most of Okinawa.
I think we all try to invent our own heritage, with the music we listen to and the people we choose to have in our lives. I think how wonderful it must be to know what your family is, and to know your history. I only have a crazy drunk, and a Stradivarius stealing grandfather to lay claim to. Not my finest moments. I find myself grabbing pieces of culture and other’s people’s history to make my own. The Celtic tattoos, the Indian/Mayan tattoos, the eclectic art that hangs in a jumble in my house. The fit is never quite right, and I wonder how many of us do that. Maybe I’ll get lucky and marry a Scot, or an Irishman, or someone with a rich history that they are willing to let me into. Until then, I’m in the market, anyone have a heritage they care to share?

Old Writings: Ye Dinna Ken

Perhaps ye dinna ken what it is like to live in a prison of your own making. Where the walls are built of love, and sickness and the threat of death. I do. Although I may not look it, I am an escaped prisoner, with only these brief weeks as my respite. I am a prisoner in my own home and in my own life. I do not flee from an abusive husband or addiction or anything so horribly trite. This doesn’t mean that the prison isn’t as real, or as heartbreaking.
Three years ago I stopped looking toward the future. All hopes and dreams for what lay down the road were simply packed in crates and put in the furthest corner of my mind. They simply sit there gathering dust, untouched, as I am too afraid to even glance in their direction, for fear of losing my nerve for that which must be done. Instead, in those three years I have kept my glance on my feet, watching only that small portion of landscape. Watching as I put one foot in front of the other until it is time to sleep.
I was called home three years ago to care for my family. My mother had been getting increasingly sicker and she hadn’t been approved for disability, so I was needed at home to contribute my paycheck and care for her. I don’t know if I knew what I was giving up when I came. Perhaps it is better I did not; perhaps the choice would have been impossible- between my life, or my mother’s.
Every day of those three years has been worse than the one before it. Every day, the strong woman I knew as the single mother that raised me has slowly slipped away from me, and I have no way to get her back. I think this is the hardest part. Harder than the pain she is in, or the tremors that shake her, or not knowing how long she has. I have had to watch my mother disappear before my very eyes. And I can’t mourn her. I must stay strong for her and Dad. Sometimes, I wonder if this will make it easier when she goes. If her dying will be easier on me because I have mourned her loss every day since I came home. I do not think so, and this makes the pain that much worse.
Actually, what makes it worse are those rare moments of clarity when my mother peeps through the veil of whatever keeps her from us. When she remembers me and is the mother I remember. However, it never lasts. Sometimes it’s a whole afternoon, sometimes only a few minutes and she is back to her word salad where she struggles with simple words and thoughts such as movies, or where she babbles nonsense, or when she accuses me of making things up to make her feel crazy, or when she doesn’t remember something from five minutes ago, or yesterday, or last week.
There is nothing I can do for her except to be there. I suppose it is a penance of sorts, but I cannot think of what I have done. Perhaps it is more like a vigil, simply keeping watch and being there for her if she needs it. This gives me comfort. My sister, who lived much closer than I three years ago refused to give up her life to come care for mom, and I don’t suppose I’ll ever forgive her for that for many reasons.
Because of my mother, I am imprisoned. Imprisoned in a world where every ambulance makes me wonder if something happened while I was at work. Every fire truck makes me fear she finally didn’t wake up when she fell asleep with that lit cigarette. I lean over her in the mornings and wait until I see her chest rise and fall to make sure she’s still alive. I go to work, and I come home. I do not go out because she, unwittingly I’m sure, makes me feel guilty for participating in a world that has left her behind, housebound as she is. I don’t go out because I can’t bear the thought of something happening and me not being there. My world is her, and that is all. There is room for nothing else.
These six weeks are my only refuge. It is when I store up the energy to face the rest of the year. I soak in the quiet, the sense that all the time is my own. I can read with no one to interrupt or question me or need me. It is the only time I am alone, and I am grateful for it. So, if I’m antisocial, don’t take it personally. But with my happiness, there is also fear. Dad doesn’t do well with caring for Mom. In fact, he still mostly denies she’s sick. Every day during the year he comes home from work, goes upstairs and plays Playstation. We do not see him. He doesn’t care for her. Oh, he loves her, but he cannot deal with any of it. I go with her to the doctor and keep track of everything. She says I am her memory. It is almost as if, in the years before I came, he felt as though he had done enough. But he is not my worry. My worry is that the phone will ring, and she will be dead, and I will not have been there.
So my prison is built of love for my mother, hatred of her sickness and fear of her death. The plethora of doctors cannot tell us what exactly she has, so they cannot tell us how much longer all of this will go on. It could be weeks, or months or years. So perhaps it is not so much a prison as it is purgatory. You see, while she lives, she is my life, and there is room for nothing else. This could be my life, for the next ten years, or fifteen, or twenty.
My mother once asked me why I didn’t go out, try to meet someone. I murmured something to placate her. But the real answer is, why bother? This is my life. I am not my sister, I will not leave Mom and Dad to be homeless, which they would be without my paycheck. I will not leave Mom to Dad’s unsteady hands as she slides down the rabbit hole of her sickness.
I seem to vaguely remember dreams I had. Of getting my PhD, of moving to places I had never been, of getting married. Now though, these things exist only as labels to the crates in the corner of my mind. They don’t occupy my thoughts often, there is no time. When I have time, I think of how much I love my mother, and how much I miss her, even though she is not truly gone. And I think of what I will do without her. How will I guide my life if she is not there?
Considering how much I gain with every day I have her, I do not think hopes of the future are a small price to pay. I would continue to pay it forever if it meant I could keep her with me. But I know I can’t. So I will reinforce my prison, with love, and friendship, and time spent together, in the hopes that along with keeping me in, it can perhaps keep death out.

