Purpose of This Blog

I've created this blog to inspire myself to continue to draw and write. Unlike Nora Ephron, I'm not writing about my neck getting old. I'd rather write about being alive.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Driving Blind

More snow is on the way tomorrow, and a whopper comes on Wednesday.  I'm working my late night at school tonight and people are saying that the ice will bring all the wires down and we'll lose power for days on end.  Nothing like pessimistic New Englanders!  Over dinner, which was comprised of big piles of orange squash, chicken and rice, we here at school scared the bejesus out of each other with horror stories about how bad it's going to be. Ah, to be back in New England as I am now again, where suffering is joy. We love this, hugging the woodstove, saving water in the bathtub so we can flush for days on end.  Get the candles out and run to the store for salt to put on the walkway, which will not be seen again for days.  Get ready to eat Spam, cold from the can.

We haven't had any fun in months driving in this,, but bring it on...this is the secret high, this fight for survival.  We thrive on bitter pills, ice-encrusted trees, and snow piled up in mountains that you can't see over at any intersection where you stop and look both ways. We've got cabin fever early this year.  Usually that's around the beginning of March, but this year you see the haunted looks everywhere already.  Life has come to a stop for so many days now--school cancelled, fun classes put off until spring.  Doctor and dentist appointments are rescheduled again and again as it is impossible to make the 10 mile drive to keep them.  Worcester, the nearest city, has run out of snow plowing money, and it has chewed through the emergency fund as well. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jared Loughner--Every Parent's Secret Nightmare

One of my friends at work was saying this morning that every parent sees what happened with Jared Loughner and scares themselves to death.  Let's face is, whether we are great parents or rotten ones, our offspring bring some genetic traits that can cause them to get into tremendous trouble or, worse, like Jared, to commit unthinkable crimes.  And it's not all genes, of course.  Sometimes, despite good efforts, we don't do such a hot job of raising our children. We all have our flaws, or we had too many children, or that year when we got pretty depressed and the kids went by the wayside.  Most kids come out of our grasp unscathed, but in the case of people like Jared, environment and genes merged to create unthinkable violence.

No wonder, this friend said, that we can be so codependent with our children.  No wonder that, as teachers, it's easy to feel that it's up to us to be vigilant and save kids from a horrible plight, or--worse--save the world from this kid! We are frightened that, without the next handout of cash we give our child,  an amazing and costly education, and great and inexhaustable amounts of attention, our precious child might wander out of the parental fence and far afield.  They might end up in jail for a little while, or for three lifetimes.  They might end up with a misdemeanor, which wouldn't ruin their career, or a felony that could easily ruin it. This is what hangs in the balance, and it's all ripening when they are young and ridiculous and capable of such poor judgement.

Every family has one or two members with diagnosed problems.  Where were Jared's parents, we might ask with indignity, when he was so obviously unbalanced?  Why weren't they watching out for the kid?  Why didn't the Army do something about reporting his need for mental health assistance after they rejected him?  Somebody somewhere should do something!  But as life goes on, I realize more and more that controlling others still doesn't keep us safe, and it often keeps them even further out afield.   Parents with all the right intentions can coddle kids to the point where they have nothing to give to society.

I feel sad for Jared, even as I know what he did was unspeakable.  I guess his parents are pretty out there, but you know, they could be you or me, average bumbling idiots who try their best.  The kid with mental illness that we had no idea quite how to handle or control could have been dropped in our nest.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tolkein? Nah....

Opps...I think I just ran out of pictures, at least for tonight.  Anyway, I tried readings the first in Tolkein's series last night and, give me a break, I don't give a damn about a fictional history of dwarfs who are related to royal dwarfs, and what battles dwarfs fought for their ring.  One of my students chided me today that I needed to read longer and get into the series.  Imagine that--one of my ADD students telling me to slow down and be patient!  But I've tried that, forced myself to read long past my interest level, and I never seem to come around.  I read "All the Pretty Horses" over Christmas vacation, and despite my love of the Southwest, and even though I slogged through the first 50 pages of deliberate confusion created by Cormac McCarthy, I didn't end up loving the book even by the end.  I read it because Natalie Goldberg raved about it in one of her books.  Now I'm taking Pat Conroy's advice about trolls?  Forget it. 

