Friday, December 23, 2005

a silly ode to my mama

My mama’s like a red red rose
With stem-green eyes . . . and a Cherokee nose?

Or maybe she’s more like a lily white,
With her statuesque height . . .and gait so light?

But perhaps this game is all fruitless play,
With no end in sight. And why’s that, you say?

Well, if you insist, I’ll tell you the reason;
I mean, after all, this "‘tis the season":

Mother, you see, is no flower at all!
Rather, she’s more like a tree standing tall.

With long limbs outstretched, to shelter her young,
And roots tunneling deep, to render her strong.

Yes Mama, you’re matchless—so brave, wise, and true,
That a lifetime could be spent saying how I love you!

Monday, December 19, 2005

the magnificat

Holy. Holy. Holy is the Lord. The familiar catch of breath. The sting in the eyes. And the tears begin to flow with the falling rain. Or do the tears fall with the flowing rain. What is it in these words that I whisper that wrenches at my heart so? Why does Mary’s prayer touch the core of my being, so many centuries after it was spoken?
I think it must be because I know that she was just a girl, just a human being, with a woman’s heart like my own. And so, when I hear her wondering words, I can feel with her the emotion she must have felt. To bear the son of God—what wondrous mystery, what glorious honour! And she was, like me, just a young woman—much younger, in fact, than I am now. And so, no matter how often I hear the story and read her words, it still has the power to bring abrupt and unsought tears.
What a gracious God, to work wonders with such frail and faulty creatures as us!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

on this day

[a letter sent today]
To you all, my Friends, Family, Mentors, Coworkers, and Teachers--
As people whom I have known in the past and/or know now, I would like to invite you all to share the importance of this day with me, and with my Mother, siblings, and family members. Some of you I know have seen this before, and some have not. For those of you who have not, I wrote this one year ago, as a sort of a tribute to my father.
So, if you are inclined to do so, I welcome you to read this as a way to honour the memory of my Father, loved and admired by so many. I, for one, still mourn his passing, many years since.

_for the memories_

I remember, thank God, this day--November 30--in 1988. On this day, I awoke excited--no, more than that--I was ecstatic. I was running through lines of the Christmas program in my head, eagerly rehearsing for the program that night. You see, tonight we were performing for our families, for my family. They were on their way by this time, I knew, beginning the drive early that morning that would bring them along many lonely dirt roads, winding through villages and across open plains, to arrive here.
It had been 3 months now since I last saw them, when I boarded the little Cessna on the grass strip of our village, clutching my stuffed bear in one arm and holding my sister's hand with the other. We stood there waving goodbye one last time on the boarding stairs, and then waved again out the window as we sped along the airstrip and lifted off into the air. I loved that moment of lifting off in the airplane--and have ever since--the exciting rush of becoming airborne and soaring faster and faster through the air.
That day, though, my excitement of the beginning was tinged with the sadness of knowing I would be away from my family for many nights now. The days were always full of learning, fun adventures in the bush with friends and with various creatures to be discovered and trees to be climbed. The nights were the hard part, though, when I fought the tears that often came in spite of my fierce will, silently dampening my pillow while I stifled the shortened breaths that may give away my tears to the classmates sleeping near me in rows of bunk beds.
But the 3 months since that last flight had passed quickly--3 months of good books read, math problems solved, geography discovered, play weddings acted out in free time, and all manner of grade 4 activities. I had also turned 9 the previous month, and knew my family would now celebrate my birthday and my brother's 4th birthday 3 days earlier, as soon as we made it back home. While on a shopping trip in South Africa, my Dad had acquired our first car, so the decided to make the road trip instead of Helen and I flying home as we had always done before. So I knew they were loaded up in the Isuzu, along with 2 village friends--a teenage student of my Dad's and the Zambian pastor he worked with in our Church.
That afternoon, after various activities designed to keep all us boarding students preoccupied so we wouldn't be bouncing off the walls with the excitement of our families' arrivals, we all filed out the the drive-up area to await the first arrivals. I had in my mind the perfect picture of what to expect, so as each vehicle arrived, I craned my neck to see my mom's long arm waving out the window and Alex's goofy grin peering out from her lap. But the cars came, parents claimed their clamoring kids, and my picture-perfect arrival still had not appeared.
Finally a lady I recognized as the mom of some friends who lived fairly near us went over to our Dorm Mother and said something to her, gesturing in our direction. She then came and told us to go ahead and get ready for the program--not to keep waiting for our parents there.I was disappointed, but assumed they would arrive at any moment, so just kept waiting as we practiced our songs. My mental image just altered itself to adjust to a late clamor of hugs and kisses rushed in before the program started . . . but the program came, began, and ended, and they had not arrived. The next morning we were taken to the Cessna, and told we were going to go back to the village by flight after all.
This time I imagined the whole family standing there on the airstrip, coming into focus as the plane landed, with eager smiles and waves--still, no. The parents of a classmate took us in their car instead--so of course I changed my expectation once more, this time thinking they were taking us to our house where the family would be, picture-perfect, waiting in front of our little home. Instead we arrived at their house. Auntie Elaine (according to British habit, all family friends were "Auntie" and "Uncle" to us kids) finished up dinner preparations while we helped set the table. And then, instead of sitting down to dinner, she asked Helen and I to come and sit with her on the couch--"Anna, Helen--I have some really sad news . . . your Daddy went to heaven . . . " Before the sentence was finished, I had burst into loud sobs, Helen looked at me and started crying, and Auntie Elaine and her daughter were both crying and hugging us.I don't remember any mention of the rest of the family at that point--nor did I wonder, as far as I can remember.
The rest of the day, of the week, of the month, passed in a sort of a fog, in which my memories are clear but displaced, as if each memory was plucked from its proper place in the continuum of time and placed instead in some never never land of homeless moments. I remember falling asleep with fitful dreams, waking up convinced I had dreamed reality, and that Daddy would walk in and comfort me any moment. I remember being reunited with my brothers, staring at Alex's discolored and misshapen head, and carting Ian around carefully in his body cast, propping him up against walls . . . supporting him and holding his modesty blanket over his midsection as he pinned the tail on the donkey at his belated birthday party. I remember visiting Mom there in the Zambian hospital, horrified at the sight of my strong, active, beautiful mother lying there on the stretcher bed unable to move herself. At one point during a visit, the nurse had to turn her over so that she wouldn't get a bed sore. As she did so, she let go of the sheet and mom was briefly exposed to us all in the room. I didn't know whether to blush, sob, or scream--I wanted to just run away, to disappear forever into the endless, dreadfully beautiful African wilderness. I hated seeing mom like that, and dreaded the visits . . . and I hated myself for feeling that way, thinking there must be something wrong with me if I didn't want to see my mother . . .
Somehow, time passed. My Daddy's funeral passed in a blur of friends, strangers, languages I didn't know, and wails I knew only too well. As soon as mom was strong enough to be transported, we were shipped to the U.S., where hospitalization and then physical rehab came for her. I hid in my books--in beautiful worlds of fantasy--to the extent that my grandmother still teases me for always having my "nose stuck in a book" as a child.And eventually Mom was well enough to take over the care of the 4 of us again. I still don't know for the life of me how she did it--a paraplegic supporting and caring for a home of her own and 4 not-always-angelic children. She did it well . . . she loved us well.
On this day, as a child, Mom beautifully commemorated the anniversary. She would buy what looked to me like hundreds of helium-filled balloons, bringing them home so that the house was bursting with balloons. Then she tied notecards to the string of each one, and told us to write notes on them--as many as we wanted, and whatever we wanted to say to a stranger. I remember writing things like "Jesus loves me this I know . . ." and "My Daddy died on this day, and he is now in heaven with God, because he loved God. I do too." I wrote silly notes, but meaningful ones, longing, in all my childhood intensity, to somehow tell the world that I had a great Daddy, and that some day I would see him again. I still catch myself, when I am still enough to listen to the deeper desires of my heart, craving moments of remembrance of my Daddy, and eagerly clasping to memory any tidbits about him that people from his past may be able to share with me. But it is past my bedtime now, and my desire to continue rambling must be tempered by a knowledge of a morning alarm clock and routine schedule awaiting . . .
For now, I guess it must be enough to simply say that I am infinitely thankful for the memories that I have of this day 16 years ago. The pain of it is sweet--a good and healing pain, and a healthy one. Thanks be to God for a heart that can still hurt . . .

