Category Archives: Living

selfie

I grow old… I grow old…

How can 42 be the answer to the ultimate question regarding life, the universe, and everything when it’s so damn old? Seriously, my face has actually begun to slide away and I have three witch-like chin hairs that regularly appear there. I usually notice them when I’m already out of the house, which is why I now carry  tweezers in my purse.

I grow old…

I grow old…

I can no longer buy cute cheap bras at the discount store because most of those bras no longer hold me in. I have to go to Macy’s or Penney’s or somewhere and try the damn things on. I hate trying things on. And yet, teasing allusion to Hitchhiker’s Guide aside, I’m finding I rather like this growing old business. The signs are clearer along my path and pulsing with more urgency (perhaps because death is more imminent).

In my ninth grade English class today, I had five different girls show me poems for the poetry anthology they’re putting together. Every single one of them was about the agony of unrequited or undeclared love. One of the girls stayed after class to add (her poem being about undeclared love) that she was sure her friends planned to tell him. She said, “I don’t like that at all,” but her eyes said maybe yes?

The trouble with the romance of youth is you wind up spending a lot of energy trying to get and keep love, the romantic kind and the friendship kind. You’re very insecure and unsteady in it all, which can have all kinds of devastating consequences, because there are vampires out there.

I’ve grown old and continue to grow old. Yet, amazingly and in spite of chin hairs, in this forty third year of my life I’ve wizened up in an important way.

I won’t detail all the little steps it took me to get there (that’d be a book). It’s the shift that matters.

A self-sacrificing woman raised me, taught me to serve. An illustration of that point comes by way of the fact that for my birthday she game me a charm bracelet with my wedding photo inside a silver heart and hand-dyed a beautiful towel set, hand-embroidered the edges. They are beautiful and must have taken her hours. At twenty-one, I had a baby and being a mom filled me with a sense of purpose I had never had. There’s nothing I’ve done in my life that brought me more joy and fulfillment than raising my son.

But that son is raised and I’m in a second marriage with a man whose kids are not yet raised. It’s taken me some time to get a clue as to how to be in this situation. My default is to serve. So, I tried. I tried to serve as if they were my own children. I worried and expressed that worry to my husband, as if we were equal partners. I wanted to be a part of helping them get good grades, so I logged into their online grades and emailed teachers. I tried to forge a friendship with their mom over email. I took charge in finding perfect birthday gifts, and made long mental lists of likes, dislikes so that I could pick up certain things at the store. I behaved as if I too was their parent. This served to create much unhappiness in me, because not one person in the entire situation appreciated my efforts. Most, at times all, resented them. A wise friend of mine had warned me as much in a letter before this chain of disappointments began, but I just couldn’t stop myself. It was so easy to fall into these familiar patterns of concern and sacrifice. Those of you who’ve been there could read this story with all it’s dramatic irony. Stories like these are why fairy tales are rich with evil stepmoms.

Here I am, forty two years old, and my greatest purpose in life has been to serve. While that may be fine for someone–it is not fine for me. This is what I now realize.

I was babysitting my sweet niece Minerva yesterday (3 months old). My stepdaughter had just spent fifteen minutes cuddling little Mini on the couch. I was standing, holding her, rocking from side to side, because movement seems to soothe her. I made a comment about how good babies smell. My stepdaughter is famous for her did-you-knows, which range from truly fascinating to what the fuck is the Internet doing to our children. Did I know, she said that women’s brains actually produce dopamine from the smell of babies’ heads?

Huh.

So, I looked up this study, because something about it didn’t sit quite right with me. What I found is that men were not included in this 2013 study, so the doctors could not be sure that this was not just an innate human response. Still, article after article boasted “women”, showcasing women holding babies. This, folks, is why feminism still matters and how gender inequality is endemic to our culture. My twelve year old stepdaughter is of a generation supposedly enlightened on the politics of gender identity, yet she believes it is a fact that she is biologically programmed to be addicted to babies because she is a girl.