Don't ask me how I got the idea that hobbits are rabbits.  Embarrassing...I hope none of you noticed my mistake.  Turns out they are trolls or dwarfs...whatever the difference is, I have no idea.  Which reminded me of Cappadochia, Turkey where you can go through this rather innocuous and back-breaking door in a small hill, which leads to a hole in the ground and it turns out that it enters a vast, cavelike structure of endless floors where people lived in a kind of city.  The early Christians hid there from the Romans, and the people who lurched around up and down floor after floor were called Troglodites.  People called ugly people Troglodites when I was in high school.  The real Troglodites were short and lived inside this vast anthill of people, making their own beer and alcohol in a brewery, living in the endless apartments.  There was even a jail!  I'd rather read a book about that--somebody write me that book!  Maybe I'm sick of fiction.

At work today, one very very nice teacher wrote an email to the maintenance staff, copying all of us, and she raved about what wonderful work those  guys did in getting the iced and snowy campus back into shape for the kids and for us.  And, indeed, they have worked their asses off for several days now.  But then, doncha know, one after another teacher began a game of one-up-man-ship, proving that they, too, were appreciative and compassionate people.  They wrote emails including poems or a song sung to the tune of "God Bless America", all honoring the maintenance crew.  What the hell? Nauseating!  I like kindness, but it can take a bitter corner and become mush and empty words, all said to prove something.  Email exposes us to some of the most ridiculous bullshit.  Niceness taken to this extent has a nasty underbelly; I think we should take a day off from such insincerity, or even send insulting emails to everybody one day of the year, balancing things out a bit.  Just don't send one to me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tea and Sympathy

I've dutifully taken Tolkein out of the library because I never read the whole hobbit series and perhaps I've missed out. I remember trying to read about those rabbits when I was young and I soon discarded"The Hobbit" with some disgust, but now in Pat Conroy's book, "My Reading Life" he raves about Tolkein.  We'll see; I'll try. I'm not much for fantasy.

It's a tea day here in snowy Hardwick where we taught again despite the snowfall in the early morning that was cementing via freezing rain for the rest of the day.  OK, I'd forgotten about New England being this ridiculous.  I keep waiting for the gods to call all this weather off, but that's not the way it works. 

I do like teaching on snow days, though, oddly enough.  On a regular teaching day, I feel a little bit nervous.  Really.  Try facing a bunch of teenagers pulling at their faces to parody you and you'll see.  There's not a shred of ego left when these kids get done with you.  But on snow days, after my gallant efforts to make it up the hill to school while wipers are angrily pushing away snow in most windows of my car, I figure it's gravy that I make it in at all .  It's a great disappointment to the kids that we do make it in, too.  "Didn't you want to stay home today?" they ask.  "Isn't it dangerous for you to drive?"  Oh yeah...they are full of concern for my well-being.  The alternative to my classes would be going to the sub, who has lockers full of hand cream, every issue of "People" magazine ever printed, sweet things to crunch on, movies, and a cheerful personality.

So, for more ego-busting, have a roomful of 16-year olds asking why you look so peaked, and don't you think you're feeling poorly and need to go home to bed? I must admit, I relax my standards somewhat on these snow days when all the public schools in Massachusetts are out and we are still in operation at private school.  We talk more about stupid stuff, and we look out the window a lot and make dumb comments about whether that's rain coming down now or has it ended completely? It would be best if we could all stand at the window, holding cups of tea and warming our hands, dreamily watching the weather.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Snow, Snow, Snow

We are teaching here at private school today despite the fact that schools across the state are still closed due to about two feet of snow.  We get out June 3rd, so I'm not complaining; snow day be damned.  But I will complain about so much snow!  And, yes, it is beautiful.  I took a walk around Hardwick Center last night when the flakes were finally coming down lazily compared to the driving white earlier in the day. It was lovely last night, if unearthly, because we're so far out in the middle of nowhere and even the center of town is ghostly and black, that big flag on the common ripping around angrily in the wind, and the lights of only an occasional car climbing up the long, long hills through incredible darkness to finally reach the town center.