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

she's a gem

She’s a gem!, PaCharley gushed, as he looked in amazement at the results of my emissions test today. A ’91 with zero CO emissions detected—who would have thought . . . yeah, my new car gets a perfect score in my book, too!
So it was decidedly unpleasant, to say the least, to have unexpected sudden engine death this month. My bank account was already squealing at me, after months of scraping by on random part-time jobs picked up as I found them. And now, when I was happily, if somewhat anxiously, focusing all my energies on work again, I suddenly had to be distracted by the hunt for a new car, and by the questioning of
What could I have done to prevent this . . . What if I had checked the levels again after the coolant light went off? . . . Did I kill my car in my ignorance? . . .
I did not think I’d be in the market for another car for years yet, and spent a week on the verge of tears—and yes, occasionally in tears—after it happened.
But today I was ever so thankful that it had. Today PaCharley accompanied me on lunch-break car errands, as we transferred the tags to my new car. I too often rush through life duties, frantically trying to get everything taken care of. But when I am mindful enough, I see the beauty of moments like this.
Because of my car “incident,” I was forced to accept help. I had to humbly admit to myself, and to others, that I needed help finding a new car. And PaCharley got to make use of his great car-sleuthing skills, finding not just a car that I can afford, but the car that is, for all practical purposes, my dream car. It is a treat to once more drive a Toyota—a car that feels like it was made for me, a car that is efficient, that I feel good about driving, and that I know the engine of well enough to maintain on my own. I love the feeling of self-sufficiency that such an efficient, simple, and economical vehicle offers. I love driving a straight shift again. And I really love “car talk” with my PaCharley.
“Yes, of course she’s a gem, Pa Charley—you found her for me! . . . You know, I haven’t named her yet. My old Toyota had a name—remember? Hubcaps Noirs. But he was a boy, with his stylish dark red coat of paint. This is most definitely a girl . . . just look at her!”
Pa Charley chuckled, and then commented again on how proud the woman who sold her to me had been of her “baby”—“Icy blue pearl,” was the color, she had told him, when describing over the phone this car she had bought new when she was in college and had driven loyally ever since.
“That’s it, PaCharley—Pearl! That’s her name!!” . . . of course she was Pearl. How could I not have seen that already? I grinned and patted the steering wheel fondly, already talking out loud to my car in my usual nutty fashion.

Yes indeed, Pearl is a gem :-)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

a solitary bloom

A solitary bloom appeared on my gardenia bush yesterday, after 3 months of dormancy. I had already grieved over its apparently short blooming season of this year, and had resigned myself to the idea of waiting until next summer to see another of its lovely white flowers. But yesterday, as I am stubbornly accustomed to doing, I looked at it in passing and then, surprised, looked again. I gasped--sure enough, there was a brilliant new bloom.
And then my eyes welled up. You see, I latched on to that flower as a symbol of new hope, when hope is lost. As a sign that sometimes, every once in a while, we get a glimpse of the reason behind all the lost hopes that have been snowing us under.
Yesterday just happened to also be the day that, after 6 months of fruitless job-hunting and self-confidence crushing work experiences, I stumbled upon a gift of a job. This is going to be work that I will delve into with all my energy and with all my heart, and it is work that I will get to claim, to see the immediate fruit of. And, most amazing of all to me, in my up-to-this-point state of work self-confidence, it is exactly, precisely what I can do, can do well, and what invigorates me as I do it.
My single surprise of a new bloom is lovely indeed.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

tybee tales

For this past Labor Day weekend, I was privileged enough to spend the weekend with my friend Cassie at her family’s Tybee Island beach house. It was, suffice it to say, a delightful vacation. It was also slightly eventful, with a few escapades along the way. I have sent out the entire series of “illustrative” photos to some folks, but here will only include one, posted below. But this is what happened . . . more or less . . .:
While out on the boat, we came upon a deserted lighthouse, perched on a lone island of oyster shells. Being the fearless souls that we are [and upon a tempting suggestion by Cassie’s mother], Buddy drove his fishing boat headlong onto the shore, beaching us just long enough for Cassie and I to leap into the air. We leapt out of the boat and onto the oyster bed, creaked open the lighthouse door and, waving cobwebs out of our way, crawled up the 1st set of concrete steps to climb through the upper trap door. There we shooed the bats out of our way in order to climb the remaining spiraling iron stairs. And then of course we proclaimed ourselves queens of the island, kings of the hill, conquering pirates . . . whatever you prefer.
Returning to the boat, Buddy treated us to a tour of true blue shrimp boats, which I was rather smitten by, in a Forrest-Gumpish sort of way. Cassie and I then decided we just had to have some shrimp and the only logical solution was to loot the shrimp boats. Cassie wowed Shrimpers with her dazzling sun-hatted grin while we innocently pilfered shrimp. But alas, we were spotted as we each now sported a cascading bucket of prize-winning shrimp spilling out from under our straw hats. A crew of fearsome captains proceeded to rush after us, waving their nets in the air and brandishing their swords [they were also, in their alternate lives, pirates, you see]. Cassie and I sped out on our well-trained cross-country racing legs and leapt back into the boat. Buddy and Marian revved the engine into high gear and we all hightailed it out of there, dodging diving pelicans and swerving around darting dolphins. First, mind you, Buddy took care to fasten all 25 fishing poles securely into place [never one to miss out on the possibility of that one lottery-sized catch of fish] so that we would be prepared to bring in the bounty.And that, my friends, was Labor Day weekend on Tybee.

After an evening spent dining on shrimp gumbo, Creole, scampi . . . and all manner of fish fry, we returned from our vacation, where we are now pursuing once more our daily lives as mild-mannered and perfectly normal[?] members of the work force.
Oh--one other noteworthy event of the weekend: while exploring downtown Savannah, we got to take advantage of Satrunday night festivities on the Riverwalk. One of which was a sidewalk DJ and riverside dance party. So, of course, Cassie and I got our groove on and enjoyed a bit of booty dancing to some of the current hiphop hits. Cause hey, ya gotta surrender to the urge to, need to dance.

[shrimp] gumbo . . .creole . . .scampi . . .etc

Thursday, September 01, 2005

on teachers

I just read an article in the journal Rethinking Schools, entitled "Welcoming Kalenna." Brain synapses now firing . . .

"How I yearned to have a teacher who could see me, hear me, and dance with me," writes Laura, the author of this article . . .

reading this made me ache for "homeless" children everywhere. and wish that all could have such a teacher as Ms Negri-Pool. how blessed to have a teacher who understands, who empathizes.
i, for one--and i suspect there are many sensitive children like i was--looked up to my teachers intensely, throughout elementary, high school, even college [heck, even grad school!]. and so most of my vivid school memories centered around interactions with those teachers who, negatively or positively, impacted my life in some focused, pivotal manner.
the u.s was a bewildering country when we moved here. there was stuff everywhere, so much stuff. choices abounding, over what seemed to me the most ridiculous things to choose from. why have more than one kind of toilet paper in the store . . . who needs toilet paper anyway?? . . . why don't i smell anyone, really smell them?--deodorant--why use such a thing?? . . . what do you mean, don't climb the tree--what else is it for, but to climb? you know how nice the world looks from the top of the paw-paw tree? . . .
that first day in elementary school, grieving for my daddy, for my broken mother, i gazed around the classroom with widened, nervous eyes. at the end of the day, i thought, "i made it. i can go home now. i think i understood everything . . . most everything . . ." and then the teacher wrote on the board: HOMEWORK ASSIGMENT, and a list of pages. and i had no idea what that was. all the kids around me were writing things down in their notebook, and i had no idea what i was supposed to do.

you see, i had been in boarding school--"homework" was an utterly foreign concept to me, though no one thought to explain such a "normal" part of the school day. finally, i sucked up my longing to silently make it through the day, and i raised my hand: "Um, Miss Warner. . . what is homework?"
"You mean, what did I write here?," she replied. Students giggled.
"No, I mean, what is homework"
She hesitated, ummm'd, and then said something to the effect of, "why, of course, work you do at home . . ."
the other kids snickered. my face flushed, i realized oh, of course that was what it was. how could i be so dumb? . . .

and: "How I yearned to have a teacher who could see me, hear me, and dance with me" . . .