What I’m getting at here is that while babies are awesome and compassionately serving others goes selfiea long way in building up our spirits and our humanity, I have gotten pretty good at these things already. What I am not so good at is not apologizing for every little thing, asking for what I want, and diving deep into my own adventures guilt free. These are the things I’m looking to practice this year.

 

 

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valentine reflection heart

Post-Valentine Reflection: Plans and Vampires

paintbrush heartI’m not entirely sure where I’m headed in this blog, though I do know there’s something I want to say, something that feels urgent. I’ll do what I do in these cases. I’ll begin by cataloging the pieces of this something big and urgent, trust I’ll get there in the end.

 

Doesn’t this typify so much of how writing works? Both Didion and O’Connor agreed. And this understanding lies at the heart of why I dislike structured approaches to teaching writing. But–that’s for another day, another blog. Today?

 

Post-Valentine’s, I find I am surprised how my day actually went versus how I planned it to go. I’ll get to that. But first…

 

Elementary school. Class lists. Those kid-made Valentine envelopes you’d put the coveted cards in. Just like the rules for food on birthdays, you had to bring enough to share with everyone. Of course, there were ways to create inequity. Saving the coolest cards for your besties, your secret crush. Writing an actual note, instead of just signing your name. Tacking on extra or the best candy.  Public school began our training in the economy of romance.

 

No wonder in fifth grade a crowd of girls, including me, circled the perimeter of the playground at recess singing along to the lyrics of Madonna’s Crazy For You as printed on the jacket of the 45. No wonder, so inspired, we wrote a group note to a boy in our class we each admired.

 

Flash-forward to now. Valentine’s Day. I’m walking around Target with my little sister who is nursing her two month old baby under a pashmina scarf while admiring educational toys. We are meandering and wind up in the children’s bedroom section where I see this bank. A savings bank for  little girls shaped like a wedding cake. Are you kidding me?

 

What I planned to do for Valentine’s Day was stay in my pajamas all day writing, maybe eat a bowl of that chocolate malt ice cream I knew was in the freezer.Why, you ask? Don’t I have a husband? Yes, I do, but since that lucky bastard happened to be enjoying an all expense paid trip to Rome, I had to make my own plan.

 

I like to think we love maturely, that we renew that love every day, and so, I decided Valentine’s Day alone afforded a ripe opportunity for some me time. Time to write and maybe take a bath and paint my toenails. Planning such a Valentine’s Day, I felt happy for Chris’s fortune to be in Rome and grateful to be in a relationship safe enough, nurturing enough that we both can flourish. Not always together. Sometimes in delicious solitude.

 

It’s no exaggeration that when that particular gratitude occurred to me I nearly fell to my knees right where I stood. Not so many years ago, I was living life in subjugation and denial. A life where I was running out of creative ways to re-frame emotional abuse. Even I who would settle for very little because that’s how I was raised, praise jesus. It was a strange combination of influences that finally strengthened my resolve to choose a different life: the igniting of a creative fire, a mysterious prowler waiting in the wings to smother my already oxygen-starved heart, and a truth telling friend willing to risk loosing the friendship in telling me truths.

 

The best-laid plans.

 

How I actually spent Valentine’s. Driving over to Lacey with my sweet, sardonic man-child to help my Aunt Sue move to retirement heaven near her grandchildren. We sipped our coffees and chatted on the way. Then, we helped load a Uhaul, had some laughs with family we don’t see often enough, looked at a few funny, old photographs.

Aunt Sue sent us home with a cool antique yard stick that may have been a paddle back in the good old days, two book shelves, and a hyacinth. (Sue, if you’re reading this, it is a perennial.)

 

On the way home, we stopped to deliver one of the bookshelves to my little sister. Her dogs, who I’ve been walking while she recovers from the cesarean, clearly were ready to be walked. So, Winston stayed to visit while I took the dogs on a walk around the block. And this was not a typical walk. Forces of the universe conspired to bring me a swarm of cats, two off leash dogs, and a murder of crows. It’s important to keep in mind that these are not little dogs we’re talking about. Two huge black dogs quite happy to chase a cat, a crow, or an off leash dog. A bit like a water skier careening out of control? I’m sure that’s how I looked.