Getting cars in and out of the backyard parking area of our B&B staff housing is not fun.  My Subaru is a stead, I've gotta say, and you just shovel a little in front of it and it'll climb out several inches of snow like it's a dry August day. The young teachers aren't paranoid Yankees like I am, so neither of them backed in, and they were nose down on an incline to boot, so it might be a while before they get their cars out of there.  I watched them a little from my bathroom this morning while they struggled away in the cold darkness, with no success, digging into a rut with their wheels deeper and deeper.  After i got my new short haircut all squished and curled and finished my coffee, I went out and did a little shoveling in front of my car, and off we all went in my valiant Subaru. I feel like such a guy because I'd done everything right, such as backing in, the whole rocking process, just the way Dad taught me.  I even made a swaggering remark about how they will be needing sand to throw under their wheels, but unfortunately,  I didn't have any.  It's a wonder I didn't! I'm like Ward Bond at the front of Wagon Train, pulling wooden wheels out of ruts with sheer muscle.

I am kind of sick of this whole macho woman thing, something I developed in the 60s, with a Dad who wanted a son instead of a daughter.  Sometimes I get so tired; I want a heroic guy around who swaggers instead.  Where did those guys go, anyway?  There used to be men who pulled up out of nowhere, car lights flashing,  to help damsels in distress.  Now they are all home, scared to get wet.  They huddle in the window, like my mom used to do, and say discouraging things like, "You'll never get out of that snowbank."  And then you do.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Sunday was a little snow and a cuppa at Roses 32 Cafe in Gilbertville, MA.  This restaurant, located in an old gas station turned glass and steel California cool, still brings tears to my eyes.  They actually hired two guys from Spain to come and brick the enormous round oven from which comes luscious bread I can no longer eat (gluten, alas).  But I still get coffee there and continually pinch myself because the middle of MA has nothing like this anywhere, and people will drive from farmhouses an hour away just to sit there with espresso and the NY Times.  Other than Roses, all you get is Polish kielbasa, Cumberland Farms slushies and WalMart baked goods. 

I spent Sat. night at my sister's house where we stayed glued to the TV and all the stories out of Tucson, AZ.  I hope Sarah Palin learned a lesson about putting gun crosshairs on a map that included Gabrielle in Tucson.  Sarah needs to close that mouth of hers permanently and stop swaggering around with her whole Alaska gun-toting Mama image. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Help

I've been reading "The Help," a novel about Mississippi in the early 1960s, most of it from the point of view of African-American maids. It's by Kathyrn Stockett, who happens to be a white woman--right away we could question the veracity of the book.  But, it is not a flattering portrait of the South, or at least of the white people who employed African Americans to raise their kids and do their cooking while the white women played tennis and shopped.

I worked in a school cafeteria while attending the University of Tennessee from 1965 to 1968.  Most of the people I worked with were African-Americans.  They just kept their heads down, didn't talk, and while they were kind to me, I never got to know any of them because there was still the big divide between whites and blacks.  They didn't want to be my friend, which was hard for me to comprehend at the time because I didn't feel like I belonged with my own kind either. They never got angry, always smiled and acted polite, and I suppose I believed that was simply who they were, not that they were forced to pretend that they had no needs.  One of the biggest scares we had in the dorm was when a young white woman claimed she'd been raped right around the corner by a huge black man.  At the time, we were terrified, of course, until it came out that this girl was a liar and had made the whole thing up for attention.

UT was a place to find a husband for the sorority girls with whom I dormed.  Despite the fact that it was an inexpensive state school (which was why I was going there because I could work my own way through it), there were many, many wealthy young women.  One of my suitemates was the rich daughter of the head of Pepsi-Cola.  They were all in sororities, went through rush season, attended lots of drunken parties.  I was either back in the dorm studying or making pizza in the cafeteria snack bar.  I couldn't afford to be in a sorority, nor would I have had any skills for the role anyway.  I suppose many of those beautiful young women could have gone on to be the heartless women in "The Help", except that times were changing then.  It was a mere few years before the Black Panthers raged onto the national scene after all the violence against blacks, including Metger Evers in Mississippi, and Martin Luther King just a few years later.