Old Writings: Traveling and Adventure

I knew she was just being polite, but I wanted to ask for a check of her sanity. Brave? Me? Hardly. I had started out life afraid of the monsters in the closet, and the list of fears has only grown more imaginative and more detailed as I’ve grown up. I imagine horrible car accidents, plans dropping out of the sky, muggings in the parking lot. I could tell you every detail- what the air looked like, how they would find my body, the colors. I remember reading an interview with Stephen King where he was asked why he came up with such horrible scenarios and he answered that it was his own personal talisman- that if he could imagine these horrible things in such detail, there was no way they could ever happen to his family. I always liked that.
It is not that I am a brave person, I guess I just decided long ago that I wasn’t going to let my terror beat me.
I was terrified of heights, so I worked as a master electrician in theatre in college. A job guaranteed to force me to climb up to the ninety foot grid and dangle on precarious ladders and off harnesses.
I was terrified of meeting new people, so I became a teacher where I have to meet and interact with one hundred new parents and students every semester.
I was terrified of going outside of my comfort zone, my home, so I drove cross country by myself, having never driven further than my college which was two hours away.
The way I’ve coped is through contingencies. I MapQuest the hell out of everything and anything I can. I plan, I organize. But here’s the funny thing, that my friend Dion pointed out- for someone so anal, I do an awful lot of leaping before I look. When I was living in Atlanta, I wasn’t really happy with my job or my life. A friend in New York City offered to let me stay with him until I could get my feet under me. So I packed everything I had, put it in storage, bought a plane ticket and with a single duffel bag moved to Brooklyn within a week of that phone call. I didn’t even tell anyone I was leaving. I just left. Once I make my mind up about something I can be pretty quick with the decisions.
A perfect example- last night I was driving to Newport News so I could stay the night, because I had an early flight and didn’t want to fight morning rush hour around Norfolk. I had my printed directions, my map. And I got lost anyway. My dad laughs at me, because I always get lost, usually to the places I’ve been repeatedly. I still get lost when visiting friends at East Carolina University, and I went to school there for four years! Anyway, I’m lost, it’s dark (and I hate driving in the dark) and I panic. I hate not knowing where I am or what will happen. But then the logical part of me kicked in, referenced the encyclopedia in my head and remembered that Norfolk was all just routes of interstate 64 and if I stayed on this road, I would eventually get where I needed. So I did, and I did. Even made it to the hotel in the time MapQuest had said. Didn’t mean I wasn’t terrified at the time. Didn’t mean I didn’t want to turn around and go home (if I could even have found the direction home was in!)