 

It was now after noon and I was not yet in my pajamas writing, so I figured what the hell, I’ll go with the flow here. My sister, who looked like she could use some time out of the house, had texted me earlier asking if I wanted to go shopping with her. I was going to turn her down to write. It may have been the prospect of spending more time gazing on my niece’s sweet face that sent my heart spinning in a new direction. In any case, I confirmed with her shopping was still a thing, then planned to come back and fetch her as soon as I delivered my ever-patient son back to his computer screen.

 

We shopped for three hours for Valentine’s and baby things, browsing and talking along the way. I marveled at this new sister, vigilant milk-machine. This same sister who once curled up on a bag of rice at Costco because it looked comfy and whose curiosity broke a glass shelf in Macy’s (or Penney’s, or The Bon, I’m not quite sure) I can barely recall, except that she was little, therefore careless, and she broke something. Shame followed.

By the time I got home and settled in to write, it was late evening. The day had not gone as planned. And yet–my son, my sister, my niece, my aunt, my cousin, my cousin’s son, my cousin-in-law, my brother-in-law. I had planned to keep my time to myself, but instead shared it with them. And this time it was the right thing to do. It’s hard to know. Love is a curious balance of giving forth and taking time to replenish the self. This is harder to do when you’re in a vampiric romantic relationship.

The economy of money is tied up in the economy of romance and so many people are out there sniffing for fresh blood. Stay strong, my friends. Eat lots of garlic. Another Valentine’s Day has passed, but the shadow remains.

 

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Where we embrace determinism

In some aspects of popular psychology, we doggedly embrace free will. Those who are not happy are choosing that state of mind. And happiness is the new American Dream. We gain status by posting evidence of our abundant happiness to be liked by “friends”, only some of whom we’ve ever shared a secret, an intimate moment with.

This first part perhaps makes the second part even worse. On my walk to work a couple of days ago, listening to a podcast, I heard an author explain her villain. “Well, she hasn’t had a good life.” Because this issue is personal to me, I bristled, though I wasn’t surprised. This is the most common explanation for evil we have.

We accept this determinism, because it’s an easy explanation for violence and cruelty. And we need an explanation so we can be less afraid. So we create pockets of false safety for those come from “good families”.

But those kids who get beat up by a parental figure, whose parents drown themselves in alcohol or drugs. Those kids with parents in prison, literal or figurative. Their fortunes are read to them early on. They know how their story is expected to go.

This tacit truth caused me so much anxiety as a child. It’s never fully gone away. I didn’t have a good life; everyone agreed. I felt like a ticking time bomb, prayed I might be the exception, not the rule.

One of the favorite parts of my job as a high school teacher is to regard those kids, the ones you know have not had a good life, with the same expectations for success that I do the most nurtured kids. Not in a coddling or condescending way. In the same way. To engage with them often, assume the best of them, and, especially, challenge them.

Class is in part the issue here. Happiness is a choice, but the materials, experience, and education one must have to make that choice supposedly can be bought. At least, is sold every day.

I want more Heroes from bad backgrounds, more privileged villains. I think we’d be much closer to the truth.

 

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One day spent chaperoning debate nerds. Two insights about writing fiction.

I say nerds admiringly. After all, I was one of them back in highschool when I regularly skipped other classes to work on my debate cases. Am one of them, really. I no longer geek out on arguing the ethics or efficacy of various philosophical schools, all of which I was  learning solely to build my rhetorical arsenal. All of which were making me more befuddled as to what I really thought and believed. Now, for me, it’s books and the things that make up books. Precious sentences!