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

yep, that's my mama

The other day a story came to the forefront of my memory—a story quite worth the telling. But before I tell it, I should explain the reason for the remembrance, as it is a part of the tale as well . . .
Earlier this week, upon my return home from work in the afternoon, I was walking along my street, delivering community event flyers to my neighbors. As I taped the flyer to his mailbox, one of my neighbors came out to greet me. Seeing that I was an “involved” neighbor, he wanted my opinion about a proposal he had for our care of the communal park: we have an open grassy field in the center of our “crescent” shaped street, as all the houses line one end. It is a nice area, with trees lining a small creek, but has never been cared for terribly well. The city is nice enough to mow it periodically, even though technically we are all responsible for it, as each house owns a portion.
My neighbor was lamenting the fact that it needs better care: several of the trees have deadwood that needs trimming, and the area is low-lying and prone to flooding, so the creek should be cleared out somewhat. He wanted my help in getting everyone to chip in to an annual maintenance fund for it, which sounded reasonable enough to me—as long as we can convince some of the owners that they are in fact legally responsible for the land. At any rate, the point of all this is that, as we parted, he mentioned to me that my mother was active in caring for the park—a fact that I had actually forgotten, and that I was surprised to hear from someone who had not even been living here back when she did. But he pointed out the 2 thriving Cypress trees, noting that she had done well to plant such thirst-prone little seedlings. I grinned at the thought of Mom doing her planting, and then, more to myself than to him, I musingly replied, “Yep, that’s my mama!”
And that was when I remembered that strange evening back in elementary school . . . I know we were all quite young at the time, so it could not have been too long after we got settled in the U.S. again, in our own home. But it must have also been just long enough for Mom to get just done enough with her grieving in order to recover a bit of her tendency towards unanticipated nuttiness. Then again, who knows: perhaps the nuttiness was as much a part of the grieving process as anything else . . .
But here’s the way I remember the evening: I was “in charge,” along with my sister, while Mom went out for our groceries. The boys were being characteristically rowdy, especially since their more-rowdy neighborhood playmate was there with us. Helen and I bossily tried to mother them, sulking a bit, and eventually giving up, when they showed their clear disdain of our seniority.
After a bit, we heard the Buick drive up and the large door shut as Mom rolled in to the kitchen downstairs. “Kids, come help carry stuff in for me!” . . . and then my mother—my Missionary, Sunday-school teacher, wash-our-mouths-out-with-soap-for-swearing Mother—added, “I got us a six-pack—come on down!”
It seems that Mom had happened upon some “Non-alcoholic” beer in the store, and she was so amused at the idea of it—having never encountered it before—that she couldn’t resist a bit of practical joking.
Helen and I peered at the cans she held up proudly, and then rolled our eyes with an exaggeratedly mature, “oh, Mom!.” And the boys gazed wide-eyed. Each poured himself a plastic cup-full—with a flourish, and the three proudly bounded back up the stairs to the playroom. My brothers made tiny dents in their cups, throwing their heads back as they swallowed and attempting to hide their grimaces. The neighbor, though, took the cake. After a couple of sips, he began to take larger, slower steps around the room. And then he loudly announced: “Man! I think it’s getting to me a bit, guys . . . I’m getting a bit light-headed!”
At that point, I believe Helen and I returned to our room for some nice grown-up girl games, deciding for the umpteenth time that boys were such a pain . . .

Yep, that’s my Mama!

Monday, August 22, 2005

a French picture book mini-review

La Petite Marchande d’Allumettes [The little match girl], by H.C. Andersen/ translation by P.G. La Chesnais/ illustrated by Georges LeMoine
As the French librarian read this book to us out loud, in Paris, I cried. I was immensely moved by this retelling of Andersen’s tale, and I was rather taken aback at my own reaction. Interestingly enough, the language of the story is not what touched me the most. The tale is indeed a highly moving, and immensely sad one; unfortunately, though, I fear I have grown hardened to the original by merely being overly familiar with it.
For that reason, I love that La Chesnais and LeMoine have redone the story in a way that brings new poignancy to a potentially stale story. They have brought it to life by the ingenious parallel, via solely the artwork, of the original tale with the modern real-life equivalent of a little Bosnian girl stuck in war-time harsh reality. The truth, of course, is that life really can be every bit as heartbreaking as Andersen’s original story . . . and I am grateful for any way of communicating, in a manner that can cut to the core of the heart, such truth to often too-sheltered young people today.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

travel photos

alright folks--it's done . . . i made a bit of a photo journal of my travels, keeping it relatively short and sweet, in that it does not include all the photos--just those that are, in my opinion, most illustrative, interesting, or just plain pretty :-) presuming i can link this correctly, you should be able to link on the right hand side to my name, which will direct you to the blog, called "from steaming springs to time for tea"

Friday, August 05, 2005

CLISS, take 2

Another day of writing inspirations, lectures, and classes is nearing its end. I am struggling with feeling so intimidated by the genius surrounding me, but offer another instalment in my day’s free writing, all the same:

Assignment: Write a paragraph on “going to bed” however you want to interpret that. Paragraph 1 should be geared towards a child and Paragraph 2 geared towards an adult.
For a 6-year-old:
Now you lay on down to sleep. So don’t you fear—no monsters here. Just Daddy & Mommy & little sis Janie. And maybe, just maybe, if you lie real still, big Scraggles will come to cuddle with you. But before that, of course, he’ll circle and circle and circle about, wagging his tail & flapping his ears, until he has found that one perfect spot to curl right up with you and dream of slow cars.
For an adult:
Now I lay me down to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream?
I lay me down, yet may not sleep. Though if I sleep, pray let me dream. To dream my way away from worries of the day. To sleep so deep away must creep the fears I fear to name. Away this weary-some, worry-some day.

Assignment, part 2: Now, take the child’s paragraph and remove the adults from it, however you choose to interpret that.
Now I lay me down to sleep. I sure don’t fear no monsters here. Cause me and Scraggles, we’re brave like grown-ups. In just a few minutes he’ll hop on my bed, to sleep here with me so he doesn’t get scared. But first thing, of course, he’ll circle and circle and circle around, flapping his tail & waggling his ears. And finally he’ll find one real perfect spot, plop down with a snort, and maybe a slobber, and dream all night long of . . . [at this point, again, I ran out of time]

Thursday, August 04, 2005

writing freely

After one full day of CLISS classes now, in London, I thought I would share a snippet from my assignments thus far. I am in the Creative Writing strand, and below is one of our free-write assignments. Our writing instuctor had us spend a couple minutes on several questions first thing this morning:
1. How do I feel about beginning this session?
Intimidated. Fearful. Thrilled. I am simmering over the prospect [could it happen??] of coming away from here with a focus for my writing. And I am terrified that I will end up, in the midst of all this creative genius, finding that in fact I do not have what it takes to be a writer.
Could I be so driven, and yet it be for nothing? From whence cometh this yearning . . .
That I could direct this force outwards, that I could create!

2. Reconstruct a childhood object, based upon the emotions described above.
Thrilled. I was thrilled when Mom presented me with that Swan Lake snow globe. She had thought of me, months earlier, on a shopping field trip with her physical rehab inpatient group. Passing it in a store window, it spoke to her of me, she said. So she bought it, thinking ahead to my 10th birthday, when she would be home with us again, when we would celebrate again.
Fearful. Shattered. My lovely, perfect globe. And I was fearful that in losing this precious gift I had ruined yet another piece of my broken mother . . . [at this point I ran out of time for the alloted slot :-)].

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

la remedie

Thanks to a brief meningitis scare on our behalf, one brave soul amongst us experienced the French treatment for severe back pain and nausea. Here in Paris, it seems, la remedie is found in a 6-inch needle plunged firmly into the rear.
As her back pain had worsened, this student ended up spending over a day stuck in her hotel bed, unable to keep anything down. By midnight, we realized that her pounding head and sensitivity to light could also be indicators of meningitis, with its rapid onset and grave potentials. Rather than take that risk, we opted to go ahead and take her to the hospital.
Next came the task of figuring out just how that was done here. After a few redirected phone calls, I found a nurse who, thankfully, had clear enough diction for me to be able to understand her advice. [Had I had time to worry, I would have been concerned that my French experience has never provided me with a terribly solid base in medical terminology]. What I learned was that a trip to the Urgences would put us under 5,000 euros—approximately 8,600 dollars. As I gasped, she offered option #2: apparently, house calls are rather standard, so for a mere 100 euros, the doctor would come to us, to see if she did in fact need further treatment. The second option we accepted without great hesitation.
About 45 minutes later our medicin arrived. With a flurry of brusque questions and commands, he poked and pried while I tried to keep track of his queries and, hopefully, to relay translations while I could still remember his last order [and before he had time to throw out another].
It all seemed relatively standard until he told me to warn her about a picure. I questioned him to be sure, gulped, and told her that he was going to give her a shot—after, that is, he had me utterly perplexed for a moment by a request for perfume. The wise Professor Dean divined that this must be for the alcohol content’s sterilization. We happily obliged.
Perhaps before continuing (for the sake of any disturbed readers), I should explain that he had already told me that there was no suspicion whatsoever of meningitis. We did not, then, have to fear some bizarre form of injected medications; it turns out she simply had a virus that had affected her more heavily due to the back injury she had sustained earlier in the year.
Six inches of picure and sixty seconds, plus a few basic pain prescriptions later, we were well on our way to full recovery . . . and all significantly more experienced in and wizened to the ways of the world—or at least to the ways of this particular [and peculiar?] Parisian physician.

