Sunday, November 23, 2003

I'm sick of listening to hate-mongers' arguments against gay marriage. It's all balderdash, not a serious or compelling or rational reason in the bunch. The last straw was commentary on NPR November 21, by one Stanley Kurtz, who claims to have gay friends, but who has rationalized his way out of supporting gay marriage. His argument is a series of giant leaps of logic, the main one being: allowing gay marriage would somehow dissolve the "symbolic link" between marriage and parenthood, thus endangering (somehow; he never says how) our children. He hurries past the fact that over the years heterosexual couples by the millions have been unable to, or in more recent years, have chosen not to, bear children, and that their existence was never considered a threat to the concept or practice of marriage or a breaking of his mythical "symbolic link" between marriage and childbearing.

We need to keep in mind that marriage was created, first and foremost, as an economic institution, even for the lower classes, even when "economics" meant the sharing or withholding of grubs and berries and mastadon tenderloin. Marriage also served to keep women in an inferior status as long as they couldn't work outside the home and earn their own money. Birth control and the feminist "revolution" have changed that so that yes, we are seeing people delaying marriage until much later than earlier generations, more couples who choose not to have children at all, more divorces, and other signs that the institution as it has been practiced is weakening.

Like any other institution, shouldn't marriage have to adapt as human society changes? You can't say marriage is an Absolute. It was created by human beings (spare me Biblical quotations--you don't find any marriage ceremony in Genesis 1, and besides I'm tired of Christians-- and in the U.S. it's always Christians-- claiming that the rest of us have to live by their rules) and by definition, then, cannot be an Absolute.

But to me, the most compelling argument for gay marriages is so that we finally, legally, recognize and empower committed partners in insurance and hospitalization matters. It is an obscenity and a disgrace that someone who has loved and lived with a person for years, and is now having to watch their loved one die, can be abruptly, totally, cut out of any decisions for that person, by vengeful, ignorant, hateful "relatives" of the dying person. It is beyond my understanding how anyone can justify that.

I have never once heard any argument that convinces me that gay marriage threatens either the institution of marriage or my own personal marriage in any way. No matter how kindly Mr. Kurtz packages his argument, at heart it's still just prejudice. All the arguments I've heard boil down to hate and prejudice. Gay-haters may fool themselves and others who fear gays but they aren't fooling gays, and they're not fooling me. I think that with friends like Mr. Kurtz, his gay friends don't need enemies.

Friday, November 21, 2003

It's been a long time since I posted anything here. Life has been...busy. Much travel, some family health business, lots of work business, plus general laziness.

But I was thinking today, it's high time I got back to writing. Blogging, journalizing, fiction, opinion, essays, book reviews...I'm a writer? Then write, dammit!

Another thing that occurred to me today--and it has more to do with the 2nd paragraph above than it might seem--is that when it comes to eating, I really don't have my own best interests in mind.

That was the hardest, longest lesson I had to learn in going through all the changes I went through via the 12-step programs: what's really in my own best interest?

That's often a completely different question than "What makes me feel good?"

Doing the right thing does not always end up making you feel good. That's a statement in the Voice of Experience. For example, putting my mother in a nursing home was the right thing--the only thing--to do. She wasn't fighting it or anything, she knew (I think, deep down, she did) that she could no longer take care of herself. But after a lifetime of hearing everyone you knew say "I'd rather die than end up in one of them nursing homes," when you have to actually check your Mom into one, it ain't gonna feel right no matter how right you know it is.

Emotions are not always the best barometer of rightness.

Eating a mountain of ice cream kicks the feel-good hormones into high gear, so yeah, I feel *great* gobbling down that mountain of ice cream.

But it ain't in my best interests; it ain't *right*. It's *easier* to make myself feel good by doing it, than by settling for a nice red Bosc pear, and going to bed a tiny bit unsatisfied, food-wise. And telling myself that I've been good to myself by substituting the pear for the ice cream does not give me the same endorphin-laden feelgood buzz that the ice cream would.

Here's the secret: Endorphins lie. Sometimes.

Figuring out when is the trick.

I'll get back to you if I ever master that trick.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Some rambling ruminations this morning...

I often feel like writing, just the act itself, when I have absolutely nothing to say. Is this a result of the intermittent reward principle? Many's the time I've got the most exhilerating rush while writing, just the most unique high--many more times than I would have won at a casino, positing comparable writing/gambling events. So it should be no surprise that I'm addicted to the writing act.

I hadn't thought of it like that before, but it makes perfect sense. I wonder if anyone's ever done a study of the writer's brain chemistry--is there a big release of endorphins when you're "in the zone"? If so, will it be labelled a disorder in the DSMV VI? Will Writers Anonymous 12-Step Programs spring up?

It'd be hopeless, all they'd do would be trade stories and start critiquing -- or editing -- or brainstorming ideas -- or one-upping each other with Awful Rejections yarns.

"Hi, I'm Terry, and I'm a compulsive writer--"

"Are you the one who wrote that one story in--"

"No, no, that was some guy--"

"When's the WotF Contest deadline?"

"Doesn't matter, didn't you know? Those go all year round, quarterly contests--"

"Hey, guys, I've got one that might win that--"

"Let's see it!"

"I only brought 5 copies, you might have to share..."

Yeah, I pity the therapist who tries to start Writers Anonymous groups.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Last night I stayed in the town where I work (50 mi. from the town where I *live*), in a co-worker's basement (a really nice *finished* basement, with a hideaway bed and a bathroom and everything) so that I could arise to the alarm I'd set for 11 p.m., get dressed and wait outside for another co-worker to come pick me up so we could go to an observatory at a lake on the southwest side of town, to see Mars on the night of its closest brush with Earth.

It worked, we got there (us and about 900 other people, I hope they counted 1,000 before the night was through) and peered at the planet through numerous telescopes, and also saw a REALLY cool movie that the University's astronomy and video production people made. There were a lot of photos of Mars--many *from* Mars, like a jaw-dropping sunset picture! -- that I'd never seen.

They had a globe model of Mars, and I decided instantly that I want one!!! Then I thought, where would I *put* it??? Then I thought, I could move my home office into the basement, there's more room down there. And then: Yeesh! That's a big step! Why didn't I think of that before? I wonder if I should...and decided to save that decision for later, after gathering more info. For the moment, I was there to enjoy MARS!

There were people of all ages there, from babes in arms to elderly folks with walkers. The astronomy profs and grad students were great, I got a big kick out of them. They'd not gotten much sleep so they were a *little* goofy, which was fun, and they displayed that endearing Geeks-Unused-to-This-Much-Attention kind of showing-off that I love.

After my co-worker and I watched the film, I went back to the "big three" telescopes to get in line for the one I hadn't looked through yet. In front of me was a trio of folks fresh from a bar somewhere (the alcohol sensor array in my nasal chemistry lab was blinking red lights like crazy), one guy with a Mohawk (more of my people! Yay!) and a lady with lots of jewelry and only slighty slurred speech, and an enormous, handsome black dude with bald head and earring. He got his turn at the telescope and immediately put his hand on it and leaned all his weight on it--then couldn't find Mars in the lens. That scope's grad student had disappeared (probably best; he would have had a stroke when the guy leaned on his scope!) so I told the man, "If you lean on the scope, it'll jiggle so much you won't be able to see anything. They've provided these stepladders with rounded tops for us to lean on." Oh. OK, he said, and tried again, but all that was in the viewfinder was black space. So when another grad student had finished his current spiel I got his attention, and he re-located the Red Planet.

We stopped on the way back to the parking lot to watch the laptop film loop of Mars scenery digitally-extrapolated from radar elevation readings. *Those* were cool, too. I liked the ones that showed faint mists (of CO2, I presume) rising amid the towers and channels of huge canyons.

I got back to the digs at around 2; I'm tired but not too much more tired than usual. And--it was MARS! It was WORTH IT!

If you have an astronomy club or university or public observatory near you--don't miss this spectacular space show!

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Throughout my life, I've had a tendency to take on more and more "projects" the more stressed-out I was getting. It's a self-feeding escalation, you see. The secret was that to begin with I was running away from whatever was bothering me at the time, often reality in one form or another. It was many years before I learned that it was just faster (and much less exhausting!) to just turn around and face what scared me and deal with it in the first place. Kept life from getting really complicated, too.

Not that I've entirely shed that tendency, oh no. But now, at least, I know to realize that when I'm committing myself to more and more "projects" that I need to stop and take a look, maybe there's an easier way to achieve relief from something that's bugging me. But first I have to recognize what's bugging me. (Current collection of projects: personal/voluntary: my novel, learning Spanish, organizing all of my photographs; involuntary: husband's recuperation from surgery this fall will require a lot of work on my part. Work-related: committing to creating a poster presentation for a conference in the fall-- in itself, no big deal, but added to the others, just another straw on the camel's back.)

Trouble is, I always have to wrestle with my ego in these little sessions. Turns out that I've always enmeshed my self-image with accomplishing *everything* I commit to doing. When my ego's enmeshed then it becomes a pride thang. "Pride goeth before a fall," I think is the hoary quote; well, let me tell you that phraseology doesn't do justice to the sweat blood and tears that have to be wrung out of me before I can get back to reality.