Old Writings: Heritage

Grandpapa Hank lives in Hilo now in the house that he renovated for his mother as she was dying. He is surrounded by literally hundreds of uncles, cousins and other family members. Hilo to him is home, and has been ever since his father left during World War I to return home to Okinawa, leaving Hank’s mom with seven kids to raise on her own. When she got sick, Hank knew he had to return home, so he turned to Grandma Janet and told her what he felt he had to do. She said, great, go, but I hate Hawaii and all the family being around, and the lack of privacy, so you go, but I like D.C and my job at the Pentagon.
So Grandpapa Hank left. He rebuilt his mother’s house and when she finally died, he stayed, safe and happy, surrounded by family. He knew where he belonged.
I have always envied people who belonged, for I never seem to. When I was growing up, we had 15 acres in Connecticut, and our neighbor had 200 in an L around us. I spent all my free time wandering around that land. I pretended I was with Yoda on Dagaba in the shelter of bushes that grew in a dome near the marsh. I climbed the large rock formations and imagined I was on Everest. I walked through miles of carpeted Pine forest and imagined there were elves around every corner. It was all easier than sitting in the house and taking etiquette lessons, or voice, or piano or ballet. But while I escaped there, I was too little to know whether or not I belonged there.
It seems like so many people have an immediate sense of belonging, they get it from their families, their church, their community. My family was warped the first half of my life being led as it was by the Wicked Witch of the West Marcelle and her evil flying monkey Julian and for a long time after that it was just Mom and Lexi and me. With Mom working several jobs, she tried, but it’s not what she wanted for us, and for a long time there our family unit was not rocky so much as jumbled together, it was hard to figure out what went where and who did what. We didn’t go to church regularly, although Marcelle had us baptized twice, which either says something about her or us. As for community, we were not part of it. As I grew older we had an extended family on the Outer Banks that consisted mostly of my mother’s best friend, Grizelle and her family. However, even there we were outsiders. We were transplants, not locals, as people who can trace their ancestors back 300 years were glad to inform us. Then when Mom and Dad got married, Grizelle stopped talking to Mom, because Grizelle’s long term boyfriend wouldn’t marry her. Crazy but true. We lost a whole family in a day. Twenty years of shared dinners, movies, birthdays, graduations and Christmases were gone in the blink of an eye. Even after having lived there for almost 15 years, we are as much outsiders as you would be if you suddenly moved there. I had hoped that returning home would be about belonging, but it wasn’t.
Mom was adopted off the Navajo reservation when she was only a few days old. She was raised as an Army brat, and has never gained any insight into her background as New Mexico has closed adoption files. It seems she too, has never found a place where she belongs. Perhaps that is part of our gypsy-like wandering. For years, we moved every three to six months. Never got a place to call our own, always having to pack up and move on. Moving halfway through school years and having to try and start all over again. Public school, where I was on the front page of the local newspaper, to small southern school where everyone had known each other since birth. Never a fit, never belonging. I went to a prep school for a short time, the wonderful Wooster Academy where we had chapel every day, and I got to Murphy’s oil the floor as my work rotation. Just me for hours alone in the chapel. It was a place of peace to me. A place where I was told I was good at sports, and should continue playing lacrosse- words I never heard again as I returned to the south where kids started playing sports in 1st grade and there was no time to include someone new. Wooster skipped me several grades so I never sat in a class bored and I was never made to feel bad because I read faster than everyone else, or translated Latin better, or raced ahead. They made me feel like I belonged. Perhaps the reason I think of Wooster this summer is because there’s a guy here who I see in the dining hall every day who looks like my crush from Wooster. His name was Dylan Eamon O’Neill and he was the headmaster’s son. He’s the reason I learned to play guitar, and his name is forever engraved on multiple pages of my Latin textbook. Then again, perhaps I think of Wooster because it was a place where, only for a short time, I belonged.