Monday, August 01, 2005

la conductrice

"Alors, vas-y--tu vas conduire en France!"
And with that, he idled the Pugeot into neutral, stepped out of the car, and came around to escort me out of the passenger's seat and into the driver's. In a slightly muted-by-exhaustion state of panic, I blurted out a halting:
"Mais non . . . ├ža fait longtemps depuis que je conduisse une voiture manuelle . . . je ne sais comment conduire ici . . ."
But the damage was done: when asked if I had one, I had answered that yes, I did have a permet de conduire. So yesterday I did what I had years ago assured myself that I was too scared to ever do: I drove in Fance.
Thankfully, we were in the outskirts rather than in Paris proper, but nonetheless, it did make for a bemusing beginning to my sejour with my friends in the French countyside. This family is one of those that I have, over the years, been severely spoiled by each time I have the delightful occasion to see them again. So it was a joy to be in their home with them for these past 2 days . . .

Sunday, July 31, 2005

touristic ignorance?

Advisory to future visitors to Paris:Do not attempt to run in a cemetary.
Out for my morning run, I decided today to see if I could locate the cemetary that I heard was not too far from where we were staying. Seeing as how I am incessantly on the prowl for a scenic new route, and had already completed approximately 15 circlings of the small park I had found the previous morning, I was more than up to the quest. Besides, I hqve a particular fondness-inexplicably-for meandering through cemetaries. So off I went.
Sure enough, a few busy Parisian intersections later, I saw a gate behind which promising glimpses of greenery appeared. I did not expect quite so ,qny paved paths, imposingly gated tombstones, and crowds of tourists, but the entrance was large and open, so in I went. Only a few yards in, however, I thought I heard shouting, so pulled my earphones off and looked around. There I saw a uniformed guard running towards me.
"Arrete! Arrete!" I stopped--without hesitation. "Pardon, monsieur--il faut payer?" (I'm sorry, sir--do I need to pay to enter?) . . . A few interqctions later, I discovered that the problem was not my lack of an entrance fee. In fact, he informed me, it is forbidden to run in the cemetary.
Frankly, I immediately realized that it was silly of me to not have foreseen the possibility of such a cultural rule, and so I berated myself for the remainder of my run (in the park) for such ignorant insensitivity on my part.
Interestingly, though, is that I discovered another aspect to my ignorance after speaking later in the day with a French friend about my experience. See, not only was I attempting to run in a cemetary. I was running in the resting place of Voltaire . . . and Jim Morrison. Oy ve.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


In exquisite indulgence, I floated in the steaming Icelandic hot springs yesterday, slathering my body in its touted mud masque and showering under its waterfalls. The air here is mild--without humidity and with 60° F temperatures, and the sun shines high, brilliant but gentle. And this morning´s pampering was rendered all the more luxurious by the fact that we came directly from the airport, after a full day and night of travel.
But what left me the most blissfully whole-feeling was the shedding of my inhibitions. Showering before and after entering the springs, I began as a good, modest American, staying suited in the large shower room. But the spa was equipped with specialty salt spring gels, shampoos, and conditioners, engendering an environment of soothing relaxation rather than one of careful self-consciousness.
And so, returning to the showers afterwards, I took my cue from the calmly confident Europeans slowly bathing around me, and I shed my coverings. In doing so, I found I simultaneously shed my self-consciousness. That simple choice--in a sense, I think, a decision to accept this culture I am partaking of as a traveler--left me with an exhilarating sense of liberation. I felt pure, and lovely, as if I was soaking into my own naked skin a small part of the beauty of the women around me. It is good, to be woman.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

green land of ice

This morning I awoke with a hint of that lifting of the spirits that accompanies the beginning of a journey. Not too much, mind you—I consciously shoved aside most of it, knowing that there was yet too much to do in preparation to fully lose myself in happy-traveling-mindset. But, I can see the nearing date now, just 4 days away. One more work day and 2 more packing and studying days. What with the month of catch-up work for this class that was already in session before I joined and the class that I was already attending, there is a fair bit of studies on my list, to say the least. But I know, from all my years as a traveler, that if I persist diligently enough in the preparations, I will be more than rewarded by that glorious moment of the journey’s commencement.
One interesting thing about it all is that it was only after my going was certain that I discovered that Iceland was the first stop—only 2 days there, but it will be our recoup time, with freedom for reading, sightseeing, and such. Now the reason this was such a surprising discovery to me is that I have had an intense fascination with Iceland since my elementary years, at boarding school. In the play area there, we had a large flat map of the world, in relief. It was about the size of a sandbox, with each country painted a different colour and labeled. From the first time I examined it, I was inexplicably drawn to the two parallel countries of Iceland and Greenland. What funny names, I thought. Why would they be called that . . . Is Iceland full of ice? . . . And is Greenland all green? . . .
Finally, one day a teacher was nearby and I asked about the two countries. Oh, he said, actually, you know, they are sort of the opposite. Greenland is pretty bleak, while Iceland is quite lush and green.
Well, that clenched it for me. Iceland must be the most lovely country ever. I mean, what else could explain a land that was so beautiful that it could only be named the exact opposite of what it really was. Oh, I did long to see such a place.
And what do you know? As it turns out, I have stumbled upon the chance to not only spent 3 weeks immersed in the world of children’s literature, hobnobbing with all the Greats in the field and studying with other lovers of the genre . . . but also, I am now--20 years after my initial discovery of the country—well, I’m going. Iceland or bust. p.s. I do plan on posting some blog entries during my travels so, if you are inclined to do so, please do stay tuned :-)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

my complaint

Below is the copy of a slightly altered-for-confidentiality letter I sent today to the doctor's office--I actually sent 2: 1 to the physician and 1 to the bank. I'm feeling whiney today . . . :-)

Dear Sir or Madam,
If you could please make sure this letter reaches the appropriate manager, I would appreciate it immensely. I am writing in response to my recent experience with overdraft charges for my xxxx Health Savings Account.
Due to the fact that your medical office chose to resend my payment check multiple times rather than contact me about the bill, I discovered yesterday that I had accrued $100.00 in overdraft charges. This, combined with the discovery that the bill itself was still pending, and that the office had not yet billed me for another charge my insurance had not covered led to a stressful day, to say the least.
After many phone calls to all parties involved, I am left with $300.00 in bills plus $100.00 in charges. And I am panicked. You see, this may not seem like a great amount of money to the average, say, physician. But to me—a newly unemployed and uninsured graduate student with bills and tuition to pay—it is huge. This means cutting car trips to save on gas, not buying groceries for the week, and stressing about finances when I need to be focusing my mental energy on term papers and assignments.
In short, I am simply a struggling student who had to voice my frustration to someone in authority. It bothers me that banks must rely on fees to people like me—those who do not have the funds to begin with. It disturbs me that talented and creative people all around are stifled—paralyzed—by basic needs, when they have energies that could be poured into life-giving songs, books, and artwork that would have been able to enrich the lives of others.
Thank you, finally, for your time, and for letting me voice my frustration—or at least, perhaps, imagine that I have done so.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

what i'm reading today

New author discovery: Kathleen Norris. Currently loving _Cloister Walk_: a starkly beautiful meditative collection of musings about her time spent living in monasteries. Perfect for evening reading, as snippets can be read as a way of centering oneself. She also is good for those of us who tend to think in ways outside the bounds of standard religiosity, but decidedly passionate about living a life of faith.

And that, friends, is today's installment of a recommended read--as I often can go through a book a day, and there are days in which studies/paper writing/work take precedence over blog entrying, I figured the least I could do is share whatever book I am passionate about at the moment :-)

Friday, July 01, 2005

my goofy sister--far far away from here, in Germany . . . too far away from me :-) Posted by Picasa

Sunday, June 26, 2005

a family observed

The day was ridiculously busy. Sweaty tourists, grumpy with the heat and with the wait, spilled out from the hallway into the foyer. Servers performed the nearly orchestrated dance of hurriedly delivering steaming trays while miraculously avoiding seemingly inevitable collisions. And I spent the entire day darting from one “urgent” task to the next, unaware of the passing of time and mostly unaware of what I was doing at any given moment.
But they caught my eye and, for a moment, I was transfixed. Time stood still in a blessed moment of catch-in-the-throat emotion. An unnoticed bystander, I stood witness to a beautiful evidence of humanity. It was an East-Asian woman and her elderly mother, paying no heed to the bustling activity surrounding them or the other patrons pressing in against them. They stood engaged in what seemed to be just casual passing-time conversation: “I wonder if Dad found a parking space yet” . . . “Did you get the hotel keys back from Michael?” . . . . “Do you think I should wear comfortable shoes for the rehearsal dinner?” . . .
But what was striking was the unthinking way that they touched each other as they spoke. This was obviously a family for which physical affection was commonplace and daily. The mother patted her daughter’s hand, and straightened her rings for her. The daughter pushed a strand of hair out of her mother’s eyes, and let her hand linger for a brief moment on her cheek, just long enough to finish the phrase. Then, thought completed, she lifted her hand and gestured in the air with it as she pointed out an interesting advertisement hanging on the wall.
In that moment, my heart ached for my mother, and for all things familial. I thought, how beautiful, how lovely, how blessed to have daily instances of nothingness with which to care for our own--to be human together.