It can be really painful to face my own shortcomings. Maybe -- and I'm veering into the strictly fictional here because I ain't gonna put my *actual* personal life on the internet -- maybe I snapped at hubby a few nights ago and hurt his feelings when it was really uncalled-for, and I need to apologize. Maybe I spent some money I shouldn't have, and haven't fessed up yet. Maybe I spoke ill of someone who wasn't there to defend themselves (and no, it doesn't ameliorate it even if the person is a slimy, conniving lying bastard of an unelected politician; this is about *my* culpability, not his. Hrmm. I think I'd have to work on that one awhile longer...). Anyway, it's no fun facing up to that stuff.

But awhile back (like, uh, jeez, 17 years? Wow!) I undertook to make myself a better person. Someone *I* would respect. It turns out that that's damned hard, and you don't do it just once. You have to climb that hill over and over again, no matter how much you hate it, no matter how much it hurts, no matter how scared of it you are.

And then when you've done it again, you can look that image in the mirror in the eyes again. And that reminds you why you do it.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

As I stood on a corner waiting for a Walk light on the way in to work this morning, I was roused from my reverie by, "Yap! Yap! Yap! Yap!" A lady in a car at the stoplight had one of those dogs I think of as micro-Dobermans: about 10" tall and colored like a black & tan Doberman. He'd spotted me and wanted to alert the world that I! See! Person!

The lady and I grinned at each other. I think she tried to get the dog to get down on the seat and be quiet, but he wasn't having any of it. She obviously didn't understand the seriousness of the situation--there was a Person standing over there! That needed to be yapped at! Yap! If I don't do it, who will? Yap! Yapyapyapyapyapyapyap!

Then the light changed and as the car moved across the intersection, the yaps subsided; the Person had moved out of micro-D's field of vision. Whew! Another danger averted. Good dog. I giggled for another block.

The reverie interrupted was about how this ultra-light sprinkle of rain is your typical mid-summer nostalgia trigger: The air is heavy and warm, and the raindrops splat! individually on the road or sidewalk or patch of bare ground in your yard that's the neighborhood playground, and each drop must kick up a little pouf of dust, because that's what the air smells like. Appropriate sonic accompaniment: Mourning doves calling from two backyards away. Taste: The repulsive-yet-irresistible Grape Popsicle (R). Best if experienced sitting under a huge, old tree with a new Weekly Reader Book Club book on your lap. Ahhh...

This Boomer nostalgia spasm brought to you by: Summer Raindrops.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Here are some of the headlines Netscape's boasting right now:
Seized Ship's Explosive Cargo Equal to 'A-bomb'
10 Secrets Restaurants Don't Want You to Know
How to Find Time to Exercise
U.S.: Recent Attack May Have Hit Saddam, Sons
Woman Delivers Conjoined Twin Girls - and a Boy
Comedian Adam Sandler Ties the Knot [and from the looks of the little dinky photo, she's human!]

I found myself turning to their idiotic daily Poll with outright *relief*: Which artist wears the most outrageous hairstyles? Their poll always irritates me. They *never* include the answer: None of these, you moron. But today, anyway, I was relieved to contemplate the tresses of Kelly Osbourne, Pink, Christina Aguilera, Cyndi Lauper, and Bjork. You know I don't really care, but at least while I'm thinking about that, I don't have to think about...those other creeps.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Last Friday while I was waiting for Josh to pick me up after work, three women passed by on the sidewalk. They're regulars. I often see them at that time and place.

They're all what you would call "huge" women, no doubt clinically obese. Their attire is modest and middle-class, casual, not "office." slacks and blouses, jeans and tee shirts. One is blonde, another has short hair about my color before I started coloring it -- mouse-brown. I don't recall the third's coloring. I'll observe more carfeully next time I see them.

I'm a product of my society (as though that were an excuse) -- until Friday their chief -- their only attribute in my mind was their size.

But Friday one of them had a little jar of soap and a bubble ring, and was blowing bubbles as they walked along chatting and laughing. The light breeze was at their backs, so the bubbles streamed forward a little with the force of her breath, then swung to the street side as they matched the wind. I couldn't help but smile -- that's what bubbles are for, they make you smile.

And then, a full 30 seconds after the women had passed out of my view, the air between the buildings on either side of the street was filled with bubbles! The ones she'd gifted on the previous block were just going by my point of view from inside my building's foyer.

They glimmered in the sun, danced and curlicued in the micro-breeze eddies, and then they, too, were out of my range of sight.

I sat transfixed by the little magic, and then I recalled that these ladies are always smiling when I see them, always engaged in lively conversation.

How our prejudices blind us to the vibrant truth.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

In grad school I was a Teaching Assistant, which meant that I supervised the Biology 102 lab a couple hours a week, and that I led a Discussion Group (DG) 3 days a week. The PhD profs would give the students their lectures 2 or 3 days a week, the students then had a lab and a DG on the topic.

I worked very hard preparing my DG materials. I'd go over the topic's more difficult concepts, then we'd do Q & A. I tested them at regular intervals and kept a grade book on their scores.

Most of the students then were the "normal" 19-to-21-year-olds. The course was for non-majors. So I'd look out on this roomful of bored or sleeping students and know that this was all the biology they'd probably ever get. I felt a great obligation to teach them as much as I could. Most of them seemed to feel a great obligation to resist learning.

One semester I had a 50-something "displaced homemaker" in one of my groups. I felt immediate empathy for her. The first day of class she arrived in a bright-colored double-knit pantsuit, nylons and low pumps, and her gray hair was coifed and sprayed into spun-sugar rigidity. She was nervous and timid, and she blanched at some of the students' language--but she was my best student.

I had been where she was, a brand-new college student older than "the norm." I knew intimately her fear of appearing stupid, her doubts about her ability to succeed in college, and the middle-aged semi-fear of "these young people," even though I'd only been 25 when I started college.

I'd also taken the friend of a friend, literally by her shaking hand, and walked her into the Admission Officer's office (he happened to be a neighbor of mine, but by then, my junior year, I wasn't afraid of Admin anyway), and sat with her while she asked him how to apply, whether there were grants, loans, or scholarships she could try for, and whether he thought she could make it through college. (Does an Admissions officer ever say No to that question?) She was a home-salon hairdresser, a single mom, and she wanted more, for herself and for her kids. Her voice vibrated with fear, and though it steadied during the conversation, she never lost her fear, and she still hadn't applied for college when I graduated and left that town.

Years later I saw the movie "Educating Rita." The single shot that still sears my memory is when Rita went to that ivy-covered Administration Building to apply for admission. She stood at the bottom of those stone steps, took a deep breath, patted her lacquered spun-sugar hair (she was a hairdresser too, a lower-class Briton with a savagely chauvinistic husband, and parents who simply couldn't understand her yearning for education), and started up the steps. The lines of her body were tense and crooked with the weight of her entire life pressing down on her--everyone she knew telling her in words, action and attitude that "her sort" didn't go to college.

They shot the climb, brilliantly, from behind Rita, and it was Julie Walters' genius that her whole body, her whole being, told you what a heart-breaking act of courage she was performing. I cried at that scene, for joy and pride in Rita's bravery.

Anyway, my 50-something student's semester resembled Rita's remarkable journey. The first sign was when she started actually discussing biology in our discussion group. Sometimes she even disagreed out loud with the other students.

Then she showed up one morning with a new 'do: short, combed, and left to riffle freely in the air.

By the end of the semester, she was wearing jeans and sweatshirts and sneakers to class.

The strain had relaxed out of her face, and she laughed and teased along with the other students. Of course she got an A, that was never a question. And this former "displaced homemaker" had stepped whole-heartedly into the stream of life.

I felt honored to have witnessed the metamorphosis.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Terry B. deMille

I had a lot of little cowboy and Indian and horse toys when I was a pre-teen. Each one was different. There were some cowboys and Indians that were permanently bow-legged so you could snap them onto a horse. They'd stand on their own but they stood with their legs spraddled in a wide inverted U. I didn't care, I played with them as though they were normal.

I also ignored scale. I had a plastic Palomino about 10" tall at the ears. He was at least 25 times the size of the other toys, but he was part of the cast anyway. He stood stolidly on all four hooves, legs straight, looking straight ahead. To make him trot, I'd pogo him up and down in short hops. For a gallop I'd rock him, back hooves to front, back to front, along the floor or sofa or coffee table.

The furniture -- mostly in the living room -- was my cliffs and mountains surrounding the canyon of the floor. Little Indians hid behind the tops of the sofa cushions, lying in wait for the unsuspecting settlers (or bandits, or cattlemen) to come trundling into the canyon.

The good guy was a spraddle-legged cowboy with his right arm extended forward holding a six-shooter, and he always rode the white trotting pony. There was another identical pony, except he was brown, and the Indian chief always rode him. I don't think I did a lot of battle scenes -- often the cowboys and Indians were all mixed up together in the good guys' and bad guys' camps. I spent many hours Saturday mornings playing with this assortment.