I've always been fascinated by the fact that, once women's liberation became another focus in politics, it was the black women who seemed to burst from their female roles with more gusto than we white women.  I was pretty blind to my own stereotyped behaviors and I thought I was already liberated.  I'd grown up as my father's daughter, able to shovel entire driveways after blizzards, work like a pack animal, and earn my own living.  I was a journalist, for Pete's sake--surely I was liberated. I didn't realize that my mouth had been sewn shut. I was middle of the road, a bit afraid of bra-burning women with big mouths and tons of anger.  I already had my rights, after all, or so I figured.  It took me years to realize that I quelled all the anger around me, including my own, with brownie slabs and apple pie.  I cooked to remain safe.

I think black women were not as asleep as the rest of us.  It didn't take them long to figure out that they were being used as lowly help.  I recently met an elderly woman from Mississippi who was very upset by "The Help."  She said something like, "Mother was always kind to our maid. Why, when she had a party at her own house, Mother let her borrow all the good china." 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Teaching While Sick

Ergg...I've been coming down with a super mucusy cold for the past few days, but now that I'm back teaching, it is raining head cold like a tropical storm.  Teaching when you're sick really stinks in some ways, and I know what you're thinking:  stay the hell home!  But we are just back from vacation, and another term ends in a few days, so I've got all this wrapping up to do for a couple of courses I teach for half a year only.
Yeah.  Stupid excuse, I know.

There are good things about being sick, though.  I noticed today at school that I wasn't trying to do three things at once.  I was happy just sitting in my chair, gesturing toward the blackboard without standing up there, pointing at each sentence, and calling on kids to come and diagram each one.  In a word, we were all wasted. I was weak and they were in a bit of a shock, finally realizing today, their second day back, that they are no longer at Key West, their Hawaiian beach house, or in Petra, Jordan.  It reminds me of Kuwait when I hear about all the vacation spots my kids visit.  Nobody is going to New Hampshire--it's all London, India, or their ski chalet in Colorado.

I am often in scattered energy at school, but when I'm ill, it disappears.  Normally, in  those three moments before the next class starts up, I'll frantically login to email, or research something ridiculous on the web.  It's like I have to use every moment for something.  No, I enjoy the fact of calmness when sick, nothing to be gained or lost, just floating in an enlarged head of mucus, underwater.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Wearing Those Sweatshirts

I've just been looking at Google Image to find some examples of those odious sweatshirts usually adorning women my age.  You've seen them on your secret trips to WalMart when you were praying no one you knew would see you shopping there, ruining your vociferous arguments that "Small is beautiful," and that we should all boycott that place.

Anyway, I saw one sweatshirt that said, "Autism Rocks", another that said "I'm retired and my part time job is Grandma."  And the inevitable, "I Love Grandma." Grrrr...I hate this stuff.  Suddenly because I'm a grandma, I'm vapid. 

I went to WalMart yesterday to get my small load of toilet paper, cheese popcorn, nuts, pomegranite blueberry juice, and Brillo pads.  Since I eat my meals at school, there's no sense in buying real food because it would just sit in the fridge.  Anyway, horror of horrors, I took off my coat on entrance and one of those oh-so-nice greeters nodded approvingly at my chest.  I was wearing a  sweatshirt with a picture of three 1930s lady golfers.  I got that for a dollar at the battered women's shelter used clothing shop in Worcester.  I don't wear it to prove anything--I'm not a golfer, and it didn't relate to grandmothers, so I don't know what that woman was approving.  But it hurt.  It hurt as much as my reading student telling me one day that I'm a sweet old lady.  What the f-@#$??????  I'm not sweet and I'm not old, sonny boy.

When I was a young reporter, I remember I did a feature story about going on the once-a-week shopping trip on the bus with everybody from the senior housing in Northboro, MA.  My grandmother was going, and I suppose I wanted to sneak her picture into the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. Anyway, I was all of 22 and stupid in that way of the young, and I madly wrote down all the cute things the old were saying, and I quoted their bickering fights.  No doubt I even called them oldsters.  I thought  it was oh-so-terrific until I got these outraged letters from elderly folks across Worcester County who claimed I was rendering their peers as idiots.  I was shocked and I couldn't believe that anyone would take offense.   This was the late 60s when both the Black and Grey Panthers came to Worcester.  Maggie Kunin headed the Grey Panthers, and she was hardly sweet.