Friday, June 24, 2005

moments that carry us

It was a silly moment, all things considered. The day was a crazy one, as far as days go in the restaurant business, as I recognized even in my trainee state. We all bustled about madly, trying to avoid catastrophic collisions in the process—steering patrons around sailing servers, mindlessly repeating the menu mantra and, for my part, desperately trying to remember all that I was supposed to do, and stressing about doing everything correctly. It is infinitely strange to me how traumatic this business has been, and how I have been on the verge of tears over something so seemingly ridiculous over forgetting the table number order and not knowing which table I was supposed to be directing my current guests towards. How does someone who has spent 2 years supervising employees and managing/organizing a department feel like bursting into childish tears over a dirty look when I ask a “stupid question” from the perspective of seasoned servers?
I don’t know—I do know that I am grateful for this experience, for this time of branching out from what I have done thus far in life. It is a choice I have made, to at least try something totally different, and it will no doubt make me a better, stronger, and more compassionate person.
But, what made this one day worth it all was one small moment in the midst of the flurry of a day. As I seated the party, leaning over to hand them their menus, their server brushed past with the next table’s order and, in passing, touched my back to get my attention. When I looked up, he asked me if I had a moment to go ahead and take their drink orders.
Technically, I was not supposed to be doing that—I hadn’t even been “trained” in how to, and in my current state I stress over the proper way to do even the smallest, most inconsequential-seeming tasks. But, I certainly wasn’t about to try to interrupt the craziness by asking at the moment. So I, in a slightly uncertain and probably fumbling manner, took their orders and got their drinks.When I returned with them, he was taking their lunch orders, and, as I placed their drinks in front of them, he looked at me with the most genuine look of relieved gratitude and mouthed a silent “Thank you!” Whether it was the knowledge that someone, anyone, was thankful for something I had done, the endearing expression on his face as he breathed a sigh of relief, or the simple act of doing something right again, I do not know. But for whatever reason, my heart swelled up at that moment, and my eyes filled with grateful tears. The day continued in its hectic-ness, and we all continued in our frazzled-ness, but I was carried for the remainder of it by a single snippet of a moment.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

a photo-necessary moment during Jill's wedding--one of my favorite captured moments, though the entire ceremony was truly lovely Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

for those interested in literature for the young [and not so young]

As happens periodically, my work schedule of late has made it such that my for-fun writing has suffered. So, in lieu of my normally more frequently posted blog entries, I will post here the intro [don’t worry—only the intro!] to one of the book reviews my writing energy has been going into. This one is for a picture book that was published in 1996, and that I stumbled upon in McKays . . .

I. The Captivation
If, when done well, a picture book is “an artistic achievement worthy of respectful examination and honor,” as Karla Kuskin aptly states, then it is no wonder that Minfong Ho and Holly Meade’s Hush! captivated so thoroughly my sensibilities, adult though they may be (Horn Book 159). Kuskin’s description hints at the true reality—one would hope—of books for children: namely, that a book for a child, if worthy of a child’s attention, is just as worthy of the esteem and admiration of an adult. And so, it is fitting that this particular award winning picture book could leave me—a professional [if at times childlike] adult—in literary and artistic bliss as I experienced the book, in solitude [except for a similarly blissful kitten purring on my lap] and in my own home.
Once the initial effect of all-encompassing enjoyment had subsided, further consideration led me to the realization that I had a deeper reason for my love for this book. All things considered, Hush! is the sort of book that is instrumental in the healthy development of a young child. By this I mean that its different aspects—language, art, and music—combine to make it the ideal influence on a child in those earliest stages of life. After an exploration of the effect of the artwork as a whole and in its details, I will go on to examine each of those three aspects mentioned above, along with its role in early childhood development.

Friday, June 17, 2005

finished floor & proud owner Posted by Hello

Monday, June 06, 2005

gardenia watch

June 6, 2005:
fourteen fresh flowers fuse on the fragrant foliage

Saturday, June 04, 2005

blooms abounding

Today was the day I have been waiting for, watching for, since the days began to warm: I picked the first 2 fragrant blooms today, savoring the moment as I set each one in a clear wine glass so that it's delicate while bloom floated on a bed of water.
Soon after we moved into our house, my mother realized how much she missed the native Gardenia plants that surrounded us in Zambia. So she did a bit of hunting and found one to plant in our Tennessee yard. Amazingly, thanks to mother's magic touch, it flourished.
I never noticed it much as a child, but shortly after moving in to the old homestead last summer, I was thrilled to discover the small bush, covered with blooms. Not only was it blooming in July. It continued to slowly bloom, offering me a weekly gift of 2 or 3 blooms--plenty to provide a steady supply so that I always had at least one fresh bloom gracing my apartment. And, to my amazement, it bloomed steadily well into the Fall.
So it was with pleasure that I realized today that the blooms have begun :-)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

he's a tramp

As I roamed the aisles, peering into forlorn faces and pitifully sorrowful pup-eyes, I was, unexpectedly, emotional. I thought I was a hook, line, and sinker cat person, but it turns out I have a soft spot for dogs as well. Or maybe just for dogs that transport me directly into _Lady & the Tramp_. Listening to the soft whimpers and croons, I would not have been surprised to hear it all turn into a melodious chorus of "He's a tramp."
I am beginning the search for a dog for my folks, as they have had some trouble finding affordable adoptable pets up in their neck of the woods. While I had been already to the adoption fairs at the pet store, this was my first time to the Humane Society itself. So, I guess I was unprepared, not knowing what to expect.
While I did not find the perfect puppy--yet--I am now prepared to frequent the place in my quest. Today was certainly not fruitless, though; upon leaving the place, I was inspired to change my plans and go home again just so I could love on my own home-ful kitty, grateful to be able to do something concrete for at least one creature after being overwhelmed by all those I could not bring with me.
Mind you, I am in no way ready to be showered with homeless pets--so, please, no doorstep donations :-)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

why i tell stories

As any of you who has read my blog with any regularity has probably noticed by now, I tend to tell stories. I believe in telling stories; more specifically, I have found that by telling my own stories I begin to glimpse the mystery and meaning that can so easily be hidden behind the daily-ness of a life.
My recognition of this drive came not so long ago, when I began to awaken in the night with the itch to tell a story. I would lie there wide-eyed and restless, feeling as though I needed to somehow give birth, yet not knowing why I felt this way. This was the sort of sleeplessness that does not need to be soothed to sleep; rather, it was the kind that needs to be nurtured, and gently coaxed until it can release its creative seed.
This was happening regularly, and each night it was a different event—a specific happening from my life, that was swirling about in my head.
And so I began to listen to it. When I awoke, I rose and began to write, to put words to that story. I wrote of childhood wounds, of silly anecdotes, of events in my adult life—all was fair game when it came to the need to tell a story.
The seed of the drive was taking root much earlier however, well before waking moments when I actually put words to these stories. It began when my family first moved to the U.S., and I would have those childhood introductory conversations.
“What’s your name? . . . Is that your sister?—she looks just like you.”
And then: “Why do you talk funny? . . . Where are you from? . . . Why’s doesn’t your Mommy walk?”
That was my cue to explain that I wasn’t really American, not like they were. I was African—or maybe Canadian—but apparently I sounded British? . . .I wasn’t quite sure, actually . . . but Mommy is paraplegic, because she was in a car accident when we lived in Africa. Daddy was in the car too. He’s in heaven now.”
It was always the same after that—a stunned silence, or a series of stumbling apologies: sorry for asking, sorry for making you talk, sorry that happened. A quick change of the topic or, more likely, an excuse to find a more normal playmate for the day.
But I was not sorry. I wanted to keep talking. I wanted to tell them about Africa, about my family, about what my Daddy was like. I wanted to tell them how tall the trees were in my village, and how small the huts looked from high in the Paw-paw tree. I wanted to tell my stories, and I wanted someone to listen.
So when, as an adult, I began to start telling my stories, what I realized was that the telling gave life to the experiences. Whether I was telling the story of my cat’s love affair with his pet duck or the story of scaling the icy mountain to get to work in the morning, the telling was as important as the tale itself. Because somehow the words give significance to the event. And suddenly life is no longer just a string of daily routines: each day is a glimpse into the mysterious beauty of the woven whole.
There is a power in the telling. A making real. So I speak the words, and write the stories . . . and live.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

rug r.i.p.