When I got a small package of Army green G.I.'s, they were just folded into the mix. Sometimes I played G.I.'s and Japs (I was born 5 years after the end of WWII), and then the Western figures got assigned new roles.

Then I got a Barbie doll (TM) and she fit pretty well on the Palomino -- I ignored that her legs stuck straight out in front of her as she perched on the saddle.

Many hours. I wish I could remember some of my scenarios, but they just "passed through" me, as Goldberg says, just flowed through my child's imagination and were forgotten, like water in a stream.

I wonder where all those toys are now. Probably in a landfill. Or maybe -- and I hope this -- they got sent to Goodwill and other children got to play with them. I like that idea. By now they might be in some 1960's buff's collection. That'd be great -- they'd be ready for retirement by now.

But I bet they'd like to be on display together, maybe in a basement rec room, watching their owner's busy life. Maybe someday a grandchild will come along and say, "Grandpa, can I play with those?"

I hope he says Yes.

Monday, May 05, 2003

As a writing exercise, I want to write about some time in my life when I felt most out of place. When I started writing that sentence I thought I'd not be able to think of one, but before the sentence was done a memory popped up.

It was a birthday party given by the parents of one of my junior high classmates, I'll label her D.F. She was beautiful in a Sophia Loren-ish way (if you like that sort of thing), and her parents were rich. They hosted all of us in D's homeroom class, plus some of her friends not in our homeroom. Maybe fifty 13-year-old kids.

I don't remember exactly where it was. It may have been in the Peony Park ballroom (I don't think so), or the Blackstone Hotel (maybe), or the downtown Brandeis if it had a banquet room. Wherever it was, it was lush.

The tables bore china, crystal, and more silverware than I'd ever seen in my life. I had no idea what to do with all that silverware. I don't remember who sat on either side of me but I don't think they were friends of mine (that would have been K.R., who was doing fine on the other side of the room).

So I felt very graceless and crude from Minute One. My hair stuck out funny, my clothes didn't feel right. Most of the other girls were stylish and expensive dressers. They all knew how to put on makeup--many of them already wore bras! They never emitting raucous barks of laughter, or bit their nails. They knew what to do with that extra silverware.

We were served sandwiches cut into four triangles and held together with toothpicks topped by colorful cellophane curlicues: red, blue, green, yellow. The bread was stuffed with about 20 layers of meats, cheeses, lettuce and condiments, so the triangles stood up about 5 inches high. I had a terrible time eating those adroitly -- in fact, I didn't. I managed one triangle, and the second deconstructed itself all over my plate and the surrounding (snow-white, of course) linen tablecloth. I left the rest untouched and yearned for dessert.

I vaguely remember sparklers, and a fabulous cake, so we must have had cake. I also remember a uniformed waitress bringing around a silver tray with a collection of chocolates, each one its own little marvel of sculpture. I wanted to take several, some to eat at home, but I at least knew better than that. I took ONE.

The afternoon dragged on, with everyone but me seeming to have a good time (there were, God help us, games). I was so miserable and self-conscious that I wanted to die. Probably others felt similarly, but I was too self-absorbed to notice. That was probably a good thing. I'm sure all I would have been able to do for small talk was make snide comments about the fanciness and how much this all was costing.

At long last, it was over. The Daddies rolled their cars up to the door and mine appeared and I threw myself into the passenger seat and he drove his little social butterfly home, hallelujah. I changed immediately into play clothes and shot outdoors looking for my fort-building, apple-grenade-throwing best buddy. It had rained that morning. There were gutter dams to build, mud to grind into our jeans.

I've learned a lot since then, most importantly what to do with all that extra silverware.

You bundle it up and jam it head-down into that extra crystal water glass.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

(OK, OK, my public is clamoring for continuation of this blog. Well, it's a quiet, refined clamor. Well all right dammit, it was just one person. So I'm easy. Sue me.)

Reading the Obits

I've started doing something I never thought I'd do: reading the obituaries. It started after my father-in-law died last fall. Soon after, I saw that the father of a grade-school friend had died; I went to the Visitation that night and saw CT and her sister, whom I worked with in the late 1980's, and got another bonus: the sister had also worked with a guy who was in grad school with me, and he was there, too. I hadn't seen him in *years*.

Then a couple of months later, I saw that the mother of one of my best friends in high school had passed away. I'd lost track of KE and no amount of googling had unearthed her. Now at this sad occasion I would be out of town and couldn't even attend the Visitation. I called the funeral home and gave them my phone number to pass on to my friend. (It was a long obit; KE has twelve brothers and sisters! Unusual in the Protestant denomination we'd belonged to.) The next weekend KE called me from her home on the East Coast. We caught up on all the happenings in our lives over the past 25 years, and now we email each other a couple of times a month. She hasn't changed a bit; just the sight of her name in my emailbox brings a smile to my face.

A two-minute nightly scan of the Deaths page over a couple of months, and two heart-warming re-contacts. The behavioral scientists call this "intermittent rewarding," and it's one of the most powerful conditioning tools known. (It's especially effective in fostering and maintaining gambling addiction.)

So now I read the obits almost daily. I look at the last names first to see if any ring a bell. I think I've seen the parents of a couple of grade-school-mates but we weren't close enough for me to try to contact them.

Then I look at ages. I'm amazed at how many people die in their 40's and 50's! And I have that sneaking feeling that oldsters before me have admitted to: "I'm older than that! I beat her!"

Aha. So it's the Grim Reaper I'm playing hide & seek with here. That's probably why I finally started sorting through the old photos, and reading my old journals, too: totting up, as the Beatles said. I'm at that time in my life when I'm looking back, seeing what I've been through, what I've accomplished, and where I've failed. What's changed about me and what hasn't.

While I'm resolutely forward-looking (nine inch nails vs. the Beatles; Bright Eyes vs. John Denver), this process is necessary, I think, to keep me grounded--or maybe it's to give me a firm springboard for whatever the next step is.

I feel like I have gained some wisdom and that's a direct product of all my fuck-ups. Reading my journals, I realize that there are some areas about me that are still the same, and shouldn't be. In other aspects I've made huge strides--sometimes because of a lot of work, blood, sweat and tears; other times I have no idea how I got from There to Here. There are regrettable gaps in my journals, and even more numerous and gaping ones in my memory.

I don't feel the scorn my younger self expected to feel at the Now Me for reading the obits (which could serve as a nick-name for this whole process). I feel pretty content right-now-this-minute, and that this is right for me now.

And...I'm a little pleased that I have that compassion for myself. That above most other things is very hard-won indeed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Unless something extraordinary happens, I won't be posting here any more. I just don't have the time or the inspiration. You may find this message for months to come, because doesn't give us a way to cancel our Blogspots. They just leave them hanging out here until they decide to move them to archives, and after that--they don't say how long--they dump them off their servers.

So, don't come back! All you'll see is this message! Visit my web site (it's not updated *much* more often than this blog) if you want to see what I'm up to.


Thursday, April 10, 2003

I'm considering dropping this blog. I so seldom have time to enter anything, and it's only going to get worse as we get more into the wetlands growing season (now through September). I don't know that anyone's reading it anyway.

Just in case someone is, and someone *else* has dribbled coffee down their fronts at this early hour of the workday, I'll supply a Handy Hint from Terry: First, try to do this while the coffee is still damp. Go into the restroom of your choice, wad up several dry paper towels. Stuff them under your shirt, or pants leg, or wherever the coffee stains are. Take another 2 or 3 paper towels and run them under the tap, get them a little wet. Daub the coffee spots. The underlying science here is "capillary action," that tendency of water to follow very tiny tunnels--if you've ever had a nurse hold a spaghetti-thin tube to a drop of blood on your finger and watched the blood rise up the tube all on its own, you've seen capillary action. Anyway, it's also a matter of diffusion--molecules tend to move from an area of greater concentration (the wet paper towels) to an adjacent area of lower concentration (the dry paper towels) until equilibrium is reached, or until you are satisfied that the darn spot is gone and remove the diffusion system (the paper towels on both sides of the fabric). Capillary action and diffusion will (this is my theory) drag the coffee stain with the water, out of the fabric and into the underlying dry paper towels. For dry stains (like you only noticed you'd dribbled *after* the meeting with clients), you may have to use a two-step process. Put a drop of liquid soap (like, out the bathroom's hand-washing soap dispenser) on the wet paper towel and dab the soapy solution into the stain; throw away both under- and over-sets of paper towels and repeat without soap to rinse the soap (mostly) out.

Be forwarned: You'll have a big blob of water on your shirt until it dries, so don't do this unless you can hide out in your cubicle for awhile.

Boy, if I keep rewarding readers like this, soon there won't be *room* for all the hits this blog will get.

Monday, April 07, 2003

It's obviously been a long time since I posted an entry here. If anyone is coming around to read this, I'm sorry about the paucity of entries. I don't know how often I'll be able to post; if you're really interested but get tired (as don't we all?) of coming around here and finding nothing new, you could email me and I'll send you a little note when something new goes up.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Wondering what you can do to help our troops in the Mideast (and elsewhere)? Check this great web site: http://booksfor

I've got some books, a box, and an address, now I'll be getting some filler (toothpaste, gum, whatever) and my first box will go off Monday!