For the two judges sitting across from me in the judge’s lounge that day it was crossword puzzles. To be precise, four of them. Another judge they knew, a tall bespectacled man carrying a fresh copy of the New Yorker, noticed they were currently working on the LA Times and proceeded to rib them. How could ladies of their caliber deign to do any crossword puzzle than NY? They laughed. They had that one too, tucked under the LA Times. This was the seed of my first insight of the day into writing fiction. It has to do with character, specifically archetypes and models. As I was sitting there drinking the coffee but trying to avoid the white sugar parading as mini bagels by munching out of my baggie of trail mix, it occurred to me how far one can get in developing a character’s identity by first figuring out what social sub group they belong to. You can sketch a lot about what they wear, what they do in their free time, what topics of conversation they lean toward, what books they might read, even what they value. The danger of course is to stop there. And since I had ten hours of basically just sitting around watching people that day, I did a lot of sneaky staring and character sketching. I eavesdropped on stories and began to see the individuals emerge in this group that at first seemed strikingly aligned. What emerged for me from this exercise was that it’s useful to begin sketching a character by identifying a model. The danger is to stop there. Perhaps a more pervasive danger exists in fearing models that are out of our own social comfort zone We must push past the judgement that emerges when values clash to create human characters who inhabit ways of being that are difficult for us to empathize with. Because, in the end, characters should be individuals, not models.

At one point I grew bored even of people watching and decided to go for a walk around the University of Puget Sound’s campus. I had no idea where I was going, no destination. That became part of the fun. As I walked, I began to build stories in my head, urged on by what I was seeing with my eyes. A persistent yellow rose, a bit weary, but persevering winter. An old style chalkboard on wheels, some unknown equations written across it. A fountain with the head of a fish next to the head of a lion, the leo and the pisces locked in natural conflict. A rooftop fire escape. I even hopped onto an elevator at one point and pushed the button for the floor I thought was the one I started on. The doors closed, but the elevator didn’t move. I almost panicked, then browsed the buttons again, selected my second choice. The elevator lurched, moved. The doors opened right where I began. What had been on the floor it wouldn’t let me out on? My imagination scrolled through story possibilities for what was on floor M. And here’s where the second insight into writing came to me. Be present as you adventure into the world. Collecting images of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Taking photos and writing descriptions in our journals or recording our own voices describing these things on our mobile phones. This builds the muscles of our imagination.

 

Here’s a prompt and a challenge for you. Take one of the images below and turn it into a poem or a short work of prose. If you’re willing, share it.

 

I’m wishing you all another week of flowing words. As for me, I’m just past the half point in the first draft of a novel I’m writing called It May Look Like Disaster, the first in a series of three Olympia novels. I’m waking up at 4 AM on weekdays to write and trying to edit stories and type in handwritten pages in the evenings. I submitted stories to three journals last week and my goal is to submit every week of 2016.
Blessings to you. Make time.

 

 

 

elevator gargoyle fountain yellow rose         escape spider web

 

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new year mantras

New Year Mantras: Love inward, and outward; Speak your mind; Get your work out; Love your gorgeous body.

I can’t resist the call to set intentions for a new year. Call them goals, resolutions, crazy schemes—whatever you like. I love making them. And I don’t fret about failure. I know that I am fantastically imperfect and will fail in some things. I know that I’m already a pretty sleek model of a human being. Reflecting on the past and setting intentions for the year allows me to move forward a bit more assure, see the path ahead more clearly. For 2016, I have four mantras that I will post somewhere where I can see them everyday (wall by desk? lock screen?) Do you mind if I tell you what they are and why? If so, you best click that back arrow on your browser right now. But if you read on…Maybe you will find some inspiration in my sharing? Maybe you can offer me some guidance along the way?
Mantra 1. Love inward, and outward.
Love inward
I’ve been betrayed in love, so I’m a bit guarded. Mostly I’ve been betrayed by me. Whether the tendency was handed down, whether it’s the particular deference of the middle child, whether it’s a byproduct of the legacy of the abused—some combination of all these things?—I’ll never know. It doesn’t matter. The result is that I moved rather desperately through my love life (not just sex, friendships too) for much of my life. It’s taken me a lifetime to realize that I should discriminate. I deserve to be picky.
I have been torn apart by rejection. I have lived in the shadow of enabling addiction. I have stayed quiet when my body, my conscience were violated. I have even excused those violations. Doubted myself. Believed I deserved them. I have done all these things too often, too easily. I have violated my own body, my own conscience in order to gain acceptance, to be liked. I have cared too much about being liked. I allowed this to be a factor in measuring my own self worth. I have allowed doubt of my creative work to stop my writing, even though the act of writing is a lifeline for me. I stuff feelings, nurture anxieties, doing violence to my self. I have tried to outwork and outrun these tendencies. It can’t be done. Time to face them. Squeeze them out with love.
Some affirmations for loving inward in 2016 are:
—I am smart, funny, and adventurous naturally. 
—I am lovable and loved. 
—Guilt and shame do not serve me. I will be the best person I can be in each moment. 
—I am a capable, caring, compassionate woman. 
—Happiness is created, not waited for. 
—Boundaries help everyone. Draw them, kindly. 
, and outward
 