Dad is Japanese, raised as an Air Force brat, most of his time in Hilo. While he had a place where he belonged, a large family, something happened one day and he cut off all contact with his family and they didn’t speak for 15 years, until Mom contacted them. We used to kid him that he was in the witness protection program. So now I have a Grandpapa Hank and a Grandma Janet. I have yet to meet either of them. They are still married and Hank travels over about once a year, but I haven’t met them yet. I also have an Uncle Lynn and Lon and an Aunt Lori. I don’t know them either, so I don’t know whether they would impart any sense of belonging. I know I belong to my family, but I have never belonged to any other group. I have looked to belong amongst New Yorkers, traveling theatre techs, inner city teachers, touring roadies, and Southern teachers. But I am nervous around new people and stutter when flustered. It takes me a long time to make friends and I get my feelings hurt when I am nothing but nice to people and they take their shit out on me. I have been told I am loud and opinionated once you do get to know me, or even if you’re just in the immediate vicinity. I’ve been known to clear rooms just by being honest, and frankly, am always a little surprised when it happens. I always have my nose in a book. I am a practicing witch. Maybe it is these things that keep me from belonging. Maybe not.
My sister has never had a problem belonging, but then again, I’m still convinced she was left on the doorstep as a small babe, probably by something not human, or at least weird. She is nothing like Mom, or Dad or me. She is vivacious, outgoing, she doesn’t read unless it’s a fashion magazine or a text on psychopharmacology. She doesn’t have the strong family ties the rest of us have. She coordinates her outfits for the week. She’s getting her MRS degree, I mean she’s majoring in French and Psychology. Her B.S, has been a lot of BS for 9 years. But I hear she’s graduating next year, so here’s to her. I have no sphere of reference for her and never have. I don’t know if she really feels like she belongs, or whether she just got good at faking it. Either way, I figure she’s ahead of me.
I don’t have the answers, and a while ago I came to peace with that. I may never belong, and I made my peace with that too. Perhaps it is harder for those of us who have constantly been shifted, constantly moved, always having the rug torn out from under us. Perhaps not. Sometimes there are places that almost feel like belonging. Maybe one day, I’ll find a place that truly is. 

Old Writings: St. Mark's Place

The day was one of those crisp autumn days and the wind blew at me, making my cheeks rosy as I walked down St. Mark’s Place. The street wasn’t busy, but there were still a fair amount of people milling about in front of stalls and wandering in and out of shops. Many of them clutched packages to their chests against the wind. I checked my bearings and then walked through a bright red door with no markings. A small, lithe man looked up from a drafting desk questioningly. Wordlessly I unrolled a piece of paper and handed it to him.
His eyes scanned the paper and after a few minutes, he asked only one question, “Where?”
Without making any noise, I slowly undid my shirt and showed him the expanse of my back. Once I knew he had gotten a good look at his canvas, I started to speak the details.
“The wings should follow the lines of my shoulder blades; the head should come to just below where the collar of my shirt is. The tail should travel down my spine and end in the aurobouras. I want the outline to be subtle and the colors to match the ones in my already existing tattoos. Perhaps varying shades of blues and purples, but all in the same family.”
He looked between the picture and my back. Absent-mindedly, he motioned me to sit on the table as he started to grab his measuring instruments. He muttered to himself as he measured and marked me. I lie there silently and let him work. He put his instruments away and positioned me as I laid face down on the table. He looked me in the eye and asked if I was ready. As soon as I nodded, he began. I closed my eyes and floated away, lulled by the constant droning of the needle.
* * * *
I once again approached the red door, but the weather was no longer the swift winds of fall, but was now the biting winds of winter. Flurries of snow flew in my face and coated my scarf and coat. I opened the door and stomped the ice and snow off of my boots. The old man had everything laid out, and he waited patiently while I shed my layers of clothing and lay down on the table.
His hands wandered over my back, checking on the healing of the outline.
“This looks good.” He said gruffly. “Your body seems made to take the ink. I should be able to complete most of the color today and then we’ll finish with the shading in a few weeks.”
With no more words, he began to apply his needle to my back. Because the color was more concentrated than the outline, the blood flowed freely down my sides and onto the towels spread across the table. It felt more and more comforting, as comforting as the sound of the needle droning in my ear. I drowsed under the veil of safety that enveloped me.
* * * *
The color had taken longer to heal, despite what he thought about my body being made to take ink. It was approaching spring by the time I was ready for my final session. We were still having our fair share of wintry days, but today was warm and the sun shone brightly. For the third time I approached the red door, to complete, well, to complete me.
I paused for a moment, suddenly unsure if I wanted this all to be over. I took a deep breath and turned the handle. He was there and waiting, as he always was. I again shed my layers of clothing and lay down on the table. He propped the picture up next to his tools and smiled slightly as he nestled his glasses onto his nose and bent over my back. This was the final stage. What were only lines and coloring suddenly came to life under his hand.
Hours later when I was finished, he led me in front of the threefold mirror and let me see what he had done. The dragon seemed ready to leap off of my back and get ready to soar into the air above. It was perfect. I turned to him and embraced him in a hug, much to his embarrassment. As I drew away though to look again in the mirror, I caught a glimmer of a smile on his face. I was entranced, and I felt complete.
As I walked again down St. Mark’s Place, tracing my steps backward from where I had been headed all those months ago. As I walked my life in reverse, I felt lighter, more complete, stronger, but most of all, more myself. Finally.