And if you think this contradicts the previous posting, you're not a very careful thinker.

Friday, March 21, 2003

If Flush LImberger gets his say, I by God get to sound off on my opinion about this war, too.

I'm divided. Well, not really. It'll be great getting rid of that slimy sociopathic dictator. I just wish we could do it *before* we got rid of Saddam. [ba-DUM-boom]

No, seriously, folks, I'm relieved that we're not getting the shock'n'awe that all the news heads are so disappointed not to see. It's a GIANT relief that we're not just pulverising every single object within the city limits of Baghdad. Or however you spell it (patience; I'm on post-operative meds). The fewer civilian casualities the happier I'll be. But I have this nagging feeling that the war opened *this* way instead of with shock'n'awe because the generals just said, "To hell with that; we can achieve the same end *this* way without 100s of 1,000s of dead."

Even if this war is over tomorrow, we'll still be left mopping up not only Iraq but our own newly ragged, filthy reputation amongst our traditional allies--not to mention the love & joy we'll be getting from Muslims and Arabs all over the world. Way to diplome, Dubya. Not that you care.

I think Lileks ( has a great idea: attach Palestine autonomy to the autonomy of women in Saudi Arabia. Can't have one without the other. It'd be darned interesting to watch what happened after *that* one got signed, wouldn't it? [sigh] That's one of the things I can agree with Lileks about; otherwise I fear we're on different pages, though not different sides.

But I am sure getting tired of hearing that disagreeing with the Occupant of the White House makes me un-American. How ignorant is THAT? And on the other hand, it's heartening to see that several rallies have been held here in Omaha that were publicized as NOT pro- or anti-war, but PRO-OUR GUYS OVER THERE. *That's* something I can get behind, too, and it's encouraging that people from all points of view are not letting Dubya Et Al sucker them into the All-or-Nothing straw man B.S.

But it's sad because the people of this nation deserve so much better than they've got in the White House.

Blow it out yer barracks bag, Lush! [Oops, forgot--you don't have one, do you? You didn't serve in the military.]

Sunday, March 16, 2003


If you use Paypal, you'd better get educated about the latest email/spam/scam going around. Complete details are at the site linked below; Speculations ( editor Kent Brewster details what to look for when you receive a notice like this in your email.

Anatomy of a Really Convincing PayPal Scam by Kent Brewster. Spread the word, this is *very* helpful info!

Friday, March 14, 2003

I dated a man for a year and a half during my junior and senior years in collge. (I'll call him Jake.) I loved him with all my heart. He loved, me, too. He worked all over the middle of the USA doing construction for a prefab house-building company. This is how much he loved me: On Friday nights, after 60 or 80 hours of working, instead of riding with his crew-mates all the way back to his hometown forty miles up the road from where I lived, he'd have them drop him off on the highway two miles from my house in town. He'd walk all that way lugging his week's laundry in his duffle bag, along with his lunchpail and sometimes even a small gift for me or my son. He'd arrive at our door exhausted, sweaty, grimy, but with a big grin on his face. On Monday morning, I'd drive him out to the highway with a bagful of clean clothes and a pailful of sandwiches and fruit, and drop him off for the crew to pick up for the week.

I would have married him in a heartbeat, but he was chronically insecure about money, and was saving it as fast as he could, and I was a poverty-level single parent college student. I didn't want to get married before I'd got my degree, anyway. Finally, his financial insecurity led him to leave the state, to move halfway across the country to work for a friend of his who was launching a big-deal new food-processing equipment company. This was the death knell for our relationship, because he was not a long-distance communicator, and I was insecure about love. I'd go for weeks without hearing from him, meanwhile sending him letters, tapes and cards daily. When I'd finally break down and call him, he was always amazed that it had been so long since he'd written or called me. I went through hell. The "friend" was turning out to be, as I wish I'd seen before, a lying sociopathic asshole, and was using and abusing Jake. But you couldn't tell Jake that; after a lifetime of grinding poverty and exhausting manual labor, he couldn't give up the hope that this was his ship coming in at last. Finally, when eight weeks went by and I heard nothing from him, I called him up and more or less gave him an ultimatum: a call a week, or a letter, or I'm finished. I can't stand this. When he equivocated, I told him finis.

Then I went through a year and a half of more hell, the hell of having dumped someone I truly loved. But I would not tolerate playing second fiddle to his friend/employer's nefarious tune. Jake called me once, about a year after I'd graduated from college and moved back to my hometown. Just making sure I was all right, he said. It was a short conversation.

A few years later, I met the man who is now my husband. I'd recovered from the college-years trauma. We started a life together, and I was madly in love with him. We had ups and downs, but since I'm still married to him now 18 years later, I guess we've done well, and though the colors of our love have changed, they are just as vivid now as ever. Anyway, when we'd been married about 3 - 4 years, I got a phone call from my best friend from those same college years. She knew what I went through after Jake left, and after I'd broken up with him. She was calling to say he had called her wanting to get in touch with me if I wanted to. She said "He's got MS. I could hardly understand him on the phone. He gave me his phone number to give you so it would be up to you to call or not, but if you're going to, my advice is: Do it soon."

To this day, writing those words sends a heavy heat of shock and horror through me, and my eyes fill up with tears. Then, it was even worse. Guilt, pain, horror, despair, all filled my body for days. Of course I told my husband what was going on, after the girlfriend called. He expressed sincere sympathy, and the subject was dropped. I went around in a fog, trying to hide the depth and intensity of my emotions from my husband. After all, this was a *past* lover, someone I'd recovered from before I met my husband, and my loyalty was by right and moral, owed to my husband. Besides, I didn't want to hurt his feelings by showing how devastated I was over the bad news about another man. It took me several days to decide to call Jake.

My girlfriend was right. I could hardly understand him on the phone, but with patience and caring we got through the conversation. He apologized for having left me adrift all those years before. I told him I'd long ago forgiven him for that and hoped he'd forgiven me for breaking up with him; he said he never blamed me. He'd left his "friend's" employ, having finally figured out he was getting screwed, and gone to work for the Post Office. He'd worked for them for a few years when he was diagnosed with MS, and apparently the disease progressed rapidly after that. He said his church and his P.O. co-workers had been a great support system, and his elderly mother, now widowed, had moved out there to take care of him. When we hung up, I believe it was in a spirit of mutual love and concern.

After that, my pre-occupation deepened. I have too good an imagination; hearing his voice had summoned up memories of his physical presence: his walk, his touch, his smell, his body. Knowing what MS was doing to him tortured me. But still I couldn't say anything to my husband, especially not these sensual memories. And the thought that I could have been married to Jake, and might have had to *be there now* going through it with him, tortured me more: a big part of me was hideously relieved that I didn't have to do it. Imagination was bad enough. I wrote to him about once a month, cheerful little note cards with short reports of current events in my life and expressions of warm regard. His mother would write back thanking me and saying how they cheered Jake up.

After a couple of months of this I took the whole thing to my AA meeting. It all poured out, all of it, along with about a gallon of tears. When I finished I looked up and my friends' faces were full of concern and a few were crying. One of the newer guys leaned forward and said, "Man, you must be one wonderful person. Nobody I ever dated would ever have wanted to talk to me under those circumstances." My jaw dropped; I didn't feel very wonderful, I felt like a piece of shit. One by one all my group spoke, as they always did. Even those who didn't address my situation, had something profound and moving to say. It helped. One of them said, "I think your husband would be more understanding than you think." I couldn't believe that; I feared losing him more than losing my life, and it seemed just too risky. I'd try to work through this grief myself, and not bother him with it.

A few days later we went out to eat at one of those "blue-hair cafeteria" places. Jake had been with me all day, and by the time we sat down I was near tears, but fighting them desperately. This makes me smile now, but I really thought I'd kept a pretty good poker face. But as I unwrapped my silverware, my husband leaned across the table and said, "I don't know why, when a love affair ends, we think that's the end of love."

No one has ever said anything kinder or more loving to me.

About six months later Jake's mom responded to a letter with the inevitable: Jake had died in his sleep. He rests, of course, in a treasured place in my memory.

The human heart knows no boundaries.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

It occurs to me that I do some rather odd things, sometimes. I wonder if I'm the only one, or whether they're really very normal for a human being.

This first occurred to me the other night when I was reading Stephen Jay Gould's Eight Little Piggies. I got to the end of one particularly lyrical and elegantly logical essay, and mourned his death anew. There I am, a middle-aged, highly educated woman alone in bed, hugging a *book*. "Whot?!" I thought, "Whyever am I hugging this inanimate object? What possible good does it do me? Isn't this strange?" And I think I thought a few more miscellaneous things about the way a middle-aged woman's mind starts working. And I turned over and went to sleep.

Then I was cleaning out my Yahoo email box, and I found several really old, outdated messages from someone I only hear from occasionally, but whom I really really like in a cyber-pals sort of way. They were months old. "Why on earth did I keep these?" I asked myself. (Yes, I talk to myself a lot, but that's not middle-age, I've always done that.)