Every single time I open my mouth and let fly words that attack another person, I know I’ve acted poorly, feel guilty . And my “love” for those I care about too often manifests itself as worry. Two things I’m feeling strongly as I head into year 42: 1. Violent speech hurts you and others. 2. Worrying is not helpful to anyone and all those bad vibes might actually hurt more than help.
One practice I started a could of months ago that profoundly diminished my tendencies to criticize and worry is a very simple practice born one morning out the loneliness and desperation of worrying about my son, but feeling powerless to help him. I walk two miles to work most days and often I walk home. During my walks, I practice a sort of meditation where I pray mostly for others, sometimes for myself. I send out hope, courage, strength, conviction, insight, confidence, whatever seems needed. I do this for myself, for friends, for people whose shins I’d like to kick. After one week of doing this, my heart felt full and the son who I had been so worried about had done just fine in all his struggles without me. Instead of spending the week worrying about him, I spent the week sending him hopes for courage and strength.
This will be my walking meditation for 2016.
Mantra 2. Speak your mind. 
For those close to me, this will sound like a strange goal since those people know me as an opinionated person who speaks her mind. But in many ways I am still that shy Liz who struggles in large group discussions, fails miserably at small talk, and deeply considers my words before speaking them. This isn’t all bad and I suppose I will always be somewhat verbally reticent. However, there are some ways I’d like to make 2016 a more vocal year.
I once had a bumper sticker on my car that said, “Speak Your Mind, Even If Your Voice Shakes.” That’s what I want. My affirmation to make this happen is:
Use your voice. You deserve to be heard. 
I’ll need to remind myself of this even when faced with disagreement, apathy, or a voice louder and more confident than my own. This pairs well as a goal with practicing outward love (compassion). Where we often go wrong in our obsession with hearing our own voice is that it does matter what we say, and how.
Mantra 3. Get your work out. 
I’ve made a calendar for 2016 to plan this with care and intention. I want to send my writing out into the world weekly all year. I’ve hoarded my work too long. I even ruined some good pieces by tinkering and tinkering too long. Every week. I’ll keep a log and report back to you all here.
Mantra 4. Love your gorgeous body. 
 
This means get outside, stay active, do more yoga, and eat well. This also means wear only clothes that feel good. Sit and listen to your breath. Take naps when needed. Hug often. Make time for self care. Cook good food. I am done, done, done with the endless suffering over perceptions of beauty.
To recap my intentions, I open my heart in 2016 to:
—Love inward, and outward
—Speak my mind
—Get my work out
—Love my gorgeous body
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want to read 2016

What I Read In 2015/Want To Read in 2016

I’ve been keeping track of what I’ve been reading since 2009 here on this blog. My goal for 2015 was to read 50 books. I came pretty close at 42, which is 8 more books than I read in 2014 and 22 more books than I read in 2013. During our hot, dry summer, I read a few books while walking here and there and really love to read that way. It’s different than reading on the treadmill (which I hate), so it’s not just about moving while reading, though I do think that is a part of the romance for me. Sometimes when I sit and read, my body gets antsy and I close the book to get up and move around. When I walk and read, I can read for longer stretches of time than when sitting still. And I can still take notes while I read. I only need to pause and make a note in the margin before moving on. Theoretically I could do this on the treadmill in any weather, but the treadmill is sooo boring to me and that boredom seeps into my reading. I’m not going to post a list of the particular titles I plan to read in 2016, though I will post a picture of some I have lined up by my desk that I’m interested in reading. I’d like to read a variety of books from different genres and stay open to new books too. I’d like to read a couple of books with Chris and all the books my book group chooses. I’d like to write down all the found sentences I mark when I read this time and look back at them at the end of the year. I always mark them by writing a heart in the margin, but I don’t consistently go back to pull them out later. I want to read more attentively when I’m at home, for longer stretches without checking my phone or getting up to put a load of laundry in. I’d like to spend at least one full hour a few times a week just reading without distractions.  Below is a list of the books I read in 2015 (the first five I absolutely loved, and I can’t wait to see The Brothers K at Book-It in May) and a picture of some I have queued up for 2016.