Never underestimate the brute strength of a woman on a mission. Today I hacked, sawed, ripped, and tugged my way through this apartment’s original carpeting, and there is now a delightful mountain of rolled strips of carpet and carpet padding by my trash bins.
After a good bit of time mulling over the prospect of tackling such a task—was it even possible for me to do?—I devised a plan and today, having a day of freedom, I carried it out. With rather pleasant results, I might add.
I am left, for the moment, with a swept, mopped, and re-ordered apartment, minus only the pet-soiled, stained, and generally unappealing carpet. Mind you, this does mean that, instead of carpet, I am the proud owner of a paint-speckled and knobby concrete slab of a floor. Oddly enough, it really is not so bad—especially when it smells clean and orange-essence fresh :-)
The day also included a trip to Lowe’s, where I decided upon a tile that I purchased—along with primer—and will begin laying next week. Concrete does not bother me, but unfinished tasks do. Consequently, I planned the tile-laying for the weeks when I will be house-sitting and will not have to stay here looking at a partially-tiled floor. My plan at the moment is just to come and lay as much tile each day as I have time for, then returning to finished house. By the time I am finished with the house-sitting job, I will also have completed the lovely tiling. And don’t worry: I will not get too terribly attached to the concrete in the meantime.

I am always pleasantly surprised all over again at how much satisfaction comes from undertaking such projects as these . . . * sigh * . . . the satisfaction of a job well done :-)

Friday, April 29, 2005

malaria nights

Once I read that having Malaria as a child leaves one plagued later in life by recurring dreams. Do my repeated bouts of the feverish illness explain my later childhood years of frightful nightmares? Perhaps. I am more inclined to suspect that my own dark and brooding dreams were due more so to a childhood marred by pain and to a nature prone to dwelling on the same.
Like the night I spent imagining my father’s gasping last breaths, other solitary mental images and nightmares of my young mind claim a strangely predominant position in my memories of childhood.
In the years following my father’s death, I spent nights fearing the image that would no doubt appear, unbidden, once my waking guard was weakened by the stealthy grip of sleep.
The dreams would always begin innocuously, with the exciting certainty that I was to be with Daddy again, that perhaps he was not really dead. Or that, even if he really was, I would at least get to spend the span of the dream with him again. But each time, once my dreaming awareness progressed beyond the initial excitement, my heart thudded with the sickening realization that this was not my Daddy. And sometimes with the even more sickening one that it was him.
Each night, you see, he was altered somehow, deformed beyond recognition. I only wished that I were not so certain that it was still him. There was some deep knowledge that it was him, but nothing remained of the Daddy I loved.
In one dream he appeared in the form of a tiny dwarf, with exaggerated features and the head of a grown man but features and mannerisms of a child. That night he approached me cheerfully, awkwardly but speedily coming to greet me. And I ran, horrified more by the prospect of encountering him than I had ever been cheered at the idea of a reunion.
Another night he was not changed so much physically as he was estranged emotionally. He was an adult, and I knew it was him even though I couldn’t place his features into any recognizable form. I was terrified that I had forgotten what he looked like, as I often was in my waking hours, when I would seek out photos to memorize, in case I was losing my own mental images of his face, of his form. At any rate, in this dream he simply passed by me, engaged by his companions, ignoring me. He even looked at me directly, as if he knew who I was, but did not care in the slightest.

There were more, along the same vein of a recognizably him but strangely altered Daddy. I grew accustomed to my vivid dream life—so accustomed that it never occurred to me that it was anything worth coming out of my own head. Now I wonder how common that is, for children. And I remain fascinated by, and still slightly frightened by, the lapsing into the untamed, unpredictable territories of the sleeping mind . . .

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

my bald spot

My bald spot itches. And yes, I am 25 years old. And no, I am not undergoing chemotherapy. I did, however, have a biopsy not too long ago; it was purely perfunctory, though, not dramatic in the least. My doctor, after running blood work and finding nothing wrong, referred me to a dermatologist, who declared, with a rapid wave of his hand, that it was simply Alopecia Areata. “So,” I queried, “why exactly did my hair fall out?” He waved his arm in the air again and pronounced, “Who knows? Some people just react that way—it’s more common than you would think.”
And there you have it. I am just one of those people who, when under the proper combination of stresses, reacts by losing a chunk [or a whole head, for that matter] of hair. I suppose an indication of the stressed out state of mind I was in at the time (several months ago) is the reaction I had when discovering, while pulling back my hair in the morning, this large patch of smooth-as-a-baby’s-bottom baldness:
I felt it; pulled my hand back in confusion; felt it again; held up a mirror behind my head to confirm my suspicion . . . then I laughed. Oh my—I’m going bald! How oddly amusing! Mind you, I was sensible enough to be concerned. So I did my research, talked to knowledgeable friends, called the telephone nurse, and made an appointment with my doctor. What I discovered is that it was in fact probably stress. But I did not know if it would stop with one patch of hair for me, or continue. So my thought process went something like this:
Well, I have one bald spot. I may be losing all my hair. And even if it is treatable, then chances are, by the time the treatment kicks in, I will have probably lost at least another chunk, considering how quickly this one appeared. And what does one do with a couple of bald spots? Why shave the rest of it off of course!
And I proceeded to contentedly plan my baldness. What I realized in the process is that I was actually rather tired of having so much hair to fool with, so that the prospect of not having it anymore was surprisingly pleasant. What I concluded in my planning process was that I would certainly not wear a wig. An image came to mind of colorful cloth scarves wrapped artistically around the scalp. So I resolved to learn how that was done, and to buy various shades and patterns of cloth, and simply alternate head wraps for the duration of my baldness.
When I told my Mother what was happening, she laughed and said that it figured that I would be the one to lose my hair: see, I was always teased for having more hair than I knew what to do with. My relatives wondered where I had gotten all of it, since no other women, on either side of the family, had much to speak of. All I knew was that it could be a hassle having such a heavy head of hair.
At any rate, Mom said that if I did keep losing it, I should at least save it as it fell out and share it with the rest of them. I opted instead to ship it down to Locks of Love. Before doing so, however—and before warning anyone that I had just chopped it off, I took a segment out of the large ponytail I held oddly detachedly in front of me. I put this segment, unmarked, in a regular letter envelope and mailed it to Mom.
But, back to today’s appointment: what my dermatologist generally does [why I think of him as mine, I cannot tell you—I actually have never had a dermatologist before . . .then again, perhaps that’s why I claimed him so . . .]. Well, like I was saying, after a standard biopsy, he likes to do a series of scalp super-hair-growth-serum injections. Ok, so maybe that’s not the technical term for it, but as I cannot recall him ever telling me what it was, that is the term I settled upon in my head.
Today was the 2nd appointment in my series [and necessarily the last, as it is the last month in which I will be insured]. So, upon pronouncing my hair to be growing back nicely—he was, I am pleased to report, “proud” of my hair growth, he then shook my hand, told me it had been a pleasure doing business with me, and jetted out the door in his jauntily comical manner.

It all ended up being a bit of a false alarm, in the sense that my Alopecia Areata stopped with only one patch. But I learned a good lesson about monitoring my life balance more closely, being mindful of not letting school and work billow out of control, and keeping social outlets and positive stress-relieving activities in my life . . . and I do love having short hair!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

this feeble faith

*this evening i distract myself by job applications interspersed with scrubbing the carpet* [we are having another episode of too-good-for-the-litter-box-ness]. consequently, class was a bit difficult to stay focused on tonight. i am, i must admit, anxious. it is official that i am unemployed, and the official-ness unfortunately coincided with the discovery that my scholarship for next year is substantially smaller than i thought. and i am feeling my humanity. oh ye of little faith . . . i try to trust, and believe that He who made me this way [whether or not i like it] is somehow in charge of even my mistakes, my silly human errors. but i worry . . .

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

mom + pond =

As far as standards of motherhood go, I believe I can safely say that my own mother plants her feet firmly outside the boundaries of the expected. Case in point:
Like the good, conventional daughter that I am, I called her this evening to report on the scholarship awards ceremony we were returning from—thinking I was fostering her need to be proud and parental. Like the unconventional mother that she is, she replied with her own rivaling tale of the day.
Overhearing from the front seat, when I said goodbye my grandparents promptly inquired as to what mom had gotten herself into this time. And I duly relayed the story . .
My mother, it seems, invented her own [unconventional] method for breaking in her new shoes this afternoon. She had accompanied my stepfather on a day trip to Keene so as to get some “big city” errands accomplished that their rural town does not allow for. One of these, earlier in the day, involved the investment of a new pair of shoes. Shoes are understandably important for Mom, and so she had decided to try a pair of Merrells this time. And they were on sale, so she [of course] had to buy them.
New shoes afoot, and several errands completed, later in the day she found a nice park, with a pleasant-looking pond, and decided to go for a short walk. Nearing the pond, one crutch found a wet patch of pine needles, her foot accordingly found a slippery slope of grass, and down she went. Into the pond. She emerged momentarily, laughing, and quite wet. Keep in mind that my stepfather was nowhere nearby at the time, and that the park itself was unoccupied, except for Mom. She now found herself in the predicament of being a slightly less-than-normally mobile person, alone, and in a pond. After surveying her surroundings, she noticed some stumps on the other end of the good-size pond that looked promising as far as providing the support needed to lift herself and her crutches back onto dry land. So she, as she relayed it to me, “rolled” to the other side. “Rolled??” I questioned, a bizarre image in my mind. She then clarified that she had probably slided more than rolled. But I dare say, I quite prefer to keep the verb “roll” for my own personal amusement. At any rate, her plan worked, and she got herself out of the pond. Then, being my [unconventional] mother, her next logical step was to go back to the store where she had purchased her fine new shoes and, in all her dripping finery, announce to them how pleased she was with her new shoes, now that she had “broken them in.”