The contents of the messages were trivial. Then it came to me: they're mementos. I like the person very much, and kept the emails because she sent them. I also keep greeting cards, but eventually they are tossed, in my periodic fits of cleaning ruthlessness. These emails are the electronic equivalent of treasured greeting cards. But they're not cards, not even e-cards. They're really just a certain assemblage of electronic nits residing on a hard drive on the Yahoo server somewhere in cyber-land. They're not even in my *house*! But the person who caused them to be organized in that precise order, and uploaded to that server, is special to me, so I don't erase these equally-electronic nits giving me access to them through my e-mailbox, and they cause that particular pattern of light-and-dark to beam out of my computer monitor to be seen by my eyes and perceived and interpreted by my brain as a message from her. Could anything be less warm and fuzzy? Good grief! I think this is downright WEIRD.

But I bet I'm not the only one. So what's being co-opted here? Are we being trained to think like computers? Or are we appropriating the detritus of Cyberville and -- loaves-and-fishes-like -- turning them into paper letters and greeting cards in our minds? To comfort ourselves in the absence or loss of our friends and loved ones.

At least Eight Little Piggies is a *physical* object. And it's a hell of a lot cuddlier than an electron.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

It occurred to me this morning that I’ve been a writer all my life. I started a journal as a young adult, and I started college intending to get a double major in biology and journalism. I took journalism classes, and in junior college I served as editor of the school paper for one semester. But it goes back much farther than that.

When I was 5 I think I wrote my first story. It was maybe four lines long, an illustrated work. It concerned a little girl getting a birthday present and discovering it was the same toy as someone else had already given her. “Oh well!” she said laughing. I think the gist was, if one is good, two is better. I showed it to my parents, who reproached me for this evidence of greed.

Later on, in grade school, I found science fiction. I read a lot of Andre Norton, Robert A. Heinlein, and a bunch of others I don’t remember. I’d spin elaborate tales in my head and start to write them down, but my small hands tired quickly of the effort, and I lacked the patience to finish them. I remember standing frustrated in the middle of my room one summer day and wishing, mentally creating, as it were, a marvelous machine into which I could speak, and it would do the hard job of writing my words down. I imagined that this machine wouldn’t be invented until far, far in the distant future that my favorite books told about, and grieved that I wouldn’t be around to see it. I said I was a writer back then, not a good prognosticator.

I had a lot of dolls and stuffed animals, and I’d cast them in my adventures and adopt different voices and many, many scary predicaments--and some happy endings. When I had playmates I’d try to do the same with them. No wonder I got chided for being bossy more than once.

In junior high, in the grip of Beatle fever, I penned a long Beatles story, and Lindsay Bloom, one of my Beatle-loving girlfriends typed it for me. It ran 40+ pages, single-spaced. Lindsay went on to the role of the secretary in Stacy Keach’s Mickey Spillane TV series, and I’ve heard she married one of the actors in The Dukes of Hazzard. I wonder what ever became of that manuscript. Probably ash-canned 30 years ago…or else Lindsay’s holding onto it until I become a world-famous author. Yeah, that’s probably it.

Friday, February 21, 2003

Wow, five days since I made an entry here. Well, it's not because I haven't thought about it. But every time, I'd slough it off with "I don't have anything to say. Why junk up the internet even more with my own useless drivel when there's plenty already?" But between that first thought of "" and "Why junk up...?" things were going on in my decision-making machinery. I knew that, I just whizzed on past it. Don't worry this isn't going to be a heavy soul-searching. [Whew! I can hear you say.]

Lately it seems like my mental space has been crowded with too much, and it's all my own doing. I've got a little party I'm hosting tomorrow [Eek! Tomorrow!] and the carpet cleaner came twice this past week, so we had all the dining room stuff stuffed into the kitchen, and hubby's been down with a miserable cold so I've been doing all the cooking and of course I had to ram my toes into the cedar plank bookshelves that were stashed *directly* in the footpath into the kitchen and I think I've got a broken toe,


and while I was waiting for the carpet cleaner Thursday, and hubby was waiting, miserably, for his cold to lighten up, my new notebook computer arrived so *there's* a couple of hours wasted oohing and ahhing and poking and scowling at the User's manual and it snowed 8" last Saturday so every morning I've had either snow and ice, or heavy frost--latterly *mud* since it's now 50 degrees to clean off my car before heading out for work at 5 a.m.--

gasp gasp!

and I've started a family web site that various members of my family have been clamoring for for several years but no one's showing up to look at it, and I've started sorting through the bushel basket of photos going back to the 1940's (before I was born) and that has been an emotional adventure let me tell you...and I've been maintaining my momentum with the return to my writing after two long dry years of blockage, so I've been thinking a lot about writing, and about *what* I'm writing, and the morning writing exercise has dredged up some stuff I suppose I need to deal with since it pains and bugs me every time I think about it...and I'm behind with the laundry and the kitchen's a mess--

Ye gods. I'm back in the squirrel-cage ferris wheel. This has got to stop! No good can come of it.

So, you see, I really *don't* have anything to say here--that's worth saying. Except I don't need to let my mind be cluttered with such a cacophony of crap. It's high time I made time in my life daily to just Be Quiet.

Let's see, where's my PDA...yup, I've got a free quarter-hour between 2 and 2:15. A.M.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

I just laughed myself sick at Jim Lilek's column "Back Fence" in the Minneapolis Tribune (URL at end of this entery; I want you to read *mine* first) about life in the basement during a Chemical Or Biological Weapons Red Alert.

I often disagree with Mr. Lileks on politics but there's no one better--funnier, truer--on home relations (that means FAMILY, silly! Didn't you notice there was no "land" grafted onto "home"?). When he's funny, I end up with my gut hurting from laughing so hard. When he's touching, I weep, and think about his words for the rest of the day. For the many days when he's neither, he's just recording what his life was like today, it's a touchstone for my day. And I love his dog, Jasper.

It takes a real knack to turn everyday life details into something interesting or funny or moving enough to read every day. I mean, I have *my* everyay life going on, too, how dumb would it be to try to "live" a *second* life if all the guy gave you was his daily To Do List?

I can write to everyday details--sometimes. Mostly my imagination fails. I drive 120 miles round trip to work every day. That's the same stretch of I-80 day in, day out. Virtually the only thing that changes (aside from the seasons) is which section of the Interstate is Department of Roads tearing up today?

OK, OK, I know; each minute each inch of that highway is different than a) the inch to either side of it, b) different than it was the minute before, and c) different than it will be in the next minute.

Fine. You go gaze regardfully at that stretch of I-80 with the perspective of a Hindu god. I have to get back to Omaha to visit my mom in the nursing home.

A visit which Lileks could probably turn into a hysterical knee-slapper and a heartstring-tugger. Too bad for you, I can't.

Oh, here's that Lileks column link.

And just for good measure, here's his personal web site. Don't MISS the Gallery of Regrettable Food! The Bleat.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

I drive every morning 60 miles through the dark cold. Stars watch me from far away glowing blue-white to show their indifference--but they still watch even though they've long ago moved away from where they first trained their bright beams upon the earth.

Cold night air. Through my life I've been out in the cold dark air many times, and how could such an experience not leave its traces in me?

One late night in frigid northern Iowa in the 1970's I went out into our big front yard. We had a foot of virgin snow out there and where the cold moonlight brushed the snow crystals, millions of tiny stars answered their older mightier brethren. Is this the only answer Earth offers to the haughty gaze of those vast fireballs?

Humans have invented artificial lighting and now our planet is a sphere wrapped in a network of glow. We have embraced our lights as though by keeping the dark at bay we can vanquish that distant hauteur. But the stars continue their stately glide through space, their light speeding for millions of years to strike our ephemeral retinas as though that was the reason those particular photons began their journey long before humanity's ancestors had even developed notochords.

So I drank up the stars and the moon, and the millions of reflected beams from the snow; saw the blue waves of snowdrifts spread across our quarter-acre front yard; saw the darkness between the stars and blanketing the countryside between farmyard lights as not black but the blue so deep it's almost infinite.

I inhaled the night air and felt it freeze the moisture in my nostrils as a sharp, dry, pinch. I thought of myself out there under the mysterious universe as no less a mystery, only so small and brief, it was unimaginable.

Nothing stirred. No bird called, no cow lowed. Even the highway two miles away lay silent, respecting the weight of all those billions of years and all those rays of cold starlight.

You are nothing, the stars thought. Compared to our majestic eons you are less than a breath, a blink.

Ah, I said, but I'm looking back at you.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

[This is a very long blog today, and I apologize for that. But I dedicate it to my friend Gregory Koster, and to all librarians everywhere. You're my heroes!]

When I lived in the old farmhouse outside Rutland, Iowa, I became well-acquainted with the librarians in Humboldt, the nearest town large enough to have a library. They were unfailingly patient, diligent, encouraging, good-humored and amazingly knowledgeable.