 

How about you? What did you read? Why? What will you read in 2016? How will you read?

 

  1. The Brothers K/ David James Duncan (novel)
  2. My Year of Meats/ Ruth Ozeki (novel)
  3. Through the Second Skin/ Derek Sheffield (poetry)
  4. Time and Materials/ Robert Hass (poetry)
  5. Song of Solomon/ Toni Morrison (novel)
  6. Fun Home/ Alison Bechdel (graphic novel)
  7. Glitter and Glue/ Kelly Corrigan (memoir)
  8. Ice Haven/ Daniel Clowes (graphic novel)
  9. The Interestings/ Meg Wolizer (novel)
  10. The Blue Flower/ Penelope Fitzgerald (novel)
  11. 10:04/ Ben Lerner (novel)
  12. Queenpin/ Meg Abbot (novel)
  13. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man/ James Joyce (novel)
  14. The Awakening/ Kate Chopin (novel)
  15. The Best American Poetry of 2009 (poetry)
  16. How to Meditate/ Pema Chodron (non-fiction)
  17. The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo (ALSO LOVED! Non-fiction)
  18. Praise/ Robert Hass (poetry)
  19. Maus/ Art Spiegelman (graphic novel)
  20. The Uninvited Guests/ Sadie Jones (novel)
  21. Persepolis 2 (graphic novel)
  22. The Round House/ Louise Erdrich (novel)
  23. Far From the Madding Crowd/ Thomas Hardy (novel)
  24. Making Shapely Fiction/ Jerome Stern (non-fiction)
  25. The Kundalini Yoga Experience/ Dharma Singh Khalsa (non-fiction)
  26. Between You & Me/ Mary Norris (memoir)
  27. Vox/ Nicholson Baker (novel)
  28. The Laughing Monsters/ Denis Johnson (novel)
  29. Slaugherhouse-Five/ Kurt Vonnegut (novel)
  30. My Brilliant Friend/ Elena Ferrante (novel)
  31. Paper Towns/ John Green (novel)
  32. Holy the Firm/ Annie Dillard (Creative Non-Fiction)
  33. Poser/ Claire Dederer (memoir)
  34. The Magician’s Feastletters/ Diane Wakowski (poetry)
  35. The Wisdom of Insecurtiy/ Alan Watts (non-fiction)
  36. Food Matter/ Mark Bittman (non-fiction)
  37. In the Woods/ Tana French (novel)
  38. The Likeness/ Tana French (novel)
  39. And When She Was Good/ Laura Lippman (novel)
  40. Brave Enough/ Cheryl Strayed (non-fiction)
  41. Merry Christmas, Baby/ Donna Kaufman (fiction)
  42. How to Relax/ Thich Nhat Hanh (non-fiction)
books for 2016

Want To Read 2016

 

 

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Skipping class

I’m not sure how it started, exactly. One day I must have been walking to school and instead of turning left toward the tall gray concrete building, climbing the stairs to sit in Mr. Lokken’s Algebra II class, I turned right toward the public library.

I spent the first few hours browsing. First flipping through cards filed alphabetically, kept in long pull-out drawers that sighed when you opened, then closed them. Next, walking up and down the aisles, pulling books off to browse because the title or a familiar author or the color of the spine.

I must have checked out five or six books that day, one was Rukeyser’s selected poems, which I carried around in my backpack way past the due date. Returning books to the library on time is not a skill I ever mastered. Messenger bag heavy with books, I walked out into the cold, quiet, empty streets of downtown Aberdeen to the new, hopefully to stay this time, cafe. I ordered a bagel with sun-dried tomato cream cheese and a cappuccino, found a table with a windowed view. I wrote through the afternoon with my new roller-ball blue pen–poems, snippets of stories, quotes from the books I browsed through. I jotted down pieces of conversation overheard at other tables.