And that, my friends, is my mother.

Friday, April 15, 2005

in the waiting

So now I feel like a fickle and slightly silly female, but in an oddly almost-at-peace sort of way. It seems that it took “moving on” to make me realize how much I really did love my job. I made too much of the creativity that has been blooming for this whole year and, once my job was steady and under control, felt like I needed to face a new challenge, to learn something new. When all this time it was the routine, the comfortable parts of my job that were really allowing my creativity to bloom on the side; if it were not for the steady, “easy” tasks, I would not have creative juices inadvertently bursting out while on my morning commute, while wandering down the grocery aisle, while shaving my legs, etc, etc. . .
In a week of impulsive [and hormonal??] decision making, I decided to burst out from the routine. And in doing so I realized just how much I was giving up. Now I may very well have lost my job. And if so I will grieve. But, I have also called my boss and requested that, if my job is not accepted by another, I can have a second chance with it, can have my dear job back again.
No, I do not want to leave. This is why I have spent several days now crying every time I talk about leaving, why I bawled into the phone, paced around campus rapidly depleting the roll of toilet paper I was carrying with me for lack of a box of tissues, why the only other remotely interesting prospect was another job on campus . . . But I have grown attached to my work—it has been my “child” for 2 years, and I will mourn for it if I leave it now. And if I do lose my job over this, it will have been a blessed lesson learned: a lesson in what it feels like to really grow to love the role that I am here to fill, work-wise; because the truth is that the love I feel for it now is a great enough gift to carry with me even if the job is lost. So I wait . . .

Thursday, April 14, 2005

revelation of vulnerability

After 2 days of on-edge "what am I doing?" sadness-tinged anxiety, I had a blessed realization today. I burst into tears when talking to my Mother about the prospect of leaving, and am now wonderfully certain, if frighteningly vulnerable as a result, about what it is I really long for now. After 2 years in a workplace I accidentally stumbled into, I seem to have grown bound to it in spite of myself. Announcing my pending departure, and now training and preparing to leave my position has left me moping about and nervous at the same time. And so it was with a grateful shock this afternoon that it hit that I do not really want to leave. All I long for is a life-manageable position at this college I have grown to love so much, and with the students who have grown so dear to me. The overwhelming responsibilities of my growing department has just blinded me to what it is I do love about the place--the stark beauty of the rising sun as I drive up in the morning, the sweet communion of worship in chapel services, the energetic and purposeful passion of students just beginning adulthood and seeing the welcoming wideness life has to offer, the professors who give of themselves tirelessly, offering time, care, and tender concern for their students, the staff members who smilingly greet interruptions in the midst of a seemingly endless to-do list . . .
No, I do not want to leave. I will leave if I must, because I do not know if my sanity will permit me to continue juggling full-time work and studies. And practically, I cannot afford to skimp on studies, as I am now on scholarship thanks to my studious intensity thus far. But oh, if I could stay, could somehow manage it, I would be overcome with joy, with gratitude . . .

Saturday, April 09, 2005

scent of a memory

The power of association upon a scent never fails to surprise me. When fully considered, it is understandable that all of our senses—smell included—would be powerful forces. Even as an inner-focused person, I certainly recognize how integral my physical body is to the rest of my intellectual, reflective, and spiritual self. But still, I am surprised when something so simple as a scent can affect me to profoundly.
This afternoon it came as I walked into Cadek to answer phones for wutc’s pledge drive. I have not been in that building but once or twice since moving back into town, as my normal work, school, and Church schedule never seems to take me there. Except for once, to pick up a prize that left me even more of a loyal listener to the station [that story I will happily tell, if prompted to by anyone] . . .
At any rate, I walked into the building and was instantly bowled over by my reaction to the smell—it is an old building smell, but seems somehow distinctive to that particular building; I, at least, have never encountered one quite like it. So one whiff of the inside air brought with it a flood of vivid, bittersweet memories . . .
I was 10 years old again, trembling as I walked onto the stage to give my first recital . . .
I was sitting in my practice room one night, bursting into tears when my teacher hinted that perhaps I should try to practice more that I had for this week’s lesson. She said it not unkindly, but I was guilt-ridden already about how little I knew I had practiced that week . . .
I was standing outside listening to my sister play, and wishing I could play Suzuki also [she learned Suzuki method, while I learned traditional]. I never did feel like I did as well with sight-reading as I did learning by ear. So I pretended to sight-read, while in fact relying upon my ears to clue me into the correct notes . . .
What this afternoon’s reaction left me with is just another reminder to stay attuned to what I am experiencing, in its entirety, in any given moment of life. I don’t know about you, but I, for one, would feel a great void without those moments of transcendence that come from living reflectively: the tear-rending emotional reactions, the bittersweet pleasures, the vivid memories, and even the acutely painful ones.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

a poet discovered

Thanks to a listserv I belong to for writers and lovers of Children's Lit, I was recently introduced to a new favorite poet [one of my favorites, rather]. As I read a review of his newest volume, it left me gratefully weeping over my keyboard, at work, in plain view, for any passers-by to see . . .
So, I wanted to post an excerpt here, to share the joys of Michael Rosen's gifted words. And, I suspect, if you read to the end of this post, you just might sypmathize, if not share, my tears:

"Eddie and the Birthday
(Eddie is my second son)
When Eddie had his second birthday
he got lots of cards,
and he had a cake and all kinds of presents
and we sang Happy Birthday,
'Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday, dear Eddie...'
and all that.
He liked that very much
So he goes:
'More. Sing it again.'
So we sang it again.
'Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday, dear Eddie...'
and all that.
And he goes,
'More. Sing it again.'
So we sang it again.
'Happy Birthday to you
da de da de da, dear Eddie
da de da to you...
'And he goes,
'More. Sing it again.'
It felt like we sang Happy Birthday about
Two hundred and twenty-three times.

And the candles. On the cake.
He loved them.
'Eddie, blow.'
He blew.
And the moment he blew it out
he wanted more.
'More candle.'
So we light it.
'More Eddie blow.'
Eddie blew.
'More candle.'
We light.
'More Eddie blow.'
'More candle.'
That felt like two hundred and twenty-three times as well.

And he loved the cards.
Everyone who sent him a card
seemed to think he'd like one
with pictures of big fat animals.

Elephants and hippos.
He got about ten of them.
Your second birthday
and everyone sends you pictures of
Maybe they think he is a hippo.

Anyway he had a nice birthday.
Next day he gets up
comes downstairs
and he looks around
and he goes,
'More happy birfdy.'
So I go,
'That was yesterday, Eddie.'
'More happy birfdy.'
'But it isn't your birfdy--I mean birthday...'
'More happy birfdy.'

Now you don't cross Eddie.
He throws tantrums.
We call them wobblies.
'Look out, he's going to throw a wobbly!'
And the face starts going red,
the arms start going up and down,
the screaming starts winding up
he starts jumping up and down
and there he is--
throwing a wobbly.

So I thought,
'We don't want to have a wobbly over this one.'
So we started singing Happy Birthday all over again.
Two hundred and twenty-three times.
Then he says
'More candles.'
'We haven't got any,' we say
(Lies, of course, we had).
'More candles...'
So out came the candles
and yes--
'Eddie blow.'
He blew.
'More candle.'
And off we go again--
Two hundred and twenty-three times.

And then he says,
'Letters. More.'
Well, of course no one sent him any more,
so while I'm singing more happy birfdys,
my wife was stuffing all the cards
into envelopes and sticking them down.
So we hand over all his cards again
and out came all the hippopotamuses again.

So he's very pleased.
And that's how Eddie had two birthdays.
Lucky for us
he'd forgotten by the third day.