I researched Anthony Zerbe’s theatrical career there after becoming intrigued with his work on “Harry O.” I discovered the series of books called “The Year’s Best Plays.” I’d look Zerbe up in the Guide to Periodical Literature and go hunt down the references--usually those annual “best of” books, but sometimes a magazine reference. Doing this I was teaching myself library resource skills I would later use heavily in grad school. I also found every play Zerbe was in, and read those, too.

I learned that my sympathies in “Othello” were with the bad guy, Iago. This was partly because that was Zerbe’s role in the play, but mostly because it seems to me that Iago’s the only character without his head up his ass. He’s the only one smart enough to know what’s going on--well to be fair, that’s because he’s instigating most of it--and it seemed like none of the others were aware enough to even feed themselves, let alone cotton onto the outrageously transparent machinations of Iago.

It was the early 1970’s, so environmental issues were in the air. I subscribed to Jacques Cousteau’s 20-volume series on life in the oceans. I had an organic garden, and subscribed to Organic Gardener & Farmer, and applied a lot of their ideas to my own garden. I found, somehow, the book The Organic Gardener by Catherine Osgood Foster, and that *really* turned me on.

All the reading I did, and poring over the pictures, opened up more questions: What is a “cation” that Foster writes about in her description of soil as a living community? I pronounced it “casshun” until I got into chemistry class in college because I didn’t know about ions and how that was the important part of the word.

I stared for hours at the jewel-like fish schools in Cousteau’s books, and the clown fish nestled in its sea anemone protector. How do these masses of fishes know to turn the same direction all at once? How did an anemone know that this was its clown fish and not some interloper?

I read a library book titled The Abyss and thrilled to its first chapter’s description of all the poop and dead microorganisms and creatures’ body parts as a stately, constant rain of nutrients down onto the inhabitants of the sea floor in their eternal night.

One book would prompt dozens of other questions, and send me back to the library. I discovered Inter Library Loan when I’d read every book on biology that Humboldt’s library had.

And still the questions came, springing up out of the pages. I felt insecure about what I was learning, afraid there were some basic things I didn’t know. My thoughts turned to college. There, I thought, my learning would be structured by textbooks and lab experiments and by teachers who really knew it all. I could go forward knowing there were no gaps in my understanding.

My concept of college was built on Dorothy Sayers’ descriptions of Oxford in her Lord Peter Wimsey series; by my one disastrous semester at Dana College--and my rich and highly enjoyable though challenging course in French there under Dr. Sarah Penick; and by a single comment made by one of the college-age senior counselors at Circle R Bible Camp, where I worked the summer after my sophomore year as a junior counselor. “It’s really hard,” she said. “I had no idea how hard it would be.”

I began hungering for that grueling, difficult challenge. I thought all colleges were like Oxford--full of brainy students working around the clock just to keep up, and demanding, if inspiring, professors.

When I at last started at Iowa Central Community College, with a schedule of English, Algebra, Biology, and Chemistry, it was with a wind of terror and excitement at my back. I threw myself into it with all I had. I was almost disappointed when I got all A’s that first semester. How can this be? I’ve never been a straight-A student in my life! This wasn’t that hard!

Of course by the time I graduated from ICCC, my expectations of college and its denizens had altered to a realistic view. Few places were like Oxford--probably Oxford wasn’t quite like my Oxford fantasy had been. But at least I was on my way.

What led my interest, back in that isolated farmhouse, to biology, the subject I’d hated in high school?

Just being there, I guess. Observing the plants (I still remember that the very first plant I keyed out on my own was a spiderwort in the road ditch) and animals (from an abandoned quarry I collected strings of toad eggs and put them into that ditch in front of our house, and couple of weeks later when I went out to the mailbox, there were dozens of pencil-eraser-sized toadlets hopping all over the place) and nature itself (we saw magnificent, eerie aurora borealis almost every winter in that northern-Iowa location).

And I’d been raised with a love of reading. A passion for reading. The library became my lifeline, my connection to a larger world, much larger and deeper than even TV could supply. The farmstead, my family, the local social relationships (community theatre, the saddle club) were not enough. I had a hungry mind, a vivid imagination, and voracious curiosity. The library fed it all, and gave me a step up into the world I wanted to know. I wonder now what those librarians thought of me. Crazy woman? Maybe. I wish they could know how they helped transform my life.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

This is how pitiful our computer system at work is: I use a database that was written by our IT guru 12 years ago to store my data on the state's mainframe computer.

Two weeks ago one of the IT people came through while I was out of town and updated my computer and some of its programs. When I got back, I discovered that now, instead of the 1/4-screen, light-gray eye-ruining screen I'd been stuck with for several years, I can now mazimize the data entry screen, it has a black background with big blue, red, green or white letters, AND -- this is the REALLY BIG THING: it now, after these long, 12 years of toil, actually has a Macro capability! This means that all those "clients" for whom I have to enter data multi-times throughout the year and often, in one day? I can just use a macro and fill in all the repetitive data. ("I know, dummy--that's what Macros are for!" -- Well, WHO KNEW??? Certainly not our IT people!)

Isn't it pitiful, in 2003, to be so delighted with a database program that has a Macro facility???

On the other hand, there's something to be said for being so happy with such a small thing that most other people doing this kind of work take for granted. Easily pleased, that's the ticket! Expect nothing (and you learn to do that, working for state government, believe me) and anything, any crumb of novelty or convenience (which in itself is a novelty), reduces you to tears of gratitude.

The only thing I can imagine is that they're fixing to take the whole program away soon, when I'm just getting used to this wonderful "new" feature, and make me keep records in cuneiform on clay tablets.

Friday, January 31, 2003

Reading a collection of short stories by Garrison Keillor just now. He has the ability to take the most ordinary of life's events and turn it into hilarity. I keep trying to think of some incident in my life that was hilarious. Of course, all those memories flee for the darkest corners of my mind when they know I'm looking for them.

The only ones left are the ones weighed down with some element that is definitely not funny, some whiff of cruelty or personal tragedy or loss (which was probably what made them so funny to begin with, by way of contrast), there they trundle for the closet, desperately trying to get away, trundle trundle Ohmygod here she comes! No! No! Not me! I can't stand the light of day!

Then, when I'm about to leap and pounce, it turns on me and bares its fangs: No! Wait! you'll be sorry! Don't you remember, it turned out that in the uproariousness of the moment you forgot to go pick up your mother from the doctor's and he'd just told her she had a suspicious lump and she'd have to have a CAT scan and they wouldn't know for two weeks whether she had cancer, so there she stood for an hour and a half in the pouring rain, terrified and abandoned, while you and your gang of idiots drank wine and laughed the afternoon away?--

and by golly that's effective. The whole thing doesn't seem so funny any more. I let it skitter off under the baseboards.*

And the description of physical pratfalls--Keillor is a master! How does he do that? Lord knows I've had my share of those. But to be able to write about them so they're funny? No way. It ends up reading like an engineer's deconstruction manual. Yawn.

I would love to be able to write humor. Oh, sometimes in my stories, when I read them to the writer's group, they'd get laughs--but always where and for what, took me completely by surprise. I hadn't meant it to be funny. Fortunately, those laugh-points were okay, I didn't have to pitch the story, or re-write it; they didn't hurt, and probably helped the stories.

But it makes me wonder. When I wrote it, there was no humor in my body. I wasn't thinking of it as humorous. Yet, it was. Man, people have told me all my life I'm weird. I guess I really must be!

*Note: this event is made up. But don't worry, I've been just as much an ass in other situations. It's close enough.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

It's become apparent to me that this novel I'm working on, and the daily exercises in writing I've been doing, are having more impact than just "writing a story." I'm having to delve rather deeper into myself than I'd ever anticipated. For one thing, I'm discovering that one source of the problem I've had, and am having, with the novel is that I haven't yet fallen in love with the main character. Her being a girl would probably explain that. In the first half or two-thirds of the book, I focused on the two men who came into her life when it had almost been extinquished. *Them* I love. Why can't I love the main character in my whole book???

Yikes. Could it be that I need to learn to love myself first? Now, anyone who can say that, probably has things in their lives that they'd just as soon not explore, thank you. But I've got this need, this desire, this urge, to finish this story so maybe the world will read it, pushing me right up against what I don't want to investigate. I thought I'd gone through all that self-examination years ago. Done that. Been there. The beer was lousy.

So, I've dragged the boxes and sacks of old photos down out of the attic. I tried to go through them awhile ago and found the process so depressing that I put them away almost immediately. This time I'm going with a different purpose. I want to find the good, the fun, the laughter, the happy memories in those old pictures, not just the hurts and the losses. I decided I'd just take out a handful, and go through them slowly, and study each one, and plumb it for all the memories it would yield. Maybe all I'm grieving is the fact that I had to frickin' GROW UP!!! That would be the pip, wouldn't it? What a jerk, feeling sorry for myself because I couldn't stay in that Candyland childhood I'd conjured up for myself.

It's not even that my childhood was so horrible, don't think that. I just haven't dealt with a lot of things, things that aren't uncommon, and I think it's holding me back from understanding, and maybe forgiving myself. For what, I don't know. That's probably why I've avoided the photo-tour!