How naive I was back then.  I think that in those times, except for people my own age, everybody else was a cartoon character.  I didn't see anyone except for myself and my generation. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Hardwick New Year's Weekend

I spent yesterday, New Year's Day, back at the B&B where I live with my fellow teachers.  I was standing at the second floor window, looking out at the vast common and the lop-sided Christmas trees decorated by the Cub Scouts, and I suddenly heard the clomping of oxen.  A wagon full of townspeople, who were being pulled by the oxen, jumped out for a short break at the town cemetery.  It was such a New England moment, despite the warmer weather yesterday.  Later in the day, I walked up to my school where there was a local jazz performance of Christmas songs like "Let it Snow," and the jazz version of the Nutcracker Suite.
After two weeks of strenuous socializing, it felt good to hang out here and come down from all the talking. We're a family of talkers. I don't know about your family, but in my family, we worry about everyone in the family out loud.  i'm a major offender. But  I was part of the topics this year because I managed to screw up an ATM cash request while I was in Georgia, and as a result, I unwillingly "donated" a good bit of money to the woman behind me.  Don't ask; you'll think I'm senile too.  It truly was an easy mistake to make. But I saw the serious look on my daughter, Jen, when I told this story; I've joined the ranks of family members who are worrisome. Alzheimers is setting in?  Nah.

I just think it's a function of traveling alone, which I mostly do, and feeling somewhat overwhelmed by constant change at the airport.  This time it was the new X-ray machines that light you up in the nude, apparently.  It was also the blizzard, which upended my routine with two days of cancellations and uncertainty. Now I can go back to my everyday routine where I don't get rattled and where I don't have to check myself every few minutes for airplace stubs, license or passport, standby receipts, money, credit and debit cards, cell phone, rental car keys and agreements, etc.  Forgive me, but I'm so tired of traveling.  It's worth it, of course, but it's an ordeal.  I feel OCD as I constantly sift through my purse trying to keep all the little pieces, that prove I am me, straight.

My fellow B&B teachers, 22 years old, returned late last night when I was listening to NPR and jazz that must have been from the 40s.  What must they think?  They are sweet young women, though, and treat me like it's normal to live in a B&B with 22 year olds when you are almost retirement age.  They've even seen me in my ratty bathrobe and slippers, sweeping the kitchen with a broom, and I never see them smirk. By the way, NPR is full of stories about the end of Social Security and Medicare.  If that happens while we boomers are moving through "God's waiting room" as one  friend deemed it, many of us are going to have to walk off into the snow when we're really old, if there is any snow at that point in history.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Poem about You

But I Missed You
I woke up from a dream
 having an intimate talk with you.
I was remembering the past, the good stuff
"But I missed you," I kept repeating.

Who did I miss?  You were usually around,
A lukewarm presence recounting movie plots
Or repeating Army stories, or giving me reassuring
talks about how everything would turn out fine

But I missed you!  I wanted your tears,
Your recognition of me, the individual, instead
of me, symbol of all women, whom you saw as all alike.

I missed you with warts, the frail human being
you kept hidden and perhaps still do.
I wish I could have known how to say all this
back then.

I pulled that poem out of an old notebook. One nice thing about doing this blog is that I end up searching through old sketchbooks and revisiting some past feelings.  But now let me talk about the present.  My two weeks of vacation from school are drawing to a close, and I wanted to tell you about how it was getting back from Georgia to Boston right after the blizzard.  My plane was delayed for two days.  I finally drove the hour and a half to Atlanta on Monday, hoping to catch a flight that Delta confirmed me on three hours before it was to fly. Of course, the airport was jammed when I got there, and there was no hope of getting on; I couldn't even get through check-in.  So I did stand-by for three flights and got on, much to my joy and amazement, by 3 p.m.  By then I'd made friends with a bunch of people--all 100 of us--waiting on stand-by.  I sat next to a philosophy professor on the flight up, in which the entire plane full of people was ecstatic, and we talked about Buddhism and the Middle East.  He was on his way to Boston to interview for a position in Cairo.  It was the most fun I've had in a long time.  People do well in calamities, and I was happy that most of us didn't shit on the poor  the Delta agents who had to contend with our impatience and frayed nerves.   They didn't make it snow.