“You wont’ believe what she said, Grace.”

“Well, you tell her she can go to hell for all I care.”

Not unusual for any day in Aberdeen, rain drummed the sidewalk. The tables were all different, but all varnished wood. Probably picked up at the consignment shop down the road, the one whose storefront took up an entire block. On my table a small faceted glass vase held a bouquet of fake pansies. I used most of the surface of the table to stack all the books from by bag, lay down my open notebook, set out some pens, a pencil, a highlighter, plus a corner for my coffee and my empty bagel plate.

An hour after I would have been getting out of school for the day, I stepped out onto the sidewalk, green umbrella popped open. I walked the entire eight miles home.

When my mom asked, “How was your day today?” I said, “It was okay”, then took a bite of the peanut butter honey sandwich I’d just made and went upstairs.

I believe that this is how it started, with this day. A whim. A trip to the library. An afternoon at the coffee shop. A long walk home. After that, I couldn’t stop skipping class. I skipped school  so that I could haunt downtown Aberdeen: the library, the coffee shop, one of three thrift stores. No stranger seemed to notice or care and my mom didn’t figure it out for months.

I suppose there were lots of reasons I started skipping class. A better day for an introvert. A day spent pursuing my own curiosity, reading the books I wanted to read. The compulsion to find some solitude to write. That compulsion that continues even to this day. At least once per week, sometimes more, I find myself walking to work so tempted to turn left toward downtown.

 

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Go ahead, unfriend me, Facebook.

My best friend is the queen of unfriending. She has rules that define who to unfriend. Those who make passive-aggressive comments are the first to go. The signs are clear that everyone is dropping friends for all sorts of reasons. Yet, when someone drops off your friends list, you are never quite certain whether the unfriending was personal. People quit Facebook, take breaks. A probably-myth even purports that Facebook itself will randomly unfriend people without your knowledge. I believe this myth arises from our inability to admit to someone when confronted that we unfriended them. Thus goes the drama of friends here. Of particular interest to me is when people post shout-out status update letting all their friends know that some of them are about to get the ax. The barrage of comments that follow begging to stay are particularly wince-worthy.

As a person who doesn’t like crowds, prefers one-on-one, and who cares deeply about whether people I like like me (don’t we all?), this virtual middle school can be a real downer.

So, go ahead. Unfriend me. If you could, please send me a message letting me know you’ve done so. I resolve not to give it a second thought. Nothing that happens here is personal. Which is why I also endeavor to make more personal connections here and in my life. Hand-written letters. Coffee dates. Personal messages. Post to individual walls. If I ever friended you, you are someone who I want to see happy and thriving in life. If you doubt that, send a personal message asking how I am.

Most of the communication that happens here is in our own heads as we scroll through our newsfeed and click like again and again. Chances are, we’ve missed something big in our perception of what’s happening here. Why not reach out and see?

I have a teacher friend who responds to my activity here mostly through personal messages, and I think he’s on to something. What if every time we arrived here, we send three personal messages to people who haven’t connected with in a while? How would that change our experience here? I’m going to give this a try and I’ll let you know.

If you feel the urge at all, please unfriend me. If you would, send me a note that goes something like this:

I am clearing out my friends list and you didn’t make the cut, though I wish you love and happiness, always.

 

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being a vegetarian

The downside of being a vegetarian now that it’s cool.

I used to spend a lot of time in the used bookstore downtown Aberdeen, sitting on the musty carpet floor with a stack of books to taste-test. I bought a lot of books I never read that way, some I did. One book I found this way and did read is Diet For A Small Planet, groundbreaking in 1971  when it became a best seller, still relevant when I read it in 1991, and still relevant today. Shortly after reading DFSP, I proudly announced to my meat and corn family that I was a vegetarian.

A what?!

Remember this was Hoquiam in 1991. For ten years after that my mother still asked on every visit, “Are you still a vegetarian?”