So I'm going to pull up my socks and look at some of them tonight, and let my mind wander through those long-gone days. Maybe I'm just saddled with a lot of Lutheran guilt ("Doom, gloom, tomb, with the emphasis on Good Friday," one fellow Luther-Leaguer said years ago) and I'll discover that there isn't that much to loathe myself about.

Heck, it's worth a try. I really want to get this darned book finished!

Monday, January 27, 2003

I was out of the office for two days, and when I returned someone had left a bolt, a nut, and a washer on my desk.

I looked about for something that was falling apart. Nothing apparent. I turned my swivel chair over; nope, it has completely different kinds of hardware.

Monday morning, and they're still there. No one has mentioned them. I'm baffled. Is this perhaps *not* a prosaic furniture situation? Is it perhaps cosmic? Is Someone trying to tell me I'm getting old, and falling apart? I wouldn't call that a news flash. At 52, I'm pretty well aware that parts are starting to get loose and fall off, or out.

Or is this a science fiction adventure? Are these three little parts perhaps lost objects from another universe? Maybe this happens all the time, and we just don't realize it. Everyone knows that laundry dryers are gateways through which single socks escape to some happier sock-heaven. Maybe these errant items--all kinds of things that get lost everywhere--*all* turn up, unexplained, un-noticed, in other universes. I'm pretty sure I've seen a few at rural estate sales. There are always one or two items--usually in the kitchenware or out in the barn--whose purpose is a complete mystery not only to me but to everyone I ask. Now I suspect that they were created in another universe to do jobs that exist only Over There. If we could reverse-engineer them, maybe we'd find out what the other universes are like. Then the question would be: who cares? Don't we have enough to do trying to exist in our own?

On a more down-to-Earth level, maybe some workman did something with the lights or mysteries above the false ceiling, above my cubicle, while I was gone. If so, that begs the question: what's dangling by one-too-few bolts up there, gently swaying in the super-ceiling breezes, waiting to drop on my head when I least expect it?

The scariest question of all: Did I request this hardware? I certainly don't think so, but hey, this is government, and I might have wanted a bolt, a nut, and a washer four and a half years ago and sent in a request for them, and then with the turning of the calendars' pages, forgotten all about it. Or I might have ordered it last Tuesday and forgotten all about it. How would I know, if I've got lacunae in my memory? Am I going crazy? Do I have Alzheimer's--and how the heck would I tell, anyway, when I've been prone to forgetting things all my adult life (I don't remember what I forgot in my childhood)?

On the other hand, someone might have placed them here just to drive me nuts. So to speak. Just to set off this very cascade of ever-more-panicked ruminations. What diabolical mind would *do* this to someone?

--Just a sec, the phone's ringing--

Back now. Where was I?

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

We went out to a pancake house for breakfast yesterday morning. As we ate, I saw a middle-aged couple get up from their booth to leave.

She was tall, with a piled-up hairdo making her look even taller. She wore dark pink lipstick and a puffy knee-length winter coat. There was something sparkly nested in her coif.

He wore blue jeans too small for *me* to ever squeeze into, and a turquoise Western shirt with pearl snaps on the pockets. He walked stiffly on bow-legs, as though he'd ridden too many broncs. His tummy pushed out on the Western shirt. He had combed several long hairs from over his left ear to his right ear to cover his bald head. He had metal-rimmed glasses and a leathery sun-burnt face. His gait was a macho-man's roll, one I've seen on numberless older cowboys. And he was packing heat: at his hip bobbed a heavy retractable tape measure. The label said "30'," clearly legibile from twenty feet away.

I described the couple, then the tape measure, to my husband. "It's all about measuring," I told him.

Tall wife, short man with a tape measure. If I'd put those two in a story, that detail would be criticized for being too obvious. But so often we do put out clear signals about ourselves.

Thin, horizontally-striped sweater, a size too small, and corduroy pants; add a thin leather choker and pillow-mashed hair and you've got an Indie kid.

Blue jeans too long in the leg, a black Final Conflict tee shirt stretched across a drum-sized belly; greasy hair long overdue for a trim, black-rimmed glasses taped together with a band-aid (r) at the bridge, and orange-stained fingers: if this guy doesn't live in his mother's basement with six computers and a Tomb Raider poster, I'll eat my hat.

I could go on for days with stereotypes like these from all walks of life: the Mexican motel maid's junk-heap of a car; the politician's injection-molded hairdo and professionally manicured fingernails and smile; the Chad refugee's tall, skeletal thinness in thrift shop double-knit pants and a tan-and-brown windbreaker in 10 degree weather...

The question for a writer is when to use these images to lend truth to a scene--because all stereotypes are born in the truth no matter how distorted by evil they become later--and when to turn one upside-down or inside-out to create a surprise, an insight, on the page.

A stereotype can be used, legitimately I think, to establish that recognition in a reader: I know this Indie kid! And at the same time to engender trust: this writer knows the scene. Trust is very important, particularly when you intend to do something later that's outlandish, because it may help your reader keep believing, so he or she won't throw the book away when they get to the outlandish part.

A stereotype is even more useful to a writer when it's used counter-intuitively. The poor Chad refugee who turns out to be a war criminal on the lam, cleverly and coldly disguising himself as a Lost Boy, one of his own victims. This character would not only earn my enmity as a reader, it downright gives me chills.

I've seen this suggestion for writers often: Keep a notebook of character sketches, and jot down actual people you see. I think I'll start doing that.

Saturday, January 18, 2003

For my writing exercise this morning, I decided to start by using the made-up words in this morning's Musings. That's a great little program for writers, by the way, and you can find it at Grim Software. It worked, it got me going for further writing. Here's one of them:


Remove yourself to a remote Scottish castle for the sake of the handsome man within it. Gradually have unexplained, disturbing and distressing events, conversations, encounters and thoughts build up until you're afraid he's going to 1) kill you, or 2) confess he's really a ghost.

At the height of your fright and anxiety, leave the castle in the middle of a winter windstorm, and travel, alone, the narrow winding footpath to the edge of the 2,000 foot cliff overlooking the lead-grey, storm-tossed sea.

Gaze fearfully into the churning black clouds with your tears freezing on your face.

There, you're mandering.

And in the morning, you can tell your sinister but excruciatingly attractive husband: "Last night I went a-mandering again."


And no, I am *not* ashamed.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Have you ever watched a mosquito liberate itself from its pupal case at the surface of the water "by a dorsal splitting of the pupal integument"?

I thought not.

The fancy part of that question, by the way, is lifted almost verbatim from the wonderful Freshwater Invertebrates of the United States, 2nd Ed., by Robert W. Pennak. My bible.

To go on--I have. And under what I think were remarkable circumstances. It was 1991. I had stopped at my alma mater's bio lab to study up on aquatic invertebrates, on the way to interview for a job I desperately, passionately, wanted. Anyway, after perusing their extensive collection of preserved specimens, I dipped a dollop of water, algae and assorted minute animals out of their aquarium, and put the dish under the dissecting microscope (the one that only magnifies to 4x or so).

To my amazement, there were mosquito larvae in the sample I'd drawn. They were in the pupal stage, with their siphons clinging to the surface tension of the water. They seemed to have white heads, and several were squirming spasmodically. I lost myself watching their jerky exertions.

Then, one of the pupal cases split open, and a mosquito head the size of a pen-tip burst through. It was emerging! Right before my eyes!

I held my breath and watched the creature struggle to free itself from the body of the case. It writhed and snapped, and I urged it on, "You're almost there! Keep trying!" It looked so hard! Such huge effort for such a tiny creature. Then, its narrow tail-end squeezed free, and an adult mosquito stood on the water surface, its hair-thin feet making minute dimples on the water's skin. It spread its damp wings--miniscule stained-glass windows in the microscope's field--and in five seconds it disappeared. Lifted up out of the specimen bowl and vanished into the air of the cavernous lab.

I sat back, stunned. I felt like I'd watched a birth. How could I be so lucky, to take my sample just five or ten minutes before nature told this little individual "Its' time! To fly!" I'll never forget it.

I got the job, too.

If you're thinking, "Cool! Wish I could see that!" you just might be a biologist. If you're thinking "Yeuch! Why didn't she kill it!" then you're not a biologist. I won't hold it against you.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003


The drive home on the Interstate was a joy today as usual. I only go 65 (have I mentioned that?) due to being a cheapskate--it makes a significant difference in gas mileage between 65 and 75, and I'm not in that much of a hurry to get anywhere. But there's always your Certifiable Moron with the cell phone stuck in her ear, weaving back and forth in her lane--just enough to make you nervous--and going 60, or 57, or God help us 55.

So I passed her, and made sure to give her The Look. And then I wondered: Why do I do that? What's the point? She's not paying the slightest attention, and if she was she wouldn't care. I mean, she's already out in public demonstrating her idiocy, why would she care if I glared at her?