The needle shoving repeatedly into the skin. The waves of pain thundering over me. The flashes of euphoria that follows like aftershocks. The smell of alcohol and Dial, cleansing, purifying. The small pain of wiping the spot down. The shear act of cleaning away the old, shedding blood as sacrifice towards the cause.
In the end, the half-drunk ecstasy as your stagger home, awakening in the morning to a new beginning, a new scar, a new piece in the puzzle completed.

Old Writings: Cross Country

I drove cross country for the first time this summer. I drove from the coast of North Carolina to Santa Fe and then all the way out to Oakland, California and back. People thought I was nuts to do it by myself. When they would ask me what I was doing, and I told them, they thought I was insane to drive cross country alone. I loved every minute of it. I learned how to drive ten hours a day and balance my camera on the steering wheel. I kept Duckie, my stuffed duck in the passenger seat for company.
I have seen the painted desert, the meteor crater, the largest cross in the Northern Hemisphere, the pyramid in the middle of Nashville, the Pacific Ocean, Highway 1, the lava rocks along the side of the road in New Mexico, the cacti in Phoenix, the Donner Pass, the green, green fields of Nebraska.
There is a sense of adventure when you get behind the wheel of the car (or baby truck) and head out for places unknown. No matter that you have XM radio and cell phones and your laptop, there is still a sense that you are doing something that has never been done. No matter how many people have traveled I-40 or Highway 1, or I-80, each mile of blacktop feels as though it is yours. There is a sense of freedom to it just being you on the road. For a while, you are unfettered, free from it all.
There is a reason why so much of our literature and stories focus around traveling and journeys. There are things to be learned when it is just you. No noise to distract you, no deadline, no timetable. You are forced to think the big thoughts that get pushed to the side in our day to day life. Better yet, you are forced to think of the answers. If you are miserable when you are traveling on your own, you have no one to blame but yourself. You are truly in control of your own destiny. You are responsible for your happiness, and yourself. You decide what happens, what turns you take, what you want your life to be.
Smart people come back from such journeys changed. They’ve learned something about themselves, and what they want from life.
For me, it was a renewal that I could be on my own, that I still had my freedom and still had the power to make my own life. It also made me realize how much I love an adbenture.

Old Writings: The Written Word

I am surrounded by the written word; the floor to ceiling bookshelves that line my house, the writer’s notebooks that lie on the floor next to my desk. The written word has always been my refuge, whether it was by disappearing into a book and the world it created or whether it was the solace I found in placing pen to paper. A lot of what I write down is just short thoughts and observations- a person at a restaurant, a man on the subway, a small sketch of a town, or crowd.
The written word has also always been my shorthand with others. It makes conversations so much easier if you only have to say a word or phrase from a book for someone to understand the context of what you’re saying. It makes relationships easier if you’re both comfortable spending the day in silence as you each curl up with your individual books. There is a shared connection with other that comes if two friends both love the written word.
And it’s not just loving the written word, it’s how you love it. I throw out dust jackets because they annoy me when I try to read hardcovers. I crack the spines on all my books as soon as I open them. I use post-its and postcards and random slips of paper for bookmarks.
My writer’s notebooks are covered with things I have cut out of magazines, photos I’ve taken, comics my mother has sent me through the mail, postcards from friends or places I’ve been. They become mini scrapbooks of what my life was like and what I was doing at that time in my life. My notebooks are full of multicolored post-its and different shades and types of pens. These things help me organize my life and thoughts. Some of the jottings become stories or poems. Sometimes they are just observations that I go back and comment on. I laugh, I regret, I smile at the things on those pages because they are me. Horrible me, mean me, scared or embarrassed me, but all me in my truest form. I don’t write them for anyone, although I have been known to share some of the things I write in them. I don’t put dates on them, because they are not the whiny drivel often seen in journals, although the things written in them are very personal. They are numbered, because I see them as a progression, a growth. They are colorful because I surround myself with images and color code everything.