She doesn’t ask any more and I am still a vegetarian. I raised my child as a vegetarian. Nearly a quarter century has passed and now being a vegetarian is cool. While people used to ask questions like, “Where will you get your protein?” or “Do you eat chicken?” because they were sure that I must be malnourished without flesh, now they respond differently. “I’m mostly vegetarian” or “I used to date a vegetarian”. Times have changed for sure and there is a downside to being a vegetarian now that it’s cool.

This past school year I had an after school meeting to attend. The email specifically said dinner provided, which was great since I had to head out right after my last student left and the meeting would last to 8:30 that night.

An hour into the meeting, dinner was served. Four giant platters of ham and turkey sandwich wraps, one small bowl containing six or so servings of kale salad. As I waited in line, I watched the salad dwindle, watched person after person heap their plate with sandwich rolls, plus a spoonful of kale salad. By the time I came to the front of the line the salad bowl sat empty. For dinner I had Fritos and Mini assorted Mars candy bars. At another event, a meat-eating friend reached for a slice of the four veggie pizzas on the banquet table, out of thirty total pizzas provided and I said, “But don’t you eat meat?”

“I do, but I love veggie pizza. I could almost be a vegetarian. If it weren’t for hamburgers.”

*sigh

At least people who host these things now at least think of us?

Another trouble spot for me in being a vegetarian now that it’s cool is how much vegetarian junk they are trying to sell us. Just how huge must that Morningstar farm be?

I know, I know. It’s my choice. But it used to be sooo easy. If I wanted veggie burgers, I had to make them from scratch or buy a portobello. Now, there’s a whole two cases in the frozen aisle just for me.

While mostly I enjoy the credibility we’ve gained, there is a downside to being a vegetarian now that it’s cool. Remember that next time you reach for the kale salad. There may be a vegetarian starving somewhere in the room.

 

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A New Year! Some reflections, plus what I read in 2014.

This past year I submitted my portfolio for National Board Certification, got married, and taught summer school for the first time. Somehow, I still managed to read WAY more books than I did last year. I’d love some suggestions from you for what to read in 2015 and by the end of this week I’m going to compile a list of 15 must-reads for the year, leaving plenty of room for new possibilities to open along the way. Tell me–what should be on my must-read list? What have you read recently that you are dying to talk to someone else about because it was just that freaking good?
When I read I have to take notes, it’s a compulsion. I also love collecting sentences that strike me as particularly well-rendered and I publish them here from time to time as “found sentences”. I’m reading more and more books on a device these days, which is probably good since I really don’t have that much book shelve space left.
I’m not making any resolutions this year or any grand intentions for change. I’m happy with who I am now. I want to read a lot, write often, take walks and hikes in nature, sit and breathe, write letters, and remain open to new adventures. Just like I’m doing now.

What I Read in 2014:

1. I finished Ulysses!!! It took me years and Chris and I read the entire thing out loud together. <3
2. By Blood by Ellen Ullman –Unusual in a good way.
3. The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus
4. The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hahn
5. The Tenth of December by George Saunders — Awestruck!
6. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern — Loved!
7. Quiet by Susan Cain
8. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
9. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
10. On Writing by Eudora Welty
11. The Best American Poetry of 2009
12. Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III
13. Divergent by Veronica Roth
14. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
15. The Fine Print of Self Publishing by Mark Levine
16. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
17. Her Best Kept Secret by Gabrielle Glasser — Loved!
18. How To Start A Home-Based Editorial Business by Barbara Fuller
19. How The Brain Learns to Read by David Sousa
20. The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
21. Teaching With Poverty In Mind by Eric Jensen
22. Google Apps Meet Common Core by Michael Graham
23. Brain Rules by John Medina
24. Tibetan Peach Pie by Tom Robbins
25. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
26. Mating by Norman Rush
27. Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon (Loved! Can’t wait to see the movie.)
28. Being Perfect by Anna Quindlen
29. Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
30. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (Loved!)
31. The Wife by Meg Wolitzer
32. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (Loved!)
33. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
34. Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (Loved!)

 

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