But it's like a compulsion, isn't it? When somebody's pissed us off in traffic (I'm not talking about in town here; when traffic is that slow, and cars are that close together, I don't look at anybody. People have shot each other in this town over nasty looks, I kid you not) and after miles and miles of frustration we finally get around them, we just have to give them a dirty look. Somehow it does help dissipate the aggravation, a little. Kind of an anticlimax. Like if you got Frodo and Sam all the way to the Crack of Doom, and Frodo pulled out the ring and said, "Oh drat! I've brought the wrong ring!"

[abrupt lane change ahead]

And what is it about American movie-goers and our need for really gruesome revenge on bad guys? I mean, they make the bad guys really gruesome, too, but how does shoving someone in a buzzsaw (or whatever clever trick they've thought of lately) accomplish anything except leave a big mess for the night crew to clean up? Movies sort of masturbate this puerile need we have to By God Balance The Scales. Whatever happened to letting God deliver judgement and punishment? Since when does Steven Seagal get to do it? I mean, Steven Seagal???

It's due to movie makers understanding that we *do* want justice. We don't want an anti-climax. That was the great thing about that hideous movie "Se7en," that even though Brad Pitt's character blew the bad guy away at the end (oh, you haven't seen it? Too bad. Don't. I still can't figure out why they made the thing) at least they'd laid the groundwork for that outcome. He just wasn't ready for that level of maturity, reason, balance (not that I blame him). They did a great job of showing how Morgan Freeman's character was trying throughout the story to bring him along. At least they conveyed a sense that Pitt's character had failed, when he went for the emotionally satisfying action at the expense of the higher purpose of the law. I don't care about whether a jury would've let the bad guy off, or a judge would've kicked out the case on a technicality or any of that rancid old '70's cop show crap. There are higher human qualities that we need to be reaching for and exalting. Unfortunately, amid all the grue in that film, I'm afraid the subtler message was lost. Had great opening credits, though (heh heh nine inch nails heh heh heh)!

Shouting in the wilderness, that's me. At least I don't do it into a cell phone at 62 1/2 miles an hour.

Friday, January 10, 2003

The weirdest thing happened this morning. I've been listening to Natalie Goldberg's tapes of her book Thunder and Lightning all week on my way to meet my carpooler, and then in the afternoon from the carpool to home. Today I drove the whole 120-mile round trip by myself, so I really had a dose.

I've loved every minute of the tapes. I've already started over on Tape 1. She's really helped me start to recover from this terrible desert of not writing that's lasted almost two years.

I've started trying her "writing practice" first thing when I get to work (I get there an hour before I actually need to start working). I sit at my desk, read a chapter of her Writing Down the Bone, and then write for ten or fifteen minutes without stopping. Then I put that aside, and spend the rest of the time until 7 a.m. working at my novel. (Two thirds done; hung up for more than 2 years; has been a terrifying iceberg in my path all that time.) It seems to be working.

But the weird thing this morning was that after I put my writing away, and settled down to get to work, the first thing I looked at was a trade industry journal, Stormwater (I'm a wetlands biologist and a project manager for the nonpoint source water pollution grants program for my state). I'd glanced at it hurriedly a couple of times since it landed in my mailbox Monday. This time I opened it to try to glean some education about new methods of protecting catch basins and inlets.

I began to read, and it seemed a lot more interesting to me than it had the first two times I'd looked at it. About one and a half paragraphs into it, I realized I was hearing Natalie Goldberg's voice in my head, reading to me about petrochemical and solids traps, phase-separated pollutants, and trenchless cured-in-place pipe repair.

I blinked, and went back to reading, keeping Natalie's voice in my head.

It became funny very quickly, because not only was she reading it to me, the way it was written fit her reading cadence perfectly! I read and read -- and understood and retained it! -- and started to wonder if maybe the writer had studied at her knee, or was a Zen practitioner.

To me, writing this now, it seems that *this* writing sounds just like Natalie Goldberg, the way she shapes her paragraphs and the logic of her idea development.

I don't know, do you think it's possible to overdose on a set of tapes?

Oh lord, even that sounds like something she would write! (And so does that...)

It reminds me of a game my husband and I play sometimes. Doesn't matter the subject; one of us thinks to say, "I made you say that!" and the other comes back with, "I made you say that!" and it goes on and on until we're both either fed up or laughing so hard we've forgotten the original subject.

It's probably very Zen.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

There are three trees along the Interstate highway, eastbound I-80, at mile marker 419. They stand in a row, the farthest-west one the farthest from the shoulder, the middle one a bit closer, and the third one a little closer yet, so it seems as though they are greeting the east-bound traffic.

They are as identical to the eye as makes no difference: height, about 25 feet; the girth of their gray trunks, maybe 30 inches; the generous and symmetrical spreading of their now-naked branches to the sky. Their limbs may even touch one another as though they're holding hands. I am sure that when they're leafed out, their green fingers patter together in the breeze.

I call them the Three Sisters, and I try to watch for them every day, and when I pass I sometimes nod, or salute, and often say out loud, "Hello, ladies." I imagine that they can feel my love and admiration as I whiz past at 65 or 75 mph.

I want to start photographing them, and I will, over the course of the next year, to capture their elegant serenity through the seasons. I want to capture their beneficient grace on film, because I know that they are doomed.

In the next ten years, the Department of Roads is going to add another lane to the outsides of both directions of traffic between Omaha and Lincoln, and the Three Sisters are within the Right-of-Way of the new lane. Unless the DOR can be persuaded to move them--a costly procedure--they will fall beneath the tractor's scoop, be piled with dozens of their neighbors, and then either burned or carted off to a wood-chipper to make mulch for people's landscaping and park trails.

This breaks my heart, and I will write to DOR, and call my friends there, and do anything else I can to save them--but I fear it will all be for naught. It doesn't pay to fall in love with any roadside feature in Nebraska. Too often they're already slated for destruction even before you've discovered them.

So I want a little album of the Three Sisters. If I can, I might just stop one day this spring, and collect a leaf from each of them. Maybe I could make a collage with their leaves, and photographs.

They're beautiful, and beneficial, and benign, and they should not be forgotten.

Saturday, January 04, 2003

Seen in the grocery store parking lot today: two women pushing a full cart. Tiny, wrinkled Mom, with curly white hair and gold-rimmed glasses, crept along in her too-big camel wool coat. She clung to the cart handle peering and smiling out at the world. She'd powdered her face and put on cranberry-red lipstick, very carefully.

Her daughter matched her pace, awkwardly, with Mom's halting steps. Her henna'ed hair was a helmet of curls. She wore a Land's End jacket with suede trim, pressed blue jeans. Her nails were polished and perfect in their coats of blood-red. Her lips, the same color and stark against her white-powdered face, were curved in an identical smile. She could have been 70, or 60, or even a prematurely-aged 50. With all the make-up it was hard to tell. They looked like they enjoyed one another's company.

I wondered about the heavy make-up. Did Daughter learn the art at Mom's knee? Does she get up every morning and apply it just the way Mom taught her? Or does she only apply pale powder to her cheeks, and vivid gleaming red to her lips, when she's going to be with Mom. Is this how she avoids a reprimand: "You're going out in public like that? Without any make-up??"

But then I wonder about anybody who wears pancake make-up (except TV newspeople; *them* I know about). That's just me. I wear hardly any--indeed mostly, none. I think I've always been a little weird about that. It's a mental block: I don't understand why (for example) a man would find the same woman more attractive with a bunch of pigments and paste on her face. It's the same woman! Maybe someone should give him a present of a make-up kit, then he could stay home and adore that.

Like I said, I'm a little weird on this subject.

Friday, January 03, 2003

Happy 2003, everyone!

[Caution: The following scribble contains asterisks (*, **, etc.) which, unlike in my other blog entries, mean "look down to the bottom of this scribble because there's a note relating to this."]

I've started listening, during my commute, to Natalie Goldberg's reading of her THUNDER & LIGHTNING: Cracking Open the Writer's Craft cassette tapes. I've had a looong dry spell in my writing*--oh, two years, anyway--and now I dimly remember that I was feeling like I needed to "take it to the next level**" but that sort of got forgotten in all the thrashing and writhing in the anguish of the extinguished fire.

Now I'm thinking, Goldberg's tapes are just what I was needing but didn't know it at the time. (No, you'll be sorry to learn, she doesn't advise writers not to write run-on sentences.) I've only got through the first side of the first tape so far, and I can already tell I'll be listening to these over and over again. For one thing I have a poor memory for things I hear as opposed to things I read. For another, the things she says are very meaningful, dense with import, despite her simple, clear presentation. There are layers of implications that will take me several hearings to absorb.

The first thing she says (and do get the book or tapes and enjoy her own, infinitely better, expression of them) is that writing will make you miserable. I laughed out loud at that. Don't be put off though. Fact is, life makes you miserable. It also makes you joyful, fearful, rageful, hopeful and love-full. You're a human being; those states are natural to us, and above all--transitory. If you're a writer, writing is all you can do about it.

I won't go on and on about this. Except to add that what she is teaching, advocating, for writers is extremely scary, exciting, and affirming. And it has helped me write. I'm working on the novel again.

* - my fiction writing, I mean. I've still been writing letters, message board entries, grocery lists...

** - I hate that phrase. It reeks pomposity without content. I use it here as a sort of self-mockery.