Old Writings: Child of Pop Culture

I am a creation and by-product of pop culture. However, not in the sense that you might think. I do not collect lunch boxes from the fifties or collect old commercial jingles. Mine is a much different configuration. My world is born of movies and books. Sounds simplistic doesn’t it? But when you think about it is in reality, a much broader world than probably first popped into your mind. It is this world that has over the years shaped my entire outlook. It infuses and molds how I view the entire world.
The cute man that smiles at me in the Laundromat isn’t just a cute guy, he is a Legolas look-alike come to brighten my day. Mt boss going off on tangents isn’t just a rambling old man; he is a relative of Lazarus Long telling a great yarn that it will probably take him five hours to tell. The lonely white boy that walks the halls talking to no one isn’t just another pathetic guy that no one will remember; he is what Val Kilmer’s character in “Real Genius” was in his early years. Everything in my life is in the context of these two things.
It is perhaps no coincidence that my best friend is someone who can have whole conversations with me only using movie quotes. He too uses the same lingo to describe his world as I do. There is a movie quote and a character from a novel for every situation. Such references have been made before, but for people like me and my best friend, it is a way of life. If you’ve had the worst day of your life it’s the line from “Real Genius” about people ruing the day that they did this to you. If it’s trying to cheer up your best friend after their heart has been broken, it’s reminding them that they are “so money” a la “Swingers”. It’s the late night drinking and bonding bouts where you dream of a life where there are definite lines between good and evil because your life seems to have no meaning. In these moments it is the characters like Aragorn and Rand that stir your soul and make you have faith.
As much as I love teaching, perhaps the best job that I ever had was working in a video store when I lived in Atlanta. Minimum wage, bizarre people but the job was heaven. Every day I went to a place where I knew all the characters. Ever title on every shelf was memorized. I could identify movies by a person describing the cover art or by their vague description of, “You know, that Giovanni Ribissi movie with the band” (“The Other Sister” if you care.) I was faster than the computer on finding titles and movies for people. I didn’t set out to memorize these things; I didn’t read Leonard Malton’s movie review books from cover to cover. Rather, these things came to me so easily because they were part of the foundation that my life was based on.
The same held true for books. Since as long as I can remember I have inhaled them. I buried myself in the stories of Margaret Mitchell, Tolkien, Jordan, Heinlein, and King. I disappeared into their world and was always reluctant to make the return trip. These are still my favorites, but I read pretty much anything I can get my hands on. When I was younger I would select a shelf at random from the public library and start and one end and just read until I was finished with everything on it. Zane Grey novels stick out in my mind from that period, a whole summer spent in the West. Full of people and places I had never seen but came alive for me.
Books are still my favorite refuge. I always have one on me. I read everywhere- trains, buses, lines, in between classes, at dinner. I can easily read a book a day and have recently started to look at books over a thousand pages with more interest only because with paperbacks now being eight dollars a pop, and with the speed I read, it only seems financially sound. I still will pick up anything though. Whether it’s an author I like or just because the cover looked cool, I read like most people breathe.
Most people I know either know movies or books. I have honestly never met anyone who relates to both as I do. Even my dear best friend reads much too slow for my tastes. His bookshelves are full of books I’ve sent him that he absolutely HAD TO READ. I think over the past six years he’s read maybe two that I’ve sent him. Oh well, I guess your best friend can’t be perfect. I love him anyway. My mom and dad read a lot, and we’ve been known to buy three copies of a book so that we can all read it at the same time.
I’ve had friends and boyfriends that completely didn’t understand how I put everything in reference to movies and books. They actually went so far as to call me a little crazy. Maybe they're right. I still live very much in my imagination. I still openly admit to the fact that unicorns and dragons existed; we just haven’t found the fossils yet. I believe that life might be better if men wore swords and still had great quests. I am still overjoyed to lose myself in a darkened theatre for two hours. You can scream in my ear as I read and I won’t hear you, because I am in another world.
I think that this view has led to an interesting mixture. I am an adult, with a job who pays their bills and has a life. In truth, I am known for being bitter and sarcastic. But I also never lost my imagination and my wonder. I still have my ability to dream and that I think that is the difference. I have managed to exist in the real world, but to live in another. In my world, there is magic. Vampires and ghouls run amok in the night. There in honor and missions and a sense of peace. True love overcomes impossible odds and the end is never the end of the tale, it is simply where we stop reading or watching. Anything is possible. There is a naiveté to all of this. A childlike sense of wonder and promise to it all.
In a world where I see a ten year old giving gang signs to his friend as he gets on the bus, homeless drunks passed out in twenty degree weather and my students come in sad because of the drive bys in their neighborhood last night, being thought weird and a little off is okay by me.
The way I figure it, as long as all those things exist in print or on the silver screen, there is some hope that it could become reality. Then again, maybe that’s the child in me talking. There is always hope though, I hope.