Maybe he thinks when you're two you have two birthdays
and when you're three you have three birthdays
and when you're seventy-eight you..."

and later, here is an excerpt from The Sad Book (2005):

"What makes Michael Rosen sad is thinking about his son, Eddie, who died suddenly at the age of eighteen."
"Sometimes I want to talk about all this to someone. Like my mum. But she's not here anymore, either. So I can't."which makes me really, really sad, because my mom was the person I always had to talk to about things and now it's been five long years since she's not been here for me to talk with.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

encountering kaye

This afternoon I had the good fortune of rescuing Kaye Gibbons from a persnickety water cooler. She blew in, flustered and a bit flighty, to the Southern Writers’ Conference, as I was working the registration desk, and came over to ask for help. I was wearing my official Volunteer Badge, so I guess looked like a good person to ask for help—her problem was that her watch battery had died, and she was worried about keeping to time while she was speaking, so was looking for a watch to borrow. Unfortunately I did not have one to offer, since I don’t wear a watch, but another person there did, so we were able to help her there. She thanked us, then went over to get a cup of water from the sports cooler set up by the wall. Weighted down by bags and papers, and walking in a slightly strained manner in her heels, she fumbled with the cooler and ended up knocking the lid off the top of it. I hesitated before going over there, considering whether my help would be embarrassing to her, but decided to just offer at least. As it turns out, she was grateful for assistance, asking me to help her with the dispenser, and apologizing as I filled her cup. She explained that she was terribly nervous, and sniffly with a sinus infection. Well, who wouldn’t be? I thought. Later, I got to hear her speak a bit and she apparently collected herself mightily well, as she gave a witty address. What I think I appreciated the most, though, was that she was transparent—she had to stop talking for a moment, when she got choked up at the description of a fellow writer who had urged her to be herself, to speak her words . . .
Well, I must say, this was a better brush with fame, as far as I’m concerned, than any Backstreet Boy run-in, or something along those lines [am I dating myself already, at the age of 25??].

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

a waking moment

It was another session of summer camp—this time at Church camp. The session was marked by feelings of separateness, though I must say that is not particularly unusual for my childhood memories. I generally, at least after moving to the U.S., felt different from my peers, and uncomfortable in social settings with them. Now I would like to say that I did not care, that I was somehow self-assured enough to not be concerned with such trivial things as “popularity.”
But of course, for a child, there is nothing that matters so much as that. And so I did care—I cared desperately. So much so that there were days when I burst into tears on the way home from school, at the simple question from Mom about how my day was. Looking back, I suspect that I forced much of my insecurity upon myself, overanalyzing situations in such a way as to imagine classmates looking down upon me. They more likely simply did not give me much thought—the silent girl joining class in the middle of the year, whose mothers whispered about the “poor family, poor children . . .”
And so, this summer, I was at Church camp surrounded by good children who came from respectable families and wore nice clothes and memorized their verses for Sunday School each week . . . And I felt different. And I cared.
One night I fell asleep in a troubled, fitful manner, half-listening to the loud, uneven air bursts of the cabin fan. Normally I liked sleeping to the sound of a fan—to the pleasant even flow that kept out the silence of night. But this one bothered me. It troubled me, in fact. And, waking in the wee morning hours, I realized just how much. I was wide awake and frantic. Crying. And then sobbing. The whirring fan was no longer just that. It had become the death-sounds of my father. Intensely real to me at that moment was the imagined reality that Daddy had died gasping for breath, in loud, haltingly uneven breaths. The fan motor grew increasingly louder to my ears, and I was seeing Daddy sitting there in the car, gasping, with no one able to help.
Finally, I woke up my counselor with my sobs. She came to my bedside and talked me out of my panic, taking me outside into the cool summer night as soon as she had managed to make some sense out of my wailing “Daddy! . . . no! . . .can’t breathe . . . the noise . . .”
The next morning things were normal again. Life was normal, inasmuch as it ever is. But I knew I had had one of my moments, one of the snippets of time that would stay locked in my memory, hidden away. Until it had to come out in words. And why did it? Why does anything have to be put to words, written out?
In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God . . .

There is of course a power in the speaking of something. A making real. A healing. A moving on. And so we speak the words, and write the stories, and sing the songs.
And live.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

the men's room Posted by Hello

hidden & heavenly

Before heading out for work this morning I was, as is my custom, vacuuming up the stray litter from the “men’s room” [see illustration above] of my apartment. I lifted up the entrance mat to get at the area beneath it, and then paused, perplexed. After staring for a moment at the oddly-shaped little mass that I found hidden there in the dimly lit hallway, I peered more closely. And what I discovered made me laugh.
Yesterday evening I thought I was losing my mind. After several months of being rather smitten with this new herbal tea—lavender chamomile—that Mom first gave me for Christmas, I have been replenishing my own supply so that I can enjoy a nightly cup of it.
This would be fine, except for my recent nagging conscience about the fact that I am spending a pretty penny on this fancy tea. I mean, each one of these little tea bags is a work of art, I dare say. Seriously, even the shape is artistic—a little diamond instead of your average little tea-bag-square. And instead of the normal papery filter, these bags are surrounded by a sheer, finely-woven, shimmery mesh. Well, it was love at first sight—and I hadn’t even tasted the delicate chamomile with its lavender aroma when I first held up that tea bag to gaze at it . . .
So you get the point. At any rate, it’s a pricey little purchase, considering I drink it basically nightly. Well the other day, I decided I should just start reusing the bags—just once—as the tea brews quite strongly. This way I could still enjoy the tea but get double the value. So I just steeped it for slightly less time then removed the bag and placed it on a plate on the counter—to use the next night.
But last night I came home to an empty place. There was the place I had—so I thought—laid the tea bag. But it was most definitely not there. My final conclusion was that I had only imagined myself placing the bag on the plate, while in actuality I had thrown it away out of habit.
But no, I had placed the tea bag where I thought I had. It simply had never occurred to me that Aslan could get onto the countertop. He can. And he did. And he decided that my little saved tea bag was the perfect toy for the day. Now whether he purposefully hid it under the mat to save—hidden—until I was gone again, I suppose I shall never know. Then again, do all cats go to heaven? Hmmm . . .

Monday, March 28, 2005

mindfulness of grief

After class ended this evening, I was reading one of my child lit books when I was distracted by a thought--or, rather, by an image. It got me thinking about grief--specifically, the grief of a child. I am not sure the thoughts are coherent, but perhaps putting words to them will make them more so, so I will try.
The image is a memory. One of the few times as a child that I was able to cry--to really cry, in the gut-level, wrenching manner that I needed to. Most often, as they do, these tears were prompted by one of 3 things: words, music, or beauty. Or, even more often, by a combination of 2 or more of these.
At any rate, the memory comes from one of the summers I spent at camp--this time at Camp Ocoee, where I later returned for several summers as a camp counselor. I went to a few church cams as well, but Ocoee was by far my favorite, with all its opportunities for kayaking, canoe trips, climbing, pet tarantulas . . . but that's another story :-)
What I was going to say ['when truth broke in with all her matter of fact about the ice storm'] is that this particular summer, as a camper of 10 or 11 years old, I had spent the 2 week session particularly gravitating towards one of the counselors. I was never bold enough to outwardly display it, but I just found a way to be near him, somehow, at open-camp events and downtimes. It wasn't exactly a conscious response . . . just a twinge of bittersweet longing his presence brought out in me--that sort of sadness that hints at something greater than our own somewhat stifling selves.
Towards the end of the session, during evening free time, a group of us were sitting around outside with our snacks, and this counselor got out his guitar. I do not remember what he was playing, or even what his voice sounded like. All I remember is watching his face, listening to his voice, and then suddenly, in spite of myself, losing all of my normal calm control. I was a shaking, wailing mess of a little girl. And, even at the time, I was immensely relieved at the ability to let out that pain that had been pressing against my heart all that time.
You see, something about this young man's voice, face, manner, or combination thereof, brought back to me some remnant of my father. And so, I do not know how much he actually looked like, or sounded like Daddy, but regardless, I needed that heart-nudge in order to begin to start what would be, for my heart, at least, a long and drawn-out process of grieving.
At the time, I ended up crying so desperately that my worried counselor ushered me away to the nurse's cabin, so I could continue my crying for some time yet, in peace and under the kind care of the nurse. But I really did not mind. I remember trying, in between sobs, to assure them that I was ok, really . . . that it was ok . . . that, in fact, I was more ok than I had been for some time. Because I was. That was a sort of a pattern that continued for quite a few years--long periods of stoic quiet seriousness followed by moments of letting-it-all-out.
And eventually, adulthood crept up on me. And somewhere between then and now I began to stop needing to grieve for my father, and began to live and to grieve for situations in my own life, or in the lives of people in my life. But I do believe that we each play a role in the lives of children around us.
Who knows but that we may, at any moment, be an impetus for some child's growth into the adulthood they need to reach. Or that we may provide some child with an outlet for the grief she needs so desperately to get out. Or the comfort she needs while grieving . . . What I do know is that we cannot, must not, underestimate the depth of children's emotions and experiences, as adults are so often prone to do, in our impatient busybodyness, bustling about through life. Oh, I do forget this so very often . . . and do resolve to be more mindful, more careful, more caring, in the future . . .